The Holiday Spirit

I hate it when I’m required to act jolly. I mean, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and be all “deck the halls” and “fa la la” just because it’s expected of you. That added pressure during the holiday season is exactly why suicide rates spike. I mean, if you’re already feeling like a freak or a lonely outcast, then being constantly reminded you’re also not in the right mood must be too much to bear.

There have been entire years where “Bah, humbug” was my default position. I didn’t want to be bothered. I avoided malls and parties and gift exchanges. I couldn’t work up the strength to decorate. I just wanted to make it through to January, so I’d have time to brace myself for the assault on single people everywhere that is more commonly known as Valentine’s Day.

What is this thing called the Christmas spirit? It sometimes eludes me. Other times it waits until the last possible moment, and then it smacks me upside the head with joy to the world. In those years, that smack comes as a huge relief, because I have to admit that the stress of not being part of the mainstream does get to me. It’s so much easier to go with the flow when you feel like you’re part of that flow.

Last year, I was kind of in “fake it ‘til you make it” mode. I did a lot of holiday things. And I did have fun. But I still felt kind of detached. (Check out that blog post here.)

But this year, I’m thrilled to say, I am already rejoicing! I’ve happily participated in a lot of holiday events with my husband, and we’ve decorated the whole house with lights, a tree, candles, etc. Our decorations won’t draw crowds, but it’s certainly more than I’ve ever done in my entire life. I get a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I’m there. I’m just happy to be happy, and happy to have someone special to share that with. I never thought I’d ever have it this good.

So, here I am, on the other side. I don’t want to make others feel bad for not being in the holiday spirit, but I also don’t want to feel bad for being in it myself. How about we make a deal: let’s just not put any expectations of any kind on ourselves or others this holiday season. Sound good? It sure does to me.

(And no, this photo is not of my house!)

Christmas Spirit

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Helpless Stress

Sooner or later, every train engineer will have someone step in front of his or her train as a way to permanently solve a temporary problem. That must be a heartbreaking experience. You want to stop, but you know you can’t. I suspect that all you can really do is close your eyes, swallow really hard, and get ready to fill out a boatload of paperwork.

No doubt this sometimes happens to bus drivers as well. And I’m sure ferry captains have their fair share of jumpers, just as we bridgetenders do. I can’t even imagine what first responders deal with on a daily basis. It’s a part of these jobs that no one wants to talk about. Helpless Stress.

It’s that feeling of being completely out of control. It’s that desire to save someone, and not being able to do so. It messes with your head. It’s the kind of vicarious trauma that people don’t quite understand until they’ve experienced it themselves.

The most frustrating thing about it is you know you’ve been through something big, but you’re not physically hurt. Nothing shows. Your wounds are on the inside, where no one can see them. So your friends and loved ones often expect you to “snap out of it.”

If you have experienced helpless stress, I urge you to take it seriously. Talk to a professional; someone with experience in crisis or grief counseling. Don’t try to simply power through. What happened is not your fault, but if you choose to not cope with it, that can compound the problem.

You’re not alone. Help is out there. Please seek it out.

Helpless Stress

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How I Live Now

There was a time, not so very long ago, when I could have told you the exact amount of cash I had in my wallet, down to the penny. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, wondering how I’d pay my bills, or what on earth I’d do if I became seriously ill with no health insurance. For most of my life, I was about one flat tire away from utter homelessness. It was exhausting.

I learned to add rice to a can of soup to make it a meal. I was the coupon queen. I wore clothes until my meager sewing skills couldn’t keep them together anymore, and then I’d replace them at the thrift store. My shoes would all but disintegrate on my feet.

For entertainment, I’d play with my dogs, or take a walk, or watch PBS. I checked out mounds of library books. I knew when all the museums and galleries were free.

I’m not saying that all the joy in life is brought about by money, but life sure has improved now that the financial pressure has eased considerably.

I still keep a tiny bit of cash on hand for emergencies, but I couldn’t tell you how much. Mostly, I sleep through the night, and while I still avoid extravagant, unnecessary bills, I don’t worry about my ability to pay the ones I do incur. My health insurance is probably better than what most people have here in America. (Which isn’t saying much.) And recently I replaced all four of my tires at once without batting an eye. (Okay, maybe I swallowed hard for a second, but there was absolutely no eye batting.)

I still don’t eat at five-star restaurants, but I actually buy organic fruits and vegetables without considering them a splurge. And if I really want something in particular to eat, I figure out a way to get it. I can’t remember the last time I even opened a can of soup. I still use coupons, but I’m not ruled by them. I still shop at thrift stores mostly, but every once in a while I’ll get myself something really nice to wear. And my shoes are in good shape.

I have a lot more fun than I used to. I can afford to get out there and engage with the world. I eat out. I see the odd movie. I pay admission fees without perspiring, and occasionally donate a little extra to museums. I still love library books, though.

Sometimes I’ll look around and wonder how I got to this place. It was a long, hard struggle. It doesn’t seem real to me. I doubt it ever will. I keep expecting to wake up to another can of soup. And I doubt I’ll ever be able to retire. Because of that, I’ll always appreciate how I live now. I’ll never take anything for granted. I’ll always feel as though I’ve taken off a pair of shoes that were two sizes too small. For now, it really feels good to wiggle my toes!

Life. It’s so fragile, so precarious. Enjoy it as much as you can, while you can.

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Pedophobia

Growing up, I was bullied enough to know that children can be extremely cruel. They can also be devious, manipulative, and disingenuous. Even as a child, I avoided them. I spent more time with books and adults. When my mother tried to make me join the Girl Scouts, I looked upon it as punishment and went on strike. Being a Brownie had been humiliating enough.

Needless to say, I never had children of my own. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I haven’t regretted it for a second. I can think of nothing worse than being a secretly (or not so secretly) resentful parent.

Don’t get me wrong. There are amazing children out there. My niece and nephew may be adults now, but they were wonderful kids, and I was always happy to see them. My next door neighbor’s son is pretty awesome, too. And babies are fun to hold, as long as they can be handed back eventually.

I just never know what to say to kids, and that makes me uncomfortable. I feel pressure to entertain them, and I don’t think of myself as an exceptionally demonstrative individual. When they cry, I feel both helpless and irritated. They seem like bottomless pits of need. And I hate the thought of inadvertently screwing one up for life, you know? It’s a huge responsibility, influencing young minds.

So, yeah, being trapped in a room with a young person is not my idea of a good time. But at least I know this about myself. Beware of those who feel that way and are in denial about it.

I do enjoy watching kids grow up and turn into unique and wonderful human beings. I’ve been proud of more than one over the years. But, all things being equal, I prefer to observe from a safe distance.

children

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You Are Already Enough

Dear You,

I suspect no one has ever told you this, so I figured I would. You are already enough. You were just who you were supposed to be on the day you were born.

I don’t know why people find it so hard to give compliments or encouragement. I really don’t know why so many people delight in being cruel or insulting. But the fact remains. You are enough.

Having ambition and wanting to improve upon yourself isn’t a bad thing, of course. Go for it! But set aside any anxiety you have that is causing you to try to force yourself into a role that makes you uncomfortable. Nobody has the right to pressure you to become someone that you’re not. Deep down, you already know who you are.

Just be yourself. You are one of a kind. Sit in that power. And before you know it (but only if you need to), you will bloom. You have that within you, and chances are, a lot of people already see it, whether they bother to tell you or not.

Now, share this post with someone else who needs to hear it.

Love,

Me

bloom

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Sanctuary Cities

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about sanctuary cities. He happens to fall on the opposite end of the political bell curve, so debates with him can be interesting. And yet we never get hostile with each other, and still manage to be respectful. Why is that such a dying art?

Anyway, he thinks Seattle, and all other cities that declare themselves to be sanctuaries, are stupid, because they’re potentially depriving themselves of a lot of federal funding, and that will put a lot more pressure on the local taxpayers and reduce services to residents.

I, on the other hand, suggested that perhaps it is Trump who is the stupid one. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) If he withdraws funding, he is further ostracizing the people who live in these sanctuary cities, who won’t simply fall into line because of his bullying tactics. He’ll also be harming certain economies, and that will have a negative impact on the overall economy. Bad business. His travel ban has already cost our tourism industry more than 7 billion dollars. That’s billion, with a b. So I shudder to think what a sanctuary city ban would do. How is this making America great again?

And although many of us seem to conveniently forget this, the United States of America was founded on the basic principle that it is a nation that will provide sanctuary. The precedent was set long, long ago. Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. Give us your tired, your poor…

Yeah, I know that those concepts seem to be under attack these days, but it’s holding out this fantasy that makes me most proud. Even as our rights are eroded, I like to cling to the belief that somewhere within our beleaguered national soul, we still have the potential for being a bastion of freedom. Why on earth would someone attack cities for doing the very thing that makes us a country?

It boggles the mind.

Sanctuary-Cities

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A Maternal Instinct for Benign Neglect

I really have to hand it to my mother. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was exposed to the idea that parents were capable of disliking their children. Ma never gave me that impression, so the concept never occurred to me.

When I was in my early 20’s, my mother admitted to me that she had never really wanted kids. She wasn’t saying this to hurt me. The subject came up simply because I had told her that I never intended to have any of my own. (And, in fact, I never did.)

For my mother’s generation, the question was never if you would have children, but when. It was just what a woman was expected to do. And so that’s what she did.

Recently I read an article in the Atlantic from 2012 entitled, “Not Wanting Kids Is Entirely Normal” by Jessica Valenti. It even made this diehard child-free woman blink. (And very few things make me blink.)

It turns out that a lot of mothers, I mean, a LOT, say that if they had it to do over, they wouldn’t have had children. And yet that pervasive idea that we all have this maternal clock that’s tick, tick, ticking away is still expressed throughout the land. Most people seem to think that every woman’s primary desire is to have children.

I, personally, am relieved to be in my 50’s because finally, FINALLY there’s not this overwhelming societal pressure for me to procreate. If I had a dollar for every time someone smiled at me and said, “You’ll change your mind,” regarding motherhood, I’d be a millionaire. The truth is, I’m actually more the rule than the exception. As the article points out, “most women spend the majority of their lives trying not to get pregnant.” It went on to assert that half the pregnancies in the US are unintended, and the mothers of unintended children treat them much differently (as in, worse) than they treat planned children.

I’m quite certain I was not a planned child. My parents were divorced 3 months after I was born, and I never met my father. He also never paid a penny of child support.

Looking back, I’d have to say that my mother’s parenting style was one of benign neglect. Basically, she let me run wild. I never felt disliked. But I did feel as though she didn’t want to be bothered. She seemed to be in a constant state of depression. She set no boundaries for me, and I therefore never felt safe or confident.

She would bury herself in library books and so would I. She didn’t tell me she loved me until I was 12 years old and my older sister forced her to do so. I had food and shelter and clothing and health care and an education, but I also had the sense that if I pissed her off, she’d stop loving me. She looked the other way when I was experiencing abuse. That, too, is abuse. But I didn’t know any better.

My mother did what was expected of her. Society didn’t care if she liked it or not. And that’s where society got it wrong.

I’m grateful for all the sacrifices my mother made so I could go on to live the life I chose to live, the one that she never had a chance to live. But perhaps we should stop telling women that they’ll change their mind. Perhaps we should congratulate those women who know themselves well enough not to make a mistake that could have psychological repercussions for generations to come. Just sayin’.

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Growly Dreams

I enjoy watching my dogs dream. Their little paws run and they sometimes twitch and yip. I imagine they’re chasing squirrels. But tonight Devo was growling in his sleep. I called his name from across the room. I didn’t want to touch him in case he thought I was the adversary. (I’d like to keep intact the illusion that I’m in charge.) When he woke up he looked a little confused for a second.

Was he the aggressor in the dream, or was he being attacked? I hope it was the former. I hope he doesn’t have dog-shaped nightmares. I hope that he isn’t experiencing anxiety or stress that is expressing itself in his subconscious. God knows I’ve been under a lot of pressure lately, and I’m sure he senses it. But I want him to have sweet dreams. As shitty as my life sometimes is, I pride myself in giving my pets a happy existence. They didn’t ask to be here.

What are animal dreams like? Scientists are discovering that a wide variety of animals play, so they must get bored. But they seem to cope with boredom much better than we do. That implies that they have rich inner lives. If that’s the case, they have imaginations, so are their dreams as surreal as ours can sometimes be? And what would be surreal to an animal?

I know when I lived in Mexico, my dreams got very simplistic because I couldn’t express myself as fully in Spanish as I can in English. How do you express yourself without language? How do you see things when your color spectrum is different? If you’re capable of hearing a lot more, are your dreams more aural?

The one image that I can’t get out of my head is that of a sleeping whale. Some types slumber in the darkest depths, head downward. That must feel like being in a sensory deprivation tank. That has got to be the ultimate zen-like state.

Which begs the question: Do whales have wet dreams?

sleeping whales

Waiting to Exhale

I’ve been through some of the most stressful months of my entire life. Death, job hunting, moving, evil and unscrupulous landlady and her ex-convict son, even more evil and unscrupulous internet provider (more about that in a few days) all piled one on top of the other, and it makes me tired. If I were the gun loving type I’d probably be a menace to society right about now. I’m on the ragged edge.

What I need more than anything is to be cut a teeny tiny bit of slack, m’kay? Could you do that, universe? Just for a second?

And I have to constantly remind myself that the average asshole on the street has absolutely no idea how close I am to the breaking point. It’s not their fault that their behavior just feels like piling on to me. So I am forced to cut everyone else the slack that I so desperately need right now, and it’s taking an enormous amount of effort on my part.

I admire my dogs. They can go from states of extreme agitation to complete and utter relaxation in 2 seconds flat. Apparently it just requires turning in a circle three times (never two, never four) and then heaving a heavy sigh, and whoosh, they’re the poster children for total tranquility.

I need to learn to do that. But in the mean time I am learning how important it is to treat strangers with courtesy and respect. You have no idea what they might be going through. Your kindness may be just the balm they need to carry on for a few more minutes. Many of us are taking life just one minute at a time. So be good to one another. Please.

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[Image credit: claimthevictory.org]

Stage Mothers

Anyone who has seen the musical “Gypsy” knows that certain people turn into the stage mothers from hell. It really ought to be a mental designation in the DSM 5, and it should be defined as someone who is so unhappy with her own life that she attempts to live vicariously through that of her child, whether he or she likes it or not.

I once knew a woman whose daughter was heavily into Irish Dance. Or so I thought. Their whole lives revolved around competitions. They traveled hours each week for lessons. Mom purchased obscenely expensive costumes, and came very close to losing her job because she took so much time off for competitions. Daughter broke her foot on several occasions, and started back dancing way before she should have. She will experience pain for the rest of her life. I used to think that was amazing effort and sacrifice on her part to excel in something she loved, and oh! what a loving and supportive mother! Then I had a talk with the daughter one day, and discovered that she no longer wanted to dance at all. It was fun at first, but her mother put so much pressure on her and it took up so much time, it had become more like a horrible job. And she had no time to just be a kid, to just have fun and goof off and make friends. She was even home schooled and had no social skills whatsoever. From then on I saw it for what it was: a sickness. The daughter finally grew up, left home, and they no longer speak.

I know another girl who just had a baby, and she told me she was entering the child in those horrible kiddie beauty pageants. I said, “Why don’t you wait until she’s old enough for her to decide for herself?” She replied, “Well, I can’t do that. She might not want to.” That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

But stage moms aren’t just relegated to the stage. I used to really feel sorry for the valedictorian of my high school class. I have never known a more stressed out person in my life. She HAD to be the best. HAD to. For her mother. It was so freaking important to her mother that this girl practically made herself sick over it. One day my mother and I ran into her in the library, and my mom asked her what she was going to be majoring in when she went to college. I can’t really remember what she said, but it sounded dreary, and I said as much. I’ll never forget what she said. “Well, it’s not what I want to study, it’s what my mother wants me to study.” And my mother said, “Hmmmm. Wow. Well, I’d never do that to Barb. I want her to be herself and enjoy her life and chart her own course.” That girl looked at my mom like she had two heads. Granted, I chose a really stupid major and came away with a useless degree, but I enjoyed every minute of college. I lost touch with the valedictorian, but I’m willing to bet that she spent a lot of years being miserable, and had to experience a major crisis in her life before she took charge of it, if she ever did.

I may not be a parent myself, but this I can guarantee: if you attempt to control the direction of your children’s life, if you stifle their individuality and don’t allow them to think for themselves, your relationship with those children will be severely damaged sooner or later.  And as adults they will have issues, whether it is an extreme midlife crisis, anger management problems, depression, divorce, or difficulty relating to their own children. This “gift” you are giving them will keep on giving, to be sure.

stage mom