Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Life in Words, Part Nine: I got to see her transform

The final installment of my Mom's life story so far, Part Eight here, the first part here

Whatever job my mother happened to have at any given time, her days followed the same pattern.  She worked during the daylight hours, and came home in the afternoon, sometimes dusk.  That was when I got to see her transform.  Most people transform into a homebody when they return from their jobs.  But not my mother!  It was a different kind of transformation.  It was taking off the face that she had worn to work, and putting on a more glamorous nighttime face.  The blush was brighter, the lipstick redder, and the eyes smokier.  Well, maybe I’m confusing the eyes with the smokiness of the small bathroom while I sat on the toilet and watched her put on makeup.  I was transfixed.  My mom was quite an attractive woman.  A natural redhead , she had a curvaceous body that would have rivaled Marilyn Monroe’s.  Maybe having a baby at 17 had helped her mature earlier than most adolescents.  I didn’t understand, nor think those thoughts.  I was just torn in half watching her get dressed and loving that time I could spend with her, but knowing that the result of her preparations would be her leaving for the evening, and she certainly wouldn’t be home before I was put to bed.  The corollary to that was that she was never the one to put me to bed.  But I slept with her.  In a three bedroom house, there was no room for two adult daughters and a young grandchild.  By necessity I shared a room with my mom.  It created in me a need to sleep with someone.  I had to fight my urge to have my own children sleep with me.  I didn’t wake up when my mother finally came home. But when my grandmother would come to wake me up, she would put her finger to her lips, a silent signal for me to BE silent.  And I obeyed.  Because I knew what it would be like if I were to unintentionally wake my mother.  

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Life in Words, Part Eight: Mama was a paradox

“Are you okay?  Do you love me?  Are you mad at me?” 

My mom

It was much later in my life before I realized that  my mom was a weapon.  She did quite a bit of damage.  Some was by her words, some by her actions, and some by simple selfishness.  Mama was a paradox.  While she often gave lavish gifts, she was just as likely to push others aside to get her own way.  It was years before I realized that she used things as anesthesia.  She could believe she was good – and she could make you believe she was good – if she gave you a nice gift, or took you somewhere you wanted to go, or did something you wanted to do.  As long as it cost her something.  And that something was always cash.  Sacrifice wasn’t her currency.  It’s hard for me to look back and try to understand why I didn’t see things accurately back then.  I imagine it was my childish heart.  A child always wants to believe in love.  Maybe we are even programmed genetically, or instinctively, to believe that our mother is good, that our mother loves us, and that our mother always has our best interest in the forefront.  I am not the only child to grow up and learn in hindsight that that wasn’t true.  But not knowing protected my heart and it needed protecting in those days.  I had been given the heavy obligation of making too many people happy.   If people were angry, if people were sad, it had to be my fault.  Why did no one try to take that from me?  Surely they noticed.  Surely to God they noticed.  The refrain that I repeated way too often was, “Are you okay?  Do you love me?  Are you mad at me?”  Of course, there was usually a response to that refrain.  But it wasn’t from my mother, the one I most wanted it to be from.  Her answer was too practical, too annoyed.  “I’m not mad.  Quit asking me that.  You know I love you.  I’m okay.”  Answers, but not the answers I wanted.  I wanted sweetness and caresses, and kisses that said I was the most important thing in her life.  But that probably wouldn’t have worked.  It is a law of life that for words to be seen as sincere, they have to match the actions of the speaker.   And my mother’s actions were far from saying, “You are the most important thing in my life.”

(Evelyn on the left)

I have to remember that my mother had me as the result of an accident.  I wasn’t born the lovingly wished for offspring of a fresh young couple.  I wasn’t the infant of an older couple who had prayed for a baby for over a decade, perhaps.  I was the result of two young kids fumbling around in some furtive encounter when neither of them had any thought that a life would start. Instead of joy at the realization that a baby was coming, I am sure there was anger.  If messages cross that placental membrane as easily as nutrients do, then I am sure I was bombarded with hate, rage, but mostly, fear.  When I realize that, it is easier to understand how quickly my mother was able to slide her parental responsibilities off to my grandmother.  Later in life, she tried to blame my grandmother for “stealing” me.  I presume she meant stealing my affection.  But anyone with any sense knows that it would be very hard to kidnap a child’s affection from a mother whose love was the most integral part of the child’s life.  I couldn’t have been very old before even I realized that I was an afterthought.  My mother was a working mother from my earliest memory.  She worked as a waitress, then for a caterer, and finally for most of my childhood she was a cashier for Winn-Dixie in our neighborhood.  

fire burns everything in its path, both good and bad

I am sure that she was a good worker.  If my grandfather imparted anything to the three women he raised it was to be a good employee.  One of the worse things that could be said of someone was that they were a lazy worker, or that they did not give an honest day’s work for their honest day’s pay.  That lesson led each of us to work far beyond what was expected.  We would arrive early and we would stay late, as needed.  We were a friend to all our co-workers.  However, in my mom’s case, she was perhaps too friendly to some of her co-workers.  The male ones, that is.  I can’t remember a time in my life after memories begin to stick, that my mother did not have a man in her life.  And at least one memory remains from a time when most children don’t have memories.  We had gone to her boss’s house for a holiday.  I loved going there.  He lived out near the Mississippi River levee, just as we did.  But his house was upriver from us, closer toward LaPlace and Destrehan.  And he had kids – lots of kids.  There is nothing an only child likes more than visiting families who have lots of children.  It’s like going to another country, or maybe even another planet.  Someplace so alien that it was unimaginable that people lived like that.    I wanted to go back, and maybe that is why I was so excited when I figured out  by my grandmother’s phone conversation that she was talking to Mr. Bud’s wife.  But that same understanding of who was on the phone couldn’t fathom what was happening on the phone.  But I knew enough to know my grandmother was upset and my inner demons kicked in and I began to ask if she was mad at me and whether she loved me.  After her reassurances, my little girl’s mind kicked back to that phone conversation and I peppered her with questions, “Are we going to Mr. Bud’s house again? Can some of his daughters come over to our house?”  The answer was no to all questions.  Had I been a little older, or perhaps a little more sophisticated, I could have put together the understanding that Mr. Bud’s wife had gotten to the bottom of my mom’s “friendship” with her boss.  I would have also known that the friendship, and my mom’s employment, was over.  And as surely as fire burns everything in its path, both good and bad, my friendship with all those children of one household was over as well.  I was way too little to understand everything about that whole debacle, but I knew it caused a scream fest in our house when my grandfather got home but that imaginary fire wasn’t done with its damage yet.  My mom took off in the car without permission and just like what would happen in the plot of a movie, she wrecked the car, destroying it.  When I got old enough to realize what had really happened, I wondered if that fire of passion had destroyed Mr. Bud’s marriage as well.  And I prayed it had not.  I did not want to feel that my  mother was responsible for all those little kids having to live apart from their father.  It was too sad for me to contemplate. 

The story began here, Part seven is here

Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Life in Words, Part Seven: Ba Sister got tired of it all

My Mom's life story continues, Part six here, It all started here

Sibling Rivalry

Me-Maw and her daughters: Evelyn and Beth        

While there were only two girls in the family, they were not close.  They were rivals for affection, rivals for compliments, and rivals for any good words which were to be spoken of them.  From childhood, my aunt had been given a name by her older sister.  She was called Bay Sister.  Probably it was actually “Ba” Sister, meaning Baby Sister.  But that was the name she carried until death.  And I think she grew tired of being the baby sister who had to carry the older sister’s reputation on her back.  When they left the house, it was the baby sister who was reminded to watch out for the older one.  Because the older one, my mother, was a daredevil.  She would do anything on a dare, from crossing a canal that runs through the urban areas of New Orleans, to jumping off a second story roof.  She had a quick temper that matched the old wives tale of redheads being hotheads. 

She made a decision to get out

Mae Beth aka Bay Sister

Ba Sister got tired of it all.  She got tired of neighbors complaining.  She got tired of family hysteria.  She got tired of her mother making excuses for what Big Sister had done.  She made a decision to get out, and to get out as quickly as she could.  So she enrolled at Soule College, which was a business college and she excelled at everything young women are supposed to do well.  She took Gregg Shorthand.  She did bookkeeping (accounting was for the men).  She typed close to 90 words per minute and her spelling was exceptional.  She almost finished the complete program at Soule, but she was offered a job at Humble Oil, probably as a result of her father’s good reputation with the same company.  So she made the calculated decision that what she had left to learn in her program was not worth the delay in the start of her career.  At her age, she couldn’t yet realize how much she would grow to regret that decision.  It was one of the few things in her life which she didn’t see to the end.  But what she did do was take those first baby steps that would lead her to the rest of her life.  She had no idea at the time what would come from the decision to take that job.  It would truly be the yellow brick road taking her to her own wonderland, her own Oz.

She was the New Woman.  She would support herself, travel alone or with girlfriends, and rebel against every southern rule for women she had been taught.

A new Beth. 

Ba Sister’s first job for Humble Oil was in Grand Isle Louisiana.  What a tiny dot on the map of Louisiana!  It was barely even in Louisiana, but instead it was a collection of houses and offices built on pilings hanging on to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.  From a distance, it looked like a circus scene, with all the houses on stilts, and one would expect to see clowns emerge from them, also walking tall balancing on ten feet poles of wood.  If you are not from Louisiana, or another town that lives on the edge of water that routinely rises without mercy, you wouldn’t be used to the stair climb you would make every morning as you reported to work.  The “girls” in the steno pool would live together in what would appear to be a summer cottage to the uninitiated eye.  They had a chance to see many men in Grand Isle.  But what you really saw was the men arriving to work and then leaving work seven days later.  Grand Isle was the hub of men who climbed aboard helicopters which flew them out to platforms which consisted of oil wells, a heliport, and living quarters.  It was quite an unnatural situation.  Instead of men climbing on the city bus after slogging through a hard day’s work, these workers would walk across a metal catwalk, looking down at water that may be 100 feet or more  deep until they reached their living quarters, which was also the living quarters of 50 or more other men.  While that job was an excellent training ground for a future executive assistant, it was far from excellent as a hunting ground for a husband.  Of course, Ba Sister would have never been guilty of hunting for a husband.  She was the New Woman.  She would support herself, travel alone or with girlfriends, and rebel against every southern rule for women she had been taught.
She didn’t feel the sand of Grand Isle, Louisiana between her toes for long.  Her skills did not go unnoticed, and she was soon working in the Central Business District of New Orleans in the Humble Oil Building.  Even there, everyone knew her father, Red Honeycutt.  His was a hard reputation to ignore.  From his first job of driving a truck, he soon became a roustabout, then a drill pusher on one of those dots in the Gulf of Mexico.  It was the job of those men to pull  oil from under the earth’s surface to sate the thirst of a growing America.  His fellow employees respected and trusted him.  Within a very few years he was an important member of the Employees Federation, the pre-union organization which worked with the management of the future Exxon.  The election to President of the Federation was not a surprise to any who knew him.  His honesty and integrity was known and respected by the rank and file, and even more amazingly, by management – even the highest level of management in the company.  All this was to say that Red’s daughter didn’t go unnoticed by that same management.  She spent enough time in the pool of young workers to make good friends.  Earning good money for the first time in her life, she treated herself well.  The first big purchase was a 1953 Chevy.  It took her for weekend trips to places she had only heard about.  She went away to visit the families of friends she met at work.  But she also went to places her car could not take her.  She was the first one in the extended families of her mother and her father who had ever left the country – on purpose.  She had had uncles who had seen Europe, but that was on a trip paid for by everyone’s uncle – Sam.
The whole time Ba Sister was taking the world by storm (a little storm, but a storm nonetheless) the Big Sister, my mother , was attacking the world with her hammer. 

My Life in Words, Part Six: Tomato aspic, caviar and college?

My mom's life story goes on, Part Five here. It all began here

My aunt lived in the house with my grandparents, my mom and me until I was nearly eight years old.  And even when she moved, she was a large part of my rearing.  She was the family member who was committed to seeing that I grew up with class.  Mae Beth, “good”  Sister made it her job to take me to places where the last thing in the world they would serve was anything with a gravy or a black eyed pea.  With her, I dined on things like tomato aspic and caviar.  We went to Commander’s Palace and dined in the courtyard.  We traveled away for the weekend to Gulf Hills Dude Ranch on the Mississippi Coast.  Every interaction she had with me was designed to teach me that there was something beyond my southern upbringing.  She was the first to talk to me of colleges.  Not just encouraging me to go to college, but talking about which college.  She positively beamed when I spoke of going to Sophie Newcomb, which was the women’s college associated with Tulane University.  I, of course, was too young to know anything about Newcomb, or admission requirements.  I just knew that it had a nice entry and it was in the Garden District.  My mind couldn’t grasp the idea of actually going away to any college and living in a dorm.  Didn’t know what  a dorm was. 

 she was very much past ready to move out and start her life. 

To understand my ignorance, you would have to understand that of all my extended family on either side, only one individual I knew had gone to college.  He was a much older cousin and he came to our house one Christmas with three of his rowdy college friends.  My grandmother did what every aunt does for college boys – she cooked for them.  And what did they do for me?  Broke one of my brand new toys.  I had been given a pogo stick and a miniature pinball game made out of plastic.  Well, one of the guys jumped up on the pogo stick and immediately jumped onto the pinball machine.  Which reacted by breaking into a million pieces.  At least it felt like a million.  To match the million pieces my heart had broken into at the same time.  I wanted to scream out in a rage, but I didn’t.  He was a GUEST.  And even at my young age, I had learned that one never ever made a GUEST feel anything but welcome.
I never quite understood why my aunt didn’t go to college.  She was very smart.  While the family was not rich, I think that my grandfather would have found the money to help her go.  Maybe it would have been to a state school, and maybe she would have had to live at home while she attended, but she could have gone.  But instead, she knew that the only way she would be able to move out of the house was to get a job.  And she was very much past ready to move out and start her life. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My Life in Words, Part Five: The words I never heard said were “eating disorder.”

My mom's life story continues, Part Four here, it all began here

I would assume that we settled into a few years of normalcy, or what we knew as normalcy.  I was eager to learn.  I knew which adult to go to when I wanted something.  Me-Maw was my source of all things good to eat.  Now, to most people that sentence would end there.  But like most things in my existence, it didn’t end there.  Let’s repeat the sentence above :  Me-Maw was my source of all things good to eat.  Now, the corollary to that was that I was the receptacle of all good things Me-Maw prepared to eat.  Well, of course, the remainder of the family ate her good food.  The trick was that SHE didn’t eat her good food.  You see, she had what was described as an “irritable colon”.  That meant she didn’t eat anything.  Well, most people would describe her diet as not eating anything, but she did eat some things – just not very many things.  Let’s describe her diet, shall we?  For breakfast, my Me-Maw had a delicious breakfast of a soft boiled egg, two pieces of dry toast, milk and water.  That was it.  For lunch, she branched out to enjoy a jar of strained carrot baby food, two pieces of that same dry toast, and milk.  And for dinner, she had to limit those eggs.  Heaven forbid if she ate too many egg yolks.  Dinner would consist of egg whites, dry toast, and milk.  Oh, and water.  That was it.  From the time I was old enough to notice  someone’s food and how it was different from my own, it was all I saw my grandmother eat.  I wish I could say that it was for a limited time, but the reality is that that same diet was in effect for over 50 years.  Over the years she added a teaspoon of apple jelly for breakfast, and strained peas baby food for lunch, but basically the menu items didn’t change.  Oh, she continued to feed her family every southern delicacy known to man.  But she didn’t let any of it touch her lips.  As I grew, I begged.  I cajoled.  I threatened.  All because I wanted to see her eat something.  But she never wavered.  People admired her for her will power.  People felt sorry for her because of what she had to endure.  People whispered about how serious her pain must have been to cause her to stick to such limited offerings.  The words I never heard said were “eating disorder.”  Yet those were the two words that I diagnosed once I was an adult and realized what an eating disorder was.  She used her battle with food to control her family, and even more importantly, to control her husband.  She couldn’t go out to eat with that diet.  We couldn’t go on a long vacation because of her diet.  Of course, some arrangements ended up being made, but those arrangements never included her eating something that wasn’t on THE LIST.

I think her food was the ribbon that tied the family together. 

As much as food was my grandmother’s enemy, she did everything she could to make it my friend.  Are you sad?  Let’s see what we have to eat.   Do you feel bad?  You need some grits.  You can’t sleep?  I think you need a piece of pie cause you are probably hungry.  She was the world’s biggest pusher of southern comfort foods.  Given the fact that she never tasted what she was cooking, she was certainly known as a great cook.  I grew up with specialties that my mouth still can taste – fried apple pies, pound cake, Swiss steak, meatloaf, stewed potatoes, black eyed peas and corn bread. You haven’t had chicken and dumplings till you have had her chicken and dumplings.  I think her food was the ribbon that tied the family together.  At least our version of the family.  It was certainly an odd assortment of people.  All related, but all so profoundly different, even in the way they approached life.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Life in Words, Part Four: She went home to her family

My mom's life story continues, Part three here

There was an ugly side to my birth as well.  I have to believe that my mother wanted to grow up and be the mature wife and mother that she was on paper.  So there was some form of reconciliation with my father.  It seemed obvious that he was as anxious to be a father has he had been to be a husband.  But again, there is something about a beautiful baby that makes everyone want to take some credit.  I was told that he took me to his family to be shown around.  I, of course, remember none of that. To this day, I know none of my paternal history, with the exception of some disjoined facts.  My father was a merchant marine,  something I learned as I read it on my birth certificate.  And my mother told me that his parents were named Hazel and John.  He had a sister named Barbara and brothers name Sam and “Donkey”.  I would assume that would be some good beginnings if I were to choose to do some detecting or ancestry tracking.  But I haven’t chosen to do that.  I felt that I had enough unresolved situations in my life to open another door that wouldn’t close again.

"She went home to her family, who willingly welcomed her and her baby back with open arms. "


But as I said, my mother did attempt a reconciliation.  The couple who really didn’t even know each other aside from carnally, rented a small efficiency apartment and made a modest attempt at housekeeping.  My father was a stranger to normalcy, or so my mother felt.  By that time, and he was barely 18, he was a serious drinker.  And he moved in social circles who had nothing social about them.  At one point, my mother told me that he was carried home by two men because he was drunk and his hands had been cut up with a razor.  She had never experienced anything that violent.  While her family had its share of disagreements, physical violence was not something familiar.  Sadly, that was the only experience she shared with me about their attempt at co-habiting.  She went home to her family, who willingly welcomed her and her baby back with open arms.   

"a plan so devious"

Months after the failed attempt at a marriage, the young alcoholic man showed up at my mother’s job in what seemed like an attempt to woo her back to the marriage.  He even had a gift – a very nice dress watch which was far nicer than anything my mother had ever possessed.  She accepted the gift and told the giver that she would have to think about it and they would have to work at it slowly if there was ever to be any true relationship.  That may have shot his plans in the foot.  Before she had made any decision, a bill came to her from a local department store.  It appeared that she had purchased a lovely dress watch for herself.  It’s always amazing when someone is able to work through an alcohol haze to formulate a plan so devious.  But what he really did was end any attempt at any type of relationship with either my mother or me.  I understand from a relative who says her husband related a visit that my grandfather made to my father’s favorite hang out.  My grandfather was crystal clear in his direction that my father was to never under any circumstances contact my mother or me.  Especially me.    I think a death threat was involved.  Was it true?  I do not know.  But I do know that I never heard from my father again.  Unless you count a phantom phone call I received when I was in third grade.  But we’ll talk about that in due time.

to be continued. 

My Life in Words, Part Three: Three mothers

My mom's life story continues, it started here, and continued here. Follow along, its far from over. 

"hyperbole from women who were born with southern story telling in their genes..."

 Evelyn (my grandmother)

 So my grandmother collapsed, grieving for an infant that she hadn’t even known about four months earlier.  While accepting the imminent death of a baby she didn’t know, she prayed for the life of the baby she DID know – her firstborn who yes, had made a mistake, but still deserved to live.  Great aunts who were there at the hospital to support their sister-in-law told me snippets of the story as I grew up.  They marveled at the size of my grandmother’s swollen feet.  Swollen from hours and hours of standing by her daughter’s bed, surely praying silently that she would live.  Other’s talked about the head of the bed being put on blocks so that the whatever blood had not been lost would have be sent to the areas of the body which most needed it.  The parts of the story I most enjoyed were the ones where each aunt told her version of the joy that was expressed when the news was first reported that the baby who was thought to be dead was actually living.  Not just barely living, but living and breathing and kicking, and doing everything that newborn babies are expected to do.  The nuns called it a miracle for sure.  But those who lacked that same religious connection also called it a miracle.  And suddenly, all the prayers which had been divided between a dying baby and a dying mother became directed to the mother, just a 17 year old girl, who still was in that comatose state between life and death.  She remained there for two days. Many many stories grew out of those two days.  There was no lack of hyperbole from women who were born with southern story telling in their genes.  Oddly enough, there appeared to be no males in this story, with the exception of the obstetrician.  The girl’s father, the grandfather, who was there, of course, was the epitome of the stoic.  Silently smoking Lucky Strike after Lucky Strike, keeping all his prayers, worries, and thoughts to himself.  Not once in my life did he ever talk about those dark days.  But many many times he broke through his upbringing to tell me how much he loved me and how happy he was that I was his.

"Those same fates must have seen the challenges that were to come..."

I believe that the fates knew how difficult it was going to be to fit me into a family with very mixed emotions about my arrival.  So the easiest way to ensure my acceptance would be to make my head the right size, make my eyes expressive, and make my cooing sound as though it was directed to whoever happened to be holding me at the time.  Those same fates must have seen the challenges that were to come so they went overboard in one area – they made me a beautiful baby.  Beautiful to the point where strangers would stop and remark on my loveliness.  And I was sweet natured.  To hear the memories, I rarely cried.  The Good Sister, who became the Good Aunt at my birth, was only 15 when I entered the family.  In a real sense, she then gave up her position of being the baby.  Her reality was that she became one of my mothers. Each “mother” took a role in my development.  Sadly, the biggest role of my actual genetic mother, was just that.  She went through the difficult pregnancy and horrific birth to get me to this realm.  Then her job became receiving compliments I generated.  That went on for the largest part of my life.  The Good Aunt became just that – a good aunt.  She was the one I waited on each day to come through the door.  My first words were her name.  It was her back that nearly broke from bending over to hold my hands while I practiced the act of walking.  She hovered when I was with my mother as she was always fearful that something bad would happen to me.  She projected the events of her life onto my life.  And she never, ever stopped doing that.
(Aunt Beth on the left, Evelyn on the right and the overexposed baby Cathy.)

But the biggest role was the mother who did the mothering things.  And that fell to my grandmother.  She was only 34 when I was born, and that was certainly more the age to be a mother than a grandmother.  But she didn’t fight to make her daughter assume the role of mother.  I think that it worked out just as she wanted it to in her heart.  She became my mother.  She prepared my food and she fed me.  She washed my clothes and she dressed me.  She bought my books and she read to me.  She filled every need I had, and in some cases, she created a need for the only reason of filling it for me.  She would have denied that, of course, but all those who were close enough knew it.  The greatest thing she did was to tell me every day – most often several times a day – that I was loved.

My Mom's three mothers: 
Me-Maw, Aunt Beth, Evelyn

My Life in Words, Part Two: People who never learned to weather the storm.

My mother is writing her story, for part one, start here

(found this in the memory book my Grandmother made for me... the lack of finer detail makes sense now that my mom is writing her story.)

“my” birth story      

          The rest of that chapter is very garbled.  It is something I must have studied when I was tired.  I almost remember it but maybe the details don’t gel, or facts are fuzzy. It could have been that the instructor, my aunt, was too cautious about how she taught me the truth of my beginnings.  She didn’t want to hurt me, but wanted to be truthful and believable.  Even though I was forty, it was the first time I had been told “my” birth story.  And as much as she wanted to give me the feel good phrases that other babies are given, instead she was left with painful, ugly facts which she had to spin into a story that at best she could make humorous.  She glossed over the supreme family explosion that occurred that night in September when a sixteen year old was confronted about her sexuality and thus, the state of her body – which by that time was “our” body.   Her mother yelled, her father cried, and each one pulled and tugged and demanded until the name of the perpetrator (never called my father) was revealed.  Then came the movie script version that was reality.  A posse of fathers and uncles tracked down this donor and pulled him from under a bed, and under the threat of a gun carried by one uncle, a courthouse wedding quickly ensued.  Too bad a marriage never followed.  Well, nothing that could be called a marriage anyway.  The teen egg carrier returned to her suburban existence of living with her parents and arguing with her sister about whose turn it was to do the dishes.  The only change was that now there were other reasons for the younger sister to resent the older one.  The pregnant one, despite doing something BAD, got treated royally.  She was given steak to eat when everyone else had cheap cuts.  She got fresh fish while the family got canned mackerel patties. Bad Girl didn’t have to cut the grass, carry full laundry baskets, or go to school.  But the younger sister, who had done nothing wrong, had to go to school and walk down the hallways which by then were full or rumors about her family secret.  It became so bad, the family moved.  And younger sister – good sister – lost all her friends, teachers, routines, and security, to move to a new neighborhood where no one knew about the ugliness.  The resentment that began during the teen years of the younger sister never left her – not even at her death. And in some perverse twist, Good Sister ended up caring for Bad Sister as she died from a disease directly related to another habit she started as an act of rebellion, smoking.  And so, the end of their lives mirrored the beginning.  Struggle, anger, and bitterness existing in a sad dance of two people who never learned to weather the storm.

 It is said that babies come into the world in the exact form needed to insure bonding.

                My troublesome trip into existence didn’t end with a calm, peaceful birth, a delicate moment of a baby being placed in the arms of a waiting, but labor-tired mother.  No, I fought my way into this life, and very nearly took the life of the girl-woman giving birth.  As the pregnancy reached its end, everyone waited, as people have done since time began, for the signals of an impending birth.  But nothing happened.  No twinges of contractions, no stabbing back pains, and no tiny show of blood that would herald what was to come.  Even the doctor expressed his concern, and so a date was set when science would override nature, and labor was going to be started with medicine..  By the time that date arrived, the doctor had become ill with the flu.  Yet he was so concerned about my mom and her birth, he came to the hospital to preside over the events himself.  That fact was often repeated to me, the reasoning being that I would understand how wanted I was and how important even the doctor thought I was.  He remained the doctor who took care of our family’s gynecological needs for many years until his retirement.  Even he told me how my birth was one of his most memorable deliveries. To understand my delivery, you have to put your mind back to a past that had no ultrasounds, no heartbeat monitors, and no epidurals.  Doctors had stethoscopes, their hands, and years of training and experience.  Or at least, one would hope that the doctor standing between her legs had training and experience.  There was no internet to check those facts out, to be sure. 

                It is said that babies come into the world in the exact form needed to insure bonding.  Maybe that is why I was beautiful.  For many years, older relatives would tell me that I was the most beautiful baby they had ever seen.   Now, when I look back on my life, I think that from the point of my birth on, I had to do everything possible to make people fall in love with me.  I disrupted a family, I uprooted the social and educational life of a popular teenager, and I very nearly killed the one who job it was to birth me.  If you go back and read that sentence about the doctor deciding to kickstart the labor process, it has no predicting hints of what that one decision would cause.  I think the doctor always remembered my birth because two lives were very nearly lost – mine and my mothers.  No one knew, or suspected I guess, that my in utero food source – the very one that was the beneficiary of all those steaks and fish – was blocking my doorway to the world. Science calls it placenta previa, but in 1953 – and even today actually – it could be called death.  When the staff realized what was happening, my mother, still in her laboring bed, was rolled into an operating room.  She was hemorrhaging.   It was awful, I was told.  A nun/nurse came out to the waiting area and asked to speak to the mother’s parents.  They were told that there would not be a baby – not a live one anyway.  She explained what had happened, and that in those cases, the babies cannot live without a source of oxygen.  Without a source of life is what she was really saying.  I couldn’t breathe air yet, and I no longer had that lifeline umbilical cord attached to a placenta.  I was in a dying limbo.  But so was the teenager who had to have had conflicting emotions about the baby inside her. She wanted that life.  But she was ashamed of that life and if it went away, maybe things would be easier. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

My Life in Words, Part One: The changes in her body.

I love words, I asked my mom to give me the best gift ever - her words.
On Christmas Day she sent a file with the start of her life story.  I am moved to tears. The story deserves to be shared. I asked if I could share it here. She said it is a gift to me and I can do with it what I want. So without further ado.. My Mom's story: 
  I had a lot of strange thoughts as a child.  The odd thing is that I didn’t think they were strange.  It was only upon the telling that I realized that others didn’t have that common belief system.  Now, don’t waste time trying to imagine what my strange thoughts were.  They weren’t interesting enough to waste your thoughts on.  Here’s an example.  I thought that as humans ate, the food filled up their bodies from the feet up.  One would only have to poop when that used up food reached the place that all poop needs to reach.  I don’t think that was my strangest thought, but I don’t think it was my least strangest either – it is just given as an example, so you can begin to know me as a child.

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in what is most politely called the Deep South.

                I was considered quite bright as a child, which in a way complicated the building up of my knowledge base.  Family members just assumed that I knew things.  Extended family members (who made up most of the people we associated with) didn’t really care what I knew.  But I often ate little nibbles of information from the very table of life where others didn’t even know I dined.  You see, children were often unnoticed, much less assessed as to their intellect.  So I passed through my days, gathering tidbits of information which I somehow fitted into my knowledge base, while discarding other tidbits which no longer seemed accurate, interesting, or even believable.  I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in what is most politely called the Deep South.  Everyone I knew, even those I was not related to, were interesting.  If they weren’t interesting on their own, their neighbors and friends made them interesting by decorating their mundane lives with half truths about their pasts, presents, or futures.
                Oddly enough, the topic of which I knew the least was myself.  I didn’t know who I was.  I only knew that I had a mother, a grandmother, a grandfather, and an aunt.  Those were the people who lived in my house.  During my younger years, I never questioned – didn’t even wonder – about why the makeup of my household was nothing like the makeup of the other homes on the block.  When my friends had to go because a mom had called them inside, I was listening for the voice of a Me-Maw.  Only rarely did a child ask me what, or who, a Me-Maw was.  I knew intellectually that she was my grandmother, but I didn’t quite understand why she had taken on the jobs that were usually done by the moms of the neighborhood.  Since most of my early playmates were my cousins, I didn’t have to explain to them.  My adult self wonders what stories and explanations they had been told by their parents to explain the makeup of our household.  I could ask them now.  I am on good terms and in contact with at least two of them.  But I don’t want to.  I don’t want to know what mean or sad stories they were told about me.  Or maybe I don’t want to hear the lie they would have to make up quickly in order to respond to my question.  Either way, I’m content to just let it be.


“Good” girls didn’t come home pregnant

  Ahh.. Me-Maw.  Maybe Savior would have been a more appropriate name.  Now that I am as old as I ever expected to be, I can put myself in her place and get a glimmer of what it was like for me to join the family.  It was the fifties.  “Good” girls didn’t come home pregnant after meeting some boy at the skating rink. It wasn’t even on her radar.  It took forty years before my aunt finally told me the story, and after I heard it, I understood why it took that long.  It wasn’t pretty and there really wasn’t any way to pretty it up.  A sixteen year old girl took up with a seventeen year old boy who flattered her into doing things she hadn’t done before. And once he had enjoyed the experience, he made the decision not to enjoy it again.  It was a typical teenage flash-in-the-pan romance.  But there was this one little detail that wasn’t so typical.  In whatever uncomfortable, seedy location they found to couple, a miracle happened.  And I was that miracle. 

a swelling in a belly

                Later on in life, it became obvious that the joining of babymaking material was not something that was going to happen easily to my mother.  I can imagine her slowly coming to the realization of what had happened.  She was probably sick as only a newly pregnant woman can be.  And the changes in her body so obvious in the mirror, the shower, and the bath had to be hard to ignore.  But ignore she did.  Her brain helped of course.  When one doesn’t want to believe something, it doesn’t exist.  But you can’t deny a fetus into oblivion.  It keeps growing.  And growing.  And growing.  Every day, something is added to that mistake.  A heart starts to beat; little toes grow on little legs that soon begin kicking so hard, the movement is felt.  And a teenager lies in bed at night and tries to plan away something that cannot be planned away no matter how many prayers, how many threats, or how many pleas.  Until one day, all the plans explode, and the growing truth becomes too obvious for others not to see.  In this case, the teen with the secret is sent outside to hang the clothes on the clothesline because that is the way it was done in 1952.  But some reason – maybe a mother checking to see if the job was being done right, or maybe she just looked out to see a bird she heard chirp.  But what she saw took her breath the way that no bird could have done regardless of its beauty.  She saw the sun – the same sun that would dry her clothes and leave them smelling summer sweet – shining through the thin shirt her clothes-hanging daughter was wearing.  And the almost autumn sun showed a swelling in a belly that she recognized from the two times before when her body had looked the same way.  And the pit of her stomach told her what was true way before her mind – or her heart – could accept it.

To be continued...

Monday, December 02, 2013

Faith I would like to introduce you to Epistemology

I want to take something back.

I characterized my transition out of the church as a "faith crisis" and quite frankly I don't want to call it that anymore. It wasn't a crisis. It was difficult and emotional and generally a suck fest, but crisis? nah. And that term 'faith crisis' implies in some sense that I had created the problem.

A while back I ran into someone, a mormon friend, and since our time was brief I didn't want to bring it up, but it came up anyway. "How is the ward?"

good, as far as I know. (non committal answer)

"How is the family?"


"So what is your calling these days?"

ummm. Actually we left the church in February.

"WHAT? silence.....
that doesn't sound like you."

On the drive home that phrase bounced around in my head like a ping pong ball. "doesn't sound like you"  it irritated me. It had nothing to do with me really. I dug into church history to solidify my faith, not lose it. What I found was NOT of my doing. History was history, I could not change it and I could not put it on the crumbling shelf anymore. How was I, almost 200 years later, dealing with the fallout of some other man's lies?
In the moment of our conversation. I gave my elevator pitch of my main reasons for leaving. She said what I had heard before:

"I know Joseph saw what he saw and did what he did."

And there it was, the "I know" I kept the conversation polite and kind but I thought:
NO YOU DON'T KNOW. You don't know. You just don't know. You just don't. I don't and YOU don't.

You have faith, but I no longer see the value in faith. Faith is lack of evidence. Or in the case of mormonism belief not only with lack of evidence but against a mountain of conflicting evidence. Faith is pretending to know something that you just don't know. Faith brings you here rather quickly:

  1. 1.
    a tendency to be too ready to believe that something is real or true.

When you really think about it, it's the things we have little evidence for that we keep fighting to believe. We are warned over and over again that our testimonies need "strengthening". What else in life once we have solid evidence for, do we need to keep strengthening our belief in?

Studying epistemology, thinking about thinking has really changed my entire world view. When religious, there were vast areas of science and ideas that I was just not participating in. I have this new world open to me and it doesn't deal in a realm where I have to suspend my logic. There were so so so many things that just never made sense to me.

I am still in the stage of processing. I am abandoning my native tongue. I can't just get up off my knees brush off the dirt and keep walking without deconstructing what I had worked so hard for - but now there is a whistle while I work.

When people share their stories now I'm not so much interested in what they know as much as how they know.

“There exists in society a very special class of persons that I have always referred to as the Believers. These are folks who have chosen to accept a certain religion, philosophy, theory, idea or notion and cling to that belief regardless of any evidence that might, for anyone else, bring it into doubt. They are the ones who encourage and support the fanatics and the frauds of any given age. No amount of evidence, no matter how strong, will bring them any enlightenment. - James Randi

Thursday, November 21, 2013

This is the thing about being an a**hole

tell me how you really feel.  just kidding I don't need to know

First a story:
In 2006 the first winter I was a Texan, I helped out at the Stake's Nativity Exhibit. That was way more intense than I had expected but I loved it. I liked the "doing" of it, church is usually so much listening but this was "doing" I spent loooooong days rubbing shoulders with cool ladies decorating and more decorating and we put out HUNDREDS of Nativity scenes. The only frustrating part was that there was a lot of wasted effort and time. See it was arranged that people worked on sections - The wooden ones, the white porcelain, the international, the children's... And then when all were set up the big jobs of putting out poinsettias, sweeping, lighting ALL the sections with nativities, etc. could happen. But sections had to be done first and there were vast differences in the efficiency that some people worked on their sections. One night went till after 1 am because a section was "just not right" to a particular individual.

The next year I was asked to be chairperson for the entire event. My ONE admonition from those who called me to do it was to make an effort to be more aware of the time commitments people were making to this 2.5 day event. I held less meetings, delegated more, and when the time came made it clear that sections were to have "teams" and time was of the essence!

Second day of decorating and the section of white porcelain nativity sets were only 1/4 out while others were nearing 3/4ths of the way. Then just before dinner the person in charge of her team decided since she had done this section EVERY year since the inception of this event .. once again things "did not look right" And suddenly without discussion, took every single nativity set back down.

Frustration mounting, I stood in the vast cultural hall, and just observed. Every section was nearing completion while the white nativities were starting from scratch. I mustered all the niceness I could and begged: Can we please get EVERYBODY working on this section and just get them up? Then the next steps can happen and maybe we can be home before 9:00.

"No. She said. I have a vision for this section it has to be a certain way. I can't have all these other hands involved."

She continued at same pace as before. Others started standing around. They couldn't leave. I needed them for the lights and the netting and the sweeping.

She meanwhile stood back rubbing her chin contemplating the placement of every single sheep, Mary and Joseph, then asked for different music to play over the speakers. I again asked if we could help.

"nope I'm ok"


After 7:00 she had to leave to run an errand. And the asshole in me that was too chicken to intervene in her presence was ready to act. Chairperson from the previous year said: "We can get these all up while she is gone."


In 40 minutes, the Nativity section was complete.

45 minutes after that, she returned to us lighting and netting the entire place, on our way to almost getting to leave before 11 pm. She was livid and cried and yelled. And people all let the blame fall to me. I had callously took away her 'area' that she had worked so hard on.

I, in the end, was the asshole and the next morning missed another important event so I could have an apology meeting with her and church leaders, over her feelings.

But we finished ahead of schedule AND almost a dozen women got home to their families sooner.

Was I wrong? I don't know. I sort of don't care. 

I have thought about this a lot lately. There seems to be this notion as social media progresses that we are less kind to one another. I disagree.

Sure there are the offensive memes, tribalism political rants, and "look at them aren't they so stupid" statements. But me? I'm the often misunderstood asshole. I like to read and read and read, and I admittedly obsess over any topic that so interests me at the time. I've had my birth obsessions, health at every size, breastfeeding, religious rants, atheist rants, etc. I am that person who can genuinely debate a topic with you and STILL like you. I usually think I am right. I mean why would I think I was wrong and continue thinking that way? I rarely see 'both' sides as being valid. I want a good answer to questions and when I think I have found it I share it. Some see a kindness problem. I see a sensitivity problem. Its the marketplace of ideas. Put yours out there.

There was a Penn Jillette podcast where he was complaining about the tone of Phil Plait's lecture at some skeptic event. His position was that skeptics needed to be nicer, no one was ever convinced by being argued with. NOT SO said Penn. I have been convinced by people arguing with me all the time. If my position is stupid, tell me. Be authentic for me. If you are a dick. Be a dick.

I haven't been able to get it out of my head. If you are a dick. Be a dick. I don't think I am a dick necessarily. I am a know it all, I'm obnoxious. I like to debate, I like to play devils advocate, I like to think about things well past the constraints of normal, and I change my mind often. If I am wrong tell me, if you are wrong I might tell you. Now people who profess kindness but readily shun others, deal entirely in passive aggression, question your motives above your content - I have a short fuse for that.

I will do anything to help you if I can.  If you need it you can have the shirt off my back. I'll bring you dinner, I'll pick you up at the airport, I'll laugh with you, cry with you, and if you are up for it I'll argue with you.

So am I kind? Am I not? I don't know,  authenticity means much more to me. I'm too old and life is too short for me to not be myself. I am lucky in that I have a good sense of self and I am loved. My mom loves me to the ends of the earth. She raised me well and argued with me along the way and still will, but it has no bearing on how we feel about each other. My husband loves me, we can debate politics, talk philosophy make love and go to sleep. I have six kids who cuddle with me every single day. My sister and I face time during our bubble baths and NO topic is off limits. So maybe I am loved enough to afford to argue on the internetz. If something is important to me I will tell you about it.

Don't hate me for it. But if you do hate me for it. Its ok. I promise its ok. If you need anything I will still do my best to help you.

PS. Guess who has two thumbs and has been invited to write for Skepchick grounded parents blog?

THIS ASSHOLE, that's who!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A crunchy mom's reversal on vaccinations.

I was mainstream. Then I had a bad hospital birth. Next birth I questioned everything and planned a homebirth. That started a period where I was leary of ANY intervention by the medical community. Add to that my son's terrible experience with circumcision and my subsequent intactivism that made me sure I didn't trust anyone especially traditional doctors!

My sixth baby got very close to her first birthday not having seen any pediatrician. I was very proud of that fact. I wasn't necessarily "anti-vax" I was just... done. I got Dr. Sears book, I read some online resources against the popular wisdom of vaccinations and it made sense to me.

Then at about the same time two things happened. I "found" an instagram friend. I think through plus size babywearing tagging but I'm not positive. She was a tattoo'd babywearing mom of two with backyard chickens and her pics helped me relate to her. Until one day she posted about the vaccine conference she was attending...

blink, blink.

Crunchy moms don't vaccinate! So I read her 'about' section and she described her parenting as "evidenced based parenting" And that she was a doctoral candidate, vaccine researcher at Johns Hopkins. I was like hmmmmph (picture hands on hips with emphasis). But I kept an open mind.

THEN I decided to attend a lecture about vaccines by a Chiropractor. I can't remember all the details but I felt two overarching themes: fear and lack of scientific literacy. The biggest red flag was when he said germ theory was just a 'theory' he used air quotes, and the latent science major in me was like AAAHHHH in scientific terms, 'theory' means fact.
Even though I was hesitant to vaccinate my kids - I was not about to throw vaccines under the proverbial bus. I knew that the dramatic decrease in Polio was not only related to sanitation.

SO after a while my ultimate rejection of doctors and vaccines caused me some mental hiccups and I decided I would really dive into the research. My goal would be to arrive at a decision that could be defended with no logical fallacies. The most common in the antivaccine literature is anecdotal, appeal to emotion(fear), cherry picking data, and middle of the road.

The ultimate conclusion? The scientific consensus supports vaccinations.
The standards for vaccines are rigorous. The schedule is safe and is to support the best immune response at the most appropriate ages to prevent disease. The resurgence of diseases we are seeing (and yes those numbers are still low) are due to the increase of non-vaccinating families and undervaccination by alternate schedules.
I learned vaccine researchers, whose research funding comes from various sources not just "big pharma" have to show their multiple trials, evidence and undergo demanding peer review, while Dr. Tenpenny, Mercola can just make statements with no evidence to back their claims. The vaccine schedule is thoroughly reviewed while Dr. Sears just makes up a new schedule - no research, no evidence to back it up.

There needs to be sensitivity to the fears of vaccine injury yet perspective as well. My schooling and career before I was a stay at home mom was as an occupational therapist. It is a heartbreaking process to test and diagnose developmental delays. Often the time frame age wise is congruent with vaccines. Therefore very many reports of vaccine reactions and injuries result. But correlation is not causation.

The research has been done! Ever since Dr. Wakefield with fraudulent methods suggested the connection between autism and vaccines, this theory has been volleyed about. The science has shown over and over and over again there is no connection between vaccines and autism.

There is also the vaccine reaction vs. injury. One can have a reaction and it not be a vaccine injury. Red spots, fussiness, fever, and even febrile seizure are reactions that don't automatically equate to vaccine injury or any lasting damage. There are vaccine injuries. Doctors should be up to date on vaccine research and not vaccinate anyone with contraindications. But like most decisions in life, it is a risk benefit analysis and the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.

Vaccines have improved greatly even since we were kids. They have less antigens than ever. The combo vaccines elicit a better immune response with less injections. The aluminum salt (yes aluminum salt) in vaccines is in similar rates to the aluminum salt that appears in our food environmentally EVEN in breastmilk and is such low rates they are easily processed by the body, even by infants.

On the other hand, every day we are a more "global" society. And these diseases are virulent and dangerous.

I do sympathize with vaccine fears. I do know the mentality to be against them, I have empathy for that position. I have become quite fascinated with the method of thinking on this issue. Are the positions raised by antivaccine proponents intellectually honest? Are online gurus that espouse views against vaccines but then suggest their supplements to boost immunity not also working under conflict of interest? Is the data in support of vaccines given fair merit?

Vaccines are counter-intuitive, so this makes it a hard issue to depend on mother's instinct. Why inject an antigen into your child? It does make reason stare. Think of it as a doctor. You see sick kid after sick kid after sick kid... think of a better treatment for them or even better! a way to help them NEVER get sick. That is the concept of vaccination - the ultimate preventative medicine. Vaccines have been around since the 1700s. We are starting to reject a science while it has made our lives longer and decreased suffering.

Herd immunity is not a myth and it is not a bad thing. If there were no kids on crutches at your kid's bus stop this morning, thank herd immunity for that. We are on the cusp of global eradication of Polio. Then we won't vaccinate for it anymore.

The choice to not vaccinate does increase your child's risk, your family's risk and the community's risk. It is important to give ample time to credible sources about vaccines.  I think crunchy moms are a great group willing to really look at the evidence and for starters to not be at all afraid to stand up and say: Our family is vaccinated.

Vaccine Science:

Herd immunity is NOT a myth.

The vaccine ingredients are safe.

Not too many too soon. The vaccine schedule is safe.

An alternative schedule increases your child's risk. (and increases needle anxiety with spread out schedule.)

On credibility of sources: Developing a keen sense of the credibility of sources, based on such clues as connection of author to the subject, audience, source of publication, and documentation of supporting evidence,  can also help you evaluate print and other types of sources.  Though  many search engines rank material according to their idea of what is relevant, that doesn't mean the material is relevant to want you want or  is reliable. These guidelines are to help you become familiar with various types of Web resources and the reliability of the information. 
1. Is there any evidence that the author of the Web information has some authority in the field about which she or he is providing information? What are the author's qualifications, credentials and connections to the subject? 
2. With what organization or institution is the author associated? Is there a link to the sponsoring organization, a contact number and/or address or e-mail contact? A link to an association does not necessarily mean that the organization approved the content. 
3. Does the author have publications in peer reviewed (scholarly and professional) publications, on the Web or in hard copy? (If an author does not have peer reviewed articles published, this does not mean that she or he does not have credible information, only that there has been no professional "test" of the author's authority on that subject.) 
4. Are there clues that the author/s are biased? For example, is he/she selling or promoting a product? Is the author taking a personal stand on a social/political issue or is the author being objective ? Bias is not necessarily "bad," but the connections should be clear. 
5. Is the Web information current? If there are a number of out-of-date links that do not work or old news, what does this say about the credibility of the information?
6. Does the information have a complete list of works cited, which reference credible, authoritative sources? If the information is not backed up with sources, what is the author's relationship to the subject to be able to give an "expert" opinion? 
7. Can the subject you are researching be fully covered with WWW sources or should print sources provide balance? Much scholarly research is still only available in traditional print form. It is safe to assume that if you have limited background in a topic and have a limited amount of time to do your research, you may not be able to get the most representative material on the subject. So be wary of making unsupportable conclusions based on a narrow range of sources. 
8. On what kind of Web site does the information appear? The site can give you clues about the credibility of the source. http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/web-eval-sites.htm

Reliable & accurate:

Unreliable with inaccuracies:

Top Ten worst sites: