Irony

As my son’s Aunt prepares to die, the earth prepares to come to life.
That’s the way things are, an endless dance of celebration and mourning.  We are reminded that we live as others are dying.  We are reminded that everything comes back somehow.  These are not the same buds, not the same flowers that I saw last year.  They are different, born of the same branches, or new branches, but born and born again.
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Cutoff, life, death, and meaning

So – fair warning, this is going to be an intense and personal blog post.
“Cut off” is a term used by counselors, mostly in terms of a genogram, or a sort of family tree of relations.  It means there has been a falling out so intense that family members cut off other family members, and no long see them or speak to them.

I have my fair share of cut offs.  Not all of them were intentional, and certainly on my part, I wished they could be different.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that once I love you, it’s nearly impossible to shake me.  That doesn’t appear to work both ways – I have been shaken off by family and friends, and for the most part, it’s been either okay, or actually beneficial.  In other cases, it’s been senseless and hurtful.  The cut off about which I am writing is of the latter variety.  First, some background.

My mother’s first children are 20 years older than myself, a different father, a different era.  We are the bookends of the “Baby Boom”.  Throughout my childhood, we got together for holidays.  The rest of the time I was uninteresting, or possibly some sort of threat to them and their inheritance, or what in our family really amounted to a payoff for dealing with our mother.

Our mother on a good day was just an extreme narcissist.  On a bad day, she was drunk.  By drunk, I mean she had downed a large jug of vodka by herself, usually mixed with milk over ice.  I can only speak to my own experience.  Those times she was drunk, if she was with a friend, she was mostly harmless aside from telling humiliating stories about her children.  If she was alone, which was most of the time, she was abusive.  I was sat upon, I had suit cases thrown on me, I was yanked from my bed, and more than once woke up to her tearing my room apart, literally like in the movie Mommy Dearest, so she could “clean” it at 2am.  My eldest sister once told me (in a neener neener kind of way) that Mother had been much worse when raising her because she was younger and more energetic.  (Should you find my blog, Val, I want to thank you for your complete lack of empathy.  It makes it much easier to forget you ever existed, most of the time.)

The bottom line, and the history part of this entry, is that I am cut off from those siblings.  When I was 5 and they were 25, they were not there to protect me, much less educate me or teach me how to protect myself.  When I was ten, and terrorized at the sight of a liquor store delivery to the back door, they had moved across the country.  There were no phone calls, no attempts at a relationship with me.

When I was 20, I went to live with my sister for a summer, thinking (because my mother had told me so) that I could help my sister by babysitting her kids so she could go out on dates.  Instead, as I was watching an afternoon thunderstorm roll through, she came up behind me to ask, “Why did you come out here anyway?”  The answer was “To have a relationship with my siblings,” but aloud I said, “I don’t know.”  I kept my back turned so she couldn’t see me crying.

I worked for my brother that summer, and saw him only 2-3 times, and only at work.  The summer I turned 21, I decided that if I didn’t hear from him on my birthday (3 weeks before his) I would stop reaching out to him.  I got roses 3 days later, because our mother had reminded him.

I get they were wounded people too, I do.  But I was a child.

So those are cutoffs that are real.  They are cut offs that happened because I couldn’t create relationship as a child, when I didn’t understand why my family didn’t seem to care about me.  I couldn’t create relationship as an adult either, because they simply didn’t want to make the effort.

Oddly, my mother kept relationships others wanted her to cut off.  My sister’s first husband was in my life until he died.  (Though my Mother didn’t tell me when he died, so I couldn’t make arrangements to be at his funeral.  Some cutoffs she orchestrated.)  His fiancé stayed in my mother’s life for a decade until my mother died.  My siblings thought this was awful.

I’ve had friends cut me off for perceived slights – my friend who thought I was neglectful when she never told me she was hurting in any way until the 6 page letter of cutoff was hung on the handle of my front door.  My alcoholic best friend who assaulted me when we were both drunk has been cutoff and returned multiple times.

Those who really know me, those who have relationship with me, they know that decades can pass, and they are stuck with me.  I don’t initiate cutoff unless you deeply profoundly hurt me.

I’m writing this now, because my former brother-in-law’s wife is dying of cancer.  I wouldn’t be writing if there wasn’t a cut off there.  When I got divorced from my abusive first husband, I tried to maintain relationships with the people who had been my nieces and nephews, my brother-in-law and his wife.  There is no name for that relationship – she wasn’t my sister-in-law.  So at one point we decided to just call it sisters, and let that be good.  After the divorce, the ex threw a fit when I attended a graduation party and had me leave.  That was that.  The abusive addict had his way, and I was cut off from the family that had been mine for 15 years.

That family kept relationships with my sons.  When I looked back, it was clear that they had never been in relationship with me. When I sought help, when I pointed out bruising and broken furniture, they ignored me.  They never tried to reach out to me or to him, no one tried to offer real help.  When I stood up for myself and my small children, I was the bad guy.  I was the “monster who destroyed the universe”.

Now the woman who was no relation, but was family for 15 years, is dying.

I cannot say good bye to her, I cannot offer comfort to her kids or her husband.  I cannot offer to drive her Mother to her.  I cannot go vacuum her house or make food to fill the freezer or do any of the things I would do for a family in this situation.  I’m cutoff.

Cutoff not because I hurt anyone directly.  Cutoff not because they hurt me directly.  Cutoff because an abusive man controls the people around him, and destroys relationships.  Cutoff because he learned that from his parents, who cutoff his aunts and uncles over silliness.  Cutoff because people don’t know how to live in genuine, meaningful relationship with one another.

I want to teach this to my children – meaning and genuineness.  Their father has caused them to shut down that loving meaningful part of themselves in favor of defensiveness and perceived protection.  But no one is protected who is alone and who cannot be genuine.

Strength comes from vulnerability and connection.

When I chose to say “I don’t know,” while my back remained turned, that was protective.  Would anything have been different had I faced my sister and said, “Because I want relationship with my family”?  I don’t know.  I doubt it now as I doubted it then.  I have years of betrayal and mocking from her and her family as evidence that vulnerability would have been another way to tease me.  I’m probably right, but it could have been a turning point as well.  I’ll never know, I didn’t make that step because there was nowhere to go it she had shut me down then and there.  I wasn’t ready to be cutoff yet.

This dying woman, she didn’t value vulnerability either.  She valued controlled simplicity.  If anyone didn’t like the way she did things, they were welcome to leave, and she made that abundantly clear at every opportunity.  She didn’t want help when she was diagnosed.  She didn’t want to be seen as anything but the hard shiny surface that she was.  She didn’t want meaning, she wanted tasks done on time, and without argument.  She didn’t want relationship, she wanted obedience.

And so, I will obey to the best of my ability.  I do want relationship.  I do want meaning.  I want to experience life in all its glorious sloppiness.  I did send iced tea, sandwiches and muffins down with my sons last night when they went to say good-bye to their beloved Aunt who made quilts and tacos for them.  I sent food for the living.  I sent instructions for the boys to make sure their Uncle ate something at some point.  I sent love for the living.  Love exists whether there is cutoff or not.  My former sister and her family can make of that whatever meaning suits them.

Spring in Colorado

Welcome Spring!
Here are some random shots from my back yard.

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Lilac buds.  Sitting outside one evening this weekend, we could almost watch the trees and bushes leaf out.  It was gorgeous.  Also, buds from my fruitless cherry (?) tree.

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This elusive fellow is a bald eagle flying above my pasture.  When I go to the area that I know their nest to be, I am blocked by signs saying that none shall past … until the eaglets are fledglings.  I’ve zoomed in on this eagle.  I had the wrong lens on my camera and was completely unprepared to be taunted in such a way.

A few nights prior, I was driving my car when one flew over and in front of me.  This is the usual way they taunt me, make sure I see them but have no ability to take a photo.

I supposed I will need a new conquest if I ever do get a decent photo of a Bald eagle.  Perhaps an owl in flight.  They frequent my neighborhood in the Spring and Fall, hopefully scooping up the veritable bunny buffet in this area.

I hope Spring reaches the northeastern US sometime soon.  Meanwhile, our days are more and more gorgeous here in Colorado.

A Winter Walk

Hardly winter at all.
It’s 65F and sunny, with not a cloud in the sky.  Great day to explore a new part of the Poudre River Trail.  Not a lot of color so I played with textures instead.
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This is why I am not enamored of this stretch of trail.  All rotting hay or industrial park,

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Does anyone else see a face on the photo below?

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Long’s Peak in the distance.
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No wildlife to be seen.  Few birds to be heard.  I suppose that stretch of trail is simply too industrial, even though the parking area calls it the “Kodak Watchable Wildlife Area”.  The industrial park is the old Eastman Kodak building.  No loss of irony there.

Still, a truly fantastic February day.  Around here, winter doesn’t seems to start until mid to late February.  We should be dropping below freezing and getting a pile of snow any day now.

Authenticity

Who is at the core of one’s self?

Who am I, really?

I am a mother, a really piss-poor sister, a pretty awesome wife, a decent friend, a professional in training, a biker, a bicyclist, a runner in training, a young woman, a member of AARP, a daughter in law, an orphan, a fangirl, a lazy couch potato, a survivor, a hippy, a Jew, an activist, a scientist, a researcher, a student, a writer, a photographer … in no particular order.  The order changes depending on circumstance, setting, day, mood, necessity.  Does that make me inauthentic?

Today I am more or less in sloth mode.  I may bake cookies later – I’m trying to figure out the chemistry of flour and butter and so far I am failing.

Yesterday, I was in biker garb at a motorcycle rally.  While I am normally a kind and perhaps overly polite person, in my patch covered leather vest I am a Biker Bitch who enjoys it when people cross the road to avoid me.  It’s almost like Halloween.  When I am dressed that way, in boots and leather, I am authentically that person.  I have Sturgis patches that are growing up the back, year after year, I have badges of honor showing where I have ridden, I have proclamations of unforgiving womanhood, and patches proudly announcing my daughter is a US Marine.
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These are not things I would wear to a company picnic or to Thanksgiving dinner at the home of my sister-in-law.

Likewise, I would not wear a frilly dress to Bike Week.

And I don’t go hiking in evening gowns.

Yet whether I am wearing leathers that make people cross the street, or am in shorts and a tank top weeding my garden, I am always still myself.  I am always the authentic me.  What is on the outside is just a display of a different aspect of that self.  I am still a photographer and a writer and a mother when I am a biker.  I am still a wife and a student and a professional when I am baking cookies or Challah bread.  I may be more extreme in who I am at various times than a lot of people, but we all do this.  Every one of us.  Even you.  Think about it.

DeTox – Day whatever … Back to school

Back to school for the kid and back to school for me.  Last night I packed his lunch, the hubby’s lunch, my lunch.  Stuck them in the refrigerator.  This morning, I put the kid’s lunch at his place on the table.  Finished up hubby’s lunch and did the same.  Made some breakfast for us; bacon and eggs for the kid, bacon and toast for the hubby, toast for myself.  Had a fight with the teenrager because I dared offer him a drink.  Sent everyone off, sent myself off …

First day was great – started with that argument with the kid, followed by thinking I was running late for my first class.  Turned out I was an hour early.  Which was fine, because I’d forgotten to print out a parking pass.  And that would have been okay, except that all of the print labs were still closed.

They finally opened and I got that done, ran the temporary permit out to my car, met a friend and headed up to class.

It’s a small class and I’m not going to discuss it here.  But I am happy with it for the most part.

Half way through class I realized that my lunch was still at home in the fridge.  Three quarters of the way through class, my stomach made a growl that could be heard in every corner of the room.

This blog may suffer some in the next week.  And then I will switch to one post a week.

Right now though, homework!

Parenting

No one is born knowing how to be a parent.  We learn from our own parents, some good, some bad, some downright nasty, horrible, and awful.  We look for role models, and sometimes we attend classes on parenting.  There are some good books out there but also some that are extremely biased in some way or another.

Over the years, and I have three kids ranging from independent adult to 17 year old Junior in high school, I’ve found that no one knows anything.  I could write a book on parenting, I have the experience – AND – my experience is uniquely mine and that of my children.  Some of it might work for another person, but odds are not all of it will.  Some advice worked and was helpful, some advice made me wonder what drugs the giver of the advice had been imbibing.

I took two Love and Logic classes in addition to a parenting class required by the state when I divorced the father of my sons.  I had books and CDs and parenting magazines.  I had techniques I practiced and used.  I went to lectures on parenting.  I considered my own parents who were less than stellar examples, and also the parents of kids I had babysat when I was younger.

I was a conscious, thoughtful, concerned parent.

My boys were undermined by their father’s desire to get back at me for leaving him.  He used them at every turn to make my life difficult, but all he really succeeded at was making their lives confusing, painful, and directionless.  This was a battle my second husband and I fought directly, doing our best to reinforce self-discipline in school work, following the direction of the child therapists, and making sure there was structure in our home.  These were techniques, these were rules we followed.

A personal hero of mine may be known to most as “that guy who wrote ‘The Trouble with Tribbles'”.  He also wrote (among other things) a book called “The Martian Child” about adopting his son as a single man.  Below is a musing he had today on parenting, and it’s in the same spirit as the book, which I wish I had read when my kids were tiny.

“One of the things I did right as a parent — and it works everywhere else too — was so simple that it should be one of the first commandments of parenting. Or anything else.

The group home parents had told me that they had issues with Sean coming home from school and being badly greeted by the other kids. So much so, that they arranged to bring him home from school first, so he wouldn’t walk into the house and be greeted badly.

So…after he was placed in my home, I made up my mind that part of my job was to change the way he experienced the world. My job was to fill him up with happy memories. So…

Every day when Sean came home from school, I made sure he knew how happy I was to see him. We’d have milk and cookies together, or a sandwich. But I’d make sure that coming up the walk and coming into the house would be a good experience every day — so that he would always feel happy to be home, never afraid, never shut down, never alienated. This was his safe place, his happy place.

I still do that today.

Now … here’s the important part. I might have been annoyed at something, anything. I might have been angry or upset or busy with work, or even on the phone. I’d always put that aside and make sure he knew he was the most important person in my world.

I think that’s one of the reasons we have such a great relationship today. You don’t build great relationships by waiting till they’re grown up — you start on day one and you keep building every day — you never stop.

Now, the same applies to every other relationship. You start out by being happy to see the person. Whatever else needs to be handled, whatever other conversation needs to happen, whatever other issue needs to be addressed — start out by being glad to have that person in your life. If nothing else, it sets context that they are more important than whatever upset you’re having.”   – David Gerrold

My category for these sorts of posts is “Survival Parenting”.  I chose that name because everything I did, every choice I made in parenting was to keep not only my head, but the heads of my children above water in stormy seas.  

Like every single solitary parent on earth, I’m sure including David who is an amazing Father, I made mistakes.  I probably made more than a lot of people – AND – it wasn’t for lack of trying.  I have one regret.

I regret that I didn’t demonstrate my love for them more often.

Boys naturally grow away from their Mommies, and that certainly happened.  I didn’t have to let it happen so easily.  I could have let them cuddle a little longer.  The laundry was still going to be there.  I could pick the toys off the floor later.  We could eat dessert first more often when there wasn’t time to cook dinner.  I could have made more cookies for them to have when they came home from school.  I could have found a way to simply ignore the garbage coming from their father so that they would know it was inconsequential, and that they were really truly loved.  Somehow I didn’t get that part through strongly enough while I was enforcing boundaries.

It truly is my belief that David is right.  If there is love, acceptance, and valuing the child first, then the rest can come later. The person will understand and truly know that she is more important than the problem and that she will not be left alone to tackle the problem.  I believe that if we value the child first, give him that secure base of love, the rest will follow.  We won’t be spoiling the child, we will be showing the child that he matters and that he has an impact on his surroundings.

If, as David encourages us, we do this in other areas of life as well, then we set the example for the child that other people matter and have value as well.  This teaches the child to be considerate of the people she values.

Look at it this way; I had a friend in college who acquired a puppy, and he was all about the discipline and the rules.  So much so that the dog wanted nothing to do with him when he called her to him.  She would run in the other direction, he would be forced to catch her, and then he disciplined her for running away.  Well, if that was her experience when they were together, what reason would she have to come when called?

If we focus on the rules, boundaries, and discipline first, what reasons do our kids have to be happy to come home?  What are they learning from us except that rules are more important than people?  Are those the sorts of adults we want in our world?

If, on the other hand, the dog learned that being with my friend was a happy joyous fun thing, she would have been more willing to learn the rules and boundaries to please him and to show him that he was as valuable to her and he was to him.

Pretty simple stuff really.

Not that I am comparing children to dogs … it’s just sometimes easier to see things when we hold them away from ourselves.   Forest for the trees and all that.

At any rate, thanks for reading all the way to the end.  I appreciate that.  And I hope you found something useful here.  I always find something useful when I read what David writes. 

 

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