I Sure Could Use a Nisse

My mother was first generation American. Her parents came from Denmark. So as I grew up, she would sometimes tell me Danish folklore, especially around Christmas. I was particularly fascinated with stories of the nisse.

The nisse was an elf-like creature who lived on your farm, usually in the barn or the attic, and if you treated him well, he would protect your family. If you didn’t, he could be a bit of a troublemaker.

He was usually described as a short little man, half the height of the average man at most, and he had grey hair and a bright red, pointy cap. He could disappear at will and had incredible strength. These tales probably sprang from ancient stories of house gods or ancestor worship. Regardless, the nisse was definitely someone you wanted on your side.

I think it would really be comforting to know you have someone whose sole purpose in life is to have your back. It would be great to feel constantly protected. I would love to know that there would always, always be someone to respond when I called for help.

It sure would be nice to feel ever-confident of my own security. I’ve never really had that. I’d be willing to build a barn if that’s what it takes…

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A Shout Out to Deadbeat Dads

My parents got divorced when I was three months old. I never met my father. I did not receive a single Christmas or birthday card, photograph or visit, in my entire life. He paid not one penny of child support.

People used to ask me if I missed my father. My stock response was, “How can you miss something you never had in the first place?” And it was true. I couldn’t even conceive of what it would be like to have a father in my universe. You may as well have asked me if I regretted my lack of bonding with the Loch Ness Monster.

It wasn’t until well into my adulthood that I began to get a sense of what I had missed out on. I looked around and realized that other people had a level of confidence that I lacked. They grew up feeling as though someone had their backs. They also knew what it was like to feel safe. They had someone to go to when they needed advice. And my female friends with decent fathers knew what to look for in decent life partners. I should have had that. I deserved it.

But in a warped way, having no trace of that man in my life was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. Any human being who can sleep at night, knowing that his child may be going without due to his irresponsibility and indifference, is not worth knowing. It’s better to have no male role model in your life than have one with such a wont of character and integrity.

So to all you deadbeat dads out there, if you’re going to do it, don’t do it halfway. Go all out. Disappear. Don’t even pretend that you care. When all is said and done, it’s the least you can do. Literally and figuratively.

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Solving Nightmares

I was a very stressed out, sensitive and observant kid. My mother was raising us on her own and never received a dime in child support from our absent father. She did the best she could, but the wolves were definitely at our financial door on a regular basis. Our living standard went from bad to worse over the years.

I had a lot of nightmares. Some would recur for weeks on end. At times I would be afraid to go to sleep. My mother, at her wit’s end, consulted our pediatrician about it. It’s one of the earliest memories I have.

He told her, quite simply, to “solve” the nightmare. If I wake up screaming that there are spiders all over the bed, then brush them off and stomp on them. If I think we’re on a sinking boat, then bail the water out and plug the hole.

That was one smart doctor. He realized that what I needed was reassurance. I needed to feel safe and protected. Unfortunately that was not my mother’s forte, but again, she did the best she could.

Did the nightmares go away completely? No. But I became less fearful of going to sleep, because I knew that there was always a solution for that monster in the closet. Just shoot him with your finger gun. It’s good to know you have one of those.

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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.

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[Image credit: sodahead.com]

Shield Man

Not far from one of the bridges where I work is an abandoned building covered with graffiti. A homeless guy is squatting in one of the sheds on the property. He likes to carry a bright pink shield that he seems to have fashioned out of scrap wood, duct tape and a plastic bag. He isn’t doing anyone any harm. He’s a lot safer there than he would be squatting under some overpass like the majority of the mentally ill in Seattle seem to do.

But the other day I saw four teenage boys descend on the place. They were probably only looking for someplace out of the rain to smoke weed. They went into the dark building and disappeared. This rousted shield man from his shed, and he started patrolling the perimeter of the property, brandishing his pink shield. He paced back and forth, back and forth, for about 15 minutes. I was actually kind of scared for him, because these four young men could have easily taken him out if they wanted to, in spite of his protection, or perhaps because of it.

Finally the boys left the building and watched shield man pace for a minute or two. They were obviously thinking. I contemplated calling the police before someone got hurt, but they would have kicked shield man out of his shed, too, and he’d be a lot worse off. So I simply watched nervously. First sign of trouble I was going to get on the phone.

Finally the boys left, and shield man went to where they had been standing and indignantly tamped out their reefer butts. Clearly he has some form of pride of place. He then went back into his shed. Crisis averted.

I can’t even imagine what this man’s life is like. He’s all alone in his damp metal shed with only his shield to keep him company. But he’s doing the best he can. Aren’t we all? Or are we? We should be able to do better for men like him.

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[Image credit: thedirtfloor.com]

Ways to Increase Your Safety

I take the issue of safety very seriously, perhaps more so than the average person. Due to some abuse I experienced in my childhood, I have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It gets triggered when I feel as if people in positions of authority don’t have my best interests at heart, or when I don’t feel safe for whatever reason.

Given my history, I could have chosen to live my life in fear and hide from the world, or I could have become clingy, assumed a victim mentality and placed my security in the hands of others, but I choose not to hide behind some man. First of all, you can’t always count on the fact that one will be there when you need him. Second, if you spend all your time cowering behind someone else, your view ahead is very limited. You could miss a lot of good stuff that way.

So here are some tricks I’ve picked up over the years, either through safety classes put on by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, instructional videos, common sense, or learning from the mistakes of others. I hope these tips help others live more independent lives as well.

  • Make sure you have efficient locks on all your windows and doors, and adequate lighting. Put a chain on your door that isn’t too long.
  • Never open your door to a stranger. Talk through the door if necessary. If you know you’re going to have to open the door, for example, if you’re expecting a pizza delivery, shout loudly over your shoulder, “I’ll get it!” You never want someone to think you’re alone.
  • Never sit in your car in a parking lot with the doors unlocked.
  • If someone walks up to you and you’re getting a bad vibe, before they’re too close, say, “Don’t I know your mother?” Criminals do not like to be known.
  • If you aren’t feeling comfortable, and you can have a friend watch out for you when you’re walking to your car, for example, don’t be hesitant to ask. You would do the same for them, wouldn’t you? Don’t let your pride override your instincts. But also don’t live your life counting on that person to be there. Accept your limitations, but also try to reduce them whenever possible. Your safety is your own responsibility.
  • Avoid “sliders”. This is a new phenomenon. When pumping gas, many women leave their purse on the seat in the unlocked car. Sliders will drive up beside your passenger side, hop out, quietly open your passenger door and steal your purse. So when pumping gas, keep your purse with you or lock your doors.
  • Never open your door to leave the house before first looking out the window or peep hole. You never know who might be standing there.
  • Carry keys in your hand. Don’t fumble for keys at your door. Keys can also make an effective weapon when interwoven between your fingers.
  • If you can avoid carrying a purse, do so. Pockets are better than fanny packs, which are better than purses. If you have to carry a purse, keep the zipper closed, the flap turned inward toward your body, in front of you and away from the street, and rest your hand on it as you walk. Never leave a purse hanging behind you on a chair in a restaurant.
  • If you have to carry a large amount of money, divide it up and carry it in several compartments.
  • Never enter an elevator with a stranger who makes you feel uncomfortable. When you do ride in an elevator, locate the alarm button in case you need it. Stand next to the control panel. If you suspect trouble, push that alarm button and as many other buttons as possible. Trust your instincts. Allow the other passengers to push the button for their floors, THEN push yours. If you’re feeling at risk, get off at an earlier floor if necessary.
  • When you leave a store, pause at the door and scan the parking lot before heading toward your car. Parking lots are high crime areas.
  • If you’re approached when you’re in your car, lay on the horn, long and loud. Flash your lights. Rev your engine. Step on your brakes. Put on your flashers. Set off the alarm. Do anything to draw attention.
  • Carry a flashlight at night.
  • If someone taps your shoulder, turn, yes, but keep walking, backward, away from him. Talk with your hands up at shoulder level so you can take action if necessary.
  • Always carry a well charged cell phone.
  • Never assume that clean cut young man is a good guy. Bad guys come in all shapes and sizes. The vast majority of criminals, however, are males between the ages of 15 and 25, so pay particular attention to them.
  • If someone pulls a weapon on you and says, “Give me your wallet,” by all means, give it to them. But don’t just hand it over. Throw it and run in the opposite direction.
  • Take self-defense classes if you can. There are all sorts of nifty wrist releases that you can learn that are beyond the scope of this blog entry. There are also a ton of wrist release and self-defense videos on Youtube. Check them out and practice with a friend.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your voice. Scream. Sadly, you’ll be more likely to get attention if you scream “Fire!” as opposed to “Help!” or “Rape!”.
  • People assume women will be quiet and polite. More than once I’ve turned to a potential bad guy and shouted, “BACK OFF!!!” They all practically soiled themselves while running away.
  • People also don’t expect a “normal” looking person to act crazy. So don’t be afraid to babble, foam at the mouth, twitch, even rub dirt in your hair and eat grass if you have to. It will freak them out, which will give you the psychological upper hand.
  • If someone grabs you, don’t struggle with the grabbed hand. While it’s holding you, you are also holding it. Worry about the other hand.
  • If someone pushes you, they will expect you to resist the push. So don’t. Pull. It will throw them off balance. Similarly, if someone pulls you, don’t resist the pull. Push.
  • Strike straight ahead if possible. It will block their vision. And go for the chin and nose.
  • Anything can be a weapon. A rolled up magazine to the Adam’s apple or a credit card or some folded glasses to the eyeball can do a lot of damage.
  • If your car breaks down and a stranger approaches, tell him or her that someone has already called the police and they’re on their way. Keep your cell phone to your ear and pretend to be talking on it. Or, if you let a good Samaritan change a tire for you, they shouldn’t be offended if you stay in the locked car while they do so.
  • Whenever possible, vary your routine. Try not to be predictable. But at the same time, if you’ll be doing something unusual, let someone you trust know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone.
  • If your state has a sex offender database, look up the locations of the sex offenders in your neighborhood. If you live in an urban area, you’ll most likely be horrified. I have 15 living in a two mile radius of me. Mostly these people like to prey on small children. But lawbreakers are lawbreakers, and some sex offenders like to steal identities so they can hide. Get to know their faces.
  • If you have a chance, chat with the beat cop who works in your neighborhood. He can tell you about hot spots, gang activity, crime trends, things to look out for. It never hurts to be on a first name basis with your beat cop.
  • If you ever have to give your car key to someone, like a parking attendant or an oil change clerk, ALWAYS remove the key from your key chain. Never hand your house keys to anyone. They can be copied.
  • Create the illusion of multiple occupants in your home. People are less apt to break into a home if there’s a chance that someone is there.
  • Put a sign by your doorbell that says, “One person in this house works nights and sleeps during the day. Please do not disturb.”
  • Leave some old muddy work boots on your front porch. (Although I have to say that the last time I did this, the boots were, ironically, stolen.)
  • If you go out at night, leave some lights on in the house. You can even get timers so they will go off and on at preset times.
  • Get a dog. It doesn’t even have to be a big one. Just a noisy one. Bad guys hate noise. If you can’t have a dog, create the illusion of one. Put up beware of dog signs. Leave a BIG water bowl and a heavy duty chain in a visible place. Buy some toys, have a friend’s dog chew on them so they look used, and then leave those toys scattered in the yard.
  • If you can’t afford a security system, you can buy a motion detector alarm from Radio Shack, and place it high enough up in a room that it won’t be triggered by children or pets, but it will alert you if anyone enters the front part of your house while you sleep.
  • Keep your shades down at night.
  • If you have a remote entry to your car, you can always trigger your car alarm from inside the house if you need to draw attention.
  • If you have keyless entry to you car, make sure you block the keypad with your body so no one nearby can see your entry code. And of course do the same thing at the ATM machine.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Scope out potential hiding places: shrubs, parked cars, blind alleys, dark corners. Give them a wide berth. Be alert. Don’t get distracted by your cell phone. Look around and also use your peripheral vision. Listen for movement behind you, too. If you can’t avoid dangerous places, have your tear gas in your hand and ready to be used.
  • Talk to your friends and family about safety. Share ideas. Share this blog entry. And if you have any other safety tips, please include them in the comments section below. Knowledge is power.

Remember, only you can assume complete mental and physical responsibility for your well-being. I can’t guarantee that any of the above ideas will work, but I certainly hope they’ll reduce your risk. It would be nice if there were always some big strong guy to come to your rescue, but relying on that creates a false sense of security. If you put your welfare solely in someone else’s hands, you’re living in a fool’s paradise. Be alert. Be safe.

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[Image credit: rawfitnesssaratoga.com]

Fred Rogers Was My Father

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On the last day of 2012, I have a confession to make. I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood to an embarrassingly old age. It was my dirty little secret. I told no one. It was something for just the two of us. Every day I’d tune in to the only father figure I had. He would speak calmly to me when others would shout. He would encourage me when others were too tired to try. He would make me feel like I was okay when others made me feel like an outcast. Most importantly, he would make me feel secure at a time when my life was not the least bit safe. When he said that everyone had something different about them, something you could learn from, or that you could grow ideas in the garden of your mind, I believed him. To this day, I can say without reservation that Fred Rogers always had my best interests at heart. There are not too many people in this world who you can say that about.

If the man had run for president, he would have won. It says a lot about his wisdom that he never did so. But if he had held the highest office in the land, things would have been quite different. He’d have strode calmly and politely into congress and shamed them into stepping away from that fiscal cliff. He’d have given Washington a moral compass that is sorely lacking in this day and age. Maybe he would not have gotten the right and left to agree, but he certainly would have had them communicating respectfully and acting like the adults that they are supposed to be. He would have put a stop to the politics by fear that seems to be the rule of the day. And when tragedy strikes, as it sometimes will, he would be able to comfort the entire nation with his sincerity. One thing is for certain: If Fred Rogers were president, sweaters would come back in style.

Rest in peace, Mr. Rogers. When you passed away, millions of us lost the only father we ever knew.