Tags: misfit manor


What is WRONG with you???


I don’t suppose I’ve achieved enough success in my life yet to consider mine a rags to riches story, but I can certainly say I’ve come a long way from having been a child ward of the state.  Those days were an almost forgotten other world from here, way back around that bygone era when DCFS destroyed the only family I’d ever known by then.  No, wait... that’s not fair...

In reality, it wasn’t the state that ruined us...

Untreated mental health issues shattered my Mother.

Acute self-centered overindulgence wrecked my father.

Abject poverty devastated us all.

Alcoholism, unchecked rage, violence, and abuse...

     ...sexual deviancy, moral depravity, molestation and pedophilia...

          ...willful ignorance, purposeful neglect, and parental abandonment...

...these are the evils that irreparably damaged the first family that formed the foundation of my life.  The state department of Health and Rehabilitative Services was just there to pick up the broken pieces.  I lost everyone I loved in one dire night — stolen away to “the system.”

Through the lens of maturity, and the perspective of time, I can see now that was the best thing for all of us.  But even if I could have understood so then, it wouldn’t have made it any easier to sleep alone in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers — thankfully, I can’t remember anymore how many nights I must have cried myself to sleep... these days I can only imagine.  In some respects, I became who I am today in that moment “they” came to our door and took us from our home... in other ways, I never fully recovered.

Before my world came crashing down around us, I had been raised on foodstamps, picking green bits off bread, learning to digest anything a goat can eat — a typical once-a-week dinner for our whole family was to sit down to a big pot of mac ‘n’ cheese with canned peas and weenies.*  Foodstamps alone were never enough, though — not so much we didn’t still have to hit up the foodbank twice a month.  And feeding isn’t all there is to caring for a family... there was the bookmobile, swap meets, toy exchanges, and free clothing drives — touring bi-monthly tri-state area flea markets were a regular staple of our routine. 

*(For anyone fortunate enough to not be in the know about such things, that’s boiled hot dogs sliced into smaller sections to spread further as fractions than as whole units... even in today’s economy, the total cost of that entire meal for the 5 of us would be around $2.17.  It wasn’t that good, but it was edible, and it kept us from going hungry.  If you’ve ever heard anyone speak of “po-folx fare,” this is what they meant.

If I hadn’t come to know her better later on, I might have wondered whether the reason my Mother became so fanatically religious (considering she’d been brought up on the rez) was to be close enough to local church organizations to take advantage of their donations and giveaways for the poor — or perhaps in the hopes that God would award her faithfulness with a better life.  I suspect, in Mother’s case, these two angles of zealotry were very likely not necessarily mutually exclusive.

My father was an over-the-road trucker.  He was often out-of-town for long stretches, and when he was back, he was generally irritable, with too much time on his hands, which — if we were lucky — he spent scouring local gun shops for gear to blow his paycheck on, drawing obscene images (the man was such a brilliantly talented artist, if not for the comic book character proportions, his work could have been mistaken for photography), or obsessively crafting WWII memorabilia.  While my mother at least claimed to pine over his dearth, we all got along fine without him when he wasn’t around, and learned to keep our distance from him as much as possible when he was — though that never worked out well enough for long.

Mother often toiled away, 2-3 jobs at a time, like she thought it would earn her extra jewels in her crown — including late night and swing shifts — so she wasn’t always around that much either.  But it wasn’t because she was so dedicated to supporting us she had to labor that hard just to bring in enough income for meeting our needs... no, that circumstance was mostly caused by her inability to ever find a way to hold down one job — something was always getting in the way of her success, and to hear her tell the tale (which she was only too eager to fire off at anyone who would listen), whatever “it” was, it was never her fault.  Her official diagnosis was PSD (paranoid schizophrenic disorder), but more accurately, I believe that conclusion probably resulted from the masking technique of BPD (borderline personality disorder), as this more comprehensive condition is wont to mimic others, and over enough time, I was able to identify recognizable symptoms.

My brother and sister and I pretty much raised ourselves for a few years — they would get themselves up and ready for school, with me crying as they caught the bus off to their 2nd and 4th grade classes, respectively, holding onto their clothes, begging them not to go.  (A favorite game of my brother’s was to pretend he didn’t notice when I threw myself on the ground and wrapped my arms around his legs to prevent him from leaving... he would pull one foot out, making a big production of going anyway — as if he hadn’t noticed me there, so he would have to end up taking me with him — walking towards the door for a few steps, dragging me along, until I couldn’t hold on anymore because I was giggling too hard.)  They would both shower me with hugs and tickles and smooches, promising to be home in the afternoon, “before you even know it!,” then wave and blow kisses from the windows of the bus as it carried them away, leaving me on my own until they returned.

He was 10, she was 8... I was 3.

I popped across the large lot over to the elderly neighbors who owned the land we lived on, snacking on kumquats from the bushes in their front yard, knocking on their door to be let in for an individual cereal box or a pop tart (which I feel pretty sure they probably kept around just for such occasions) and morning cartoons.  The 2BR/1Bath sharecropper’s shack we “rented” from them for the upkeep on it had been converted from a chicken coop when they’d become old enough to retire from active farm operations.  After breakfast, I took my dolls, and my books,* and followed my cat out into their orange groves, the two of us wandering together for the bulk of the day... it was easy to lose myself out there in the serene stillness and quiet beauty of nature. 

*(Mother had become overly ambitious about my pre-K home education once she’d recognized how smart I was as a young child, and had taught me to read before I could speak — though I was already talking up a summer storm by the time I reached 3 — but I almost never went anywhere without my favorite books.)

When I got hungry, I ate fallen fruit off the ground because those were the ones I could reach — I developed a strong, instinctive sense of what was too far turned, a taste for slightly rotten oranges, and an iron constitution — though sometimes my brother or sister packed me a bologna-n-cheese or PB & J to carry along, because if my father was passed out at home, it was never a good idea to be nearby when he came to.  Whenever I had to go, I would simply squat, making use of leaves and grass for hygiene materials.  On days he was on the road, though — which were preferable — I could hang around the house, watch Sesame Street, use the facilities, and make myself mac ‘n’ cheese, ramen, sandwiches, cereal, or toast (which about comprised the extent of my “cooking” skills in the kitchen, but that’s far more than can be expected of most 3-yr-olds).

My excursions out into the wild with my best friend came to an end, though, when my father murdered our cat — he grabbed him by the scruff, yanked him into his car and held him in his lap, got up to highway speeds, then tossed him out the window — I know about it, because he did this with my brother in the car.  I can only imagine how traumatizing that must have been for my brother — I think the intent was to intimidate my brother, to show what could happen to him if my father got too tired of him, as he was tired of caring for my cat.  I didn’t find this out from my brother until years later, after I’d spent weeks and months back then crying over missing him, calling outside and at night for my cat, never knowing where he’d run off to, wondering why he would leave our home, desperately hoping he would return.

My father was a drunk.  He routinely deliquesced into his knock-off lazy-boy, mostly naked, watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes, while scratching his balls... when I was little, I would have sworn he had three stomachs, and at least two necks.  To this day, the smell of cheap yellow beer takes me back to dark, sticky, sweaty places, with hot, rancid breath dripping off bristly whiskers, stumbling flab rolls, and fumbling fingers.

My father frequently beat us.  With his hands.  With his belt.  With the matchbox car racetracks my brother got for Christmas.  With a freshly cut twig from a young sapling skinned of bark to the bleeding green underbelly, until it whistled in the air like a pan-flute, cracked like a whip, and welted skin bloody with the barest touch.

Well, no... that’s not quite true... he beat my siblings — especially my brother, the only other male among us, a natural threat to my sire’s totalitarian authority.  For me, his only biological offspring — his darling prodigy, his perfect creation, who could do no wrong in his eyes — he spared the rod, and spoiled the child... he just “loved” me “a little too much.”  My sister’s role was so much worse, though, as he and Mother often weren’t home at the same time for too long, and, you know... a man has needs.

My brother took it upon himself to save us — he knew he wasn’t strong enough to confront all 400# of my beer-induced-rage-filled progenitor himself, so he determined to run away — his “grand liberation plan” to form a band along the lines of the then very popular KISS, earning enough money as a rockstar to swoop back in as the valiant returning jukebox hero made good, and bust his sisters out of that toxic environment.  Pinching together every penny he had, he hitched to a neighboring town, and got as far as a 24-hr highway truckstop diner, where he had just enough to buy a coffee, before passing out in a booth, exhausted from the road, and the stress of it all.  Waitresses changing shifts hours later discovered him numb to the world with his icy cuppa joe well past a gradeschool kid’s curfew, and when one sat down to hear his sad tale of two sisters trapped in the abusive clutches of a monster, DCFS was called, and the jig was up.

He was 12, she was 10 — I was 5.

I remember Mother calling us all to her and issuing a tearful farewell, explaining why she had to leave (I never recalled the details, other than frantically, angrily, desperately pleading against her retreat), and I remember the child welfare people being at the door to collect us... for the first half of my life, I’d believed this was one recollection of the same night — it wasn’t until decades later, in my 20s, my brother clarified for me those events had been 2 years apart.  Our mother had responded to being confronted by my brother about what my father was doing to our sister by first furiously accusing him of lying and beating him, then making herself the victim (because somehow, whatever it was, it was always about her), deciding she was too beleaguered to deal with it, and walking out on us all.  We’d already endured two years of fluctuating between either fending for ourselves on our own, or surviving abuse without any maternal buffer of protection before my brother made his drastic attempt at a heroic rescue.

I’d had memories of Mother being gone, of missing her, of wishing she was around — but my toddler brain had squeezed the gaps together, and I’d just since rationalized she’d always been working during those absences.  That revelation of the truth hit me with the kind of hard-knock shock to the system that reframed my entire perspective on much of my life up to that point.  My brother also shared with me, part of Mother’s argument during that heated confrontation was to explain to him, my brother “just didn’t understand” my father, as he had no idea what that man had been through... then she told him a sob story about the nightmare of his grueling tour in Vietnam, leaving my brother dumbfounded and appalled, not because of the horrific nature of the tale, but because he knew it to be total *8@77$#!%*.  Outraged, my brother cleared the air for our Mother, by informing her — that wasn’t my father — that was Chuck Norris in Missing in Action!

Mother subsisted her entire disturbed life in a dodgy relationship with the truth, but that was primarily due to the effect of a condition resulting from her psychopathy, because she was able to lie to herself so convincingly, she then believed her own lies, which thereby effectively became her truth.  The same cannot be said, though, of my father, who was merely an expertly opportunistic manipulator of her vulnerability and trusting, gullible nature — as he was with anyone whose convictions could be twisted to meet his ends.  I know there are some who would say he had a condition, too, as alcoholism is a disease — and, let’s not even go there with pedophilia — but I’m not one who is of the mind to slap a medical label on inexcusable behavior in order to wipe the slate clean... people still have choices to make... no one gets a free pass.

My father was a racist and a bigot — Archie Bunker, without the “charm.”  He was the first to introduce me to the term “light in the loafers,” and although I understood the gist of who was being referenced (that is, I got folks like Jack Tripper and Liberace without really knowing what that meant), it took me years to understand what a man’s choice in footwear had to do with any of it.  I remember once getting berated and cuffed for being “limp-wristed” as I walked into a Kroger — my short, stunted arms and hands carried in the position they fell most naturally then, like a kangaroo — because I looked “like a faggot,” and what would people think???

I recall retelling off-color jokes I’d heard from him, which never returned a word of dissent.  By the time I got into school, I remember absentmindedly doodling in the margins of coloring pages the swastikas I’d seen around our house on the model airplanes he built, because I thought they looked cool, but not one of my teachers raised an alarm — though a counselor bothered to call attention to pictures of bunnies I’d drawn... apparently, their clawed hands holding Easter baskets were somehow thought to possibly represent boobs.  (???!!)  That was Florida in the 70s, though — priorities, you know
by that time, thanks to foster placement, “the state” knew entirely too much about the world I’d come from, and they never let me forget it.

The family that adopted me a few years later turned my world around in a mostly positive fashion — at least by elevating my social status to a respectable middle class, anyway — though, while the potential for my future certainly became brighter for that reason, there were enough damaging issues and destructive conflicts of a different kind in my new family, it might be a stretch to say I was completely out of the fire at that point.  I do remain forever indebted for their willingness to take me in, sharing their home and their love, for becoming a permanent fixture of stability in my life, and for creating an environment in which I could thrive among them as one.  There isn’t any merit in comparing heartbreak, obviously — and yet, even so, the overall impact of my adopted family experience was not inconsequential enough to be overlooked on the roadmap of my life.

My mom was quick to inflict black and blue bruises up and down my arms with a lightning ninja pinch any time I disagreed with her — because she saw any argument from me as a personal affront, lacking respect for her authority.  She regularly slapped me in the face, or beat me with the belt I’d saved up my allowance to buy her for Mother’s Day (leather, ornately embossed with intricately dyed flowers, engraved “Mom”) until I was old enough to fight back, and strong enough to make her stop for good — I was 12 then.  No pre-adolescent should ever find themselves in a position to get into a knock-down, drag-out, blow-by-blow brawl with any adult, much less a family member, but after 5 years of assault, 3 years of administrative custody, and nearly 5 years of battery justified by “tough love Christian parenting,” I’d had enough of violence, and I was done with it.

Mom is the adult child of an abusive alcoholic, resulting in severe codependency issues, and an extreme lack of self-esteem, to the point she needed to impose her every meticulous whim upon every movement of every individual susceptible to her control, as she otherwise questioned their love and loyalty, because she had no belief she was worthy of either.  As a non-blood relation, I was less trustworthy than most in this regard from her perspective, as I had no genetic predisposition or contractual obligation to love her.  (After years of soul-searching, this is what she admitted to me about why her love for me was conditional for so long, and this personal epiphany was what allowed her to grow enough to finally build a healthy relationship with me.)

And, because I hadn’t grown up in that environment, I hadn’t yet learned — as my brothers and my Dad had — how to “handle” her by the time I came to them.  (To this day — as my husband came to conclude on his own through observation, before he even knew any of this backstory — my Mom now lives in a peaceful, comfortably placated alternate reality, partially because through a lot of personal growth on her part, she’s progressed enough to have put a lot of the need to control others behind her, but also not insignificantly because everyone associated with her life has been well trained in how to “handle” h
her.)  It took some time (and some distance) for me to also grasp the unspoken rules of “handling” my Mom, as well, but basically, it amounts to recognizing, with her, there are quite a few more sensitive subjects than most people have with the potential to result in a volatile reaction, so therefore these must be considered taboo, and kept off the table — stick to the general guidelines, and stay out of trouble zones, and things usually work out okay... also, the older she gets, the more she’s learned to let go, the more mellow she is, the less she cares about a lot of it, and the easier it has become to get along... which I’m so relieved by, and proud of her for.

My Dad
had been raised in a much more relaxed environment, which pretty much had effectively only a few general rules, more or less amounting to: Trust God, love others, don’t be stupid.  Mom claimed she resented his lack of hands-on involvement with raising us — and this was the singular constant sticking issue between them that frequently threatened to damage their relationship — but he remained emotionally unavailable throughout my preteens and adolescence.  I believe that has more to do with her overbearing attention to particulars about every tiny detail of my life, from what I thought to the way I breathed (I do really wish I could say I was exaggerating about this, but I promise I’m not), which left him so out of his depth, he had no idea how to be of any help, and so he left it all up to her — one less thing for him to “handle.”

Mom frequently challenged him to redress his level of participation in the corrective actions she imposed upon their kids.  But, if it had been up to him, there probably would have been about 20% of the total discipline enforced throughout our lifetimes for all five of us — at about 5% of the severity.  For that reason, I suspect all of this was just the song and dance acted out between them for the purpose of allowing her to play the role of the overworked, unappreciated martyr... although him being the type who avoided conflict at all costs and effectively “checked out” didn’t help the situation any, I’m sure.

Though nothing I experienced in this healthier setting compared in magnitude to what I lived through during my formative years, by far the worst injury was being disowned as their daughter, “for the good of the church.”  They would tell you it happened differently, I imagine, probably touting something about my “choices,” asserting I was the one who left them,* while downplaying it as irrelevant anyway, because, after all, they’ve since come around from that prolonged period of estrangement (around 8 years), and we’ve all moved on from there.  That is, as much as we are able to, anyway... some things are harder to get over than others.

In contrast, I can honestly attest with assurance, I’m quite certain nothing I could have done in this world would have ever made my original Mother not claim me as her own.  (She directly vowed as much, herself, which, although I believe her, is still ironic, coming from someone who didn’t have any qualms about deserting us, and who later in life told me she didn’t love me anymore because I refused to lie to a judge on her behalf when she was arrested for beating me, even though there were other witnesses — but that’s another story.)  There’s not much worth pining over in that world of “what if,” though, as I’m sure if I’d hung onto any more than incidental exposure to Mother’s world, I would have found it much more challenging to maintain any appearance of “normalcy” in this life.  But she was the one who’d stipulated, when signing away her parental rights, that I could only be adopted by a “Christian” family, though I later found out, she was apparently quite livid when she learned I’d gone to a “Protestant” home, and not a “Pentecostal” one — so, all things considered, I suppose it could have been worse, and I’m thankful the agency didn’t give too much weight to her wishes, as I probably dodged a bullet, there.

*(They sat me down for an “intervention,” in which my Mom did most of the talking while my Dad held his hands in his lap and kept his eyes on the floor, as she explained my actions had rippling consequences in association with him being an elder in the church — ordained according to scripture, in which the Bible clearly defines an elder as, “husband of but one wife and father of all God-fearing children.”  Since it was obvious to them and any casual observer from my way of life at the time I could no longer be considered a god-fearing child, my Dad would have to be disqualified from the eldership.  Because there were only two elders in the church at the time, that would dissolve the eldership, as one single man cannot put himself in a position of power over the church, and that would then leave the church without leadership, which was an unfair position to put the believers of that congregation in — and so, therefore, if I didn’t change my ways, they would have to disown me as their daughter.

For the record, I wasn’t living a particularly “sinful” life according to their religion at the time — that came later, after I discarded the institution of religion entirely as a result of this “threat,” and now no longer have the same concept of “sin.”  No, their assertion of my “non-god-fearing” nature was due to my willingness to be outspoken in my open questioning of certain elements about total indoctrination, because I’ve never been one to merely accept at face value everything I’ve been spoon-fed, no questions asked — that’s just not who I am.  I was 17.

I write the story of this firsthand knowledge, not at all in the slightest to re-experience any portion of the painful scarred wounds of these calloused memories, but to capture whatever benefit the study of such moments in our shared family history might harbor to offer my son, before the ability to recall any of it has escaped from my mind.  Proofreading out loud to my husband — as I do — I expressed surprise at finding myself choking in places, but Minion countered, wondering why I wouldn’t naturally expect that.  That answer is because I would have thought by the time I’m more than halfway closer to 50 than 40, none of this should be raw anymore... and my loving partner wisely and gently reproached me with, “It may be in the past, and you may have put it behind you — but you will never get over this.”

It’s really remarkable, how resilient children are... it’s truly amazing what we as humans can be capable of bouncing back from.  Most importantly, though, it’s critical to recognize how much kids pay attention to every specific detail and every minute aspect of each new life experience.  It’s crucial to notice not just what they’re learning, but how... especially during those moments when we’re not intending to teach.

Many folks who place gratuitous stock in their “credo” believe the best way to instill their own standard of principles in their young is the good ol’ fashioned way — by bible beating it into them — the “tried and true family values” of Judeo-Christian ethics, passed along through the teachings of the good book.  I may have spent decades around religion, but that’s not how I became who I am.  It took me getting to this week of rumination in my life to come to the realization, most everything I now consider an inseparable component of my integrity, I have learned by experience — through the mistakes of others — by vigilant observation, and by clinging tightly onto what not to do.

My family was poor; my father lacked self-control...

...so I’m slow to splurge, careful with spending, an unabashed bargain hunter and dogged deal finder, decent at home crafting, great with repurposing, always appreciate the value of materials, treasure lost and tossed aside things, cherish what we have, and have an ingrained understanding of how to let it all go when necessary, because after all, it’s just stuff.

Mother couldn’t keep a job, because she couldn’t get out of her own way long enough to tow the line and work for someone else.  I may be cut from the same cloth as she was, but I can make and honor a commitment to an employer.  So far, I haven’t found a permanent business partnership to settle down into, but I do regularly have clients asking to get me back into repeat contracts, because I know how to go above and beyond the parameters of the project laid out for me, to meet and exceed expectations, to fulfill my obligations, and to keep my promises — when I say I’m going to do something, I find a way to get it done.

Our parents left us to our own devices...

...so I became efficiently independent and self-reliant, and though I still crave personal space and require alone time, I learned to make the most of every quality moment I am able to share with those I care about.

I was shown kindness by people with no responsibility to me...

...so I try to extend random kindness to others as often as I’m able.

My father was a cruel to animals...

...so I have spent a lifetime rescuing those who needed the most care and love.

My father was a drunk... so I don’t partake — and neither does anyone I’m closely connected to.

My father was violent, and abused our affection... so I’m slow to strike, and quick to cuddle.

My biological parents were both wholly incapable of speaking with anything resembling even a kernel of truthfulness to it... so I can sniff out BS from 13 miles away, and I have a strong moral imperative to be direct, honest, and up-front in every interaction of my life.

Mother left us... so I never got good at walking out... even when I should have.

My father was a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist... but I believe people and places are made better by diversity in gender, culture, and identity, and I strive to paint my surroundings with the kind of varied tapestry that more deeply enriches my life and those peripheral to my world.

My father was a bully and a tyrant, and there was nothing any of us could do about it...

...so I learned to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, to protect the weak and defend the vulnerable, and to fight against abuse of power.

Mom beat me... so I learned to stand up for myself.

Mom was overwhelmingly domineering and crushingly high-handed...

...so I learned to prioritize the important things in life that can be controlled — like my thoughts, my words, my choices, my actions, and most anything related to myself — and to never lose a moment of my life over trying to control anyone or anything outside of myself, which about covers most of the rest of everything else.

My dad was emotionally unavailable and uninvolved in parenting me and my siblings...

...so I married a man who is committed to be an active figure in our son’s everyday life.

My parents disowned me over religious differences...

...so I learned to think for myself, and to seek and find my own purpose and direction in life, without the need for guidance from a loosely interpreted, cherry-picked set of rules that has been debated over for centuries.

I have experienced a lot of repeating patterns throughout my life — beginning with childhood, and bleeding into adolescence and my young adult days — I kept running into a lot of the kind of noxious “love” that hurts, that has no healing, no heart, and no hope, because that’s what I knew best.  I floundered for a while, trying to find something that worked, by “looking for love in all the wrong places” ...kissing too many frogs that belonged back under the rocks they’d crawled out from.  But through a long period of trial and error — including plenty of mistakes of my own — I have worked to break the cycles of dysfunction, and I’m so very grateful to testify, I finally got there... eventually.

The Vedas teach us, the questions asked of us feed into our internal programming, whether they are initiated by someone else, or whether we internalize them ourselves.  When a question is posed to the mind, the subconscious will find an answer for it, to solve for “X,” laboring in everything we do, whether we are proactively cognizant, otherwise occupied, or even while we are at rest.  If you wonder to yourself, “Why am I so ugly,” your subliminal self will decipher this puzzle for you, presuming, according to your inner guidance, that you are indeed ugly, it will give you an answer, showing you all the reasons why you are so ugly — just as you presented — to satisfy your inquiry.

For this reason, I take great care in what kind of programming my words and actions present to our son’s self image and sense of worth.  Every night since he was tiny and whenever he is overly flustered, I repeat to him a mantra of traits about his character that make him special and unique — it continues to grow and expand along with him, just as the nature of his essence does — these words have a calming effect on him, because he understands instinctively, these words together belong only to him, and to no one else.  I am careful never to ask of him, “What is wrong with you???,” because I never want him to wonder that about himself.

Whatever’s wrong with any of us, it had to begin somewhere.  “That’s just what I was taught,” is no excuse for holding onto ignorant, backwards ideals, because whatever gets passed on to any of us, we always have the choice in whether or not to accept it.  “That’s just what I was taught,” is merely where it starts... it’s our responsibility to choose where it ends.

Ignorance, intolerance, hatred, selfishness, bigotry, and greed are the flames of a fire that has been raging since the dawn of man... but it’s a fire that must be fueled and fanned to spark new life into itself — we have always had the power to snuff it out with every new generation.  What is wrong with me might be the result of just what I was taught, but may I never be so caustically costive as to rekindle a flickering ember and breathe a fresh glint into that blazing inferno of human frailty — may I have the strength to hold my ground.  And though I cannot hope to cure the ills of all mankind, I can cap the outward ripple from the tendril that has engulfed me... so for my part, at least, may just this strain of evil be stopped — here, and now, with me.

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 27 - Topic: “VALUES ARE LIKE FINGERPRINTS…”
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Morning After

Choose Your Own Adventure


My husband and I have been losing sleep lately, trying to convince our boy he’s not a vampire.  It’s not just the biting, and the refusing to eat people food, though, certainly those are problems worth addressing.  But how do you make a 3-yr-old understand abstract concepts like, we are diurnal creatures, child — humans are designed to sleep at night.  They don’t play and laugh and squeal and fuss and carry on the whole time it’s dark out, and then wait until dawn breaks after Mama and Papa have just barely drifted off for less than a half hour to begin screaming, thereby starting the cycle all over again... TWICE.  This is not how things are supposed to work, baby — and now Mama’s nerves are shot.

I’d love to claim not being able to pass out before near 10ish in the morning for a few fitful hours of dozing on and off until I can find the strength to force myself up sometime after noon is an isolated incident.  I really, really would — you’ve no idea how much I’d like that.  Seriously... this is not how I wanted to start this day — nor any other, for that matter.

We had a routine.  It was beautifully, gloriously functional, if a bit outside any standard of passing for “normalcy” these days — whatever that is.  Then the world turned upside down, and we drifted into the oncoming traffic of changes we had no say in. 
It didn’t happen all at once... like a frog in boiling water, we slowly steeped our issues in the compounded factors of forces outside our control.  I mean, sure, we made some shortsighted bad choices we’re stuck with the ramifications of now, but there’s not much to be done about that at this point, so... no use losing any more sleep over it.  And three months later, here we are.

Contributing to the population of the next generation changes how you perceive your place in the universe, and, to be fair, I knew it would.  But it colors so many of my priorities these days, it’s hard to separate the “what” of anything I do anymore from the “why.”  For example, it’s the reason I’m here, struggling to meet a pressing deadline after only the barest minimum of a brief recharge last night.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so arrogant as to believe the world needs a memoir from me... I haven’t done anything special enough to warrant one.  Well, not yet, anyway — but I’m still young...-ish.  And no, I don’t have any grand designs on making or changing history, but really, whoever does?

I mean, I look around, and I don’t like what I see.  I want a different world — a better world, for myself, my family, and every beast who breathes.  I don’t have a plan for making that dream come true right now... but I do have an uncanny knack for getting what I want in life, probably because I’m efficient in chaos — I’ve spent enough of my life in turmoil that I tend to thrive in disarray by enveloping myself in a bubble of centered serenity to push through... it’s my variation on “active meditation,” I suppose, which is the only type I can hope for, since I pretty much suck at any other kind.

There’s an organized kind of madness to my unruly disorder, though... it’s almost the only way I know how to get things done.  And I don’t know about you, but this handbasket is starting to feel pretty pandemonious to me.  I’m seething with barely contained outrage, but methodically controlled, and meticulously calculating; I know there must come a time for an end to all things, but I don’t give up easily; I’m tenacious, and I am most certainly not a well-behaved woman.  So, yeah, it could happen... stranger things have.  But I’m not a superhero, and that’s not why I do this.

Like all of us, I’m just trying to make sense of my world right now.  I write, because that’s what I can do... indeed, in this moment, perhaps it’s all I can do.  But I’m merely speaking from my own perspective, since that’s the only world I know, and it’s not nearly as vast as I’d like it to be.  So I try to expand my horizons, in what limited capacity I’m able.  I won’t delude myself — I realize I have a fairly small audience, for what it’s worth — but the target demographic is even smaller... less than 40#, to be exact.  He’s not much of a taskmaster, but he is a powerful driving force.

I just kinda have a lot of extra baggage on my mind of late, go figure — but then again, who doesn’t???  I came up with 48 distinct topics this week to offer anyone who requested a jumping off point, just in case someone needed a springboard for inspiration, and a handful to choose from, because, well — I’m just too much like that, I guess.  But I didn’t have a problem coming up with an idea of my own.  I keep a running spreadsheet of all my ideas, not just for such a purpose, but as a handy writing tool for chronicling the experiences I might want to share some day.  (Come on, now... don’t give me that look.  Everyone here already knows what a nerd I am, so stop shaking your head, for dork’s sake.)  I had a problem coming up with one I felt like sharing — one that YOU might want to read, that is.

I want to share his origins...

— the fairytale romance that sparked his life, and the journey of his arrival in this world —

...because I want him to know who he is.

•  How Minion once accidentally kidnapped a cat; how he also once gave an entirely new meaning to the notion of “putting the cat out.”

•  How we lost 4 beloved fids in our first 14 months of marriage, then fostered and rehomed a handful of others before we found the right balance for our family, so our house felt for a little where there like it had a revolving critter door.

•  How Firebird was delivered with the help of his Papa on the bathroom floor, and the scene was so chaotic, his birth certificate records the time of his birth incorrectly by at least 10 minutes.

But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because you’re probably sick of me cooing all over my brood, and besides... I’m not really a Mommy blogger.

I want to share our family history...

— the good, the bad, the ugly, and the strange —

...because I want him to know where he comes from.

•  Coming of age in a 5BR/3BA farmhouse my parents built from scratch on 7 acres of mostly woods 17 miles out of Tallahassee with a rural route box address, a clothesline vineyard, a chicken coop, and a 1-acre garden.

•  The priceless legacy of gentle worldly wisdom bestowed upon us by our great family patriarch.

•  How my Mom (his Granny) set the stage for our ongoing power struggle by picking a fight with me the first day we met.  How she never understood me, yet still insisted she knew what was in my head better than me, and effectively trained me to lie to her, by refusing to accept any other responses about what I was thinking besides the parroting back of carefully crafted statements she created for me.

•  How Mother died alone, and none of her children attended her funeral.

•  Early childhood memories of abject poverty — Growing up on foodstamps in a 2BR/1BA sharecropper’s shack occupied by 5 of us, in the middle of a Florida orange grove.

•  How I was bounced around “in the system” across 17 different foster homes in less than 3 years before being adopted by a white family.

•  How I grew up with 3 brothers, but I have 4.  Well, actually, I have 1 brother and 1 sister... no, wait, I mean 2 brothers, I guess — I never met one of them, so I often forget to count him.  Though, if you add them all together, I have 6 brothers and a sister, total — but to be technically accurate, I’m really an only child.  I know, it’s confusing... Firebird might need me to help him sort it out.

•  How my peacefully inclined Dad, apparently miscalculating his gun settings and forgetting to aim for a warning strike (because decorated Marine officer instincts are hard to unlearn, even in muscle memory), once got up from the dinner table where the local preacher and his wife were seated for Sunday afternoon dinner, shot an animal rummaging through their trash, then sat back down to continue eating.

•  How my Mom & Dad once invited their best friends over for chicken dinner... while failing to mention they would first be helping with the killing & de-feathering of the chickens beforehand.

But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because I couldn’t get all the pieces put together in time.

I want to tell stories of my life...

— the epic tales, and the not-so-impressive anecdotes of my personal history —

...because I want him to know who I am.

•  How I called my senior high principal by his first name, and how, on behalf of a Muslim friend, I organized an institution-wide rebellion against an oppressive school policy that permanently impacted school practices — because you can get away with a lot when you’re smart & charming.

•  The Minnesota Rite of Passage that is corn detassling with Jacques Seed Co.

•  Getting taken in at an impressionable stage of young adulthood by perfume pimps.

•  Challenging masculinity for 2 bucks a blow at the MN Renaissance Festival.  (Hey, I’m talking about heavy swung strikes with a hammer, you perv... get your mind out of the gutter — this is a family show! ;-)

•  How I accidentally moved in with my ex.

But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because some of those stories are attached to pieces that still sting, and every time I tried dipping into that well, I kept coming up dry.  (It’s hard not to feel pretty “basic” when faced with the prospect that by one’s mid-forties, every life story worth telling has already been told... though perhaps I might feel differently after I’ve gotten to sleep on it some more.)

I want to present my random aimless thoughts...

— from the clever, to the nutty, to the downright ridiculous —

...because I want him to take life seriously, and think for himself,
    but I also want him to take himself lightly, and find joy in simple, silly things.

•  Why do we drive on a parkway, and park on a driveway?

•  Why aren’t iPhone chargers called “Apple Juice?”

•  If vegetarians have an issue between them, is it still considered a beef?

But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because I haven’t had it in me to be that witty lately.

I want to regale him with reports of my successes...

— from the laughable happy accidents, to the fantastical legends —

...because I want him to believe in triumph, and strive for greatness.

•  How I came to be credited as a writer and filmmaker on IMDB.

•  How I soloed at the Headquarters of the United Nations for a Global Youth Conference on saving the environment, 25 years before saving the environment was a human imperative.

But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because I don’t want to come across as bragging, and because the stories themselves are really nowhere near as exciting as the teasers.

I want to confess my struggles, vent my frustrations, and chronicle my failures...

— the pitiful, the painful, and the shameful —

...because I want him to know I’m only human.

•  How I struggle with executive dysfunction, and I’m concerned about getting diagnosed with spectrum disorders, because I can check off damn near every box in some capacity, and I’m terrified of passing my shortcomings on to him.

•  How despite being a passable writer, I’m actually a terrible communicator, and do a lousy job of following up with people I care about.

•  How long-term unemployment is hard on one’s self esteem, especially on top of the natural coping mechanisms regularly employed to address the effects of a permanently dysthymic disposition.

•  How imposter syndrome sometimes hits me so hard I feel paralyzed and powerless, and how often I feel like a complete and utter useless waste of the potential my life once promised.

•  How our dreams of home ownership have gone up in a cloud of contagion, and are now on indefinite hold until Mama finds work, or the world somehow rights itself.

•  How I’d like to find whomever engineered this shabby excuse for a dilapidated domicile and take them out.  No seriously, I want them taken OUT.  (Or at that very least, to be delivered a swift kick to the nethers.)

•  How Mama’s needs are always the lowest in priority to be addressed in our home, because that’s just the only way our household can function right now.

But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because I don’t like to be that vulnerable in public, and I hate to come across as whiny.

I want to recount cold narratives of the abuses I’ve suffered in failed relationships...

— from the over-abundance I’ve endured, so he may learn from my experiences —

...because I want him to know he should always speak his mind, even if his voice shakes.

•  How once you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re likely to continue repeating the same cyclical pattern with others, until you figure out how to break it.

•  How no one I’ve been involved with has ever hit me, but physical trauma is far from the worst kind of violence one can inflict upon another.

But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because even after many years have passed, I’m still not quite ready yet to give power to that evil by speaking its name.  I don’t know if I will ever be.

I want to speak to the pressing issues that cannot be swept under the rug anymore...

— from those that impose their twisted version of reality upon those they deem unequal or unworthy,
   to those that represent the gravest threat to all of us —

...because I want him to never have any doubts about where I stand.

•  How I find it hard to celebrate the “independence” of a nation whose promised guaranteed freedoms of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness continue to be denied for much of her citizenry.

•  How the term “White Privilege” is a damaging misnomer that fuels and further promotes racism.

•  How Black Lives STILL Matter, even once the news has stopped paying attention because there’s only so many dramatic, sensational headlines to be pulled out of any situation for distracting the sleeping masses until the public becomes desensitized, everyone’s feeds have returned to normal, and folks feel free to go back to ignoring microaggressions, blatant acts of racism, and undaunted domestic terrorism, by pretending it’s all just “politics,” and they really don’t want to have to deal with the “drama” of it all.

•  How white people are not entitled to “but.”  How white people haven’t earned our trust.  How white people don’t get to decide for you what you should be forced to accept.

•  How white allies need to understand, some POC may never trust them, but if they’re going to make a difference, they will have to just accept this, and still fight for what is right anyway, because only white people can eradicate racism.

•  How we refer to most US citizens by the origin of their ancestry, but we don’t get to call white folk Anglo-Saxon or European-Americans... it’s almost as if they believe they’re the default for this nation — the sole representation of the population deserving of and/or privy to all the entitlements that go along with that.

•  How maybe no one will ever see you as anything but BLACK, Firebird, but just remember, whenever some ignorant knuckle-dragger tells you to go back to where you came from, YOU are of NATIVE ancestry... Only YOUR people represent the FIRST Nation.  You were here FIRST.  This is YOUR home.

•  How anyone who doesn’t view the situation we’re in as conclusive proof that our system of profit before people is broken, either hasn’t been paying attention, or just doesn’t care.

•  How the US Government has repeatedly proven on an almost daily basis that a massive pile of dead bodies is no reason to implement any changes from the status quo, and the fact that you can’t even be sure which issue I’m referring to is the most damning indication of everything wrong with this country today.

•  Internment cages.  Martial Law.  Rampant Police Brutality.  Routine Mass Murder.  School shooter drills.  Economically Exclusive Healthcare.  Enemies of Democracy converted into allies.  Enemies made of our allies.  Vilification of the free press.  Systemic Racism.  Predatory Capitalism.  Political Corruption.  40M+ out of work.  135K+ dead.  ARE WE GREAT YET???

•  How everything US citizens have been socially conditioned — through great care and expense — to accept as “normal” is considered appalling in every other first world nation.  How Americans are the effective equivalent of gaslit victims of Stepford Wives syndrome, and we are long overdue for a global intervention.

But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because I don’t know what value there is in being just one more angry voice screaming into the wind, and I have a hard time wondering why my mine should matter, or how it can make any difference — though I’ve honestly been meaning to, and even trying at times for the last month or so — I just really don’t have the emotional bandwidth to get it done right now.

I want to serenade him with my dreams of a brave new world...

— from the far-fetched fantasies to the plausibly tangible conduits to change —

...because I want him to have hope for the future, and to believe in possibilities.

•  How I’ve sleeplessly expended mental energy spinning the theory that John Connor prepared his whole life to meet his father, probably imagining he would have to become like a best friend to him in order to create the special bond that would allow Kyle Reese to be convinced to go back in time, but the story doesn’t mention they were that close... in fact, it probably really didn’t take much more than a faded polaroid and a few shared memories, because, when people are miserable and desperate for change, they are willing to do whatever it takes, and can be talked into almost anything.  It almost makes me wonder how bad things have to get before we become our own science fiction dystopian fantasy, and whether there’s someone, somewhere out there in the world, desperately working to perfect a time machine to fix all this.

•  How I’ve burned more thought than is probably healthy imagining what I would do with 3 wishes from a magic genie, which really isn’t terribly useful at all... but at least it gets the problem solving gears turning, which is exactly the kind of
alchemy we could use more of right now.

•  The value and importance of every election, at every level, and every vote, and holding elected leaders accountable to upholding their promises, and to meeting the needs of the people we pay them to serve.

So I’m trying to share some of that with you this week, because it’s the most I could manage to pull off while running on empty at full throttle
... Snippets.  Fragments.  Bits and pieces.  Scraps.  Half-finished sentences, half-hearted thoughts, and half-baked truths.  This is all I have to offer “in these troubled times.”

In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter what I think you want to might want to read from me.  Not that I don’t cherish your friendship and treasure your feedback, but you’re not my primary motivation for doing this.  No, that distinction belongs to someone a fraction of your size.  And besides, I have never pretended I came here to win.  I have always had my own reasons for playing this game — now maybe you have a better understanding of them, and perhaps, even, a little bit more about me, as well.

Right now, it’s hard to feel like any light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the headlamp of an oncoming train
... even if you’re on the right track, you’ll still get run over if you just sit there, so we’ve got to keep moving.  None of us can stop the troubled winds that stir a tidal wave of change — progress is coming, whether we’re ready for it or not.  Just this moment, though, progress can waitit will keep, no matter what any of us does — because, despite everything else going on as the world crumbles around us, first and foremost, I’m someone’s Mama, and that’s got to be the main course on my plate for the time being.

Of course, there’s so much more uncommon knowledge to be passed along to our progeny that goes into the home education portion of his upbringing... these are just a few of the pieces distinctly unique to our life experience, and by proxy to his.  Naturally, I realize I still have to temper the lofty ideals of raising this inquisitive spirit to become a free-thinking agent of integrity with the mundanity of simply transforming a young child into a functioning adult.  I mean, sure, I want to be able to get him all the nutrition his growing body requires without surrendering to letting him slather his food all over his toys for using them as a delivery device, but, hey... whatever works — it still gets the nourishment he needs into his system, and I have to carefully choose my battles — so I’ll take what I can get.

Progress is coming with or without the contributions of me and mine, but I’d sure like for us all to be on that train.  I hope, for your sake, my little Firebird, your generation won’t have to be the ones to bring about the kinds of changes that will balance the lives of so many.  I hope it comes soon enough for you to know it — to grow up in it, and for the time before it to have no more influence on your outlook for tomorrow than a footnote in the annals of your yesterday.

The world is progressing daily, by degrees... some more minor than others.  Years ago, John Lennon believed that enough to tell his son it’s getting better every day, in every way.  Although I suspect what happened to him while he was busy making other plans didn’t work out so well as he’d probably imagined.

When the world changes drastically though, in mass movements — the likes of which I have to believe we stand on the precipice of, preparing to bear witness to — it may seem like someone, somewhere, illuminated a light bulb above our collective heads, snapped all our cooperative fingers, and simply flipped a switch.  But in reality, there’s so much more ongoing in an unseen capacity, from currents created by the wings of those brave, unsung freedom fighting heroes whose diligent efforts have cleared the passage to prepare the way.  The path to getting there may be longer than we’d like, but there are so many already on the way... so many who’ve been traveling that road for such a long time, and I’m so very grateful they’ve never lost hope.

The road to
revolution has many lanes, and they don’t all move at the same pace, stem from the same source, or land in the same place.  Some protest.  Some riot.  Some speak.  Some broadcast.  Some call out injustice.  Some talk quietly with love and patience, gently changing hearts and minds.  Some organize.  Some host.  Some support.  Some donate.  Some learn, and grow, and do better.  Some teach.  Some create.  Some post.  Some write.

So we must be kind to anyone moving in the same direction, even if we can’t understand how they got there.  Just make sure to keep your eye on the destination, and your foot on the gas.  Because u
ntil we build our own utopia, my love, I will be here for you... holding your hand, and lighting the path, every step of the way.

(That is, assuming you let me get some sleep sometimes.

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 26 - Topic: MISFIT META
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Starry Eyed Mama

Not All Heroes Wear Capes


I’m not in the habit of going around saying I have “daddy issues,” though, while I haven’t looked into any sort of official diagnosis, I will admit a professional who focuses on such things might be willing to apply a more formal variation on the term to describe some of my impulsively developed coping mechanisms as a result of learning functional reactions to the dysfunctional behaviors of that particular parental figure... on multiple occasions.  My biological father was an individual about whom I can only be grateful existed because without him, I would not have — and while I imagine I could probably fill a small book on our history, in this forum, the less said, the better.  My Dad, though, is a good hearted man who loves me, so there’s a lot of wiggle room there for forgiveness of everything else — mainly, his emotionally reserved nature, and his tendency towards conflict avoidance which lead him to be more or less absent in the conventional actions of raising me.

Not being a psychoanalyst, myself, I probably couldn’t accurately speak to in how many different ways these childhood concerns have impacted my life, though for a while in my past, they did create a rather unique pattern related to the types of men whose company I have kept for any significant period of time.  One long-term housemate once pointed out that single fathers who’ve been granted sole custody are enough of a rare exception out in the wilds of humanity, it’s quite frankly bizarre that I have been either directly involved or closely associated with at least five of them.  I hadn’t ever really given it much thought until he called attention to it... from my perspective, that was just my understanding of what was normal in my world.

Throughout my prolonged single years, I held so strongly to the conviction that whether or not I was fulfilled in life would not be dependent upon whether or not I procreated, I can honestly say I was never intentionally seeking out “good father material” in a male companion out of personal interest or any sense of “nesting” instincts.  Also, I have certainly never once for a moment sought out a man to place himself in a position of leadership or control over any aspect of my life — and have in fact violently rejected any who’ve presumed to take on an air of authority over our interactions.  Problems resulting from lacking positive masculine paradigms can manifest in multiple ways, but, in my case, an Electra complex, I have never had; a Lolita, I have never been — I have preferred, rather, to instead lean on the internal strength derived from within the power of being a woman, and to forge my own path with the tools readily available at my disposal.

Maybe, though, having had such prolonged exposure to the kinds of characteristics that make up a poor male role model, my sense of the measure of a man came about more from knowing what traits to avoid.  Maybe it’s just coincidental that — thanks to a revolving bedroom door of trial-and-error over a longer period of years than I’d care to admit to — I’ve tried on more than my fair share of “types,” and the only ones who had any staying power with me also happen to be accountable with their children.  Maybe it was less that I was searching for good father figures, and more that I was unwilling to settle for negligent partners — perhaps it’s just more likely that finding oneself in the company of responsible fathers is merely a natural consequence of surrounding oneself with reliably dependable men... it isn’t automatically a given that being a decent human will necessarily make you a good parent, but at the very least, it’s a requisite starting point.

Minion had been a father for nearly a decade before we became connected, but I’d never had a ringside seat to this angle of his experience until a few years ago, when I delivered his progeny.  Bearing witness to the life of your friend and lover as a mentor to your son brings a whole new layer into expanding the ways you find yourself capable of loving — and in many respects completely changes the entire nature of the game.  I do my best to show my gratitude, but so often I feel I come up short.

Years down the road, I imagine there will be plenty of terrible ties and crazy socks and discount grooming kits with cheap cologne from our little one — maybe eventually graduating into a phone call from college or another state — but for now, on Father’s Day, Minion gets a card from his baby, one from his pets, one from his adoring bride, possibly takeout pizza, maybe some sugar free candy, and he gets to kick back and take it easy for the day... in theory.*  It’s really only a drop in the bucket to try and make him feel a little special, to share with him how much we love him, and to show our appreciation for everything he does for us.  (*I say in theory, because Minion doesn’t cool his jets very well — there’s always something he feels he should be doing.)

Since these activities generally comprise the extent of our customary practices, I wasn’t expecting to spend any portion of my Sunday educating ourselves with new details about a variety of animal types.  But, as Minion was in the kitchen last night baking me a quiche for my breakfast this week (see previous side note), I happened upon this year’s celebratory Google Doodle for the familial occasion, and as our boy looked on in wide-eyed wonder, I realized I was stuck moving forward with the process.  So, with his input, together we produced our own homemade digital
tribute to his Papa.

Presenting this offering, I pointed out to Minion the paternal archetypes from the animal kingdom — including seahorses, penguins, and bees (Bees?!  Who knew???) — which naturally prompted us, being the nerds we are, to exercise an or so hour of Google-fu, researching into which animal breeds have strong paternal figures.  It seems, in addition to those mentioned, there are a variety of other creatures whose fathers take on active roles in parenting — with avian, canine, and primate groups having the strongest showing:

•  Arctic Wolves, African Wild Dogs, Foxes, Golden Jackals

•  Marmosets, Mountain Gorillas, Owl Monkeys, Tamarins

•  Flamingoes, Great Horned Owls, Grey Catbirds, Jacanas, Phalarope Sandpipers, Ratites

(Hey, I took the time to learn these random things, so now you can know them, too!)

In some of these cases, the male is the predominant caregiver for the young.  For some, it’s a team effort between both parents.  A few make their contributions to the family unit through their support of the mothers.

The Great Horned Owl, for example, is the sole provider of all food his entire family will consume from the time his mate — who is 25% larger than he is — first nestles down upon their clutch of eggs in the dead of winter; she will not move from that spot until her brood is at least a month old, after the month long-incubation period required to hatch them... if not for the diligence of her partner, the proud Papa, they would all surely starve to death.

Ratite** fathers (**category of related breeds, including Emu / Ostrich / Rhea) are the poster birds for stepdads everywhere: classic examples of what it means to take on the care of parenting on behalf of another, and they also represent the epitome of self-sacrifice, losing over a third of their body weight while they incubate the eggs in a nest — at least half or more of which likely do not even belong to them — for nearly two months without food, water, or rest... and then aggressively defend the young as their own once they’ve hatched.

The Grey Catbird — a native of the Americas, named for its “mewlike” call — shares responsibility for the feeding of their hatchlings between both parents, but prior to their arrival, the male sets his mate’s roost on a kind of makeshift “throne” ...literally putting his female partner high up on a pedestal to perch from.

I made a point to confess earlier on that before Firebird was born, I had a strong emotional investment in the hope he would be a girl, because, while nurturing a girl to navigate becoming a strong, independent woman capable of thinking for herself without the need for a man to control her was not just a great responsibility, but a daunting challenge, I knew how to do that — I believed I would be singularly equal to that particular task.  My Mom was the one who helped to put a positive perspective on my expectations for bringing up a boy, but in so doing, she also forced me to take stock in how much greater a conundrum it would be to steer a young boy into the kind of man
who would always treat women with basic dignity and respect, and I realized then... I have absolutely no idea how or where to even begin taking the first step on the road to that seemingly insurmountable task.  Fortunately, I don’t have to do it alone.

The primary function of every parent is to make of one’s children successful contributing members to society, with the secondary expectation of roles being to in so doing, also promote one’s own values forward into future generations.  I recognize what that might end up looking like could take on many different kinds of forms, but I have to act under the assumption that my kid might one day want to attract a partner, and create a family, so I need to make sure he’s properly equipped for either outcome, or both.  One thing is for certain... if one would ever have any hopes of becoming a good father, he must start out by first being a good man.  And, achieving that baseline can come about in large part through having a good father as the pattern to model after (though certainly, this is not the only way, as my Minion is evidence to... his character is primarily the byproduct of his Mama’s rearing, while the obstacles of his temperament and complications of his disposition he constantly struggles to put behind him are a direct result of his father’s abuse).

My husband recently made the statement to me that he “doesn’t understand feminism,” which is ironic, considering he’s married to an outspoken advocate for feminism, and is in fact, himself, a faithful feminist, by his very nature.  I explained to him that the notion of feminism is nothing more than an idea — much the same as “Antifa” is shorthand for anti-fascism, or being against totalitarian government — where the concept represents the radical notion that all women deserve human rights equal to those of men, and social treatment with proper respect and basic dignity on the same level as what men experience as their customary standard.  When he responded with confusion about why the idea would need to put women forward, rather than simply calling for equal rights for everyone (which is in fact exactly what it is doing), I further clarified that common oblivious response is about as ignorant and useful as the follow-up to BLM that “All Lives Matter,” which immediately placed the position of feminism into a relatable perspective for him.

To be fair, though, Minion isn’t being deliberately obtuse — his myopia comes from a lack of perception — something we’re all guilty of, at times, and must actively work to overcome if we want to be empathetic to the lived experiences of our fellow humans.  But while his words suggest he doesn’t get it, his actions declare the reason it doesn’t make sense to him is because he can’t relate to the kind of person who wouldn’t automatically consider all genders to be on the same footing as a matter of course... and in that respect, he really doesn’t get it.  Through our relationship, though, my husband has become more aware of the common hardships all women face everyday just for being women, and as a result, he has become more informed and compassionate, because when Minion learns, Minion

It may be, then, that I won’t ever really have to do a whole lot to teach my son how to treat women properly... perhaps, all I really need to do is point to the example in his Papa.  I really can’t expect my boy to be decent to girls, or to become a young man who is respectful of women, if what he sees every day in his home life gives him the impression that females are not worthy of reverence, or that males have the right to consider themselves superior.  But I don’t have to worry about that, because the man in our house tells a far different story of how the world works, no discussions required, in the little things he does every day that point the way.

are just a handful of the best ways the first love of my life is a partner to me, who in his action demonstrates to our son on a daily basis what kind of man is worthy of being emulated.

•  He cooks all our evening meals and breakfasts once a week
•  He packs me a lunch to take to work every day
•  He turns down my linens every night to be cozy for crawling into bed

•  He
does all the dishes, runs the dishwasher, and puts all the clean dishes away
•  He picks our toddler’s playpen area every
night and organizes the toys
    so our boy
has a clear space to play in the next morning
•  He handles
the greater share of our household cleaning

•  He performs odd handyman repair jobs around our shoddily engineered rental home
•  He’s the first line of minor fix-it mechanics for our aging automobiles
•  He is willing to ask for directions and get help when he’s stumped or in over his head

•  He gathers up all the garbage in the house, takes it to the curb and brings it back each week
•  He keeps the lawn
mowed, hedges trimmed, weeds whacked, and leaves raked & bagged
•  He cleans the gutters, soffit & fascia clear of debris

•  He winterizes all the windows in the house and the three-season porch screens
•  He keeps the driveways and walks plowed, de-iced, and salted
•  He maintains a winter safety kit in each of our vehicles,
    and performs regular routine maintenance to keep them in proper working condition

•  He runs errands as needed
•  He works every day without fail like clockwork
    at a dead-end job that steadily sucks away a piece of his soul,
    to contribute the financial foundation that stabilizes our household budget,
    and to provide for our medical coverage

•  He never walks out the door without giving me a goodbye kiss
•  He always greets me with a smile and a smooch
•  He speaks to me kindly and treats me with respect
•  He shows me tenderness and affection

•  He shares with me the inner workings of his heart,
    and whatever random thoughts are on his mind
•  He consults with me on any and all major decisions, not just for all of us,
    but even for himself, because he acknowledges my general knowledge,
    he appreciates my wisdom (he says it’s the reason he married me! ;-),
    and he values my insights
•  He recognizes each of us a equal partners
    in the functions of our family and our household

•  He laughs often — he takes great joy in simple pleasures
•  He finds amusement and diversion in his own personal interests,
    and does not require his family to entertain him
•  He relishes his family’s company, whether we are engaging in activities,
    or doing nothing at all, so long as we are together
•  He is kind to all animals, and cares for our pets gently and tenderly

•  He changes poopy diapers, diaper genie liners, and dirty litter boxes
•  He hugs and holds, kisses and caresses our son, and engages in active play with him
•  He sets and enforces healthy boundaries to keep him safe, and to train him

•  He vocalizes his mind, even when it doesn’t conform to the accepted norm
•  He speaks to others with decency, whether or not they have shown they deserve it
•  He does all of this without complaint, whether he is tired, or sore, or busy, or

I realize
this is only an incomplete summary of things the man does, and certainly a man is so much more than a mere measure of the things he has done, but how do we judge a person if not by his action?  It is in action we show our true colors to others... indeed, it is only in our actions, we can truly teach.  Minion, more than most anyone I’ve ever known, so perfectly represents his own ideals, his way of life is a living testament to a simple truth commonly attributed to St Francis of Assisi...

In all things, preach.  If necessary, use words.

The Misfit Manor household is not by any stretch of the imagination religious.  Minion is a wholly committed atheist, and me... I’m not quite ready yet to let go of the idea that there’s something greater than ourselves in the universe — something beautiful and undefined — but I certainly don’t allow hanging on to that hope to influence my expectations of others.  Still, in my experience, I’ve found it is people who do not cling so tightly to the crutch of religion who seem to maintain the strongest holds on their own core beliefs — whatever they may be — and these are the principals we pass on to others as we encounter them throughout our lives.

Minion isn’t by any means perfect, nor, either, of course, am I.  Like any couple, we have our issues, but we weather them together, as a unified team. 
We may not be a village within ourselves, but are blest to have two well balanced companions who love and respect one another equally dedicated to the mission of raising our child in a healthy and loving environment together, offering him equivalent measures of the feminine and masculine essence of the human psyche, which he perceives in equal parts from both of us, as we have each found a kind of harmony to both of these aspects of our own nature within ourselves.  It is our hope that our Firebird will so too one day embrace every element of his own generative makeup.

Right now my three-year-old embodies the kind of sensitivity that can cause a particularly overwhelming work of music to bring him to tears — just this afternoon, Thomas crooning a soulful, apologetic ballad made him weep openly, until I had to scoop him up into a cuddle, singing along with the cheeky tank engine to help my son find comfort in the beauty of it.  He didn’t get that from Minion... his Papa hasn’t retained that level of emotional expression into adulthood, thanks to having it beat out of him by his own father, but I’m grateful he’s not the type of man who would seek to squelch it in our son.  Firebird comes by his emotional sentience honestly, through his Mama, and that is a minefield I do know how to help him not just to tiptoe through, but to tap dance upon, with poise and grace, and perhaps even some exhilaration.

By this point, though we both bear the brunt of the burden as a whole, Minion and I have fallen into a kind of rhythmic routine around our respective parenting responsibilities — as I imagine most couples do — based on the roles that come most naturally to each of us.  While we never set out to intentionally define, “You do this, I do that;” we were just willing, as we have been with much of our lives — whatever it may be, come what may — to take it as it comes, and let things work themselves out the way they are meant to.  And that seems to be functioning just fine for us so far.

I’m sure
it hasn’t escaped anyone how much of a control freak I can be about many things, and when it comes to the well-being of my boy, I surely haven’t made any exceptions.  And yet, in many respects, I feel like it can be counterproductive to squeeze too tightly.  What I believe is most important is the freedom to experience the flow of life on your own terms, starting from the comfort of a safe and nourishing atmosphere as the building blocks of a foundation upon which to construct your own path out into the world.

Minion and I are neither indifferent deadbeats nor helicoptering anxious
wrecks.  We cannot shelter our child in the comforting mantle of wealth or privilege, as we have neither to give, but I’m certain we will be able to provide him with everything he needs — because we are in this together, and because through our partnership, we have built our love nest high upon a throne of deference and devotion, in the hopes that will bestow upon our brood every advantage we can impart.  I’m confident that should be enough to allow him to bravely face anything life can throw at him and for everything else, as long as we’re able, we will be right there with a helping hand to lift him up with the support he needs to make up the difference whenever he calls upon us, because that’s what it means to put love into action... and to pass it on.

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 25 - Topic: THE CATBIRD SEAT
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Starry Eyed Mama

Together We Can Do A Million Great Things


“The Island of Sodor is surrounded by beautiful blue sea.  It has fields of green, and sandy, yellow beaches; there are rivers, streams, and lots of trees where birds sing; as well as windmills, a coal mine, docks where visitors arrive, and a profusion of railway lines...” 
...that carry anthropomorphic, sentient train engines into sensational escapades which have thrilled locomotive enthusiasts and children of all ages since WWII.

Or that’s the story, anyway.

Our little Firebird was hooked from the first moment I showed him an
old classic Thomas the Tank Engine episode, back when he was barely a few weeks old — not quite big enough to do much more than sleep in my lap for several hours a day, during that post-partum period when there wasn’t much more to my life than hanging out in bed for about that same timeframe.  You might think he would have outgrown it by now, at almost three, but so far he hasn’t yet.  These days, he’s happiest while playing with an audio backdrop that brings him enchanting anecdotes of Thomas and his friends.

If you asked Firebird, I’m sure he’d tell you Sodor is his happy place.  Minion, an avid ferroequinologist in his own right, has mused if you worked in the railway industry, Sodor would be the best place to settle down, since it seems there, anything that could possibly go wrong is deemed the fault of animate engines with their own hare-brained, half-baked ideas about how to get things done, and there’s effectively zero accountability for their human operators, who mostly seem to just be along for the ride during all the shenanigans.  I’ve noted, too, it must surely be one of the safest places in any mythical universe, as the most commonly re-uttered phrase among its many often regaled tales of adventure
is, “Luckily, no one was hurt!

Obviously, these are things children are clearly not supposed to be thinking about while taking in all the excitement.  But parents who aim to maintain some discretion about the quality of materials absorbed by susceptible young minds have a responsibility to consider the effects of conditional programming from multiple angles.  It wasn’t quite the same when we were growing up... back then, cartoons were mostly only available to us on Saturday mornings and afternoons between school and the dinner hour — just long enough to preoccupy latchkey kids with more complacent pastimes than burning the place down, I imagine — and parents didn’t mind that much, so long as everything was still in one piece by the time they got home from work.

Maybe our folks were more naïve — perhaps the whole world was, to some degree — but maybe in that era it was safer to trust, though.  In our early days, on afternoons, we had
Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Mister Rogers, and Schoolhouse Rock, to educate us about:

the letter B

the number 3

the crayon factory

the people in your neighborhood

loving yourself and your neighbors

the complexities of language

significant moments in history


the mechanics of government

...among others.  And on Saturdays, we had the same Bugs Bunny our own families had cut their eyeteeth on — so there was simply no need for them to bother with paying any attention to all that kidstuff.

Looney Tunes lead to Tiny Toons, giving way to the increasingly irreverent Animaniacs (from which we thankfully get Pinky and the Brain!), and “the depravity of MTV” opened the door for more outrageous offerings like Ren & Stimpy and Spongebob (both of which I’ve happily managed to successfully avoid), and before we knew it, we’d been a complicit party to the animated media revolution that introduced the world to The Simpsons.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t sacrifice growing up with those standards — which effectively represented the disenfranchisement of our generation — but I also want to think carefully about how much of that “X attitude” I’m willing to pass along at this impressionable stage of our son’s development, which is no small task... the sheer volume of options has jumped from 57 channels with nothing on, to thousands of networks, carriers, and streaming services, each with their own theme and agenda to be sorted through.  On the one hand, I suppose it must feel empowering for many to acknowledge something out there for everyone, but on the other hand, not every flavor of ethos deserves a platform in my kid’s subconscious.

Thomas The Tank Engine, originally created by an Anglican reverend, was initially aired as a regular segment of a separate train themed children’s broadcast, which admittedly in the beginning included a handful of dodgy incidents not easily uncovered amongst the historical records accessible today, and with good riddance.  True, some still argue against what they refer to as an oppressive, authoritarian nature to the show’s storylines, but researching into a handful of such opinions makes me wonder if those parents unrealistically expect their children to grow up in a fictional world that will provide for spending a lifetime merely finger painting and building toy models, or if they would oppose their kids cultivating the discipline required to get an education and hold down a job.  At least a couple presented misplaced misgivings clouded by either such a profound mechanical ineptitude, or a such complete lack of historical reference and general cultural knowledge, I’m inclined to wonder if they ever actually watched the show, as it’s pretty apparent they’ve never seen a train, nor cracked a book on engineering, science, or technology.

But I was pleasantly surprised to find the concept devised by a clergyman over 75 years ago has eschewed overt and even discreet attempts at indoctrination.  The core moral lessons it imparts instead focus on the general themes of valuing companionship, observing boundaries, forming a solid work ethic in the willingness to be a contributing member to the greater community, taking responsibility for one’s actions (assuming you’re a train, and not a human driver, that is! ;-) and accepting the consequences, the strength in numbers of friendship, the power of respect for others, the celebration of diversity, and the freedom of independent thought — exactly the kinds of messages I want our boy to soak up.  So I’m totally okay with him geeking out over Thomas... but not everything popular on kid’s TV so easily meets with our approval.

A few are non-prejudicially precluded offhand for having no educational purpose or other redeeming qualities of value... like Peppa Pig, or Mighty Mike, for example; some say there’s nothing wrong with the occasional bit of useless silliness, and I wouldn’t
disagree — he has Noddy and Duggee or Paddington* for that — but we try to seek out a healthy balance.  (*In fact, he’s expressed such a preference for BBC productions he’s actually learning to speak some words with an English accent!  XD)  But there are others — even some generally accepted by today’s culture — that are boycott in our household on principal.

We are definitely not in the minority for our rejection of Caillou — which one writer referred to as the world’s most universally reviled children’s television character, the hatred for whom has sparked a veritable surfeit of social groups formed to bond over shared abhorrence.  Yet, while I can certainly appreciate and respect anyone who expresses disapproval for a primary figure whose only language is whining without impunity or consequence to parents who are obviously not in the slightest based on actual humans with children, with his use of such phrases as “I can’t!,” “I won’t!,” “I hate it!” and “Go away!” invariably resulting in him getting his way, and whose opening theme alarmingly advises growing up is tough when you’ve “had enough” (!) — what surprises me most is seeing so many parents complaining about having to watch it with their kids.

Wait, what???  How is the toddler in control of viewing decisions?  Anyone who believes either the parent or the child has to watch anything has clearly missed a childrearing memo somewhere.  Apparently, multiple parent-teacher petitions have been put forth pleading with PBS to take this toxic waste off the air.  I wouldn’t suggest this isn’t a pursuit worth exploring, but in the meantime, maybe a simpler route to managing access might simply be to turn it off, and don’t allow the child to consume such garbage.

PBS Kids falls into the category of having had more of a positive influence on kids in general than many other children’s media outlets, but as a publicly funded resource, this institution can’t be expected to fulfill every child’s early learning needs.  Some of their catalog is over Firebird’s head; some isn’t to his taste.  Sometimes, the programs make attempts at value added viewing, but occasionally miss the mark, and other times, they just get it wrong altogether.

Daniel Tiger, for example, is a spin-off from the original land of make-believe in Mister Roger’s neighborhood, and offers a fair intrinsic value in its own right, from showcasing formula-breaking gender positive examples, and a robust environment of social diversity, to effectively addressing real issues today’s growing children will face in their everyday routines — and I can’t fault that.  But it seems to me the show’s underlying subtext is as much about teaching younger generations how to parent when their child has a meltdown.  In this respect, Daniel can be a less obnoxious version of Caillou, in that, while he isn’t always whiny, he can easily lose his grip on self-control, and throw a minor temper tantrum anytime things don’t work out exactly the way he would have chosen, but, to the show’s credit — as well as where it diverges from the rampant unbridled infantile domestic terrorism of Caillou — Daniel’s family and the community around him always quickly step in to divert whatever petty crisis he’s growling over from manifesting into a major catastrophe, and to teach young Daniel a better way to respond to similar situations in the future.

Don’t misunderstand me, I know my boy is going to whine sometimes... that’s to be expected — it’s what growing babies do.  Some days, it’s hard for a young burgeoning brain to navigate so many complex emotional reactions involved in the transition from infant to toddler to little boy.  Some days, growing up is tough.

But that doesn’t mean I want him studying a peer role model who demonstrates that kind of behavior for him to emulate.  Right now, if my son is whining, it’s because there’s something wrong that needs to be addressed — he’s tired, he’s hungry, he needs affection, etc.; it’s my job to sort out these issues and work through them.  So if Daniel Tiger is going to be on, it will only be on those occasions when I have the time to sit down and watch it with Firebird, so as the orange puppet’s behavioral volatility rears its ugly head, I can immediately pull the plug with a quick flick of the remote and the decisive reaction of a safety guard tweeting ,“>FWEEP!< Everybody out of the pool!” — because, in short, I can’t trust Daniel Tiger to be alone with my son.

One show I consider an epic failure in available options is Pinkalicious, though it does seem to have something of a die-hard fan-base — I’m guessing primarily from among those who long for a reversion of society to an era when every woman was a housewife who wore heels and pearls and hoop skirts to bake and vacuum in while scrubbing her breadwinning husband’s happy home spotless with a song in her heart and a smile on her lips.  While I may not right now have the responsibility of teaching a young girl to make her way through this life, I’m still as much if not more accountable for making sure my boy has healthy, realistic depictions to draw from for his perceptions on how to relate to this foreign creature that is the opposite gender from him.  So, though Pinkalicious does have its worthwhile moments — Pink is sweet to her sibling, their family shares every meal together around the table, and the stories do try to convey worthwhile life lessons about community — its counter progressive undertones in the backwards stereotypical genderization of the primary characters (Pinkalicious and her little brother, Peterrific) are the reason my son is not permitted to see it.

The primary glaring flaws with this pastel-hued disaster include:

•  Every single young female character is always wearing a dress and never anything but (which is not in the least true to life compared to the world of today).

•  Every single character is portrayed with the same exact unrealistic body type — as rail thin as an anorexic stricken with consumption — which wholly negates the notion of body diversity in humans, and presents an implausible body image for everyone.

•  Though there’s nothing specifically wrong with young girls (and even young boys!) having an interest in things and activities which have conventionally fallen into the spectrum most often previously perceived by social standards as “girlie” (I’ve actually got nothing against a person of any gender choosing to “own” any specific color, and I believe the sterotyping of associating colors with gender at all should be completely eradicated from all cultures), this premise takes this particular obsession to a level of extreme that becomes a hindrance to getting through everyday life... such as when Pink chose to bail on her commitment to her teammates in the middle of a soccer game because she was having a bad hair day.

•  The titular persona, while good-natured, kind, creative and imaginative, is also acutely one-dimensional, as well as rather pushy and demanding, especially when it comes to insisting her friends follow along with her every whim and play her way by her rules.

•  Pinkalicious lives so much in her own separate reality in which the rest of the cast are merely pawns whose sole function is to dote on their perfect pretty pink princess, one is forced to wonder if the entire world is merely the meandering fantasy of a neglected child trapped in a coma induced dream sequence.

•  Affiliated available merchandising seems to have been massed produced in 1984 — separating girls and boys into categories of pink for Pinkalicious and blue and purple for Peterrific — in which suggested activities for the girls events are limited to:

       — decorating necklaces, bracelets, barrettes, crowns, tutus and wands in pink beads, feathers, sequins, glitter, and pom poms

       — baking and accentuating cupcakes with only pink versions of bubble gum, cotton candy, Jordan almonds, Red Hots, and Good and Plenty;

...but boys get to have the kind of good times that include:

       — building towers;

       — making jet packs;

       — reading space and adventure books;

       — playing with Legos, tinkertoys and play-doh;

       — and pretending with adventure gear, such as goggles, helmets and tool belts...

...further promoting the notion that STEM activities are only for boys.

•  The backstory of the nickname handles assigned to these two — derived from common compliments — tells you everything you need to know about how the creators see the difference between the genders: Pink + delicious = Pinkalicious, whereas Peter + Terrific = Peterrific... so, boys get to be “terrific,” while girls are “delicious.” (WTAF???)

       — Is that a reference to merely being eye candy?  I don’t know, it doesn’t really make sense, and is surely not an appropriate way to describe any child.  I just know it’s not equivalent, and the same kind of stepford *8_7#!&* that starts being imposed upon children from before they’re even brought into this world, between gender reveal parties, and toy sections being segregated, and T-shirts that declare one pretty, while the other is Superman! ...and it has got to stop — we cannot continue to perpetuate this misogynistic psychosis into every new future generation.

Pinkalicios realistically has the same influence on children of either gender as the 1990s talking Barbie that came out the year I graduated high school which informed kids of that era that girls think, “Math is hard!”
We should have moved past such stereotypes by way back then, but we absolutely ought to be beyond them by now.  We can do better — and as for me and my house, we will.

One of the most seemingly innocuous vetoes on this list is Max and Ruby, which is so adorable it’s almost cavity inducing, and on its surface, it comes off as relatively harmless, at first.  In fact, I’d actually let Firebird enjoy a handful of episodes over a few weeks before I finally had to put an end to it after recognizing the pattern of a recurring theme running through every narrative segment.  It seems the character of Max more or less amounts to a pudgy baby bunny version of the tramp archetype made famous by Charlie Chaplin, whose bumbling, buffoonish antics somehow always accidentally allowed him to stumble into being the hero and saving the day — much to everyone’s surprise and delight.

While Max’s playful clowning capers are innocently sweet, and comically cute, and there’s nothing wrong with a kid learning it’s okay to screw up sometimes, what I don’t want Firebird to come away with after enough repetition in this vein, is the idea that screwing up will always work out for the greater good in the end, because that’s a fantasy fairytale it’s best if he never believes in the first place, only to have to become painfully disillusioned about later.  In the real world, we can recognize and appreciate that mistakes are going to happen and we’re going to love each other through them anyway, but that doesn’t change the reality that sometimes, mistakes can hurt, and may even cause real world problems that might lead to serious consequences which could require serious solutions.  And although I’m not trying to burden my 3-yo with that much of a heavy weight on his heart right now, it’s best if when he starts to learn those kinds of tough lessons down the road sometime, he hasn’t already spent so much of his life with his head so high up in the clouds that coming back down to earth will be unnecessarily traumatic.

The worst of the worst, though, by far, among those commonly raved over in many homes, is Paw Patrol......... I mean, let’s set aside for a moment that there is absolutely nothing about the entire premise that makes even the slightest logical sense — so badly it hurts the brain — because, well, some things just have to be overlooked to entertain children who live for a while in a magical world of illusion and silliness; and, let’s ignore the fact that the show never offers even the least morsel of a life lesson or teaching moral to any storyline, for the sake of argument that it’s only for entertainment.  Even so, this trash heap is still riddled with crimes against childhood, but, in the interest of brevity, I’ll only address the nastiest derelictions here.  To start, there’s gender inequity in this selection, too, but that only scratches the surface of its troubles.

Of the 6 primary dog characters, only one* of them is female, she is a significantly smaller “toy” class breed, hyper cheery, overly emotional, full of questions and self-doubt, and dresses and acts in the outdated-by-decades commonly perceived standard of a traditionally feminine way, thereby sending the message that if girls are going to be permitted to “run with the big dogs,” they should expect to be required to do so in a “girlie” manner in order to be accepted.  (*Yes, a couple other female characters were introduced in later seasons after the backlash, but they’re not regulars, they’re not considered part of the “A” team, and they don’t stay in the same location as the main group.)  So, effectively, this cartoon is the dog version of the Village People, where, for the most part, only males can be standard community rescue workers — I guess there were no animal behaviorists on this drawing boardroom’s writing committee to inform them: in the dog kingdom, it’s actually the females who are smarter and more easily trained.  :-/

But the biggest issue with this general offense to humanity in children’s works, is the distressing representation for people of color, which would be almost non-existent, except for where it’s pretty much blackface.  There’s only one member of any cultural minority — a character of non-specific ethnicity with a generically melanin-infused caramel-toned complexion and non-descript facial features (voiced by a white actor, btw) — who is both female, and has agreeably risen to the illustrious rank of mayor... over a creepy almost ghost town in which every adult is an inept imbecile completely dependent on a 12-yr-old with a pack of dogs for their basic civic services.  As if to counteract those attributes, though, she is only ever displayed as a blithering idiot who carries a chicken in a purse as an emotional support pet, who plays the washtub bass in her spare time, who doesn’t know her *@$$* from a hole in the ground and couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag with a road map and a flashlight, and whose blustering incompetence regularly exhausts the entire resources of the town’s (canine) rescue team (you may recall, I did mention none of this makes sense, right?).

Putting a person of color in a position of power might be a positive example for young people, if it wasn’t completely undermined by the mayor’s overwhelming and excruciatingly inadequate, all-encompassing defects, which wholly transform her into no more than a laughingstock, and the brunt of most of the jokes, often resulting from her own awkward, blundering bungling, and mismanagement of every situation.  This is not a person whose actions garnish reverence or even respect.  I couldn’t tell you if the purpose of rendering her in this manner is to teach children it’s okay to laugh at and disrespect women, people of color, adults in general, or authority figures, but I find all of those options disgracefully

A good friend I worked with at the contract before last — whose toddler is in the same age category as Firebird — invited our family to her son’s Paw Patrol themed birthday party, and upon her attempts to commiserate with me as a parent she naturally assumed would also have been compelled to watch this inane drivel on a regular basis, I disclosed our son is not permitted to see it, and doesn’t miss it; at her inquiry, I revealed my major issues with it.  She found my perspective interesting, if perhaps not as relatable (she and her family are all of white, Anglo-Saxon descent), though it didn’t change anything about her son’s viewing habits (but, to be fair, he was already deeply entrenched in the toddler subculture of the franchise — hook line, and sinker — and I suspect it would have been a harrowing ordeal to have attempted to pull him out by that point).  My friend has since confided in me, though, that ever since I pointed out the many problematic concerns of this irrationally popular program, she hasn’t been able to “unsee” it.

I am quite fond of this friend, and I know her to be a kind-hearted, loving, gentle spirit who appreciates the good in all people, regardless of their background.  Racist ideology has never held so much as a synapse of thought in her cerebral cortex.  And yet, I can’t help feeling saddened to be reminded again how often it takes a person of color to expose to the privileged majority when people of color are being marginalized — even when it’s out in the open, clear as day, right in front of them, as plain as the noses on their

There’s a harsh reality most white people still have yet to face, and until they do so en masse, nothing is ever going to get any better for anyone else.  And that is, racism is NOT *our* problem.  Racism was created as a means to divide people, to classify human superiority by skin tone, and continues to be maintained by the lighter classes against those who are darker, despite every effort of civil rights leaders, social justice warriors, and disturbed tongue cluckers, who shake their heads at the unfairness of it all, before closing out the news, and going back to their regularly scheduled lives.

People of color can do nothing to “fix” racism — especially not so long as the only tragedy of this parasite on civilization even worth clocking for most non-minorities is when white folks continue to carry a license to kill unarmed people of color in broad daylight.  Yet, while there are a hundreds of micro-aggressions and outright acts of hostility leading up to examples as extreme as that, even that sort of happening has become so unextraordinary it no longer always make the front page or the top 10 minutes.  So long as this remains our socially accepted standard of “normal,” things can only get worse from here.

The biggest hindrance, though, to there ever coming a day when a majority of white people will stand together as one, and collectively say, “This ENDS.  HERE, and NOW,” is the deeply ingrained belief held by so many that THEY can’t possibly be part of the problem, because they’re not racist — a bitterly defended core value so strongly clung to by some, they will defer, deflect, and argue against all evidence to the contrary, even if doing so costs them valued relationships with friends and associates.  The thing is, you don’t have to be racist to have benefitted throughout your life — and to continue to benefit from — the institutionalized, systemic structure of racism that propagates the further oppression of the already disadvantaged, while giving a leg up to those who fall into categories deemed “desirable.”  Really, all you have to be
is white and breathing.

One of the most common defenses offered by the type of white folks who believe racism is not their problem, is the vain and vapid declaration, “I don’t see color!”  White people who say this have deluded themselves into believing when they offer up such a statement, they’re telling us they don’t treat anyone in their world any differently than anyone else, regardless of what color everyone is.  But what people who use this bruised ego excuse are really saying to us is, they consistently fail to discern — or even deliberately choose to ignore — the commonplace struggles minorities must face every day.

I understand those who make the claim they “don’t see color,” believe racism has nothing to do with them, but that simply isn’t a possibility in the real world — there is no one who is not impacted by racism, and to believe otherwise is the purest example of privilege.  To them, I would propose: if you’re serious about not feeding into the machine of racism, the only way to live that truth is to start with the face in the mirror — and be willing to “
take a look at yourself and make a change.”  Stop overlooking those who remain invisible to your world... step outside your bubble — that cushion of comfort bestowed upon you by the advantage of your skin — a birthright you did nothing to earn.

seeing color.  Start seeking out diversity.  Start looking for the beauty in the differences between us — and, once you’ve found it, start noticing when it’s missing from the homogenous feedback loop with which you surround yourself in your everyday routines from the safety of the privilege racism has granted you.

Even further, start recognizing when people of color are being sidelined, downgraded, disregarded, disproportionately or improperly represented.  Then, if you have aspirations of doing something that matters to make a difference, don’t look the other way just because it doesn’t affect you... make a U-turn, take a stand, and take action — call it out, call it off.  You have choices — you can choose not to participate in events and activities or benefit from things that have a negative impact on people, even if those people don’t look or act or think or believe or live the way you do.

And be ready to pay the cost, because while the compounded consequences of collective inaction have long term sway over circumstances for people of color in the real world, doing nothing likely won’t directly impact your life in any perceptible manner — but taking action might.  Taking action will result in uncomfortable conversations; it could result in the loss of valued relationships with friends and associates; it will surely result in the revelation of hard truths about yourself that
may be difficult to swallow.  And then you might feel an exponentially miniscule inkling of a drop in the bucket compared to the everyday persecution people of color experience just trying to exist as a minority.

I know it may seem like a stretch to go from children’s programs our son can’t watch to the darkness of organized racism and the heartbreak of the worst cases often resulting from that bleak institution, but the line between the two really isn’t as far as you might think.  Demonstrating “otherism” to children — especially in a visual manner, particularly presented in a neat, tidy, shiny happy package that makes it all not just okay, but actually fun — teaches them to disrespect those who are different from them.  Disrespect leads to personal distancing, distancing leads to fear, fear leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering and despair — in less time than most folks would even be inclined to predict, because “othering” from your home becomes “othering” on the playground, and that’s where it starts... the Nazis understood that only too well.

too long, your child lives in a world of “us” vs. “them” that will have a far-reaching influence over his choices in life, so you will have to decide right now whether you’re okay with that, else you might miss out on the opportunity to change that trajectory until it’s too late.  We try to raise our children with an assurance there are no monsters hiding in their closet or under their beds.  So why should we undo that progress by simply replacing the image of their monster with the face of someone whose skin is darker than theirs?

There’s a term for not seeing color... it’s “colorblindness” — which is actually a defect that prevents one from seeing properly.  To do that, one must first correct their vision.  When you shine a beacon into the darkness, the light can be blinding at first, but the more closely you look, though, the sooner your eyes will adjust to seeing the real world for what it is, and the more effectively you can be a part of making it a better

Firebird loves music... a side effect of his Mama always singing to him — since he was in the womb, to put him to bed, to calm his fears, to amuse him.  He croons, he hums, he dances, and he’s naturally drawn to anything that lets him take in more merry musical sounds.  During the day, most of the time when any TV show is on, it’s just a low rumbling in the background of his playtime, while he entertains himself with his toys, but a song and dance number will immediately stop him in his tracks and capture his full attention.

So it’s fortunate for us the colossal collection of classic tunes from Thomas the Tank Engine are mostly comprised of catchy little memorable ditties that worm their way into your brain and take hold, because the messages most any of them carry are designed to inspire children with noble ethics and constructive worldly wisdom.  His very favorite among them comes from the
Big World, Big Adventures series — all I have to do is cue up the link to the movie, and by the time the first tones of opening credits ring out, he begins to sing the song, giggling, spinning in a circle with a little shimmy and butt wiggle — it’s all I can do (while trying not to laugh! ;-) to get him to wait through the rest of the story leading up to it.  In the story, Thomas the Tank Engine sets out to see the world... to ride the rails, to take in the sights, to encounter the people, to learn the customs, to experience the culture — to dig in, get dirty, and be put to work being really useful — for anyone who might need his help in a foreign land... I don’t think I could have imagined a more cherished ideal for my sweet beautiful baby boy to have latched onto than that.

Si lazima dunia kupita wewe na... Don’t let the world pass you by.

The great big wide world is a journey filled with adventure waiting around every corner — but it’s also full of bright, beautiful color, worthy of exploring... if only we can learn to see it, and fall in love with its breathtaking beauty.  The fact that my not quite 3-yr-old baby is most charmed to find his world abundant with colorfully diverse faces and places and sounds, makes Mama’s brimming proud heart feel like bursting with song.  I hope this is only the beginning of his love for culture... I hope I will be equal to the task of nurturing his joy... I hope he will learn to share the wonder... and I hope, someday, he will come to know a world that will treasure the beauty of color as much as he does.

Let’s go... let’s dream... come along with me...
The big world is calling... all aboard for a fantasy...
The world’s full of wonder... There’s so much we can be,
Thanks to imagination and curiosity.

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 22 - Topic: HIRAETH
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Wookie Best Buds

An Exhaustive Tail — Or — Corraling a Mischievous Untamed Weasel


A few years back, some good friends of ours once had three little dogs.  We’d spent plenty of time with them, as our friends have done a great deal of alfresco entertaining.  They also own the home next door, and rent it out to other friends, sharing a giant combined backyard space they’ve converted into an inner city paradise for grilling, watching outdoor movies, playing games, gathering around a fire pit, sampling home brews, and generally just hanging out, relaxing with other good fun folks.

Two of their dogs had “special needs” issues, more or less amounting to canine variations of personality disorders — though, if you ask me, I’d tell you every little dog naturally comes with a fair bit of neuroses... it’s just the basic nature of small dogs — they got no chill.  One of them, though — Bear — the fuzziest, friendliest, most rotund of the lot — didn’t have any additional major problems over and above those standard to the nebbish of the dog kingdom.  Consequently, he stood out as seeming almost aberrant in comparison, because he very often incited the other two into a frantic frenzy just by being a normal dog.

The story was, Bear had belonged to some friends of our friends, who were then visited on an indefinite basis by some relatives who’d lost their home, and needed a place to stay, bringing along their children, and their Great Dane.  Between the insistent attention of the little girls and the over eager interest of the giant dog, Bear had gone into hiding in his own home, so our friends had agreed to foster when their friends
sought out a safe haven for his wellbeing, so as to give him a chance at a life that didn’t involve cowering under furniture for the remainder of its duration.  After a couple years passed, Bear’s original owners were willing to try and take him back, but that didn’t work out so well.

Bear, having shared the home of smaller dogs with personality quirks for a couple years, had discovered a newfound bravado, and, following his natural instincts to protect his territory, ended up getting himself bit in the head by the big dog.  His original
owners, then fearing for the safety of the children who lived with them if they were to get caught between the dogs going at it, surrendered Bear back to our friends once more — this time unconditionally, with no hope of ever reclaiming him again.  That might have been the end of the story how Bear came to belong to our friends who’d fostered him for two years — except that’s not what happened.

In the couple weeks Bear had been gone from his foster home when he returned to his original owners, our friends’ other dogs had breathed a sigh of relief, and relaxed into a functional rhythm with each other that flowed naturally between them and brought harmony into the household, perhaps for the first time in years.  Reintroducing Bear upset that balance, and created problems for the other two that eventually became more than our friends could handle.  While Bear wasn’t the direct cause of the other dogs’ ingrained foibles, his presence exacerbated the occurrence of related incidents.  Knowing our history of rehabbing and rehoming surrendered pets with troubled pasts, our friends reached out to us for help, so we offered to take him in until we could find a suitable
alternative home for him.

His first night at our house, Bear
went straight to my bed, and staked a claim on “his spot” there.  At the time, we had three cats, and a rather large, incredibly mellow senior 14-yr-old mastiff — the big dog belonged to my husband, so they slept together in his bed, along with two of the cats who preferred the dog’s company — which left my space open to be conquered, and it seemed at first Bear had chosen to “belong” to me.  He slept curled up in a comfy ball at my hip, my familiar in his own respective place at his special “cat zone” by my shoulder, the others with the big dog and my husband.

01-1. Jack-the- Bear - 1st Night - In Bed w-Pink Flamingo Toy.jpg01-2. Jack the Bear - 1st Night - In Bed - Sleepy Flamingo.jpg

01-3. Jack the Bear - 1st Night - In Bed - Curled up Pup.jpg01-4. Jack the Bear - 1st Night - In Bed - Zonked.jpg

The very next morning, Bear had left a trail of stuffed chew toy carnage in the hall, and seemed pretty pleased with his handiwork, showing it off proudly.  He quickly made short work of all chew toys, dissecting them with the ease of a skilled surgeon, liberating their “innards” within seconds — it was all we could do to keep him supplied with enough materials to chew on instead of other things he would turn into chew toys — stocking up at the dollar store became a weekly requirement.  

            02-01. Jack-the-Bear - The Morning After - Chew Toy Carnage.jpg
02-02. Jack-the-Bear - The Morning After - Heart of the Kill.jpg

Bear had a habit of leaving the interior piece —
the “squeaker” — in my bed on my pillow —
I think it was his way of surrendering
“the heart of the kill” *
to the leader of the pack

*Post text reads:
“Came home to find a sacrifice.”

Most dogs have moved past the chewing stage before the age we got Bear, but as he hadn’t outgrown it yet by then, he probably wasn’t going to.  We only ever lost a couple items as minor household “casualties” — he decorated the hall rug (pictured here) with a chew-sized hole, and he liberated Minion’s birthday Finn action figure of a foot.  If you try to take a toy from Bear, he will playfully growl and tug with you to get it back — this can go on as long as you want, or until he gets frustrated enough to sit up with his hindquarters flat, “begging” by pawing the air with his front paws, trying to play the guilt card and “cute” you into giving it up.

03-01.  Jack-the-Bear - Cute-Guilt - Pleeeeeaassse!!!.jpg03-02.  Jack-the-Bear - Cute-Guilt - Happy Puppy.JPG

Neither me or Minion has ever really been into little dogs, him because as a bow hunter, and having spent time as a child in a farming environment, he’s used to the kinds of large working breed hounds that herd or hunt — and for me, between my history with Sharpeis, Shepherd Huskies, Shepherd Rotts, and the Mastiff, anything under 100 pounds is “little.”  Bear, a Jack-Russell-Rat Terrier mix, was only 18#, but we had come to know him on many, many occasions in the past couple years in our friends’ home, and he was so very sweet (he’s great with company!), it was already a little like taking in family during a crisis — how do you say no to that?  We actually had a 25# cat that dwarfed him in size — it was no wonder he related better to them at first.

04. Jack-the-Bear - Hanging with the Cats.jpg

In time, Bear began to feel comfortable with the big dog — once he’d been around long enough it was clearly apparent the gentle Mastiff was not the type to bite his head — so then the two became good friends (I imagine it must have been delightfully refreshing for Bear to finally have a doggie buddy who genuinely enjoyed his company).  Then Bear moved into my husband’s room, and began to win over my husband — before too long, the little brat had grown on Minion.  Rat Terriers are bred for hunting — they were designed to root into small holes to dig out rats, shrews, rabbits, any sort of burrowing varmint, and Jack Russells are incredibly smart; it seemed for a while like my husband might have ended up with a hunting dog after all.

05. Jack-the-Bear - Papa's Pups.jpg

Bear didn’t have any health concerns, though he was quite the picky eater — getting him to eat was a daily challenge.  We kept a regular schedule of one cup of kibble twice a day, but Bear needed to feel pampered, so Minion would have to put egg beaters on top of his food and then stand over him to watch him eat, as otherwise he would just snub it.  We tried multiple different types of food — the food was never the issue.  He would always eat anything new at first like it was the best thing in the world ever, and he was so amazed to have it, but then three days later, he’d become bored with it, and Minion would have to go back into negotiation mode with the prissy little prima donna.  If he was an only dog, he’d have been feeder-fed, but with a big dog in the house, that was never an option, because they have to be segregated from each other’s food types, as they have differing nutritional needs.

Bear is ridiculously cute, playful, cuddly, and may quite possibly be one of the smartest dogs I’ve ever known.  He would sleep in bed with us, curl up next to us on the couch, sit up on his hind paws when he wants to be picked up, or needs to go out, and loves giving kisses and getting belly rubs.  He’s great on a leash, loves walks around the neighborhood or the lake, enjoys car rides and trips to PetSmart, and doesn’t require a crate, as he’s well behaved when home alone.

06-01.  Jack-the-Bear - Tuckered-out Pup.jpg06-02.  Jack-the-Bear - Tuckered-out Pup.jpg

However, though we’re generally opposed in principal to such things, we ended up having to get a tie-out attached to the house for the little troll.  It wasn’t to leave him outside for extended periods of time, it was to ensure we could maintain his presence within our yard, as Bear was naturally a digger — and a runner.  There wasn’t a fence made he couldn’t get under, and we only had to chase him over a radius of several blocks a few times before we determined to come up with a better plan.

One of those times I ran after him through about three or four streets of other people’s backyards at 5 months pregnant, stopping every 50 yards or so to try to catch my breath and contemplate how torn up Minion would be if Bear had gotten himself run over by a car in the road, which became increasingly less and less unthinkable the longer this little “adventure” went on.  That was because he’s small enough to push past you even if the door is open only by the smallest crack, and it certainly doesn’t help if your belly is big enough you can’t easily see what’s at your feet.  Lesson learned — from that point on, we kept the hook for the tie-out by the door, and instituted the practice of picking him up like a football before turning the handle.

This was all just a game for Bear, as whenever you finally do capture him, he’s a wriggly little squirmy ball of happy fluff in your arms, tickled pink with himself, and pleased as punch to be back to wagging his stubby little nub of a tail and licking your face — but it’s not so much fun on your end, as you pant and puff, red-faced and worn out. 
In the end, what most often brought him skittering home like a bat outta hell were those stupid little chew toy squeakers.  We kept a stash of them by the door, and he’d come bounding back from over several blocks away at the sound of their call to claim his prize.

For a while, I worked in an environment
that permitted employees to bring dogs
into the office to hang out for the day,
which was close enough to home
I could cart them back and forth
over my lunch break to allow for only
half a day’s visit (it’s not always
the easiest thing to get work done
with a pet for a desk mate).
                                                                                                07-01. Jack-the-Bear - Coworker - Pink Seahorse Helper.jpg

I took Bear there a couple times, though he really didn’t enjoy being tied to my desk, and chewed through his harness — as it turned out, in an attempt to flee a trio of little girls brought in by one of my coworkers.  It was then I learned Bear was afraid of little girls, and would do anything to get away from them (initially, I thought he was scared of children, but discovered later he didn’t mind at all hanging out with the little boys in our neighborhood who’d come over to play in our yard when the dogs were out, so I’m guessing part of his previous household “traumas” might have included some girlie makeovers ;-).

07-02. Jack-the-Bear - Coworker - Hiding Under Desk from Children.jpg

Five months after Bear came to us, my oldest cat passed away at 17, and in the month following, the Mastiff passed away, also.  Initially despondent at the absence of his friends, Bear missed both of them terribly at first, but then within a few days he’d not only adjusted to the loss of the big dog, but seemed fairly okay with being the only pooch in the house. 

08.  Jack-the-Bear - & Rufus.jpg

We were still committed to finding another big mutt to love, though, as that’s what we’re both used to, and the sort we prefer — particularly the bully types, for me — so in a few weeks, we rescued a 4-yr-old male Boxer/Dane mix we are both absolutely crazy about.

But the introduction of the new big dog to the home changed Bear’s environment enough that he began to bully the latest addition to our happy home.  (Which is how he’d come to be surrendered to us in the first place, after he’d begun to bully the other dogs in our friends’ home following the change in that previous environment.)  The moment the Boxer Dane — Duke — stepped foot in our house, Bear ganged up with the 25# cat, and the two of them attacked the giant together.

that, Bear never interacted with Duke except to growl and snap at him, take his toys, chase him from his food, companionship, or whatever space Bear didn’t think he should be in at the time.  So poor Duke was lonely and unhappy, and he didn’t deserve that... we didn’t rescue him from a bad situation (I don’t know what kind of torment he was escaping, but he barks at sirens, responds aggressively enough to the command, “Get him!” that we’ve learned never to accidentally put those two words together in his presence, and he had to leave his previous home because his former owners were in prison) just to bring him into our lives to be miserable.  I’d initially hoped he could be a companion to Bear as the Mastiff had been, but Bear wanted to make sure everyone knew he was top dog, even if that meant no one else in our home could be happy.

I put up with the discontented nature of things for a while, hoping they would find a balance, but when it became apparent Bear was satisfied for things to remain this way, I decided Duke needed a real companion, as relegating him to an environment in which he would never be allowed to relax and enjoy himself was cruel and inhumane.  So we adopted a rescued 1-yr-old female Pit-Terrier mix
Lady who was also crazy about Duke, and wouldn’t take Bear’s crap.  Duke and Lady took to each other like siblings, like newlyweds, or an old married couple, depending on the day, but they seemed a natural match, and shared an unpretentious, honest love for one another.

09.  Duke & Lady - Made for Each Other.jpg

Bear then became even more aggressive for a while, biting them both on a handful of occasions within a short span of time upon Lady’s arrival.  But Lady had been a Mama dog, and to her, Bear was nothing more than a spoiled, bratty little puppy who was a little too big for his britches, and she wasn’t afraid to sharply put him in his place with the ease and rapid grace in which a mother bear chastises her cubs.  Lady also emboldened Duke to not feel like he had to be skittish around or back down to the little tyrant, and as at 100# and 65# respectively, it was probably only a matter of time before these incredibly strong big dogs got tired of being patient with Bear’s temper tantrums, I became concerned Bear could potentially be headed for some real damage, but for the most part, Lady’s presence helped to settle everyone down for a while... she kept Duke happy, and whenever Bear would get a little out of hand, she’d remind him that she’s bigger than him, and she wasn’t afraid to show it.

10.  Mama and her pup.jpg

After a while, the trio seemed to have created a tentative truce between them, and a wary, hesitant kind of peace settled on Misfit Manor.

11-01.  Getting Along - Stage 1 - Hesitant.jpg11-02.  Getting Along - Stage 2 - Vigilant.jpg11-03.  Getting Along - Stage 3 - Snoozing.jpg11-04.  Getting Along - Stage 4 - Conspiracy.jpg

When the three of them played outside together, kids in the neighborhood often mistook Bear as the “couple’s” puppy.  Considering he was the oldest of them all, and as he clearly had designs on being their de facto leader, I imagine If Bear had understood this, he would have gone on a kid butt-kicking rampage!  XD

But the war of the dogs wasn’t the worst of it, though, as the more pregnant I got, the more unhinged Bear became.  The real reversal of power became most obvious the first time whereupon I discovered him chewing on something he should not have been, and after scolding him and telling him, “NO!,” as I’d done many times before, I went to take it from him, but was instead met with teeth bared growling as he snapped at me — if not for quick reflexes, I’d have been bitten.  Minion then smacked him and took the thing from him (I’ve long since forgotten what it was, not that it matters anymore).

This was a new level of unacceptable behavior.  Previously, everyone in the household had been an equal companion, under me, as he’d recognized me as Alpha at the beginning when he first decided to claim me as his Mama, and for some reason never transferred that designation to Minion when he moved into his new digs with our original big dog.  By that point, though, he had come to see himself as Alpha, and became possessive of Minion as his charge, believing he had to protect his Papa from me.  Looking into this new situation with renowned behaviorists, I learned some dogs, especially little ones — particularly Rat Terriers — react to pregnancy hormones this way, no longer distinguishing the pregnant woman as the same person they’ve always known, and sometimes even as a potential threat.

Before too long, Bear’s demeanor toward me became so hostile, we had to put up a baby gate on Minion’s bedroom door, as otherwise every time I came in to kiss Minion goodbye in the morning when I was working days and he was on the night shift, Bear would rush to attack me.  With the advanced warning system of the gate in place, Minion would have to wake up enough to contain the rabid little hellion while we said our goodbyes, or else I would have surely lost a finger.  I cannot imagine what the crazed mongrel suspected I was planning on doing to my husband, but he was determined I would not be permitted to pass, thereby bringing about those foreboding gravid girly germs to wreak any havoc.

I’d love to tell you Minion was not okay with this — I’d love to report because I was about to be the mother of his child, my husband was unwilling to accept this type of reaction from a minuscule
berserk gargoyle who routinely tried to kill the love of his life at least every morning of most every day, and consistently made additional attempts to bring about my demise on random other occasions, too.  But I can’t — because Minion had become bonded to this vicious miniature agitator, and the heart has a hard time letting go of what it loves.  He’d convinced himself it wasn’t that bad, that Bear would calm down once I was no longer pregnant, and things would go back to normal.

But by that point, we hadn’t seen anything resembling whatever “normal” had once been for us since we lost the Mastiff months earlier, and I wasn’t willing to take any chances with a baby in the house.  Hormones don’t go away once you’re no longer pregnant; there’s a nursing period — Firebird was on breastmilk for 15 months — and a new mother would be too exhausted from the great physical labor involved in transforming a handful of cells into a sentient being, delivering a pristine human, making milk, and feeding and caring for an infant, to keep an eye out for the menace of a maniacally jealous beast who might consider the newborn a rival for the attention of his pet (I’m pretty sure that’s what Minion was to the Bear, by that point).

There are not a lot of times in my life I’ve “put my foot down,” with anyone, much less my husband, but if you want to see a Mama lose all sense of composure, all you have to do is just introduce a real and present prospective danger to her child, and watch the claws come out — then get out of the way.  I told my husband that dog had to go, and while I wanted the best outcome for him, if I had to make a choice between him and my child, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose any method that would permanently remove any hazards from the environment — I refused to bring my baby home into a household that included Bear.  Minion knew better than to argue with me, but he didn’t do anything to help, either, and he didn’t make it easy.

I contacted every agency I had any connection to, and many I didn’t, begging everyone I could think of and anyone who would listen to help us find a forever family for this little holy terror.  To be fair, Bear wasn’t a bad dog, and none of the changes that been forced into his volatile short life had thus far been of his making, but that didn’t change the situation any, and the last thing I wanted was to have to resort to the Humane Society, though I was willing, if it came to that.  Among all the other time sucking responsibilities of preparing a home for a baby while working full time, I was also regularly on the phone, on the net, on social media, scouring boards, sending messages, reaching out into any dark corners of the world wide web that might offer a lifeline to a sweet little young pup who just needed a strong, firm hand to give him a safe, stable, loving permanent home... and I was doing it all on my own.

Toward the end of the final week before our delivery date, when I’d resorted to making an appointment to delivering Bear to the Humane Society in one of the wealthiest suburbs around, with strict instructions as to the right environment for him — must either be the only dog, or have an established pecking order that would never be subject to change to feel assured he is not in charge (i.e., should never be positioned to feel compelled to vie for Alpha status); cats okay, no little girls, etc. — where I hoped he’d find someone who would indulge his idiosyncratic eccentricities, my brother finally told me of a friend of his mother-in-law’s who wanted a dog.  He put me in touch with her, and I told her my intent was to follow through with the scheduled plan, but she begged me to let her meet him, and offered to pay us a ridiculous rehoming fee.  It was clear enough she was highly motivated, so I figured it was worth a shot.

She was a grandmother whose grandkids were in another state, and she missed getting to see them with any regularity.  She worked as a nurse, and was desperately looking for something
small and sweet to spoil.  It seemed like a match made in heaven.

Marlene was her name — she’d stopped by on her way over to pick up a special squeaky lizard to bring in for their introduction.  When Bear heard the sound of a new toy, he bolted upright in bed, came running from a lazy snooze around the corner, jumped straight up into her lap, grabbed hold of the lizard, and pretty much declared himself to belong to her from the moment she first touched him.  Minion was in the back room, working from his home office, and I tried to find a free moment where he might come out to say goodbye between calls, but Bear didn’t even care to bother — it seemed he’d already forgotten about us from the instant he met his new “Grammy”...Papa who???

Who knows, maybe Bear had been unhappy there with us for a while, not being as in control as he wanted?  He didn’t have to worry about that in Grammy’s home, though... he was going to have the run of the entire place!  Marlene promised she’d walk him multiple times a day, shower him with gifts and attention, stuff him with tasty treats, and basically spoil him rotten!  I couldn’t have dreamed up a better landing for the little guy, and not a moment too soon, either... we were scheduled to go into the maternity ward for induced labor the very next morning.

It was a little hard at first for Minion to adjust to not having his Bear to cuddle with at night, but he did have the comfort of two other big loving dogs who adored us both to ease his sense of loss, not to mention another rather diverting distraction to focus on.  It didn’t take long before even Minion had to recognize that every creature in our home was more relaxed and at ease with one another after being relieved from the subjugation of a diminutive
dictatorial critter — harmony had once again been restored to the Misfit Manor household for good, and a quiet calm descended upon us, just in time to grow our little family by one, very small, but enormously vital new member.

12.  Helping Papa Work.jpg

Of, course, this new tyrannical pipsqueak now dominates our home in entirely different manner... but we wouldn’t have it any other way.  <3

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 19 - Topic: CAN’T GET CALM
This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on…
                                                                                                            ...and thanks for stopping by.
Morning After

Won’t Get Fooled Again

Learning Curve

I married a man who doesn’t like to make a big deal about his birthday.  I don’t understand this, and I can’t relate to it.  I come from a big family, where every birthday is an opportunity to express to a loved one, in a very specific way,

               “I’m grateful you’re alive.
                I’m happy you’re in my life.
                I cherish the day you born,
                because it represents the origin of you,
                and because your very existence enriches my entire world.
                Today, I celebrate your life.”

From my family’s viewpoint, your birthday isn’t about you.  It’s about the once-a-year opportunity for the people who love you to let you know just how much you are valued to them, in a manner that is uniquely relevant to you alone.  I do my best to respect his position, as much as I’m able, but sometimes, I just can’t.

I tried to explain to him at one point: when he married me, he married into my family, and to some extent, to our way of life, which may mean — at least for birthdays divisible by 10, and, to a lesser degree, ending in 5 — I may not have a whole lot of control over how much I can “reign in” my family’s desire to make a big deal.  Let’s face it, hon... my folks are crazy about you — every few years you’re just gonna have to suck it up and let them show it.  All things considered, there are far worse problems to have.

Minion turned 40 in July of 2016. We had been married only nine months by that point, and I was still six weeks away from becoming pregnant with Firebird.  This was going to be the first major milestone in age he’d reached since we’d been together.  (I’d already had my big 4-0 shebang two years earlier — Minion had helped put the event on at our place, back when we were still occupying a setting suitable for hosting happenings.)

In some respects, that era feels like more than a dozen lifetimes ago, not just because so much has changed in our lives, but also because the reckless, sinister nature of the powers that be seeming hell bent on driving us all off a cliff these last few years has aged so many of us disproportionately to the actual passage of time since then.  Back then, there was still hope we could avoid the impending doom of living a dystopian nightmare brought to life; for a few more months, anyway, we would still be blissfully unaware the window remaining for indulging such fantasy was rapidly drawing to a permanent close.

Minion and I found each other through a shared social circle of gaming nerds; we’d both been relatively new additions to that group when we met, but I’d quickly become a sort of pseudo “right hand man” to the collective’s communal leader — for a while.  When I had a falling out with the gang’s “kingpin,” the passive aggressive “excommunication” that followed extended effectively to Minion, as well, by proxy — a case of “guilt by association,” I suppose.  He took it well enough in stride, but his amenability by nature does nothing to assuage my sense of responsibility that I’d robbed him of “his peeps.”

Minion has never been super outwardly social with most people, but he’s always had a few special environments he’s comfortable enough in to be willing to relax, let his guard down, and just have fun connecting with others.  He enjoys occasionally keeping company with other likeminded intelligent, quick witted folks entrenched in nerd culture — we both do.  Our shared favorite pastime is gaming events.

So, naturally, when his 40th rolled around, I planned him a big gaming party.  I sent out invitations a few months in advance to a couple dozen friends who might be inclined towards either celebrations or gaming, or preferably both.  Only a small handful were going to be able to join us, most of them my family — I did get about three takers from our strictly social sphere, but that still felt to me like a letdown compared to the gatherings we’d both become accustomed to.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’d been hoping for a stadium filled with a writhing throng of raving fans or anything, but when you want to share your joy in hailing the life of someone you’re bonkers over, a couple of buds and a couple of brothers seems a little... anticlimactic.  So, since I had a little time prior to the big day (I usually start planning for his July birthday around mid-April), I thought maybe I could remedy the situation by finding a few key new players the old fashioned way — you know, via the internet.  After all, that’s how I’d met the friends who’d introduced us, and... yeah, okay, I guess in hindsight, maybe that didn’t out work so well after all, but, hey, I got my Minion out of it... it’s worth a shot, right?

I didn’t bother creating my own post — I didn’t really want to have to deal with the hassle of fielding all the potential spam and weirdos I might get from it — but it was worth the effort to just have a quick peek at what was already out there... maybe I’d luck out and find exactly what we needed.  I filtered the “strictly platonic” section of the Craigslist personals by couples seeking couples, and the key word “gaming.”  And there it was:

                  New to the area Couple seeks local gaming friends:
                  Mid-40s, educated, intelligent, non-smokers, light social drinkers,
                  recently relocated, looking for new friends into board games,
                  card games, tabletop roleplaying games, and strategy games. 

...and from there, it went on to list a handful of the Eurogames they already owned (including Settlers of Catan — one of our favorites), and general logistics about location, etc.  It was potentially perfect.  I couldn’t have written a better ad myself.

I reached out right away, hoping to set up a meet & greet soon after for the four of us, to get to know each other, and feel out how we would all interact together in a gaming setting.  Coffee & cards was on the table, but settling on the details turned out to be a challenge — Minion was working the swing shift, 2PM – 11PM, which put a damper on our social life, as it relegated any non-work activities to weekends only.  Unfortunately, though, there wasn’t a Saturday or Sunday option open for both of us at the same time between then and Minion’s birthday... we kept in touch, but with all the planning and prep work that went on behind the scenes,* time slipped by quickly, and before we hardly knew it, the event was creeping up and nearly upon us.

This was going to be a semi-surprise party for Minion — I was going to have to tell him something was going on, because he would need to be prepared to be in social mode, but gaming with friends is usually a pretty safe bet, so that wasn’t going to be too much of a concern.  If he’d known about it for too long beforehand, though, he wouldn’t have been okay with me going to all the trouble I did to make it special... Minion doesn’t like anyone making a fuss over him.  Being his wife entitles me to special fuss-making privileges, though, and being my Minion means he has to put up with me making a fuss sometimes.  :-)

They’d been the ones to recommend the event location I eventually did choose, though — it’s a games store which also includes open gaming table space available to anyone at any time during business hours, and also has a special separate section for private parties, free to book as long as snacks are purchased from their kitchen.  I’d never even heard of it, but it ended up being the perfect venue, as well the supplier for one of his gifts.  (Not to mention a favorite place to splurge “extra money” — not that we hardly have any — ever since.)

So I decided to take just take a chance and go for it — having it in a public setting minimized any risk of potential creepiness, and, really, what was there to worry about?  I mean, we’re of similar ages, in the same social class, education, background, etc.... and, after all, they’re nerds... that pretty much means we practically already speak the same cultural language... becoming better friends at that point is most likely just a matter of picking up on their distinct dialect.  What did we have to lose?

The Craigslist couple represented just two of the small number of fun folks who came out to play and to help us kick off Minion’s 41st year right.  Minion liked them instantly, and I did, too — they were clever, lighthearted, and fun.  Knowing the event was for his birthday — which I’d themed all things Star Wars — and having heard the story of our Princess Bride themed romance, they showered him with a veritable goodie bag of amazing presents, including a Princess Bride themed card game, and a Star Wars collector’s edition Monopoly set — neither of which were acquired cheaply, I’m sure.

I was dumbfounded — the invitation had clearly outlined, “no presents, just presence,” but I couldn’t even be upset — they were obviously very serious about wanting to be gaming buddies.  It was a thoughtful gesture, and kinda sweet.  I was genuinely touched.

Normal ice-breaking conversations flowed between us effortlessly, their easy-going mannerisms were a comfortable match to our own, they blended in naturally with our other friends and family, game play was delightful, and it was an all-around great experience.  They were some of the last to leave, as we played nearly until closing time, but by the end of the night, I was pretty sure we had the solid beginnings of a newly forming friendship.  And I might have continued to think so, until we added each other on Facebook.

I’m capable of maintaining friendships with people who fall into a different political perspective, and have, at times during my life when a different political perspective mainly boiled down to a matter of preference over how tax money is spent — during a bygone era when civil debates over such matters might lead to an agreeable compromise, and a satisfactory resolution for all involved.  But so many other factors that shouldn’t even be related to politics have since muddied the waters.  These days, choosing a side often equates to an indication of which kinds of people in the world matter most to you, as opposed to which types don’t matter at all.

Many of the folks I’ve been close to in my life who might have formerly considered themselves to fall “across the aisle” from where I stand, have been forced in recent times to switch their position as a result of the changing political landscape.  Being fiscally conservative in some areas doesn’t have to mean one must also be willing to allow others to suffer, and when it doesn’t, reasonable people draw a defined boundary at a fixed point and boldly declare, “This is not who we are; we cannot condone this.”  Those people have remained my friends, even though we may still disagree on some issues which don’t directly impact the general well-being of many others, especially those who might not fall into their own class or standing.

In this brave new world, when your outspoken social media profile blatantly expresses passionate, unwavering support for a megalomaniacal autocrat whose every self-serving act wreaks the kind of havoc that leaves desolation in its wake for anyone he deems beneath the “ruling class;” whose campaign for leadership promised a return to a lesser evolved stage of history that would strip many of those who are already disadvantaged not only of legal class protections, but even basic human rights, and which shows no regard for the economy, no concern for the environment, and no respect to our allies — then I don’t know if it makes any difference how much we might otherwise have in common.  Some lines simply must not be crossed.  My family will not be the token members of your social circle who allow you to feel good about yourselves and let you believe you’re not racists simply because you have “black friends.”

I mean, sure, it could be argued that wearing a red hat, reposting bigoted challenges such as, “Why isn’t it considered acceptable to show ‘White pride?,’” or sharing Charlie Daniels quotes amounting to thinly veiled threats against our entire system of government calling for violent action maybe isn’t quite the same thing as discovering public anti-Semitic statements, or finding images of burning crosses on lawns with your buddies in white hoods — but really, how close to that line do we need to get?  How much repropagated hate speech should we be expected to tolerate before we say enough?  For example, when you say,

                 “I trust Fox News to bring me a realistic, inside scoop perspective on all the world updates most relevant to my life;” ...what I hear is,

                 “My ingrained white privilege makes me oblivious to my own inherent racist tendencies,” ...and what you have also informed me about yourself is, you have chosen to remain willfully ignorant, malevolently apathetic, and consciously uncompassionate... which is about all the insight into who you really are I’ll probably ever need.  At that point, does anything else really matter?

I never confronted our new friends about how serious they were in their convictions... by that time, we hadn’t really invested enough in them to bother putting in the effort.  I wasn’t ready to write them off immediately... I just didn’t know quite where or how to take things from there.  As it always does, though, life gets in the way of the best intentions, so if you’re not moving forward, you’re losing ground.

After enough time had passed, I noticed they hadn’t reached out to us, either.  I couldn’t help wondering if their schedule had become too swallowed up by external obligations to communicate about the next time we might get together, or if discovering we were “snowflake libtards” was enough of a shock to their system they were as much at an impasse to take any next steps as I was.  In the end — probably sometime post-November of that year, when I’d had my fill of twinges spiked by celebration at this new world order — I blocked them from my view, and moved on with our lives, resolving the next time we consider making new friends, we’ll be sure to check their baggage first.

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 18 - Topic: MILKSHAKE DUCK
This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on…
                                                                                                            ...and thanks for stopping by.
Into The Sunset

Thrill of the Slow Speed Chase


I’ve never been good at sales.  My brother is quite the schmoozer; not only could he sell ice to eskimos, but they’d name their firstborn after him, and send him a tin of Christmas cookies every year.  I know some theorize such skills must run in families, but if so, that particular gene sequence certainly skipped over me entirely.  He once tried to convince me I was better at it than I give myself credit for because I have “the gift of gab,” but being able to spin a good yarn as a storyteller and convincing folks to buy what you’re peddling, well... they’re not the same thing.

For me, it’s about manipulation — I can smell it from a mile away, can pick up the barest suggestion of it lurking between the lines in context, and never had the stomach for pushing it on others.  That kind of smarminess just disagrees with my constitution altogether.  Independence has always been incredibly important to me, so twisting anyone else’s will to meet my interests doesn’t sit well with my core values, which include the strong belief in maintaining everyone’s basic right to make their own decisions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a decent enough teacher, trainer, manager, director — I can lead by example, motivate others, share, assist, educate, guide, counsel, and persuade; still... not the same thing. 
The only way I’ve ever been able to “make the sale” is when it’s not even so much a transaction, and more a crusade — when I so passionately believe in an ideal, bringing it to others is not merely shifting their viewpoint to parallel my own, but rather, improving their lives for the better.  After all, the first sale you ever have to make is to yourself... otherwise, no one can ignore the putrid whiff of fetid funk you’re shoveling.

But this story isn’t about how badly I suck at commerce.  This is the tale of the low-key long game campaign of a very laidback speculator that once convinced me to sell myself — on the most important, life-changing deal I ever made.  You know him as Minion; our son and our critters know him as Papa; this is how he became my best friend, my companion, my confidant, my lover, my partner, my fiancé, my husband, the father of my beautiful bouncing baby boy, and the best thing that ever happened to me.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before I knew Minion had a crush on me from the first day we met.  As a general rule, I’ve been fairly perceptive about the interest of others, but in my life, those instant attractions often haven’t amounted to much, so at the time, I didn’t value his with too much weight, either.  He’s admitted to it since, but whereas in most cases, prior results had been less than positive — since the number of suitors I’ve inspired to become stalkers seems disproportionate to my genuine sex appeal — with Minion, it was different.

Initially, I assumed that difference would mean he was no threat to me.  I imagined he was too reserved, and I figured that would prevent him from ever making a move, meaning I wouldn’t have to worry about anything happening between us.  While I am very outspoken, outgoing and demonstrative, in the past I had always sought out a man who was even more so.

I know what I want in life, I generally go for it, and I usually get it.  In those days, I thought “my type” was the sort who knows what he wants, and goes for it, too.  So if what he happens to want is me, well then, that’s a pretty good match, now, isn’t it?  As it turns out, though, there are many different ways of “going for it.”

That first encounter was a game of Dungeons and Dragons.  Our mutual friend James had convinced me to play DM for a round, though I hadn’t even participated as a player in over 30 years at that point.  But, DMing prevented me from having to invest the bandwidth to invent a backstory and calculate a character’s capacity within an established group dynamic, so I agreed to wing it.

I listened attentively to the unfolding storyline, following along as the details played out before us, and began concocting a plan, so that by the time James turned the setting over to me, I was able to improvise what had popped into my head to throw out at the adventurers.  Minion was smitten.  He’s since told me if he’d known I’d conjured that whole scene off the cuff, he’d have been even more impressed.

His infatuation was somewhat double-edged, though; while he found me attractive, he was as much if not more enticed by the black and tie-dyed T-shirt I was wearing with a rainbow silhouette of Chewbacca made out to be reminiscent of an iconic Bob Marley image.  While he was enchanted by my speaking voice, he was more taken with my talent for playing a vampiric characterization.  And, while he was enthralled by my discernible intellect, he was even more compelled by my familiar association with nerd culture.

Though my focus was on another character in that setting, I felt his eyes on me, and I had the thought to maybe later do a little deeper digging into “the new guy.”  It
was a long night, though, and by the end of it, I found Minion outside with his then housemate Derek, the two of them commiserating about their divorce war stories over a cigarette.  I said my goodnights as I passed through their cloud of smoke, and put any thought of further investigation out of my mind.

Then there was the Halloween party later that year.  I wasn’t planning on going, as I had a date for that night, but James harassed me so much, I dropped in for a quick appearance, and brought the date along.  Minion showed up a little later as Papa Legba, and I instantly forgot all about my date.

To be fair, physicality doesn’t usually do much to turn my head; it pretty much has to be accompanied by some other factor of intrigue.  But, if you happen to be sporting the muscular bare arms and strong physique of a former accomplished athlete under a slick leather vest, a painted bald Santeria skull, and the serpent knobbed talisman of a 6-foot cobra walking staff in a sea of ordinary zombies, mundane mummies, and predictable werewolves and vampires, you just might capture my attention.  Add to that your ability to hold up your end of the conversation when I make a beeline to find out the story behind this costume, and you, the brilliant student of history, wow me with your knowledge and humor, well... my date might just be going home alone.

I wouldn’t say that moment put Minion back on my radar, but it did make me at least conflicted about having so easily dismissed him, as there was clearly more to him than I’d initially assessed.  But, smoking was a big dealbreaker for me, so that door would have to remain closed.  Although, I did find myself pleased to notice, at the next bad movie night gathering, when I wrangled a spot by him on a shared giant ottoman, because he was the one member of that group whose company I most enjoyed, that he didn’t reek like an ashtray, and I suddenly found myself questioning my resolve about “dealbreaking” criteria.

On one of the somewhat routine weekend afternoons I was hanging out with James and his wife in their basement for no reason other than because James had talked me into it, and it was less boring than sitting home alone — back when my life included time for such things — James suddenly suggested we should get more friends to come over.  James and his wife were incredibly social creatures — still are, I suppose, though they’re not in our lives anymore, but sharing that common ground was what initially drew me to them.  James went through a rundown of folks he could bug to come watch him paint miniatures and talk about nerdy things, throwing out those he knew whose schedules wouldn’t permit.

When I suggested Minion, James scoffed, claiming he’s such a homebody, he never gets out of the house just to chill — he only comes over for major social events.  I laughed, promised I could reel Minion in, then texted him what we were doing, and he responded he’d join us in 10 minutes.  A shocked James couldn’t fathom what black magic I had worked, lamenting Minion never jumped at his offers, but I pointed out the blatantly obvious factor that Minion didn’t have a crush on James.

Then, fate stepped in.  Derek got serious with his girlfriend (who later became his wife), so they needed their privacy in Derek’s house, while my then housemate needed at least a quarter of each year to be tenant-free in order to get a tax write-off for her rental income.  Because Minion and I needed new accommodations at the same time, we decided to share living space, as splitting costs between us would be more economical for both of us, affording us the option to live in a much nicer space than if we each went solo — one that could allow for my menagerie of pets, including the possibility of large dogs in the future.

So we began looking, together, for a suitable place to call home.  During that process, we discovered a lot in common, and I came to enjoy his casual company.  He was smart, funny, sweet, good-looking, good-natured, and easy-going... it was becoming increasingly harder to not be naturally drawn into the orbit of his charm.

As Minion often stopped over on his way home from work before we headed out together to view whatever showing appointments I’d set up, the timing worked out for me to make him dinner.  On the first of those occasions, I’d prepared a meal from the materials I had available to me — whatever groceries I’d bought for myself that week — when it suddenly occurred to me with some alarm my menu choice might not have been the most culturally sensitive.   Minion’s quick response in his best Gone With the Wind style Southern accent endeared me to his lighthearted, slightly twisted wit: “Well Ma’am, I may be the whitest colored man most folks know, but I shore do loves me some fried chicken.”

From that point on, all the meals I made for him were my best downhome Southern country dishes... fried pork chops with stewed apples, collard greens, and Texas toast; beans & rice with sausage, okra and cornbread; BBQ ribs with mac & cheese, cole slaw and biscuits; chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes, honey glazed carrots and black eyed peas with bacon.  Minion later told me my cooking was one of the reasons he fell harder for me, though I haven’t done much of it since we moved in together.  We’re both foodies, but Minion is the gourmand, and he has taken complete control of our kitchen.

The prospect of touring upcoming houses around the Twin Cities in Minion’s mid 90s Volvo wagon with no A/C became a lot less unpleasant once I learned Minion had apparently already quit smoking.  He’d converted to vaping as a cessation tool (which he later also staggered out) because he knew I didn’t smoke, and as we were going to be sharing space, he figured a smoke-free environment would be more desirable.  I’d been willing to room with a smoker because he didn’t have the kind of habit that made the stench precede his entry into every room, and knowing he only ever smoked outside meant I could reasonably avoid the side effects... but having him give it up completely was just one more obstacle removed from between us.

I knew then I had to pump the brakes.  If nothing about Minion appealed to me, we’d never have to discuss how sharing space was going to work, as there wouldn’t be any risk involved.  But by the time we’d become so relaxed with each other, one of the casual getting to know ya conversations shared on the road in those few weeks included insight into his sexual preferences — which conveniently coincided with mine (I can honestly attest this was not an intentional maneuver, as it came up organically through a natural flow) — I calculated we were overdue for a serious talk.

Our house hunt already included very specific parameters — two levels, with each of us on our own floor, and two bathrooms, so we each had our own private area; we could share a kitchen, and common space, but I insisted on separate retreats we could escape to whenever we might need them.  I let him know I knew he had a crush on me, but he was going to have to find himself a girlfriend — I even offered to help, if he wanted, since I was sure he’d be a great catch for some lucky lady, but I was not about to get involved in another codependent cohabitational relationship of convenience.  Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, with nothing else to show for it, besides the memories, the misery, the XP pts, and the solemn self-assurance — never again.

Not that it did any good.  Minion had heard the horror stories — he knew what I’d been through.  He knows what the after-effects of abuse look like.  He knows recovery requires time to heal.  But he also knew, he wasn’t those people who had damaged me.  Minion never set out to ignore my boundaries.  And he never did.

But he also wasn’t going to go running off to “get himself a girlfriend” just because I ridiculously made doing so an unreasonable requirement of our living situation.  Minion has never been the kind of man who needs to be with someone just for the sake of not being alone.  In fact, one could say, he’s exactly the kind of man who knows what he wants, and is patient enough to wait for it to come to him.

Minion never tried to break down my walls.  He never pushed.  Never demanded.  Never asked anything of me.  He was gentle.  Accommodating.  Kind.  Safe.  Exactly the opposite of everything that had ever gotten close to me in my life.  He wasn’t trying, but all the same, my walls began to crumble anyway.

Minion was easy to talk to.  Easy to be around.  Easy to just let my hair down and be myself with.  Being myself helped me to remember who I am, and how much I like being me.  In time, I recognized, that kind of ease was a comfort I had been missing in my life for far too long.

There was no second guessing with Minion.  No unnecessary apologies, no pathetic excuses, no backpedaling, no double-talk.  No crazy gaslit moments that made me wonder who the hell I even was anymore, and what in the blue truck I was doing in this *#>@%3&* up three-ring circus.

There was quiet.  There was stillness.  There was calm.

I could hear myself think, I could feel the power of my own voice.  I could speak my mind.  I could be heard.

I was capable.  I was strong.  I was true to myself.

I was respected.  I was valued.  I was loved.

I began to realize I wanted that... maybe even more than I had ever wanted anything else.  I became comfortable thinking of Minion as a very good friend.  He moved up quickly through my social ranks, and in less time than I had the presence of mind to effectively adjust to, I soon found there was no one in my life whose company I wanted to keep more, and I couldn’t imagine a day of my life without him in it.

Once, when I was headed off to one of James’ regular weeknight D&D sessions, after working all day with no time to prepare a dish to share, Minion offered to bake brownies for me to take, so I wouldn’t have to pick up a grocery made stand-in.  They were a hit; when a player asked if they were homemade, I admitted they were, but confessed I hadn
t baked them.  He seemed confused, so I clarified, “My Minion made them,” then lost it at his dumbfounded reply, “You have a MINION???”

Minion had originally jokingly adopted the nickname for himself, imagining that’s what the animals in our house would call him if they could speak, since I was their “Mama,” so they naturally loved me, but he figured they just saw him as a furless butler.  Minion is quite domestic by nature, feels rewarded by caring for pets, and his love language is acts of service, which, as it turns out, extends to people, too... those he likes, that is.  Being very independent by nature myself, this was hard for me to know what to do with at first.

I couldn’t go anywhere in the house without him offering to help me somehow.  He bussed my dishes like an actor seeking a tip.  If I got up from the couch to get a drink, he’d have me sit down, so he could go get it.  He’d walk me upstairs at night to tuck me into bed.  At some point, I barked at him, “How did I ever manage to get to be 39 years old without having you around to wait on me hand and foot?”

But my softer, more sensitive side knew that wasn’t fair.  This is who Minion is.  This is what brings him joy.  Who am I to take that from him?  I knew I had to try and get used to his ways, somehow, if I was going to make this work without losing my mind.  So, I made a game of it.  I tried out the pet name he’d given himself, and put it to use.  When I’d ask him for anything, “Minion, would you...?,” his response was always the same... “Yes, Mama,” he’d nod, with just a touch of a Southern drawl.  He’d say it with such a twinkle, showing those adorable dimples, at times it was impossible not to blush.

The day I came home and told Minion our D&D social circle now referred to him as Minion, he was amused.  From that point on, it stuck.  Funny thing... I used to roll my eyes at being a middle aged woman who’d get “tucked in” to bed every night, but now, it’s such a comforting familiar routine, so ingrained in who we are together, I almost can’t get to sleep without it.

Eventually, I figured out Minion wasn’t going to be putting any effort into finding himself a girlfriend.  In fact, it almost seemed like, if it were up to him, he’d never even bother to leave the house, as long as we were there together.  I knew that meant I was going to have to evaluate what he wanted for our future, as well as how I felt about that.  I knew I didn’t want to get stuck in a bad situation, but this really didn’t feel like it was headed in that direction.  I didn’t want to lead him on, but I also noticed, coincidentally, I hadn’t been doing any dating since we moved in together, either.  I had someone I enjoyed coming home to so much, I hadn’t been looking for anything else.

When I introduced Minion to my family, they were nuts about him, and practically adopted him immediately.  I’d been in a few relationships that were no good for my mental and emotional well-being, so my folks were beside themselves to see someone close to me who was not only good to me, but possibly even for me.  It was immensely frustrating for me, though, to hear them repeatedly thanking Minion for everything he had done to bring their girl back to them.

Sure, it’s true some questionable choices had resulted in the version of me they’d previously known disappearing from anything once resembling any semblance of who I used to be — that had been a natural defense mechanism from a no-win situation.  But the unthawing of the frozen bonds that encapsulated me — allowing me to return to myself — could not be attributed to the presence in my life of any man.  It was a result of escaping that prison, and Minion had just been the one who was there to revel in the joy of that experience with me, and, from his perspective, to benefit from it.

My Mom, ever the meddling sort, kept dropping hints she thought we should be together.  She often made note of how much like my Dad Minion is, and how much he has in common with many of my brothers.  I had to explain to her — multiple times — we were not involved, only housemates.

When asked about that, I’ve since been told, Minion would only admit that he wanted more for us, but that he could be patient.  He’d been married once before, and I never had, but I’d turned down 9 marriage proposals.  Marriage wasn’t even on the radar for me when moved in together, and, by that point in my life, I’d suspected it probably never would be.

I remember sitting in my parents’ living room one Sunday afternoon dinner at their house, asking my Mom while trying to fight back tears, if watching me as I was growing up, she’d ever imagined I’d end up over 40 with no husband and no children.  She told me that wouldn’t have been what she would have pictured or wanted for my life, but looking back on who I’ve always been since I was little, it was no surprise to her.
When she could see her answer upset me, she explained, “Honey, you’ve always been so incredibly independent... You’ve had friends, and gotten close to people, but you never established any of the kinds of relationships that carry you throughout life, because that was never what you needed... you always wanted everything your way... Finding someone who just naturally fit perfectly into the world you created around you was always going to be a tall order.”

But Minion had filled that order, in ways I couldn’t even have conceived of before him.  We had made a nice home together — we shared the same taste in color, in scheme, in theme, and style; we enjoyed entertaining friends and family, or spending time together, just the two of us, when we didn’t feel like going anywhere... we considered each other good company.  It was easy for us to be ourselves with one another.  We were comfortable, and content.

When you’re young, in love, and considering next steps, people around you will often tell you to slow down, take your time, make sure you know what you’re doing.  When you’re older, when you’ve been through it, when you know what to avoid, in some respects, it’s possibly even more imperative to be sure you still know what you’re doing.  But you don’t have the same luxury of time you once did.

So, one day I just got frank with Minion, and asked him where he saw things going between us.  I could tell I’d caught him off-guard.  Being a feminist, I wasn’t opposed to the idea of the woman doing the asking, but that wasn’t what I was getting at then.  I just wanted to know if we were only complacently spinning our wheels until something better came along, or if there was an end goal in sight.

If something better was supposed to come along, I knew neither he nor I were out looking for it, nor even making ourselves available to the possibilities.  But if we were going to need to be — if this was only a temporary distraction, I didn’t want to miss out on potential opportunities.  I didn’t have the time left for just testing the waters anymore.  For that matter, to a lesser extent, neither did he.

I’d never felt the pressure of a ticking biological clock, because my sense of fulfillment wasn’t contingent on whether or not I procreated.  But now there was someone that countdown might be more relevant to.  Minion was already a father, though not having his child in his daily life was a source of great loss for him.  If he had any thoughts of me filling that void, well...
biology only lasts so long, and for me, time was running out.

Looking back, I’m sure I was already in love with Minion by then, but I wasn’t fully aware of it yet.  In that moment, I was still just thinking practically, and crunching the numbers, the way
I do.  I wasn’t ready at that time to make a lifelong commitment, because I wanted to be certain if we went there, it was what he wanted, and not just what he’d agreed to go along with.  So I made sure he understood what was at stake by waiting — what he might be giving up, that is — and settled myself for trying to remain patient, hoping by the time he came around, it wouldn’t have been long enough that I would have given up.

That June, we traveled together to my brother’s Vegas wedding.  I later learned Minion had found time in that visit to take aside my eldest sibling — the only living man who shares my genetic code — to ask for his blessing on our union.  My brother was happy to oblige, saying, “As long as you make my sister happy, I couldn’t be more thrilled, and I wish you both all the best in life.”

In August, we attended the wedding of my nephew, the son of my youngest brother.  I secretly wondered if Minion would catch “wedding fever” as the summer coupling season winded down.  He didn’t.  He’s since confessed he was heavily influenced by being with me for both of those events so significant to my family in such a short span, but that only made him determined to slow down, to make sure he’d allowed time for the “fever” to pass, so he could be confident the decision was his alone, and not one of mass hysteria.

Then September turned into October, kicking off autumn in St. Paul, my favorite time of year.  We’d shared a home at that point for just over 12 months, and heading into the holiday season for the second time around caused me to assess our time together up to that point.  I came to appreciate, as we savored our second Halloween, our 2nd Thanksgiving, our 2nd Christmas, just as easily, as smoothly, as naturally, as comfortably, and as beautifully as the year before, that THIS was our lives.  And, I realized, too... I liked it.  This could ALWAYS be our lives, and that would be just fine by me.  I don’t know if his mind was working the same way, but shortly after New Year’s, he decided to make it official.

One mid-January Friday morning, I woke up early, and, not wanting my movement on the upstairs level to disturb his rest where he slept downstairs, I stayed in bed and turned on the TV, keeping the volume low, until he came up a few hours later.  When he learned I’d been awake for several hours, not moving because I didn’t want to wake him, he felt bad, and imagined I must be hungry, so he offered to make me breakfast in bed.
I agreed, but suggested he make it quick, since I was hoping to watch one of our favorite shows  (I’d inducted him into my compulsion for RuPaul’s Drag Race) before we both went to work.  (Back then we were both working nights, offset by a couple hours on either side.)

Twenty minutes went by, then 25; after that, I gathered this was apparently not going to be such a quick breakfast after all.  I called to him in the kitchen; he reported back he was almost done, he’d be right there.  He’s a great cook, but I’d been expecting cereal, or oatmeal, in 5 minutes or so, nothing fancy.

When he finally came in, he brought pancakes.  He gave me a tray with a pretty perennial, plucked from our garden, and a short stack of oatmeal flapjacks.  The top one seemed a bit mangled.  Trying not to laugh, so as not to hurt his feelings, I noted, “Looks like this one has a hole in it.”

Minion nodded, and pointed out, “Yeah... kinda looks like a ring, doesn’t it?”  As I was trying, a bit addled at the thought, to turn my head and squint to see it, or sort out the significance of my pancake being shaped like a ring, he took my hand in his, and asked me to spend the rest of my life with him.  I don’t even think I answered him, I just cried, and threw myself on him.  (I’m pretty sure he took that for yes.)

When we told my family, they were thrilled, though a bit surprised and confused.  They hadn’t even known we were an item.   Well, most of them, anyway.  But, they were right, though... we hadn’t been, previously.

One of my brothers said we’d always acted so much like an “old married couple,” he’d just assumed we’d been dating on the sly the whole time, just choosing not to tell anyone in case it didn’t work out.  Funny, when I thought about that, we actually had sort of always been like that together... we were just two old souls who’d fallen into a comfortable routine with each other, and fit like a worn out glove... it was a fair comparison.

But we hadn’t ever even really dated.  We went from being just housemates, to engaged.  When I tried to explain how that happened, as I told the story of our pet names endearing us to each other, I was suddenly struck with the thunderbolt realization that, “HOLY CRAP!  WE’RE BUTTERCUP AND WESTLEY!”

‘...That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, “Yes, Mama,” what he really meant was,
“I love you.” And even more amazing was the day she realized, she truly loved him back.’

As it turned out, “my type” wasn’t really “my type” after all.  But I feel so very blessed I didn’t hold on so tightly to that misconception that I let my heart’s desire slip through my fingers.  I can’t even imagine where I’d be today without my Minion.

There was a time when I couldn’t envision life without the frenzy of a new adventure around every corner, and a constant frantic pace.  But if I had ever slowed down long enough to breathe for a moment, I’d have felt in my bones, that was never
what I really wanted.  The stillness, the quiet, the peace of our existence, this is what I have sighed for.  This is what his love has given me.  And it is enough for both of us.

On October 25th, 2015, before a small gathering of our closest cohorts, I married Minion under a fiery tinted old oak tree on the back lawn of an 18th century country farmhouse, just 200 yards from the backdrop of the Mississippi River, in a modest, fantasy fairytale themed wedding.  I was Minion’s Princess Bride; he was my Dread Pirate Captain.  (That was an easy sell for Minion... what nerd doesn’t want to be a pirate???)

Guests witnessed as their favorite fairytale themed characters, but, you know... we’re nerds, so... there were a handful of peeps in Renfest gear, and at least three “Doctor Whos.”  (I was just grateful we didn’t have any Stormtroopers!  XD)  My uncle catered his award winning BBQ, my Mom made potato salad, pasta salad, and baked beans, our cake was a castle with dragons, and my nephew DJed a collection of 400 love songs I’d painstakingly selected over the nine months and nine days it took us to throw the event together.

Minion and I are not spring chickens, and we’re realistic about the ups and downs of life, so we’ve never expected “Happily Ever After.”  But we eagerly look forward to every moment of our future together, in our castle of bliss, which we, the consummate nerd couple, have aptly titled, “Misfit Manor.”  Our home now includes 2 giant dogs, and a nearly 3-yr-old Firebird.

Love is never going to make everything perfect.  But when you have love, every new day together — even the simplest ones — can be an adventure.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 17 - Topic: NEGATIVE REVERSE
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Starry Eyed Mama

...Just Sit and Putter


I lost a friend last night.  Well, I guess it was actually the night before, but I found out last night.  And she was less what I think of as a “friend,” and more so by the social media definition — a person with whom I’ve had some peripheral association through overlapping shared social circles, and to whom I’ve remained connected on social media.

I didn’t know her super well, and it had been years since I’d seen her.  I don’t have fond memories of that last time we encountered one another, but not because of her... it was just a party I’d been twisted into I really didn’t want to be at, but as one of the hosts, she was the highlight of it.  I remember thinking, there’s something uniquely special about her... I should really make a point to get to know her better.

I didn’t, of course.  Because, you know, sometimes we have moments outside our routine, but then we go back to our own bubble.  Most days it’s hard enough just keeping up with people you’ve already established as rooted to you, there never seems to be bandwidth leftover for widening the perimeter.

No one was talking about how she died at first... I suppose it was too fresh, too new.  She hadn’t been sick, and she was so young — well, at least, I feel like 50 is still young, anyway — so it was unexpected, and alarming.  Two days before, she’d posted her older large dog had been put down, and I had to wonder, was it depression?  So many posts of love and loss and warmth, but the silence about how was disturbing.  Why was no one talking about it???

I looked up her about info... I’d forgotten she was a nurse at a busy hospital.  So, of course, then my mind went to the worst places.  I instantly thought of everyone I know in high risk settings.

My brother is a cop.  Is he staying safe?  I called and left him a message, expressing my love and concern.

My niece is a nurse, and she just had a baby girl, not even two months old yet.  We chatted a bit over messenger, just checking in... she’s been on the East coast, visiting her family, and she’s not back at work yet, but she’s supposed to be on Monday... she promises to be careful.  And now I’m trying not to be concerned because I didn’t even know she’d been away.

My parents are traveling right now, both on a book tour together with each of their latest published works.  They’ve been living on the road in motel rooms and with friends and family for the last couple weeks, posting pictures of signing author copies for readers at tables in shops, hanging out at places like the Grand Ol’ Opry, packed to the rafters with jubilant patrons and fans.  Mom used to be a nurse, back in the day, so I know she knows best practices, but she’s also from a senior generation, more set in their ways; and old habits die hard.

She asks me to send her Firebird pictures about every other day.  I know when they return tonight, they’ll want to see him, but they’ll have to wait a few more weeks.  Dad has rheumatism and low blood pressure issues, and Mom has asthma and a complex lung condition that mandates a prescription for a multi-tablet dosage of prednisone per day; they’re in the vulnerable health category.

Waking up this morning, I checked out a few new posts on my friend’s account, now a memorial.  I learned she hadn’t been depressed, and it wasn’t a healthcare work environment related issue.  Heart complications, apparently.  Sounds so simple when you say it like that.

I don’t know the details, except I understand she passed away in her sleep.  Went to bed with her husband, and just never woke up.  What a terrible discovery that must have been for him.  He had to wait for the coroner to come take her, and be the first to tell her father.

I’m not as saddened as I would be if I’d known her better, obviously, though I feel a sense of loss over never having made that happen, especially since now I’ll never get the chance.  I’m mostly just touched by the fleeting and unpredictable nature of this life, and a little shaken.  It will be a while, I hope, before I reach the age where I’m beginning to outlive everyone I know, but things like this can be a glimpse into the future, and they make you inclined to hold tightly to the ones you love, especially when the world has gone a little crazy.

Social distancing, they’re calling for, and I know it’s the right thing to do.  But Mama just wants to reach out and hold anyone who needs it.  My heart aches for those trapped in empty spaces, feeling isolated and alone.

We canceled our plans to volunteer at a housing workshop today.  I was surprised it was still going on, actually, considering the governor just declared a state of emergency, banning gatherings of more than 15 people.  Minion is a diabetic with hypertension and a heart condition, who’s currently suffering a minor autoimmune deficiency because a round of extra strength antibiotics he’d been on for a month knocked his digestive system out of whack.  He’s in the extremely high risk vulnerable health category, and we’re being told we should have his doctor double check his medications for alternatives.  We’ll have to get our “volunteer activity” mortgage mafia favor done in some other way at some other time.  (Don’t get me started on that.)

We canceled our plans to attend tomorrow’s baby shower for a friend’s daughter — whom I’ve known since she was 6 years old — because she’d said it would be tight quarters, and 30 folks are still saying they’re going.  That was a painful decision... I mean, I want to show my support, my love, and my excitement for her, but... right now, caution is more prudent, right?

Some industries are being hit harder than others.  For example, we’ve got to make sure we’re not hungry when we run errands these days... can’t be stopping for any quick bites along the way...

               “Can I get some germs with that?

                . . . And a side of virus to go?”

If you can swing it without suffering, drop into your favorite restaurant and buy a gift card.  They can use the cash boost this week, and then later you can treat your honey (or yourself) to a cost-free outing.  This is also a great time to pick up fresh produce, too, and do some serious cooking... just make sure you wash it well first.

But in some respects, every outing feels like a game of Russian roulette.   For all the things we’re discussing — you can’t move 4 feet in any direction without running into the same topic — there’s plenty not everyone is even considering, much less brainstorming about with any sense of reason or logic.  Everyone’s rushing out like psychotic doomsday preppers to stock up on goods for hibernation, but no one’s thinking about how many hands that box of tissue passed through before it got to you.  Having worked in logistics, I see the chain of transport behind every item that crosses our path.

There’s manufacturing, packaging, shipping, unloading, set up, labeling, and the cashier counter.  Every one of those workers is probably getting paid pittance, and living paycheck to paycheck.  Do you think they can afford to take time off if they’re not feeling well?  Do you think they have a decent health coverage plan to help them determine they need to self-isolate?  And would they be able to?

Most of this country doesn’t eat, or pay rent if they can’t work, some if they miss even one day.  These people take their bugs to the job no matter what condition they’re in, where they handle your groceries.  Your cleaning materials.  Your toilet paper.

Any chance your lifesaving cold fighting quarantine supplies came in on a truck from one of the podunk red states that makes folks have to provide tangible proof you’ve been in direct physical contact with the infected before they will administer a test?  Sure, you’re not shaking hands with anyone on the line, but were those hands clean before they carried that cardboard box on its way to your house?  A lot of hands have been on it... were all of them clean?  Clean enough?  Not sure?  Has it been more than 3 days since anyone else touched it?  Don’t know?

Why would anyone assume packages from Amazon — or worse, the black market — are safer just because you didn’t leave the house to get them?  Are you going to let them sit on your porch for half a week before you open them?  No?  Then you better make sure every inch of every surface is wiped clean and disinfected before you bring it into your home.

Oh, they’re out of disinfectant?  And wipes, too?  Well, that sucks, then, doesn’t it?

I guess Howie Mandel doesn’t seem so crazy these days, does he?  (And, btw, you’re probably never going to see him in public again.  I’m sure he’s hunkered down somewhere, and he isn’t leaving his house until the next century rolls around.)

I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but some of the things folks are doing in droves to help them feel safe aren’t as safe as they’d hope.  And that’s thanks in part to irrational thinking, but primarily due to the steady stream of too much casual conjecture, not enough listening to the health sciences communities who are the root of sorting out this very serious problem.  There’s no need to further escalate the already rampant widespread panic, but if you want to be safe, you have to also be smart, and pay attention to the right sources.

The media is full of information available at your fingertips — spreading exponentially like its own form of worldwide web pandemic.  But wading through what’s out there to get to the golden nuggets that are actually useful is a daunting challenge for even the professionals, much less the rest of us poor slobs down here in the trenches.  One might almost think our culture doesn’t know how to properly disseminate data or something.  :-/

I hear so many people saying not to worry, this is only going to severely affect the elderly and those with compromised health.  ... ... ...  Why should that make people feel better??  If you can check yourself off as not being “compromised,” do you count yourself lucky, breathe a sigh of relief, and go about your regular life as if nothing has changed?

So, you don’t know anyone at risk, then?  Or you just don’t care enough about them to be careful for their sake?  People don’t seem to appropriately get the reality that even healthy people can create a more dangerous obstacle course for others, though I do hope they will, before it’s too late for those others.

My parents have both lived rich and full lives, and Mom’s faith is so strong she thinks dying is going home.  That’s certainly not what I want for them.  If this is their time, though, they will accept it, and be bathed in the love of their family and an extensive community that spans the globe.

But the father of my child for all outward appearances would give you the impression he’s built like an ox.  He’s not, though.  And he’s certainly not expendable.  Especially not to me, or our son.  I would want everyone chatting so casually about how this is “no big deal” to look him in the face and tell his family that the life of their patriarch doesn’t mean enough for them to take a few minor inconvenient precautions like staying home from a movie, or skipping that big dinner at the club.

We picked up a few things today we’ll need for the next few weeks or so, which is our standard Saturday routine, and not surprisingly, every place we stopped was a zoo.  There wasn’t any toilet paper anywhere, which is too bad for us, since it was on this week’s list, so we may end up having to get creative, unfortunately.  There’s no wipes or hand sanitizer in any stores anywhere, either.  We normally keep that sort of thing around, being parents of a 2-year-old, but it may be a while before we can again.

Minion and I will be okay.  I’m trying not to freak out about his risk factors, but he’s promised me... he’s not going anywhere.  He’s been mandated back to working from home for at least the next 6 weeks or so, which is laughable, considering that’s where he was six years ago, and still would be, if some over puffed bigwig windbag hadn’t decided they needed to justify the expense of the giant fancy office they just bought a half hour’s drive away.  Eight years is a lot of your life to give to a soul sucking corporate tycoon who doesn’t care anything about the people who make your business possible, and treats them like mindless cattle.

We need someone to take swing shift — as an incentive, we’ll let you work remotely.  Wait, now you need to be in the office — you can work nights.  No, scratch that, we’re going to switch you to days... 9 days from now.  You’ll have to completely reverse the sleep schedule you’ve become accustomed to for the last several years, make sure you can afford to become a two car family in the next week, not to mention figure out how to come up with the money to pay for daycare — but you’ll have to do it making $300 less per month — no more shift deferential rates for you.

Eight years, as it turns out, is more than plenty, and he’s finally had enough.  Apparently, everyone else has got the same idea... they’re jumping in droves, like rats leaving a sinking ship.  His job search seems to be on hold at the moment, though.  His resume has gotten a lot of attention, and a few solid bites, but virtual meetings will only carry a candidate so far, and the world is slowly grinding to a halt and shutting down.  So maybe he’ll have to suck it up and stick with
the jackals for a little while longer.  This is not the right time to have to wait 90 days before health insurance kicks in.

I’ve been notified confidentially to prepare for receiving instructions to work remotely, and can hardly wait to get them.  It would be nice if I could breathe easier, but this contract is only scheduled officially through mid-April or so.  It may very likely go longer, I’m told, though no one has an end date in mind for certain yet.  At least there’s some consolation in the fact I know they’re not going to be able to afford to lose me until they hire someone to take over the work I’ve been doing since June  — since apparently I’m not officially qualified to continue doing it — but I imagine they’ll be in the same kind of frozen-in-place boat the companies looking at Minion are in, so, at least there’s that.

At some point in our lives, I would love for not everything about our situation to have to be so up in the air all the time.  But we can suck in and tighten our belts if we have to.  At least a career in contracting has trained me into the habit of paying in advance, so our bills are covered through next month.

I don’t know how long we as a people will have to collectively hold our breath to get through this together.  I don’t know where we will be or what the world will look like whenever the dust finally clears, and we begin to slowly emerge blinking into the light of
day, though I imagine “normal” from that point will be an entirely new experience.  I know one casualty that could take the longest to recover, though, may be our global economy.

I know it never will, if we don’t finally begin to take the first steps on the road toward real progressive changes that will positively impact humanity.  Like universal healthcare.  Mandatory paid sick leave.  And a functional living wage for all.

This is most certainly not a political matter, but it most assuredly could have been drastically mitigated by a vastly different political climate.  When the public gets the chance to speak our minds, we must remember what we’ve seen here.  Not having access to testing.  Poor communication.  Government issued misinformation.  The removal of posted educational materials in immigration courts.  An inadequate social safety net.  Now is the moment for everyone to grasp — all of us are only ever as prepared to manage a major catastrophe as the capacity of the least among us to do so.

There has never been a better time to vote like our lives depend on it.  Because they do.  They always have.  At least now, though, finally, maybe more of us have a better understanding what those of us who’ve been saying so for some time have meant all along.  It’s tragic this is what it takes to shine that light on these issues.  But it will be even more tragic if we fail to act on them.

brother messaged me back.  He says the department has ordered respirator masks and plenty of cleaning fluids for everyone.  But that’s not my real concern... he’s healthy as a stubborn mule; I would certainly prefer he didn’t get laid out for a few days by this, but he’ll weather it, if it comes to that.

No, my fear is more because h
e deals with a lot of desperate people every day, and these are particularly scary times especially for folks who are already desperate on any other given normal day.  I told him to keep a sharp hard close eye on his 6, and a steady hand firmly on his hip.  He says he’s appreciative, more than I can imagine — it’s good to know, somehow, when you’re out there on your own, that people who love you are behind you with their support, at least in spirit.

I guess, maybe, from here, that’s all you can do.

I will not be controlled by fear.
Fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the mini-death that brings about obliteration.
I will overcome my fear.
I will permit to wash over me,
And pass through me.
And when it has gone,
I will trace the path it has taken.
Where fear has been,
There will be nothing left.
Only I will remain.

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 16 - Topic: THE STREISAND EFFECT
This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on…
                                                                                                            ...and thanks for stopping by.
Starry Eyed Mama

Tugann an Sráidbhaile an Leanbh Suas

Moving Day

The last time our family moved, it was with a 4-month old baby in tow, and much more suddenly than we’d have intended or preferred.  Minion and I had been living in a rental we initially shared together to cut expenses and get more bang for our buck — because an 1800 sqft. single family home with an attached garage and a nice big yard on a corner lot for two people and a myriad of pets is so much nicer than cramming into a tiny walkup apartment.  After we’d been there for 4 years — where our relationship had over time progressed from us being friends, to companions, to lovers, to partners, to fiancées, to spouses, and then co-parents — we learned the owner planned to sell the place, offering us first right of refusal. 

It wouldn’t have been our first choice for our introductory experience as first-time home buyers, mostly because the neighborhood included drug dealers across the street, but as an opportunity of convenience, we had to give it consideration.  Problem was, as a contractor, I had no maternity leave, a mountain of medical debt, and expenses that had to be paid despite being several weeks out of work.  We had been living off my credit, and it was maxed out. 

On paper, we were not good mortgage candidates.  Once I was back at work (only three weeks after Firebird was born), I told the owner we would need at least another six month lease to pay my balances down enough to restore my credit rating to the level it had been at before my delivery, in order to look good enough to a bank to take on the house note.  He agreed, but dragged his feet about getting the new lease contract drawn up, while time kept right on running out.

When I finally did reach him, after several weeks of trying to track him down — almost as if he’d been dodging my calls — he confessed he couldn’t sell to us after all.  He’d had the place appraised for a value of $60K less than he’d paid for it, and in order to recoup his losses, he’d have to get into the home to do some major rehab.  Which meant we couldn’t be in it. 

By the time he finally confessed this news, we had 21 days left in our contract.  That’s 21 days to get out of the home we’d become a family in over 4 years.  21 days to find another place that would be open as soon as we would need to get into it, accept our menagerie of pets (2 100# dogs and 2 cats), my high balances, Minion’s total lack of any credit, apply, be approved, sign a lease, get ourselves packed, and move, while both of us were working full time, and juggling a 4-month old baby.  It was more than we could handle alone.  

I’ve moved 45 times in 45 years — that I can remember.  Some as a part of a bigger family.  Some in the foster care system.  Some completely by myself.  Some by engaging the assistance of 3 of my 5 brothers and my Dad.  This last move — #45, in which one of us was always either working, or on baby duty — was going to take all hands on deck.

At the time, we didn’t even know where we going to live, but we knew we’d have to be packed and ready as soon as we figured that out.  A portable storage unit parked outside our garage, so we could move everything not required for everyday living into it as we were able on the few weekend days we had (and by “we,” I mean him), which was the only time we were both available when one of us could watch the baby while the other was frantically laboring toward getting us situated.  I made use of every baby nap when I wasn’t working to either set up appointments to check out available housing options or pack; he made use of every baby nap when he wasn’t working to lug our junk to the pod.  Fortunately, at 4 mths, there are a lot of nice long naps.

In those 21 days, my sister-in-law and her sister came over and packed up our parlor while I held the baby and kept them company.  Mom and Dad put out an open call asking for assistance via an announcement in the weekly bulletins of their church groups, as well as a couple of affiliated collectives.  Multiple friends and family donated packing boxes, and several could find an hour at a time here and there, showing up at our door asking how they could help. 

Members of my parents’ church came over and packed our kitchen while I was at work and my husband and the baby slept.  (They used the only packing materials they could find — my sparkly Christmas wrapping tissue... we’re occasionally still picking glitter out of our dishes 2 years later! ;-)  No one visitor put any single major dents in the total workload, but collectively, they all made a gigantic difference together. 

Mom kept a regular rotation of catered homemade food snacks available for anyone who dropped in.  Not too many took advantage, but it kept us from having to figure out what to eat throughout that ordeal, which was incredibly helpful.  Once we found the place we’re living in now, we applied for it sight unseen because it met the basic conditions for our complex situation (and we’ve been paying through the nose for being in that position ever since). 

Several members of a congregation where I’d visited with the baby on multiple occasions pitched in to help load into the pod, or make trips to the new rental with items the pod didn’t have room for.  We are fortunate this place has a 2½ car garage, as it’s less than half the house we moved from, and most of our belongings have been stored there since the move.  Minion’s dad and brother helped with many of the larger furniture items (and broke a couple in the process, too — collateral damage, though, all things considered!).

After we were ready to crash for our first night at the new place, one of my Dad’s marine buddies came over to the old place to help me clean while Minion worked to get us and the baby settled in.  My brother-in-law went over to mow our former lawn once more.  (Minion keeps a photograph of him doing it as evidence he can be put to work! ;-)

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  Sometimes, when you’re busy raising a child, you need the village just to help you get over the next hurdle to the destination just out of your reach on the horizon.  We’re fortunate to have an accommodating village within our grasp.

We’re not terribly happy with the place we’ve been more or less forced into, for multiple reasons, and we’re working towards outgrowing it in an upwardly mobile fashion, with the intent for our next move to be into our own home.  It’s been a long road getting from there to here, and the goal seems so close we can almost taste it now.  We’re hoping to land on our feet before the year is up, and if everything goes well, maybe, this time, we can manage enough on our own and with just a small enough handful of close-knit participants that we’ll let the village sit the next one out — after all, they’ve worked hard enough for us, they deserve the rest.

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 14 - Topic: BARN RAISING
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Bedroom Eyes

Hoping for a Sign


My Mom tells a story about being too discontent one miserably hot Minnesota summer day.*

*You might think it can’t get that hot in Minnesota, but you’d be surprised.  I come from Florida, where temps can get up to around 100 – 102°F in the blistering summers, but regularly hover between 97° - 99°F.  In over 30 years, I’ve seen the dog days of Minnesota summers push the mercury past 106°F on multiple occasions.  Fortunately, the Minnesota summer season only lasts a matter of weeks, and the worst of it usually only a few days.  10,000 lakes put out a lot of humidity in the air, too, so Minnesotans tend to complain about the high 60s-low 70s heat index, but that’s nothing compared to the 97% dewpoint the Florida panhandle brings in from the double slap of being sandwiched between the Atlantic and the Gulf.  So we transplants tend to count our blessings.  Usually.

...But this post is not about a comparison of climates between the Southernmost and Northernmost US states.

As the story goes, alone one mid-afternoon some late July or August in her 100+ year old house with no A/C, Mom found herself sticky and sweltering, the mess of a half dozen or more fans she had set up throughout the space only feebly throwing about the muggy atmosphere, which didn’t seem to have much effect.  So, there she sat on her couch with her tongue hanging out, sweating bullets and fanning herself with a flyer, feeling an ugly kind of grumpy.  There was no one around, mind, so it’s not like she was actively griping to anyone in particular, or even out loud at all, but in her head, some version of Yosemite Sam’s mumbled string of inaudible, incoherent obscenities had been playing on loop for a spell.

After a bit of this, there came an abrupt power surge; Mom heard a loud *POP!* — and all the fans blinked out at once.  Just like that — no more wind movement.  The house was suddenly quiet as the grave, while the stuffy, stifling, soggy summer steam converged in on my Mom to envelope her like a blanket of syrup oozing over a smothered stack of pancakes.

In that moment, Mom’s grouchy internal monologue was instantly replaced by a fearful whimper of imploring, apologetic humility.  While desperately trying not to cry, she began to pray.  She begged God to forgive her cantankerous nature in those miserable moments of weakness.  She promised not to take for granted the many wonderful gifts she’d been given, and to be demonstrably grateful for the many creature comforts her privileged life afforded her.

A moment later, the electricity clicked back on, and the hum of the fans whirred once more.

Mom tells this story with a wink and a laugh at herself as an uplifting cautionary tale, of the time she was given a gentle, not-so-subtle reminder we must always remember to show our gratitude, since things could often be so much worse.  Much like the biblical parable of Jonah and the vine, in which the disgruntled prophet became angry and belligerent with God after God had given him a plant to shade him for a day, but sent a worm to eat the plant the next day, and a scorching wind to beat upon Jonah’s head the day after that.  Mom decided then and there she wouldn’t need to be beat over the head to heed God’s reminder of what she’s been given.

I get that it’s important to be grateful.  I know we shouldn’t take what we have for granted.  I understand maintaining humility in our lives helps us to be more loving and kinder toward others who are not as fortunate.  Many a fable has been written with such an advisory theme, and not without just cause.  Humans as an imperfect creature have a natural tendency to remain centrally focused, self-absorbed, and caught up in our own petty desires.  But we as a people can be and do so much better than that, so it’s only right we should make the most of any reminders available to us whenever we need them.

I’m hard pressed, though, to feel good about the notion suggested by Mom’s implication this brown-out was an act of divine intervention.  If that is the case, then she gives deference to the idea that a supreme being who is supposed to be an all-loving father could be content to find an elderly woman in misery and discomfort — albeit, yes, perhaps minor, to some degree, in comparison to the suffering of others around the world — but would respond by twisting the knife to further compound that misery and discomfort.  In order to modify the internal thoughts of a sweet old lady whose life has been spent in a tireless pursuit of everyday ways to better her care for those closest to her and anyone who needs it, this would be the punishment imposed upon a loving mother, a doting grandmother, a dutiful wife, a giving friend, a charitable stranger, and a faithful Christian.

If a parent willingly caused a child to suffer in order to teach that child a lesson, wouldn’t that be considered child abuse?  But if your God does it to you, you should be grateful for the lesson?  I am reminded of how often the kinds of statements made by those who are very religious are almost imperceptible from the excuses one hears from people in abusive relationships made to justify their treatment at the hands of their abusers.

•  Abusers convince their victims they are worthless in order to make them believe they deserve abuse.

“But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

“Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

•  Abusers require their victims to show proper respect to the abuser’s higher authority in order to avoid further corrective action.

“If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings.  Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me.”

•  Victims of abuse must always be obedient to their abusers, without question, or suffer the consequences.

“Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days.”

“Therefore, as you have always obeyed, so now, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning.”

“Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”

“...retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel.”

•  Abusers make their victims believe only the abusers know what’s best for their victims, and this is how they show they love their victims, whereas total submission from victims to their abusers is how victims show love to their abusers.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

“And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.”

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke.”

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

“You are my friends if you do what I command.”

•  Abusers convince their victims they cannot escape their abuser, as the abuser knows them better than anyone else, and will always find them.

“For their crime will they escape?  In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!”

“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”

“For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.”

“While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.”

•  Victims of abuse must change their whole way of life to fit in with what the abuser wants and thereby avoid the abuser's wrath.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; do this, and you will live.”

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.

My husband is an atheist.  When I first met him, he considered himself to be a Taoist, thinking of it as more of a philosophy than a religion, but has since shrugged that association off as an unnecessary attachment.  He rejects the commonly held and strongly browbeaten Christian dogma there can be no good without God.

I haven’t quite reached the point of being willing to say there’s no God, but mostly out of sheer stubborn will, at this point, perhaps because the brainwashing of indoctrination that begins in so many homes even before birth is hard to break free from, though I don’t know that I would ever get to that point.  I want to believe there’s a loving God.  And the promise painted in the image of the folk hero represented by the man Jesus is certainly appealing.

It’s hard, though, to justify such a belief in the face of the apparent paradox that God loves you unconditionally, but only under certain conditions.

I want to believe there are good people who understand how to follow the teachings of the man whose directions included,

“Love one another, just as I have loved you.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

 “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his brother.”

“Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

“Let all you do be done in love.”

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“Love must be sincere.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor each other above yourselves.”

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love conquers all.”

“Love is patient.  Love is kind.  Love does not envy.  Love does not boast.  It’s not proud.  Love is not rude or self-seeking.  Love is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong.  Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.”

But then I look around the world and I don’t see a lot of love in the faces of the people who call themselves Christian.  I see sanctimony.  Hypocrisy.  Self-righteous indignation.  False judgment.  I see greed, the need to be in and maintain control over others, and lust for power.  These characteristics do not resemble the man Jesus.  I am reminded of the words of the mahatma Gandhi, who said about these people,

“I like your Christ.  I do not like your Christians.  They are so unlike your Christ.”

Even my own parents, whom I know to be good and kind and loving people, reject the hateful acts of racism and class warfare, but Mom still thinks women should know their place, and believes this country would be better off if everyone put their faith in the Bible first.  They both think gays must be taught the scripture in love so they understand the error of their ways, and repent and turn from their sin.  They see the Gossamer-in-Chief as a stain on our history, and a blight on the face of what it means to be a Christian, but they worship weekly and regularly fellowship with multiple people who see the conservative agenda as justification to have put him in office and continue to support him.

And if I bring up how uncomfortable I am to break bread with people who are certain that Catholics need to be saved from the fires of hell, or that having a justice on the supreme court who will promote family values is more important than the health and safety and well-being of my husband and my son, or kids in cages, or anyone who’s not a billionaire and may need health care someday, I will be told that’s merely politics, and it should have no bearing on my faith, or my obligation to do what I know is right.  The thing is, I remain true to my obligation to do what I know is right.  And I don’t believe that includes a weekly gathering with people who pay lip service to honor the command to love others, but who clearly only love those they deem worthy.

As for my faith in God, I honestly don’t know what to make of God right now.  I struggle with lots of unanswered questions, like, how can a God who created a universe in which he set the rules claim to be about love and forgiveness, while in his creation, the forgiveness of sin requires the blood of an innocent?  What does the suffering of one who has done no wrong have to do with love, and how can it right any wrong???  If that is love, I don’t want any part of it.

How can man claim that I am made in God’s own image, when I am appalled by what man claims is the very nature of God?  How can God be both loving, and yet jealous?  Peaceful, and yet vengeful?

My faith in mankind is stretched about as thin as it could be.  Though I do still believe there are plenty who would choose above all to love one another, and to show love to the world, I don’t see love winning most battles lately.  Scripture claims to be “God-breathed,” but it was the hand of men who wrote it.  The fact is, the bible is a twisted, tangled serpent’s nest of contradictions, and anyone who claims to understand it is cherry-picking, at best.

It can be cherry-picked to create an image of God as a peaceful and loving father, a jealous, vengeful warrior, a humble, subservient, sacrificial lamb, or an internal inspiration.  It can be manipulated to promote any directive man’s evil heart can manifest.  But it cannot be interpreted to create one cohesive image of God, and that is a truth that makes everything about the so called word of God subject to suspicion, more than interpretation.

I have absolutely zero faith in the motivations of men, especially those who claim to speak for God.  I have no confidence in man’s ability to even understand the concept of God, much less to determine that God’s intent, nor to impose it upon others.  As Susan B. Anthony said,

“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”

And, sure, it would be nice to live in a world where politics stayed out of religion.  Unfortunately, religion hasn’t successfully stayed out of politics.  And from what I can see, those who have married the two together have only used it as a weaponized tool to bring harm to others, to oppress the disadvantaged, and to take from the downtrodden.

And yet, as I write this tonight, uncertain of where the question would take me, no sooner had I settled on the title — a line from my favorite Styx song — than I heard a knock on my door.  There in the amber glow of my porch lamp was a lovely young mother with three small children, all under the age of 10, standing back with a word of encouragement for the tiniest of them to step forward and ask, did we have any money we could give him to take to his church so they could help Mexican children?  With a smile that showed he’d tugged on my heart, I told him what a precious gift that would be, and I was so grateful he’d had the thought, but we didn’t really keep cash around the house.

His mother thanked me sweetly for my time, and herded them all down our sidewalk.  I knew she hadn’t put up to this.  I knew this wasn’t a church drive.  I knew that sweet, beautiful young boy had heard there were kids his age who were suffering, and he wanted to help but didn’t know how, so his kind, patient mother took him out to let him knock on doors and talk to his neighbors about helping in whatever small form of assistance they might have to offer.

Then I came back to my desk, sat down, buried my face in my hands, and wept.  For today, for now, I know I’m not an atheist.  And I know there’s still hope for the future.

LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 13 - Topic: FAN DEATH
This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on…
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