The Rules for Living with Leo

I am fourteen. I used to live in California but now I live in the frozen wilderness at the edge of the woods. I used to have a kind of strict mom but now I live with a super strict stepdad who doesn’t like children and thinks we always do everything wrong. I don’t like getting in trouble, so I tried to make a list of some of the rules.

  1. Don’t say your opinion, because it might be different than his. And it’s never okay to have a different opinion. It means you are wrong, or maybe stupid.
  2. Pretend like you happily agree to whatever your parents decide you should do on the weekend. If it is scraping the paint off the house by hand or sweeping the four staircases or riding in the car for two hours to look at scenery, act like it’s exactly what you wished you could spend the weekend doing.
  3. Do not frown or scowl or show by any look on your face that you might not like something.
  4. Do not tell jokes with your siblings and laugh. Especially do not make your littlest brother laugh because he might drop something and break it, and then you will be grounded because it was your fault.
  5. Act like you don’t notice when your stepdad yells at your mom or your siblings.
  6. Do not speak up for a sibling who is getting in trouble. You will only get in worse trouble, without helping the sibling. Instead, you can write notes and pass them through the opening between your closet and your sister’s.
  7. Do not ever admit that you like a boy. He will only make fun of you, and if you blush, they will laugh harder.
  8. Do not invite your friends over to the house. If Leo is there, he will scold you in front of them, and it will be embarrassing.  He will do that anyway, but worse if he knows you actually care.
  9. If Leo comes home and says he found a Saturday job for you at the coffee shop near his business, and you don’t want a Saturday job, just take the job without protesting. You will have to take it anyway, so you might as well skip the lecture about how lazy you are.
  10. If Leo’s in the middle of giving the family the silent treatment because we are wrong or bad or stupid, just accept it and don’t say it is childish to give someone the silent treatment.
  11. If you get nothing you want for Christmas, pretend you are really grateful for the stuff your stepdad thought you needed, like ugly, inexpensive clothes or books on polite behavior.
  12. If Leo wants some help but hasn’t said so, read his mind and come and help him voluntarily and cheerfully.
  13. If it’s freezing cold outside and you are inside reading a book you like and Leo says, you should go out and get some fresh aid, pretend that you were just waiting for him to say that. Drop your book immediately and go outside for a few hours.
  14. If you bring home straight As on your report card, and he comes home from work and picks up your report card and reads it and then puts it down and doesn’t say anything at all, be grateful he didn’t say something mean to you.
  15. When Leo says that certain types of work, especially housework, is women’s work, don’t say anything and don’t have any expression on your face and don’t look at your sisters.
  16. If you put on some make-up, expect 1) to be made fun of and 2) to be told to take it off.
  17. Don’t complain to your mom about Leo.
  18. Do not cry in front of him.
  19. Do not complain if something hurts.
  20. Only sing or play violin if he is not home.

I’m not stupid. I know these rules aren’t fair. But I know it’s pointless to protest. I am trapped. There is literally nothing I can do about any of it, so for now I just have to be quiet and take it. But I hate him, I hate him, I hate him. Just don’t tell him I said that.

16 thoughts on “The Rules for Living with Leo

  1. That’s a lot of things for a 14 year old to remember. A lot of things that she shouldn’t have had to know or learn.

    I have a list too, I recognize some of the items on your list. I’m sorry that you needed this list. ❤️

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  2. Yup. I have a list like that too. I wish you didn’t have that kind of list. Nobody, especially a 14 year old shoukd have to remember a list of rules like that. They must have felt like they were sucking the life out of you. I’m so sorry, 14. If I could have, I would have taken you away from that place.

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    • It was oppressive, cold and frightening. Thank you for seeing this. And now I’m connecting it to my later post on regret about how I parented my own boys. I was a very different parent. Noise and mess were accepted. Messing up wasn’t an especially big deal, and anyway, once we talked about it, it wasn’t something to keep bringing up. Another rule I forgot about with Leo was “once you make a mistake, he has the right to continually bring it up for years as a reason not to trust you or allow you to do other things.” So I can see my parenting was too lax sometimes in reaction to this.

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