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transcending the lessons of our childhood

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i turn on the tv and trip over oprah interviewing rosie o'donnell. i've caught the interview underway, they are talking about how she was raised and what impact that has had on her parenting. she says that she wanted to be a better parent or at least to offer what she had lacked and it resonates with me. of course, i am not a wealthy celebrity, so the financial aspect is
different, but i think that my son didn't want for anything (especially hugs) without
being extravagantly indulged.

my mother was reared by stoic and aloof parents and herself was cooly inaccessible, what i knew of her. my father came from abuse. it seemed neither of them were unprepared and ill-equipped for the rigors of parenthood. when the family split, my father disappeared and my mother began to date. we spent a lot of time with sitters or amusing ourselves. for all intents and purposes they had both moved on. when we were apprehended by social services, my mother was relieved and my father was still nowhere to be found.

abandoned into the system my brother and i were consigned to foster care and eventually a foster home. the sort of foster home that are the stuff of movies, the bad ones. we were to be seen and not heard; to obey without question. most of my childhood was devoted to the service of the household, in more ways than one. i cooked, cleaned, did the laundry and all was to be done without complaint because to do otherwise would be seen to be "asking for it". 

as a result, i had no model for parenting when i became one, all i knew was that i did not want to be the sort of parent who yelled and screamed, who shut her child down with "because" she said so, or worst of all, used arbitrary violence instead of compassion, understanding and teaching. and i know i overcompensated. i spent a lot of energy explaining to my young son the why instead of saying "just because". i wanted to be sure he knew the why behind everything. when he got older he would roll his eyes and say to me "the short version, mom, the short version". coincidentally or not it turns out she has done a documentary
for hbo about families. i won't be able to watch it, of course, until it is released onto video or perhaps as a late night showcase entry.

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