Crying out loud; bad behavior begs for help

I consider myself successful because I avoided the pitfalls my parents dug all around me. I have never been arrested, I am not addicted to any drugs, and I don’t have children with men I can’t stand. I can take a lot of the credit for this, but I can’t take all the credit. Luck was definitely involved. When I was young and hurting in a house of drugs and violence, I acted out. Maybe it was for attention, maybe it was a cry for help, and maybe I couldn’t help but do the things my parents taught me to do.

When I was eleven or twelve, I was a thief. For some reason, the boundary between mine and not mine was blurry and unconvincing. I took things off the shelf and put them in my pocket. Sometimes it was just one little thing, like a packet of gum. Sometimes it was a lot of little things, and I packed me pockets full of jewelry or trinkets.

Twice I was caught.

The second time I was at the mall with some friends. Another customer tracked me down and I was so terrified I went with him. It turns out, he had no authority and I could have kept going. I handed over all the merchandise. The assistant manager at the store took down my name and number, said she would call my dad, and the store would decide if they were going to press charges. I saw my life crumbling before me.

When I got home, I was so terrified I told my parents right away. There was some yelling and screaming. I was sent to my room while they thought about my punishment. A little while later, two of my parents’ friends came over drunk, their kids in tow. I remember it being chaotic. I remember screaming through the front door and trying to get the kids down to my bedroom. In the maelstrom, my parents forgot all about my transgressions, and the store never called.

Was this a lesson learned? I guess. I’ve been on the straight and narrow ever since. But I have to recognize how lucky I was. That store didn’t press charges, and I never got a record. I think we as a society often look at children, especially teenagers, with records and we scoff at them, turn our hearts, hunch our shoulders, blame them for their criminality, hold them accountable like they’re adults. But how many of them were crying out for help the way I was? How many of them only got detention centers and probation when they needed someone to intervene in their lives, to get their parents help, to clean up their whole family? How many of them were only acting out the terrible life lessons their terrible parents bestowed upon them? How many of them fell into the pits and traps left for them by the cycles of abuse, violence and drug addiction? Once they got that record, their lives change drastically. Doors close. I was never labeled as a criminal and was able to walk away from my mistake. If one person in that store had made a different decision, who knows how far I would have made it, if I could have avoided the other traps set for me? Would I have still avoided drugs like the plague? Would I still have protected myself from pregnancy?

I have to wonder. Did I get off easy because I am white?


Lessons from the Handbook: Three things my parents should not have taught me

Human beings learn everything, everything, from the people around them. Babies and children learn untold amounts of information from their parents and families, from language to religion, manners, and culture and custom. By watching and interacting with our parents, we learn to behave. We learn how the world works. We learn how to act and interact with the world around us. Parents are models on which we base all our actions.

Some of us have an especially hard time learning how to play the game because our parents or other families members don’t play by the right rules. Parents have a sacred duty to raise children, but having children doesn’t automatically turn people into parents. When people are abusive or let drug addiction get in the way of raising their children, their actions and behaviors can pass on a set of very dangerous lessons. Here are three worst things my parents taught me.

#1 It’s okay to lie to get what you want

Drug addicts want drugs. Need drugs. They don’t usually care about a lot of other things. Food. Safety. Hygiene. None of those things are important as drugs. My parents lied a lot in order to get money for drugs. Then they lied some more to cover up where they had been or what they had been doing. They lied to me to get me to fork it over. They lied to their parents, siblings and friends. They lied to parents of my friends, which then implicated me in their lies. They did it over and over, and generally got away with it. At worst, someone stopped talking to them because he or she never got their money back. I think I fared worse than my parents. Suddenly, I wasn’t welcomed at a friend’s house because my dad owed his dad forty bucks!

#2 If you need something, take it

My room was never off limits to my parents. Some parents will agree with this because they want to monitor their children’s activities. But my parents did not monitor, they would take things to sell or pawn. I tried to hide money everywhere. In the CD player, in a drink carrier, under my bed. My sister bought me a fancy necklace for babysitting all summer, so I hid it in floppy disk storage. Before long, it was gone. Things I didn’t hide would go too. A game station I got from Christmas, my bike I bought with my own money. One day, they weren’t there anymore. Sometimes I had to the nerve to confront my dad. He was a hard man with a short temper.

Where is my bike, I would say.

I needed money, he would bark at me.

My parents also emptied out my bank account. Since minors aren’t allowed to have accounts my themselves, they were able to do this with ease. All my confirmation money gone up in smoke.

I was not asked if they could borrow or have, I was not informed ahead of time, that these things were going to be taken. I was never assured that I would get the things back or that they were sorry they had to take them. I wasn’t ever told where the money went. My parents made it very clear that they could do whatever they wanted with my stuff and I couldn’t do anything about it.

#3 It’s better to both lose than let the other person win

My dad started this game but my mom has since become the master of it. My parents are still married, which is beyond a mystery to me. How many times have they gone to jail, how many times have they been to the hospital, because of how they mistreat each other? But moving on is somehow much much harder. I tried to convince my mom to leave him. She had a dozen excuses, from where she would live to how she would pay for the divorce. I had answers to all these ridiculous cop-outs, but it was no use. Sooner or later, we got to the real issue; if she leaves him, he’ll get the house; he’ll get the car. She just can’t let that happen. She can’t walk away with nothing while he gets everything. Thank god her children have grown up and moved away, but not before the abuse and neglect changed who they were forever, all because it she thinks it’s better to hold on to something as stupid as a car instead of taking her children some place safe.