- My parents were crazy
- My parents were mean
- My parents were wildly interesting and maybe not too interested in me
I don’t know anybody with a childhood that was all puppies and ice cream. Maybe you do, and you won’t identify here. Reading these “Oh my GOSH” tales is therapeutic. They might make your own childhood and its disappointments feel downright boring and trivial. (“Nobody taught me how to cook an egg!”) Or, you can think, “That’s nothing, wait until you hear what happened to me.”
A childhood happens to us before we have any wits about us. We don’t get a “do-over” on our childhood. (We do get “do-overs” in romance, jobs, etc.) By the time you figure out just how it was faulty, you are old, your parents are old, and you need to get over it, get strong and healthy, and redirect your life from a path of hardship and trauma to one of blissful happiness or satisfaction.
Here’s some do-it-yourself therapy. We might has well enjoy unraveling the mysteries of our misery, as these authors do.
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Charismatic, artistic hippy parents keep moving the kids from one hovel to another, totally uninterested in the conveniences of daily life like food and heat. The kids have to scrounge for food, clothing, dignity. The only way out is to grow up and go away.
Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. The author’s mother gives him to a psychiatrist to raise. There are no rules. The house is neglected. A guy living in a backyard shed is a pedophile. The bizarre family prides itself on being anarchists.
What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell. A portrayal of what life is like as a bipolar mother, and then bipolar son. Lies told to cover up rejection by family. Lack of supervision, crazy adventures.
Falling Leaves: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah. Her mother dies when she is young and the stepmother is a witch, with no protection from her father. The kids are kept in a back room, starved, tormented, abused. The author struggles to be loved, far into adulthood, demonstrating the powerful grip of even abusive parents. Hair-raising story of surviving cruelty and misfortune as a Chinese girl in 1940s Hong Kong.
Stitches by David Small. A boy is the son of a radiologist who subjects him to x-rays and gives him cancer. He loses his voice. A graphic novel that captures the silent scream of this child, who finally gets away.
Help Yourself For Teens by Dave Pelzer. This is not a memoir or a novel; it’s an advice book. Inside, however, the author tells us about his early life with an unbelievably abusive mother. Basically, she tortured him. She put him in a bathroom with ammonia and bleach, which could have killed him. She didn’t feed him for fourteen days. She stabbed him and wouldn’t take him to the emergency room. He was taken away and put into foster care. The wisdom he shares is phenomenal: a testament to the potential for recovery of a healthy sense of self. This is like reading the wisdom gained by a survivor of the holocaust, only it was personal.
A House in the St. John’s Wood by Matthew Spender. The author compulsively reconstructs his parents’ lives, separate and together. They are English elites with a fabulous bohemian social life. Stephen Spender is a famous poet, his wife Natasha well known. The father has frequent openly gay relationships, Natasha is loyal to her gay husband. There are crazy family feuds. A glamorous literary life fueled by sex, and the kids are on the side, trying to figure it out.
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. A boy’s mother takes him away from his father and brother on a crazy life on the move that is all about her and her flight from reality. There’s a hostile stepfather. He runs away to Alaska, steals cars, and finally makes a life for himself out of the chaos.
(Pending, April 2016) The Rainbow Comes and Goes: a Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. The famous mother who is a designer and tycoon, who had relationships with Howard Hughes and Frank Sinatra, lives a very full whirlwind life. One son commits suicide in his twenties. At ninety-one, she connects with her son Anderson Cooper, a busy and famous journalist, in a new closer relationship. The book is an email correspondence.