Thursday, August 26, 2004

Families VI---The Wrap-up (Finally)

This "series" started out as an attempt to draw parallels between families and their problems. I wanted to show how families were different, but their problems had common threads to which we could all relate. I started collecting my thoughts about the problems of MY family. But then, I felt the need to set the historical background for those problems, because I believed the times themselves had a huge effect on my family’s problems, and those of others of my generation—the Baby Boomers.

Suddenly, I was writing an exposé on the Boomers, and the generation that gave rise to them.  The thing just sort of took on a life of its own from there...(ACK!)  What I’ve learned is, we are a complex generation, children of an equally complex group.

It has been a trip, though, to open up the cupboards of my memory and dust off all the old pictures and memorabilia. And to open up my family’s closets and see if the skeletons are still there. I realized that the only real skeleton we harbored was my mother’s drinking. I don’t know how that rates on a scale of one to ten of "bad things I’ve had to deal with in my life." Compared to what some other people have been through—here in journal-land, I’ve read references to multiple divorces, being farmed out as a foster, physical or sexual abuse, or worse. In comparison, I guess having a mother who became a closet drunk doesn’t really stack up.

But we ARE the sum total of our experiences, good or bad. Who is to say what we would be without the bad things that have happened to us in our lives? The "Greatest Generation" probably would not wear that appellation without having suffered through a crushing Depression, and then a horrendous World War. The Baby Boomers were forever changed by images of the Viet Nam war being piped into our living rooms, knowing that young men were dying there, not sure why, and knowing we, or our brothers, cousins, neighbors or sweethearts, could be next. Not to mention our awareness of the fact that, through the wonders of modern warfare, human beings now had the capability to turn the entire world into a cinder, cutting short not only our own young lives, but the lives of every living creature on the planet. Pretty heady information for young people to have to process…

Without my mother’s drinking problem, I surely would have been a different person. Some of my strongest personality traits, developed as a result of Mom’s drinking. I learned to abhor pretense of any kind (Dad’s way of dealing with Mom’s problem was NOT to deal with it.) I became anal-retentively honest (Mom used to sneak booze, everyone knew she did it…but then she would lie about it. My entire world view changed, once I knew she could, and WOULD, lie…) Still, in writing this, I realized, maybe for the first time, that her problem was not a product of the times. It was just HER, and the fact that she couldn’t play the hand life dealt her without some kind of anesthetic. How many of us have walked that road in our lives?

I know I’ve been hard on the Boomers in this piece. But I feel I have the right to bitch, because I’m one of them. I may succeed and fail at many things in my life. I may gain and lose a dozen titles. But one thing they can never take away from me is my birthright as a card-carrying member of the Post-War Baby Boom. We soared to lofty heights, and sank to dismal lows. In the end, I’m proud to throw in my lot with my g-g-g-g-generation….


  1. This was a terrific series.  Thank you.

  2. This was really great Lisa.  You know, I'm not making any excuses for your Mom because, of course I never met her, but I've got to believe that someone who drinks to excess (or does drugs or eats or whatever) has a hidden sadness somewhere in their lives that they are trying to numb, and perhaps the lying that resulted from the drinking was her way of dismissing that she had any problems at all.  That's not an excuse, but I always like to look deeper than just the drinking. I have this friend who is an alcoholic and I just used to think she was completely nuts.  After I got to know her, I learned that she had wanted children all her life and was never able to have them.  Her drinking and subsequent drug use took away any chance of her adopting either.  So I know that she was just drowning in her sorrow all the time.  It was a secret sadness of hers that never ended and she used alcohol to try to forget. My heart aches for people like her, because they get so far gone that they just can't or won't be helped.

  3. I simply love your thoughtful writing.  I agree we were spoiled rotten... and the results are either tendencies to pine for discipline and "earning" a privilege or to continue (the easy way) to simply throw "things" up as testaments of love & success & wisdom.
    I count my lucky stars all the time, though, that we grew up in a "revolutionary" time-- some of us, encouraged to use our heads and hearts, realize that revolution does imply coming full circle!  How many times have we cringed we've become our moms or dads, only to discover that is not such a bad thing, given their ability to make a sacrifice, to start a tradition, to spark a passion, to lead us to believe we made our own decisions? Like you, I sometimes feel I cannot speak on the current generation, but I do experience my now-acquainted "lost" family-- and I also teach multi-generational students at a community college-- and I am acutely aware that American society values, I swear, 1st) "stuff"  2nd) individual rights  3rd) NOT heritage.  the melting pot is so stirred that ethnicity has become passe.  I cannot decide whether this is good or bad for the collective myth or not.  

  4. "I guess having a mother who became a closet drunk doesn’t really stack up." I think you shouldn't trivialize your experience. Sure, it could have been a lot worse for you but it could have been a lot better too. Having that attitude keeps it in perspective and hopefully provides you with a sense of gratitude. But I think self-examination is a powerful thing. It's the catalyst of change. This is excellent writing!
    :-) ---Robbie