Updated: Oct 3
I grew up with a mean black dad, a stressed Italian mom, a brother that blew his middle finger off with a firecracker, and a sister too shy to ask for ketchup at McDonald's. I was the baby, and a little too evolved for this family.
They couldn’t control their emotions. My parents yelled at each other every day, and my brother and sister were assholes. They stuck ice cubes down my diaper, took my pop-tarts, and told me I was adopted.
I didn’t like my family. I liked them, but not really. I liked my sister because she was the most like me, but my brother was a menace. He used to pin us down and dribble spit over our faces. He once tried to light a piece of paper on fire and smoke it. He was ahead of his time, and wasn’t the best example.
He was weird. Brittany was weird. I was weird. My dad was scary. I was afraid of my dad. He was mean, impatient, and yelled a lot. Once a week I’d get a swat (whipped with a belt) for some bullsh*t. I once got a swat for using more than five squares of toilet paper. My sister got a swat for dropping a watermelon. My brother got a swat for throwing an unripe lemon at a car and breaking the window. I thought he deserved it, but I did not.
I didn’t believe in stress until my mother convinced me of it. She was stressed all the time. She’d get all emotional. “Valerie! Where the f*ck are my socks?!” … I honestly had no idea where her… Socks? My mom and family made my life contentious.
I noticed a lot of weird details about my family. I asked a lot of questions. For example: How did you two meet? They were so opposite I couldn’t imagine it? How did you two get together? You hate each other. Was it worth having three kids?
My parents met at the Ram's Football Training Camp. My mom was a Waitress age 16 working an extra summer job, and My dad wasn’t even a Ram. He was a Wide Receiver at Cal State Fullerton. My parents dated in the 1970s, a decade after Civil Rights. They claim people were still REAL racist towards them. Nothing like today.
Especially, in public places like restaurants. A man once told my mom: “A couple like you shouldn’t be eating in public.” Another man said: “You’re too pretty for n*gger.” They endured a lot of racism from people, and their own parents.
My mom is 4th Generation Italian. Sicily - Ellis Island - New York City – Chicago – Los Angeles. My mom doesn’t speak Italian, but she can pronounce the hell out of cheese. She over-emphasizes: "Mozz-er-rella!" and “Ric-co-ta!”
My mom’s side of the family is "so Italian" everyone's name is Marie and Paul. For centuries. Marie Sofi. Marie Angela. Marie Clelia. Italians married Italians, and they never dated out of the blood line.
When they found out my mom was dating a black guy, they couldn’t say the N* word enough. My dad called the house phone. My grandma answered, and sweetly said: “Now Irving, I understand that you’re a fine young man… But… The salt doesn’t mix with the pepper!” Then, my mom’s twin brothers (only 9 months older than her) jumped on the phone and said n*gger a dozen times before my dad hung up. My mom was shocked. My dad wasn’t. He was used to racism.
His mom, my “Grandma Mimi” was a Civil Rights Activist. She didn’t want my dad dating “Whitey”. Grandma lumped all non-black people in the category of "Whitey", and call it racist, but she didn’t trust the white man.
Grandma Mimi, earned and received a PhD in Education from UCLA. She made it her life mission to teach black boys in the ghetto of South Central LA: “ABC: Any Boy Can”.
My Grandpa Noonie wasn’t as prejudice. He had his own lifestyle. He made the most of life. He endured a lot of racism and worked hard to live the best life he could live.
I’m not going to saying interracial marriage is a bad thing, but my parents weren’t the prototype. They raised a dysfunctional family and my brother, sister, and I fought all the time. I could take ‘em!
Andrew and Brittany were their names, and they taught me that this is a “dog eat dog” world. You gotta be strong to survive.
Pop-Tarts were a rare treat in our home, and every time we'd get them, they’d steal mine. They’d play this pathetic prank and say: “Val…” Sad face. “We lost our pop-tarts… Can we have yours?” I'd feel so bad for them; I'd break my pop-tart in 2 and give half to Andrew and half to Brittany. The second they grabbed my pop-tart, they whipped theirs out from behind their backs and yelled, “Sucker!!!”
This went on for years. Truthfully, I think my brother & sister were jealous. I was younger, smartest, and the cutest of all three. (Brittany thinks she’s the cutest, but no one agrees. It’s a close call between Andrew and I. Brittany’s not the cutest because she’s a girl and looks like my dad.)
We used to watch Jeopardy and make a family competition out of it. Brittany got all the easy entertainment questions. Andrew: Science. My dad: History (because he's old), and for a 7-year-old, I did one in Geography. In an epic question asking the capital of Cambodia, I screamed: “What is Phnom Penh?!?!”
And I never let them live it down.
I was raised in a town called Lake Elsinore, California. A place people only care about when the poppies are in bloom. Old timers used to say "it was Frank Sinatra’s hangout”, but if you've been to LA, everywhere is Frank Sinatra’s hangout. Lake Elsinore is named after a man-made lake rival cities like to call, "Smellsinore". It’s known for their AAA baseball team "The Storm", and a little league of parents more passionate about baseball than their kids.
It's not Los Angeles. It's not San Diego. It’s the Inland Empire. High desert, hot sun, heatstroke! It’s so hot here. People move to I.E. because it’s cheap and still Southern California. My parents moved here to save and avoid humans. What they saved on a mortgage, they paid in stress and LA traffic.
The American Dream
My parents worked so hard, I hardly saw them. Money was a big source of contention in our home. The more my parents worked for it, the scarcer they treated it. My dad would YELL at my mom to, "Stop bringing crinkly packages into my house." My mom would yell back: "Mother f*cker, it's my house too!" Money was an issue that never had to be.
My parents worked hard for the “American dream”, and couldn't have done it without a Mexican nanny. Our Nanny, Juana, was fresh from crossing the border, and a lot nicer than my parents. She cooked delicious Mexican food, and taught me Spanish at the age of 3. Juana brushed my hair softer than my mom, and even brushed my Barbie’s hair too! Juana wasn't just a babysitter; Juana was my friend.
Juana's kind heart made her a million times better than all our other babysitters. Before Juana, there was Paulette: The obese babysitter that watched soap operas all day. Then Becky, Paulette's daughter, who got pregnant in high school. Then, Carrie. The alcoholic babysitter whose pimp came by to collect her check. Compared to the white girls, Juana was a Saint. One day, I saw Juana. The next, I never saw her again.
Growing up, life was a weird flux of adults. Sometimes they were there. Sometimes they weren’t. My parents worked full time, over-time, and spent time dinner and weekends. I almost got used to not having them around and preferred it that way. I loved my parents, but they had a lot of negative emotions, and they weren’t pleasant to be around. It was always more fun to be around kids like me.
Stress & Consequence
My parents fought all the time. They had different beliefs on how to raise kids. My dad was strict. My mom was nice. My dad freaked out about garbage cans being full, and my mom freaked out about missing socks.
Most of the time, our contentions became guys vs. girls. My sister and I pledged allegiance to my mom. My brother took Team Dad. We plotted against each other. Convinced of our own convictions. Whose side are you on? Mom or Dad’s? In the end, their arguing f*cked us up.
Mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally.
In my childhood home,
Every day was contentious. Every night, uncertain.
I want to say the good times outweighed the bad, but bad is all I remember. I prayed to God: If this is what it’s like to be married and have a family, I want NONE of it.