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.

It was also a key factor that my older siblings didn’t want to take me to their grandparents home for the weekend. And the few times I did go, my sister threatened me. My sister didn’t want to be embarrassed by my wet bedsheets. And the look on their grandmother face was obvious that something was wrong with me.

Can you imagine waking up at a relatives house or friends 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.

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

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.

Toxic Families

I recently stumbled upon an article about Toxic Families.

Looking back, I see an uncanny similarity to my childhood.  It’s funny how time can ease those bad memories, the fears, and the pain.  The wounds are still present but we forget what the discomfort felt like.  Then, when we look at the scar, we unwilling recall every detail of the past.  People will tell you, don’t look at the scar, don’t speak of the scar, forget the scar.  Some think if the scar is invisible, the circumstance is imaginary.  Nothing can be farther from the truth.

I was the youngest of three in the family with a single parent household, until my mother began dating our step father when I was a young five year old.

I was soon assessed and unequally measured up against my siblings and I didn’t fare well.  I cried too much and acted like a baby.  I sucked my thumb, wet my bed, talked too much and was too loud.  I was lazy in school, did not pay attention, did not listen nor did I perform well in school.  I was too sensitive, and too emotional.

I realize now that I was a neglected child.  I had all the classic signs that something was wrong but none of the adults would acknowledge or validate my very real and natural reactions to my circumstances.  If I were in the foster care or an adoptee, I would have been classified as a special needs child.

My needs and my disabilities were ignored, despite the absence of my father and the only child in our family who did not have a biological father to actively spend quality time with me (which I had between the ages of birth and four years old but then abruptly stopped).  Watching my two older siblings leave for the weekend with their paternal grandparents or father after us three kids were inseparable for most the time and then being told that I couldn’t go because this was “their grandparents or father” left me feeling forsaken.  Their grandparents, the Whitaker’s, did try to include me.  They started sending me $25.00 during Christmas time, the same amount as my siblings.  I would be reminded by our mother how generous it was of them to include me and how grateful I should be.  On rare occasions I eventually got to tag along with my siblings but not until I got much older.  I remember a time or two being reminded by my sister that they were “her” grandparents, not mine.  She didn’t have to tell me.  I mean they were nice to me but I was very aware that I was not their grandchild.  I felt like a guest when visiting, not family.  Even my brother and sister acted different when we were visiting with the Whitakers.  (Back then, none of us kids knew that their father is actually listed as my father on my birth certificate.)

What little scraps I got, I accepted it.  After all, I didn’t have my father or paternal grandparents picking me up or doting over me.  My paternal family didn’t have much to do with me, except for my sister Chick.  There were no letters, Christmas or birthday cards or presents, no phone calls or visits with my paternal family except on a very rare occasion.  I recall my mother taking me to a family reunion on my father’s side when I was a freshman in high school.  That was the first time we had seen each other since I was a baby.  Hardly anyone recognized me.  And I surely didn’t remember most of them.  I got to invite a friend of mine who’s Italian.  She fit right in with my Italian relatives and many thought she was family instead of me.  My paternal family didn’t know me.  My cousins, in-laws, aunts and uncles did not know me.  They knew my sister Chick, my half-sister from my dad, but they didn’t know me.  I had to keep explaining that I was Mario’s daughter.  My father, at the time, was in prison for murder.  But again, none of that mattered to my parents or family.  They didn’t feel the need to take me to a counselor or psychologist to help me cope.  My emotional or physical challenges, which began when I was a baby, were all in my head.  I was blamed for everything.

I was called,

A baby

A Bed-wetter

Squirt (Nickname), a pun on being a bed-wetter

A Crybaby

A Whiner

A Hypochondriac

An Airhead

I was accused of being too sensitive, overreacting and weak.

These labels would stick with me throughout my childhood and adulthood.

To borrow a quote from Oprah, my family didn’t see me, hear me and what I said didn’t really matter.

I will never forgot the first time I went to the state of Texas, DARS office to see if I qualified for disability assistance for my hearing impairment.  And I did.  That was first time I received validation.  It felt strange, really.  I kept waiting for someone to accuse me of faking it, since my family never acknowledged my hearing impairment or tried to provide any accommodations.  They treated me as if I was equal to my siblings (and classmates) when in fact I was not.  They all had normal hearing, I did not.

When DARS recently sent me to a new audiologist for a hearing test to reassess my hearing and to see if I qualified for new hearing aids, the doctor, who is also hearing impaired asked me when I was diagnosed.  I told him when I was in the second grade.  So his next question was assuming that I got hearing aids at the same time.  I explained to him that I did not.  He said his parents, who were both teachers discovered his hearing loss which was approximately about the same as mine as a child.  He said his speech and learning progress didn’t match up to his older sister so his parents knew something was wrong.  I told him that was funny because it was actually the teachers that discovered my hearing loss and noticed I was not speaking or learning at the same rate as my classmates.  But for whatever reason, even after I was diagnosed with permanent hearing loss (mild right ear and moderate left ear), my parents chose not to pursue hearing aids or any other type of assistance to help me with my hearing impairment.  Despite the repeated comments on my report cards that stated, “She does not listen, does not pay attention.  She day dreams a lot,” they still didn’t get it nor did they go to school to defend me or explain my situation.  The comments from my parents on the back of my report card are proof of that.  Now, I realize my parents were not rocket scientist or college educated at the time, but my goodness, the proof was very apparent and yet they ignored my diagnoses and even blamed me as the reason for my grades and behavior in school.  Not only did they ignore the diagnoses but they never took me to an audiologist for the remainder of my school years to have my hearing re-tested.  Think about that.  Can you imagine your child being diagnosed with a vision problem and not buying him glasses nor getting annual exams to see if his vision got worse.  More often than not, once you’ve been diagnosed with a vision or hearing impairment, over time, your ability level will decrease.  My mother said, “The school tested you every year.”  But sadly, it’s not the school’s responsibility to monitor our children’s health issues; it’s our parents.

In addition, schools do not always catch a child’s ability to see or hear or monitor their progress.  My co-worker told me a story about her nephew (her brother’s step son) who is in the third grade.  She said after the school suggested their son have an eye exam, his parents learned that their son has a serious visual impairment.  She said his glasses were so thick.  She commented at how he used to squint all the time (for years) and no one ever thought anything of it.  She said the first time she saw him with his glasses on; he was smiling, talking and seemed so much more confident, a big change from his previous behavior.  Imagine that.  Just obtaining glasses and being able to see better made him more confident.  His parents felt really bad for not noticing earlier and she said they kept apologizing to him over and over again and treated him extra special.  As parents, we are not perfect.  We miss things.  But when we learn that our child has special needs and there is a valid reason why our child may not be performing the way we expect (age appropriately) and we have an opportunity to help them perform better but choose to ignore it, that’s neglect.

So instead of my family validating my impairment or emotional needs, they scapegoated me.  I became an easy target and easy prey.  I was weak.  If something happened to me, they responded, “Well you should have known better,” or “you should have done this,” or “you should have learned.”  Then as I got older, the comments would continue as such, (actual comments copied from emails or facebook), “You are reading too much into this,”  “I think you’re over analyzing situations.”  “Don’t make problems where none exist.”  “Feeling sorry for yourself.”  “Don’t make a big deal about it.”  “By all means, do whatever you can to help others and yourself. Just remember, others need positives to move forward….not negatives or rehashing. It might work in a therapy session, but not here! No audience!”, and lastly,  “LOST CAUSE….LOST SOUL!!!”

I have to admit, the last one hurt real bad.  I don’t think I could ever say that to one of my children.

And if that wasn’t enough, my family would recruit other members of the family and some friends to chime in and bash Karen and then forward me their email.

This was from my uncle after reading My Storybook Father, “A lot had it worse than she did growing up.  I can recall Colleen’s pouts,” and “Surviving the Sisters of St. Joseph who must of been trained by the Nazis.  Also boo hoo…..my cousins and my two best friends moving away before I even got into high school.”

Some people will never see you or hear you or validate you.  And some will.

I had another uncle share this, “I have a better understanding of what she went through in life. My life was a walk in the park compared to what came her way. With God beside her she has done an amazing job.”