sometimes you win

Sometimes you win.  And sometimes you lose.  And sometimes you win the battle but lose the war.  Or something profound like that.  With spring weather kind of sort of here, I’m feeling a bit philosophical i guess.  I’m just realizing (an epiphany for me – probably old news for most) that life is a lot like gardening.  Emily, whose birthday is in the spring, already knows this.  And she’s been trying for years to teach it to me through her love of nature and all things horticultural.  Like gardening… parenting, partnership, any of life’s other important components, isn’t completed or accomplished in a day’s work.

It has taken me a very long time, my entire life in fact, to grasp this concept.  And I’m not at all sure I’m willing or able to embrace it, even with my budding understanding.  I want to go out in the glory of the spring sunshine, work in the yard pulling up weeds, mowing, mulching and edging the walkway, and after a solid amount of time and with gratifyingly sore muscles and sweaty body I want to have a perfectly manicured lovely green weedless yard (I have an eerily similar wishful ideology about exercise).  But it just doesn’t work like that, and the sooner I accept that fact the happier I’ll likely be.  No matter how long I work in the yard there will still be more to do, more weeds popping up, more dandelions multiplying, and more lilies to dead-head.  It feels so relentless and ceaselessness (not unlike children’s whining) and at the pinnacle of this frustration I want to throw in the towel, asking myself, “Why bother?”  

Because sometimes you lose the battle but end up winning the war.  At least I hope that is legit because that is my new philosophy going forward.  Plus, it puts failure into a whole new perspective.  And look, I’m already good at it.  And lucky for me I’ve adopted this wisdom-system just in time.  Emily’s birthday was last month.  This was a big one (50) and I put a lot of thought and planning into it.  In the end, I both won and lost.  Our financial situation is one of  desolation (true story).  Emily hasn’t worked since her contract ran out last June.  So I knew I was going to have to get creative.  But hey, creative is my middle name.  Sort of.  I decided to line up dear friends of Emily’s to fete her with nightly dinners and celebrations throughout the week of her birthday.  I thought this was both a fantastic and inexpensive (for us) idea.  I’d gotten halfway through the planning when I shared my idea with Emily.  She didn’t love it.  50 was hitting her hard and she wasn’t up for being celebrated and fed night after night, having to explain that there were no job prospects to a new cast of characters night after night.  My great idea was only making her more sad.  This was the point where I was reaching for the towel.  Fuck it then, let’s do nothing.  I’d clearly forgotten about my new ratiocination.  This was but a single weed in an otherwise lovely garden of ideas.  And so, with my new mindset, I forced myself to let go of stubbornness and disappointment.  I came up with other great inexpensive ways to celebrate.  I took the day off and spent time with Emily in our own yard gardening.  We also went to a local botanical garden together.  And it was lovely.  And, because of that loveliness, she was open to having a few special dinners with friends that week.  Yay me.

The evening of Emily’s birthday she had a wedding run-through.  I felt bad that she was going to be taking care of others on her birthday, but that’s how things got scheduled.  I also felt bad (for me) because this left me with the 3 kids all afternoon and through dinner.  Nina had an afternoon piano lesson and asked if Joita would come to watch.  So instead of being able to leave Ruby home with Joita, we all got in the car to go to the lesson.  Nina has a love/hate relationship with piano.  Like any kid taking lessons, the practicing is wearying and the progress slow.  Ruby didn’t nap (as I’d hoped she would) in the car on the way, so she was sort of a donkey on the edge spinning around aimlessly and whining during the lesson.  Nina was more distracted (and who could blame her) than usual and was making a zillion mistakes on songs that we have all heard a gazillion times.  The peacefulness of my day with Emily in nature was slipping away at a rapid clip.  Ruby was falling apart.  Joita was embarrassed by both Ruby’s falling apart and Nina’s increasing frustration with her lesson and my inability to effectively parent.  This is not a new theme.  Nina was attempting to distract her teacher by asking questions:  Why is music written like it is?  Why dots on lines?  Why 5 lines and not 4 or 10?  Why use black for the notes?  Why not just use colors and shapes?  When can she *graduate* from piano book 1?  Can she have a cake at her graduation?  How many times must she play this song?  Is there another way to play it?  Has anyone ever played it backwards?  And so on.

I was wondering if Nina’s teacher was contemplating intentionally spontaneously combusting in some dramatic fashion to put an end to our misery (his and mine) when I noticed Ruby squatting purposefully.  It was deja vu.  My head snapped up and my eyes darted around the room looking for her diaper bag.  At least I had it this time.  And it was a good news/bad news scenario.  Was the diaper bag half full or half empty?  Depends on how you looked at it I guess.  The piano lesson came to a God-be-thanked end and I hustled my brood out the door before either the contents or the bouquet of Ruby’s diaper could be appreciated.  I got everyone buckled into the car as quickly as possible, wondering if there has ever been a diaper rash fatality, and screeched out of the piano teacher’s driveway.

don’t let the cuteness fool you – she’s taking a shit

But hell if I was going to go straight home because of one loaded diaper.  I drove right to the nearest fro-yo place and found a spot.  We all deserved it.  I changed Ruby in the parking lot (in the back of the car folks… not on the actual parking lot… I’m not that bad) and in we went.  And I only needed the one wipe I had.  So there!  And even though she was still soggy, I didn’t care.  She could dry out in the yogurt store cool air.  Ruby got her very first very own frozen yogurt.  And a good time was had by all.  Until we got back in the hot car.  I forgot to mention we use cloth diapers.  So while we were cooling off and enjoying our frozen treat, the dirty soaking cloth diaper was simmering and effervescing in the sealed car.  We drove home sated and mostly happy, windows wide open and breathing through our mouths.

Posted in everyday stuff, parenting, relationship | 1 Comment

all the ladies

It has been literally years since Emily and I have had a night out without children.  As part of Emily’s birthday celebration recently, she and I went out with friends for a grown up dinner.  So it was a very special evening on many levels.  The restaurant was chosen with care and we were excited to be dressing up and getting to be adults for the evening.  A Cinderella story for sure.

We left Joita with the two younger girls, armed with pizza and a special dessert (as well as the television remote).  Emily looked fantastic in one of her casual dresses and summer sandals.  I wore black jeans, a nice button-down shirt and dress shoes (all men’s).  We were positively giddy as we skipped out of the house and hopped into the car.

The restaurant was fancy (keep in mind that the local pub is my barometer of elegance), dimmed lights and quiet despite the crowd.  A completely lovely atmosphere.  Our waiter was a young man who radiated earnestness.  He materialized at our table literally every 90 seconds to check in.  To be perfectly honest, that was kind of irritating.  If I’d wanted my adult conversation to be interrupted by someone every minute and a half I would have stayed home with the children.  At any rate, as not such a good eater (read that: I have a rather unrefined palate), I always get anxious dining in a new environment.  As this was a more upscale restaurant than my peanut-butter and jelly tastes, I was worried that the menu would be too sophisticated for me and I wouldn’t find anything.  No macaroni and cheese on the menu to be sure (even disguised as something else).  I was focused on finding something I wanted to eat, so I didn’t recognize at first why I found the waiter so bothersome.

“How are we doing ladies?” he chirped next to my ear.  “Would you ladies like to hear the specials?  Or are you ladies ready for a drink?”  “Perhaps you ladies are ready to order?”  We politely asked for more time, dismissing him quietly.  90 seconds sure does go by fast because there he was again at my elbow in what felt like the blink of an eye, “Do you ladies have any questions? Or would you ladies care for drinks now?”  We ordered drinks and listened to the specials.  He was back with our drinks lickety-split, “Here you go ladies. Enjoy.”  90 seconds later, “Can I interest you ladies in appetizers?”  And every 90 seconds after that: “How is everything ladies?  Would any of you ladies like your drink refreshed?  Can I get you ladies anything else? Would any of you ladies care for water?  Ladies, do you need condiments?  Can I take any dishes away ladies?  Do any of you ladies want to see a dessert menu?  Did you ladies enjoy your meal?  Would any of you ladies like anything wrapped up to take home?

racist mascot too

real posting in the locker room – dumbest top 5 list ever

How about “Do any of you have a pronoun or address preference”?!  Not one of my companions noticed.  Nor did I expect them to.  And even if they had, there was nothing they could have done without making a bigger deal than it was (or shaming me or shaming the waiter) anyway.  And obviously, the waiter had no idea.  And I know he was just trying to be nice and deferential and polite and all that.  And look, I’ve been on the lowest possible dose of Testosterone for all of 3 seconds, I don’t look like a man.  I get that.  And it isn’t even that I want or expect to be addressed as such.  At the same time, being called a lady every 2 minutes or so felt like death by a thousand paper cuts.  Because as much as I don’t look like a man, I’m quite sure I don’t look like a lady either.  By anyone’s standards.  I guess what I wanted in this particular, or really in any situation, was to be considered.  Have you not a flyspeck of common sense?  Use a general *folks* if you must address us as a group.  Or use no label at all.  As in: “Can I get anyone here a drink?”  Or, “How are you (interestingly, English has this as both a singular and plural acknowledgement) this evening?”  But for the love of God, please stop calling me lady.  It didn’t necessarily ruin my night, but it certainly was a major bummer.


Posted in everyday stuff, no man's land | 2 Comments

everything and nothing

There was much bickering and deliberating in the meeting halls of my mind.  The choice no longer whether I would start testosterone or not, but when, where and how.  The easier decisions were logistical, even concrete.  Testosterone gel is applied daily and should be applied at or around the same time every day.  The application process, while not exactly micro-surgery, requires a space where one will not be interrupted, clean dry shoulders, and approximately 10 minutes.  I also needed to figure out disposal of the empty gel packets where there would be no chance of residual gel coming into contact with the other inhabitants of the house.

The bigger issue was the what.  Specifically what to do about Emily.  I hadn’t kept Emily anywhere near the loop never mind in it.  She didn’t know about my medical appointment or my getting the prescription or any of the difficulties in obtaining the prescription.  She didn’t know I had the testosterone in the house!  Thank goodness for my super secret hiding place 🙂

I will spare you the details of the long and exhausting committee meetings that went round and round in my brain late into many nights.  I ultimately convinced myself that I should start on the testosterone without telling Emily anything.  As an aside, it amazes me the things we can convince ourselves of.  I felt though that I had sound reasoning for my decision (having convinced myself of the soundness of my reasoning).  First and foremost I wanted to have my own experience of the effects of the testosterone without the pressure and influence of Emily’s fears and sadness (or whatever other feelings she would have).  I wanted a pure unbiased-by-anyone-else experience.  Second, I know Emily well enough to know that she has very strong feelings and defenses in anticipation and advance of change.  And those anticipatory feelings are not always the ones she ends up with in the long run.  Emily refers to this as *frontloading* her anxieties.  But Emily’s *frontloading* always affects me.  Time and time again Emily’s *frontloading* has either colored or completely changed my experience of something… sometimes long after her own feelings have settled and she’s gotten “on board” with a change.  {A great example of this was our move to this house.  I was totally behind the move and excited about the house and location.  Emily was devastated leaving our first home, the home we had made together.  It was clearly and loudly excruciating for Emily to leave that house and move to this one, and in having listened to her, supported her and comforted her, my own feelings for this house became sullied and negative.  To the point where three years in I still hated the house.}

Anyway, I made my decision to start the testosterone without telling Emily.  I decided to start on a Saturday morning as this is the day that the Lord has made.  Laugh my ass off, I just had to say that.  No, seriously, Saturday is the day I begin my day with leading religious services and with contemplative introspection.  Of course I barely slept that Friday night in anticipation.  I got up Saturday morning, took the dog out and fed her and showered as usual.  Then I snuck to my super secret hiding place and removed one gel packet from the box, and with that in shaking hand, I locked myself in our bathroom.

The foil packet felt cool and light in my hand and I wondered fleetingly about whether the contents should be kept cool or warmed in the hand for best effect.  I breathed deeply, focused and said a prayer.  As there is no formal prayer for such an occasion (though I am quite well aware that there is a prayer for having reached an auspicious moment), and as my heart was filled to bursting, I said the words my soul whispered.  The prayer was filled with yearning, echoing the fragile hope of a lifetime.  I blew on the barely kindled flames of welcome and acceptance, being and belonging.

And then I ripped the top off the packet.  A small clear drop appeared at the opening and I gingerly turned the packet over above my shoulder and squeezed gently.  There was about a teaspoon of clear liquid the consistency of hand sanitizer.  In fact, the look and smell was exactly like hand sanitizer (or, “hanitizer” as Joita used to say).  Rubbing it in was more like pushing it around on my upper arm (again, very similar to sanitizer).  It didn’t seem to absorb and worry flashed through my mind that I was doing something wrong.  More deep breathing and self-reassurance.  This was not rocket science.  I squeezed the remaining gel onto my opposite shoulder.  I scraped every scintilla of gel out of that small packet, using my nail and then folding it in on itself repeatedly until I was sure it was completely and definitely empty.  Then I stood stupidly before the mirror, shirtless, waiting for the gel to dry on my skin.  Until I realized I was holding my breath.

In those fleeting moments I felt absolutely nothing.  And unequivocally everything.  The *nothing* that I felt was just me.  I felt very much just like myself.  The *me* that I’ve been ever since the day of my birth.  The *everything* that I felt was also just me.  I felt like *me* only moreso somehow.  Still the *me* inside the me.  Yet something felt *right*.  I’ve heard transguys say, using a computer analogy, that testosterone makes them feel like they are running on the right and most up-to-date operating system.  Though tech concepts and imagery don’t necessarily resonate for me, I would have to say that is the best comparison I’ve heard so far.  It was the most imperceptible flick of a switch.  But something was now running on the correct operating system.

Driving to work I continued to consider my awareness that something had shifted.  I just didn’t know what.  As I drove I did a systematic mental and system check-in similar to what I sometimes do pre-meditation to help me settle, where I focus individually and methodically.  Feet and legs and knees and thighs all felt fine and the same.  Same with butt and hips and back and even shoulders.  No difference.  Arms, hands, cheeks, chin, ears, eyes and scalp all *normal*.  I chalked up the “slight shift” to a placebo effect and left it at that.

It wasn’t until about halfway through services that morning that I realized what it was that was different.  My head was quiet.  The general state of the inside of my skull is a constant flow of critique and endless chatter.  My mental energy is focused on not listening to it and/or shutting it up.  The unremitting patter of choleric analysis is ever an undercurrent in my head and always has been.  For the first time in my life my mind was serene.  I could hear myself think.  It was the weirdest, craziest and sanest experience!  There was suddenly so much room in my head.  Quiet, peaceful, gentle quiet.  “I think I’m going to like this”, I thought to myself.

Posted in feelings, no man's land | 2 Comments

happy day mother-f*&%#$@

I remember learning the concept of catch-22 in junior high school when I half-read the novel of the same name, by Joseph Heller.  I remember being surprised by how much it bothered me, though I couldn’t quite figure out why.  Nobody in their right mind likes no-win situations.  But for some reason, catch-22 resonated uncomfortably with me, striking a nerve.

Take my mother (please) for example.  Of course I now know that everything that involves her is a catch-22.  But specifically and most frustratingly, things that should have been so simple.  Low hanging fruit like Chanukah, should have been so easy.  Everyone in the spirit of giving and receiving.  Such easy pure simple joy.  But not in our house.  When I was young enough to think “obligatory” was a big word, I once told her that I hated *obligatory holidays*.  She laughed in my face.  While most people enjoyed holidays and special days, I found them to be koans I could never solve, filled with esoteric rules I could not understand or follow.  The pressure to be and do and give just the right thing in the right manner in the right time.  I felt like my planets never aligned and disappointment was the only outcome.  I dreaded obligatory holidays.  And she has ridiculed me, taking any and every opportunity to mock me with those words, throwing them back in my face, ever since.  I no longer think “obligatory” is a big word.  But I still hate obligatory holidays.  She ruined them for me.

Take mother’s day for example.  There are so many ethereal rules, ephemeral in nature, about the fucking day, a veritable minefield for missteps, how does anyone get it right?!  First, you must (obviously) adore your mother, worship her, love her, extol and hallow her name.  She must be *the best ever*, announced and proclaimed loudly on this day.  You must purchase a large, colorful, gaudy card (which gets pricier every year) with this sentiment embossed and or emblazoned on it.  But you must add your own heartfelt affections as well.  In my family a gift is also in order.  And not just any old gift.  And definitely not something gag-home-made-gag.  This would be bordering on insult and would elicit only scorn and ridicule.  The meaning drawn from a home-made gift is that the recipient mother was not worthy of having money spent on her.  Or that you simply didn’t care enough to do so.  And lastly, the mother must be feted lavishly.  But most importantly this all must be done in grand fashion so that all may know (and be jealous of) the love, honor, adoration this mother is worthy of.  Because, at the end of the day, it is all just a big show anyway.

While I understood all these lessons well enough, I still stepped in something (read that: fucked up) every time.  The card would not be big enough, bright enough, say the right things in it.  My own writing too sloppy, too rushed (looking), not reverential enough.  The gifts of course were never right.  Like the time I tracked down mugs she saw once in a restaurant that she coveted and said she wanted.  This was pre-internet people, and she couldn’t remember the restaurant (of course).  After some excellent detective work (if I do say so myself), I found them though, and purchased 4 of them from the restaurant.  I was bursting with pride and excitement for her to open them thinking, “this is the time I make her happy”.  But apparently any idiot knows you don’t get FOUR mugs.  Six is standard.  Clearly.  So this became another derisory stupidity of mine she *teased* me about forever.  Little mishaps like that always ruined the day for her.  Completely.

I tried harder and harder every year to get it all just right.  And then at some point I simply stopped trying at all.  I got the same response either way really.  Why knock myself out?  Even though the poor reflection (of being a non-caring (dare I say mean) person) was on me.  That part, I admit, did bother me.  But the end result of her being angry and disappointed and it being my fault was a simple regularity for us.

For the last 12 Mother’s Days I was basically off the hook.  We weren’t in contact, so I didn’t have to think about it.  Although I knew on some level, in some universe, that I was being portrayed as a horrible daughter, I at least didn’t have to hear it or deal with it firsthand.  That changed this year because we have had some contact.  Though it had only been a gossamer thread of connection and even that had been severed in recent weeks, the connection had been made.

No one really understands the chaos that goes on in the head of anyone who has to deal with a Borderline.  Not unless you have dealt with one can you truly fathom or appreciate  it.  Every action and interaction must be examined and re-examined, scrutinized, analyzed and dissected to make sure there can be no misinterpretation, distortion, misunderstanding or faux pas.  You must be aware of all the ways a kind word can be misconstrued and twisted into vulgar vituperation.  And any kind gesture contorted into a grotesque perversion.  They are always the victim.  Even of your kindness.

And so it was with this burdensome trepidation whirling around my head, that I approached Mother’s Day.  No small wonder I had a headache all weekend.  I was already too late to send one of the bland non-committal-type cards I used to send.  I wasn’t up for the can of worms a phone call might oxygenate.  And after much agonizing and considering the possible ire, hurt feelings and sarcastic retorts, I sent a simple text mid-day that said, “Happy Mother’s Day”.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Not because I thought it would make her happy.  Indeed, I knew it would not.  And even from 3 simple words she could find infinite offense:  Everything from the wrong font to the wrong sentiment to claiming intentional insult, disrespect and scorn.  What did she have to be happy about being a mother for anyway?!  With her son being a homeless drug addict and her daughter now being her son who still doesn’t want anything to do with her, what possible pleasure could she find in such an onerous title?!  I envisioned her reading my text from inside the oven*.   I didn’t have to wait long for her rejoinder.  A simple, “And to you and Emily too.”  I haven’t heard from her since.

Now I feel completely crazy.  Why all the self-imposed angst and distress when her response was so simply perfectly reasonable?!  I swear I feel like I make all this shit up.  Which is exactly the joy(sic) of interacting with a Borderline.  Happy Mother’s Day indeed.


*Back in the days when ovens were powered by gas with no chemicals to make it smell bad, a method of suicide was to stick one’s head in the oven and turn on the gas without lighting it.  The reference to “I’ll just go stick my head in the oven” was a somewhat familiar “joke”.

Posted in family of origin, feelings | 2 Comments

winner winner chicken dinner

I’ve written and rewritten this particular post about a million times.  Mostly I’ve gotten stuck on the opening paragraph.  I’ve been trying to write an introduction that captures my actual feelings.  I want to convey the level of delirious rapture, along with the abject terror and everything in between.  But it doesn’t seem possible.  Even with a thesaurus.

Friday afternoons I lead religious services at work.  I actually lead two different services back to back in fairly quick succession.  In between those services I generally have just enough time to put away my guitar, glance at my phone and have a sip of water (with which I always remind the members of the congregation that there is no drinking allowed in the synagogue – which always gets a big laugh…. every time).  I shouldn’t have looked at my phone and tried to drink water at the same time this particular Friday.  Because there was a text message from CVS simply stating Your prescription is ready for pick up.  I gasped, choked, spluttered and wheezed, breathing in my mouthful of water and quickly coughing it out inelegantly.  The only prescription I was aware of waiting to be filled was the testosterone.  I couldn’t be 100% sure from the vague text, but I was reasonably confident that the only prescription the text message could have been about was the testosterone.  Liquid exhilaration and ice cold apprehension coursed through me.

There are ways to sign-in to MYCVS app to get details from a text.  But I had 75 people staring at me waiting for me to start services.  And I had to clean up my H2O detonation before beginning.  I could not focus.  The welcoming the Sabbath service that I have led every Friday for 20 years, usually so gentle, smooth and easy with familiarity became  muddled in my brain.  Words and phrases and songs clustered in my mouth, crusting on my tongue.  I choked out one choppy tuneless melody after another.  I lost my place mid-reading, distracted by inner dialogues, worries and celebratory whoops of delight in my mind.  I found myself absent, disoriented, quietly staring at confused faces looking back at me in puzzlement.  What the fuck did I say out loud?!  How long had I been sitting staring blankly not saying anything?!  I could not finish the service fast enough.  I skipped large sections, reading and singing quickly through.  After services more than one colleague asked if everything was all right as I raced past them to the privacy of my office so I could check MYCVS app.

Indeed, the text was about the testosterone prescription.  Indeed, the prescription had been filled and was waiting for me at my CVS.  The single syllable “GAHK” escaped my lips as I tried to wrap my head around days and weeks and even years of yearning, possibility and hope answered.  I was pretty sure it all might end in a flaming crash as I drove like a mental case to CVS.

I couldn’t seem to meet the eye of the pharmacist waiting on me, but I did watch out of the corner of my eye as she looked in bin after bin for my prescription.  Emily texted me (nice timing) asking where I was.  Our Shabbat dinner guests had arrived early and she was trying to wrangle the kids (mostly Ruby) and appetizers while finishing dinner prep and appearing totally prepared.  It’s the kind of thing you want your spouse present for.  I responded that I was on my way.  The pharmacist was having a hard time locating my prescription and I was breaking out in a cold sweat, trying not to shit myself.

Not the size of a normal prescription, the pharmacist finally found it in an apparently unlikely place.  I still could not make eye contact with her.  It was a box 2 inches by 2 inches by 3 inches, which she placed in a bag along with the cotton balls and gum I had also purchased.  She wished me a good evening and I scurried out to my car.  My heart was pounding.  I was desperate to open the package in my car and check it out.  But I also knew that Emily was anxiously awaiting my arrival.

I was extremely jittery as I raced into the house and up the stairs, clumsily smuggling in my contraband under my jacket, trying to appear cool as the proverbial cucumber.  With an almost imperceptible greeting to our guests I skittishly made my way to our bedroom on the third floor.  I think I mumbled something about needing to change and or use the bathroom.  Note to self: I would make a horrible thief or spy.

I neither went to the bathroom nor changed my clothes.  I locked myself in the upstairs bathroom and tried to quietly open the package.  Inside the box there were 15 metallic double packets, joined together by perforation, about the size and shape of “wet-naps”.  The majority of the box was filled with several sheets of irregularly and poorly folded instructions.  The information in the instructions was quite similar to what I’d already been told by my doctor:  Use only as directed.  Use daily at approximately the same time each day.  Do not use more or less than prescribed.  Do not get the gel on anyone or anything other than the person it was prescribed for.  The surprising piece was where I was directed to rub the gel.  Specifically, my shoulders.  And, if need be, my belly.  But shoulders were the preferred application site.  I don’t know what I was expecting.  Someplace a bit more exotic perhaps.

It made me remember one time a very long time ago at a family gathering.  My grandmother was telling us about a Jackie Collins novel she was reading and was explaining to us, with hilarity, the outrageous, ludicrous and absurd ridiculousness of the imagination of the author.  “Where does she come up with these ideas!?” she laughed.  In regard to a particular story describing oral sex, my grandmother exuberantly proclaimed that she would “no sooner lick someone’s shoulder”!!  To which my uncle patted my grandfather lovingly on the back and solemnly said, “sorry dad”.

But I digress.  At any rate, I didn’t have too much time to further consider the instructions, nor did I really need to.  As I have already said, my spouse and our dinner guests were downstairs waiting for me.  And there was nothing more that I could do with the testosterone in that moment.  There was much I had to consider before starting it.  Not the least of which was that Emily had no idea.  I put that and other thoughts of starting testosterone away and mentally prepared myself for dinner.  I hugged the box lovingly and hid it in a safe and very secret place (my underwear drawer) and went downstairs.  Shabbat Shalom!


Posted in blessings, feelings, no man's land | 1 Comment

restless equanimity

I wish I could say I spent the time between being prescribed testosterone and actually getting the testosterone in some kind of humble, mindful, contemplative, equanimity.  I didn’t.  I was a walking bag of anxious irritation.  Hey, I’m nothing if not consistent.  I spent those weeks cantankerous and dyspeptic, feeling more than a wee bit sorry for myself.  I tried meditating, chanting and praying.  All to no avail.  The disquiet in my mind only pullulating (how’s that for a good word Kris?).  My friend Sharon labeled that inner turmoil *the committee*.  I think I’ve written about *the committee* before.  Whenever the angst in her mind became bedlam Sharon would stop herself and say out loud, “Hold on, the committee is meeting and making it very difficult for me to focus.”  That brief interruption and acknowledgement allowed her to breathe, giving her the opportunity to grab hold of the reigns of her emotional state.  I have used Sharon’s method for decades.  Stopping to breathe and labeling the discomposure in my heart and soul has helped me immensely.

Ram Dass has similarly acknowledged this phenomenon of inner turmoil.  It’s funny, I remember my initial introduction to Ram Dass.  I wanted to hate him.  He seemed like so many other entitled wealthy white guys, flippant about rules and casual about co-opting anything he so desired.  He was born a Jew, but became a self-appointed, unapologetic Buddhist-HindJew-Christian.  He didn’t seem to care that there were conflicting ideals within each of the faith doctrines he was subsuming.  He felt free to take what he pleased and discard the rest without the slightest hesitation or interest in confirmation from anyone else.  Fascinating.  I sometimes wish for that kind of authority of self.

Even with those initial feelings about Ram Dass, I eventually became a devotee.  One of the things I learned from him was to not become a connoisseur of clay feet – focusing only on the foibles of another.  Everyone has shortcomings.  And everyone, even with those shortcomings, has a message, is a teacher.  While I still feel that in some ways he will always be a wealthy, white, cis-male, his deepest desires come from a place of love.  His intentions are simply to embody love and live as love.  No easy feat if you’ve ever tried it.

I actually loved how Ram Dass talked about what he calls his *neurosis* (what Sharon and I might call *the committee*).  He described them as big awful overpowering thoughts that prevented him, in various ways, from living a contented life.  He tried drugs and meditation, gurus and therapists, ashrams and academia to try and rid himself of these demons.  When an interviewer asked how he had conquered them he simply laughed and said that he hadn’t.  He proceeded (laughing) to explain that he still possessed each and every one of the neurosis he began with.  He went on to say that while at once they were big huge scary monsters, he now experienced them as “little shmoos who came for tea”.

little shmoos coming for tea

As I wallowed through my irritation and burgeoning anger at the height of the testosterone debacle, I decided to try the Ram Dass method.  I was sitting in my office literally stewing in the juices of despair, mired in misery, head in hands, a veritable hot mess.  I looked up and said to the fetid air around me, “Oh hello little shmoo of suffering.  What can I do for you?”  The wave of embarrassment was at first unsettling.  Nevertheless, I persisted (wink).  Suffering didn’t answer, but gave way to a spark of sadness.  I took a deep breath and tried again.  “Hey, what’s up sorrow?”  I felt sort of, well, stupid.  But I have to admit, I noticed a slight shift, a subtle difference.  Acknowledging and naming my feelings has generally given me pause to reflect, offering the possibly to manage those feelings.  But talking to my feelings as if they were separate from me, actually gave me something else.  Distance.

From this perspective I was able to see and feel the feelings with a bit more space, more breathing room as it might be.  It also provided me with options.  Instead of having to manage my emotions in the moment, head on, I found I had choices.  The shmoos were coming for tea, but that didn’t mean I needed to let them in right then and there.  Or I could let them in, but I did not have to brew the tea.  Or I could let them in and brew the tea, but put it in a to-go cup.  And even if I let them in and brewed the tea and served it at my table, I need not sit down with them.  It was very empowering really.  And rather than raging against the shmoos, I was able to feel some compassion for them.

The shmoos didn’t actually stay for tea that day.  Instead of spending my time blockading the door against them, I busied myself setting the table to welcome them.  Perhaps they weren’t so very big after all.

Breathing deeply.

another rich white cis-guy with a message

Posted in feelings, in the spiritual realm, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

simplicity itself

I finally had my *follow up* appointment with the doctor.  It went pretty much as I expected.  She patiently (and slowly) went over the pros, cons, potential side-effects and whatever else of testosterone with me (again).  I sat literally on the edge of my seat, shaking with anticipation, itching to interrupt her.  I don’t know how I did it, but I sat quietly and let her finish.  I tried to think of new questions to ask, but truthfully, I didn’t have any.  I already knew everything she was saying (I could practically recite it verbatim myself) and I knew that this time I was going to say yes.

I felt giddy, like a kid who just reached 48″, big enough to ride the new, scary, fun, fast carnival ride.  Having clicked slowly to the top, experiencing that brief pause ripe with anticipation, excitement and a hint of fear.  There is no going back.  My insides felt like the inside of a blender on high speed.  With clammy hands and an bemused brain, I signed every piece of paper and initialed every paragraph required.  It reminded me a bit of signing a mortgage and I wondered what the payment plan would be like.

Throughout the paperwork signing, there were puffs of awareness of Emily that jolted me with anxious guilt.   We hadn’t actually had a discussion about this beyond her conceding that it might not be the worst thing in the world.  I felt felonious and ashamed when I thought of her.  But my overwhelming sensation was excitement as I watched the physician click her way through the prescription process, sending a virtual prescription to my CVS.

She turned from her computer screen, smiled at me and stood up as she said, “That’s that.  You should be able to pick it up on your way home from work.  Anything else?”  My entire being was smiling stupidly as I shook my head and thanked her.

I was on cloud nine, tingling with sanguineness, as I floated through my day at work.  Some time in the afternoon I heard the familiar *ding* from my phone that I’d gotten a text message.  It was from CVS.  As they don’t typically stock that prescription, I would have to wait 2-3 days for them to get it in stock.  They apologized for any inconvenience.  I sagged, but did not sink.  I knew it had sounded too good to be true, too easy, anyway.  And, to put things into perspective, this was not a life or death emergency situation.  I breathed and tried to relax.

When 3 days and then 4 and 5 had gone by, I called CVS to ask what was going on.  Apparently, they had gotten the testosterone gel in stock, but insurance was denying coverage.  CVS was looking into why and would update me when they had more information.

Another few days of obsessively checking my *MYCVS* app.  I called again.  It had been over a week.  This time I was told that my insurance was requiring an authorization (actually a pre-authorization) from my doctor before approving this *controlled substance*.  CVS hadn’t contacted me, because they were working on getting that pre-authorization from my doctor.  The pharmacist I spoke with suggested I also contact my doctor with the hopes of speeding up the process.

Back and forth between Fenway, CVS and insurance I went.  Days passed and my patience was waning.  Fenway sent the authorization.  Insurance said it was the wrong authorization, explaining that there was a specific form they required.  Insurance faxed that specific form to Fenway.  Fenway said they filled it out and faxed it back.  In the meantime, I still didn’t have my testosterone.

Another week went by.  I was a bear.  My patience was non-existent and my temper was fraying and escaping my control intermittently on innocent bystanders throughout my days.  I tried not to be a pest (something I am very sensitive to – God forbid I burden others with my insignificant desires), and even though I wanted to pepper CVS, my insurance and my doctor repeatedly with phone calls and emails, I didn’t.  I had only confided in one person (and that person wasn’t Emily), which left me feeling guilty, wrong and alone in my despair.  Perhaps the process was so difficult because the Universe was not-so-subtly telling me this was not a good idea?

When I’d nearly given up hope of getting anything resolved, I heard from one of the parties involved (I forget which one) that the pre-authorization form had been filled out and signed and faxed and received.  I was buoyed by hope, confident that things were starting to move.

But another few days passed with no new information.  After quite a bit of mental misery I forced myself to call again.  Apparently, there was still a glitch, one more small required hoop to jump through.  My insurance was requesting more recent blood work before they will sign off.  The Fenway blood lab opens at 8:00AM.  I will be there tomorrow at 7:59.


Posted in no man's land | 2 Comments

response and responsibility

I often know when something is not going to end well, when an idea, even in it’s germinating state, is not a good one.   We all do.  Those are the moments when my inner voice urgently entreats, “no good can come of this“.  Why I don’t heed this voice immediately I will never know.  I must be some kind of special idiot.  After more than a decade of absolutely no contact with my mother, I let her convince me that a teeny tiny bit of contact would be fine because she had seen the error of her ways and had changed.

I have always felt overly responsible.  Whether it was last year’s drought in Somalia or the starving children in Burundi (who somehow were supposed to benefit from me finishing my dinner), things were either my fault or up to me to fix.   That is as much in my genetics as my upbringing.  I am a type-A personality and a Virgo through and through.  But there is certainly more to my obsessive responsibility than nature.

Specifically and in general, I saw my mother’s state of un-well-being as my responsibility, if not my fault.  My mother’s emotional instability ruled our house.  Which meant we all lived in constant readiness (fear), waiting for that ever-present other shoe to drop.  Just about anything could send mother over the proverbial edge.  It was my role in the family to keep her from going over.  If she couldn’t find something she needed, if she stubbed a toe, cut herself, or got a scrape; if there was a spill, unexplained rip, tear or stain; if something didn’t go according to (her) plan, I had better find it, fix it, set it to rights.  Any of life’s little mishaps could set her off into paroxysms of explosive hysteria.  The reality was that my mother was (and is) mentally and emotionally unstable and there was/is no such thing as setting her or anything in her world to rights.  But for some reason I didn’t realize that.  I thought other mothers behaved this way too.  I honestly believed it was both my responsibility and within my power to calibrate her, regulate her, keep mother happy and calm and sane.  Which I only learned in adulthood was a futile, hopeless, impossibility.  Not to mention thankless.

It’s hard to describe, or sometimes even remember the tantrums now.  It’s hard to explain to others how terrifying it was.  An example that stands out in my mind:  One time, she bought herself fancy glycerin soap.  One of her many small indulgences.  The first time she used it in the shower it slipped from her soapy wet grasp.  When she bent to pick it up she banged her head on the faucet.  When the soap slipped from her hand a second time and she bumped her ass on the soap holder jutting out of the tile wall all hell broke loose.  She shrieked a blood-curdling howl that could have easily bested Jamie Lee Curtis.  With the ululation still reverberating in the back of her throat, she tore the glass and mirror sliding-shower-doors from their runner, hurling them across the small bathroom, to shatter on the floor in millions and millions of tiny pieces and shards of razor-sharp glittering glass.  More wailing and bellowing ensued, peppered with foul language that would have made a sailor blush, and palpable vitriol filled the house.  I had to find a way to get her safely across the floor and out of the bathroom.  Never mind having to figure out how to clean up that much glass.  That kind of tantrum-induced destruction and carnage was common.

The tantrums were epic and horrible.  But the constant threat of havoc hanging in the air was just as hellish.  While my father and brother each found ways of physically escaping, I was paralyzed.  I stood dumb, rooted in my place, like drivers on the highway unable to look away from the scene of an accident.  The difference between me and the highway gawkers was that I believed the “accident” was my fault and the clean-up my responsibility.

I felt challenged as well as burdened by the task.  I believed I could best my mother’s demons, saving her and us from the constant cloud of calamity that was ever-present.  I just had to do the right thing, devise the right plan.  I tried to predict, outsmart and head off any potential pitfalls and possible catalysts, that might let loose the impending doom.  I followed and created rules by which to live in order to keep that all hell from breaking loose.  I tried to imagine that the rules would keep me safe.  Yeah, Sisyphus was safe too.  But no matter how hard I tried to be good, to follow the rules, the conniptions came.  I was disappointed in myself every time.  Believing that if I just tried harder, if I were just a little bit smarter, better, faster, more well-behaved, funnier, craftier, I could have distracted her if not prevented it.  It became clear to me that the failure and fault were mine.  If only I’d done something differently…

As an adult I see that I was mistaken.  The peregrination of my adult life has been trying to figure out exactly what is and what is not my responsibility.  And that is a very hard thing.  Especially if you’re me.  As a child I felt both powerless and powerful.  It was all my fault, all my responsibility, but nothing I did was right.  It was so confusing.

In the few months I’ve been back in touch with my mother it has been an interesting game(sic) of who is responsible for what.  I must say that I have handily declined responsibility for her not having a relationship with my children (her grandchildren).  I have calmly reinforced the facts that had she been able to control her behavior or her temper she might have had a relationship with them, but unfortunately for her she had not.  I have calmly and repeatedly stated that I am not responsible for HER behavior or HER losses.  I’m definitely getting better at this.

Then her friend E (her only friend) died.  Now, E became my mother’s friend back when I was in high school when my mother had an affair with E’s husband.  No, I am not kidding you.  As I have said many times, you cannot make this shit up.  So my mother had an affair with E’s husband, which broke up their marriage.  And then subsequently, when my mother broke up with E’s then-ex-husband, she called E to commiserate about what an asshole he was.  This, of course, cemented their friendship (go figure).  And E and my mother have been friends ever since.  Regardless of the fact that my mother ruined her marriage, E was friends with my mother.  Regardless of my mother’s antics and drama, E has been her friend.  Despite my mother’s theatrics, and sometimes because of them (for the sheer entertainment value), E stayed friends with my mother.  Over the last several years they haven’t been as close or in touch as often.  But still, they were friends.

E died a few weeks ago.  I’d seen her a number of times over the last several years as she battled cancer and was in and out of hospitals (including the place I work) as both an old family friend and as a chaplain.  When my mother texted me to tell me E had died I had just found out myself.  A brief text interchange took place.  My mother told me in no uncertain terms that she was devastated.  I thought about calling her all that day or texting to see how she was doing, just to check in.  But I didn’t.

The next day I got a text from mother basically telling me I was a piece of shit.  She said I was a horrible person and a mean rotten daughter to have done nothing – not so much as a stinking text inquiring how she was, knowing she’d lost her only friend in the world.  After all the shit I had dumped on her these last few months (I have no idea what she was referring to, though I can only assume it was the the *burden* of telling her than I am trans), the least I could have done was to attempt to console her.

Well well well where do I even begin?  I know I am not responsible for her feelings.  Nor am I responsible for taking care of her or even comforting her.  But I like to think I am at the very least a decent human being.  Had anyone else lost their only friend in the world I most definitely would have (at the very least) checked in with them, sent condolences, blown them a kiss via text.  I feel badly that I didn’t even do that much.  Not that I am beating myself up for it (which is a big step for me in the right direction).  Instead I sent her a response text saying: I’m sorry you’re in pain and that you lost your friend.  For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I didn’t check in on you yesterday to see how you were.  It would have been kind of me to do so.  I am unclear however, why you need to lash out and spew anger or why you think that is an option.  It is neither an option nor a need.  Please choose another target.




Posted in family of origin, feelings, Uncategorized | 2 Comments


We had an interesting discussion with a friend at dinner the other night that sparked some interesting thoughts and feelings for me.  Emily’s friend Annie is a total sweetheart.  She’s a kind and very good-hearted person who has had more than her fair share of tough breaks.  Her partner of many years, with whom she has a child, left their relationship a few years ago.  And then in that same year Annie was diagnosed with breast cancer.  In that time she also lost a job.  Like I said, it hasn’t been easy for Annie.  She seems to be coming out the other side, but the going is still rough for her.  Anyway, she and her daughter (Nina’s age) came for dinner.

Now, as an aside and just to give you some background here, I would classify Emily as a *non-dealer*.  This is, of course, just my own classification system and there is no judgement, good or bad or right or wrong intended.  In my system, being a *non-dealer* means that if something is difficult or painful, Emily (in complete harmony with her family of origin) tends to act as if it simply isn’t happening, going about her daily business as if nothing is amiss, until it either goes away or becomes a crisis.  I saw this most clearly when Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer 5 years ago.  She was positively dispassionate.  She showed little connection to her cancer or the treatment.  I mean, the woman could have slept in once or twice or even whined a tiny bit!  She missed work exactly 2 days in two years of pretty grueling intense treatment.  But that’s just who Emily is.  This example is definitely the pro side of *non-dealers*.  *Over-dealers*, on the other hand (at the opposite end in my system), tend toward owning, living and sometimes wallowing in whatever difficulty they are encountering.  Annie tends more toward *over-dealer*.  She clung to her diagnosis and her cancer like a badge of honor.  She joined cancer groups and then survivor groups, going to cancer conferences and retreats.  Pink ribbons and “survivor” t-shirts abound and cancer defines Annie as much as her career, religion or personality.  It’s interesting, to say the least, to see Annie and Emily together.

At any rate, after dinner when the girls had gone off to play, Annie was telling us about the most recent conference for cancer survivors she’d attended with a relatively new girlfriend.  She told us about the workshops, the camaraderie, the spirit and the work of the conference and the many attendees.  She also told us about a new-ish category dubbed “co-survivor”.  Annie’s girlfriend adopted and eagerly owned this role of co-survivor even though she didn’t know Annie when Annie was diagnosed or treated for her cancer.  Annie shared with us her discomfort in a sort of “do I have a right to be irritated” kind of way at what felt like her girlfriend’s appropriation, annexation or perhaps hijacking of the survivor role.

Annie was saying how hard it was for her to listen to (never mind offering support or comfort to) her girlfriend’s sharing the burdens  and pain of co-survivorship with her.  Her girlfriend, who we’ll just call Kate from now on (because it is the first name that came to my mind just now), was wanting (or needing) to share throughout the conference week how difficult and painful it was to be a co-survivor.  And she shared her hard feelings with Annie.  Kate kept talking about her fears and her sadness etc with Annie (to the exclusion of Annie’s feelings as an actual survivor).  And Annie was like, “What the fuck?! I’m the one who had cancer?!”  She didn’t begrudge Kate the feelings she was having.  She just didn’t feel that SHE (Annie) could be the person Kate came to for that support.  Was she wrong for that?!

As Annie talked I found myself not only understanding what she was saying, but also feeling a similar thread beginning to take shape in my own life.  Yes, it was hard to be the partner of someone going through cancer and cancer treatment.  For so many reasons.  It was hard and painful and terrifying and exhausting for me.  Emily got all the cards and good wishes, the best of everyone around us.  And forbye, she gave the best of herself to everyone else.  It was only with me she could let herself fall apart.  With everyone else she was a strong superhero able to leap tall buildings and all that.  Watching her be so upbeat and imperturbable with others while saving the pain and heartbreak for me was hard.  Watching someone I desperately loved go through chemo and radiation and operations was agonizing, especially knowing I could do nothing to make it any better or easier.  Fearing that I would lose my soul’s love to this awful disease was excruciating and terrifying.  But I shared not one whit of any of those feelings with Emily either during her treatment or after.  Don’t get me wrong, I got plenty of support from dear friends during that time.  And I unloaded my burdens on Joyce and Sheila plenty and often during those years.  They listened to me cry and rage and whine and complain.  They laughed with me, cried with me and validated my reality as well as cheering me up and on and never faltering by my side.

But even if I didn’t have friends like them, it was never an option (in my mind) to share any of my difficult feelings about Emily’s cancer with Emily herself.  With Emily I was strong and calm, encouraging and supportive.  I wasn’t wonderful or perfect.  But I do have to admit those were some of my finer hours as a partner.  No matter how scared or depleted I was, I put on a brave face for Emily.  I guess I just figured she had enough on her plate, what with having to deal with actually having cancer.

As Annie was sharing how hard it was to hear and navigate Kate’s pain and difficult feelings about her cancer, I was sure and clear that I had done the right thing by not burdening Emily with mine.  And then something else clicked in me.  I realized that I have been having similar feelings being trans with a partner who is struggling with it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT comparing being transgender with having cancer.  What I’m saying is that the emotions and their ramifications have some similarities.  It isn’t like I realized I’m transgender and skipped to my lou like a dog with two tails living the damn dream.  This revelation has been painful, shame-filled and earth-shattering for me for several years now (please note the more than 100 whining, cringing, frightened and pain-filled posts on this blog alone!).  I have been wrecked and elated and everything in between.  This epiphany has bordered on apocalypse and rocked me to my very core.  And as I navigate all these minefield emotions myself, I can’t listen to or be supportive or understanding or comforting of the hard feelings Emily is having as a result of my proclamation.  I cannot shoulder the burden of someone else’s hard feelings because of me in addition to navigating my own emotions.  Does that make sense?

I’m not at all saying Emily isn’t entitled to her painful and difficult responses, reactions, pain and suffering in response to my disclosure.  I can imagine it would be staggering to be a lesbian in a lesbian relationship and then to find out who you thought was your female spouse actually identifies as male.  What a mind fuck!?  Her feelings are completely reasonable.  I get that.  And Emily has every right to her hard feelings (even if those feelings were not reasonable).  What I’m saying, similar to what Annie was saying about Kate, is that while Emily is entitled to her feelings, I am not the person she can or should go to in order to share her feelings and get support and or comfort for them.

I’m sure there are other arenas in life in which this dynamic happens.  Divorce for example?  In the meantime, it felt very ataractic to come to this understanding and to set a mental boundary.  There was something liberating, absolving me of my guilt and shame at not being able (or willing?) to be responsible for sorting out and taking care of such multifarious  and complex emotions that complicate my own.  In the event of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others?  Grist for the mill for sure.


Posted in feelings, no man's land, relationship | 5 Comments

enemy mine

Ever since reading Hillbilly Elegy something has been niggling at me.  It isn’t that I related to the poverty, misery or even the daily life situations of the hillbillies in Appalachia.  What I related to and what bothered me was not even 1% of the book and I would venture to say 99% of people who read the book missed it.  What struck me most was his difficulty (which he only mentions a few times and even then briefly) in forming and maintaining his own significant adult relationship.  Because his upbringing was fraught with adversarial and antagonistic primary relationships, he had no foundation on which to understand and then build a solid adult relationship.  And well, I totally related to that.  Being in a relationship with me is not for the faint of heart.  I know that.  It isn’t that I’m high maintenance necessarily.  It’s more like on any given day I am a piece of work.  I am my own exclusive battlefield.  Live my personal life as if on the front lines.  I am always on the defensive.  I am always postured and prepared for insult.

In many ways, I am my father’s son.  My father was gregarious and charismatic outside the house.  He made friends easily, was funny and fun to be with.  Most everyone liked him, considered him a friend.  At home he could be surly and distant.  He was quiet and kept to himself and had exactly zero patience.  He showed my brother and me a lot of affection but little of his feelings, who he really was inside.  Here’s a hug, ruffle your hair and go play outside kiddo.

I am a lot like my father.  I am gregarious and superficially friendly out and about, but prefer to be alone, quiet and keep to myself at home.  I love my family very much.  I am demonstrative with my children, but I do not share my deeper self with them or anyone else.  When I get home from a long day of constant and forced relating to others, the things I want to do most are crawl into a globulous amorphous cocoon of sweats, hunker down, and knit or read.  Preferably without interruption.

I’m just beginning to understand these behaviors as problematic; that just as much as I hate being interrupted out of my silent swaddle, my family hates my distance.  They genuinely want a piece of me, a real piece of me.  Which, for some reason doesn’t make any sense to me.  I’m hoping that it is through learning and nurture that I developed these poor habits slash defense mechanisms and not via inherent nature that I’m like this.  I understand that I’m not all that pleasant (to put it mildly) to be around at home.  I know this, because that’s how I felt about my own father.  I’d like to do something to change.  But change is hard when behaviors are based in fear and necessity, having developed for good reasons.

I learned to be like this, to protect myself, especially from those closest to me.  My mother is intrusive and without boundaries.  She is competitive, compulsive and critical.  She is also mean.  She is the epitome of a child mid-tantrum – saying or doing whatever they think will hurt others the most.  Her mentality of – anything I could do she could do better – only worked when she could outdo me.  If she couldn’t she would shame me into not wanting to do whatever it was I could actually do better.  I learned very early on that anything I said could and would be used against me.  If I shared a secret or a yearning I could be guaranteed it would be thrown back in my face as a reproach or to belittle me.  Being no dope I learned to keep myself secret.  My inner army always poised against breach.

My father was only slightly better in that at least he wasn’t mean or petty.  But his distance was palpable, painful, and told me in no uncertain terms that I was a bother most of the time.  He came from a home and culture that believed in “toughening kids up” by teasing and irritating and intentionally trying to aggravate them — albeit playfully(sic).  I believe the theory behind this was to learn how to deal with adversity at home from the people who supposedly loved you before having to face it in the harsh cruel world.  Not sure how well that worked.  Really, we didn’t do feelings as a family at all.  As kids if we were happy and joyous we were loud and obnoxious and told to simmer down.  If we were sad, we were told “don’t cry, it makes mommy sad”.  We were diverted from disappointment and distracted from difficulty.  Feelings just weren’t in the curriculum in our house.

My parents’ marriage was like a sparring match for half-desired dominance.  They weren’t a team.  They weren’t friends.  Gibes and digs, snipes and sarcasm made up the bulk of their relating.  Often it was done “in jest” and honestly they could be quite funny sometimes.  But as Shakespeare and others have told us more than once, many a true word is spoken in jest.

That playful bickering was also inherent in certain social strata of the times.  Lucy and Ricky were always going at it in just that same way.  The Brady Bunch was a constant battle of the sexes.  Actually, Nina recently stumbled upon a Brady Bunch episode and rolled with laughter.  I watched next to her horrified.  There was a scene in it where Mike and Carol realize they have to share a closet.  They set a hook in the exact middle of the closet so that each gets half.  They then spend the entire episode sneaking, first one then the other, into the bedroom to move the hook so that they get more room.  Of course it ends with Carol in tears because she needs more room for her *pretties* and when Mike gives in Carol looks duplicitously into the camera to show she’s actually played him like a fiddle.  It made my skin crawl.

The lessons I learned from my parents’ relationship?  Never let down your guard.  Even at home.  Any slight is intentional.  Especially at home.  There’s a weird kind of comfort zone when we experience as adults the environments we grew up in.  Even when they are toxic.  I’d feel more comfortable, confident, know how to respond if Emily would be snarky and mean to me.  When she is nice to me I am just suspicious and feel off balance.  When she goes out of her way for me, instead of “thank you” I respond “why”.

The best things Emily can say to me (and she probably has to say them far too often for her liking) are: I didn’t do it on purpose and It wasn’t intentional.  I’m open to the idea that she is telling the truth.  Or, at least to give her the benefit of the doubt.  Recently she found a soup slash chili recipe that I loved – healthy, delicious, veggie happiness.  I expected her to never make it again once I told her how much I liked it.  But she did make it again.  The third time she made it she used roasted corn (which I hate) and it completely ruined the soup for me.  I was sure she’d done it on purpose.  I know it’s stupid and petty and ridiculous and I’m embarrassed to admit it.  But there it is.  That’s how I expect to be treated.  In addition to Emily telling me that she didn’t do it on purpose or with any intent at all (it was all we had in the house), she went out the following day and bought all new ingredients to make the soup.  Just for me.

It’s going to take a lot of deep breaths and reprogramming, but I’m determined to try.  It is going to take a lot more effort, energy and intentionality than I am used to.  I’m going to have to choose to hear and experience things differently, to not believe the worst, to not let an insult fall into the rut of my brain that says ON PURPOSE.  I am choosing to do this because it is important to me and my family.  And because I believe I can change.



Posted in family of origin, feelings, my own worst enemy, relationship | 3 Comments