Random Memories from Childhood and What They Taught Me

Children are very impressionable.

Children are very impressionable. A flip, sarcastic remark may become a life lesson for them, rightly or wrongly. Here are some lessons that I learned growing up. Some I have worked very hard to unlearn.

I had taken a magic marker and doodled “bad” words on my white Keds. Given my age, around 5, they were probably shockers like, “poopy head” and the like. My mother wasn’t thrilled, though. But she hated confrontation. We went to the grocery store and I was wearing them. After we had loaded the groceries into the trunk, I was getting into the back seat and one of my shoes fell off in the parking lot. I said, “Hold on, Mom! My shoe fell out of the car!” She sped away, saying we were in too much of a hurry to go back, and that there were other cars in the parking lot wanting her to move. Lesson: Adults can lie when it suits their purposes.

We were trailer camping, and the camp manager came up and told us to stay inside, as a man had broken out of a nearby prison. We heard helicopters and saw flashlights in the distant woods. But I had brought no toys or books (I was about 7) and after about an hour I got really bored, and I begged my mother to let me at least go outside and sit at the picnic table. She let me, because she got tired of my whining (which from my adult perspective was a horrible solution), and I went out there and sat in the dark. Then I saw a man walking toward me out of the fog. So I got up, went to the trailer’s screen door, and it was LOCKED. I didn’t want to yell for my mother, because I was afraid I’d draw the man’s attention. So I stage whispered, “Mom, let me in!” and scratched at the door. She was sitting right there, lost in her book. I could see her. She had to have heard me. She was just annoyed that I had been such a pain earlier. “Mom!” I was convinced I was about to be killed or taken hostage. Then the guy walked up behind me and said, “Ma’am, you should keep your daughter inside.” She let me in. I have never been so scared in all my life. And I also learned that my mother was indifferent to my needs at the best of times. I pretty much had to raise myself. When I look back at some of the emotionally neglectful and/or downright irresponsible things she did to me as a child, I’m horrified and disgusted. And kind of proud that I survived.

A teenaged boy, at the swimming pool, once put his hand on my head and pushed my ten-year-old self under the water and locked his elbow while I underwater screamed and struggled. If he hadn’t let me up, I would have drowned. I ran home and told my mother, and she didn’t take it seriously. I learned two things from that one. If a guy wants to kill you, you’ll be dead. And when the sh** hits the fan in my life, I’d be on my own.

When, at age 13, I finally told my mother that my stepfather had been sexually abusing me, she said, “You’re making too much of it.” Lesson: My safety mattered to no one but myself, and grown ups live in convenient little fantasy worlds and can’t be counted on.

My mother had gotten herself a brand new aluminum cake cover. I noticed that if you held it by the handle on top and thumped it, it made an amazing “bong” sound. I was 8, and was also experimenting with my cassette recorder. She wasn’t home, so I decided to record a home cake cover concert. When she returned, I proudly played the recording for her. When she discovered my instrument of choice, she went into the pantry to find her cake cover covered in dents. I had been enjoying the sound so much I hadn’t even noticed the results. Lesson: Not everyone finds joy in the same ways that you do. (And also that when I’m in the zone, everything else tends to fade away. That’s still true to this day.)

My sister, twisting a half a grapefruit in my face and laughing as I screamed and cried. From that I got that my sister (who was 9 years older) genuinely did not like me at all, to the point of taking delight in my humiliation, so I must not be likeable. (She likes me now, and always loved me. But I struggle to feel liked by anyone to this day, and while this incident wasn’t the primary reason for that, I’m sure it didn’t help.)

My other sister, 10 years older than me, got chronic kidney infections. One day she looked at me and said she may have to take one of my kidneys someday. I was 8. It made me feel as though I had no autonomy, even over my own body. (And let’s face it. As a woman, I still feel that way quite often.)

A more lighthearted one. I was sitting in the kitchen with my stepfather. There were about 3 flies buzzing around. He told me he’d give me a nickel for every fly I swatted. So I propped open the door and let in more flies. From this I learned that it pays to think outside of the box.

Lessons can come at you from all directions. They may not always be the right ones, unfortunately. You, too, are teaching, even when you don’t realize it. So it’s important to be thoughtful with your words, kind with your deeds, and make sure everyone feels safe and heard. Anything less can cause a lifetime of destruction.

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The Teddy Bear Boy

He was very quiet, and seemed a little sad.

About a decade and a half ago, one of my coworkers, Don, asked me if I would be willing to rent a room to his 17-year-old son, Lee. He wanted to continue attending my neighborhood high school with his friends, and my coworker was moving to the neighboring county. I said yes, albeit reluctantly.

I don’t “do” kids. I have no children of my own, by choice. I didn’t even hang out with kids that much when I was one myself.

But this young man seemed nice enough. I was assured that he was pretty self-sufficient. He’d buy and prepare his own food, Don said. He was very quiet, and seemed a little sad.

I felt sorry for Lee. Don said that his mother had died when he was very young. He and his brother had been raised by a single parent who worked the graveyard shift for as long as I had known him, so I can’t imagine their lives were particularly conventional.

Little did I know.

Lee would often sleep with his bedroom door open. I’d see him hugging a teddy bear as I walked past at night on my way to work. I thought that was rather unusual for a boy his age, but to each his own.

My next intel about Lee was that his father treated him horribly. I could hear the man scream at him over the phone from the other side of the house. His other son could do no wrong.

I came to realize that Lee was gay, and I already knew that his father was a homophobe, so I thought that explained it all. It made me feel even more sorry for Lee, because it must be awful to be rejected by the only parent you have.

Then one night I had to rush Lee to the hospital with extreme stomach pains. It turned out that he had been existing for years on a basic diet of chocolate donuts and coca cola, and that hadn’t done his intestines much good. This broke my heart.

My heartbreak turned to fury, though, when I discovered that his father had let Lee’s health insurance lapse. Rather than thanking me for bringing his son to the hospital, Don was outraged, because now he’d be stuck with a medical bill. He viewed his son as a massive inconvenience.

Don was so angry that he decided to yank his son out of my house. Before he left, I learned many truths about Lee.

First of all, his mother wasn’t dead, as far as he knew. She had abandoned him and his brother at a rest stop when they were very little. The police had given them each a teddy bear, and he had kept his ever since.

It was doubtful that Don was even his father. Apparently his wife had been rather promiscuous. (I had thought he and his brother didn’t look very much alike.) Don had had to drive several hundred miles to pick the boys up, and he had resented Lee, in particular, from that day to this.

After Don entered my house in a rage and grabbed all his stuff and yanked a protesting, pleading Lee out the door, I never saw them again. Don quit working with me, pulled Lee out of school, and left no valid forwarding address.

I often wonder how Lee turned out. I tried looking for him on Facebook, but his name is way too common. I will forever wonder if I could have done more for that lonely, neglected 17-year-old boy who only had a stuffed animal for comfort for most of his life. It’s one of my biggest regrets.

I’m glad that at least once in his life, a kind stranger had the decency to give him a teddy bear to hug. I hope he was able to rise above his circumstances. He deserved much more from his childhood than he got.

I also hope that karma has rolled over his father like a crosstown bus.

Teddy Bear.jpg

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I’ll Take Love with Conditions

I think unconditional love is an absurd construct. Even my dog has his limits. If I stopped feeding him or started torturing him, how much do you think he would love me then?

While it’s comforting to think that there is love that you can count on, I believe that the responsibility for maintaining that bond goes both ways. Frankly, I’d find it rather creepy if someone loved me so unconditionally that I could become a monster and that person would be okay with that. I do not want someone loving me even if I decide to be a serial killer. I expect to be held accountable for my actions.

I was once in a 16-year relationship with someone who enjoyed saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I knew he was attempting to be reassuring, but in truth that always made me inwardly shudder. I don’t want blind adoration. I actually kind of feel better when there are well-defined boundaries. When I know where I stand, I can do so with confidence. That, and there’s a great deal of pressure to maintain your center of decency when, literally, anything goes. (I admit I didn’t handle it well.)

Parents are expected to love their children unconditionally. I can’t really speak from experience, as I chose not to have kids, but I suspect that “unconditional” condition is the very source of a great deal of dysfunction. If “unconditional” were taken off the table, more parents would be invested in instilling values in their children that would encourage them to be decent human beings, because it’s safe to assume that most parents really do want to love their children.

If we stopped looking at love as if it were a possession, as if, once obtained, you get to keep it, a lot of things would change. If people genuinely believed that one must be loving and lovable in order to receive love, this would be a kinder, gentler planet. If we knew that love must be earned, fewer people would remain with their abusers. If we set the bar ever-so-slightly higher when choosing a mate, it would make for much healthier family units. And if we looked at love as something that must constantly be nurtured in order to thrive, we wouldn’t be so shocked and devastated when it withers on the vine due to our own neglect.

It might also allow us to exercise critical thinking. This whole blind loyalty thing that is becoming the cultural norm is actually rather terrifying. If you vote for someone whose behavior becomes more despicable over time, your FIRST instinct should be a withdrawal of political love for that person. Your standards should be high, and your tolerance for outrage should be short-lived. Our leaders should be kept in check, as their powers allow for rather more destruction than most of us can endure.

So, dear reader, be loving. Be kind. And remember that it’s okay to set boundaries.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


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Who’s the Animal in This Scenario?

One of the most distressing features of social media is that it really highlights the more despicable aspects of humanity. If I’m not reading about some sick $&*@(% who buried a dog alive, leaving only its snout exposed, causing its eventual death, then I’m seeing pictures of men cheering as roosters slice each other to ribbons. If I’m not hearing about people who get off on torturing black cats at Halloween, then I’m learning that the Amish (whom you would expect to have a moral compass), are some of the worst perpetrators of puppy mills, because they see dogs as livestock to be exploited. And how does one hunt not for food, but for fun, Trump Junior?

And then there are all those animal rescue videos. It warms your heart that all these animals are saved, rehabilitated, and given forever homes, yes, but it’s horrifying that they were abandoned in the first place. Seriously, how hard is it to spay or neuter your pets, or, here’s a thought, not take the responsibility of owning one if you don’t have the maturity to follow through?

And don’t even get me started about people who tie their dogs up in the back yard, all alone, even in the worst weather imaginable. Because I’ll cut a b****, if I have to, to prevent that. I really will.

There is nothing lower than someone who abuses, neglects, abandons, or tortures a helpless creature. How do people who do that carry on with the rest of their lives? How do you send out for pizza while you have dozens of animals starving in their own filth in a shed somewhere? How do you read your kid a bedtime story after having reveled in the painful death of a creature that you’ve forced to fight for its life? How do you decorate your Christmas tree after dumping kittens on the side of the road like so much garbage? How does that work?

Trump Junior

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My Body Lets Me Have It

Consider this to be a thought experiment. If your body were a separate, sentient being, and you were simply a parasite who rode around inside of it and dictated what it did, what would your body want to say to you? I’m fairly certain mine would be rather furious.

So, what follows is my attempt to voice my body’s opinions.

“Oh, HELL no! This has got to stop. My whole life, I’ve done every single thing you’ve asked of me.

“I have run, walked, jumped, and even danced to your tune. I’ve toted that barge and lifted that freakin’ bale. I’ve even climbed up the side of a volcano for you, for cryin’ out loud! I have fought off infections, suffered broken bones, survived illness and surgeries, and subjected myself to untold numbers of indignities, all for you. For you!

“And what have I gotten in return? Abuse. Pure and simple.

“You’ve pierced me, poked me, and put me in precarious shoes. You’ve sunburned me, dehydrated me, and exposed me to toxic substances. You’ve closed my fingers in doors. You’ve crashed me into things. You’ve dressed me funny. You do stuff you know is going to make me feel worse.

 “You fill me with junk food. I don’t need it or want it, and still, in it goes! It’s like there’s this crappy food conveyor belt and you keep it piled high. Are you trying to turn my liver into foie gras?

“And do you exercise? Do you even take me for a freakin’ walk? Nooooooo… Not you. You’d rather sleep or binge-watch Star Trek. (Although I must admit, you give me plenty of rest, and then some.)

 “And where’s the appreciation after all I’ve done for you? You don’t love me. You don’t even like me. You do nothing but criticize me. You have spent half your life being ashamed of me, and picking me apart for not meeting your standards. That’s the thanks I get.

“You are a kind person. I’ve seen you be kind to others every single day. It’s time you appreciated me for all I’ve done for you, Buddy-roo. It’s time for this relationship to become a two-way street. You’d be lost without me. Where’s the freakin’ love?


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On Being Let Down

I’ve been cranky lately. Grumpy. Impatient. Out of sorts.

It all started when it finally dawned on me, at the age of 51, that my sexually abusive stepfather had started grooming me for his pedophilia at the age of 7. The hard core abuse didn’t start until I was 11. Not that that’s an excuse. And I had been dealing with that for most of my life. But I had been operating under the illusion that I had had a few years there before the dark shadow truly descended.

On the contrary. Looking back on certain incidents from an adult perspective, there was a whole host of inappropriate behaviors from almost the day he married my mother.

As a child, I didn’t know any better. I just knew that the man made me uncomfortable, and I tried to avoid him. But looking back now, I can see that several things would have been nearly impossible for an adult to miss. And yet my mother chose to look the other way.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my mother very much. But I know that if I had been in her shoes, I would have made different choices. For starters, I’d have never married the pig in the first place. I’d have put my child’s safety ahead of my desire to get out of the projects and be supported by the first available scumbag that happened to come my way. And the first hinky thing that happened would have been the last thing he ever did. I know this as sure as I know the earth revolves around the sun. But that’s just me, I guess.

Over the years, a lot of people have let me down. Teachers. Counselors. Adult relatives. No one heard me. No one wanted to see. I was 21 before I independently arrived at the concept that none of this had been my fault. I should have been told that by every person who crossed my path.

From that, I suppose I could have learned to distrust the world and lash out like a wounded animal at anyone who came close. But I have always been someone who zigged when the rest of the world was zagging, so instead, I put a lot of pressure on myself to not be like those people.

As a result, I am probably the most dependable person on the face of the earth. I listen. I act. I speak out, even when it might be uncomfortable. If I say I am going to do something for you or with you, only hospitalization or death will keep me from doing so. I can be counted on. I keep my promises. I don’t look the other way. I stick my neck out, even though I often risk getting it chopped.

You’d think I’d have acquired a healthy dose of cynicism after a lifetime of being let down by people. But because I’m capable of doing all of the above, I expect it from others, and I’m always rather stunned when they fall short. And good God, do they ever fall short.

The fact is, people are going to disappoint you. It’s part of life. Perhaps part of my anger should be directed at myself, for having set such high expectations for the people I care about. They aren’t me.

Maybe when people don’t return phone calls, ignore messages, don’t follow through, or stand me up, I shouldn’t take it as the abuse that it feels like. Maybe I need to develop a thicker skin. Because the fact of the matter is, I can’t control when other people screw me over.

There’s really no point in wasting energy on an existential tantrum because I can’t force everyone to live up to my standards. I can only learn to set up healthier boundaries and try to make better choices moving forward. Emotional distance. That’s what’s called for here.


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Score One for the Good Guys

Hi, I’m Devo, Barb’s dog. I asked to write this one because I wanted to tell you about an exciting new development. Besides, she needs a break now and then. So here goes…

Animal abusers, we are watching you. 70 percent of violent criminals started off by hurting animals. Finally, the feds are taking this statistic seriously. Starting this month, they are considering such abuse a class A felony, and are tracking it.

Up to this point, such acts as torture, neglect and even sexual abuse of animals were only considered a felony in about a quarter of the states in America. So this FBI announcement is rather a big deal, and a long time in coming.

Not only should these sick and twisted individuals be brought to justice, but this will give law enforcement a chance to prevent future crimes against humans. A win/win situation, unless you’re the kind of person who likes to pull the wings off flies.

Rather than treat you to a horrifying image of an abused creature (you can find plenty of those on line) I thought I’d use a picture of my brother Blue for this entry. Blue is more apt to write a blog entry than I am, but this is something he doesn’t like to talk about. He was rescued from a puppy mill where he had been starved, beaten with a belt, and left in a cage up to his chest in feces, and had never seen the light of day for the first 6 months of his life.

For my brother Blue, and all the animals like him, I would like to salute the FBI. Excellent work.

Blue and mom in their prime.

The Psychic Parent

Every good parent has a sort of psychic ability. You know, the eyes in the back of your head thing. If your child isn’t where he or she is supposed to be, or is doing something wrong, you sense it. Somehow you’re just tuned in to your child’s frequency.

Notice I said “good” parent, though. Just because you have a child does not mean you automatically acquire this skill. Some people never get it, and others seem to be able to turn it on and off at will. Those are the ones who accidentally leave an infant in a car at high noon in July. Or the ones who let their 4 year old wander off at the mall. Or the mother who is so focused on the boyfriend that her kid drowns in the tub.

Of course, the situation is not always that extreme. Often what happens is the child grows ups feeling overlooked, uncared for, or vaguely unsafe. But this, too, can have a profound lifelong psychological impact.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with never acquiring the psychic parent skill, if you choose not to become a parent. Not everyone should be one. Just because you’re physically capable of reproducing does not necessarily mean that you should. I have nothing but respect for people who know themselves well enough to make thoughtful life choices.


[Image credit: sodahead.com]

Wishful Shaving

I haven’t shaved my legs above the knee in 30 years. What would be the point? My short shorts and miniskirt days are long gone. It’s not as disgusting as you might think, though. With this habitual neglect, the hair has become so light and thin over the years that you can barely tell it’s there.

However I was shaving below the knee the other day, and I was thinking how silly that is, too. In the cold rainy climate of Seattle I doubt I’ll be exposing my legs to the viewing public between now and June. It would be so much easier to go native.

Ah, but I still live in hope. Perhaps someday my prince will come and want to take a spontaneous gander at my gams, a peek at my pegs. To quit shaving would be to give up entirely on that possibility, and I’m not quite there yet.

So I will continue to perform this tedious ritual, if only to light a figurative candle in the window of the lonely little cabin in the woods that is my life. I’d hate for someone to pass by thinking no one was home. That would be tragic.


[Image credit: glamour.com]

Blue Explains Why You Should Support Rescue Orgs


Hello, my name is Blue. This is me with my best friend Devo. I’m going to tell you my story and then ask you to do a few simple things. I hope you will listen.

I’m 9 years old, but it’s a miracle that I’m alive. You see, I was born into a puppy mill. For the first 6 months of my life, I lived in a cage, up to my chest in feces and urine. There were 33 of us in that horrible place. The crying and howling never ended. We were starved and abused and we never saw daylight, never experienced even the slightest amount of affection or caring. On the rare occasion when our captor chose to feed us, she would simply pour the food into a big pile and let us fight over it. Only the strongest and the least sick would survive.

One day our captor decided that she deserved a vacation, and the person she hired to take care of us had enough of a conscience to let us out of the cage. For the first time, we left that room and had the run of the house. But she didn’t have the courage to do more than that. Finally, weeks later, a neighbor, hearing the howls, smelling the smells, and noting that no one had been there for weeks on end, was kind enough to complain to the authorities, and this is what they found.



 As you can see, that brown carpet used to be blue.


 It was so soaked with our urine that our rescuers had to wear gas masks to enter the house because the amount of ammonia made the air unsafe to breathe. And yet that’s what we had been breathing our whole lives.

As you may have noticed, we were pretty thin and had a lot of health issues when we were found. Thanks to their excellent care though, we were soon healthy again, and were adopted by loving families.

I can’t speak for the others, but I can say that the emotional scars still remain for me. When my mom, the person who usually writes this blog, first got me, I was so unused to the great outdoors that I wouldn’t go into the yard to do my business without her being right beside me the whole time. And even then, if I heard the slightest sound, like a car backfiring several blocks away, I would bolt screaming back into the house and shake in a corner for hours. It took me 6 months before I could enjoy the sunshine and even think about playing. Now I love to play with my friend Devo. We race all around the yard and have a lot of fun.

To this day, though, I’m scared of strangers, especially men with belts. Belts terrify me. I don’t even like them if they are lying around untouched. The story behind that is something I choose to keep to myself, but I bet you can guess.

I also still have a lot of issues with food. At feeding time, even though I have my very own bowl now, and Devo is the only other dog in the house and he is very kind to me, I’ll take a mouthful of food, run into another room, eat it there, then come back for more. I learned my lesson well. Where the food is, there is usually the danger of being attacked by other starving dogs. So it’s best to grab your share and run away.

My mom will sometimes tell me, with tears in her eyes, that I don’t have to be afraid anymore, but I’ve seen too much to believe her. But she lets me do what I need to do, which is really nice.

She also gives good cuddles, by the way, so I tend to stick to her like glue.


 So that’s my story. I hope you will help me so that no other dog has to go through what I did.

  • Never buy a pet from a pet store. Ever. The vast majority of pet shop animals come from mills. If you support them, you encourage them.
  • Whenever possible, get your pets from rescue organizations such as your city’s Animal Care and Control department, or the Humane Society, or a rescue organization for a specific breed. There are so many of us out there who need your love.
  • Please also support these organizations through donations or volunteering your time. They need all the help they can get.
  • Please spay or neuter your pets. They will live longer, healthier lives, and they will not bring more animals into a world that already has too many.
  • If you absolutely insist on buying your pet from a breeder, make sure it is licensed, and take the time to actually inspect the facility. The WHOLE facility. Yes, there are responsible breeders out there, but many are not. Make sure you aren’t supporting a puppy mill. It may even be that my captor started out as a responsible breeder, and then got overwhelmed or mentally ill. We’ll never know. But it’s important that you monitor your breeder carefully, and if he or she is a responsible one, that shouldn’t be a problem.

If you have given a pet a loving home, thank you. If you’ve lost a pet that you loved a lot, I’m sorry. But I hope you will adopt again. We need you.