Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When It Just Doesn't Fit

I know I haven't posted anything in a long time - life craziness with school and a now-1y/o (13 months to be precise) who is seriously one bundle of non-stop throw-herself-at-everything-bang-all-the-things!!!!

But anyway, I ended up writing an email to someone tonight, and it just sort of happened because I was mentioning to this person how I am really going to miss my sister when she leaves for the University of Edinburgh for two years this week, specifically in being able to call her just whenever and vent or roll my eyes at some interaction I might have had with our parents.  And it's an email that is extremely applicable to this blog, and one that I'm not sure would have happened if I had specifically sat down to write.

So, here goes....

PW: how is Sis?

Me: She is super excited! She leaves for Edinburgh in only three days now.

PW: Good for her! I'm sure she'll do well, but I know you're going to miss her. Will she have Skype?
Me: Yeah she will. But we're so used to calling each other whenever we think about it, and I wasn't kidding when I said she is the only RL friend I have to talk to or who calls me. So her going is a total split between YAAAAAAAAAY and NOOOOOOOOOO.... :P

PW: :( I know you're happy for her, though. Hang in there - and don't be afraid to call on other friends, they might surprise you!

Me: Happy and crazy jealous! Seriously, a minimum two years in Scotland?! Yeah, definitely jealous ;)

And very true. Although the crazy shit that was our upbringing and the current crazy shit involved with dealing with our parents...? Not even Rob can fully grasp it, and he tries, bless him. (for example, when I was at my parents' today, my dad casually dropped the line, "Good luck without using corporal punishment" in regards to dealing with Katelyn. And having never undergone "biblical" corporal punishment as a kid, Rob couldn't quite grasp why I took the line as seriously as I did in regards to the attitude and insinuations Katelyn might pick up on when she's older. She's only 13 months old now and obviously had no clue about what was said, but what if my dad drops that line when she's four?) Whew, long sidenote!

But yes, I freely admit I too often assume that all I would be is a bother to people. It's just really hard to get past long seated insecurities and automatic self-deprication.

But I shall have to!

PW: Your sis will do great. :)
Idk what to tell you about the family stuffs. No, probably nobody will ever get it - but do they need to? I don't think you have to have a shared background to give a bug or listen to a rant. God knows nobody understands when I talk about my childhood - but that's okay. Granted, I had a very different situation, but still. Hugs and listening are pretty much all anybody can give anyway. Even if you were there, you still wouldn't have been inside their heads. You know?

Me: It'd be one thing if the family stuff was just background at this point. God I wish it was! But I'm still dealing with it on a very regular basis thanks to living relatively close to them (45 min) and having to use them for babysitting purposes. And there are just some interactions that happen between me and and either one or both of my parents that are just impossible to rant about without providing a full chapter of background info to provide context and meaning. And obviously I don't have to do that with my sister as we grew up in the exact same circumstances. So yeah, if it was simply a matter of, "Hey, this was my shitty childhood and here's a residual thing I'm still struggling with because of it", no, it doesn't take a shared experience to either listen to be the one talking about it. But when it's something current and ongoing, it really really helps to be able to call up my sister and go, "Hey, guess what?!" without having to explain everything first. I dunno, it's rather like if one has an ongoing medical issue of some kind and the difference between going to see your own doctor when a med needs adjusting or something happens and who you've been going to forever, and having to go to a different doctor all the time and having to explain everything about your medical history when all you went in for was because your blood sugar has been running higher than usual (if you had diabetes for example). If that makes sense. :/

And I often think that it'd be easier if I had a more relatable line like one of my parents was an alcoholic or had some non-controlled mental health issue. Those backgrounds can be quickly grasped with very little explanation needed. But to say, "My parents are patriarchal Puritan fundamentalists" gets a completely blank stare. Even using the broader term of "Christian fundamentalists" is almost completely non-relatable to most people. Even people who in the church. And I know this because of the blank stares I've gotten and because I've managed at times to flabbergast even the psychologist I've seen...and he has his Masters of Divinity! And we can't even say we grew up in some sort of Christian cult as a way to explain some of literal theology and extreme patriarchy we had to endure. Because even that people can imagine and draw a construct of to a certain extent thanks to tv docos.

I almost wish I had a more traditionally bad childhood. People get that, and know how to have sympathy. Believe me, people have no idea how to respond and just get all weird when it comes to religion based emotional/spiritual/physical abuse. Why? I think it's in part because a lot of it is denial - they're in a church, either they or someone they know homeschools - and it's terrifying to face the fact that what they participate in can get twisted in such a destructive fashion. And instead of continuing to actually listen and show sympathy, there's the attempt to "dull the edge" with lines such as, "Well you know they meant well" or some other attempt to explain it away make it 'not be as bad as all that'. Excuse me, but how does motive justify telling a child repeatedly and for years that they deserve to go hell? If I told someone that that was screamed at me in a drunken rage by one of my parents, I would get every "awwwww" look in the book and a huge hug. But as it was said calculatingly and to "save my soul", I'm supposed to actually be grateful in some sense? That I shouldn't feel angry for the psychological damage done when a child is told there is nothing good about them? And that the damage itself is somehow negated because they "meant well"? When pain is dismissed or tried to be diminished with a quip, it destroys trust. It's hard enough to open up, and when the risk is taken and is met with an attempt to disingenuize very real trauma, one tends to give up after a while and quit telling anybody anything non-superficial and day-to-day.

The other reason for the "blank stare" reactions, it that it's in large part because so much of the origin of the abuse and damage is theology based that most people just plain don't know, or attribute any such thinking to the past or current cults. A perfect example of this latter point is when just the other day, my sister showed some of her friends a book we were each given when we were twelve as a part of our reward for memorizing the entire Westminster Shorter Catechism. The book is called Beautiful Girlhood and is repugnantly patriarchal. After flipping through it, her friends were in disbelieving horror when she told them how extraordinarily popular it is within the Christian homeschool community, and said they thought that kind of patriarchy only existed in cults. Not to mention that they had no clue what the Westminster Shorter Catechism is and why the hell we would be put through rote memorization sessions every morning from the time we were four. So that one intro sentence just to say where she got the book required a whole long explanation in and of itself.

You kind of see what I mean?

So when a conversation with my mum takes some strange turn, or my dad drops some snide 'har har' comment about how if I think corporal punishment is abuse then I need to read my bible more, yeah, my sister is pretty much the only one who I can call and spout off to about it and who will understand.

I think you understand more about certain aspects of my upbringing than a lot of people because we do have several similar points. And vice versa. But at the same time, I know you have a good relationship with your parents and your dad in particular. And I'm both envious, and given that you did come from a Christian homeschool background, I don't understand how you can have the relationship with them that you do. Because I have to clamp down on being full on triggered by being hugged by my parents....because that's what they did after they "spanked" us because "I'm only doing this because I love you"....never mind that a wooden spoon had just been broken in process of demonstrating that "love".... How does one explain the level of fucked up-ness that results in? Because I can't explain away my parents' actions, can't lay the ultimate blame on substance abuse or an unstable mental illness or that they were just bad people. I can't even lay the blame on a church leader who influenced their beliefs (unless I want to blame John Calvin, the Puritans, Martin Lloyd Jones and Spurgeon from the grave). I can't imagine a parallel universe where an external circumstance or influence didn't exist and they were and are what parents should be. I can't tell myself that they said and did what they did for any other reason than they truly meant every last bit of it. And it hurts. Hurts to the point of tears - tears because at this point in my life it feels like it's because I'm just too screwed up that I don't have RL friends besides my sister...there's just something too off and broken and it doesn't matter in the slightest that it's not my fault because it doesn't change reality - tears for the realization that I will never have true parents and how desperately alone that feels....because imagine if you had no parental figure in your life at all, at least not in the sense of what a parent should be - tears because the first time I experienced and knew what unconditional love was, was from and towards my baby girl, and the despair and feeling of worthlessness that I somehow was never able to get that kind of love from my parents.

You see, for damage like that, one doesn't want to have to explain the why's and wherefore's. At best it feels like a never-ending scrolling text intro to a movie when explaining things to someone outside a regularly churched background when I have to explain what "Christian fundamentalism" is. And to those inside the Christian community, they don't want to admit those kind of dark corners exist outside of whacky cults, so good luck getting any of them to actually listen (like I explained earlier...I shouldn't have to defend the legitimacy of the effects I suffered). And no, technically my sister and I aren't inside each other's heads, but we might as well be. Yes, hugs and listening are really all anyone can give, but honestly, from my experience, I have yet to receive them from anyone in RL in response to opening up about something (Rob being the exception of course).

The only bright spot currently regarding my parents (and in case you were wondering after all that, why the hell I let my mum babysit my daughter) is that at least my mum has started recognize that there is a world outside of patriarchy and does genuinely regret and see the wrong with the "spare the rod, spoil the child" philosophy they used, and is very conscientious of trying to mimic how Rob and I parent Katelyn when she's babysitting her.

I don't know how much of all that made sense, and I probably said way too much despite being able to go on much longer. Although I suppose that in and of itself kinda proves my overall point. And please don't think I expect any sort in-depth/philosophical/whatever sort of reply. jesus, I wouldn't know how to reply to this, and it's my own message...! :P Hugs and listening, right? :D But yeah, there you go - specifically and in depth of why I'll really really miss having my sister a simple phone call away.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

No allowance

My baby girl is nothing except one endless bundle of non-stop energy.  She never sits still, not to eat, not to sleep, not for anything.  She hasn't cuddled since she was two months old, and she stills needs to be swaddled in order for her to hold still enough to go to sleep otherwise she literally cannot not stop moving (we tried fairly recently to see what would happen if we didn't wrap her up and not a shred of sleep happened).  Now, obviously each baby is unique and isn't going to be a copy of his/her parents, but kids do generally inherit even some core personality tendencies.  And I've been diagnosed with Adult ADD.  Am I at all phased or even concerned that it might turn my daughter has inherited this?  Not even remotely, and that's not even where I'm going with this. 

Way back at the end of the last "chronological story telling" post I made, I mentioned how that I knew from my earliest recollection the requirement of instant and implicit obedience and the consequences if that didn't happen.  There were also a few "behavioral" things which I knew must be followed without injunction or there would be consequences.  One of these things was sitting still.  Be it church, our nightly "family worship", if we were out visiting, at a restaurant (the rare times we went), or any other public setting.

I don't sit still.  Ask my husband.  I must fidget with something - drum with my fingers or hands, fiddle with whatever is at hand, or generally just shift constantly.  I didn't used to think that me having ADD was a possible diagnosis simply because I remember knowing I had to sit still when I was a kid and given that I was almost never in trouble for fidgeting, didn't even stop to think any deeper into things.

Until now.

Now I look at my 6month old daughter and see so much of that side of me in her and I started wondering where the disconnect between my "kid" self and my "adult" self lay.

Then it hit me.

I was too scared to fidget and not sit still.

Not scared in the sense of feeling fear itself, but simply intrinsically knowing what would happen if I didn't follow what was expected.  I've lived all my life with my mother bragging to me how she had me sitting still through an entire church service by the time my sister was born - I was only a year and half when she was.  And I look at my daughter, superimpose what I was probably like as a baby (based on how I am now), and I truly shudder to think how my compliance to their expected behavior was obtained.  It's not natural for any baby to sit still through something like an adult church service, let alone one whose compulsion is to constantly move.  It also explains how I don't remember not being the most "compliant" of me and my siblings: I knew the consequences.

No explanations for anything were allowed.  I remember when I was three and we were at church, the top of my head had an itch.  My parents are staunch believers that women are supposed to wear head coverings in church, so little tiny me had a bonnet of some sort on.  I tried to surreptitiously (because being too obvious would be considering fidgeting) scratch the itch through my bonnet.  It wasn't at all effective.  So I slid my bonnet back and scratched the itch.  My dad noticed and quick pulled my bonnet forward and told me not to take it off.  Well, I wasn't trying to take it off so I didn't pay any attention whatsoever since clearly the warning didn't apply to what I was doing.  I sat for a couple more minutes before the itch came back.  I slid my bonnet back again (now mind you, I wasn't even close to taking it off) and scratched.  And that was it.  I was taken in the most back room of the church and was spanked.  I was three.  I had no idea how to explain that I wasn't even remotely trying to take my bonnet off, and even if I had, any sort of explanation would have only been considered making excuses and gotten me nowhere.

I remember several other instances where things I did got me swiftly punished (there was no form of punishment other than spanking...such concepts as redirection weren't even considered as all children regardless of age are sinful creatures who choose to do "bad" things) and where I wanted to protest that I had no clue I had done anything wrong.  I still remember my thought process as a three or four year old that led me to doing whatever it was and why it would be okay.  Sometimes it was the simplistic logic of a toddler, sometimes it was pure impulsivity of an action that at the time seemed fairly minor (apparently I supposed to know otherwise).  But what I do recall was that it was not willful disobedience.  Hell, my sister and I recalled recently that when we were kids, we didn't even know what the term "temper tantrum" meant.  We'd hear it mentioned in either books or by someone else and not have the slightest idea.  Why?  From the time we were babies we were made too petrified to exhibit a temper, let alone a tantrum of any sort.  But how else do babies express themselves besides exhibitions of pure emotion?  They don't.  They don't have the vocabulary or thought process necessary.

I'm immensely glad I don't have memories any earlier than I do because I can't imagine what I'd have to do to straight-lace my bouncing, moving, fidgety little girl into a picture of "perfect public behavior".

And why is that even necessary?  I think the answer is in how my mother still views her "success" with us.  Bragging rights.  I know for a fact my parents took a great deal of pride whenever they'd be complimented at church or when we were out at how well behaved us kids were, and they definitely shook their heads at parents who didn't "achieve" the same result.  This isn't to say pride and appearance were their sole motive - children were to implicitly behave their parents because the Scripture said so - but looking good to others was a factor I picked up on early.  In part because everyone in the fundamentalist mindset is so incredibly judgmental, that one kind of has to one-up everyone else's parenting "skills" by having the most well behaved robot kids.

So how did I coral my ADD way back then?  Looking back it's now obvious.  Fear was definitely a very powerful motivator, but my distractability and imagination was my savior.  During impossibly long prayers I'd pretend I was blind in order to keep my eyes closed, and I'd try to see if I could correctly guess the color of any sort of hard candy we were allowed to have while my eyes were closed.  When I was eight and nine, saving the church Indiana Jones style from armed thugs occupied my mental wanderings, as did imagining that Earth was a planet in the Unknown Regions in Star Wars and that a Jedi exploration ship showed up.  I did a lot of imagining and pretending even throughout my teens years, and it was a world and circumstances and possibilities that had no restrictions and no one could control except me.

That place I learned to fall into when quiet behavior was expected is a skill that remains to this day, and to a certain extent has had its usefulness.  One usefulness.  There is really only one place in society that expects implicit and instant obedience, and that is the military.  I had a far easier time adapting to the environment when I went through Basic Training than a lot of my peers simply because I already had learned to recognize an environment were resistance was an exercise in futility and conformity got one through anything.  But what does it say that I had the skills and mindset to get through military boot camp by the time I was three...?