Monkey boy

monkey boy

Phil loved his monkey mask. Maybe he loved it more than his big clunky shoes. It was hard to tell. Just to be sure he never wore them separately. Why ruin a good thing?

It didn’t take long for him to settle on this routine. Every day after school he put on his mask and boots and sat on the front stoop. It made the rest of the evening go better. Otherwise he was out of sorts and not really worth being around. If he forgot, his Mom reminded him. She was the one who was most affected by his behavior if he forgot.

All day long at school he thought about being able to wear the mask and the boots, and it made the day tolerable. Sometimes he would hold his hand up showing three fingers to his teacher, meaning “is it 3 o’clock yet?” – meaning “is it time to go home yet?”

Class was unbearable most days. It was too bright, or too noisy, or the food was too rich. Life was too much for Phil, but he didn’t know it. Every day at school his shoulders were tense and his head ached. Only by sitting on the steps with his mask and boots on could he begin to feel somewhat normal again.

He’d asked if he could wear them to school but the teacher said no, said that it would be too distracting to the other children. So the pain of one little boy wasn’t important, but the discomfort of 28 other kids was, apparently. It didn’t make sense. How did she know how they would feel?

Maybe they would like his mask. Maybe they would want one too. Maybe they all felt the same way and all were overwhelmed by the noise, the clutter, the all-too-much-ness of it all. Maybe they were being loud to compensate, to hide their terror.

In the meantime, Phil would continue to sit on the stoop staring at the cars that whizzed by. His Mom could tell what kind of day he’d had by how long he sat outside. Sometimes it was an hour. Rarely was it less than 20 minutes. One day he sat outside like that for nearly 3 hours. When it had become dark his Mom insisted he come in. Sometimes the day was so bad that no length of time outside would fix it. Then it was best to just come in and try again another day.

His mother was unsure if she should teach him better coping techniques since this one seemed to work so well. He was in seventh grade when she realized he’d stopped doing it, and assumed this meant he’d outgrown the need. She couldn’t be further from the truth.

A schoolmate had seen him in his mask on the front porch and told his friends. He’d been walking by on the way to the ballpark and noticed. Enough shrubbery was in the way that he’d not been spotted, but he had no reason to worry. Phil couldn’t see anything anyway in that mask, and that was part of its appeal. But the damage was done. The next day it seemed like the whole school was calling him “monkey boy” and that was it.

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Free pass

Many years ago I was in a group of friends who lived in Atlanta. One girl kept making snarky comments to me one day. She would say something rude or condescending about everything I said or did. Either she didn’t usually speak to me or I didn’t notice her comments, but that day I did.

I finally worked up the courage to speak up. I said this to her with our friends present. Bullies have a hard time when there are witnesses. “Are you a bitch all the time, or is today just a special day?” She was silent. I continued. “Because all you have done all day is cut me down and I can’t think of any reason for it. If I’ve done something wrong, let me know.” She never answered, and she has never spoken to me again.

It was very hard for me to do this, but I had to. I was shaking inside, but I knew I had to say something. Verbal abuse is exactly the same as physical abuse, and must be stopped as soon as it is noticed or it will get worse. If you ignore it, you are allowing it to happen.

I once had a coworker who thought it was acceptable to walk up behind me and hit the back of my head several times a day.

I have relatives – blood and in-laws – who think it is acceptable to slander me, steal from me, and lie to me.

I am here to tell you that nobody is ever allowed a free pass to abuse you. Nobody. This includes but is not limited to managers, bosses, spouses, parents, siblings, friends, ministers, and strangers on the street.

Nobody has permission to harm you in any way.

First, let them know how their actions make you feel. They may not realize that they are being a bully. If they sincerely apologize and never do it again, then let it go. If they do it one more time, walk away. You do not need people like this in your life. It does not matter who they are. Nobody gets a free pass at harming you.

You are valuable. You are a child of God. You are unique and precious. If they cannot recognize that, then that is their loss. You cannot make blind people see.

Rumi says in “The Way That Moves as You Move” (rendered by Coleman Barks)
“You have read about the inspired spring. Drink from there. Be companions with those whose lips are wet without water. Others, even though they may be your father or your mother, they are your enemies. Leave, before they kill you.”

Jesus says:
“You assume that I have come to bring peace on earth, and you are mistaken. I have come to set fire to the world, and how I wish it was already burning! I have a mission that I am called to, and it will overwhelm me until I have completed it. I’m not here to join people together but to divide them. Families will turn against each other in their households. I’ve come to bring a sword, cutting old family ties. I’ve come to turn sons against fathers, daughters against mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law. Your worst enemies will be members of your household. Anyone who loves their family more than me cannot be my disciple.” (MT 10:34-37, LK 14:25-26, LK 12:49-53 – Condensed Gospel version)

We must follow the Truth,
regardless of others around us,
regardless of their authority
or connection to us.
If they are harmful to us,
we must walk away and cut all ties.

Only God is above us, not them.

It is better to be lonely than with someone who abuses you.

Poem – giveaway

Why don’t we give it all away?
Let’s give everybody a gold star,
an A for effort,
a big party just for showing up,
for being there,
for being born.

Let’s give everybody $50 an hour
for doing everything and anything
regardless of skill or training.

Let’s never say anything other than
you’re awesome
you’re amazing
you’re perfect like you are
even though they are falling
and failing
and flaccid.

Let’s make sure that nobody
has their feelings hurt
but more importantly
that they never try
to do better,
that they continue to stay
exactly where they are –
less than mediocre
lower than average,
because we are afraid
of bullying them
by wanting them to not settle for
next to last place.

We are creating a generation
(a country)
of people who don’t try
won’t try
to get stronger
in mind or body.
They don’t need to.
They are told they are perfect
just like they are.
There is no incentive to try
at all.

While being kind is good,
while being a bully is bad,
there is danger
in complacency.

Me Me Me

My father-in-law’s dementia has progressed a lot faster than anyone could have anticipated. It has gone about five steps ahead of where it should have at this point.

I believe it is a coping mechanism. I believe that he does not want to deal with the fact that his wife is dying and so he is not dealing with it. I believe also that he is very upset that all the attention is going to her and not to him.

This is a way of drawing attention to himself. This is a way of making other people notice him and take care of him. It is quite embarrassing that this adult man is reverting to childlike behaviors.

He has always been a needy, vain, controlling person. There is one “family” picture in the house – all the other pictures of him are with famous people. He’s always talking about all the famous people he has met. He never talks about family gatherings or vacations. He always has to have the latest, best things. He bullied his wife and then his sons for years.

Outwardly, he is an old man. Inwardly, he is a little boy, always seeking approval through being associated with other people. He cannot stand on his own.

He is in a nursing home and he says he wants to go home. But he doesn’t understand or want to understand that no one is there to take care of him. The person who would take care of him is herself needing to be taken care of. She has nurtured him and put up with his tantrums and rages his whole life, it seems. But now, because of her terminal cancer, she is the one who has to be taken care of. She is the one who has a home health nurse and a hospice nurse coming to the house.

While his needs need to be acknowledged, ultimately he has to learn that it isn’t all about him. There’s some middle ground where people say you’re great and you know you are. There some place in your head where you don’t have to have other people tell you that you’re awesome. And maybe part of it is not having to think that you’re awesome. Maybe just being average is okay.

Bully in the library.

I can’t stand bullies, but I often wrestle with what to say or do so that I help but I don’t become a bully in turn.

It is easy to spot a bully when he is hitting someone. It is when he is using non physical forms of aggression that are harder to spot and to deal with.

I was in a library while on vacation and overheard a woman chiding some people. She kept going on and on about how they weren’t working fast enough, that it was almost time for lunch, that they weren’t going to get done in time.

She wasn’t helping. She was actually slowing them down by her constant harangue. She not only wasn’t trying to figure out what was causing the problem, she was becoming part of the problem.

She wasn’t using her library voice either. She was annoying me, a patron.

I looked through the stacks to see what was going on. There were three people at the table, all women. The lady who was doing the talking was about 40 years old and about 250 pounds. She had a binder open in front of her with a lot of charts. The other two ladies looked like they had some developmental disabilities. One was around 60, black, and had a brace on her wrist. The other was around 20, white, and had a beautiful smile.

I took a breath in and walked up to them. I said in a cheery voice “What are you all working on today?” while looking over what was on the table in front of each of them.

I feel I have an advantage with this tactic. While it is considered rude to initiate a conversation with a stranger, I’m physically very non-threatening. I’m short. I’m female. I don’t stick out. In some ways I’m invisible.

The lady said that she was their supervisor, but didn’t tell me what they were working on. I looked and it was an activity to help the library with summer reading. They were hand writing something for each reading log. Why the words hadn’t been printed on the sheet in the first place is beyond me.

It looked a bit like busy work. It looked a bit like their time was being wasted. Everybody needs to have meaningful work to do. Nobody likes busy work.

Since they were in a time crunch, (as evidenced by the constant reminders of the supervisor), I asked her why she wasn’t helping them. She pointed at her binder with its charts and graphs and said she couldn’t.

I said “A boat goes faster if all the oars are in the water.”

The younger lady gave me a huge smile at this. I feel like both she and her companion were frustrated at this lady but couldn’t say anything to her because of the hierarchical relationship they had.

I walked away, and listened. No more harangue. No more bullying. Bullies hate witnesses. Thinking that nobody is watching is what gives them power. I just let her know that she was being observed.

Ideally, she would have been working with these ladies – not necessarily doing the work with them, but finding out ways to get them to do their best.

I have seen quite a bit of this kind of “supervisor” of people with developmental disabilities at my workplace. So many are short tempered with their clients. So many are snappish. For some reason they feel it is ok to show off how smart they are by subtly making fun of people who have cognitive impairments. They treat them like children. They treat them like dummies.

The only dummy is the supervisor.

Getting impatient with how “slow” a person with a mental disability is makes no sense. It is like getting upset at a person who is missing a leg for not being able to keep up with you. They can’t compete.

But they shouldn’t have to.

The caregiver forgets that this person is doing the best she can, and that it is really hard all the time. They forget that their client is a person, first and foremost, and deserves to be treated with respect and kindness.

Poem – we were raised by an incompetent bully

Both of the days when we were
gone are in my head.
We were raised by an incompetent bully.

Perhaps that is redundant.
Perhaps he was incompetent at being a bully
so that means he wasn’t that bad
after all.

But then, we were young
and together
and that was all that mattered
to us.

We were alone, together
wild eyed, barefoot
screaming, and mute.
But we were happy
because we didn’t know enough
to know we should be miserable.

Perhaps that is the secret.
Don’t compare.

Lucy

Remember Lucy from peanuts? The one who always managed to convince Charlie Brown that she would hold the football for him so he could kick it? And she always pulled it away and he always fell? The one who treated everybody like dirt? Yeah. That Lucy.

Lucy is a bitch.

I’ve never understood why Charlie Brown let her do that to him. I’ve never understood why he didn’t just say “no thanks” and walk away. Again and again she lied. Again and again he fell and got hurt.

Remember the saying “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”?

I’ve never understood why everybody let her talk like that to them. She bossed everybody around. She thought that her opinion was so valuable she set up a “the psychiatrist is in” stand instead of a lemonade stand like a normal kid. She made fun of Linus her brother for believing in the Great Pumpkin.

So really, is Lucy a bitch, or is it that everybody created this monster by not standing up to her?

I feel that Charles Schultz didn’t do anybody any favors by having this character. The audience wasn’t taught how to stand up to a bully. I feel there is a lot of stress in seeing Lucy be hateful to people over and over. Children can end up feeling helpless, and learn that being bullied is normal and there is nothing you can do about it.

On Sesame Street there was a character called the Snuffleupagus. Only Big Bird could see him. Everybody else thought Big Bird made him up. The creators decided to change this because they felt that it was sending the wrong message. They felt that children would feel that parents wouldn’t take them seriously. They felt that this was especially important if the child had something serious to report, like being abused. They felt that otherwise they were teaching them that their reality would get treated as a fantasy.

Sure, it is just a cartoon. Sure, it isn’t real. But children are constantly learning, even when we think they are just being entertained. Why not teach them something useful for a change? Why not teach them that they don’t have to be victims, whether the abuse is coming from a peer or a parent?