Life Lessons

One of the blogs I subscribe to, First Generation American, had a post this past week about life changing events. (FGA references another blog post by Mutantsupermodel that is a good read, so go there, too.) At the end of FGA’s post, she asks her readers to post about their own life changing events, so I’m obliging as best I can.

Like FGA, I have very poor memories of my younger years. My sister has commented on this deficiency many times when asking me to recollect some event from our childhood. I guess we all store and access memories in different ways, which is why I have such poor recall of specific events, but can access vignettes pretty easily. Here are a few snippets that I recall.

  • My maternal grandparents had a standard-sized dachshund named Timmy when I was very young. When we visited their house I would sometimes curl up in his bed in the utility room to take a nap. Timmy didn’t mind; he liked me a lot, although he didn’t as a rule like children. I once lured some cousins into trying to pet him, in fact, and one nearly got nipped. It was intentionally cruel of me, and I’m not sure why I did it since I knew it was likely to happen. I guess I liked knowing I was special to the dog.
  • I fell down the stairs when I was five. My mom heard the thump when I hit the landing, but she was vacuuming the floor and thought it was my dad coming into the house from work. I can’t recall how long I laid there before I got her attention. She took me to the emergency room. There I had a very scary experience as I was relentlessly questioned by health care professionals about whether my mother pushed me down the stairs or I really did fall. I cried more from that experience than I did from the fall.
  • My sister and I shared a bedroom on the second floor of our house for many years. There was another, smaller room on the second floor that we used as a play room. When I was about seven, I decided to make it my bedroom, so I cleaned it up and told my parents it was going to be mine. That was probably the cleanest it would be in many years because I was not a neat child. Once my mother became so frustrated about how messy my room was that she pulled out all the dresser drawers and dumped the clothes in the middle of the floor. She told me I had to stay in my room until it was clean.
  • I was spanked as a child in punishment, but that stopped once I realized that they wanted to make me cry. Once I stopped crying from the spanking, they decided it wasn’t working so they moved on to banishing me to my room.
  • Being banished to my room was no big deal to me and I actually enjoyed it. I read a lot as a child and would get books at the school library that would keep me occupied. It was actually a relief to have an excuse to stay in my room because then I didn’t have to be around the craziness in my house. My parents perceived this attitude as an inability for me to be punished and it made them more angry and upset at me.

One lesson I learned from my childhood was that adults could be unpredictable, hurtful, and had little to no interest in a child’s thoughts and feelings. Another I learned was that it was best to be self-sufficient and learn how to take care of yourself and your needs for attention, comfort, and love. I think I was in my thirties when I finally got to a point of understanding and accepting my parents as the flawed beings that they were.

My mother suffered from bouts of depression and even checked herself into a mental institution for a while shortly before I was born. Her reaction to the most trying situations was to threaten suicide, and she made a few credible attempts at it, too. My father was unable to deal with this and distanced himself from the crazy atmosphere at home by working many hours. He and I were closest pre-puberty, but once I started developing into a young woman and became less interested in tomboy pursuits, he couldn’t keep the relationship going very well. His reaction to me breaking my 10 PM curfew one night when I was 16 was to yell at me and call me a slut.

My parents did some things right, though. They instilled a strong work ethic in me and my sister. We broke away from the blue-collar background in which we were raised to become successful white-collar professionals with college degrees. We both paid for school on our own through work and saving and not racking up huge student debt. We pay our taxes and vote and donate/volunteer to make the world a better place for others less fortunate than us.

They did their best in raising me and my sister. And I think the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my 45 years of life is to be forgiving and accepting of the flaws in others.

Marriage sanctity and other myths

After my post about being child-free (and loving it), I’m compelled to share some thoughts on matrimony that may make me seem like even more of a crusty curmudgeon. After all the press about a certain fast food chain and its executives’ support of “biblical” marriage (whatever that really means) which disallows marriage between same-sex couples, it seems timely to do so.

Here’s the executive summary: marriage is not a sacred bond, it is a social contract and always has been. Even in “biblical” times, marriage was a binding contract to join families or tribes for a socially-agreed upon duration of time, with negotiated privileges and rights. Doesn’t that sound romantic?

I’ve thought about rooting around for scholarly links to post here, but anyone with a bit of time on their hands can do that themselves. Go to the library and check a classic book on the subject like Robin Fox’s Kinship and Marriage and educate yourself on the wacky combinations we humans have come up with over the years to create our most intimate social bonds.

With all the romanticism stripped away — and that includes the religious romanticism that people insist on overlaying — marriage can be examined with a different perspective: a purely practical one. Couples who are married have gained certain privileges and rights in regards to each others bodies, property, and means of production. That’s it in nutshell. (I suppose there could be an argument made that it also has something to do with children, but keeping it in it’s simplest terms, children could be considered property since they are pretty much legally treated as such.)

I think every practical aspect of marriage can be legally or socially granted through other means: inheritance of real property, power of attorney over assets, medical power of attorney, even sexual privileges. The reason why legal support of marriage rights in the LGBTQ community is so important, though, is two-fold:

1) denying a legal right to an individual based on that person’s race, gender, or sexual orientation is illegal under the U.S. constitution;

2) through this single legal act, a couple can wrap up all of these legal and social privileges in one, neat package.

So I totally get why marriage equality is such a big deal. I have lesbian and gay friends who are engaged to be married, who are married, or who are involved in committed relationships that may result in marriage. I’m a big fan of Dan Savage, and admire his eloquence (and irreverence) on the topic. But I kind of wish that the LGBTQ community could be leaders here, showing the rest of us a better way create the social bonds embodied in current day marriage.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been married and have been through a divorce, but I don’t see marriage as this wonderful, great thing to which all couples should aspire. Marriage can really use some improvements. Getting into one is pretty damn easy for most of us, while getting out of one is lengthy, expensive, and painful. Think about your worst break up experience. Now think of how awful it would be if you had to go to court to get rid of the person currently making your life unbearable. And that it could take years to accomplish the break up.

I have a close, loving relationship now, and we’re not married. I wish our friends, loved ones, and leaders in the LGBTQ community would say “Screw you hetero people and your hang up on a rigid definition of marriage. We’re shooting for something else, something better, and we’re going to show you how truly backward you are.”

If people choose to flip the bird to an outdated social construct does that make it better than the “separate but equal” BS that is “civil unions?” I don’t know, but I sure wish we’d give up on this ideal of marriage that is at the root of all the hubbub. We need to admit that there is nothing “sacred” or “sanctified” about it, at all. It’s just business. Business with benefits. 😉