Alan Alda

May 19, 2017

[written for my writing group for the subject: Permit]

My second-grade teacher and my parents were at odds over how to deal with me. They didn’t know they were giving me such mixed messages because I didn’t tell my teacher about what was going on at home (although, having taught 7-year-olds, I am sure she knew something was wrong). And my parents never received any complaints from my school, just the occasional note that I seemed sad.

One afternoon that year, my teacher had us watch Free to Be You and Me, the 70’s TV special narrated by Alan Alda and some other people I don’t remember, all about being comfortable in your own skin, not putting labels on people, and various other hippie ideals that were not quite as popular in 1982, but that my teacher firmly believed in.

I remember very little about the TV show except for two things: the radical notion that boys and girls could like the same things and the song “It’s All Right to Cry.” You see, in my family, it wasn’t all right to cry. Crying was not permitted, at least for me. It was all right for my little sister to cry, and my mom was rarely not crying. I was pretty sure that my little brother or sister on the way was going to be crying most of the time. But for me, it had never been OK.

My mom had me when she was 25 – not that young by the standards of the day, but she was completely emotionally unprepared. To this day, when someone talks about how they might be less lonely if they had a baby, or how it would be nice to have a child so there would be someone who was always there, I have to walk away. I recently ended a friendship because my former friend spent tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments, confiding to me that, without a partner, she was really lonely, so even though she was financially and emotionally unprepared to have a baby, she just “really needed someone who loved her unconditionally.”

That’s exactly what my mother intended I would be for her.

It should really be no surprise then that she couldn’t handle me. From the time I learned to walk and talk (both around nine months old, which shocked everyone), I had opinions. Actually, I probably had opinions before then. I was not the malleable precious little doll-baby she had imagined, but was strong-willed and emotional, and she had no idea what to do with me. So she made the rule that I couldn’t cry. After all, only one of us could be upset at a time, and it was usually my mother.

This rule was enforced in different ways at different times. I’m not sure what the mandatory reporter laws were like in the late 70s and early 80s, but it was probably more convenient for everyone that I didn’t talk to my teachers about this enforcement. The mildest version was to be sent to my room if I cried, and if she could hear me through the closed door, the next threat was to have to spend the night in the garage. I never had to do that because I would put the pillow over my head and hold my breath, trying to stop myself from calling out for my parents, who were clearly not going to be any help.

If my mom wasn’t feeling patient, she’d slap me across the face which would generally do the trick. “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” and all that. It’s hard to blame her – that would have been an act of love compared to what she grew up with. It’s no wonder that I grew up steeped in shame and fear; she had come by those honestly and passed them on to her children in our DNA and from her behavior

One day though, everything changed. I came home from school and something happened, and I cried, and she slapped me across the face. We had just watched the last part of Free to Be You and Me and I just wasn’t taking it any more. “My teacher says it’s OK to cry!” I yelled at her. “It was on TV! You can’t punish me for crying!”

I’m not sure she had any idea what I was talking about but I kept going. “If you hit me, I’m going to tell my teacher because I’M ALLOWED TO CRY!” I screamed at her. And went in my room to do precisely that.

That ended it. There were plenty of other problems in my family, but I wasn’t punished for crying anymore and she never hit me again.

But, of course, it didn’t really end it. The shame never left. I still feel it every time tears come – I shouldn’t be doing this, I’m disappointing people, I’m not good enough.

My nieces and nephew though – they don’t have this. They know it’s OK to cry. They know feelings matter and are valid, and they don’t feel ashamed when they express their feelings. The cycle of shame seems to be ending, and maybe it’s time for the adults to learn from the kids. They didn’t even need Alan Alda.


For Those of You Who Pray

December 17, 2012

please pray for me tonight.

This feels like a silly thing to ask for prayer for with all the violence against humans in the world and I have been mourning the Connecticut situation as well. But closer to home while not nearly on the same spectrum, I have an emergency dog situation and she is part of my family.

I’ve been doing really intense training with my dog around her aggression issues because she is really strong and could really hurt someone. And attacks other dogs when she is afraid. She attacked my neighbor’s dog today and wouldn’t let go. In the process, she bit both me and my neighbor on the hand. My neighbor had to get two stitches so there was a police report but since it’s her first offense they don’t mandate anything like putting her down.

However, they don’t know it’s not her first offense. It’s her third, and there were a number of other very close calls. In two of the cases, she bit a person as we were trying to separate them, and drew blood both times. I talked to my dog trainer as well as an dog aggression specialist who is really good and knows her and they both, with much crying on all sides, said that she needs to be put down. They added that I’m the one who makes the final decision and that they’ll support me in any way they can but I think they’re right.

My heart is breaking. I love this dog, and I lost my other dog two years ago and it feels like yesterday. When she’s not aggressive, which is 98% of the time, she is sweet and loving and likes to sleep in front of the space heater and snore. I love her so much. But, while everyone’s OK today, if there had been a child in front of the dog she was trying to attack, things would not be so OK. She could have easily broken my fingers or taken a few off. I’ve never seen her this bad and it was terrifying.

I don’t know if I have the strength to do the right thing and put her down and I don’t know if it is the right thing, although I suspect it is. I know she’s a dog and she won’t know what’s going on. She loves going to the vet and then she’ll go to sleep but then I have to go home without her. Please pray for strength and for knowledge of what to do. And for no guilt.

And I feel like, “Really, God, really?? With all the tragedy in the world you couldn’t leave me my most immediate source of comfort? You couldn’t leave me my dog who I love?”

again, i know it’s just a dog but I love her.


January 8, 2011

There’s a lot of shame around this topic for me.  There’s a lot of things that added up to me getting myself pretty deeply in debt.  College expenses and parents who said they’d pay and didn’t.  Poor spending/saving/all financial habits – really a pattern in my family.  And depression, always depression.  Never being able to think clearly, but always being in that fog where I literally couldn’t see straight.  I couldn’t and didn’t make good decisions, I got so overwhelmed in stores that I would buy whatever was in front of me instead of thinking about if I needed it, or I would spend money on things that I thought would make me feel better.  Then, as I started coming out of the depression, I still couldn’t think about this.  It was too big and felt like dark clouds were enveloping me.  I just tried not to think about it, which didn’t make anything better.

I’m finally beginning to deal with it.  That’s all I can write for now, because it’s still incredibly overwhelming and feels incredibly shameful.  But I’m beginning.

Generational Fear

January 8, 2010

Something unusual happened to me on New Year’s Eve – I got asked out by someone I don’t know. I went to a swing dance and danced with someone who I didn’t know. We had fun dancing and he asked for my email address. I gave it to him and he emailed me and asked me to go dancing with him again. This rarely happens to me and I’m totally panicked even though we haven’t made definite plans. I was thinking about the fact that I am experiencing this level of panic about the possibility of dancing with someone who seemed like a very nice guy. I know dating is scary for many people, but I don’t think it should be paralyzingly terrifying.

Then I remembered: my family. It’s not really talked about, but I think that every woman – or close to it – in my mom’s family except my sister and I (it stopped around then) was sexually abused. That’ll do something to the atmosphere you grow up in. So, if my mom, my aunts, my grandmother, and my cousins were all molested/abused (and I know WAY too many details about some of the situations), is it any surprise at all that I find men frightening? It’s almost worse that it was never talked about because I had to wonder and try to figure it out myself.

If something specific had happened to me, I would feel like I had more of an “excuse” for this fear. Anyone can understand “hey, my uncle molested me when I was 12, so I’m a little nervous about getting into any sort of relationship with men.” But it was more like there was something in the air or in the water. I’m afraid to tell anyone because they might point out that nothing happened to me personally, so why is it affecting me? It’s not straightforward and I feel like I must be making it up.

All of these abusers were artists. They created absolutely incredible, breathtaking, beautiful art. Some of their work has been given to heads of state as gifts. It’s a little jarring to realize that people who created so much beauty could also do something so awful and ugly, with lasting consequences to people they weren’t even thinking of.

Gratitude – or Lack Thereof

December 7, 2009

I have a lot to write about. I’m a fight with God and he is winning. I can be pretty stubborn, even when I know it’s not good for me, so I am not ready to concede yet, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to win. More on that later.

I was talking to a friend about this tonight – and kind of explaining the whole struggle. She is dealing with some similar things so it was good to talk to her. She said that she has started to make a gratitude list before she goes to bed each night. She suggested that I do it. My reaction wasn’t “Oh that sounds like a good idea,” or “Maybe that would help me see the good things in my life,” or even “Sounds like too much work, I don’t want to.”

My reaction was a super strong “NO!” No, I will not do it. I do not want to do it. I would rather have oral surgery than make a list of things that I have been blessed with and am grateful for!

What kind of reaction is that? The strength of it surprised me. For some reason, I don’t want to be grateful. I don’t want to see the good things. I really truly only want to focus on what I don’t have – how I can be envious, how God answers other people’s prayers and not mine, and why my life is horrible. I have a lot of really good things in my life – wonderful friends, all sorts of blessings. Why do I so strongly want to ignore those?


September 8, 2009

I realized today, as I have a cold, that I don’t have any Kleenex in my car. I used to have a box of Kleenex in my car at all times. Because I would so often cry – sob – while I was driving, when I got somewhere, while I was waiting… I would have to pull over because I was crying too hard to drive. Often, I would just keep driving even though I was crying too hard to drive, because who knew when I’d be able to stop. It might be hours. I had fallen in the pit and who knew when I’d be coming out. I’ve heard people say that you can only cry for a couple of hours. Not true. Hours and hours. So long that even while I was sobbing like I would never stop, I’d have to keep doing mundane tasks – cooking, cleaning, working at the computer, driving, laundry – because otherwise my life would stop.

I haven’t done that in almost a year. Part of me is so thankful to God that he has apparently healed me (with the help of medication, which I’m fine with). The rest of me is so angry that I ever had to go through that. How dare God let me feel that hopeless? That kind of despair? It was more than I could handle – and don’t try to tell me that God doesn’t give people more than they can handle, because I couldn’t handle that. I survived, but it was too much. I have scars. How can a loving God let someone suffer that much – in a silent hidden way that other people can’t understand?

Fortunately, I can ask these questions, even if I don’t get answers. I haven’t been struck by lightning yet, so I doubt it will happen. In the meantime, I’ll keep wrestling with God, even if he dislocates my hip. (Or whatever that was that he did to Jacob).

Mother’s Day

May 12, 2009

I hate Mother’s Day.  I really do.  I despise it.

I realize that this makes me look like a terrible human being – right up there with terrorists and people who kill kittens.  But I hate it.

I don’t feel like I should celebrate Mother’s Day.  I resent being told that I should appreciate my mother, celebrate her, buy her flowers, or take her out.  I hate that if someone asks me what I’m doing for my mom for Mother’s Day and I say, “Nothing,” that they give me the same look they probably save for people who leave their dogs in the car in 100 degrees with the windows rolled up.  That there’s no excuse for not celebrating Mother’s Day unless your mother is dead.  Otherwise, you have to at least call her and buy her a card that says how wonderful she is and how she’s nurtured you and always been there for you.  And if you’re a good son or daughter, you’ll send her flowers or a gift, or take her out to brunch if you live close enough.

I suppose if I had a mother who nurtured me, I’d feel different.  Maybe if I had a mother who had actually been there for me, whatever that means, I’d feel like getting a card that said so.  As it is, I can’t do it and not feel like I’m compromising myself.  I wish I didn’t care and I could just lie and make her happy, but I can’t.

The thesaurus says that synonyms for nurture include “bolster, cherish, cultivate, educate, foster, instruct, nourish, support, sustain, tend, and uphold.”  Antonyms are “deprive, ignore, neglect, starve.”  OK, she didn’t starve me.  She bought groceries and we figured things out.  Sometimes she made a meal.  But cherish?  Tend?  Sustain?  Are those words that people can use about their mothers?  Because if so, then I guess I understand the Hallmark cards.  I just wish I could send one and mean it.

I know that she had it worse than I did.  I know that she spend most of my childhood in a bottomless depression and that it probably took most of her willpower to stay alive.  She couldn’t get out of bed for days at a time.  She sent near-strangers to pick us up from school because she just could not do it.  I understand that kind of depression.  There’s a large part of me that thinks that I should appreciate her for just staying alive and doing the best she could, but I don’t really.  I deserved better.  I deserved a mother.

In addition, each year Mother’s Day gets harder for me.  In college and soon afterward, I had friends who had rocky relationships with their mothers or whose mothers were no longer in the picture either because they had died or walked out.  In addition, there were just a lot of people not physically near their mothers.  As time goes on, however, many of those people are now mothers themselves.  And new mothers are the most difficult kinds of people to be around on Mother’s Day.  It is so new to them and so excited and they feel such an overwhelmingly wonderful sense of family and accomplishment… and none of those things are bad.  They are wonderful, God-given experiences.

But it makes it really hard for me.  Not only do I not have the mother I’m supposed to appreciate today, but I am not a mother.  I don’t have a family of my own, either, which seems to have been very healing for a lot of friends in similar positions.  I know that God has a plan for me and all that, and I also know that it’s a good thing I haven’t had children because I would have repeated a lot of my mother’s “parenting,” but it’s extremely isolating.  I’m running out of people to be with on Mother’s Day.

I wish I had some way to celebrate myself on Mother’s Day.  After all, I had to raise myself (and to some extent, my siblings), while I myself was struggling with depression.  And for eight years teaching, I was more of a mother to much of my class than their own mothers were.  But it doesn’t feel real.

I accidentally took a four-hour nap this Mother’s Day.  Avoidance?