I was born ill, with a rash, and swollen face and eyelids. My eyes were a bit Asian to start with, so my mom figured me for “a Mongoloid baby!” as it was called then, or Downs syndrome. No such luck. Couldn’t rid herself of me that easily (for back then, upper-middle-class white-skinned women could, and sometimes magically did, rid themselves of such babies at the hospital).
She was stuck with a sickly baby, and she never failed to resent it and me equally. Each time she talked about how I was sick as a child, the anger would rise in her all over again. How dare life saddle her with such unfairness?
I was allergic to all milks and formulas and all grains but rice. (Mom had chosen not to breastfeed me. Learned her lesson on that one, and breastfed my younger siblings!) Even after limiting my diet, I was still wheezy and rashy. That may be why they put me on toddler steroids. (Dumb question for any endocrinologists in the audience: Could that be why I’m so naturally buff today?)
I had my first trip to the E/R before the age of two, when I stopped breathing. Mom gave me mouth-to-mouth holding me with one hand while she dialed for the fire truck with the other. Our small town didn’t have an ambulance.
At my first celebrated birthday, age three, I couldn’t have a regular birthday cake. That would require regular wheat flour, eggs, baking powder (which has cornstarch)–all things I was deadly (literally) allergic to. So mom made me a cake-shaped mass by molding a cylinder out of Rice Krispie Treat goop.
According to her, I came into the room, took one look at that obviously-p#ss-poor substitute for a birthday cake, and angrily piped out (in my teeny toddler tones):
“Dat’s not a cake! And if dat’s not a cake, dis isn’t a birthday!”
and huffed out of the room.
My mom responded by deciding that she would never again throw me another birthday party. That sounds fair. One moment of toddler disappointment and tantrum repaid by a lifetime of parental spite.
My sisters and brother had parties at home, with mom-written invitations going out to their friends or classmates, but not I. I never questioned this, growing up. If you are raised as the lowest dog of the pack, you accept your place.
Not nice, but no death-camp, by any means.
Episode 2 of a 7-part series that will be posted daily. Following that, the focus will shift away from my mommy issues.
The first time I realized that my not ever having a birthday party was not normal, I was eighteen, in my second semester of college. The marvelous Maria and I were sitting around the campus lounge eating subs with a couple of friends and the topic of birthdays came up. “What a coincidence,” said I. “It happens to be mine today.” In the conversation that followed, it came out about no parties, and my friends reacted with tremendous surprise, followed by pity and embarrassment for me. I sat there, overwhelmed by shame at their pity, and the sudden realization that the way I’d been treated hadn’t been normal. I struggled to hide that I was trying not to cry.
Then, Maria spilled her entire 16-ounce ice-cold bright-red Hawaiian Punch right down the crotch of my white pants. (They had to be white.)
When I left the bathroom after abandoning all hope of rescuing the pants or my dignity–I looked like I had both incontinence and the most fluorescent bladder infection ever–I came back to the table to find a birthday candle poking out of my sub sandwich and my friends singing “Happy Birthday”. Now realizing that Maria had spilled her punch on purpose in order to get me away so that she could scout up that candle, and wanting to wring her beautiful brown neck for this, I instead had to stand there with a pasted-on smile of pleasure while the icy red punch of loving friendship continued to drip down the insides of my thighs.
THAT was my first-ever birthday party. (It is still the only one I have ever had, but, based on the experience, I think one birthday party was enough 🙂 )
Hateful Mommy Hyde–Part 3