Day 14 - A hero that has let you down.

Photo Credit: Kym Shumsky (Relishing.ca)When I was younger, I was fascinated by made-for-TV movies. There was the one about the brain transplant patient who gets the brain of a tall, svelt, beautiful woman and is confused when she looks in the mirror to see someone fairly average when she expects to see a very different picture.

Then there was the one with the identical twin sisters (played by the same actress, of course). One twin fakes her death and then comes back to impersonate her sister and steal her husband - or something like that. I don’t think I was supposed to be watching that one.

The melodrama in the fictional movies would likely have me splitting my sides laughing these days. (You have to admit the brain transplant one was priceless.) As I got older, and we got cable, I got to see them all on repeat on Lifetime. Made-for-TV movies are great late-night entertainment. (Trust me on this.)

Then there were the movie accounts of real-life people. Fictionalized biographies, I suppose. All of them had plenty of melodrama (or they wouldn’t make the cut on Lifetime). There was one fictionalized biography that affected me pretty deeply. The Karen Carpenter Story aired on CBS in 1989 and I remember my reaction to it as if it was yesterday. And let me just say from the start that I get way too invested in stories like this.

I had some knowledge of The Carpenters’ music before watching this movie. My parents owned several LPs and I listened to them along with The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, and (my personal favorite) Simon and Garfunkel fairly regularly. 

Listening to Karen Carpenter sing was intoxicating. I wanted to be her. She was the first really cool person to share my name and that was pretty exciting.

Until I watched her story.

I got angry when I realized what she did to herself. How could she DO that to herself!? Why didn’t she see how amazing she was and take care of herself? I was only 11 and I didn’t realize how troubled she was. It was years before I was able to listen to her music. I don’t think I had a full awareness of her death before watching the movie.

I’m well aware now (though I wasn’t back then) that the movie doesn’t accurately portray her life and death, but I am still amazed at the disappointment I felt over the fictionalized account of Karen Carpenter’s existence.

Image Source: Facebook | Lost PinupThat kind of childhood disappointment looks very different as you get older and change the lens through which you see the circumstances. I no longer feel the anger and dismay that I remember so well from over 20 years ago. I don’t feel let-down either. But it is terribly sad that Karen Carpenter died so tragically.

I think it’s terribly sad that any person (particularly the female gender) gets to the point that they abuse their body to fulfill an impossible image that is, frankly, not even that attractive.

You know what they say about assuming...

This morning when I logged in to twitter, someone had sent me a DM with the following question (edited to remove potentially identifying details and broaden the scope of my thoughts):

If I write a post about <insert life choice> and all the pressure as a <insert stage of life> to <re-insert life choice>, will <insert all those people at previous stated life stage pursuing previously stated choice> get mad at me?

Oy…what a question to start the day with. My first instinct? I was annoyed that this individual felt they had to ask. NOT annoyed that they asked, because I was happy to share my thoughts. What bothered me about the question was that they knew there was a possibility - okay, probability - that there would be negative (judgmental) reactions to their choices.

You see, we have this idea that life should go a certain “ideal” way. Here’s the general order in my experience:

  1. You’re born.
  2. You have a childhood.
  3. You go to university or college.
  4. You date.
  5. You start your career.
  6. You get married.
  7. You buy a house.
  8. You have kids.
  9. You have a career.
  10. You retire.
  11. You travel/downsize/become a snowbird (for Canadians).
  12. You die.

But darn it all if humans - who made these rules - don’t bother to follow them! (I know…shocking!)

Some people don’t get a degree, including me.
Some people don’t get legally married.
Some people don’t buy a house.
Some people don’t have kids.
Some people don’t establish a career.
Some people don’t retire.

Despite all these exceptions to “the rules”, people still push these narrow and highly unimaginitive expectations on the people in their lives at the stages when they get there, disregarding entirely any possible reasons that someone might not want to follow this path.

Every time a high school graduate crosses a stage to pick up a diploma, there is someone waiting on the other side to ask them where they’re going to go to school and what they’re going to study. 

Couples who date for more than six months or so fend off questions about when they’re going to get engaged. Then, they get engaged and you’d think people would be happy, but NO! That merely starts the round of wedding date inquiries.

The wedding should satisfy people, but it really doesn’t. How many weddings have you been to where the question of kids hasn’t come up? Not many, eh? Didn’t think so. Seriously? Give them AT LEAST a day before you start asking, people.

I think the time from high school graduation to probably late thirties/early forties have to be the most intense period of life changes and busybody interference and questioning. 

I know people mostly mean well, but I personally found it really difficult - emotionally - when I was asked when I was going to have children. This went on for years, because I’d already lost a baby and you don’t just share that information with everyone you meet. That decision was intensely personal for me and Matt; it wasn’t something that was anyone else’s business. After one particularly awkward conversation with someone who was barely an acquaintance, I vowed that I would not ask anyone else when or if they were going to have kids. If we are meant to have that discussion, it would come up naturally in a way that the other person is comfortable with.

Then I watched a co-worker get relentlessly nosey questions (practically interrogations) about when she was going to get married to her long-time boyfriend for over three years. She handled it with grace and dignity, but it got to the point that even I was uncomfortable when it happened. So, I extended my rule to other life stages as well.

Why?

Because I don’t want to make assumptions about choices that others are making. We’re all different. We all have different experiences and backgrounds that affect our choices. The road I take is right for me to the best of my knowledge. It isn’t necessarily right for anyone else and it’s better that I build a relationship with someone to talk about these things than unknowingly creating a potentially awkward situation for them or me. Ultimately, I’ve found that I develop more sustainable and deep relationships with people when I don’t dig too deep too soon.

Have you ever felt the pressure to make certain decisions about life choices from people around you? How did you handle it?

Do you remember the first time you rode a bike? I can't forget.

During the summer of my 11th year, I got an invitation to sleep over at a friend’s house during the week. I was thrilled. Anything to get to stay in a house with air conditioning. [Yes, we lived without air conditioning in Florida - for seven. long. years.] I was excited to hang out with my friend, too. Didi, her little brother and I played games that night and stayed up late goofing off. We got up a bit late in the morning and they decided to go to a park. Didi’s family lived on another dangerous four lane road, but it didn’t hold a candle to the highway I lived on. But she had a huge neighborhood behind her house that we could go exploring in.

Didi’s little brother brought his bike with us and I was drawn to it. My friend had helped me learn how to ride his bike in our neighborhood a little, but I wanted to try some more. I finally worked up the courage to ask, and I got a yes. You see, my dad didn’t like bikes. Or, rather, he didn’t trust us kids with them. [Ahem, he um, did actually have good reason - but not because of me!] So, the rule for us was no bikes. I was breaking the rules even riding my friends’ bikes. Didi and her brother wanted to go to the park, but I was only interested in riding. I told them to go on without me and I took advantage of the empty streets to ride around.

The only problem was that I didn’t know how to brake on this little 10-speed. Yeah, now I know - backpedal. But I didn’t know that then! I was having a grand time, though. Flying through the streets at top speed. I found a hill that was slightly intimidating, but the day was hot and I was anxious to feel the wind in my hair. I pedaled down the hill for all I was worth.

Until I realized that where the hill ended so did the street. 

I had my first and worst bicycle crash that day. I plowed into a hedge and flipped off the bike and over the bushes. It’s a miracle I didn’t break anything more than my 11-year-old pride. I got up, gingerly checked to see that all my various bits and pieces were still working before I slowly walked over to the bike. No damage. (I think.) Whew.

I trudged up the hill, where I found that Didi and her brother were, somewhat impatiently, waiting for me. I immediately handed off the bike and told them rather shakily that I’d just had a bit of a fall. I don’t know if I intentionally downplayed the severity or if I didn’t realize it myself yet. I was starting to get that out-of-body-experience feeling as I talked to Didi and told them I needed to sit for a while. I landed in a ditch in front of a house and it was there that Didi and her brother left me. I didn’t see them again that day.

Why not, you say?

[Don’t worry, this isn’t some horrible story that ends with them getting snatched.]

I knew after a few minutes that something was really wrong. My head felt like it was spinning, I was sweating and cold. Someone was home in the house I was sitting in front of, so I ventured to the front door, where I asked if they would mind giving me a drink. 

[Let’s take a quick step back here for a moment, okay? At 11 years of age, I was still one of the shyest kids alive. I hated talking to strangers and I was horribly uncomfortable going by myself into any new situation, particularly if I didn’t know anyone. With that in mind, I’ll continue.]

The woman inside the house brought me a lemonade and I did exactly what I shouldn’t have done and started gulping it down as fast as possible, which induced a baptism of sorts for her flower bed. [If there is any justice in this world, then it turned into the world’s best fertilizer.] The woman, who was clearly a compassionate and caring soul, helped me calm down and then called my father for me. She made arrangements to take me to meet him - all the way across town from her house. Did I mention she had two little kids, too? Of all the houses, in all the world, I picked the best one to get sick in front of and to this day, I don’t know her name.

I hope I have the chance to help out someone else’s child this way; it would be a pleasure.

Have you ever received help from a stranger that was unexpected? Did you pay it forward? 

Fresh from the Cabbage Patch - Morgana Bonnie

Do you remember the Cabbage Patch Kids frenzy from the 1980s? I do. If I remember correctly, I didn't tend to ask my parents for every great new toy that came out. I'm not sure if I even knew what was popular (or not popular). But when Cabbage Patch dolls came on the scene, I wanted one. I'm sure I let my mom know on a pretty regular basis just how much I wanted one. 

One day in May 1985, Mom was away for a few hours running errands and she left us with my dad. When she got home, she yelled across the yard asking my older brother to bring her a paper grocery bag. Before he even had a chance to respond, I was off running to get the bag for her. I ran back to the trunk of the car with the bag Mom requested.

This is what the packaging looked like back in my day. There was no mistaking this for another toy!My memories of what followed still make me smile today. I handed my mom the grocery bag and then glanced in the trunk to find that distinctive, unmistakable yellow and green box containing a Cabbage Patch Kid. There was no doubt in my 7-year-old mind that that doll was mine - all mine. My mom, though she was probably disappointed that my biggest birthday surprise was ruined two months in advance, got a big smile on her face as she saw my excitement building. She handed me the box, which I took and none too gingerly ran screaming into the house, "I got a Cabbage Patch Kid! I got a Cabbage Patch Kid!"

I don't remember actually opening the box, but I vaguely remember looking at my doll's birth certificate. I was disappointed that her name was Morgana Bonnie; could they find an uglier name? (She was adorable - she deserved better.) Morgana BonnieMy mom offered to contact the Babyland General Hospital to have her name changed, but I never told her to go ahead with it. I guess after a while the name grew on me and I never renamed her. Morgana Bonnie was without a doubt my favorite toy growing up. I remember playing with her more than any other toy. My little brother even decided he wanted a Cabbage Patch Doll, so my mom got him a little boy named Billy who was bald with blue eyes. My brother and I would play with our dolls together all the time. My mom truly got her money's worth from that gift.

Perhaps one day my child will want to play with her, too.

Do you remember your favorite toy as a child? What was it? 

To shoot or not to shoot; that is the question!

As a child, the only girl sandwiched between my two brothers, I remember playing plenty of games that were typically considered to be for boys. We had nail bitingly intense Whiffle ball games, played exciting nerf football tournaments in the front yard, organized severely unfair games of H-O-R-S-E on the excessively tall basketball goal and occasionally indulged in some spy/military games that would have made Tom Clancy proud. Under the direction of our commanding officer (my older brother, Jimmy), my younger brother, Paul and I would help search for and destroy our enemy attackers with the aid of our trusty toy semi-automatic gun, cap gun and a pair of Radio Shack walkie talkies that were bigger than our home phone. We were SO stealthy! (I tried to find an appropriate picture of those walkie talkies (or something similar), but they apparently didn’t make the 80s toys hall of fame cut on the Internet. The closest thing they resemble is the old Zack Morris cell phone from the days of Saved by the Bell...and you know how hot that phone was. They had an enormous antenna and the Morse code button, with a Morse code guide that we did actually attempt to use.)

Wait…wasn’t my point to discuss whether to shoot or not to shoot? Yeah, I wanted to explore my thoughts on toy guns and kids. When I started delving into this particular parenting issue, my gut instinct was that it’s yet another political correctness issue that is based on a few studies that may or may not have reliable data. I started out by trying to remember playing with toy guns as a kid. Many would probably say, "But you’re a girl; it’s different." True. But I am a girl with two brothers. I wouldn’t classify myself as a tomboy then or now, but I still had brothers. I rarely got to play games of my choosing unless it was only me and Paul - because I was bigger and older than him.

Sadly, I don’t remember much about the games that my brothers and I played together. Jim was 6 years older than me and 10 years older than Paul, so we didn’t actually all three play together very often. But there were a few times that we pretended to be the A-Team or some other spy/military type group with our walkie talkies and toy guns. (Oddly, I don’t think we ever played cops and robbers, but that could just be my faulty memory.) This all took place back in the days when toy guns looked like guns and also made noises that were supposed to resemble a real gun.

We were normal siblings; we didn't have any serious rivalry or competition issues, but we did fight. Sometimes we fought really dirty, too. In our games, we pretended to kill each other, or our friends, if we’d chosen to divide into good versus evil. Of course, once all the bad guys had been defeated, we’d adjourn for a snack of milk and cookies and vow to fight the forces of evil another day. I don't know if my mom ever had reservations about us playing with guns, but it’s possible. I don't recall having any restrictions put on our play, such as not pointing the guns at each other or animals – after all, we did "kill" the bad guys when necessary. We knew for a fact that those guns were toys and that it was okay for us to play with them ONLY because they were toys. I can’t imagine my father having reservations about toy guns, though he is not the stereotypical gun-toting/loving Southern male. Despite that, he did own a rifle. His rifle was a gift from his father that he’d only used one time to my knowledge and I don’t think he even had any ammunition for it after all those years. He kept it for sentimental reasons only.

Since the 1990s, toy guns have become taboo. Initially it was because some “clever” kids figured out that they looked close enough to the real thing that they might just be able to get away with robberies. It was big news when police started finding teenagers and children robbing convenience stores with toy guns. It was even more shocking and tragic when cases started popping up where police shot suspects who were carrying a harmless toy gun as their weapon. The toy gun manufacturers appropriately bowed to pressure to produce toys that were not so realistic anymore and stores were stocked with fluorescent green, orange and pink toy guns.

The issue of kids and toy guns has taken a new, even more restrictive direction based on studies that conclude that playing with them can promote aggressive tendencies. Those who are strictest don’t allow their children to play with actual toy guns or anything that approximates a toy gun (i.e., imaginary stick gun or homemade Mega Blok/Lego gun).

My son, Brandon, is fortunate that he get the opportunity to be cared for each day of the week by a friend of mine who loves him almost as if he was her own. She runs a home daycare and we couldn’t be happier to have Brandon in such a good environment. Since I have the car during the day, I usually drop Brandon off each morning and since I’m unemployed I often hang around to visit. Sometimes I read to the kids as well. Recently, I was reading them a book by Mercer Mayer, There’s a Nightmare in My Closet and there is a point in the book when the child says he’s going to shoot the nightmare – and does!

After I finished reading the book and the kids requested another reading, my friend mentioned that it’s "get", not "shoot". I immediately understood that it’s her preference that the children not be exposed to the concept of “shooting” someone or something through this type of children's book – and it wasn’t a great surprise since we’d had conversations in the past about it. Of course, the word came up pretty fast and my mind just isn’t that quick! The kids brought me a second book and it happened AGAIN – I can only hope children’s books will lay off using these concepts, particularly for books that are written for very young children (this group was all under 4).

It did get me thinking, though, about what Matt and I will do with Brandon. I have nothing but respect for the choice my friend has made, particularly in a daycare since it tends to be easier to be cautious to account for the different and sometimes conflicting values that are inevitable when you gather children from multiple different families in one place. I have a couple of immediate reactions, though, based on our specific circumstances:

  1. We live very close to an artillery range for Canadian Forces training and you can hear the gunshots and Howitzers going off at various times and children will definitely notice and be curious about the noise. I was once out for a walk and stopped to chat with a neighbor who has two boys – 3 and 5 – and the older one kept talking about the fireworks. I knew there hadn’t been any recently, but I asked when he’d seen them. He hadn’t – he’d heard them…his parents were telling him that the artillery firings were fireworks. I understand why they did this, but I don’t feel comfortable at the thought of lying to Brandon outright that way. And, personally, I think having the artillery range nearby is an absolutely perfect opportunity to teach a child about the positive uses of a gun for law enforcement and military and why it isn’t a toy and any other values you feel are essential to instill. As uncomfortable as it may be for a parent, once a child shows interest in a subject, they are ready for an age appropriate explanation – in my humble opinion.
  2. Since I read to Brandon every day and buy him books very regularly, I have to decide when it’s appropriate for him to hear stories with words like “gun” and “shoot” and other related words/concepts. My gut reaction is that they are only words and reading them in a book, knowing their meaning does not produce a violent child (or adult). Let me be clear that I am not at all critical of anyone who chooses to avoid or hold off introducing those words/concepts – I don’t think that it’s necessary for very young children to be familiar with these terms. But on the flip side, what if they hear them from someone else? Is it then essential to teach them within the context of your own values or do you downplay and not give attention to it until they are older? And what age IS appropriate for children to freely read about these concepts? It’s certainly not an easy choice!

I’ve been thinking about this issue for quite a while and I have asked several different people – parents, non-parents, family members – what they’ve done or would do because I appreciate different perspectives, though I’m still undecided on what I feel is right and appropriate. To be honest, since I played with toy guns, I don’t see it as a detrimental type of play; especially since I personally remember more about our gargantuan walkie talkies than I do about any of the toy guns we ever had. (Perhaps that’s the key; "distraction parenting".) At the same time, I respect the right other parents have to restrict this type of play. Of course, when I picture my beautiful little boy picking up and aiming a toy gun, it’s not a mental image that I’m at all comfortable with (unless it’s a water gun). It’s funny how becoming a parent so drastically changes your perspective.

More than anything, I simply want Brandon to have an innocent, fun childhood full of learning, imagination, creativity and discovery.

Vote for my post on Mom Blog Network