Teenage Parents

Mom and Dad on far left, with aunts and uncles.

I had no interest in reading Demi Moore’s biography until a reviewer mentioned she’d had a tough childhood. The adjective was stronger than “tough” maybe “horrific” — something that made my ears perk up. To come so far from where she’d started, enduring some form of ongoing abuse as a child, was a story I wanted to hear.

As a scandal rag addict, I knew the public parts: the marriages, the movies, the Kabbalah. I didn’t know much about her childhood or how she got from there to stardom. I’d seen her on General Hospital back in the day. I remember she was on a bed typing on a keyboard with the laptop sitting in front of her. As an image, it was all wrong. Writers sat at desks, like I did in those days, or, like I’m doing now, they have their laptops in their…laps.

“Jackie Templeton” was no writer, but all these years later, Demi Moore has achieved that status. Her story touched me and kept me glued to my chair, my eyes on the pages until the end. I thought I knew about the marriages, but she went deeper. She did an emotional dive, revealing the lack of a strong intimate connection with Bruce Willis and her age-related insecurities with Ashton Kutcher. She talked about raising her three girls and the heartache of their teen rebellions. She was brutally honest about herself and her various addictions to alcohol, pills, dieting, and Ashton.

She looked at her childhood in all it’s messiness, without disguising the very worst aspects of her rocky road to growing up. It inspired my post today. Demi’s parents were 18 when they married, and she gave them lots of leeway because of that, but no way around it, they were about as emotionally abusive as you could get. Sure, they were young. Is that an excuse? Maybe so. My mother was 16 when I was born. Barely. She’d had her 16th birthday the month before I made my appearance. When she was barely 17, she had my brother, and then, not even yet 18, she prematurely had my younger brother. Finally, the Pill came and she scored a prescription as soon as humanly possible.

Like Demi’s family, we moved a lot. The difference was, my mom was always leaving my dad and bringing us with her. One year we went to three different elementary schools. My mom worked as a waitress and we hardly saw her, and my dad never visited us at all. He once came to the door and he stayed there, out on the stoop. I ran up to the door and said “Hi, Dad!” I was eight and so excited to see him. He said “Hi honey,” and a few weeks later we all moved back into the family home. It was a dream come true for me. I loved my dad so much. My mom? She was a heartache.

Of course I loved her, but I never felt loved by her. We kids were always told to go outside and play and we were not allowed in the house. If we wanted a drink of water, there was a hose outside. We came in for lunch and then were told to get right back outside. Before we were all in school, she would often say she couldn’t wait for us to be gone all day. She gave us grudging kisses goodnight, with no bedtime stories or any affection, ever. If we were sick, well, we weren’t allowed to be sick. She never believed in tummy aches or anything like that.

She did all the things a mom is supposed to do. She fed us three meals, washed our clothes, made sure we took baths and got to bed on time. She kept a clean house. But it was always abundantly clear to me that we were a bother and she couldn’t wait for us to be anywhere but in her sight. She used the line a lot “Get out of my sight.” My dad, when he was home, if they weren’t broken up at the time, was a loving presence. I knew why he stayed out at the bar. She wasn’t nice to him either. Mom was a screamer. She never talked if she could yell. And when she talked, her tone was never nice. Always nasty.

I knew there was something not right with her. She didn’t act like other moms. In my young mind, she didn’t love us, she didn’t really even like us. We still loved her. She didn’t physically abuse us other than a slap across the face when we talked back. She liked to say “Wait until your father gets home,” but my dad was a pussycat. He was a loving affection guy. One of the first things I remember him saying to me was in reply to a question I asked from my crib. “Are you going to spank me?” and he said “I never spank little girls.” He smiled at me and gave me a kiss on top of my head.

At the time, I thought that couldn’t be true. Because it’s one of my first memories, I never figured out why I thought that he wasn’t telling the truth. Now I realize my mom had probably scolded me and said Dad was going to give me a spanking. Well, he didn’t. And that wasn’t the only time he intervened when my mother was inflicting some form of punishment on me. She got more inventive and vindictive as I got older. I had to wear the clothes she chose for me, and the older I got, the less I liked her style.

When I was fifteen, the age she was when she got pregnant with me, she brought a few empty grocery bags into my room, told me to pack and leave the house. I was scared but I wasn’t sorry to go. Years later, it occurred to me that she’d been trying to live her life through me, and I was not cooperating. I smoked pot and refused to wear a bra. My boyfriends had long hair. She wanted me to be an airline stewardess, utterly impossible because I wore glasses and was too short. She wanted me to wear the clothes she thought were cute and have the boyfriends she liked. I was so much my own person we were in constant conflict.

And when I turned the age she had been when I was conceived, she shoved me out, no qualms. I tried to live on my own but I couldn’t even legally get a job at first. I bounced around with family and friends, finally I quit school for a semester. I wanted to finish with my class and graduate, so I begged her to let me move back. She agreed I could live in her garage. September was fine. October was chilly and finally by November that garage got too cold.

My dad, as he had so many times in my life, came to my rescue once again. He’d moved out and had his own house by then. He was getting back together with my mom (they were always breaking up and making up) and I could live in his house for my senior year of high school. I did have to pay the bills and buy groceries with my little fast food job, but he didn’t charge me rent. So my family lived on one side of town and me, the black sheep, lived on my own way on the other side of town. Somehow I pulled it together enough to graduate with my class.

When I finally had children of my own, Mom warmed up to me. She loved my boys. She was so angry with me when I divorced their dad, but cooled down when I met the man I’m married to still today. Everybody loves Al, including my boys. As you might expect, I’ve had a shitload of therapy. I’ve got more baggage than a movie star on vacation. But I’ve learned a lot, and always the hard way. These days my mom has been saying she never had a childhood. I do have sympathy for her, but I don’t tell her what’s in my heart: for some of us, childhood is just something to be endured.

The Creep Factor

Funny what comes up in discussion when people talk to me about “Sarah’s Survival Guide.” Early in the story Sarah refers to “an old guy” who’s ten years older than her. When I was Sarah’s age (19) I thought anybody over 30 was old. That was the age line I drew in the sand for dating. If a guy over 30 tried to ask me out, it felt creepy.

Until John. He was the lead singer and lead guitarist in a band that played at a bar I frequented after my waitress shift was over. I didn’t think about John’s age. Any guy with a guitar was auto-hot to me back then. And he didn’t seem old, not a bit. So we started dating. By the time I learned he was 30, I was already in love. I realized my line in the sand was silly. The same thing happens to Sarah.

John and I eventually moved in together. He had a house. He was a real grown up. And he had a dream to move to California, with or without me. We lived together for a year or so and in that time all of our differences, none of them age-related, came out. I wanted children; he did not. I wanted a conventional life; he still dreamed of making it big as a musician.

I liked a cocktail now and then. John didn’t drink or party at all. A bad experience with LSD made him straight, while I was still a little bit bent. He tried to talk to me about drinking, and why I shouldn’t, but it felt like lectures. Now I see the wisdom in his words. (Although I still drink wine and the very occasional vodka martini.) He wanted complete clarity in his life. He also wanted to become a vegetarian at a time when my usual dinner was either from Taco Bell or McDonald’s.

I tried to enter into the spirit of healthy living by making veggie burgers one night. Wow, what work! Way more work than forming some ground beef into a patty. But I did it for John, because I loved him. It’s ironic than I’m a vegetarian now. I like to think John would approve.

The real sticking point for us was family. I approved of his idea about moving to California, but I knew he was not “the one” because we wanted such different things. In the end, he moved to California with another girl. When you’re a singer in a rock and roll band, there is always another girl.

By then I was dating the guy who would become the father of my children. He ticked all the boxes, home, family, conventional life. Plus he was only five years older than me. Not that I think ten years is too big a gap. That was not even part of the problem with John and me. But it’s a bit of a problem for David, the “old guy” Sarah starts to like a little too much for his comfort.