The Best Childhood Christmas

cedar

It was Christmas morning and the first one without my father. My Mother, Brother and I now lived in an old country house that had never been painted on the outside nor finished off on the inside. The floors were uneven and sagged in places due to the foundation only being stacks of rocks underneath. In the three rooms used as living space the walls and ceiling were covered with flattened out cardboard boxes that had been tacked to the rough wall studs. The toilet was a small shack about fifty feet out the back door.

My Father was still in the world then. He had chosen to leave a wife and two young boys in favor of another woman who was pregnant with his child. The divorce was final and my Mother in her pride had told her former husband that she wanted nothing from him. And in doing so, she denied herself any sort of support from the man who had fathered her children.

The heat for the house we now called home was supplied by a long, squatty cast iron wood stove with stove-pipe that went up and out through the living room wall. Doors were always left open into the other rooms so heat could reach there.

Over in the corner was a beautiful holiday tree that had been cut from my Grandfather’s farm. Until I was almost out of my teens I thought a Christmas tree was always cedar because that is what we always had. Back then I did not realize how luxurious it was to have such a good smelling, almost perfectly shaped six-foot tree that had probably taken ten years or more to grow before we cut it. (There hasn’t been a cedar tree for the holidays since, but it’s something I should put on my bucket list.)

One convenience the home did have was electricity. The “juice” powered a single light bulb in each room that hung naked on a wire from the ceiling. The light was turned on and off by a string that hung down from a switch on the light socket. This morning the light was not needed because the lights on the tree gave the room a warm, multi-colored glow.

The six months previous has been sad ones for my brother and I. Our Dad never came around and we had to relocate to the free-rent old farmhouse my grandfather owned. The house was drafty, money was short and went mostly to feeding the three of us.

That Christmas morning my brother was five and I was seven years old. In spite of our recent sadness, we had complete faith in Santa Claus. And walking into the ‘living room’ we were not disappointed. There was a new, red Western Auto bicycle for each of us to replace our old tricycles. Neither of us cared that the only other things we got were “tidy-whitey” underwear and a bag of marbles. We had bikes!

Much happened as I grew up, bad things, and my Mother has responsibility in many of them. We have not spoken in years and are not likely to. I forgave her years ago. I will always be grateful for that Christmas morning when I was seven. I imagine she had to put the bikes on layaway or credit to be able to get them for us. In doing so she made the best childhood Christmas I remember and will always be thankful to her for it.

Forgiveness is a form of gratitude.
When we forgive others,
we show them the mercy
that we have often received
and been thankful for.
Sarah Ban Breathnach

I Love You Like….

poem from sisterWritten by a baby sister to her older sibling for a “cupcake” themed baby shower
http://beckylelowery.blogspot.com/2013/09/stevis-little-cupcake-baby-shower.html

My family of origin was a mangled mess of divorce, dysfunction and parental abuse.  Losing contact for many years with most of my family was a method of coping and survival. While I’ve stayed close to one brother, I have three half-sisters that are close to my heart who I have not been in touch with for a long, long time. Finally I concluded the abusers continue to have control as long as we remain apart.

Today after close to two decades I will reconnect with one of my sisters. I am excited beyond words to see her. I am sooooo grateful life is allowing me the chance to reconnect. See you soon sister!

For there is no friend like a sister
in calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
to fetch one if one goes astray,
to lift one if one totters down,
to strengthen whilst one stands.
Christina Rossetti

Unrestrained Innocence

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When we are children we seldom think of the future.
This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can.
The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.
Patrick Rothfuss

Before there was maturity, adult ways, sexual attraction and worries of the world the uncorrupted simplicity of childhood filled me. A good while prior to “liking” a girl, studying for tests, giving book reports or choosing sides on the playground was the beautiful naivety of a child.

I am reminded of myself long ago by stories I am told by my best friend about one specific grandchild. This young man daily exhibits the unrestrained innocence of the first few years of life better than most. One particular habit of his is laughing fits before bed, brought on especially when he is tired. Over time it’s been noted when a strong laughter episode overtakes him before bed he sleeps even better than usual. I suspect the world would be a better place if all of us had a genuine laughing fit before nodding off each night.

Clearly I recall how ‘grown up’ and happy I was to take breakfast to my father. I was four years old. My Dad, Mom, little Brother and I lived in the country where my parents operated a small store and gas station. The little two room house where we lived was down a dirt road about a hundred yards away. That day I had the honor of walking breakfast over to my Father who opened the grocery very early each morning.

In a small box with the sides cut down to about four inches high my Mother had placed a plate with aluminum foil covering scrambled eggs, bacon and toast. Black coffee was in a pint canning jar. I was told to be very careful and walk slow. That’s exactly what I did and felt so very proud to be trusted with such an honor as taking my Dad his breakfast. Carrying the box hid the immediate view in front of me and I stubbed my toe badly. I dropped the box and the coffee jar broke. I was so disappointed and humiliated plus my toe was hurt and bleeding.

The breakfast was held on the plate by the foil and that is all I arrived with to give my Father through my tears. No one got on to me. I was not in trouble. I was only disappointed with myself. It was the first of such a feeling I can remember and a little of my innocence was lost that day.

I am grateful to remember…

Sometimes,
I miss so much the person
that I was before the world
tore me up in so many places.
C. Joybell C.

Any Family With More than One

winniethepooh1

In late 1925, a newspaper in London published a story by A.A. Milne titled “The Wrong Sort of Bees”. The tale introduced a bear named Winnie the Pooh who would become the lead character of one of the most successful children’s stories of all time. Inspiration came to A.A. Milne’s from his son’s meeting at the London Zoo of a black bear from the wilderness of the Canada. The son was named Christopher Robin Milne and the bear was called “Winnipeg” or “Winnie”.

In his stories Milne endeavored to make his character’s less than perfect with the belief it made them more loveable. Most of us have been familiar since childhood with Pooh’s forgetfulness, Tigger’s mood changes and Piglet’s fear of just about everything. Here in plain terms is a list of the dysfunctions I believe A.A. Milne’s gave his characters of Hundred Acre Wood to make them have human likeness.

Pooh Bear – suffers from an eating disorder and food (honey) addiction, episodes of dementia and exhibitionist tendencies (reluctance to wear pants).

Tigger – mood swings from irrational exuberance to despair combined with narcissistic behaviors and A.D.H.D. evidenced by his inability to ever be still.

Piglet – General Anxiety Disorder with a variety of phobias including creaking branches, small streams, gusting wind, his own shadow and other irrational and delusional fears.

Eeyore – clinical depression and feelings of inadequacy driven by his lack of a tail and his need to overcompensate by wearing a fake one made from fabric and a nail.

Owl – narcissistic personality approaching delusions of grandeur fed by anti-social tendencies and an over inflated ego with an irrational need to always be correct.

Rabbit – obsessive-compulsive personality with a side helping of neurosis exhibited by his incessant, exacting attention to his gardening, cooking and keeping things orderly.

Even the Christopher Robin character, patterned after A.A. Milne’s son, could be said to have “issues”. Some have surmised that in the story his playing in the woods all the time while talking to stuffed animals could be looked upon as either just a kid’s story or a form of psychotic hallucination.

You may or may not choose to think it is fairly apparent the benign messaging of story shapes the consciousness of children in a healthful way. I choose to think the characters are not just entertainment, but art in the way the writer poured emotion into their creation.

Having been in depression recovery for years now I can readily think of people I know in self-help groups that match each of the Pooh characters. I am grateful A.A. Milner created such deep characters and meaningful stories that have more significance today than when they were written. To smile, be entertained and be touched, all at the same time, is truly the mark of great work.

You know the definition
of a dysfunctional family,
don’t you?
It’s any family with more
than one member in it.
Sarah Pekkenen

Based on articles found at:
http://thedailyretort.com/on-the-psychiatric-couch-winnie-the-pooh/
http://top4eva.tumblr.com/post/13572677292/acronyms-the-dysfunctional-psychology-of-winnie

I Finally Got Even

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Once upon a time there was a little boy. Although his family was poor, life was good and he enjoyed his life. His Mother and Father did not get along well, but he did not notice much.

One day his Daddy ran away, leaving a note that read, “I’m gone for good. Don’t try to find me”. The little boy did not understand. He was very sad and became even more confused when his Mommy told him, “You’re now the man of the house. You gonna have to take care of your little Brother”.

After getting divorced his Mother was not around much, even though the little boy and his brother lived with her. His Father never came around. Mom was either working or going out with boyfriends all the time. The parade of different men confused the boy.

A man the boy did not like became his stepfather when he was ten. Mother said, “_____ has asked me to marry him and I’ve said yes. Is that okay with you?” So badly, the boy wanted to say, “No, he is a bad man.” but instead because he loved his mother and wanted her to be happy he replied, “It’s okay”.

Life for the boy and his brother worsened. His new “Father” was mean and treated the two boys as just being in the way. He got angry about the smallest thing and dished out painful physical punishment almost daily. The boys lived in fear and were made to work long hours every day after school, on weekends and during the summer.

The boy was growing up to be a man. Just before he was sixteen the new “Dad” drew back his hand to hit the now teenaged boy. Having had enough, in great anger the boy said “Go, ahead. I’ll stomp you until you’re a grease spot”. He meant it and would have tried to hurt the stepfather as badly has he could have.. Fortunately the older man saw that, never touched him again, but threw the boy out on the street to fend for himself three weeks later.

The teenager was homeless. With money enough for only two nights in a motel, he called the birth Father he barely knew saying, “I have no place to go. Can I come stay with you?” His Daddy said “yes”. And there he lived for a year while he and his Dad made the best peace they could.

Usually adult males who are unable to make emotional connections with the women they choose to be intimate with are frozen in time, unable to allow themselves to love for fear that the loved one will abandon them. If the first woman they passionately loved, the mother, was not true to her bond of love, then how can they trust that their partner will be true to love. Often in their adult relationships these men act out again and again to test their partner’s love. While the rejected adolescent boy imagines that he can no longer receive his mother’s love because he is not worthy, as a grown man he may act out in ways that are unworthy and yet demand of the woman in his life that she offer him unconditional love. This testing does not heal the wound of the past, it merely reenacts it, for ultimately the woman will become weary of being tested and end the relationship, thus reenacting the abandonment. This drama confirms for many men that they cannot put their trust in love. They decide that it is better to put their faith in being powerful, in being dominant.” Bell Hooks

A walk though the majority of his adult life shows the boy became like the description above. How could he have known the effects of surviving childhood would have so much to do with shaping his life? If we are born without the colors of life already painted, then it is childhood where the adult we become gets colored in.

I was that boy and I am that man. My gratitude overflows that in recent times I have been able to let go of most of it. And I finally got even with my evil stepfather; I became happy in spite of him!

You know all that sympathy that you feel
for an abused child who suffers
without a good mom or dad to love and care for them?
Well, they don’t stay children forever.
No one magically becomes an adult the day they turn eighteen.
Some people grow up sooner, many grow up later.
Some never really do.
…just remember that some people in this world
are older versions of those same kids we cry for.
Ashly Lorenzana

Image by Ruby Blossom
http://www.flickr.com/photos/rubyblossom/with/5993608893/

Brave Again

boy-peeing

My path was clouded and I was lost for so long I did not notice it. I lost the freedom to just “be” and the natural spontaneity I was born with; from feeling free in a magical world to becoming inhibited, guarded and restricted. Where before was only wonder and happiness, the shadow of fear and worry joined in.

The change of outlook happened in early childhood but exactly when and where I can’t come up with. There came a time then when I thought more about what I did not want than what I hoped for. My mind became clouded with wanting to grow up, escape and get away rather than where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do and having any sort of intentional direction. I just wanted to be a “big boy”. In adulthood it was dreadful to be adrift for so many years and not know it; to be unconsciously searching for what I already had but was oblivious to.

When you are born…

your courage is new and clean.

You are brave enough for anything:

crawling off of staircases,

saying your first words without fearing
that someone will think you are foolish,

putting strange things in your mouth.

But as you get older,

your courage attracts gunk,
and crusty things, and dirt, and fear,

and knowing how bad things can get

and what pain feels like.

By the time you’re half-grown,

your courage barely moves at all,

it’s so grunged up with living.

So every once in a while,

you have to scrub it up

and get the works going,

or else you’ll never be brave again.

From “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making”
 by Catherynne M. Valente

In trying “to find myself” I became lost in the fogged-up maze of the ‘real-world’.  And it’s no wonder. From my perception my “self” was hidden like a unnoticed parrot resting on my shoulder; one making sounds that were perceived distant, yet so close I looked right by them.

Once I began to focus nearby, I started to see what was hidden in plain sight. What I discovered was not all wonderful and pleasing, but it was real. In discovering the child I had lost, my courage began to return. I was in a sense, truly reborn. The crust, dirt and fear on my soul became thinner as I explored inward. I became brave again. To have relocated the courage of a little boy and a sense of wonder, amazement and beauty that goes with it I am deeply grateful.

You often meet your fate
on the road
you take to avoid it.
 Goldie Hawn

When God Created Mothers

mother-and-childWhen the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into his sixth day of “overtime” when an angel appeared and said, “You’re doing a lot of fiddling around on this one.”

And the Lord said, “Have you read the specs on this order? She has to be completely washable, but not plastic; Have 180 movable parts… all replaceable; Run on black coffee and leftovers; Have a lap that disappears when she stands up; A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair; And six pairs of hands.”

The angel shook her head slowly and said, “Six pairs of hands… no way.”

“It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” said the Lord. “It’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have.”

“That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel.

The Lord nodded. “One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, ’What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say, ’I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”

“Lord,” said the angel, touching His sleeve gently, “Go to bed. Tomorrow…”

“I can’t,” said the Lord, “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick… can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger… and can get a nine-year-old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed.

“But she’s tough!” said the Lord excitedly. “You cannot imagine what this mother can do or endure.”

“Can it think?”

“Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator.

Finally, the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek. “There’s a leak,” she pronounced. “I told You, You were trying to push too much into this model.”

“It’s not a leak,” said the Lord. “It’s a tear.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”

“You are a genius,” said the angel.

The Lord looked somber. “I didn’t put it there,” He said.
“When God Created Mothers” by Erma Bombeck

Although my Mother and I are far from close and will never be, I have no hesitance wishing her a Happy Mother’s Day through the distance that separates us. Without her I would not have been born, nor would I have survived being a small child. Today it is important to be grateful for what she did do. What she didn’t do or mistakes she made belong to the other days of the year. Thanks for bringing me into the world, Mom.

But there’s a story behind everything.
How a picture got on a wall.
How a scar got on your face.
Sometimes the stories are simple,
sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking.
But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story,
because hers is where yours begin.
Mitch Albom

Snips and Snails and Puppy-Dog Tails

77f3My boyhood memories that are predominately good are those from before the age of seven. Then life was filled with awe, joy and wonder. The painful realities from the adult world had not touched my little brother and me yet.

Clearly I recall a yellowed newspaper clipping my Mother kept with other keepsakes in a little cedar box up high on her chest-of-drawers. Enough times to imprint it on my brain she got it out and read it when I was little (more than once due to my insistence). I mentally filed the memory away titled “What are little boys made of…” although poem talked about girls and others.

In years since, frequently I am come across bits and pieces of the poem and searched without luck for a full version. Purely by chance this morning I stumbled across what appears to be the poem in complete form. I became so happy and excited, I just had to share it here.

What are little babies made of, made of?
What are little babies made of?
Diapers and crumbs and sucking their thumbs;
That’s what little babies are made of?

What are little boys made of, made of?
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails and puppy-dog tails;
That’s what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of, made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and everything nice;
That’s what little girls are made of.

What are young men made of, made of?
What are young men made of?
Sighs and leers and crocodile tears;
That’s what young men are made of.

What are young women made of, made of?
What are young women made of?
Rings and jings and other fine things;
That’s what young women are made of.

What are our sailors made of, made of?
What are our sailors made of?
Pitch and tar, pig-tail and scar;
That’s what our sailors are made of.

What are our soldiers made of, made of?
What are our soldiers made of?
Pipe clay and drill, the foeman to kill;
That’s what our soldiers are made of.

What are our nurses made of, made of?
What are our nurses made of?
Bushes and thorns and old cow’s horns;
That’s what our nurses are made of.

What are our fathers made of, made of?
What are our fathers made of?
Pipes and smoke and collars choke;
That’s what our fathers are made of.

What are our mothers made of, made of?
What are our mothers made of?
Ribbons and laces and sweet pretty faces;
That’s what our mothers are made of.

What are old men made of, made of?
What are old men made of?
Slippers that flop and a bald-headed top;
That’s what old men are made of.

What are old women made of, made of?
What are old women made of?
Reels, and jeels, and old spinning wheels;
That’s what old women are made of.

What are all folks made of, made of?
What are all folks made of?
Fighting a spot and loving a lot,
That’s what all folks are made of.

Attributed to Robert Southey (1774-1843): Southey, English poet and historian.
In familiar folk tradition, the popular ditty inevitably acquired additional verses,
written by authors unknown, until it became a ballad of some length.
Composited by Gloria T. Delamar in “Mother Goose: From Nursery to Literature”

I am beaming with gratitude this morning for a “golden oldie” memory from my childhood freshly awakened.

Memories of childhood
were the dreams that stayed
with you after you woke.
Julian Barnes

What A Child Sees

cd54c7a9782e7f71540ec11044a71de5No one is ever quite ready; everyone is always caught off guard. Parenthood chooses you. And you open your eyes, look at what you’ve got, say “Oh, my gosh,” and recognize that of all the balls there ever were, this is the one you should not drop. It’s not a question of choice. Marisa de los Santos

It was a long week and still fighting off the remnants of a cold, I knew once arriving home going anywhere wouldn’t happen. So an obligatory visit to the land of craziness, Wal-Mart World, was made after work. My fatigue caused me to walk back and forth unable to find things a good bit. By the time I got near the registers I was shuffling through exhaustion. Then came the wake up call.

A young couple with two children was over one lane and the late 20-something guy was griping at the woman telling her stupid she was. Everyone within twenty feet could hear him. Never will I forget the look on the woman’s face: one of absolute unhappiness and shame. She appeared hopelessness as if she had no choice except to endure her choice, the man she was with. Her head was bent downward which suggested she had known this treatment time and time again. The bruise beside her left eye made me think she likely faced worse later. Knowing that tugs strongly at my heart, but there is nothing I can do except tell about her here.

As bad as I felt for the young woman, I felt worse for the children. A boy around five and a girl around three stared straight at their parents taking in every thing that was being said. They were learning how a husband treats a wife and that a woman must accept what comes. How awful. I doubt if that relationship will ever improve. I hope the wife gets away from the her as#h*le husband some day.

So how does such a dark scene end up in a gratitude blog? Simple this: I am deeply thankful for parents who raise their children with respect and understand far more is taught by what a child sees than what they are told.

There is nothing more pathetically sad
than a parent who teaches a child not to hit
by spanking them. Well, that, and adults
who think hitting someone will solve a problem.
Anitra Lynn McLeod