Absence of Parents — Chapter 1

IMG_3554The remaining memories of Oak Street were mainly of being alone. Unlike in the A-frame house, I have no memory of having a family dinner in the kitchen on Oak Street. I have no memories of watching television with my parents and I only have a few memories of playing outside. I don’t know if this was an age thing or if my parents simply were never there anymore. I have very few memories of them. I had lost my grand backyard, so that likely explained why I was never outside. Instead, I lived on a corner at an intersection of a small side street with a four lane road.

I used to lie on the living room floor on Saturday evenings doing a word search puzzle and watching a variety comedy show hosted by Carol Burnett. The show was composed of several sketches. The regulars played characters that would repeat. There may have been other entertainers on as special guests. At this time in television, variety shows were the norm because it was expected that the entire family would sit down and watch the show together. It was important that there be something for everyone. This is in stark contrast to today’s programming where the entire demographic could be as small as a couple thousand people. The rotisserie channel for instance, who watches that?

I have no idea where my parents were on these Saturday nights. I may have known at the time, but I don’t recall now. I know that my father used to work shift work at the refinery. He loved this. He worked three, twelve hour shifts and then had four days off. He felt like he had one the lottery because he had more days off per week than he actually had to work. Occasionally, he would work four shifts in a row so that he averaged a fourty hour workweek. The fact that this meant that he was never on the same schedule as his family did not seem to concern him. I understood that he was either at work, or sleeping because he had worked all night. I’m not sure how the four days off fit into this.

I don’t know where my mother was. She did hang out at the Legion. It was a place where people her age drank, played cards and danced. Some of my happiest memories from this time are when she worked at the Legion, putting on a wedding or a dinner and brought home large containers of mashed potatoes and vats of gravy. Delicious gravy. This was exceptional food.

Otherwise, normal food was distinctly missing from my life at this point. As I’ve mentioned, I made KD and I had learned how to make Hamburger Helper, when it was available, but I also have memories associated with eating the dessert topping that we were supposed to have delivered door to door. I learned how to soften spaghetti by soaking it in water (before I learned how to boil water) so that it would be possible to eat it. I don’t remember having breakfast. I do remember getting up and going to school without seeing anyone.

My sister Vicki was often around. She had friends that she would visit and she dated as well. But, on Saturday nights I always watched Carol Burnett alone.

Another way that I experienced the absence of my parents was through being locked out of the house. Who were they trying to keep out? If someone had wanted to rob us they could easily have broken a window or pried one open. These options were not available to me. I would be there, and not wanting to break in, I would be stuck outside until one of my parents returned, which was often very late. I remember going into the garage. It had a large upstairs room with an open floor and at least one sofa. I would wait in there for them to come home.

I never considered calling anyone and I’m not sure that I knew who to call or where my parents were anyway. Needless to say, most of my memories of Oak Street were not pleasant. I do not, however, remember my parents ever fighting. I just did not see them.

It may have been valuable to me as an adult to know what caused my parents to break up. As I tried to navigate my own marriage, it would have been nice to have been privy to what went on. It was strictly understood, at this time, that any conflict was not to be mentioned in front of the children. This apparently was meant to protect the relationship between the parent and the child. The actual result was to simply distance the parent from the child. It presupposed an ability to have a normal relationship with your child and not speak to them about something significant that was happening in your life. This also explains why some children are totally confused when the parents “suddenly” announce that they are getting a divorce.

In today’s terms what I have described here would have been classified as neglect. What people fail to understand is that I knew no other way of being. There was no set of criteria against which to compare my life. This was my normal and I was no more prepared to recognize it as dysfunctional than my parents were prepared to take responsibility for it.

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Oak Street — Chapter 1

IMGP6205That was the day that I moved out of Oak Street, but I was there, off and on for six years. These years saw me through public school and into my first year of high school. By grade 10 I was too far away to walk to high school, but from Oak Street, the high school was only a couple of blocks away.

One of the advantages of living that close to the school is that you can go home for lunch. It was expected in grade school. We got out at 11:50 a.m. so that we could observe the proper time for lunch, which was 12 noon exactly. Then, we did not have to be back to school until 1:20 p.m. This meant that you could finish up your meal, help clear the table and do the dishes and then return to school.

Nowadays most children stay at school over the lunch. It is a necessity of the working family that is not in the house to supervise a meal, much less prepare it. My mother took advantage of this great expanse of time by having us deliver something for her during our lunch hours. I remember phone books, dessert samples, plastic bags with soap or shampoo samples in them and a bunch of other things.

There was no question that my mother had ambition that she was trying to tamp down or find an outlet for. Before we had left the A-frame she was trying to collect enough points to win some sort of contest. In order to do this you had to buy a certain cat food, a type of puffed wheat that came in huge bags and some other items. We had excessive amounts of these things in the house. Another peculiar thing to remember. My mother used to mass buy products.

Unfortunately for me, the cat food gave my cat diarrhea. And everyone knows what happens to a cat that has diarrhea for an extended period of time, they get taken to the farm. This alleged farm visit occurred at a very similar time to our move to the new house. It would be consistent with the facts, as I understand them now, that my cat was simply left at the A-frame house. She probably just had no idea where we were or where we went.

I have clear and vivid memories of my cat Squirt. When I got her she was just a handful of a kitten even for a young child. I don’t know how old I was but I do remember walking home with her in my arms. I walked right through the round piece of grass in our neighbourhood and every child from the crescent came out to get a look at Squirt. I was very protective of her. My mother had told me stories of cats that had simply been mauled to death, so I was very careful to not let many people handle her. I felt a deep love for this kitten. She was a soft, short hair, tabby cat that was grey, black and white. She may have had a little brown in her. The pattern of her fur formed an “M” on her forehead, which happened to be my last initial.

But I digress, my mother seemed to have a lot of ambition that she couldn’t direct in a way that she found satisfying. In addition to all of these deliveries, she also took a job at a new start up classified add newspaper. These were a new idea at the time and had yet to become truly viable businesses. She worked hard at this newspaper.

By the time that I was ten I was no longer getting picked up at school to work for my mother. At this time, grade five, I was able to come home and make myself some lunch. One of the things I remember making was Kraft Dinner. This is not the same KD that you can buy nowadays. The flavours were balanced when this KD was reconstituted with margarine. It also had a firm noodle, not the kind that can be microwaved and always gives you the feeling that you’ve slightly overcooked it. These were real noodles.

I had boiled the water, added the noodles and set the timer. When the noodles were done I took the pot over to the sink to drain it into a strainer. I poured too fast and the water splashed up over my left hand scalding it. The skin bubbled up and filled with water. I did not try to call anyone. I did not tell anyone that it had happened. I knew that I was supposed to pull my sleeve down over the burnt part of my hand in order to protect it and I went back to school.

I was in Mrs. Walkers grade five class. I always admired this teacher. She had a calm respect about her. No one misbehaved when she left the room. We all knew how we were supposed to act and it was just expected. I sat behind this large guy who felt like a well of peace and calmness. I told him about my hand after he understood that he was not allowed to tell anyone.

When I got home that night, and my mother returned, she first wanted to “pop” the skin and let the water out. I wouldn’t let her do it. Then, she was concerned that I had called her mother and forbade me from telling her mother that I was cooking my own lunch. Then,…she decided to have a doctor look at it. Essentially, they put a light cast over the area and sent me home. There is no scar.

In hind site it is remarkable that I knew how to take care of my hand. I was protective of it and covered it so that it would not get damaged. It was probably the first memory I have of being taken care of, in the larger sense. The knowledge I needed was available to me when I needed it.

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Jumping to Conclusions — Chapter 1

IMG_1192The experiment with the razor was not a unique event in my life, and for that matter may be more representative of how I have conducted my life than I care to freely admit.

I’ve moved now. I am now sitting on my back deck, which overlooks a public green space. In July, which it is now, it is completely filled in with sumac, trees, grasses, hedges, wildflowers and bushes. There is a man made pond out behind my house that has become populated with bullfrogs, herons, turtles, waterfowl and children. A public trail wraps around the far side of the pond. It is connected to all of the trail systems in our city and I’ve heard it is also connected to the Bruce trail that spans the province of Ontario. In other words, there are often bikers, strollers, joggers and dog walkers on this path. It has a pleasant community feel to it. There is no one on the path right now.

The A-frame house that I lived in did not have a basement. I do not believe it even had a root cellar that many of the older homes had, for storage of root vegetables and preserves. The ceilings were quite high on the first floor; possibly 10 or 12 feet and the upstairs ceilings reflected the shape of the house with the ceiling very high in the middle of the house and tapering down to about three feet at the very edge of the walls.

A full one half of the upstairs was my bedroom. There was a small landing at the top of the stairs and on the other side of that landing was my older sister, Vicki’s, room. We both had blue eyes and blond hair. I looked up to her. She got to go to school first, was allowed to walk to the variety store without our parents and she seemed so worldly to me. The upstairs was our space. The large open floors were perfect for dumping out all kinds of toys and games. It was possible to sprawl out on the floor with crayons and Barbie’s and just amuse yourself.

From my bedroom window I could see the side yard and a couple of the larger branches from the maple tree. My room was huge. The fact that the side walls were only three feet high did not detract from the fact that it was still space. Toys and personal items could go into that space and my bed was against the wall. I could sit up in my bed as long as I was far enough away from the wall.

One night, my parents were having a party. It is possible that I was awake because of the noise coming from downstairs. I remember knowing that they had ordered a pizza and that they had not offered me any. I found that pretty upsetting, but not as upsetting as the possibility that I was about to die. The lights were all out upstairs and the only light in the room was from the moon outside. The window to my room was open and there was a screen in place to keep out the insects. I couldn’t be sure that it could keep out an insect this large. I was lying in my bed with my head closest to the wall on the other side of the room from the window. The window was centred in the room so it was a little to the left of the bed on the far wall. When I looked up I could see straight out it.

Through a trick of the light of the moon, a large June bug was casting a huge bug shaped shadow on the floor not too far from my bed. As the bug crawled up the window it appeared to not only be growing but to be approaching my bed. I was petrified. I called out for my father to come up and rescue me and I was told to go to sleep. I was crying and inconsolable. I know that I cried for a very long time and then quite possibly just finally fell asleep. I couldn’t understand why no one came to see what was wrong and why no one was available to help me, but I was alone. I was alone and scared and there was nothing that I could do about it. As it turns out the shadow did not attack and kill me, but something died. There was no one that was going to protect me, regardless of how desperately I asked for their help.

The particular question that had been nagging at me recently was one of gravity. I knew that if you dropped a ball down the stairway that it would continue to go down until it hit the bottom. What I was trying to picture in my mind was whether or not I could jump out far enough that I would make it all the way to the bottom of the stairway. I replayed this scenario in my mind repeatedly and I simply did not have enough data. It was possible, I figured, to get the forward distance. All that was left to do was to try it.

I cleared the first couple of stairs and actually caught enough air to feel like I was going to make it. At the sound of me hitting and then rolling down the remaining dozen or so stairs, someone came running to see if I was alright. I have no memory of who this woman was. She may have been someone who was there to take care of me, but I don’t think that it was my mother. Anyhow, I only remember thinking through this experiment and recognizing that I had underestimated how far I needed to go.

Keep Reading: The Swing of Things

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Only the Edges are Sharp — Chapter 1 (Beginning of Book)

IMG_1129I’m sitting at my new MacBook Pro looking out the bay window of my office, which faces exactly east. I can see into my front yard, which is in terrible need of water. It has been a gorgeous July if you like to swim and sun bathe, which I do, but a terrible one if you are into water conservation. You would never know that there are any watering restrictions, or restrictions in the use of herbicides, for that matter, in my neighbourhood because it is the ultimate, multiracial, middle class neighbourhood on the edge of a university town, population 100,000.

Life is jubilant. I am in good health. Solvent. I have a lovely home, a great dog, four daughters, good friends and a steady job. I really did wake up in paradise, which raises the question, “How did I get here?”

My earliest memories are of a small A-frame house; the kind that were made by the thousands to accommodate the soldiers when they returned from WWII. It was built on a child friendly crescent. The road had too sharp of a bend for cars to drive quickly and they had no choice but to slow down. It encircled a small grass lawn which was common area for the children to play on, which we all did. The house was about thirty years old by the time that I remember it and the trees reflected that. I had several really large trees of my own in the back yard.

There was a row of tall, pointed trees on the property line. My father explained that this type of tree had been planted because they grow so tall so quickly. He remarked that no one considered how hard it would be to cut them down, in the small backyards, once they towered above all of the houses. My yard also boasted a mature maple with broad dark green leaves that my father built a tree fort in. He also built a sand box in the back corner of the yard. We were lucky that the grade in our yard had not been done properly. After a rain, or a melt in the winter, a puddle often formed in the middle of the yard. This meant for great body surfing fun in the summer and a maintenance free ice rink, of our very own, in the winter.

We also had an old metal swing set that had a slide going down one side and a glider in addition to two swings. The glider was like a small two sided porch swing designed so that you could enter from the side and sit across from someone. When the slider was pushed, you went first toward the person you were facing and then away from them.

This idyllic setting belies the fact that if examined by today’s standards, I was not cared for very well. My most prominent type of memory is one of being alone. I remember sitting in front of the television alone; climbing up on the kitchen counter to reach the food that was safely stored in the upper cupboards, alone; knowing that I would get in trouble if I woke my mother, alone.

I have memories of “swimming” in garbage cans that were kept in back of the house and had become full of water and maggots because they had been left without lids in the rain. I remember fights about milk going missing and cereal that was unaccounted for. There were great arguments between my parents. I was ever so afraid of doing something wrong, but I did not know why. I have vivid memories of stealing chocolate barrels that were filled with caramel and covered in a yellow gold foil. My mother bought these chocolates in a bulk mixture and they were intended for ‘guests’.

One evening my parents were getting ready to go out. The house had the characteristic feeling of anticipation. I could smell my mother’s perfume and my father’s aftershave. It was late and the sun was already down. There was light pouring out of the bathroom, where my father was, and the odd accent light on illuminating an otherwise dark house. The babysitter was expected and I knew that meant that there would be a 69 cent bag of potato chips purchased, which I’m guessing was a full pound of potato chips, but I don’t know for sure.

I was trying to answer a scientific question. My father used a hand held razor. By turning the handle, the top of the razor came apart in the centre and the two halves opened up from the middle leaving an opening for the blade. Inside there was a flat surface for the blade to lie against with a screw in the centre that held the head of the razor onto the handle. When the blade was dropped into its place the handle was turned in the opposite direction to close the housing on the blade. The blade itself was a rectangle with two long sharp sides that were the cutting blades and a keyhole shaped opening in the middle that kept the blade in place and made room for the screw head that was attached to the handle.

My question was a simple one. Was there something inherently sharp about the metal or were only the edges sharp? There was a very direct way to find this out. It was simple. All that I had to do was to take a razor blade and stick my finger into the hole in the centre to see if it was as sharp as the edges were. I knew that I was not supposed to touch the blades. There was no question that what I was doing was not permitted, so when my mother walked into the living room I thrust my hands under the pillow on the sofa. Unfortunately, when you are holding a razor blade in your hand, making a fist around it to hide what you are doing under a pillow is not such a great idea.

All I remember after that was that there was a great amount of blood and my mother being very upset. I don’t remember if they went out for the evening. I know that there were other evenings that they went out. An examination of my hands now does not reveal any permanent scaring so I couldn’t have hurt myself too badly.

By the way, only the long edges are sharp.

Keep Reading: Jumping to Conclusions

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Absence of Parents — Chapter 1

IMG_3554The remaining memories of Oak Street were mainly of being alone. Unlike in the A-frame house, I have no memory of having a family dinner in the kitchen on Oak Street. I have no memories of watching television with my parents and I only have a few memories of playing outside. I don’t know if this was an age thing or if my parents simply were never there anymore. I have very few memories of them. I had lost my grand backyard, so that likely explained why I was never outside. Instead, I lived on a corner at an intersection of a small side street with a four lane road.

I used to lie on the living room floor on Saturday evenings doing a word search puzzle and watching a variety comedy show hosted by Carol Burnett. The show was composed of several sketches. The regulars played characters that would repeat. There may have been other entertainers on as special guests. At this time in television, variety shows were the norm because it was expected that the entire family would sit down and watch the show together. It was important that there be something for everyone. This is in stark contrast to today’s programming where the entire demographic could be as small as a couple thousand people. The rotisserie channel for instance, who watches that?

I have no idea where my parents were on these Saturday nights. I may have known at the time, but I don’t recall now. I know that my father used to work shift work at the refinery. He loved this. He worked three, twelve hour shifts and then had four days off. He felt like he had one the lottery because he had more days off per week than he actually had to work. Occasionally, he would work four shifts in a row so that he averaged a fourty hour workweek. The fact that this meant that he was never on the same schedule as his family did not seem to concern him. I understood that he was either at work, or sleeping because he had worked all night. I’m not sure how the four days off fit into this.

I don’t know where my mother was. She did hang out at the Legion. It was a place where people her age drank, played cards and danced. Some of my happiest memories from this time are when she worked at the Legion, putting on a wedding or a dinner and brought home large containers of mashed potatoes and vats of gravy. Delicious gravy. This was exceptional food.

Otherwise, normal food was distinctly missing from my life at this point. As I’ve mentioned, I made KD and I had learned how to make Hamburger Helper, when it was available, but I also have memories associated with eating the dessert topping that we were supposed to have delivered door to door. I learned how to soften spaghetti by soaking it in water (before I learned how to boil water) so that it would be possible to eat it. I don’t remember having breakfast. I do remember getting up and going to school without seeing anyone.

My sister Vicki was often around. She had friends that she would visit and she dated as well. But, on Saturday nights I always watched Carol Burnett alone.

Another way that I experienced the absence of my parents was through being locked out of the house. Who were they trying to keep out? If someone had wanted to rob us they could easily have broken a window or pried one open. These options were not available to me. I would be there, and not wanting to break in, I would be stuck outside until one of my parents returned, which was often very late. I remember going into the garage. It had a large upstairs room with an open floor and at least one sofa. I would wait in there for them to come home.

I never considered calling anyone and I’m not sure that I knew who to call or where my parents were anyway. Needless to say, most of my memories of Oak Street were not pleasant. I do not, however, remember my parents ever fighting. I just did not see them.

It may have been valuable to me as an adult to know what caused my parents to break up. As I tried to navigate my own marriage, it would have been nice to have been privy to what went on. It was strictly understood, at this time, that any conflict was not to be mentioned in front of the children. This apparently was meant to protect the relationship between the parent and the child. The actual result was to simply distance the parent from the child. It presupposed an ability to have a normal relationship with your child and not speak to them about something significant that was happening in your life. This also explains why some children are totally confused when the parents “suddenly” announce that they are getting a divorce.

In today’s terms what I have described here would have been classified as neglect. What people fail to understand is that I knew no other way of being. There was no set of criteria against which to compare my life. This was my normal and I was no more prepared to recognize it as dysfunctional than my parents were prepared to take responsibility for it.

Keep Reading: Crushing

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Oak Street — Chapter 1

IMGP6205That was the day that I moved out of Oak Street, but I was there, off and on for six years. These years saw me through public school and into my first year of high school. By grade 10 I was too far away to walk to high school, but from Oak Street, the high school was only a couple of blocks away.

One of the advantages of living that close to the school is that you can go home for lunch. It was expected in grade school. We got out at 11:50 a.m. so that we could observe the proper time for lunch, which was 12 noon exactly. Then, we did not have to be back to school until 1:20 p.m. This meant that you could finish up your meal, help clear the table and do the dishes and then return to school.

Nowadays most children stay at school over the lunch. It is a necessity of the working family that is not in the house to supervise a meal, much less prepare it. My mother took advantage of this great expanse of time by having us deliver something for her during our lunch hours. I remember phone books, dessert samples, plastic bags with soap or shampoo samples in them and a bunch of other things.

There was no question that my mother had ambition that she was trying to tamp down or find an outlet for. Before we had left the A-frame she was trying to collect enough points to win some sort of contest. In order to do this you had to buy a certain cat food, a type of puffed wheat that came in huge bags and some other items. We had excessive amounts of these things in the house. Another peculiar thing to remember. My mother used to mass buy products.

Unfortunately for me, the cat food gave my cat diarrhea. And everyone knows what happens to a cat that has diarrhea for an extended period of time, they get taken to the farm. This alleged farm visit occurred at a very similar time to our move to the new house. It would be consistent with the facts, as I understand them now, that my cat was simply left at the A-frame house. She probably just had no idea where we were or where we went.

I have clear and vivid memories of my cat Squirt. When I got her she was just a handful of a kitten even for a young child. I don’t know how old I was but I do remember walking home with her in my arms. I walked right through the round piece of grass in our neighbourhood and every child from the crescent came out to get a look at Squirt. I was very protective of her. My mother had told me stories of cats that had simply been mauled to death, so I was very careful to not let many people handle her. I felt a deep love for this kitten. She was a soft, short hair, tabby cat that was grey, black and white. She may have had a little brown in her. The pattern of her fur formed an “M” on her forehead, which happened to be my last initial.

But I digress, my mother seemed to have a lot of ambition that she couldn’t direct in a way that she found satisfying. In addition to all of these deliveries, she also took a job at a new start up classified add newspaper. These were a new idea at the time and had yet to become truly viable businesses. She worked hard at this newspaper.

By the time that I was ten I was no longer getting picked up at school to work for my mother. At this time, grade five, I was able to come home and make myself some lunch. One of the things I remember making was Kraft Dinner. This is not the same KD that you can buy nowadays. The flavours were balanced when this KD was reconstituted with margarine. It also had a firm noodle, not the kind that can be microwaved and always gives you the feeling that you’ve slightly overcooked it. These were real noodles.

I had boiled the water, added the noodles and set the timer. When the noodles were done I took the pot over to the sink to drain it into a strainer. I poured too fast and the water splashed up over my left hand scalding it. The skin bubbled up and filled with water. I did not try to call anyone. I did not tell anyone that it had happened. I knew that I was supposed to pull my sleeve down over the burnt part of my hand in order to protect it and I went back to school.

I was in Mrs. Walkers grade five class. I always admired this teacher. She had a calm respect about her. No one misbehaved when she left the room. We all knew how we were supposed to act and it was just expected. I sat behind this large guy who felt like a well of peace and calmness. I told him about my hand after he understood that he was not allowed to tell anyone.

When I got home that night, and my mother returned, she first wanted to “pop” the skin and let the water out. I wouldn’t let her do it. Then, she was concerned that I had called her mother and forbade me from telling her mother that I was cooking my own lunch. Then,…she decided to have a doctor look at it. Essentially, they put a light cast over the area and sent me home. There is no scar.

In hind site it is remarkable that I knew how to take care of my hand. I was protective of it and covered it so that it would not get damaged. It was probably the first memory I have of being taken care of, in the larger sense. The knowledge I needed was available to me when I needed it.

Keep Reading: Absence of Parents

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Read the entire book, now available

 

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Jumping to Conclusions — Chapter 1

IMG_1192The experiment with the razor was not a unique event in my life, and for that matter may be more representative of how I have conducted my life than I care to freely admit.

I’ve moved now. I am now sitting on my back deck, which overlooks a public green space. In July, which it is now, it is completely filled in with sumac, trees, grasses, hedges, wildflowers and bushes. There is a man made pond out behind my house that has become populated with bullfrogs, herons, turtles, waterfowl and children. A public trail wraps around the far side of the pond. It is connected to all of the trail systems in our city and I’ve heard it is also connected to the Bruce trail that spans the province of Ontario. In other words, there are often bikers, strollers, joggers and dog walkers on this path. It has a pleasant community feel to it. There is no one on the path right now.

The A-frame house that I lived in did not have a basement. I do not believe it even had a root cellar that many of the older homes had, for storage of root vegetables and preserves. The ceilings were quite high on the first floor; possibly 10 or 12 feet and the upstairs ceilings reflected the shape of the house with the ceiling very high in the middle of the house and tapering down to about three feet at the very edge of the walls.

A full one half of the upstairs was my bedroom. There was a small landing at the top of the stairs and on the other side of that landing was my older sister, Vicki’s, room. We both had blue eyes and blond hair. I looked up to her. She got to go to school first, was allowed to walk to the variety store without our parents and she seemed so worldly to me. The upstairs was our space. The large open floors were perfect for dumping out all kinds of toys and games. It was possible to sprawl out on the floor with crayons and Barbie’s and just amuse yourself.

From my bedroom window I could see the side yard and a couple of the larger branches from the maple tree. My room was huge. The fact that the side walls were only three feet high did not detract from the fact that it was still space. Toys and personal items could go into that space and my bed was against the wall. I could sit up in my bed as long as I was far enough away from the wall.

One night, my parents were having a party. It is possible that I was awake because of the noise coming from downstairs. I remember knowing that they had ordered a pizza and that they had not offered me any. I found that pretty upsetting, but not as upsetting as the possibility that I was about to die. The lights were all out upstairs and the only light in the room was from the moon outside. The window to my room was open and there was a screen in place to keep out the insects. I couldn’t be sure that it could keep out an insect this large. I was lying in my bed with my head closest to the wall on the other side of the room from the window. The window was centred in the room so it was a little to the left of the bed on the far wall. When I looked up I could see straight out it.

Through a trick of the light of the moon, a large June bug was casting a huge bug shaped shadow on the floor not too far from my bed. As the bug crawled up the window it appeared to not only be growing but to be approaching my bed. I was petrified. I called out for my father to come up and rescue me and I was told to go to sleep. I was crying and inconsolable. I know that I cried for a very long time and then quite possibly just finally fell asleep. I couldn’t understand why no one came to see what was wrong and why no one was available to help me, but I was alone. I was alone and scared and there was nothing that I could do about it. As it turns out the shadow did not attack and kill me, but something died. There was no one that was going to protect me, regardless of how desperately I asked for their help.

The particular question that had been nagging at me recently was one of gravity. I knew that if you dropped a ball down the stairway that it would continue to go down until it hit the bottom. What I was trying to picture in my mind was whether or not I could jump out far enough that I would make it all the way to the bottom of the stairway. I replayed this scenario in my mind repeatedly and I simply did not have enough data. It was possible, I figured, to get the forward distance. All that was left to do was to try it.

I cleared the first couple of stairs and actually caught enough air to feel like I was going to make it. At the sound of me hitting and then rolling down the remaining dozen or so stairs, someone came running to see if I was alright. I have no memory of who this woman was. She may have been someone who was there to take care of me, but I don’t think that it was my mother. Anyhow, I only remember thinking through this experiment and recognizing that I had underestimated how far I needed to go.

Keep Reading: The Swing of Things

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Read the entire book, now available

Daniel Pink explains why right brained people are more valuable now than ever.

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Only the Edges are Sharp — Chapter 1 (Beginning of Book)

IMG_1129I’m sitting at my new MacBook Pro looking out the bay window of my office, which faces exactly east. I can see into my front yard, which is in terrible need of water. It has been a gorgeous July if you like to swim and sun bathe, which I do, but a terrible one if you are into water conservation. You would never know that there are any watering restrictions, or restrictions in the use of herbicides, for that matter, in my neighbourhood because it is the ultimate, multiracial, middle class neighbourhood on the edge of a university town, population 100,000.

Life is jubilant. I am in good health. Solvent. I have a lovely home, a great dog, four daughters, good friends and a steady job. I really did wake up in paradise, which raises the question, “How did I get here?”

My earliest memories are of a small A-frame house; the kind that were made by the thousands to accommodate the soldiers when they returned from WWII. It was built on a child friendly crescent. The road had too sharp of a bend for cars to drive quickly and they had no choice but to slow down. It encircled a small grass lawn which was common area for the children to play on, which we all did. The house was about thirty years old by the time that I remember it and the trees reflected that. I had several really large trees of my own in the back yard.

There was a row of tall, pointed trees on the property line. My father explained that this type of tree had been planted because they grow so tall so quickly. He remarked that no one considered how hard it would be to cut them down, in the small backyards, once they towered above all of the houses. My yard also boasted a mature maple with broad dark green leaves that my father built a tree fort in. He also built a sand box in the back corner of the yard. We were lucky that the grade in our yard had not been done properly. After a rain, or a melt in the winter, a puddle often formed in the middle of the yard. This meant for great body surfing fun in the summer and a maintenance free ice rink, of our very own, in the winter.

We also had an old metal swing set that had a slide going down one side and a glider in addition to two swings. The glider was like a small two sided porch swing designed so that you could enter from the side and sit across from someone. When the slider was pushed, you went first toward the person you were facing and then away from them.

This idyllic setting belies the fact that if examined by today’s standards, I was not cared for very well. My most prominent type of memory is one of being alone. I remember sitting in front of the television alone; climbing up on the kitchen counter to reach the food that was safely stored in the upper cupboards, alone; knowing that I would get in trouble if I woke my mother, alone.

I have memories of “swimming” in garbage cans that were kept in back of the house and had become full of water and maggots because they had been left without lids in the rain. I remember fights about milk going missing and cereal that was unaccounted for. There were great arguments between my parents. I was ever so afraid of doing something wrong, but I did not know why. I have vivid memories of stealing chocolate barrels that were filled with caramel and covered in a yellow gold foil. My mother bought these chocolates in a bulk mixture and they were intended for ‘guests’.

One evening my parents were getting ready to go out. The house had the characteristic feeling of anticipation. I could smell my mother’s perfume and my father’s aftershave. It was late and the sun was already down. There was light pouring out of the bathroom, where my father was, and the odd accent light on illuminating an otherwise dark house. The babysitter was expected and I knew that meant that there would be a 69 cent bag of potato chips purchased, which I’m guessing was a full pound of potato chips, but I don’t know for sure.

I was trying to answer a scientific question. My father used a hand held razor. By turning the handle, the top of the razor came apart in the centre and the two halves opened up from the middle leaving an opening for the blade. Inside there was a flat surface for the blade to lie against with a screw in the centre that held the head of the razor onto the handle. When the blade was dropped into its place the handle was turned in the opposite direction to close the housing on the blade. The blade itself was a rectangle with two long sharp sides that were the cutting blades and a keyhole shaped opening in the middle that kept the blade in place and made room for the screw head that was attached to the handle.

My question was a simple one. Was there something inherently sharp about the metal or were only the edges sharp? There was a very direct way to find this out. It was simple. All that I had to do was to take a razor blade and stick my finger into the hole in the centre to see if it was as sharp as the edges were. I knew that I was not supposed to touch the blades. There was no question that what I was doing was not permitted, so when my mother walked into the living room I thrust my hands under the pillow on the sofa. Unfortunately, when you are holding a razor blade in your hand, making a fist around it to hide what you are doing under a pillow is not such a great idea.

All I remember after that was that there was a great amount of blood and my mother being very upset. I don’t remember if they went out for the evening. I know that there were other evenings that they went out. An examination of my hands now does not reveal any permanent scaring so I couldn’t have hurt myself too badly.

By the way, only the long edges are sharp.

Keep Reading: Jumping to Conclusions

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Read the entire book, now available

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Absence of Parents — Chapter 1

IMG_3554The remaining memories of Oak Street were mainly of being alone. Unlike in the A-frame house, I have no memory of having a family dinner in the kitchen on Oak Street. I have no memories of watching television with my parents and I only have a few memories of playing outside. I don’t know if this was an age thing or if my parents simply were never there anymore. I have very few memories of them. I had lost my grand backyard, so that likely explained why I was never outside. Instead, I lived on a corner at an intersection of a small side street with a four lane road.

I used to lie on the living room floor on Saturday evenings doing a word search puzzle and watching a variety comedy show hosted by Carol Burnett. The show was composed of several sketches. The regulars played characters that would repeat. There may have been other entertainers on as special guests. At this time in television, variety shows were the norm because it was expected that the entire family would sit down and watch the show together. It was important that there be something for everyone. This is in stark contrast to today’s programming where the entire demographic could be as small as a couple thousand people. The rotisserie channel for instance, who watches that?

I have no idea where my parents were on these Saturday nights. I may have known at the time, but I don’t recall now. I know that my father used to work shift work at the refinery. He loved this. He worked three, twelve hour shifts and then had four days off. He felt like he had one the lottery because he had more days off per week than he actually had to work. Occasionally, he would work four shifts in a row so that he averaged a fourty hour workweek. The fact that this meant that he was never on the same schedule as his family did not seem to concern him. I understood that he was either at work, or sleeping because he had worked all night. I’m not sure how the four days off fit into this.

I don’t know where my mother was. She did hang out at the Legion. It was a place where people her age drank, played cards and danced. Some of my happiest memories from this time are when she worked at the Legion, putting on a wedding or a dinner and brought home large containers of mashed potatoes and vats of gravy. Delicious gravy. This was exceptional food.

Otherwise, normal food was distinctly missing from my life at this point. As I’ve mentioned, I made KD and I had learned how to make Hamburger Helper, when it was available, but I also have memories associated with eating the dessert topping that we were supposed to have delivered door to door. I learned how to soften spaghetti by soaking it in water (before I learned how to boil water) so that it would be possible to eat it. I don’t remember having breakfast. I do remember getting up and going to school without seeing anyone.

My sister Vicki was often around. She had friends that she would visit and she dated as well. But, on Saturday nights I always watched Carol Burnett alone.

Another way that I experienced the absence of my parents was through being locked out of the house. Who were they trying to keep out? If someone had wanted to rob us they could easily have broken a window or pried one open. These options were not available to me. I would be there, and not wanting to break in, I would be stuck outside until one of my parents returned, which was often very late. I remember going into the garage. It had a large upstairs room with an open floor and at least one sofa. I would wait in there for them to come home.

I never considered calling anyone and I’m not sure that I knew who to call or where my parents were anyway. Needless to say, most of my memories of Oak Street were not pleasant. I do not, however, remember my parents ever fighting. I just did not see them.

It may have been valuable to me as an adult to know what caused my parents to break up. As I tried to navigate my own marriage, it would have been nice to have been privy to what went on. It was strictly understood, at this time, that any conflict was not to be mentioned in front of the children. This apparently was meant to protect the relationship between the parent and the child. The actual result was to simply distance the parent from the child. It presupposed an ability to have a normal relationship with your child and not speak to them about something significant that was happening in your life. This also explains why some children are totally confused when the parents “suddenly” announce that they are getting a divorce.

In today’s terms what I have described here would have been classified as neglect. What people fail to understand is that I knew no other way of being. There was no set of criteria against which to compare my life. This was my normal and I was no more prepared to recognize it as dysfunctional than my parents were prepared to take responsibility for it.

Keep Reading: Crushing

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

They say when a door closes, a window opens. This telecourse provides some light to guide you between the door and the window.

www.wendypowell.ca

Absence of Parents — Chapter 1

IMG_3554The remaining memories of Oak Street were mainly of being alone. Unlike in the A-frame house, I have no memory of having a family dinner in the kitchen on Oak Street. I have no memories of watching television with my parents and I only have a few memories of playing outside. I don’t know if this was an age thing or if my parents simply were never there anymore. I have very few memories of them. I had lost my grand backyard, so that likely explained why I was never outside. Instead, I lived on a corner at an intersection of a small side street with a four lane road.

I used to lie on the living room floor on Saturday evenings doing a word search puzzle and watching a variety comedy show hosted by Carol Burnett. The show was composed of several sketches. The regulars played characters that would repeat. There may have been other entertainers on as special guests. At this time in television, variety shows were the norm because it was expected that the entire family would sit down and watch the show together. It was important that there be something for everyone. This is in stark contrast to today’s programming where the entire demographic could be as small as a couple thousand people. The rotisserie channel for instance, who watches that?

I have no idea where my parents were on these Saturday nights. I may have known at the time, but I don’t recall now. I know that my father used to work shift work at the refinery. He loved this. He worked three, twelve hour shifts and then had four days off. He felt like he had one the lottery because he had more days off per week than he actually had to work. Occasionally, he would work four shifts in a row so that he averaged a fourty hour workweek. The fact that this meant that he was never on the same schedule as his family did not seem to concern him. I understood that he was either at work, or sleeping because he had worked all night. I’m not sure how the four days off fit into this.

I don’t know where my mother was. She did hang out at the Legion. It was a place where people her age drank, played cards and danced. Some of my happiest memories from this time are when she worked at the Legion, putting on a wedding or a dinner and brought home large containers of mashed potatoes and vats of gravy. Delicious gravy. This was exceptional food.

Otherwise, normal food was distinctly missing from my life at this point. As I’ve mentioned, I made KD and I had learned how to make Hamburger Helper, when it was available, but I also have memories associated with eating the dessert topping that we were supposed to have delivered door to door. I learned how to soften spaghetti by soaking it in water (before I learned how to boil water) so that it would be possible to eat it. I don’t remember having breakfast. I do remember getting up and going to school without seeing anyone.

My sister Vicki was often around. She had friends that she would visit and she dated as well. But, on Saturday nights I always watched Carol Burnett alone.

Another way that I experienced the absence of my parents was through being locked out of the house. Who were they trying to keep out? If someone had wanted to rob us they could easily have broken a window or pried one open. These options were not available to me. I would be there, and not wanting to break in, I would be stuck outside until one of my parents returned, which was often very late. I remember going into the garage. It had a large upstairs room with an open floor and at least one sofa. I would wait in there for them to come home.

I never considered calling anyone and I’m not sure that I knew who to call or where my parents were anyway. Needless to say, most of my memories of Oak Street were not pleasant. I do not, however, remember my parents ever fighting. I just did not see them.

It may have been valuable to me as an adult to know what caused my parents to break up. As I tried to navigate my own marriage, it would have been nice to have been privy to what went on. It was strictly understood, at this time, that any conflict was not to be mentioned in front of the children. This apparently was meant to protect the relationship between the parent and the child. The actual result was to simply distance the parent from the child. It presupposed an ability to have a normal relationship with your child and not speak to them about something significant that was happening in your life. This also explains why some children are totally confused when the parents “suddenly” announce that they are getting a divorce.

In today’s terms what I have described here would have been classified as neglect. What people fail to understand is that I knew no other way of being. There was no set of criteria against which to compare my life. This was my normal and I was no more prepared to recognize it as dysfunctional than my parents were prepared to take responsibility for it.

Keep Reading: Crushing

Read the entire book, now available
Read the entire book, now available

They say when a door closes, a window opens. This telecourse provides some light to guide you between the door and the window.

www.wendypowell.ca