Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Bitten tongue

I, as you may have gathered, like to use my words. I try (like hades) to use them wisely and for good. But I am a woman of opinion, prejudice, judgment, and some immaturity as we all are and so sometimes my mouth, it does run away. Less these days than in the past, I hope. Although I do seem to talk a lot, still.

However, recently I've been learning how very much I say about the things that often matter little to me.

I have always kept up an artful show, a stream of lies and excuses -- a habit, a defense I developed long ago to protect myself, which, in turn, protected others around me too, for better or worse.

One time, in middle school, I pretended I didn't know how to clean anything. More specifically, I pretended I didn't know how to sweep. This from the girl who'd been sweeping and mopping for years, among many, many other responsibilities. I'm all for chores, but there's a distinction between responsibility and burdening. But at camp that summer, I wanted to be that girl: the carefree one who had little responsibility on her shoulders. The one who was only expected to make her bed, clean her room, put away laundry -- my idea of normal. The one whose parents adored her, and maybe spoiled her little -- and not only in front of other people, when they thought they were being watched and judged. I wanted to laugh and joke and kvetch about parents in normal teen ways, such as "My mom won't let me go to the Mall!"

When I pretended to be that girl kids liked me. They thought it was funny. I played along, adding to it, pretending to be rich and indolent, hamming it up. I never told an outright lie, beyond the sweeping thing. Instead, I would tilt my head, raise my eyebrows, and be silent, letting the other kids draw their own conclusions. They were so happy to be so bright and insightful.

They let me in, they joked with me, they gave me a nickname. I was accepted.

When I pretended to be that other girl -- the one who could not sweep -- I belonged. I was no longer the girl who was afraid to walk into her own house, uncertain of what I'd find (anger? okay?). I didn't need to worry about money. I didn't have anxiety. I didn't worry whether others knew.

That girl did not live in a house of cards. She did not lose sleep at night wondering when her house would fall.

She was fun, and people liked her.

When my sister found out and outed me, she asked me why. I shrugged. I couldn't explain why to anyone, not really. Anyway, I imagine most kids would never, ever have understood why I started this pretense. I imagine most adults would not have, either.

The best I can explain it now is a girl desperate to escape. I no longer wanted to be me, in my life. Some kids might have felt suicidal. I felt like pretending.

I think, maybe, that children with safe relationships are the ones who complain out loud about their parents. I think kids who say, "Oh my GOD, I HATE my mom," are the probably often the ones with very little to no valid reason to hate a parent. I think the ones who have real reason to hate a parent are often very quiet about it.

My parents. My family. The place I come from. It is why I bite my tongue. It is why holidays stress me. It is why sometimes I feel hopeless about humanity. It is why I analyze things. It is why my posts are often about my Holiday Cocktail and ways to save and serve leftovers instead of warm and moving lovely personal familial posts.

I wanted to write a happy Thanksgiving post -- something about gratitude and good attitude, and the small joys that came. I wanted my week to be full of the silly relative stories that make us laugh, too much food that makes us all groan in sympathy, and sweet kid tales that make us all smile.

There was that.

There was also the catching up on the to-dos.

There was also the Great Battle of Sugar Ant (ongoing), my latest humorous home invasion accounting that I've been trying to write.

There was also the rest of it.

The rest of it I usually turn into shame and artfully mask with many words that don't mean as much. The rest that is pretense.

One time, a couple of years ago, some people asked me why I am such a scrooge about Christmas. A hundred replies about every Christmas of my life so far, each sounding worse than the last, pounded in my temples. The question became a challenge, and my response became a post about why I have a Blue Christmas.

The reactions humiliated me. I lengthened my perspective and I saw that what caused my humiliation was buying into the dysfunction -- believing in any way that it colored me, and was in some part, my fault (as I'd always been told).

And yet, it also freed me. So it has made me think again about revealing.

Letting it out, letting it go. Distancing myself from it.

I know well this pattern and how it plays out. I know where it goes.

That's why I was not surprised when, while holding the beautiful Kirsty book in which one of my humble blog posts was published, instead of saying anything about congratulations or pride, my father instead launched into a lengthy and loud public criticism of all of my essay's faults. That's why none of what came during this holiday surprised me. If you lived this, you too would not be surprised. That's not the same thing as being prepared, though.

This morning, the first grade teacher at our daughters' school caught me and my husband doing one last peek into our littlest one's classroom. "Don't you wish you could be a child, that age again?" she asked us.

My husband laughed. "No, not really," I said. At that age my father locked me outside one night and told me I could live with the dogs if that's the best I could behave: like an animal. My mother let him. She gestured helplessly at me, which is my best recall of her during my childhood: gesturing helplessly. At that age, I curled up next to my miniature Spitz for warmth and comfort. My dog, my best friend, my unconditional love. The teacher regarded me oddly. "I wouldn't want to relive my childhood," I said, "But it is a beautiful thing to see them live their childhoods. I just enjoy childhood through their eyes. How happy they are, how much they enjoy things." How they trust me enough to get angry at me and tell me they hate me.*

This afternoon I watched a video of a woman speaking about how the first thing she did when she got her cancer diagnosis was call her mom and dad, because she knew they'd be there like they had always been. My prospect for that is a much lower percentage. Her certainty shook me. I'd call but I'd expect little, and I might get more, or less, depending. How much I got would all depend on me, as it always has. My parents would ask me to understand, would ask me to see how much I was asking of them, and would, in some way, gesture helplessly, moving on to the more important things. This is the little message sent to me regularly: I'm not that important. I know where they come from, what they dealt with in their own childhoods, and that this is how it is.

Like I said, though, knowing this does little in the way of preparation. Infertility is better for that, actually. I know I am not alone in that I had little rituals and superstitions on important cycle dates. Building little altars everywhere -- whether literal of figurative -- is what does something in the way of preparation.

On my way over for Thanksgiving, I read Tweets from Grace about surviving the holiday and things to do to protect yourself when it suddenly struck me: I have never fully believed I deserved, was worthy, of protecting myself.

So for my Thanksgiving? I am grateful for people who help those lightbulbs go on overhead, for people who use their words and courage of sharing to facilitate this, for realizing. I am grateful for people who understand and do not diminish you.

So later that same day, after reading messages of Forgive Yourself, Stop it Before it Hits You, Never Be Afraid to Walk Out, when the shame and not good enough and no love started coming my way I did not let it enter in. My essay is not bad. I am not bad. My essay is not weak. I am not weak. My essay does not lack critical information and points. Neither do I. I have not asked for this. I do not deserve this. I am not asking too much. There is not a limit on what I am worth.

When I will stop wondering why this is the way it is will be another blog post altogether.

* Do you know? When I said I did not want to relive childhood, that teacher opened up to me, too. She shared a couple of challenges, very briefly, to let me see a new facet of her, something deeper than the expected, and more of a human, than simply a cheerful smiling face that thinks children and childhood are gorgeous in some oversimplified way. I liked her immensely, then.

16 comments:

anniegirl1138.com said...

My childhood was pretty classic of the alcoholic home and I was fairly stereo-typical in my casebook reaction. It wasn't until I was grown and married with a child and a dying husband that I made peace with my father - who was the one who stepped up when I honestly didn't expect it.

I would never relive my childhood. There is nothing before age thirty in fact that I wouldn't go back and redo if I could. But I go home - remembering always that who I am is somewhat of its making but it is mostly my own efforts that have brought me to where I am and who I am. And who I am is pretty awesome.

You are pretty awesome too.

Kat said...

Oh, Julie...wouldn't it be great if we all grew up with parents who cherished us the way we cherish our own kids? I survived my childhood, and the aftermath.

I think you are amazing and I'm sorry your parents don't see it. And this was a great post.

Julie Pippert said...

You are pretty awesome. And thanks.

In some way, I may always mourn not having what I needed (especially when I need it throughout life -- we area always someone's child and some part always sort of wants a parent -- KWIM?) -- you probably know what I mean. I know they do their best, but I also know, all protestations and entreaties aside, that it will not change, they will not change.

So true -- I think we re who we are in these cases despite the circumstances. Saying it is because of them gives too much credit where it does not belong. And is one more thing in a string of diminishment.

Yes, we have made ourselves. Circumstances gave opportunities, and we made choices.

Great comment, thanks.

Kami Huyse said...

Wow Julie, thanks for sharing this! Very brave of you my friend.

One thing that struck me is that you are building a very different future of security for your kids. That what happened to you does not have to repeat itself. That your real family is the tightest nuclear.

My childhood was also less than ideal, I would be happy to share sometime, maybe over that holiday cocktail, or "mocktail" as the case may be.

One of the ways that I have gotten over all of the bitterness and injury was to change my expectation - to not expect my parents to be any different from who and what they are. When I truly got to this point I was able to laugh about the slights. The little "gestures" that seem to say "you're not good enough" I now understand to mean "I wish you the best and I care enough to complain, give unwanted thoughts and advice, but I have no real way of expressing that because I am broken in that area."

Anyway, now I am talking too much. Guess I better go and sweep...

Julie Pippert said...

Kat, cherish -- oh yes. Perfect word. Yes, i wish we all had the ability to feel cherished. In ourselves and from someone else. :)

I think in the end, finding one's self amazing -- cherishing one's self matter most.

Thanks -- and awesome back at you!

Ed T. said...

Want to relive my childhood? No way, Jose. Been there, done that, threw away the t-shirts long ago. While I have some fond memories of those days, I (like many others I suspect) have memories that I have tried for decades (with varying degrees of success) to bury.

As to always wanting a parent, I do know what you mean (having lost my dad when I was in my early 20s, and my mom almost 5 yrs ago.) Without them, sometimes it seems very, very lonely. And, given that Dad passed just after Thanksgiving, and Mom not long after Christmas, the holidays don't always seem very festive to me, either.

All in all, though: while they were not without their faults, I feel in my heart they tried to do their best. I hope, when the day comes, that my own son says the same thing about me.

~EdT.

Julie Pippert said...

Kami, I think that recently I have changed my expectation -- what a great way to put it. I didn't feel hurt, per se, or angry -- just a little sad. I wish my dad wasn't so broken in that way -- also a great way to put it -- that he could celebrate with me. I think how much I enjoy that with my own kids, and it's too bad it's not that way for my dad and me. So I don't feel diminished. I don't add meaning to it in any way -- but I take it for what it is. I think all in all that's my new thing -- taking things for what they are.

Ed, i do think your sons will think that you did your best. I think kids do recognize when we try -- whether they are small or big. :) When my MIL lost her father (a few years after losing her mother) she looked at me and said, "I'm an orphan now." I felt so sad for her.

Bon said...

we celebrated my father's birthday this weekend, and it was all rather...pleasant, which surprised me. i did not come home feeling smaller than when i arrived. i did not have to spend hours defending myself - afterwards, unburdened from my shell - from the slings and arrows of apparent disregard for my human worth. it was nice. and it gave me hope. which i have lived long enough to know is the most dangerous thing there is.

so i get it. and i was moved by this. i'm grateful, in this respect, that i had two families to negotiate growing up, because the helpless shrug, at least, i did not have to face. and my heart breaks for the little girl Julie who did...the adult Julie who still does.

i am also grateful for your standing up to speak your worth here, for setting that example. i can only say that i'm pretty sure your essay is amazing, if it's half as good as this post.

Ed T. said...

"I'm an orphan now." That sums up the feeling pretty well, whether you are 9 or 49. It is a strange feeling to be sure.

~EdT.

Mary G said...

That must have been so hard to write, and so very very hard to live through.
You are one of the most courageous and sensitive people I have ever encountered, as I see you through your words, your artfully mounted jewels of words.
Well done.

Kecia said...

Ms. Pippert,
We love you. You share, or you don't, and it is up to you. You reveal or you sweep up the lies. Either way, even though it depends on you (especially because it does) we love you.

Magpie said...

You are excellent and awesome. You.

Yolanda said...

Too much familiarity here for me to craft a coherent response. But I'm really glad you wrote this, and that I read it, today.

Mayberry said...

oh, Julie, my heart just breaks for that poor brave little girl, who grew up to become such a wonderful mom in spite of the really unfair start she got.

jeanie said...

Thank you for opening up so much, Julie.

I didn't have your childhood - I am the child of parents who did.

And from the second generation perspective, your children will have their moments, but as adults they will look at the childhoods of their peers and give great thanks that their parents got to enjoy the childhood that they gave.

Hugs to you - oh, and word verifcation is "differ" - how apt.

amanda said...

What a beautiful, beautiful thing you've done with your words. What an even more beautiful thing you have done with your spirit for your children.