Virtually every post on Facebook today was either someone celebrating being a mother or fondly remembering a deceased mother. Since I do not have kids, and I cannot say I have many fond memories of my deceased mother, I was hoping for some good cheer. I told my husband much of this past week that I was expecting some sort of Mother’s Day recognition from out dogs. I guess he thought I was joking because I did not even get a card. Fortunately, I had scheduled a massage for myself today. I try to remember that just because I try to anticipate the wants and needs of people I love, I cannot expect people to do the same for me. The feeling I feel most often, both at work and in my personal life, is taken for granted. I cannot describe how often I wish I could just spontaneously combust and completely disappear, especially since I already feel so dispensable. Days like today just reinforce those feelings.
When we adopted our dog Ella almost three years, we initially saw a frisky little beagle mix pooch who no one else wanted. We lavished her with love and attention … Continue reading Beagle Therapy
This past week, I heard a homily at Mass about how we cannot grow beautiful flowers unless we are diligent in pruning our gardens. Upon reflection, I am realizing that I have been unnecessarily tangled in vines and branches of anger and resentment that are holding me back. I can continue to wrestle with them, or I can begin to trim them away. I have spent too much time and energy worrying about to battle or “manage” these vines and branches instead of just cutting them away. Snip! Snip!
I remember growing up and worrying about how I was going to support myself when I became an adult. My sister and my brothers all seemed to know that they were going to marry and have children. I just felt that I would probably never marry, and I absolutely knew I would never have kids. (When my doctor told me in my early 30’s that I could not have children, I was neither surprised nor disappointed.) When I met the man who is now my husband when I was 38, I suddenly knew I was going to marry him, but that is another story for another time.
Back to my childhood worries. When I was a kid, I worried a lot about how I would support myself. My brothers seemed to know they would probably be teachers and coaches (they both work in education now), and my sister seemed to know she would work with old people (she runs a nursing home), but I had no clue. I thought about being a social studies teacher, but everyone told me I was too smart to be a teacher. (In retrospect, I think that is a sad commentary on the priorities of our culture.) During my junior year of high school, I ended up taking an accounting class due to a scheduling snafu, and I LOVED it. That is when I decided to be an accountant, but deep down I still wanted to teach one day. When I graduated from college, I felt like I was limited in what I could do as a tax accountant without law school, so I went to law school. Again, I loved it, but deep down, I wanted to teach. After practicing law a few years, I earned my Masters degree in Accounting, but I still wanted to teach. Eventually, I go the chance to work at the university as a full-time accounting professor, but still many family and friends questioned my decision. Did I take a pay cut? Yes Was being a college professor less prestigious than being a tax attorney? To some, perhaps. Did I care? No. I realized that when I was growing up, I spent far too much worrying about what my family and few friends thought about me. As I have grown older, I have learned I have to live me.
I am finally doing what I thought I would be doing when I was a kid — being a teacher.
My mom died 8 years ago. My sister and two brothers still grieve her death. I feel nothing but relief. I used to feel very guilty about this, but I have since come realize that we had different mothers. The same woman gave birth to us and raised us, but I feel like we had different “mothers.” My parents were beautiful and popular people. Being handsome and popular came very naturally to my father despite the fact that he was somewhat of an introvert. He was just naturally very likable. Mom, on the other hand, was anxious to be beautiful and loved. She was always on a diet and was very conscious of wearing make-up and looking the part. I think it was always her goal to have beautiful and popular children. My sister and brother surpassed her wishes in every way. My sister was athletic, pretty, funny, popular, and had many boyfriends. My brothers were gorgeous, excelled in every sport, hilarious, and adored by all the girls. I was heavy, had acne, born with a bad eye, painfully shy, not sporty, and woefully unpopular. While the other three kids were outside being outstandingly popular, I was in my room reading book (which I loved!) My mother was mortified that I was ugly and shy. It seems like she spent my whole life trying to “fix” me instead of just loving me. So, until the day she died (when her last words to me were “I don’t want to hear your voice anymore”) all I can think about is that she loved my sister and brothers unconditionally, and that I was a chronic disappointment.
This is especially hard for me take when I think that I was always an excellent student. I was the only one of us for kids who earned a free ride academic scholarship to college as well a full-tuition scholarship to law school. I have an undergraduate and masters degree in accounting, a CPA, and a law degree. I have earned multiple teaching awards, and I have married a man who says he “wants to spend the rest of his life proving himself worthy of me.” All my mom worried about at our wedding was whether or not I was going to wear make-up. She was embarrassed when I gave up practicing tax law to teach at the university because she thought being a professor was not as prestigious as being an attorney. I never remember truly feeling like she really loved me or was proud of me. I was always on guard around her waiting for the next criticism. Why would I miss her?
I think my sister and brothers think I am cold-hearted for feeling how I feel, so I don’t really talk about it. I suspect they feel badly that they kids have lost a grandmother. I don’t think they can ever understand how growing up like I did can affect a person. I am also not sure they care.
Today I had a student tell me she was diagnosed as bipolar. She is a wonderful, smart kid. One of the things she told me is that she sometimes has asked her close friends, “Do you ever feel like you are just faking it?” They have generally been puzzled by her question, but she says she now understands that she HAS been faking it. Apparently, she has been struggling with her bipolar disorder for quite sometime. Because she is very bright and incredibly determined, she has been able to “fake it” in many areas of her life so that the symptoms did not reveal themselves very clearly to anyone but herself. I knew she was struggling with something so I convinced her to get counseling, and after multiple sessions, she said she felt surprised, but relieved, with the diagnosis. Now, she and her doctor are working to find the right combination of medications for her.
This has been revelatory to me because I think I have been faking it most of my life. I am painfully shy. I did not really even talk to strangers until high school. On the Myers-Briggs scale, I am a HUGE Introvert, and I think I over-compensate for that by being chatty, and this often fools people into thinking I am a cheerful extrovert. I am really a sad introvert. My students and co-workers think I am a calm, confident, funny smart-ass. In reality, I am an anxious, overly sensitive hot mess.
I read things that tell me that if I practice acting happy, I will be happy. Or if I keep acting calm, I will be calm. Well, I have been practicing for decades, and it hasn’t happened yet, so I am losing faith. Do I have to fake it for the rest of my life?
Dad has been gone almost a month, and his death has hit me harder than I think most everyone around me realizes. Dad’s absence has forced me face my idea of “family” and the fact I do not have much of one. Tony and Ruthie sleep beside me as I write this (and weep). I have finally come to understand (I think) the love that Tony has for me, and I am learning that he shows it in his own way — it is true.
I look at the “family” Mom and Dad have left behind, though, and I am sad. First, there is me. They were caring and giving people, but I feel like nothing more than a cold and empty vessel. I am overly sensitive and give too freely of my time and talents, but I don’t really feel like I am truly warm and caring. I think I ran out of “warm and caring” feelings a long time ago (except when it comes to dogs). Most of the time, I feel like I am burnt out and resentful. It’s probably why I am more comfortable with dogs than people. I think Dad was ultimately disappointed in me because I was so cold and mechanical with him in his final days. I know he wanted to love me, but I think he was frustrated that I was not as warm and fuzzy as my sister and brothers.
Mom spent all of our joint lives trying to fix me. I was never skinny enough, stylish enough, mannerly enough, kind enough, or anything she wanted me to be. I imagine most mothers have ideas of what they want their daughters to be, and I must appalled my mom at virtually every turn. Of course, I don’t think she ever understood that it hurt me to the core that she never seemed to love the person I was.
My sister. It’s funny. Looking back, I cannot think back to a single period of time when we ever really got along. Ever since I can remember, I have always been sort of afraid of my sister. I can remember countless times when she literally stomped her foot to get her way. She would demand something from Mom and Dad, and stomp her foot if she did not get it. I can remember thinking “I would never do that!” I can remember all the times used to make myself a glass of iced tea, and she would demand a sip, even though I had an issue with germs. She always bullied me into giving her a sip because I ended up being more afraid of her than the germs. Every single time we had a childhood fight, she would scream at me “You”re a fat pig, and you don’t have any friends!” I can still remember how I would brace myself to hear those words every time we fought. It was brutal. As we got older, she would scream things like “At least I am not a professor because I couldn’t cut it as a lawyer.” I have never forgotten any of the hurtful things she has ever shouted at me during fights, and it is clear to me that she hates and has no respect for me. She threw a fit at my wedding and tried to ruin because she did have the she thought she deserved in my wedding.
Brother A. I think he tries to maintain some sort of relationship with me because he thought he saw me almost die one time. It scared him so he worries about me on occasion. That said, I don’t trust him, and he is not responsible with money or property.
Brother B and his wife keep score. Brother B and I used to be close, but since he got married, he does not even seem to want me involved in his kids’ lives. It is very hurtful. I feel like I am the crazy aunt that my sister and brothers want to pretend does not exist.