November 10, 2009

The post of a lifetime, my lifetime

I've had this post rolling around in my head for quite some time now, and I hope I can get it all down.

My last post was just the beginning rantings on how I see the world and the people in it, and I'd like to thank Jupiter for mentioning it in her last post, and for helping to inspire this one. I'd also like to thank Bella for her constructive criticism and her constant support. You both have my gratitude and love.

The thing is folks, I WAS really scared to even broach the subject, because in a lot of ways I don't think everyone feels like me. It has been brought to my attention lately through some pretty heated arguments with family members that I had a pretty fouled up childhood. The way I view life and people is very possibly different than that of most of you. And then again, maybe, just maybe, it's pretty much the same.

My parents were very devout Christians, still are, especially my mother. Any conversation we have will inevitably come back to something to do with God and what he says I ought to be doing. My entire childhood was based on the idea that "God's" way was the only way, and that anything else was straight from the devil. She even called me the "antichrist" one time because of something I did, or maybe it was because of the attitude I had with her, I don't know, but anyway, that was the general "vibe" of things.

Now I don't want this to turn into a whinefest of how bad my childhood was for me, but I need to explain and tell this stuff just so you can understand my thought process.

Many, and I do mean many, of my childhood memories are of the "bad" things that happened to me. I remember some of the good, but the greater majority of the stuff I remember really vividly were times I would call traumatic for me. Not your death and destruction kind of trauma, just the kinds of things that scare the pants off of you when you are a kid. Fear, yeah, that's it. That was a recurring theme for me growing up. My parents seemed to have a knack for making me be afraid of them, and of life in general.

Here's the breakdown:

Approx. 3 years old, after coming home from day care with the lady that lived behind us: I had had breakfast at home, and had then gone to her house and eaten again. My mother found out about this, and became furious with me, saying something about "she's going to think I don't feed you, don't you ever do that again!" I was 3! How the hell was I supposed to know that eating food I was offered was wrong?

5 years old, 4th of July parade, 1976, the Bicentennial year(yeah I know, I'm so dating myself): I was dressed in colonial garb, carrying a drum, beating on it as my parents dragged a homemade float that looked like a birthday cake behind them. We had saved toilet paper roll tubes for months before that so they could be used as "candles" on the float. I had wandered too far ahead of them pulling this float, and my mom yelled out my first AND middle name to me in this blood curdling scream I had never heard from her before. I got so scared I ran back to her quickly so as to not bear too much of the brunt of whatever wrath she was to bestow upon me for doing something so terrible as to get too far ahead. I knew by this point that when she used my middle name I was in deep doo doo. And speaking of doo doo..........

Again, 5 years old, after a trip to Kmart in which I didn't make it to the bathroom in time and did a number 2 in my pants: I am placed in the shower with my underwear still on while my mother berates me as she has been doing the whole way home from Kmart, and then she proceeds to take the soiled undergarments off of me and rubs them in my face. Yes, folks, disgusting, and traumatic as hell to this already scared kid, and to this day she denies she did it. This is the incident that when I have discussed my childhood with others I have been told I was abused, mentally if nothing else. But as a child, what did I know about abuse? To me this was mom's normal behavior. Needless to say I still have issues with knowing where the bathrooms are in Kmart.

These are just the first 3 of many other occasions in my childhood that I remember being scared of my parents, especially my mother. My dad wasn't much better. There was this one time I got kicked from behind into a cupboard full of pots and pans because of something I did, don't remember what it was, but that one at least I find to be a little funny. At any rate, as you have probably already surmised, I was brought up in a VERY strict environment, but not only that, I was expected to be the brainiac among my siblings, as I had shown a certain skill with academics.

I guess at this point I should back up and mention that I have an older sister and two younger brothers. Now of course to my mother this meant that for me being the eldest son that I had responsibilities according to the bible to be better, more prepared, the one that ultimately will inherit the job of patriarch of the family (and to get the lion's share of the inheritance too mind you, don't know yet how that's going to work out). So when I was tested at a young age to be placed in the "gifted" classes at school, and I "failed" the maturity part of the test, and was not placed with the gifted kids, it meant of course that I was a complete failure and I had made her and dad look like they had not raised me right. You tell me what 5 or 6 year old boy is "mature". Anyhow, from that day onward, for the duration of my schooling up to and including high school, I was still expected to achieve straight A's in all of my classes, regardless of the subject matter. As far as I knew, the test results had shown me to have a superior intellect to my peers, and I was expected to use it. But what to my surprise happens when I DO use my "gift", and get the A, and the other children don't, and I act proud of myself, even a little arrogant? I again get in trouble. And the real kicker? Those test results showed me to be above average, sure, but not exceedingly so. And not a whisper on there about any "maturity" testing. I know, as I have finally seen the actual results. Just got the paper about it a few weeks ago from my parents as they were cleaning out some stuff and they thought I might like to have it along with a bunch of other paperwork from that time period (report cards and the like). Imagine learning 33 years later that you are not in fact a genius, but only mildly advanced. Well I take that back, I have taken IQ tests since that time and found that it was in the 145-150 range, so I DID know, but that was just the icing on the proverbial cake.

Anyway, so there I am, at the young age of 6, already with self esteem issues. I'm damned if i do, and damned if I don't. You want me to do these things, but it's wrong of me to be proud of myself. Every little move I make is somehow a problem. My mom berated me and hounded me constantly for how I ate, how I talked, even for how I breathed on one occasion. What was I supposed to think? I still had no clue that this behavior from a parent might be considered abuse. I was afraid to be around her and dad, but mostly her. I didn't want to move, was too scared to do anything, for fear of her coming down on me. And what made matters worse was that as "biblical" as she was, she believed that dad was the head of the household, and therefore the responsibility to administer discipline fell to him. So if I got in trouble for something, it meant hearing it from her, the lectures for two hours, and then waiting fearfully for dad to come home and hear it from him and to get the subsequent spanking. I can't tell you how many hours as a child I spent just sitting in fear waiting for dad to come home knowing how mad he'd be, and how bad the spanking would hurt.

As you can see, fear was a very big part of life for me, and to make matters worse, I was taught by my parents to be afraid of everything and everybody in the "world" as well. Oh they were evil, from the devil, God forbid we eat or speak or play with the heathens that plagued the planet. If they did not go to church, or the activity was not church related, I wasn't going to be present. I guess that's why I missed out on Boy Scouts, or sports. Mom said football was too violent, so that was a no go, heck the only sports they watched on tv was the Olympics when they came around. Of course I had no "natural" athletic talent either, so what was the point in me even trying? Couldn't swing a bat, or kick a ball, practicing and doing it with my peers would not have improved my skill at all. Another thing was clothes. Just because Jimmy wears this, doesn't mean that I should too. Cool? I don't need to look "cool". God says we should be in the world, but not "of" it. Oh and don't forget, you might step on something and hurt your foot, so you have to wear shoes at ALL times, even at home, indoors. And music? Only classical, not a whisper of another tune except for maybe Neil Diamond. They apparently had "their" song by him, so on occasion that record would go on the turntable. The radio however was always and only tuned to the local public radio/classical music station for us to listen to during dinner. I missed out on SO many things growing up because of their very completely narrowminded view of what was acceptable for their children to be exposed to.

Now I ask you, had you been me, and were already deathly afraid to even move around your parents, do you think it would have entered your mind to try to sneak out and do the things you really wanted to do? Oh sure, I thought about it, but I was just to paralyzed by the fear of what would happen to me if caught that I simply did nothing, and took whatever they dished out.

What I am getting at in all of this is that most of you did not have a childhood like this, but you did have one, and did a lot of the same things I did, and felt a lot of the same way I did too, right? No? Okay, so I was "sheltered" as a child. Does that mean that now I don't have any idea of what goes on? Of what  people are like? Quite the contrary. I spent the greater part of my childhood observing, unable to participate. Watching others while they did what I wanted so badly to do, and observed as they succeeded or failed, and how they reacted to it. And when my father wasn't angry at me for something, he was doing a bang up job of teaching me stuff about how he saw people, and what he thought life was about. He is and was to me a good judge of character, he had a job that required him to be one. The president of the local chapter of the union in the chemical plant. AFL-CIO or something. He was the guy that had to get the management of the company and the representatives of the members of the union to sit down and agree on plans of action to deal with grievances from folks on either side. He was an kind of arbiter. Of course he was also one of those union members, a common worker in the plant, so it was in his best interest to make things work. So I did find out a thing or two about how people settle arguments, how to use logic instead of worrying about how you feel about something, and how to determine that this guy or that guy is lying through his teeth, he has no intention of doing what he says. I gained a lot of knowledge on basic human emotions, and how people deal with them, especially in a perceived "volatile" environment.

Oh and we did go camping as a family every summer, so I was taught how to fish and build a fire and basically live without technology (well most of it anyway). And we went to all the historical monuments and tourist attractions up and down the east coast it seemed and went to Niagara Falls, so I did get out and "see the world" in some respects. Sheltered, yes, maybe, but there were lots of places I went, and things I saw and did that the other kids surely didn't see or do, not all of them at least.

It has been 20 years since I left home, but of course the memories are still there, and the upbringing I had has shaped me into what I am today. I have lived another lifetime since then, and probably learned double what I did in that time. My ideas about how people in general will behave under certain circumstances has not changed very much, but has been augmented by 20 more years of life experience.

All this talking and I still haven't said what I meant to say in the beginning. I believe that each of us is the same, we all have the same basic emotions and the same desires for our lives. What is different is which of those emotions we have decided to make as the core of who we are. Even someone who appears to be unemotional has in fact decided to be apathetic, which IS an emotion. Mine for most of my life was fear. Now it's more love than anything else, but until very recently I was even fearful about that. Either way, in reading blogs, or observing and listening to people as I go through life, I find myself more and more realizing that I am not that much different than everyone else, except in the way I have chosen to take my experiences and incorporate them into my interactions with others. My feelings are much the same. So before I judge someone for showing a feeling I think is "wrong" for a situation, I'm going to sit back and think if I were them, with their life, would I not do the same? My reactions internally say I feel one feeling, but I've been taught to show something else. Or maybe I've been taught to show exactly the emotion I feel, and to show it to the extreme. Feelings are never wrong or right, they are what we are, and we are just a product of our experiences. My experiences might be different, but my feelings are the same, and I think I might just feel the same way as you.


Lyon said...


All I can say is holy wow. I almost feel like I have peeked into some serious personal alchemy that I shouldn't have been witness to, but am very glad that I have been.

I am reminded of a song that we used to sing in circle,

"fur and feather and scale and skin, different with-out but the same within."

I honor you for your alchemy. And I honor you for being the same within.

Ryan Sutton said...

I share the pain of a sheltered childhood. The pain of pressure to succeed and live up to my potential. I missed out on the abuse, but still came away with the fear. I think you may be on to something.

Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I can share in the feelings of being pressured to succeed and be someone you're not. And there was a fair amount of emotional and mental abuse for me, never physical and my childhood was less than sheltered. And I've also dealt with fear to a great degree, and also crippling self esteem issues.

I thank you for sharing your stories, and I think you are right. Our feelings are the same even if our experiences are not.

Jupiter Greenmoone said...

I couldn't agree more with Lyon. This is very profound and I'm glad you shared it with us. I feel privileged. Lots of love for you here Rayden.

Mother's Moon's Message said...

I will say that the recent recall of others childhoods can't help but make mine want to peek out. Something that I try extremely hard not to do.... Yet in saying that I also want to say how very much I enjoyed your last paragraph. It is the conclusion I have come to also, although it is not the easiest thing to do sometimes, however a good lesson to learn. It is easy to place yourself on an island and think that your issues are unique from others however just like you said when it is all broken down they are all similiar in their own ways. The same needs run in all of us, it is only the manner which we decide to deal with such needs that differ slightly. Thank you for that gentle tap on the side of my head with your iron skillet Rayden... I guess I needed to be reminded of this once again. :-)

The UnOfficial Witch of Ridgewood said...

Hi Rayden,

I too come from a sheltered childhood. Fear of not living up to my parents expectations became a prevailing theme in my life. As a result of this, I made sure that NOTHING upset their happy existence. It left me lonely and anxious.

It took me a along time (and a lot of therapy) to realize that my parents, specifically my mother, brought me up with the skills she had been given. And while this doesn't make some of my memories any easier, it does lend a greater understanding to my childhood.

The trauma of our childhoods can often color our adulthood with their memories. But our experiences as adults are there as well to change our perceptions of ourselves for the better and to protect us from some of the wounds that are still left unhealed.