Tag Archives: A future in therapy

Damaged Goods

I just finished reading Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide by Linda Gray Sexton. Linda is the oldest daughter of Poet Anne Sexton who suffered from chronic undiagnosed mental illness and attempted suicide many times throughout Linda’s childhood. She finally succeeded and killed herself when Linda was 21 and a senior at Harvard. Linda’s lifelong struggle with depression, alcoholism, medications and 2 serious suicide attempts is vividly retold in the book. Despite being continually abandoned emotionally and physically by her mother, Linda is slowly drawn into repeating the very same behavior with her own children and family. While she knows first hand the pain that suicide leaves with those left behind she cannot resist the desire to reconnect with her mother even if it means her own destruction. The book opens with Linda’s first serious suicide attempt 6 months before she would turn 45. This is significant because her mother’s suicide was only 1 month before her 45th birthday. This can’t help but make me reflect on my upcoming 45th birthday this year and my brother Mike’s suicide less than 1 month before his 46th birthday. In a little over 1 year’s time I will be older than my big brother and time will continue on like that for the rest of my life. Linda’s detailed descriptions of her life at her lowest points also resonated strongly with me. Any reader will recognize the personal human pain she feels and lays out so unselfconsciously whether they are dealing with a depressed loved one or if they’ve traveled a similar path themselves. The book gives an eloquent voice to those who most need to be heard but because of their situations cannot get the words out.

Now I find myself wondering what kind of emotional legacy my brother and I received from our own mother. When my daughter was born my dad compulsively evaluated and criticized every single choice we made with her. I knew enough to ignore his advice even if it meant arguing over every single one. I now realize that he probably did the very same thing with my mother when my brother was born. As a new mother in a relatively new country I’m sure she had all the normal insecurities in her ability to care for her infant son. I have no doubt that my father was unable to let her find her way on her own. I can see him trying to control every single thing she did with the baby from the very start. She must’ve felt so inadequate when comparing herself to her professional Psychologist husband. Surely he knew what he was talking about! I can imagine how defenseless and alone she would have felt. Eventually my mom withdrew from the family and let my dad cast her as the enemy.  I was quite young when my dad started to tell us that it wouldn’t take much for my mother to become an alcoholic. I guess that this was to undermine our trust in her and scare me especially into wanting to be on his side. It was very important in my family to take sides. I was very aware that it was my father and I versus my brother and my mother in a lot of ways. How did this dynamic play out as we got older and my brother started getting into trouble all the time? My parents always fought about my brother. My dad would rage and blame my mother for Mike’s every fault. She loved Mike through it all but of course just having her love wasn’t enough for him in the end. It was damaged goods.

I guess the question now is not what emotional legacy will I pass onto my own daughter but whose?

 

Thank you to award-winning author Linda Gray Sexton for sponsoring this series, which is inspired by her memoir Half in Love: Surviving the Legacy of Suicide.

I was selected for this sponsorship by Clever Girls Collective which endorses Blog With Integrity.

To learn more about Linda Gray Sexton and her writing, please visit her website.

Half in Love Relationships and Depression Series

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Grandpa

We journeyed to Skylandia this past weekend to belatedly celebrate the holiday and my daughter’s birthday with my parents. Thankfully my in-laws were able to come as well. I think my mother had a good time. She stayed up late everynight enjoying the company. I did all the cooking and planning. I have been talking and thinking about this pot roast I wanted to make for weeks now. We finally get there on Thursday and I pull my 4lb roast out of the cooler and my dad turns to me and says, “oh, she’s not allowed to eat meat.” We later clarified that she is supposed to eat only lean meats and fish but it is not like she can’t have a little bit on a special occasion. I wish that he had told me earlier. I would have obviously made other plans but it was way too late to change it and she ate it (and enjoyed it) anyway.

Grandpa was in fine form for our visit. He is constantly underfoot in the kitchen. It’s like how I used to describe my dog Dylan. She was like a VISA card, she’s everywhere you want to be. He thinks that he is helping you but when someone tries to clean everything as soon as you set it down it is just annoying. I don’t know how my mother has done it all these years. He was pissing me off and I was obviously pissing him off. I could hear him complaining to my mother in the middle of the night on Saturday. I couldn’t hear exactly what he was saying on the other side of the wall but I could recognize the tone and the anger in his voice. It’s exactly what he used to sound like when he would talk about my brother.

The highpoint of the weekend is when he told my mother-in-law that Piper is beautiful except when she smiles because her front teeth are too big. I remember him telling me not too smile in pictures because of my teeth when I was a child. I didn’t say anything to him because I didn’t want her to overhear any of it. I’m not sure what to do because he’s bound to tell her sometime. He just can’t keep those little bon mots to himself. You can’t unring that bell.

In the immortal words of Mr Awesome, what a douchebag.

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Crisis at Skylandia

A texting excerpt from my recent trip to my parent’s house which Mr Awesome and I affectionately refer to as Skylandia. I noticed that the toilet in “our” bathroom was flushing slowly. I thought it was running after I flushed it so I tried jiggling and pushing down on the handle. I heard a funny noise and when I looked down I realized that water was just pouring out of the bowl. I quickly opened the tank and pulled up on the bulb and stopped the water. Later on I texted Mr Awesome to let him know about all the fun he was missing . . .

NOV 14 2010 10:11 PM

Crisis time!!! The toilet in the grey bathroom just overflowed  . . .

There is no caulk around the toilet or tub and the grout is shot so it went straight through the floor . . .

And poured down all over the kitchen counter.

Mmmmmm!

My dad is convinced that the kids flushed something down the toilet. He also asked me if my cousin or I flushed a sanitary napkin down the toilet.

What, you’re NOT supposed to do that?

Oh what fun!!

LOL!

He sees the water in the kitchen and starts screaming like he’s on fire and running up the stairs. Meanwhile both kids and my mom are up there trying to sleep.

Don’t you just wish you were here too??

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Chinese Restaurant

You could say that growing up my family was obsessed with Chinese Food. Not any run of the mill Chinese would do. We had a thirst for the “authentic”. I feel confident that a good portion of my childhood was spent driving in a car looking for a parking space in Chinatown. It was all because my Dad had discovered a restaurant called Sam Wo’s on Mott Street when he was in college. We all loved that place. My brother and I would ask to go there whenever we were in the city or within a 20 mile radius. My Dad dragged us to a lot of college basketball games at the LIU Brooklyn campus. I would always go hoping we’d get him to stop at Sam Wo’s before we went home. A trip to LIU could also mean a visit to Juniors across the street but it was a chance you had to take. Our devotion to Sam Wo’s achieved the ultimate validation when Woody Allen included a reference to “the crabs at Sam Wo’s” in a list of “Things That Make Life Worth Living” in his movie Manhattan.

I saved a couple of things from my weekend recycling binge. One was a notebook that had this in it:

Chinese Restaurant Dream

I’m in a large Chinese restaurant with my parents
We walk through endless red rooms
There are pagoda lanterns with beads hanging down
Like women’s hair
As we pass the kitchen, I can see cooks chopping
Food that smells bad
Plates of Sweet and Sour Shrimp and Chop Suey go by on large trays
I’m trying to get my father’s attention,
“Hey Daddy, this doesn’t look like a good place.”
“You sure you want to eat here?”
We arrive at the table.
A curly haired woman at the next table
Is making a big show
Acting dumb because her menu is in tatters
The red vinyl falling like flags
My father leans closely into her
Starts talking to her
Solicitously and offers to fix her menu for her
He gets a stapler from the man behind the counter
And starts to fix it up
Trying to impress the foolish woman
I hug my mother
Try to shield her from his behavior
I shout at him
“You can’t treat my mother like this”
“You can’t do this in front of her”
I hug my mother
I wake up
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Dread

What’s the one thing you dread the most?

Right now, it’s my Dad being mad at me. I know, I’m 44 years old and I’m still worrying about what this crazy old man thinks of me. We had a phone conversation earlier that didn’t end entirely well. I’m pretty sure that he is mad at me. We are getting ready to go there this weekend and I dread the thought of getting Mad Tony at the start of the visit. You usually end up with Mad Tony in the end but at least you get to have a little of the Happy Tony at the beginning. I’ve pretty much shot all chance of that to hell. We’re going to be getting off the ferry at around noon time and we were thinking of getting something to eat on the way to their house rather than rushing there hungry. We’re not going to have time for a lot of eating in the morning before we leave and I try to avoid buying the crummy pricey snacks on the boat. My mother wants to make a big deal and have lunch ready and waiting for us and I tried to tell her that we’d be doing something else. Then my father gets on the phone to ask me about something else and at the end says that we’ll all have lunch when we get there and sounds all hurt and insulted when I tell him our plan. You’d think he was freaking Emily Post from the way he acts. What a phony. Growing up our family was a train wreck. Where were all these niceties then? By the time we got off the boat, drove there and get inside with our stuff and eat it will be waaay after lunch time. Then we have to sit down and eat a gigantic dinner a couple of hours later as well. How many more ways can I diss him? Let me count them! I’m so so tired of this crap. When we were growing up we all tried to avoid upsetting my father because when he threw a tantrum he put babies to shame.

Even though I have such little respect left and even though I’m a grownup with my own family and even though I still have so much anger towards him over Mike . . . I still can’t stand it when I think he’s mad at me. I hate myself for this. Ugh, I am filled with DREAD.

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The Mean Mommy

I tried something new with my daughter this morning. She has a lot of trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Now even though summer has started she still has to get up in time to get ready for day camp. I find myself in her room in the mornings droning her name while she lays there and ignores me. Usually I end up nagging her out of bed or telling her she’s going to lose privileges, etc. I HATE this entire routine. I hear myself and I hear my mother trying to get my brother and I up out of bed. This morning I decided to try a different line of attack. I realized that if she doesn’t get up in time to get her stuff done then that is not my problem. I wake her up with plenty of time but if she wants to sleep later and waste half that time then obviously there may not be enough time to do everything she wants or needs to do. Again, if she runs out of time – that is not my problem. My new mantra – not my problem. She laid in bed and ignored my pleas to get up so I went downstairs. I did a couple of things and then called upstairs to tell her that she might miss breakfast. She came down and put her head down on the table. I know that she was VERY tired this morning but she still has to get out of bed. I’m very determined to get over this hump before school starts again. She got off to a late start and had a bowl of cereal before she ran out of time. It was time for her to go and get dressed. I could have allowed her to squeeze in another small bowl of cereal but I stuck to my guns. When I told her that she couldn’t have any more cereal it was like I stomped on her favorite toy. When she was very small we were so concerned that she eat and gain weight that if we didn’t feel that she ate enough at a meal we’d follow her around the room with spoonfuls of food and beg her to please eat. She was simply shocked that I was telling her she couldn’t have any more cereal and that she needed to go and get dressed. It was a major struggle complete with back talk, hitting and lots of huffy mad faces and she was pretty mad too. Oh, it was grand! Just what I want to do on a summer morning.  It was hard and I anticipate more hard mornings and I have become the dreaded Mean Mommy but I think we’ve crossed a line or rather I’ve drawn a line. Wish us luck tomorrow!!

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My Dad

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of your father?

Literally, the first thing that popped into mind is my father’s feet. One of the most infamous lines from childhood is my dad saying, “I can’t go out, I’d have to change my socks.” It is strange because there is so much to say when you’re talking about my father. Frankly, he’s really a big pain in the ass and is one of the most difficult and infuriating people that I know.

Not too long after my parents moved out of Great Neck, Glenn and I went to the supermarket in their new town with my dad. We walked in the front door and I saw him make a bee line to a woman just inside the front door. I thought, oh nice he’s made a new friend and he’s going to introduce us or something. Then we hear the woman loudly yell, “Who hell do you think you are?” and I know that he’s probably not friends with her. Glenn and I ran and hid in the produce section so no one else would think that we were with the crazy man accosting the other IGA shoppers.

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Shy

Last night Piper and I went to the Girl Scout Dance. Piper became a Daisy this year and it has been a pretty fun experience for us so far. I remembered my Brownie days pretty fondly. We learned how to embroider and got to stay late after school. I remember the uniform with all its specific Brownie parts that my Mom and I had to get in the Girl Scout department at Gertz (or was it A&S?). I loved my Brownie culottes they were so much cooler than the Brownie dress! I especially loved the white gloves for the fancier Brownie events. So when the chance arose to have her be a Daisy we took it. The Girl Scouts are a lot more informal. They wear vests or tunics and I got Piper a long sleeved shirt with sparkly pink and blue daisies on the sleeves. We weren’t sure what to expect from the dance. We knew that there would be no boys and that the girls were encouraged to bring any non-Girl Scout girlfriends. We called Piper’s best friend to see if she was dressing up for the dance and we found out that she wasn’t going to go. She was too sad because her pet Guinea Pig had just died. They had only had the little gal for 19 days! The big box pet store that sold her Mom the Guinea Pig was stretching the rules and “exchanging” the Guinea Pig even though the 14 day warranty had expired. They did make one stipulation – they wanted the dead Guinea Pig back. The poor Mom had to go back to the vet to retrieve the dead one to bring it back to the store for a live (and hopefully healthy!) one. I think I’d require sedation after that little excursion. Piper wasn’t sure if she still wanted to go without her best friend but then decided that she’d try. I was glad because I thought she would have a good time.

She was holding a small mermaid in the car on the way to the dance and when we got inside and saw all the older girls she looked at it and wondered aloud why she was still holding it and stuffed it into my handbag. I saw this as a good sign. Not too many years ago she’d never attempt to go anywhere without at least one toy companion in hand. The dance was held in the elementary school gym. When we walked in groups of girls were walking, running and dancing all across the floor. She found her friends and started “dancing” with them which pretty much consisted of holding hands and walking or running in a circle. She got tired of this after a while (I don’t blame her) and when the DJ turned up the volume on the music she kind of shut down. She often does this in these kind of big loud social situations. She gets overwhelmed and starts moping and feeling sad. I tried to be understanding and patient. She only knew a few of the girls and most of the other girls were older and more boisterous. She was missing her friend too. But I started getting frustrated when she started to whining, “Mommy” and pulling on my arms. It’s like she wants me to fix how she is feeling but she doesn’t realize that she holds the key. I’m very bad in these situations. I was a shy kid too and I never quite got over it and figured it out when I was young. I remember being at a lot of big loud birthday parties where I felt that I was forever following other people around. I wanted to be the one that they would follow but I didn’t know how to do that. I feel so ill equipped to help her at these times and I fear that it leads me to be a little too annoyed and impatient with her than I should. By 8:00 we had been there for an hour and she had spent half that time with a frown on her face. I asked her if she wanted to leave and she kept on saying no she wanted to stay. We were in this stand off mopey mode for a while. I watched all kinds of different people, her friends, other Moms, older girls all come up to her and try to get her out of her funk but she just wasn’t trying. I told her that we were going to have to leave in a half hour (8:30 was plenty late enough) and that if she wanted to do something she’d better start soon. She must have decided that whatever she was doing wasn’t working for her because she finally started participating. Soon she was really into it and even took part in the hoola-hoop contest. When I gave her a time check at 8:15 and told her that we’d have to leave soon she said that she’d only just started to have fun. I realized right then that I could dwell on the negative and say, well if you hadn’t wasted all the time before blah blah blah. I decided instead to focus on the positive. I told her that she was having fun now and that that was the important thing and that it didn’t really matter when she started. She smiled and skipped off. I also decided that when we got home I would wait until she was asleep to tell my husband and in-laws what had really happened at the dance. I let her tell them that she had fun when they asked her and I am so glad that I did that. I hope that it means that we’ll have an easier time at the next big loud social event but I kind of doubt it.

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Making lemonade

Did you ever have one of those days? You know the kind where you end up at the end of it seriously questioning your parenting abilities while drowning your sorrows in wine and a case of Thin Mints®? Saturday was definitely one of those days for us. I won’t go into the whole sordid story. Just know that it involved a bowling birthday party where my daughter only really knew the birthday girl, not a whole lot of actual food, lots of awesome home made birthday cake and fruit punch and lots of useless plastic swag that required lots and lots and lots of arcade tickets. All these parts combined and inexplicably shot my dear 7 year old daughter into an outer orbit of FREAKOUT. She didn’t return to earth (and her senses) until several hours later and not before a shouty tense drive home with lots of kicking of seats, many lengthy 7 minute visits into Time Out, loud whining, actual hitting and much gnashing of teeth. I’m leaving out all the really crappy parts (really!) but I think you probably get the idea. In the end she ended up with a minimum two week ban on access to all screens. She had to give us both apologies, explain what she thought happened (she got MAD!) and she had to write a nice note of apologizing to her friend for making such a scene at her birthday. This girl is so smart and funny and kind yet she can utterly lose her sh**t at the drop of an arcade token. We’ve been calmly discussing what happened ever since. I told her that it was OK to get mad but how she acted when she got mad was not OK. Glenn told her that he was disappointed in her behavior especially since she had promised us that she was going to hold it together. Yes, Saturday was really tough but then dear Internets, we had Sunday. We got up on Sunday and she was a little bit whiny because since she couldn’t watch TV (part of her punishment) she, “didn’t know what to do.” I wanted to go for a run on the trail and asked her if she wanted to come with me. She didn’t at first but then she got into it. She got to listen to her ipod with some old Walkman headphones we found. It was really fun to do together and I think it was very healing for us. She and I definitely needed some healing. Saturday I posted this and Sunday you guys read it. It was the single busiest day on this blog so far and it really made me feel good. I thank you for that dear Internets. Now, if we could just work on getting you guys to comment on the posts but that’s OK for now. Sunday was very hot and breezy and Piper helped me hang laundry on the clothesline. It was the first load of the season and she enjoyed playing in my nightgown. Glenn’s been wanting to make lemonade for a while now. He complains that we spend too much money buying lemonade in a store when home made lemonade is cheaper. I bought a dozen lemons for about $4 and I can buy a carton of Newman’s for $2 and change. Um . . . doing the math. Anyway, we found this recipe and people let me tell you, it rocked!! We used raw cane sugar just so we could feel superior to the kid down the block making theirs with plain white sugar and it tasted excellent. We almost drank the whole thing right there on Sunday. The three of us worked together making it and that made it extra nice. We’ve had a lot of crappy things happen in our family over the past couple of years but we’ve made it this far together. Dealing with these parenting challenges is just another lemon chucked into the mix. Clearly we need to re-evaluate our methods cause whatever we’ve been doing up till now hasn’t been working very well. I have confidence in our little family to get through this. After all, we made lemonade because life gave us lemons.

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The Day Before Anniversary

Tomorrow is my 9th wedding anniversary. Today is the 9th anniversary of the day before my wedding. This is the all important day where I ran around like a kook doing stuff all the while trying not to ruin my pricey mani/pedi or disfigure my face and or extremities. It is also the 9th anniversary of a parking ticket I got while sitting double parked in our old Saab Schnaable on a Park Slope street, waiting for the alternate side of the street parking period to end or start or something. The point of my gripe is that I was literally sitting in the car at the time that the officer handed me the ticket. I didn’t realize that she was there until she pushed it through the open window at me. I was so engrossed in my upcoming nuptials and looking at the new camera Glenn had gotten me for the honeymoon and generally being all bridey and pampered that I didn’t even notice her until it was too late. It is also the 9th anniversary of my Dad’s famous line to Glenn at the rehearsal where he said that Glenn was going to be “looking down on her (me, his dear daughter) for the rest of his life so why not start now”. We had the ceremony on some steps and we were trying to decide if I should be one step higher than Glenn so we’d be eye to eye or on the same step. I knew what he meant when he said it but I still remember violently stabbing at him with my eyes. He messed with the specialness on the wrong day and made me nervous about what he’d say or do at the wedding. Thankfully he behaved himself (either that or I’ve blocked any major infractions) and he got it out of his system at an appropriate time.

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