Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I’m the bully?!!

“It’s a big spider.”

I have flung the door and windows open and stand armed with the 3-foot wooden security bar and a bottle of soap-peppermint-oil which I have liberally sprayed on the offending creature, plastering it to the wall. Without his glasses, Sir Norm-the-Chivalrous can barely see anything and he dropped the spider in his first attempt to gently sweep it off the wall to take it outside; it landed on the bath towel, my towel.

“Not compared to you.”

I can tell he is peeved as I give him no choice but to flush it down the toilet. It is after midnight and I forgo washing a load of towels and climb into bed. My good knight has gone to sleep, leaving me a lot to think about this restless night. I suspect his reference to me being a bully was more about how I yelled at him and demanded he get rid of that ..#*!?!*.. thing. He has no qualms about picking up a bug of any kind and escorting it outside. But he has not been in therapy to overcome an irrational fear of insects, especially spiders.

The key word is fear; with the initial adrenaline rush is a painful contraction of muscles, a heightened sense of ‘fight or flight’ response, an awful feeling of powerlessness and panic. What am I going to do? I can’t kill it and I can’t contain it and it cannot touch me. The fear turns quickly to anger, anger that I am unjustly put into a position that I have to deal with this. It is not fair and I am the victim here; it should not come out when I am in the same room, therefore it would not have to die. But I have scooped up (smaller) spiders in a jar and taken them outside. I have been bitten by a black widow spider and obviously survived both the bite and being touched by an arachnid, so I know better than anyone that this phobia is my only justification for behaving badly. In my fear, I have lost civility and conviction, swearing at my husband and insisting he kill a harmless being.

I’m recounting this incident here to illustrate that everyone has the capability to be a bully under stressful situations. I advocate for the victims of bullies, especially young children who are tormented by peers, siblings or parents; how mortifying it is to think of myself as a bully! But this has given me a chance to examine the “other” side, perhaps to understand what motivates a bully. Three things are clear to me about my bully behavior: one, it is fear-based, secondly, the spider became a ‘thing’, not a living being, and thirdly, I could justify my misbehavior.

I have often wondered how a parent or another person could humiliate, or hurt someone intentionally, without feeling any connection to the act. We have all known shame and have been embarrassed one time or another and know how painful physically and psychologically it can be. Why would anyone want to inflict that on another? For one, if the bully does not think of his victim as a person, he is not going to have any feeling towards the other as someone like himself. This lack of empathy is a disconnection to a person, someone who feels pain, which allows the bully to impose his will or physical strength without conscience. Then, there is the desire to have it my way, not yours, which negates another’s rights in a relationship, a power-struggle for dominance and control, making one a petty dictator and the other a subject. This is a cycle of abuse, one many men and women perpetuate in relationships--husband and wife, sibling-to-sibling, parent to child, or peer-to-peer.

Fortunately, the spider incident brought out the best in my husband. It could have been a case where he belittled my fear, minimizing my feelings; or he could have shamed me or berated me. By taking care of the immediate problem he acknowledged that my fear is real to me and, although it disables my better judgement, he supported me. This, ironically, makes me think that next time I can handle a spider by myself.

I thought not so long ago that there is not much else I can say about bullying issues. It may seem inconsequential that a mere spider can impact my life so dramatically, but by examining my behavior, motives and consequences, I gleaned an understanding of being both a bully and a victim. And if one person changes a bully behavior by reading this, then there is a pattern broken, and a shift in the paradigm.

At least for the spiders.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

YNK Chapter 8: 14AA41 (One For All, All For One)

I don’t put on any mascara, just in case I cry. I finally decide on the brown dress. A simple sheathe with six buttons on the cuffs. I have shoes with inch heels that go with it nicely. I like the smoothness of pantyhose on my legs and the way my dress curves into my waist. Even my hair looks good today. Just perfect for a funeral.

I sit at the end of my bed and squeeze the strap of one shoe between my toes, twisting it, untwisting it, until my mom knocks on my door.

“Are you about ready, Fran?” She pops the door open and peeks in. “We should be leaving here soon. You look very nice. I like that dress.”

“I’m not going.”

“You’re sure about that?”


“All right, then. I think I understand.”

She whispers the door shut, and I continue twisting the shoe strap until my toes cramp. My dad knocks, then enters.

“You look very lovely, daughter-o-mine.”

I look up and smile at him. “So do you, Dad.” My dad hates wearing a suit and tie, but he’s not the least bit fat, so he looks good in his Sunday attire. Or funeral suit.

He steps over to the window and stands there gazing out with his hands clasped behind his back. “Beautiful day. I asked myself this morning how could it be so beautiful? Collin’s parents, his brother and sisters, his family, this isn’t a beautiful day for them, is it?”

“Dad, where do you suppose God was when Collin died?” Out to lunch?

“I don’t know, Fran. I don’t know why a young man dies for no good reason. I can’t say I know why good and evil exist. Some things we aren’t given the answers to. But I have faith that God exists. I wish,” he turned away and came beside me, “I had the answers for you, honey. I guess the best I can tell you is this: I can only act faithful. You know, full of faith.”

I’ve slipped my shoes on and stand up. “I don’t think I like funerals.”

He hugged me tight into his side. “I don’t either.”

The church is packed, it seemed with every student and his or her parents, grandparents, and family members. Even my grandmother showed up.

“Hi, Gram.”

She kissed me on the cheek and squeezed my hand. “How’s my favorite granddaughter?”

I shrug but return her smile as we all sit down in a pew. I look around and spot Dusty with her mom, and think it odd that I’ve not seen her with her dad for a long time; Dean and his father are in the very back, but he sees me.

Annie comes with her mother and I motion her over to us. Wordlessly, they sit where a space has been made for them. Annie looks at me critically, then leans over to whisper in my ear, “Brown is so your color.”

I smile and nudge her with my shoulder. “You look so good, but you always do!”

The service begins with Father Michelson reading from Psalms. It seems a long time, this reading and prayers and all the service. I can feel my butt go to sleep.

During a lull, Annie again whispers in my ear. “Are you going to go look at him?”

My stomach drops at the thought of having to parade past Collin there in a casket. I can see the profile of his face, and I think, maybe he could just wake up and it would all be one horrible mistake. I shake my head until I’m sure everyone can hear my brains rattle.

Then, to my surprise, Brian, Timothy and Justin file in one by one, lining up by the casket. The church is quiet, so quiet I think no one is breathing.

They sing Safest Place to Hide a cappella. And it is beautiful.

Annie is stunned into silence, too. Everyone around us is fixated on the three guys standing there, even after they are finished. Brian turns and places a piece of paper, looks like a program, inside the casket, before he steps away. They all file back out again and I’m sure that’s when everyone took a breath. Then, like wasps awakened, we all move and go to the hall where the reception is.

“There’s a ton of food here!” Annie exclaims. “Did you get some punch?”

She nibbles a cracker, while I load my plate with cookies.

Dean brings us both a cup of punch just as Dusty joins us. “What did you think of that performance by the badgers?” she says in a low tone. “Was that not awesome?”

Annie and I nod. Dean is looking at Brian, who is coming straight for him.

He looms over us like an ogre. “You didn’t do enough.”

Then he bows his head and swallows hard, looking up at Dean with tears sparkling in his eyes.
“Hey, man! Listen, I just want to say I’m sorry. You know, for being such a jerk.” He put his hand out for Dean to shake.

Dean hesitated. Slowly, ever so slowly, Dean extended his hand.

Brian shook it and let go. “I thought it was…was,” he looked away, then back again at Dean, “um, fantastic how you came over and gave Collin CPR. Really, man, that was great.” Brian swallowed audibly, looked around the room then continued in an almost whisper. “Collin was my best friend. I wish I could have done something.”

Well, not one of us expected that from Brian. Maybe he had his tie to tight and it cut off the oxygen to his brain.

“I wouldn’t trust him very far with a penny of mine!” I said as Brian walked away to rejoin his parents. I looked at Dean, realizing that he did not share my sentiment.

“You don’t really think he’s sincere, do you? Not!”

Dean turned to me, with a not-quite-a-smile. “I want to think people can change for the better, Fran. Otherwise, we’d all still be swinging from the trees.”

He took my cup away from me, but before he left to refill it, he added, “We’ll see, won’t we? He may be human or he may be a leopard.”

Dusty rolled her eyes. “Or he just may be a self-serving creep.”

But Annie looked pensive, and that brought to mind that maybe Dean was right about people changing. Only, Annie, by nature is good, and I’m not convinced Brian is.

Annie glanced at her watch. “Well, time to put on the ball and chain and go to the food bank for four hours. See ya.”

Dean handed me a cupful of punch. “Want to do the Wessenfeld’s yard today?”

It was an awkward moment, as Dusty was right beside me. I’m sure she wondered, too, if Dean meant all of us.

“Oh, are you going to pay us a fair share?” I smile wickedly at him.

“Sure. Less for each divot.” He collects all of our plastic cups and pitches them into the trash can.
“Ugh, I think that leaves me scooping poop?” Dusty wrinkles her nose. “Three dogs….”

I loop my arm through hers. “Nope. I scoop, you edge. Dean does the heavy stuff.” Then I loop my other arm through Dean’s and as one, we head for the parking lot.

“We’re off to see the wizzers of sod!”

Mrs. W made us tuna sandwiches. “Thanks, Mrs. Wessenfeld. How’s Mr. W?” I break a chunk of my sandwich and slip it to Athos; Dusty gives Porthos a chunk and Dean gives Aramis the rest of his sandwich.

“Oh, George is doing great! He’s the man of the hour at the rehab center where is recovering. He leads everyone in sing-alongs and he’s started a book club. He’s going to miss his new friends when he comes home next week.” She sips from her glass of lemonade and we all do likewise. “It is strange, but I think he’s made more friends there than he has his whole lifetime! I guess it’s true that when God shuts one door, another opens.” She collected our glasses and paper plates. “You all did such a nice job on this lawn. I just don’t how to thank you enough!”

I leash up Aramis and Athos, while Dean snatches Porthos for Dusty to leash. “Bye, Mrs. Wessenfeld. Be back in an hour!”

Dean disappeared to get his newpapers while Dusty and I walked the dogs. On our way back, Dusty hesitated a little before asking, “Fran, what do you think about walking by Annie’s house. You know, just in case she sees us we can wave?”

“Dusty! It’s creepy how you read my mind!” I veer across the street and down the next block. “I thought the same thing!”

“Oh, great minds!”

We don’t see Annie but we see Dean and wave to him as the dogs go crazy yipping and dancing. You would have thought they hadn’t seen him an hour ago.

As we are leaving, Annie drives up with her mother. At first she pretends, I mean she can be so obvious sometimes!—that she hasn’t seen us, but then she calls out to us.

“Hi! Guys!”

“Ask your Mom if you can walk a ways with us!” I shout through cupped hands, the dogs quieted momentarily by Dean petting them.

Annie joins us. “Mom said fifteen minutes. Can we walk up and down this block?”

“Sure,” Dusty moves aside so that Annie fits between us. The dogs work both sides of the sidewalk.
Dean scoots ahead. “See ya!” he shouts as he turns to wave good-bye.

We walk and talk about the day’s events. I ask Annie, “How goes it at the Food Bank?”

“Depressing,” is all Annie will say.

Dusty and I drop Annie off at her house and half-run the dogs home. It would become our routine for the summer to go by and see if Annie could walk with us.

Dean biked by when the three of us were walking back to Annie’s house. We stopped to talk with him as he hopped off his bike.

“Hyy! Whatsup?”

Annie actually turned to Dean and said, “Hi! We were talking about you.”

We weren’t, but it was funny to see the look on his face when not one of us said anything more.
“W—well, I heard something about you.” Dean leaned his bike onto a nearby tree.

Annie stiffened. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Dean stared at her for a minute. “It seems your kiddie program on Sundays has made a big impression with Father Michaelson.”

“Oh,” Annie shrugs, but I can tell that she is pleased. “I entertain them with books.” She flips her wrist and notes the time. “I gotta go in a few minutes. Food bank.”

“I w-want to know if you girls are interested in taking a CPR class? We could all sign up for Saturday workshop—-or,” Annie had looked away, taking a step away from us, “if you’ll go Annie, we could take the class offered at the hospital three nights next week.”

Annie’s turn to look surprised. I wondered if this got-cha game would be an all-the-time thing between these two.

“I’ll ask my Mom and let you know tomorrow. Is that okay?” she asked with mock politeness.
Dusty waved us good-bye. “Sounds good to me! See you tomorrow!”

Dean picked up his bike as I untangled the dogs to walk back to the Wessenfelds.

He helped me unleash them, refill water and food dishes and hang up the leashes.

“Hey, you, Fran,” he whispered in my ear, “would you like to see a movie tonight?”

My Dad took us to and from the Cineplex. Dean and I held hands during the movie, but truthfully, I was glad he didn’t kiss me around all those people. I felt special just being with him.

All of us, Annie, too, took the CPR classes at the hospital. Each one of our parents drove us and picked us up. Dean’s dad took all of us to Baskin and Robbins on the last night for ice cream.

Dusty turned to Annie. “I like your hair short. Are you letting it grow out?” We’ve all heard how Annie would like to get her haircut but has no money.

Annie sighed, twirling a shaggy piece of hair. “I have no money to get a hair cut. I’ll be paying restitution till I’m eighty.”

I leaned over and sized her up. “Hmmm, maybe we could work something out.” I wiggled my index finger for her to lean closer to me. “Listen, I’ve got a plan.”

Dusty and Dean smiled, my co-conspirators, and licked their cones as I informed Annie that we had been asked to mow the Hutchinsen’s, Grover’s and Stilburn’s yards while they are on vacation.

“With the four of us doing all three jobs and splitting the money, we could do a good job, earn some money and have fun doing it together!”

Annie blushes slightly. “I’d have to give the money to my parents—”

“Let Fran finish,” Dean waved his cone at me. “She has more to say.”

“We’ll all put in a third of our pay, to be used for whatever we want to do—it’s for all of us to decide what to do with it, and I think we just might want a haircut.” I look at Annie sternly. “Clip and Go.”

Annie pokes her spoon into the sorbet and squeezes the paper cup a couple of times, staring intently down at the table. “Did you know about the fourth Musketeer, d’Artagnan?”

Annie is really good with languages, especially French, and she pronounces it ‘da-DAN-yo’, sounding very sophisticated.

“He fought the other three Musketeers until a whole bunch of guards showed up to take away Aramis, Porthos, and Athos. D’Artagnan fought along side the Three Musketeers, then the four of them formed an alliance.”

Dean’s dad had finished his sundae and had gone to the car to wait for us.

I hold up my cone; Dean and Dusty theirs, and Annie whips out the spoon, flinging a bit of raspberry sorbet on me. I make a big production of wiping it off with a napkin, then re-salute.

“One for all, all for one!”

We had a great summer, the four of us! Annie did get her haircut, and she was asked to take over the Tot’s Sunday Fun class, which she did and talked about it all the time, how she would do this and that, this kid and that kid and what if this? what if that?

Dusty was invited to an art and photo workshop for young artists and took a first place ribbon for a photograph of fishing boats at the Ballard marina.

Dean and I taught CPR classes for teens, with the adult supervisor just sitting there shuffling papers throughout our demonstrations.

It would be the summer remembered as good times and friendship. We pledged at the beginning of the school year we would be forever friends. Well, you never know what the four Musketeers might accomplish in their lifetimes.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Book Review: Something to Ponder

These two books by Kate Atkinson came highly recommended to me to be read as companion pieces, which made a lot of sense after I finished reading them. I would have read A God in Ruins just for the title alone, but found the continuing saga of the Todd characters worth my attention from the first jarring chapters of Life After Life.

I admire the skillful and masterful writing of Kate Atkinson, but found a good deal of tedious characterization and details of World War II off putting. But her books are the kind I love to analyze and write essays about, delving into “the meaning of” one thing and another, and hav
ing something to ponder.

Curious? Read other reviews of these wonderful novels:
New York Times Sunday Book Review -
Subject to Revision: ‘Life After Life,’ by Kate Atkinson

"Its [Life AFter Life's] heroine, Ursula Todd, keeps dying, then dying again. She dies when she is being born, on a snowy night in 1910. As a child, she drowns, falls off a roof and contracts influenza. Later, she commits suicide and is murdered. She is killed during the German bombing of London in World War II and ends her life in the ruins of Berlin in 1945. Each time Ursula dies, Atkinson — a British writer best known here as the author of Case Histories, the first in a series of highly entertaining mysteries featuring the sleuth Jackson Brodie — resurrects her and sets her on one of the many alternate courses that her destiny might have taken." Read the entire review>>

The Guardian -
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson review – her finest work

"A God in Ruins is the story of Teddy’s war and its legacy, 'a ‘companion’ piece rather than a sequel', according to the author. At first glance it appears to be a more straightforward novel than Life After Life, though it shares the same composition, flitting back and forth in time so that a chapter from Teddy’s childhood in 1925 sits alongside a fragment of his grandchildren’s childhood in the 1980s, before jumping back to 1947, when Teddy and his wife Nancy, newly married, are trying to come to terms with the aftermath of the devastation: 'The war had been a great chasm and there could be no going back to the other side, to the people they were before. It was as true for them as it was for the whole of poor, ruined Europe.'"  Read the entire review>>

Do you enjoy reading books as much as I do? Connect with me on Goodreads and/or Shelfari! Both are great places to find new favorite books and I'd love to see what you're reading!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Parenting: Helping Your Kids Learn Coping Skills

5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do
"When we round every corner and eliminate every sharp object, every pokey bit in the world, then the first time that kids come in contact with anything sharp, or not made out of round plastic, they'll hurt themselves with it. So, as the boundaries of what we determine as the safety zone grow ever smaller, we cut off our children from valuable opportunities to learn how to interact with the world around them. And despite all of our best efforts and intentions, kids are always going to figure out how to do the most dangerous thing they can, in whatever environment they can." Watch the video>>

Teens with Future Plan Can Beat Childhood Adversity
"Having a mental image of one’s future self and devising a plan to become that person can make all the difference in whether a teen is able to overcome a difficult childhood, say researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) and Southwest University in China. Their findings show that eighth graders performed better in school if they held an “image” of their future selves and devised a strategy to get there." Read the article>>

Which Frozen Character Has Better Coping Skills?
“Anna and Elsa have sometimes been presented as a complementary pair, the yin and yang of human experience. Indeed, there is a lot we can learn from both characters…but if we are looking for an exemplar of the good life, of how to build a positive relationship, or how to put our character strengths into action, we would be better served to look to the less popular of the duo.” Read the article>>

Helping Students Cope with the Pressures of School
"There are many ways college students attempt to cope with the new stresses of their new environment. Some may binge drink, have unprotected sex or engage in self-harm. These are destructive coping techniques, however, and will not ultimately help the student. A way to potentially instill better coping methods for students is by teaching aspects of well-researched skills-based therapies." Read the entire article>>