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.