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Monthly Archives: May 2015

Mommy

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

Last month, I was more than usually harried as I worked to close up my therapy practice for a few days of fun and rest. I had upped my caseload a few weeks earlier when I realized I was going to come very close to qualifying for an end-of-year-bonus. I knew I would be very upset to miss it by a few client-hours.

Some of my best gals and I were going to the shore for a long weekend. We had planned it many months in advance. I wanted to return rested to a clean desk so I was busy catching up. Plus, being the mom at my house, I felt that instinctual tug to clean up a bit and stock the kitchen. It is the fear of mothers everywhere that a few days away will cause the family to starve or the earth to stop rotating on its axis. I used to cook their meals in advance. My family felt cared for and I felt less guilty at abandoning them so callously.  This also made it less likely they would spend two weeks of my grocery budget on one weekend of eating out. Oh look! I am both grandiose and controlling.

Ha! But this time they had to fend for themselves. This particular week so hectic that I bought two cases of Udon and some fresh produce at the Korean grocery and left them to their own devices. Perhaps a future post should be devoted to Mom Guilt but it won’t be this one.

My dear Mom reached me in the car on my way to the office. Hearing the urgency and fatigue in my voice, she wished me a good trip and said she wouldn’t keep me. She sounded concerned.

I checked my phone as I left the office to run errands at lunch. I felt worried when I saw two missed calls from my mother. She is not one to blow up my phone. I went through my messages and found one from her. She had decided that if she couldn’t lighten my load, she could at least make me Princess For A Day.

My mother starts every message the same way. If I I saved them all and played the tracks simultaneously, we’d have a well-tuned choir: “Hi, Jane! It’s Mom!” She asked for my account number at the credit union we share. She had thought and prayed it through and wanted to give me some money to go out and by myself “something pretty” while I was at the beach.

I don’t do “pretty” very well. In fact, I struggle to maintain an appropriate selection of clothing for work. After my husband and I tied the knot, he groaned when he realized his bride’s wardrobe did actually consist of jeans and a collection of fraying road-race tees. Then he threatened to make them disappear. He didn’t follow through; and here we are, three kids and 27 years later.

I called back and got her voice mail.

“My Mommy!” I blurted without even thinking. Where had that come from? I am 51 years old. I haven’t called her Mommy since I was very young.

My mother is slowing down. I fear she is turning into a little old lady. She carries a cell phone but doesn’t turn it on. She is afraid of it but won’t admit it. She regularly forwards me emails which would make Snopes cry. She is starting to become cute, and we all know what that means: I’ve started to feel tender and sentimental. And protective. Do not ever mess with her. Ever.

No way was I going to let my mother spend her money on me! If anything, it should be the other way around. I was moved by her offer but this was not happening.

“Mommy, I love you so much! You are so, so sweet to me. But I am not taking your money!” I hung up and chuckled, a little dewy eyed. That was that.

When I finished work that day and went through my messages, there was a second message.

“Hi, Jane! It’s Mom. Take the money. I’m not taking no for an answer. Give me that account number or else. And I mean it, buster!”

She got the account number, and I got a succulent scallop dinner at the shore. They were very pretty scallops.

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Rule # 16: Sing When You Feel Like Crying

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

My father taught me to sing as a cure for a disturbing condition–a condition disturbing to him.

I’m surprised that I never developed a distaste for singing. On the contrary! I have loved to sing since I was tiny. I sang songs when- and wherever I felt the urge. And I contentedly tried out funny noises just to hear how they sounded. One day, while riding home in the back seat of our station wagon and looking out the window, I caught myself vocalizing and felt sudden shame. I looked around furtively to see if anybody had observed me–whew!–and I made a mad grab for a fig leaf. The seeds of adolescent self consciousness had been sown but singing remained joyous.

After that day in the car, I generally sang in private or with others. As a second grader, I loved to sit on my carport alone and sing from those little booklets used by carolers. I didn’t understand that music gave me direct access to my feelings and helped me to process. I just knew it felt good. Yes, it helped me to process them during periods when I was either too young or too lacking in insight to consciously address my inner state.

I was never a great singer, and at this point in my life, those muscles are shot. My singing voice is growing croaky from disuse. I could make the effort and revive it but these days I am more likely to write. Nevertheless, I can’t shake the sense that the gift of song was delivered in secret to help preserve and protect me. The idea makes me smile. A friend I didn’t know had filled my cup with chocolate milk while my head was turned. A friend I hadn’t yet met had draped a fluffy quit across my sleeping frame.

I sang in choirs as a child and adolescent. As an adult, I did a longish stint as a vocalist in a band. The feeling in my body—both the sound and the vibration—brought deep, visceral comfort. The eerie moments when surrounding voices interlocked with mine to create a perfect Summ* achieved a temporary rapture for which words could not suffice. I had to close my eyes and disappear into it.

My father never liked it when I cried. I’m going to go as far as to say he didn’t tolerate it. He never said outright that it was a bad thing but that is the message I received.

When I was upset and tried to speak to him through my tears, he would say, “Stop whining. I can’t understand you while you are crying.” His attempts to manage me made me cry harder to be heard, and this made matters worse. To have a voice, I had to give up my voice.

My father approached crying as though it were an inconvenient medical condition, such as hiccups, or a pathology in need of treatment. It was disconnected from its origins rather than treated as a symptom of a larger problem. It certainly had nothing to do with him. He decided to help me get over it anyway.

My father shared his tried-and-true cure. He declared with medical certainty that it was physically impossible to sing and cry at the same time. I believed him, and I believe he believed himself. The cure for crying was to sing. It just now occurs to me to ask how he had learned this remedy and what had necessitated it.

So I sang. And now I write.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

*I had to use this German word, which means humming or droning because the sound of word will make you feel what I am saying. Summen recalls the sound of bees happily at work in the wisteria arbor above your head. Say the s like a z and the u like the u in the English word put. Say it out loud. Emphasize the first syllable and feel the zzzzzzz. Listen to it here

Growth Pains

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

This is the first installment in The Story of Hanna

October, 2011

I’m still feeling a bit wobbly following my surgery this summer. It was unexpected, it was rough, and it happened without the benefit of anesthesia. I lost an important part of myself, and my wounds have not yet closed. As a counselor, I’m always helping others deal with enmeshment and individuation. I get this stuff. I was surprised at some things I learned when I had to look in the mirror.

“I knew as soon as I saw your hair and clothes.” Hanna had said, unable to fully articulate what had begun to go wrong between us the moment she and her husband arrived from Germany for a month-long visit. This was their first visit in five years. I had finished my graduate work and taken a job in my field. I wasn’t sure what taboo I had broken. What had I done to trigger such feelings of loss and betrayal?

Hanna and I met when we were assigned to the same fifth grade class in XCity, Germany. We were classmates for four years before I returned to the U.S. I was the pig-tailed American girl with the Ranger Rick backpack and the bad John Denver habit. She was the quiet, white-haired kid who wore traditional leather pants and carried a pocket knife. I thought she was a boy. It wasn’t until our early teens that our best-friendship became firmly cemented.

By ninth grade, Hanna had become a star athlete and a Beauty. Her looks and effortless air of mystery caused boys to pine and become irrational in her presence. I, on the other hand, had followed my family blueprint to become a gangly, pimple-faced Nerd. In my presence, boys experienced…nothing. They didn’t notice I was alive unless they needed help with their homework.

Steadfast through the decades, we visited back and forth and were in frequent touch in between. Despite our outward differences and our geographic separation, we were, as Hanna’s father often joked, “ein Kopf und ein Arsch.” A head and a tail. A single creature. Though he meant to tease us, he had hit upon the truth: We were so close that we hardly knew where she ended and I began.

Hanna and I understood one another intuitively and profoundly. Our enmeshment worked unbelievably well. In fact, I believe it saved us from childhoods which could have undone us.

Hanna came from a family in which feelings were poorly tolerated. She grew up without hearing the words, “I love you”; and when she showed emotion, she was criticized as mentally unstable and threatened with boarding school. Invalidated and undervalued, she could easily have gone for broke and self destructed.

My family was equally dysfunctional. We were just as well versed in passive aggression but it was located within a larger arsenal of weapons intended to help us bite and scratch ourselves to the top of the family heap. Punishment came frequently and unpredictably, and nobody wanted to be the one in the crosshairs when Dad was in one of his moods. I became observant and stoic. I distrusted and ignored my own feelings. I could easily have gone on to become an abuser or else continued to withdraw until I lost touch with myself altogether.

I know Hanna’s love and support made me more resilient and allowed me to hold my head a little higher. I conjured her presence to help me when I felt clumsy shopping for clothes, and I imagined myself in her skin to give myself the courage to take risks. I later learned that she had carried me in her heart in much the same way. Admiring my dispassion and logic, she imitated me when she needed to think her way through difficulties without becoming overwhelmed by her emotions.

Our outward experiences were always very different. I was a goody-goody; she experimented. I accepted Christ; she remained skeptical. I went to college and became an athlete at about the same time she retired from athletics and moved to a small town to apprentice as a goldsmith. I dated little, married young, and couldn’t wait to have babies. She traveled the world and dated a series of colorful characters. Nevertheless, we always shared intimately and without judgment.

We each made an important decision around the year we turned 40. I returned to school to pursue my M.S. in Pastoral Counseling. After making progress towards an undergraduate degree in Psychology, Hanna dropped out of college to become partner to a man with a serious and chronic health condition. We did not realize that the cord which had kept us connected for so long was about to fray.

My grad school experience was arduous and protracted. Family responsibilities resulted in my taking over six years to finish; but stretching out the timeline had gifted me with the opportunity to deeply contemplate and assimilate the material. The program required more of me than the memorization of facts and the writing of research papers. I was challenged at every turn to reflect with honesty upon my faith and my life, past and present. I experienced anger and sadness, joy and gratitude as God used this time as the crucible for a work of healing and enormous growth.

It was suggested this summer that I had changed, that I had become “other.” It was hinted that I had become less. Less hospitable, less authentic, less available. I disagree. I know have become more.

Somewhere along the way, I grew my own head, heart, and lungs without even realizing it. My brain thinks clearly, my heart beats confidently, and my soul expands with every breath. I love Hanna, and I want her friendship just as much as I always have. I simply no longer require her. In time, I believe I will be able to feel the profound beauty of this truth.

We are not yet at the end of the story, and I do not know how it ends. What if I survive the surgery, and Hanna does not? What if we both survive the surgery but the friendship cannot be resuscitated?

The wait is painful and uncertain.

To follow this thread, please click on the tab for The Story of Hanna or find second installment here.

Christopher, Part II

Cross CountryMay 2, 2015

Dear Christopher,

You would have been 62 tomorrow.

I just spent some time looking at old photos and re-reading your obituaries. My reserve has punctured, and these words have begun to swim. Don’t worry—I will be fine. I AM fine. I don’t want to pathologize the tears I shed when I allow myself to go to that sacred place of memory and appreciation.

I don’t think about you every day or even every week or month. I haven’t for decades. I graduated, and we pursued our separate lives. Part of the distance between us was born of my shame at not having lived up to my potential despite your having offered me every opportunity and all of your skill and—I felt it—love. Part of the distance was a necessary and normal development. There were crops of new athletes to coach, and the weight of maintaining old relationships would have dragged you under. This is the human life cycle, compressed. I may live to be 100 but my athletic death had been foretold a blink after my birth. My leaves had yellowed and dropped by the time I had become a wife and mother. I had made my choice.

I was afraid that my failures had caused you to stop regarding me, stop loving me. Unable to manage that pain, I tried to forgot about you and lock that chamber of my heart to you and anybody else from that time. But kairos had other ideas: I ran into Kendra.

Remember when Kendra and I gathered some of the other “girls” and showed up at your house unannounced about 10 years ago? That day is precious to me. I cried like a baby in secret for days after, and a long-time wound began to heal. How I cringe when I recall the letters I sent in those early years of separation: needy, angry, immature tomes in which I thrashed about, trying to understand myself and striking out at you instead. I am glad that time is behind us.

I was your first female recruit. Do you recall telling me, long, long ago, that you hoped, one day, to have a daughter like me? How could I believe that? I, who had quit when my body was strong and ripe. I, who had reached outside myself to explain the origins of my hurt and fixed you in my crosshairs.

I was afraid to see you. I was afraid to be seen by you. I had aged, and my body had softened and begun to bend. Time is less kind to women. You were in your coaching prime and turning out champions. I felt ill but I knew I was going to make the trip.

And you welcomed me. You welcomed me and my awkward ways as though no time had passed. You had loved me all along! And I, you. We spoke this without words. You never were one to display affection outright. I am not sure I could have tolerated it.

We had never stopped knowing one another after all.

I read the muscles of your face and the crinkle of your blue, blue eyes. I read the warmth of your joy, and it was more than I had dared to hope. Comfortably wrapped in the happy chatter around me, I said almost nothing as we sat around your table that afternoon. But my cup overflowed. From across the table, I saw and felt all you spoke to me in the secret language of friends. Words would have gotten in the way.

What if we had not had that day–that day of communion and completion?

How can you be gone?

Rest in peace, dear Christopher.

C.H.T., III
5/3/53 –- 7/1/11.

I wish your dash had been longer.

For Christopher, Part I, click here. For Christopher, The Rest click here.

When Everything German is Wurst. Or: This is How I Get Myself in Big Trouble

It’s time to balance the scales a little. I’d lose my credibility if I tried a wholesale approach in selling you on Germany!

In my posts about how everything in Germany is better, I went on and on (and on!) about all that my family missed when we returned to the U.S. in the late 70s after four years in the Vaterland.

Some of these aspects of our German experience elicited eye rolling or a good-natured groan. Others hinted at darker currents. In no particular order, here are a few German offenses to my delicate and ladylike sensibilities:

1. The German Hit Parade–the American Top 40 equivalent. A cheesy carnival of home-grown pop. A particular shout out to the ubiquitous and everlasting Heino is mandatory at this point. Oy! Apparently he is still alive and about 102 years old.

Here he is as I recall him in the 70s:

And here he is in 2015. Careful! Watching this could be dangerous to your health. I shuddered so violently, I nearly bit off my tongue.

Nevertheless, I have to give the guy credit. Off the record, I may even be developing the tiniest bit of admiration for him. He is having a heck of a lot of fun. And laughing all the way to the bank.

2. Sexism. Surely this has changed…?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/methodshop/7599554718/

Image credit here.

3. Pecking Order. This rightfully goes together with the concept of Schadenfreude–a nasty delight one feels when others experience misfortune.

The culture can very sensitive to rank and authority. Even a low-level clerk can make your day hell if he gets up on the wrong side of the bed. Grace and flexibility are commodities which may be notably lacking in comparison to the harder virtues of order, punctuality, and logic.

See what happens when you stand in line at one bureau or another seeking assistance. You may be in store for some cat-and-mouse business. The one person you need to see may take one look at your anxious face and decide to head out to lunch. One “t” on your document may not be properly crossed, and you may be sent to the back of the line. Maybe you will fail to approach the esteemed gatekeeper with proper obsequity. Or maybe you will grovel too much, and it will inflame his or her sadistic glee.

Each of these rejections will be communicated with a polite smile and a tightly-clenched anus. You will have no choice but to calmly persevere since you are the supplicant. Of course, your tormentor is probably receiving the same treatment from his or her superior and only wants to share the wealth.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevynjacobs/9021084880/

Image credit here.

4. Words beginning with “schm.” I might alienate a lot of you over this one but I just can’t help myself! (I’m sorry! Please don’t hurt me!) I have a visceral response to this particular combination of consonants when used in certain words, particularly names. I cringe when I hear them. And when I say them, I feel like I have dog poop in my mouth. I think the surname Schmenkel may be the worst word I have ever tasted.

Ach, nein, I said it out loud.

Waiter! Listerine, please!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dcmetroblogger/5739790840/

Image credit here.

5. Ö. This is a vowel sound. When used alone, it is a teutonic version of “uh…” or “welllllll…” which induces rage and nausea. I cannot abide that sound, as it was used by my erstwhile Latin tutor to delicately indicate my utter stupidity. Use it when you need ipecac but can’t put your hands on any. You make it by forming your mouth as though you are going to say long “o” and then actually saying “e.” Draw it out in a protracted and condescending pause as you contemplate my lack of order, punctuality, and logic, and I may have to box your ears.

Sometimes the sound is used to create “,” a hesitant and soft pink version of the good, hearty “nein.” This is for passive aggressive folks who mean “No. No. No!” aren’t willing to own it.

Both Ö and Nö have the mouth feel of kaka.

One of you is bound to ask. No, I cannot speak from firsthand experience.

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

6. Hygiene. Life was pretty smelly back then. Ladies, you will be glad to know that you wouldn’t have had to break the bank on razor blades. Back in the day, life was also pretty hairy. I believe that has changed. Part of me is sad. That’s a lot of acreage to tend once you start shaving.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/unfurl/321429543/

Image credit here.

7. Hands-off store policy. In all but the largest and busiest urban department stores, it was understood that you were not to touch the wares unless a salesperson presented them to you to examine. I couldn’t stand to go into small stores because the sales staff would always follow, right at my elbow, and watch me like a hawk to make sure I didn’t 1. Cause disarray 2. Soil anything 3. Steal anything. I stood out as an American, and Americans had the reputation of being overly familiar and crass. After reading this post, you’ll know that stereotype could never have applied to me.

The_Ugly_American_poster copy

Image credit here.

8. Sadistic children’s stories. Struwwelpeter is truly disturbing. I tried reading it to my kids once but I had to get rid of it because it was so upsetting. They didn’t even like having the book in the house. I guess it could be useful if you are trying to get your kid to stop sucking his thumb. Take a look at the orange link above and make sure you scroll down to the cautionary tale, complete with graphic depictions, of the consequences of thumb sucking. Just don’t read it before bed.

Max und Moritz is pretty bad too but I read the stories as a kid and actually kind of liked them. Here go the little cherubs–out of the grain sack and into the grinder.

Max und Moritz

Max und Moritz image credit here.

9. Toilet paper. I shit you not.

Photo credit here.

Photo credit here.

10. Schwäbisch. A German dialect. It has a slimy, runny, slithering sound which will make you want to run in terror. Don’t put it in your mouth.

This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.

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