Laughter: Mother’s Medicine

“I’m so mad!”  My nine-year-old self slammed the front door and stomped down the hallway to the kitchen, where my mother was constantly positioned.  My little sister sat at the table, her legs swinging contentedly as she finished off a fresh baked cookie and glass of milk.

“Well, hello!” my mother responded.  “Not a good day?”

“That Chet Tesney makes me so mad, I want to kill him.”

Mom looked me up and down.  “Looks like you already did.”

“Not today.  I got in a scuffle with some kids at the bus stop.”

My mother sighed.  “There are cookies or muffins, but you are not to touch the pie until after dinner.  I’d wash up first if I were you.”

Catching myself in the mirror, I saw that I was a real sight.  I pulled a twig and a piece of leaf out of my matted hair, and washed the muddy scrape on my cheek.  Both hands, caked brown, were red beneath.  Looking down, I saw the stockings I had put on this morning now had a big hole in one knee, and mud was caking on more than one place on my clothes.  Stripping off the dirty clothes, I ran upstairs to change.

“How was school today?” My mother asked cheerfully as I helped myself to a warm cookie and pulled up a chair.  My sister had wandered off.

“Okay, I guess.  We were picking parts for the class play and that Lesley Mann got the main role again.  I hate her, it’s not fair!  Mom!  Jane has my favourite Barbie!  Put that down you little brat!”

“Girls!  Play nice.”  Mom seldom skipped a beat from her dinner prep.  She wouldn’t intervene.  I sighed.

“School is so unfair!  Miss P. said we’d be able to pick our topics for the history project, but Michael and David picked the same as me, so now I have to choose something else.  I hate school!  Now, she has my Barbie car, too!  Moooommm!  She’s going to break it!”

“Shreeeeeeaaaakkkkk! my sister screamed as I tried to retrieve my treasures.

“She won’t hurt it.  Let her play.  Why don’t you play with her?”

“It’s not fair!  You always take her side.  Why don’t you support me for once?!”  I could feel the rage inside me boiling over.  I wanted to hit someone and fast.

“Tee hee.  Ha ha.  Ho ho.”

“Don’t you start, Mother!”

“Ha ha, ho ho, he he, ha ha ha.”

“Mom, I mean it!”

“Ho, ho, ho, ho, ha ha ha ha ha ha, he he he he he he, ho, ho.”

Giggle.  “Mom, don’t make me!  He, he.”

“Heeee, heeee, hoooo, hoooo”  The laughter was so contagious I couldn’t help but join in.  Soon we were laughing so hard we could hardly catch our breath.

“What’s so sunny?” my four-year-old sister couldn’t say her ‘f’s, sending us into another howl, until the tears rolled down our cheeks.

“It’s not sunny!”  But it was!

“Oh, I’m going to pee my pants!”  Doubled over, my mother ran for the bathroom.

We laughed some more.  By the time the laughter subsided, I couldn’t remember what I had been angry about.

This is the gift of my mother.

 

The Nature of God

I heard a story years ago that merits repeating here. (These are my words, not the original.)

A three-year-old asked to be left alone with her newborn sibling.  The parents, obviously, denied her request, but when she kept persisting, the grandparents suggested that the baby be put in the crib, and a monitor in the room turned on so that they could listen in.  The adults were curious.  As soon as the little girl thought they were alone, she whispered to her new brother:  “Quick, tell me about God.  I’m forgetting already.”

Imagine if we could all remember where we came from.  If God was not a mystery, but one evolving, omniscient force to which we all were consciously attached.  Imagine how that would change the world.

Yet, we do not have such memory.  We have opinions, speculation: faith.  Some would kill for their convictions, even without proof.  God is a super-charged, elusive concept that can empower, or stifle life, depending on human interpretation.

I don’t know anymore than the next person about the nature of our origins, but I do know this: looking into the eyes of my newborn granddaughter there is a presence of something beyond the innocence of her being.  Watching her approach life with such enthusiasm and hunger, makes me believe that there is an innate wisdom there that surpasses our mundane knowing.

I have more questions than I’ll ever have answers.

Risking Excellence

I am with my son’s friend, and we are headed to meet John downtown where he will be competing in a skateboard competition.  John is a very gifted skater and the odds are good that he will win, but he is nowhere to be found.  As time passes, I feel more and more anxious that something has happened to him, and begin to search in closets and corners, anticipating I am going to find him dead.  Suddenly, a car pulls up, dumps a body, and squeals away.  A crowd gathers, and as I make way through, I know it is John.  He is not dead, but severely beaten, enough to stop him from competing.

I wake up,  immediately afraid for my son, but once I am conscious enough to remember the focus of today’s writing, I realize the dream is about me.

I was eight-years-old when school officials began to pull me out of class and subject me to a series of tests.  “She is gifted,” they told my parents,” and we would like to accelerate her one grade and enroll her in a special class with her peers.  She will have to attend school across town, and transportation is not provided.”

My mother didn’t know what to think.  I was a girl, and according to her, girl’s who were smart did not do well in life. (Doing well, in my mother’s eyes, was being a stay-at-home mom with a husband who made a lot of money.)  My father supported the decision.

Gifted children often feel like an anomaly, and I was no exception.  I knew I didn’t fit in at the regular school, but I somehow always felt like they made a mistake with me and I didn’t belong in the gifted class either:  these kids were so smart and, well, geeky.  I didn’t think I fit the mold.  Academically, however, I thrived.  The self-contained classroom was far more engaging and intellectually stimulating.  I loved school!

After school was another matter.  While I was driven across town each morning, I had to take two city buses home each afternoon, arriving long after my old classmates had been dismissed for the day.  The bullies waited for me, and I soon became game for their taunting, and physical abuse.    When we moved out of town in the middle of grade eight, I was thrown in with the regular population and the rift was apparent.  A town thug was hired to beat me up one day after school.

I learned to hide my abilities, and refrained from competing with others.  I developed the expectation of being beaten, both literally and figuratively.

As I’ve mentioned before, John shares my introspective side – that part of me that doubts, questions, and turns things over and over.  The friend that accompanied me in the dream suffers from depression and delusions.  I have that side to myself also.  Combine the introspection with the inability to see beyond negative thinking and there is an expectation of futility:  why try?

John is a gifted skateboarder, and if the dream was real, I would encourage him to hire a bodyguard and go for it.  By objectifying the issue, is the dream telling me the same?  While you may have been beaten at times, you still hold the same bright potential, so don’t give up.  Just let go of the expectations.

A Serene Marriage

I have been invited to Scott L’s house and even though I haven’t seen him since high school, I am excited.  I first met Scott in grade school, and fell in love immediately.  While we would be best of friends throughout our school years, our love would never blossom. I am hoping the invitation now means that he is ready to reciprocate feelings and we will be together.  I arrive at his home to find my cousin Serene.  I am delighted to see her, and surprised that she and Scott know one another.  Scott is not here yet, and while we wait for him, we are connecting the dots.  How they know each other and why Serene is here. It turns out that they are about to get married and that is why I have been invited.  I try to be happy for them, as I love them both, but I can’t help but feel disappointed.  I have wished for this for so long.

We’ve all had those dreams of unrequited love from which we awaken sure that we are missing something that only the other person can give us.  Wishful thinking is one of the evils that spiritual teachers will caution against.  While the emotional pull is so strong, the temptation is only that:  a threat to the self.

There is no moment but now, and how we respond to what we have is all that counts.  The more I dream about a love that never was, but could be, or wish for that perfect job, or dream home, or other life, the less I am contributing to my current circumstances.  I am unhappy because I am choosing to be.

When we remember an old love, we are remembering a person frozen in time, unchanged.  We have not allowed for the fact that they, like us, have lived life, suffered losses, had successes, and built lives for themselves.  We are not considering that their current life and self may not even resemble the person we once knew.  Wishful thinking is all about the ideal and nothing to do with the reality.  It is wasted energy.

If I look at the dream metaphorically instead, I will consider what I loved about these two people and how fitting this dream is for my life today.  Scott was loyal, straightforward, and trustworthy.  Serene is bubbly, optimistic, and warm.  If the Scott part of me, the loyal, trustworthy side, were to marry the fun-loving, warm side what possibilities could that open in my life?  Well, I finally made the commitment last night and joined Weight Watcher’s.  Could this mean that with the right level of commitment and attitude, I can make it work?

Sounds like a marriage of success!  Now, that I can get excited about.

Racing Towards The Abyss

Ice, c’est Radio Canada.  Il est neuf heures quinze, et maintenant…..

“9:15!  If traffic goes my way I can be at work by 9:30, and with a half hour lunch, be done by 5:00”, I calculated while racing through the yellow light.  My day had started early with a brisk power walk to get me going, a quick shower, breakfast for the kids, then off to morning French class at the University.  Fortunately for me, my job offered flex time, so I could catch the early class before starting my shift.

I strained to catch the gist of the radio program.  Something about the funding of English schools in Quebec, and a debate about immersion.   A hole opened up in the line of traffic to my right and I weaved around the slow driver in front of me, just grabbing the tail end of a yellow to turn the corner and enter the parking lot.  I would make it to my desk with two minutes to spare.

“Bonjour!”  I greeted my co-worker on the other side of the cubicle.  I had been thinking in French since I left school, and forgot to switch back.  “When is my mind going to shut off?” I wondered.  It seemed like it was always racing these days, but I did have a lot to juggle.

I landed this job in early February, at a time when most corporations were not hiring.  I got lucky.  Just as the receptionist was turning me away, the Human Resources Manager was walking into the room and caught my eye.  “What are you looking for?” she asked.  “Can you speak French?”

“As a matter of fact, I can.”

“Follow me.”   She grabbed some papers off a nearby desk and led me into a conference room.  “Write these tests,” she said pushing the papers towards me.  “There is a job freeze on right now, but if you do well, I’ll keep your name on file.”

The call came that same afternoon asking me if I could come back for an interview.

“No one has ever scored so high on the tests”, she said.  “We’d like you to start right away.  There is an eight to ten week training program you’ll have to do first in Toronto.  We’ll put you up, all expenses paid.”

I was both excited and anxious.  I hadn’t worked full-time since the my first baby was born, and I while I was happy to be able to provide for the family again, I wasn’t sure how we’d all manage.  I’d made the promise to my husband though, that I would support the family while he took some time off to establish a new business.  He hadn’t been happy for some time, and so we decided to swap roles.

I completed the course in five weeks, wanting to reduce my time away as much as possible.  A year of training on-the-job proceeded the initial training.  I was exceeding all expectations within months and at the approval of my manager enrolled in a fourth year French course to be paid for by the company.  A pay increase followed as I was now their bilingual representative.  I was moving up in the world.

My husband was not having the same success.  Caring for the house and children turned out to be harder than he thought, and he finally admitted that it just wasn’t “his thing”.  I found a sitter, resumed the cooking, housework, shopping, and laundry. He bought himself a race car. He was looking into starting a mail order business.  Worrying that my income wasn’t enough, I picked up a job working weekends at a restaurant.

Sometime in the middle of all this, my oldest sister’s health took a turn for the worse.  The doctor’s wanted to hospitalize her, but she refused, saying she wanted to die at home.  A nurse was assigned for eight hours a day, but she needed around the clock care.  In the beginning, the family rallied around, and we all did our part, but that was waning.  Now it was only my mother and I who were committed to seeing her through.

“Can I see you in my office?”  My boss’s voice brought me back to the moment.  I followed her brisk walk down the hall.  “I have been reviewing your work and there are a few areas for improvement.”

I couldn’t believe it.  “I don’t understand,” I protested.  “I thought I was meeting all the quotas.”

“You are,” she said, matter-of-factly.  “There is always room for improvement.”

Driving home from work that night, I felt particularly exhausted.  What more could I do?  I arrived home to realize I had forgotten to pick up the kids.  It was Wednesday night.  Stuart wouldn’t be home till late.  He was meeting with the car club.

Don’t ask me what happened next; the night, like many others, passed in a blur of cooking dinner, trying to keep the kids from killing each other or themselves, completing homework, baths, and then bed.  Then when my husband got home, I’d grabbed my schoolwork and headed to my sister’s for the night shift.

I don’t remember Thursday at all.

Friday, Stuart headed off to the racetrack for the weekend.  He’d be gone five days.  It was the Thanksgiving long weekend.  Even though he had a cell phone, he didn’t anticipate it would work where he was going, and the track did not have a contact number.  I would not hear from him again till Tuesday evening.

It was later than usual before I got all the kids to bed that night, and even though I still had work to do, I just couldn’t face it.  I decided to go to bed early.  I was asleep within minutes, but not for long.  I was jolted out of my sleep by an all too familiar image – myself alone with the children, living in a townhouse complex.  Although I had dreamt of this place many times, with no emotional attachment, this time I woke up crying.  What was wrong with me?  The tears just wouldn’t stop.

Saturday was recreation day, and each of the children were enrolled in different programs.  Marie was taking art, Ester dance, and John was attending some sports clinic, all held in the same building.  This had been our Saturday morning routine for two months now, but somehow after I loaded us all in the car, and set out on our way, I could not remember where we were going.  I drove up one street and down another, and with each miss, grew more and more anxious.  Ester began to scream in the back seat.  Marie asked me what was wrong.  I didn’t know.  I started to tremble.  The tears started to come again.  I turned the car around and headed for home.  Our street ran off a main road, and all I had to do was turn left and we’d be there, but suddenly, I froze, mid-intersection:  mind, body, and emotions no longer under my control.  Ester screamed louder and the other two began to cry.  A siren flashed behind me and a police officer stepped up to the driver’s side.

“Is there a problem, Ma’am?”

I looked at him through a flood of tears.  “I don’t know where I am.”  I handed him my license.  He was young, and I could just tell he hadn’t expected this.

“Ma’am, your license says you live just down this street.  Do you want me to follow you there?”

“Yes, please.”  I don’t think I’d ever felt so humiliated.   We crawled down the street and into the driveway.

“Is there anybody you can call?” he asked.

“I don’t think so.  My husband’s away, and my sister’s dying, so my parents aren’t available.”

“Well, you need to call somebody.”

“Thank you, officer.  I will.  I’m so sorry to have bothered you.”

In the end, I called my Dad.  Between choking sobs, I told him I needed help.  He came right away.

That was the day I discovered that I have limits.  In those days we called it a breakdown, but in retrospect it was a breakthrough:  the beginning of a new way of being, one that took me out of the rat race.

(Image: fineartamerica.com)

Children As Mirrors

When I think of my grandchildren – one now six months, and one on the way – my heart swells and tears fill my eyes; I love them so much.  I hope that I have extolled upon my daughters that children are a blessing to be cherished.

One thing I can tell them is that children will be their greatest teachers.  Honest, straightforward, and ever curious, children will tell it like it is, question inequities, and challenge everything.  Like little parrots, children repeat what they hear, and mimic gestures and behaviours.  They will also reflect the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My moment of revelation about how intrinsically linked mothers and children are came when performing therapeutic touch on the mother of a boy with severe autism.  His constant spinning and screaming was a source of anxiety for the young mother seeking my help.  She had hoped I could calm him, however; he was not receptive to staying still, so I offered her a treatment instead.  Amazingly, as soon as the mother began to relax, so too did her son.

All the way home, I thought of my own children, and questioned how many times their anxiety or distress was merely a reflection of my own emotional imbalance.  Over time, I had to admit there was a definite link.  If I would return home tired and distraught, that would be the time my children were acting up.  If I was feeling happy and positive, the children would reflect that back.

In therapeutic touch we have an analogy that the therapist is like a tuning fork:  when s/he is centered and grounded then the client can follow suit.  The same goes for children.

Another way of looking at this, is that children are mirrors for their parents.  When my oldest, Marie, is being impulsive, she is reflecting my own tendencies.  When Ester is feeling anxious, or John is burdened by being overly introspective, they are exhibiting the very traits I myself struggle with.  The challenge for me, as parent, is to a) take ownership of my shortcomings, and b) work to heal them so that my children can do the same.

Children are teachers because they offer us the opportunity and the incentive to become better people.

Grandchildren teach us how to fall in love all over again.

I’m so glad I enrolled in the school of parenting!

Mickey Mouse Meets Gestalt

Looking out from under the big white wooden chair, I can see Mickey Mouse approaching with a kettle of boiling water.  He’s going to pour the water on me, and even though my family are all around, and I am screaming, no one notices. 

“I had this dream repeatedly as a child, from about the age of five.”

“What is the significance of the white chair?”

“My father used that chair to teach us how to skate.  We had to push it around the rink until we learned to stay up on our own.  I remember being very frightened, because my father wasn’t a patient man and I didn’t want to upset him.”

“What would happen if you upset him?”

“He would yell, call us names, tell us how stupid and incompetent we were.”

“Why Mickey Mouse?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve often wondered about that.  Mickey Mouse would have been the prominent cartoon character back then, and I loved watching the Mickey Mouse Club on TV.  I really wanted to be a Mouseketeer.”

“In Gestalt therapy, the belief is that each aspect of the dream represents a part of you.  Would you be willing to try something with me?”

I nod.

“I want you to put yourself back in the dream and let me guide you.  Imagine you are five years old again, and let me know when you can picture the scene.”

I close my eyes and remember.  “Okay.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Frightened, very frightened.”

“Tell me what’s happening. Talk it out.”

“Mickey Mouse has a kettle of boiling water and he’s going to pour it on me.  I scream, but no one is paying attention.  I can see my Dad and my sister Joanne, but they are not looking my way.”

“What do you want to say to them?”

“Help me!  Help me!  Can’t you see I’m in trouble?  Somebody stop this from happening!”

“Tell them what’s happening.”

“He’s going to hurt me.  That man is going to hurt me.  Please, somebody stop it!  Listen to me!”

“Tell them what you need.”

“I need you to hear me.  I need you to see what’s happening. I need you to see me.  Nobody sees me….”  I break off crying.

“Tell me why you are crying.”

“My childhood home was very chaotic.  There was always lots of fighting going on, and although I don’t remember much of the early years, my mother says I was always tossed over the fence to the neighbour’s house, so they could look after me. ”

“Why do you think this dream has stayed with you?”

“I never felt like I mattered in my family growing up.  There was so much going on that I felt insignificant.”

“In every family there is a rivalry for attention.  How did that play out for you?”

“Well my oldest sister was always sick, so she got most of the attention, and my next sister withdrew into herself, and later we found out she was schizophrenic.  My youngest sister was a handful, throwing tantrums and being difficult to get along with.  I tried to stay out of the way, and not cause any more trouble.”

“So what did you try to do to get noticed?”

“Achieve.  I tried to be the smartest and the most successful?”

“How did that work for you?”

“It didn’t.  I never felt like I could be good enough, and when I did do something worthwhile I got shot down for bragging about it.”

“Do you still feel that way?”

“Not so much.  I’ve struggled with not feeling good enough, but I don’t need the glory anymore.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“Maturity.  Life experience.  When I first learned how to do Therapeutic Touch I did a lot of volunteer work, and I soon realized that there were many people whose lives were worse off than mine, and that by giving a little bit of my time, I could make a difference.  It felt so amazingly rewarding to help another, that I realized how unimportant everything else was.”

“So what would you tell that little girl today?”

“Well, first of all, I’d reach in under that chair and offer her my hand; then I’d pull her to me and give her a great big hug and tell her that I love her.”

“Tell her as if she is here.”

Come on, Sweetheart, lets walk away from all this commotion.  You are okay now.  I am here, and I can see you, and I’m not going to let that man hurt you. 

Why doesn’t anyone see me?

Because they can’t right now, Honey.  They can only see their own pain, but that doesn’t mean you’re not important.  You matter very much. 

Are things going to get better?

Eventually, but not for a long time.  But I want you know that you will be okay.  You will be better than okay. 

Why are you here?

Because I think it’s important that you know you are perfect just the way you are. 

“Do you feel better?”

“I feel like I have had a breakthrough.”

“How so?”

“I understand now that the little girl in me sought attention for a long, long time, and I don’t need to do that anymore.  It feels lighter.  Achievement is good in and of itself.  The need for glory only taints it.”

“And Mickey Mouse?”

“Well that’s just what we become when we seek out fame and fortune, I guess.  Burned.”

 

Dream House

There is a house that I often visit in my dreamtime.  I am either thinking about buying it, or have just moved in.  It is set in the country, high up on a bluff overlooking the water.  It is not a new house, nor does it stand alone; it shares the quiet street with other houses, different from itself.  Tall trees line the street, and green sloping lawns surround the house.  The setting is idyllic, but I have concerns about the house.  Sometimes the house appears as a yellow brick, two-story, older style home; other times it is a small white raised ranch.  Every time, I worry that the house is not big enough for comfort.

When I enter, the main living area appears cosy, and has a certain charm.  It is liveable, I think to myself.  Then I look around, and am amazed to find that there is so much more to this house than I first thought.  Always there is a second kitchen and living area, as well as endless bedrooms and bathrooms.  I awaken with a feeling of pleasant surprise and a longing to explore more.

* * * * *

None of the houses, nor the setting in the dream are places I’ve been to in my lifetime, however; there is a certain familiarity.  The setting is a feel good place:  quiet and serene, and off the beaten path.  Years ago, as a single mother, I used to drive up to the lake and admire the houses on the bluff, wishing one day that I could live there. I would dream of a simpler life, where I could be close to nature, and write.

The old, yellow house reminds me of a rental property my former husband and I bought, hoping it would be an investment that we would profit from.  The house turned out to be a money pit and a bit of a nightmare.  We just didn’t know enough about real estate values at the time.

The white house reminds me of the home my parents bought at the lake for their retirement; a home that became a wonderful gathering place for friends and family.

Often, I think the house in my dream represents me:  aging, and plain on the outside, although surrounded by beauty and comfort.  Inside, I appear uncomplicated at first, yet there is more to me than even I know.  I love the idea that there are many more rooms to discover within.

 

 

 

Life’s Treasures

I have thought of my life as a rally race, in which I am driving blindfolded and without a navigator.  There have been many bumps in the road, and several turns, but a whole lot of discovery.  One of the greatest treasures I have encountered on my journey is compassion.  I stumbled upon it unintentionally.

I have always approached life with passion and courage.  At five, my peers would ask me to form an army against the neighbourhood bullies.  Fearlessly, I would lead the confrontation, ready to fight.  At eight, I had a reputation for beating anyone who crossed me.  I gave up the physical battles by thirteen, but anger still lurked just below the surface.

At twenty, I applied for a job in customer service, only to be told I was too intimidating.  I ended up in collections.  An attitude of judgment closed me off from others.  Life was a battlefield, and my sword was raised.

Then, at twenty-eight, something happened.  The walls around me came tumbling down to reveal a highly sensitive and intuitive side.  It is impossible, I discovered, to empathize with another, while holding judgment.  Opening my heart in empathy, unlocked compassion.  The world suddenly became kinder, warmer, and more loving.  I laid down my sword.

Compassion without limits, I would learn, can be detrimental.  I felt so wholeheartedly for others, that I forgot about my own needs.  Conservation was the next treasure I needed to find in my life quest.  The ability to establish boundaries, and set parameters on how I expended my compassion.  Life is about balance, and while there are limitless opportunities to help others, I do not have limitless energy.  Free will dictates making healthy choices.  I understand, but have not fully incorporated this treasure.

The last gem I am just uncovering, although I still have a lot of digging to do.  It has been a hard road to come to the realization that I do not have to be the first, the best, or the only.  I am not sure, but I suspect, that it relates to my sense of not being good enough.

 

 

A work in progress.