Well, on Sunday was the Historic Germantown House Tour in which our home was one of 6 houses people had signed up to visit.
Well, on Sunday was the Historic Germantown House Tour in which our home was one of 6 houses people had signed up to visit.
Quote of the day:
The book says, "We might be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us." Magnolia.
Validation is key when one has been taught a different reality to the experience. Constant and consistent validation has unlocked the frozen within, and helped it flow out into the open. Sometimes it has been more of a storm than a flow, I must admit, causing my body to react violently with all kinds of physical symptoms. Anxiety and fear accompany me calling out in whispers, and sometimes yelling in my ears making me feel as if I am going deaf. They warn me not to rejoice in this new found freedom: adulthood, maturity, mind of my own. They threaten to kill me by raising my blood pressure to heights the medical doctors raise their eyebrows at. These past two months I am learning to stare directly into the face of my fears. To hold still with them and explore the feelings in my body and brain. Like the cold grip in my chest, or discovering my eyes are wild and exhausted.
It has been a wild ride. And I am not sure it's over yet. But, for some reason this morning I sense it will be over soon. The storm, I mean.
Then, perhaps, the river of emotion will flow more smoothly, and not alarm me so. For they are my feelings, and they are real. For they were my experiences, and they were real. As a close friend said to me recently, "You don't have to absorb that stuff any longer. Return it to its owner."
This past weekend, I picked up my trusty copy of Alice Miller's, The Truth Will Set You Free, and was reinforced. She writes:
... most of us are indeed on our own ... but we would benefit tremendously from having someone to talk to about our childhoods particularly when we get older. As our physical strength fades, and we lose our youthful vigor, we are particularly susceptible to flashbacks to a time when we were helpless children. And that may be what makes us cling to a bagful of tablets in much the same way as we clung to our mothers for the help we urgently needed ... we need an open door to our own past, an opportunity to take its very beginning seriously.
Indeed, taking myself seriously has been the hardest part for me. I often find myself telling a story about how someone hurt me, and giggling as I describe the events, as if it was funny or trivial. Again, Alice:
Laughter is good for you, but only when there is reason to laugh. Laughing away one's own suffering is a form of fending off pain, a response that can prevent us from seeing and tapping the sources of understanding around us ...
In fact, taking myself seriously makes me anxious - for, growing up I was laughed at and teased for things I deeply felt or believed in, forcing me to take them underground: like loving my father, feeling spiritual and questioning if there is a God, becoming involved in a youth movement, becoming a yoga instructor, becoming vegetarian ... on and on. Nowadays I know that the people who made fun of me had their own denials of pain, blindness to their own childhood fears and traumas. But still it is a challenge to take my own pain seriously.
As an early childhood teacher educator, I feel an urgency to help teachers understand how children learn to defend themselves from pain. Indeed, lately, I feel that this is my calling - my quest. Recently, I wrote an essay on "spanking," for Asbury Park Press. I was amazed and dismayed to read the comments from people saying that spanking was good for children, and that it had worked for them. In my despair at the unkindness of these comments, I turned again to Alice Miller:
All a beaten child remembers is fear and the faces of angry parents, not why the beating was taking place ... the child will assume he had been naughty and merited the punishment. What kind of beneficial pedagogical effect (is there) in that?
So, all those memories we block or deny because they were too painful to bear as children - we continue to hold onto them believing that we must have deserved it. As one of my students wrote to me years ago, at the end of taking my course in applied child development: "You don't have to hurt me to teach me." For her it was a revelation, as she had been hurt emotionally and physically very much as a young child.
Giving up the denial and illusions that have protected me all my life has been the most difficult part of therapy this past year. Embracing my right to my feelings, and validating what I experienced as a young child, while deeply healing, is enormously frightening for me. At the same time it is allowing me to give up being a victim to my life, or a masochist. I am starting to believe, for real, that I no longer have to absorb any hurtful stuff any longer, and can, instead, return it to its rightful owner.
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Activist
Wouldn't we all just love to leave the past behind? Especially all those painful and uncomfortable memories. I have been working very hard at that through therapy, reading books and poetry, and even in writing this blog. Getting to know myself in order to lay down the burdens of the past, and walk ahead into the light free and clear. What a mission! What a goal! People write about it everywhere - sing songs and wax lyric on and on. Being in the moment - here and now, not looking back or thinking forward. Ah yes. Noble ideas indeed. Freedom from pain and discomfort seems like the loftiest, most rational goal of all. Facebook is packed with slogans that invite and encourage us to do just that - leave the past behind.
Lately, though, I realize how futile this struggle to free myself from the past is becoming. Indeed, I think it is impossible. Unrealistic. An illusion that gives me hope and comfort thinking that it is a possibility at all. For, the more I understand how our brain functions, and how, as very young children, we store our earliest emotional memories never to be erased - I realize that leaving the past behind is impossible.
Repressed and buried emotional pieces - traumatic or otherwise - will forever rise up at the oddest moments when we least expect them, and interfere with present situations. The trick is in recognizing and welcoming them when they occur. Understanding they are forever part of who I am, and who I have become, I might greet them and, if I am able, make peace with them. Indeed, integrating and accepting them as part of me makes me the complex human being I am. Negotiating with those memories I learn when they are helpful warnings, or if they block me from opening up. I realize I don't have to forgive everything, nor should I forget some things. I have a choice if only I allow myself to accept that the past is always a part of me.
I always thought there was something lacking in me because I seemed unable to forgive and forget all, and just let go of the past. I worked so hard to achieve the impossible, and then reinforced the feeling of failure over and over again.
As I start to release myself from these illusions, I am able to accept myself as being a human being like everyone else - eternally struggling to be free, when, instead, we could be facing and integrating our shadows into who we are forever.
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Coming of age
Bearing, as a gift, seeds that fly away all over the garden. Isn't that what we do with our own children? - bear them as gifts, who fly away all over the world, rerooting themselves over and over again perpetuating our species on and on ...
Autumn is here. I felt it in the air this morning as I walked out to greet the plants, shrubs and trees, inspecting each leaf or flower examining how the change of season was affecting them. I breathed in deeply as if to draw it all into my lungs, and my precious veins whose blood pressure is starting to simmer down and find its normal pace - finally. For a moment it felt quite peaceful. Days of reflecting into atonement and penitence for all this past year's wonderings and misdeeds are upon me.
I feel the presence of these days of awe more than ever this year, as the past couple of months have been truly, emotionally stormy. My former Buffalo therapist used to encourage me to fall into the emotional abyss I feared - and lately, I took the plunge. Falling in, I have discovered all my childhood fears - starkly - powerfully - staring me directly in my face - nothing left for me to do but confront them head and heart on. Sometimes weeping with fear, at others laughing out loud with exhilaration to realize I have survived! Most of it happening during my brisk, long morning walks.
I am not sure that I have reached a point where I am able to embrace my fears with compassion and acceptance. Perhaps I could resolve to work toward that this coming year. For there is no going back now that I have allowed myself to develop this deep of an understanding.
Things just don't look the same any more.
Integration is key now. Drawing in the ancient fears, and combining them with my new found confidence and faith in me, all the while appreciating the strength and courage it has taken to survive.
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Companions
As the rain falls outside the window of our library, I sense a blessing happening here.
It has been such a great few weeks. I have been happy, living in the moment, and allowing myself to feel all kinds of emotions. In short, I have felt more whole than ever in my life. Enjoying feeling included and wanted - being part of my father's family at a wedding celebration, realizing I am angry or disappointed in the moment, speaking out about things that irritate me, and taking it all in my stride without alarm or anxiety ... or so I thought ...
For it seems my mind and body had other ideas. While I have been working hard at rewiring my emotional memory circuit, living out a new life script, and breaking rules that I learned to keep safe as a young child, my brain called out hysterically, "Whoa ho there, lassie! Not so fast!" pushing my blood pressure up so high that I found myself racing toward the emergency room at two in the morning. Nurses and doctors searching and prodding, prying and exploring and finding nothing to support the craziness of blood pressure numbers. Finally, a tall, slender doctor looked into my eyes, and said quietly, "You look anxious. Don't be anxious." And I burst into tears.
Unbeknown to me, it seemed the anxiety had been quietly bubbling up, accompanying me as I broke emotional rules and patterns within me. The volcano erupted and now I am fighting back, for I will not be dragged back into the prison of ancient, survival habits and beliefs about myself. I am enjoying feeling loved and wanted, worthwhile and belonging, and I am especially relishing the ability to identify when people are not treating me kindly.
It all makes me wonder. Being released from prison is not as simple as I thought. Old memories that had been stored away, repressed so that I could survive day-to-day living, are rising up at all times of the day or night - making me feel deeply sad, or very angry. In short, while my life is improving at every level: emotionally, in my relationships with significant others, and professionally at every level - the anxiety and pain of old wounds are excruciating.
Yoga, meditation, and long walks are good medicine, as well as a steamy bowl of oat bran, honey and walnuts topped off with an assortment of fresh berries in the morning. The best healing, though comes through the tender love and support of Life Partner, good friends, and an expert therapist, as I continue to release myself from the chains of paradigms past.
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: You can never go home again
It never is just about the peanuts or the cookies. Like the morning I start wandering the halls at work, prowling for something, anything to munch on. I discover a few shelled peanuts in one office, and then find myself at the vending machine searching for my favorite vanilla sandwich cookies. But the machine is out of order, and the one in the adjacent building isn't working either. For awhile I search for someone to make change for a twenty dollar bill on the off chance that the vending machine will take cash instead of a credit card. Maybe that way it will work? But, no one has change, and I find myself back in my office. I realize that it is not about the peanuts or the cookies. It is about the tiny, irritating hole in my soul that has flared up recently. My inner child is in need of some nurturing for some reason - and of course as soon as I think that I realize I know exactly what the reason is that stirs up these old early childhood hurts and holes. I stare out of the window at the sun shining through a clear, blue sky. I hold still with the twinges of childhood pain, and breathe in and out deeply. Nurturing comes in different forms, I say to myself. Peanuts and cookies will be transient. They will encourage me only to look for more.
Then I am reminded of the film, Boyhood, that I saw recently. Toward the end, the mother weeps a little as she wonders how time has flown by, and that she always thought that somehow there would be more to life. I always thought that too, and identify with how she was feeling as she said that out loud. Somehow it is comforting to think that this is it! Life is about being seized by moments here and now, and that "we are all just winging it." I forgive myself for the crazy decisions I made in my past. I did the best I could at the time, I think as I reflect on the lives of the characters in Boyhood. I realize, too, that I never understood what my son was feeling as he was growing up. I wonder - did I even think about that at all, as I simply tried to survive the day to day of living?
My mind continues to wander, and I discover that my urgent desire for peanuts and cookies has passed me by. Nurturing myself has taken the form of writing out loud my feelings in the moment. Faculty are arriving for the first meetings of the semester, some stopping in to share their summer stories with me, and also enthusiastically listening to mine.
A warm sense of belonging envelops me, and I remember the reason I had for feeling a hole in my soul at the beginning of this post.
Reading the New York Times this morning, I glance at the terms, "ego sustenance," and "social media" in the same sentence. I think to myself, "There we go again - criticizing people for using social media to boost their egos." I know I do! And I know why. I love the attention. Having received so little of it as a child, this is one of the ways to fill up the holes created way back when. I feel supported and comforted when people notice my status updates, or shares of one kind or another. And, oh gee! Don't all those tweeters out there just adore the brisk, urgent, quick second-by-second attentions they receive as re-tweets or favoriting type mentions for even the most banal updates?
So, rather than moaning and groaning about everyone needing "ego sustenance," let's turn our attention to early childhood care and education, and think about about how little acknowledgement we give to our youngest children? Indeed, I observe infant rooms all over the country, and see over and over again that from the day they learn to vocalize sounds before words children are being shushed and silenced.
Just yesterday morning breakfasting in our local bakery, an older infant in a high chair was intentionally knocking his bottle on the table. I could tell he was experimenting with the sound of it from the serious, diligent look of pleasure on his face. After the second tap-tap of the bottle, it was whisked - nay, grabbed - from his hands, and an irritated looking mother slammed it down on the table next to her far away from his reach. He sat staring straight ahead - startled and confused for a long moment. Then looked toward me. I smiled at him and he smiled back, a small sigh escaping from his lips. I imagined that as they were in an adult establishment - a bakery for breakfast, maybe the mother was worried he was making too much noise for the people around them. Us, for example. Young children's squeals and squeaks, tap-tapping of bottles and toys should delight us - like music to our ears. For what could be more amazing than a young child discovering their voice, or learning a new skill?
So, let's spend time - hours, dollars, human power - to educate adults with children - or those who have chosen to remain childless - that young children need attention. They need us to enjoy and celebrate the noises and messes they make. That way, when they grow up to be adults, perhaps they won't need social media as much as they do now for ego sustenance, and could use it for activism to change the world instead!
I have been thinking about compiling a book with a collection of blog posts where I mention my cats. It could be a memoir, perhaps titled: "Of Cats and Me." Lately, as I have been reading through my blogs from the past nine years up until now, I have found almost a hundred pieces where my writings include my cats in some form or another.
One day in March last year, I heard me whispering out loud to myself, "Ada was me," referring to my beloved cat, who died in 2012. It so caught me by surprise to hear me say it aloud, that I wrote it down in my journal. I am amazed to see how much they accompany me through my life. Indeed, they could well be my alter ego! At times I write a full post just about the cats, but mostly they are featured as just being there - as background to my story or self reflections: looking out of windows, lying on chairs next to me, or sleeping on the rug as I write. As a young child I had imaginary friends, and I think, now that I'm older, my cats sometimes turn into those - a way for me to feel not so alone.
In a way, just by being there, they help me tell my story.
My head is filled with things to say: about my life and much about the early childhood profession. For professional and personal are connected in our work with young children and their families. With each interaction, the "inner child" rises up from my emotional memory, and influences my behaviors or decisions. The time for writing is upon me but digesting ideas and feelings comes first. They accompany me through my chores, down the shore, at the pool as I swim laps, on my walks around the neighborhood or in the beautiful Wissahickon valley, driving to and from work, while I meditate, and when I am mowing the lawn, weeding, or cutting off dead flower heads in the garden.
I imagine that when I sit down to write these thoughts out, they will flow from me like a river.
Unless, of course, I procrastinate. You know the deal: cleaning closets, rearranging photo albums, or browsing the Inter-webs.
"How will I fit it all in?" I ask myself, "Writing, walking, Chairing, teaching, presenting, eating, sleeping, visiting, playing ... and what will happen to my blog?" I wonder, "Is that excitement or trepidation speaking?"
For me, self expression is always accompanied by anxiety and enthusiasm. It is an emotional deal - serious.
I read over the words I have written here, and feel a tingling of energy in the palms of my hands. I notice that my breaths have become shorter - staccato - and I sense a sort of hum - a vibration ever so slightly in my brain.
Yes indeed, the book is percolating and bubbling up inside.
It's time to let it out ...
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Preparations
In her note that she sent with the book, my friend wrote: "Dear Tamar, I just finished this book. Thinking about you at so many places. Find time to read a few pages each day. I believe you will find it worth the time. Much love ..."
I finally got to reading the book these past two weeks, and I felt a great deal of appreciation for my friend for thinking of me through it.
Quotes of the day:
A memoir may always be retrospective, but the past is not where its action takes place. (Page 52)
... because it is a precious thing to be allowed to talk about yourself in public, not for reasons of simple exhibitionism but because the attempt to describe your experience to an audience pushes you forward into an understanding of it. (Pages 60, 61)
Surely the self has begun to move toward health when it takes itself seriously enough to tell its story? (Page 192)
Maybe I'm climbing toward the light all the time though I don't know it ... Today it seems to me that there is no closing of the account with parents ... I think I will be haunted by my mother forever. It gives me hope, all the same, that I'm not sure anymore that the best thing to do with her is forgive her. There's more at stake now than ever before, and it is much, much later in life. Why not steel myself to split up with her this time? Tell her to manage by herself at last? ... I'd say, "Goodbye," and even though I'd never forgive myself, I'd turn my back on her and walk out the door. (Pages 274, 275)
Recently, I read a couple of memoirs of people who survived very difficult childhoods - physically or emotionally. Resilience in the face of abuse of any kind is always fascinating for me. Most recently, my therapist helped me face that I am one of those survivors. Needless to say, it was a difficult session for me, and I survived that too! In fact, it was validation of a kind that I have not experienced before, and ever since that day I find that I am starting to feel a different type of calm - reinforcing for me, once again, that validation is an essential component of the healing process. Just being able to say to myself, "this happened to me," has been so important. Indeed, it has opened me up to a deeper understanding of my mother's life, and more importantly, that her reactions or behaviors toward me had nothing to do with me - I was not to blame - another essential component of my healing process.
Reading the second part of O'Faolain's memoir, I was intrigued by her conclusion (above), where she allows herself to contemplate that saying goodbye and walking away from her mother could be better than forgiving her. I like to think of it as her description of a feeling, rather than the act of leaving her mother behind. I identified strongly with the sentiment though. For, in point of fact, twenty six years ago I did just that. I said: "Goodbye," and left the country. Of course, at the time I was not aware that I needed to physically leave my mother in order to survive. As I look back now I realize that was what happened. Creating that distance in miles helped me discover my own mind, and reality other than what I had been taught to feel and believe about myself. It took years for me to come to terms with all of this - some of the times were lonely, frightening, and very painful.
In the end though, while I physically turned my back on my mother when I left Israel twenty six years ago in order to save myself emotionally, in learning to validate my experience, and understand my mother's life more deeply, I chose to forgive her.
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Bag of guilt