Updated: Jul 19
I grew up in a contentious home.
I had a mean black dad, a stressed Italian mom, a brother who blew his middle finger off with a firecracker, and a sister too shy to ask for ketchup from McDonald's.
I was weird AF.
My parents met at the Ram's Football Training Camp. They dated in the 1970s - just a decade after Civil Rights. They describe America, even progressive California, as still racist and prejudice towards interracial couples. Acceptance was a slow, painful process for the nation.
No one was more racist their own families.
The Italian side of my family is "so Italian" that everyone's name is Marie or Paul. They don't speak Italian but they can pronounce the hell out of cheese. "Mozz-er-rella!" They trace their ancestry to Sicily and my mom is 98% Italian. 2% Albanian. When the Italian side of my family found out my mom was dating a black guy, her twin brothers couldn't say the N* Word enough.
My black 'Angela Davis' activist Grandma Mimi didn't want my dad dating "Whitey". My Grandpa Noonie probably didn't care. Despite their dating, a lot of prejudice tainted their relationship, and that trickled into our dna, upbringing, and perceptions of the world.
My brother and sister taught me that this is a dog eat dog world and only the strongest survive. They used to stick ice cubes down my diapers, tell me I was adopted and steal my pop-tarts. Pop-Tarts were a rare treat and every time we'd get them, my brother and sister would 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. I'd give half to Andrew and half to Brittany. The second their chubby hands grabbed my pop-tart, they'd whip theirs out from behind their backs and yell, “Sucker!!!”
Shame on them the first time…
Shame on me…
Secretly, my older brother & sister were jealous! I was the youngest, cutest, and smartest of the 3. We used to watch Jeopardy and make a healthy family competition of it. Brittany always got the easy entertainment questions. Andrew, Science. My dad, History because he's old, and for a 7 year old, I SLAYED Geography. In a legendary question asking the capital of Cambodia, I screamed:
“What is Phnom Penh?!?!”
I never let them live it down.
I was raised in Lake Elsinore, California. That's right! You could call me the Little Mermaid. Lake Elsinore is a place people only care about when the poppies are in bloom. It's named after a man made lake rival cities like to call, "Smellsinore" and it's true because it stinks. It's like the white trash neighbor of Temecula. The main thing it's known for is "The Storm" AAA baseball, and a strong little league of parents more passionate about the sport than their children. Old timers used to say "it was Frank Sinatra’s hangout”, but if you've been here, you know this can't be true.
It's not Los Angeles and it's not San Diego. It’s the Inland Empire: High desert, hot sun, heat stroke. People move here because it’s cheap and still Southern California. My parents moved here to save on a mortgage and avoid humans. What they saved on housing, they paid in stress and traffic.
The American Dream
My parents worked hard for the American dream, and couldn't have done it without a Mexican nanny. Juana was fresh from a border crossing, eager to work, and a lot nicer than my parents. She cooked delicious Mexican food, cleaned so I didn't have to, and taught me Spanish at the age of 3. Juana brushed my hair softer than my mom, and she even brushed my barbie's hair too! Juana wasn't just a babysitter, Juana was my friend.
Juana's kind heart and strong work ethic made her a million times better than all our other babysitters. Before Juana, there was Paulette: The morbidly obese babysitter that watched soap operas all day. Then there was Becky, Paulette's daughter, who got pregnant in high school. Then, there was Nancy. The alcoholic babysitter who's pimp came by to collect her check. Compared to our white babysitters, Juana was the best.
Her only flaw:
Illegally crossing the border from Mexico - America.
One day, I saw Juana.
Then, I never saw her again.
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 more scarce they treated it. My dad would YELL at my mom to, "Stop bringing motha f*ckin' crinkly packages into my house." My mom would yell back: "Mother f*cker, it's my house too!" Money was an issue when it never had to be.
My parents worked full time, over-time, and acted like they lived paycheck to paycheck. We had a built in swimming pool and jacuzzi with a waterfall and bonfire in our backyard. If money was such an issue, live within your means! I honestly believe that my family had money, but a poor mindset.
My parents epitomized working class America. Monday - Friday, 9am -5pm, stressed, spending, and living paycheck to paycheck. My dad was a Crew Chief at LAX, and the 3 most common words he used on the job were: "It wasn't me!" *Those also happened to be my mom's 3 least favorite words. My mom was a Traffic Specialist for a major grocery company. She was one of the first people to have a pager (pre-cellphone), and it only intensified her stress! They worked full-time, even over-time, and both drove 3 - 4 hours in LA traffic.
Stress & Consequence
My parents had different beliefs on how to raise kids. In the end, they f*cked us up. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically - they f*cked us up.
I got whipped with a belt, and if I didn't cry, I'd get whipped until I did. I once got a swat for touching the wall, and using more than 5 squares of toilet paper. My sister got a swat for dropping a watermelon. My brother got a swat for breaking a car window, but his ass deserved it.
On the most contentious days, my dad even made us "get the belt!" Which was an added layer of psycho! Who in their right mind wants to get the weapon that's going to hurt them? One time, my dad made me get the belt. I went upstairs, and came down with the thinnest belt I could find and books stuffed in my underwear. Instead, my dad whipped my legs. The injustice! My dad was the whipper, which I always thought was ironic: Nigga, why are you whipping your kids?! Slavery is over, and so should be that habit.
My mom was a lot nicer than my dad, but she was heify and a nag. It didn't take much to set her off, and when she's was pissed, the whole neighborhood would know.
She liked to blame me for everything. At least once a week, she'd yell from downstairs: "Where the f*ck are my scissors, Valerie?!" Or socks. "Where the f*ck are my socks, Val?!" Ho, I don't know! Keep track of your shit.
She nagged about everything! Almost every time she chimed into a conversation it was to nag. "You heard about Becky?!" "Yeah, Becky! Nag, nag, nag." "George Bush?!" "Yeah, Bush! Nag, nag, nag." She'd go off on tangents (to herself) and complain why no one would listen. Ho! No one wants to hear you nag.
Every day contentious. Every night, uncertain.
I want to say the good times outweighed the bad, but the bad is all I remember. I made a promise to myself and God: If this is what it means to be married, have a family, and children...
I wanted NONE of it.