Working weekends torpedoes your social life, and, when you work at home with most of your work friends in different cities or states your social opportunities are limited to begin with. I compound those factors with a relatively introverted personality — I had almost perfected the shut-in lifestyle before I decided to go back to school to keep my brain from atrophying. So when plans go awry, as they did this weekend, you really feel it. Feelings get spackled over and patched up, but I find what really puts a new coat of paint on the weekend is getting a glimpse of the people and things that make life – shut-in or out-and-aloud — worthwhile.
Thing2, a study in social-butterflying, had his Saturday calendar filled before I knew that someone’s kid had been dropped off. He and his bestie headed out to re-enact their favorite Star Wars battles in the muddy, snow speckled yard. It’s a warmer day – in the fifties, and the boys disappeared into the woods for awhile, reappearing to prove that they were still breathing but dirty, only when I rang the school bell that hangs outside our front door. Katy-the-Wonder-Dog waited for them to tire out and, when they took a break, sitting down on the stoop on the deck, she went over to them to add a few kisses to her social calendar.
I stopped working long enough to appreciate how sometimes just watching that part of the world go by is as satisfying as any day out.
I’ve noticed, over the years, that winter is not a productive time for my blog. Last winter, it was effectively buried under hospital visits, Thing1’s blood tests and my tears. This winter I’ve been buried under a project I’ll be able to describe in more detail later, and the burying has helped me see winter as something every bit as valuable as the spring months that usher in seasons of intensifying creative output because in that beautiful darkness, I don’t hibernate, I germinate.
“So the question becomes,” my mentor asked, “what happens to learning, what happens to development, when we experience trauma?”
For some years, now, I’ve had a pretty good idea of what happens to development, so when my new friend and mentor where I am learning to work with survivors of abuse answered, “It stops,” I had to hold myself from nodding a very unprofessional, enthusiastic ‘YES!’
I’ve written about the fact that many years ago, I was on the receiving end of a home invasion that was part of an armed robbery. I was hanging out with people I shouldn’t have been, and I spent years berating myself for ‘allowing’ it to happen in an effort to explain why I was letting my own development stop.
Right after it happened, I went to a friend’s house and, being too ashamed to admit that my own shitty judgement had played a part in my being in the wrong place at the wrong time, decided to camp out in ‘no place’. I hid in their basement for weeks. Knowing my keys had been in my stolen purse, I only went to my apartment to feed my cat – even after changing the locks – and then to move my stuff out when I moved to another apartment.
I moved three or four times in less than two years, trying to outrun anyone else who would point a gun in my face and cause me to wonder if I had put on underwear without holes in it, if it was better to be shot in the back and be paralyzed or in the head and just be dead. I wouldn’t go to restaurants, and I was terrified to be alone. And, in all that running, there wasn’t a scrap of development.
I was thinking of that last week after talking with my mentor, thinking about how we help other people kick start their emotional and social development after a trauma when my news feed started flooding with a story about an active shooter drill at a public school in Indiana. The ‘trainers’ had taken teachers into a separate room, told them to kneel down, and then shot them with soft pellets, performing a ‘mock’ execution that left some of the victims physically injured and even bleeding.
I’ve seen commenters trying to justify terrorizing teachers as way of ‘teaching’ them the value of fighting back (even though it sounds like that wasn’t part of the exercise). Each repeat of that story, however has taken me right back to that dirty carpet with a gun pointed over my head, wondering what – besides not being in the wrong place at the wrong time – I could have done to change the outcome. I am all for teaching people how to survive and, when possible, to fight back, but lessons should build up, not tear down.
After spending years ‘blocked’ by trauma, seeing how it closes down growth in others, I worry that, along with any trauma caused by playing out their potential deaths, the ultimate lesson those teachers will take home is that being in school, growing children, and doing their jobs is simply putting them in the wrong place. That seems like the wrong lesson.
My mom will mix up my and my sisters names is talking to us. She’s done it since we were kids, and we usually get a giggle. Every once in a while, though, I’ll call Thing1 Thing2 or vice versa. The giggles ensue, followed by a rejoinder of, “You’re becoming Grandma!“
This morning I wondered if I really am becoming my mother, and today that possibility, rather causing concern about my mental faculties, gave me comfort.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to be a writer,” I said to a friend, explaining that there are times when I change or don’t write things at all, even if someone has hurt me because writing – or even speaking – too candidly would damage relationships permanently. So I hold back – at home, at work, in life.
And, often, I think “I’m becoming my mother.”
Growing up, I remember watching my mom hold her tongue in arguments which she could have ‘won’ or at least fought more valiantly with a quick retort (answers I was often dreaming up as I listened). I would tell my sister that I wished Mom would “fight” more when we heard stories of a person who was making her worklife miserable. But now I’m starting to realize Mom wasn’t cowering. She was letting the words slide off the armor she had built up, keeping and even gained friendships as she navigated situations.
This morning my friend mentioned that she walks that same line at times. She recounted a conflict in which a dear friend had said hurtful things to a family member. She knew she could confront the friend but that it would irrevocably damage the friendship, so she kept the peace and navigated the situation between both people as best she could, ultimately preserving the friendship and the family.
The first rule of writing is being authentic. It is infusing words with so much honesty and life that when you prick the page it bleeds. I tend to bite my tongue, sometimes until it bleeds. The irony, of course, is that often my contortions to do no harm are miscommunicated and/or misinterpreted and cause hurt anyway, but still I bite. Sometimes, when my tongue is sore enough, I paint. It gets a lot of thick color on the canvas, but it makes for a lousy writer. But, hopefully, someday, it will help me become more like my mother in the best way.