My Family is Crazier Than Your Family. No, Really.

When people talk about their “crazy” families, it really brings out my competitive nature.

Unless one uncle shot himself in the head and one aunt suffocated herself with a plastic bag per the instructions in a paperback version of “Final Exit,” your people just aren’t that crazy.

Oh, and don’t forget my great aunt Rose, who watched her husband show a houseguest how to load his gun, and soon after used that knowledge to shoot herself dead. She was a fast learner. Her first shot was also her last.

Your cousin has seven cats? Call me when she hangs herself.

Your grandpa never leaves the house without his black knee socks and a golf hat? Let me know when he gets checked into a mental health facility against his will. If having unbalanced relatives is the 3-mile, I am Prefontaine. Don’t even try to outrun me. I own this distance.

With so much insanity in my family, you may wonder if I’m concerned about my own mental health. Sure, it’s marginal, but I keep a close eye on it. I get sleep, get therapy, get close to the edge sometimes, but pull back before I start eyeing my plastic bags.

Hold on: It’s blame my mom for everything time, everyone get cozy.

Last week, she left the apartment we had been renting her nearby so she could help out with our two-year old. She said she’d be going home to Vegas for a week.

I had a feeling she wasn’t coming back when she packed up her entire desktop computer and router. I was notified by text message that she would not be returning. There was a 97% chance that moving my mom into the neighborhood, that having her around every day, that this arrangement would end abruptly and horribly, which it did.

Sane people know that their insane parents will not cease acting insane because we need them to, or because the little kid in us just wishes they would.

That’s where I claim my branch on this family tree. I can’t stop dreaming my mom will be different. I can’t let go.

I like to hope that when my child needs me, now or when he’s grown, that I will be there. Odds are, however, that I will be anxious, overwrought and generally imperfect about it.

When I pick up the baby from daycare, I stop at the first red light every day and reach back to grab his hand. I smile with every bit of drive and passion it took Prefontaine to run those three miles. The finish line, the big win, is for my child to know one thing: that he is loved. I say “I love you” and he, not knowing what it means, says, “luff yeeew” back from his car seat. What I can’t always give him in stability; I will give him in love. I will love him so fast and so hard I will never fail to break a sweat loving him.

For most of the first two years of his life, I struggled with the worry that I would be his crazy mom who did unpredictable and hurtful things. That worry was making me – you guessed it – crazy.

Now I don’t worry, because just as the sun will rise and Elmo will ride his trike, I will have my moments. I will second-guess myself coming off the blocks, I will obsess about my stride, my technique, my overuse of running analogies, but I’m going to express my deep love for his little soul every day.

When I resent my mom, and I do that more than I extend tortured running metaphors, it isn’t because she is odd, it’s because her oddness means I have no idea whether or not I’ve been a joy or a burden. I doubt I ever will.

I’d like to say I don’t blame her, but that would be a lie. I blame her, and at the same time, I’m grateful for all the ways she helped out since I had my son, even if she predictably flew over the cuckoo’s nest and took her router with her.

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31 Responses to “My Family is Crazier Than Your Family. No, Really.”

  1. adambein
    April 4, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    You’re right, your family IS nutty, nuttier than squirrel turds.

  2. Cathy
    October 11, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    Thank you for sharing your soul on Paul Gilmartin’s show. Looking into yours helps me see my own.
    (I know we’re strangers, but like your dad, I wouldn’t be OK either.)

  3. qwerty
    August 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Wow! My family is crazy but perhaps not as crazy as yours… Maybe.
    Thankfully my parents are sane but it, um, stops there. My grandma refused to get my Dad
    surgery so he had to quit all sports and have a miserable time for, I believe, 6 months. My maternal grandfather is too crazy to get into. My maternal grandma and step-grandpa are extreeeeemly neurotic. My great-uncle has PTSD from Vietnam and married a gun freak. One another relative stayed with them and there was a big flight involving my great-aunt torturing her and pouring her meds down the drain. My Aunt likes to do war re-enactments with full costumes and lived in a yurt in for a while. My great-grandpa’s sister and her husband smoked so much anyone under 18 wasn’t allowed in because of all the smoke. (Like 15 packs a day between them.) Then he got lung cancer–big surprise–and she had an affair with his best friend–that he was okay with–while he was dying. So…yeah.

  4. Corey
    August 24, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    As if I couldn’t love Teresa any more, she uses an extended Prefontaine metaphor to describe all of the broken people in her life. Go Pre! Go T! Excellent stuff.

  5. Christina D
    August 24, 2011 at 1:48 am #

    So nice to read such a great post on how much you love the little man and how every time the crazy parent episode happens there is a meltdown into stomach-turning worryville. Thanks Teresa….this happens to me all.the.time. Big admirer of your humor and commitment to create comedy out of the f’ed up. Don’t grandkids sound heavenly? Why don’t they make mental grandparents snap out of it?

  6. Sheila
    August 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    First, can I get a clear judges ruling on the line between “fan” and “stalker” hummmm. I read you at Huffpo, but only want to answer you here, so as to stay on the fan side of the line.

    I am the mother of two children, and that despite my extreme familiarity with human reproduction was NOT my plan. I wanted to have an only child. The genesis of that desire, was that I was one of 10 kids (though in my parents defense, no more than 6 or 7 of us ever lived under the same roof at the same time). I had 4 OBNOXIOUS closely spaced sibs younger than me (my Mom had 5 kids in 6 1/2 years). I DESPERATELY more than any other dream (well, maybe other than the dream I was secretly a royal princess hidden away for safe keeping), wanted to be an only child. I wanted to be able to practice my ballet, the piano and flute in peace and a mocked free environment – and discuss great literature with my Mom. Instead I was surrounded by snot covered, fart producing, taunting and teasing brothers who found joy in my pain LOL.

    So I promised my daugther she would have the luxury of being the center of my universe, and nothing would be divided to ‘go around’. She was actually my second child, as her older brother died of SIDS, 10 months before her slightly preemie arrival. Because I had stared down the bottomless cavern of grief caused by the absolute fragility of life – she was … well lets just say we were a little too enmeshed as the shrinks like to say. When she was going to be 5, I was stunned, shocked, panicked by the news that I was pregnant. I seriously, seriously considered all options. To this day 16 years later, i cannot fully explain my decision to accept this “change of celestial plan” – I can only say I am grateful to the point of tears that this child is part of my narrative. I often say, I had the first one for the universe, and the second one for me. They are black and white, day and night, gregarious and shy, yin and yang. They remind me in a tangible way that balance is the goal in everything. It was definitely NOT my plan and I am so glad the universe rejected my plan. It would have been infinitely harder for me to separate from my older daughter and see her life as that – her life. As Gibran wrote

    “Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

    Your children are not your children.
    They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
    They come through you but not from you,
    And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

    You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
    For they have their own thoughts.
    You may house their bodies but not their souls,
    For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
    which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
    You may strive to be like them,
    but seek not to make them like you.
    For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

  7. Sheila
    August 9, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    Hey T,

    Personally, I loved your two recent HuffPo pieces. I have lived in rural America and urban/suburban America. They all have their own awesome unique mojo – but I’m not sorry my daughters were raised in Los Angeles. I was able to give them a front row seat to all the worst aspects of human beings, along side super groovy folks living with the notion that they can be the change they want to see in this world. It does suck when you know that your familial programming may be missing some important blocks or may fail a code inspection or two. But your therapist was right in saying motherhood can’t change our intrinsic selves. So you were an extremely successful, witty, humanitarian with a great sense of humor and a robust education before Buster came onboard the SS Strasser – and he will grow up with the great advantage of having a mother and father who knew who they were before they were slapped with the label of “parent”. Your comment about seeing the world anew again hit me right in my Mommy chakra … to me, that was the gift of motherhood that made all the snot, poop, vomit and viruses worth it. To see a ray of sunshine that I would clearly have overlooked for the natural miracle it is. Recently, the cresent moon gave my adult daughter and I a very tender moment in the car when we looked up and at the same moment said LOOK ! a crescent moon – and for a moment we were both transported back to her kindergarten year when she was obsessed with the crescent moon and waited impatiently every month for it to magically appear. Steady on girl – you are doing a magnificent job and Buster is a very, very lucky little dude, even if his Granny is a little on the dodgy side, he will grow up knowing that people do the best they can do, and sometimes that’s a little low on the grading curve.

    =Sheila

  8. Frank
    August 6, 2011 at 1:49 am #

    It’s sad that your mother is so selfish. She will never change. I have an uncle like this: When I was a little kid, he was so cool, but he made fun of me constantly, mostly about my weight. When I was a kid, I wanted his approval so badly; now, I never want to see him again. Thank goodness, he lives in your neck of the woods, and I live in Appalachia.

    I’ve read your columns and listened to you for the past few years, and I’ve come to the conclusion that either you don’t know much about life outside of LA/San Francisco/New York or you’re on a one-woman mission to match Fox News’ stereotyping of liberals with your own steoreotyping of the non-coastal US. In your last colum about being a city mom vs. country mom, you make it sound like rural America is all white, sheltered, and prestine. Come to the South. I betcha there are more black/white marriages here than in San Francisco. When I lived in Chicago and Minneapolis, none of my neighbors was a Cambodian or El Salvadorian refugee. But they are here. How many people do you know whose family members have died from meth? I know many–in rural America. And the best Indian restaurant I have been to in the US is in Bowling Green, KY. No joke.

    You also exaggerate the diversity of large cities, most notably, your hometown of San Francisco. I love the place, but it is unliveable for all but the wealthiest of people. And if you go to private schools, which you claim to have, do you see much economic diversity? I doubt it. Sure, you can eat at a lot of different ethnic restaurants, and “see” a lot of different types of people in such cities, but that is cultural light; there is no meaningful interaction occuring. And we all know how racially harmonious LA is.

    So, please stop with the red state/blue state stuff. We’re a much more complicated country.

    • Frank
      August 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

      Sorry, I forgot one more thing: Can LGBT couples marry in San Francisco? Nope, but they can in Des Moines or in any number of Iowa cornfields!

  9. Amber
    August 1, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

    Yeah. I have crazy in my tree too. I don’t even want to go there. Sorry your mom bailed and that it brings up worries for your own future role motherhood. I get that too. But you are you in spite of it and your kids will be too. Just love them. And don’t forget your router.

  10. TO
    July 25, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    It took a lot of therapy for me to come to terms with the fact my mom could not be there for me the way I needed her (in most capacities) because her neuroses will always be bigger than ANYTHING anyone else will ever need from her, including her children. To put it simply, whatever I need will not be filled by her unless it fills her need first–without fail, every single time. No matter how much I hope, how much it makes sense to me, my needs will never trump her neuroses. Never.

    I thought I had it rough with childhood sexual abuse in the family (by a few members) and my mom eventually taking up compulsive gambling as an escape from her less than pleasant reality of motherhood (to the point of theft from her company and an eventual criminal record), which I took personally, of course.

    Life is funny like that, you always think you have it bad until someone has it worse and we always think we have it the worst.

    Know that whatever hell you’re going through, we’re all rooting for you and we’re all hopeful we can get through our own hell one way or another to emerge much better parents than the ones we were shortchanged on.

  11. Eris
    July 25, 2011 at 4:40 pm #

    Long long time fan, first time commentor :)

    Sorry to hear your mom jumped ship, but hey, you totally have the right spin on it: She was helpful while it lasted. You gave what you could and get to walk away knowing there is no fault on your side (though, having been a long time fan and having read your book I know you may torture yourself mentally a bit but try to let it go! Please! This one isn’t worth the energy!)

    And, on the bright side, she didn’t take the kid with her so you don’t have to do the whole statewide manhunt thing. That is good too :)

  12. L in Vegas
    July 23, 2011 at 1:44 am #

    I think it has more to do with the flavor of crazy, rather than the degree. My mother in is a recovering alcoholic, Borderline, bulimic, convicted felon, but I always somehow knew she loved me. She did a lot of things that would not be considered model parenting, but she hugged me a lot and went to all my dance recitals. Now that I have my own daughter, she is very keen on grandmothering, and I’m grateful for that. When I read about how things went down with your mother, it broke my heart. Nobody should ever have to feel that way. Someday, despite all our efforts, our kids will tell someone, “My mom is crazy… seriously”. I take comfort in knowing my daughter will be blissfully unaware of the magnitude of her hyperbole. That’s the best we can do.

  13. Jeanette
    July 19, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

    Ouch. Sorry, T, to hear that about your mom. It seemed so encouraging that she came around to be a grandma, even if being a mom was out of her range. Sigh…

    My theory is if you know about your crazy roots and keep an eye on them in yourself, you’ve gotta turn out better than those crazy DNA passer-downers.

    Your son is a lucky tyke!

  14. Alison
    July 12, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Touching and insightful post Teresa. I am a TPE listener and have hear you talk about your childhood before. Your awareness of where you came from and your steadfast love for your son is admirable! He is a lucky, lucky boy.

  15. Morgan @ The818
    July 11, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    Do we have the same Mom? Mine just jumped ship as well. xo.

  16. Kimommy
    July 9, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    I just reminded myself the other day that I can not use up all my worry and wishes on my father, who is on his own journey. The bulk of my worry and wishes are now saved up for my son.

  17. Rebekah
    July 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    I won’t post my crazy family stories – it’s all a spectrum, right?

    I just wanted to say I thought your post was amazing. I loved the part about reaching back to hold your son’s hand at stop lights, I do that too when I pick my son up from daycare (although usually I grab his toes because they are closer!)

    I can’t imagine asking yourself that question about being a joy or a burden. No child should ever wonder that. Its sounds like your son will never have any doubt.

    Thanks for sharing this post!

  18. dylan herzog
    July 7, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    beautiful writing t. you made me choke up a little bit this morning because i do a very similar thing when i grab my daughter’s hand from the backseat and just let her know that she is loved. i think that’s something we all have in common that maybe we missed out on when we were small ourselves: to be loved and to be known not as a burden but as the one true soul of love.

  19. Melissa
    July 6, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    I don’t feel complelled to share the deets, but as a fellow survivor of a mentally ill family I just wanted to say I am sorry this happened. You are so loveable and I know that Buster will always know he is loved too. I have two little monkey boys of my own now (6 and 9) and I have to tell you he will only love you more as he grows.

  20. Karen (SubMommy)
    July 3, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    Well, during the height of the Green River Killer investigation in Washington, my husband’s uncle walked into the King County sheriff’s office and confessed to the crimes.

    He didn’t do it.

    Does that put us in the running?

  21. SilkySmooth105
    July 2, 2011 at 5:50 am #

    I’m glad these comments are moderated. Here’s a story that’s meant to cheer you up so don’t feel the need to litter your blog with it, that is unless if you’d like to. (It’s NSFW — not safe for work)

    Puberty Was Hard…
    I oozed grossness from my face, got rejected to dance at school dances, and had a hard time during puberty. Super hard, which was the best part. Right after school there was an hour of “my” time before my mom would get home from work.

    Forewarning: By telling this story I am cutting off all ties with respect. I can’t say I’m sorry for exposing this story since it’ll make me filthy rich in internet cool points (I’m already filthy as you’ll soon learn) but I suppose that’s the price.

    I was marinating in enough testosterone to kill a senior citizen, alone in my room, and bored. I was watching the rap sensation “Back That Thing Up” known for it’s high quality automobiles, expensive garb, and liberal use of slow motion. Oh and hot black chicks. Lots of those. I don’t remember my exact thought process at the time, but it went something like “I’ve got a boner.” In those kinds of scenarios a man must improvise.

    Five minutes later I was kneeling on the floor, butt naked, and pumping furiously at my hands clasped together. They were doused with a nauseous combination of spit on top of more spit. I don’t remember the exact thought process I had at the time, but it went something like “…” As I was watching my hands have the time of their life I heard my mom’s voice, “Kyle?”

    The way she said it. Kyle? Like she had to ask who it was since the sight was almost unrecognizable. Kyle? Like seriously? Hand humping? Kyle? What are either of us supposed to do? I looked up and saw my mom, a preschool teacher, standing in my doorway wearing the face of a murder witness. Her innocent son just died. I was caught wet handed.

    What could I have done? Cover this up? Clothes were out of reach and the TV was flashing rump. There were no tricks, no lies, nothing in my bag of excuses I could use. I looked up at her and shrugged. Without a word she walked out. So I awkwardly closed my door, got in bed, and obsessed for the next couple of hours on how to get out of this. I stayed inside my room until I heard my dad yelling, “dinner!”

    My mind drove in circles as I walked downstairs to the kitchen table. “Did she tell my dad? How much do bus tickets to Idaho cost? Is a whole bottle of Aspirin enough to kill myself?” I avoided all eye contact, kept my head down, and gorged spaghetti faster than a homeless man. Nobody said a word about it. After breaking the speed eating record I got up, washed the dish off, and walked back to my room. I still have no idea if anyone even looked at me.

    I laid alone in my room with my adolescent mind and adult hormones. There’s almost a rule system to jacking off in a white middle class family. The first rule is don’t talk about jacking off. The second rule is seriously, don’t talk about jacking off. I have no idea how other cultures handle jacking off but I envy every single one of them. There’s no good way to get caught, but some ways are definitely worse than others. I don’t remember how that night ended, but things were never quite the same. Whenever my mom started to walk upstairs she would clap. No explanation, just an awkward slow clap so I could hear her before, ahem, seeing her. When I heard a clap I stopped the fap. Yeah, puberty was hard…

  22. SilkySmooth105
    July 2, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    I am a guy who grew up with an amazingly neurotic, caring mom. Once I got older I realized just how deeply she gave a shit. That in and of itself was enough to be a wonderful mom. Everything else was just details. You’ll be perfect for him, faults and all. We love you, T.

  23. Miss Anonymous
    July 1, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    I get pretty competitive as well when someone says they come from a crazy family. I have a mother who has attempted suicide several times with pills – once I even had to physically pry them out of her mouth. She chased away my biological father – broke his ribs, threatened his life – and I believe he stayed away because he was worried of a murder suicide situation. My sisters were worried about that occurring back in January when she went off the deep end again. She broke the ribs of our stepfather once with the butt of a rifle and had shot at him with a shotgun (missed).

    She loves telling the story about when she “killed” her brother when she was a teen. Her brother was luckily revived by a passing a neighbor.

    There is incest (she says she was molested by an uncle and she says the same brother above had several of his friends rape her and my aunt when they were children). This uncle has his “6 pack” 6 children by 4 different women. The most recent wife (no children) beats him.

    My mom was emotionally and physically abusive to us. She has borderline personality disorder, depression, and narcissistic personality disorder. Her memories of our childhood are 180 degrees from the reality of the situation.

    My grandmother was known for suicide threats and one of her brothers shot himself. I have a cousin in jail for manslaughter and drugs.

    Yeah, I know crazy. I got out in 1999 and basically moved as far away as I could and still be in the continental US. Have never once thought back to moving back there. I don’t know how my sisters do it.

    • Teresa Strasser
      July 7, 2011 at 11:36 am #

      You do know crazy. Wow. Love your post. You are not messing around with “zany” and “nutty” — you are the real thing and your family is out-doing themselves. thank you.

  24. poorjavier
    June 30, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    Don’t fret T. We “luff yewww”, Buster and Batman. You kicked butt on The Film Vault.

  25. Meg
    June 30, 2011 at 4:12 am #

    It’s as much sad as it is a relief to hear someone else has the same type of narcissistic mother that I have. I am surrounded by people every day that have loving mothers who are their best friends. Mothers who dropped everything and delved into the role of grandma as if it is their calling in life. My mother, not so much. It took me a long time and lots of therapy to come to terms with the fact that my mother simply doesn’t care about anyone but herself. It’s a sad reality that sneaks up on me and takes me down once in a while, but like you, I’ve taken that sadness and disappointment and turned it in to a life-long goal to be different with my own children. My son will never have to wonder whether I love him. A birthday will never pass that he doesn’t hear from me. I will tell him how much I love him until he is shoving me away with embarrassment because I do in fact love him that much. I’m sorry your mom left the way she did, but please know you are not alone. I know what it’s like to have hope and let yourself believe things will be different, she will be different, only to be disappointed yet again. All we can do is vow to be better parents than we had and love on our kids as much as possible.

  26. Tiera
    June 30, 2011 at 1:29 am #

    Sometimes my family drives me absolutely bananas. But no matter how many times they let me down, or I say that I’m so tired of their crap and done with them… I find myself right back in the craziness of it all…

    PS: I absolutely love your writing, Teresa! And miss you on the Adam Carolla Podcast :)

  27. Jeff
    June 29, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    As a newly minted alum of the University of Oregon I really appreciate your Pre discussion. Before you commit completely to the Pre metaphor, I would advise you to come up to Eugene and check out Pre’s rock (the rock he wrapped his car around when he was driving drunk). Also, Eugene is actually nice this time of year! Get it on!

  28. Sheila
    June 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm #

    I don’t know if it’s fair given my Irish American heritage and all that melancholy James Joyceian alcoholism fermented in Catholic guilt it entails – that I throw my entries into the crazy olympics, but my great grandpa Murphy, died in the legendary shame mecca of American mental health policy Bellevue in NYC when the crazies he lived with were freaked out that he sincerely believe he was “St John the Apostle of America”, because he believed G*d literally spoke to him whenever someone flushed a toilet (in his defense, in early 20th century Irish slums, not everyone had one of those new fangled things). He lived out his life in confusion, psychosis and fear that G*d had followed him to the assylum, until death from tuberculosis compassionately took him in his 40′s – my father was permanently emotionally scarred from this forced visits to “the ward” to visit his gramps. My Dad’s sister took up the schizophrenic banner in the next generation – she would come to our family functions (see paragraph 1 irish catholic family – I have like 43 first cousins), and then she’d come untethered mid-event and lock herself in the bathroom (the ONLY bathroom in our house – filled to the celing with drunk aunts and uncles), and howl chants which may have been divinely or satanically inspired. The moment they decided she needed to ‘go the way of the ancestral crazies to a nice, safe assylum somewhere away from them’ was the day she stabbed herself all over her body with nail trimming scissors she found in our bathroom, trying to let the bad pour out of her. I was a teenager at the time and really felt based on just the competition I was aware of, they were being pretty high and mighty judgemental since I could list a dozen that were one pair of manicure scissors away from joining her.

    Worrying that my kids will know, not only now when I can theoretically tell them, show them, lather rinse repeat that I love them, but long after I’m gone and they’re telling the crazy stories about their mother and some of my “lesser moments when I had a near Alec Baldwinian moments of frustration”, will they also say they had a mother whose love they never doubted for a moment and was something that made them strong enough to face whatever life throws at them when I’m not there with the catchers mitt jumping in front of the wild pitches (what’s with the sports analogy today). But seriously – will they know forever that I loved them from the moment I knew they were cell dividing inside me … and every, single second since that time. If I could be granted only one genie wish – that would be it … please let them feel that all encompassing love every day of their lives.

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