Sand Castles

We become slaves to positive response and most importantly, we fail to learn how to COPE with the idea that it is impossible to please all people – all the time.

In my sophomore year of high school my mom and step-dad had to relocate to the metro DC area so that mom could obtain some specialized medical care for an at-risk pregnancy. She spent three months on bed rest before my (half) twin sisters were born. In an effort not to have us change schools AGAIN – we, my brother and I (sister Allysen was living with dad in California) went to stay with our grandmother until the school year was finished. It entailed come unique transportation arrangements since she did not live in the district we attended. They made arrangements for me to be picked up at an intersection of a state highway that a teacher drove for her commute. It was rural Pennsylvania and the term intersection is loose. There were a couple of roads there actually, the state Highway, a county road leading into a town of a few hundred, and a dirt road that was predominately farm access. It was the dirt road that I travelled to meet this teacher.

Occasionally, my grandmother was unable to pick me up in the afternoons and I was relegated to walking the 3.5 miles home. No, really…. It’s true. And no….. it wasn’t uphill both ways and yes…. I had shoes. I actually loved those walks when the weather was good. I recall singing Karen Carpenter songs and making up poems. One of them won a poetry contest at school. I still remember it.

As the autumn leaves turn to red

Lay your sleepy soul upon the bed

Close your eyes and go to sleep

Listen to the Willows weep

Nestle down all snug and warm

If you chill reach out your arm

Let me hold you extra tight

Before we kiss and say goodnight.

I’ve never forgotten the words to that poem and no, I don’t recall any special significance from it. I was probably missing my mother. I’ve had people say that it reminds them of death….. In future years if ever an English professor somewhere decides that there is some amazing underpinning of sorrow here and decides what it must mean, please know it is beyond my conscious understanding.

The other memory that stands out from one of those long walks is the profound understanding that I was “too young to feel this old”. I was fifteen and had assumed primary responsibility for my 6 year old brother. In all of the moves, the one consistent element is that he and I were together. Our sister often chose to live with the opposite parent and it was only a year or two out of our entire childhood that we all shared the same home. Along the way people would say “take care of your brother” or “you are such a big girl” and “it’s nice to count on you”. I became that girl – the one whom everyone depended upon. The idea that I may fail or let someone down became unacceptable to me. I began to thrive on people’s reliance on me. I became Miss Responsible while I lost my childhood.  That day I realized I was “too young” I didn’t know why or how it had happened exactly that I “felt too old” – I just knew I did and I didn’t believe that my thoughts about it would be taken seriously or accepted. I knew I needed to be dependable.

Perhaps on some crazy deep plane I was somehow in touch with the idea that my youth was escaping, my innocence waning, my adolescence disappearing and that is the source of the poem. Perhaps there was some subliminal pain that was unable to rise to the surface except metaphorically in that collection of rhyming words. Is that where art comes from? Should I have paid closer attention? Should someone have noticed? Nope, adults in my life were on auto pilot, coping with their own stuff – looking across the valley and choosing not to see the garbage there.

By the age of 15 I had learned and deeply engrained into my psyche the need to please – to be dependable and responsible – to take care of others. I had demonstrated so greatly that I could meet the needs of other people that *I think* people assumed I knew how to meet my own. I’m not sure I was aware that I had personal needs. How does a young person become aware of their needs if someone isn’t guiding them and teaching them about emotional and physical needs and about healthy methods of self care?

Some might argue (in fact, I often have a mental debate/war ensuing in my own mind) that learning dependability and responsibility are admirable attributes and actually, they are. However, there are UNHEALTHY behaviors that arise when we forget to set limits, to listen to our own needs, and fail to use our voice in fear that someone will feel disappointment. We learn to keep secrets where truth would meet displeasure. We develop perfectionist personas and fears of failure. We become slaves to positive response and most importantly, we fail to learn how to COPE with the idea that it is impossible to please all people – all the time.

That was me by the age of 18. I had become a complete and total people pleaser without skills to manage negative responses in a healthy manner and so it began, like a drippy sand castle…. one situation after another, the fears of disappointment and the inability to handle failure. Mental messages that slowly accumulated into a distorted perception of self.  There was my ‘inside’ self and the identity that I portrayed to the world. I had allowed a constant state of disconnect to exist in my mind between the person I felt like on the inside and the person I allowed the world to see. When people looked at me, they saw a confident, strong, smart, motivated, determined, and fearless young woman.  That was my outside – the part that people were proud of; teachers, parents, friends, siblings, employers, neighbors. I was a ‘good girl’. And, while those qualities are definitely there, the 12 year old girl who missed her mom and wanted to ride bikes and play hide and seek ‘til dark also existed and she was at war with me. She wanted to come out and be taken care of. She needed love and compassion. She wanted to cry in the lap of someone who didn’t judge. She needed to learn how to disappoint without risking total approval.

Merging my inside and my outside happened, but not until a storm blew in and washed wave after wave over the well fortified castle.

 

 

 

Intentions

I am remembering that I – Leslyn – know my intent. I hope I am appropriately demonstrating it to you.

It can bum you out when your intentions aren’t, like, translated properly. ~ Kesha

Right Kesha??!!

I had lunch with a friend the other day and talked with her about my decision to write this blog. She’s known me for 20+ years and has shared many of my deepest pains. She’s actually the first one that allowed me to feel safe being imperfect – at least consciously. “What do you want to accomplish” she asked and I had an answer ready but I’ve been rethinking it these last few days. I’ve been digging deep to be sure that my motive isn’t attention seeking or purging prior hurts that I haven’t processed.  I believe I have done the work or at least all that I am aware of. If, through this process I discover that isn’t true I can stop and reevaluate.

I am extremely confident that my goal is to share HOW I got here, to this place where comfort and vulnerability coexist – at least most of the time – in an effort to demonstrate how others can take that journey themselves. If no one reads it, well then – it will be a well documented historical gift to my children and future grandchildren. They will ‘know me’ via my writing. I kinda wish I had that gift from my mother or grandmother but I know that both of them would have rather gotten run down by a train or dragged by a team of horses than to air any weaknesses or personal shames. After all, they were the voices I spoke of in my last post – the ones that encouraged me to ‘put on my big girl panties and carry on’ versus process a painful / shameful experience. My grandmother in fact, once attempted to teach me that I could stand on a hill and simply observe the beautiful green grass on the neighboring hill instead of tramping through the garbage dump in the valley to get there. “Don’t look” she would say – “it’s only garbage”.

Knowing how we became ‘who we are’ is paramount in understanding how and what to change – at least in my *humblest* opinion. I don’t have any pretty empirical evidence to support this claim and I haven’t recently researched specific psychological theories that point to verification for this perspective but in almost a decade of private practice and several decades of personal discovery, it is clear that true change doesn’t take place without attending to the origin of the problem.

In the early years of my journey, I would attend therapy to hear a counselor ask “what my ‘problems with living’ are.” I would explain how fearful I was that I was really unlovable that people didn’t ‘really’ love me. Sure guys wanted to have sex with me and for a few years I believed that meant I was desirable – good looking – pretty – sexy, etc. But we KNOW, I hope all females KNOW that is NOT true. It wasn’t true in the 70’s or the 80’s or ever…. Horney does not equal desirable. I wish females were born with that knowledge!!  What I soon discovered is that it takes a counselor interested in the INFECTION not the symptoms. Treating symptoms only is just asking for another flare-up down the road. It wasn’t until I found someone who DUG and forced me to look deep that I began understanding why I thought / felt the way that I did. Having said that – we all have to be WILLING to go deeper. I remember a therapist asking about my childhood and what it must have been like when my mother left to join the Army. I said ‘it was good. I got to play grown up and they were all better off.”  It took some time before we both really understood the dynamics and consequences of that decision.

So, here I am – a middle aged woman who became a mental health counselor in after 40. I made that decision because it was the only way I could think of to find meaning from the pain that I had experienced in my own life (future posts). I believe that everything happens for a reason or at the very least that there is value in each experience. My goal in returning to school and investing in graduate school during a tumultuous time in my own life was to find a way to make that pain make sense. I believe that sharing some of those experiences helps people who are working to find their own way.  I share when it is appropriate during sessions with clients. I am often told how helpful it is to know that “they aren’t the only ones”. That sense of ‘universality’ is understated – in my opinion.

That’s why this blog has been in my head for so long… it’s the print version of what I share / do in my counseling practice. It will be the complete version – the whole story. IF it is helpful, great! If not…. Move on. I am daring here; daring to expose myself to the world in an effort to let people know that they are NOT the only ones. That personal growth happens from our pain IF we are willing to do the work. IF we are willing to see the garbage in the valley or clean out the closets where we have shoved our pains.

I have fear. Fear that I will be criticized and ridiculed for sharing deeply private thoughts and experiences. I have allowed fear to direct far too many decisions in my life. Here, I am pushing through fear of being mocked and unaccepted. I am remembering all of those people whose opinions truly count. I am remembering all of the people who have told me my story was helpful for them.  I am remembering that I – Leslyn – know my intent. I hope I am appropriately demonstrating it to you.

Like Lava

Nurturing those old wounds takes work. They are a constant in my psyche. It’s as if they run on a current of hot lava…

In these first couple of posts I am describing my childhood. In psychodynamic theory, it is in childhood – the experiences and relationships there – that form our personalities. While I don’t buy into the totality of that premise, clearly some of those things teach us about the world in which we live. They shape our understanding of what to expect and how to respond. I have shared information about the relationships I experienced with mom, dad and both step-parents. I briefly talked about the idyllic environment that encompassed the small town we lived in. I’m confident in stating that that strong foundation benefited me in numerous ways; shaping much of the woman that I am today.

However, there were *some* less-than-wonderful moments in those years. Ironically, many of them are the ones that are stand out memories for me. I recall going to the Fireman’s carnival and not having enough money to buy an ‘all night’ ride pass. My family struggled more than others financially. I recall the day our car was repossessed. I can still visualize it going down the street – being driven by a young man I had never seen before. My mom was embarrassed and attempted to distract us but I was just old enough to understand it meant we didn’t have enough money. I had to turn in supplemental forms so that I could get lunch ‘aid’. For the longest time all I wanted to do was pack my lunch in a brown paper bag like so many other kids.  I hated standing in that lunch line. It was in the basement with really short ceilings and pipes running along the corridor that sweat and dripped on us as we were corralled through the cafeteria. I felt like an Ogre standing in the lunch line because I was so much taller than other kids; I grew tall early and fast.

I was mortified in the 3rd grade as I wet myself while doing a homework problem at the chalkboard. I was wearing a blue leather skirt that was a favorite and when I got paddled for not making it to the bathroom, it stung that much more through the leather. Yes – paddled. In those days it hung on a hook right behind the teacher and it was used frequently. Yes – I pee’d my pants at 8 years old.  As I recall, I couldn’t do the math problem and had asked to use the girl’s room but was told to do the problem first. I was petrified of failure. I tried. I failed both with the math problem and making it to the bathroom.  Consequently, I was shammed and publicly punished.  Thankfully, that kind of behavior is now illegal.

In 4th grade we had to line up and get our statistical data recorded by the nurse. It was also a type of cattle call. We were herded into the hallway in lines of boys and girls. We would move first to someone who collected our cards where a parent had carefully printed our names and addresses, names of parents and siblings. We were required to be measured for height first so shoes had to be off. I recall having holes in my socks. We moved quickly in fear of reprimand to the scale where someone would weigh us and yell the number across the hall to another person who recorded the information. That year I crossed the threshold of 100 lbs. Yes, when the average 9 year old girl was around 70 lbs, I tipped the scale over three digits and they announced it to the entire student body or at least those in the hallway. I’m quite sure by the end of the day, everyone knew. By 8th grade people would simply tell me that if I lost weight, I’d be pretty. I learned I couldn’t be pretty the way I was.

As if that wasn’t enough, I had inherited my father’s jaw structure. My upper pallet was extremely narrow forcing my teeth forward across my lower jaw bone; commonly referred to as bucked teeth. They were the subject of ridicule from peers throughout my childhood.  In our 5th grade classroom the social studies workbooks were typically stacked on a cabinet against the wall and distributed by a student whenever that subject was about to be taught. Our names were on the front and one child was responsible for moving throughout the room handing them out.  Typically, the name would be read and a meeting would occur where the transfer took place. One by one they went out. Suzi, Katy, Tommy, John, and then…. Someone had scribbled out my name and written “Buck-tooth” … my name couldn’t be read through the scribble and so the question was delivered loudly and hung in the room for an eternity…. “Who’s buck-tooth?”  The room got quiet and one by one, student’s eyes moved in my direction and the room broke out in mocking laughter.  I wanted to die. I wanted to room to swallow me up and hide me. In that moment, I hated that my parents were poor. I hated that I was different. I hated that I was there in that room. It was in that moment that I learned how cruel the world could be; that parts of me were unacceptable and could be the brunt of agonizing laughter.

These petty experiences as an 8, 9 and 10 year old were sparse and seemingly isolated yet their impact superseded amazing childhood joys in ways that are difficult to understand. Today, we label much of that behavior as bullying and abusive. There is no doubt that they significantly fashioned parts of my SELF concept. It seems that no matter how supportive and loving my family and friends were, these insulting moments were defining. I learned that the world beyond home could be humiliating and emotionally unsafe.

As I write, read, and edit I can hear voices – well not really, not actual voices – but thoughts or comments in my head that say “get a grip, kids can be brats” or “seriously, you had a great childhood; get over it already”. Somehow I also learned to devalue the pain of those experiences. I learned that they should be dismissed. I hear judgment in my mind instead of compassion and empathy for that young girl who hurt. I suspect that people told me to “never mind them” or to “just ignore them” – advice that supports dismissal versus empathizing and processing the hurt. Essentially, somewhere down the line I was taught to ‘avoid’ the feelings – set them aside. In fact, I recall that my mom’s way of dealing with negativity was to box it up and set it on a shelf in a (mental) closet. I’m sure she taught me that. Now that I think of it, mom’s closet was pretty full and disorganized.

I share all of these details not to solicit pity or compassion because really, you probably can’t say or do anything that someone in my life hasn’t already tried. It’s always been up to ME to process those experiences in a positive way it’s just that I was never taught how as a child. Actually, we –as a culture- aren’t very good at teaching emotional processing (I guess that’s why I have a good job these days). We spend a lot of time telling one another (and sadly our children) to “suck it up”, “get over it”, “move on”, etc….. When what we could be telling them is that emotions are REAL and they are NORMAL and that THEY JUST ARE. We actually encourage people NOT to feel. We tell them that feelings are bad, wrong, or ridiculous instead of validating their existence and then teaching or encouraging evaluation and processing.

Nurturing those old wounds takes work. They are a constant in my psyche. It’s as if they run on a current of hot lava through my soul and occasionally erupt – sometimes violently in an explosion but more often seeping through cracks in a way that slowly burns whatever is in their path. Sometimes I feel like a gatekeeper, running from vent to vent attempting to coral or channel the flow so to limit the damage. The idea that I am vulnerable to public humiliation because of the way that I look or because of an embarrassing accident or due to how much money I have, continues to be challenging but here I am…. Staring it in the face and daring greatly.

 
Photo credit: schizoform via Foter.com / CC BY

Solid Foundation

This is how the story of my life begins; idyllic and fun. It’s the first 12 years of my life and it provided me with an unshakable foundation. Thank goodness because I ended up needing it.

I distinctly remember childhood as a pleasant time. I grew up in a small town in the Pennsylvania Mountains where everyone knew your name. Of course, it was a blessing and a curse because IF I had wanted to get into a little mischief, my parents would have been told and a punishment planned before I ever got home. Just the threat of that generally kept me in check. There were dozens of children within a two block radius and summer evenings were filled with playing hide-n-seek with all. It was one of those evenings in my 9th year when I got my first kiss as NJ and I were hiding together. It was as innocent as my mischievousness but allowed a multitude of diary entries that proclaimed a lifelong love and extreme anticipation whenever I saw him crossing the street or pushing the mower across his lawn.

I had two very close friends and the crossing guard dubbed us the three stooges early one school year. We were inseparable. If we weren’t experimenting with popcorn or playing cards, we were outdoors using our imagination or riding our bicycles down to Henry’s Drug store for ice cream. Monopoly marathon weekends were common. It was a childhood experience similar to those on television without the drama. Well, as is typical with a threesome, there were times that any combination of two were better ‘buddies’ for the week but when it was all said and done, we were three. We shared all of the distinctive adolescent ‘firsts’ and giggled about what would happen when we grew up and fell in love. We shared the death of grandparents, marriages of older siblings, and held strong when visiting cousins tried to interfere with our agenda.

I was the kind of kid that got up on Saturday mornings and did all of the chores that I thought my mother may include on my list so that I was ready to get out and play as soon as possible. The regiment generally included dusting, making my bed, and scrubbing the bathtub – all of which were fairly tolerable. It is safe to say that I was a parent-pleaser. My subconscious but occasionally blatant goal was to hear “good job” or “we’re proud of you” as frequently as possible. I thrived on praise and was instantly heartbroken on the few occasions that my father calmly and sternly offered a consensus of “we’re disappointed”.

I desperately wanted to be a Go-Go Girl like the ones on American Bandstand and coveted a pair of white knee-high boots. Unfortunately for that inspiration, I was half a decade too young and overly conscious of my parent’s necessity for frugality. I was lucky to get a new pair of sneakers each school year. We weren’t poor exactly. For most of my early academic years, my father had a steady job with Proctor & Gamble and mom had a hair salon in the back room of our home. We didn’t take annual vacations or have elaborate holidays but really, I didn’t notice. We always had what we needed.

dancerina
1969 Ad for Dancerina. Holy Cow what a great example of gender biased advertising. Yikes!

I vaguely recall threatening to ‘run away’ if Santa didn’t bring Dancerina (a battery operated doll that did pirouettes when you pushed down on her crown). She was the only gift under the tree for me that year but again, I didn’t notice because I was tucked into a quiet corner wearing out two new double-D’s.  I sometimes experienced a whispering sense of shame for the childish and obnoxious threat but it was quickly over spoken with the knowledge that I was the recipient of that year’s most coveted girl toy. There was no such thing as a Christmas ‘list’ – we were allowed to dream of ONE item… and more often than not, we were not disappointed.

My mother gave me the gift of believing that I was her favorite child. I’m sure I was not but that debate continues in the family today and nevertheless, it allowed me to develop a confidence that parental love was unconditional and abiding. She was, in my youthful perspective, a beautiful woman and had the gift of ‘gab’. She was always involved in a craft project of some type, trying a new recipe, or volunteering for some committee. I am sure her beauty salon perpetrated the ‘gab’ factor but the end result was that I observed what it was to have a wide reaching social network.

My father was tall – Abraham Lincoln tall – standing 6 foot 9 inches and had a crazy long stride. My walks with him consisted of me at a slight run as it took three of my steps to match his one. It never mattered though; my dad was my hero. He smoked a pipe of cherry tobacco and wore Old Spice for as long as I can remember; scents that instantly provide me with a sense of longing today. Dad was a dreamer. He allowed me to dream and made sure that I knew I was capable of chasing them.

I am the oldest sibling and had to share my early childhood with a sister who inevitably crawled into bed with me at night. The most disturbing part of that was that she wore socks and every time our feet would touch, the sensation of something soft and fuzzy tricked me into believing that a critter was at the bottom of our bed. It was difficult to move through the ‘monsters under the bed’ phase when every night it felt as if they were IN the bed. On more than one occasion I recall taking a running leap into bed as to prevent whatever was under there from reaching out.

dressed-up-pat
I’m pretty sure that’s a half-slip on his head.

Our little brother was born right about the time that dolls and ‘playing house’ (do kids do that these days??) were the focus of my past time. His first friends were all of my plastic babies that kept him company in the playpen. While it was easier to dress them because they held still, I attempted to attire him with doll clothing far too often. Mom was convinced that he would grow up scarred.  I loved that kid.I couldn’t have been more proud of him than if he had been mine.

This is how the story of my life begins; idyllic and fun. It’s the first 12 years of my life and it provided me with an unshakable foundation. Thank goodness because I ended up needing it. It is the basis from which I developed optimism, hope, and ultimately – some unrealistic expectations. It supports the standards that govern my life view and helped to foster some of the perfectionism that hasn’t necessarily been a positive force for me.

I am NOT complaining, in fact I am deeply grateful for that start to life. It is however, necessary to look back and see realistically, how some of my grown up ideologies were developed. Understanding and awareness are the first step to growth.

Daddy’s Girl

Continued from The Fam

To really understand me, you must understand the relationship I had with my dad. They say, a girl’s relationship with their father is extremely important.

From infancy, girls draw conclusions about what men are like from the men in their life. If there is a father (or a male in her life who takes a father role), that man becomes her guidepost for what to expect of men and what to expect of men’s attitude toward women. (http://psychcentral.com/lib/daughters-need-fathers-too/)

My dad used to tell me that I could do anything in the world I wanted with one exception – I could never be a dad. Hahaha.

Yeah…. Dad was funny.

dadDad wasfunnydad a dreamer. He was awesome at fantasizing about what to do with lottery winnings. From those discussions, I learned that Dad was generous. He wanted to do good things. Dad was handy. He could do anything!! Dad was a great thinker. He was creative. Our town had great Halloween parades and on more than one occasion, dad created amazing costumes. On one specific occasion he used chicken wire to fabricate 6 ft tall top hats that stole the show in the parade that year. He loved. He was a helper. He was the first in line to search for a missing child in the woods near Harvey’s Lake one year.

My dad was a great dad.

Why is this important? First and foremost, it is because it set the stage for how established expectations; not only for how a man treated me, but for how a man loved and interacted with my children.

I’m not sure that my dad was a great husband. Of course I wasn’t married to him but I know that he struggled as a provider. Being a dreamer created the potential for expectations that were unrealistic. He had a lot of BIG ideas that were simply unpractical under the circumstances. He may have used resources he didn’t have to chase dreams that were improbable at the time. He saw potential in EVERYTHING – including me.

Dad believed in me. He never questioned my intent – he simply helped me figure out how it may be possible.  After watching Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, I was convinced that I could figure out how to become invisible. My dad and my 8th grade science teacher encouraged me to pursue my thoughts.  Bravo to them for allowing me to believe!! Dad was a realist yet not too restrictive. He gave me room without allowing me to strangle myself.  He guided gently with great wisdom.

Consequently, I expected the father of my children to be the same.  I didn’t understand or realize that fatherhood could be anything else. I ultimately married with the idea that my children’s childhood and paternal experience would mimic mine. FAIL.

My husband failed. He was (without my awareness) held to a standard that he knew nothing about; that was impossible to achieve.

Without being aware – my dad had embedded a standard of fatherhood onto my psyche. He formatted an expectation that my consciousness simply expected. The stage was set for massive disappointment.

I mentioned in another post that my dad had inadvertently emotionally abandoned me while he was falling in love with my step-mother. Totally human. He didn’t realize it – it was unintentional. He was doing what people do when they are focused on falling in love. All of the other times that I can remember – he was there; present and ready to offer wisdom or support or whatever it was I needed at the time.

In early 1980 I was living alone in an apartment in Hayward, CA. I woke in the middle of the night – looked at the clock – and saw the red digital LED lights say 2:59.  A few moments later I was aware of light – that sensation which occurs when you notice it is daylight. I open my eyes. There is a man standing at the end of my bed with his t-shirt pulled up over his nose and mouth so that only his eyes were visible. His pants were down and his penis was being stroked by his right hand.

As the scene before me registered in my brain, my mouth opened and a scream escaped. I had always wondered if it would really happen – if I could actually formulate sound when needed – and it did. A blood curdling, shrill escaped through my vocal cords and the man ran.  I’ve always wondered how he ran, pulled up his pants, and grabbed my purse on the way out (it was missing when I took stock of the apartment).

I called my dad.

That would be normal except for the fact that my Dad was then living in Cincinnati and I was in California.  He told me to call the police and he hung up. He was the one to whom I looked toward for safety and security. Hands Down.

I later realized that I transferred that expectation to my husband. I EXPECTED him – without understanding it – to be my protector in the way that my dad had (seemingly) protected me. Hmmm…. Mistake.

My dad fixed my problems – at least it felt that way. When I was first pregnant and growing out of my normal clothing with no money to buy maternity clothes – it was my dad who sent a $50 Sears card and $20 for fabric so I could make some. My husband at the time had taken all the money we had left after payday to rent a boat, buy bait and beer, and go fishing. I was heartbroken. I called Dad.

His message was this:

An afternoon of fishing may produce a month of happiness and so its value is priceless.

He knew that self care was of ultimate importance and he took ‘care’ of me in exchange. I’ve never forgotten the primary message.

One October day I was preparing for a conference in Orlando when he called and wanted to chat. Dad was great about calling and checking in with my busy life.  I said I’d call him when I got back. We flew to Orlando, checked into the hotel, and got a message within the hour that Dad had died.  The only thing that I could think of is that I would never be able to call back.

It was years before I truly grasped the notion that I couldn’t just call and share my life with him or ask for advice. He has been sorely missed….

Dad, I love you and thanks … For all the love and lessons.

Hello… This is Leslyn

For years (and I’m sure to write more about that) I’ve been led to write. I have much to say. Not only about my life – the details and the lessons – but about what I am still unsettled about and the questions that continue to expose themselves.

I’m the one on the right. On the left is my youngest beauty as she headed off to Europe for a semester of study. I am smiling because she is embarking on a phenomenal journey; the experience of a lifetime. Inside I am much more pensive. She is my baby. I know she is ready, she is adventurous and has been saving / preparing for this trip ever since she got a taste of Europe in high school on a French class trip to Paris and southern France. She has planned side trips and packed efficiently. I wanted to say “stay, move home, and never leave” but that was only a tiny voice; the one that tries to keep me tied to the past or to my fears of the unknown. I know I’ve done my job and that she is well equipped to explore the world and study hard. That’s the story of the photo…. for my first post I want to be more profound.

This entire project is a product of the universe and its recent messages to me.  It was very simply – START.

For years (and I’m sure to write more about that) I’ve been led to write. I have much to say. Not only about my life – the details and the lessons – but about what I am still unsettled about and the questions that continue to expose themselves. I’ve been afraid. For all the reasons that Elizabeth Gilbert speaks about in her recent best seller Big Magic – I’ve not started. In her book, she challenges readers to “have courage to bring forth the treasures within you”.  Shortly after completing that read I moved on to Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly for the second time but this time heard “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

Ok… universe I am listening!! I am ‘daring greatly’ by making the commitment to expose my thoughts, my life, and most importantly, my imperfect self for the world to see. I am somewhat unique in my counseling practice in that when it is appropriate, I share some of my personal experiences. I believe in the power of universality – knowing that we are not alone in the world or in our struggles. I feel confident that the majority of my clients experience my ‘humanness’ in a positive way and I hope that the same applies here. I have struggled with imperfection even when the intellectual part of myself could clearly see that perfection was an impossible goal.

As I thought about this blog, the perfectionist in me wanted the “perfect” name – the one that would be ‘catchy’, or draw in gazillions of readers. What in the world defines that?? How am I to know what you all want? I sat on GoDaddy for an hour entering name after name, seeking something original.  I came up with a short list and sent a text or two to my people for their input….

“I’m finally starting that blog I’ve been talking about and need a name. Here’s a list… what’s your vote?”

My people responded with different preferences. Shit. No help. Think Leslyn – Think. What feels authentic to you? What sounds catchy? I slept on it. I woke up this morning with the reminder on my heart that this blog really isn’t about anyone but me… it’s my blog – my thoughts, my life, my words. It doesn’t matter how ‘catchy’ it is….

My phone rang and as usual, I answered.  “Hi, This is Leslyn…..” That’s it! I immediately realized that the most authentic thing I have done today is answer the phone in a way that identifies me to a prospective client. That’s me. Leslyn.

I have struggled a lifetime with a name that is different from everyone else. I realized at some point in the last 30 years that it allowed me to feel different.  It’s taken me some time and some work to feel authentic with the name “Leslyn” so there it was – so incredibly obvious…. This is Leslyn. (pronounced LESS LYN)

My promise to myself and to anyone who happens to be reading is that I will be authentically me here in this space. I am ‘daring greatly’ by publishing here but I am grateful and excited that the time has come for me to experience vulnerability in this way. I hope you will walk with me.

 

 

The Fam

I’ve always believed that there is a lesson or some element of value in each experience if only we take the time to look for it.

I am the oldest child. We have an ecellectic family.  Here’s how it goes:

My mother had five children, my father had five children. I am the oldest of seven. My two little brothers and my two little sisters are not related however I have a sister related to all of my brothers and a brother related to all of my sisters.

If you figure it out – message me.

My parents each remarried within a couple of years of divorcing and I became one of those kids having to ‘adjust’ to step-parents. It was obvious, much to my chagrin at times, that they were happy and better with their newly chosen partners. Although I perceived that they were perfect for one another – in the beginning, they weren’t all that great for me.

My step dad reminded me of Sergeant Carter on the 60’s television show Gomer Pyle (see the YouTube video I linked). He was ALL Army. My recollection is that he would come home at lunch and change uniforms so that they were fresh and crisp. He demanded perfection. He was younger than mom and had been a confirmed bachelor before meeting her. I believe she was his queen.  Until his dying day, he attempted to make her life everything she dreamed. At any time if I – a typical teenager – failed to be completely and totally respectful to mom – he generated consequences that were foreign and in my own mind – completely unjust. He grew to be a hero in my mind. He battled cancer with a dignity that I didn’t understand but hope to model if I am ever called to.  His death was at home surrounded by all of us and if death can be beautiful – his was.

My stepmom – well she wasn’t my mom. My dad was different when she was around. I think one of the things that was particularly hard is that Mom left – she joined the Army (another blog post entirely) and so Dad was the person we needed for stability and he just wasn’t emotionally there for us as he was falling in love.  I know he tried. He was a great dad. I don’t blame him but as a 14 year old I was unable to have any perspective about the falling in love process so to me – it felt like he left too – at least for some of the time. I imagine that I could have been pretty demanding in the attention department so it is entirely possible that no amount would have FELT sufficient. The end result was that I developed resentment toward my stepmom. Life with her was culturally different than it had been with mom. She was more religious, more stern, more educated, not as soft, not as playful, not as tolerant. She was secure and patient however and we plowed through our differences until respect and friendship developed. She was a trooper for sure!

I want to say that today – 40 years later, she is a friend. She is the only parental figure left in my life and I count on her wisdom, insight, and love. Today I am aware of what it is that I didn’t know then. Many times, the information we don’t know – is imperative to  the development of compassion and understanding. Yet – we don’t know – we are mostly unaware – of what we don’t know. It is later… down the line after we learn, grow, and mature, that we are able to develop perspective. Knowing this – I am sometimes impatient to know. I’ve learned how powerful insight can be.

My step parents taught me. Not just the parental stuff but about change, differences, and acceptance. Don’t get me wrong – as a teen – I was awful. I was unaccepting and demanding at times. I was obnoxious and unrelenting. It wasn’t until I fell in love, until I experienced adult relationships, until I had children of my own; that I was able to explore a more realistic idea of what life offered back then.

Those years significantly molded elements of my personality, some might say scarred it. The changes in family dynamics were only one aspect of immense upheaval. I attended 3 different schools in the 8th grade as my dad moved us back to his California homeland from Pennsylvania and settled into a new life. Halfway through the 9th grade I felt that I needed to live with Mom so I moved to Germany where she had been stationed. Then – she got sick and they transferred her back to the states where I started 10th grade – and when she got settled it was in a different school district. By 1976 her health conditions made it necessary for us to live with Dad who was living in a yet different West Coast city so I started my 5th high school as I began my Junior year. I graduated from that school. I took more Greyhound busses and United airline flights than any other kid I knew.

I can’t imagine my life without all of these players and I experience daily gratitude for their presense through the years. I may not have understood the universe’s intention as the havoc and chaos developed but I am so thankful to have loved them.