Do you ever outgrow inadequacy?

My stepmother killed herself when I was 13, on a night when I retreated to bury myself in The Wizard of Oz to avoid the fighting that led up to it. After that, I was the person in charge of the house, in charge of raising my sisters, in charge of my own life.

I’ve come to the conclusion that 13 is much too young to do that.

NOT ME.

NOT ME.

I mean, sure I did it. I cooked the meals and cleaned the house. I made sure my sisters were in by curfew (before I went off to college) and that they had clean clothes for school every day. I inspired myself, because my single father chose to drown his sorrows in bourbon and spend his nights at a local bar playing “resident psychologist” so he could feel like he had friends. At the time, I felt like I was doing a pretty good job. My dad paid me $10 a week (hey, it was 1970) and I thought I had things all right. Even when I had to skip some of my friend’s events to take care of kids. Even when I didn’t get to make trips my friends did. Even when I never had a real boyfriend all through high school.

But looking back after my third failed marriage, I think I didn’t have a handle on things. Without loving, adult guidance through those stressful teenage years, I didn’t learn how to relate well to a partner. Everything was just, “Get through the day and make sure you’re not losing any loose ends.” I’m good at that. Perhaps a bit of a control freak, even. So I’ve been told by every man who’s left me. Hard to deny it, I guess.

When you grow up having to mother everything in sight, I suppose that takes a swipe at your ability to choose a good partner who will be strong enough to help you, or Heaven forbid, actually take care of you. I’m sure the psychologists would say that I was drawn to men who needed to be taken care of instead. Well, that certainly played itself out.  Bottom line is I find myself older, damaged, and alone.

It’s pretty sad some days when the only empathy I get is from my dear autistic daughter, who struggles so hard with her own understanding of others’ inner lives.

Now that I’m spending days being introspective, I wonder if my flawed upbringing ruined my sisters’ chances for happiness. (Not that I carry all the blame for that–it’s a parental issue, but I still feel responsible.) Can I have demonstrated enough of a lesson for my daughters even to see, to incorporate in their own lives? I hope they’ve learned somehow, even just by cherry-picking the past for clues. Here it is, 40 years later, and I don’t know if I’ve learned anything myself, other than to get through each day and desperately chase the loose ends that seem to multiply the older I get. No matter what I’ve achieved–and I’ve met many of my life goals–I still feel like I’m that kid trying to juggle so many adult issues armed with a spatula and an old pair of Keds.

When do you finally feel like you’re good enough?

Snakes on a train

trainI’d counted on our cross-country AMTRAK trip to be an adventure, one like I’d never experienced. Certainly the delays and other foul-ups on the behalf of the train company added extra layers to the “adventure” I’d never expected, but not all of them were bad. Exactly.

Because of a ticket snafu, we ended up for one overnight in the coach section. I had as seatmate an exchange student who buried herself under a plush white winter coat and slept for nine hours. Little Miss had a Christian woman with two bags of newly-purchased religious books and an addiction to straight solitaire on her tablet. Across the way was a tall, middle-aged gentleman with a black knit cap he kept pulled down tightly, who dug out a shiny new tan gabardine vest half way through the trip and put it on, looking like he felt like a million bucks.

Then there was the mother and teenage son from Nebraska who alternately cuddled and said I love you and then split, with the boy disappearing for twenty minutes at a time claiming he hated her.
But the ones that interested me most came to my attention later in the evening, after the lights were dimmed and people started falling asleep. I never thought to look at the first one, especially after I heard what he was saying.

I know, I know. I’ll have to go to the Greyhound station in Texas to get them. I couldn’t help it…I didn’t want to fight him…Yeah. Yeah. Punk got in my face…No, I’m on the train. I just bailed as soon as I could. Figure maybe they’ll chase the bags. Yeah. Yeah I’m all right. Fixed myself up in the john…Dunno what’ll happen now. Tell Richie… yeah, you know what to tell him. I’ll call…

Made me wonder if I should even close my eyes.

Then the middle-aged black man behind me started talking in succession on his phone to a couple of different people. One was a buddy, I think the second was the woman he’d just run out on.

No, baby, I couldn’t just sit there and listen to you dump on me all day about how I can’t do this, and I can’t do that…No, I didn’t tell you I was going. You’d just discourage me. You always discourage me—I know what I need to do. Don’t tell me what I need to do!

 I could hear her voice, though not her words, screeching back at him. Then he went off on a tirade very similar to Samuel L. Jackson’s in the movie of the similar name. With kids all around. At 3 a.m.

She hung up on him. I think. He switched to his buddy.

You know I’m going to California. I’m gonna fight. I can get matches there. She all about ‘what woman you run off with?’ and ‘how can I leave her?’ like I gonna be nothing without her….ha! That’s what I’m saying…I just can’t stay there. Can’t stay there. Nuh-uh. Sure I didn’t tell her. What I tell her first for? Then she just drag me down…

He went on to more “colorful” language, and I wondered why he thought the destruction of his three-year relationship wasn’t private business.  Or maybe if it’s only strangers around you, they don’t count as real people and you don’t have to show them some respect.

That was apparently the thought of some unknown miscreant who raided the suitcases stored in the common area below in the middle of the night. Even our AMTRAK car attendant lost her suitcase to this creep. She’s a nice lady. It made me feel bad for her. What the $^$%%# is wrong with people? Don’t get me started—Samuel L. might just have to move over and take a seat.

Too many snakes on this train.

Don’t assume, ask–a rule to live by

When I was a kid, maybe fourth or fifth grade, one of the highest honors you could get was to be chosen as a school Portrait of a young boy crossing guard standing on the road holding a stop signcrossing guard. Remember those kids? They would wait with the professional guard and help others cross the street, take care of stragglers, all that sort of thing.

At Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Euclid, Ohio, in order to be selected as a student guard, you had to have all A’s and B’s and be a good, reliable student. I’d transferred to the school in fourth grade, so I didn’t get chosen right away, of course, and that was fine. So in fifth grade, I was ready when they announced the names, because I always had good grades and was a teachers’ pet kind of gal. But they didn’t announce mine.

So I worked even harder, and when they announced the names for sixth grade, I just knew I’d be included. They nominated other girls who lived on my street. They nominated just about every one of my classmates in the top reading group. But they didn’t pick me.

I was devastated.

What was wrong with me? I mean, I remember being one of those nerdy kids the cool kids picked on. My stepmother had an odd sense of children’s fashion, and I didn’t have a lot of friends. But this could have been a real self-esteem builder and verification to the other students that I wasn’t a total loser.

It took me awhile, but finally I got up the courage to ask my teacher why I hadn’t been selected. She smiled quite fondly and said, “Oh, Barbara dear, we didn’t think your parents would let you participate.”

So they hadn’t even given me the chance to ask if I could–the school officials had just made that decision for me. Expecting I’d be disappointed by my parents saying ‘no,’ they were being kind by not inviting me.  Forty years later, I still feel that disappointment and loss of vindication.

Raising children on the spectrum brings me into a confrontation with this issue a lot. How often do others–or even us as parents–leave our kids out of activities because it’s assumed they won’t like it/do well at it/be interested? Are we being kind when we shield them from potential failure?

If I assumed that Little Miss couldn’t deal with loud activities because of her sensory issues, she’d never have signed up for chorus, which is one of her favorite classes at school now. She loves singing at concerts. IMGP0394

She would have missed one of the greatest concerts we ever attended–and one she loved–because we’d have skipped it rather than helping her cope with a set of good headphones and a blanket to cover her head when it got overwhelming.

We might have assumed that she couldn’t compete with other children in the county fair contests, but she tended her flowers and won a ribbon every year. She attended dance classes, even though she opted out of the performance. That was okay with me, because I asked her opinion first. She wanted to dance with Miss Heather, but she didn’t want to participate in the end of season event. I don’t see that as someone who doesn’t finish what they start, I see it as someone who’s empowered to make their own choices for age-appropriate activities.

The boys, too, have been offered options–martial arts classes, music classes, theater classes, after school gaming sessions. They don’t choose many, not being particularly ambitious. But they get the first chance of refusal, which I believe is the right way to go.

What about you? Have there been events or activities you’ve offered to your children that you thought they couldn’t/wouldn’t like or be able to participate? Is it better to keep them from the disappointment of failure? What have they tried and succeeded at that surprised you?

***

VoodooDreams_w7507_medOn the same note, I will not assume that you don’t like free books, but I will ASK if you’re interested in this, the third book of the Pittsburgh Lady Lawyers series, standalone novels of romantic suspense, all with a heroine who’s a lawyer in the great city of Pittsburgh. VOODOO DREAMS is FREE for Kindle December 17-21. You may get one for yourself and as many friends as you think would like it for Christmas! Here’s the storyline:

When her big trial goes bad, corporate attorney Brianna Ward can’t wait to get out of Pittsburgh. The Big Easy seems like the perfect place to rest, relax, and forget about the legal business. Too bad an obnoxious–but handsome–lawyer from a rival firm is checking into the same bed and breakfast.

Attorney Evan Farrell has Mardi Gras vacation plans too. When he encounters fiery and attractive Brianna, however, he puts the Bourbon Street party on hold. He’d much rather devote himself to her–especially when a mysterious riddle appears in her bag, seeming to threaten danger.

Strangely compelled to follow the riddle’s clues, Brianna is pulled deeper into the twisted schemes of a voodoo priest bent on revenge. To escape his poisonous web, she must work with Evan to solve the curse. But is the growing love they feel for each other real? Or just a voodoo dream?

 

Summer trip, Part Two

DSCN0611I’ll start with the view from our campsite at Curry Hammock State Park which was interesting in a number of ways, including how close we were to the beach, although pursuing the wildlife was much more fun. The park is “green”, so the restroom/shower facilities were all specially designed to fit with the local ecosystem.

The wildlife that popped up all around our campsite included some fabulous green iguanas like this guy:

igianaThe area, though is known for its blue crabs, which had hideyholes in the ground all over the place, several around the campsite itself. My daughter had the chance for prolonged conversation with some in the mornings, since she is an early riser, but I didn’t get to see so many.

Out time in the Keys sadly came to an end, and we headed north, where M and kids rented a car to head home, while we stayed in Satellite Beach with a friend of mine from the old newspaper days. It was two days full of fun, great food and success!new adventures.

Linda’s friend Rob was so generous with his time–one afternoon, he took the girls to his neighbors’ dock. Here’s the result–they each caught one!

success strikes againAnd yes, Mr. Redfish was delicious.

While we were there, we also had the chance to visit Kennedy Space Center. Yurie was excited to go there because of the rocketships and the history. Little Miss just went for one reason:

DSCN0637Yes. Angry Birds in Space. A whole building devoted to it, with a maze, and games, and the opportunity to sling birds at pictures of pigs. What says space travel more than that?

She actually did pay attention to several of the other exhibits (though she was still pretty obsessed with the Birds), as she demonstrated in later conversation. We took a bus ride out to see some of the outbuildings (including the one where Rob works!) and then came back to sit through a mock-up of a moon landing, which was cool (especially for those of us old enough to have watched it on live tv) .

DSCN0630

DSCN0632It was great reconnecting with Linda. We’ve both gone on to interesting lives, she as a counselor/teacher and me as an attorney/writer. But to take just a moment to relive those escapades as young writers–driving out onto the flight line at the air force base, checking out the drug hangouts in Florida City and nearly getting nabbed by the DEA–was awesome.

Then a sad day as we drove to Miami for Yurie to catch her plane home to Japan. We all survived the logistics of getting her to the airport during rush hour in Miami in a giant RV, AND of getting her multiple suitcases to the baggage carrier successfully (and the fact that the Miami Heat apparently won some sports event and we could have been marooned in city traffic for days, but we didn’t know it at the time). Goodbyes were tough. We’ll miss you, kid.  :(

The next leg of the trip was to Fort Pierce to visit another old friend of mine. We were both a little worse for wear for the years that had passed, and both dealing with chronic pain. But it didn’t stop my friend from being a delightful hostess, and we had a wonderful couple of days. Here she is with her friend going to a Mad Hatter party:

DSCN0642She looked great, and I’m so glad we stopped to see her. She lives in a beautiful condo overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and invited me to come stay with her on a more permanent basis. Have to admit, I’m keeping that in the back of my mind. There are worse choices.

Little Miss was more delighted with the two miniature dogs living there:

DSCN0644They were cute, but definitely fonder of her than of me or other visitors.

Finally, north to Asheville, to complete our travels, to visit with K and her lovely partner L. We always have a good time with them, and they work so hard at creating a life together with L’s son, even though the state of North Carolina is much less than helpful in its acceptance of gay rights. We took the chance to do nothing a lot of the time, preparing for the long drive home, and took advantage of the KOA’s nice facilities, pool, park, etc. to just let go.

DSCN0654poolAnd of course we visited L’s new job–Asheville’s Ultimate Ice Cream shop. With unique flavors like goat cheese and bing cherry, chocolate and ginger, and even caramel with blue cheese (to DIE for…), it was an amazing tastefest. That was before we got the maple and bacon ice cream.

Yes, I said bacon.

It was unbelievable. Please put it on your bucket list. Right now. I’ll wait while you get a pen.

Hard to believe all this fit into 16 days, but it had to come to an end eventually. What didn’t come to an end, of course, was the pile of work waiting for me when I got back. But then that’s what the real world is about. Time to start dreaming of next year’s vacation!

 

 

Florida fun!

Travel is really one of my thrills, and I was thrilled indeed to make a pilgrimage to my old stomping grounds in south Florida last month, with some new experiences thrown in!

My traveling companions included the ever-faithful Little Miss, but we also had our exchange student Yurie, who packed DSCN0542and re-packed her belongings for her trip home at the end of the visit, and daughter M and her three children.
We missed the worst of the rain, but we did get the south Florida heat square in the face–after all my intervening years as a Yankee, I have to admit I was a bit of a wuss!

Also it was my first long solo trip at the helm of the RV, so I was a little stressed and intimidated by that for awhile, since I’ve been the only one who’s managed to run into something with it. BUT NOT THIS TIME! YAY!

 

We landed at Pensacola just long enough to pick up our passengers, then headed out to the Florida Caverns in Marianna. I sat with the cocker spaniel in the RV while the rest took the cave tour. Little Miss, though, will always remember how the tour guide showed the control panel with the switches for the lights and the one he said was for self-destruct. Apparently she screamed at him not to push that one, in a dead panic. Overall, not bad advice, but still…we do tend to take things literally. :)

DSCN0547

 

Then south to Naples, and east to Everglades City, where we took a trip on an Everglades airboat–something I’d always wanted to do but never had, while we lived there. I was thankful there were headphones for those with sensory issues, and it made it so easy to ask questions! We saw a manatee, some pelicans, and of course alligators:

DSCN0560

 

But I think we all were excited by the race through the mangroves–not exactly the tour of the “River of Grass” I’d envisioned, but still quite an adventure:DSCN0553

airboat1

 

 

Then it was on to the Florida Keys, where we’ve spent many happy weekends.

Camping was easy at the state parks, thanks to M, who’d made our reservations many months ago. We were joined, by fortunate coincidence, by daughter D, whose family happened to be going the same time we did, and though we all didn’t fit in the RV, we did camp next to each other at Bahia Honda (one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida) and we shared a big dinner one night, which was nice.DSCN0571

The water off those bridges in the Keys (even the Seven-Mile one!) is SO gorgeous, tones of blue, green and everything inbetween.

 

We took one day away from those wonderful beaches and went to Key West, where I researched an upcoming romance book with pirates. It’s always been one of my favorite places–we honeymooned there. Still as beautiful today:

DSCN0582

 

Here’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which had a fabulous royal Poinciana tree blooming in front. DSCN0585

 

 

 

Also a giant banyan tree, where the roots grow down from the branches into the ground:

Of course we stopped at the Southernmost point in the continental United States:

DSCN0578

 

 

 

 

 

After a bit of shopping, we went to dinner at a Cuban restaurant with the whole gang:

DSCN0605

 

 

 

 

 

But the real beauty of the scenery was just to sit and take it in. Especially at the quiet points of the day, like this moment at Bahia Honda with Emma:

???????????????????????????????

 

 

More on the second half of the trip coming in Part II.  :)

When in the swamp, do as the swamp folk do

DSCN0349 In our impromptu family reunion trip to the South, we encountered many different new experiences. We checked out Pensacola’s white sands, we visited the Black Water River State Park, and even braved the array of fresh seafood from the Gulf, including some awesome seafood nachos at Flounder’s on the beach:

DSCN0384

Some of us traveled to the exotic Waffle House for cheesy grits and fresh ham, even.  The South is a marvelous blend of interesting tastes and experiences!

DSCN0428Then there’s the swamp.

My son-in-law was excited about the possibility of seeing alligators in the wild at the Black Water River Park, but although we did see several living things, an alligator was not one of them. So we went to Alligator Alley across the border in Alabama instead.

This place advertised over a hundred alligators (at least the adults…there was a slough of young’uns, too), and we got to see quite a few.

DSCN0424 Of course, as in any swamp, alligators were not the only occupants:

DSCN0421

And of course, the day would not be complete unless everyone got to hold an alligator!!

DSCN0431DSCN0408

DSCN0411

And of course, the obligatory, “Will the guy get eaten feeding hunks of hairy wild pig to the wild alligators?” DSCN0435On the way out,DSCN0437 Yurie had to check out the other wildlife–glad that fence was there. That guy looked like he meant business!

So we counted to make sure we had all the children, and left the swamp, reminiscing on everything we’d seen and also so much we hadn’t seen, that lived just under the water’s shadowed edge…

swamp1

DSCN0405

Making the utilitarian into something beautiful: Read Between The Signs

If you find yourself driving along Interstate 79 between Erie and Pittsburgh someday, you’re invited to stop off in Meadville for a unique sort of art exhibit: Read Between the Signs.

read bet the signs 003 The first line you’ll notice, just a few blocks east of the Interstate, is a beautiful garden of giant flowers created from discarded road signs.read bet the signs 002

They’re right in front of the PENNDOT parking lot, so there’s room to pull off the road and thoroughly admire them.

The project comes from the Arts and Environment Initiative, and artist/Allegheny College professor Amara Geffen. She and her students have been the primary constructors of the flowers and accompanying 1,200-foot panel that stretches along US 322 since 2002.

read bet the signs 008

The 3-D sculpture reflects many local landmarks like the Kepler Project, the County court house and also events like the Crawford County Fair and the Thurston Classic balloon celebration:

read bet the signs 009

There’s no cost to stop and view the exhibit, either at the PENNDOT lot or at the shopping center lot across the street, so it’s a great way to add a little color and repurposed, recycled art into your day!

read bet the signs 013

For more information on how the project expanded beyond the flower garden, see Amara Geffen’s discussion here.

read bet the signs 001

So stop by and enjoy!