Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Childhood

Setting My Boundaries

Okay…sometimes it’s a bit more complicated than this.

Ready or not
Time creeps up
On closed doors
Never to be opened
Without weeping
And gnashing of
Teeth set on edge
Since my childhood

I review notes
From two years of
My life as the
Prodigal daughter
Or so it seemed to
My parents who
Never walked
In my shoes

Plus notes from
Conversations with
Sisters suddenly
Part of the picture
Even though they
Didn’t ask to be part
Of this drama unfolding
According to my script
Not theirs

Bit by bit I clarified what I needed and wanted to do. My psychotherapist didn’t tell me what to do. She listened, asked questions, and sent me home to keep working on one of the most life-changing events of my life.

In an earlier post I included the letter I sent my parents, telling them not to call or write to me. I would call or write when I was ready. My letter was not well received. My father wrote back to me. Nothing in his long, single-spaced, typed “Dear Daughter” letter was encouraging. I decided to return, unopened, any further letters from him.

The planning phase for this meeting took one and a half years. During that time, Mother became the good parent who remembered us on holidays and birthdays. Seeing her determination to be the good parent, I gave up thinking this was about my father and me. It was about all three of us.

Also, through conversations with my three sisters, I learned who might sit beside me as a witness at a meeting with my parents. My husband David would be there. So would Sister #3, Diane, who lived in Texas.

Finally, I asked a trusted pastor friend who lived in Savannah to host the meeting. We would meet in a conference room at the church he served. He also agreed to stay in touch with my parents after the meeting.

All of this took time and multiple conversations.

As for the meeting itself, that’s another post. It took time to work through what I wanted to say, how I would say it, and what I wanted from each of my parents. Slowly, from May 1992 to November 1993, I clarified how to structure the meeting. I also clarified the roles David and Diane were to fill. In a nutshell: keep your mouths closed and listen!

Yes, the meeting itself was a bit of a drama. Stay tuned.

Thank you for your visits and encouragement! Sometimes it seems this meeting was the most important thing I ever did for myself–even more important than marrying D, though not nearly as much fun!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 November 2021
Boundary image found at pinterest.com

Setting Boundaries with My Parents

Boundaries. Not my favorite topic. When I was young, my clergy father set the boundaries. My job was to keep them. Daddy’s Rules for Good Girls invaded every area of my life as a female child and teenager.

Nonetheless, if I wanted to find my adult voice with my parents, I needed to set and maintain boundaries with them. The way any adult would. I was in my late 40s.

My goal called for ways to cope with my own unscheduled panic attacks. The kind that screamed at me NOT to go through with this madness.

Three items in my files document my determination.

  • First, an index card with names and phone numbers of six people I could call at the drop of a hat. They included my psychotherapist, my husband, two AlAnon friends, and two pastors (not my personal pastors).
  • Second, on the opposite side of the index card is a list of nine things to do when I have panic attacks or feel overwhelmed.
  • Third, an encouraging card and letter from a woman I’d walked with through her own boundary-setting agony.

The point of these items was to take care of myself no matter what.

In early May 1992, I wrote the following letter to my parents. This was more than 1 ½ years before I met with them in Savannah.

Dear Mother and Daddy,

D and I will be on vacation when you’re up this way in June. We’ve decided not to change our plans. Also, I’ve decided I don’t want you to stay in our house while we’re gone.

I need privacy right now, and for the indefinite future, in order to work on some personal issues. For now, that means I don’t want calls, cards, or letters from either of you. I also don’t want to plan any visits with you. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for a change.

Emergency messages can be left on our answering machine, or given to D at his office or here.

Love,
Elouise

My letter was not well received. In a later post I’ll write about how I handled my father’s at-distance anger, and how I set up a meeting with my parents on the eve of my 50th birthday.

Please note: This is not a template for anyone. It’s what was right for me at that time in my life. I got through this thanks to my own hard work, and strong support from D, my psychotherapist, and friends listed above on my ‘panic’ card.

Cheers to each of you! Life, when lived with integrity, is never easy. I pray you’ll find wisdom and courage for yourself this day.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 10 September 2021, Longwood Gardens Meadow

What Boundaries?

Fake power exercises ruthless control
In vain attempts to nurture sisterly virtues

Bible-grounded communication floods my ears
With thou shalt and thou shalt not

Beleaguered sisters throw group loyalty to the winds
In favor of loyalty to one’s fragile female self

Being docile sometimes becomes a stand-in for
Being truthful or angry or distressed

Like cookies born of one cookie cutter
We stare at our unknown selves in consternation

Who we are together remains a mystery
As we strain to survive apart from each other

I’m aware of being watched by Daddy night and day
Without so much as a polite knock at the door

Driven to precarious survival techniques
My heart and stomach drown beneath anxious fear

During the past week I reviewed dated notes I kept when I began working with a psychotherapist in the early 1990s. I was in my late 40s, drowning in depression. One of my first tasks was to connect with my three younger sisters.

By then we were scattered over the USA and beyond. What we knew about each other personally was fragmented at best. We were aware of the large outlines of our adult lives. However, we didn’t have an informal network for safe, sisterly communication.

I never talked with any of my sisters about the rules in our family, or our father’s corporal punishment doled out regularly to enforce the rules. Nor had we talked together about who our father favored, or why.

Sometimes life felt like a war between sisters. I could deduce which sister was the favorite of the day. I also knew I was a favorite target for ‘Let’s get Elouise in trouble.’ No sibling likes to have the oldest sister designated as the parental stand-in.

As you might guess, we weren’t there to console or encourage each other. We were focused on staying out of trouble or deflecting attention to another sister’s behavior.

I began my adult work on boundaries with telephone calls to each of my three sisters. Would you be willing to talk with me privately (no reports back to Mom or Dad) about our experiences living at home? I was starving for sisterly conversations. Each of my sisters, in her way, helped me come out of my lonely closet of indirect communication, depression, and denial.

My next hurdle wasn’t nearly so easy. How would I name and maintain adult boundaries with my parents? Stay tuned!

Thanks for your visits and encouragement. Tomorrow I have tests to determine how much damage peripheral neuropathy has done to my feet and legs.

Praying for calm in these troubled days, here and abroad.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 October 2021
Photo taken by JERenich, Easter Sunday, 1953

What females do not deserve

We don’t need fancy degrees
Or positions of so-called power
To agree on one thing:

In today’s downhill avalanche
And dismissive coverup of truth
About women and girls of any age
Soul-searching is quickly dismissed
In favor of shameful, angry blaming
Of women who dare speak
Their own minds or
Live their own lives
Despite the cost

Females of any age do not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced.

Nearly 28 years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, I said to my father: “I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced by you.” I wish I could say that making this statement fixed everything for me as a woman. It did not.

Instead, as an adult professional, I still had to live with sometimes brazen attempts to shame, humiliate or silence me. For example,

  • Disgruntled students who didn’t approve of my gender or my approach to teaching and learning sometimes filed written complaints with my dean or the president of the seminary.
  • In my work with and in the seminary dean’s office, my value was sometimes measured by my willingness to go along.
  • My questions weren’t always welcome, especially regarding university decisions that impacted the seminary.

Bottom line: Most of my paying jobs involved a significant degree of holding back, keeping my mouth shut and my emotions under wrap. Sadly, the same was sometimes true in churches I attended, especially regarding issues of concern to women and children.

My decision to meet with my parents in 1993 was costly for our entire family. Would I do it again? Yes. My life today would not be what it is without this tough family work. In some ways, it became my fulltime job, the underpinning of my professional and personal life. As I’m able, I’ll be posting about this from time to time, drawing on written notes I made years ago, and correspondence with some family members.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing some of my life with you. Next Friday I’ll have tests on my feet and legs. Hopefully I’ll learn more about what can and cannot be done to alleviate the pain. Peripheral neuropathy stinks!

Thanks for stopping by,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 October 2021
Quotation found at thewei.com

Whatever lies ahead

Walking toward me this morning,
the fortyish adult woman seemed
unhappy and despondent,
clutching her light jacket
and looking away

Just across the street,
grade school children shouted
in frenzies of laughter, competition
and the need to be seen and heard

How does it happen so quickly —
This fierce need to be part of the gang?

And how is it that some of us
were held back by heavy rules
and unnumbered regulations?

I’ve rarely felt so lost as I do today
during this unruly period between
diagnosis and unpleasant tests
coming toward me down a road
I never thought I would travel

Yes, I have health issues on my mind. I’m also thinking about my writing. The physical impact on my body is taking a toll. I’ll be relieved when the next set of tests has been completed.

For years, I’ve had a storyline in my head: Eldest daughter of a strict pastor/father gets married and finally has a life of her own. Rules for Good Girls go out the window. Free at last, she flies away and finds out she is a real human being.

I wish. It’s wonderful to celebrate the moment I spoke truth to my father. It was the eve of my 50th birthday. I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced. What was taken from me in my childhood and youth is gone forever.

Until now, I’ve hesitated to write about what it was like to study, teach, and serve as dean in academic and seminary settings. Nor have I written much about my life as a member of Christian churches.

Something tells me this is an opportunity to be welcomed. Right now I’m not so sure. Yet I know it’s time.

Thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 10 September 2021 in the Longwood Meadow Garden

I go down to the shore | Mary Oliver

Vernon River and Marshland, Georgia, USA

This short poem by Mary Oliver has been haunting me for over a week. My comments follow.

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings, p. 1
© 2012 by NW Orchard, LLC
First published by Penguin Press 2012

Compact. To the point. No nonsense. Nothing but truth.

That’s how I want to be. Not just in my writing, but in my ability to ‘hear’ what the sea and the sky, trees and birds, clouds and thunder are saying with their busy, if not always lovely work.

The last few months have offered several opportunities to say with Mary, “Oh, I am miserable.” Or better, “Growing older is much more daunting than I dreamed it would be.” Right now I’m inundated with forms to fill out for an appointment with a new doctor next week.

It would be nice to have a shore close by, with the sea “rolling in or moving out.” Or even the Vernon River of my childhood with its 24-hour cycle of ebb and flow.

On the other hand, every morning when I go down to our kitchen I’m greeted by birds, squirrels, chipmunks, flowering shrubs, trees, clouds, wind, rain or sunshine — all with work to do. Whether I feel like working or not. Whether I’m happy or not. Whether the sun is shining or not.

Thanks for stopping by today. And dare I say, in my lovely seashore voice, of course: “Excuse me, I have work to do.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 September 2021
Photo of the Vernon River and Marshland found at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

Something about fireworks

Coming up for air
My eardrums breathe
A sigh of relief

Something about fireworks
Doesn’t sit well with
my wondering soul

Why this grand
Display of pseudo-bombs
Bursting in air?

Sound-echoes of death
To enemies and the weak
Linger in putrid air

Turning the corner
I make my way home
In deepening shadows

It was fun when I was a child in the 1940s and 50s. Nothing more dangerous than fire crackers and sparklers. Usually purchased from a temporary ‘store’ on the side of the road, and enjoyed in our back yard.

I also remember growing anxiety about safety, and the fight within each state over whether to allow unlicensed firework stands to set up temporary operations. Usually this happened around New Year’s Eve, and July 4. If you couldn’t purchase fireworks legally, you could cross over into the next friendly state and find more than enough to go around.

Only when D and I moved to Pasadena, California in the early 1970s did we see a proper July 4 fireworks display. It was in the Rose Bowl. The best seat in the house wasn’t in the stands. It was up high on a ridge overlooking the Bowl. More than enough to awe any child or adult.

Given the current state of our disunion, however, I find the sound of huge fireworks displays disturbing. I can’t help thinking about guns fired too frequently every night of the year, and the trauma this creates.

I also can’t help noticing the bravado that sometimes emerges from adults and young people when engaged in these activities. Is this entertainment, or a way of signifying who we think we are or should become?

I don’t lose sleep about this. Nonetheless, I wonder about the impact and imprint of what feels more and more like a troubling display of misplaced or misdirected patriotism.

Praying your week brings joy and opportunities to connect with family and neighbors.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 July 2021
1940s and 50s Fireworks Stand photo found at pinterest.com

My unquiet mind

Last night’s fierce rainstorm
lingers in air clothed in fluffy clouds,
bright blue skies and hungry birds

Chill air seeps through cracks
In this old house still breathing
deeply in lockdown mode

My mind flies unbidden to
a youthful storm about what
mattered yet didn’t end well

Despite the lingering chill
my skin burns with heat and
anguish about changes in plans

Tired old ganged-upon feelings
stir within my memory
before spilling over into today

Yet again my blood boils
with anger and shame
eager to take me down a notch

When I grew up, I didn’t have the option of being too angry, sad, happy, or loud. Worse, my father got to decide when I was too anything. His clear intention was to break my will and keep me in line. Not just because he was my father, but because God told him not to spare the rod.

Several days ago I posted “Farewell, Savannah.” I meant it then and still mean it today. Nonetheless, I’m challenged to let go of the worst injustices of my growing-up years. Especially during the years I lived in Savannah, prior to my marriage.

In the later 1940s and the 1950s, proactive services and opportunities for women and young girls weren’t at the top of our national agenda. Nor are they today.

I applaud President Biden’s determination to make this a top priority. Not as a symbolic act for women at the so-called top of the ladder, but for women and girls everywhere. In families, churches, schools, sports, medical offices, hospitals, workplaces, politics, the military and much more.

The shame and anger I feel isn’t only about what happened to me back then. It’s also about what’s happening right now to women and young girls in the USA. Surely we can do better than this.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 May 2021
Image found at pinterest.com

Loneliness | Mary Oliver

I still tear up when I read this lovely, perceptive poem from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.

Loneliness

I too have known loneliness.
I too have known what it is to feel
misunderstood,
rejected, and suddenly
not at all beautiful.
Oh, mother earth,
your comfort is great, your arms never withhold.
It has saved my life to know this.
Your rivers flowing, your roses opening in the morning.
Oh, motions of tenderness!

Poem written by Mary Oliver, first published in Blue Horses (2014)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published in 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, p. 23

When we’re born we have one chance. One chance to hit the jackpot of perfect parents, perfect siblings, perfect grandparents and all the other stuff that comes with perfection.

Yes, it includes gender, color of skin, color of hair, cuteness or ugliness, fat or skinny. You name it, and someone somewhere has known loneliness over these or other unchosen marks of our supposed superiority or lack thereof.

I grew up feeling like a fat girl with three younger sisters who were invariably cuter and more exciting than I was. To be fair, the preferred family term that stuck with me wasn’t ‘fat.’ It was ‘pleasantly plump.’

Every dress my mother made for me was ‘adjusted’ to mask my pleasant plumpness. My thin, straight hair was subjected to permanents every three months, even though the perms disappeared down the bathroom sink within two or three weeks. I never seemed to smile enough, laugh enough, or have enough girlfriends or boyfriends.

Yet thanks to our living arrangements, mother earth was always right there waiting for me. Unlike my father, she never told me to suck in my stomach, stand up straight, or wipe that frown off my face. Never.

Nor did she say “I told you so” when I was one of the last girls chosen for athletic teams. She just kept showing up, giving me time and space to turn my loneliness into freedom and a life of my own.

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for this heartwarming poem. I cried the first time I read it, and the second, and the third…. What a gift we have in rivers and roses. The handiwork of a Creator who understands us better than we understand ourselves.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 May 2021
Photo by Phil Banks, pixels.com

Farewell, Savannah

secrets of the Deep South
are etched in and on my body

scars and memories fester
even as they grow faint with age

what I love about Savannah
no longer makes up for what I loathe

steaming fear and flashbacks
to my growing up years sometimes boil

transporting me back to childhood trials
and the belief that I’m a misfit

not entitled to happiness or joy
or feelings of deep satisfaction

hence the necessity of these two words
I don’t want to say–

Farewell, Savannah

I’ve been pondering these two words for the past week. My youngest sister (#4) is selling the last house she and her deceased husband, and our deceased parents lived in.  It’s a small, cozy, beautiful little house. Full of memories and full of heartache.

I didn’t grow up in this house. I grew up in a large house that looked out on the Vernon River (above). I only know the house that’s now up for sale because I visited as often as possible after my parents moved in. It’s a lovely house in a small semi-rural community. A great place to visit. Neighborhood houses are built along and near marshy muddy banks and creeks near the end of the Vernon River.

It isn’t that the house holds memories (it does). It’s the reality of the Deep South and the way it both encouraged  and covered up abusive behavior in families like ours, in churches, in schools, and in work places.

Sometimes, when I’m discouraged or frightened, my mind, body and emotions revert to childhood fears and realities of my growing up years in the Deep South. Especially, but not only, my father’s treatment of me. I’m tempted to believe The Big Lie that says I’m Nobody. Or the other Big Lie that says Things Will Never Change.

It’s time to move on. Which is exactly what my youngest sister is doing. I celebrate her bravery and her sense of adventure as she moves from Savannah to be with her granddaughter and family far from the shores of the Vernon River.

Thanks for stopping by.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 April 2021
Photo of the Vernon River taken by DAFraser in 2010

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