I think that no matter how old, we never quit learning. Sometimes the things we find out about ourselves or about life hit us square in the face, unexpectedly. I call these Ah-Ha moments. In the past month I have had an unusual amount of Ah-has, for which I am grateful. I hope I never get to the point in life that I quit figuring things out.
When Doug was home Thanksgiving I figured out that he responds to kindness and understanding much more than to lectures and redirection. He shuts down when you begin to tell him to do something differently. I finally quit fussing at him about the amount of soft drinks he was drinking and about those soft drinks causing him to wet the bed. I simply told him that I was concerned about his blood sugar levels, explained that since his family has had so many diabetics, there is a good chance he too will become diabetic. Then I left the decision entirely up to him about how many soft drinks he wanted to consume in a day. He didn’t really cut down on the amount while here, but he did think about it before he’d ask for another. Since then, he has told me that he’s drinking more water and less sweet drinks, and that he’s trying to watch what he eats. I’m not sure he is really making a huge effort, but just the fact that he’s keeping the conversation alive about his dietary habits is a good sign to me that he ‘gets it’ and that perhaps, just perhaps, he’ll take a little bit better care of himself.
My relationship with my siblings is complex. As with a lot of families, maybe most, we each harbor some sort of resentment, or animosity, or maybe jealousy toward one another. I’m not sure why. I know that when my father was alive my sister and I competed, either consciously or subconsciously, for his attention and approval. I can only speak for myself in this matter I suppose, but I’m guessing it is true with my sister. Anyway… so my ah-ha moment in this relationship came to me this month when I realized that the same competitiveness I felt vying for my dad’s attention and approval, I carried forth, hoping for the approval of my oldest brother. I’ve always felt a certain jealousy towards Katherine , that she and Clarence are so close, and he and I are not. My other brother, Tom, called me one evening and spoke of a phone conversation he’d just had with Clarence. As I listened to him speak about how he felt Clarence was judging him and he’d wished he’d not called I realized that Tom, like me, needed affirmation and acceptance from Clarence, almost as we had so longed for from our father. Long after Tom and I had ended our conversation I sat and thought about our family dynamics. Why is it that although I feel accepted and loved by my friends, my husband, my children…. I still feel such a strong need to feel accepted and loved by my siblings? I am a good person. I believe I am a smart woman. Yes, I’ve made many mistakes and bad choices in my life but believe I have learned from them and grown. So, why do I allow myself to feel so insecure around my sister and my brothers? I have childhood flash backs…. going back to sitting around the dining room table, dad trying to keep conversation going during a Sunday meal with the family. He’d look to each of his children and ask “So, Clarence, tell me about your week at school.” Or, “Thomas what are you studying in history class now.” Or he’d simply have each of us tell about our day. I remember hating these question and answer sessions. Each of my siblings seemed at ease talking about what was going on in their lives and they always made interesting conversation. I sat there hoping like crazy that Dad would not get around to me, because I never thought I had anything to say that would sound as intelligent as anyone else at the table. I always felt like my older siblings were rolling their eyes when I spoke. I do remember my sister Beth one time questioning something I said during a meal. I’d been on a ski trip with some friends from school. Dad asked me about the trip. I told him that Bobby had fallen on the slope and broken his leg in two different places. It was the first time I felt like I was bringing up something cool to talk about. Just as Dad was about to ask how Bobby was doing, my sister Beth said, “Wait a minute! How did he break his leg in two different places? If he broke his leg, how did he get up and ski anymore and break his leg somewhere else?” She thought I’d meant he’d broken his leg in two different locations on the slope. Everyone at the table loved and laughed at Beth’s naivete’. She was such a joy. Although I laughed along with everyone, and truly did think that her misunderstanding was quite funny… I felt a little disappointed that my one thing that I was finally bringing to the table, was diminished as the attention turned to Beth.
It was sometime after that that I began making stories up to tell Dad at the dinner table, just so I could get his attention. I could often feel my sibling’s doubting eyes watching me as I wove my fantastic stories. I knew that they knew I was making things up. But I didn’t care. I had found a voice, and although some things were out and out lies, I was the center of the attention at the table, at least for the moment. A liar was born, all for the sake of approval and acceptance.
It took a long time for me to realize that I did not need fabricate stories in order to be interesting. What mattered was the telling of the real life stories. My spin on or perception of what my real experiences were was far more important and interesting than anything I could make up. My friends have always loved my stories and been wonderful audience to my narratives, and to my reparte. But it’s always been my siblings that I’ve been unable to interest, and I’ve wanted to for so long.
Now, finally, at 55 years of age, it has finally dawned on me that it doesn’t matter. I do not need their approval or their acceptance in order to be or feel like a valid person. But the realization that for so many years I have yearned for the said acceptance by my family, made me see more clearly how my son Doug feels. He needs, more than anything, to feel accepted by his family.
While he was here for Thanksgiving I tried hard to explain this to Craig, Liz, and Rusty. I think they got it. Craig was very kind to Doug, asking him questions and making him feel important in the family unit. Rusty has always done his best to make Doug feel like a normal part of the family, rather than someone with problems and differences. Liz, bless her heart, has always had a tendency to ‘police’ Doug, calling out to me anytime she’d see Doug doing something he shouldn’t be doing. She fell into this role a long time ago, because she’s watched me treat Doug the same way all of her life. So I cannot find fault in how she speaks to him and corrects him, and makes him feel inadequate… I raised her this way. So, during our Thanksgiving visit, I not only had to retrain myself, but Liz as well.
I’m proud of my family for being open to change in the way we treat Doug, and each other. We need to treat him as a valid human being rather than someone with special needs. We need to talk to him with respect and love rather than judgment and admonishment. Family should be the one safe place you can go to get away from fear and rejection. I never again want to make him feel a stranger in his own home. This is home. This is where love is. This is where you can be you , and you will be loved for who you are.
When Doug was home for Thanksgiving he asked if he could come back at Christmas. I explained to him that we might be going to Iowa to visit Craig’s parents this year. He asked if he could please go along. I had to tell him that he could not. I don’t think he would handle the stress of a large family gathering. Last time he went with us, he had a few emotional outbursts. So I told him, if we did not go to Iowa, I would certainly come get him and bring him home for Christmas, but that if we did go to Iowa, I would come visit him as soon as we got home. I hate this. I hate not being with him for Christmas. It makes me heartsick.
Years ago, I asked a group of online friends if they would mind sending Doug Christmas cards. The response was overwhelming. He received over 100 greeting cards in the mail. He was thrilled. I’m asking again. If you have a moment and the money to do so, could you please drop a card to : Stephen Myers @ Lake James Lodge / 63 Lakeview Drive North Marion, NC 28752-8896. It would help make his Christmas a little brighter. Thanks.