Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • When I was young (1950s) we lived in a suburb of Chicago. Both my parents grew up in the early 1900s, children of first generation immigrant working families. They married during the depression. When I came along, my father had worked his way up to corporate executive at an international corporation and my mother was a stay at home mom. We had a big home, a live-in maid, a gardener, a country club membership, a big car and I went to private schools. We were wildly dysfunctional behind closed doors, but when the doors were open, we were by most standards respected and affluent members of society. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I learned my parents were not always financially well off.

    As a little girl, my mother frequently took me to downtown Chicago to shop. Any walking we did was usually inside a store. I had no idea that people could be so poor they lived on the street and had to ask for money. When I was 7, we moved to St. Paul, MN. One day the little neighbor girl came over and asked my mother for one of my favorite dolls. I’m sure my mother didn’t think her actions would effect me for decades to come but they did. She sent Annie and me to the toy room and told me to let Annie pick out any doll she wanted. Annie and her two sisters lived next door where there was no shortage of dolls so I was really confused about why my mother did this. It was the first time I remember feeling uncontrollably angry and powerless. Annie took my doll, said nothing to me, walked downstairs, thanked my mother and left. I was hysterical. I kept asking why? It was after lunch cocktails and before dinner cocktails so mom was pretty irritable. She got the yardstick out but I was beyond intimidation. She broke the yardstick into pieces and threw it on the floor in frustration. She grabbed our coats, got in the car and off we went. My first thought was she was going to take me to the bus station and leave me, a common threat when she was angry. I got very quiet, she didn’t.

    I heard about all the poverty in the world, poor children starving without clothes or a place to live much less favorite dolls. I was lucky I had dolls. I should always remember everything I had belonged to my parents and could be removed at any time. There was much more but by now I realized I had no idea where we were and it was getting dark. What I could see made me nervous. The farther we went the more run down the houses became and the more garbage and debris filled the sidewalks and streets. I didn’t dare ask about our destination but I was really panicked. Finally the car stopped. My mother took me out by the arm and told me to take a long look around because this is where I was headed with my selfish attitude. What I saw I had no name for. Years later, I would realize we were in the skid row area of Minneapolis called Seven Corners, which, thankfully, no longer exists as skid row. What I was looking at was the human suffering caused by mental illness and addiction. I was scared but I was more sad and confused. How could this happen to people? Where were the parents, the friends, the priests and nuns that helped people? The lens of a seven year old is pretty primitive but I knew what I was seeing shouldn’t be. A man laying on the pavement reached for my hand. He wanted me to get the bottle he dropped. Again, I don’t remember being afraid of him. Although I could’t see his clothes, I knew he was dirty but he didn’t seem mean. He was just sad and desperate. That was when my mother swooped in and grabbed me by the hand yelling not to touch anything as we hurried back to the car. We rode home in silence but when we got there it was clear the bus station was no longer my worst option.

    My parents also volunteered at the local orphanage and were seen as generous benefactors. They always made sure that their donations were gift wrapped and had a card. What people didn’t know was that the clothing items they donated were mine. Not the things I had outgrown but the things from my closet and drawers. They said the girls deserved to have nice things. Just because they were orphans didn’t mean they shouldn’t look pretty. On the one hand, I was supposed to be generous with my things and I was no better than anyone else, a good lesson in humility for a child. On the other hand nothing I had was mine. Everything I had was needed more by someone else than it was needed by me, hardly a self-esteem builder. Finally, wanting something was considered selfish and Seven Corners was just a car ride away.

    Hardly a warm mother daughter relationship. It was painful. For years I blamed my parents for all that was wrong with my life, an easy case to make, but the time came when I didn’t care why I was broken or whose fault it was. I just wanted to be whole again and I was the only one who could make that happen. I needed to accept that “my parents did the best job they could. It just wasn’t a very good job.” It had never been about me being inadequate. It was always about their alcoholism.

    I remembered the compassion I felt for those people at Seven Corners. They were sick, not evil. I knew they deserved help, not condemnation. If that was what I felt for strangers, how could I not have that same compassion for my parents? I had to release them with love and keep my distance. I had to release the resentments and live in forgiveness. That was the price of freedom. It’s a price I choose to pay on a daily basis because it doesn’t come naturally. But a life without the rocks of shame and guilt in my pockets is truly worth it.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.