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Wonderfully Dysfunctional
It Must be Genetic
A Memoir by Buffi Neal

A gypsy mother who refused to wear a bra and a father who refused to leave his first wife. A brother who slept under the coffee table and a sister who was kidnapped. A homosexual minister, a missing uncle and a feisty red-headed grandmother who was longing to leave it all.

I always knew my family was unusual, but I was lucky enough to have escaped that gene. Or was I? In a nursing home, seated next to my dying grandmother, I looked around at my family and it occurred to me that I fit right in. No bra, dirty sneakers and two ex husbands. Maybe it really is genetic - maybe I never had a chance.

With the help of my siblings, I began a journey of self discovery as we recalled stories of our youth including juicy family secrets, inappropriate practical jokes and betrayal.

On a journey to find normal, I found myself instead,

It Must be Genetic has been reviewed by Authors, Editors, Teachers, friends and many enthusiastic women.  The results have been amazing and the reviews incredible.  See what some reviewers have to say!
Linda Fahy Newman, Ph.D
Educational & Legal Writing Consultant
"Buffi is a new and refreshing writer. Her frankness and insight are woven into a sometimes amusing, sometimes sad story that speaks to many of us who carry the 'burden' of the dysfunctional family. She makes dysfunction function, and quietly lets us know that it's all part of being human. She reminds us that it's the small things in life that make up our rich tapestries. Her intensity is not withheld when it comes to her children: here, she speaks particularly to all of us who are mothers. 

I have taught literature - a wide, wide, range - for well over 30 years and I'm impressed by Buffi's ability to "connect". In the age of soundbites, Buffi has that ability to reach out and grab you quickly. The psychology of it all is not spelled out - it simply IS. Great book for discussion, too. Many young adult readers will relate to this." --Linda Newman

Take a Look Inside!

 Wonderfully Dysfunctional - It Must Be Genetic

Chapter 1: Late for School Again
If the majority of us are dysfunctional, wouldn't that make us normal?

The man who once thought my many quirks irresistible rolled up the sleeve of his pressed shirt, patted it and said, “nothing much to tell. I come from a normal, loving family.” I stopped picking at the rip in my jeans just in time to catch the marriage counselor’s nod. I repeated the word "normal" over and over in my head. How could I compete with normal? The counselor cleared his smile. “Now tell me about your family, Buffi.”

“Let's see, Mom was a bra-burning hippie who named me after her favorite folk singer. Dad is a free-spirited Jew who protested the Vietnam War by temporarily moving us to a kibbutz. In Israel. The other man I call “Dad” is a conservative Catholic who kept Mom hidden from his wife and kids. My grandmother married her second cousin, a minister and the love of her life. Unfortunately, he secretly preferred men. He was better than her first husband, though, who secretly preferred children. My younger brother slept under the coffee table and my sister was once kidnapped by my grandmother. Most of my family have an uncontrollable urge to laugh at funerals. I guess you could say we aren’t normal, we’re just wonderfully dysfunctional. But really? What family isn’t?”

This morning is no different than most. I’m in bed, recounting the blurry details of those useless counseling sessions. It’s been more than a year. Why must he still haunt me in the morning?

Three generations of failed marriages. The label of divorce now permanently engraved on every part of my life, feels like a birthmark instead of a tattoo. I turn over, adjust the pillow under my head and soak in every detail of my new home. I smile. I don’t miss the $3,000 cherry dining room set or the toile wallpaper I so carefully chose. Maybe I miss the happy family I’d dreamed would sit there, passing hot food around on my creamy-white wedding china.

The funny thing is, I never pictured myself growing old with him. I assumed it was because he was going to die young. I thought it would be a plane crash, a car accident or an incurable disease. I never guessed it would be divorce.

Before we were married, he never mentioned his plan to retire to a ranch in Montana with horses and a dog. If I’d known that I could’ve saved us both fifteen years. I’m going to be on a beach. Any beach. My hair will be long in two white braids; I’ll ride around town on a three-wheeled bike with a flower basket and a bell. I just don’t know who I’ll be riding home to.

I left it all behind except for the two babies sleeping next to me, who aren’t really babies anymore. My suitcase kids. So easy going I can pack them up and bring them anywhere.

Nine year old Amanda is a human rubber band. Awake, she’d be balancing on one leg, walking on her hands or scaling the sides of a doorway. And don’t let that angelic face fool you. She’s really an adult trapped in a kid’s body, ironically destined to look half her age for the rest of her life. Just like all the women in my family.

Derek, only seven, is already an inch taller than little Amanda. Derek, a name I chose that means “the great ruler”, can be found organizing intricate games on the school playground. The teachers call him a leader. When I was a kid they just called me bossy.

My bed is positioned against the longest wall of the living room of my new one-bedroom condo. No need for a couch. I gave Amanda the master bedroom. What the hell do I need a bedroom for these days? And besides, what parent spends time in their bedroom? Sex becomes a quickie here and there and the kids infiltrate the bed anyway. Those parents who have successfully claimed the master bedroom and enjoy private nights without the kicking feet of little offspring? They had to suffer the screaming days. You know, the "let-‘em-cry” method of getting the baby to sleep alone. I never made it through more than two minutes of crying. I wiped my tears, packed up the crib and kicked it Eskimo style.

The kids and I sleep in the living room. It’s not normal, but it feels right. And I’m so tired of doing what feels wrong, just to be like everyone else. For the first time in my life there’s no one to answer to. I can be the mom that I am, not the mom people expect me to be. I have the freedom to be perfectly imperfect.

It’s time to get up, but I’d rather lie here watching the sunlight color the hair of my sleeping babies. My thoughts drift. A hundred miles south of me, there’s a nursing home by the Jersey Shore. Does the same beautiful sunlight shine on the grey hair of my grandmother, dying in room 213A? Is anyone there to watch it?

The nametag outside the door reads “Marjorie” but we all call her “Mopsie”. I imagine that the nurse, hurrying past, doesn’t notice Mopsie’s mouth hanging open. Her pale blue feet, tangled up in a starched white sheet, may go unnoticed as well. If I shake my head, the image might clear. I don’t often think of her. Why this morning?

The last time I saw her she told me to go away. She didn’t actually say “Go away”, but she pretended to be asleep. But I’m not the favorite grandchild, and Mopsie’s too old to pretend that I am. If I’d visited more, she would’ve taught my kids to play Gin Rummy and curse. Twice divorced herself, she could’ve helped me through the past year. But time is running out for the matriarch of my family. She may succeed in bringing her secrets to the grave with her; secrets that should have been revealed long ago.

She’s the last of her generation, longing to join her siblings. Her basement full of treasures tells the story of a family that was once so prominent they had a set of china for every day of the week. Her purple kimono hangs on the wall of her now empty home, a reminder of her teen years spent traveling the world. The kimono seems to know the truth and patiently waits for her return.

I shake my head one more time. Go away Mopsie.

I tip-toe over to Amanda who is sleeping on an oversized chair in the living room. Five little pink toenails peek out from under her fluffy white blanket. Somehow her dark hair looks dull without the glow of her bright blue eyes. I bend over, putting my face in front of hers. I feel her sweet breath on my cheek. I see myself in her still face. Did she have this many freckles yesterday? I kiss her eyelids. She opens her eyes then stretches her arms like a cat, and gives me a huge smile. What is that power her face has over me?

Pinching the hem of the blanket I say, “Do you have room for a big-old fat-old mommy?”

Her little groggy voice replies, “Yer not fat mommy.”

I say, “I will be some day.” It’s the same routine every morning. She holds the covers up and I climb in. I whisper, “Wake up my little Mandy-Lynn.” No response. “I know you hear me. It’s time.” No sign of life. Eyelids glued shut. I pick up her tiny hand and smile at the half-peeled pink polish matching her toes. Her hand becomes my little puppet. I hold all her fingers down except the middle one, which I wave in circles. Her lips move slightly, but the eyelids are still tight. In a high-pitched voice I say, “Talk to the hand Mommy. I’m never gettin’ up.” A crack in the armor, and… huge smile. Now laughter. Mission accomplished.

The cell phone startles me. The clock scolds, late for school again. In her ear I whisper, “Sorry Baby-Girl, Mommy’s done it again. Go get dressed. I’ll wake up your brother.”

I climb into my bed next to Derek. I brush back his sandy blonde hair releasing a breeze of strawberry-scented shampoo. I soak it in. His lips are so plump that I have to resist the urge to bite them. He digs his head into my pillow, groans like an old man and pushes me away. We stayed up way too late watching the Apprentice series, discussing our brilliant business ideas and shouting “You’re fired.”

Now it’s time to transform myself into the morning drill instructor. “Get dressed.” “Find your socks.” “Brush your teeth.” “Eat your breakfast.” “Hurry up.” The sound of my voice is annoying and familiar. I’m my mom, but powerless to be anything else this morning.

The ringing of the phone gives us all relief from my barking. Amanda tumbles across the room to see who keeps calling. “It’s Aunt Tami.”

“Don’t answer,” I yell back.

Derek’s swimming beneath a pile of jackets and shoes in the hall closet. Why does he always lose his left shoe? I hand Amanda her backpack, hold the front door open and instruct, “Start the car. Turn the heat on. Do NOT sit in the driver’s seat.” Derek runs out to catch up to her.

I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I tug on the hem of my grey hooded sweatshirt and turn sideways. Will my boobs magically cooperate this morning? I know I should wear a bra. Why do I fight it? Mom never wore one, so I put it on.

Outside, I’m not surprised to find the kids sitting on the roof of the car. Their giggles fill the morning air. I look down at the ground to hide my smile and jump into the driver’s seat. The car shakes when I put it into reverse. The kids scream, “STOP!” They slide down the sides of the car. When they open the doors, I hit the steering wheel and gasp. “You scared me to death. I thought you were in the back seat.” They laugh and we all pretend that they really scared me.

On the drive to school we argue over the radio station. I’m going through a little country phase, Derek prefers rock or rap and Amanda is just disgusted with our lack of taste. We settle for morning talk radio which we all hate.

Amanda says, “Mom, let’s talk about what we’re gunna buy when we win the lottery.”

Derek interrupts, “No, let’s talk about our business.”

I turn down the radio. “Which one?”

Derek crosses his arms and furrows his brow annoyed that I can’t read his mind. “Yo-Mamma Gum,” he says.

Amanda pulls on the back of my seat trying to find me in the rearview mirror. “Mom, tell him it’s called Rude Candy, not Yo-Mamma Gum.”

I become the referee. “The Company can be Rude Candy and the first product can be Yo-Mamma Gum. You can come up with our second product, like You’re-So-Dumb Sour Balls, or You’re-So-Gross Gummies.”

Amanda adds, “Okay, but you can’t have Derek come up with the Yo-Mamma jokes ‘cause they’d be stupid.”

Derek laughs. “Yo Mamma so poor, she can’t pay attention.”

“You see. He didn’t even make that up,” Amanda protests.

Derek yells, “You’re fired!”

“You’re both fired,” I say. “Get out of the car.”

I love to watch them walk into school. I’m releasing my offspring into the world. I hope they make good decisions. I hope the other kids are nice to them. I hope their teachers don’t punish them for being late. Most of all, I just hope they come back to me.

The cell phone rings. Again. I resist the urge to throw it out the window. “Hey Brat-face, have you heard of texting?”

My little sister Tami says, “Have you heard about Mopsie?”

“You know,” I scold her, “the more you call me, the less I wanna answer.”

“If you’d answer your damn phone, I wouldn’t have to keep calling you,” she snaps back.

The radio clock catches my eye: 9:35. “Shit. Late for school. Late for work. Gotta call you back, Tami.”

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