Letter to a younger friend

After my mother died I really struggled, partly because I was in the midst of a divorce and felt like a massive failure. I did not like myself. But I kept thinking about my mother and how much she hid: and eventually I thought, you know, I love all of my mother. Even the stuff she hid. If she is lovable then so am I.

What is lovable in your parent? And would you miss her/him if she/he were truly gone?

That is the hard thing for me, that I couldn’t think about that until she was dead. With my sister, I thought about it before she died and changed how I behaved and let her know when I disagreed with her. Even though she had cancer.

Isn’t the greatest gift we can give each other loving honesty? I love you and I disagree with you and I am not going to do what you want just because you (are my mother/are my father/have cancer/have emphysema/want it/are dying). Isn’t the greatest gift to be ourselves and take the flack for it?

Cucumber love is a poem I wrote more then ten years ago about dropping the exoskeleton that we wear for society’s and our family’s approval. It takes courage. You can drop a little piece at a time and let them get used to it. And yes, some people may reject you for good. That is their choice. But you have to ask yourself then, did they ever really love you or did they only love to control you?

Cucumber love

They say they love you
And they do

Sort of

One day you find yourself
Wearing a construct
An exoskeleton
Awkward
You can move
See out

You built it slowly over years
Because that’s what you were told to do
You wanted to be loved
It made you feel safe

There is praise
Or at least pressure to keep it on
You may not have known it was there
And slowly begin to feel
Who you really are
Awaken to the shell

One day you slip out

They are still saying how much they love you
To the empty construct

You watch bemused
For a while

You say “That isn’t me.”
“Of course it is,” they say

“I’m over here,” you say

Shock and outrage
“That’s not you!
You’ve changed, you’re depressed
Confused, manic, gone out of your mind!”
Off the deep end

You might even go back in to
the construct for a little while

But now you’ve tasted freedom
You won’t be able to stand it for long
You will be out soon

Some people will see you as you really are

Some people will tell you they still love you
But as they say it to the construct
They act as if you’re still wearing it
They still think you love cucumbers
Though you ate that dish once to be polite
They hold the construct in their minds
Even after you’ve destroyed it
And behave the same as they ever did

As you walk away
You will wonder who they loved

The Introverted Thinker deals with death

When my introverted thinker daughter was two and a half, we took care of her maternal grandmother at home in hospice for nearly six weeks. Her maternal grandmother died at home.

Two and a half year olds can’t process death, right?

When she was four she came to me.
“How old was grandmother when she died?”
“She was sixty-one years old.” I could anticipate the next question.
“How old are you?”
“I am forty-one.”
“When will you die?”
“I don’t know. No one knows. But, great grandmother K lived until she was 93 so I am hoping to be more like her than like grandmother H, but I don’t know. I don’t think I am going to die any time soon.”
She studied me very carefully. It felt like she was checking to be sure that I was telling her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Apparently she was satisfied, because she toddled off to do something else.

And that is how the introverted thinker processed death.

Fierce woman

Ok, who is this fierce woman?

It is not me.

It is not my daughter.

It is a relative.

It is not my mother.

It is not my grandmother.

I have pictures of all of these women with that expression.

This is Mary Robbins White, my grandmother’s mother.

This is the line of women: mother to daughter all the way down.

What is passed from mother to daughter and mother to son? Besides the fierce expression?

Mitochondria. The mitochondria are only in the egg, not in the sperm. My grandparents, had three children, two boys and my mother. My mother passed the mitochondria to me and my sister, but the men would not contribute mitochondria to their sons or daughters. It is amazing to look at that serious face with intensity and concentration and see that passed down to my daughter, my son and my niece….

Guess who is who in the following photographs. I took two of them.

beach walk

My daughter is home and we went on a beach walk yesterday! The stupid oxygen keeps me from going fast. She went for a bike ride afterwards. Hooray!

Yesterday evening she brought up social distancing and how careful she should be. She has about 5 friends who are home that she is going to walk with. I am still wearing a mask over my oxygen tubing most places. She will unmask if they are vaccinated and they don’t have a cold or anything else. Even a cold would make me worse at this point. It makes me grumpy to be vulnerable, but I appreciate the discussion.

Songs to raise girls: Bessie the Drunkard’s own child

I am posting this from another site, originally posted November 2016. I am posting it because of a comment on a paper in my town about “homeless drug dealers”. It’s not the drug dealers that are homeless, it’s the addict. Ok, you can definitely have an addict dealer… But I worked hard to treat any kind of addiction, not only because of the patient, but also the family and especially the children. And every patient was a child once….

This is another temperance song that my mother taught me, learned from her father. Both of my mother’s grandfathers were Congregationalist Ministers in Iowa.

Out on the stormy night sadly I roam.
No one to love me, no dear pleasant home.
Dark is the night and the storm rages wild.
God pity Bessie, the drunkard’s own child.

Chorus:
Mother, O why did you leave me alone,
No one to love me, no dear pleasant home.
Dark is the night and the storm rages wild
God pity Bessie, the drunkard’s own child

We was so happy til father drinked rum.
Then all our trials and troubles begun.
Mother grew weary and wept every day.
Brother and I were too hungry to play.

Barefoot and hungry we wander all day
Looking for work, but “too small” they all say
On the damp ground to lay my head
Father’s a drunkard and Mother is dead.

Thus the two wandered, ’til one stormy night
Brother and sister both faded from sight
Then gazing at them, sadly I said
“Father’s a drunkard and Mother is dead.”

Cheerful, right? Again, I know the tune and only have the chorus memorized. My parents quit singing it in front of me so that I wouldn’t sing it at Show and Tell.

And small children shouldn’t hear this sort of thing, right? I don’t know. I learned an awful lot about the dark side of the world and danger from these songs. I found them helpful. I think they influenced me to be careful….

And think of the refugee children and children everywhere. This is still happening.

here: http://www.pdmusic.org/1800s/66fadamid.txt
and here: http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=57166
The tune I learned is slightly different and darker than this: http://mudcat.org/@displaysong.cfm?SongID=6196
And some overlapping words with a different tune: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ooDfYaH08E and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KGiFkcxOus

The photograph is my maternal grandfather, F. Temple Burling, sitting on his grandfather’s lap. His grandfather was Morris Temple. My grandfather taught my mother this song and she taught me.

Game ball

Warning: this post contains some time out words.

How do I process the game you played?

I am the subject of the game.

Or the victim.

Or no, I refuse. It is your game. I was not playing. I am the honey badger, metabolism so fast that I have to run from one meal to the next or else I will starve. I eat whatever I can find: cobras, bees, anything. I eat or I die.

You have tethered a honey badger to oxygen by playing a game.

I am the football and you have been kicking me, throwing me, catching me, slamming me to the ground as hard as you can in the end zone.

And now that I am worn and damaged and torn, you’ll toss me away, not even notice me, and find a new ball.

You will need a new football. To play with.

I don’t envy that person.

The truth is, it will be one of you. The group will rest on their laurels, oh, we nearly killed her, wasn’t it great? We showed her. She is so stupid, took her what, 21 years to fucking figure it out? And she thinks she’s so smart.

I was looking for food because I am always hungry. The food insecurity goes back to infancy. Maybe to the womb: my mother says she was not to gain weight and spent the entire pregnancy longing for a gigantic ice cream Sunday. Think of being in a womb, attacked by antibodies to tuberculosis, and starving all the time. Might be a little bit worried when birth happens. Fuck, I am going through a tunnel, what horrors await me here? But maybe there will be more food.

Maybe someone will love me. Maybe there will be someone for me to love. And feed. We can give each other food.

My advice to you is don’t be the ball. I was the ball for 21 years. I was so hungry the whole time, for food and for love, that I kind of noticed but dismissed it as unimportant. Food and love were more important. Work and my patients were more important. You don’t matter and your games are trivial.

It will be the weakest one who will be the ball. You worry that you are the one. You should worry. You had better look strong right away. Post some horror. Write something really tough. Don’t show anyone any niggling doubts. Um, the ball is wearing oxygen. I am feeling a little bad about this. Are you feeling bad about this? The ball isn’t just crazy, it’s hurt. Actually crazy is an illness too: I know that you discriminate and think that cancer is a legitimate illness and that mania isn’t, but you are assholes. No, you’re too small and pathetic to be an asshole. You are a one celled animal that is clinging to a hair on an asshole and you get shat on daily. And you know, deep deep in your tiny shrunken heart, that you deserve it.

I am so glad I am not you.

I am tethered to oxygen. But I am healing. I don’t think you can. You are locked in your small sick pathetic triangulation competition and pretending that it’s a game that it’s ok that you are just playing.

Ick.

Meanwhile, the oxygen is portable.

I have food and I have love and I have work to do that lifts me on wings. I will go too near the sun and light on fire and fall burning, but that’s ok. I’ve done it before. The ocean heals me, always. It is so much fun to fly!

This is in memory of my mother, my father and my sister. I miss all three and I love them and they love me. Today is the day my mother died. The longer we live, the more days are days when someone that we love died. But they are still here. They are in the rocks and the sky and the trees and the coffee cup. They are not in sugary donuts or foods that cause heart attacks. But they are all around us, cradle us, still love us. Joy to you and the memories of your loved ones who have gone on. Blessings.

Qia and the liars

Qia is in her first year of college, 1200 miles from home. She joins the ski team, hoping to ski. There really aren’t mountains in Wisconsin. They are hills. She doesn’t have a car so she has to get rides to the ski hill. She does get demo skis, because she is on the team. It’s mostly guys, a few women. The guys chug a beer at the top of each run. The runs are ice after the first time down. It is very poorly lit and very cold. Qia is afraid of the ice and the guys and the drinking.

At Christmas she goes home, to Virginia. She really wants ski pants, she tells her mother. She is cold. She is still skiing in spite of the drinking and the scary guys and the ice. They yell at her to go faster but she goes the speed where she will not die. It doesn’t matter anyhow. She goes to a formal race and they have three foot tall trophies for the boys and nothing, not even a ribbon, for the women.

At home, her father is laughing. He is giggling, silly. He doesn’t make any sense. He gives Qia the creeps. Her mother sails along like nothing is wrong. Qia’s little sister has gone from the extroverted life of the party to locked down so hard that her eyes are stones. Fungk, thinks Qia.

Her father loses his down jacket, leaving it somewhere. Then he borrows her mothers and loses it too. Qia’s sister has out grown hers. On Christmas morning there are two down jackets and a pair of ski pants.

The ski pants are two sizes too small. Her father laughs. The down jackets are the ugliest colors, cheaply made, junk. Qia watches her mother and sister try to smile.

Qia leaves the ski pants and returns to Wisconsin. She gets a spider bite. It spreads. She goes to the doctor. He gives a laugh of relief and says it is shingles. He has to explain what shingles is. “It either means you are very run down or have severe stress.” Qia laughs. Worst Christmas of her life so far.

She realizes the problem. Her father has been abducted by fairies and a changeling put in his place. She reads everything she can find about changelings. Adult changelings are rare but not unknown. She pulls out every stop on top of her heavy schedule to learn about how to fight fairies. She can’t afford to hire a fighter. She finds an iron sword at a second hand shop. She hangs around the gyms and watches the fairy fighters fight. She goes home and practices every move. She collects herbs.

She sets things up before spring break. She arrives home and asks her mother and sister to go with her to a specialist in changelings and fighting fairies. Qia is sad but confident. Her mother and sister both cry after watching the movie about the behavior of changelings. Qia asks her mother and sister to help her.

They both refuse.

Qia can’t understand it. But she has studied and read the books. She will do it alone.

She meets with her father. She tells him how awful and frightening Christmas was. She tells him how ashamed and scared she was. She reads him a letter that her sister wrote to her, emotionless, about having to watch him when he is curled in a fetal ball at the top of the stairs. Her mother asked her sister to watch him, so he wouldn’t hurt himself. Her sister says that she wanted to go out with her friends. Her sister is in tenth grade.

Her father doesn’t say a word.

Qia begs him to tell her the key. The word that will open the portal. She shows him the sword and lists all of her herbs and describes her training. She tells him that after she defeats the fairies he will go home and her real father will be returned. She says that she knows he isn’t happy here, with mortals.

He doesn’t say a word to her for the rest of spring break. Her mother and sister do not say a word about it either. Her father drinks more heavily. Qia returns to college.

Qia refuses to come home for the summer. She stays in Wisconsin. She does not want to be around any of them.

Her sister is three years younger. Qia wishes that she could scoop her up and take her to Wisconsin. Qia frets and is in pain. Qia’s second year starts and her sister is in eleventh grade.

Qia’s mother calls. Qia’s sister is on her way. 3000 miles away. “At the last minute, C invited her to live with them in Seattle.” says Qia’s mother. “C was leaving the next day. Your sister decided and went with her. It’s a relief because your sister was getting A’s on tests but refusing to turn in homework, so overall she was getting D’s. ” Qia is relieved. C and S have a son named after her father. He is younger than her sister. Qia also has a cousin 6 years older who lived with C and S and still lives in Seattle. Qia wishes her little sister the best.

Years later, after her mother has died, Qia asks her father about it. By now her father is back and the changeling is gone. I was angry, says her father. But your sister was getting into lots of trouble. Really bad trouble. What could I do, locked in fairyland. He does not go into what Qia’s sister was doing.

And after her father dies, Qia finds a letter. The letter is from C to her mother. It is talking about her sister going to live with C and S. My mother lied to me, thinks Qia. I am not surprised. I wonder why she lied to me. Qia thinks it is probably because her mother set it up with C and did not tell her sister. Qia thinks that her mother lied to her sister. Qia thinks how much that would have hurt her sister: that her mother chose the changeling over her. Her sister would have been terribly hurt and angry.

But so many are dead, what does it matter? Qia’s mother is dead. Her father is dead. Her sister is dead. C’s son is longest dead. S is dead. Even the changeling is dead. Friends in fairyland let Qia know. Actually, Qia and C are the only ones left living.

C did not lie to Qia or her sister directly. She let Qia’s mother do the lying.

Qia does not talk to C again.

Qia is tired of liars.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

This is not a story about fairies. It is about alcohol or any addiction. We must support families, because the whole family becomes ill. Triangulation, lies, competition, enabling. In my maternal family, the enablers die before the enablees. I have chosen to leave the system and I refuse to be either an enabler or enablee. If you are in that sort of system, you may find that the family resists you leaving and tries to draw you back in to it. When you do finally succeed in leaving, there will be a strong reaction. When the pirahnas run out of food, they eat each other. Stand back and don’t get drawn back in. The newest victim will need to make their own decision to stay or leave.

The Introverted Thinker and the Extroverted Feeler Deal with Divorce

When my children were eight and thirteen, their parents were getting divorced. It had been a very long process involving hours of counseling and had officially started when they were five and ten. We paid counselors more than lawyers, which is a good thing. My Ex had pushed me to fire my first lawyer and to switch solo counselors. The final straw was when he decided that we needed to switch couples counselors.

“I don’t agree with anything he’s said.” said my future Ex.

I was flabbergasted but really it had been obvious. “We’ve been going to him for OVER A YEAR.”

“Yeah, but he’s on your side. I don’t agree with anything he says. I don’t want to go back to him.”

I found a new counselor and found that I had a new goal while filling out the paperwork: amicable divorce. We did one session with the children. The counselor introduced herself and talked about divorce and said that children often had questions. My extroverted feeler son went first.

“Why are you going to Grandma’s for Christmas, dad?”

Dad began to say that I was being mean to him, but the counselor intervened. “It’s not appropriate for you to tell your son about your disagreements with your spouse.” Dad argued, but the counselor stood firm.

Dad said, “I want to have Christmas with people who love me.”

The extroverted feeler just looked at him. “But we love you, dad.”

Dad stared back at his children. “Yes, you do. I am sorry. Next time I will talk to you before I decide what to do.”

My introverted thinker daughter went second.

“Mom, if you get divorced and daddy moves away, and if Auntie’s cancer comes back and you go to take care of her, who will take care of us?”

I think all the adults were stunned by the complexity of that question from an eight year old. I had left the children with their dad to go to take care of my sister for the week before her mastectomy over a year before. It was the longest I had ever been away from my children.

I replied. “If Auntie’s cancer comes back then I will not leave you to take care of her. Either she will have to come here to be taken care of or I will take you with me.”

That was it. She had only one question. She was quite clearly satisfied with the answer. I thought the counselor was amazing to make them feel safe enough to ask a big question.

Previously published on some obscure place on the internet 11/2/09.

Mother’s Day Songs: motherless children

A friend and I are talking about Mother’s Day yesterday.

Somehow having a song about Mother’s Day came up. “Bet I can think of one.” I say.

“Humph.” says the friend. Or some skeptical comment.

I start singing.

“That’s NOT a mother’s day song.” says my friend.

“Well, it is if your mother is dead.”

“It’s not cheerful.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

So here is a recording. I haven’t learned the guitar part yet so I thought… well heck, why not sing along with Dave Van Ronk?* This is the third take. Might replace it with a later take later today.

Trigger warning: I miss my mom. This is about missing our moms. Hugs, all.

sing along with Dave Van Ronk

Happy Mother’s Day and hugs if you miss your mother.

*Is this a copyright violation? It probably is. Someone yell at me if it is. My brain is muttering something about sampling. Let’s see, from circa 1959 to 1961… does that make a difference?