Lessons from one exasperated parental moment . . .

Here is what I remember . . .

I was, perhaps, four or five years old.  We were standing near the wall heater by the living room at the end of the hall.  You were sending me to my room – I don’t remember the transgression for which I was being banished.  As I turned and walked down the hallway, I mumbled something under my breath.  Then I remember sitting on my bed crying. I remember feeling a sense of injustice.  Something I thought was unfair had just happened.

You came into the room and asked me, “Why do you hate me.”  I felt confusion that morphed into feeling wrongly accused.  I answered, “I don’t know” because I had no idea that I did hate you, let alone why.  I was afraid to contradict you and say that I did not hate you.

You accepted my “I don’t know” as an admission of hatred, not hearing the confusion from which it arose or seeing your culpability in setting up the conversation.  You continued, “I hope you never have a child that hates you.”   And, as was typical for you, you walked away before I could respond any further.  You always claimed the last word and left me no chance to speak,except to your back, or be heard.  Whatever  upset feelings I was experience, clearly, were not of interest to you.  Your feelings were hurt because you perceived an upset child as hating you. That was all that mattered to you.  It is too bad there was no adult in the room.

I have analyzed this event many times.  I can see many messages that I took from it and carried with me throughout my life.

The question, “Why do you hate me?” was a loaded question that contained the underlying assumption that I hate you.  I was quite young and used to you being the authority on everything, so I internalized that assumption and accepted as true that I hated you.  I was probably angry and upset, so one of the more superficial messages I received was that being angry or upset at Mom means I hate Mom.

You taught me that hating was bad and I accepted that as true, but it left me in a difficult position because whenever I felt anger, I thought it was hatred.  I felt guilty and ashamed for hating.  When people would say, “Of course you love your mother, she’s your mother” I felt inadequate as a daughter and as a person.  I was afraid that people would discover that I was hateful.  I have carried that guilt and shame into other relationships and have been afraid to express or even feel anger because I did not want to hate the other person or have them discover how hateful I was.

I wish I had been taught to just say, “I’m mad.”  I wish it could have been okay to be mad at you.  I wish I could have felt safe being angry and safe expressing it.  I wish I could want my way or want whatever it is that I wanted that day without feeling like wanting something you cannot give means I hate you.

I realize that what I mumbled as I walked down the hall may very well have been something like, “I hate you.”  I know it wasn’t because I cannot recall ever feeling hatred before that day.  It was more likely something like, “you’re so unfair.”  But, it was typical for you to not ask me what I said or meant.

I have since learned that kids use the language of hate when they do not like a decision an adult has made.  They use “I hate you” because they do not have the reasoning and language skills to say they are mad and explain why.  I wish you had been able to interpret whatever I mumbled and understood that I was just mad because I did not get what I want or did not get my way or did not like a decision you made.

I would have loved for you to have come into my bedroom and comforted me instead of confronting me with that loaded question.  I wish you had the skills then to say, “I hear that you are upset, but when I hear ‘I hate you’ I feel hurt.  Can you just say you are mad instead?”  A hug might have been appropriate.  Perhaps a chance to tell you what I had actually said and meant would have been appropriate. Even just leaving me alone with my upset feelings to work it out for myself would have been better.

The statement, “I hope you never have a child that hates you” is also loaded.  It contains the implication that you, yourself, would prefer to not have a child who hates you.  Again, I internalized.  I had just been identified as a child who hates you and was now being told that you did not want that kind of child.  The message I took away was that you did not want ME.

I can see that it might have been a statement of love – wishing for me something better than you had.  But, I was much too young to feel anything but unloved, unwanted, misunderstood and sad.  That feeling of being unwanted was reinforced every time you or dad joked about your marriage lasting only because you had an agreement that whoever asked for divorce had to take the kids.  As an adult, I can see the humor in that joke.  As a child, when I heard that joke, I just felt unwanted and burdensome.

I still cannot even talk about the conflicted feelings I had throughout my nine pregnancies and the loss of eight children.  I was not sure I could risk having a child who might hate me.  I was not sure I could risk being a dismissive mother like you.  I can say that I am very careful with how I talk and, more importantly, listen to my one miracle daughter.

I learned some other important lessons from that day.

I learned to be very careful to say what I really mean.  I have spent my life learning to be precise in my word choices and selective about how I communicate.  This has benefited me in the practice of law, in teaching, and in most of my relationships.

I learned to hear, “I hate you,” when spoken by a child, as an expression of anger or upset.  I learned to say, “I hear that you are angry, would you like to talk about why?”   I learned how important it is to teach children how to express their emotions and how important it is to make it safe for them to do so.  I learned to not take it personally when a child cannot express herself well.  I understand how fragile children are and how powerful adults are in relation to them.  I also understand the responsibility adults have to nurture children.

I wish we could have a “do over” but life does not work that way.  Instead, we can only move forward choosing a new way to be.  I want to write.  In fact, I write frequently, but I am afraid to even try to get anything published.  I am afraid that I might have said something wrong or that what I write might upset somebody.  Mostly, I am afraid that you will take things I write personally and think I hate you.

It is sad that one small event – one you likely do not even remember – could have had so much impact on me.  What is more sad for me is that you still refuse to hear what I have to say about it; that you refuse to acknowledge that any events in my childhood had any impact on me whatsoever; that you cannot help me undo the damage and heal.  What is most sad for me is that, because you refuse to acknowledge my pain and do anything to help me heal, I do hate you now.  It is too bad you could not have a sign on your back that says, “I’m sorry,” so I would get that message somehow.

 

 

Another New Year

Okay, I realize it is already February, so a new year’s theme is a bit dated, but, sometimes, I process slowly and, sometimes, I just need a jumpstart. Today I got a jumpstart.

I had a conversation this morning with someone who told me that I “should” share myself more with the world. And, while that had been a conclusion I had reached when I started this blog, I bristled at the suggestion that HE had some right to tell ME what I SHOULD do with my life. I suggested to him that we might get along better if he did not do that.

He explained that he was just trying to point out that I am wonderful – gotta love that! But, I stuck to my suggestion that there is no respectful connection between thinking I am wonderful and telling me how I should live my life. I don’t really want to surround myself with people who are busy trying to live my life instead of their own or who, even in subtle ways, communicate that they don’t think I can handle my own life. When someone judges me by telling what I should do, I feel disrespected. I know he meant no disrespect, but I think I want to surround myself with him and I know myself well enough to know that I will start resenting even well-intentioned suggestions that I am not making the right choices for myself. I think he got it.

I hope it got it, because I started this one-in, one-out policy in my life (New Year’s Blessings) and I think I am going to make room for him.

That, of course, leads to the question of who gets booted out of my life, but I think I have that handled. There is an attorney I hope to never deal with again, and he has been kind enough to get fired by his client so I may get my wish.

Seems like a pretty good exchange. And, here I am blogging again. Maybe, I’ll get to something more serious soon. Or not. Or, maybe, this is a serious issue. I think I can always do with a bit more respect- and a bit more blogging. We’ll see how this year goes for writing.

Emotional Flood Insurance

When I was a child, I had to shut down my emotions almost completely just to survive. I always hoped that I could someday turn them back on. But, back then, I thought I could be selective in that process or that, magically, when I allowed myself to feel again, the emotions would surface gently like children’s bubbles floating through a sunny day at the park. I expected them to arrive calmly, one at a time, for inspection and handling. I was naive.

I had no idea that emotions come in jumbles and crowds – sometimes even angry mobs. I had no idea that I would feel like Lucy in the candy factory. I was never prepared for that.

I have recovered my ability to feel my emotions. Sadly, though, that process turned out to be less than gentle and more like a dam breaking. And, the resulting flood swept me away, leaving devastation in its path. There is no flood insurance for this situation.

I am so grateful for the dam finally breaking, but so sorry that I was unprepared for the flood.

My emotions are still a jumble, but I have learned to understand and cope with that. I have even learned to appreciate the complex tapestry they weave, their subtle nuances and the richness their variety provides in my life.

I have been helped in the process of reconnecting with my emotions by some otherwise unfortunate relationships. I feel gratitude to those teachers and guides and wish that they, too, had flood insurance that might have protected what was precious in those relationships.

Emotional Flood Insurance should, perhaps, be required in all relationships.

My Twelve Days of Christmas

On the First Day of Christmas, my true love gave me a . . .
well, I’m not sure I even know who my true love is
And, well, nobody really special has given me anything,
So, let’s just assume Santa gave to me . . .
A shovel to plant a pear tree
. . . because, you see, I really don’t need a partridge at all; we do have enough pets to take care of around here . . .

On the Second Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
. . .Yeah, I’m still looking for a true love, but in the meantime it’s still Santa . . .
Two turtle shells
. . . which I’m pretty sure are illegal to import, and I’m really not sure what to do with, but they are pretty . . .
And a shovel to plant a pear tree

On the Third Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
. . . Day three and still no true love, but Santa keeps bringing me stuff, so who’s complaining . . .
Three French Hens
. . . Now, I know I said we did not need any more pets, but these hens lay eggs and, well, I think they’ll be legal in Sacramento soon – I hope so . . .
Two turtle shells
And a shovel to plant a pear tree

On the Fourth Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
Four Calling Friends
. . . which is really a cool gift, because a lot of my friends do not call very often and I’m thinking I’ve got a few more days of this, so I might hear from just about everybody . . .
Three French Hens
Two turtle shells
And a shovel to plant a pear tree
. . . did I mention that Santa did NOT bring the pear tree; so am I supposed to get my own or something . . .

On the Fifth Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
Five Golden Rings
. . . now, this is getting my hopes up that the true love might be on the way . . .
Four Calling Friends
. . . glad it was not the same four friends today; it is nice to hear from folks . . .
Three French Hens
Two turtle shells
And a shovel to plant a pear tree
. . . I am a bit worried about tomorrow, because I have the hens now and I certainly do not need geese – I cannot imagine them being legal in my lifetime . . .

On the Sixth Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
Six Peace Signs Praying
. . . Okay, I think it’s a psychedelic thing, but I like it – Peace out Santa! . . .
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Friends
Three French Hens
Two turtle shells
And a shovel to plant a pear tree

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
Seven Swans a’swimming
. . . now you just have to understand that Swan is a family name and these were actually distant relatives and, yes, it WAS nice to see them . . .
Six Peace Signs Praying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Friends
Three French Hens
Two turtle shells
And a shovel to plant a pear tree

On the Eighth Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
Eight Maids a’cleaning
. . . and, let me tell you, the house needed it; now, THAT is one nice gift . . .
Seven Swans a’swimming
. . . a whole different branch of the family today – how nice . . .
Six Peace Signs Praying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Friends
. . . and, thanks for the messages, but I’m busy entertaining relatives from out of town and could not answer; I’ll get back to you after the holiday rush . . .
Three French Hens
Two turtle shells
And a shovel to plant a pear tree
. . . everybody’s getting shovels for Christmas next year; I have plenty now; still no tree . . .

On the Ninth Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
Nine Ladies dancing
. . . great, but next time let’s go out somewhere with good music and really let loose . . .
Eight Maids a’cleaning
Seven Swans a’swimming
Six Peace Signs Praying
. . . okay, I’m starting to pray for peace, too, now. . .
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Friends
Three French Hens
. . . thank goodness for those eggs or I wouldn’t know how to feed all these relatives . . .
Two turtle shells
. . . and, boy, do these shells make great bowls, now that there is not a clean dish to be found anywhere in the house . . .
And a shovel to plant a pear tree

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
Ten Lords a’Leaping
. . . so, is one of these guys supposed to be my true love; I feel like the Bachelorette on that reality show . . .
Nine Ladies dancing
Eight Maids a’cleaning
. . . I guess I need to actually ask these gals to wash the dishes . . .
Seven Swans a’swimming
Six Peace Signs Praying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Friends
. . . sorry about that ‘mailbox full’ message everyone; I’ll get around to listening to all the messages soon . . .
Three French Hens
Two turtle shells
And a shovel to plant a pear tree

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
Eleven Pipers piping
. . . I always thought this was a musical reference, but, with all these guests, working plumbing is critical; I hope electricians are next . . .
Ten Lords a’Leaping
Nine Ladies dancing
Eight Maids a’cleaning
Seven Swans a’swimming
Six Peace Signs Praying
Five Golden Rings
Four Calling Friends
Three French Hens
Two turtle shells
And a shovel to plant a pear tree
. . . still waiting for a tree to plant and practically holding my breath for Santa’s last chance at the true love thing tomorrow. . .

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, Santa gave to me
Twelve Drummers Drumming
. . . I always enjoy a good drum circle and the dancers are loving it . . .
Eleven Pipers piping
. . . plumbing is now working fine, Thank you . . .
Ten Lords a’Leaping
. . . apparently, they were just here to entertain the dancing ladies and my out of town guests . . .
Nine Ladies dancing
. . . tap dancers today – just a bit on the noisy side . . .
Eight Maids a’cleaning
. . . and even the dishes got done, Thank you . . .
Seven Swans a’swimming
. . . I especially appreciate the invitations to Australia and Scotland; it will be nice to see you all again soon . . .
Six Peace Signs Praying
. . . I think it is starting to work – looking forward to tomorrow . . .
Five Golden Rings
. . . I don’t know what to do with all these rings; maybe I’ll get one of the envelopes they advertise on tv . . .
Four Calling Friends
. . . since my voice mailbox is full, I really have no way of knowing if four more friends called today; I hope they call back later . . .
Three French Hens
. . . still not legal, but the eggs are great . . .
Two turtle shells
. . . turns out these make great stepping stones in the backyard, so I can gather eggs without getting muddy shoes . . .
And a shovel to plant a pear tree
. . . Santa finally left a note saying this is not a good time of year for planting and suggesting I get trees in the spring; maybe I’ll pick up a true love in the spring too . . . 

Truth is protection enough

Dreary indifference descends around my camp with the settling dusk.
With determination to envelope me,
It has crept behind me all along my hopeful journey,
Kept at bay only by a burning passion and hope itself
 
As I trudge, meander, skip and even, sometimes, fly along my chosen trail,
I have gathered wood to fuel the passion,
As I have gathered wisdom to fuel the journey.
Healing, helpful hope comes to me of its own accord as a grace
 
My camp fires smoke away both the indifference and the dusk’s darkness,
But, still, as vulnerable prey, I feel the danger of the stalking indifference,
Intent on sucking me dry of emotion and hope.
Wisdom urges me on toward a safe refuge.
I am protected only by the ragged remains of passion,
But it is enough – for now.
 
As I set up my camp on this night ,
The last tattered remnants of burning passion turn to smoke,
Drifting away in the darkness that dusk has brought.
I feel the indifference closing in around me,
Cold and without emotion, but driven to invade.
 
Lacking strong and mighty passion to stand guard,
I burn my gathered wood to fuel something new.
 
Not a forceful hatred, for that would engulf me,
But a gentle truth I kindle,
One that will swirl around me uncomfortably
Until it shapes itself to fit within my soul.
 
Truth is protection enough.
Having finally arrived, the truth can never leave me.
It works with me and on me, guarding and guiding me,
Keeping persistent indifference safely distant.
 
Finally, I allow the truth to fit my soul.
I can live this truth without discomfort.
It is a worn shoe that has traveled with my footsteps.
 
Arriving where wisdom has guided me,
Clarity surrounds me with crystal light,
Faceted so that I might see from previously unseen angles.
I watch as gentle truth grows with each new perspective.
 
Clarity is the castle of my final refuge.
Indifference, no matter how insidious, cannot storm that castle. 

Faith in Humanity Restored

An incredible thing happened today.  I received an envelope in the mail that contained a $2 bill.  There is nothing incredible about the $2 bill itself, but the fact that it arrived has restored my faith in humanity.

A couple weeks ago, I borrowed a neighbor’s car.  Trying to be appreciative, I took it to the neighborhood coin op car wash to clean.  I put 7 quarters in the machine and . . . nothing. 

I looked around for a phone number to call . . . nothing.

I looked around for a sign identifying the name of the business . . . nothing.  Well, not exactly.  There was a sign that said, “Car Wash.”

I got angry.  I wondered how many people on that day lost a little bit of money in the machine.  I wondered what the total gain was for the operator of the car wash. 

I went home.  I started to do some research.  I discovered the name of the business, the owner’s name and contact information.  I called. 

The owner answered the phone, seemed surprised that I had found a way to reach him, and assured me that he would reimburse me for my loss.  I doubted it. 

$1.75 is barely worth making a fuss over.  Most people would have gone away angry and, maybe, cheated the next cashier who gave them extra change thinking that made things even somehow.  I made the fuss. 

The fuss took me a couple of hours, some internet research and several phone calls to government agencies.  Clearly, my time was not worth the $1.75.  But, I had nothing better to do that day and decided to fight the fight for the many people in the neighborhood who have lost their money. 

And, today, in my mail arrived a $2 bill.  It seems much more practical to have sent a $2 bill than to send a $1 bill and 3 quarters.  And, I appreciated the extra quarter for my troubles. 

Next time I go by that car wash, I will check to see if the owner has posted a phone number to call for others who lose their change.  Having fought the fight for the greater good, I hope to see the greater good served.  In the meantime, my faith in humanity has been restored by the gesture of sending an extra quarter when I expected nothing.

April Fool’s Day

For today,

it is okay to be a fool,

to act foolish

to put aside fears of being thought a fool. 

 

For today,

it is okay to risk.

Foolishness is a small price to pay

for all that we desire. 

 

For today,

nothing is serious,

nothing is forever,

nothing can hurt us. 

 

For today,

life is simply a leap into the unknown,

yesterdays to be rediscovered,

tomorrows to be created.

 

Tomorrow is our safety net. 

But for today,

Just for today,

I choose the fool and

wonderful is within my grasp.

 

For today,

I hope tomorrow never comes.

 

 

 

 

 

New Year Blessings

It is that time of the year:  Out with the old and in with the new.  The whole concept has enveloped me this year as I move into next year. 

Recently, I was blessed with the return of two old friends to my life.  Both were people with whom I shared a spiritual path and both were people with whom I lost contact somewhere along the way.  It has been such a joy to have them both back in contact and present in my life. 

Sadly, though, I have also recently come to realize that I have friends and family members that I simply have to let go.  Attempting to have closer relationships with them is a frustrating, futile effort that leaves me feeling empty and emotionally barren.  Fortunately, one family member has been amazingly honest in disclosing that he does not intend to change the behavior that drives a wedge between us.  I thank him for that.  It makes it so much easier for me to establish and maintain my boundaries with him. 

Without that type of honesty, I can easily get trapped in hope and the resulting disappointment when my hopes are not realized.   His honesty made me realize that I need to have that type of honesty with myself and realize that my hopes are just that – hopes – and I create my own disappointment by misplacing that hope.  When I look with greater honesty, I can see who is a blessing in my life and who is not. 

I’ve been struggling with my daughter’s stuffed animal collection.  It is overwhelming our house.  We recently established a one-in-one-out policy to keep the clutter under control.  Perhaps, I need the same policy with people in my life.

Imagine if, every time someone wonderful comes into my life, I were to eliminate some of the clutter of toxic people.  It seems like it would not take very long to surround myself with only positive, loving people.  Hmmmm.  A new year’s resolution perhaps?

Post Christmas Follow Up

Our new Wii is in the house.  There is a new Wii in a neighbor’s house as well.  The difference is that the neighbor’s Wii came with my favorite – you guessed it – Guitar Hero.  I finally got to see Guitar Hero first hand.  Although I actually did not spend much time checking it out, I did notice some of the song titles and was not surprised to see that even the song titles contained suggestive themes.  Being familiar with those songs, I knew they were not the songs I want stuck in my daughter’s head. 

We all know that sex sells.  Combine those suggestive themes with Rock and Roll and you have a match made in capitalism dreamland.   And the game even looks fun. 

Fortunately, the neighbor’s Wii system also came with an Indianapolis speedway game that was more fun – something about driving backwards through the brickyard and causing crashes really appeals to those kids who are, in my opinion, much too young for the suggestive themes of Guitar Hero.  Ah, the innocence of youth.  I just hope they don’t grow up driving that way in my neighborhood.

Merry Christmas

I am sitting here, looking at Christmas Tree number 2 (number 1 is outside with bird treats hanging from it, safe from catching fire and burning down my house), and waiting for my daughter to call.  This is the first Christmas in my life on which I have awakened in an otherwise empty house – alone.  It is the first Christmas of her life that we have not awakened together.  It is strange. 

Later my daughter will be here, friends will come by and we will visit other friends.  Until then, I have made a pot of coffee, turned on the Christmas lights and am reading a book, writing in my journal and generally having a pleasant morning.  On any other day, I think I would cherish such a morning.  But, this morning it feels lonely. 

Perhaps that is why I have come here to reach out.  I will not know who reads this, if anybody does.  But, I will know that I have expressed myself .  That, for me, is enough right now.  For most of my life, I have allowed the lack of appropriate response from other people to keep me from expressing myself.  My new year’s resolution for 2008 was to express myself anyway.  So, here I am, keeping my resolution and feeling rather good about it.   What a lovely Christmas present to myself.

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