only puts in motion what has been locked in frost

First Day Of First Grade

My first day of school, first grade
Taken in the bus we lived in

The family I grew up with until about age eight, my maternal family, mostly what I remember was a messy and boisterous tribe who started childbearing a bit later in life, consumed spirits by the case (or in the instance of wine, the box or gallon jug), smoked a fair degree of pot (some of them way more than others), and mostly wanted to eat and drink and have a good time and certainly never wanted that to end. The parties around the bonfire singing and playing music (old stuff from the sixties mostly), must have been fun for many but I grew them into a resentment. Most everyone worked hard and drank hard too, although a few members dropped out of much employment. As far as I know, I’m the only alcoholic in the family, but it seems like there sure are a lot of drunks.

In my memory my grandmother never much quit smoking cigarettes her whole life even though she ended up needing a breathing apparatus and assistance. She died of alcohol- and smoking-related complications but to my knowledge the family didn’t name it thus. You know, just a mystery stroke I guess. I got to be there for her death – myself, my husband, and the start of our own family: our four month old daughter. Many sorrows were ahead for my husband and I along the lines of our family inheritances, but at the time we didn’t know this.

My childhood experiences contain many hurtful memories, although in that family it was requisite we describe ourselves and our relations as “warm and loving”. Despite this mythology, I perceived I was only enjoyed and loved when I was being adorable – or a Good Girl, or both. I was told girls were supposed to be beautiful, and certain girls in the family were praised as such, and since I wasn’t, at least I knew where I stood on that count. At the same time I remember at a very early age believing there wasn’t any adult I could count on to choose me and my brother and our sense of safety, over their drinking and drugging. Since I was so little I was powerless to change any of this.

In addition to the drinking and drugging, which invoked a fair degree of fear as years went on, there was just daily life. The adults in my life changed, like chimera, during the day and as evening wore on. I rarely knew what was expected of me, only knew if I was meeting approval or not. One minute they’d be mostly tending to their work or the kids – or, as is more likely, ignoring us – the next they’d be overly sentimental, lachrymose, and effusive – or toxic and full of venom directed at little Me, their faces flushed and hardened into set-jaw choler beneath small angry eyes. My character defects and my errors, my objections to unfairness, any assertion of my own will counter to theirs, and my crudely-expressed desire to be treated with dignity was not ignored – it was punished. By age two the family called me “Little Hitler”, and later cited this as funny, good thing I straightened myself out, I was such a willful child.  Later an adult from this family would tell me it was okay for me to lash out against my own children. “They have to understand that you have feelings too.”

Oh, I made sure my kids understood I had feelings alright. Just the way I had done to me. As a mother I was Feelings ran rampant.

But, that was later – my own family.

Back to my childhood: relatively early in life I discovered I was capable at succeeding in school, and this performance placated these adults and put me in a category convenient for them. I wasn’t the beautiful one or the good one – I was the smart one.

I certainly wasn’t in a position to perceive that these people were sick and suffering in their own ways, and coped via chemicals and Authoritarian parenting and gastronomical excess et cetera, simply to manage their own pain, stress, confusion, depression, excitation, and suffering. They did the best they could with what they had. In this way my story is hardly unique, nor is my family.

As carefully as I’ve laid out my childhood memories, I want to further impress upon the reader that I do not hold resentments over these events – not anymore. In fact, the release of resentments has been the greatest gift I’ve afforded myself, and it was only possible through some measure of divinity (the old adage is true). But I am also not going to pretend these things didn’t happen, or they didn’t hurt at the time. They are simply a part of my history.  I know now that not one of these adults wanted me to feel unsafe, or scared, or sense I was an afterthought running around barefoot and expected to be “good”. As best as they were able, they loved the children in their midst, likely better than they themselves had been loved.

By the time my mother, father, brother and I moved north and away from this family to take advantage of an inexpensive living situation, my survival traits were intractable and reflexive. Seen this way it seems I was doomed to have a love affair with the escape available in alcohol and drugs. I remember my first drink – it was at age twelve and I flew high above those feelings of low self-worth, Unacceptability, embarassment and shame. The history, frequency, duration, and behaviors of my drinking career are details unimportant regarding what I write here, and now.

What matters today is I have a story to share with those who suffer as I did. What matters today is I am responsible for myself and others, and there is no point to shame myself or blame myself – or blame or shame others – for the past. I was gifted something amazing in my Recovery, as I could have lived the rest of my life out as others before me have – or far worse.

Today I live on a knife-edge of amazement, a case of being astounded by what has been given. When I am outside walking and the wind is blowing and I feel clear and alive I am also on the verge of an agoraphobic episode, flying off the face of the Earth into the Great Beyond simply because it is so massive and so much larger than I. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. I am fearful of God, but not in the way most nonbelievers would think this means. I do not worry God is going to bash me flat like Whack-A-Mole and I do not think there is a vengeful power who holds sway. I am fearful because I perceive the depths and breadths throughout, but I can not understand or grasp it all. I have lived for some little time floored at the life I was given, how incredible and amazing it is. It is such a gift. I do not wish to squander it. I do not wish to forget the gift. I no longer wish to poison it or smash it to bits, or smash at other people.

I want to hold so fiercely to my gratitude and never let it go. To life any other way is, for me, a Living Death.

***

Found written in a notebook:

Escribir

get it get it get it

Today was incredible! Almost too much to write about so I’ll confine myself to just a couple events. The first part of our day was Phoenix’s most vigorous soccer game yet. After winning the previous four games, today’s challengers tasked them severely.  And I got to see some… whooooooOOOoo… I don’t know what to call it, parental behavior that was just … intense.

S. Grips Her Knee

In fact today I saw pretty much every bit of published parental codes of conduct broken (just on OUR side of the field, the other team’s parents were even more yelling-y and included two screaming pacers). I was left kind of reeling: How do coaches put up with this? Like a mother yelling, “What was THAT?!” repeatedly at her daughter when the girl made mistakes and then bellowing, “GET IN YOUR SPOT SAMANTHA!!” (names changed to protect the identity of dickweeds). Probably my favorite was the father who yelled at every player to “GET THE BALL!!” (really?), repeatedly told his daughter to physically push the opposing team members, kept up a constant mantra of play-specific adjuncts delivered from the sidelines (this is, everywhere I’ve read, a no-no), and did not applaud anything other than a score (this same personage only remembered a few names of the top-scorers. At one point when my daughter had the ball he yelled, “Get it, uh-number… uh-5!” He also mixed up the three Latina girls’ names. Oh and he kept getting off and on a cell phone to chew someone out).

I am not making any of this up!

I’ve had to do some personal education on being a sporting parent. I participated in sports as a kid, but my parents rather didn’t. I’m proud of Ralph and I and our developing strategies – which soccer enthusiasts, coaches, and successful and happy athletes prefer over the pushy/aggressive and “motivating” paradigm. I’m still figuring it out but if I hadn’t started a self-education I would probably be feeling decidedly uncomfortable and confused about what I was seeing (Karen Ridd’s piece in Natural Life Magazine‘s September/October 2008 issue, “Lost in the Parenting Wilderness”, was especially helpful; her sons are high-level performers and so the onus of parental management and her own past experiences as a competitor were especially difficult to navigate). Today it was kind of heartbreaking to observe just how little support comes off the sidelines and how much screaming, criticism, and inappropriate coaching happens instead. A real eye-opener for me.

We have a good coach (inasmuch as I can tell). He has seriously developed the girls to an extent I would have not imagined. Several of them have improved markedly, our daughter included, in the space of two practices a week for a couple weeks. I’m impressed.

More reading from an article called “Parents & Motivation: What’s Your Role?” by Dr. Alan Goldberg, a sports psychologist:

“Pushing, prodding, demeaning and bottom line, emotionally abusing [your] son. Is this motivation? […]

Pushing your child towards certain athletic goals that they may or may not have will backfire in your face! It is not your job to motivate your child-athlete. It is not your job to push or pressure them. Doing this will only kill their love for the sport and cause them to ultimately lose respect for you.

Your children’s motivation to participate and excel in a sport is something that should come from within them, not you. They should compete because they want to. They should practice because they want to. They should have their own reasons and own goals. They should pursue their own dreams. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but when it comes to your child’s sport, your dreams don’t count.

I’m going to keep this report positive (although I am seriously, Jane Goodall-like, wanting to further report on the intense behaviors I saw today!) because despite almost comic unpleasantness Ralph and I had a great time. It was a wonderful game. The girls worked hard. They were three players short on the team and there was an incredible amount of effort. I felt like I got to know each of the players a little bit better by observing them tasked so hard. After the game ended, we were the only family who let our daughter play on the playground (because remember how these are little girls?). Fortunately there were many other children there waiting for their siblings’ games to end, including two of Phoenix’s teammates. We stayed an extra hour and a half while they played. Ralph and I played with the girls, much to their delight – they especially enjoyed Ralph’s intensely physical and boundlessly playful shenanigans.

In other news I am walking on air as our first indie bookstorein HQX opened. Let me point out we are a combined community of two towns and about 26000 people and before today we did not have a serious bookstore. This one looks decidedly good! It is in a very small space – in fact it is the former anteroom of the diner I worked in as a young woman and, briefly, a handful of hours last year. Despite a small space, selection and pricing look great!

And what should I see when I walked in but, immediately, Scott Clevenger’s book – a book I’ve been wanting (as I’ve recently decided to allow myself book-buying, not just library use)!
Z. O. M. G.

All other potential purchases had to be pushed aside for this one (including $18 worth of groceries) – because you bet I bought a copy (here’s a taste of the authors’ brilliance). I read the introduction in the lobby of the Theatre next door with their live music venture – and laughed out loud! Also who should I see in the modest turnout but my mom’s ex-boyfriend. Likely so stoned that… well, what’s a good stoned reference. Like he could hardly move. I waved in and invited him over. He seemed suspicious but he did drift in and out of the store. I stood talking to new friends and old acquaintances while my kids ran and tumbled about with their friend (another sleepover here tonight). I couldn’t have felt happier than I did this evening – and it was just simple pleasures, really.

An indie bookstore within biking distance from my house here in HQX.

Pinch me.
Halftime Strategy
¡Estas chicas son increíbles!

freaks & squeaks

Our friend has a new camera with a high definition video function; she’s been doing a few short films including some of my family.  Here she graces you with a glimpse into our Halloween, sitting on my mom’s porch and handing out candy*:

This one was taken by our own teeny little camera, and the subject speaks for itself, literally:

* What say thee on the feminist front?  Are Westernized women’s problems over – do we live in an egalitarian, just society that treats them with respect, as my mother’s boyfriend argues here?

how we touched and went our separate ways

Tonight my mom huffs and puffs a bit before taking the dinner she made upstairs for her and her paramour.  She and Sophie are headed to Portland tomorrow, to meet up with my brother, stay the night, and then head East to scatter some of my father’s ashes on the same lake his parents were interred (yes, I know you can’t really “inter” cremation remains).  Anyway, right now she’s a little pissed because I’ve reminded her that she just decided to leave a full two hours before Sophie’s first swim team practice (this is not the first time I’ve told her Sophie’s sport schedule, nor will it be the last I suppose).  My mom doesn’t want to leave later to honor Sophie’s swim date, and she’s rattled enough (or maybe hungry enough for the hideous hangtown fry she’s just prepared) that she kind of trails off before stomping upstairs.

This schedule thing is purely between my mother and daughter.  I tell Sophie, “Grandma wants to leave tomorrow at 3 – but that means you’ll miss swim team.”  And the next few paragraphs indicate why my daughter is awesome: first she thinks for a few seconds, then says, “Is there a different time Grandma can leave?” and I tell her, “Well, you should figure it out.”  She doesn’t cry or whine; she doesn’t want to give up swim team or the roadtrip either.  And she’s definitely able to hold her own talking to Grandma.

I’ve worked hard at training the kids not to run upstairs to see my mom, with pretty good success.  They are instructed to call Grandma’s cell phone first if they’d like to visit her.  Sophie pads on over to the downstairs phone (she’s adorable, barefoot in the WTWTA Max costume prototype) and dials my mother’s number.  She realizes the cell phone is downstairs in my mother’s purse.  A few minutes later (after reading a bit of her Japanese comic book) she tries again; this time she sneaks the phone outside the door to my mother’s upstairs bedroom, comes back downstairs, and calls.  I hear her say, “Grandma, I have something I want to talk to you about,” … pause, waiting for assent …  “OK, I’ll be up as soon as I’ve finished vacuuming.”

And then she fiddles about with the vaccuum attachment and asks me how to make it work, and I’m busy sewing so I don’t get to her right away, so she figures it out herself. And by the way, I don’t actually know how to work that particular vaccuum attachment, so now I know someone I can ask.

And then she goes upstairs and remembers (without a reminder) to bring up the plate of chocolate-chocolate chip cookies we’d made for the old timers.

You know what?  I want my kids to make their own schedules, and understand them, and keep them, and negotiate around them (and yes, do housework!).  As it turns out Sophie agrees to miss her practice and my mom later comes down and tries to convince me she didn’t pressure Sophie into this particular agreement.

As for my father’s remains, I have my own little bottle or two.  That skinny old bastard made a lot of ash.  So, I’ll either go to the lake on my own or I’ll take his remains somewhere else or I’ll put ’em in a coffee can and toss them off a cliff and the wind will blow them back into Ralph’s face.  Or something.  I just can’t bear to go with my mom and brother.