Thursday, May 19, 2011

Endings and Everytown


I think I just realized that I was upset about not getting there before Uncle Bob died and Tyra left because I wanted to see everyone in my family one last time before I set fire to them.  I wanted proof they were still broken and they immediately started in on me.  I had to be sure I was right before I could do it.  I have been pushing myself towards growth as hard and as fast as I could for a while now.  I have been growing more and more desperate to Accomplish Things!  I Have To Be Seen!  I think that my subconscious was pushing me towards this.  I was growing more and more obsessed with my mother.  I was talking to Noah about her a fair bit.  She was in my thoughts far more.  I was starting to try to negotiate in my head how I could have a relationship with her and keep boundaries.

But I can't.  It simply isn't possible.  I cannot be a sane person with her in the room.  Whether it is actually about her current behavior is completely irrelevant.
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I just had an important realization about my view of parenting.  My job as a mother is to prepare these two people for how to be healthy adults.  That's my job, start to finish.  They will be children for a short period of time.  They will be adults for a long time.  I should neither shelter them to the point where they do not understand the world nor should I expose them to inappropriate danger.

My mother left me with rapists, molesters, and abusers and now she can't figure out why I erupt with rage any time she makes a callow, negligent comment.  That callow self-serving behavior is why I was harmed so badly.  She just couldn't be bothered to look past herself.  I feel terror that I am ditching my kids by being out here in the garage.  But Shanna asked to watch a movie.  She said she wanted to watch Ponyo again.  I said I was really sick of Ponyo, could we please watch something else?  She said, "Mom, it's ok that you don't want to watch Ponyo.  I want to watch Ponyo in privacy.  Will you please put Ponyo on?"

I am not my mother.  Calli is talking to the doll in between sucking on its head.  I can see her from where I sit.

I am not harming my children by thinking and that is the part that I am struggling with still.  I feel like me having thoughts about evil things in the same house as my children means I am irredeemably evil.  How dare I bring those thoughts into my children's home!  But... I'm thinking them while teaching my children to have good boundaries and limits.  I don't expect or allow my children to make decisions that are age inappropriate, but she's allowed to ask to watch a movie in privacy.

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Someone just posted a video on facebook about Everytown.  I can't watch all of it because I start crying so I hope the end is good.


I wrote about my Everytown experience and I dug that up and I'm going to put it next.  I don't think I truly realized how completely different I was until that experience.  My coworkers obviously didn't know what to do.  How do you handle one of the adult chaperones losing their shit?  I wrote this in August of 2007.

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I swear to god this was one of the most intense four days of my life, and I wish I could say that it was a good thing. It started on Wednesday with a too-early start time. I went down to the school and picked up a car full of kids. We drove down to the mountains to a camp site. We began doing the training. All I knew about this event before I drove down there was that it was about "Cultural and Diversity Awareness Training" in all capital letters and everything. I had been given a packing list that mentioned bringing stuff for cultural pride night, but I didn't have a freakin clue what that was about--so I ignored it.

During the training we talked about the agenda for the next few days. It meant very little to me because they mentioned the names of exercises but didn't actually say much about them. The one exercise we previewed (so that the different staff members could get to know one another a little more) was a cultural biography exercise. The questions for it were:
1. State your first and last name and their origin.
2. Identify yourself, racially, ethnically, culturally and religiously and say why.
3. Relate an experience of prejudice (i.e. race, religion, gender, size, etc.), or a time you felt different, and your feelings at the time.
4. Relate an experience when you were a perpetrator of prejudice and your feelings at the time.

It seemed so... easy. But then we got into it. Most people had some pretty basic stuff to mention and it was no big deal. I told them that the only cultural identity I have is white trash. I got a little more into it than that and I started feeling vulnerable, but that really wasn't so bad. I did ok with it and I figured that I would be fine as long as stuff continued at that intensity level. But... it didn't stay there.

Later that night we did the first big group exercise. [I have deleted this 5 times trying to figure out how to explain this. It may sound weird.] It was about racial stereotypes. They would send one racial group out of the room at a time and have the rest of the group come up with all of the horrible put downs and stereotypes they could. Then they had the group come back in and reflect on what was written on the paper. It was incredibly powerful. The children responded with extremely personal stories about the prejudice they have felt. Some told about parents being assaulted or humiliated or degraded in front of them and they cried. With each successive group the kids as a whole were more subdued and nervous. When the white group went outside I went with them. I figured I would be fine, because I've heard all the white stereotypes and I've never felt that upset by them. But then I walked back in and looked at that paper. There were two that really bothered me: spoiled, and have never worked a day in their lives. I started shaking. I raised my hand to respond and I told them in a very choked voice that I started working when I was 14 so I could have a roof over my head. I told them that I have gone hungry in my life because there was no money for food. I told them I was furious that anyone would ever say that I am spoiled and that I have never worked. Then the queer group came up. They treated it as a separate cultural group throughout the weekend and that was interesting for me. {More about the word 'queer' coming up...} The one I responded to from the queer poster was "Going to hell." I told them that last I checked, the bible talks about a god of love. And I am disgusted and horrified a the idea that a god of love would say that I am going to hell for who I love. And I am even more offended by all the hate perpetrated in the name of that god of love. And I started crying. I don't know why it was so emotionally intense, but it was. And this was the easy day.

Then one of my kidlets got sick. So I drove her home because she is one of my special pets all of the time. I didn't get back to camp until 2am.

Thursday dawned way too fucking early. The big group did a Self Identity exercise. It was a silent stand-up/sit-down exercise. They asked a series of questions and everyone who answered yes stood up. Then you were supposed to look around and see who was like you. This was terrible for me. Questions about your home life and if you have ever had to move because you were being evicted. Questions about family and have you been beaten or lived with a single parent or have you ever been in foster care. There were a number of the questions where I was the only person to stand up. It was hard and embarrassing and humiliating. I stood back there and cried. Then we went off to small groups where I was only talking to seven kids instead of the usual 70-something kids. Then in the small group we went over the cultural bio thing we had done in the staff group the day before. I cried some more. I was with some really neat kids though and it went alright.

Then we got to the next big group exercise. It was about privilege. Everyone started out in a big long line. The event organizer then asked us questions about our level of privilege--things like: have you ever inherited property, have you missed meals, did your family own more than 50 books as you grew up, and I can't even remember what all else. For the positive ones people took a step forward; for the negative ones people took a step backwards. I ended up at the very very very very back dead even with two latino boys, the latino staff member, and a black boy. The five of us were so far behind other people it was pretty pathetic. All of the guys put on a very tough face. I sobbed like a baby. When the organizer asked me how I felt about being so far back I told him that I have always known it was bad, but I didn't know how bad. Various female staff came over and tried to hug me and I fairly screeched at them not to fucking touch me. I stood back there crying and shaking for quite a while. I felt humiliated and disgusting. I was miserable. Then I had to go back to my small group and process this exercise. I didn't really talk about it, but hearing the kids talk was interesting. I was in a group with the black boy who was at the back with me and six kids who were all really far forward. It was interesting hearing the kids talk about how they didn't want to pity us--but they didn't really know what to feel about having things so good.

Then we had the next big group exercise. They separated the sexes and really went to town establishing stereotypes and gender messages. Then they brought the boys back and we went through both sets of posters. It was really offensive and difficult. Most of the girls sobbed through the whole thing. They felt awful that the boys described them that way and that the boys really wanted to treat them so horribly. The boys looked very ashamed when they saw the girls' reactions. Then they had us do another stand-up/sit-down exercise. This time going through questions about: have you ever been hit, have you ever been told not to cry, have you ever been hit to make you stop crying, have you ever been assaulted, have you ever been afraid of your parents... it went on and on and on. The boys side went first. The girls cried as they watched our beautiful, precious boys admit to these disgusting horrors. But not one of the boys cried--they very much looked upset though. Then they did the girls side. The girls kept crying and the boys started looking truly horrified. I was the only woman to stand up for every single question. Once again I felt humiliated and publicly on display for my horrible life. Then he had people respond and the kids said some really profound things. My response was, "I'm angry at how many of the people in this room had to say yes to these questions and I am sad that the girls can cry out their pain and get relief and the boys aren't willing to allow themselves that release." Then a couple of boys started openly crying. It was heart wrenching to hear some of them talk about how devastated they are knowing that so many of the girls have suffered and they are thinking about their mothers and sisters and how they would answer. It was overwhelming and awful.

Friday dawned way too fucking early as usual. This day was far less noticeably intense. The big group exercise in the morning was about family cultures and I didn't get terribly upset by it. Then we broke off into small groups and did "family sculptures". In this exercise you move the people in the room around to show the relationships among people in your family with you as the center. Doing my family was hard. I set it up pretty quickly and then told the kids about how the two boys lying on the bed are representing my dead father and brother and they are between my remaining brother and the rest of our family. I told them that my remaining brother has flat told me that it is my fault that my father and my brother are dead. I talked about my sister and her kids and her drug problems and how she loudly proclaims, often, that our dead brother is the only one who actually cares about her. I showed my mom sitting in the middle of the three of us because she is our only link and yet she has no power. I was sobbing so hard I could barely talk. Then, being me, I stomped my feelings into the ground, wiped my nose, and sat down to listen to them talk about their families. My shit wasn't allowed to matter anymore.

Then we did action planning on how to bring these changes in perceptions back to the world at large. It was pretty cheesy. Then the kids found out that two of the staff members were undercover cops, including the Latino man who had been at the back of the privilege exercise with me. They answered questions and generally dispelled a lot of the myths about cops. It was pretty neat. But by this point I was near my breaking point emotionally. There had been too many ups and downs in one day. So then we had to get together with our cultural groups to prepare for the skit thing that night and I was... fragile. I was part of the mixed European group and people weren't sure what to say about any of it and they kept asking questions so I answered them. Eventually one of the staff members told me, "This is supposed to be about the kids' experience--let them talk." But they were asking me questions! Ok, guess I am supposed to shrug and say, "I don't know." I'm not good at that. It feels stupid to me. So I got pissy and was really glad when it was time for me to go off an work with the queer group. Only, it turns out the kids were offended by my usage of the word queer. Apparently I was supposed to say LGBT. They didn't tell me this though, they went and told several other adults and had those other adults deal with me. I saw red. I stormed away. I went and called Noah and sobbed hysterically on the phone for a while. I was really thinking about just leaving the event. But I decided to just suck it up and go back and work with the group and try to play nice. Only, as I did it I told the two kids who had complained that if they have a problem with me or my words they should take it up with me and not talk about me behind my back--that is called gossip and it isn't ok. The other staff member in the group told me to go find the event organizer and talk to him because it didn't look like I was calm enough to really be part of the exercise. So I flipped.

I got up almost shaking and started saying, "Fine. Fine. Fine." In that way I do when things are Not Fine. I went to go find the event organizer or the woman from my school who organizes the event to tell them I was just leaving. Instead I ran into another teacher, the other person who puts this together every year, and I walked straight into his hug crying and crying and crying. He started asking me questions and I told him everything that was going badly for me. I told him about being raped and forced to move and being molested and going hungry when I was a kid. I told him every bad thing I could think of for about 20 minutes. I told him that I am *still* a cutter and I feel suicidal pretty frequently. He, of course, told me that he had no idea--well no fucking shit. I don't talk about this stuff at work. He told me to sit out the event that night, but try to stay till the end of the event. I did it by staying off in the corner for the skit exercise and not talking at all.

Then there was the candlelight ceremony where everyone sits in a dark room and pass around a single candle and talk about what they have learned or appreciated. I instead offered up two quotes and didn't mention anything else.

Saturday morning I was still pretty raw. I felt, and still feel, like I was put through a meat grinder. In the morning--during breakfast--we did a segregation exercise. They divided up the races (and the LGBT not queer group) and put everyone at separate tables under strict orders no to associate with, talk to, or even make eye contact with anyone outside of their group. [Right before the exercise started I talked to the kid who had complained about my usage of the word queer. I told him what it means to me and to my friends and why I use it as a self-label. I told him that by the time he complained about my word usage I had already had a rather stressful couple of days and I wasn't in a great place to be open minded about someone complaining about me in that way. I told him that if he had come and asked *me* I would have been happy to explain it and I wouldn't have been bothered by his initial reaction to feel offended. I also told him that it is ok if he rejects the label for himself because I am not going to demand that anyone share my label.] The exercise lasted a long time before anyone rebelled. I was in the queer group [fuck that kid] and we spent the entire time in silence because we weren't exactly friends. It felt very isolating and lonely. In the debriefing for the exercise and the whole event I finally told them that I hated being there and I just wanted to go home. I said I don't like thinking about these things and I would give anything to be back in my house with my husband. I said that while crying and generally looking pathetic, so chalk up one more point for public humiliation.

Then we went back to our small groups and debriefed some stuff more intensely with the kids we had gotten to know a little better. Then we did an affirmations exercise. I was *floored* by the things the kids said to me. They described me as a rubber ball who can bounce back from any horrible thing and still have the strength to support other people. They told me that they feel like they can tell me anything in the whole world and I will never judge them. They told me that they think I am the strongest and most formidable person they have ever met and they have enormous respect for me. They told me that they know that when they have a problem I will probably be the first person they talk to about it because I will certainly give good advice. I had thought they were put off or even kind of offended by the things I was telling them. They were all so quiet and stand-offish... By the end of that I was crying, but in a good way. I was glad I stayed to the end. I felt like me putting all my shit out there publicly had some merit.

I have been a wreck since I got back. I'm crying and snapping and in general being difficult to put up with. My saint of a husband is of course being kind. I don't know if I will go back. I'm pretty certain they will ask me to, because I am such an extreme example of overcoming adversity, but I'm not sure I have it in me to go through that again.




After rereading this I am compelled to add that actually I don't think I will ever be welcome back. Other people don't actually want to deal with the effects of people who are this far outside the bell curve.

So I sit at home.

2 comments:

  1. that sounds difficult and really powerful. you said you were glad you stayed to the end, but were/are you glad you went? i can't imagine experiencing so much painful self-discovery in public, in a situation where you're supposed to be the adult and hold it together.

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  2. I think that my dream come true would be to get together a group of real life people, many of whom are people like me and go through that experience with them. So that I could stop feeling like I am so far outside the bell curve that I should stop existing.

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