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 the baby had died under somewhat mysterious circumstances, so the job 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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dogs, funny stories, lessons learned, love, technology

Something to live for… awkward conversations about life and death…

Yesterday was a pretty busy day. I wrote three fresh blog posts. Two were about Josh Duggar, and one was a review of Naomi Judd’s book, River of Time, which was about her struggles with depression and anxiety. Interspersed within all the writing, there was also the news about the people who died in Uvalde, Texas… nineteen children and two teachers. I read last night that Joe Garcia, the husband of Irma Garcia, who was killed during the school shooting massacre, died of a heart attack just a couple of days after losing his wife of 24 years. This morning, I read a ridiculous tin foil hat comment from someone who thought Garcia’s sudden heart attack was part of a conspiracy, since the police department in Uvalde were apparently unprepared to deal with a school shooting.

People are still arguing about COVID, abortion rights, gun rights, school safety, and all of the other political hot button issues that will probably never be settled in my lifetime. All I can do is shake my head. The world is really fucked… and yet, sometimes there are little flickers of beauty, humor, and wonder that make me think it’s worth trying to stick around for however much time I have left.

Last night, Bill came home with kind of a sheepish look on his face. He said, “Well, today got started on a rather ‘awkward’ note.”

I looked up at him, noticing that he looked a little mischievous. “Do tell.” I encouraged.

He said, “I was in the bathroom, taking a shit, and when I came out, I was confronted by my boss, who said he needed to talk to me. So we sat down and my boss said, ‘Bill, I have to ask you… are you alright?'”

And I said, “He was asking you this because he heard you taking a shit? Or he smelled the remnants of it?”

“No…” Bill said, laughing. “The shitting part becomes important later in the story.”

“My imagination is going wild.” I said.

Bill continued, “So my boss says, ‘The guys in the IT department noticed a questionable search string coming from your computer. It got flagged. And I have to ask you, are you okay? Are you considering suicide?'”

Bill said, “No! Of course not!” Taking a deep breath, Bill explained to his boss, “I Googled ‘when someone you know commits suicide’, because recently, two acquaintances committed suicide. One was a guy I knew in high school, years ago. He was a good friend in those days, but we weren’t close recently. We were just Facebook friends. And one day last month, he posted ‘Guys, it’s been a slice,’ on Facebook, and that was it. Next thing I knew, people were announcing that he’d killed himself.”

Bill went on, “The other was the woman who previously lived in the house my wife and I rented near Stuttgart, before we moved to Wiesbaden. She had worked for our company, and one day I noticed that her name wasn’t on the company roster anymore. And because she had kind of been ‘cyberstalking’ my wife, the fact that she wasn’t on the roster caught my attention.”

Bill paused, then continued, “I told my wife, so she Googled her name, and discovered that she’d died. It was a shock, since she was so young. So she did more investigation, and found out that the woman had committed suicide. We were both really surprised by the news. She seemed to have everything going for her. These two recent suicides were just really surreal, and suicide was on my mind only for that reason. So I did a quick Google search, but even as I did it, I realized that it might get me in trouble.”

Then Bill concluded, saying “I have everything to live for. I just took a wonderful trip, and I’m planning another for my wife’s birthday next month. And my daughter is about to have my grandson, any day now. So no, I’m not thinking of killing myself. But thanks for asking.”

Bill said his boss sighed with deep relief and said, “Okay… I feel much better now. Don’t worry. This is not going to be on your permanent record, or anything.”

Then Bill said that one of his work buddies had been looking for him before that conversation took place. The boss had asked where Bill was, and of course, at the time, he was taking a shit. His work buddy had said, “Oh, Bill is probably ‘hanging out’ somewhere…”, which seems like kind of an unfortunate choice of words, under the circumstances.

We talked about it a little more, marveling at how people are always watching what we’re doing, although they don’t always take action before it’s too late. I’m sure the IT guys at Bill’s company don’t monitor every search string, but when someone Googles something weird while on the clock, it gets flagged. Obviously they take any mention of suicide seriously, which is comforting, I guess. Why would someone in Bill’s line of work be searching for articles about suicide? It would make sense for me, since I have a background in public health and social work. But it doesn’t make sense for a guy who does what Bill does for a living. If anything, this serves as a reminder to watch one’s Googling while on the job.

As we were laughing about that, Bill noticed a message from his daughter. He clicked on it, and we were introduced to Bill’s new grandson, who was born a couple of days ago… At the time the message was sent, he was just 13 hours old. He’s tiny and adorable, and he serves as another good reminder that life goes on, even when there’s crazy and terrible shit going on everywhere. Bill’s daughter looked so beautiful, too, as she held her little son. I managed to snap a photo of Bill looking at the video, so happy to be “Papa” to another soul. Yes, I would say he’s got plenty to live for…

Priceless boys…

As I write this, a gorgeous song by Janet Jackson is playing. Her song, “Together Again”, is special to us, because we kind of see it as a message from Heaven. In December 2012, our beloved “bagel”, MacGregor, died of spinal cancer. MacGregor was a very special dog, and Bill adored him. He was especially devastated when we lost him. Then a month later, we adopted our beloved Arran, who immediately bonded with Bill. Arran even did something MacGregor always did to show affection to Bill… you can see him on his hind legs in the photo below. MacGregor used to do the very same thing, putting his paws on us while standing on his hind legs. And as Arran was doing that for the first of many times, “Together Again” was playing. It meant something to us… like MacGregor was sending us a message through Arran. And now, as I write about life and death, here it is again… and it’s followed by “Psalm 23” by Eden’s Bridge, which I would love played at my funeral someday.

I’m not a huge Janet Jackson fan, but I love this song. It’s very special.
That organ… it just moves me.
January 13, 2013, the day we brought Arran home in North Carolina, and he made Bill his favorite person… Janet Jackson’s song was playing.
And last week… they are still extremely bonded. Arran would be DEVASTATED if Bill died.

We have been very fortunate to live a very good life together. Even when things seem absolutely bonkers in the world, we still have some happy news to share. I don’t know what life is going to be like for the newest grandchild, but I know he’s already much beloved by many people. And he has the most wonderful “Papa”, too. So no one should worry about Bill… “Papa” isn’t going to do anything drastic anytime soon. But thanks for asking!

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Duggars, family, history, lessons learned

Embracing my “unpopularity”… and a Duggar named “True”…

Hello to everyone. I am now back in Germany, ready to plunge back into my pseudo occupation of writing. Bill and I got home from our vacation yesterday afternoon. We were confronted by piles of dirty laundry in our luggage and high grass in the backyard. It must have rained a lot while we were out of town. I had to turn on the lawn mowing robot three times and use the weed whacker to get the backyard back to a reasonable state. I still need to let the mower run again, but it’s raining today. It’s kind of satisfying to see the grass cut. I wish all chores were like that.

After I write this post, I will move to my travel blog and write about our latest travel adventures in Italy, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein. My travel blog used to be somewhat popular, but it’s not so much anymore. After this latest trip, I realize that maybe not being popular is a good thing. There was a time when I cared more about getting people to read my stuff. Now, I think it might be better that I stay anonymous. It’s easier to be honest when I’m less “popular”.

This morning, I was looking at my Facebook memories. I found a post from 2014 that I wrote one night when I was feeling despondent and alone. We were living in Texas at the time, and Bill was visiting his dad in Tennessee. I had stayed home from that trip for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I stayed in Texas because we lived in a rental with a pool, and a pipe had busted. I had to be there to turn the water off when the automatic pool system came on. At the time, Texas was in the middle of a terrible drought, so we couldn’t waste the water. As far as I know, Texas is still in a drought situation today. But there were other reasons why I stayed home.

Bill was also about to retire from the military, and we had to save money. Going to Tennessee with Bill meant more expenses for us at a time when we weren’t sure about his future employment prospects. As it turned out, he got a job offer a month later… on my birthday, no less. Within a couple of months, we’d moved to Germany, where I came face to face with the military community. Ironically, when we lived in Stuttgart, I had more exposure to the military than I ever did as an actual “Army wife”. That includes the time we lived in Army housing on Fort Belvoir. But at the time Bill visited his dad, we didn’t know what the future would hold. It was a pretty scary time, actually.

The final reason I didn’t go is because I know my husband’s stepmother doesn’t like me. I don’t think we trust each other, either. Not that I blame her for not liking me. A lot of people don’t. But I don’t like to be in places where I’m not welcome, and I don’t like to interact with people who are simply tolerating me and my admittedly unconventional personality. I’d rather be at home. So I stayed home, and Bill visited his dad in May 2014. It turned out that was their last visit, as Bill’s dad passed away in November 2020. Thanks to COVID-19, Bill wasn’t able to go to his funeral.

In any case, in May 2014, I was obviously feeling kind of sad. I became one of those attention seeking “insufferable posters” I wrote about the other day, and posted this… which was probably a plea for attention from my own family of origin. I suspect I was drinking wine that night.

I think a lot of my family members disapprove of me… because I am a little on the odd side. But just so everyone knows, I will be weird until I croak. So if you hope I will change because you shun me, rest assured I don’t give much more than half a fuck. I’m weird and profane and will be that way until I kick the bucket… which honestly, I hope happens sooner rather than later. With friends and family like that, who needs enemies?

I still kind of feel like this, although I’ve kind of come to terms with it. After eight years in Germany, I kind of miss Virginia and some of my family members. But, in reality, I’m surprised by how much I don’t miss them. I feel like I’m completely out of touch with most of them. Living abroad can really change one’s perspectives. I used to be proud to be southern. I used to identify as a Republican. I was never a pro-lifer, but I had more sympathy for that view. But now, most of my opinions have changed, and I don’t think it’s wrong that they’ve changed. I have a hard time being around some of the more militant Trump supporters in my family, especially the ones who also claim to be Christians… which includes most of them.

The older I get, the more I find that I am who I am, and I’m not going to change into what other people want me to be. If that means people think I’m “insufferable”, and that makes me “unpopular”, so be it. With all of this talk about pro-life vs. pro-choice, one would think we’d have more regard for people’s differences. So many people seem to think that every potential life should be given a chance. But it seems that a lot of people really don’t… they want conformity and “niceness”, even if the niceness isn’t genuine. When you don’t conform to norms, sometimes you will experience pain in the form of rejection. I’ve been rejected by a lot of people… and for a long time, it made me pretty sad. It was saddest to me when my own family rejected me. In fact, one of the main reasons why I am so pro-choice is because I was repeatedly told that I was a “mistake” when I was a child. It would have been less hurtful to me if my mom had just aborted me, though that wasn’t legal at the time.

Of course, my mom doesn’t say stuff like that to me anymore, and my father is dead. I know my mom is glad I’m here now, since I don’t demand anything of her anymore. I also turned out reasonably okay. I just have a personality that people tend to love or hate. But I really think growing up unwanted had a big effect on my personality. It’s made me stubborn and contrary, and maybe some people think I’m an asshole for any number of reasons. Whatever… I’m going to be 50 soon, so I don’t think I’m going to change. It’s probably best to just lay low and enjoy being unpopular… It’s been my experience that the least popular people tend to be the most interesting. They don’t go with the flow. They don’t follow the crowd. They don’t go along to get along. 😉 What could be more interesting than that?

Moving on…

I noticed yesterday that I had a bunch of hits on a post I wrote last fall, when Jed and Katey Duggar shared their pregnancy announcement… apparently five minutes after they conceived. It turns out they were looking at that post because Jed and Katey’s son, Truett Oliver Duggar, was born on Monday, May 2. I heard that Katey had to be induced, so she gave birth in a hospital. May 2 was also Katey’s due date.

The bouncing baby boy was named Truett (which according to them, means “warrior for Christ”) and Oliver (which they said means “peace”)– and his initials are TOD, which someone in the Duggar Family News Facebook group noticed that those are the same initials for “time of death”. Some people were commenting that the baby’s name was the same as Chick Fil-A’s founder’s name. My only comment is that the names seem to be in conflict… and I’m also wondering if perhaps Jed and Katey aren’t promoting “fractured facts” in their explanation of what the names Truett and Oliver mean.

But anyway… the boy is here and he has a name, and he looks healthy and strong. Good for them! Obviously, he is very much wanted and loved. I like the name Truett, or even True, more than “Spurgeon”, anyway.

Katie Joy’s commentary on the new arrival.

What’s really creepy is that Jedidiah Duggar’s voice sounds so much like big brother Josh’s… and Josh, as we all know, is currently sitting in jail, awaiting his prison sentence for possessing and receiving child pornography. But at least Jed didn’t nap while his wife was in labor, and she didn’t give birth to him on a toilet. These are things that happened on Josh’s watch as his wife, Anna, was giving birth. And, as far as I know, Jed hasn’t been engaging in any illegal activities, although I am not at all in agreement with his political or religious views. Still, the world would be a dull place if we all agreed on everything. So congratulations to this particular branch of the Duggar family. I hope they enjoy this special time.

Well… now it’s time to get going on my travel blog. I hope someone will enjoy my efforts, but even if they don’t, that blog series will serve as a reminder of some of the great stuff Bill and I have managed to do, in spite of my “unpopularity” among the masses…

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