Reading very quickly became my favorite thing. By sixth grade, I was reading at twelfth grade level. I often spent recess or other free time in the school library. I was reading from one side to the other of the shelves in our small library. When I got through fiction, I read biography and history. Best of all, I found mythology.
Once I found mythology, I looked for stories everywhere. Meanwhile, I experienced all the common childhood illnesses, including measles, mumps and chicken pox. I usually had bronchitis at least once each winter. I had walking pneumonia and a couple concussions. I didn’t break any bones, but I stepped on bees, sprained ankles and tumbled off bikes. Reading saved me during all the down time. I loved ordering Scholastic books at school and visiting the library.
After my open heart surgery at age three, I was followed pretty closely until released at age six. Because of the heart issues, my baby teeth needed dental work. My body was not my friend. I didn’t like failing and I didn’t like sports. I was competitive and felt that I couldn’t compete. Instead, I found solitary activities. I collected frogs from the garden and released them again. I rode my bike up and down hills in nearby grassy lots. I took books and snacks to make nests in tall summer grass. I liked badminton, swings and climbing trees.
I especially liked reading books and having them turn into movies in my head and feeling like I was living them. I had adventures and experiences. I was competitive intellectually and academically. I could plot and I could plan. All this was so good in so many ways, but helped set up the disconnect between ME and my body which was always disappointing or failing me.
I will probably have to make this the introduction to any memoir I write.
As I go about the process of living, I turn my life into stories. Individuals in these stories tend to be recognizable and some of them dislike that, even though I try to show all their facets, not just the bad and not just the good. Consequently, I will probably have published under a pseudonym. They will still be able to recognize one another, but they’ll likely remain anonymous to the rest of the world.
I’m feeling light-hearted today. I and two friends from childhood have maintained our relationships for more than fifty years. One lives relatively close. We keep in touch but visit infrequently.
The other is steadfast. She’s one of the few people that I don’t censor myself with (much). We see one another’s strengths and one another’s weaknesses and all that’s in-between. We make time for one another: visiting, planning events, taking trips together, and we don’t judge.
When she lived near the ocean on the Oregon coast, I had “my own” bedroom. When she needs tech support or employment advice, I’m available. Discouragement and venting stays in the friendship vault. Late in our lives, my mom is her second mom.
We choose our friends and, with luck and some work, they form the family that lasts. As my birth family grows smaller and more contentious, I value old friends all the more.
Bernie, the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Begins His Adventures
My first memories are of nursing from my mom, sleeping in a warm pile with my brothers and sisters, playing and learning to eat kibble. Then, we were scooped up, dressed up and photographed.
Bernie, the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Looks for a Home
After our pictures were taken, we began visiting another room in our house. First, we’d ride in a fleece lined basket to a padded table with toys. Then, strange people would pet us and lift us out.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Explains
My mom-to-be has described how she prepared before she brought me home. She wanted to make sure I’d feel secure in our family of four: Grandma, #Parrot Sister Erin and #Yorkie Uncle Bear.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold – Meet Mom
Mom moved in with Grandma during COVID and then retired. Her #Parrot Erin came with her. She decided to adopt a cat and then to get a kitten – her first kitten in 30+ years.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Takes a Trip
Mom took me home from the breeder on a normal day. After cuddling me, she put me in a padded carrier with a blanket and toys. I rode in the passenger seat drivin home. We stopped once to cuddle.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Looks Around
When mom brought me home for the first time, I had my own tent with bed, litter box, food, water and toys. I stayed in there a little while. #Yorkie Uncle Bear watched until I went exploring
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold: First Night
Mom expected me to sleep in my tent where I had everything I could possibly need – except company. I told her NO very loudly. So she spent the night there with me, taking naps on the recliner or the floor – learning.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Playing on the Second Day with Mom
Mom seemed tired after our first night, but I was ready to play and explore.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Meets Prey
Coming out of my den, I found a suspicious object. I determined that it was prey to be subdued and NOT a toothbrush as Mom kept saying.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Naps
While the tent and my tunnel den were great for play, food and litter box, I decide where to sleep. And that means sleeping close to my mom.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Climbs a Tree
Mom padded the nearest end table to keep me close, but she left a great climbing tree (lamp) for me to explore.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Shares the Bed
For some reason, mom thought we should spend every night shut in her room. At least that meant she was available whenever I wanted to play and I had a really big pillow.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Works Out
Mom seemed surprised that properly grooming, especially of my feet and toes, is very tiring! I needed a nap under my special tree.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Expands
I don’t know why mom calls this my “bear rug” pose or calls me her “little pancake.” I was just spreading out and getting comfortable. Plus, that was a long way down if I fell off!
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Spends Time with Grandma
I like spending time with Grandma watching TV, but Uncle Bear doesn’t like sharing the space. At least Grandma can pet me more easily lying close on the armrest.
Bernie the (Mildly) Disgruntled #ScottishFold Meets Nature
Mom found a harness for me and moved my camping tent out to the patio. Exploring was fun, but she carried me out to prickly ground! She put me down, so I jumped on her shoe and grabbed her leg. She called it “grass.” I loved exploring, but grass should never be walked on! Grass is strictly for nibbling. Grass is pokey. I preferred sitting on mom’s feet to standing on it.
Over time, societal assumptions strongly influence family dynamics.
The underlying social premises are that self-employment is harder and deserves more consideration than working for someone else. Working while raising a family deserves more respect and accommodation than does a child free couple or individual. Money is the best measure of status. Living without drama is considered cold at worst and reserved at best.
This, of course, is the perspective of the divorced child free oldest sister (me) who actually lived away from home for nearly 20 years. With no family and only new friends and acquaintances available, an inclination toward reserved self-reliance was adaptive. When coupled with my independent egalitarian attitudes and a compulsion to ask “why,” my company is less than comfortable. And, I get tired of censoring myself just to keep the peace. (Probably why I’m divorced and contentedly single!) I also get tired of having the same arguments over and over again.
Fortunately, I usually find a few coworkers and friends who are interested in ideas: talking about them, comparing them, evaluating them. The trick is finding people who remain civil when their viewpoints are challenged. I enjoy a good discussion and have been known to argue against my own viewpoint just for the fun of it.
Since I don’t ask for help often, I’m taken seriously when I do. When asking for that help, I try to prioritize the other person’s circumstances. When I’m asked for my opinion, I give it. I try to do it gently and may even confirm it’s really wanted, but then I express it. I’m good at problem solving, at finding common ground and at establishing the parameters of a situation. I’ve gotten better at doing what I feel is right and letting go of the outcome. I am happy to express compassion and offer reasonable support. I will not offer platitudes or accept faulty reasoning. I don’t think assigning guilt or engendering it is helpful in relationships, especially among family. Hear both sides of the issue and then move on.
Within my family, this means I’ve assumed the roles of rebel, negotiator, advocate, critic and outcast … sometimes concurrently. I play caretaker judiciously. Since I’ve given family members persona designations, I’ve given myself one to be fair. As the family Ice Princess, I value logic over emotion and fairness over winning.
I implement my beliefs imperfectly. I slip back into consumerism. I avoid confrontation and procrastinate. I question the value of life. At bedrock though, I believe that everyone’s (and everything’s) life has value. And that includes mine.
Living big, taking chances, trying new things is hard when staying small and quiet is a comfortable habit. Watching and evaluating feels much safer.
Few children lived near me growing up and few who did were girls. My parents were also very protective for the times. I skipped kindergarten and was my teacher’s favorite in first grade. Fortunately, I found a best friend and a couple of casual friends who saw me through grade school. I read voraciously, rode my bike, played with my younger sister and spent a lot of time with family. My grandpa retired young for health reasons, so I had three adults doting on me even before my dad got home from work and made it four.
The transition from grade school to junior high school (7th to 9th grades) was traumatic. My best friend’s parents divorced and I felt very isolated without her. For a long time, at home after school, I could actually replay the day to myself like a movie that happened to someone else while I watched from above.
Eventually, two of my casual friends stepped forward and were company at school, but I remained contained by family at home. I was quiet and studious during the school day. I got excellent grades and was rewarded for it with a boost to my allowance. At home, I was talkative and energetic (when not reading), but I found joining in difficult in class.
Things might have continued in the same way right through high school, but I realized part of my unhappiness was within my control. In my junior year, I decided to make changes. I joined the National Honor Society and the pep club. I attended football games, both home and away. I was a student aide in a couple classes. I got my driver’s license the following summer and it all helped.
Mt Saint Helens erupted shortly before the end of my senior year. I graduated in the top 10% of my class and left for college at the end of the summer.
My small life was getting bigger. I broke ground for my sister by fighting for my independence at home. I still felt as though something was missing, but I also had hope.
From childhood, we start apologizing. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Teacher. Sorry, World. At some point though, boys get a pass and girls just get habituated.
This conspiracy is built on a lie. The lie is that staying small (apologizing, not taking up too much space) will keep girls safe. In reality, this makes girls less safe because they don’t learn how to fight for themselves without also taking steps to ensure everyone else has had their needs met. That everyone else stays happy. Their power is muted. They try to keep the peace and minimize the danger. Staying small and saying “sorry” becomes a dangerous habit.
I find the current idiom of “sorry, not sorry” a useful transition. The recipient is disarmed. On the other hand, passive aggressive isn’t the best coping skill. I’ve learned to use disengagement. In a few memorable instances, I’ve said, “I’d only have this argument if I cared about your (fill in the blank). And I don’t.”
When my marriage was ending, criticism and control was so common that I slipped back into the automatic “sorry” habit to avoid constant conflict. The incident that made me realize it was:
My spouse was on overnight duty one summer weekend. Our duplex had no air conditioning and retained heat. We used fans to create air currents by pulling from the coolest side. We commonly left windows and doors open with screens only. I left the front door open and double locked the security screen door. I went to bed.
I was awakened early the next morning by banging and shouting. He was waiting at the door with a bunch of military gear. He wasn’t happy. He wanted to know why I’d locked up when I knew he’d have all his stuff with him. Still groggy, I started with “sorry” and began to explain. Then I stopped myself and asked, “Would you want to sleep alone in a house way out here with unlocked doors?” I got only an,”Oh, yeah.” I realized I’d been making myself smaller and letting him take up more and more space.
Habits are hard to break, especially when they are being reinforced. Trying to replace them with something else, like a question, helps.
I was born with a broken heart and everyone knew it. I was too small for surgery. I had to wait. While I was waiting, I had to be quiet and careful. I had to be small when I wanted to be big.
I wanted to do everything. I wanted to feel everything. I wanted to know everything. I also wanted love. I also wanted approval. I tried to do as I was told and, when I did, I got love and approval. Doing what other people wanted, gave me love and approval. This was experience not reasoning. Call it conditioning.
My world was small, but I had my imagination and then I learned to read and I HAD BOOKS. And my heart was mended. But quiet and careful were already habits for me as expected by everyone.
How do you know when a relationship has ended? There are obvious moments: When one of you asks for a divorce. When you realize that you are happier when you arrive home to an empty house. When you stop caring about his opinion because it is always so negative, or critical, or judgemental.
But a hundred tiny moments come before those big moments. Some are identifiable landmarks. Others are cumulative.
In my case, I began by putting the other person first. Every time I chose myself instead, the relationship developed a crack. Those small cracks waited for the bigger events to fissure and spread.
The first cracks and the first landmark evolved together. While he was away at basic training, he wrote and sent a “Dear Jane” letter which he followed with a request to destroy it without reading it. I did. A few months later, he proposed by phone. I planned the wedding. When he got home, he visited a childhood friend and cancelled the wedding – also by phone. At the time, I was unaware of any connection. I called it cold feet and panic. We were young.
A few days passed. Driving home with my parents, I simply knew he was at the house waiting. I told them and, when we got there, he was. My grandfather had refused to talk to him, so he was napping in his car. I talked to him. I was 21 years old. I agreed to wear his ring and to keep talking. All this resulted in the wedding he planned and I flew to Louisiana for. He forgot a bouquet and none of my family or friends could attend.
He shaped the circumstances, but I was always the one who chose and acted. I wound up with the responsibility.
I didn’t have to forgive. I didn’t have to say, “Yes.” I didn’t have to leave home.
How does a midlife crisis and a spiritual crisis tie together? In my case, they were sequential.
Huddled in my waterbed alone in a Fairbanks winter, I realized that I hated my job and had wound up where I’d vowed never to be. I’d done none of the things I’d planned to do and most of the ones that I’d sworn not to. I was married before 30. I was putting my husband’s needs and accomplishments first. I’d stopped writing. I hadn’t finished my college degree.
We were supposed to be living in Anchorage. We came to Fairbanks as a last minute change to my husband’s Army assignment. I brought my Pomeranian puppy, Corry, and a short work history with me. I felt uneasy spending money I didn’t earn and unable to put my own needs first, so I needed to work. We shared a single car, so we did a lot of coordinating and solo spontenaity was negligible. I was, essentially, dependent.
Being dependent was one of the biggest reasons that I’d sworn off marriage. To this day, I stand by this. If the Army hadn’t made it nearly impossible to be together unless married, we’d have stayed partners not spouses. My mom was 13 years old when she met my dad and his parents became her surrogates because hers were alcoholics. They married when she graduated from high school. She was 20 when I was born and 22 when my sister was born. She never got her driver’s license or worked after marriage.
Technically, that isn’t completely true. She got her license with me when I took driver’s training. She went to work at Montgomery Wards once my sister and I were both in our teens, but someone drove her to and from the Triangle Mall. Did I forget to mention? We lived next to my grandparents, Dad’s parents, and they joined us in our home after dinner just about every evening.
I loved it as a child. I had four adults available at all times. Mom got up each morning to see Dad off to work and then I went back o bed with her. We normally got up after we heard the school bus leave. The stop was right outside our house on the corner. If you discount my health issues, I had a picture perfect childhood. We were a little rural, so I played outside. My grandpa planted a garden. My grandma taught me how to crochet and knit. My dad taught me embroidery. I became the shared household baker. My mom taught me how to sew and was always trying new things with me. We always had pets, especially cats. My grandpa had chickens when I was young. He even caught and released a mama o’possum and her babies because I couldn’t let them be killed. He taught me to drive because Dad and I made one another too nervous.
As I got older, I saw how uneven these relationships were for my mom. Three other adults were always vetting her actions. Without money of her own, every purchase had to be approved. Dad paid all the bills, signing them after she wrote the checks. We all went grocery shopping together. Whenever she started acting too independent, she was brought up short. She was questioned about every moment she spend outside the house. She was discouraged from having friends beyond other couples, including spending too much time with any independent wives. More than once, I saw Dad reduce her to tears in social settings by belittling her, sometimes subtly and sometimes not.
As the oldest child and a girl, I fought for my freedoms and independence. As an adult, I intend to keep them.