Social Acceptance

I was a bed wetter.  I wet the bed until I was in high school.  Of all the experiences I have talked about in my life, this is one of the most embarrassing ones for me to admit.  Even at the age of Fifty-four years old, it is still uncomfortable to confess publicly.

There are many reasons for my embarrassment.  First, of the five kids in our household, I was the only bed wetter.  Even my two younger brothers, who were nine and twelve years younger than me, stopped wetting the bed before I did.  Yeah, I never heard the last of that.  My parents and older siblings reminded me often.

This made me very different in my family and socially unacceptable.

My bed wetting disorder automatically put me in a lower, child-like status within my family and directly impacted my self-confidence.

The bladder skill is the one thing that moves a child from the toddler to a big boy or girl status.  It’s a big accomplishment.  My lack thereof made me subject to punitive words, punishment, jokes, and ridicule.  For about 15 years, I dealt with this on a weekly, almost daily basis.  Not to mention my own embarrassment of waking up another morning in a wet bed.

My bed wetting really set off my step-father and siblings at times.

My sister and I shared a room.  She was probably my worst tormentor.  We were very close.  But she also knew how to hurt me.  She laughed at me, called me names, told me she wanted her own room because I made the room stink from my pee-filled bed.  Her words would seep into my mind and remind me often that I was faulty.

My step-father, who gave me the nick-name, Squirt, also hated this uncontrollable trait about me.  I think at first he thought it was a passing phase.  I was five years old when he and my mother began to date.

I remember him telling me that he would call me, Squirt, until I stopped wetting the bed.  Of course, he never did stop calling me this.  And after he realized my bed wetting days were here to stay, he began to hate it.  So much so that my mother would try and hide my wet sheets from him so another bed wetting night would not set him off.

My step dad wouldn’t beat me.  But it was his eyes, his facial expression of disappointment, and at times disgust that seemed to prevent him from even looking at my face.  And then, there were his words that cut me deeper than any whooping.  This feeling would haunt me daily and for years to come.  Sometimes he blamed my mother for babying me too much as the reason for my bed wetting.  Other times, he blamed me.  In his mind, someone had to be the blame!  And it certainly wasn’t him.  It surely could not have been a medical condition.  In his mind (and others as well), it was psychological.

I was just acting out.  Too spoiled.  Too lazy to wake up.  Too scared to go to the bathroom.  Too immature.  None of which were true, by the way.

The truth is I was a very sound sleeper.  Mostly because of being mildly deaf in one ear and moderately deaf in my other ear.  I never felt the peeing sensation or my wet clothes or bed sheets until I woke up in the morning.  I woke up cold and wet.

My family believed that I could willfully choose to wet or not wet my bed.  They held onto this mistaken belief, making me feel as if I was doing this on purpose, like an attention getter.  Oh, ‘feel sorry for Karen,’ something they felt and cynically said without hesitation.  Trust me, the last thing a child wants to get is attention or ridicule for wetting their bed.  That’s common sense, 101!

While my bed wetting kept me from going over to a friend’s house once in awhile, when I was allowed, it was not without anxiety.  It was a gamble.  And most bets would have been against me.  We didn’t have pull-ups or adult diapers back then.  And while using those can be embarrassing too, waking up over a friend’s house in wet sheets or sleeping bag is far greater of an embarrassment.  Trust me.  I know!

When I did go for an overnight, whether it was at a friend’s or a relatives, I got the same talk, “Don’t wet the bed!”  Sometimes it was a pleading, “PLEASE, don’t wet the bed!”  Sometimes it was a threat, “You BETTER not wet the bed or you will NOT be allowed to go again!”  Or I was reminded that I may not be invited back because of my bed wetting.  The first question when I got in the car or got home was, “Did you wet the bed?”  All of which caused additional stress and anxiety.

I had wished many times it was that easy.  My childhood would have been much simpler without that one burden.  Think about it, what child in their right mind would want to wake up at a friend’s house or a slumber party among elementary, middle, or high school peers in wet sheets?  Anybody?  I didn’t think so.  But that was a reality for me.  I had “accidents” at all those places.

This is something that my parents or my family just did not get.  They thought by belittling me, embarrassing me, or making fun of me, that I would get tired of their daily antics and stop wetting the bed.  They just wanted me to stop wetting the bed!  What they didn’t realize is that I too wanted to stop wetting the bed but just didn’t know how.

Can you imagine waking up at slumber party with all your girlfriends and you realize your pajamas are wet.  The sheer fear sets in.  You start to scheme on how you can hide your wet bed from your friends.  You hope that you can go home without anyone noticing.  You quickly gather your bedding and take it to their parents in hopes they will keep your secret.  Then your mind quickly tries to create a reasonable story or excuse you can tell.  You explain why this happened as if this was an unusual circumstance.  It must have been all the sodas and snacks and lack of sleep that caused this accident and HOPE that they buy it.  Otherwise, Monday morning at school is going to be hell.  You will now be labeled as the girl who wets the bed.  And then your secret is out so not only your family can make fun of you but now you may become a joke at school too.  Then, paranoia sets in.  Isn’t that every pre-teenage girls dream?

I remember one time waking up from an overnight stay.  My friend’s mother realized I wet the bed.  She was calm while speaking with me.  She ask me if I wet the bed.  I told her I did.  She said that she had wished I would have told her about my bed wetting condition the previous night so she could have prepared.  What she didn’t understand is that bed wetting is a deep dark secret that families try to keep hidden from the general public.  There is shame associated with bed wetters and not just for the bed wetter themselves.  Parents and siblings don’t want relatives and friends to know they have a bed wetter in the family.

This mother was trying to be as compassionate as possible.  I could tell she was treading her words gingerly so as not to offend or hurt me deliberately.  I told her that I was hoping I wouldn’t wet the bed and that sometimes I don’t.  Then she said, “You’re mother should have told me.”  I think my mother was as embarrassed about it as I was.  Maybe even ashamed.

I have to say I have had some wonderful friends who knew about my bed wetting condition and still sincerely loved me.  And some of their parents were equally supportive.  I sometimes wished I could have switch parents back then.

My bed wetting would create arguments among my parents.  So literally, I was the reason my parents fought.  Not just my bed wetting but so many other things that were unique to me, unlike my siblings, caused my parents to erupt.  I will say my mother was the least to make fun of me.  Though, she did join in the laughter from time to time when my siblings made fun of my bed wetting.  I would look at her with hurtful eyes.  She would scoff it off.

My mother also took a lot of heat from my step dad, which my siblings and I felt bad about.  We were loyal to our mother.  Back then, I am sure my siblings may have even blamed me on some level, unconsciously or consciously, for the discord in our household.  But I no longer feel sorry for my mother.  She was an adult.  I was a child.  She had a choice and the power to be in a relationship.  I had no choice or power to stay or leave.  She was my parent.  I was her daughter.  She had a responsibility to protect me.  She could have stopped the torment but she chose not to do so.

Yes, of course!  I wet my bed for all this wonderful attention from my family and my friends.  Who wouldn’t?

The truth is, I wanted to be normal.  Or at the very least, treated like I was normal with support and understanding.  I couldn’t help that I was a bed wetter.

Maybe I had a week bladder.

Maybe I had primary nocturnal enuresis.

Maybe I experienced some trauma as an infant or as a child.  Soldiers have been known to come home from war and start wetting their bed, due to PTSD, who had no previous history of bed wetting.

There was a medical reason for my bed wetting but I may never know what it was.

Maybe that’s why I get it when others make fun of people or ridicule them or belittle or punish or judge or exclude them or kill them for standing up for something that has happened, beyond their control.

Maybe they are considered socially unacceptable.

Maybe their beliefs are considered different.

Maybe their clothes or skin color or disability make them different.

Maybe their neighborhood or economic status or both are tattered.

Maybe their story, their historical lineage comes with tainted fabric.

Maybe they were abandoned by their family, their people, or their country, or maybe all three.

Maybe they’re reminded daily of the troubled past and injustices and hate.

Maybe they’re blamed for something that was out of their control.

Maybe no one protected them.

Maybe no one helped them.

Maybe no one understood.

Maybe they never received credit for all they accomplished.

Maybe others believed in the lies instead of the truth.

Maybe all they ever wanted was a chance.

Maybe…just maybe…there is more to the story…

Karen 1977

 

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Halves and Whole

 “And you know I ain’t never wanted no half nothing in my family.” ~Fences quote

Best line and scene in this movie and one that brought tears for me.

I am also a family of halves with no full biological sibling while my other siblings (three sets) that I grew up with each had one of theirs.  And yes, we said your dad and my dad and your mom and my mom.  Even our halves had halves.  Our family is convoluted.  And I didn’t want that for my kids or my family.

Growing up, my siblings often reassured me that they didn’t think of me as a half sibling but the facts were there.  We didn’t always do things together as whole.

The family pics were split.  Some with just the whole siblings and some by ourself/myself and some together with the halves.  As a little girl, I didn’t always understand.  I didn’t know why I had to get out of the picture.  Our mom would tell us, this was for their dad or their grandparents, but at the time, I was 4 or 5 and I was the only one being excluded.  I didn’t always understand why “they” (whoever they were), didn’t want me in their picture.  I remember once, our mother letting me and my half sister take a picture together.  It was clear it was to appease me and my insecurities.

Some of the moms, dads, or grandparents were actively involved and some were not.  That’s hard to explain to children and a hard pill for them to swallow.

When my brother died and made his will, I was the only one left out, while his full blooded sister and our shared father were both included.  It did hurt.  I didn’t care about the money.  He could have left me $20.00 or a family heirloom.  But it was the fact that there was no mention of me at all.

Sadly, it didn’t turn out as good as I had hoped for my boys.  I still grapple with the intent of my family to sever my ties with my youngest son.  But at least my sons have a full-blooded sibling.  They have the same biological mother and father.  And they have each other.

I know if anything happened to me, that Noah’s parents would adopt Jaren into their family as well.

Mother’s Day 2017

In honor of Mother’s Day, I asked some of my friends to share their thoughts and insights of what they learned from parenting.

Encourage your children to be themselves.  Allow them to express themselves in their own unique way.  Remember it takes a village.  It’s okay to ask for help.  Take time for yourself.  Do things to fill your bucket so you have more to give.  ~Allyson

Be patient. You only have them as “little ones” for a very short time.  Pick your battles; half of them aren’t worth the energy.  ~Arlene

Pick your battles!  It’s easy to get caught up in each and every battle with your child, but remember…it’s the joy of quality time that is cherished and remembered, not the ability to clean their room perfectly.  Each child is completely different.  So, whether you are showing love or reprimanding a child, keep in mind what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for the other.  When you’ve overreacted to your child’s behavior or made a choice that concerned them that you now realize was the wrong choice, be honest with them and apologize. Teach your child that not only is it okay to make mistakes, but “owning” that mistake makes you a person with integrity.  ~Kelly

Let go of nagging and let consequences rule, even if you have to bite your tongue. Enjoy them for who they are.  It doesn’t take much to create an estrangement – don’t let it be because of something stupid.  ~Katie

Cherish every moment, even the frustrating ones. Because before you know it, they’re not little anymore and think they don’t need you.  Know that eventually, they will need you again. ~Kim

Two words: Pay Attention. Pay attention to your child.  Watch and listen instead of just reacting.  Little ones don’t know how to process all of their emotions and they DO feel them: fear, anger, frustration, loneliness, joy, grief, jealousy, glee…. all of them.  But they don’t always know what to do with those feelings so sometimes they come out as tantrums, inconsolable crying, apathy or just plain jumping up and down and carrying on. Pay attention so you have an inkling of what’s behind the behavior… pay attention so you don’t automatically react negatively….pay attention so you don’t assume your kid is being a pain in the butt on purpose. And pay attention so you don’t miss anything.  It’s so hard to put your adult worries aside and focus, but you will be glad you did (and sorry one day, if you don’t).  Listening to your child is the only way you will ever really know who he/she is.  ~Grace

Make time.  When we look back over our childhood, we rarely remember all the gifts we received from our parents.  We remember the moments; the vacations, the dinners, the picnics and the days at the beach or the lake or the pool.  We have so many things that can easily distract us.  Remember to make time for memories. ~Karen Whitaker

Motherhood has completely changed me.  It’s just about like the most completely humbling experience that I’ve ever had.  I think that it puts you in your place because it really forces you to address the issues that you claim to believe in and if you can’t stand up to those principles when you’re raising a child, forget it.  ~Diane Keaton

Volunteer and Service

Jaren and I have done a lot of service over the years.

I would say my passion for volunteering began when my employer asked me to help organize the United Way Campaign for the employees.  It was a week long event where we shared video’s, personal stories, and the many ways to give and serve.  I had benefited personally from United Way charities like the Good Will store that our mother shopped at from time to time for us kids, as a single mother of three.

I began to get more involved in service when I worked with WaMu. They were a very service oriented company and gave their employees 12 hours per quarter to volunteer during work hours.  It was a wonderful gift. It allowed me to do more, as a single mother. Its harder when you’re a single parent.  Time is so precious. Leave in the morning, drop off your child at school, head to work, put in at least an eight hour work day, plus lunch and then pick up your child and head home to cook dinner, homework, sports, spend time together, get them their bath and ready for bed and do it all over again the next day.

I loved volunteering and serving.  I always walked away feeling good.  So I began to look for service that I could do with my son.  I didn’t want for him to be home with a sitter while I was out volunteering.

We served in many different ways, from awareness/charity walks, to serving Thanksgiving dinners at a homeless shelter, to working with special needs kids and many other various events.  It really was so much fun serving side by side with my son.

However, I did do a few things without my son, like in 2006, Jaren’s school invited me to join their Campus Involvement Committee.  It was a one school year commitment.  I enjoyed that and learned a lot about how the schools work.  I also got to provide input.  It was a great group of professionals to work with.

From 2005-2007 I was invited to join the Community Involvement Team at WaMu and was the Secretary for one of those years.

And lastly, one of the employees of UnityDallas asked me to join their committee to help organize their family event, called Where’s the Beach, which I did in 2008 and in 2010.  I was the volunteer coordinator.  It was about a six month commitment for the planning of the event.

When I resigned from the bank in 2012, I volunteered at UnityDallas, my church, for about nine months, working one to two days in the office, answering phones and handling minor office duties.  It was a lot of fun.

Then, when Jaren got to high school, he began to go even further serving with our YOU youth program at church.  He already had the experience.  And he enjoyed serving.  Even when the folks at the church needed a hand, they knew they could ask him.  When they had Open Mic night for the YOUers, who took turns performing along with adults on a small stage, it was Jaren who worked the sound booth, taking a short break here and there to eat or perform his song.  And when he graduated, he was able to get his service recognition, thanks to his sponsors and UnityDallas.  I will tell you, that meant more to me than any academic or athletic award.

Giving service, whether we are thanked or not, whether we get an award or not, whether someone parades us on stage or not is really irrelevant.  In the end, when I walk before God and he ask me and my son, what we did for his people, we will be able to reply, “We did this and we did it humbly with a grateful heart.”

(Guest Post) Noah’s Mom Shares Her Adoption Story

It’s that time of year again.  As each week gets closer to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, I find myself feeling a little bit mistier and mistier.  It’s been 17 years since we grew our family through adoption.  Our younger son came into our lives toward the end of December of 1999.  How does a family living in Central Wisconsin connect with an adoption agency and family from Texas?  The story itself is a long one, but the short version is, it’s a “God thing.”

We were a family of three.  My husband, Paul, and I had been married close to seven years before we had our oldest son, Alex, in 1991.  He was our first little miracle.  I had wanted to adopt children since I had been in high school.  After a few more years of trying to have a second child, we continued to have no luck.  It was then, that my husband and I decided to look into adoption instead of continuing down the road of having another biological child.  We prayed about the decision.  Paul and I were getting older and we did not know if adding to our family was God’s plan, but we felt drawn to go through with the application and the home study.  We felt if we didn’t take this step, God couldn’t answer one way or the other.

Shortly after deciding to go forward, our family met with a local agency that specialized in foster care and adoption.  The actual process was quite complex.  Each of us needed to complete large amounts of paperwork as well as be interviewed.  A long series of events took place and time went by, but finally, in June of 1999 we completed our home study.  We were so excited and filled with anticipation.

One day during that summer, I was taking a walk with a very good neighbor friend of mine.  We walked and talked and chatted about everything under the sun.  Somewhere in the conversation, the topic of completing the adoption paperwork and the home study came up.  My neighbor was surprised since she didn’t know our family was looking into adoption.  She mentioned that she had several sisters living in Texas and one of her sisters had a close friend who had adopted several special needs children through an agency in the Dallas, Texas area.  My friend wondered if she could give my name to her sister and have her give me a call sometime.  We hadn’t heard much from the local agency that we were working with, so I said sure.  I didn’t expect that it would necessarily lead to the adoption of a child from Texas, but I was always on the look out for more insights and information about adoption in general.  I thought it would be great to talk with someone who had been through this process.

My friend’s sister called a couple of weeks later.  She asked if it would be ok to have the family friend who had adopted these children give me a call.  A few days after that, I spoke with this “friend of a friend” who had adopted special needs children.  This entire string of events eventually led to contact with the adoption agency in the Dallas area.  One of the first things that went through my mind, and that of my husband, was to make sure this agency was valid.  We contacted our local agency and filled them in.  They made some contacts and assured us that all was good.  Our next steps included making a book about our family and completing more paperwork.

It wasn’t long, after all of these events occurred, that the adoption agency in Texas contacted us with a potential expectant mother and wondered if we would be interested.  We said that yes, we were interested.  Our anticipation began to grow.

A series of conversations and events took place over the next several months.  At times, things were “on again, off again” with the expectant mother, Karen and her baby.  As December grew closer, Paul and I spoke with our respective places of work “just in case” we would need to be gone.  Since this would be an inter-state adoption, it required staying in the baby’s home state for a specific number of days.  The caseworker also let us know that since this could be taking place during the holiday time, there might be some extra delays.

One December day, while at work, I received a phone call from the adoption agency in Texas that this baby boy had been born.  My husband, Paul, and I were elated!  We shared a little bit with our son, Alex, but didn’t want to say too much since we knew how quickly things could change. The caseworker said it was ok to go ahead and make plans to come to Texas.  Much excitement and planning took place very quickly as the three of us (Paul, Alex, and I) worked to make flight arrangements and ensure everything was still in place with our paperwork and home study.  Two days later, my husband and I received another phone call from our caseworker.  She called to say that Karen decided to take her baby home and to cancel our plans to come to Texas.  Our hearts broke; my heart shattered into a million pieces.  For all of us, our emotions were all over the place.

On Christmas Eve morning, the caseworker called again. I called my husband in from the garage where he was unloading 2 x 4’s to build storage shelving in the basement.  I handed him the phone because my heart just couldn’t take more news right then.  The caseworker spoke with my husband and said that Karen was going to come in to sign the paper work that day.  She asked us if we were still interested and if so, would we be willing to speak with both of them, the caseworker and the birth mother, on the phone later that afternoon after all of the paperwork was completed?  We said, “Yes, we would,” and made only a couple of phone calls related to the new possibility of traveling to Texas.

It was the longest few hours of my life.

Finally the phone rang; Paul and I each got on different extensions so we could all be included in the conversation.  We spoke with Karen, along with the caseworker for a couple of hours.  When we finally hung up, we were so very excited!  As was our family tradition, we ate our Christmas Eve meal and then went on to church for the Christmas Eve service.  One of the hymns that was sung near the beginning of the service was “For Unto Us a Child is Born, Unto Us a Son is Given.”  My husband and I nudged each other with tears in our eyes as the congregation sang this song. At this point, we were the only ones who knew we would be on our way to Texas in another day to grow our family through adoption.

A couple of days later, we were in Dallas.  We met the caseworker and Karen, along with her mom.  We were also introduced to our new baby boy’s 20-month-old biological brother, Jaren.  After all of the waiting and excitement, my eyes met with the face of this tiny baby. My heart jumped and skipped as I held our new little boy, Noah, in my arms.  We all stood around the room, feeling a bit unsure of things, visiting and getting to know each other.  Karen and I made our way over to the couch and took turns holding this precious little one.   Karen shared with all three of us a photo book that she put together with pictures of our little ones first days, some poems, and a letter to her son.  My husband and I were beyond excited that we were adding to our family, yet it was hard.  When we left, I felt both joy and sadness. My husband and I wanted to be happy; we were happy.  It was a joyful time for our little family of three that was now growing to four.  But there was also an underlying sadness that took place.   We knew that our joy was Karen’s heartache and sorrow.

We stayed in Dallas for several days before returning to Wisconsin.  Since it was an inter-state adoption, we had been told earlier that it would take awhile for the proper paper work to be completed by each state.  A few days later, before we left, the caseworker made arrangements for us to meet with Karen and her son, Jaren, again.  We met at a restaurant and had a good visit, all six of us together.

Shortly after that, we returned home, back to Wisconsin.

We kept in touch with Karen, Jaren, and their family through cards, pictures, email, and phone calls.  We try to get together once a year.  Over the years, the relationship has grown into more than a great friendship.  It is now more like one big family.

God brought our two families together even though we lived half a country apart.  Through every step, God’s hand has been in this relationship.  God knew more than anything we could ever see ourselves.  He not only grew our family through adoption, He brought two families together to offer support and friendship to each other and to raise this child.  My love and gratitude is never-ending for this relationship, friendship, and family.

 

(footnote)

My story, One Woman’s Choice, is a true story.

While the agency led Paul and Rebecca to believe that I was “on again/off again” about my intention or choice, I was never sure and never made any empty promises.  

This is what I wrote, 

“Even though I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go through with the adoption, I had to at least try. I contacted the agency and made arrangements to meet with one of their caseworkers named Kristen.”

Her name was Kathy

When we think of domestic violence, we often think of a romantic relationship between two people which has become toxic in some form.  The level of abuse can vary from verbal or emotional to physical.  The impact leaves one person feeling powerless and the other feeling powerful.

Statistics show that 1 in 4 women in the United States have been the victim of physical violence.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

That’s alarming.

But, we often do not think of the extension of domestic violence and its abuse on those around; the children and the extended families.

I posted on Facebook recently:

If you have been impacted by domestic violence, please message me.

Melissa shared, “I grew up in with sexual abuse and violence in my home. The sexual abuse caused rage in my sister who was three years older. My mother also ragged at us but she did not hit us, she screamed, and threw things like all the dishes in the house, or every piece of clothes out of our closets and then would not speak to us for days. My mom and sister would have physical altercations started by my sister and my sister got physically and verbally abusive with me regularly. When I hear domestic violence I think father beating up mother but I came to realize I grew up in a violent home that was not safe and it shaped much of my beliefs about life. Therapy and Unity have helped immensely.”

A new friend I met this summer said, “My first husband was abusive. I was married for five long years. It’s still hard to admit that to people but feels safer here on personal message.”

An old friend of mine, who was in an extremely toxic abusive marriage and is now divorced admitted that her current boyfriend has become abusive.

So for me, I can easily see how these alarming statistics are very substantial.

I remember my own mother getting threatened and hit by her boyfriend George, whom my mother dated for three years, was a live-in boyfriend and an acting father figure to her three young kids, me being the youngest.  That relationship ended when I was five.  Her next live-in boyfriend, who eventually became our step father bullied and threatened my mother and even shoved her up against the wall on a few occasions while her children watched.  As a small child, to witness the rage and anger that was shown on the faces of these men (that sometimes was directed towards us children) while our mother’s face tried to elude her fears and tears unsuccessfully left us with a feeling of helplessness.  We were powerless to make any changes.  We had been placed in a situation beyond our control or our choosing.  We had to learn at an early age how to mentally and emotionally survive on a daily basis to manage and cope in our sometimes unstable surroundings.

I don’t know when my mother started dating abusive men, but I know it didn’t start with George.  While I was too young to remember, her relationship with my own father was also a toxic one.  My father was good at loving his children; he was not good at caring and providing for them; or being a daily constant, reliable father in his children’s lives.  But despite his toxic behaviors towards his lovers, girlfriends or wives, I never feared my father.  Even after I learned of his crime, where his jury spared him the death penalty but sentenced him to hard labor at Florida State Prison for the rest of his natural life.

I found out about my father’s imprisonment and crime when I was a young teen.  But I did not know the particulars, who, what, why or how it happened until years later.  I grew up hearing about my abusive father from my mother, saying he left her so bruised and battered one time that when her mother came over to visit, she had to put on a long sleeve turtle neck shirt to hide her injuries.

My parents parted ways when I was a toddler so I have no memories of that time.  But my oldest brother (from my mother’s first marriage) says he remembers.  He remembers seeing my father abusing our mother.  Once when we were talking about George and our step-father and their tumultuous and sometimes toxic relationship, he reminded me that my father “wasn’t all that great either.”  I find it ironic because it is sometimes said as if I had control for my father’s behavior.  Just because I am his daughter (I am my mother’s daughter, too), should I feel guilty for what he did to our mother?  Even so, does that mean because my father was abusive that I don’t have the right to speak about the other abusive men that I encountered during my childhood?  It’s invaliding the real issue.

Somehow, as I began to date over the years, I seemed to avoid these abusive men.  Did I have an inner knowing subconsciously of what to look for without conscionously trying to decipher those characteristics?  Heeding any early warning signs?  Lord knows, my life has not always been in a good place which could have easily led me into these types of relationships.  Or was it just plain luck?

I did have one relationship that was on the verge though.  His name was Kevin.  Kevin was a tall and handsome young man.  He was a couple years older than me.  His family was well known in our small town and their kids were very active in school and athletics.  I was working at a local bar as a bartender.  I was nineteen years old.  While Kevin and I knew each other in high school, we never hung out.  Kevin was a regular at the bar.  He was popular and very charismatic.  Shortly after we began dating each other, I heard rumors that he was sometimes abusive towards his previous girlfriend.  I assumed they were telling me this to scare me so I would break up with Kevin and then his old girlfriend could get him back.  Our relationship seemed strong and we truly did have deep love for each other.  Within a few months though, I noticed Kevin would become jealous of friends and accused me a few times of wanting to sleep with his friends.  He would become antagonistic, trying to create turmoil and doubt.  I would assure him that I didn’t.  And I truly didn’t.  I had no interest in any of his friends.  I thought Kevin was way better looking, had a better personality, was very talented in sports, was smart, was from a good family, and was a tender lover.  He had everything I needed and wanted in a man.

Then one day, we got in an argument at his parents house.  We were alone in the house and in his bedroom.  All of a sudden, he threw me on his bed, straddled on top of me, pulled his arm back with his hand in a fist and was ready to cold cock me in the face when I said, “Go ahead.  Hit me if it makes you feel like a man.”  Don’t ask me what possessed me to say that.  That could have very easily been an invitation or an instigation for him to follow through with his intention.  But he didn’t.  He stopped.  It wasn’t too long after that our relationship ended.  And in many ways I am thankful.

A couple years later, Kevin began dating a good friend of mine.  Although I had moved away, I heard about their sometimes toxic relationship.  This was not surprising news to me.  I came to realize the warnings I had heard about his previous girlfriend were probably true.  Part of the issue with Kevin was his drinking.  He could not control it.  Once he had one drink, he usually drank until he was drunk.  I recall my grandfather, who was a recovering alcoholic, asked me to ask Kevin if he wanted to go to AA with him sometime.  I asked Kevin but he never took up the offer.  And to be honest, I don’t think I took it that seriously either.  But my grandfather knew the signs.  He could tell that Kevin was an alcoholic before anyone else could.  I remember my grandfather telling me that an alcoholic is not someone who drinks every day.  Some alcoholics can go weeks without having a drink.  But when they do drink, they cannot control their drinking and will usually drink until they are drunk.

So one night, Kevin and his girlfriend had been out drinking.  On the way home, they got in an argument.  My friend was driving and Kevin was in the passenger seat.   Suddenly, Kevin grabbed the steering wheel and jerked it.  The car crashed.  They both were seriously injured but my friend, a single mother, was left as a paraplegic, and her life was changed forever in an instant.  It was devastating news for the whole town.

I could not help but think, “Wow.  That could have been me.”

My dear-longtime friend Lee was in an abusive relationship during our senior year in high school.  Lee remembers, “That was a dark time in my life.”  Most times, the incidents of her abuse didn’t happen when others were around.  That’s the thing about domestic violence.  And why it goes unnoticed and unreported all too often.  Or the victim is ashamed to come forward believing that he or she has caused the abusive behavior or that it is warranted somehow.

Lee’s boyfriend, Pat, had jealous tendencies among other issues.  One night, Lee, Pat, and I were walking down the city street of our small town.  Something happened and Pat pulled Lee aside into a dark alley way.  I think it was something that Lee and I were talking about that made him suspicious.  I stayed on the street sidewalk and gave them their privacy for a few moments.  But then I saw Pat starting to get upset and domineering.  He began pointing at Lee with his finger close to her face and then shoving her.  I began to get worried about what may be coming next.  So I shouted at them and told Pat to leave her alone and let’s go.  And he did.

Sometimes we only have a split second to decide or choose something.  We quickly follow our gut instincts or heart.  So many things can happen in an instant.  Pat could have taken his anger out on me.  That’s the scary part about dealing with toxic people; you just don’t know what they are capable of doing.

Which brings me to Kathy, my father’s girlfriend back in 1967.

At fifty-three years of age , after reading my father’s book about all his lovers, girlfriends and wives, and the string of children he left behind, I have finally come to know Kathy.  All these years, I never knew anything about the woman my father murdered.  Later, I would find out that Kathy was an eighteen year old high school teenager who fell in love with my then thirty eight year old father.  She was a waitress at the local Howard Johnson.  She got pregnant by my father.  She considered having an abortion.  She wanted and needed out of their toxic relationship.  And… her life was taken away with five shots fired to her head because… if my father could not have her, no one would.  That’s toxic, the domestic violence abuse.

Kathy’s story has deeply touched me.  Her short-lived life and tragic death has been hard for me to overcome this past week.  She was a young impressionable teen in love with an older man who she thought would love her and protect her.  When I think of Kathy, I sometimes get emotional and cry.  And while I was reading her story through my father’s eyes, I still have come to know a piece of her.  And oddly, knowing more about her and the circumstance that lead to her death has helped me to heal.  I was four years old when Kathy’s life ended.  I had no idea at the time.  That moment not only changed Kathy’s life, her families, and my father’s, it also impacted and changed everything for his children too.

The truth is, anyone can be impacted by domestic violence, a man, a woman or a child.  And it impacts more than just two people in a relationship.  It’s a ripple effect that can have lasting consequences.

I think for many reasons, that is why I chose to remain single and not go from relationship to relationship and drag my son, Jaren (who’s now eighteen years old, the same age as Kathy was) along with all those “possibly the one” relationships that had a 50/50 chance of succeeding or failing.  The risk of him being abused verbally, emotionally, sexually or physically greatly increased anytime I dated or brought another man into our home.  That wasn’t a chance I was willing to gamble on.  I had a responsibility to protect me and my son.

Children at higher risk in nontraditional homes

This post is in honor of Kathy, and dedicated to her family, my siblings and to all the victims of domestic violence.

If you think you are in an abusive, toxic relationship please call this hotline for help.

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline

What is a Mom?

Sissy and Karen

 

Now that is a loaded question, right?  We can answer that a thousand ways and then we could add another thousand more.

I recently lost a very dear friend of mine.  She was a second mother to me.  I called her Sissy, a nickname that her brother gave her when she was a baby.  I can still remember very clearly meeting Sissy for the very first time.  Her son, Sonny, my boyfriend at the time, brought me to Texas back in 1989 for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I think I fell in love with her the first time we met.  We connected and bonded very easily.

Sissy had four older brothers and no sisters.  She married her first husband and they had three sons together.  She got remarried to her second husband, who had two daughters from his first marriage, both of which lived out of state with their mom.  They were a blended family.

Sissy treasured her female relationships.  She would often say, “My son’s bring me my daughters.”

I loved listening to Sissy talk about her “momma”.  She loved her mom dearly.  She enjoyed retelling the many wonderful stories about her mom and she treasured each one of them.  I remember her telling me, “Once your mom dies, there is no one in the world who will ever love you as much as your momma.”  And that is how her mom made her feel.

I wasn’t that fortunate.  I knew my mom loved me growing up.  She cooked and cleaned and did those kinds of things a mom does for her child.  But I didn’t get the nurturing, protective kind of mom that comes with motherhood.  I didn’t realize this until I got much older.  I didn’t realize how much I was searching for something that I needed.  Looking back, it is clearer.

I found an old autograph book from 1974.  I was in the 7th grade.  This is one of the entries from a friend of mine.

Dear Karen,

                I know this is a little sloppy but, I’m trying to keep Mr. Smith from seeing it.  Dear Karen, I hope you and Greg fall in love and get married.  No matter what some people think, you’re gonna; ya hear?  Listen, this sounds a little corny but I have to say it: I don’t want to lose you as a friend and you’re also one of my best friends.  Anyway I just don’t want you to forget your “mom”.  So I’ll be seeing you later.  Bring those grades up girl so you can be back on the cheer-leading squad.

                Love ya,

                Kim

                (Mom)

                P.S.  I don’t mind you calling me mom.  I like it.

Funny thing is that Kim, who was actually in the same grade as me, was one of the first of many to get the mom title from me.  I had other friends from school that I called mom.  I find that odd, especially because they were girls themselves, the same age as me.  They were usually the nurturing type, the ones who would protect me from bullies and also listened to my problems and gave me encouragement, compliments, and advice.

So in a way, they were a mom to me.

In high school, my best friend, Levia, took me over to her house.  I fell in love with her mom, too.  She loved me like another daughter.  Lots of my friends’ moms or parents felt that way.  I often heard them say, “My mom really likes you.  You are the only friend she will allow to spend the night.”  And so often times, I would ask if I could call them “mom”.

Of my mother’s five children, I was the only child to run away from home.  One time, I stayed with my best friend’s older sister.  Another time, I stayed with my boyfriend’s family.  I called his mother, mom.

Then, in my late twenties, I went to Texas and met Sissy.  I remember asking her what I should call her;  by her first name, Carolyn, or her nickname, Sissy.  She told me I could call her whatever I liked and I could even call her mom.  I chose to call her Sissy.  I’ve wondered why I didn’t choose to call her mom when I could have.  She ended up filling that role so easily and the void that I needed so desperately.  But I considered her a mother.  I got her Mother’s Day cards each year and one year I got her a balloon on a stick.  That balloon stayed inflated for more than twenty years.  I would tell her that she could get rid of it or deflate it but she never would.  I finally said, “Are you afraid if you deflate it, it will deflate our relationship?”  She confessed she did.  I smiled and told her that could never happen.

For the last six months, I was able to help care for Sissy.  On Easter Sunday, I had the honor of experiencing her last day here on earth.  For all she has done for me over the many years, it felt good to be able to give her something back.

Tonight, I was invited to a women’s gathering to talk about our mothers, grandmothers and surrogate mothers who passed away.  It was truly a spiritual experience.  To see the deep connections that these women have had or have to their mothers, some describing both their positive and negative emotional attachments to their mother, is extraordinary.  I saw that no matter how old we get, that little girl-the daughter, still lives within each of us.  Some wanting more from our mothers, but most just wanting more time with our mothers, to try and reconcile what went wrong or to recapture what was lost.

We went around the room and we each shared our “mom” story.  When it was my turn to talk about Sissy, I quoted Sissy, regarding her mother’s unconditional love.  I confessed, I never really felt that way.  I told them about how my mom had two children with her first husband and two children with her second husband and how I came in the middle of those two marriages and how that story seemed to follow me growing up and how that story became my story.  That was the legacy I carried.  But then I said, with Sissy, I was not that story.  I had a clean slate.  I was just Karen.

Sissy learned of my whole story and it never mattered to her.  She loved me despite my flaws and rich and troubled past.  She loved all those parts of me.  I truly cannot imagine how my life would have turned out had she not been in it.  She transformed me with her acceptance and unconditional love.  She is the true meaning of motherhood.

So today, I honor Sissy and all those surrogate mothers who nurture the souls that need nurturing.  Happy Mother’s Day!

second mother poem 2.jpeg

Happy Birth Day

I recently celebrated a birthday.

I hadn’t been that excited about my birthday for the past couple years now.  It just seemed like another day on the calendar.  It’s not that I frown about my growing age number.  I’m in the 50 plus age group now.  I don’t mind my 50 plus status.  Really, I don’t.

I think it had more to do with my view of myself and the value or worth I felt.

What is a birthday?

Is it really about the gifts, the Hallmark Card (not knocking Hallmark, love their cards), the cake, the candles, or the Happy Birthday song?  Is it the Facebook post, the text or the other social media recognition we get?

Realistically, we know what a birthday is.  It is the day someone was born.  It is the day that someone, their mother, gave birth to them.  It is the day they became human and independent of their mother’s womb, nutrients.  It is a day in which we hope was a time of rejoice for our mother, father and extended loved ones as they welcomed our birth.

But I think there is more.

We know that not everyone celebrates birthdays in the same way or for that matter, celebrates them at all.  Here in America, we seem to say the words so easily as if it is an automatic response, like “God Bless You” when someone sneezes.  But do we really value the sincerity of the message we are sharing?

I shared my birthday with my great grandmother up until I was 19 years of age.  We had nearly 60 years between us.   I enjoyed sharing my birthday with my great grandmother and she seemed to enjoy sharing hers with me.

More often, it made me feel special; but every once in a while, I took a back seat to my great grandmother.  As a child, I didn’t always understand and sometimes had trouble processing it.  It felt like someone was placing value on us as one being more important than the other.

For the last three birthdays, I began to share my birthday with a coworker.  I was excited to be able to share my birthday again.  But I think my coworker, at first, felt cheated that she, a senior employee, had to now share her birthday with me.  And again I had that feeling, like we were being pitted against each other.  Who is more important.  Who is more likable.  I don’t like nor do well with these scenarios.  I usually retreat within.

When we care about someone, whether it is our child, our spouse, a sibling, a parent, a dear friend or loved one, telling them Happy Birthday is telling them that they matter, they are special to us, and we are happy they were born on this day.

Last year, I was able to celebrate the birthday of my youngest son with him for the first time since he was born.  I’ve talked to him on his birthday.  I’ve sent him birthday gifts over the years.  Our families have even visited within a week or so of his birthday while also celebrating Christmas.  But, I have not seen my son Noah, face to face, on his actual birth day since the day I gave birth to him.

It was truly something special.

To be able to light the candles on his cake, sing Happy Birthday and show him how happy I am that he was birthed on this day.  It all meant a great deal to me.

I love my sons.  I love being able to tell them and show them how happy I am that I gave birth to them.  How happy I am that they are here.  How proud I am when I look at them and see what an amazing job my body did in creating and birthing these beautiful human beings.  I think that is what a birth day signifies.

 

Dinner for Two

My son Jaren has been gone this week on a youth trip with our church.  He has gone on this week-long spiritual vacation for the last two years.  As much as I enjoy having some “me time” I do miss my son being here at home.  I get bored and frankly, get lazy.  He keeps me on toes, running here and there, cooking, cleaning and whatever else moms do with their children.  I’ve only made one partially home cooked meal this week which is unusual for me.  Yes, I’m kind of old fashioned that way.

This is one tradition I’m glad got passed down.  My mother was a good cook and always seemed to enjoy cooking for her family.  She took pleasure in it, whether it was a simple and easy meal or a grand holiday feast.  Having dinner around the table with my parents and siblings is one of the fondest memories I have from childhood.  And with everything else that I experienced, this may have been the saving grace that helped me persevere.  The Family Dinner Project

Cooking didn’t come naturally for me at first.  I was the younger sister so I didn’t get the hands on experience that my older sister Colleen got.  I have evolved over the years.  I am an eclectic cook.  I like to make my ethnic foods, mostly Italian and German and classic American cooking.  But I also like to try new things.  My Texas friends have taught me many delectable Southern, Soul and Tex-Mex recipes, which are all my son’s favorites.  I’ve gotten pretty resourceful on a tight budget and have learned to make good use of my leftovers.

Pork Heart

A couple years ago, Jaren came home from school and told me his teacher posed a question to the class.  His teacher asked, “How many of you have dinner at the table with your family every day?”  Jaren said he was the only one to raise his hand.  He said he looked around …surprised.  He said his teacher was equally surprised.  Then the teacher asked how many of them have dinner with their family once a week…once a month.  Jaren again was the only student to raise his hand both times.  And lastly the teacher asked “once a year” and added and/or if they have dinner in the living room.  Finally a few students raised their hand.   This started a conversation among the class.

I admit, I had felt guilty and even angry at times about what was missing in my son’s life.  I had internally focused on what he didn’t have; like having only one parent (or family member) of Jaren’s (with a few exceptions) sitting in the stands at the soccer games, the basketball games, the football games, the school recitals, the choir concerts, the special performances at church, as I saw dual parents, siblings, and on occasion, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins showing up for the other kids.  I’d wonder, as my son tried to find me in the crowd and wave at me, did it matter to him or if he even noticed.  In addition, not having extended family around throughout the year or for years, some due to distance, some due to racism, and some I really don’t know why because they have had or have access to Jaren and many, many opportunities to participate throughout the year, has left me feeling concerned for my child and the impact this could have on his emotional intelligence.

So when Jaren came home and told me about the class conversation, it changed my perspective.  I could see how this conversation impacted him as he realized how different our traditions were as compared to his classmates.  This was a turning point for me and I think for both of us about how we viewed our family.  I began to see my role in Jaren’s life differently.  My focus changed.  I realized that it doesn’t matter if there are ten familiar faces in the audience or if I am the only family face in the crowd my son sees.  What really matters is that when Jaren looks out into the audience, that he sees me, his mother’s smiling face, looking up at him and seeing how proud I am to be his mom.

I began to see what Jaren has and the traditions that I have created for our family.  While we may not have spent birthdays and calendar holidays throughout the year together with our biological family, we spent it with loved ones who loved us unconditionally, who made every effort to include us in their spur of the moment cookouts or planned out traditional holiday dinners.

More importantly, I realized that it doesn’t matter if Jaren and I are eating at home or dining out at a table for two, whether our meals are three course home made meals or frozen entrees put together with can and box goods, or Friday night pizza in the living room in front of the TV, as long as we are making time to be together.  And it’s more than just about cooking my son a meal.  It’s about him knowing that he is my priority and me doing my best to make him feel protected, safe and loved.

To some, this table may look old and worn.  To me, I see little hands learning to eat, warm meals and birthday cakes, conversations and funny stories, disagreement and even tears.

Kitchen Table

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well, if this is true, then a table must be worth a million or more.