All the Turbulence that is Marriage: Please Fasten Seatbelts

Through a conversation with my hubby the other night, we stumbled upon the title for the marriage memoir I’m hoping to write.

When you’re retired; which means tired all over again, you lounge and talk about the good ole days, even when they meant you were the most tired you’ve ever been in your life. We both even dream of doing our old jobs in our sleep.

As if we’re not tired enough…

My husband is a man of few words. But, he lights up and loves talking about his air traffic days, his love of weather patterns, and his thirty-four year career. He says he never dreaded going to work and loved that no day was exactly the same. It’s an intellectual job, not a lot of physicality to it, but he’d come home each day exhausted from the mental acuity and shift work it required. Once home, he was far from wanting to control anything.

That job was left to me: the Charge Nurse. The parentified child in childhood. And that worked for a very long time. Until it didn’t.

Please fasten seatbelts.

As he was describing correct phraseology as an Air Traffic Controller; something I’ve heard him recite for almost twenty years now, my ears perked-up like never before hearing this one phrase.

“Wait, what was that phrase again?

When he said it again, I yelled, “That’s it! That’s the title for our marriage memoir!”

I won’t tell you what it is now, [enter dramatic music,] but it’s a ridiculously good title for my third book based on all the turbulence that is marriage.

If you’d like to listen to my husband controlling air traffic, you can listen here.

The video/audio is called a “tape talk” where he was being evaluated by a supervisor for proper phraseology. It’s from his ATC communications from approximately the late 1980s or early 90’s.

He was a controller in the Air Force just before the strike of 1981, and was hired by the FAA in 1985. He worked at O’Hare tower (ORD) before working at Cleveland Air Traffic Control Center (ZOB ARTCC) in Oberlin Ohio. He retired in 2014.

I love when you’re doing something else; swimming, painting, riding biking, talking… and out of the blue, the Universe throws you a crumb. Thank you! 🙏🏼

Now, if I could just finish book two.

Currently, I’m still writing, but deciding where to stop the second memoir. In my opinion, a great memoir is about a superb ending that brings it all around on itself again. And sadly, sometimes the story we set out to write isn’t the one that gets told.

It’s a huge job to figure it all out, but one that I love dearly. I’m in love with trying to control the narrative at first, only to have it take on a life of it’s own halfway through when you become more of a receiver and less of a writer. It’s thee most fascinating process, ever. And I’m grateful I have the time to do it.

If you’re interested in part one, you can buy it here.

If you’d like to see the book trailer my hubby made for me on iMovie, you can see that here.

Errr. This is your Captain speaking, You may now move about the cabin freely.

Just kidding!

Is it Unused or Unallowed Creativity?

I belong to quite a few art groups and each day I’m amazed at just how much women have to give up in order to be loved, to exist, and to count in their own damn families. Still.

God forbid they be curious, find joy, and use their creativity. They have to live to serve others instead.

The stories I’ve read boil my blood.

—Women who can’t have a craftroom or small area in the house because their husband has a wood shop in the garage and an office in the house. There’s no room for her dreams.

— Women who are shoved down in the basement with no windows and no heat asking if anyone in the group has suggestions in lighting and heating sources so they can see and still craft in the cold. Her comfort doesn’t matter.

— One woman wrote that she and her husband were moving and he wouldn’t “allow her” to take her art supplies. She was in the group asking where they could be donated. And although many of the charities recommended in the group benefitted children and schools, she was heart-broken. Her belongings didn’t matter.

And my favorite: Women who aren’t “allowed” to have craft supplies because their husband’s think it’s a waste of their time and money– while they themselves have elaborate hobbies that involve guns, golf, and huge, expensive machinery, mancaves with popcorn machines, fully stocked bars, and 70-inch flatscreen TV’s…

That would be the mother-fucking day.

I’ve read about husbands who:

*Don’t want things strewn across the kitchen table where they eat.
*Don’t want the added expense from their wallets.
*Don’t want their wives to spend time away from tending to their needs.
*Men who don’t want to put together furniture or help his wife set up a separate room because he can’t fit it into his T-time for a round of golf with his buddies.

One woman took a photo of a large piece of furniture still in the box she bought from IKEA that sat in the garage for six months because her husband refused to help her. When she finally found the gumption to do it herself she discovered it was ruined from water damage.

It all makes me so mad I want to spit.

Oftentimes, if she’s determined enough, she does get a room. And she proudly shows a photo of it saying she did all the heavy lifting and assembly by herself. — You go girl!

I’ve been dabbling at the kitchen table; first painting sweatshirts with puff paints (‘member those?) and later I painted ceramics when my son was little. When my kids were teens and the bedrooms were filled, I sat at the kitchen island and painted and art journaled at the dining room table we rarely used.

Brene Brown says that, “Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow and shame.”

You know what that fuels?

Dis-ease.

I process some very benign things in my art journal. What typically comes up are flowers, positive quotes and bright colors because that’s who I am at my core. Happy.

But, I also process deep pain there too. Sometimes my art is the colors of a bruise. Sometimes shades of dripping red with black angry messages from gaping wounds that will not heal. They are not pretty pages, but when I’m done, I feel better. It’s up and out of my body, my head… where it can’t hurt me or others. And I just close the book on them when I’m done or rip them out and throw them away.

I’m lucky to have graduated from a kitchen table to an actual room of my own after my kids left the house. But, I didn’t ask. I took.

I’m lucky to have a husband who enjoys seeing me following my joy. And he’s damn lucky he does too. Because I am that kind of bitch who won’t be pushed back in her seat and told she doesn’t matter.

Ladies! If you want a room of your own, don’t ask! Take! Take up space! Stake your claim! Carve out a place for just you! It doesn’t need to be elaborate or even huge. Use old Goodwill furniture, cheap Dollar store supplies and shoebox storage if you have to, but just don’t lose your freedom to create. It’s so important for everybody’s health, but especially for us women who repeatedly squish ourselves up against the walls of small spaces and who already give so much to so many.

Please stop putting yourself on the back burner and begging to exist in your own damn family.

Art for Healing

Art helps us talk to ourselves, encourage ourselves, and channel messages for ourselves and others that I believe come from a source outside ourselves. Art is my time to not think. And it’s amazing what comes through when the mind is not trying to control the outcome. It’s time to experiment, make mistakes, and see what works and what doesn’t.

Even when you’re telling yourself to focus, the mind gets to play with what distraction looks like on a page.

Instead of gears turning in the head on the image I was working on, my inner child wanted mandalas. Because in the art world, it’s whatever I want. Yay!

Later, one of the mandalas became a flower. An idea growing, maybe? I take it to mean what I’ve always known, without knowing I knew… and that is we can change our minds from robotic to blooming. From mundane to colorful. From traumatized to healed. Something I’ve consistently worked on.

In an art journal, you can allow spinning chaos, and confusion to slowly turn into a pretty yellow flower with a green stem. When we step back and look at the bigger picture we realize that underneath all the people we’ve been (and are becoming,) all things we’ve had happen to us, we are not reduced in size, just changed over time.

The quote that came to me:
“I can be changed by what happened to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.” – Maya Angelou.

The easiest and cheapest kind of therapy you can do is play in an art journal.

What healthy outlet do you have that helps you stay sane?

Coming up for Air: When Self-Help Becomes Self-Abuse

Reading self-help and attending counseling for a lifetime can start to feel like abuse-of-self after awhile. With each new book I crack, my body asks, “When are we going to be okay the way we are? Why are we never enough? Why is that we have to change?”

I thank god for the privilege I’ve had to self-help books and counseling throughout my lifetime, even when I was poor and on welfare.

But, excessive reading and searching for something outside our own inner knowing only reinforces our less-than opinions that others have liberally applied to us, and not always in childhood.

So, I chose to read for pleasure. On a pool day.

Self-help and growth as a human is wonderful, but it should also involve play and coming up for air from time to time. Constantly rolling in the deep, and diving deeper and deeper with little rest doesn’t make us stronger, faster. It can weaken us and take us under, drowning us.

Some myths about a water drowning:

*Drowning people yell for help.
*Drowning people wave and thrash about wildly like in the movies.
*A drowning person is capable to assist in their rescue.
*Drowning takes a while.

These are also fitting signs for other types of drowning.

— Drowning in trauma we rarely talk about.
— Drowning in self-doubt, we’re embarrassed to bring attention to.
— Drowning in grief that society expects us to “get over already.”
— Drowning in fatigue from a lifetime of trying.

Trying is good. But, excessive trying can make us weaker, sicker, and can take us down faster. ILL health is the result.

So, on days your body is asking you, “When are we going to be enough?”

Say, “Today, sweetheart, today.”

Float. Find pleasure. Play.

It’s all part of the process of becoming.

Maybe even do a handstand?

Red flags of a Sexual Predator and a Story from my Paranoid Parenting-Style

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Pexels.com

When I think back about the dysfunction I grew up around, I can’t help but think about how easy it was for adults to be inappropriate in front of children, and no one say a word about it. In the ’70s, nobody said anything about the creepy cousin who stared at them or the inappropriate uncle who touched them where they didn’t want to be touched. No one talked about sexual predators or molestation, much less discuss that those things can and do happen within families.

I’m glad the world is more open about this kind of thing. It’s topics like these that can lead to horrendous abuses happening right under our noses if kept under wraps.

As I’ve thought about my experiences as a child and how this can happen, I realized that most grooming for molestation took place right in front of other adults. When parents are immature, mentally ill, alcoholics, checked-out, a combination of all of these, and lack boundaries of their own, all kinds of inappropriate behaviors and talk can happen in front of kids. When that happens, and the adults we rely on don’t speak up on our behalf, kids typically think that there’s nothing wrong.

But, the predator puts the victim and the entire family through a grooming process most are not aware of. The grooming process is when a predator is gauging others reactions to a set of simple boundary violations and inappropriate behaviors . When there’s little to no reaction from those adults around, the stage is set to go even further the next time, until the predator achieves inappropriate touch with their victim of choice.

My husband and I discussed this topic at length and came up with some red flags to watch out for from our childhood experiences from living in toxic family dynamics and raising our own kids.

Things to watch out for:

  • Inappropriate talk around kids. (*this is listed first for a reason. If someone can get away with this, they will go further.)
  • Adults offering to watch your child overnight, or offering to stay up with them while you sleep, work, or do something else.
  • An adult staring at or studying a child.
  • Adults who allow excessive drinking and drunkenness to happen around children.
  • Fighting occurring in front of children. This makes them feel unsafe. They may seek out anyone who may seem familiar, no matter how predatory.
  • An adult plays favorites or gives special privileges to a child.
  • Any male relative mentioning, touching, making fun of, mocking a young girl’s developing body. (*Please note that women can also be sexual predators, but this list is from my experience as being preyed upon by a male family member.)
  • They ask inappropriate questions about boys at school or their dating life.
  • Adult males referring to a developing girl as a “whore,” a “cunt,” or a “cock-tease.”
  • Offering expensive or rare gifts “just because.”
  • An adult who focuses on one child out of all the others who may be around.
  • Excessive praise and or attention paid to a child for a talent (baseball) or trait (beauty) they possess.
  • This adult wants this particular child to touch them, sit on their lap, touch their face, hug them, give kisses to, tickle, wrestle with, etc.
  • This adult tries to be alone with one or many children.
  • This person acts like another child to seem cool and “with it.”
  • This person schmoozes the parent or parents to get access to the child.
  • This person talks about sex or offers the child sexual material in books, movies, or images of some sort to gauge their reaction.
  • This person exposes themselves, undresses, is naked in front of, or touches themselves in front of the child to gauge their reaction.
  • They ask the child to show them their private parts or ask them to touch their private parts.
  • This person asks for promises from the child not to tell others. They say things like: “This will be our little secret.” Or, “nobody else will believe you” or “your mother/father will kill us.”
  • They burden the child with threats that should anyone else find out, “we” will be in trouble.
  • This adult doesn’t respect privacy during the child’s bathing, dressing, or toileting when they no longer require assistance with such tasks.
  • You notice that your child lashes out, becomes depressed, or checks out after being around this person.

Now for story time!

Because of my molestation, I was a hypervigilant mother. Back then, they called it “over-protective.” I did not trust easily, but as a single mother, with little to no help, I eventually had to trust others around my son by learning to listen to my gut. That meant that although my son joined Cub Scouts, he didn’t stay in very long. A few weeks if that? I’m not saying that men who are troop leaders are sexual predators; I’m sure most of them healthily love children and do it for pure intentions; I’m saying that I couldn’t trust an unknown group with my child when I wasn’t allowed to be around. It meant that when I wasn’t home from work and my son forgot his key, I had to trust that when he asked our maintenance man to let him into the apartment that he was safe doing so.

My abuse in childhood meant that when the guy next door came knocking on my door, knowing I wasn’t home to deliver a stack of comic books to my son “just because,” I freaked the fuck out. After freaking out and lecturing my son about not opening the door when I wasn’t home, I walked across the hall, knocked on this guy’s door, shoved his comic books back in his face, and told him if he ever came to my apartment again when I wasn’t home, I’d call the police.

And because boundary-crossers cross lines with ease, he came knocking on my door the very next day. Before I could say a word, he shoved a warm cardboard box in my face. He quickly announced he had baked them “just for us.” You know, “to apologize.” I smiled. Thanked him. And shut the door. I opened the box to reveal giant, fresh-from-the-oven, ooey-gooey chocolate chip cookies that looked like they came from a bakery. My son was thrilled. I took them to my kitchen, opened the box, and dumped them straight into the garbage can. My son pitched a royal fit.

I may have been over-reacting, but I didn’t care. In my mind, I was protecting him. It was my job. And, I didn’t care if I hurt a well-intentioned neighbor’s feelings. I wasn’t actually sure what his intentions were, but I knew my intuition was sending all kinds of alarm bells I couldn’t ignore.

The next day as he heard my son and me leaving, he ran out of his apartment and yelled down the steps to me from two landings above, “So, how were the cookies?”

“They were great,” I said.

When we got to the car, my son asked me why I was so weird. “I’m not weird, he’s weird! I don’t trust him. He gives me the heeby-jeebies,” I said. And, because I was a young mom, I added, “He could have poisoned them for all we know and is shocked we’re still alive! At the very least, he could have put E-Lax in them and is wondering why we’re not in the apartment still shitting ourselves half to death!”

Yes, I broke the horrendous chain of abuse I grew up with and protected my son from a possible child sexual predator who baked chocolate chip cookies and read comic books. But, I’m also quite sure I went on to create other chains of dysfunction due to paranoid parenting born from my conditioning. That, and probably from watching too much Unsolved Mysteries.

My son and I talked openly about molestation in general once, I didn’t tell him I was, and he assured me he was never touched inappropriately or abused by anyone, so I’m not sorry for acting like a weirdo being hypervigilant.

What would you add to the list of things to watch out for? What story can you share about your own “dysfunctional” parenting style that may have protected your child from abuse?

You can read my childhood memoir Steel Town Girl available on Amazon, in paperback and Kindle e-book.

~Robin