Invisible war wounds – poem

My Dad had PTSD,
invisible war wounds
from a war
he never left home for
in fact, he had to
leave home
to leave the war.

He was a son of a veteran
who brought the war home
in his pockets,
in his perfectionism,
in his need for things to be
just so
and it never was,
because it never could be.

Gone were the days
of an innocent youth,
it never happened.
He was trained by an incompetent,
unwilling
drill sergeant,
masquerading as Dad.
He was living in an army
he never enlisted for,
was shanghaied
simply by virtue
of being born.

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The hidden stress on female caregivers.

So many people are embarrassed to admit that being a caregiver is not part of who they are. That makes the whole experience that much harder. They labor along under the expectations of society, meanwhile taking care of someone who is very ill.

Women are expected to selflessly drop everything to take care of a sick relative, regardless of ability, interest, or skill. Simply being female doesn’t mean that you are also a cook, a nurse, a counselor. These are skills that must be learned. You don’t suddenly know how to care for someone who is terminally ill. Nor do you suddenly have the desire to, just because it is expected of you.

What about your income in the meantime? You don’t still get to take in a paycheck when you quit your job to care for a relative. There is the Family Leave Act – but that only ensures that your job can’t fire you for going on leave. They have to give you a job back. It may not be the job that you had, however. It also does not mean that you will get paid in the meantime. It is leave without pay.

The caregiver’s closeness to their relative is irrelevant. The mother is abusive? Father raped her? Brother stole, lied to her? Mother and father in law are dismissive and treat her like she is stupid? Doesn’t matter – your duty is to tend them, because you are a woman.

This is unreasonable.

There is a reason that my “Death Guilt” post always gets a lot of hits. People don’t talk about this stuff. We should.

When a man is well enough to go home from the hospital but not well enough to take care of himself, he’s sent home if he has a wife there. When the same thing happens with a woman, she’s sent to a nursing home to recuperate. It is assumed that the wife will know how – and be able to (mentally and emotionally) take care of him. It is assumed that a man will not. This is insulting to both sexes.

I’ve heard from people who work in nursing homes that they judge a family that doesn’t visit. They think they are selfish. They don’t know the history of the relationship. They have no way of knowing how abusive (mentally, emotionally, physically, psychologically) the person was to their family members. The effects of this abuse remain even when (if) the abuse stops. They may never go away.

Sometimes the abuse stops because the person is no longer able to be abusive – not because they don’t want to. It is far harder to hit someone when you have Parkinson’s disease. It is far harder to insult your children when you have dementia and can’t even remember that they ARE your children.

Being a caregiver should be a gift, not a demand. It should be because you want to, not because it is expected.

Just because your parents gave you life does not mean that you have to take them into your home and care for them when they get old. They chose to have you. You did not choose to have them. This is an unequal relationship.

When you marry, you marry that person – not their family. You make a legal statement that you will stay with them regardless of their health. You do not make the same promises to their parents. There is nothing about the marriage vows that obligates you to sacrifice yourself to take care of them. This is an unspoken assumption that is damaging and must be called out.

Like water off a duck’s back

I know a lady who is teaching her daughter to be a battered wife.

She doesn’t think that this is what she’s doing, of course. She says she’s teaching her to let things roll off her “like water off a duck’s back”. She wants her to not get riled up by things that happen to her. This is a good idea, but how she is going about it is disturbing.

Her way of teaching this lesson is to tap her daughter repeatedly in the face. The taps aren’t quite slaps but they are close. It is at least ten at a time. The daughter will say “quit it” or try to pull away and the mother will keep doing it. The daughter is about eight. The mom can easily tap her again when she pulls away, so the abuse continues.

I knew something was disturbing about this when I saw it but I couldn’t give words to it. Now I’ve figured it out. What she’s doing is teaching her daughter that she should just accept it when anybody abuses her.

How perfect it will be for a man with low self-esteem to find this girl who has been shaped for him. She will not complain or stand up for herself because her own mother, the person who she supposed to learn from, who is supposed to teach her healthy ways of taking care of herself, has taught her that she is supposed to be abused, and that this is just part of life. Her mother, her authority figure, is teaching her that people will try to harm her and that her only acceptable response is to let it happen.

These are not toys.

I was at a movie theater recently and took a look at the toy dispensers. These are the ones that you put in a quarter (or three), turn the knob, and a plastic ball comes out with a toy inside.

The usual things were there – bouncy balls, cheap rings, stickers – and then there were these.

1

Here’s a closer shot.
2

Grenades. Army tanks. Jet fighters.

But wait – there’s more. There were two machines with questionable stock.

3

and closer-

4

Handcuffs and grenades.

These are marketed to children? These are supposed to be toys?

And we wonder why our children are violent.

We reap what we sow. We must be more mindful of what we teach our children to admire. If we give them weapons for toys, what will the harvest be? Who will they become?

“Child-care provider”?

It is questionable when a patron says she is studying for an “early childhood education” degree so she can open a daycare, yet she shows no kindness to her four year old daughter.

Toddlers cannot sit still and entertain themselves for an hour (or more) while their parent uses the Internet at the library. The mother (who is young enough to be confused for her sister) does not bring anything for the child to do, and speaks through clenched teeth to her daughter if she does anything at all other than sit still. If she speaks to her child at all it is with angry tones.

Perhaps she is a single mother. Perhaps she has no family around to help out. Perhaps the only way she can attend school is to use the public computers at the library, with her daughter beside her. I’m glad she is trying to get an education so she can support herself and her child. But there are many different career options available. The one she has chosen does not fit her temperament. I highly question her capacity as a child-care provider when she does not show any capacity at providing care for her own child. If her future customers knew how she treats her own child, they would never trust her with theirs.

I’ve noticed that people are usually on their best behavior in public. If ignoring or growling at her child is her best, then I’d hate to see how she is at home.

Homemade

I just realized something. I didn’t even know I was missing these pieces, this peace. I had dinner at a friend’s house and got a little overwhelmed. She invited us over for a home-cooked meal and it nourished me in my soul as well as my body.

We’ve been meeting with these friends like this once a month or so for about a year or so. Sometimes it is planned and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we are lucky to get 24 hours notice that we are invited. I feel a bit awkward that it isn’t reciprocal, these invitations.

Our house is small and messy. Sometimes there isn’t enough room for even two in our house. I bought the house when I was single thinking I’d stay that way. One of the people helping me move ended up moving in. He was the one I’d been waiting for but I didn’t realize it.

While I love him, I don’t love his stuff and it gets in the way of my neatnik tendencies. In short, I’m embarrassed to have people over without a huge push to relocate a lot of stuff. I’m grateful our friends understand and we try to even things out by bringing over food if we can -cooked vegetables, salad fixings, dessert. It never seems like enough. It never seems that we are equal in our contributions. They almost always provide the main dish. They almost always provide more than we are able to. In part it is because of the very impromptu nature of these invitations.

A whim, a new recipe, a realization for a desire for company – whatever the reason, we sometimes don’t have time to prepare something special for four. That, coupled with the fact that these gatherings almost never happen at our house make the relationship a bit lopsided in terms of reciprocity. They clean their house for company, and we can’t.

I felt overwhelmed this evening eating homemade chicken marsala made from scratch. Everything we had was from scratch, like usual. I noticed I was being filled in an unexpected way. It was more than my stomach that was being satisfied – it was my soul as well.

My Mom didn’t cook from scratch unless company came over – and that happened about as often as holidays. It didn’t happen on holidays mind you. This is just to say it was rare to see anyone at the table other than my parents and my brother. Therefore it was rare to see homemade food at the table as well.

Our meals usually were from the freezer, not from scratch. Our basic needs were being met like that – basically. We got enough to get by. Even the environment the food was cooked in was less than ideal when I was growing up. Both my parents smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. That, coupled with the fact that our dog was paper trained – and the papers were in the kitchen – created a less than ideal environment for healthy food production. Secondhand smoke and dog poop aren’t the smells you want wafting in the air intermingling with your dinner entrée.

I realized tonight that I was having a piece of me restored and I didn’t even know I was missing. I’d grown up minus this part I needed without even realizing it.

I was missing the simple honesty of a meal cooked and offered with love. Rather than a meal cooked to fill a need, this meal was extra. It filled more than my daily requirement of the USDA suggested amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and vitamin C. There is no place in the nutritional requirements label for love.

Maybe that was the problem. All those meals from boxes were cooked following the instructions but there was no instruction for love. My Mom didn’t learn to put in that ingredient because it wasn’t in the box. And I didn’t know that I grown up deficient in that basic building block. It is like I had rickets or scurvy but it wasn’t vitamin D or C I was missing.

Homemade, made not just in a house but in a home makes the difference. And what makes a home a home? Intention, focus, individuality, being awake are starters. Sure, frozen pizza can be “homemade” with awareness and mindfulness. Add some shredded Parmesan cheese and some Italian herbs and yours is uniquely yours and not the same as every other box pizza. And even “homemade” can be blasé if made without feeling or focus. We have to put a little extra into our food and into everything if we want them to be real.

In Hebrew the word is kavanah, which is a bit like focus, a bit like intention. We need to pray with kavanah at a minimum but really we need to live with it. And that’s part of it. With kavanah, the meal becomes a vehicle for nourishment of the soul. With kavanah, the prayer becomes a vehicle for transforming not just the self but also the world.

Mid afternoon crash

I am in an unusual position at the library. I get to see things happen over and over. From this I learn patterns.

One of the patterns is the 3:30 to 4:30 crash. In general, small children tend to lose their minds between 3:30 and 4:30. Usually these are children below the age of six.

They need to have either had a nap or had something good to eat around a 2, in order to prevent this. Otherwise they tend to fall apart. They start to become cranky and they wail. Nothing consoles them. “Irritable” is a mild word to describe what happens. By “good to eat” I mean something healthy and nourishing – not candy, and not caffeine. Real food, not a snack.

Parents don’t notice this because they don’t see it happen over and over again like I do. They just think they are mis-behaving, when they just being small children. They can’t help it. It isn’t their fault.

They don’t have the capacity of self-regulating. Nor are they able to know how to ask for what they want. They just know they don’t feel good. So they wail. Don’t punish them for it – plan for it.

How many of us suffer from the exact same crash and we don’t realize it?