Tag Archives: childhood

Finished this book: The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

Cover of the book The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

Cover of the book The Seventh Mother by Sherri Wood Emmons

 

This story is told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of Jenny, an eleven-year-old girl, and Emma, her seventh mother. Jenny and her dad live a nomadic kind of life as her dad takes seasonal work around the USA. Along with the seasonal work, Jenny’s dad picks up seasonal girlfriends, and although Jenny had grown attached to most of them, she also knows that none of them will stay for long. But Emma, Jenny hopes, is different.

All three of these characters are white, and the treatment of race in this book is handled in a way that is weirdly gentle and unflinching at the same time. This didn’t take up much space in the book but was probably my favourite thread.

Jenny’s dad, Brannon, is a loving and devoted father but he has an angry streak that he shows to others. Emma falls for him and excuses his angry moments (initially they are only moments, of course), forgiving him and explaining it away as proof of his love. Classic red flag stuff and the kind of thing that would have me running for the hills.

As the story progresses, Jenny wants to settle down and go to school, to have a “normal” life with her dad and Emma. Emma wants a “normal” life as well, a husband and children and a house. But Brannon isn’t a Happy Family kind of guy, as Jenny finds out when she stumbles across the real reason why the past mothers / girlfriends who were in her and Brannon’s life are now gone.

Books about dysfunctional families fascinate me, and yet I approach them with trepidation. With this one, I got nervous as soon as I saw Brannon’s temper, and I put the book down for a while because I wasn’t sure I could read about domestic violence. But one thing I really loved about the book was that Jenny’s perceptions and feelings were almost always validated by the people around her. Her dad loved and protected her, her “mothers” were nice to her, Emma loved her, and the parents of her best friend also listened to her and believed her. That part seems to be a bit fairy-tale-ish to me, since it’s not the way I think most young girls are treated in the world, but I did enjoy the fantasy.

Later in the book, there was a bit too much god-talk for me. Like, I get in when characters in a book go to church regularly the same way I understand it if they diet regularly: it’s not part of my life, I don’t understand it viscerally, but I “get” that it’s part of that character’s backstory and lived experience and will influence how they see the world and blah blah blah. But when the plot starts hinging on faith or calorie-counting in a way that assumes I, the reader, will agree that’s a legit basis for life decisions, I start losing interest. Sure, I know that these are very important things to a lot of people, I really do, but for me they are actual disincentives to stay engaged with the book. (And also with real live people who can’t stop talking about their religion or their weight loss regimes.)

Overall, it would have been a fast read if I hadn’t put it down twice for days, once when Brannon started getting mean, and once when people started ascribing events to a god. Jenny is a very sympathetic character, and Emma would be if she wasn’t so naive about Brannon. No, that’s not exactly it: I liked the character of Emma but I felt the path her life was taking was just too predictable from the reader’s perspective.

It makes me kind of sad when a book full of characters doesn’t have GLBTQ* people, or people with disabilities (in this case, one person used a cane, but that was obviously because of her age, which we know because of references to “the old lady”), or characters with some awareness of their class position, and so forth. I guess it’s always a bit disappointing when the characters in a story all seem to strive for a “normal” life, which to them and to the author means the status quo. There are ways to write characters like that while the book itself interrupts that idea of normality, but this book isn’t one of them.

It was a decent book that will now go into my giveaway pile.

 

 

Don’t Ask Questions

One thing about growing up with secrecy, silence, and paranoia in an authoritarian family is that it gets really hard to untangle the effects of emotional abuse from one’s actual personality.

Until recently, for example, I rarely asked questions. Part of that is because because so many of my childhood and adolescent questions were answered with :

  • contempt: “You stupid kid”
  • ridicule: “I can’t believe you don’t know that”
  • silent treatment: absolute silence as if I had not spoken
  • dismissal: “You don’t need to know that”
  • anger: “Don’t ask things like that!”
  • annoyance “Don’t bother me with that”
  • mockery: “Why do you care about that?”
  • impatience: “I don’t have time for this.”

I learned that questions are irritating, intrusive, inappropriate, and unwelcome. I learned that I would be mocked, ridiculed, and subject to anger or silent treatments if I asked questions or showed curiosity. Continue reading

Stuff I Did in March, Part Three: Asking for Help

Every year, I dread February. But March usually brings some relief. Even though it’s still winter, the days are obviously getting longer, and spring is coming. March is a often sunny month here in Winnipeg, and most years, I start planning my garden, spending a bit more time outside, and generally perking up after the February slump.

This year, though, I just kept sliding downward despite the longer days, the mild weather, and the promise of spring. Continue reading

Finished this book: Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid by Evelyn Lau

runaway

This was a disturbing book. Evelyn Lau writes about her experiences living on the street after running away from home at the age of fourteen to escape her abusive, controlling parents.

Lau had always wanted to be a writer, and had already received some awards and recognition for her writing at a young age, but she was forced to leave home to escape an unendurable situation. She stayed with friends at first, given the network of friends and fellow writers she had already established, but as the pressure from police and child welfare authorities increased, her friends became unable and unwilling to shelter her. Continue reading

Finally got to play with my new loom

First I hemmed the work in progress that was already on the loom when I got it.

First I hemmed the work in progress that was already on the loom when I got it.

Back at the beginning of November, I got a new-to-me loom. It was one of those via-via things: the owner of the loom died last year, and her son was finally cleaning out her condo. The son’s partner is in an artist’s collective with a good friend of mine, who heard about the available loom and asked if I was interested, with the caveat that they wanted it gone quickly.

Did I want it? Of course! Could I transport it, and did I have room for it, and do I really need another loom? No, no, and no. But I really miss weaving. My jack-type Artisat loom is in the Room-Formerly-Known-as-My-Studio, and currently known as my bromate’s digs. There is no other place I can put the loom, since it has to be locked away from the cats (all those strings and threads and ribbons and dangly bits: can you say “vet bill,” boys and girls?). Continue reading

1978: The Steve Miller Band opens for The Eagles

 

Blogger sonofabeach96 posts often about music history. One of his recent posts reminded me of the very first concert I ever attended. So this throwback post is for you, son. 🙂

On July 27, 1978, the Steve Miller Band opened for the Eagles at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg. My mom, who was only 32 at the time, really wanted to go but couldn’t find anyone to go with her. So she took me (just turned 8), my brother (6), and two of my cousins (9 and 12). The venue was an open field with rush “seating” (grab a spot and stake out your tarp, basically).

I got my mom to retell the story the other day, and she put a lot of emphasis on how often we kids all had to use the toilet. At one point, the lineup for the women’s toilets was super long, and there was nobody waiting for the men’s. My mom says I just sized up the situation, zipped into the men’s washroom, and emerged drying my freshly-washed hands and looking very pleased with myself (that does sound like me). She was laughing at how much of the concert she viewed from the toilet lineups.

I asked her why in the world she would take four little kids to a concert like that with no other adult to help, and she just shrugged “I thought it would be fun!” And besides, she added, my 12-year-old cousin could be trusted with two kids at the blanket while she took the fourth kid to the can. So it all worked out!

I have two memories of that concert. In one, we are all sitting on a blanket. In my memory, it is one of those acrylic blankets with the wide satin trim—remember those? But my mom says she can’t remember what blanket it was (and kind of side-eyed me for asking about such a detail, haha!). I remember jostling for space with the others, and there were lots of people around us.

I think there were several opening acts. By the time the penultimate band played, we kids were exhausted, so my mom had to start packing up to take us home. My second memory of the concert is of sitting on a bench in the dark and seeing the stage very far away and bright, with tiny people on it. The crowd was a sea of shadowy heads. My mom remembers this as well. She said that as we were headed for the parking lot, the Eagles started playing Hotel California. She stopped at a bench to listen to that song. I loved hearing her retell this story for lots of reasons, but mostly because of the smile on her face when she remembered this.

When I was a kid, my mom’s music was my music. I was probably twelve or so before I realised that other types of music weren’t random anomalies but actual genres. Mostly I thought all music was the Eagles, and Led Zeppelin, and Meatloaf. Foreigner and Loverboy and Toto and 10CC and Eric Clapton and Neil Young and the Who and the Guess Who and Supertramp and the Rolling Stones and CSNY and Bob Dylan and Billy Joel and Queen. Van Morrison, ELO, the Moody Blues, Elton John, Dire Straits, Tom Petty, ZZ Top, Boney M… And above all, Pink Floyd. The family still goes wild for Pink Floyd; my uncles close their eyes and moan, and my mom sings along happily.

It’s not my music anymore, not in terms of what I choose to listen to around the house. But when I hear it, I am carried back to my childhood. The nights I spent falling asleep in my bunk-bed to the comforting vibration of bass, the way my mom and her siblings let their faces open up with joy when their favourite music plays, the lyrics to hundreds of 70s songs that still pop fully-formed into my mind when the first notes of those old songs play… These are some of my best childhood memories. I’m grateful that my mom thought it would be fun to take a pack of kids to an outdoor concert. We don’t often listen to the same music anymore, but we still talk about music a lot. I listen when she has something special to play for me, and she has made it out to a couple of my gigs. I’m glad that she has always loved music so much, and that she has passed that appreciation on to me.

In true sonofabeach96 style, here’s a list of some of faves from when I was just a pup:

Pink Floyd: One of These Days

Boney M: Rasputin

10CC: Dreadlock Holiday

The Guess Who: American Woman

Santana: Black Magic Woman

The Moody Blues: Melancholy Man

Electric Light Orchestra: Don’t Bring Me Down

Loverboy: Turn Me Loose

Some Sources of My Christmas Stress

People at work keep stopping by my desk to harass me about Christmas. Well, to be fair, they are stopping by everyone’s desk, and they probably think of it as “small talk” rather than “harassment.”

But honestly I am getting so sick of deflecting the casual questions. Are you ready for Christmas? Got your tree up? Have you done all your Christmas shopping? What are you doing for Christmas? Got a big Christmas planned? Spending time with your family for Christmas this year?

I used to just go along with it and shove down all my holiday stress to not make the conversation awkward. But now, I think screw that, why should I be uncomfortable because you are asking some personal questions loaded with cultural assumptions and obliviousness? Continue reading

Surrounded by Addicts

Sometimes that’s what it feels like. There’s addiction in my family, but people don’t talk about it much, if at all. I learned all the childhood things you learn in an alcoholic family system. Although I had no words to explain what was going on, I internalised the behavioural patterns that go along with this dynamic.

Almost every dating or cohabitation partner I have had has turned out to have a drinking or drug problem (or both) except for my very first love (who was Muslim, so the no-alcohol thing was part of the package).

The addictions of my partners keep taking me by surprise. I like to think I am a pretty smart and perceptive person, but if you want to figure out who’s the addict at any given party, take me along and see who I start hitting on. I’ll hop into bed with them, then fall in love and move in, but it will seriously take me weeks or months or even years to wake up one day and realise I’ve done it again. To realise I am once again emotionally and financially entangled with an addict. It makes me ragingly furious at how I’ve internalised all their bullshit, how low my self-esteem has plummeted, how stupid I have been in not seeing it coming, how naive and ignorant I am in this area. It makes me doubt myself and all my perceptions, in a way that reinforces the effects of the addict’s gaslighting and crazymaking of me during the relationship.

Basically, by the end of these relationships, I am a hot mess. I’ve believed the lies they told me to explain the red eyes and the missed appointments and the headaches and the late work nights. I’m the stable, rational, competent one who keeps the household running even though I don’t know where all the money is going and my partner is always too sick or too busy to help out. I’m generally kind of suspicious and cynical, so I am always convinced that of course I would know it if something was going on, of course I would know if my partner was drinking or doing drugs, of course nothing would slip by me.

But it slips by me all the time. And by all the time, I mean five of the seven actual relationships I’ve had over my lifetime. (One-night-stands and brief fun flings have been excluded from this study.) After my last split-up,  I decided it was time to end this ridiculous cycle, and so I resolved not to get into another relationship for at least a year.

That first year of living alone was hard, but also wonderful. It’s been three years now, and I’m still single, and I still love it. But I have not yet broken the cycle. A person with whom I am very close (but not romantically) is an addict. And our relationship has now moved into the part where the addict occasionally treats me like shit while I keep trying to smooth things over because obviously people are drunks or druggies because they are so miserable, so why would I add my anger to the mix?

For a long time, I thought I was bringing this upon myself. By being too nice, or too bitchy, or too frigid or slutty or naive or whatever. In a way, that is probably true—not that I am too anything, but that the pattern of interaction with addicts is familiar to me. I do not see the warning signs because I have been raised and trained and reinforced not to see them. This is a huge blind spot for me.

The disease model of alcoholism and addiction says that this is a biochemical disorder or predisposition to addiction. But you can be sick (cancer, AIDS, PTSD, common cold, depression,) and not be an asshole. Whereas addicts all turn out to be assholes in the end, even if they were lovely and kind people to begin with. I prefer the behavioural model of addiction because it more accurately reflects my experiences with a long chain of addicts. Behaviour is something that is learned and can be unlearned and replaced with other things.

Also, it helps me to remember that their actions are a result of their choices. Addicts will use all kinds of excuses and justifications for why they get high. A classic one within romantic relationships is “I wouldn’t need to drink if you were only nicer / more understanding / less demanding / willing to fuck more often / etc.” and this obscures the fact that the drug use is in fact a choice. And if it doesn’t feel like a choice—if the addict is really at the point where it feels like it’s no longer a matter of free will—well, being a manipulative jerk is still a choice. Emotionally abusing your partner is still a choice. Refusing to take responsibility for your own actions is still a choice. There is nothing I ever did as a teenager or a middle-aged woman or any in-between age that forced anybody in the world to take a drink or snort a line. That was their choice, every single time.

And my choice, every single time, has been to walk away. It has often taken a lot of time and agonising and therapy and journalling and crying myself to sleep, but in the end I have always decided not to stick around to be the Helpmeet Scapegoat. It is not noble or admirable to let yourself be treated like garbage under the guise of being a good, loving partner. Helping other people only goes so far: I don’t require effusive thanks and gratitude, but I DO require that people not try to blame me for their own actions. I prefer to be surrounded by people who take ownership of and responsibility for their own lives.

Which brings me to this person in my life. Yes, I have known for ages that he is an addict. I love him and worry about him. But now we have progressed to the stage where he is both leaning on me and treating me disrespectfully. And it’s been kind of a wake-up for me this week to realise that despite remaining single-on-purpose for three years, despite all my self-congratulations on how wisely I am keeping myself safe and breaking the cycle, I am right back here again. I thought the danger was in romantic relationships, but it’s not. The danger is in my huge blind spot. The blind spot that lets me Wile.E.Coyote off the edge of the cliff. Right now, I am suspended in mid-air, looking down with a comical expression of surprise and dismay, while the audience groans “Not again! When will she ever learn???”

They say people re-enact situations to try for a different outcome. If that’s the case, I feel like I am seriously failing at this lesson. I’m mad at myself for letting myself get into this situation again. But I can see two good things: The first is that I now know this problem can come from anywhere, not just romantic relationships. This is a valuable lesson.

And the second thing? I have been through this before. I know I am strong enough to survive it.

 

My House, My Rules? Well, sometimes maybe.

Someone recently wrote in to Captain Awkward with a question about how to handle her parents’ insistence that she and her partner (who live together) not sleep in the same bed under the parents’ roof during holiday visits because the couple are not married. In fact, on a previous visit, the letter writer’s boyfriend had to sleep outside in a tent.

Captain Awkward’s advice is great, as always, and the commenters have expanded on that advice. But this kind of thing infuriates me, especially the whole “my house, my rules” thing (which is being debated in the comments as well). I don’t know how coherent I can even be about this, Continue reading

My Very First Art Lesson (in which I learned I’m no good)

When I was six, I learned that I would never be an artist.

Like any other kid, I loved to draw and fingerpaint and glue stuff onto other stuff, especially if beads or glitter were involved. In the homes of my grandparents, my father, and my aunt, I was surrounded by evidence of art and artists: my great-grandfather was a master painter back in the Old Country (Denmark), and my grandfather had been apprenticed to him. My grandparents met when my grandmother took a class with the master painter, and my grandfather would offer to walk her home and carry her painting gear. The walls of my grandparents’ home were filled with paintings and drawings and woven tapestries and other work by my grandfather, grandmother, great-grandfather, aunt, and other artists. Every bit of wall space was filled. Continue reading

Finished this book: Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

Cover of Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill

Cover of Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

This wonderful book is about an adolescent girl named Baby whose parents had her when they were fifteen. Her mom died and she is being (kind of ) raised by her dad, who has schizophrenia. So many sad and heartbreaking things happen in this book, but it is so gorgeously written, and Baby is such a convincing protagonist, that it is not as hard as you might expect. Continue reading

Hair Matters

My actual hair now.

My actual hair now.

A few days ago, whereshappy posted about getting a horribly disappointing perm when she was eleven years old. That post made me laugh and it made me sad. I remember well how disappointed I was with a couple of perms I had when I was kid. I went in envisioning lovely big loose curls and I ended up looking like a poodle. But my mom and aunt (who performed the act) were so pleased with the results that I pretended I was delighted, although inside I felt uglier and more loserly than ever.

When that first perm faded away, my mom took me back for another one. Continue reading

Finished this book: Room (by Emma Donoghue)

Cover of "Room" by Emma Donoghue.

Cover of “Room” by Emma Donoghue.

This book is amazing and I highly recommend it. The story is told from the perspective of a child, Jack, whose fifth birthday opens the book. One thing I love about this book is that his mother loves him, protects him, and does her best by him. Her best is not always good enough, especially considering the fact that they have been held in captivity for years (since before Jack was born), but the will is there. Another thing I love about this book is that Jack is actually heard. Most of the people around him take him seriously, and he is an agent in his own life. Continue reading

My Grandmother’s Birthday

My grandmother offering tomatoes from her garden.

My grandmother offering tomatoes from her garden.

Today would have been my grandmother’s 102nd birthday and I miss her with each breath and I am glad she’s dead. Continue reading

Being a Kid in the 1970s

We'd burn all kinds of stuff in the fire pit.

We’d burn all kinds of stuff in the fire pit. Photo credit probably goes to my dad.

My brother and I were reminiscing the other day about what it was like being little kids in the seventies. We used to run around in the bush down by the creek with our dog, building forts and climbing on beaver dams, and dodging trains on the train bridge. Man, we were little and brave. Our dad would give a long wailing whistle using both his hands flapping in front of his mouth like wings. The dog’s ears would perk up; our ears would perk up; all three of us would turn our faces towards home and scramble up embankments and over logs as fast as our little legs could move. (Well, the dog’s legs were considerably longer!) It was the seventies: kids could play in the bush by a creek for hours, and nobody was worried.

Out at Uncle Wally’s cabin, the adults would give us some sawed off stubs of two-by-fours, a couple of hammers, and a rusty can of nails. Continue reading

Why a Blog (and not a journal)? – in three parts

I.

I love the Internet. I’ve loved it since I got my first email address in 1992 and built my first web site in 1994.

Meatspace is not always comfortable for an introvert like me, but I have met friends, colleagues, partners, and a whole whack of other fascinating people online. Some of these connections have moved from “virtual” to “real” life. Many haven’t. Either way is a-ok. Continue reading

Father’s Day: Not Always “Happy”

Father’s Day is hard for so many people. I imagine this day must be as bitter for my estranged father as it is for me. At least I hope it is as bitter for him, because that might mean that he still cares and that one day we might have a relationship again.

Father’s Day is hard for people whose dad is dead, for dads whose kids are dead, for the men who want to be dads but can’t be, for the kids and dads who are separated from each other, for people whose dads were / are abusive, for kids who never knew their deadbeat dads but are forced by the teacher to make a card for Daddy anyway (true story from a colleague), for the people whose dads are frankly nothing to celebrate.

I know my dad used to love me. I hope he still does. As much as I hate this estrangement, it’s better than dealing with how he and his wife were treating me. But Father’s Day is still bitter because I miss him, and our time for reconciliation gets shorter each year.

Children: To Hit or Not to Hit? (spoiler: NOT!)

The text in this image can be found at the bottom of the post.

Children Learn What They Live poem by Dorothy Law Nolte from http://www.docstoc.com/docs/158159649/Children-Learn-What-They-Live

Another facebook friend is advocating hitting children. In the wake of another local bullying incident, my news feed is once again spattered with variations on the meme of “If there was more of THIS {image of a child being spanked}, there’d be less of THIS {image of young criminals*}.” Continue reading