Youngest daughter, trip to the seashore
Youngest daughter, trip to the seashore
Many things from our childhood stay with us. As a kid, I was never into sports. In addition to being an only child, with no dad, I had very poor vision, that was undiscovered until I was ten, and not corrected until I was thirteen. As you might guess, I was the last chosen for any team. I never ran, and hated all forms of ball games. I pouted, frowned, shuffled, cried, and was generally a complete pill on any ‘team’ my p.e. teachers put together. I thought that Dodge Ball was a cruel hoax invented by evil teachers, and I found many animals in the clouds while I was standing in hot outfields, tuning out people yelling, “GET THE BALL!!!” On my own time, though, I learned to be a kid daredevil, climbing up scaffolding and defying death in many stupid ways.
Today the kids and I decided to play a bit of freeze tag, and then baseball. Our baseball is a tennis ball, and our bat is this broken orange thing that bends too much and is an over-sized plastic relic, really. Nonetheless, I enjoy these outings, and have a lot of fun. I get to feel like a good step-parent, and maybe it helps me feel a teeny, tiny bit better about not playing with my own kids more when they were little, being too concerned with housework or laundry.
Everything was great until my ten year old stepson yelled out, “LEE! YOU CAN’T EVEN CATCH!” Suddenly, I was nine again, being taunted by the kids on the kickball or baseball team, and I felt a lot of the same old rejected- loser feelings, and anger. I wanted to stop playing, to just go inside and say “screw it”. It was an immature impulse, and my adult sensibilities eventually won out, but it’s funny how some things stick with you, inside you. Dormant sparks of pain can be easily rekindled. I was surprised. It’s true. My catching and hitting are still pretty poor, and on some days these ‘skills’ are completely missing. I remember, though, that everyone seemed to be a critic and offer their opinions on my lack of ball-handling skills when I was a kid. I hated it, them, and mostly myself. I was always tough on myself anyway. I expected to be able to do things the older kids and adults could do, and nobody could convince me that I had to learn it over time. I was obviously a defect. At home, one step-dad or another was harshly correcting me on how to properly sit on the toilet or yelling at me for something, but from those male ‘father figures’, there was no love, and I never shed a tear when they and my mom would inevitably break up.
It took a lot of time before I got even remotely interested in any kind of sport. I was nineteen. It started with biking, hiking, and then tennis. I didn’t ever get good at tennis, but I really enjoyed it, and still do.
I have learned over time to be happy with playing, even without playing well- for the most part. But somehow, hearing a kid criticize me brought up all these old feelings of worthlessness, all because of not catching a tennis ball lobbed at me. Why?
Why should it matter or even bother me?
When we are kids, we are like wet cement, or little flowers. We are fragile, easily molded, or trampled. The things we experience shape our entire lives. If the majority of our experiences are positive, encouraging, and loving, we tend to feel a lot better about ourselves. When we feel good about ourselves, we are more confident, more likely to experience success, and that success fuels more likelihood of even more future success.
Some people have more natural pluck and resilience than others. Some might set out to resolutely prove their detractors wrong. Others believe the negative barrage, and live it out.
Interestingly, the things I was encouraged in were the very things I became the best at, but deep inside, I have always felt as though most people were more grown up and more competent than I. I have learned a bit about not comparing myself to others, but it’s still a challenge.
So, parents, coaches, friends, step-parents, grandparents, teachers; all of us: please, don’t criticize, tease and bully others. Don’t make people feel bad because they lack a certain skill. Don’t make such a big deal about it if someone you know and ‘love’ doesn’t perform a task at your level. Teach them, or let them be themselves. Not everyone is a natural athlete. Not everyone likes sports. Some of us like to read, write, and cook. Maybe, with love and acceptance, and a bit of encouragement, these people will excel in what THEY love. Help them discover what that is, and remember that the seeds you are planting today will keep sprouting, with deepening roots, forever. Kids are, well- kids. Stop trying to control their every move. Remember how powerful a gruff voice can be. Parents, correct and discipline with love as the motivation, not some twisted concept of creating someone in your own image, or worse, trying to create someone you wish you could have been.
Kids need time to grow, to learn, and to just be kids. Let them. Be patient. Accept them as they are.
Go enjoy every moment of the summer. Kick off your polished shoes and just relax with your family. Laugh, and remember what it’s like to be a kid.
About a week ago, the Daily Post offered up a tasty, psyche-probing prompt that asked us to tell of a time we felt helpless, and what we did about it. At once my mind both embraced the idea and recoiled at it. I had at least three completely helpless times in my life, and while they are compelling stories, I suppose, they would also be hard to talk about publicly. They are personal, painful times. I survived them, through my faith, and time. Some people may not want to know about those times. I would have to be brutally honest, not embellishing for effect, nor diminishing to reduce potential criticism.
I am still not sure I am ready to talk about all of it. Not here. But I will say that all of these helpless moments were resolved through a combination of inner strength, and a certain grace that I credit to God.
When my ex-husband and I divorced, it was a very painful time. It was not an amicable split. There was a lot of bitterness and pain involved. Worst of all, there were two kids involved. At a point before the divorce papers had been signed by the other party, who had been hiding from the person I had chosen to serve him with them, things took a very dark turn.
I was at my new apartment, typing a research paper for my class. I had a midnight deadline, and was just pounding out the last few citations, when I got an overwhelming sense of doom. I had a sudden, urgent need to go to my daughter’s. They were mostly staying with their dad, convinced that life with him would be better. I still didn’t accept that. But all I knew that night is that I HAD to get over there, midnight notwithstanding.
When I arrived, his SUV was not in sight, but every light in the house was on. As I approached the door, I could see my daughter’s backpacks on the floor, through the wooden and glass door. I thought I heard their voices. I began to knock and call out their names. It got very quiet. I continued to knock. No answer, but I felt that someone must be there. I got frustrated and anxious and tried to open the door. There had never been a top lock on the door. The knob turned, but someone had nailed the door shut from the inside on a metal hasp that was attached to the door but had no matching lock to go with it. The door opened 1/4 inch, so I could see that. This just really mystified me and got me pissed. I went around to the side door. Nobody had thought to lock it.
Now, my ex had told me about a week prior that he was taking the girls to Alabama for a ‘vacation’ at his parent’s. School was out for summer break, so I was OK with that, but a bit leery. I had a feeling he may take most of the summer with them. They would be 3,200 miles away. When I opened the door, what I saw were filled and half-filled boxes, messes everywhere, and there were photos and pictures pulled off of walls and stacked,. I also saw clothes on hangers lying on the sofa. My mouth dropped open. I was shocked. This was not a vacation! You do not pack boxes and pull portraits off walls for a vacation. I looked all around, calling out my girl’s names at the top of my lungs. I went upstairs. No sign of them. I began to think they had gone to the store with their dad. It was not uncommon for them to be out and about this late in the summer. My heart was pounding. He was planning on moving! I hadn’t served him papers yet, and he was planning on running off with the girls- for what looked like permanently.
I was beyond panic-stricken. I was nearly hysterical. I decided to just wait outside the house until they returned. They could not be far away, I reasoned. I had to talk to them.
In a few minutes, I saw my ex’s SUV cruising slowly up the street. I could see it was packed full of stuff. He pulled up to the curb, and I was able to confront him. He had made the kids hide in the upstairs bathroom, I found out later. He had been slowly loading up the car, and had parked down the street, to avoid me or process servers! He lied to me and told me they were spending the night at their cousin’s. It turned out to be a very long, horrible night. I ended up agreeing to marriage counseling because I begged and pleaded with him not to take the girls away. I would have agreed to anything to keep him from taking my daughters ! I had no intention of reconciling with this snake, but I was able to charm him into believing I would go to counseling. I made good on my word, though. A few months later, I did go to one counseling session, where I proceeded to call him out in front of the counselor, and tell him exactly why I had agreed to the counseling, and that I had no intention of continuing our marriage! By making that ‘deal’, I secured my kids for a few months, and was able to get him served.
He ended up taking them there again under the pretense of a vacation, but then enrolled them into school there! That was the third most helpless feeling of my life. He had prepared a loophole in the divorce decree that stated he could move ( if it furthered his career) over sixty miles away. He had actually been granted custody of our children! My older daughter was brought to the courtroom after we had agreed neither would be there. He had talked my older daughter into believing that he was going pave her future in gold. I had been made out as the family-breaking villain who ‘left the family’. Nothing was further from the truth. He had representation, and his brother was there with him- the brother who knew better than anyone what this man was like, and who had agreed with me- but in the end, proved the axiom that blood is thicker than water. The day I lost custody, a part of me completely died. This was, without a doubt, the most helpless feeling in my whole life. I couldn’t comprehend how the fickle opinion of my 13 year old swayed the judge. I couldn’t explain, out of fear and shock, why I wouldn’t tell every dirty laundry detail of what he was like aloud in court. I was not a druggie, alcoholic, or child abuser. I was scared, and helpless. I had no lawyer, and not one friend, not one- came to stand by me in court.
Years have passed, and the girls have learned a lot about their dad, and his empty promises. We have re-established a relationship that is much better now than the horrible one we had right after the divorce. At that time, it didn’t matter to them that I was ‘right’, or “justified”. They had believed the lie that I left THEM, not their dad. Despite my continual efforts to be with them, they often turned me down and chose not to be with me, parenting plan or not. I was too weak then to stand up for my rights, because I was scared. I was scared of him, and scared of pushing my kids away even more. That time was hell. Writing about it here has brought up a lot of old emotions I never want to feel again. Helplessness. Betrayal. Being misunderstood. I would love to tell you that everything has turned out great. I will say they have turned out well, but I will never get back the time I missed in their lives. I will never know the pain they felt, lying alone in bed at night, wondering why ” I left”. But I imagine it was a lot like my pain. I will never understand why they chose him over me, and why they alienated themselves from me. I ached and writhed in misery missing them so much. I went through a very early empty nest syndrome, and to this day, I am not quite sure how to be- my kids live together now, ages 19 and almost 18. They are both working, and pretty independent. I still get to help my younger daughter a lot, though, and I am very proud of the young women they are becoming. My older daughter is a successful composer, musician, and chef. My younger daughter has a huge heart, and is brilliant, sensitive, and adorable. She could sell air conditioning to Eskimos. I know they love me, and they know I love them. Their dad is still jobless, unhealthy, extremely overweight, and basically sad and unhappy. This gives me no happiness, but allows me to see that his condition was never my fault- though I was made to feel everything was always ‘my fault’.
So, I am happy, healthy, and loved today. I have a wonderful husband, and beautiful life. I have a good relationship with my daughters, and I have survived- thrived. Though he tried to crush me, and bury me, and almost succeeded, God managed to make something good out of the mess we created.
HAPPY 19TH Birthday, My Amazing, Adorable Ashlyn!! (October 18, 1993)
When the sun rises tomorrow, it will be 19 years that my daughter Ashlyn has been in this world. I think she has an old soul, though. Sometimes I think she would have been right at home in the late 1960’s-1970’s.
She reminds me so much of her dad, and of me, and yet so unlike us, too. The photo above is not my daughter, to the best of my knowledge, but looks SO much like her, and what she would do at the beach, that I had to borrow it.
She’s always been independent, fierce, tough, insightful, a bit stubborn, and exceptionally talented. She taught herself to crochet anything she wants after I taught her my pitiful chain stitch. She took piano lessons for about 2 years, and now has a CD out as a songwriter, composer, singer, and piano player. She picked up a paintbrush and on her first try, made amazing artwork. She can look at an empty space, and decorate it just to her style, however unconventional, and make it work. I think all her parent’s and grandparent’s talent passed through us and into her. It certainly skipped over me. But that’s OK. I can rejoice in her talents and abilities.
Inside her confident, sometimes stubborn exterior, there is a sweetheart with a very tender heart. She doesn’t suffer fools, however, and doesn’t always understand the value of agreeing to disagree.
She’s young, though. So much more to learn. And I have no doubt that she will learn.
Oh, in addition to the talents I have already listed, she is an amazing chef- going from a Baskin Robbins worker with heart to a sous chef in one of the best restaurants in town. She’s only 19. Without formal advanced education, she is already living the dream. She saves money better than I do, is smarter than I am, and the only thing I would change about her I don’t need to change- time and maturity will be all she needs.
Love You Forever So Much !! Mommy
Ah, the great American pastime of camping. The persistent smell of campfire smoke in your hair and clothes for weeks, the bodily injuries that linger, the true test of a family’s ability to get along and work together without killing each other.
Our camping adventure began well enough. We were all raring to go, and pulled out with my brother-in-law’s pick-up truck, fully loaded 196? camper trailer behind. Yep, each year that thing becomes more priceless- to be still fully functional at its age, with no maintenance whatsoever on it, year after year. You catching my drift?
So, almost 80 miles into the trip, it’s still early morning. We’re all having fun in the car. The kids are reading magazines and playing on the latest techno-gadgets to pass time. I am chatting and reading. The sun is coming up over The Gorge, and it’s going to be a beautiful day. Away now from the misty mountains of the coastal range, it’s starting to feel like a real summer day. The temperature is about 80 now, and it’s still only 8:30-9.
We start climbing. A chime in the cockpit sounds- the “CHECK GAUGES” light has come on. Our temperature reading is sky-high. We pulled over, checked everything out, could not readily determine a problem, and just sat and waited for the truck to cool. This began the pattern for whole trip, but my husband also very good-heartedly managed to change/remove the thermostat, change out the water pump, and ultimately the radiator, all during this trip. This involved many stops along the highway, many ‘cooling breaks” as my stepdaughter described them, and turned an 8 hour trip into a 15. The radiator didn’t get fixed until the first day at camp, but that’s a separate story. So, before we finally gave up on getting to camp that night, we were driving through an amazing electrical storm in eastern Oregon. The area is high and dry , and a lot of times these lightning strikes cause brush and wildfires. The show was spectacular and a little scary, but not as scary as the “Whack- thump, thump,swerve, whack thump” of a trailer tire blowing. So, on the side of the highway, my amazing husband and mother-in-law jacked up the trailer and put the spare tire on the camper trailer.
We were all exhausted by the time they had finished. It was nearing 10:30, and we had left home at 5:30 a.m. We stayed at a decent Holiday Inn Express, all taking turns getting showered.
The next day, we left early, to travel most when the temperature outside was still at its coolest, and despite getting hot, we didn’t have to stop too often, and when we did, we made the best of it. We pulled the camp chairs and coolers out – and had snacks and drinks on the side of the road. We had great views and quite a few nice people offered to help. We told them thanks, but we just had to wait to cool down. Our last stop was near a really nice flowing creek. We all played in it a bit and cooled off. The dog loved it, too. I actually shaved my legs with lotion, creek water, and a towel on the side of the road, ignoring the taunts of “wow, how redneck can you get”, that were aimed my way. ‘Hey- I am making lemonade out of lemons, just like YOU SAID, so never mind!”.
The next few days of camping were a mixture of great fun and torture combined. I am still waiting for my knee canyon to heal- I took quite the spill on my bike race through the marina parking lot, hit a curb too hard, and splatted. The lump on my head is gone, but the road rash from Hell and knee gouge remain.
Everyone was tested to keep their stamina and sanity throughout the trip, but nobody killed anybody else. I have to say that it took me a good 4-5 days of work to rest up from vacation…
Next year, I am thinking Spa Retreat…
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