Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

It’s Time

Over the past fifteen years I have struggled with the thought of being one of the statistics that we often read or talk about in the news or on social media. While I know I am extremely fortunate in so many ways, I have also had a nagging little voice in the back of my head shaming me for allowing myself to be on a couple of lists of statistics that I never thought, as a younger person, that I would be on.  You may be wondering what I am talking about. You may be thinking that in this time of labeling everyone it has become common to put people in categories, for better or for worse, based on how they look, think or what they experience. These particular statistics are specific to me though. Others will find themselves on the same lists, but the combination of statistics is what makes us each unique. It is a large part of what shapes us into being who we are. As I reflect on my life, I have come to realize just how much these statistical identities can lend themselves to you forming beliefs about yourself. For me, as I am sure is true for others, a few of these statistics I have chosen to keep to myself over the years, or shared them very carefully with a few people in my life. My reasons for sharing with particular people varied from my level of trust in them (which needed to be high) to whether or not I thought it would be helpful or a comfort to them. One of my statistics, which is far too common, is that of being divorced when my children were young and being a single parent for seven years. I could write a book (except many others already have) about being a single mom or going through a divorce, but that is not a statistic that I feel the need to write about at this time. One statistic in particular was not something I had any say in. That is the statistic that I have been driven to write about recently. It has been percolating in my head and heart for over six months. Well, actually, for forty-five years.

On November 8, 2016, I had some surprisingly strong emotional responses to the presidential election. Some would be obvious to those of you who know me and my beliefs, values and passion about social justice in our world. On the surface, clearly, I would be upset at the election results. I understood those feelings.

What took me by surprise was a deeper response that I could not shake. While I disagreed politically with the new president, there was something more that was bubbling up beneath the surface for me. I have lived through having presidents that I had very little respect for, personally and politically, and I knew that life goes on and you do what you can to make the best of it.

But this presidential election was different. It was nagging at me personally. It wasn’t because a woman lost. While I would like to someday see a woman become president, it didn’t have to be Hillary for me. I have high hopes that someone better will be there in the near future. It had nothing to do with being democrat or republican. While I lean to the left, I don’t necessarily agree wholeheartedly with either political affiliation. It had nothing to do with wealth. While I believe DT has absolutely nothing in common with me, especially in the area of financial wealth, the truth is that most politicians are much wealthier than I have ever been or will ever be.

Why did my heart ache? Why were my gut feelings so uneasy? Why did I actually feel angry? Even helpless?

I eventually realized that it had everything to do with some previous men in my life. When I realized this, it made me even more angry. The comparisons between DT and these men were so similar that it literally made my stomach and my heart ache.

So, it’s time. It’s time for me to write about it. I wonder how many other women had the same response to DT as I have for this reason? I wonder how many men and women will be able to understand this and have some empathy for me and others who feel the same way? I find myself making a list of questions, Andy Rooney style, when I try to think about who would be able to not only read or listen to my story, but actually hear it?

Have you ever been sexually molested or assaulted? Have you ever been told that it was your own fault for making someone else treat you disrespectfully? Have you ever had to keep a secret on the inside, while pretending that you were happy on the outside? Have you ever felt like you couldn’t tell people you loved, the ones who would do anything for you, what was really happening in your life? Are you anything BUT a white, heterosexual male?

If you answered “no” to most of those questions, then chances are that you may not be able to fully understand my story. I know that a few of you will, but most will not.

When I was a tween, a term that did not exist when I was a tween, I spent a lot of time babysitting. I was a responsible person, kids and parents loved me, and I figured out that this was a great way to earn spending money. I babysat for my cousins and for friends of our family. My parents would not let me babysit for people they did not know, which made sense to me at the time, and even more so after I became a parent myself. Would you want your attractive adolescent daughter alone in a strange persons home?

I was asked frequently to babysit for two of my aunt’s families, usually on Saturday nights. My younger cousins were easy to babysit. We would play outside, watch TV, eat snacks, and they would go to bed. I would watch Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, and Rhoda and talk to my boyfriend on the phone. Sometimes I would fall asleep on the couch, but I hated when I did that. It  just felt embarrassing to be woken up when the adults would arrive home. Bed head, creases on my face from the sofa pillow, maybe even drool on the corner of my mouth. I was already way too critical of my appearance at that age, and this just added to it.

Then there were the rides home. One of my uncles (by marriage) drank more than he should have when they went out and was still slightly intoxicated when he drove me home. I didn’t really think about it at the time. He was a comical and friendly guy when he drank, and he got me home safely every time. I guess we were lucky.

My other uncle, also by marriage, didn’t ever seem drunk to me. My aunt would say that she had too much to drink, so my uncle would need to drive me home. I dreaded when they would arrive home and she would say that to me. At the time, it was one of the worst feelings in my life. It was about a fifteen minute drive back to my parents house across town, and sometimes a little longer if my parents were staying at our cottage, a small bungalow that my dad coveted on the banks of Lake Erie in the nearby town of Vermillion.

I’ll never forget the first time. We hadn’t gotten but a couple of blocks down the street to a stop sign and my uncle put the car in park and told me to move over and sit close to him. There were no seat belts back then, and the front seats were one long seat, no dividers in between. I just looked at him with a puzzled look on my face. He said he would not drive any farther unless I moved next to him, so I did. Then he put his arm around me and started to put his hand down my shirt. I froze and looked straight ahead. I actually remember hoping that no other cars would come by because I was embarrassed. Eventually he put the car in drive and took me home, but I had to stay next to him all the way home. His arm around me as if I was his date. I didn’t move, and probably barely breathed. I was in the eighth grade.

Each drive home with him after babysitting was a similar scenario, at least for awhile. Until one night when he had to take me back to the cottage. When we arrived there, in the dark driveway next to the railroad tracks, before he let me move across the seat to get out of the car, he started kissing me on the mouth. I remember feeling so confused. This was the way my boyfriend would kiss me, not the way my uncle should be kissing me. Or was I kissing him? He told me that he knew I dressed the way I did to look good for him and that I liked being with him. I remember questioning myself. Was I asking for this? How was I dressed? Was I attracted to him in any way? Was I flirting with him? I didn’t feel that way, but maybe I just didn’t know what I was feeling. At that moment, I was also angry at my parents for being asleep and trusting him to bring me home. Why didn’t they wake up when we pulled in the driveway? Why couldn’t they wait up for me? When I went inside, I could not fall asleep, so I wrote in my journal to try to comfort myself. For many months, my journal was the only place I could share this uncomfortable experience and feeling.

The last time I had to let him drive me home I was in the ninth grade. This was the time he took a detour and we ended up at a local park where couples would park to make out. I had heard my mom refer to this as “Lovers Lane”. I looked around at other nearby cars wishing someone would come to my rescue, but they were not interested in what was happening in our car. His hands seemed to be everywhere all at once, as if he was an octopus. Somehow I squirmed out of his arms and grabbed for the passenger side door handle. I said “Take me home now or I will scream.” He laughed and said, “No you won’t. Nobody will ever believe you. Besides, you love this.” He scooted over to the my side of the car, but I grabbed the door handle, turned my head away from him and told him to stop. I desperately kept trying to grab the door handle. Only later did I realize how fortunate I was that he did stop. He was pretty angry, but he moved back to the drivers seat and drove me home in silence. The entire ride home, I held onto the door handle as tight as I could. When I went to get out of the car in my driveway, he grabbed me again and kissed me hard. He said “Nobody will believe you. You asked for this.” I was shaking when I went inside and went straight to my room. I cried quietly and I wrote in my journal again.

It was a Saturday afternoon when my mom hung up the phone and called me into the kitchen. She said “Are you sleeping at a friend’s house tonight?” I said “no, why?” Well, your aunt just called and said that’s why you told her you could not babysit tonight. My mom then told me to call my aunt back to let her know that I could babysit. I refused and said, “I don’t want to talk to her and I cannot babysit for her any more.” My mom was pretty insistent that I babysit, but I stuck to my words and said no, I would not. My grandmother happened to be at our house that afternoon.  My grandma looked at my mom and said in her monotone voice “Leave her alone. She said she doesn’t want to babysit for them any more, so she should not babysit for them any more.” She looked at me and I looked back at her. I wanted to cry, but she just nodded at me and said, “You don’t need to babysit for them any more.” She knew. My grandma knew. There were many reasons I referred to my grandma as my soulmate after she died, and this was one of the moments I was referring to when I said it. I never told my parents what had been happening, but I never had to babysit for that aunt and uncle again. And somehow, my other uncles started to stand guard for me at future family events. When that uncle came near me, they all magically appeared like body guards. He couldn’t get near me if he wanted to. He would smile from a distance and tell me that I looked good in my outfit. My skin would crawl and I would spend the entire time avoiding him. When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a steady boyfriend and I told him about my uncle. He attended every family event with me and never left my side when my uncle was in attendance. Many years later, after I was an adult, my aunt divorced him.

So when DT was elected president it struck me as if someone had just punched me in the stomach. A man had been elected the president of the United States who I do not believe would think that what had happened to me as a teenager was my fault. This was a man who made vulgar, disrespectful comments about grabbing women by the pussy, as he laughed. He and all of the other men who think they have the right, the privilege, to say and do whatever they want to women, especially in private conversations, are the scum of the earth to me. His behavior and comments were unacceptable to me and I really, really mean it when I say “he is NOT my president.” He never will be.  He is certainly not worthy of being a president of the United States. It disgusts me that he is now a role model for other men and children, male and female. If you have read this and you think that this is a petty reason for not respecting DT, then I question your ability to understand what it is like to feel helpless, to question your own character based on the actions of someone else who has no moral compass, or to be a victim of any type of abuse. Read over my story a few times. If you think I was at fault, then you have the same sickness as he does.

I eventually shared a watered down version of what was happening to me with a couple of close friends in high school who encouraged me to stop babysitting for that uncle. They were all my age and didn’t really know what else to tell me. In my adult life I have shared what had happened to me with others at moments when it felt safe, (but again, a watered down version) including telling my grown children, in hopes that they could understand and know that this can happen to anybody. Especially when you least expect it. And it can stick with you for a long, long time, but it does not need to define you. It doesn’t need to, but trust me, it can and does.

Earlier in this piece, I mentioned previous men in my life. This is just one. It may take me a little more time to write about the other ones. At mid-life, I am finally putting the pieces together though. They all add up as to why I  subjected myself to any unhealthy relationships. Piece by piece. They all add up. I didn’t think I was worth enough to be treated any better than I was being treated. A strong message was sent to me at a very young and vulnerable age that made me doubt myself and my self worth for a long time. It has taken finding a relationship, in my forties, with a loving husband, to be able to figure this all out. Life lesson: Never give up hope and never let anyone else make you feel like you are not worthy of respect.

 

An addendum (April 29, 2017): After posting this blog six days ago and getting an overwhelming response from those who read it, I wanted readers to know that my mom was as supportive as she could be at the time with the very little bit of information I told her. I did not tell anyone, not one single person, my experience in the detail I have written in this blog, until I published this blog. After speaking with my mom about this recently, she confirmed that she knew from what I told her at some point in my life that something had happened, but I never told her details. She also confirmed that she never shared that information with my dad. We both agreed that that was best because we both believe he would have wanted to kill my (former) uncle. My father passed away fourteen years ago. My abuser is still living, and does not take responsibility for what he did to me or any other young women.

 

 

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Change: I’m A Planner (Part 2)

There’s a difference between being a planner, and being rigid. I am a planner. I am not rigid. I embrace change in my life, which means that I choose to be flexible when necessary. At least I think I do. But there is no getting around the fact that I am a planner. In fact, I usually have a plan for making my plans.

I believe there is a gene for planning, and if you have it, it’s hard to fight. If you don’t have it, it’s hard (not impossible) to develop. I was destined to be a planner. I grew up with a mom and a dad who had a plan for most everything that happened in our lives. They did not dictate our lives, but we always knew what was happening in our lives well in advance. My mom planned meals, grocery lists, school events, family reunions, and fundraisers. My dad ran a family business with his brother and father and he was a master of making lists.

There is a difference between having a plan and following a plan. I’m pretty sure that my parents may not have always considered me much of a plan follower when I was growing up. I was the one who “had a mind of her own.” At the end of my first student teaching experience, my mentor teacher, Jenn, gave me a gift. I don’t remember what the gift was, but I still have the wrapping paper. It was red with small white polka dots on it, and she had added six stickers as decoration. One sticker was a mama duck leading her ducklings in a row. The second to last duckling in the row was yellow instead of white, and it was turned the complete opposite direction of the other ducklings. Enough said.

Anyone who has known me over the years, no matter which chapter in my life they happen to appear in, has more than likely witnessed me planning something. Currently, every morning I tell Clark what my plan is for the day and ask him about his plans. I have planned silent auction fundraisers for my children’s preschool; I have been a wedding planner for a few friends; I always planned unique theme birthday parties for my children; I had a plan for training for my sprint triathlons; I plan my Jazzercise class sets daily; I planned numerous field trips as a teacher and I can’t begin to count all of the lesson plans I created since 1982. My most grand plan was my plan for BUSY STREET Children’s Museum in 1998, which turned out quite well while it lasted.

My children will attest to my family vacation planning. I still have some of the written plans we followed; especially from the years I was a single parent. Our beach trips and trips to Ohio were planned to a tee. The beach trips were planned for each day, including the menu for all of the meals, the videos we would watch, the activities we wanted to make happen, and of course, the packing lists. The trips to Ohio, whether they were road trips or plane trips, were planned minute -by – minute and hour by hour, including surprises to open every hour during our nine hour drives to Ohio. I have planned trips to El Salvador with our church. I think our friends in El Salvador get a laugh out of how planned we try to be. They often remind me in a calming tone and a relaxed smile on their faces, “Paula, don’t worry.”

My first trip away from Austin, was  to attend an early childhood conference in CA, when he was just two years old. I thoughtfully numbered and labeled bags and filled them with different treats, games or activities so he could count down the days until I returned. A couple of years later, I similarly planned out several days worth of surprises for him for the days I might be away from home while in the hospital after giving birth to Callie, including a recording of me reading one of his favorite bedtime books to listen to at night. Turned out they came in handy. Now, I know you may be thinking I go a little overboard, but it works for me, so that’s what I do.

Usually, planning pays off. I try to take two short vacations alone every year. Writing this blog entry was on my list for this few days at the beach. I began planning what to write about, as I took my hour-long bike ride. The bike ride was planned to happen between 11-12, which allowed time for the beach in the morning, some scrapbooking work before the ride, and most importantly getting the ride in before the predicted thunderstorms this afternoon and evening. For me, planning for thunderstorms at the beach is crucial. It would frustrate me if I missed out on a bike ride because I chose to do indoor activities in the morning and ride later in the day… and then it rained all afternoon. That would turn this planner into a grumpy person for sure. Perhaps I would not feel the need to plan if I had a few weeks at the beach (a luxury I doubt I will ever experience), but when I only have a few days, I want to make the most of every minute. That’s what planners do.

Truth be told, sometimes plans don’t work out. This is where being flexible can come in handy, but I find that it takes more than that for me. I can roll with it if everyday plans change at the last minute. You cannot stay sane as a teacher if you can’t be flexible in that way. (I know my teacher friends are reading this and wondering if I believe any of us are really sane anyway)

I often need to dig deep to make peace with myself about plans that don’t turn out the way I had hoped. I had planned for my children to grow up experiencing a loving happy marriage between both of their parents. I had planned to be fit and thin the rest of my life. I had planned to spend more time with my mom and my family and friends after my children grew up. I had planned to have a savings account at this point in my life so I would not feel vulnerable financially. I had planned to write a book about my teaching experiences. And so it goes. I haven’t necessarily given up on these plans, but as I reflect on my life and where I am now, I realize that my planning may need to shift so that my plan is simply to enjoy life and those who are in my life.

Now that sounds like a plan worth sticking to for now. Wish me luck.