Spoiled Children of Divorce

Exemplary Children of Divorce – Steven Spielberg

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s parents divorced when he was around 15 or 16.

He says here that E.T. is inspired by that experience:

“From the very beginning,” Spielberg said, “ `E.T.’ was a movie about my childhood–about my parents’ divorce, although people haven’t often seen that it’s about divorce. My parents split up when I was 15 or 16 years old, and I needed a special friend, and had to use my imagination to take me to places that felt good–that helped me move beyond the problems my parents were having, and that ended our family as a whole. And thinking about that time, I thought, an extraterrestrial character would be the perfect springboard to purge the pain of your parents’ splitting up.”

from http://www.scruffles.net/speilberg/articles/article-006.html

And also from an article at Businessweek.com (www.businessweek.com/1998/28/b3586001.htm):

With his parents’ divorce looming, Spielberg’s grades sank. He barely graduated from high school and was rejected from both UCLA and USC film schools. Settling for California State University at Long Beach because it was close to Hollywood, Spielberg got a C in his television production course. He dropped out in his senior year.

“About A Boy”
December 17, 2007, 3:40 am
Filed under: Books, Movies About Growing Up in Divorce | Tags: ,

After years and years of psychotherapy in which I probably only mentioned my Mother’s suicide attempts once and with a non-chalant shrug, I finally got my first feeling of release from these horrible experiences while watching a movie called About A Boy. The movie stars Hugh Grant which I’m sure helped in the feelings department, of course.  In the movie, a mother tries to kill herself because she can’t handle how difficult her life has become.  Her little boy walks in and witnesses the whole rescue scene.  Later on he makes friends with irresponsible, irrepressible Hugh Grant who is a 30 something womanizing cad and he tells Grant’s character about what has happened.  Grant’s reaction is perfect.  He doesn’t try to react with wisdom, just blurts something British like “Bloody Hell,” but you can tell the information sinks in.  Hugh Grant actually listened and “got it.” Or at least he acted like he got it. He’s an actor so who knows what he actually gets and doesn’t get. Somebody on that set “Got it.” The movie is based on a book by Nick Hornby. Nick Hornby gets it.  Anyway, you can tell I prefer to talk about Hugh Grant over my Mother’s Suicide attempts any day, just not an easy topic.

My Mother tried to kill herself 4 times during the year that my Father left. The first time was before he had left, the other three times were after he left. They were both alcoholics so self-destructive behavior didn’t really seem out of place. Plus my Mother was part of the Valium generation so she had been slowly degrading for years, always out of energy and becoming more and more confused, always needing to go home to take a nap.

The last 3 suicide attempts came after my Father left and were part manipulation to try to get him to come back. I was the one who walked in and found her. I was 14. Lots of adrenalin that year and blinking ambulance lights. My Mother had two visits to the Mental Hospital. The County Mental Hospital, where she was taken first, almost let her die because they didn’t treat her for the Clorox she had drunk. County Mental Hospitals are some of the most frightening places in the world.  If you really want to die they give you every reason why you should do so.  My Mother was taken in in the back of a police car in the afternoon and by the morning she had no heart beat and no pulse and my Father had her transferred to a less deadly, private facility. My Father refused to show up after the first attempt because the police had handcuffed him and stuck him in the back of the car because of something my Mother had said. Eventually my Mother found a semi-stable boyfriend and stopped trying to kill herself, but she never calmed down. I never said anything about it and never felt anything about the scenes until about 10 years later. One day, I came home from work, put my key in the lock to the flat where I lived and all the memories cames rushing back to me. I remembered that every day when I came home from High School and opened the front door I would walk around the house to see if my Mother’s body was lying around.

My Mother only remembered the one Attempt and that’s because it led to the Mental Hospital which cost money. Once she scoffed about the time she tried to 86 herself. I didn’t say anything and that’s the only discussion I’ve ever had about it with a family member.

I haven’t read it but About A Boy is based on a novel by Nick Hornby. From all accounts I can figure, Hornby’s parent’s divorced when he was 11. He’s written a memoir that discusses his parent’s divorce and the obsessive love he developed of football, or soccer. Hornby’s English so maybe it’s Soccer. The book is called Fever Pitch.

“War of the Roses”
December 4, 2007, 4:56 am
Filed under: Bad Step-Parent Stories, Movies About Growing Up in Divorce | Tags: , ,

Since it’s the “Season of 2 Christmas Presents” I’ll bring up a movie that was made in 1989 about the material side of Divorce. It’s called War of the Roses starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as a couple who have established their life, kids are grown and off at College, and the wife gets to the point where she can’t stand everything about the husband. They decide to Divorce but neither wants to give up the house. They end up fighting to the Death over the possessions. This is supposed to be a Black Comedy, heavily exaggerated, sort of a moral tale of how not to act. I actually found it to be a pretty accurate description of how intense the fighting gets. I’ve sort of always wondered if the guy who wrote the story didn’t know my parents…

The kids aren’t around to witness the fighting because they’re grown and off at College. I suppose the idea is that the couple would not have behaved the way they did if the kids were not at home. This, of course, is total b.s. I’ve got the stories. I still feel like it’s not safe to talk about them, but trust me I do have the stories.

They say that kids whose parents divorce when they are very young often don’t feel the effects of the divorce. Probably this is true. At least they don’t know the difference. At that point, the parents haven’t built up any of the material wealth that can come with Marriage in some cases so once the emotional stuff dies down the fighting ends. When possessions and lawyers enter the picture the stuff drags on for years.

I got caught in one of these situations. When my friend in Middle School came over to my house after school her mother would come over to pick her up and would spend more and more time at our house. This woman was lonely because her Country Club membership had been cancelled by the wives who got tired of watching her flirt with their husbands. She eventually walked off with my Father. I found out later that my friend had been so jealous of our house that she had colluded with her mother to make this happen. My Father had his business and his clothes but left with nothing else from the house. When he died he left nothing to my Brother and I because he was so angry about this. My ex-best-friend from Middle School will probably inherit a Million $ from him. Her Mother is so evil I suspect she may never die.

Over the years I have met exactly three people, all women for some reason, whose Parents met through their friends. One woman said she liked having her best friend for a sister. One woman didn’t seem to have any thoughts about it at all. The third woman was like me. She felt used and betrayed and didn’t trust easily as a consequence.

December 1, 2007, 5:01 am
Filed under: Movies About Growing Up in Divorce | Tags:

Something that seems to come along with growing up in a split family is that the kids have a lot more freedom to do what they want.  The parents are usually working or preoccupied with significant others or booze or drugs or their own reflection in the mirror, whatever-er-er.

One movie that I saw a couple of years ago really impressed me.  It’s a documentary about a Southern California skateboard team that developed in Los Angeles in the 70s called the Zephyrs.  The members of this team were a bunch of surfer kids, apparently mostly from divorced families, who hung around a surf shop.  Most became very successful in competitive and professional skateboarding.  A couple have failed in life.  The name of the movie is Dogtown and Z-Boys.

I know nothing about skateboarding but really enjoyed watching these daredevils practically kill themselves.  They’re basically snowboarding in empty swimming pools.

West Coast

There’s a Phenomenon called “The Emerald Flash.” This is a Bolt of Green light that is said to sometimes be visible for a split second just as the Sun sets over the Ocean. I grew up in a beach town in California and my Mother used to make a game out of staring at the Sunset to see if we could see this Green Light. She said that one of her boyfriends had said that he had seen it. The West Coast, especially California, is a haven for Single Moms looking for a new life. I think they’re all looking for the God Damned Emerald Flash. As an adult, I’ve lived next door to a couple of women who have moved to California, and, not being able to afford the rent for a big place, have set up a little “Bedroom” for their kid in the closet of their studio apartment. Probably I’m over-reacting but they never seem like the happiest neighbors in the world. I suppose these women expose their kids to a life full of hopes and dreams and the sense that anything is possible. Several of the kids have become famous writers and have written books, either memoir or fiction about the Single Momdums of their childhoods and teens.

The big classic in this “genre” is James M. Cain’s famous 1930s novel, Mildred Pierce, about a Mother who works to raise her daughter in a certain style and then the daughter runs off with Mildred’s husband. I think this is the old school Single Mom story. Nowadays I think it might be more appropriate that Mom runs off with the daughter’s boyfriend or husband.

Mona Simpson wrote an incredible book about a young girl and her Mother who move to California in the 1970s in Anywhere But Here.  Was there a movie of this?

Tobias Wolfe wrote a memoir about his boyhood called This Boy’s Life. His Mom meant to bring him to California but somehow the two ended up in Washington. The book tells about the struggles to survive and his awful relationship with his Step-Father. I’ve only seen the movie.  It starred Robert de Niro, Ellen Barkin, and Leonardo di Caprio and was unbelievably depressing.