Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Work in Progress

My dead grandmother put me up to this. Charlene, this feels so crazy. I mean, it feels RIGHT, but my ego is not happy. Will I have the guts to publish this? To lay myself bare for the world to see?

*****

I am a narcissist.

Well, my therapist says I am not, just because I am worried about being one, and then there's the whole problem of my tendency toward empathy.

But the internets just informed me that I might be a vulnerable narcissist, so it must be true. Okay, the internet didn't inform me that I might be a vulnerable narcissist. It sent me articles on the subject because I love psychology and read articles on it every day. And if I am anything, I'm a bit of a hypochondriac.

But, I mean, I just wrote about my experiences with rape and sexual harassment. If that isn't a publicity stunt, or a plea for love and validation, I don't know what is!

Except, I know there is another layer to this onion, and that layer is the reality that putting all that pain out in the Universe, for anyone to know, means I don't have to hide that stuff anymore. It doesn't have to be part of me anymore.

Writing about my #metoo experience gave me peace. So maybe writing about this stuff will, too. Maybe, like my Grandma Charlene hopes, it will help someone.

*****

People know my trauma. As a vulnerable narcissist (or whatever I am) early on, I collected friends through sharing my stories. While I talk a good pity party regarding isolation, I have had marvelous connections with amazing people all over the country and even all over the world. If my lifestyle were freer, I would like to visit them all, and spend a few magical hours or days together enjoying what it is to be human. I have been fortunate to have lots of Anthony Bourdain - like experiences in my life, whether traveling or just in the grocery store in my own town. I love people and what I can learn from them.

Over the years, I became a lot less sensitive about the various traumas I suffered in my life, and even my depression and anxiety diagnoses. I think, in talking about these things, I was able to finally not feel like they defined me. But I always had control over how much I could share, in the moment.

If these things got out, they could affect my ability to be employed, potentially, I thought. For example, my PTSD and/or Major Depressive Disorder diagnoses. I don't know if these are current. I only found out about them when I had to get my records for our medical insurance back in 2009. I don't know if they're real, or just a code my previous therapist had to enter to bill my insurance.

And then, I just realized, maybe one negative effect of the Internet is that we all have to worry about being truly known, because it could affect our livelihood.

And that is one way that capitalism has facilitated shame, and thus, narcissism.

*****

When I first started my genealogical research, I found, in the 1929 Colorado Springs city directory, a listing for my great-grandfather, Grafton Ellison, at the Modern Woodmen's Association of America sanitorium. I knew that he had tuberculosis, and was under the impression for most of my life that he died of tuberculosis in 1934.

That was one long battle with tuberculosis.

Grafton had been a housepainter in Denver. My great-grandmother Adah's father, Clarence Wilson, was also a house painter, and he died the next year, after falling from some scaffolding while painting the interior of the Paramount Theater. I wonder if Adah met her husband Grafton through Clarence's activities as a house painter?

This was at the height of the Great Depression. Adah and Grafton wed in 1924, and by the next year, on August 1, 1925, little Charlene Ellison was born (There you are, Grandma! See, I'm doing it!). The very next year, he was at the MWA Sanitorium in the Springs, and by the time Charlene was 8 years old, he had died. For at least five years, during the Great Depression, he battled TB, like many, many other people in this country. His illness, and the stigma of it, would affect my family to this day.

I would more profoundly understand what my family was going through after I watched the PBS American Experience episode on TB. It was like having leprosy. It was extremely shameful.

Grandma Charlene, I am sorry for the isolation you must have felt.

*****
When I was a child, I always said I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, and that was because I felt like the mind contained multitudes. I remember I was probably six years old when I said to my father (an avid reader of science and science fiction) "I think maybe there is a universe inside of me, and a universe inside of you, and people in that universe, and universes inside those people."

His response was, "Yes, some people have said things like that before."

While most people comment on my optimistic attitude, the reality is that I am prone to very negative self-talk. So when my Dad said that, I thought, "Oh, I thought it was a special thought. But I guess it wasn't. So I shouldn't bother thinking about those things anymore." I could have just as easily thought, "Wow, I wonder what else those people have realized that I might find interesting?"

It only dawned on me recently, when I finally was introduced to the concept of the multiverse, that I could have used the opportunity to learn about Sir Isaac Newton. Maybe that would have dawned on me had I been a child of the internet age.

But the Universe has its own plan, and instead I would end up investigating the nature of existence through the earthly plane, first. I went to Tulane University because, in order to get into medical school, I felt I needed to have the most competitive major, which was Biomedical Engineering. So I applied to the four top Biomedical Engineering programs in the US, which at the time were the University of Pennsylvania, Case Western Reserve University, Johns Hopkins, and Tulane. Tulane, actually, was an 11th hour addition to my list because my good friend said they had the best scholarship programs. I was very disheartened over my rejection letter from Johns Hopkins. I didn't get very good financial aid to Penn or Case Western. I chose Tulane because I got a huge scholarship there, which covered my tuition. So the Universe decided for me.

*****

The first time I ever seriously considered suicide as a parent was when my kids were 5 and 2 years old, in the winter of 2006 after we first moved to Loveland from Monument. My husband had been working in a very abusive employment situation. Um, actually, two jobs in a row. The first place is legendary for being an abusive work environment, and happens to reside in the Modern Woodmen's Association building in Monument (no kidding - my life is full of coincidences like this, and I'll try to mention them when they come up). He actually left before anything negative befell him directly, but the stress he experienced from watching his coworkers suffering made us both think it was just a matter of time before it was his turn.

In 2006, the real estate market was super slow, and so after a few months of living at his brother's apartment in Broomfield, commuting to Loveland, and me struggling to clean up the house in Monument for random house showings with a 2 year old who needed a nap, we got a tiny 500 square foot 2 bedroom apartment in Loveland. We used one room to store most of our belongings, and I had a king size mattress on the floor, next to a twin mattress in the other bedroom. The kids and I spent most of our time in the little living room and adjacent galley kitchen where I would stand all day, looking for help for my son's sensory issues online, and also looking for houses.

I looked at 130 houses before our house in Monument sold and we moved to the home where we currently live.

The days were interspersed with feeding children five meals a day, getting my daughter down for a nap (so the multiverse didn't implode), taking them to the coffee shop to meet other homeschoolers, and the aforementioned standing-kitchen-internet time.

At some point in February, around my birthday (of course), I started seeing auras, not being able to recall words, and having intrusive thoughts about ending my life.

*****

I wonder what really happened. The newspapers at the time, The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, have conflicting stories.


May 27, 1934, Denver Post:

JOBLESS SALESMAN ENDS LIFE WITH GUN

Victim of a nervous breakdown. Grafton R Ellison, 33, of 4441 Utica Street, an unemployed salesman, shot himself to death Saturday night. He had been bed-ridden two months.

Mrs. Ada Ellison, his wife, said he appeared cheerful Saturday afternoon. Shortly before 7 p. m. Mrs. Ellison, her 8 year old daughter, Charline, and her mother, Mrs. Clarence Wilson, 4412 Stuart Street, went to the kitchen to eat supper. They heard a shot and rushed to Ellison's Room. They found him dead.


May 27, 1934, Rocky Mountain News

ILL, TAKES OWN LIFE

Wife Returns From Work to Find Husband Shot Dead, in Bed

Illness of many months caused Ellison Grafton, 34, of 4441 Utica Street to end his life yesterday.

He was found in bed at his home with a bullet hole through his head and a revolver in his hand.

His wife, Mrs. Ada Grafton, found him when she returned from work and notified police.

Mrs. Grafton informed police her husband had been despondent because of his continued illness.

*****

Here's the funny thing about genealogy. People talk a good talk about being related to Charlemagne, but the fact of the matter is, the value of it is in helping us understand ourselves better.

The reason my mother and I went to the Denver Public Library's Western Genealogy section to look up the newspapers for the day of Grafton's death is that a few weeks earlier, I had received his death certificate in the mail from Colorado's Vital Records division. I was expecting it to say that he died of tuberculosis, of course, but what it said was that he died of a "revolver shot wound head" and suicide was clearly circled. 

When I opened the envelope and saw that, I knew in my heart that this was a significant find. I knew that it would be something that everyone in my family who was descended from him would want to know, because it explained a lot.

This finding would be the first of many I would find while researching my own and my husband's genealogy, which would explain exactly how we got to where we are now.

*****

Where are we now, anyway?

Our son is 17 and is 12 credit hours from the completion of his Associate's Degree. He did this with very little to no formal schooling.

My daughter is 14 and is a very talented artist who helps edit her friends' novels and loves caring for animals.

Both of them keep up on politics. They help around the house without my asking. They are kind, compassionate, and humble, but also highly competent and confident in what they have taught themselves. I get lots and lots of compliments on my kids, and I love them more than anything in this world. I would do ANYTHING for them.

They hate it when I talk about them - it makes them uncomfortable. And honestly, I am reluctant to write anything about them at all because I feel like it is important that they tell their own stories someday, and that perception of them is not clouded by anything I might say.

And that is another reason why it is so hard to be vulnerable and transparent on such a big scale. I don't know who reads this.

Maybe someday we will more consciously appreciate the challenges people have overcome rather than valuing the idiotic idea of perfection. Maybe my vulnerability can help us get there. Not that I see myself as particularly special - just that I see other people being vulnerable, and how it is helping.

In fact, a few years ago, a like-minded homeschooling scientist mom I know asked if authenticity was a good thing, and I think authenticity as vulnerability is good. Authenticity as being mean is not good. It's all in the intention, as it is with anything. Is it self-serving, or serving love?

*****

The living circumstances were wearing on us.

"Oh God. It's Caillou again. I cannot deal with that kid's voice!" I thought, wishing I could go far, far away from the television. But if I left the room, the kids would surely follow, and then I would have to entertain them.

I just could not bring myself to do whatever the thing was "AGAIN! AGAIN! AGAIN!" My brain railed against me. I had no business becoming a mother. None. At. All. I don't like doing anything over and over again, especially not cleaning up human waste. And that is a LOT of parenthood in the early years. Throwing away uneaten food that was demanded, or that you thought necessary in order to prevent a tantrum. Changing diapers. Picking up food from weird places. Wiping up poop from weird places (especially the slots around the seatbelts in a carseat).

Just a few years prior, I had devised a very legitimate experiment to uncover the molecular mechanism by which estrogen influences memory in mice and carried it mostly out. I left graduate school with about six months of experimentation left to complete my PhD in molecular biology and neuroscience. I think it was about $3500 in funding that I needed to finish, which I didn't get, because I had the "wrong mentor."

I don't have a lot of regrets in life, and if I were to have one, this should be it.

Except the Universe gave me two daily reminders of why I was rewarded for quitting, and why I can't quit now.

And the thing about these kids is that I learn so much from them. They were born with a knowing, a wisdom, that was undeniable. I think most children are. Children bring about our capacity to love, if we listen.

*****

So, to be eight years old, Grandma, and I am sure that house wasn't very big... maybe you, and Adah and Edith were in the kitchen? Did Adah just return from work at the bindery? Did you run in when you heard the shot?

Did you see it?

Is that why you drank yourself to death?

Were you able to be with him when he was sick, or was he quarantined? Did you lose him that day, or had you lost him a long time before?

*****

My earliest memories include being pushed off my mother's lap when she was pregnant with my sister, and also feeling disappointed when my sister was brought home from the hospital as a newborn. In fact, one of the favorite stories my mother likes to tell of my independent nature is that when I was three years old, I packed up her overnight bag with all my doll clothes and walked right out the front door. What she didn't know was that the sentiment behind that action, which I clearly remember, was, "I've had enough of this shit. I'm out of here." To this day, when I feel boxed in, unappreciated, unheard... that is my instinct. To get the hell out of Dodge.

I feel terrible for these feelings, which my therapist says is a problem. Not that I have those feelings, but that I can't forgive myself for them. Maybe writing about it will make it better. It has made a lot of things better for me.

I love my sister. She's another very private person, so I cannot say too much, but I just want to say here that she has a tremendously positive impact on my life. She is so strong and compassionate, and she does things for all the right reasons. She busts her ass to help a whole community of people in ways they can't help themselves every single day. She even helps her coworkers. She gets a lot of help from my parents, and I am glad for that, because whatever love they put in, she puts out to the world one hundred fold.

I wonder if Edith, her namesake, was so strong.

I know she worries about being a working mother. Her kids are at that hard age where they require a bit less attention, but it's imperative to be around because it's the make or break years for parenting, from an attachment perspective. Ages 6-8.

Thankfully, like you, Grandma, they have their grandparents around for support.

*****

In Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it can Help you Find - And Keep - Love, which was recommended by my therapist, Amir Levine describes how adult attachment style influences our relationships with other adults. My husband and I had both taken an online test which indicated we scored almost identically as anxiously attached.

What that means is that we both answer people promptly and worry about saying the wrong thing. We worry if we haven't heard from the other person in "too long." I haven't finished reading the book yet, because I got really upset when I read the part about people with avoidant attachment styles.

Avoidant attachment styles are the people who put up walls. They control the flow of the relationship. They are absolutely toxic for people with anxious attachment styles.

We have several extended family members with the avoidant style, and had several friends, too. Obviously we have choices about the latter, but not about the former. All we can do with our family members is try as hard as possible to communicate our feelings effectively when given the chance, and be mindful of the uncomfortable feelings that come up when they exert control over the relationship. For the friends, well... I let 'em go after writing them a poem that came to me in the middle of the night. Letting them go allowed for a tremendous reduction in stress, which helped us to bust through a few other problems we were having in our marriage which we just weren't getting to because of the constant issue of avoidant people in our lives.

*****

when your heart
has had
all it can take

do you retreat

we are all in this
alone
together

*****

A lot of my philosophy on psychology revolves around my deeply held belief that although I have had a lot of trauma in my life, other people have suffered worse, and often, they're the people you least suspect. Some people, I can look at and I know, because of the mirror touch synesthesia.

My therapist asked me last week what it was like to have mirror touch synesthesia, and that made me realize I forgot to include the part about how easy it is to lose myself. Sometimes I feel like a chameleon, or shapeshifter. After spending time with people, I sometimes have no sense of myself. Something funny about having no sense of self is that it is easy to achieve that feeling of detachment the Buddhists talk about, because when I can't make sense of myself, the natural sequelae of learned helplessness is that I have to stop caring about identity. I let go of my ego. I just am. It doesn't matter.

That kind of detachment makes compassion a heckuva lot easier. When you've felt all those people on such a deep level, you realize how very little really matters.

All we really need, it turns out, is love. (But food is a form of love, as well as clothing, shelter, diversions for the mind and avenues for self-expression).

*****

Charlene would call us, drunk from New York, asking me to call her "Grandma." I wouldn't. I grew up without grandparents because of her mistake. I grew up without knowing my cousins because of it.

She died August 6, 2004, soon after the birth of my daughter, and five days after her 79th birthday. She had a long, long battle with esophageal cancer, during which she took her vitamins religiously, washing them down with cases of vodka (my kind of woman - she knew how to balance the good and the bad). My mom and her half sisters stopped by my house to take Charlene's ashes to her burial site where my "Uncle Fred" was interred in Colorado Springs. A psychic medium would tell me this year that she said her death was so long and awful that it, "Would have been better to be hit by a bus!" in a distinctly New York accent. (Yeah! I saw a psychic, and it was so amazing!)

Troubled she was, clearly.

I'm sorry it was so hard, Grandma. I owe you, big time, for everything you went through so I could have this amazing life.

My mother grew up believing that Charlene was her sister, and found out that Charlene was actually her mother after the death of her adoptive father, while helping her adoptive mother (Adah, Charlene's mother) clean out files. This was in late 1978. I was just shy of four years old, and my sister was one.

*****

The hardest times when we were living in that tiny apartment waiting for our house to sell were when my husband would come home late, and the kids were cranky and fighting.

I had gone through the La Leche League Leader training, so I had read Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen, Alfie Kohn, Marshall Rosenberg on Nonviolent Communication, Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber & Mazlish, books on Sensory Integration, and books on Childhood Development (Gesell Institute). But at the end of the day, suffering from exhaustion, it was hard to mindfully employ what I knew in my head.

I was sure my son had oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD - which is funny, because he is ODD, but definitely not oppositional or defiant). He had just turned five and had his world turned upside down by a move. It came out in his behavior in a big way. Anyone who knows my son now would have difficulty imagining him as either oppositional or defiant.

Sometimes they would hit each other, and although I had read all those books, my inner instinct was to hit them. I didn't. I want to make that very clear. I hit my daughter once a few years later after lots and lots of warnings. But these feelings of wanting to hit my children were so torturous to me that I ruminated on the thought of suicide, a lot.

I ended up seeing a therapist for a short time and after we moved into our new house I felt a lot better and the kids calmed down a lot. I also discovered I was estrogen dominant, and started using progesterone which got rid of all my visual migraines and word recall issues. I also noticed that the migraines correlated with the use of Tide and Cascade detergent, and discontinued their use. I never ended up having the EMDR therapy the therapist recommended, but being settled in our new home, having access to good home cooked meals, and leisurely days with plenty of personal space made my emotional life a lot more stable.

*****

I have a good friend who I have had since I was three, so yes, that means that this year we celebrated our 40th anniversary of friendship.

Our kids are about the same age, and although her kids go to public school and mine are homeschooled, we still talk a lot about parenting and motherhood.

When our kids were really little, I used to just breastfeed mine if they were acting up for any reason. As long as it wasn't a diaper issue. Boob juice really did fix everything. I got much, much better at this, and patience in general, with my second child. I tried to reason with my son when he was just a wee thing.

I felt badly because at one point my friend mentioned that shoving my boob in their faces might not be the best approach because the kids would not learn to process their own emotions. I worried about this quite a bit, wondering if I was just a big human pacifier, but also way too traumatized and exhausted to do anything else.

But as it turns out, I was doing exactly what I needed to do. I was responding with love. I welcomed them when they were at their worst, when other adults shrugged their shoulders. I held them, and stroked their hair, and looked them in the eyes while they kicked me in the face and kneaded my other breast (that drove me nuts). And the peaceful look they had while doing that gave me the immediate reassurance that I was doing the right thing.

*****

Gratitude journaling was recommended to me in 2010, a year after my husband started working from home. I did it for a whopping week, I think, and felt better and stopped.

Five years later, a significant health event in my husband's life would turn everything upside down, and I would begin journaling again, although not particularly regularly. I would do it when I would feel the compulsion. I think maybe I became better at recognizing sorrow setting in, because I remember feeling a strong need to say something to someone about what was going on, but I didn't know who to talk to. I was not under the care of a therapist at the time, and worried about the expense and shame of seeing a therapist. Writing, however, settled my mind and headed the suicidal thoughts off at the pass.

I have so many entries where I have just literally spent the time talking myself out of suicide.

"Sylvia Plath thought journaling would save her." I wrote one day.

It was shortly after this, in the winter of 2016, during the holidays, that I would take it upon myself to get us to a couple's therapist.

*****

It was, I realized through genealogy, all of the secrets the families kept that perpetuated the trauma across so many generations. The pride.

I thought of the movie Seven, and pride being considered a deadly sin. The more I got to know people, the more this particular characteristic turned me inside out, because I realized the full effect of pride and narcissism on my own life, on the lives of my friends and family, and the lives of states and nations, and the world. I felt surrounded by people acting in self-interest, not acting out of love. Much of the parenting I witnessed was guided by a single agenda - "I want to be able to be proud of my child" - rather than out of unconditional love. The kids of these parents know they are not loved unconditionally. It shows up in their attention-seeking behavior. This is the genesis of narcissism.

"I love the evil man who knows he is evil more than the righteous man who knows he is righteous. Of the evil people who consider themselves righteous, however, the following is said: "They do not even turn away on the threshold of the underworld." For they imagine that they are being led to hell in order to redeem the souls there." - Tales of the Chassidim

So many secrets were kept from children throughout history, in order to not affect their opportunity in this life. But those secrets kept them from understanding the generational trauma that would provide the root of every obstacle they would ever face. They would be shamed. They would be blamed. In the name of pride. Hiding wounds. We all know people who were rejected from their families of origin because of their mistakes. What a profound act of love it is to welcome a child back into your arms, at any age, when they have made a huge mistake and have nowhere else to turn.

You brought this child into the world - this child is your responsibility forever. This child's energy. Help the child to love themself wholly, and you help the world. In the absence of parents, we owe this to our siblings, too. Forgiveness is the ultimate act of love.

*****

Ancestry.com notifies me of new records for my ancestors with a little green leaf in the corner of their profile. Because I have done extensive research on my known ancestors back to my great-grandparents, new records for these generations rarely come up.

Speaking of that - I need to put a countdown timer for 1/1/2020, because WOOT! I am waiting for that 1950 US Federal Census!!! ALL UR SECRETS ARE MINE!!! Sorry, I have a little thing about "singing over bones" as Clarissa Pinkola Estes says in her Jungian Feminist book, Women Who Run With The Wolves. It's one of several reasons I got a bracelet that says "Well behaved women rarely make history." This is a relevant paragraph because one of my favorite poorly-behaved woman friends is helping Ms. Estes with her genealogical research. My friend is singing over Estes' ancestors bones! Bone singers unite!

The Social Security Death Index was released by the Social Security Office a few years ago, and that was where I learned that Charlene had several other names. Aliases.

Grandma!! I still have one more name to figure out! I figured out who my grandfather was, and I even found the baby boy you gave up for adoption. My uncle is an artist! A good one! All those house painters in your ancestry, and your son and granddaughter end up being painters, too. What are the chances? But seriously, what were you up to?! What did you need to hide so badly you took the secret to your grave? If I do the writing, will you tell me?

Well, Charlene wasn't the only family member I had with an alias. My father's father also had an alias.

So yeah, this girl who grew up middle class in Denver had two grandparents with aliases.

Secrets.

*****

My interest in psychology started very young, because when you are the oldest daughter of a woman who lost her father and learned she was adopted when she had little kids, that's what happens.

I forgave my parents a long, long time ago. They never fail to love me. I know how deeply my parents love me.

Through genealogy, and my own experience as a mother, dealing with generational trauma, I continue to forgive them and love them more and more each day. I recognize how the life my parents gave me is so much better than what either of them had. Both of them had alcoholic parents, and their mothers were battered.

So it makes sense that corporal punishment was the order of the day for them discipline-wise. Plus, it's what everyone did. It was fashionable. But they never drank, ever. When I did my little teenage rebellion and invited some boys over, we had to drink the Cherry Kirsch they purchased to make some dessert for a pot-luck. (That's why your dessert didn't taste like cherries. Because you just put water in the dessert. Ha)

To this day, if I do something I feel shame about, I feel the hairbrush on my bottom. It keeps me very honest. It keeps me a "good person." It also tortures my soul.

But I want to tell you that although the beginning of my parenting journey was harrowing, because I didn't know a better way, watching my parents grow as grandparents and in-laws has shown me that it is possible to heal the deepest of wounds. It is possible to forgive oneself and move on, and through the act of forgiving oneself, it is possible to manifest abundance through love and generosity.

I'm sorry it was so hard, Mom and Dad. I owe you, big time, for everything you went through so I could have this amazing life. But I also know that what you want is for me to be an agent of love in all that I do, so that is what I will do. Because it is the right thing to do.

*****

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have a real need to be alone. This need poses quite a challenge for my mental health and my marriage, especially since my husband and I are both anxiously attached.

I found just as much stuff about his family as I did mine. And it all made things make sense. It was all stuff his family was eager to hide, because they were highly stigmatic events like divorce, mental illness, abandonment, alcoholism and even murder.

I want to write about these things because I think they will help people see how historical events and generational trauma affect them personally. I also am considering becoming a professional genealogist so I can help people heal from generational trauma.

My husband and I both suffered significant psychological loss between ages 6 and 8 as children. This is the time period when the "narcissistic lesion" can be formed if a secure attachment is not formed with an adult caretaker.

I don't see what happened to us as special. I see it as a sign of those times. Our story isn't that unique. It just happens to be the one I have to share.

We were part of the latch key kid generation.

"Sometimes I feel like a motherless child." Indeed.

Fatherless, too. Many of our fathers fought in Vietnam.

*****

Lawnmower parent? Whatever.

"How do I reconcile the narcissistic side of feminism with the attachment needs of children?" I asked my psychologist.

"The children just need to know that their parents are there for them emotionally no matter what. No matter when." She said.

"That makes sense." I mused.

I was wondering, privately, if she secretly laughed at my choice to live a 1950's era existence when I could have put my children in someone else's care. I wondered how she could care so much about adult attachment, and leave her new baby with someone else. I imagine it is both a relief, and a stress.

But I also knew from watching my parents help raise my niece and nephew that grandparents can be good parents, too. Maybe even better parents, because they have a longer perspective, and tend to fuss less over little things. Well, that is certainly the way my parents are. I am sure my niece and nephew know their grandparents will do anything for them. ANYTHING.

And then I thought how I inherently knew that the educational system was not a good substitute for a secure attachment object because of its pitiful failure to do that for me and my husband, but I just didn't understand that the formation of secure attachment didn't have anything to do with quantity of time spent with the caregiver, but QUALITY of time.

It is my observation that modern life for most people consists of waking way too early and having to usher unwilling children out of the house WITH A LUNCH conforming to certain standards of the day, going to work 40 (or more) hours a week, shuttling kids from one activity to another (if one is well to do, anyway, otherwise the children are self-parented), feeding the whole bunch, keeping grandparents happy, and doing it all over again. What I like to say is that "most people get the ass end of each other" because everyone is spending the best part of the day away from the people they love.

So modern life is about processing the trauma endured during the work and school days during the time together. Supporting each other through traumatic events. At best. I do not know if our little family would have made it under those circumstances.

That lawnmower parent has helped that child have less trauma. Less stress. The lawnmower parent is a secure attachment object. As long as the parent is acting out of love, and not self interest. There's the rub.

*****

I realize now, that through my vulnerable narcissism, I was looking for a secure attachment object.

The realization was a really painful one.

"Next week we'll talk about 'Father Hunger'" my therapist said. That was three days ago.

I Googled it.

Oh yeah. I have that.

That's why, over the course of a 22 year marriage (we've been together for 25 years), I have had crushes on other men for 18 of those years. I am still looking for my inner father.

Or maybe, as my friend from Algeria said all those years ago, I am just a "healthy girl." Maybe monogamy can be an oppressive, anti-feminist institution.

Perspective is everything.

*****

Attachment disorder, I believe, can manifest as a number of different childhood illnesses which cause classroom disruption.

It seems to me that classes for "regular" kids these days, if the accounts I am hearing from friends whose kids decided to go to public middle- and high-school are any indication, end up containing a large percentage of disciplinary time rather than useful content for the students.

Whenever I hear about behavioral issues in children, I wonder if they have a secure attachment style. What was their home life like for the first eight years? Were their families constantly relocating due to corporate America's treatment of its workers? Were their parents struggling financially due to divorce or medical bills? According to Elizabeth Warren, these are the top two reasons for bankruptcy filing in the US. What usually happens is that a family is dependent on two incomes (either by lifestyle choice or necessity), and then there is either a divorce or a medical emergency that makes it so bankruptcy is necessary. In households with one wage earner, but two partners, this is less likely to happen, because the non-working partner is like an insurance policy.

An insurance policy is putting it lightly. This insurance policy is also available for small claims like picking vomiting children up from school, taking cars for maintenance, volunteering in the community to spread good energy to people who need it, figuring out logistical nightmares like vacation planning, taking grandparents to the doctor, moral support, and generally making life sweeter. If I do say so myself. Oh, and being the secure attachment object.

Feminism is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Women should be able to do anything a man can do, without judgment (I have a little thing I got for camping which enables me to write my name in the snow, and have changed tires on the side of the interstate by myself while pregnant). But in every single thing that exists, there is both good and bad. I propose that the expectation of women being able to work which started in the 1970's gradually lead to the abandonment of children (since largely, fathers weren't picking up the invisible labor for a generation and a half or so, and still lag behind in that area), the explosion of narcissism, AND, especially, the great divide between the wealthy and the rest of us. We have two incomes, so we can have bigger houses, so we can fill them with more stuff, and the cost of everything has gone up because now a household earns a lot more than it used to. Do we really need to be so productive? Don't we have a huge problem with waste? Who gets more and more wealthy from our purchasing stuff to validate ourselves?

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have some shopping habits which I still need to get under control, especially in the realm of books, clothing and shoes - the latter two are improving).

Men can actually lactate. I think it is a lot of work, but it is possible for the extremely determined. Now we have laws so that breastfeeding mothers can pump while at work. I think, in order to get out of a lot of our problems, we have to recognize that men can be nurturers, too. Men can do invisible labor, and they can help aging parents. (Props to my brother-in-law who is the Invisible Labor rock star). There have been a few stay at home Dads in our homeschooling group over the years. My husband once told me he was jealous that I got to stay home with the kids. I do have to say, the way we did it, it was pretty awesome.

Also we need to be okay with less for a while. I do realize this is really easy for me to say, because according to Pew my household with one income is in the 50th percentile in our area. So, it wasn't the sacrifice for us that it was for many of our friends. But they made it work, and if I had to live on a lot less, I know I could do it, because they showed me how.

I think the millennials inherently know this. They are less likely to buy houses, and more of them are working from home or having a parent stay at home.

*****

"I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ABOUT TRUMP ANYMORE. I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR IT ESPECIALLY BEFORE I HAVE HAD COFFEE. NO TALKING TO ME ABOUT NEWS. I PROTECTED YOUR HEAD SPACE FOR YEARS WHILE YOU WORKED FROM HOME, AND NOW I WANT SOME. I WANT TO USE MY HEAD FOR MORE PRODUCTIVE STUFF." I yelled at my husband.

I probably did yell. Yelling makes this story sound super awesome. Because, I hardly ever yell. When I yell, I yell mindfully, something I have probably rehearsed over and over again in my subconscious.

I had to break nearly completely to have the courage to ask my husband for space. I wrote about that breaking already, in my last post.

When he started working from home, a homeschooling friend warned me that she knew some people who got a divorce right after they started working from home together. I didn't think it would be a big deal, but it kind of was. There were really great things about it, and also some not great things. I am still processing it all.

Last January, we sat in couples therapy and I talked about wanting to move my computer away from where our family has all their computers. To my own space. It was a scary thing for me to request. He saw it as a rejection of him. And I saw his reaction to his perception of my rejection as rejection. And so, we walked on eggshells. The both of us. Sometimes it felt like the house was full of eggshells. I think he felt like that, too.

There were other reasons, too, related to ongoing family issues. I have decided that the families that "look" the most perfect are probably hiding a lot.

"Why can't I get anything done, creatively?" I kept wondering, after the 2015 health crisis. But then I took a class and had to do the work for a grade, and so it was easier for me to get away. If I had a reason, I could get away. But this semester, and over the summer, and last summer, I wasn't taking classes. So it was like All Trump All The Time.

This is a Public Service Announcement: IF YOU WORK FROM HOME AND/OR SPEND A LOT OF TIME WITH A SPOUSE WHO HAS MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES, DO NOT FOLLOW THEM AROUND AND REMIND THEM REPEATEDLY THAT A 'PUSSY-GRABBING' NARCISSIST NOW RUNS THE FREE WORLD.

And there was the reminder that the other option during the election was a woman who stayed married to a man who denied sexual acts with his female intern. HE GASLIT HER IN FRONT OF THE ENTIRE WORLD. OVER AND OVER. Bill Clinton was an abuser. That is what hurts the most about any sort of abuse, sexual harassment and rape. It's a he said/she said kind of situation, and he's denying it, and the victim is like, "Did that really just happen? Am I losing my mind? There is no way that just happened. That only happens on TV."

Notwithstanding the issue of consent is that it's okay for men to cheat on their wives. We laugh it off - "Oh, he's a healthy boy." But women are called sluts, whores, harlots, etc. Both candidates, to me, are a reminder that it is still very much a man's world. Women are still treated like possessions.

Where is our progressive female candidate? The one with all the lovers?

*****

"Dear Diary," my crush said, mocking me, "Today he and I talked about..." I sat in the school lounge with my journal every day, half hoping to get some journaling done, and more than half hoping he would stop by to talk. He usually did.

"Nuh-uh!" I said, shaking my head. I had just written about him, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do with all these complicated feelings.

I had found journaling to be very powerful. There were things that had happened over the 25 years of my marriage which are like little whisps now - just figments of memories. When trying to remember them, I would be told that they didn't happen, or that I was remembering it all wrong. It wasn't intended to make me feel crazy, even though that was the effect. It was meant to repair my perception - to cover shame. It was meant to try to get me to forget, since there was nothing we could do about the past, anyway. But it became very apparent to me, lack of awareness just let the problems persist. It enabled them to get bigger. Ignorance is not always bliss.

At one particularly difficult time this year, I sat in the rocker chair in our sitting room, staring, not knowing what to do with myself, because I was so depressed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my old journals from my childhood and years as a young woman, detailing everything about my rape, all of my crushes, boyfriends, you name it. It was a regular Mortified Nation. I shared the funniest ones with my family, since we enjoyed the show together so much. I wanted my kids to see that crushes and sexual feelings were normal, because I was raised to feel shameful about my sexuality, and I don't want them to feel that shame.

That shame gives other people power over us.

It was then that I realized that it's just the way I am. I fall in love really easily, get hurt, and somehow pick myself up, dust myself off, and live to love another day. Sure, it's a liability for a married person, but probably an important and benevolent energy to spread. Love. Attachment. I'm wired for it biologically. Especially when I am healthiest.


*****

The latest crush was like my Dad, but an artist. What they all have in common is they are nice guys. And I don't mean the "nice guys" like on reddit who are all "Why can't I get me some pussy? I'm such a nice guy. The problem is that women are all bitches and hoes!" No, these guys I fall for worship their mothers and sisters because their mothers and sisters love them, and support them, too. They push my understanding of feminism forward. They encourage me and build my confidence, recognize my intelligence. They are charitable, forgiving, kind and graceful. But also, they know how to be present when I am feeling deeply. They also know how to control themselves and honor boundaries and not withhold love to get their way. They are humble. I can tell they know how to love. And they understand that life is a learning process. They are broken, but working on themselves. They are people to build a dream with. Away or together, I never worry about where I stand with them. They know the power of forgiveness. That, to me, is attractive. That is handsome.

Maybe it is not 'father hunger.' Maybe it is just smart. These are the qualities we should foster in our sons. People like this are infectious, in a good way. Their presence alone is healing.

Infatuation eventually, after significant pain, gives way to a warm love and concern which never ends.

I use those interactions to spread connection and joy to others. Because, ultimately, those feelings are useful if in the end they promote love in the world, and hopefully I have not hurt anyone. Flirting can be good, right?

I'm worried I did hurt someone, though. I worry about it a lot. It keeps me up at night. And generally, I am a pretty good sleeper.

I really don't want to be the person who hurts someone who has already been hurt enough.

Even if hurt is an opportunity for growth. Some people don't know how to heal from such hurt.

*****

Was it like that for you, Grandma Charlene? Your mother had been working since your father couldn't. And then he was gone.

Did you have mirror touch like mom and I? Did you look to men to fill your father hunger?

You were married at least four times, and had a child with yet another man. This was a surprise to all of us.

Were you drinking to forget it?

Did the men ever help you find what was missing?

It doesn't seem like they did.

*****

The Universe led me to my love, my husband, at Tulane University. Over the years, we learned and grew, as we built something bigger than ourselves, with love. From two broken people, we replaced ourselves with two children who love each other and both their flawed parents. They are forward thinking. They are encouraging and help raise others' confidence, recognizing intelligence and kindness. They are charitable, forgiving, kind and graceful. They are humble. But also, they know how to be present when others are feeling deeply. They know how to control themselves and honor boundaries. They know how to love. And they understand, because we were transparent with them, that life is a learning process. They will never be too prideful to work on themselves.

What are we going to do next, honey? I still have things to do to help others. I need your help. Please let go of the news. It is a poisonous distraction from our mission here, when viewed in excess. We need to help heal the people around us through proper use of our love and attention. I see you changing and growing, mindfully. I see you healing. I love you. Thank you for your forgiveness of my 'father hunger.'

*****

I know now that to heal myself, I need to continue on this path of authenticity, vulnerability, journaling, making art, and meditation. I need to do this to close my wound, to heal my narcissism, so I can help others, regardless of who I am with.

*****

Please Universe, Grandma Charlene, so far the bread crumbs left for me have been amazing. I have always tried to act out of love. Please let sharing all of this help me to let go of this. I hope it helps someone.

Oh, and by the way, the word is VAGINA, not pussy.

No comments:

Post a Comment