Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Posts tagged ‘family’

Coursera: The Coffee Clutch

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I signed up for a course on Plot in Fiction through Coursera and can’t figure out how to post my assignments. Running up against many web walls, I decided to post them on my website.

Remember, this is fiction, made-up, not true.

My nasty little trolls (Jennifer G., Richard A., and Susie S.) can make all the comments they like but I will block you.

Here goes: The Coffee Clutch: Rising Action using 12 unrelated words.

All she wanted was a cup of hot coffee, French press, with whole milk and two teaspoons of sugar, sometimes within the first hour of awakening. She padded into the kitchen on bare feet, pushing aside the debris of unpacking, and the assorted filth of teenagers, swearing. Patience wasn’t her strong point, and her hand-eye coordination refused to engage without that first cup. She reached for the water heating appliance, not a teapot or even a pan but something her partner bought her as a consolation prize for dealing with his cranky daughters and plugging it in, knocked over the canister of beans.

”Fuck, fuck, fuck,” she said crouching down to sweep up the beans.

Managing to get the beans into the grinder and then into the press, Sara sighed when a large black bird, a crow or a jackdaw, flew into the window above the sink. Shards of glass and metal lay around her feet from the fallen press. Holding her breath, she looked for a safe place to step feeling more and more like a hungry tiger prowling its cage while outside, freedom taunted.

“What’s going on?” said a muffled voice from their bedroom.

“Nothing,” Sara said, pretend-sweet, reaching across to turn off the water; she flinched when its steam scorched her arm, and a boiling stream exploded onto the remnants of glass, metal, and coffee grinds. Red splotches colored her neck and face as panting she cleaned up the mess.

A memory of their first six months together filled Sara’s mind emphasizing the difference between the two realities. She looked at the tell-tale towel thinking that she was responsible for the messes in her life from the coffee to her relationship. Then her defenses settled back into place; this is the universe’s trick to get me to be nicer and go caffeine-free – not happening.

“Sounds like you need help in there,” her boyfriend said from far away. Nearby teenage grumblings set her nerves on the edge of crazy.

“Naw,” Sara said grabbing her coat and keys. “All aboard the USS Misery.”

******************

You are my peer evaluators. So, what do you think?

Sheep, Stepfamilies, and The Brady Bunch

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Last night, I was flipping through the channels and saw an advert for the TV series, The Brady Bunch. The last time that I thought about the show was when a group of therapists was kvetching about stepfamilies. Someone brought up The Brady Bunch, and every one of us groaned, which soon became a throw-darts-at, annihilate-the-series free-for-all. Therapists loathe this show. We loathe The Brady Bunch for multiple reasons, professional and personal.

One, Carol Brady was a nincompoop – without a job, but she still needed a housekeeper, slightly exasperated but still way too calm, and was addicted to caffeine, probably to keep her awake. Not a role model nor representative of a mother in any stepfamily we knew of or were a part of.

Two, apart from Jan the whiny one, the show’s characters are flat, stock stereotypes. Goodie-goodies who could share bedrooms and bathrooms. Try that with your teenagers. Take out extra insurance!

Three, where are the zits? This was a show populated with teenagers, and there was not a zit in sight. Or feminine hygiene products. Or stinky tube socks. Or birth control pills or condoms. Not even a dish or glass left on the counter.

(I am kind of glad for their neglect of diversity, in any form – who knows how they would have mishandled it.)

The big reason to loathe The Brady Bunch  – the show sets up unrealistic expectations around the coming together of two families. Stepfamilies are difficult, horribly painful and awkward, from deciding where to live, who gets a particular bedroom and especially, bathroom, to the weird hormone stew stirred by the proximity of unfamiliar relatives smashed up against each other, to finish with the delusion of two families having this sorted out in under five years.

Not my experience. When Dad moved out, I was fifteen and tired of the parental tension, so the idea of divorce was not a problem. Things were pretty good for a year. Mom was grumbly and lonely, but the three of us siblings kept going to school, no one got hooked on anything, and we established a pretty tight family bond.

Then Mom announced that she was dating. The kids looked at each other, grimaced, and went to our rooms. I had a good-sized bedroom as the oldest; it was my haven. During that first year, post-divorce, I got a separate telephone line. Yes, it was the late 70s. I remember phoning my friend to tell her about Mom’s announcement. She was silent. This was happening before divorce became common, almost a rite of passage, among teenagers.

We kids proceeded to make Mom’s life hell. We pestered her with problems, had emergencies during her dates, ignored him when she introduced us, and other usual adolescent brouhahas. We were annoying little shits.

Then one day I saw them. I was walking home from high school wondering where I had put my zit cream when I saw his car approaching. I ran behind a shrub. Not a big shrub and probably they would have noticed me if not for them being so involved in each other. My mother was laughing. I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen her laughing. What followed was a weird epiphany; Mom deserved the opportunity to be happy. Did I need her to be alone, lonely, waiting for me to grow up before she moved on with her life? What right did I have to judge her? Something opened up for me on that day. I had a toehold on transformation.

I’d love to say that it was sunshine and rainbows from then on. No. My younger brother and sister were not happy with Mom’s choice to date. We never met his children. Adolescence with all of its pain continued, but I didn’t feel the need to create additional drama with Mom over her dating habits. At some point, they stopped dating and Mom must have decided to avoid the problem for the rest of the time her children lived at home.

Home on break during my senior year at college, I asked Mom why she never remarried. She said she didn’t want to subject us to the ordeal of bringing another man into the house. I nodded and went up to my then shoe-box-sized room feeling guilty for my part in her decision. Maybe Mom didn’t want to subject herself to the ordeal of her annoying little shits, her own kids …

Now, I wish for TV shows that help us navigate changing family structures, shows that hold up characters struggling for their needs, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but with at least a foot in reality. A TV show about the craziness of blending families with the squabbling and the unevenness of humanity and the possibility of transformation.

 

(Image by Rudy van der Veen at Skitterphoto.com – do you know how difficult it is to find a realistic pic of a family? For some reason, sheep felt right.)

Trumpatized – Canada Is Not The Answer

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I have been finding snatches of time in the day to cry since the election. A friend called it being Trumpatized. A great term combining Trump and traumatized, the cause of the trauma and the condition it is triggering. My reaction, disbelief and grief and anger over the election, has to find little crevasses in the day. Last Wednesday, I cried through Kathleen’s yoga class. I am pretty sure I was not alone. I cry between sessions and in sessions with some of my clients as they tell how they have been triggered back to memories of traumatic events from their past.

Right or wrong, whether you voted for him or not, Trump has reawakened many people’s past memories, snakes of violence jerked out of hibernation., and caused people to wonder about the moral development of the country. I can’t answer these questions.

I can give you some ideas for comfort through this time –

  • Get enough sleep – not too much and not too little. Your neurotransmitter level will thank you.
  • Eat warm and easy-to-digest foods – carbohydrates are helpful, soups, stews, chilis, tea.
  • Stay away from too much caffeine – it will further agitate you.
  • Keep your alcohol level to a minimum – flashbacks and memories seep in when guards are down and alcohol lowers the brain’s guardrails.
  • Be active – it will help you keep things in balance, regulate your nervous system, and get you out of your house (where I am likely to brood …)
  • Dress warm – it will calm your body so it doesn’t feel under siege.
  • Respect other people’s property – march and protest but this is not a time to riot nor recreate Kristallnacht.
  • Cry, find places and people who can accept your response.
  • If you can’t get out of bed or still feel numb, see a therapist. It’s okay to get some help.
  • Try not to re-Trumpatize yourself with on-going news shows and articles.
  • Turn off your blue screens one hour before bedtime to give your brain a chance to settle down. This decreases the frequency of nightmares and allows for more restful sleep.

(Holiday meals are not the time to bring up your differences. Everyone has someone dear to them who voted in a way opposite to you. Don’t spoil this time.)

Here’s the kicker – you need to do something. As I see it, we have three options –

  • Do nothing – that will keep you at war with yourself – only so many ostriches tolerated in this world.
  • Work to promote your beliefs – join a group, start a group, volunteer for a group.
  • Accept the results with grace – promote coming together with as calm a presence as you can.

You can do one or some combination of the three. But do something – the first option leads to feeling impotent which leads to violence against yourself and others. (Oh, and please don’t move to Canada.)

The choice is yours.

 

Airport Nightmares

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I will admit to being scared – I am acutely frightened these days of my status as an immigrant but in truth, I have felt this way since childhood.

When I was six, my mother took her two daughters from our home in Scotland to meet our ship captain father in Alabama. We flew into a New York airport with our British passports and went through customs/immigration screenings with everyone else but this time we were pulled out of the lineup. We were made to follow two people down a hallway into a larger room with a curtained off area on one side. I remember looking at my mother who had gone pale under her tan. We had made this transatlantic trip a few times to meet my father in the US without having to undergo this process. She nodded to me. “Take that baby’s hand,” she said. Like the good daughter I was brought up to be, I grabbed my four-year old sister’s hand. Mother and children were separated into two cubicles.

“Strip to your underpants,” a man said to us.

I remember helping my sister off with her dress. She was too small to undo the buttons.  Her hair snagged on a button causing her to cry when I tried to pull the dress over her head. She kept crying as I took off her shoes and socks. She looked tiny huddled into the corner of the shelf acting as a seat even to my almost as tiny six-year old self. I pulled off my tartan trousers and my top, unbuttoned my school shoes, to sit next to her. Eventually, I cried too.

There was a shuffling sound so I peeked through the curtain into the room. More people had entered, mainly men.

“Mrs. Young, come out here,” a man called out.

My mother came out of her cubicle.

Vicky, my sister, called out, “Mama? Mama?”

Mom turned around. Her face was paler still. She motioned for me to pull Vicky back into the cubicle. She was wearing her bra and panties. Under the bright lights before a group sitting in chairs. I heard them laughing. Settling my sister, I sneaked back to look through the curtains.

“Take everything off,” said the man. I watched my mother strip in front of these men and women, probably US Customs and Immigration agents. I do not know what other indignities my mother had to endure. Vicky was screaming at this point and I was so scared I wondered if I was going to die. At the time, I didn’t understand what was happening and who these people were but I knew mean when I saw it.

Clutching my sister to me, I heard a man say, “Get the kids.” Mom came into the cubicle and one at a time she paraded us in front of the people. She was still naked. Vicky pulled against Mom’s hand trying to escape, I guess, until Mom picked her up. There was a defiance in my mother’s gesture. I pushed her hand away, wiping my face clean with my top, to walk out on my own. My brain has a snapshot of the group sitting, uninterested, talking among themselves, oblivious to my terror.

Shaking and crying, the three of us were allowed to dress and leave the airport.

We never talked about this. Nightmares of being naked in a confined cage surrounded by giants plagued me into my thirties and have restarted.

When I was 18, I applied for American citizenship. To accept a scholarship to college and to never have to go through this again.

I have written this as I remember the event, devoid of most emotion and description. Because a part of my six-year old self did die that day. I hate New York and I hate airports, and I hope no other six or four or thirty-three-year old ever has to go through this.

Celebrating the Mishaps, Part 2

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It happened again – the family curse of nearby candles setting unexpected fires.

Around the winter solstice, a few of us gals get together for a night out at an area restaurant to catch up, celebrate our achievements (I like to make lists), and bemoan the catastrophes of the past 12 months (usually the larger list). This is our second year at the same restaurant. After last year’s noisy brouhaha, they put us in an inconspicuous booth way, way back. Near the restrooms. But it did not faze us.

In honor of whatever holiday we celebrate, I like to get little goofy presents for us. People need presents. One year it was an assortment of earrings. This year’s gifts were a gaggle of socks. Everyone needs warm socks, don’t we? Well maybe not in this December’s hot and humid weather.

I wrapped the gifts in pretty tissue paper and tied them up with bows and shiny glass balls. Arriving at the restaurant before the others, I tucked the table’s teensy-weensy candle out of the way. Memories of when my mother set the synagogue’s carpet on fire and of this year’s flaming Chanukah card incident have made me vigilant. With a carefree smile, I arranged the presents across the table. The table looked festive. My friends sat down. They smiled. We began our frolicking.

Into our second round of drinks, either the restaurant grew warmer or the heat from our frolicking bent one section of tissue paper.

Into the candle. The teensy-weensy candle. The corner of tissue paper caught fire. Wide-eyed with surprise at the tissue paper’s betrayal, I looked over the flames at my friend. Her eyes were large. Nonchalantly, I tried to pat it out. (All I had was wine to throw on the fire – I had a vague recollection that this would not be good, or work.)

I patted and poof. The fire spread to another present. Immediately, the table looked on fire. Flames erupted towards the ceiling. I heard a slight crackling. All eyes were glued to our table. I looked to our waitperson for help. He was young, instantly almost a child young, with a stunned, ‘I-have-never-seen-this, they-didn’t-train-me-for-this,’ look on his face. The restaurant was mesmerized as the flames reached higher. My mouth fell open. The waitperson swore in French. Nonchalance pranced out the door.

Luckily, an older, more experienced waitperson came over, scooped up the Socks Flambé, and tossed them on the tile floor. In a second, the flames were out.

In the watchful, quiet restaurant, we blinked. Our pupils returned to normal size.

“Can we have another round?” I asked the waiter.

“Surely,” he said putting our candle on another table. That table’s patrons posthaste blew out our candle. The waitperson picked up the crispy tissue gifts from the floor. With a smirk, he placed them on the table. “That’ll make a good review on Yelp.” I nodded mouth still open.

“We need to leave him a good tip,” said one friend.

“Yessirree,” I said nodding my head like the bobble heads found on a car’s dashboard. They nodded in return.

The festivities resumed. The flame-tinged socks were met with giggles. We left an excellent tip.

“Let’s do this again soon,” we promised each other.

“Yeah but without the fire,” I said. More head nodding.

Safe in my home with an unlit fireplace, I swore to myself, “I am done setting fires.” The cat meowed her approval but I think I heard the faint laughter of my mother.

Celebrating the Mishaps

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I was lighting the candles for the last night of Chanukah, The Festival of Lights, when this memory plunked into my consciousness. Plunked with such Maccabean might that I dropped the candle setting a Chanukah card on fire. Unfortunately for my neighbors, the flaming card set off the smoke detector. A saner head than mine pulled the glass of wine out of my hand before I fully reenacted the family saga of celebratory mishaps.

“Hah, I am my mother’s daughter. There is a genetic memory of Yes you are repeating what your mother did and probably her mother and her mother’s mother before her …

On the remembered Friday night, Mom, beautiful and hard to forget with her bright red hair and twinkling blue eyes, was wearing a powder blue dress, probably highly flammable. It was the seventies. I wore a hair band. The family had been to IHOP for dinner (a Friday night tradition) and we were ready to pray in temple (Jewish synagogue). Mom was lighting the Sabbath candles on the Bimah (synagogue stage) when the event happened.

It had been a good night with minimal fighting among the siblings. No one was expecting what happened next. I was sitting in the last row of seats with my sister and brother. No major faux pas had occurred like the time my sister let one rip in the middle of a sermon or the time my brother fell asleep tumbling out of the row into the center aisle with a soul-shaking clunk or the time I tripped in Mom’s borrowed heels inadvertently performing the Heimlich anti-choking maneuver to hurl scrambled eggs and pancakes over the entire row. You get the idea. Mine is a long line of the etiquette challenged.

Back to my memory, Mom was standing on the Bimah about to light the last candle on the Shabbat menorah (think ornate candelabra) when her sleeve caught fire on an already flaming candle. Trying to pat it out with a certain je ne sais quoi, she knocked the candle out of her hand. The lit candle sailed end over end to pole vault over the waist high gate separating the people on the Bimah from the rabble. The flaming missile arced towards the new burgundy carpet. Not quite shag. Flammable. Near the audience (congregation).

A little curl of smoke started up towards the ceiling. Mom’s eyes got very wide. The periwinkle blue polyester of her dress smoldered. My sister nudged me in the ribs. I sat up straight. Paid attention. My little brother snorted.

The curl ate the nylon carpet in a zigzag pattern turning into a flame zipping around the Bimah. I thought, Ah, a burnt sacrifice. Mom was yelling, “Oops, please somebody do something,” in her perfect British boarding school voice used only in situations of I am in so much shit or You are in so much shit.

The President of the temple rushed down from the Bimah into the fire. He stamped and stamped. The head of the religious school came over to spit on the fire. The fire continued despite the stamping and spitting. My mother threw the ceremonial wine on the spiritual fire. Poof. The President’s tie caught on fire. By my count, two people and one carpet were on fire. One woman was out of spit. I sucked in my gut trying not to laugh too conspicuously. With a unified Oy Vey, people in the front pews hastily moved towards the back of the sanctuary.

At the point when it looked like either the fire department or a miracle was called for, the Rabbi pulled a fire extinguisher from under the podium. With a few oaths unseemly for a spiritual leader, he jumped over the gate and sprayed the fire into submission. The Rabbi turned to the congregation.

“Please be seated. Let us continue with our service on page … “ he said motioning my mother off the Bimah where she was never asked to perform another thing, read another line, or get anywhere near an open flame on synagogue grounds.

Then the sprinklers turned on.

The three of us kids sat in awe, sweat-producing awe, of yet another Young family fuck-up. We were doubled over with laughter. And a little embarrassment as the Jewish community’s wrath rained down upon us.

This year, with all its tragedies, I hope your holidays are full of laughter and light.

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