The Struggle

“The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The
willingness to learn is a choice.”  ― Brian Herbert

We are born into this world in perfect form. We are innately able to express ourselves, we smile, eat, sleep, burp, and fart at will. And then we learn not to.

For the first two years of our lives we are taught to walk and talk and then someone – perhaps many – tell us to sit down and shut up; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told to eat everything on our plate and then not to be fat; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that our parents love us and then they leave or don’t pay attention; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that love is wonderful and then it hurts like hell; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that sex / sexual touching might be bad but it feels physically good; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told we can by one segment of society and that we can’t by another; and we struggle to make sense out of it.

We are told that Santa is real and then find out that he is not; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that white lies are acceptable but dishonesty is not; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told there are laws and then we break them without consequence; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that marriage is forever and then we divorce in anger; and we struggle to make sense of it.

And along the way we just do the best that we can.

Most of us.

We are born pure of heart, perhaps believing in unending possibilities and then we are told, we learn… something else.

It’s not anyone’s fault specifically as each of us has faced the same fate. We are all born into a mold of prior teachings that bends and shapes the beginning of our personal story until we have sculpted a cast of our own with the addition of social and cultural contradictions.

Essentially, we are all … each and every one of us … bent out of shape from our original, perfect form. Designed individually by the things we struggled to make sense of; the things that we observed and interpreted.

This is the foundation, the cornerstone of personal growth.

Learning how you came to think and understand the things that you do.

Why was it that you disagreed with your parents but your sibling acquiesced? Why did you learn to feed your feelings while your mother was a beauty queen? How did you learn to motivate yourself even though your father never held a full-time job?

We are products of our family life, social environment, town culture, and national philosophies. We come to believe that what makes one of us ‘right’ makes another of us ‘wrong’ when in fact it only makes us DIFFERENT.

Not one of us if free from the distortion that occurs after birth. We only experience varying degrees and intensities. We only differ in the shape, color, and size of those variants.

Not one of us is exempt.

The secret here is an absence of judgment. An understanding that we are all the same in that we are bent – broken – and twisted by our backgrounds, our heritage, and our experiences. We cannot possibly acknowledge that our extent of understanding is “the” best, “the” right, “the” optimal interpretation of life.

Once we allow for our differences and truly honor the fact that what makes me different from you is the way we were bent… we can begin the process of compassion and acceptance. We suddenly see one another as perfect human babies that are composed of the same material but shaped by different forms.

Like spoons.

The same molten metal is forged into any variety of individual and unique pieces. Each one of them intended for a slightly different use generating almost endless possibilities. And yet they all seem to serve a distinctive purpose and are enjoyed by a variety of populations.

We seem to accept that there are so many types of spoons without question; without judgement.

What would your life be like if you stopped to consider that the person you are angry with is bent? What about the person with whom you are disappointed? Have you considered that they may be formed into a shape that may be painful to exist within?

Have you thought about your own bends? Are they working in your life? Do you need to hammer out a few kinks? Can you accept that the forces at work as you were originally being shaped may have been bent and broken; making it impossible for you to exist without needing a few repairs?

Can you take responsibility now for those corrections?

You are where you are. Your shape is your shape. Anything that happens now must happen because you are aware and deliberate about making change.

Be what you want to be. Take the time to know your shape and learn how to bend in the way that makes life work for you.

 

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A Letter to Myself Series – Age 20

Second in the series A Letter to Myself

Sit back for just a moment and think of the growth that happens in the time that spans the second decade of life. The change between a ten and a twenty-year-old is amazing. It is in this decade that we learn independence and crave autonomy. As we leave our childhood behind, we experience puberty and explore sexuality. We physically turn into adults and obtain the privileges to drive, vote, and fight for our country. We may learn about love and loss for the first time. It’s a time for exploration and challenge.

In my life, everything changed during that decade. My parents split, I moved across the country and went to five different high schools. I took on a ton of responsibility as my parents lost and then found themselves again in different partners. I became the one everyone could depend on and didn’t buck the system until very late in the decade and then I made up for lost time. I experimented with everything that was on the naughty list. I started school but didn’t take it seriously.

By the age of twenty I was living on my own and self-supportive. My family had moved out of the area and so I surrounded myself with friends who became what I called my family of choice. Not all of my decisions were good and there were some f***ed up days coming, so if there is ever a time I can do it over again – this is what I want that girl to know.

Hey you,

Wow. Look at you. You did it. You made it through all those changes and faced the challenges of being a teenager all at once! I know you didn’t want to, I know it was hard, I know you struggled but you did it. You could have let a few more people help… you didn’t have to do so much of it by yourself. In the future – being stubborn isn’t going to offer you the easiest option. Life is better when you let people in, when you let them help.

So, your family looks a little different huh? Yeah, it gets bigger and a little more convoluted but you end up depending on each other a lot. You’ve got a great foundation to build on and the family values that you have gathered will be reinforced over and over again by most everyone. You are going to need those people! Good job on noticing how much they mean to you.

I want to encourage you to get better about finishing things. It would be great if you could finish college now even though everything turns out ok, it’s harder – much harder when you do it later. Most importantly… without that degree, you end up thinking that you don’t have as many choices and ‘that’ moves you in directions that end in pain. You work it out but… if you finish school now it will make things easier for you. And that stone sculpture that you never completed… you will shake your head over that for years! It will make a great door stop – just do it!

I know you’ve struggled in the boy arena. It’s not them… it’s YOU. You are OK, just like you are and when you finally figure that out – it will be everything you think it should be. I know adults tell you this all the time… they say it because it’s true – when you are happy with yourself, the ‘beautiful’ in you is visible to everyone. You are not fat! Your body is fine and the best thing you can do is to learn acceptance of it.

Adults are not saying these things to make you feel better (well, maybe a little) … they say them because they are TRUE!

You fall in love. Yup! There is a man out there who will love you as much as any Prince Charming. I’ll keep the suspense up and not go into many details but just know that he is on your horizon.

You will have a baby and he will grow your heart so much that you think it is going to burst. Yes, sorry to spoil the surprise – your first child will be a boy, just like you’ve always wanted. Just watching him sleep will bring you more joy than you knew was possible and when his little hand reaches for yours… well, your heart is just never the same.

The next few years are going to be some of the best and some of the worst that you can imagine. I’m not trying to scare you – it’s all going to be OK but you need to know that everything that has happened before now… it is preparing you. It has taught you to persevere, to keep going. You’ll need that but know that I am here too… your older self. You make it through – really… I am here on the other side as evidence. Just keep remembering that everything fits together at some point. Life is worth it, so don’t give up!

Believe it or not… the best is yet to come.

With love and support,

Me

 

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LA Bound – Tale#7- Arrived!

Continued from LA Bound – Tale#6

“Never surrender your hopes and dreams to the fateful limitations others have placed on their own lives. The vision of your true destiny does not reside within the blinkered outlook of the naysayers and the doom prophets.” ― Anthon St. Maarten

Our effort to drive into Los Angeles in daylight was somewhat anticlimactic due to the heavy fog and driving rain that greeted us in the morning. Top that off with morning traffic in the second most populated city in the USA where no matter what freeway you pick – and there are LOTS to choose from – it is bumper to bumper. It’s rather comical to see a speed limit sign allowing you to move at 75 mph when most of us could walk faster than our car was moving. The saving grace was the HOV-2 lane because at least that was rolling along…

My goal to accidentally drive by the Hollywood sign was a bust as the fog cover was hovering low enough that you had a sense that God had stuffed a big wad of cotton over the top of LA, trapping the emissions to give it a smoked butter glow. It was better than it had been thirty years prior when I left the area, back when every metropolitan area dealt with smog problems, but it was still evident.

We drove straight to a little restaurant we found near Universal Studios, a healthy ‘California Style’ hole in the wall where Vegan options were well represented. There, we connected with my first cousin and her family – a reunion she informed me had been 34 years in the making. We were simply older versions of ourselves and it was another validation for Erin that she ‘looked just like her mother’. I never tire of the wonder with some people and how, even after several decades, you can just pick up and carry on as if there hadn’t been a massive interruption in your interaction.

This particular cousin was one of the ‘big girl, big sister’ types in my life… a mentor of sorts who had the dream I wanted when I grew up… a home, husband, family & apparent Brady Bunch style contentment. That was my frame of reference – the Brady Bunch. I didn’t think too much about the marital history of Mike and Carol (Mike was depicted as a widower but the networks didn’t want to allow Carol to be a ‘divorcée’ so they just didn’t say), I just wanted a family like they had and my cousin appeared to have it. Indeed, (and maybe sadly??) I recall that my dad – who stayed with her for a few weeks – told me she would have all the laundry from the day before washed, dried, and put away before noon each day. For some reason – I used that information to create a standard by which a ‘housewife’/’good mom’ handles her home but that tidbit of information is for another story…  we will leave it to say that lunch with my cousin was good.

The best part for Erin was that my cousin’s son, her second cousin as lineage would outline it… lives in Malibu and knows people in the television industry. I guess if you live in LA, you are bound to know someone who works in television. It also turned out that my cousin’s granddaughters step-father’s brother-in-law’s neighbor… or something like that also produces a program and yadda, yadda… we’ll just say that numbers were exchanged and it never hurts to pass names along. The farther you cast a net – the more you have the potential to catch! Any and all help is appreciated!

Erin arrived in LA with no job and no place to live other than the AirB&B she reserved for a couple of weeks. She had been busy when not driving to connect with people about both and so this day was about organizing and preparing to find a job and a place to live. She had commented one evening at dinner – earlier in the week – that it had dawned on her that I “was just dumping her in LA and then heading home”. Indeed, my goal was to grab the Red Eye back to Philadelphia and my life there – that night.

I thought about this for a bit as we unloaded her car, the few measly boxes that she had packed to bring with her – none of which included furniture, décor, or kitchen items (outside a waffle maker she got for Christmas and photos of people she loves) … I am leaving my girl here with no family, no close friends, and no job. What kind of a mother am I? Suddenly this felt a lot like throwing a baby in a pool to see if instinct takes over and it automatically swims. I knew logically that this was different. She had been preparing emotionally forever and literally for a couple of months. She had a sizable savings account, lots of soft leads, efficient technology, and most importantly – a good head on her shoulders. I also knew that after we got the car unpacked and put a few groceries away that there was absolutely nothing that I could do. I would want to of course. I could do the apartment hunting for her, I could scour resale shops in search of a dresser and a clean sofa but I also knew that Erin needed to do it herself. Maybe she didn’t ‘need’ to but if everyone was right and she was as much like me as they all claim… she ‘wanted’ to do it and no amount of ‘mothering’ from me would change that.

After unpacking the car of the few meager belongings that she chose to take with her, we completed a Target run for groceries and a few remembered necessities. We sat in her room for a bit as I took it all in. For a brief period, she would be living there – in a rented Air B&B room that was void of her personality but full of her stuff. I was feeling grateful not only for the chance to have spent a week with her but for the moments we were having now… I was getting a sneak peek into the next phase of her life.

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We spent a few hours with her cousin and my Godchild, a student at UCLA in Santa Monica – walking the pier and eating dinner and then it is time. It was time for me to let go. Honestly as I type this I can feel the lump grow in my throat. It sits there because I don’t want to have her so far away from home that she can’t come over for Sunday dinner. It sits there because I know that if she needs me I can’t just hop in the car and comfort her with a hug. It sits there because I am so incessantly proud of her courage and determination. It sits there because I remember being the same way and I imagine that she may learn a few similar difficult lessons; ones that won’t feel good and I desperately want to protect her from them. It also sits there because I know that she can handle it and I am overjoyed with happiness for all the fun she is about to have as she discovers the young woman she is.

It didn’t take long… in just three days she received a phone call asking if she could be at Universal Studios the next day at 6 am. She got her first gig. She’s working on a new show scheduled to air in March, meeting people, networking, and working on the perfect roommate/apartment. She did it!

 

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Little Hurricane

“Don’t despair: despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don’t – surrender to events with hope.” – Alain de Botton

Our little family was running on auto-pilot. My twin sisters took turns spending the summer with us to care for baby Sara and Francis while I took my Series 7 licensing classes and exams. By then, they were turning 16 and ‘playing house’ was fun. It was great to have them around – what new mother doesn’t dream about having a built in mother’s helper? Hubby and I – always in unison while planning – were redesigning our business plan and imagining an environment that offered maximum flexibility while also maximized income potential. With me as an administrative principle, it left him available to optimally utilize his talents. It seemed like a match made in heaven – he got to be the brightest star in the constellation and I managed the sky.

I had given up trying to reconcile how I felt about our physical life. The only communication skills on that front existed in the form of lingerie, toys, and erotica. If our encounters went to a place that I wasn’t ‘comfortable’ with, I simply went out of my body. I became another person very much like my time in high school when I adopted a character in a play and presented that personality to the audience. She looked like me, talked like me, and laughed like me but she didn’t think like me. In fact, she didn’t think. She didn’t have emotional feelings, just the ability to experience physical things, most of which ‘felt’ good. She rather enjoyed the carnal reactions of those nightly encounters. That is unless ‘I’ was exhausted or menstruating, in which case there was a perceived expectation to ‘make it quick’ or provide pleasure, which ever was more appropriate. In those times it was harder for ‘me’ to escape and then the emotions would flood my psyche with feelings of disrespect, insensitiveness, and/or distrust.

If ever I attempted to communicate these feelings, I experienced rebuttal in the form of disparaging comments, criticism, or complete discredit for what I expressed. It seems that I ‘was naïve’ and unaware of what ‘most people did’. It was always pointed out that my body said one thing and my words said another. I didn’t know how to argue that point and it always ended with a passionate seduction that took the form of intense physical pleasure. I resigned myself to the understanding that ‘this’ was love.

In October, my dad died. My rock, my foundation, the man who always had my back – died suddenly. He had called one morning to find me busily preparing for a conference trip to Florida. I chatted briefly but told him I’d call next week after we returned and I’d catch up. I never got the chance. We were only in Orlando for a few hours when we got the call and by the next afternoon, I was back home, repacking and flying out to Cincinnati. The second funeral I had ever attended. One – two. Two funerals in my life so far and they were the most important men in my world.

That year we spent Christmas in Virginia with my mom and step-dad. My brother was working down in Atlanta by then and came home as well. Our other sister lived in the area and of course, the twins were still at home, in high school. The whole family was there and it was good. It was baby Sara’s first Christmas and we all spoiled her with attention. I missed my family. Long distance telephone calls were still expensive and 250 miles is not a Sunday dinner distance. We drove down fairly often. We had a big ‘ole conversion van in those days with a five-inch television in the back. The only VHS movie we really had was Top Gun and Francis would watch it once on the way down and at least once on the way back. It got to the point that Hubby and I would sit in the front seat acting out the parts of Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis – having memorized the parts by osmosis.

On the way home after Christmas I was sitting in the front seat talking to Hubby about my emotional goodbye just hours earlier. I was still feeling rather funky and complaining about my body’s aches and pains although I was just 32 that summer. Quite suddenly, it occurred to me that I was late for my period and with some thought, realized I was three weeks overdue. Baby Sara was in the back seat only eight months old. Oh my goodness… holy cow… I think I’m pregnant.

…….

It was confirmed and I had an adjustment period. I was still changing several diapers a day and now there would be another little behind needing wiped, bathed, and patted. My body changed rapidly. Our wombs are like balloons, the doctor explained, after being blown up a few times, it just kind of remembers which shape to take. This new baby was due in September which meant all of my maternity clothes were going to be the wrong season. That felt like a minor inconvenience compared to the anxiety I felt about pregnancy in general since my last one was so full of marital discord. I was quick to remember the emotional turmoil that I experienced less than two years prior and I went ‘on guard’ to protect my heart.

It was rather unnecessary as it did not get repeated (which, flipped the switch on my wariness scale and left me feeling unsettled about the fears I had experienced then). This pregnancy, in fact, was completely different. I felt happy. Life at home took on a comfortable routine and I didn’t gain much weight; thankfully because I still had 25 pounds of baby Sara weight left over.  I only looked pregnant from the side for most of the term. I experienced a sense of contentment for the first time in a long while.

The twins again took turns staying with us that summer. They were 17 and turning into fantastic young women, looking at colleges and anticipating their future. They were each little mothers and delighted in making sure Sara was a baby fashion icon, adorned (as was insanely popular in the 1990’s) in matchy-matchy top, bottoms, socks, shoes, and headband. We have dozens of photographs from that summer documenting the current toddler styles as introduced by Gymboree and Baby Gap. I loved having them around and was eternally grateful for their help. As a two-year-old, Sara was talking up a storm, repeating her vocabulary on demand as we, very proud parents, put her on display for family. It was a personality trait that blossomed through the years as she always created some kind of dance or skit to be performed before bedtime.

Labor Day weekend was approaching and we would be losing our teen help because she had to go back to Virginia to start her Senior year of High School. On the Thursday morning before, I woke early to discover that my water had broken. I wasn’t exactly laying in a pool, but soaked enough that a shower was necessary when I noticed contractions had begun. I quickly cleaned up and we headed to the hospital where again, the doctor opted to induce my labor. I experienced a panicked memory of the last induction and the intensity of it so we agreed to take it slow. The Pitocin rate was reduced and I settled in for what turned out to be a manageable but long day of labor.

The pregnancy had been so completely different than the one I endured with Sara that we were convinced the baby would be a boy. So much so that we only had one name chosen; Phillip. By 4 pm, we had another daughter. A daughter with no name. We had thought about Erin Nicole or Alexandra Nicole but couldn’t decide. We decided to sleep on it and see what we thought after holding her for a few hours. Hurricane Emily had just decimated Cape Hatteras and many of the babies in the hospital were named Emily that year and while we didn’t name her Emily, she did somehow get nicknamed Little Hurricane. Finally, when they pressured us to choose, we dropped the Nicole and took our little Erin Alexandra home.

We were now five.

Can We Talk About Sex? Part 2

“There is nothing ignoble, or unholy, about having sex. You have to get that idea out of your mind, and out of your culture”

– Neale Donald Walsch

 

In part 1 of this discussion “Can We Talk About Sex?” I speak to the introduction of sex into a girl’s life, well…. My life… but I know it is very similar to that of other women. The piece that is so extremely important is, what we – as women learn about ourselves and about expectations in regards to our own sexual interests and behavior.

Sex is one of the parameters that we use to label ourselves. Often those labels break down to simply good or bad. We tend to associate any sexual activity outside those that we personally are comfortable with as ‘bad’.  The following are thoughts that I have had and/or feelings expressed by friends or from clients through the years:

I like sex.

I like bondage.

I want sex every day.

I prefer to masturbate.

I hate sex.

I could live without sex.

I have had group sex.

I enjoy sex ‘toys’.

I like to be watched.

I am a swinger.

I am voyeuristic.

I am sadistic.

I like anal sex.

I have had dozens of sexual partners.

I’ve only ever had one partner.

I fantasize about women.

I fantasize about men who are not my partner.

Ok. There you have it – items from the entire spectrum of sexuality. Do any of them sound familiar? Have you found yourself judging yourself or someone else because they expressed one of these opinions?

In The Complete Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue, Neale Donald Walsch writes:

“Sexual expression is the inevitable result of an eternal process of attraction and rhythmic energy flow which fuels all of life.”

Who determines the definition of ‘sexual expression’? Many of us feel that it is church, family, culture, etc. that cements the confines of that phrase into our understanding of acceptance. When we allow someone else to dictate what is good for us, we open the door for feeling rejection, disappointment, etc.

YOU are the only one that needs to define what works for you sexually!! It is YOUR body – if you like it, great. If you don’t – fine. YOU determine your sexual parameters and they are NORMAL if they fit inside YOUR comfort spectrum. What fits inside my range may or may not be the same for you. That will never make it wrong – it makes us different!

I completely buy into the common belief that sex better when it is the culmination of love between two people. A ‘spiritual’ experience shared with a person with whom you feel emotionally close. Truly – sharing yourself with someone in that intimate manner is a wonderful, beautiful thing.  And… it’s true. Eventually we all realize that good sex with someone you love is magical!!

Sex is can ALSO a physical experience that may have nothing to do with love.

I am saddened that so much of our culture places emphasis on sex without love as a ‘bad’ thing. We propagate the notion that people who experience, and God forbid – enjoy – sex outside of love / marriage have somehow violated our standard of honor. When what we hope for people we care about is that they enjoy the ‘magical’ experience I mentioned above – what we are teaching is a value statement about them as a person if they don’t adhere to our more knowledgeable perspective.  Each one of us needs to determine what is right for us as individuals and I encourage everyone to foster a spectrum of support and an absence of judgment in order to create a healthy environment in which to experience our sexuality.

The only truly important part of this discussion is what YOU as an individual – determine what feels respectful and authentic. Yes – the word respectful is necessary here. You need to respect yourself sexually. Far too often I am sitting with a client talking about shame and sexuality. I remember having so many of those feelings.

Too many of us are taught that sex is ONLY about love and if/when we experience sex without love, we assign a judgment. We judge ourselves, we internalize, we assume others judge us (sometimes not an assumption).  Because of the sex/love correlation, some of us think that if someone wants sex with us, they must love us – WRONG.  Others think that if we love someone, sex with them should be great – WRONG.

I have seen plenty of couples through the years that are incompatible sexually and struggle because they really love one another. Generally, it’s because one of them remains sexually frustrated – the physical parts are not being fulfilled. Likewise, there are couples who are suited perfectly from a physical perspective but fail to experience respect, trust, and commitment. In a perfect world of course, there is a beautiful combination of both.

When it is all said and done, the most important element is the ability for an individual to experience a relationship that exhibits RESPECT in regards to sex and sexuality. If your partner wants to experience sex in a way that is uncomfortable or unpleasant to you, he/she may not be the right partner.

There are few things worse than attempting to fit a size 14 body into a tiny g-string and a push up bra that your partner saw on a Victoria’s Secret model in the fall catalog. Really…. It’s NOT going to look like that on me!!! I will feel stupid and fat wearing it. It won’t matter if you tell me I am beautiful! I will be judging the fact that I don’t look like that 21-year-old model – no matter what you say. Sorry guys. It is the exception to the rule that a woman feels pretty and sexy in that kind of lingerie if she is not young and skinny. We generally want the light to be out and feel like we’ve been successful if we don’t cringe while you run your hand up the side of our baby fat roll. (The fat roll we got when we created and birthed those babies.)

Rocky used to tell me that touching that part of me reminded him of the love he had for what we had created together. After he died, I was petrified that another man would never be able to experience that fat roll in the same way. Oh brother – the things we think about!!

I’m sure that I will integrate more sexual commentary as posts go forward but it was necessary – again – to set the stage for my perspective here. The way that we each identify and define ourselves as sexual beings is uber important in the decisions we make as adults. As you will see…

I appreciate comments below…. if you are so inclined.

Catholic Guilt

It’s necessary for me to take a post and go back a bit. One of the fundamental pieces of me that I’ve yet to write about is faith. What I currently believe and practice is the consequence of a tremendous evolution through the years and integral in the way that I have viewed myself, the world, and the challenges that have presented in my life.

Like the post I wrote about my dad, it is impossible to truly know or understand me unless you have perspective about my faith. I’ll begin to draw the picture here and then attempt to integrate it more into the ongoing discussion.

I was baptized Catholic at the age of 5 or 6. My mother converted and I’m not quite in focus about the details but I know that my Grandmother’s great friend was the mother of a priest who rose through the ranks of the Scranton (PA) diocese and was present at all of the important events of my religious life growing up. I always felt special because he was there, even as a young Bishop.

Growing up Catholic – as any Catholic knows – generates guilt. It begins – I think – with confession at the age of 7. In order to receive your first communion, you must attend confession where you ‘confess’ your sin of the week. Now come on … We were taught about sins… sins were ‘bad’ things. It implies that every week you are bad – in some way. (No wonder we are all screwed up). Keep in mind – this is what I HEARD which, may be a bit different that what was said yet I am not the only Catholic child that received this message – I assure you. So – I grew up believing that I was innately bad. F*** original sin.

I was a fair weather Catholic. We went to church when it was convenient and then my parent’s   divorce really made it complicated because it made everything ‘bad’. My mom stopped going to church or practicing faith in any way for the rest of her life. My dad was more deeply connected to his Catholic roots and found a progressive church – some really progressive  Christian brothers – and received an annulment (even with three living children) so that he could marry my stepmom – an extremely devout Catholic. By the time I was 16 – I had lost faith in Catholicism and was embarrassed by the guilt / shame that it seemingly propagated.

However, I was still deeply entrenched in the mentality that in order to be loved and accepted by people who mattered to me, I had to be a ‘good’ Catholic girl. Basically this meant that I taught Sunday school, grabbed a bulletin so that I knew what the Homily was about and then sat at Denny’s and drand coffee until church was over – then told my parent’s that that I had gone to Mass. So, this “good Catholic girl” was lying about going to church and racking up the guilt/shame cards by the decks!!

I was caught by the way… one of Dad’s clients noticed me by a picture that my “proud Dad” had shared and the client was like “oh yea, she’s a beautiful girl…. I see her at Denny’s on Sunday mornings all the time!” … Busted! Liars always get caught.

At 19 I was a part of something called SAGE – a movement of self discovery and awareness, very “New Age” kind of stuff that was before the whole New Age movement. I can’t guarantee my memory is completely accurate here but the essence of the experience is key. It was about SELF AWARENESS and AUTHENTICITY.  About letting go of pains and wounds, forgiving others, and cultivating LOVE in daily life. I fell in love with the presentation of those principles in harmony. I wasn’t yet aware of my own abandonment wounds to truly reach any deep issues but it was really impressive for some of the older adults who shared. I felt honored to be a part of their experience. I became really close with some of the people who shared the SAGE experience – an entire family of loving individuals who were more of an impact on my life than they probably ever knew.

I also believe strongly in things that are considered paranormal; spirits, out-of-body experiences, etc. In my BR (before Rocky) life, a friend and I were sitting up late one night – cold stone sober – talking about possibilities and spiritual potentialities. Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the room environment and we both noticed a circulation that grew from barely noticeable to almost person size. I stared in disbelief and realized that I was NOT ready to experience anything significantly different than what I currently understand. I looked away and it went away. Really – it was the late 70’s but we were clear minded – completely.

Rocky and I were married in the Catholic Church. On the ‘wife’s application’ there was a question I had to answer and certify that I would “submit myself to my husband” – there was nothing on the husband’s application in like. I’m not sure it is like that today – in 2016 – but keep in mind I am accumulating attitudes about spirituality that I am using in consideration for how I ultimately construct my faith. The Catholic Church is beginning to wear on my tolerance.

In its defense, Rock and I went to a couple’s seminar at our home parish on sex and marriage. It was now 1982ish and as is perceivably customary of the West Coast, progressive ideology was presented. We were taught that what happened in the bedroom between a husband and wife that was consensual and experienced in love was acceptable by the church.  Oh. Thank. God. I was immediately relieved for all those times that the missionary position just didn’t cut it. Thank you Church – for approving of my sexuality.

This is the foundation that the rest of my spiritual development is based upon. Some might argue that it is flawed but ultimately, it was strong.

 

Sand Castles

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.

 

 

 

Solid Foundation

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.