Monday, March 12, 2018

Taming a Lion

A few friends and old readers have noticed my absence from here, to which I respond (feeling fucking tetchy and scrutinized), that I don’t know how to ‘top’ writing my Dad’s eulogy. I mean really right, what comes next?
I can’t write here when I am blocked. And what blocks me is an ugly secret. So, this is the blog I have to write, the acid-indigestion that has to be burped out before my softer song can return.
In the middle of last night, I found myself bawling, having a real pity party, so I pressed onto the pain spot like a masseuse does, really leaning into it until it popped and released. It’s still releasing today, a good time to write.
I am dealing with a new knowledge, and it has needles spiking from it, it is a veritable porcupine, all vulnerable underbelly and tight-curling over. But this new knowledge, it explains a lot. And it might be part of the toolkit to gently take-apart and rebuild myself.
I’ve done all the reading and ticked all thirty boxes ‘yes’ on each and every survey from all the online psychologists.  I’ve since talked to my own psychologist about it.
My Mum is a narcissist.
My Dad enabled it and was a Houdini-level escape-artist, in later years taking out his hearing aid so as not to hear her ranting over the tele.
And me?
I am a lion tamer, a people pleaser, with often low self-esteem despite appearing able and functional and smart.
I am on the phone listening to Mum talk about herself as I type. I am angry at her, very often, and very repressively. It’s well over a year since Dad died, and much of my grief has been parked whilst I get on with getting on. I am not good enough for and to my Mum (or am I?), who is depressed, lying about it, overtly suicidal, lying about it, fearful and anxious and lying about it, stuck and pessimistic and lying about it.  She lies to her friends and doctors, and my brother and I get the truth.
I have compassion. I have compassion burn-out. I am guilted-out, but I don’t think I am guilty.
And I now acknowledge I am angry at Dad. He kept himself mostly safe from the ongoing attacks, but he didn’t know how to protect two kids or call her behaviour.
My brother I think was the true golden child for her. To the outside I looked to be that. But it was all contingent: contingent on me feeding her voracious appetite for drama and vitriol. Contingent on me hating those she hated. Contingent on my agreeance. Contingent on absorbing the nit-picking ‘don’t put your hair up/don’t wear that colour its ugly on you/you have fat calves from your dad’s side.’
 She never physically abused me, but she made sure I knew that to disagree with her or push back would result in tirades. She particularly needed me to hate those she hated, many of them from my dad’s side of the family, and her favourite pastime back then was hours of tearing them apart and pushing me to agree. Until I did. Because I was 7 or 9 or 13 or 15 and needed my Mum’s love.  My Dad saw this going on and didn’t intervene. He loved me hard and proud and tried to build me up, but as I hit my teens he seemed to almost hand me over to her, and I became Mum’s daughter, still his in some ways, but increasingly hers. Maybe it offered him relief.
All that I did well, came from her ‘side of the family’. What was attractive in me was ‘from her’.  My good results at school were responded to with jealousy-fuelled rants about her not being allowed to finish her education, which would lead into the story of her mother marching her into a job interview aged 15, then end with a good half hour about how her sister got to finish school, and got a house deposit, and got everything, and, and, and…pant, pant.
I learned not to share my success, not to toot my own horn too much.

Now her rants continue on about her sister. I neither adore nor hate my Aunty. She’s nice enough, a bit flaky, a recovering addict, funny in an acerbic way, and quite possibly recovering too, from exposure to narcissism. (I suspect my Nanna was a rather cruel or at least cold woman).  But it’s very important to my Mum that I hate her sister. When I push back my Mum can end up in tears of frustration. She’ll concoct lies to try and make me hate her sister, and again I may push back to expose them. The tears then become full crying about her ‘pain’.  I am meant to be disgusted with myself for causing this distress.  And yet, even as I cuddle her and tell her I love her, I know these tears are purely the frustration at not getting what she wants from me, her little lion tamer, feeder of all the good meat.
Her nit-picking now is about my house, my husband, my child, how I look (‘fat’, ‘puffy’, ‘hair too long’) and how I let her down (not enough visits/calls/attention).  But it's constant and I know now that I don’t really exist for her as a seperate person, just as a feeder and a preener.
Exploring the narcissism-label to her personality disorder weirdly helps. But still it burns. As I type I have said a ‘mm,’ or a ‘huh’ every two minutes or so. And I’m writing to distract myself. And it’s going unnoticed. Because she can talk ‘at’ me for an hour with very little going on for conversation.
People often use lion taming as a metaphor for exposure to danger, due to the obvious risks of toying with powerful carnivores. When a lion lives in our house and raises us, we can become an escapee or learn to cuddle up to the lion anyway, learn to tame it where possible or pretend to be its kind. We learn to please it, how to groom and feed it.  We like the warmth of its fur, for as a child we need to cuddle, even as we fear the roar and the mighty teeth.   But children aren’t meant to be lion tamers or lion cubs, and the cost comes later, in anxiety and people pleasing, lack of genuine confidence, addictions or dependencies, and lack of self-compassion.
I need to look at this more before I can let it go. In letting it go I hope for better flow, more words, more ability to see the good and beautiful again.
Thanks, lovely reader, for being my Rennie; the acidity is passing and my coffee tastes good.
I hope yours does too, and that if you feel pain today you can find your reader, your Rennie, your unconditional love, your true mother, sister, or cub.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

there is love

This post is half a year old, written before my dad died and when we had a view of his prognosis that was more optimistic.  Yet I still wanted to publish it, because I like to honour my son's evolution, and mark where he learns and grows...

Finn, you still seem so little. But big things abound. Your hero’s journey enters its dark night; you rush on with footballs and pause to lay car-tracks. 

It’s Father’s day and your Grandpa is dying; for my Dad now there is a timeline and a prognosis. Six months, twelve months, maybe more but who knows? We all love him so, and your love for him is so big it spills out in tears and fear.  But off we go for hugs and snags and play. You have some words like cancer and chemo, but we don’t use them this day; time enough for that when hospital begins.  I talk to you about it, that there are weeds in the garden of my big Father’s body. That there is a treatment like weedkiller that will make him feel bad because it kills good things in his body-garden too. That it is not his fault, and it it is not contagious.

You sense my worry and feel your worry, despite our shelter that curves over you like a bull-nosed veranda.

Coming home from the visit we all just needed rest. It had been a big day with Na and Pa, and I felt tetchy and tired.  And then bad things happened around a good little girl, and just like that you fostered her and cared. All your tired green shoots of love and the gruff stuff of big brothering, wrapped around a little girl; and you gave her the gift of normalcy.

YELL> THUMP> BANG! Bad monsters. Ugly hard sounds of shatter from next door. Screams.
When the police came because neighbor J had called them I got them chairs to sit in our front yard. J could wait for her daughter to be dropped home there, and talk to the police about how her ex-partner had become violent on her and her little home next door.

Finn, you were so curious about the police being out in our yard with her.  You peered at them out of the front window. You were worried about the daughter, A, a sweetly smart little redhead of three years that you’d been friends with for her whole life.  When she came home, she came straight in with us for a play, as J was still making her statement. You were so kind with her. She was worried, intuitive, wanting her Mum but also wanting your assurances and company. 

But why were the police there?
Why? Because it was a safe space for J. Because she had just been physically attacked, because I heard it, for yet another time. Because she knew she could bang on our door for help, as she had done before.  Because we can welcome her lovely girl for a play with a boy who who adores her, and he can be her sheltering veranda, a little space that’s warm and safe.  

She’s a strawberry of a girl, she admires you and plays to your level and calls you 'Faann', and in turn you get to be a big brother. You and she played, and peeped at the police. I told you they were helping A’s mum find ‘stolen house keys’.  It helped A understand why she wasn’t in her usual home next door, which had been trashed by the ex. Finn, I think you knew that it was more than that, yet you played, you made fun, and you shared your eve and your telly and your parents and your pizza. 

Later on I told you the truth. That sometimes men think its OK to hit and kick and throw things, when its never OK, no matter how bad a tantrum is going on. 

So on one of our own hard days I was reminded of my privilege: a ‘throw me in the air’ Dad, a safe childhood and safe home. And of my NORMS that aren’t privilege, that should be the given: I’ve never been hit, kicked or choked by the one I call my love.

But back to you, my Finn. 
You can be mighty, you can be naughty, you can buzz like a bee, you can drive my heart wild with it, but today you fostered. You gave of your good life to a little girl who was your friend, and you did it with grace and empathy.  I saw your care and I fell even more deeply in proud-Mama-love with you.  

My sweet sun, you are as juicy with love as an orange-half. Let it flow, little one, it's your superpower.

* J and her daughter moved away a month later, to a big house with the Sister/Aunt.  We've lost touch but I like to think they are safe and thriving.  Finn misses A, which is OK.  One day some random chance will have them meet!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

My Dad died. Here is why I loved him and thought him my sun.

I love you Dad for so many reasons, but mostly because you took me seriously. I wasn’t a girlie girl, I was a tomboy, and you let me be that, and you enjoyed it too.  From the moment we moved to Vermont I was always down in your tool-shed alongside you. So you taught me- how to use tools, clean them, and put them away.

You showed me how to make a box. We had to measure up, with a ruler. I think that was the only time I saw you measure with anything other than your hands and a pencil! I had to saw the wood, make it all fit, glue it and nail it. You said if I could make a box I could make anything.  Then you gave me scrap wood to extend a tree house in the paddock next door. I made it awesome and spent many times there, bombing Dean and his mates with pinecones.

Because of you I know how to hang wallpaper and that it only sticks of you swear at it and stomp on it.  I read a famous five on my bed as you hung the wattle-flower wallpaper. I know you hung it the right way round, despite the ongoing tease from us all that it was upside down. You did good, Dad, and the swearing kept it firmly stuck for years.
You taught me how to change a car tire, clean battery points, top up my oil and water, and we even re-sprayed my first car together, a hideous shade of safety yellow so everyone could see me and my Volvo coming.  

One night outside KATEES nightclub Jenny Aitken and I changed a tire while drunken guys catcalled. I felt so proud. Thanks for that Dad.
When I was little and asked for a toolkit for Christmas, you didn’t laugh, or encourage me to get a doll. Somehow you found one- a miniature set in a wooden carry box. And they were real tools, with weight and purpose and red handles- a hammer, saw, screwdriver and more, all to fit my small hand. 

 I used some of the nails from it to hammer extra planks onto my cubby walls. The planks turned out to be walnut, and destined for the kitchen as shelves.  You were so angry when you realized what I’d done. But you also praised my straight nailing!
Other parts of being your tomboy girl were riding the old postie motorbike around the paddock, feeding apples to the horses next door, and climbing. I was about nine when I climbed to the top of the pine tree in our yard. Then I looked down and freaked!  And yelled out a VERY bad swear word little girls shouldn’t say.  You didn’t rescue me. You came partway up and talked me down.  I could feel proud, even as I got a bum-smack for the swearing.

Thanks Dad, for teaching me to shake hands properly.  You taught Dean and me that your handshake is your word, so when you give it you must see the thing through and do it right.  Because you hated   ‘gonna-do-ers’ I grew up believing in doing, in taking action on dreams to make them real.  It’s a good life lesson, thanks Dad.
Some other life lessons I got from you Dad: the world is not straight, so measure it by eye and hand. Cracks will always come back. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fix them each time they do. Be useful. Don’t wallow. When you feel blue go for a drive out into the country, or find something to fix. Climb the tree, don’t be scared. Someone will be there to talk you back down.

Dad, all these things you left me with help me feel sound, and useful, and like I’m meant to be here, and that’s such a lovely thing you gave to me.  You used to thrown me in the air until the sky touched my head, and you made me feel so loved.

 I need to give you something back and so it’s this.  You are in the warmth. There are droplets drying from your skin because you have just swum. The heat is rising, and the sun is straight above you. You have no work to do, nothing to fix.  You are drifting in an out of a dream, sitting in your chair, basking like a lizard in the sun.