Meeting George Costanza

Doireann turned 18 yesterday.  I am now the mother of an 18 year-old.  I am sharply inhaling over that.  Sweating even.  I went out to breakfast with a dear friend yesterday and felt a bit of panic over this, and she kindly said, “You aren’t old enough to have an 18 year-old.  You really aren’t.”  I felt better, and then I felt silly.  Yes, yes, it’s all about me, isn’t it?

Still.  18! She’s going to college in the fall! Where did the years go? I remember everything.  It feels like a rare privilege to be given a baby, doesn’t it? And then you get to love and prepare that baby for adulthood.  Doireann is an excellent human being.  I don’t say that because I’m her mother.  She really is a wonderful person.  I even enjoy the lesser developed parts of her character.  It’s why she is who she is, and I’m going to enjoy seeing how those parts are developed.  Frankly, she’ll probably fight it every step of the way, and I’ll hear about it.

When Doireann was young, she was very obnoxious and stubborn.  I’m not one of those mothers who believes that her children can do no wrong.  On the contrary, I know exactly what’s what.  Doireann loved to push buttons and boundaries.  There was, however, one thing she liked more than anything else.  She loved being right.  She was like a little tsar trapped in the body of a toddler.  She was vengeful, too, due to her above average intelligence.  She could plot and carry out plans.  There’s a reason three year-olds should not be able to read.

Suffice it to say, I realized that I could only parent her so much.  Life experience was going to have to offer her another sort of parenting.  This is what I prayed for since she learns empathy experientially.  Enter Thomas.

Thomas is Doireann’s nemesis, and he has been her nemesis since ninth grade.  Doireann loathes him.  I have heard tale upon tale of Thomas’ disgusting personality, ugly face, and sadistic disposition not to mention his misogyny and intellectual snobbishness.  After almost four years of listening to the storied Clash of The Titans Misadventures of Doireann and Thomas, I had a horrible mental image of what Thomas must look like.  Surely, this must be Thomas:

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Scut Farkus Thomas

About two months ago while Doireann was ranting about Thomas once again, I remarked that it must be quite difficult to look at the embodiment of Scut Farkus of “A Christmas Story” every day.  Joking at the time, I noted that if Ralphie eventually beat Scut up, then how was she able to control herself? She stopped.  “What? No, Thomas doesn’t look anything like Scut Farkus.”

“You mean that he doesn’t have yellow eyes and pointy teeth? My gosh, I imagined that he looked something like the devil to be honest.”

“You wanna know what the most horrible human being on Earth looks like? Oh, I’ll show you!”

Well, yes, I wanted to know.  The most horrible human being on Earth? Please show me! She immediately found a photo of him and practically shoved her phone in my face.  “This.  This is Thomas!” she declared with evident hatred.

I was ready for something hideous.  Instead I saw this:

George-Costanza

George Costanza of “Seinfeld”

Thomas looks just like George Costanza.  I wish I were kidding, but I’m not.  He apparently has the personality to match.  I couldn’t control myself.  I covered my face and started laughing.  “Oh my gosh, he’s George Costanza! He’s a schlub! Your nemesis is a schlubby George Costanza which is a redundant statement, I know.”

“Who is George Costanza?!” she asked, confused.

How can I explain “Seinfeld” to my 18 year-old daughter? How can I sum up George Costanza? Well, from how she’s described Thomas, I’d say she’s spent the entirety of her high school career getting to know George Costanza by proxy, and I can’t help but laugh.  I loved “Seinfeld”, but I really hated George Costanza for all the reasons Doireann loathes Thomas.  On Monday night, I finally asked her why she still wanted to punch Thomas in the mouth so badly.  She said:

“He is so vile, Mom, because he thinks he knows everything, and he makes other people feel bad about themselves when they don’t know something.  And he just sits there looking smug all the time.  And his fat, stupid face just annoys me.  He thinks he’s better than everyone else just because he thinks he knows things.  Intellectual snobbishness is wrong, and getting off on being right at other people’s expense isn’t right either.  You have to admit when you’re wrong!”

I listened.  I nodded.  She looked down.  She sighed.  “I know that I used to be like that.  I struggle with that, too, but I’ve seen what it does to people.  It’s wrong.  People don’t learn when someone like that is in the room.  He hurts people, and I see that now.”

Thomas’ job is done.  He no longer serves a purpose.  She learned exactly what I could never teach her, and she will never have to see him again in a few months.  This is one of the primary reasons I am against helicopter parenting.  We, as parents, can’t teach our kids everything that they need to develop in order to become good human beings.  Some character traits are developed out there in the world through adversity, and some character traits are filed and buffed away through adversity.  Doireann needed Thomas.  Thomas may have learned something from knowing Doireann although he would never admit it. What I’ve learned in observing this over the past four years is that there may be people in my own life as well who I don’t like very much, but maybe they are present to teach me something, too.

It’s an interesting thought, isn’t it?

 

The Executive Decision

We are a very forgiving household.  This is why almost all my daughters’ friends spend their time here.  It’s also why most of them call me ‘Mom’.  I feel too young for that.  Or, I feel like someone’s mother-in-law.  “Hey Mom!”  It’s a weird feeling to have multiple teenagers call you ‘Mom’, but it’s a sign of affection and respect.  It’s also a sign that their own home lives are lacking in something.  They feel comfortable here.  One young woman comes here to sleep.  Her home environment is highly abusive.  One of her family members has tried to strangle her in her sleep numerous times.  She, therefore, doesn’t sleep well if at all at her house so she comes here from time to time just to sleep.  She slips out quietly in the morning.  I’ve called CPS twice about that situation to no avail.

Another girl comes here to be herself.  She is forced to care for her younger brother who by all accounts meets the criteria for having some sort of developmental disability.  Her parents work all day so she must be his caregiver.  She’s a senior in high school this year, and she’s getting out.  She comes here for a break.  Being a house full of girls, we usually get only girls coming here, but, on occasion, we do get a boy.  He is a transgender boy.  His parents hate him.  They “forget” to pick him up and neglect him.  They ignore him completely.  They gave him a Bible for Christmas.  That’s it.  He comes over to our house occasionally but largely keeps to himself.  He’s skittish and shy and understandably so.  He’s being emotionally abused by his family.

All this is to say that I see a lot of behaviors come and go.  I hear what many adults would deem “inappropriate talk”.  One identifies it and moves on.  Most kids who come here want to be better particularly the ones who call me ‘Mom’.  They want to be respectful.  They, however, may not know how to be because they haven’t been taught well, or they haven’t been given enough real opportunities.  No one has believed in their goodness enough to give them a second or even third chance.  Everyone fails.  Everyone needs to be given opportunities to try again.

There are kids who come here, however, who do not want to be better.  They do not really care.  They have learned to be exploitative to get their needs met, and they’ll display rather cruel behaviors in unexpected ways.  That happened last weekend.  Eadaoin needed help with a school project so she invited one of her newer school friends over to spend the night.  Her name was Lauren.  Lauren was initially quite friendly and extremely talkative.  She talked so much, in fact, that I couldn’t get a moment’s peace.  Wherever I went, there was Lauren.  Lauren in the evening.  Lauren in the morning.  Lauren in the afternoon.  Lauren did not pick up on social cues either, and Lauren spoke very openly about her alcoholic stepfather and his abuse as if it were normal: “You know how adults are.  They drink when they’re stressed.”  She then went on to recount how she, her siblings, and her mother had to leave one night to get away from him.  I just nodded my head and listened.  There were other stories she told about her friends that raised red flags.  To her, it was all fine.  Good.  She was perfect.  Her life was great.

Grace’s friend, her former BFF, came over as well.  That friendship has been evolving as middle school friendships do.  She has been less than kind to Grace during the last year and a half displaying relational aggression.  We’ve been unsure how to handle it.  Does Grace end the friendship? Should she talk to her sometimes? Wanting to believe the best about her, she didn’t want to simply write her off.  These are important decisions for young people.

Grace came to me on Monday morning crying.  She told me that Lauren and her former BFF had called her ‘stupid’.  She had been trying to keep up with them in a board game, but she could not.  This is a reality for many young adults with schizophrenia spectrum disorders and for people taking certain drugs.  There is cognitive slowing.  It can’t be helped.  When she wasn’t able to process the game as fast as they thought she should, Lauren laughed at her and said, “You are so stupid.”  Her BFF laughed at her, too, and said, “Yeah, you are so stupid!”  They then went on to laugh at her together.  It didn’t end there.  Someone began teasing her for not being as physically developed as other girls.  “So, when are you gonna get your boobs?!”  And, that’s when the pointing and laughing really started.

As a mother, I felt something rise up in me that might be called rage.  As a woman who has watched other girls victimize girls in this way, I wanted to punch a hole in my wall.  As a host, I wanted to take these girls and shout at them, “How dare you treat my daughter like that in MY house!”  I did neither of these things.  I had to sit there and collect myself.  I had to take deep breaths.  I wanted to cry on her behalf.  Her face! She just stood there full of shame, tears collecting in her eyes.

At what point do we say, “No more.  That person can no longer come here”? I had to ask myself that question.  I may be called ‘Mom’ by a lot of these kids, but I am not their mother.  I had to remember that.  I am, however, Grace’s mother, and she is vulnerable.  So, I made an executive decision.  “Grace, BFF can’t come here anymore.  She is displaying a pattern of cruelty when she comes here.  I’ve talked to her about it more than once, and she won’t stop.  You cry when she leaves.”  I talked to Eadaoin about Lauren.  She might be a perfectly appropriate “school friend”, but she is not going to be a good choice for bringing home.  She lacks compassion and empathy.  I am truly sorry that she is enduring abuse at home.  That is probably why she has learned to normalize abuse and why she is repeating those behaviors.  She is merely doing what has been done to her.

These red flags, however, must be observed, and we have to follow our instincts.  This is how we learn to make good choices in our relationships.  If I don’t want to raise my daughters to tolerate abuse in their relationships, then I have to make the tough decisions about who will and will not come here.  They have to know that they are worth something.  They are worth more than something.  Do they want to hang out with people who think it’s funny to bully and call vulnerable people names? Do they want to be with girls who engage in relational aggression? This is how we develop a conscience in our children.  We point out these behaviors and ask them what they think.  In the end, Grace cried out of relief.  She had not wanted BFF to come to our home anymore.  She simply didn’t know what to do about it.  She was glad that I made the executive decision for her.  Eadaoin understood, too.  She said that she didn’t realize that Lauren would behave so badly, and she apologized to Grace.

It was a very fine line for me to walk.  I remember being 16.  I tied my identity to my choice of friends.  If my mom didn’t like my friends, then she didn’t like me.  I had to be so careful in how I talked about Lauren to Eadaoin.  I wanted her to know that she could still make good decisions.  I still believed in her, and I didn’t view Lauren as ‘all bad’.

I keep waiting for life to get easier, but I think that’s magical thinking.  I think we just need to increase our stamina.  Life is the ultimate marathon.  People praise and admire those who finish the IRONMAN triathlon or the Leadville 100.  I think finishing life well should not go unnoticed.  It is the greatest test of character, will, and endurance.  Feel good about yourself today.  You showed up for your life.  I guess now it’s a matter of how we show up, isn’t it?

 

The Gift of The C-Word

I can be slightly naïve at times.  Well, not naïve.  Optimistic perhaps.  I tend to believe the best about people and circumstances, and, when people behave like absolute asshats, I’m almost always surprised.  It’s as if I did, in fact, just fall off that turnip truck because I was indeed born yesterday; and, there I am lying helpless in the road wondering how I got there.  Oh, right, I was shoved.

I am being tongue-in-cheek because it’s fun.  The very minor incident to which I am not so subtly alluding was annoying but, at the same time, surprising to me.

An anonymous person posted a comment to my blog a few days ago.  He wrote:

You are a cunt!

Classy, right?

Yes, yes, this is a troll, and there is one mantra that we should all follow when it comes to trolls:

Do not feed the trolls!

Trolls know how to take the piss, don’t they? Calling a woman a bitch isn’t so bad.  How many women have been called that and worse for ignoring the clumsy gropes of some drunk guy at a bar? I have.  My girlfriends have.  Accidentally cut someone off in traffic and some angry person will yell, “Bitch!” Women are finally beginning to reclaim that word in order to rob it of its power.  The C-word, on the other hand, feels altogether different, doesn’t it?

Why?

Well, Tina Fey tackled this issue on 30 Rock in the “C-Word” episode when her character Liz Lemon overheard Lutz, one of her writers, call her the dreaded C-word behind her back.  Her response? She wanted to fire him.  Yep.  That’s how most women I know feel about being called the C-word.  We have a visceral response to it, and if we could fire the person who spoke that word over us, then we just might.  Liz Lemon ran to her producer and shouted, “We need to fire Lutz! Fire him!” When she explained her reasons, both Pete, her producer, and Frank, one of the writers, grimaced.  They, too, know of the C-word’s power.  And, why does this word hold so much power? What was the conclusion? It is so powerful because there is nothing that a woman can call a man that is as degrading.  As misogynistic and, well, defiling as the C-word is to women, there is no linguistic match for a man.

My husband and I sat around one night and tried to come up with an equivalent if you can believe that.  We came up with one, but it lacks the punch that the C-word packs.  I think that Tina Fey is right.  This is why trolls love this word so much.  This is why people aiming to shock and hurt women love to use this word.  It degrades and defiles in a way that few other words do.  There are erotica authors who have decided that it’s time to reclaim this word, I’m concluding, to rob it of its powerful punch to the female gut.  They freely use it in their writing.  It’s a jarring read to be sure, but it’s interesting to watch the linguistic evolution of this word.  Where might this word be in another generation? Will it feel as truly disgusting as it does now? Will I want to plug my ears and cry, “Lalalalalala!” when I hear it in 25 years?

Why write a post about the C-word? Firstly, to be frank, it pisses me off that there are people out there who find trolling entertaining.  It’s a complete waste of time, and it can hurt very vulnerable people.  Secondly, I have four daughters, and I’m a woman.  This sort of behavior is not acceptable no matter its form.  I blackholed that comment, but how does one feel empowered after reading something like that? It’s insidious.  That’s why trolling is potent.  Words are infinitely powerful.  The written word, when aimed directly at a person, can carry the weight of an anvil, and that is the take away.  Words can be weapons, or they can be shields.  They can edify and build a person up higher than the highest skyscraper.  They can also destroy a life.  We get to choose.  Isn’t that incredible? How many things in life do you actually get to choose freely?

You always get to choose your words.

That is a brilliant thought.  Many of us are caregivers to very vulnerable people.  We know just how weighty each word that we speak is because we have seen just how destructive other people’s words have been.  I am going to try to pay more attention to my words this year.  That is the gift of the dreaded C-word.  It’s potency inversely teaches us just how powerfully good we could be when we choose the better words instead.

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Incidentally, the brilliant comic The Oatmeal has attempted to rob the awful C-word of its “terribleness” in his wonderfully irreverent and funny comic The Terrible C-Word.  For a good laugh, you simply must read it!

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The Oatmeal’s The Terrible C-Word

 

 

Something Good

It’s my turn to report something good.  Sort of.  The lumbar puncture aka spinal tap went off without a hitch.  I hardly felt anything.  It’s a good thing I didn’t worry too much about it.

I read on all the reputable websites that one must curl into something like the fetal position for the procedure.  Nope.  That is not how my LP went.  My neurologist referred me to one of our more notable hospitals.  The one I go to if at all possible for emergencies and surgeries.  They have a neuroradiology department and did the procedure with fluoroscopy meaning they used images.  I just lied flat on my stomach on a padded table with a pillow while Janet, the friendly technician, took pictures of my spine in time with the neuroradiologist’s pace.  I hardly felt the lidocaine injection which is saying something.  That usually hurts like a sonofabitch.  A “really bad bee sting” as the doctor described it.  You don’t say.

I did not feel the insertion of the needle into the spinal area or wherever they put it to get the fluid out.  Well, something felt funny.  There was, however, no pain.  He tested the pressure of the fluid in my spine, and there was a moment that I didn’t feel right.  It all happened fairly quickly.  Well, I don’t feel right most of the time.  So, in the end, it was just another much dreaded procedure that proved to be mythologically horrible.  In reality, it was, however, a piece of cake.

You are required to rest for an hour in a recovery area while lying flat on your back.  That’s no big deal.  They are waiting for your brain to produce the spinal fluid that they removed while observing you for symptoms of the truly much dreaded spinal headache caused by leakage from the puncture.  I was fine, thus, I was sent home where I then had to lie flat for 12 hours.

The doctor instructed me to lie flat with my head propped up.  I was to drink caffeine and water.  Gosh, 12 hours of lying flat while drinking caffeine? A Law and Order:SVU marathon while drinking coffee in bed on a sub-zero cold day? I gotta tell you, it was so hard making the best of it yesterday.

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I just don’t know if I can make it. Coffee…a down comforter…Olivia Benson…

 

So, if you ever have to have a spinal tap, fear not. It isn’t bad at all.  Waiting for the results, on the other hand, might not be as easy.

Recommended Reading

This is an excellent post by Robert Rummel-Hudson, author of “Schuyler’s Monster: A Father’s Journey with His Wordless Daughter”.  I know that many of you have loved ones with special needs.  I think that you’ll find this post germane to your daily experiences.

Some Thoughts on a Very Very Very Bad Idea