** I have somewhat corrected this since the original writing of the first part of this text. I found this in my old unfinished e-stack of incomplete essays and decided to finish it, for my own sake. (Still have barely begun. This could be a novella, sorta. Maybe it will be.) And because its been a while since I gave you something good to read.
I try to do the right thing for my children, whatever that happens to presently be. They are young, though, and won’t understand whatexactly I have done for many years still. I’m worried lately that they’re buying into their father’s narrative of me.
Aligning with their dad must seem like a necessity right now. They live with him. The more they like him, the more they obey him, th eless they get hit. I taught them how to play this game, ya know? Harm reduction.
But their father is a narcissist. Not “he’s full of himself”or, “he’s selfish.” He has full blown narcissistic personality disorder, and has convinced the whole world, and now my children, that I am the lunatic. As it concerns my children, this false narrative is especially harmful. It contributes not only to parental alienation, but to them alienating themselves from the good I used to represent. I was unconditional love and acceptance, honesty, kindness, pro-social conduct. Dad is might-makes-right, and right has no existence of it’s own. There are no clear rules, no clear consequences, they are punished before they know what they have done, and are punished so inconsistently that no association can be made between the cause and effect. When the unknowable rules are enforced, it is with terrifying violence so that whatever my child has done is lost to him forever, washed away with his crying rain and Cortisol.
Studies show invariably that this authoritarian parentings style prevents children from internalizing codes of conduct, and has the opposite of the desired effect, creating not universal obedience but rampant oppositional behavior as soon as the doors are shut. The rules are not associated with the warm connectedness that obedience to a fair set of rules should produce, but with the pain of transgression. Resentment for right behavior brews, and they air their contempt among peers. My oldest son seems to take pleasure in rule-breaking as a way to retain a sense of power. Like a,“Ha-ha. You can’t get me,” directed at his dad. He is stripped of his self-efficacy at home, he cannot do what is right because he cannot figure out what that is. He stifles himself, strives to exist only as that figurine which his father best tolerates, and fails the rules even then.
As he becomes more aligned with his father and less with me, his little life hinges more on this dynamic and becomes him. When his tie to me was stronger, he believed and lived out my own moral code the best he could. A year ago, I decided that my best course of action was not to fight his father’s fire with fire, but to offer a respite. It was inevitable that my children would be burned, but the simultaneous reflex to pull away meant that I could design the space to which they’d retreat. It worked for a while, it could still work now, but it is not working right now.
I say that we are as many different people as the number of people we know,because everyone we know knows us as someone else. I am not myself to anyone,not even to my children, I am their unique interpretation. My oldest son’srealignment must have been instigated by something, and its unlikely to have been a change is his father, though a reduction in household conflict does seem to have paved the way. (My son may attribute this atmospheric cooling to a change in his dad, but it will be the result of increasing maturity and more accurate behavioral calibrations on his own end.) Still, that road remains steep and slim and scary, and he need not have veered from the passable path he was on. It must be that this road is deficient as well, so much so that a slight smear of asphalt could make the other more attractive to him. So what is the deficit that has earned me his loss of regard? I have to know, and to fix it, because how he sees me becomes who he is. Who is my child’s mother?
She is two parts, shaped somewhat by the harm others have caused to her and outlined by the fictitious script these others recite to excuse themselvesof harm. This part is not me, and is beyond my control, another self altogether. But she would not be mistaken for me if there existed no resemblance, at least to the present observer. Other people may have drawn the parameters and directed their hearers how to color me in, but if my behavior did not lend itself to the instruction, if I acted blue and they were told they’d need to use red, the assignment would have left them confused and uncomfortable, and they’d have tossed it in the wastebin when the bell rang. They would not have framed it aportrait, as they have. I have been enough like this woman that perfectly reasonable people could believe she is me.
My son’s mother and I share this part of ourself, and ofthis part of me, I am deeply ashamed. My willingness to write about this shouldnot be misconstrued as pride or acceptance or indifference. This is a confession, I am taking full responsibility for the full effect of my behavior. I am stripping away the secrecy that gives the dark it’s power and bringing it to the light, introducing it to the world so that it is known and I can wrestle it openly, without the fear of being found out. I have not been my best self lately, but please remember that at one time or another, neither were you. Do not count against me that I am repentant and self-aware, and if you do, know that knowing my wrongs makes me better than you, and worry over yourself.
The part that is other people has been in the making for a while…
We’ll start with the benign little bits, though nothing is really benign and everything he sees me do contributes to his view. So unfortunate, since doing can look like so many things it is not.
He thinks I’m rowdy. And I suppose he’s not wrong, from time to time I can get a little hot headed. But never to the harm of anyone. He hasn’t seen me get physical since his father pushed me over the couch and I bent the broom handle on his shins. Coming up on three years now.
There’s one incident that he often cites, and it’s the time I caused a ruckus at a public swimming pool. The teenage lifeguards kept blowing their whistles every damn time we moved a muscle and I got pissed and told them to go fuck themselves and we left. I found this beautiful swimming hole the next town over that had good reviews and no watchdogs and we had a great time. Both of them were deathly ill the next week, apparently from the contaminated water. Whoops. But all of us were thrilled they couldn’t go to daycare and had to stay with me.
But you have to understand, we had prepared to go swimming. We spent an hour at Walmart picking out new swimsuits, and another hour at the dollar store loading two carry-baskets with floaties and pool toys of every imaginable sort, and they were so excited and I was excited too. They were both as big as I was when I started using blow up tubes to help me swim, and that was the plan, but as soon as we got them all blown up and around their torsos, the first whistle blew. No floaties. I was pissed, no sign anywhere said it, nothing on their website had warned me to buy a fucking life vest instead. But the pool had some, so we vested-up and tried again.
No pool toys. No splashing. They had a little kid water-park area, no splashing there either. Don’t run. Don’t stand at the edge of the slide. Don’t run again. I felt undermined and embarassed and just plain pissed off. We had prepared. The lifeguards got in my face once, I told them to fuck off and that I wanted my money back. The second time, I was so pissed I just shouted my way out, leaving the money and returning the misery. I know, I shouldn’t shout in front of the kids, but I stand by it. Fuck those lifeguards, closer to my children’s age than mine and telling me how to mother.