Hope over Experience

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I want to whisper secrets.

I want to have my cassettes full of new wave 1980's pop and early rap, and I want to wear my walkman on my hip, the weight bouncing against the bone as I dance around my bedroom.

I want to curse the short life of AA batteries that I must change over and over.

I want to slide up to my 16 year old self, my 18 year old self, my 22 year old self and tell her things, things from the future, her future.

I want to tell her the answers; Yes, Yes, No, Not yet, Yes instead of No, No instead of Yes.

I want hope, instead of experience.

In the epic battle of Dawn Vs Quad Mud Pit, Mud Pit always wins.
Don't Hate. It was 1989, and this was da bomb.

Snow White and Rose Red, complete

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The rug is nearly complete - Just binding to do. The finished size will be 32 inches High, 54 inches Long.

I am very pleased.

A: Why Yes. Yes They Do.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Q: Do older men of French descent really wear beret's?

And other visions from the Big Bang Exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum

I was so moved by this exhibit that I gave little attention to the Feininger exhibit, walking through it in a daze. Tonight I announced that I need to go back and revisit Feininger, as I found his images re-playing in my head throughout today - a sure sign that there is more there for me to absorb.

Testing for Kindergarten? I call Bullsh*t

Friday, January 20, 2012

Yesterday, Professional Dawn opened her email and saw something which made her so angry that she sputtered and choked her way into the University where she is a PhD candidate, and then proceeded to sputter and choke about what she had seen in her email inbox to her PhD partner in angst.

What could have caused Professional Dawn this type of reaction?

An invitation to a chat with an "expert" in Kindergarten Testing.  An "expert" with no actual degrees or experience TEACHING children. An "expert" who has written a book and is trying to sell it to worried parents afraid their child is going to be left out of some thing that , if only they bought the book, would solve the problems of getting their child into that exclusive preschool, or Kindergarten. This will, of course, lead to your child being prettier and popular and eventually getting into Harvard with a full scholarship.

I call Bull Shit. Do you need me to CAPS that statement?


Professional Dawn has, of course, TAUGHT kindergarten. Professional Dawn has degrees in Education (Both Early AND Elementary) and Child Development and is in process of her very own PhD in said Educations. Professional Dawn is a Mom too.  A Mom with a child with a variety of diagnosed learning issues.  Professional Dawn is married to Professional Terrance , a man who did his PhD in Psychometrics. Do you know what that is?

Here, let me give you the Wikipedia fast and dirty definition:

Psychometrics is the field of study concerned with the theory and technique of educational and psychological measurement, which includes the measurement of knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and personality traits. The field is primarily concerned with the construction and validation of measurement instruments, such as questionnairestests, and personality assessments.

OH SNAP! We have a REAL education Expert AND an Expert in EDUCATION TESTING DESIGN in the same house!!! You can see why we may make a fearsome parental duo.

And do you know what we two experts KNOW about the designs of all of these tests?

They don't measure shit.  Not your child's intelligence or interests or ability to succeed in life. Not who you will marry or how happy you will be later in life. They are arbitrary tests which give institutions a Number in order to control the supply and demand of any given product, in this case, Education. 

Alfie Kohn calls it "a way to separate the wheat from the chaff children", and you know what that is veiled code for right? Rich and Poor. White and Non White. Haves and Have Nots. 

These books - these programs to "prep" your child for anything? Lies. They do nothing. 

Do you know what does help? Reading to your child. Talking to your child. Taking your child on walks around the neighborhood and discussing what you see. Listening to music with your child. Cooking with your child. Laughing with your child. 

I can tell you that the brain isn't fully developed until about age 21 when the pre-frontal cortex comes fully on-line. This is why teens have such crappy decision making skills, they are still growing the part of the brain that is needed to MAKE decisions. I can tell you that until age 7, the true Concept of Reading is not really accessible to most children. Sure, they can repeat words. They might even be able to sound out letters and sounds if you drill them enough....But the mystery of Decoding for information? Comes on-line about the time they move into the Piagetian "Concrete operational" stage.

I can tell you all sorts of things about children and learning and brain development. I can tell you that a healthy diet and protecting uninterrupted sleep  is as important for brain development as reading to your child. I can tell you it is the Quality of experiences and not the Quantity of experiences which shapes brains and intelligence. 

I can tell you that if Parents were to refuse to allow their children to participate in these tests that the Institutions would eventually stop demanding them - JUST like most schools no longer require GRE scores for Graduate schools. If you have no test scores to arbitrarily assign value to, then how are you going to Know a child as a learner? Maybe watch them? Get to Know them? Talk with them?  If you've got no test scores and no parents willing to comply with providing them, then your product (the school) becomes devalued. You are then forced to change your metric of admission. 

I can tell you that Anybody can slap "expert" next to their name and talk about things they have no right to be talking about as "experts". 

I can tell you that these books, these programs, do nothing but take your money and stress your children out. 
As Alfie Kohn says more eloquently:

"And once you realize that the tests are unreliable indicators of quality, then what possible reason would there be to subject kids – usually African American and Latino kids -- to those mind-numbing, spirit-killing, regimented instructional programs that were designed principally to raise test scores? If your only argument in favor of such a program is that it improves results on deeply flawed tests, you haven’t offered any real argument at all. Knock out the artificial supports propping up “Success for All,” “Open Court,” “Reading Mastery,” and other prefabricated exercises in drilling kids to produce right answers (often without any understanding), and these programs will then collapse of their own dead weight."

However, until PARENTS stand up and say "Absolutely Not, there is no basis or reasons for this" OR Schools come out and simply honestly say "We are trying to keep THOSE children out of this school, you know, the poor/black/stupid ones..."  this nonsensical hamster wheel of ridiculousness will continue. 

And it makes Professional Dawn crazy mad.

Sept 2010

I am re-printing this because it still makes me crazy mad.  And, sadly, because I now have to talk about how I would teach potential teachers to cope with the outcomes measurements being shoved down their throats, ala Race to the Top. Outcomes measurements which I know, in my heart of hearts, is such bullshit that it makes me sputter and storm and want to throw my degrees in the trash, for all the good it has done.

I can not tell you how disheartened and just Sad it all makes me, these policies. How one of the critiques of me during interviews is my non participation in these things that I find so repugnant ( how to prepare teachers for these situations where they must meet "accountability" measurements)...and it isn't because I don't think teachers should be accountable. I do. But because I know what these tests and measurements will lead to, and it isn't better teaching, or better schools or better anything for the children who need it Most. It is more segregation of those we Choose and those we throw away.

As I read that well intentioned suggestion - that I become more familiar with "Standards" in the schools and address how I would teach undergrads these standards and assessments,  I saw all the money and time I have spent on a Master's degree and then a Doctoral degree as wasted. 

Did I mention that we were out of Bleach?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

You know when you KNOW something? You know - as a parent. You see the event unfolding in your mind - step by step. No psychic flash or exciting event - just the parental spidey sense of "Oh Dear. This is not going to end well...."

The scene: Monday Morning, our house

There is no cereal ( more on that in another post) for breakfast. We are doing well on time. Showers are had. Bodies are dressed. I say, "Hey! Why don't we pop down to the bakery. We have time to pick up breakfast before school!"

Smiles abound. There are rainbows and bluebirds flitting about our heads.

I park and send Emily into the bakery. She gets a huge kick out of going in with the money in hand to order. Quite the "big girl" thing to do, you know. As she gets out of the car, she pauses. "Can I get some milk?", she asks.

Why sure! No problem! What kind of mother says No to milk?  Not me!

Then it happened. You know that moment...the one where you spot something and the realization sets in?

Um, yeah.

She walked out with chocolate milk.

Normally, I have no issue with a little container of the chocolate milk. Live and let live, I say. But Emily wears a uniform. And the shirt to that uniform is white.

Granted, the school is only three blocks away. Only.

You all can see where this is going, right? I know you can. We make it two blocks when the spill happens. The great drooling spill down the front of her. The big chocolate milk stain on the white shirt.

Which leads to wailing.


I keep my cool. I did, after all EXPECT this to happen. I calmly explain to her that she will most likely have to take a tardy slip at school, but that I would take her home to change. I can be a wench, at times, but I am not going to make her walk around in a stained shirt all day.

We get home. She goes into the house to change. She runs out in a lather, wailing loudly.


Fifteen minutes later, we have dug a white shirt that is LESS stained out of the dirty laundry. Apparently there ARE no other clean white shirts left.  The one shirt is serviceable - it will do for the day.

We get in the car and head back to school.

Emily reaches over for the carton of chocolate milk and begins to bring it to her lips.

"Are you KIDDING?!?!?!", I say. "Have you LOST your mind?"

She looks at me.


October 17, 2007 Gimlet Eye

Pictures in my Mind

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Green Light

Red Light


"Oh My god, the waitstaff are trying to kill Maija with this Pakun Flower slipped in her drink"

Been to Whorish Ravens lately?

You should.

Think of it as my secret room.

What's in a Name?

Monday, January 16, 2012

I've mentioned that I'm white, right? Middle America, German heritage? And I've mentioned that my husband is Black ( his preferred term)? Detroit raised, black panther parents?

Yep. We are.

This makes our daughter bi-racial, which is our preferred term for her heritage. Please don't make the mistake of calling a bi-racial child "mulatto", which is a term laden with historical baggage of slavery, rape or otherwise unequal power relationships. And no, she isn't "high yellow", which was another less than kind version of the same thing. Or "mixed". Or "light-skinned"

She has two distinct racial heritages. She is bi-racial.

The problem ( such as it is)  is that she is also Black.

As her mother, I have to recognize and prepare her for the reality of living in our society. She will be viewed as a woman of color - specifically a black woman. She will never be able to assert her whiteness, for it is visually clear that she is not white.

Were she to walk into a room filled with white people and announce "I'm white", she would receive puzzled and angry expressions. Were she to walk into a room of black people and announce "I'm white", she would be accused of trying to "pass" as white, or worse denying her black heritage.

What does that leave her? What does that leave me, as her mother? Do I teach her to downplay my cultural background to save her the problem of explaining her parents marriage and her birth?  Does she grow ashamed of being white in a society which can not and will not recognize her as being part white in a positive manner?

Emily has the great fortune to have been the planned only child to two well-educated parents who were fully aware of the issues facing children of bi-racial heritage. We considered if we would be strong enough to equip a child with the tools he or she would need to face the institutionalized racism inherent in our society. We decided that we were. We decided that our extended family was strong enough to lend any child the support they would need. We have carefully taken steps to expose her to as much cultural diversity as we could find in our corner of New Hampshire. She spends summers with her grandparents in Detroit to soak up the culture of her father. She knows that the families of her friends are made up of loving parents, even same sex parents.

(* a moment of Mommy pride? When Emily handily refuted a playmates assertion that everyone had to have a mommy and a daddy - which Emily said wasn't true cause her friend Zoe has two mom's!)

To my knowledge, the worst racial "name" Emily has been called was when she was told that "she was black, so she didn't have any friends." I am not so naive as to think that this will be the only comment she will encounter, but it was damaging enough in the context in which it was delivered to her.

My family talks about the issue of race and culture in America every day. We have to. Our daughter's self image and self esteem depends on the manner in which we prepare her for the external societal experience.

Can you do me a favor? Can you start talking about this in your family too? Cause someday, my daughter will be out there - with your children.  I want her to be accepted and comfortable in her skin. I want your children to see Emily, as she is - not a label, not a name-  but as a beautiful whole person.

Originally published May 18, 2006 at The Gimlet Eye

Having lived in Montreal for nearly six years, I can safely say that Emily has known "cultural diversity" in so many ways - Ethnic, Religious, Language - that I now worry about our return to the US.

Even here, she has been told she is not Black...since her friends see her as possibly First Nations, or of Latin descent. She has had friends from India, much darker skinned than she, call each other black and tell her she was not black. During one trip to New York City, Latinas would constantly come up to us and begin to speak with us  - admiring Emily. They believed that her father had to be Hispanic, and since Terrance was not with us at the time, there was no identifiable partner to my White-white-girlness.

Last year, she had her first incident of having a dark skinned girl dislike her ( and verbally disparage her) because she was light skinned with "good" hair.  Don Lemon's opinion piece on CNN still holds a great deal of truth in many black american families and communities. It still takes only one drop for many people.

Yesterday, I was showing her pictures I have been scanning in of her as a baby. At her second birthday, we had invited a friend of hers, from child care, over. Brandon was, like her, biracial - with a white mom and black dad.

Emily looked at the pictures and was shocked. She had forgotten Brandon, and certainly forgotten that he was like her, biracial in an extremely white state.  In her surprise, she blurted out, "He's coloured!" - which was her brain mixing up words and concepts and even languages.

Her father freaked out.


As he barrelled into my bedroom yelling "WHERE DID YOU HEAR THAT WORD?! TELL ME RIGHT NOW. DID ONE OF YOUR FRIENDS USE THAT WORD?", Emily's mien was that of one confused person. She had no idea what she had said that caused such an intense reaction in her father.

I had to put my hand out and stop him - remind him that I don't think she had a concept of that word as derogatory, given our many years here in Montreal, where racism isn't encountered in the same forms as it lives in the US.

(Racism is alive and well in Montreal, don't get me wrong, it just lurks in different forms. "Mulatto" is still a term used here, as it has a different cultural context, not to mention we are in  French speaking province)

After I had calmed him down, I explained to her that "coloured" was a term of prejudice, used in signs and language of segregation that existed in the not terribly distant past. That her father heard that word as one of disrespect, of racism.  That his instinct remains that of a man who was born in 1961, a year when our marriage would have still be illegal, and before the Civil Rights movement.

So do my family still talk about issues of race? Yep. Nearly Everyday.

I suspect we always will.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tonight, my daughter lost her seventh tooth.

The losing of teeth is a rite of passage. I recall losing my own teeth and feeling, with certainty, that this was a sign - long before puberty hit me broadside - that I was growing up. Getting the dimes, and occasional quarter from the tooth fairy was a bonus, for sure. But long after the money had been spent, the big new teeth remained, my face changing from a child to a young woman.

In my life before my daughter, I had never given a great deal of thought as to losing teeth and the dilemma it may pose for parents.

Since I naturally assumed that the tooth fairy whisked my sacred teeth to her tooth kingdom, it never occurred to me that my mother was the culprit in the covert tooth removal operation.

It wasn't until Emily lost her first tooth that I was presented with the age old question - What the hell do you do with the teeth? I mean, Santa? Easter Bunny? No problem. I had these mystical characters down pat.

I KNEW how to make convincing easter bunny nibbles in carrots, I made it seem as if reindeers had nibbled at the sugar and crumbs were left to prove Santa had indeed partaken of the snack we left - including the

empty glass of wine we leave for Santa. (Santa enjoys a little change of pace from the whole milk thing. It makes him more generous with the gifts.)

But a flying fairy? Transporting discarded body parts over state and fantastical lines?

And let's just say that this isn't in most parenting magazines yet:

"What to do with your child's old teeth: Five jewelery tips!"

"Parents who callously throw their child's baby teeth away raise a higher percentage of high school dropouts!",

"Today on Oprah, Strippers who can trace their moral downfall to waking up and finding out that their mother was the Tooth Fairy."

It seems somehow wrong to throw away a piece of my child. I mean, I saved the little stump of her umbilical cord too. Ok, stop wrinkling your noses. It doesn't smell or anything. Besides, I know most of you did it too.

It's a visceral reminder of her time in my body. As she grows older and more independent, I treasure those small reminders of her babyhood. When my breasts were Nirvana for her and when I remained the funniest,wisest, most comforting human on the earth.

Now, with the loss of her seventh tooth, she is becoming a young woman. Her face is changing shape. She is sassy and funny and confident. She tries to lie to me, and I can still catch her at it. There will come a time in the future when I will not be able to tell, but I don't want her to know that. I still remain all-comforting, all-knowing, able to fix everything. I know that this stage is coming to an end too.

So, I save the teeth.
I keep them tucked away in the bottom of my cedar chest. As each tooth joins it's fellows, she steps closer to becoming the young woman who will roll her eyes at me, talk about what an embarrassment my clothes are, or makes disgusted noises when her father and I kiss each other. She will keep her own secrets, endure her own heartbreaks and wrestle her own demons.

Yet these teeth, the teeth that nipped my breasts while nursing, that kept us all awake through terrible nights of teething, the teeth that cannibalized a class of other one year olds; they remind me of the baby that the midwife handed to me.

The baby that only lives at the bottom of my cedar chest and in my memories.

September 10, 2007 Gimlet Eye

No, That's mine

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

If you want to make a toddler angry fast, insist that his/her mother is not their mother but is, in fact, YOUR mother. Those are fighting words, partner. Some may say that the toddler does this due to egocentricism, but I prefer to believe that in that game you mess with the elements of that child's “Story”, which is part of their essence. If I played that game with a child, I always ended it by telling them that OF COURSE that was their Mommy – and not mine. I needed to reassure that I indeed would abide by their script in this, the most important of roles to them.

This leads to an interesting segueway – as it leads to a second article I wandered into, “Mazes of Meaning: How a Child and Culture create each other” by Jean Briggs.

I found the title was wildly intriguing, as it forms a cornerstone of my dissertation inquiry. The idea that a child is created by a culture....and then moves into a larger social group in a classroom and recreates not only their personal culture, but must then blend that personal culture into a new group culture negotiated by all members of the classroom.

As I read the article, I was a bit troubled. The author describes her life among the Qipisa Inuit and while it started out promising with quotes such as:

The notion that meaning inheres in culture and that people receive it passively, as dough receives the cookie cutter, is rapidly being replaced by the idea that culture consists of ingredients, which people actively select, interpret, and use in various ways, as opportunities, capabilities, and experience allow. But it is not the individual that creates meanings, it is the individuals who do so.” (p 25)

YES! Now this is what I had been looking for! Briggs further sets the stage by describing the community and some of the communally held tenets regarding child rearing and education. How adults in this community use the asking of questions to their children as a means of communicating values and posing problems to be solved. “Well yes”, I thought, “who doesn't do this?”

It was the next paragraph that woke me up. For the questions posed in this community to their children were framed in dangerous and dramatic language. Briggs writes:

“In this way, adults create, or raise to conciousness, issues that the child will perceive to be of great consequence for his or her life: “Why don't you kill your baby brother?” “Why don't you die so I can have your nice new shirt?” “Your mother's going to die – look, she's cut her finger – do you want to come and live with me?”

I was a little disturbed. I mean who tells a three year old that their mother is going to die? Who suggests to a child that they kill their new brother or sister? How on earth is someone supposed to answer these questions?

However, as I continued to read, I began to understand that in this community, this is how children are prepped for life transitions. These questions which seemed unduly cruel to me were the tools by which this Inuit community helped it's individual children clarify issues of attachment, belonging and possession. The author writes that the adults in the community only enact this verbal dialogue with children until the children are old enough to know that the adults questioning are not to be taken seriously. These questions brought directly to the surface impulses and thoughts which could have long term consequences if not managed through the adult group members. Through this question and answer exchange, children can test responses, seek alliances from trusted adults and come to understand the pre-eminent role of their parent(s) as primary caregiver.

As I pondered on what a strange series of questions, and how these questions seemed a bit unreasonable and harsh...I flashed back to my own games with Toddlers.

All of the “No, thats mine” game, where I would pretend to put on someones coat or shoe – or take a bottle or binky away resulting in both hysterical delight and more than a bit of apprehension that I was going to take their belongings. The “That's my mommy, not yours” games. The “pretending to be asleep/dead and then jumping up game” or the “I'm going to eat your lunch” game.

I played the exact same games with the babies in my care as described by Briggs, albeit with different verbiage and the cultural construct in which I lived.

As I reflect, I had no concious knowledge of imparting cultural specific knowledge to those children – but I was. We played with their deepest fears – abandonment, loss of parent, loss of belongings, the role of their interdependence on adults for their sustenance and comfort. By co-creating these stories, each child and I would engage in a delicate dance among the real life monsters of a child world, the fear that lies just on the edge of security. However, while I always knew it was a game, I never gave thought to the idea that the child did not necessarily believe it was a game, but that these scenarios could be quite real. The edge of relief and panic would mix with laughter in each child as I would sit up from my feigned and exaggerated “death”. The laughter would become hysterical at times, for what I now realize may have been hysteria.

I was unknowingly scaffolding for these toddlers their entry into coping with fears that, left unaddressed, could compromise their ability to make important life transitions in not only their social capabilities but their cognitive development as well. I became another player in a social drama that seems to have it's roots in something much deeper than play between a child and adult.


Lick and Learn

Monday, January 09, 2012

All right - perhaps I find this much funnier than I should. However, I think I have established the "Dawn's sense of humor is a little off beat" vibe...

So Easter morning, 7 a.m. and the bounty of the Easter bunny is being dumped on my vaguely conscious body. I had fallen asleep at 2 a.m., so I am groggy at best.

I  hear the bag with the fancy dancy bath salts being opened and sniffed. I roll to get a better look at Emily - just in time to see her say "Yum!" and pluck a hunk of mineral salt out of the bag and pop it into her mouth.

Her face contorts. She sticks her tongue out - not unlike a frog who has swallowed a poisonous bug - and the salt falls out into her lap. Plop. She remains very quiet - clearly embarrassed by popping a bath salt into her mouth, and rolls over to lick the taste off on the quilt.

I pretend to have seen nothing, as I grin into my pillow.

Gimlet Eye 2007

Fears, Idle Fears

Saturday, January 07, 2012

I have an irrational fear. I don't know where it came from. I don't recall a definitive moment when I acquired this fear, but it is there, lurking beneath the surface of my consciousness.

Of course, it comes and goes in intensity. Like a tic I have forgotten I have, until it rears its ugly head and I am ever aware of it for the next several weeks...or months.

My fear? Being stabbed by a person walking by me on the street. Nothing flashy, nothing "Psycho"-esque. Just a random stranger walking by, sliding a thin stiletto blade into my belly, as they keep walking. This person doesn't know me. Hasn't got it in for "Me" in particular, just a random serial stabber.

I know. Weird. But this fear has been there for as long as I can recall. I remember being nine and having this fear. For awhile it had a companion fear, the one I like to call "Fear of being shot to death in your bed while you sleep by an unknown assailant". For several years, I would fall asleep facing the door - so I could see death coming for me, were it to make it's move. As if I had something I could bargain with - "But wait, unknown assailant - I will grow up and make quilts and write things on the Internet, and have some mental health issues, but generally be a decent person. Isn't there some kid MORE deserving of death than I?"

Part of my city fear has been tied up in these two other fears. Being in a city, one would more likely encounter the stiletto wielding pedestrian than say - Vermont. While my chances of dying in a snow related car accident, or a potential moose mauling increased - Death by sneaky stabber was low.

I'd actually forgotten these two fears in the last two years or so. Having gone to New York and Detroit and not being stabbed, nor shot to death in my bed seemed to allay the twin fears.

"Oh Look", said Dawns irrational stabbing fear, "I can walk in a crowded street, or get on a subway and not meet my doom at the hands of some unfeeling sociopath."

"I know!", responded Dawns irrational shotgun while sleeping fear, " We've slept in these scary cities and no one has shot us in the head while we sleep!"

I feel successful. I have showed the fears that they have no power here.

"Psssst", whispers Dawns fear of dying in a fiery high altitude plane crash and being eaten by the survivors, "I'm still here."

I roll my eyes at it. "Fuck off", I say.

The good news is that I no longer have (some of) these fears after living in Montreal since 2006. The bad news? My phobia of being in a bus with smelly people has increased.  As in "I have never been on a bus in Montreal because I just can't bear the idea of people who smell being too close to me and me starting to gag".   

And my fear of being questioned in rapid French. That has definitely emerged since moving here. 

I am Weak, but I am Strong

Thursday, January 05, 2012

While discussing my plans for my life going forward, I confessed that I just didn't know.

"I just feel... ambivalent.  Surely there must be more to life than feeling ambivalent about your partner? Surely there must be something more? I feel gratitude. Friendship. Affection. But Love? Passion? Commonality? Is this it? Is this what I have to look forward to the end of my days? Ambivalence?"

Besides, I added, who would want this mess of a human being that I have become...so pitiful that even I can't bear to listen to my internal voice?

"Dawn", Gilda said, "You are ambivalently/anxiously attached to Terrance. This is your attachment style. You learned this from your mother."

well, hello thunderbolt.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am past the "my mommy and daddy screwed me up and let me rage at her/them" stage of my life. It wasn't that I have a fucked up parenting history that was my thunderbolt. I mean, cmon - the fact that with the things I have seen and experienced and lived through? The sexual abuse? The emotional and verbal abuse? The neglect?  Yeah. No major epiphanies there, folks.

It was that I always kind of knew that my attachment with my mother was most likely in the "not healthy" range. Shit, I named it over a year and a half ago.

( at which point I raise a toast to my spot on instincts and intuition. Yeah Dawn!)

No -  it was that I was repeating it.

Me, who is so careful to scan and monitor my reactions and feelings. Scrubbing myself raw to make sure that there are no gremlins in this machine, and that my motivations are known to me. Never lie to myself, never pretend, never obfuscate....puzzling over this large and unsolvable riddle in the middle of my life for well over a year.

Suddenly, it was like I had been given the key to the lock. The Why of my inability to soothe myself, the craptastic modulation of emotional highs and lows.

Gilda had found the link, the words that I understood. Attachment. Babies. I know this, of course. I assessed for it in the infants for whom I cared, and the mothers - trying to fit myself into their lives, support their needs.

Over the next several weeks, it all began to make perfect sense - this inability to find my own happiness. I was stuck in the patterns of my earliest life, replaying it over and over.

If you've have never had one of those epiphanies in which all sorts of things knit themselves together, like some crazy movie montage, your own personal Usual Suspects moments, then I can only explain it in those terms.

While I normally maintain some characteristics of a child with anxious attachment (no discernible emotional response -  no highs, no lows, just middle of the road, preferring auto-regulation), the turmoil of last year ( the depression requiring the medication switch and ensuing grief flood) had swung my response style between that of an anxious then ambivalent child.

In truth, it most likely reflects the styles of each of my biological parents, and how I related to each of them.

My pendulum swung back and forth, from flooding grief wanting comfort to frozen response in which I perceived Terrance as a threat to be avoided.

Fucked up, right? Yeah. I know.

For some ( a long ) time I felt so terribly bad for Terrance. How did he choose such a fucking lemon for a wife?  In truth, I still feel bad.  Of course, this then became grief... because who else could ever want me? So damaged and imperfect, so utterly up fucked?  If we did separate, how would I ever bear to drag anyone else into this mess? I mean it is bad enough I have saddled poor Emily with This as her mothering example.

Over the past few months, as I have worked through this new knowledge, I admit that I have had varying feelings about sharing the information. A fear of seeming just too damaged has played a part, particularly as I look forward to the end of the Dissertation and a life beyond. Not that I am naive enough to believe that we all aren't damaged in a multitude of ways, only that I wear it so openly, so transparently. I know this choice of mine is terrifying for lots of people, socialized to never admit weakness and certainly never talk about it.

After I considered burying the information, my self doubt grew stronger. Until finally, I relented.  Yes, I said to my inner voice. I hear you. No pretending. No lying. No covering up.

I can only ever be who I am, you see. When I try to pretend otherwise? The consequences are just never worth it.  I get sick. I doubt my own intuition. Every instinct about what is right for me gets muffled, and I lose my way.

For a person who has survived precisely because her intuition?  I become wrapped in a shroud of haze, fading away.

You'd think that - like depression - I wouldn't have to learn this lesson over and over. Yet, I do. I am penultimately human.  Flawed. Beautifully so.  Learning to extend forgiveness to myself and others.

When I do these things, my Center returns. My happiness returns. My ability to be pleased with my work, with my choices, with my life returns.

Here are a couple of articles about adult attachment that I found quite intriguing. Yes, there is some technical language, but I think this doctor has a pretty good handle on the implications of attachment in adult relationships. Avoidant and Ambivilent   Now, mind you, this is still kind of a "newish" concept in therapy so I am curious to see how it plays out. There is also some intriguing evidence that attachment style affects brain chemistry in a variety of ways.

Also - and this is something that made me quite literally weep with joy - attachment styles can be changed. Emily was/is securely attached to her father and myself. For her, it was Terrance that mitigated the responses during my post partum depression. As long as a child has one parent/adult to securely bond? Things will be all right. Once I emerged from my depression, Emily recovered the attachment to me as I worked to become a better mother. While about 75% of children re-enact the attachment style of their parent/mother, it is possible to change that pattern.

It is always possible to change the pattern.


Beauty Within

Monday, January 02, 2012

At the beginning of winter I was given a new diagnosis from my therapist.

I suppose it isn't so much "new" as it is "new to me". Even then I am not really sure that it is "new to me" so much as "new to me being truly aware of it in a "forefront of the brain" kind of way".

Yes, Yes, There is depression. Always and eternal, my shadow dawn that lingers in the closet, waiting to knee tackle me when I get cocky or have no energy to resist. She is a mean bitch, that shadow-dawn. And brutally unforgiving. And critical.

Luckily - if one can calls this luck - the damage I do is primarily to me.  When I emerge from the bad depressions - the ones that go on and on and need medication changes, and months of therapy to get me to stop weeping continually, or lying in bed, alternately wishing I would spontaneously fold in on myself and die OR sleeping for 18 hours only to get up and then decide I am too exhausted to do anything - I am usually both scared and timorously exalted.

Mostly because I am always shocked when I realize I have been depressed. That what I was/am feeling was an honest to fucking god depression.  I chide myself for not knowing.  For not catching on...I mean, for fucks sake, how many times do I need to get hit in the face with this particular frying pan to recognize it?

So, as I reviewed the past year with Gilda, my long suffering therapist, I said this:

"I'm not depressed anymore. I know that feeing. I wake up at a normal time, and fall asleep at a normal time. I have gotten more work done in 6 months than I have in the past 5 years. But I am not happy. "

To not be depressed, but not be happy? Forgive me when I confess that I was flummoxed by this.  Now, I might not be the most enthusiastically joyful person at the best of times, but when not depressed I have never felt....Unhappy.

And Yet, there it was. I felt unhappy.

For a while I blamed Terrance.  It was Him. He made me unhappy.

Of course, this rang untrue to me, even as I was blaming him.  My husband is many things, but patently cruel has never been one of them.  Can he be a bullying asshole? Oh, yeah.  But does he seek to make me unhappy? No, not really.

Week after week I would slide into my chair at Gilda's office and unroll my litany of sadness.  I wasn't happy, and I was trapped in it. How did I get to this place in my life? How did I become this woman, this wife?  I despised my own grief and mourning for something I couldn't name.

I was productive, Yes, but not happy.

This unhappiness made me feel ludicrously uncertain.  I just didn't KNOW....and this began to trickle into realms in which I am generally sure of myself.

My writing for example. I would email Maija and ask if she Understood it, because I couldn't be certain that what was coming out of my head through my fingers was coherent.  I became oddly paralysed, frozen by my inability to judge what I was feeling. As a person whose intuition is generally spot on, this left me feeling like I had lost a limb.

I knew I was unhappy, but I trusted nothing coming in from my senses. My intuition was firing away, and I was receiving those messages - but doubting the content.

That's fucked, people. It's like seeing a colour and knowing it is Red, but then pausing and thinking "Well, maybe it is't red. It could be Yellow. I just don't know.

It is crazy making.  Srsly. This is the kind of shit that drives you Crazy. This is also the kind of shit that I know from my Years with Crazy D. She was Queen Grand Poo-bah of telling you what you were seeing, or feeling or experiencing was Not Happening. Did Not Happen.  Nope. No Sir.  Not Here, by golly.

And I wasn't shaking it. I wasn't shaking the voice, the doubt. I no longer trusted myself.

The rest is coming, I promise.  It's just too damn long to fit into one post....

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