Sondheim Was Right

When I was in high school, I discovered musicals.  My favorite at the time was Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim.  It’s a mash-up of several fairy tales, whereby they all have to go into the woods to get what they want.  (Symbolism, anybody?)

Toward the end of the work, a widower/baker begins to tell his fussing infant child the story of his mother, creating a legacy for his offspring.  The witch who was the antagonist throughout the plot stands off to the side, offering one of the main messages of the musical in the form of a haunting lullaby, warning:

     Careful the things you say;
     Children will listen.
     Careful the things you do;
     Children will see
     And learn.
     Children may not obey,
     But children will listen.
     Children will look to you
     For which way to turn-
     To learn what to be.
     Careful before you say:
     “Listen to me.”
     Children will listen…
I remember singing along with my tape (yes, I’m that old), in my bedroom and I loved that song for it’s bittersweetness.  Now that I’m a mother and have children of my own, I understand this song on a whole different level.
For me now, the message this song sends is that your sons and daughters will learn about the world through your words and actions.  What lessons do you want to send through how you act?
 The first understandings of how a relationship is supposed to function is from how you interact with your partner.  (At a young age, they cannot separate themselves from the situation; how you react with them teaches them more about the world; not interpersonal communication.)  Therefore, it is very important to model what a healthy, loving relationship looks and sounds like.
I was given the model of dysfunction.  When I was growing up, my parents argued all the time.  They were never affectionate.  I came to believe that the people who are highly involved in your life are also the ones who know you enough to hypercritical about you.  Hugging and kissing was only the stuff in movies and obviously not reality.  As a result, I sought out that same dysfunction I was used to seeing as a child.
Only now as I write this am I realizing that it took another 18  years away from my parents to totally relearn life lessons in how to attract and keep functional relationships.  I think I am not unique in this phenomenon whereby people turn a corner in their insight about their lives in their mid 30s- it’s because they have had as many years away from their family of origin to realize that their understanding of the world and the people in it comes from their childhood and is not necessarily Truth.
When your children experience second hand your relationship you have with their father, mother — biological or otherwise — you are really creating a certain “relationship radar” in your children.  So make the 153Promise to your husband, wife, partner or any other people your children come in contact with to model the type of relationship your children will have when they become old enough to have one of their own.
Children will listen, see, and learn.
Make their lessons happy .

It’s Never Too Late! Part One

This is the companion post to “It’s Never Too Early.”

Yesterday, I had posted about making the commitment to love your child even before your child is born; you can begin to prepare to start the journey of “One Million Kisses” way before the birth of your child.  But what if that ship has said long ago and you already have a child- be it a toddler, teen or adult?  Today, I am focusing on how to start the “Kissing Kounter” TODAY and make the 153Promise to that person before you go to sleep tonight!

I’m not planning to use this site as a space to vent about my own personal issues, but this is a time where I think it’s important to use my life as an example: I grew up in dysfunction.  Granted, it wasn’t all bad- we had food and shelter.  We went to church on Sunday and out for dinner after.  My parents gave me music lessons and went to all of my concerts.  But I was not thriving.  I was not getting the kind of love I needed.  (I posted what my definition of love a few days ago… scroll down if you need.)

Here’s my childhood in a nutshell-

Mom and Dad constantly fought.  My dad was very demonstrative, and my mother was extremely submissive.  I’d witness him saying horrible things to her to the point where she’d cry.  When you are a little girl, your mother is your world.  You are an extension of her.  So if SHE’s crying, it’s like the universe is ending.

Once I got older, I became part of his wrath.  He’d work at his job (he never really told me what he did there), come home and go on a war path.  I remember hearing the gravel on the driveway pop underneath his tires and my mother saying to me, “Quick- your father’s home,” which basically meant “Don’t give your father a reason to yell.”  This meant scrambling to clean up the house in 30 seconds before he came though the door.  I have memories of my hair being yanked right out of my scalp as he led me around the house, rubbing my head in any items that were not put away.  Like a dog.  One image remains burned in my mind.  It was a wash cloth at the bottom of the shower.  I hadn’t wringed it up to dry.  I don’t know which was worse: my father bellowing my name as he shamed me, or my mother’s judgment when she said, “You think you’d learn by now.”

There’s many more instances I could site, but I think that’s enough to give you an idea of our home climate… And then I’d go to school…

Let’s just say that I was not one of the cool kids.  While my dad called me a jerk and a candy @$$ at home, my peers would bastardize my name so it had an unfortunate crude word in it.  My dad never bought me the cool clothes (a necessity in the yuppie 80s) and my mother used to cut my hair on the steps in the basement.  (Note to self- insert pictures of my awkward class pictures here.)  As a result of all of these social epic fails, I was at the bottom of the popularity food chain.  I was called “Freak.”  In fact, the greatest regret I have at that time period was the ONE time on the bus I was not the subject of teasing, I joined in on it.  So to the blonde-haired boy on the bus with me going to Fogelsville Elementary School in Orefield PA, I am sorry from the bottom of my heart.

My self esteem was on the floor.  All of this led to me being withdrawn.  It was a good day when I didn’t get noticed.  As a result, my grades began to suffer, despite me being in the “gifted/high potential” classes.  I was at the bottom of the top intellectually… It was a very weird experience.  I find myself wanting to chronicle all my pain, but I have to remember where all of this is going…

Cut to my senior year, right around this time- a few weeks before Christmas.  I had applied to college with no hopes of getting in.  (My father was a master at instilling fear.)  My 8 year old brother was also in the process of being diagnosed with leukemia- something I didn’t fully comprehend at the time.  At a result, I had a meltdown.  I had what can possibly be described as a temporary psychotic break.  I like to call it my “Freak of the Week.”  All my pent up anxiety came loose at once.  It’ll make for a great post one day!

A few months later, I was so depressed, I really didn’t care about living anymore.  I was in so much pain and I was so frustrated with my failed relationship with my parents, I just wanted to make some sort of statement to them.  I was angry, but I couldn’t possibly say anything because I had no voice at this point, so it had to be drastic.  I thought the best idea would be to kill myself so my suffering would be over, yet in a grand, poetic, ironic twist, their suffering would just begin.  My dad was a hunter, so he had guns.  I knew a shotgun would be clunky, so I went for the hand gun.  But before I actually went to do it, call it the Grace of God or just morbid curiosity, I went to the bathroom mirror just to see what my final moment of life would look like.

I realized that I looked REALLY stupid.  And then I realized that if I died, THEY would win.  I’d be dead, and they would survive.  So I made the decision that day to never give up on myself, even when the world certainly seemed to have given up on me.

Why am I telling you this?  Because despite ALL of that — plus more dramatic, dysfunctional crap I’ve had to deal with in my life — I have made peace with my father and we are okay.  We may not be super close, but we’re cool with each other.  Why?  Because it’s never too late.

*Next Post: How to start Day One of the 153Promise.