Family

The photograph is from left to right, my sister Christine Robbins Ottaway, my (sort of but not blood) cousin Katy, and me. This is a fourth of July. We wanted to DO something. We were at my maternal grandparents’ in Trumansburg, New York. My mother suggested that we dress up and do a presentation. We wore her 1950s prom dresses, held a small parade involving three dogs and a cat who were also in costume, and read the Declaration of Independance and the Preamble to the Constitution to a group of adults in lawn chairs. This was in lieu of fireworks. We had fun but we still missed fireworks.

I am thinking about asking. I could not ask my mother for specific things I wanted as a child. She would get me a different and cheaper alternative. If I was disappointed, I would be guilt tripped or humiliated. I did not ask my father for things either. He would make and break promises, too sick from alcohol or he would have forgotten. I stopped asking because I did not like being disappointed and I did not like being shamed. Once I really really wanted something for Christmas. My sister and I made a quiet deal, showing each other exactly which toy we longed for. Then we each shopped with our mother and insisted on the toy the other wanted. Our mother did try to talk each of us out of the toy. We had arranged it so that we were spending the same amount of money: $20. She thought that was outrageous and that something cheaper would do just as well. We both stood our ground on the other’s behalf and then open the presents on Christmas day with faked surprise and real joy. We did NOT tell our mother.

On an earlier Christmas I sewed my sister a toy stuffed snake. My mother was discouraging, but she let me have cloth and needle and thread. “Why do you want to make her a snake? A snake?” I couldn’t really explain well. We had gone to a county fair and my sister and I both longed for the velvet snakes, six feet long and deep red. The snake I made for my sister was only a foot and a half long and I had flowered fabric, not velvet. I coiled it in a circle and wrapped it. My sister was delighted with it and held it all Christmas morning. My mother just shook her head. “A snake.” she muttered.

The things that I could ask for were books and music. I was the kid that the teacher would hand the scholastic book box to after she handed out one or two books to the other kids. I would order 20 books. My father said I could have as many as I wanted as long as I read them all. The only books I avoided were about television or movies. I loved a non fiction book about WWI Flying Aces. The technology of the airplanes and the problem of bullets ricocheting off the propeller were amazing. I also liked that it talked about the ACEs on both sides: German, English, French, American.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: ask.

I don’t know who took the photograph. I think it was one of my grandparents. Oh, I think “cousin” Adam is in the picture too, though he is nearly hidden behind the flag.

first impressions

I am taking a writing class and our next book is on cultural appropriation.

This interests me. I tend to be a little gender blind and race blind when I meet people. I am using my super skill instead. My skill is developed from a really scary childhood: I read the stuffed emotions. The stuff people are hiding.

No way, you say. Oh, yes, I say.

My sister described coming home from high school and stopping when she walked into the house. She was trying to sense what was going on. Were our parents fighting? Was our father drunk? Yes, he was drunk, but which stage?

We talked about the stages and which we hated most.

Stage goofy/silly was annoying but not toxic. We said we had homework.

Stage asleep in a fetal ball in the upstairs hallway. My sister said she would step over him to get to her room.

Stage maudlin. We both agreed this was the worst. He would cry and say, “You can tell me anything.” Once he caught me in that stage and I was in tears by the time my mother got home. I left the room. The next morning mother said, “He said you two were discussing the cat’s disappearance.” I didn’t answer. We never said a word about the cat. I didn’t know if he was lying or was too drunk to remember it the next day, so made it up. Don’t care. Avoid.

He was never physically abusive. He and my mother would scream at each other at 1 or 2 am through most of high school. Reading her diaries, she writes that she drinks too much. I think they were both alcoholics, thought the family story is that he was the bad one. But I can’t imagine yelling with a drunk at 1 or 2 am for an hour. What is the point? They are drunk. So either she was drunk too or needed to fight.

Emotionally abusive, yes, both parents. My mother would take any show of fear or grief and tell it as a very very funny story to every person she ran into. Is it any surprise that I had to go into therapy after she died to learn to feel fear or grief? My sister would say, “She’s got her stone face on,” about me. Um, yeah, I am NOT going to let my family see my emotions…

Anyhow, that is what I read in people when I first meet them. It’s not the suit, the clothes, the make up, the race, the gender. I pretty much ignore those. I was fashion blind in junior high, a girl geek, could not read the code and did not care. I had given up on socializing with my fellow students. I was hopelessly bad at it. I did a lot better with the adults around my parents. I could have actual conversations with them.

I had one patient who was transgender where I couldn’t remember which direction. I didn’t care, either. That was a really angry person. Anger is always covering other emotions, so I avoided pronouns and tried to be as gentle as possible.

I complained to a counselor once that I can’t turn this “off”. And that it’s fine in clinic with patients, but it screws with my relationships with my peer doctors. They do not like it if I “read” them.

It took me years, but I finally realized that I have to use my clinic skills with everyone. I can’t turn off “reading” any more than you turn off your eyes when you meet a new person. But I can be as gentle with everyone as I am in clinic. I realized that as I started on a trip and the trip was amazing, everyone was so nice.

This reading is a product of a high ACE Score: Adverse Childhood Experiences. I score about a 5. One of my patients set off my ACE alarms on the first visit. I asked if he had had a rough childhood and gave a very short explanation of ACE scores. “Oh, I am a ten out of ten,” he said. He was, too. Ran away from home at age 6 or 8.

The ACE scores of all the children are rising from the last two years. The war will raise them even more, worse for the children there and the kids trying not to starve in Afganistan and Syria and world wide.

It will be interesting to read about cultural appropriation. But I don’t care much: I don’t “see” those things when I meet someone.

Hugs and blessings.

The photograph is me and my sister Chris in 1987, before my wedding. We were dancing before the wedding. She died in 2012 after 7 years of breast cancer.

Doctors and nurses and hospital staff are the last caregivers for the elderly alcoholics and addicts who are alone, whose families have finally cut them off. I think this song illustrates their pain. We try to take care of them.

Adverse Childhood Experiences 13: unsense

As a child in an alcoholic/addict household where you can not trust adults, who do you trust?

You either trust yourself or you buy in the alcohol story.

If you buy in, you have a high probability of either becoming an addict or marrying one, depending if you prefer the enabler or the enablee role.

If you trust yourself, you develop certain senses. You pay attention to people’s emotions. You pay attention to what people FEEL, what people DO and not what people SAY. You do not care what they say: what matters is what they do. My sister said she used to walk my parent’s house during high school and try to feel the mood. Did she need to hide?

The enabler role is trying to control the other person. There are amazing variations on this. I cared for a person whose sister would not take care of herself. Every time the sister is hospitalized, the person goes and cleans tons of garbage and rotted food from the apartment.

“Stop doing that,” I say, “You are enabling her. Call Adult Protective Services to go look at it instead.”

It can be very difficult to stop and can take years. People can change.

I have noticed that the enabler role is lethal. The enablers seem to die before the enablee. Certainly in my immediate family and with many patients too.

Enablee is the person controlled. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, anger, emotions. It is very very interesting to watch. I have read parts of my mother’s diaries. She was the enabler, with my father as the enablee. However, the diaries document them fighting in the middle of the night when he is drunk. And I remember high school, putting the pillow over my ears, because they were screaming at each other.

But wait. Why would she argue with her drunk husband? Why would anyone argue with a drunk person? You have to wait until they are sober.

And slowly I realize that my mother too was an alcoholic. I remember her drinking. Best cover for an alcoholic is a worse alcoholic, right? It’s fairly horrid. But it explains some stories and my food insecurity. They would not get up in the morning to feed me. My mother told stories of me trying to feed myself: cheerios and laundry soap. If my father was hung over, ok, but, why wouldn’t my mother get up? I think they were both hung over. That or else she really did not want a child. Especially a nine month old with opinions while she was trying to get over tuberculosis. She never got to hold me after birth until 9 months. And then I did not want her. I wanted her mother.

Trusting yourself, life can be a bit complicated. You sense the emotions others are hiding. Being a physician allows me to ask about the hidden things, very gently. Sometimes they come out right away. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes years and sometimes never. My sister and I discussed going to parties and thinking, oh, that person is the child of an addict/alcoholic. This person is in pain. This person is quite happy but hiding stuff.

I told a counselor I do not know how to turn it off. She replies, “Why do you think I am a counselor?”

I don’t see auras. I feel things: like a cloud. Like a tiger, like a bear, like a whale, singing.

I think I will go with the whale.

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.

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.

sober garden

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: garden.

We have beer gardens at many local events. Centrum music, the Wooden Boat Festival. People have to show identification to get into the beer garden and must keep the drink in there.

I want to start a Sober Garden as well as a Beer Garden. Let’s have a substance free area, roped off, for families and those who are choosing not to use substances, alcohol, opioids, tobacco, meth, whatever. At the events with families, the Beer Garden is roped off, but let’s rope both off. Let us have a Sober Garden and have food trucks and drinks and welcome families and welcome people who are not drinking alcohol or using other substances.

Let’s bring children out to the music and let families set a conscious example. There is no stigma if it is a Sober Garden for families and to support the whole community, including those recovering from addiction. Let us make it conscious and attractive.

When we rope off the Beer Garden and check identification to get in, aren’t we sending the message to the youth, especially teens, this is special, you are not allowed. Let us reverse that and have a bracelet for those going in to the Sober Garden. A sticker, a garden for families, a garden for people healing, a garden for making a different choice.

_____________________________________

music by Mike and Ruthy: simple and sober. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsFlHuhDP0A

My garden waiting under snow for spring.
Spring buds in the ornamental plum, with a bird.

Sometimes it takes a while to warm up to an idea. But spring will come and warmth.

the dark things in the world

When my son was about 12, a friend called and asked if he could babysit.

I froze up, silent.

He got it very quickly. “Um, we often come home really late, staying out until 3 am, so would it be ok if he stayed the night and we brought him home in the morning?”

“Yes,” I said, with relief.

What was I worrying about? Alcohol. I knew he and his wife drank far more than I approved of and the thought of them driving my son home drunk was NOT ok. I think that sometimes they took a taxi home. I hope so. I suppose they could send my son home in a taxi, but by having him stay the night, he would sleep too. Their children were five and six years younger than my son.

So I would take my son there, or they would pick him up, and he’d go to sleep when the kids did. I don’t know how late my son and the kids stayed up in that house. I do know the household reminded me of my childhood home, where the adults stayed up and partied. I did not party in high school at all. I didn’t want to. I was not interested in drinking alcohol illicitly. I could perfectly easily have drunk it at home: my parents were too tuned out by then to notice. I knew what people were like when drunk: why would I explore that with my peers? My father would break things in the house when he fell, there were burn marks in the floor from cigarettes, my parents would scream at each other at 1 am. I kept my head down and did very very well at school: I wanted out, even though it was not conscious. I loved my parents. Home was chaos and I escaped into books and schoolwork.

Parents need to think carefully about babysitting. Do they know the family? Do they need to drive their child to the house and pick them up? Once I went to babysit and the family had two enormous St. Bernards. The male growled at me. The owner said, “Don’t worry, he will attack anyone who tries to get in the house.” I was quite terrified of the dogs, and the male trailed enormous strings of drool into my lap. That night at 1 am I found Monty Python on cable and wondered if I’d wandered into another universe. We didn’t have cable, so it was surreal. I didn’t tell my parents about any of it. These were not people we knew: friends of friends.

Parents need to be careful as well to tell teens that adults can behave inappropriately and that a normally nice adult might behave badly when drunk. Many babysitting friends told me about the father of the kids they were sitting making sexual comments or putting a hand on their knee driving them home. This is not ok and teens need to be warned. They also should be warned about signs of drinking and inebriation and have taxi money or be able to call for a ride if they are not comfortable with the adult driving them home. And if the adult makes any sort of inappropriate remark or touch, they should NOT babysit there again ever. I would tell the offending adult why, though I think that would often get an angry or denial reaction.

I have various friends with 9 year olds. One parent made a comment that they don’t want their children to know anything bad about the world until they are ten. Another didn’t want their child to know what the term domestic violence meant.

I disagree. I would respond saying, “If your mother doesn’t want me to discuss that, then we will leave for her to talk to you about it later.”

How can we shelter our children with the magical childhood until ten and then send them to babysit at twelve? How can they recognize an adult is impaired or inappropriate behavior unless we talk about it? I have been asking adult smokers what age they started smoking for years: most of my older men started at age 9. The other day a woman said she’d tried cigarettes by age 7. Our children are not stupid, they hear things, they try to puzzle it out with each other: they deserve honesty from the start.

For a small child, that may mean a very simple explanation. My mother died of cancer when my daughter was two years and six months. By age four she had processed it to where she asked me “How old was grandmother Helen when she died?” I said that MY grandmother was 92 when she died, but grandmother Helen was 62. She asked, “How old are YOU?” I said, “I am forty. I hope to live as long as my grandmother, but none of us know how long we will live.” She studied me for a while and then went off.

They say that small children can’t process death. Clearly my daughter could! Maybe children can’t because we do not talk to them about it. We aren’t respectful. We try to hide all the dark things in the world, we try to keep them in a fairy tale. I feel angry on behalf of our children. To me it feels like parents lie: they will not tell their children what is going on. It’s not okay. And how can they handle the dark if no one will discuss it until they are ten?

 

Adults can be pretty weird sometimes, right? The photograph is from this year’s Kinetic Sculpture Race.

Herd

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: herd.

I am reading Dopesick, newly out this year, by Beth Macy. I am wondering what make people try addictive substances. At what age and why? To be popular? Herd mentality?

I’ve interviewed my older smokers for years, asking what age they started. Most of them say they tried cigarettes at age 9. Nine, you say? Yes. Parents then look horrified when I say that they should start talking about drugs and alcohol and tobacco by the time their child is in third grade. Recently a woman told me that she tried cigarettes at age 7.

It’s not just talking to your kids, either. It’s modeling as well. What do you model for tobacco, for alcohol, for prescription medicines, supplements and over the counter medicines? Do you say one thing but do another?

I am 100 pages in to Dopesick. The most horrifying new information is that more people under age 50 have died from opioid overdose then died in the 1990s from HIV and AIDS. Also the failure of history: we have had morphine available over the counter until addiction swept the country. Then heroin. This round is oxycontin. And I checked the index: no mention of kratom, sold from southeast asia. It is related to the coffee plant but it works as an opioid. It has been illegal in Thailand since 1943. I think they figured out that it too is addictive a long time ago.

I was an introvert, a smart girl, a geek before there was a word. I did not party and was not invited. I went to Denmark as an exchange student. I tried a cigarette there and decided that I couldn’t afford it and it tasted awful. I drank beer there, but was careful. I did go to a party where I was offered a bowl of pills: no. I was cautious and became even more cautious when I returned to the US.

When and what did you try first? And WHY? What makes us try these addictive substances? The evidence is piling up that the younger we try them, the more chance of addiction. And certain substances addict very very quickly.

Who chooses not to be part of the herd and why?

beer and the Supreme Court

I want to reblog this and ask: Mr. Kavanaugh, you drank alcohol as a teen. How do you feel about your daughters drinking alcohol as teens? Is this acceptable? Is this expected? Will you turn a blind eye? Or do you have a double standard? Can teen males drink but teen females are “asking for it” and are “bad girls” if they behave the same way?

This matters. I don’t want a Supreme Court Justice who thinks it is fine for either teen males or teen females to drink and use drugs. So, sir, speak up: what message are you sending to all teens in the United States?

https://therecoveringlegalist.com/2018/09/28/the-elephant-in-the-kavanaugh-hearing-room/