The Early Years

Chapter 1: the early years

I didn’t want to write my life story chronologically, but I keep feeling this spiritual pull to do that, so here goes. There is no easy way to tell almost 37 years of human experience concisely, so I will just do what I can. I think it’s an interesting story in many ways, but I am still trying to figure out what to learn from it all.

I was born near San Diego, California in the summer of 1980. My mother had turned 17 years old one month before. My father turned 20 a couple months beforehand. I don’t really know the story of my birth and now there is no one left that can or will tell it. I don’t know how labor started, or if it was difficult. I do know that my mother had a local anesthetic, but no epidural. My mother’s mother was there and fainted when she saw the large needle. My father wore his hair halfway down his back as evidenced by the pictures at the time. I wish I had those pictures, but sadly they are all gone, never to be recovered.

family photos_0018
Me, my Mom, my sister. Circa 1984

While I love my mother dearly, it was obvious that she did not make great choices for herself. I know from overhearing a conversation as a kid (maybe 10 or 11 years old) that my mom had at least one abortion before I was born. They did have birth control in the late 70’s, right? Anyway, my mother always told me that my birth was a miracle. I think I somehow filled a void within her, of loving her unconditionally the way that nobody else could. Although my parents were too young and often floundered in the parenting department, they were great parents. I’ve always known that my mom loved me so deeply. And my father too. My mom did not work outside the home until I was older, maybe in middle school. She was always there for me. She read to me constantly. She was my refuge in the storm of life.

I remember being scared of my own Dad and hiding behind my mother’s legs. I was an extremely shy girl who sucked her thumb until age 7 or 8. I slept with my parents until I was in kindergarten at least, and then after that, I remember climbing into bed with them in the mornings.

I remember Kraft mac and cheese and Nestle chocolate milk in a loopy straw. My dad worked really hard to provide for the family, and I’m pretty sure a good chunk of that money went toward eating out. My mom was not that great of a cook until I was much older. My dad always said she could burn water. I think I have inherited some of her cooking skills.

From my perspective as a scared child, life was unpredictable. My dad had many jobs, and although they tried to hide it, I was always aware of the drugs in the house. Pot, cocaine, speed along with the ever present alcohol and… I don’t even know what else. But I always knew to stay away from all the paraphernalia. One time my sister who was two years younger than me, dropped a bag of pot into a hole that had been punched or kicked in a wall. My parents were so mad! I do have a memory of my mom letting me take a drag off a joint. Coughing ensued on my part and laughing on hers. I think she was trying to distract me from a fight my dad and uncle were having.

But also, life was happy and my dad, especially, tried to make it fun. Whenever there was extra money, we would go to the San Diego Zoo or SeaWorld or even Disneyland. I have many memories of beaches and parks, birthday parties and cousins. My dad really wanted to provide a life that was full of fun. I think to him that meant he was succeeding because his life growing up was full of work. But my mother also provided a quiet backdrop. Walks to the library and laundromat, cartoons on TV, books, books, and more books. I guess it was a typical loving mom- fun dad kind of house.

1985 Denita kindergarten
My kindergarten picture.

I attended kindergarten in California. It was a half day afternoon class. (Neither my mother or me could have hacked a morning class with the way she allowed me to stay up until 2 and 3 am!) Halfway through the year, my dad lost his job as a trash man (that’s a story for it’s own post) and we moved into a 10 foot long travel trailer. We parked it at a friend’s house and stayed there until the end of the school year. I remember I sprained my ankle really badly in kindergarten and I have distinct memories of crawling around in their house on my hands and knees because I couldn’t walk. I remember Christmas that year. Our tree was a 12 inch tall potted plant with a few miniature ornaments on it. I got one set of Legos and fiercely loved that gift for a long time, keeping the legos in their separate spaces of the molded plastic the way it came.

I can remember that we would walk to the local school where I would get on a bus that took me to my school further away. I don’t really know the story behind that, but I think the local neighborhood school was full. My parents would always be there to pick me up after I got off the bus to walk a few blocks to where we were staying. One day they weren’t there. I thought I knew the way, so I started walking. As I passed by a larger vehicle parked in someone’s driveway, my dad jumped out and scared the daylights out of me. He said he had been watching me for a while. It was cruel but now it sounds like something I would do to my own kids!

I was a bright student probably because I started reading when I was 4 years old. I remember my parents being very proud of the fact that I was in the highest reading group, “the Bears.” I also remember art in kindergarten and singing 10 Little Indians as we sat in a circle on a carpet in front of my teacher. And I remember the dittos! Plus there were always boys who liked me. This never really stopped until 7th grade when I entered my awkward phase.

Just after kindergarten ended, our family moved to eastern Washington State. My grandparents had retired there, and would help my dad find work. We arrived on the 4th of July, 1986. We left behind my mother’s parents, brother, sister and the cousins that were really more like siblings to me.

I have so many more memories of these California years, but that is the gist of the first few yeas of my life. Perhaps the thing for me to realize is that love conquers all. I may not have had the best parents or the most solid upbringing, but I knew I was loved. Thanks for that Mom and Dad.