Saturday, July 18, 2009


My mother was the fifth (and last) child born to my grandparents, and the only girl. My grandfather (Pap) adored her. She was coddled, loved and spoiled rotten. In the early 1960's, when my mother was around three years old, her family moved in to our family home. They moved from the mountains and away from Pap's family to live here, near the ocean and closer to my grandmother's (Nonnie) family. The day they moved into their new home, my mother met the girl across the street. Her name was Sharon Mitchell. They sat on the curb, each little girl on her own side of the street, and stared at one another. After awhile, they got tired of simply staring at each other, so they begged their mothers to let them play together. Although the two girls didn't get to play that first day, they eventually went on to become the best of friends.

The two families proved to be quite different. During that time, Nonnie was a twenty-eight year old mother of five, whose husband worked for the government during the day and was a musician on the weekends. She was completely overwhelmed with the children and had a tendency to drink a little too much. She was a functioning alcoholic. She cleaned the house and cooked the meals, but she never befriended any other wives in the neighborhood. (I once asked her why she never had female friends, and her response to the question was "women are bitches." I was stunned, to say the least!) Nonnie and Pap's marriage was strained at best. Pap was a good man. He worked hard and tried to help control the boys, but he and Nonnie fought over the way she disciplined (or didn't discipline) the children.

Sharon's family couldn't have been any more different from ours. Her mother and father were very much in love when they married and in the years they have been married that love has only grown stronger. They always backed each other up in front of the children, and to this day, I have never heard one speak ill of the other. Sharon's father was a tough disciplinarian, and though her mother was very soft spoken, she was tough as nails when it came to her children minding their manners and behaving themselves. Needless to say, the Mitchell children did not misbehave often.

Relationships, whether they are friendship or romantic, are most successful when the people involved in those relationships have similar values. As Sharon and Mom headed toward the teen years, the differences in the values of the two families became more apparent. While Sharon was required to attend church on Sundays, be home by curfew, speak respectfully to her parents and behave herself around boys - Mom was given all the freedom she wanted. She had a curfew, although she wasn't obliged to actually be home on time. By the summer of 1974, Mom was pregnant with me. She was fourteen years old.

Sharon was shocked at the pregnancy. Sex was not something she had ever considered. Sex was for marriage. Values. Sharon also expected that Mom would be busy caring for her new baby. She also thought that she would be a part of that. Sharon would become my "Aunt" Sharon. Sharon was only half right. She would be a part of my life. Mom would not be taking care of me. That was left up to Nonnie, Pap and Aunt Sharon.

Having a child didn't alter the course of Mom's plans to do what she wanted, when she wanted. If it was convenient for her to have a baby, she would take me with her, if it wasn't convenient, she'd leave me home. I have so many stories I could tell you about my early childhood. Maybe I will sometime, but for now, lets just say that Mom wasn't the most nurturing mother. It didn't take long before Sharon started to lose patience with Mom for leaving me all the time. Mom had lots of parties to go to. She had a string of boyfriends to entertain. She ended up marrying one of those boyfriends just weeks before her eighteenth birthday. She was already pregnant with my brother. After she married my first step-father, Steve, they moved to a neighboring city. My brother was born six months later, and another brother followed eighteen months later. Steve was a very nice man. Sober. When he was drunk, however, he was evil personified. Their marriage lasted four years. My mother, 22 years old, was once again single. She decided she couldn't handle raising two boys on her own, so she gave custody to her husbands parents.

As I grew older, I would hear other people talk about Mom's irresponsibility. Throughout my childhood and teen years I didn't blame her at all. I loved her. I rationalized that Mom was only fourteen when she had me. Of course she had no idea how to care for and nurture a child. When I thought of her giving my brothers away, I excused her because that marriage had been brutal, and she'd done what she thought was best. In one part of my mind, I thought she was pretty and very cool. I secretly enjoyed the look of surprise on the faces of my friends when I told them how young my Mom was. I liked to show her off. I thought it was neat that my Mom had "boyfriends" instead of a husband. In the other part of my mind, I longed for a real family, with a mother, brothers and sisters. One like Aunt Sharon's family. It was buried deep within me. It pushed me to think about the direction I wanted my life to take.

If Mom's bad decisions had stopped there, maybe I could have forgiven her for everything. After her divorce, she moved from one relationship to the next. I was maybe six or seven years old when she met a man named Larry. I'm not sure what Larry really did for a living, but it apparently required a lot of travel. Mom went with him. I didn't see her for a long time. She did write letters and send presents. In one letter, the only one I remember, she asked for a recent picture. The only reason I remember that one is because I had to ask what "recent" meant. Eventually, that relationship ended and there were more men. I don't remember much about any of them, but I did meet a few of them. In 1984, Mom got lucky. She met a wonderful man named Lou. Lou was the father of four. His oldest son was the same age as me, but lived with his mother. He was the single father of two other boys and a little girl, who was less than a year old. (Her name was Kensi, too) The younger three children had been abandoned by their mother. Lou and Mom started dating. Lou had a very nice family. (When I say "nice family" I really mean they were a functional family.) Eventually they married, and Mom became step-mom to Lou's three children. My mom was the only mom Little Kensi knew.

Life settled down for nearly a decade. Lou and Mom bought a house, my youngest brother came to live with them. When I was fifteen, and still idolized Mom, I moved in with them. Pap was a little hurt, I think, but he understood. Mom and I spent a lot of time talking about our family and the issues we had. We talked about Nonnie's alcoholism and how Mom never felt like her mother cared where she was or what she was doing. It was true that Nonnie was much too permissive. Mom also let me know that she felt like she stopped existing as her mother's daughter the day I was born. She told me that it was like Nonnie transferred any love she had for her to me. We talked about the need to break the cycle and become better parents. Mom told me how important it was the mothers and daughters become close to each other and lean on each other. Some of the lessons she had to share with me were good ones. In some ways, she did help me become the mother I have become. She said all the right things, but she wasn't able to follow through herself. ...

I realize this is a long post, so I'm going to stop here for now. I will post the next part soon...

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