Living Through My Own Version of “The Glass Castle”

Monday, August 14, 2017

A double rainbow over the home we hope to stay in for years to come.

This weekend, the film adaptation of Jeanette Walls’ powerful memoir “The Glass Castle” opened in theaters. I read the book a few years ago and couldn’t put it down. Although I was fortunate and didn’t grow up with parents quite as erratic as the author’s, there were so many parts of the story that resonated with me. In fact, when I showed the movie trailer to both of my kids a few days ago, I couldn’t help but break down and weep.

I had a step-father who thought nothing of moving us from place to place every few months, we were constantly dodging creditors throughout my childhood, and there were many times we moved into questionable places that he had grand plans to “fix up and make our dream house.” That would only last a few months, and then we would move once again, leaving behind a house or mobile home with modest renovations completed. I tried to put some of my feelings about this down in an essay I wrote a few years ago, titled “Moving.”

I learned to live in a constant state of flux, holding my breath and waiting for the inevitable. If my parents were unhappy with our living situation, we simply packed up all our things and left. By the time I was in seventh grade, I had attended six different schools and lived in more houses and mobile homes than I’ll ever be able to remember. The cars my parents drove changed just as frequently. I hated starting new schools and trying to make friends from scratch. The Hispanic heritage on my mother’s side, awkward haircuts and big bulky glasses left me a prime target for ridicule and bullying in my younger years. To this day, I cannot walk into a room full of strangers without feeling my skin crawl.

For a long time, I had issues with all the “things” I felt we were collecting in our home. I wasn’t used to being able to save so much, because I was used to only holding on to the bare minimum of possessions so we could be ready for the next move. While I still don’t like clutter, I’ve made peace with a few things, as I also wrote.

So I’ve come to realize that maybe it’s a good thing to have an entire bin in the garage full of artwork from my son and daughter. It is okay if we store some of their old toys in our attic so they can reclaim them someday. That is what normal families do. My kids both attended the same preschool and have grown up with the children at their elementary school. I never had that opportunity. I lived in so many homes, had so many babysitters and attended so many schools, that its often hard to remember details like street names and zip codes, much less what the inside of the homes looked like.

I admire the courage Jeanette Walls had to put her story out there, especially since her mother is still alive. From what I can tell from some of the interviews I’ve read with Walls, her mother Rose Mary came to terms with what she describes as  "how her daughter remembered her childhood" and now even lives with the author and her husband in a cottage on their property.

As for me, my parents divorced in 2004. My stepfather went on to remarry and did end up building his dream house out in Colorado—only he did it with his new wife and not with us. My mother lives in a small home two-bedroom home but is happy as she can be, because she is dependent upon her own survival and supports herself by working 40+ hours a week at a hardware store. She has lived in the same place since the divorce. My husband and I bought a new house back in April that has everything we could ever want in it and we don’t plan on moving anytime soon.

I hope to provide a different life for my kids than the one I had.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who resides in North Carolina with her husband and two kids.


Sioux Roslawski said...


You have a memoir inside of you.

We'll all be lucky when you let that story chew its way out...

Renee Roberson said...

Thank you, Sioux. I've tried writing about it in bits and pieces, and maybe one day it will come together in one coherent piece. As for now, it's difficult that I don't have any sort of "home" connected to my childhood, I was an only child so I had to live through it alone, and the simple question "So where are you from?" leaves me speechless.

Margo Dill said...

I was thinking the same thing as you, Sioux. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

Evelyn Krieger said...

Renee, I've learned that you cannot change the past but you can change the future. That's what you've done for your children by providing them with a stable home life. I attended the opening of the Glass Castle which featured a taped interview with Jeanette Walls. It's amazing to see how much life and brightness there is in her eyes and smile considering all she has been through. She was able, after many years and through framing her story in a memoir, to appreciate some of the gifts her dysfunctional parents bequeathed her.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee, this is a moving post. I can relate to it, although I moved around from my teens on. My childhood was pretty grounded, and I think that's when you need it the most. I'm glad you found a home for your kids. I think we try hard to provide the things we never had. :) One thing I've always said is that "home" is where your loved ones are. One of our instructors has "home" tattooed on her arm. That's where her home is...but that has more to do with body acceptance. I feel like we can invent a sense of home when we don't have one.

I didn't know The Glass Castle was made into a movie! I'll have to check it out.

I love your "double" rainbow! lol

Mary Horner said...

I agree about writing your memoir, and glad you found a beautiful home you can stay in as long as you like!

Renee Roberson said...

Thanks again everyone, for the lovely feedback. I finally stayed in the same school system from 7th-12th grade, but we still moved every few month. I had to learn how to try and assimilate to my new environment and was constantly hiding where I lived from my friends. I was like Molly Ringwald's character in "Pretty in PInk." "You can just drop me off at the end of the driveway . . . or "I'll just meet you there." I may try writing more of a my story down as I remember the pieces of it and maybe I'll be able to string it together in a cohesive form one day.

It certainly makes me appreciate the things I have now, and I'm glad my kids have had the stability I never experienced at their age.

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