Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Childhood

I’m not my mother

I’m not my mother
Or the young girl
She wanted me to be
Surrounded by friends
Pretty with curls in my hair
Dressed in cheery colors
Enjoying a childhood
Unlike hers lived in fear
Of gossip and taunts
From girls going nowhere
Despite their self-assured
Superiority unknown
In my mother’s world

I fought against my mother. Refused her regular advice about clothes and colors. Felt ashamed of her outgoing ways and her polio-scarred body; her face devoid of make-up. Nothing could hide the tremor on the left side of her face. Or the sight of her estranged mother arriving at grade school, dressed like a diva bearing gifts to her royal daughter.

I endured with chagrin and barely suppressed anger her attempts to make my straight thin hair curly and fulsome, like her beautiful auburn hair.

And…she taught me to play the piano. Cook. Clean. Starch and iron clothes. Make beds. Fold towels and sheets. Organize drawers and cupboards. Things her absent mother never taught her.

There’s a saying I remember from my growing-up years. I didn’t care for it; my mother did. Her kitchen wall hanging proclaimed it boldly: “Bloom where you’re planted.” I couldn’t; neither could she.

Two lost souls thrown together. One extroverted, the other introverted. Both lonely; intelligent; eldest daughters; desperate to be loved and heard; musicians from the inside out. Overshadowed and dominated by a world of men. Unable to play and sing our songs freely without fear of having our wings clipped.

And yet…every time I read My mother’s body, I feel a tug at my heart. Pulling me back toward her. Not out of pity, but with understanding that’s still taking root in me. Softening me toward her and toward myself. Especially when I’m playing the piano, and feel some of her musicality playing through me.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 February 2019
Photo of winter snowdrops found at pinterest.com

Shame on you – a poem and confession

Shame on you
Is not shame on me

I renounce your efforts
To fill my heart with
Your lust and shame
Bequeathed to you
By your father-preacher
When you were a sobbing
Child terrified lest you wake
Up one day in that fiery hell
You too once preached to
Children who believed the lie
That they entered this world
Sinners from the beginning
Now terrified of missing
That mercy for which you
Wept loudly and often
In the confines of your own
Terrified heart and soul

Wave your arms in the air
Send out your calls for sinners
To sob their way forward
Down the aisle filled
With shame and self-hatred
Believing a story that never
Belonged to them no matter
How many times they
Rushed down the aisle
Of your own deep shame

Somewhere along the way I lost the shame I carried from childhood. Shame that bound me as an adult, not just as a child.

Here’s how I see it now. Yes, there is right and there is wrong. No, God doesn’t create junk. Nor did God make sure I came with a bit of built-in sin for which I’m supposed to feel deep shame.

The shame came later. From others who introduced me to their shame long before I knew what was happening.

As a child, preachers and evangelists routinely reminded me that my heart was filled with sin from the day I was born. I watched other children repeatedly rushing down the aisle terrified lest they be thrown into a lake of fire when they died. I managed to raise my hand once, which felt like more than enough. After all, I got it at home, too.

At some point I had to take ownership of the woman I’d become. Still, scaring me and punishing me into repeated agonies of confession never helped me take ownership of myself. It simply kept me in a constant state of fear, shame and hyper-vigilance.

Ironically, these are the very things my Creator invites me to let go. Not because I’m a goody two-shoes, but because I’m loved just the way I am.

For that, I’m deeply grateful on this day of Sabbath rest.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 October 2018

The morns are meeker than they were

Here’s an Emily Dickinson poem for all children, including you! Plus my note to Emily below.

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

Emily Dickinson: Poetry for Young People, edited by Frances Schoonmaker Bolin, illustrated by Chi Chung. Published by Sterling Publishing Co. (2008)

Dear Emily,

It pains me to say this, but I never thought of you as a trinket kind of girl or woman. But then again, it shouldn’t surprise me. You have a way of seeing beauty and even the entire creation in the smallest bird or flower.

I wonder if you had a trinket box like the one above. It comes from your century, and has a mustardy yellow autumn look about it. To say nothing of those pretty leaves and that bird in the center.

It’s too bad we don’t have photos of your trinkets. I was always told they could make or break a woman’s image. Nothing too big. Nothing too gaudy. Nothing that would call attention to me. As though I were saying, ‘Look at me!’

But your little poem has a different outlook. You want to be part of nature’s annual parade of colors. Or maybe it’s a great production. Or better yet, a grand ball in the ballroom of fields and forests glowing with bright colors.

Whatever it is, it won’t do not to smile back when nature smiles at us. So I’m off to my oldest trinket box to find something to wear today to the ball. I think I’ll look for that topaz birthstone ring my mother gave me when I was a child.

With kind regards,
From grown-up Elouise and baby Marie

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 October 2018
Photo of 1800s Trinket Box found at pinterest.com

My Last Baby

It came to me a few days ago. Marie is my very last baby! And what’s so awesome about that?

I’m Marie! For those who don’t live in an imaginative mode, this may seem a bit silly. Even nonsense.

To me, however, it makes perfect sense. There’s a baby in me who’s been waiting for this chance to grow all her life. That means ever since she turned 10 months old in September 1944.

That’s when my father came home after 18 months in a TB sanatorium. I sometimes call him The Intruder because that’s how it was back then and throughout my childhood and teenage years. He was intent on beating anger out of me, the anger he said he’s seen and experienced from his own father. He said he recognized this anger in me immediately when I was a baby.

Things got messy. He recruited my mother as his ally, not mine. She became his collaborator, informer and secondary enforcer. This bred fear in me and outraged resistance coupled with strategic submission.

Things are different today. My parents are gone. I miss them. Yet I don’t miss their collaborative ways that continued when I was an adult.

So now I’m pushing 75, and I get to raise baby Marie! Yes, she’s a baby doll. She’s also a stand-in for that part of me that’s been cowering inside, afraid of her own voice and terrified of punishment.

Here are several things I’ve pondered these last few weeks.

  • What do I know about my mother? What did she bring to our relationship that might help me understand her–before and after my father returned as the one and only Head of the House?
  • I have the same question about my maternal grandmother Zaida. She ran off with a wealthier man when my mom was very young, and, given her habits, didn’t know how to be a mother.
  • How deep is this hole or ache in me that wants to be filled? Are there women or men who filled parts of it when I was growing up?
  • And what about behaviors and characteristics I lost after my father arrived with his agenda? So far I’ve identified things like openness and trust, a feeling of safety. No shame. A sunny disposition. Not afraid to fall or make a mess. Not afraid of most other human beings.

In some ways, growing old is a process of reverting to childhood. Becoming more dependent on others, more vulnerable to external and internal changes or challenges.

What better way, then, to envision Marie than as a baby who challenges me to become true to myself as I age? When I pay attention to Marie, including what she needs from me, I’m learning to pay attention to myself. And it isn’t so lonely anymore. Sometimes it’s even fun!

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 September 2018
Photo found at pixabay.com

Complicity and Rotten Apples

For decades I’ve listened to well-meaning friends and strangers telling me to get over it. They weren’t always that blunt, but I knew what they meant. Something like this…magnified through my own shame-based filters:

It’s time to move on with your life. We’re tired of hearing about the same old struggle. When are you going to get a life? Can’t you see how easy it is?!

I don’t fault friends or strangers who’ve urged me to move on. They want the best for me. All I have to do is walk away and don’t look back. The way many of them did.

Yet it seems I have nothing to walk toward except more of those heart-breaking, mind-bending head trips I’ve been on all my life.

Besides, it doesn’t matter what others think about me. What do I think about myself?

From grade school on, academic pursuits were my salvation. They kept me busy. They gave me something tangible to hang onto, plus a fleeting sense of self-worth even though I was running away or lost. I’ve known this for years. Nothing new here.

Recently a friend of many years suggested I’m still complicit with my father’s shaming and silencing of my voice. It still eats me up, from the inside out. Like a rotten apple, it tries to spoil the entire barrel.

She was correct. The shamed-based atmosphere in which I grew up now lives in me, passed on by my father. I have no doubt this is a generational gift of poison.

So I’m back to my childhood with this correction: I did not have a childhood. It was stolen from me before I knew what was happening. Instead, I became a substitute mother (to my three sisters), and grew up labeled as a ‘rebellious, stubborn’ eldest daughter who needed to have anger beaten out of her.

Furthermore, though I enjoyed my children as they grew up, joining in their childhood games didn’t give me the childhood I never had.

So…how do I find what I didn’t have, and how do I stop my internal voice that wants to shame me into silence?

Meet Baby Elouise! No, I don’t have a picture. I bought her over a week ago. Why? Because I’m determined to find and take back what was stolen from me.

My job is to love and listen to the little girl and adult woman I am despite all efforts, including my own, to silence or redirect me. Baby Elouise is helping me move in the right direction.

To be continued….

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 August 2018
Photo taken by Sherry Fraser Seckington, June 2016 – from their garden

Misformed and misinformed

Misformed and misinformed
She emerges from childhood
Before its wonders take root

Sheltered from life and herself
Dim vision narrows down
Lest warm rays of truth find her
Huddled in unsafe cellars
Waiting for life to begin
Before it ends

The poem is about me and it’s not only about me.

Yesterday I listened to No Place to Run, a radio rebroadcast of an investigative report into foster care in the USA. The report focused on two young women in Texas. Their stories were eerily similar. I’ve heard similar stories about foster care here in Pennsylvania.

Each young woman (one still a child) was placed in a foster care setting. Both ended up on the streets, abandoned by systems that failed them. And both were betrayed by a political machinery determined to avoid or ignore the need to fund competent, monitored, successful foster care.

I applaud foster care parents who put their hearts and their energy into caring for foster children. I also applaud lawyers, judges and politicians determined to make a difference now, not later, with systems that work for the benefit of foster children and young people.

At the end of the day, however, I wonder whether I’m ready for the full truth about this shadow world. Especially since I’m routinely horrified at the latest revelations, already dressed up for public consumption.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 August 2018
Art found at http://www.revealnews.org

distant voices | Mom

distant voices
ride waves of morning air
cicadas drone

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s birthday. Born in 1921, she died in 1999. Today would have been her 97th birthday. Though I’ve done a lot of work on my relationship with her, I’m still finding words to describe the impact she had on my life.

My mother’s main task in life was to raise four daughters and to be unquestioningly obedient to one husband. Though not in that order. For most of her life, loyalty to him came first, not her daughters.

In her last years of life, for reasons I don’t understand, something clicked on for her. More than once she became unusually feisty with Dad, letting him know (with witnesses present) exactly where he stood and didn’t stand with her. She didn’t shut him out completely. She did, however, shut him out and down on more than one occasion. As though she’d reached her last straw.

It’s difficult to imagine Mom as a role model for me in my marriage to D. I don’t have memories of her being particularly affectionate with my father (or with me). Obedient? Absolutely. Quiet and industrious? Absolutely. On his side when he was discouraged? Absolutely. Modest and unassuming? Absolutely.

But not an equal partner given to overt affection. No matter how you describe it. When she married Dad in 1942, she abandoned huge pieces of her one-and-only life. It was part of the deal.

Today I applaud and love her for her courage, persistence, creativity, love of making music, intelligence, resourcefulness, and ability to run circles around my father intellectually without putting herself at risk. She was a survivor whose physical voice and body were impaired by polio from the time she was 28 years old. Yet she rode the waves and storms of life gracefully until she just couldn’t do it anymore.

My one huge regret is that she didn’t advocate on my behalf, or question my father’s beatings of me. I know she knew. Everyone in the house knew. Perhaps she also knew what that would mean for her, and the cost was too high to bear. The lives of women are fraught with life-endangering choices. She made hers, and to her credit, never stopped loving me, even though she didn’t know how to come to my defense.

If she were here today, I, ever the introvert, would take her for a lovely stroll in her wheelchair around our neighborhood, and let her meet and greet some of my wonderfully extroverted neighbors. Then we would go through the neighborhood park, enjoying this lovely summer day together, listening to the birds, and meeting and greeting every friendly dog along the way. Plus their owners, of course.

And I would hug her close, giving her what I can.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 July 2018
Photo found at mybrownnewfies.com

retiring to the attic

Heaviness of
Disciplined living
Wears me down

An ounce of this
Two drops of that
And maybe –
If you’re a good girl –
A slice of life

Need a break?
There isn’t one
Except this –
To retire to the attic
Sit in peace and quiet
And sleep your life
Away

I have to laugh when I read these words. I scribbled them down in desperation earlier this week. I was in the kitchen, exhausted, slicing and cutting up various veggies for yet another notoriously cruciferous Vitamix smoothie.

Our renovated attic has become my favorite place to go when I’m feeling down, or need a bit of peace and quiet. It’s uncluttered, undemanding, serene and accessible. My reading/sleeping chair and rigged-up leg and foot cushion stand ever-ready. Along with a compelling book and a radio for music, not for talk.

When I read the first two parts of the poem, I was horrified. These are my childhood feelings! Yet by the time I got to the end of the third part, I had retired to the attic. At least in mind and heart!

I’ve always dreamed of having a room of my own, not just an office where I do my ‘homework.’ I never dreamed it would be so large, inviting and quiet, with multiple views front, back and to the sky above. Yes, Smudge likes to share it with me. Probably for similar reasons, plus going to sleep on my lap.

Isaiah’s passage about crooked places becoming straight comes to mind. For decades our attic has been like those crooked wilderness places where you have to watch where you step. Over time it became a repository of junk and not-quite-junk, along with paper files, family treasures and row upon row of books. Small and large disasters waiting to happen.

The same Isaiah passage talks about streams flowing in the desert, and the wilderness blossoming like a rose. Somehow, the attic feels like a rose beginning to open. With more than enough room to multiply and fill space with good things, not bad.

Happy Friday!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 June 2018
Photo of desert flowers found at Pinterest.com

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