Monday, July 18, 2016

Memories from Childhood that Didn't Seem Weird Until I Said Them Out Loud

For as long as I have known her, my mother has refused to wear a bra inside the house.  Unless she had to leave the house, she wouldn't get dressed at all.  Her usual nightgown -- and subsequently what she wore unless she was heading out -- was an exceptionally large, polyester muumuu.  She had a collection of them, all in the same cut but different flowered patterns and colors.  She even bought a slightly smaller muumuu for me when I was a child, but due to its wide neck coupled with her tendency to shop a few sizes larger than I needed, I couldn't physically keep it from falling past my shoulders and off my body.

My mother had a few regular volunteer jobs she did each month, either at my school or at the county health department's Well Child Clinic.  She spent Friday mornings grocery shopping with her mother, and they spent every Wednesday together at Walmart, where my mother would buy several hundred dollars worth of paper goods, cleaning products that wouldn't be used, and dozens of small fad toys (think Koosh balls or Beanie Babies) that no one we knew wanted.  These were the times my mother got dressed.

When my mother got home from grocery shopping, she would be too tired to do much else.  I remember rushing to help my dad bring in the groceries when either it was summer or I was too young to attend full day school.  My mother would carry grocery bags to the kitchen too.  Then, as she always did when she returned home from somewhere, she would whip off her bra, settle in to the couch, and turn on the TV, while my dad and I put the groceries away in the kitchen.  My job when I was little was to hand each item to my dad out of the bags on the floor where he couldn't reach them from his wheelchair.  He would squeeze the vast amounts of new food we may or may not eat in among the rotting produce and meat left in the refrigerator from one week to the next.  The various bags of potato chips usually went in the white particle board dresser that had inexplicably been in the kitchen since before I was born.  The other boxes of junk food were mostly piled on top of the dresser, but I also remember them scattered over the counters, atop the kitchen table where we were theoretically supposed to eat but never did because it was buried under piles of food, and across the occasional flat surface in the dining room.  There was one piece of furniture in the dining room that always held the most Little Debbie snack cakes, but I can't remember what it was -- a bench?  A shoe rack?

I don't remember my parents cleaning out the refrigerator more than once, when the original, yellow, 20-year-old refrigerator stopped working and they had to replace it, though it might have happened a handful of times when I wasn't aware.  I don't know how old the junk food was, but I remember finding a box of moldy low-fat Twinkies in the dining room in the early '90s.  Something in the low-fat formula must have imbued them with the ability to mold.

After we put the groceries away, we would eat lunch in front of the TV in the living room.  Sometimes it was grilled cheese; sometimes it was hot dogs.  I usually drank milk while my mother nursed a 64 oz. cup of 7Up or Pepsi.  What we watched depended on the year.  My dad always had his own TV in another room, but the rest of us shared the one in the living room, so unless there was a particular show I followed that my mother liked enough to want to watch with me, we watched whatever she chose.  When I was in preschool it was All My Children at noon followed by One Life to Live.  At least one summer in the late '90s it was TLC's A Baby Story.  I remember complaining to my mother that it was hard to eat on my lunch break from my summer job while watching a woman give birth, but she refused to change the channel regardless of how many times she'd seen an episode.  There wasn't anywhere else in the house to sit and eat, so I eventually stopped coming home.

My mother's afternoons usually featured another nap, which usually meant changing out of the rest of her leaving-the-house clothes and back into a muumuu.  I say "another" because she slept off and on throughout the day and night with little regard for the hour.  If she had a regular sleep schedule, I never caught on to it.  She usually slept on the living room couch, though there were a few years in the late '80s when she tried to share Dante's room with him.  She bought him a set of bunk beds and a matching desk with the money that had been in his savings account supposedly earmarked for college.  The lower bunk was hers, she said, as was the desk, which she positioned in the already crowded dining room, opposite her old desk.  It was quickly buried under collections of pens, papers, old mail, and leftover Koosh balls.

Friday, July 15, 2016

I Am One of the Happy, Well Adjusted Donor Conceived

One of the things I find funny about the studies that survey how many donor conceived children are happy and well adjusted is that I'm one of the happy, well adjusted ones.  If someone had interviewed my mother at any point in my childhood or teen years (most of the studies gauge young children by their parents' assessments), she would have given them an honest and glowing portrayal of what a good kid I was.  I got very good grades, never got in trouble, never did drugs or drank or had sex or skipped class or snuck out or even really disobeyed.  I never received so much as a detention or a grade lower than a B+.  I had never seen a psychiatrist or a therapist and therefore had zero diagnosed mental issues.  I never lashed out at my parents with "I hate you" or used the knowledge that my dad wasn't related to me against him.  I didn't even tell him I knew.  I didn't express anguish at the loss of half my biological family or show even so much as a curiosity about them after my mother told me never to speak of it again.  I was a good kid.

I'm a happy, well adjusted donor conceived adult now, by my own admission.  I graduated magna cum laude from my university and then paid off my own student loans.  My ulcerative colitis went so far into remission that my doctor thinks I must've been misdiagnosed in the first place.  I am married and have a healthy, happy child, and I own my own home.  I don't do drugs, I eat well and work out and -- let's be honest here -- look pretty good, and I dress like I live inside a Lands' End catalog.  Anyone who only knew me from Facebook might think I'm a Stepford wife.  Even my therapist -- assuming she isn't being facetious -- expresses wonder at how I came to be so well adjusted.  I have all these things going for me, and I am NOT OKAY with anonymous donor conception.

I found my biological father, and I even have contact with my half-siblings.  I know my full family medical history and hundreds of years worth of genealogy.  I can think about being donor conceived without crying now; I don't have to shut it away in the back closet of my brain just to get through the day anymore.  But I am NOT OKAY with anonymous donor conception.

It makes me wonder what the other happy, well adjusted donor conceived people are like up close.