Although I was present, of course, I can neither confirm nor deny the details. My mother claimed that when I was born in a Catholic hospital, a nun was at her head praying, while the doctor at her other end was cursing. There I was: smack in the middle between the sacred and the profane, trying like hell to resist the inevitable. Resistance is my middle name. Well, Louise was my actual middle name, but I resisted that, too, until I finally disposed of it in the giddy cauldron of post-hippie San Francisco back in the 70s.
My infant self reportedly screamed so loudly and so often that my mother was convinced the neighbors thought she was beating me. She wasn’t, but she did have an overriding desire to make a good impression (at least on non-family members), so my caterwauling did nothing to help our relationship get off on a good footing. That and the fact I wasn’t a boy. As for me, I can only imagine I was stunned to discover my karmic misfortune and was shouting a loud “Nooooo!” of protest back to the universe.
There’s a saying in therapeutic circles that what you resist persists. But I say what you resist is often less likely to get the better of you.
My parents were adherents of the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do school of parenting. They employed an extremely colorful vocabulary during their fights over money, time, and my father’s numerous peccadilloes. The language my mother used on the three of us kids when she was angry would be considered abusive today. When she ran out of real curse words, she made up new ones, which I found hysterically funny. But I was puzzled when they blamed me for teaching my two younger brothers to curse. Where did they imagine I’d picked up those words?
As soon I was old enough to formulate complete sentences—and watch TV—I decided the only possible explanation for my situation was that I was adopted. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were my real parents. My mother and father played their roles in public well enough to pass, but they were so unqualified for the job I couldn’t take them seriously. I tried to reason with my mother and even gave her parenting tips from time to time (“You’re the mother; I’m the child,” “try not to get involved in our fights,” etc). When that failed, I told her she was immature.
My father was a traveling salesman for a hardware company and wasn’t usually home during the week. He may have been the actual subject of all those traveling salesman jokes: a good-looking smooth-talker with a million lines (i.e. lies) and a gal in every town.
My mother said he even fooled around on their honeymoon, and I don’t find that hard to believe. He had several long-term girlfriends, of which Bonnie was the most memorable, being the mother of my half-sister, Kelly, whom I’ve never met. Bonnie, who lived in Battle Creek—or Battle Crick—as my mother mockingly referred to it, habitually planted items of underwear in various motels where she stayed with my father registered as his wife. When a piece of lingerie was “found,” it was “returned” to my mother, along with a courteous note.
My mother was not amused. As I was her primary sounding board, she filled my head with sordid details I knew I shouldn’t be hearing. She also tried to get me to listen in on Dad’s telephone calls, but they were so inane I refused to waste my time. I would later find myself on the other end of Mom’s Spy vs. Spy intrigue as a result of my propensity for making “undesirable” friends—which reflected badly on her. After she forbade me to see a particular boyfriend (wrong race), she sent my youngest brother to follow me on his bicycle whenever I left the house. Of course, I never allowed her designs and devices to affect my choice of friends.
My parents often disappointed and infuriated me, but then I also find cloudy days disappointing and infuriating. Resisting my parents helped me learn how to think for myself—and to have, in spite of the odds, a pretty happy childhood—which is more success than I’ve had resisting the weather.