Wednesday, July 16, 2014

a long, warm robe for college

I had a part time job at a local branch of the Chicago Public Library in high school. I loved that job. The work was much easier than being at home and doing all the family's housework, cooking and ironing. And I got paid at the library.

Since I earned money, however, my mom announced that I had to pay my own Catholic high school tuition. Almost all my money went to paying that tuition bill. I would go into the office after each pay day and slowly pay it down each year, plus I worked in the cafeteria at lunch to reduce my bill.

My mom also completely stopped paying for anything I needed. If I wanted new clothes, I had to buy them.

I had thought my part time job in high school would allow me to save for college. Nope. Mom said that I was helping her finish college and she would then help me pay for college when she got a job with her diploma. I was in my forties before I realized that mom had been motivated to finish college before I left for college, something she said a million times during my high school years, was because when her slave left for college, she would be in a jam. Mom did not believe in giving her sons any of the households chores she gave me. Housework, babysitting and cooking was girl work. My brothers only had to take out the trash. My four brothers only had to take out the trash.  And help with the dishes. I tried to make the case for letting me out of doing dishes if I cooked dinner but mom said that would upset my brothers, seem unfair. Unfair?!

I didn't need a lot of clothes because I wore a uniform to school. I did need some, however. And it was a constant struggle to pay my tuition and find money to buy some clothes. I actually sewed a lot of my clothes in h.s. I didn't do it because I liked sewing. I did it because it stretched my dollars further. And, oh yeah, I would do this sewing surrounded by my baby sister, my two toddler brothers and dinner on the stove needing me to keep an eye on it.

Mom said she was not using me, that families pulled together. I once remarked that why didn't my brothers have to pull together as much as me. My mom considered that remark sass. If you sassed my mom, you were punished. She couldn't give me more household work cause I was responsible for all of it, unless dad was home on the weekends. My dad helped out.  I wonder, seriously, what my mom did al the time. Well, she went to college, had a part time job to pay her tuition and had to study, which she must have done on campus for I never saw her studying at home. Still, what did she do?

Gosh, I have veered off course so far.

In my senior year, I focussed all year on getting things I imagined I needed for living in a college dorm. I saved up to buy a hairdryer to take with me. And bought few things. I began college in 1971 when wearing Levi male jeans from The Gap, which only sold male clothing when it first opened, at least where I lived and t-shirts was standard college fashion so I didn't need to buy many clothes for college.

I obsessed about having a warm, quilted robe for the dorm. It had to be floor length. And it had to be quilted. I don't remember why I was focussed on floor length and quilted. I just was.

I remember exactly what i paid for the robe I finally scraped the money together to buy. Thirty bucks plus tax. And I remember very specifically asking my mom not to wash my new robe. She had a tendency to toss things into the washer a bit carelessly in her desire to not waste water on a less than full load. For some reason, mom always did the laundry. I just ironed. And for some reason, I asked her not to wash my new robe because it said, on the care label, to not dry in a dryer. I told all this to my mom.

My mom never paid much attention to me, unless I had not finished her chores.

Now I believe m mom was very unhappy and she focussed much of her unhappiness on me because, until I was fourteen, I was her only daughter. When I was born in 1953, women had less options than they have now.  My mom had me in South Dakota. In my childhood, she said she had me in South Dakota to be near her mother, for my grandmother to help her with my 1.5 year old brother. It wasn't until I was married and a mother that I learned mom had me in South Dakota because she wanted to leave my dad and sought her parents help. In 1953, a college drop out woman with two babies had few options. There weren't daycare centers like now. And then in 1954, eleven month exactly after I was born and 9 months ezactly after mom returned to our father in Chicago, my Irish twin brother was born, also in South Dakota.

Both times, my grandparents said it would be a sin to help my mom break the Catholic sacrament of marriage.

Now I have empathy for my mom.  Now I remember that in my senior year of high school, with my mom cracking down hard on me to pay for everything, she was saving up to pay her divorce lawyer and moving company. She did not tell her children she had filed for divorce. I think part of the secrecy was related to keeping me working for her so hard and part of it was dysfunction. And my dad could have told us. He later said he didn't tell because he never believed she'd go through with it. He said he thought she filed to get him to straighten up. Man, I didn't learn what dad needed to straighten up until my daughter was born. My dad was a compulsive gambler and sometimes gambled away his paycheck, leaving my mom struggling to feed a family of 8.

Now I understand why mom made me use all my part time job money on what I needed. She didn't have money to give me but she hid dad's gambling, the elephant in our living room. And, as children too often do, I blamed my mom for just about everything. Why are kids so hard on their moms?

Of course mom ruined my brand new robe for college. I had never worn it. I was going to wash it, to wash off the sizing put on new clothes so they look their best in the shops and then save it for corm life.

My mom must have been overwhelmed to have ruined that robe.

She did give me money to buy a new one.  I bought the exact same one and used it happily for many years. It zipped up the front, had big pockets and was perfect for hanging out in the dorm study rooms, the dorm lounges and my room.  She apologized and admitted she had been wrong to ignore my request that she not wash it. She had been trying to fill a load so as to not waste water.

I get that now.  I get so many things.

What I don't get, and I am not sure I ever can get it, is how to take care of myself instead of putting too much energy into taking care of others.  I was raised to focus on other needs. I was vividly alert to both my parents moods, which were always labile and easily inflammatory.  I did everything I could to antipcate both parents' needs to try and avoid blow ups. I didn't know about the gambling. I didn't know about the many times my mom turned to my dad's father to ask for money to feed her children.  now that I know about mom asking grandpa for money, and knowing my mom as I did, it would hve cost her dearly to have to ask for money from grandpa. Fortunately my grandpa was very kind. Fortunately he knew aobut dad's addiction.

Boring, moping story, eh?

Funny, I have no memory of slipers for dorm life. I must have had slipopers. Rights?