controversies, lessons learned, Police, true crime, YouTube

Maryland cops mimic kindergartner’s temper tantrum with one of their own…

A few days ago, The Washington Post shared an article about two cops in Montgomery County, Maryland, who have just been part of a lawsuit stemming from their actions on January 14, 2020. A five year old boy at East Silver Spring Elementary School had a meltdown shortly after lunch. He became upset and threw a clipboard at a teacher and a fellow student. Then he ran out of the classroom, outside of the school, and toward a congested section of Silver Spring, Maryland. Having been to Silver Spring myself, I know that this is basically a suburb of Washington, DC, and there’s a lot of traffic.

School officials called the police, and officers Kevin Christmon and Dionne Holliday arrived on the scene. They quickly located the boy, who was hiding nearby. At first, the cops were pleasant toward the boy, but when he refused to cooperate with him, the police officers became very controlling and, many would say, abusive. Christmon’s voice turns stern as he demands that the boy look at him, then asks why he’s out of school. When the boy doesn’t willingly emerge from his hiding spot, Christmon grabs him by the arm and yanks him toward the other officer. The boy starts screaming “No, no, no, no…” as the police order him into the back of their squad car. By that point, an assistant principal had arrived, and managed to get the boy to calm down enough to get into the car.

Bodycam footage was released on Friday, hence the news article I read. I watched the raw footage, and I was pretty shocked by the way those “peace officers” were berating that child. According to the Washington Post, the following exchange occurred:

“I don’t wanna to go,” [the boy] said, his voice shaking and coughing.

“I don’t care!” the officer replied. “You don’t make that decision for yourself!”

Holliday spoke to the child through an open door. “Does your momma spank you?” she asked, adding, “I’m going to ask her if I can do it.”

Naturally, the harsh words and threats served to upset the boy even more. He screamed and cried. The officers described his behavior as “headstrong” and “defiant”. Christmon said that he felt his actions were justified, because the boy was being “non-compliant.” Holliday said that she threatened him to “get him to shut up.” Both officers screamed at the boy, trying to overpower his screams with their voices. At one point, Holliday “primal screams” a couple of inches from the boy’s face, which only served to cause him to scream louder.

This is a news report from March 2021 from NBC news. It was aired before the outcome of the lawsuit was revealed.

At one point, Officer Christman holds the boy down in the chair for 80 seconds. Later, Christmon puts a handcuff on the boy’s wrist and tells him that handcuffs are what people who don’t want to listen end up wearing. The cops call the boy’s mother, who later comes to the school and complains that she has trouble disciplining the child. She says she fears using corporal punishment, because she doesn’t want child protection services to take him away. Officer Holliday then advises the boy’s mother on the level of corporal punishment that will not result in his being removed from her custody. She tells the mom, “We want you to beat him… All I can tell you is to beat that ass.” At one point, Holliday also made a comment about how “animals should be crated”, adding that that’s what should happen to boys who want to “act like a little beast.” And she referred to the child as “a shepherd for the devil.”

I wasn’t originally planning to write about this case, as I’ve found that a lot of times, people involved in these situations go looking for opinions and then get angry or upset when they disagree with mine. Regular readers might recall that I recently disabled my official Facebook page for this blog because someone contacted me through Facebook with abuse, threats, and insults because they didn’t like an old blog entry I reposted. I have a feeling that this case could inspire similar attempts to berate me, simply for having and sharing an opinion.

However… against my better judgment, I’m going to write about this. My heart broke for that poor kid, even as I have empathy for the adults who were trying to deal with him. I was never as out of control as that boy was, but I do remember being very small and emotionally immature, crying and screaming, and being threatened, bullied, and hit by some of the adults in my life– particularly, my father. I don’t remember anyone ever speaking to me calmly and trying to redirect the tantrum– which is a pretty normal thing for kids to have, by the way. I remember hyperventilating and being terrified. And when I saw and heard that boy’s screams, it took me back to that place, many years in the past.

Not surprisingly, the boy in this story had nightmares in the wee hours of the next morning. He woke up at 3:00am and cried to his mother, saying that he was afraid the police were going to shoot him. The mother filed a complaint with the police department and later sued. Her suit was settled out of court for $275,000, which according to Dr. Todd Grande, who also analyzed this case, the boy will get when he’s an adult.

I liked what Dr. Grande had to say about this case. He’s very astute.

Dr. Grande notes that the police, who are trained to “take control” of a crime situation, lost control in dealing with this child. Cops, as I have observed from watching many Bodycam videos on YouTube, are used to being able to get as physical as they need to with non-compliant adults. But this is a five year old child, so obviously, it would not have been appropriate for them to wrestle him to the ground, put him in handcuffs, and Taser the shit out of him. Instead, they tried to act like “stern adults” and browbeat the child into submission with screaming, yelling, threats, and insults. But, as we can all see, that technique only made things a lot worse.

Christmon later said, having watched the video footage, “Honestly, after looking at this, we should have dropped him off and left,”

I agree. Because it’s clear that these two officers don’t have much expertise in talking to children, and their methods were abusive and inappropriate for a young child. I believe that, even though I have worked with children myself, and I know that dealing with them can be frustrating. Kids don’t have the same situational awareness that adults have, and they often lack self-control. This child, who apparently has a record of acting out in school and at home, needed someone with more experience dealing with troubled children. From what I saw in the video footage, it appeared that the cops weren’t behaving much better than the boy was. However, the boy has his age and maturity level as an excuse.

The two officers did face discipline for the way they handled this case. Officer Christmon was suspended for almost two weeks. Officer Holliday got four weeks’ suspension. Both suspensions occurred without pay. The officers were also administratively charged with a number of infractions, including neglect of duty and failure to be courteous.  The police officers agreed with the punishments, did their penance, and the matter was closed. Both remain employed as police officers today.

Many people seemed to think that these two cops should be fired for their bad conduct, especially since it’s cost the county $275,000. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. It does sound to me like the officers recognize that they did wrong, and handled the situation poorly. They seem amenable to learning from the incident and doing a better job in the future. I’m not a big fan of canceling people’s livelihoods for one mistake, even when it’s a whopper like this one. In this case, the boy suffered significant mental distress that he’ll probably remember from now on. But no one was physically injured or killed, and it does sound like some learning happened.

I am not a fan of “beating children”, as most of my regular readers probably know. I had a teacher in the 80s who employed corporal punishment. He once carried it out on me, in front of my entire class of peers. Forty plus years later, I still haven’t forgotten it, and it still really pisses me off to think about it. That punishment was inappropriate. I also had a father whose methods of discipline involved force, yelling, insults, and physical abuse. He’s been dead for eight years, and I still have bad feelings toward him. That kind of “discipline” doesn’t teach anything but fear, and tends to make things much worse. Sadly, some school districts in the United States still use corporal punishment. At this writing, 19 states still allow corporal punishment in schools, although happily, my home state of Virginia no longer does. The state of Missouri has just now brought the method back to schools, reportedly at the request of some parents. 

I understand that inflicting physical pain on someone who is out of control with emotion can sometimes “shock” them into compliance, especially when they are young children. However, in my experience, relying on that method of discipline leads to laziness on the part of the adult, and is ultimately disrespectful to the child, who is a human being and worthy of basic respect. We would never advocate for a husband slapping or spanking his wife when he became angry with or frustrated by her behavior. Many people would consider that “domestic violence.” And yet, a lot of people think it’s perfectly fine for a much larger human being to terrorize a child with threats of being hit or beaten, personal insults and comparisons to animals, and screaming and yelling. I promise, yelling and screaming at children doesn’t tend to inspire them to calm down and be quiet.

Police officers have a very difficult job, dealing with dangerous people who carry weapons. This was a case of a small child, obviously unarmed, and clearly much smaller and weaker than the cops were. The level of control the officers tried to inflict on the child was inappropriate, and clearly, very abusive. The boy wasn’t a threat to them. He was simply having a tantrum, which young kids often do. It seems to me the appropriate thing for the cops to do in this case was simply to see that the boy got back to school safely. And then, they should have allowed a professional who has much more experience working with children handle the boy’s meltdown. I don’t know if either of these cops have children, but their conduct offers a glimpse at how their children could be disciplined. It’s disturbing that one of the officers advocated for “beating” the child, even if she meant it in the vernacular. It’s really not a good look.

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complaints, controversies, first world problems, LDS, lessons learned, social media

Two things I don’t want to argue about with strangers…

I’m sitting here on Bill’s 58th birthday, reading the headlines that flash across the computer screen, along with the comments that go with them. Once again, I’m tempted to join the conversation with a comment, but I just know it will only end in an unpleasant interaction with some stranger. So, since I don’t have time or patience for such nonsense, I will just say these things here. You can agree or disagree with me. You can leave me a comment. If you’re a new commenter or using a new account, I will have to approve it. Any shitty comments will be deleted.

‘mmmkay…

  1. I just read a headline– haven’t gotten to reading the article yet– about how Cyprus has now reintroduced indoor masking because of “surging” COVID numbers. Fines will be about $305 for those who don’t comply. The comments are full of the usual preachers about how excellent face masks are at containing sickness. And, if they are worn properly, they probably are very useful in some settings. One person posted this comment:
Umm…

I want to tell this person that in Germany, FFP2 masks were required in indoor spaces for many months. FFP2s are akin to N95s. They are hot, thick, and uncomfortable. Guess what. COVID was, and still is, still spreading in Germany. Face masks aren’t a panacea, especially since few people wear them properly, or change them as regularly as they should. And no matter what, you’re not going to get a N95 mask or FFP2 on every face. As we know, some people will just flat out refuse to do it. There’s nothing you can do about it, sport.

It’s not that I don’t think COVID is scary or dangerous. I know it is, and have been saying so from the get go. I just don’t think that perpetual face mask wearing is going to stop the virus. It hasn’t so far, even in places where heavy, “high quality”, face mask wearing is imposed. Face masks went away in most venues in Germany back in April, but they’ll probably be forced on us again in the fall. And people will still get sick, just as they are getting sick right now.

The local health minister thinks we need to use masks like we’d use snow tires (which sadly, are becoming less necessary in Germany as the climate changes). What that will mean is that I won’t go to places that require them. That means I won’t spend as much money. I probably won’t be alone in that decision. Instead, I will just go to places where COVID rules are less onerous. I’m not the only one who feels this way.

A few days ago, I read a very interesting opinion piece on The Local: Germany by a guy who has experienced riding the train from Liege, Belgium, where masking on trains isn’t necessary, to Cologne, Germany, where they are required. As soon as the train goes over the German border, the train staff comes around and forces everyone to put on a mask. Like me, he thinks this is bullshit, as everyone was happily maskless until they went over the border, and masking isn’t required if one is eating and drinking. But here, you’re liable to be reprimanded if you “take advantage” of eating and drinking in order to shirk wearing a mask. It’s ridiculous, and it makes no sense whatsoever. Either make people wear masks all the time, or just dispense with the fucking things! And if you make people wear them the whole time, be prepared for more people opting to drive!

Below are the first two paragraphs from the op-ed by columnist Brian Melican. I can practically see and hear this scenario:

If you’ve always dreamt of being able to travel in time, there’s now a surprisingly easy way to do it: just take the ICE from Brussels to Cologne. When you get on at Midi station, things are just like they were in Germany in July 2019: friendly guards greet passengers at the doors and, soon after departure, someone from the BordBistro comes through to first class with a tray of coffee; the weather is fine, the train is punctual, and everyone is beaming ear to ear. You can see they are, of course, because they’re not wearing masks.

Then, in one of the tunnels between Liège and Aachen, we speed into July 2022 Germany: “Meine Damen und Herren…” The jarring announcement tells passengers in four languages – and in no uncertain terms – that they have to wear a medical face-mask on public transport in Germany; they may remove it to eat and drink, but must not overextend the break, and must make sure that it always covers both their mouth and their nose; any deviation from this rule will result in them being removed from the train. Suddenly, the guards and waiters reappear – and this time, they’re not smiling…

He continues pointing out the irrationality:

Okay, so this may not be genuine time travel, but it’s certainly a good piece of absurdist theatre and, what is more, a graphic example of just how dysfunctional the German approach to dealing with Covid has become. It’s not that Germany is the only country with an irrational fear of people catching corona on trains and buses (but not, say, in pubs, gyms, or shops): in the UK, France, and Belgium, public transport was one of the last non-clinical settings in which masks were still required; in Sweden, trains were the only one in which they were officially recommended. Yet, everywhere else, common sense eventually prevailed.

In Germany, meanwhile, the world’s largest beer festival and proverbial germ-den, the Oktoberfest, will be returning on 17th September, from when each of the 16 largest tents will be welcoming up to 10,000 guests belting out Schlager (and virus particles) from 11am to 11pm daily for two weeks straight. It will, however, still be illegal to take the underground to the festival site without wearing a mask.

Lately, I’ve been complaining a lot about obnoxious right wingers. The COVID issue shows us that people on the left can be just as insufferable about pushing their views. But you can’t talk to these folks about this, because they’ll just tell you you’re “wrong”, or accuse you of being an antisocial monster, “laugh” at you, and assume you’re a far right winger who doesn’t know anything. I actually do know something about this, though… probably more than a lot of people do, because I have an actual master’s degree from an accredited public health program and professional background in public health, rather than an “education” from the Google School of Public Health. 😉

I notice that the few comments on this editorial are the usual tripe about how we should be doing “everything possible” to stop COVID. I just want to say that it’s probably a lost cause at this point. And, more good news… thanks to global warming, there are billions of other microbes that have been trapped in the tundra for thousands of years, just waiting to escape their “icy prisons” and potentially unleash more disease and death on earthlings. In other words, we probably ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t think we should do what we can to prevent disaster, if we can. It’s that I don’t think masks are going to be the magic bullet, and we need something better. Making people wear masks as they travel over an international border, when they haven’t been wearing them before that point, is just nonsensical bullshit posturing. It’s absurd, and serves no useful purpose.

Frankly, if I die of COVID, so much the better. I’m pretty sick of this life, anyway, and reading daily about the awful shit happening on planet Earth. From mass shootings to sickening politicians and even sicker policies that seek to take freedom from others, I’ve had enough of this bullshit. And I’ve also had enough of most people. Sorry… I did mention in other posts that I suffer from depression, right? Maybe I am antisocial. Anyway, on to the next point…

2. Last night, I was in the Exploring Virginia Facebook group, and someone shared some lovely photos of my mom’s alma mater, the former Southern Seminary Junior College in Buena Vista, Virginia. Southern Seminary, or “Sem” as it was called back in the day, is now Southern Virginia University, and it’s run by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I actually used to know the wife of one of the Mormon businessmen who bought the school as it was foundering in the 90s.

When I was a high school senior, I toured Sem, and I really liked it. In their pre-LDS days, they had a fantastic horse program, and back then, I was all about horses. But it was a two year school, expensive, and all women… I probably would have done well there. My mom had a full scholarship, because she played piano for the glee club. She was also a “townie”, so she lived with her parents as she attended.

For a lot of reasons, I was kind of sad to see the school taken over by Mormons, mainly because the religion has infiltrated the culture of the city of Buena Vista, which was previously a cute town full of protestants of Scots-Irish-English stock. I’ve softened up on the Mormons lately, though… even if I still don’t like Mormonism, and never will. Still, I had to chuckle when someone wrote:

Umm….

Sorry ladies. You won’t be drinking any iced sweet tea at SVU. Mormons don’t drink iced tea. They don’t drink hot tea, coffee, or alcohol, either. They also don’t smoke, but a lot of them do wear special underwear. I was tempted to point that out last night, but decided not to, because I didn’t want to be an asshole. I did just now add that they’d be more likely to get a glass of lemonade, and added a little wink. Sorry, I just had to do it. 😉

Just wanted to say those two things, so thank you for indulging me… It occurs to me, just now, that both of these issues relate to people drinking when or what they “shouldn’t”. No excessive drinking to circumvent mask mandates in Germany (or Cyprus), and no drinking iced tea or any other “illegal beverage” at a LDS run university.

It IS Bill’s birthday. I probably should cook for him. But we didn’t plan for that… Maybe after I do my usual Thursday vacuuming, I’ll see if there’s something I can throw together for him. Or maybe not. He’s got a hot date with his Jungian therapist tonight, anyway. I’m sure they’ll talk about subjects that are deeper than this post.

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communication, language, lessons learned, love, marriage, relationships

It’s very important to use your words when you have needs…

I woke up this morning feeling oddly quiet. I felt like I just needed to shut up for awhile. And, for the past hour or so, I’ve been staring at the computer screen, wondering what I should write about today. I didn’t really want to write about the topic I’m about to tackle. But then I remember what Bill said to me as he was about to leave for work. He said, “You’ll write about it. It’ll help you process.” Then he gave me one of his meltingly sweet smiles, which never fails to win me over and warm my heart.

Bill and I had a little spat last night. It was kind of a sudden thing, not unlike the brief but intense storm that briefly provided us with a rainbow as the sun was about to set. You can see the rainbow in today’s featured photo, which I took as the rain was falling, but the sun came out. It reminds me of the spat we had last night, and how I feel today.

I didn’t say much to Bill today, when we were getting up. After he got dressed, he came into our bedroom and sincerely apologized to me. I told him I knew he was sorry, and I was sorry for getting so upset with him. I love him very much, and truly don’t want him to feel distressed. He works very hard, and really is one of the good guys. Nobody’s perfect, though.

Bill and I don’t have spats very often because neither of us likes to fight or argue, and we’re usually very compatible about most things. We have tons of chemistry, and seem to get each other remarkably well, even if no one else understands us. But every so often, an issue comes up, and we have a disagreement. There’s a spat– kind of like a storm, or a chemical reaction. And usually, our spats occur in the evening, as Bill is wanting to go to bed, but refuses to just go. He wants me to give him permission, or something.

My husband is very much a day person. He functions best early in the morning. When the sun goes down, so does his brain. Sometimes, he’s much too polite and non confrontational for his own good, and that can cause him to temporarily be a jerk. He doesn’t mean to be a jerk, and sometimes I “overreact”, by many people’s standards. I try not to do that, but sometimes I fail.

Last night, when Bill came home, he casually mentioned to me he needed to write up his dreams for his weekly appointment with Jungian therapist. He also needed to complete his time card for his job. That information went into one ear and out the other, since he always does those tasks without announcing them to me. Consequently, I didn’t realize this was something that was pressing in its importance, nor did I know how long those tasks would take. I’m also not a mindreader.

Most nights, Bill does online German lessons using Duolingo. I used to do those lessons myself, years ago. I quit doing them after a year or so, even though it would do me good to keep studying German. Nevertheless, Bill very diligently does his homework. He’s diligent about most things without input from me. I forgot about what he’d said about the things he needed to do. I assumed he’d already done them.

So, as the evening was winding down, I noticed that Bill was tired. I asked him why he didn’t just go to bed, if he was tired. I’ve told him many times that I hate it when he’s obviously exhausted and continues to sit there at the table, as if I’m obliging him to do so. I find it to be kind of passive-aggressive behavior. He could just get up and go to bed, right? But he insisted on waiting for me to finish my drink, and go upstairs with him. I guess I was taking too long, and talking about some subject that wasn’t interesting to him. Finally, he got up and was turning off lights and edging toward the stairs, backing away from me with a smirk, but still not saying outright that he has things he needs to do, or wants to go to bed. It’s left up to me to officially “call it a night”, as he was non-verbally “calling it a night”.

I said, “What are you doing?”

Bill said, kind of sheepishly, “I told you, I have to write up my dreams and do my time card.”

“Well, why didn’t you just say so?!” I exploded. Much to my surprise, I found myself getting really upset. Like… I actually felt like crying, because my feelings were hurt. And then I said, “This makes me not even want to go on the trip next weekend. I think I’d rather just stay home alone!”

I know that was a hurtful and kind of crazy thing to say, because Bill has planned my birthday trip to Antwerp, and we’ve been looking forward to it, even if it does mean I’m turning 50. But I honestly didn’t want to go anywhere with him for a few minutes last night. I just felt really injured and bewildered… like I was being rejected by someone I never thought would reject me. I know that’s kind of an irrational reaction, but I was honestly triggered by that look on his face, and his non-verbal communication. I legitimately felt disrespected.

I felt like he should feel alright about point blank telling me when he has needs, or wants to excuse himself. I’ve been his wife for about twenty years. I’m not going to be offended. And over the years, I’ve seen so many people giving me that “smirky” look he gave me last night… people who aren’t my husband… people who don’t like me, for whatever reason, and wish I would just shut up and go away. It honestly wounded me to see that look on Bill’s face. So, I got really pissed, and felt like rejecting him in kind. Impulsively telling him I didn’t want to go to Belgium with him was a quick way to do that.

Bill immediately looked extremely sorry as he explained that he had just wanted to avoid confrontation. And then when I asked him why he didn’t just tell me, he said he’d told me he’d mentioned it earlier. But he’d kind of said it in passing, in a matter of fact way. I didn’t realize the urgency of the situation, and for some reason, he couldn’t just use his words to reiterate his needs.

Seeing that pained look on his face upset me even more, because once again, I upset someone for simply being myself. At the same time, I had compassion for him, because I love him, and I’m not a mean person. I don’t like seeing him looking distressed, especially when it’s me who caused the distress. I was still feeling angry, though, so I said that maybe when he got home from work, I’d just stay in our room and watch videos instead of talking to him, since he has so many pressing things to do.

Again… I was hurt, because I really do look forward to talking to him at night. I don’t have people to talk to during the day. I don’t have local friends or family, and at this point, I’m not really inclined to try to make friends with people, because trying to be friendly with people usually ends in disappointment. I have a weird personality and inappropriate sense of humor that not everyone appreciates. Besides, around here, almost everyone’s German, so there’s sometimes a language barrier.

Bill said he didn’t want me to stay in our room and watch videos. He wanted to talk to me. He’d just had a couple of tasks he needed to complete before bedtime. So, again, I said, “Then why didn’t you just excuse yourself? You can tell me that you have stuff to do. I’m not a complete jerk, and I’m not a mindreader. What do I do every morning before you go to work, and I need to take a dump?”

Bill nodded and said, “That’s true. You do expressly tell me when you need a minute.”

Just as an aside… my body is remarkably efficient when it comes to necessary functions. Bill has remarked on it a lot, and has even told me he’s jealous. Most mornings, as he’s about to leave for his job, I have to say goodbye a few minutes early and take care of necessary business. Bill understands this and is fine with it; he doesn’t feel spurned because I have to go to the bathroom. However, for some reason, he doesn’t feel like he can say something similar to me. And I don’t understand why he doesn’t realize that I know he has things he has to do sometimes. Why can’t he simply tell me, his wife, that he needs time to get things done? Doesn’t he trust me, after almost twenty years?

I usually do notice when he’s trying to do something. When I see him with his computer, I don’t intrude. When he’s talking to his online therapist, I give him privacy. But last night, we were just there at the kitchen table, having a chat, and he suddenly gets up and backs away, looking awkward. I mean, if you need to excuse yourself, excuse yourself. Don’t give me that look. It’s not necessary. Just tell me what you need.

This is very much like my husband. He sometimes lacks assertiveness, is exceedingly polite and considerate, and wants to leave decisions up to me. But I don’t always want or need to make every decision, and sometimes I just don’t know what he needs, and I can’t read his mind. At the same time, he doesn’t want to offend or make ripples… and in the process, sometimes he offends and makes ripples. He never means to do that. He always wants me to be happy, sometimes at the expense of his own happiness. And when his needs are about to intrude on my wants or wishes, he’d rather be covert than just come out and tell me what’s going on.

This situation is kind of similar to one we ran into last year, when we were in Switzerland. Bill had expressly wanted to visit Carl Jung’s house and museum. This was the one non-negotiable activity on our agenda. On the other hand, I get very cranky and irritable when I’m hungry. Bill knows this, too. He has a habit of wanting to lead things, but then he gets “wishy washy”. We needed to have lunch, but Bill was focused on us going to the museum, since we had an appointment. And even though this was what HE had wanted to do, he hadn’t even decided if we would be driving or taking a boat, since the museum is on Lake Zurich. He had wanted to leave that decision up to me. But the problem was, I wasn’t prepared to make a decision, because I was just along for the ride. The whole Jung museum thing was his bag, not mine. I needed to eat before we went to the museum, and I didn’t want a hot dog at the dock. But that’s what we ended up having, because there weren’t any firm plans made so that everybody’s needs could be met.

And again, last fall when we visited Slovenia, on the way to Lake Bohinj, I had wanted to eat lunch earlier than Bill did. We kept going, and sure enough, I got hangry, and there weren’t any open restaurants. Bill ended up getting me a chocolate bar, because I desperately needed to boost my blood sugar. That put me in a foul mood, too. He’d wanted to lead, but then kind of failed… and then I had a candy bar for lunch, instead of something that was somewhat better for me.

Anyway, we were able to mend the conflict, and sure enough, I’m writing about it, even though I’d rather write about something else. We had a spat, and it’s over now.

Insightful stuff here… It’s not always a bad thing to be “triggered”.

I saw a really good video yesterday by Kati Morton, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist. It’s not so much about last night’s issue, but it does sort of address my feeling guilty for being “triggered” and overreacting. If I wasn’t triggered, I wouldn’t have told Bill what was on my mind. And as wonderful as he is, he did need to hear what I said. Sometimes, Bill is too nice, takes too much responsibility for other people, is too much of a people pleaser, and needs to assertively express his own needs verbally, instead of being passive-aggressive. These are things that I think would help him across the board, not just in his dealings with his old ball and chain wife. 😉

But then, based on the trauma he went through with his ex wife, I guess I can see why he hesitates. I’ve spent a lot of years trying to teach him that we’re not all like her. It’s an ongoing process that I don’t think will ever end. He’s been scarred by her abuse, much like Noyzi the rescue dog is scarred by his traumatic experiences in Kosovo, before he came to live with us. Noyzi gets better every day, but I think he’ll always have some remnants from that time in his psyche. The same goes for Bill… and the same goes for me. So we’ll keep trying.

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divorce, Ex, lessons learned, mental health, psychology, YouTube

“Kicking the cat…” What happens when anger is displaced…

Many years ago, when I was a college student at what is now Longwood University, I took a course called Interpersonal Communication. I took it because I was pursuing minors in both speech and communications, and the course counted for both minors. I don’t remember being particularly excited about the class when I signed up for it, but it turned out to be an interesting field of study. I remember it to be an examination of how people communicate in different settings, and while it was not a psychology class, certain psychological terms and concepts were covered. In fact, even though I took Psychology 101 during my freshman year, I distinctly remember learning about the concept of psychological projection for the first time in my Interpersonal Communication course. It was also in that class that I first learned about “displaced anger”.

Although Dr. Nancy Anderson Haga, the professor who taught that class, has long since retired, I remember that she was among the very first professors I met at Longwood when I was a fresh high school graduate attending orientation. I was struck by how energetic, caring, and positive she was. Then a couple of years later, when I was about 20 years old, I was in her class, and she was teaching us about how we communicate with each other. I didn’t know then that one of her lessons would come back to me in bold relief, two weeks before my 50th birthday.

Last night, Bill watched a video his younger daughter sent to him. She was thanking him for a box of goodies he sent to her, with stuff we picked up on recent trips to France and Italy, as well as some very superior German chocolate. In the course of the video, younger daughter talked about how much she loves to cook. Bill also loves to cook. So do I… or, at least I did before Bill took over the job. I used to be a great cook, and always enjoyed it because it was a creative activity. There’s an art to making something taste good, look appetizing, and be nurturing. Actually, I’m not that good at making “pretty food”, but I am pretty good at making food that is comforting. Bill is also good at that, and he’s also a fan of good presentation. He’s been known to plate our dinners with flair.

Younger daughter talked about how one of her in-laws really loves fresh bread, and he likes to have it at every meal. She likes to bake, so she was thinking she might like to make some bread to take over to her husband’s family’s house. I like to bake bread too, especially when I’m in a bad mood and need to pound the shit out of something. Bread baking is great for that.

As she was talking about baking rolls from scratch, younger daughter stated that she wasn’t always sure if people appreciated her efforts. Then her face got very serious and pained, and she said, “The only person who has ever complained about my cooking is my mother.”

One time, she asked Bill if her mother (Ex) had ever complained about his cooking. Bill had replied, “Of course. All the time!” As he was telling me about talking to his daughter about this, he laughed. But I can imagine that when Ex criticized his cooking, it probably really hurt his feelings. Here he had taken the time and expended the effort to make something nourishing for his ex wife, and her only thought was to disdain it in a mean way. Younger daughter then related a story that, frankly, I found heartbreaking. I could also see that telling us the story was making her feel bad anew, even though the incident had happened years ago.

Younger daughter and her older sister were tasked to cook for the whole family. If they didn’t cook, food wouldn’t be made, and someone would probably get into trouble. She explained that Ex and #3 were going through a particularly lean financial period. Consequently, there was very little food in the house. And yet, it was younger daughter’s implied duty to make dinner every night. There she was, faced with the task of making dinner for seven people, but there simply wasn’t much food in the house to accomplish that goal.

Younger daughter looked around to see what there was on hand to make dinner. She found frozen pie crust, instant mashed potatoes, some frozen vegetables, and a single chicken breast. Perfect! She could make a shepherd’s pie, of sorts. That would have been what both Bill and I would have done in that situation. It was quite genius, and she was able to make something edible and probably even tasty.

Younger daughter put together the pie, and was feeling pretty good and accomplished. Then Ex came home from wherever she’d been during the day. Younger daughter proudly presented the pie she had created out of the few ingredients in the house. Ex’s response was to declare it disgusting, refuse to eat, and lock herself in her bedroom for the rest of the evening.

I could tell that relating that story was very painful for younger daughter. But then she brightened and said she was grateful for where she is now. Ex no longer has the power over her that she once had. Like Bill, younger daughter was able to escape the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt). But the scars remain, and I know how that feels. Sometimes, old memories still come up that bring on the pain from the past.

Of course, Bill was pretty angry when he heard that story. I don’t know exactly when the incident happened, but it sounds like it might have occurred when Ex was still being paid child support. I believe younger daughter got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she could after turning 18. Either way, it was Ex’s responsibility to see that there was food in the house, and to make sure her children had enough to eat. Complicating matters was the fact that she wouldn’t allow Bill to help his daughters. She was too angry with him for that. We didn’t know this was going on, because they couldn’t and wouldn’t talk to Bill during that time. If Bill had known about this, he would have taken action. In retrospect, we should have taken action when she refused to let him communicate with his kids, but it seemed like it would have been a waste of time, since they were teenagers.

And that’s where the lesson about “displaced anger” comes into play. I remember learning about the concept in that college class at Longwood, and that’s why I titled this post “kicking the cat”. Displaced anger– otherwise known as “misplaced anger”– is when a person deals with their anger by directing it at a less threatening cause. It can take different forms. For instance, a person who was raised in an abusive home, with a parent who beat them, might try to soothe themselves by saying that it was okay that their parent hit them, since “that was how things were back in the day”. Or they might say, “he or she was just trying to make me tougher.” Meanwhile, the righteous anger is boiling under the surface, and it comes out against someone or something that is less able to fight back.

I remember in my Interpersonal Communication class, as she was explaining “displaced anger”, Dr. Haga talked about a man who comes home from work, angry with his boss for acting like a jerk. Instead of addressing the jerk boss, since that doesn’t feel like a safe thing to do, the man kicks his cat. Or he gets drunk and verbally abusive, and beats on his wife. Or he snaps at his daughter that the dinner she made looks and tastes like shit. Or maybe, if he’s a really sick and violent person, he takes the family dog out to the desert and shoots it (sadly, I do remember hearing and writing about a man who did this when he was angry with his wife).

It doesn’t matter that expressing anger in this way is harmful to innocent people or animals. The anger feels like it has to come out, and it doesn’t feel possible for the man to direct it toward the appropriate person, so the man directs it at individuals who seem weaker and less threatening. I grew up in a home where I often got abused by angry people– especially my dad and one of my sisters. They would often take their anger out on me, because I was the youngest and, at least for a long time, the weakest. Usually, the anger doesn’t really dissipate, though, especially when there are consequences for expressing anger in such a way. I will also admit that I have expressed anger inappropriately by directing it toward the wrong source. I now try to do better, as much as I’m able. Therapy is a good thing.

Last week, I wrote a post about how I’ve gotten hooked on Code Blue Cam, a YouTube channel devoted to police work. In a lot of the videos, the perpetrators who get busted are clearly mentally ill or under the influence of something. A lot of times, they are also very angry and agitated. I watched a video this morning that featured a man who was extremely belligerent and defiant. The police were trying to be kind and helpful, but this man was consumed with rage. He was extremely abusive toward the police, as well as the civilians who were involved in the altercation which caused the police to be summoned in the first place.

This video begins with a drunk woman who gets hauled off to jail, but it ends with the belligerent man, whose tone goes from extremely rude and defiant, to desperate and pleading.

I found the above video kind of hard to watch… but it was also kind of fascinating, because before the guy was put in handcuffs, he was a complete asshole. I sat there wondering what in the world had happened to him that had caused him to seethe with so much rage. But then, when he was finally arrested and placed in handcuffs, his tone became pathetic. He openly said on more than one occasion that he hoped the police would just shoot him. This is a miserable person with deep problems and a lot of unprocessed anger, which was coming out inappropriately. It wasn’t that different than Ex being nasty to younger daughter for making something she didn’t want to eat for dinner.

Another video, this time involving young men who were in deep trouble and expressing negativity in a destructive way. One of the young men openly expresses disappointment in himself and how his life has turned out… and says he wishes the cops would kill him. He obviously needs help.

Maybe the teens in the above video were trying to be manipulative. I think the guy in the first video was very manipulative, and if these two young guys in the above video don’t get some real help, they will wind up like him and either spend a lot of time in prison or get themselves killed. But I could hear real anguish in their voices. Bad things happened to them that led them to where they are now, and unfortunately, they weren’t able to find the kind of help they needed to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the law.

I have no doubt in my mind that Ex has experienced some really terrible things in her life. I know that she suffered horrific abuse when she was growing up. I’m pretty certain that she’s an extremely angry person, and that anger stems from the people in her life who failed her when she was a child. I think she’s also angry with Bill. He probably had her thinking he could heal her and solve her problems. Bill is a very kind, nurturing, loving and gentle person. I know this for a fact, because I’m his second wife. He doesn’t have a mean or violent bone in his body. However, like most people, he does have a red line, and if you cross it, he’ll be done with you. I think Ex thought she would never reach that red line, because he is such a kind and patient man. But she did reach it, and he decided he was done. So, when she presented divorce papers to him in a very dramatic and manipulative drama held over Easter at Bill’s dad’s house, she never expected that he would agree that their marriage was over and offer to sign the papers. He went off script.

Ex was expecting Bill to say, “No, we won’t have any of that…” and try even harder to please her. That was what he’d done in the past. But, after almost ten years, he was just done. He had gotten away from her toxic influence while they were separated, and realized that there’s life beyond divorce. He found out that he didn’t have to live the way he’d been living. He knew he wouldn’t be alone, and that being broke was temporary. So he called her bluff, and fucked up her vision of what was supposed to happen. She had to adjust, and I think wound up with someone who was even less suitable for her. But she’s smart enough not to threaten divorce with #3, because it’s doubtful she’d find a #4. Or, at least she won’t be able to hook someone by having kids with them.

But she was still left with two tangible remnants from their marriage– their two daughters. So she decided to keep the girls away from Bill, as a means of punishing him for “abandoning” her. At the same time, she treated them particularly badly, because they probably remind her of Bill. As younger daughter got older, she started to develop the same kind of self-preservation skills that Bill has. She started to go off script, and she rebelled. Ex responded by being inappropriately angry. She “kicked the cat”– in this case, younger daughter– instead of finding a healthier and more appropriate outlet for her rage. Instead of being grateful that younger daughter had managed to cobble together dinner with very few ingredients, which were ultimately Ex’s responsibility to provide, Ex was angry and mean. And now, I think she’s paying a price, since it’s obvious that younger daughter is now alienated from her mom.

Younger daughter ended her video call on a happy note. She said she was so grateful to the other people in her life who are kind and considerate. She even said she was grateful to me, of all people. That made me feel really good. For years, I was angry with her and her sister, because I know their dad, and I know he was “kicked” by Ex for years. Now I have empathy for them, because I know they’ve felt the pain from Ex’s proverbial shoe, too. They have been on the receiving end of her misplaced anger. Thankfully for younger daughter, she’s managed to develop the skills to get out of the strike zone. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the people who have chosen to stay around Ex are paying for the independence of those who have left. I can only hope that someday, older daughter will get out of the strike zone, too.

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ethics, Ex, family, healthcare, lessons learned, love, marriage

Moms really should be ready for the challenge…

Yesterday evening, I read a heartbreaking article in the Washington Post written by a retired pathologist from New Hampshire named Thomas Gross. The doctor wrote about having to perform an autopsy on a tiny four month old baby girl. It was his first time doing an autopsy on a baby, and the job was breaking his heart. But because the baby had died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, the procedure had to be done. So Dr. Gross began to explore the baby’s organs.

Dr. Gross described the ghastly condition of the baby’s pancreas, which was swollen to twice its normal size and covered with huge, angry looking, blood filled blisters. Her pancreas was abnormally rigid. The baby had previously been healthy. She’d started smiling and laughing spontaneously, and was even sleeping through the night. But then she suddenly got very sick, and spent her last hours vomiting, screaming, and crying inconsolably, in obvious pain. Dr. Gross soon had the answer as to why the baby was so sick. He discovered that the disease that had killed the four month old girl was pancreatitis. According to Dr. Gross’s editorial:

The condition was caused by a bacterium known as Haemophilus, type B (HiB), once a common threat to children. The epidemic stopped abruptly after 1985, when two American physicians patented an immunization for HiB. By 1987, the HiB vaccine was approved for use in all age groups. Cases of Haemophilus infection in children in the United States dropped precipitously in just a few years from more than 20,000 cases before the vaccine to just 29 cases in 2006. Deaths now occur almost exclusively among unvaccinated children.

The baby’s parents, no doubt loving and well-meaning, had chosen not to vaccinate their baby. They probably had never heard of Haemophilus, and it never occurred to them that she would get so sick that she would die. The girl’s parents probably weren’t around when babies routinely got sick and died of preventable infectious diseases like measles and polio. Besides, nowadays, everybody’s got the Internet, daytime TV, and social media to inform them, so they don’t always want to listen to what actual doctors recommend. Dr. Gross writes:

Many parents are too young to remember when young children died from measles, polio, smallpox, strep throat and influenza. They don’t remember when there was nothing that anyone could do about it except sit and watch. When the polio vaccine first appeared, mothers dragged their children to the public health clinic and stood in lines around the block to get them immunized. Before the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, pregnant women infected with rubella would invariably deliver horribly disabled and disfigured babies. Many children still die from measles; they are almost exclusively unvaccinated.

I could feel the palpable sadness this now retired physician still felt for the tiny patient whose memory still haunts him. Then I looked at the comment section on Facebook. At that point, there were only a few posted. One of the very first comments came from a guy named Chris who posted something along the lines of, “A lot of the people posting ‘sad’ reactions would have applauded the mother’s choice if she had terminated the pregnancy.”

It pisses me off when people– especially MEN– feel the need to conflate the abortion issue with every other issue even slightly regarding the welfare of babies. Chris wasn’t the only one who brought up abortion, either. So, although I know I shouldn’t have done it, I decided to respond. I wrote something along the lines of this:

A lot of “anti-choice” types are also against vaccines. If this baby’s loving parents had vaccinated her, she’d probably still be alive.

I noticed that Chris immediately responded to me. Another man gave me a “laughing” reaction. I decided to ignore them, because I didn’t want to get into a pissing match with them on such a pleasant June evening. I knew I’d be tempted to rip into him– in a much less delicate way– than the pathologist cut into the baby about whom he wrote his heartfelt editorial. Guys like Chris make me angry. They lack compassion, and they don’t see how sometimes terminating a pregnancy is actually the kindest thing a person can do. Aside from that, the story had NOTHING to do with abortion. It had to do with making wise and informed decisions for one’s offspring. In this tragic case, the baby’s parents, who obviously loved their infant daughter and hadn’t wanted to abort her, inexplicably chose not to vaccinate her. The unfortunate decision these parents made, on their daughter’s behalf, caused the girl to suffer needlessly. Ultimately, their baby paid with her life.

Being a parent is a huge responsibility. This baby’s parents no doubt wanted to embrace the challenge, yet they made a huge, fatal mistake that cost them dearly. This story, like so many others I’ve read, only underscores how very important it is to be ready for the job of parenting. Ideally, that job starts before an infant is even born. Prenatal care is so important, but we live in a country where access to healthcare is difficult and expensive. So many people focus on forcing others to gestate, but they don’t pay attention to whether or not the pregnant person is up to the challenge, and they don’t want to see to it that moms are ready for the awesome responsibility of raising children… or if they even want the job.

Of course, sometimes shit happens. I don’t want to dump on the parents in this sad story, because even years later, they probably still feel absolutely horrible about what happened. And they probably thought they were doing right by their baby, even though the whole sketchy “autism connection to vaccines” has been debunked for a very long time now. Dr. Gross wrote:

In 1998, the highly respected British medical journal the Lancet published a study suggesting an association between immunizations and autism. The author did not show immunizations cause autism. He merely pointed out that, in 12 cases of autism, all 12 autistic patients also received vaccines against measles. Incidentally, so did a hundred million other kids who had not become autistic.

The Lancet later admitted that the paper’s authors failed to disclose financial interests. The lead author was publicly discredited. The Royal Academy of Surgeons rescinded his license to practice medicine. The Lancet withdrew the article from publication.

But the damage was done. The loving parents of the baby on my table, well-educated and well-meaning, had chosen not to immunize her. Had they succumbed to the Internet hype that immunizations cause autism? Had they ever heard of Haemophilus?

Maybe the parents just didn’t know. The baby was just four months old. Timely vaccination might have just slipped their minds. Maybe they were planning to get her vaccinated at a later date. Who knows? What we do understand is that the baby developed a likely preventable life threatening disease that ultimately killed her in a painful way. If she’d been vaccinated, maybe things wouldn’t have turned out this way.

Continuing on this same theme, this morning I read another “Am I the Asshole” column. It was written by an older woman who came of age at a time when most women were expected to be wives and mothers. The letter writer explains that she wasn’t much into being a mom, but nevertheless, she had two children, a boy and a girl. Her children were “good kids”, and she did the best she could by them. But she admits that she was very relieved when they grew up and moved out on their own. She finally had the chance to do her own thing and discover herself.

The letter writer’s son, John, got married and had three children. Her daughter just has pets. Mom treats her daughter’s pets like grandchildren, which upsets her son. He thinks she should be more deferential to his human offspring over his sister’s dog and cat.

I don’t think the mom in this story is an asshole; however, I can empathize with John. John’s mom sounds a lot like my own mom. My mom had four children, and she often told me that she hadn’t wanted four children. Since I am the youngest, that means I frequently got the message that I wasn’t welcome. I remember watching my friends with attentive mothers and feeling painful surges of envy. My mom took care of me the best way she knew how, but she was never one to dote on me. My mom couldn’t wait for me to be on my own, and that was a message that hurt me a lot. She has also referred to my dogs as her “granddogs”.

I’m not saying my mom doesn’t love me. She does, in her own way. Our relationship is better now, too, since I don’t physically need her anymore. Now we can be friends. But I do remember what it was like to be raised by someone who was sometimes cold, and didn’t seem to care that much about me. Or, at least that’s how it seemed when I was a child. I see things differently now, and have come to respect and appreciate my mom more. It’s become easier to see her perspective now. There are a lot of issues I don’t have to deal with that my friends with more attentive moms do. I was also lucky in that I have always basically gotten along with my mom, in spite of her “hands off” parenting style. I think a couple of my sisters had a much tougher time with her than I did. On the other hand, my sisters got along much better with our father, while I had a lot of issues with him that still haven’t been resolved and probably never will be.

I think John should find a therapist and talk about these angry feelings he has toward his mom. He obviously still feels very hurt about how he was raised. He could tell his mom wasn’t that into raising him, and he knows she’s not going to be “super granny”. I don’t blame him for how he feels, but it’s not appropriate for him to punish his mom and try to force her to be someone she’s not. In the end, his kids will suffer, and when he inevitably loses his mother, he’ll still have a lot of unresolved angst, like I still do about my dad. I can’t help but realize that if my mom and the letter writer had been freer to make choices, John and I would have both been spared significant pain… and we would have been none the wiser, not having been born to mothers who would much rather be doing something with their lives other than mothering.

I’ll end this post with another personal story from last night. Regular readers might know that my husband, Bill, just became a grandfather for the third time. His younger daughter, who is an excellent mother, just had a baby last week. We sent her a package with treats from Europe. There was a Harry Potter hot chocolate mug from France that we picked up in March, but couldn’t fit in the last box we sent. There was chocolate from Germany, and a few gifts from our trip to Italy. In the box we sent were two books that I picked out for the two older kids. One was an activity book about Florence. Ideally, the kid would be in Florence as he or she explores the city, but I figured younger daughter and her husband could use the Internet to teach the kids about Italy and do the activities. The other book was a charming story I found about growing up independent.

I was wandering around in the bookstore at the Uffizi and this book caught my eye. It had really engaging illustrations featuring a baby zebra from West Africa. I don’t remember the book’s title, but I do remember the story was about an independent little zebra who wanted to try new things that he wasn’t quite ready to do. His patient and gentle mom told him that one day, he’d be on his own and he could then try all the things. But for now, she was there to guide him and teach him. It was a comforting, positive, and healthy message.

Unfortunately, Bill and his daughter have both been on the receiving end of Ex’s repeated manipulative ploys involving children’s literature. Ex has a bad habit of using books and music to make other people feel like shit. So Bill felt compelled to read the book from cover to cover in the bookstore, just to make sure there wasn’t a message in the story that would make younger daughter feel bad. Fortunately, he decided that I had made an appropriate choice, so he sent her the book. Hopefully, she’ll like it. It’s a book that I doubt her mom ever would have sent, since it’s about children growing up with a strong and protective role model who actually wants them to be independent and self-sufficient someday.

I think Ex loves being a mother, but only because it means she has family members who literally owe her their lives. She uses them as tools to further her own agendas. Her children aren’t stupid, either, because they can read between the lines. They get the messages she sends when she uses a book like Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree in her object lessons. She compares herself to the tree, and her children (and Bill) to the selfish little boy who takes and takes until there’s nothing left. But the reality is, the children are always giving to their mother, and she’s never satisfied. That has caused them pain, because obviously, their mother wasn’t up to the challenge. Her goal probably should have been to raise her children to chase their own dreams and live life on their own terms.

I’m not a mom myself. I always wanted to be a mom, but that wasn’t in the cards for me, for a lot of reasons. And because I barely know Bill’s daughters, I don’t feel like a mom to them… or a granny to younger daughter’s children. I do sort of feel like a mom to my dogs, though…

I don’t know if my overall message is getting across in this post. I know Bill is glad I’m here, warts and all. And I know my mom, ultimately, is glad she raised me. I do wish she’d wanted to do it from the get go, though… and I know enough people who haven’t had happy endings after being born into situations where the mom simply wasn’t up to the job. So that’s one of many reasons why I’ll always be in favor of allowing pregnant people to make choices, and that’s why I get triggered when losers like Chris conflate the abortion issue with any story about babies who die. Life is tough enough. Babies, especially, should be wanted, loved, and cared for by parents who want them. Pregnancy shouldn’t be an obligation or a punishment, and it shouldn’t be up to anyone to solve another person’s fertility issues. Moms, especially, should be ready for the challenge of motherhood before they accept it.

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