Notes to Self

July 16, 2013

Obligation

I haven’t spoken to my family for four or so months now.

Within weeks I noticed how much happier of a person I was. I am still finding ways where I am “healing” and am becoming a different person. For example, whenever my husband was in a bad mood I always assumed it was my fault and that he was resenting me and would eventually leave me. I would then try to make him feel better, which ultimately angered him (like everyone, he just wanted to be left alone!). But the other day, when he was tired and cranky, I didn’t blame myself. I didn’t try to fix it and I didn’t think he was going to leave me. I just recognized that he was in a bad mood and that was that. When I realized this change I was floored…first, I never realized that I was doing this and, second, never imagined the link between how my family treated me, how I interpreted their treatment of me and how I applied the effects to every little aspect of my life.

I have received a few emails (“thinking about you…”) and calls (they never leave messages) but I don’t respond. I have nothing to say.

However an email I received (well, was copied on) the other day threw me for a short loop. Evidently my mother required surgery and, based on the little bit of information I received, I can only surmise that she has some form of cancer (pre or very early stage). I had to stop and really think about how I was going to respond. How does illness and death change a relationship, and should it?

I’ve always been there for my family. Done everything I could (above what was needed). I can’t think of anything that needs to be said or done or what would be worth reopening communication. I feel settled in my relationship with all of them, to the extent that until they change, I have nothing to say. I don’t have regret. Death is only a problem for the living. I don’t have to resolve anything with her from my perspective. I think people go to ill and dying relatives with which they severed ties because they need closure or resoluation for something. I don’t.

But the legacy obligation (haven’t you heard that blood is thicker than water and family is all you’ll ever really have?) made me initially take pause and wonder if I should change my approach. But as I worked it all out, I realized that the culture with which I grew up…do it because it’s family and that’s all you’ll ever have…I’m done with that. How I respond to them and how I treat myself as a consequence of the interactions are two very different things. Until I can stop beating myself up for every little thing, I don’t think I can be with them. They destroy me.

All of this change I am encountering – it is powerful stuff. As powerful as all the damage that was done. I am proud of myself for finally being true to me; standing up for myself and my well-being. These are enormous, positive changes that are making me a better person and better wife and mother.

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April 16, 2013

A portrait of resistance

It occurred to me yesterday that I have been slowly uncovering all these varying coping mechanisms or ways that my parents shaped my thought processes but I don’t really have a general idea of what a picture of me would look like.

This is what I have so far:

I am a judgmental person (to myself as much as, or more than, to others) because I was always criticized and I learned to be critical.

I have this idea of how the world should work and if people don’t fit my schema then I get angry; much like how my parents and sisters got angry if I didn’t act the way they wanted me to.

I have anxiety, probably because I was never allowed to have my feelings, show anger or voice my disagreement with decisions made without regard to me.

I believe that I will always fail at everything I do, because nothing I did was good enough or the way they wanted it.

I believe I am unworthy of unconditional love and I am only as good (or loved) as what I can do for people, because I was not good, and did not deserve support and encouragement if I strayed from their idea of who and what I should be. The more I did for them, in the way in which they wanted it done, the better a person I was and the more loved I was (and by the way, this is still going on – I was recently kicked off the will because they felt they couldn’t rely on me any longer. A few years ago they kicked my sister off for similar reasons.).

Hmmm, I can’t think of any others right now, although I know there are more.

So I asked my therapist, if I feel like I will always fail at everything that I attempt, why do I try? What makes me have initiative and drive? What makes me continue to take chances and try new things and put myself out there? Why didn’t I just settle for something safe?

His only response was that people often have this core that is resistant. It survives and continues on regardless.

So, instead of painting a picture of my faults, here’s a picture of my resistance:

I have been married to a wonderful man for almost nine years; we have been in love for sixteen (we dated 7 years before getting married).

I have a beautiful, happy, healthy little girl who knows she is loved.

I have a few really good friends and am making more.

I have a job in which I am respected, relied upon and am really good at what I do. I will be promoted soon.

Even though I don’t like what I see in the mirror, I know it’s a superficial disgust and that the person standing there is really a beautiful, kind, loving, intelligent and wonderful person.

Even though I think about the time I spent sad and broken and how that may have kept me from being more than I am now, I also remember the moments that I shined and stepped out of my shell to be truly magnificent.

Despite the lack of consideration, respect and care that my family showed me, I am a caring person who considers other peoples feelings and gives everyone the benefit of the doubt (at least once because I’m not a fool!).

I am not who they are.

I am not who they want me to be.

I am me.

I survived and I resisted.

My picture of resistance is colorful and blooming everyday. It’s made of tears, fear, anxiety and sorrow but it smells like love and joy (and it tastes like coffee).

How about yours?

 

March 25, 2013

Deaf minds, lose tongues

Life has been unusually demanding lately. Work got incredibly stressful after my boss was fired and time just seems to be less and less. I barely have a moment to breath let along write in a blog. But now I will take the time to unload an enormous weight.

About a month ago my family staged what I (somewhat mockingly) call interventions. They wanted to complain about how they aren’t vital to my daughter’s life. They don’t like how she treats them (i.e., that she doesn’t run to them, cuddle with them, always give them lots of smiles and giggles, sit on their laps and just think that they are the most wonderful grandparents and aunts that a child could ever have!) and how they just want her to love them. And, by the way, it is all my fault.

These “meetings” happened over a meal (there were two separate ones). Sometime into the meal I stopped eating and could no longer look at my food. Later I realized I had gone into “flight or fight” mode. Yes, in conversation with my family my primitive self-preservation mechanisms kicked into full gear. Not really all that surprising when I think about it, but disturbing nonetheless.

There are endless defenses I could give to their claims of my and my daughter’s wrong doings (e.g., you are a stranger because you never make time to see her, I don’t trust you with my child because you are selfish and manipulative, etc), but it really doesn’t matter.

Last week I received another ridiculous email from one of my sisters, telling me again how unacceptable the situation is. She copied the entire family. She used phrases like: ” [my daughter] does not look at me, runs from me, and has no interest in interacting with me unless I’m holding something she wants. The fact that you don’t try to change that behavior is also worrisome.” which only made it clear that my sister not only doesn’t understand one iota of a child’s behavior or needs, but is also a child herself. I am so tired of hearing my family complain about how my daughter doesn’t act the way they think she should act, doesn’t love them as much as they want her to and they don’t have the kind of relationship with her as other grandparents and aunts they know. Again, there are endless defenses I could give to their claims of my and my daughter’s wrong doings, but it really doesn’t matter.

So I responded to the ridiculous email in a manner I have never ever done before; with anger and “right back at you” blame. I said things like: “Your assessment of [my daughter] and our actions as parents is based on ignorance, selfishness and impatience. You make demands on [my daughter] and never question whether a baby or toddler can (or the important question is should they) meet demands. Despite my trying to explain this to you, you still demand. There is no instant gratification in this situation. [my daughter] is acting as she should at this age.  You adapt to her.  The two year old does not adapt to your needs.  They have yet to develop the skills to adapt to you.  If you stopped to think about it, I did encourage [my daughter] to interact with you. Using playdoh was a means to engage you two. It worked. You two were playing together. Did you not appreciate this or how much [my daughter] loved the animal you made her? She wouldn’t let go of it. Keep in mind that you complained a lot about how gross it was and made it clear how much you didn’t want to play with it. You almost seemed to resent having to do it. I picked up on that; do you think [my daughter] did?”

Her response was “Let me know when you’re ready to talk in a productive fashion”.

Nothing I said was heard; not one character imparted an ounce of doubt in her preconceived notions. I received additional responses with similar sentiments (we are not happy and you aren’t doing anything to make us happy!) from other members of my family. Lose tongues.

That’s why nothing I said or can/could say really matters.

My words fell on deaf minds.

 

And I haven’t anything else to say to them.  In a challenging enough time in my life I do not have the desire to surround myself with such negativity and selfishness. I cannot and will not subject my daughter to the demands of ignorance and close mindedness.

I wasn’t proud of myself for sending a harsh response but felt I needed to assert myself and make it clear that they are tiring out my patience. The only thing they are accomplishing is pushing me farther and farther away. The more they demand the less I will be a part of their lives. And when I do remove myself (and my family) from their lives, be certain that I will be accused of being selfish and childish and they will wonder why can’t I just be who they demand I be?

August 31, 2012

Internal Processor

The past few weeks have been rather even keel – no “ah-ha!” moments but many small victories.

I have been busy processing new information. Trying to understand cause and effect.

 

I have always has a low frustration threshold. I need things to be perfect. I need to be perfect. I need to be such that no one can ever accuse me of being wrong or bad or failing. When things are not perfect or are not going the way I think they should be going I feel that somehow it is all my fault (because I am a terrible, awful person).

 

I only recently became aware of this connection (as simple and obvious as it seems) and am so grateful for this realization. All I need is for one thing to be out of my control or for something to happen and not in a manner that it *should* be happening (mind you I wouldn’t be able to tell you how it should go, just that what is happening is not right!) and I start to lose it – pile on everything negative from the here and now all the way back to my birth. Nice way to live your life.

Ever since my husband and I had our “fight” and he helped me see a few things about myself, I have been able to recognize the start of these death spirals and step away from the moment long enough to prevent an episode. Now that he is aware of these things he has been able to help by distracting my daughter long enough that I can take a few deep breaths. Things have been much better.

 

However, I am not satisfied. I want to know why I do this and what is it that I really expect should be happening? If, for example, my daughter refuses to eat broccoli and I feel like a terrible mother, what is it that I think I realistically could be doing differently? Is this not the topic of thousands of books and billions of other mothers’ worries? Is this not why there are so many recipes out there that “hide” vegetables behind other ingredients? So why should I, or my daughter, be any different? Ah-ha! There’s the question. Why must I be perfect (or rather, why must I never be wrong)?

 

I recall reading Voltaire’s Candide in college and thinking that my life was a lot like that – while I do not know what I should be, I know what I should not be. And when I feel I am what I should not be then I get frustrated and angry and can’t stand to be in my skin.

 

Small victories make big changes. I feel that I am a much happier person today than I was a few months ago. I finally feel like there is hope for me – that I will finally be able to stop fighting myself. Stop worrying all the time. Stop being so frustrated when things aren’t just so. I would like to look in the mirror and see me and not all the things wrong with the reflection.

 

I will continue to process and ask questions and work on meditating. As I tease out these individual components I feel as though I am un-knotting the ties that have bound me for so long. I always thought I was somehow far from the person I could be, the person I wanted to be and the person my husband saw in me.

 

It’s a very good feeling to reclaim yourself.

July 16, 2012

Do you Death Spiral?

That’s what my husband calls it; a Death Spiral.

I start with one issue/obstacle/event and just pile on more and more until I end up in angry tears, blaming myself for ‘everything’ that is wrong and am unable to connect with the world around me. The trigger could be something as simple as running out of tissues or it could be a comment someone made (or what I inferred the person was really saying). Then I pile on the immediate (somewhat superficial) issues (e.g., messy house) and then get into the thick of it (e.g., I am a terrible mother because I cannot keep this house clean enough). As I go deeper and deeper I get more and more frustrated and angry. I withdraw and shut down. My cup runneth over with self-blame and criticisms. I can’t interact with my family and I sit trying desperately to keep it together enough that I don’t pitch a fit. I can’t find a way out.

Then comes the post-Death Spiral guilt.

I am doing it again and my daughter is picking up on my anger and frustration and now she is getting cranky and is a little nervous. I am teaching her to be angry and frustrated. I said I wouldn’t do this again but her I am – I am such a failure!

So I retreat (leave my daughter with my husband). I hide. Put a pillow over my head and hope the fighting stops. Cry a little. Scream a few times (into a pillow of course).

Then I hear my daughter crying – she wants her mommy. It’s not her fault I can’t deal with life. She needs me. So I go to her.

I try to put on a happy face and most of the time I succeed (she transforms me!). Or she will take a nap and give me some breathing time. My husband will sometimes talk me through (and out of) it. Eventually it dissipates. Sometimes I am left with defensive resentment, sometimes it helps clear the air. But I never feel resolved, just pacified.

I know it is just a matter of time until the next Death Spiral occurs. I need to stop them from happening. I don’t know how.

I realize it is happening. I realize it is crap that I do it. But once it starts….

I realize the flawed premise(s) upon which these Death Spirals are initiated. But I still believe there is some truth to them!

My therapist says I need to examine the facts surrounding each thought, determine if I really believe them and then go from there.

Obviously I am neither capable of doing this once the spiral starts nor capable of recognizing it before the spiral starts.

So now what?

I am worried that if I stop being so hard on myself I will become more of a failure than I already think I am (and then it will be true!). Note I say think because when I look closely I am relatively successful. Other than some challenges (e.g., my weight), I have accomplished a good deal (and don’t think too highly of myself!). Lower your standards and expectations and you will become what you fear. Does that even make sense?

I am a big fan of trying to answer the question “why”. I feel that if I understand from where an emotion/thought originates then I have a better chance at coming to terms with the situation. (yes, back to my parents). I recall getting to a point in my childhood where I couldn’t figure out why I was always wrong. It seemed as thought my parents were always telling me that what I did, thought or said was incorrect or not good enough, that I was making the same mistakes over and over and that I wasn’t paying close enough attention or giving it a good enough effort. But I didn’t agree and I never understood. I always looked for a reason as to why my parents thought I was so “bad”, and I guess I eventually just figured it was innate and out of my control. As a result (in hindsight of course) is my constant fear of being wrong and my tendency to admit my faults without hesitation (I will just offer up my short comings so no one can point them out to me later).

Which full circles back to my fundamental negative muse. I am failure.

Looks like I need more therapy.

July 12, 2012

If it had been different, about what would we now be talking?

I was fortunate to be able to have a late breakfast with a friend this morning. We have known each other since the 6th grade and are, what I consider kindred spirits. We lost touch during college and then she moved to another country, etc. etc. But she is in town for a bit and after many years of not communicating we recently reconnected (thanks to Facebook by the way) and are talking as if we hadn’t skipped a beat. The really nice thing is that there has never been judgement or jealousy or any of the other emotions that are often in female relationships and that poison the waters of friendship; the awkward, strained things that prohibit one from being totally honest and open. We are certainly totally honest and open with each other. Except when we feel rejected by the other person, which is not only one of both of our fundamental fears but also (I think) the reason we lost touch. Now that I think about this fact, I chuckle that our similarities are the things that sent us apart!

We are both mothers and we are now finding that we struggle with the same fears and obstacles regarding our own children (e.g., what type of mothers we are, want to be and don’t want to be). We also both struggle with similar issues in our marriages (e.g., how our emotional issues affect our marriages). And we have had similar issues with our parents that has left us with similar, fundamental obstacles we have yet to overcome (e.g., lack of self-love).

We both fully agree that if a child feels unconditionally loved then the child is on the road to a healthy self-image. We both agree that we try every day to help our children feel as loved, cherished and appreciated as humanly possible. So maybe one day they won’t have the doubt and self-loathing she and I endure(d).

Finally I looked at my friend and said – if things had been different, if we had received the nurturing we believe is fundamental to a healthy self-image, then about what would we now be talking instead of discussing our fears and mother/wife problems?

“Yeah” was all she said as she shook her head and thought about what I just said.

What struck me was the expression on my friends face – it was a look of hope and yearning.

After all our years of fighting ourselves, is it possible we can find peace?

Then we could talk about the weather or the price of bread…

July 10, 2012

Gullible again

I work in a poor city and basically at a hospital. There are a lot of homeless and/or poor people, a lot of violence, gangs and sickness. All screaming in your face all day long. The lack of respect for the fellow man is the loudest of all.

Today I was getting lunch at a food truck (a rarity for me) when we were approached by a woman. She appeared to be a man but was apparently pregnant. Her appearance was odd – strange outfit but clothes were not ragged and she had dread locks, which I hear cost a pretty penny. Her opening line was one that I heard once before “excuse me, I am not asking for money…”. She instead wanted us to buy her some food from the truck (anything she said as she clutched a few coins near her chest which made her appear humble and with great hope).

I thought about it briefly and then reached into a bag I was holding and pulled out a piece of the absolutely most delicious olive bread I have ever had (or that may exist) and handed it to her saying this is very delicious and is good for you too! She looked at it, shook her head and walked away. I kept saying “try it!”. I watched as she, and my previous bread walked away. I wondered if she would eat it. I wondered why she wasn’t. I wondered why I gave it to her. I wondered why I am such a foolish, gullible shit. I wanted my bread back (you can only get it once a week and you have to get there early!). I watched her tear it apart and throw it all around. I was pissed.

I wanted to chase after her and ask what did she really want, why did ask for it and why wasn’t my bread good enough if she was truly hungry.

I was afraid she (still not convinced it was a she) would become violent with me. I stood there feeling like a fool. Thinking of what I would say the next time.

I will think about this for at least the rest of the day. I will tell my husband about it, who will most likely respond with a “well what did you expect?” type comment and he will be right.

I keep thinking people aren’t all bad. That sometimes you just need to show kindness and respect and that not everyone is playing everyone else.

Evidently I am wrong. Again. People (at least this type of person) is always out to play everyone and isn’t looking for kindness or respect. I don’t know what they are looking for.

I am sad that I fell for the trick and sad that I lost my bread (which by the way I was sharing with MY child). But I am more sad that there are so many people out there that prey on people like me.

I want to believe in the best in people from the beginning and be proven wrong. But at what cost? And now how do I teach my child to not be so gullible and to stand up for herself (as I obviously cannot do)?

I don’t have these answers. Do you?

July 9, 2012

Did she see what I see?

This morning I was on the treadmill (after 2 weeks off) and enjoying the expenditure of energy and the music. Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” came on and I started thinking of my daughter. I thought how one day some boy will sing this to her and someone will love her tremendously. This made me smile.

When I was pregnant I wondered what this little girl was going to be like, look like, sound like, walk like and be like. I couldn’t wait to meet her! I am now realizing that each day is a ‘new her’, as she develops and grows we see more and more of her personality come through.

Sometimes I just stare at her and see pure innocence and raw potential. I see joy, wonder and curiosity. I see beauty and peace. I see an amazing little girl of whom I am so proud and I truly enjoy each day with her (don’t get me wrong – I also sometimes wish I could just sit with my cat and a cup of coffee!).

So this all made me wonder what did my mother see when she looked at me? Did she beam with pride, love, adoration and amazement? Or did she not notice the first time I put my toes in my mouth or when I figured out how that toy worked? I am the youngest of several children so then I thought maybe she was too busy. So then I wondered what did she see when she looked at my eldest sibling?

My mother is not a very sensitive person and it was a hard childhood for all of us. She wasn’t terribly affectionate and I don’t think our feelings ever came first. Yes, she did the best that she could. That’s pretty much all that we can do and all that we can expect. (although sometimes this sounds like a cop out or excuse).

I guess I feel a little sad for her, and for all of us, that maybe she wasn’t able to notice or appreciate the beauty that encompasses, and is embodied by a child and, most especially by YOUR child. I feel sad for the little girls that weren’t adored by their mother.

Since becoming a mother I have found that my reaction to the treatment of children and the cries that I hear has changed tremendously. What used to make me angry now completely sickens me. Conversely, what used to make me simply smile now makes me beam ear to ear.

I used to say that you could judge a person’s character based on the way they treated animals. I haven’t figured out what it means about a person based on how they treat a child (well, their child), but I know that it takes an enormous amount of patience and selflessness. You must be able to step outside of yourself and evaluate each situation objectively.

Believe me I have had my moments of tears and utter frustration and I know there will be more to come. I will do the best that I can do and hope that when my daughter  has a child she never wonders if I looked at her with pride, love, adoration and amazement – she will know that I did (and then some).

Here’s to my brown-eyed girl. May you always know and feel how much I love you!

June 29, 2012

I am what I am (and it’s not in a dress)

My daughter loves water. She loves to play in it, splash in it and, I guess drink it (she is still a baby and gets mostly milk!).

She will splash in puddles, loves to have the indoor and outdoor faucet’s turned on (she gets completely soaked when outside!), she loves her baby pool and bath time and if you have a bucket or glass of water, she will stick her hand or arm into it!

I am pleased with her love for water, and for her lack of fear of the water!

I used to swim competitively. I used to puddle jump and walk in the rain for hours. I still love sitting on the porch when it’s raining. I rarely carry an umbrella.

Last night it rained.

This morning my daughter wanted to go outside (as we usually do before leaving for work/daycare). I couldn’t say no because she put on her jacket and then brought me MY shoes and then brought me HER shoes, and then sat down so I could put her shoes on her feet! There was no saying no to this 15 month old!

So we played and thankfully only her jacket got wet (daddy saved her from sitting in a puddle!). There was still some time before we could leave (waiting for daycare to open) so I decided to show her what happens when you shake the branches on a tree after it has rained.

We stood underneath the tree – her in my arms and I shook. The water rained down and she smiled. I shook again. She giggled. This is living.

“Again” she signed to me. So I shook again.

“Again” she signed to me. So I shook again.

“Again” she signed to me. So I shook again.

“Again” she signed to me. So I shook again.

“Again” she signed to me. So I shook again.

She squealed in delight, she closed her eyes and put her face to the sky, she opened her mouth to catch the rain.

Needless to say we were pretty wet. I wasn’t wearing a jacket (she was but her hair was wet).

I arrived at daycare with a wet shirt (like I had been caught in the rain). I explained myself to a few people and they all thought it was great.

I walked to the car smiling – I had given my daughter a wonderful moment that I will always cherish.

I realized that I am, always have been and always will be, a gal in jeans and not a dress.

Makeup runs in the rain and high heels get stuck in grass. They just don’t fit into my life.

I would rather sleep or cuddle with my husband, daughter or cat than spend that time doing my hair or makeup. I’m a wash-and-go type gal and I should just embrace it!

More importantly, this doesn’t make me less feminine or inferior to other women who do chose to (or need to based on career/office dress policy) spend more time on their appearance.

Maybe, if they had the choice (or more courage?) they would also shake the branches of a wet tree upon the heads of their children.

So keep your pantyhose and your foundation. I’ve made my life without them (and one could argue that I’ve directed my life so I could live without them!?).

I am what I am and I think I am beginning to like me.

Loss worth losing

As our children grow and mature, with every step taken, we lose a little.

Mothers no longer needed for nourishment: loss.

Babies no longer wanting to constantly be held: loss.

Toddlers walking without holding parents’ hands: loss.

Toddlers no longer needing to run to mommy’s arms when novelty appears: loss.

When children sleep through the night in their own bed, peel and hold the banana all by themselves and successfully use a fork or spoon for an entire meal: loss, loss and loss.

Ever since she stopped nursing my daughter has been sleeping better – rarely wakes up (vs waking every 2-3 hours), and sleeps in her crib (vs in the bed with us). We have begun trying to get her to fall asleep in her crib without us holding her.

However last night my daughter fell asleep in my arms. I thought: this may be the last time she cuddles me like this. I grew sad (and am tearing up now) and felt such a sense of loss.

But I know that it is loss worth losing. I know it means we have done a good job as parents – we have provided this little baby with what she needed and she is growing up well.

That is the fundamental purpose of parenting. To give and let them grow.

“With all of its glories and all of its faults, life is but a bittersweet waltz”

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