Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Skype and the Family That Never Was

I don't write much about my family of origin.  It's a mostly irrelevant subject; I have been completely without any support from them in any way since I was seventeen years old.  You can read about the day my mom kicked my twin sister and I out of the house (with the complicity of the elders of the church in a religious ceremony) here: Bill Gothard has negatively affected my life part two

Still, it's on my mind a lot these days.  Just now I was watching an ad for video chatting.  I'm not sure it was Skype but it was something like that.  Family and friends were shown joyfully sharing life together, though separated by distance.  The laughter, smiles, playful teasing and sheer happiness of sharing life together was beautiful to watch.  It is what I strive to share with the people in my life today.  I want to create a place- a home, a friendship- where there is always welcome and good will.  Watching the ad made me feel good inside, and made me feel good about my life today.

Until it struck me.  I never once experienced anything like it, not even close, in my family of origin.  There was not one joyous exclamation of glee at an accomplishment of mine.  There was no levity.  There was no laughter. I don't mean little, I mean none.  Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Even if my mom did something that appeared to be a gift of some sort, cook a meal or take us shopping, it was done without joy.  There was an expectation that she should be lauded for any effort she put into being a parent, and in fact, I am pretty sure that was her only motivation: it affected the way she felt about herself, and in every instance I can remember, just became another excuse to blow up at her ungrateful, selfish children.

My older sister was merely an extension of my mother.  I don't know if I've written here about the time I almost died of an asthma attack. My mom was leaving the house for the day, putting my older sister "in charge".  We were commanded to clean our rooms.  My room was very messy.  I had no parent teaching me to make my bed, spending time in my room with me talking, laughing or playing.  Not. Ever.  I was mostly unparented, except in these spurts of domestic dominion which I suppose came about because my mom felt shame at the messy house or the truth that she was no parent.  Anyway, the edict had been given: clean your rooms and don't go anywhere else until it's done.

I have asthma and I am allergic to dust.  As I started in on my room, I began to wheeze.  These were the days without inhalers, so when I noticed I was actually wheezing (you'd be surprised how detached I was from my body), I had to go take a theophylline pill and get away from the trigger and wait for the pill to take effect.  I left my room to tell my sister I was wheezing.  In my mom's stead, she simply became my mom to me.  She called me lazy and a liar and accused me of just trying to get out of cleaning my room.  I protested my innocence and that I needed to get away from my room and rest.  She ridiculed me and berated me further.

Defeated, I went back to my room and, though I was wheezing loudly and couldn't breathe, I began moving stuff around.  I started crying, which only made it worse.  I was terrified and I knew I was going to die.  I also knew it was imperative that I stop crying and calm down as much as I could.  I told myself that dying would be like getting on a bus.  If I could just fall asleep, I would wake up in a new place, heaven.  I was parenting myself as always, and this time in the acceptance of my impending death.

If I could convey what it feels like to be dying of an asthma attack, I would.  I could not get breathe into my lungs.  I was sitting up, leaning forward, every muscle in my rib cage contracting, trying  to squeeze out the carbon dioxide to make room for oxygen.  The medical term is "contracting" I think.  It was an impossible task. Oxygen was not getting through.  I could hear the loud wheezing of air trying to get through swollen, mucus-filled airways.  It wasn't going to happen.  I knew I was dying.  That is no exaggeration.

The pain of my heart at being called an evil, lazy liar and being sent to my death by my sister, in spite of my pleas to be heard and loved and helped, was just a radical manifestation of a daily reality.  I was not loved in my family.  I never had been.  My twin and my grandmother were my only true family, and they were also abused and rejected.  My older sister did not love me; had never loved me.  Her survival demanded she be an extension of my mom, and my mom fully and completely rejected me and my twin sister.  My older sister did the same.

I think Jesus looked down at me like God spoke about looking down at Israel as a rejected newborn, left to die of exposure in an open field (Ezekiel 16:4-6 ).  That's my explanation for why my grandma just happened to stop by right then.  She came into the house and asked for my mom.  My older sister explained she had gone for the day, and then told her that we were to clean our rooms but I was being "rebellious".  That was a perjorative often used to describe me.  My grandma opened the door to my room to check on me.

She freaked.

The local "ambulance" came, which in this small Great Plains town meant a van with a siren on top.  The funeral director drove it, and he drove like a mad man the twenty miles to the hospital.  I remember him telling me not to die on him, to hang on.  He repeated that often.  I remember getting to the hospital.  I remember the beautiful color of my crimson blood squirting a nurses white uniform  when they put in the I. V. line.  I remember other terrifying aspects of my admission: the battleaxe nurse who kept pushing me down when I tried to sit up.  I couldn't breathe at all lying down.  She kept telling me sternly that I needed to rest, push me down and immediately I would pop right back up.  I couldn't easily tell her that I needed to breathe more than I needed to rest.  I could only get out one breathless word at a time, with great effort, and I needed that effort to breathe.

I remember the panic and feeling of suffocation when they put me in the oxygen-tented bed.  My mom had met us at the hospital.  I remember screaming for her to help me, and her walking out as I cursed and cried while medical people (as far as I could feel) tried to kill me instead of helping me breathe.

I fell into a coma.

I was in a coma for five days.

When I came to, the doctor was so happy to see me. He was a great man.  He had no idea what my home life was like.  I thank God his was the first face I saw, and his words of encouragement were the first words I heard.  He told me that he was scared they had lost me, and he was so glad I was alive.  There was no more oxygen tent.  Instead I had a mask blowing oxygen directly into my nose and mouth.  He made me feel like my life was worth something.

As soon as he left, my mom, who had been sitting vigil at my side (only while she looked a hero for it) began gathering her things to leave.  I asked her to stay.  She refused. I asked her why she left me when I needed her and why she was leaving me now.  I told her I needed her.

She lectured me for embarrassing her by cussing out the nurses when I was in a panic and making a fuss, when people were only trying to help me.  She told me how selfish I was to ask her to stay, after all she had other kids besides me.  They needed her too.  And, with that final berating, she turned her back on me and walked out.


  1. I've been feeling pretty sh***y about myself lately, particularly about myself as a mom. I feel better now because I know at least my kids will never be able to write this post. I'm really sorry that you can. {{shadow}}

  2. Horrible.

    Very impressed with how far you've come from your upbringing. You've learned and grown ten times more than most people do in a lifetime. Testament to your strength, courage, and character.

  3. I'm so sorry - what a horrible time you had - thas is not the way childhoods should be. You are such a strong woman...

  4. Thank you for your kind words. I treasure them.

    When I heard of Hanna Williams tragic death at the hands of her own parents, I cringed. While everyone else was saying, "How could this happen?" I knew exactly how it happened. It was not at all surprising to me when I read that her siblings were mocking her as "faking it" and "just being rebellious" when she staggered around the yard in the final stages of hypothermia, dying.

    What does still mystify me is why the church still focuses any teaching at all on heirarchical authority structures in the home, when the plain command of Christ was to "love one another, as I have loved you". He loved us so much that he pursued developing empathy with us to the point that he left His Father's side in glory to humble himself and live like us.

    That's what the church should be teaching about parenting. Love and empathy.

    But it's not. It's all about who's in charge and rebellion is bad, so it's easy to get group approval for your ill treatment of a child just by labeling them "rebellious".

    I want to warn everyone: if you hear a parent describe a child as "rebellious", you are talking to an abusive parent. Don't let on that you know, but do all you can to insinuate yourself into the family and befriend that child. You could save a life.

    And do be careful not to jump the gun on calling the authorities until you have hard evidence. I know one abuser who beat four separate investigations because she is a wealthy professional woman who is a great actress and keeps a spotless house. But if you have hard proof, don't hesitate to turn them in. Call 911, not the hotline, as police take this sort of thing MUCH MORE SERIOUS.

    At the very least, let "rebellious" children know they are loved and that there is a witness to their suffering. I can't tell you how much that doctor's response to my being alive meant to me. It was just a momentary exchange, but my heart lived on it for a long time.

  5. Oh, Shadowspring. It's amazing how God brought you through that. Hugs.

  6. Hmmm, I startled a bit when I read your comment, because I'm sure I've called one son rebellious, or at least said "He's going through a little teenage rebellion"... I think every parent of teens I know has said something similar... but I think I understand what you're getting at, and this is probably different.

    My kids are in school, in activities, and we aren't in a conservative Christian church or group, so they aren't "rebelling" against God, or parental authority, they are just -- finding themselves. And we, as parents, expect this "rebellion" as a natural part of life, something we all have to do, not a character flaw. In fact, when we use the phrase, it's almost like a reminder to others and/or ourselves that their current behavior does NOT reflect some character or personality problem; "it's just a little teenage rebellion. We all just have to grin and bear it. He's a good kid."

    And the vast majority of that "rebellion" isn't even punished; ie, my son's major rebellion right now is the length and style of his hair. Ugh. Such a handsome boy, and he wants to kill his appearance with such a ratty hairstyle, says the mom in me but really, what are you gonna do? I want it short, he keeps it long, if that's the extent of his teenage rebellion, I'm happy. ; )

    Sorry to hijack your comments (again!); I do understand what you are saying. In my lifetime I have seen the families where a teen who is questioning or expressing different ideas than the parental authorities are put on lockdown and berated for their "rebellion." And people did nothing, really, but maybe offer occasional sympathy to the kid. I think you have great ideas to help a kid through it.

  7. In an abusive family situation, the label "rebellious" starts way before a child is a teen and it encompasses every day and pretty much everything they do. Eating a sandwich is rebellious if done by the scapegoat. For Hanna Williams, touching a doorknob to open a door was rebellious.

    Liking a different hairstyle than a parent likes isn't rebellious, Final. Hairstyles could only be rebellious if they worn were in defiance of a moral code or law. It is merely a preference of your son's that you don't share; a matter of taste, not a moral issue.

    At least that's how I see it. Maybe it is a moral absolute in your neck of the woods? Some people (inerrantists, mostly) feel pretty strongly that the Bible condemns long hair on boys as some sort of cross-dressing taboo- only girls have long hair. But Nazarites were commanded to let their hair grow long, so I think a Biblical case can be made that long hair on men is alright by God. ;-)

  8. What I meant was it was rebellious because I like short hair (mainly because he can keep it clean), so he wants long hair (which he cannot; at least not the way I'd like it!). If I went crazy over long hair, he'd cut it short (which is probably the answer, right? lol) He really does do some things just because I prefer the opposite or want the opposite.

    Now, like I said, none of this is extreme -- he's not out doing drugs or going on crime sprees or anything like that. He's a good kid with a good head on his shoulders, and part of finding out who he is and separating himself from me is delineating himself from me. I don't see it any different than the terrible twos, really... a child testing his boundaries, figuring out what he likes and doesn't, figuring out what HIS values are versus those of his parents.

    It's just been particularly trying recently, because everything was turning into a power struggle. My solution, once he reached a certain responsible age, was to drop out of the struggles as much as possible and really let him make his own decisions, without input from me at all unless requested (and sparingly even then!).

    As far as childhood, well... he was definitely more of a challenge to parent than some other children. But we didn't see that as rebellious; he's extremely bright, and was always kind of a little adult in a child's body. We always said the characteristics that drove us crazy when he was little -- strong will, persistence, expressiveness -- would be outstanding qualities when he was an adult, if we could keep from sullying them in the meantime. THAT was the challenge. I hope we did mostly okay. He seems to have flourished through whatever mistakes we made, anyway, thank God!

    We don't worry about "rebellion against God." Everybody has to find their own spiritual path. We've encouraged the kids to come to us when they question their faith, and while we provide resources for them to investigate on their own when asked, we don't try to talk them out of anything or steer them to the "correct" path.

    Oh -- and while I'd prefer to avoid any cross-dressing scenarios with any of the kids, that wouldn't be a deal-breaker either. ; )

  9. OMG I cannot imagine what this must have been like. my heart aches for you and your childhood... (hugs)

    thank you for sharing these vulnerable places with us.

  10. Wow. Just wow.
    You are well rid of her. She gave up her rights to be your mother right there in the hospital. Your grandmother sounds like she has both oars in the water. Do you still have a relationship with her?

  11. My grandmother died in 1995. She was an angel to me. I am quite sure that everything not damaged in my heart and mind is because of her nurturing. My twin sister and I were sent to live with her when we were six months old, until right before my mom remarried when we were four. My grandma's love laid the foundation for who I am today. RIP Grandma. You remain my hero always.