I had written this piece as an ode to mental health. It suddenly became even more important to me this past Friday, the 13th, when my boss' daughter-in-law took her own life. Mental health is important. It is a conversation we should all feel comfortable having...
Growing up I would say I lived in a somewhat/occasionally volatile household. My dad was a Naval Officer and my mother, a Stay-At-Home-Mom. As a child, living in Hawaii, I remember my dad being gone for six months out of each year. I loved my dad but it was normal for me to be without him for long stretches of time; I have no memories of it really phasing me. My mom ran the show. She picked us up and dropped us off at school, took us to the beaches, dance classes, Taekwondo classes, Girl Scouts and Disney on Ice. She entertained when family came into town, sold Tupperware and Longerberger baskets on the side. She enjoyed scrap booking all of the memories in her spare time and put us in every camp she could over the summers. Life with and Mom and sissy was what I knew. When dad came back into town, things shifted. He wanted to regain his household, regain control of the women in his family. Really, I think he yearned for two things; closeness with his family, especially his two little girls. After being gone for so long, he wanted to know how much we had grown, what we had learned and who we were becoming. Secondly, I think he wanted gratitude. For months he had been gone, out on the ocean, protecting our nation for months upon months out of the year, away form wife and his growing girls. To this day, I really have no idea what he has endured, what he has seen and how many sleepless nights he had. Regardless, when he came home, his need to control, understand and lead his wife and daughters often turned into arguments between him and my mother. Arguments about how money was spent, how my sister and I were being raised and about how my mother needed a job. Sadly, I feel like there are a lot of Stay-At-Home-Moms (and Dads!) who do not get the respect and admiration they deserve. So before I go any further, I want to say thank you. What you do is valuable, important and beautiful.
When we got a little older and moved overseas to Japan he was home more often. Still going out anywhere from 2 weeks to three months at a time. But still, the pattern continued, but the fights got worse. Arguments so silly I thought they would argue about whether or not the sky was blue. The effect of this for my sister and I? We resented marriage. We resented the idea that two people could get married, before God, before their families, making a promise to each other and make it work. To us, it became something of a fairy tale (divorce was also quite apparent in our extended family). We knew, and still know to this day that they loved each other. Whenever we would go on vacations, away from all the mundane tasks of daily life, they enjoyed each other. They laughed with each other, danced with each other and we hung out and played games as a family. Vacations were always my favorite. Occasionally at home, they would make fun and Imani and I would catch them dancing with each other in the living room to their favorite old school song. But for the most part they seemed to resent each other and find every way to pick a fight. These fights were more than mutual aggravation; often they were malicious; filled with loud profane language and nasty actions*.
On top of that, my parents were extremely strict. Too much so I think. My sister and I were raised to be poised, kind, God-fearing, hard-working and world-loving individuals. We knew to respect authority, get good grades and follow Jesus with all of our hearts. We were also taught to eat well and keep a more than tidy home; having carrots for our afternoon snack, and having a green vegetable with every dinner meal, my parents forbid sugary foods and drinks such as koolaid, pop-tarts and fruit loops from the house. I was always envious of my friends (I do thank my parents for that now though). Soda was a huge treat and going out to eat was an experience. In addition, we had nightly chores which included sweeping, vacuuming, cleaning our rooms, picking up dog poo, sanitizing the bathrooms, moving the lawn and several more tasks. Now that may all sound fine and dandy. You may be thinking "That sounds like good parenting to me" but they took it to the extreme. They were the parents that literally got on the floor and said "You missed a spot". We got yelled at for forgetting to lock the front door after coming home from school and I was even threatened with birth control after coming home ONE MINUTE late (this is not an exaggeration). Threatened with birth control? How does one do that?
16 year old Nandi walks into the house one minute late.
Mom: If you come into this house late again I will put you on birth control! (there were other threats in there as well)
In another instance, I was a senior in high school. As most of you will remember, especially if you were involved in school, senior year is hard. Between making good grades and doing research on colleges and taking ACT and SAT tests, I also had 8+ hours of dance practice and performances a week, I was the secretary of History club, volunteering at a local pet shelter while trying to balance my first real relationship and my laundry list of chores at home. I was TIRED! I started taking naps when I came home and one day my mother came into my room and told me "Your father thinks you're pregnant". I was bewildered by her comment and my father's audacity.
Just so you all know, I was still very much a virgin in both instances and very offended that it was assumed that I was out having sex and that was why I was sixty seconds late into the home and tired after school. I felt as though they always assumed the worst of me, and that deeply hurt my feelings.
When I left for college, three long hours away, I told myself that I would never live in that house again.
*I have chosen to omit some details and instances to respect the privacy of my parents