Browsing Tag

family

Adoption, Family, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

Living the Mother

December 28, 2016

By Anne Heffron

My mother asked for me to read Mary Oliver’s poem When Death Comes at her funeral. I cried when I got to the last stanzas, not because they rang true, but because I felt devastated that, even from the grave, my mother wasn’t telling the truth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

 

This is the story I grew up with: after my mother had gone to Smith, she’d gone to New York and had gotten a job as a fact checker for Reader’s Digest. She listened to Kennedy give his “ask not what your country can do for you speech” and was inspired to do something she felt would help the world, and so she joined the Peace Corps and went to Nigeria. Shortly after arriving, she wrote a post card to a friend that described the conditions of Ibadan:

Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no idea what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives in the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the streets. Please write. Marge. P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.

 

The next day there was an uprising because my mother had dropped the card instead of getting it into the mailbox, and a Nigerian student had found it. The Nigerians protested the Americans and my young mother almost brought down her beloved President’s cherished organization.

My mother was sent into hiding and then flown home where my father met her at the airport and asked her to marry him. And so supposedly that was her happily ever after moment.

Continue Reading…

Child Birth, Guest Posts, No Bullshit Motherhood

After Birth

October 28, 2016
birth

By Marissa Korbel

I remember it as a cold morning, but I don’t trust my memory; my early 30’s are rife with cold, gray fog that is less fact, or metaphor than sense. I was bundled up in multiple sweaters, picking my feet through street debris, while standing, aware of my clean hair, in the San Francisco Free Clinic line.

Months of crying and sleeping the afternoons away had brought me here. I was 31 years old, and 3 years out of law school. I was an overworked, underpaid adjunct professor of paralegal studies and criminal justice at a local college. My job didn’t offer health insurance. I could barely afford my therapist’s “low end” sliding scale. I had decided to try taking psych meds to feel better. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Home

I’m Not from Here

October 23, 2016
home

By April Vazquez

I can’t tell if my husband’s unmarried cousins are lesbians.  Three or four of them put pictures of themselves on Facebook with other girls, faces pressed together, with posts about their undying love.  But in this country, where women friends hold hands in public and dance together at parties, I’m not sure what it means.

I’m the only one angry that the house is in a state of perpetual dust and chaos because the builder, Raúl, doesn’t work on Mondays…  or other days, sporadically and without notice.

I can’t understand why to get residency here I’m required to provide a letter from the Consulate verifying my citizenship when, at this very moment, the Immigration official making the request is holding my United States passport in his hands.

I can’t make out why my two-year-old’s shoe was stolen within five minutes of falling out of the stroller outside the the park.  I know the shoe was stolen because when I went back for it, the lady who sells food there told me she saw another woman pick it up, but what I don’t understand is why, what she thought she could do with it.  Or is the impulse not to let anything–anything–go to waste so strong that it extends even to one tiny shoe? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Race/Racism

I’m Worth More

October 21, 2016
race

By Emma Burcart

My earliest childhood memory is a lesson about race. My dad was going to the local YMCA to work out and I wanted to go with him. As a young child, I had been a swimmer. It’s not something I remember, but I’ve seen enough pictures to prove it: the bikini on the field trip to the fire station, the one piece worn over tights and a turtle neck in cold weather. I wanted to swim and my dad knew how much. When he told me I couldn’t go, it didn’t make any sense. He said we’d have to go with my mother; she could explain our connection. He told me that people wouldn’t believe he was my dad because he was Black and I was white.

Before that day I knew about race; I wasn’t blind. I saw that my dad and grandparents were a different color than my mother and me. It didn’t matter that we weren’t related by blood; there were enough step-parents and blended families that my situation wasn’t unimaginable. What I didn’t understand was the importance of race in the world outside of my family. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Shame

Ancestry of Shame

September 25, 2016
shame

By Elloa Atkinson

I am a descendent in a lineage of shame.

I grew up in a house and a body filled with shame of various colours and flavours, from mild blush pink to angry blood red. The generations who came before me passed the shame along from parent to child, wrapped carefully in the folds of pivotal childhood memories like it was a precious family heirloom.

The shame was toxic and suffocating, yet never spoken aloud.

To name it would have provoked dismissive scorn and mocking tuts, whispered judgements of being “over dramatic,” “ridiculous” “selfish” or “stupid.” Those messages — messages which are as intense as I am — reverberate around inside me even as I write about it.

The first time I remember feeling uncomfortable in my skin was when I was very young. I’ve thankfully remembered over the last 14 years of personal inner work that there was magic in me, but there was also strangeness too — a wariness, a watchfulness, a mistrust in the world and the people in it, a belief that I didn’t quite fit, that I didn’t belong.

By the age of seven, I had begun to feel distinctly awkward in my skin. Stick thin and lanky, I was all bones and angles. I had experienced the gut-wrenching heartbreak of begging my alcoholic mum not to go to the pub, pouring my tiny heart out all over the floor, and her not staying. I had experienced head lice that made mum shriek in disgust, and had been at the mercy of my awkward, jangling limbs kicking a football the wrong way up the pitch at school, prompting my classmates to get angry with me.

I became inwardly rigid, scared and nervous and watchful around other people. There eventually came a point when all this stuff couldn’t just keep building up anymore; it needed somewhere to go.

From the age of around 11 onwards, my life was like a chaotic cocktail of anorexia, social anxiety, uncontrollable blushing, binge drinking, blackouts, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, perfectionism, achievement, chaos, stealing, under-performing, over-functioning, bingeing, spending, self-harm, recklessness and fear.

My body became the enemy, especially when I entered puberty.

It betrayed me on a daily basis, as inescapable as prison. I was powerless. Things kept happening to it, things I couldn’t direct or make sense of. My friend Jenny’s boobs appeared out of nowhere but mine were nowhere to be seen, unless you count the tiny ‘breast buds’ that promised so much and delivered so little. Instead, my body cut countless stretch marks into my inner thighs, then my bum, then behind my knees and even onto my calves. When mum told me they were irreversible, I was so horrified I nearly vomited. How could this be happening to me?

It wasn’t just my body that I hated though; it was me. I hated the way I behaved around my friends. Desperate to fit in, yet never feeling like I really did. Wishing I had the cool, calm confidence of some of the girls at school, yet knowing that the only time I ever felt like that was when I was intoxicated and even then, I couldn’t avoid making an idiot of myself. Aching to feel something other than the perilous uncertainty I felt when I turned the smooth round doorknob of my tutor group classroom each morning, never knowing what would greet me on the other side. Just like at home. Never knowing if the kitchen door would be open (meaning mum would be there), or if it would be closed (meaning the wine would have already started and the monster would be there instead).

On and on it went, layer after layer of shame building up within me like grease and grime accumulating on a kitchen counter until one day you can no longer tell the original colour and texture of it.

I didn’t know back then that I had been born into a family that had, for generations, produced functioning alcoholics, mother-daughter abandonment, secrets and abuse. I knew the odd story here or there about certain family members, and knew about the abuse my mum had experienced as a child, but I had no idea that I was sort of predestined to have a bunch of ancestral crap land on my shoulders, crap that would become beliefs, which would lead to behaviours, which would shape a whole way of life.

Recently I learned that the egg that was to become me was inside my mother’s body when she was inside her mother’s womb. The pioneering work of epigenetics is shedding a whole new light on the concept of multi-generational transmission of trauma. To think that what my grandmother was experiencing when pregnant with my mother could have a direct impact on me is quite astonishing.

Of course, as a little girl I didn’t have the words or concepts to begin to understand what I was experiencing. It leaked out through stories and drawings and phobias and feelings: a crippling fear, a haunting sense of being fundamentally flawed, the sick feeling in my tummy and my bones that something was terribly wrong with me.

For a long, long time, I didn’t know that anyone else on the planet felt like this. I thought it was just me.

And then, aged 18 and three quarters, I hit my first real rock bottom and entered recovery.

Recovery taught me a new language. It was the language of connection, identification and belonging. The relief of discovering that there were people — a lot of people — who felt the way I felt, was incredible. I listened intently and poured my heart out in darkened church halls, the tears never seeming to end. The first twelve months were the hardest, but each stage brought its own challenges and rough seas.

I learned about this strange new thing called “boundaries” from Melody Beattie, Pia Melody and my therapist. I cried thousands of tears in workshops and groups run by Clearmind International Institute. I stepped up into leadership within that organisation, learning how to hold the space for others to process their childhood wounds. For a number of years, my relationship with my family grew distant as I did the daily work of coming home to myself — work which I will write more about in the next three posts. There were months, years even when I barely spoke to my mum. There were times when I felt greatly misunderstood by my family, times when I felt desperate to get away from them, and times when I longed to connect even though I didn’t fully know how.

In the last few years, learning a bit about my family history has played a huge and pivotal part in my journey of coming home. I’ve discovered a family I never knew I had, both in terms of actual people I had no idea about, and in terms of the people I thought I knew but didn’t: both my dads (biological and my dad who brought me up); my mum; my five amazing half-siblings; my grandparents.

I’ve learned that the generations that came before me had their own great triumphs and breakthroughs, but also that my family history is full of loss, sadness, pain, and more loss — as are many people’s families. The endurance of the human spirit is truly astonishing.

Studying my family history for a genogram presentation (essentially a family tree — births, marriages, deaths — plus losses, addictions, neuroses, abuse, dreams, hopes, wishes and relationship patterns) during a counsellor-training program gave the experiences I’d lived through context.

The study helped me see that everything I lived through as a little girl and a young woman, right through to today, did not occur in a vacuum and was not solely of my own making. That in turn helped me forgive myself (something which I have found is both a process and a series of events).

Learning about my mother’s childhood, and her mother’s childhood, and catching a glimpse of her mother’s before her helped me integrate the realisation more deeply that I am truly not alone. Learning about the abandonment on my father’s side of the family helped me understand why he had left my mum when she was pregnant with me.

Gaining the awareness that I am part of a great tapestry of interwoven human lives has paradoxically given me enormous freedom from the bondage of what I inherited.

Today I feel connected to all the women and men who had come before me, and right there, in a state of true connection, is the one place where shame cannot survive. As I uncover the secrets in my family’s legacy, I come to a deeper understanding of the places in my own life where I was driven to secrecy through shame.

And as the days, weeks, months and years pass, I continue on my path, deepening my connection to myself. For me, that also means deepening my connection to my family, coming to see that what is not an extension of love contains a cry for it. I understand and respect that many people cannot be in relationship with their family of origin. For me, being an active member of the system is the right decision. It is one of the gifts of adulthood to be able to exercise the right to make this decision. Today I choose to be part of a new legacy and a new lineage, breaking the chains that bind.

I no longer identify as being “in recovery.” Today this is simply how I live: as consciously, honestly and lovingly as possible. And bit by bit, I continue to learn how to come home to myself.

Elloa_Atkinson-Elloa_Atkinson_-_High_Res-138

Elloa Atkinson is a life-changing coach, an inspiring speaker, and a writer whose work has been featured on the home pages of the Huffington Post and the Good Men Project. A certified life coach, Elloa also has over ten years’ experience of assisting, supporting and leading emotionally intense personal development work. She is a long-term student and teacher of A Course In Miracles and believes that we are all inherently whole, innocent and worthy of love and that our core problem is that we have forgotten that. Connect with her at elloaatkinson.com and via Facebook: facebook.com/elloa.atkinson.miracles
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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 2 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen Pastiloff at her Manifestation Workshop: On Being Human in London Oct 1st and Dallas Oct 22. Click the links above to book. No yoga experience needed- just be a human being! Bring a journal and a sense of humor. See why People Magazine did a whole feature on Jen.

 

Check out Jen Pastiloff in People Magazine!

Check out Jen in People Magazine!

Family, Guest Posts, Home

Home

August 18, 2016
home

By Pam Munter

It takes some planning to get into the correct lane for the right turn off busy Sunset Boulevard to Hartzell Street in Pacific Palisades but I’ve been doing it since I was 16 so it’s automatic for me – even now. Hartzell is one of the “alphabet streets,” part of a grid developed early in the history of the Palisades, all of which were named after the founding Protestant missionaries.

I haven’t lived there in more than a half century. But whenever I’m in the area, I feel an irresistible cosmic pull to make the pilgrimage to the house where so much of my childhood and adolescence unfolded, the repository of my earliest self. Now when I drive the four blocks up Hartzell to the house, I hardly recognize the street. Almost all the cute little bungalows in this formerly working class neighborhood have been converted into multi-story McMansions. Luxury cars are parked on both sides of the street, allowing only one car to move through at a time. Gone are most of the prolific eucalyptus trees that proudly stood guard, no longer flooding the area with their rich, herbal redolence.

The house has been updated over the years but many of the external changes were accomplished much earlier by my handyman father – filling in the front porch to create a dining room, adding a large wing with a bedroom, bath, laundry room and garage. Subsequent owners have had a better eye for landscaping, which was an area that never interested my father.

Whenever I make that right turn on to Hartzell, I feel my heart start to race. It unfailingly takes me by surprise. When I was coming home to visit from college, it was due to hungry anticipation for a square meal. After I married and drove cross-country from Nebraska for vacations, it was longed-for relief from the fatigue. But even now I feel that jittery twinge of – what could it be – anxiety? Apparitional dread? Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

Tough Questions

August 11, 2016
mother

By Joanell Serra

One night my eight year old niece and I find a quiet moment, and she springs a question on me I don’t see coming.   Which shows the depth my own denial.

We are two weeks into a long summer visit, my niece Molly and her six year old brother Ryan have travelled across the country to visit with myself, my husband, and our two children.  It is a chaotic but fun summer, a mixture of Northern California beach days and trips into foggy San Francisco.  I evoke the ghosts of my own childhood in New Jersey, as I drag the four children through city art museums and Shakespeare in the park. And avoid talking about the certain topics, even in the face of obvious evidence that something is very wrong. 

Tonight Molly and I are alone, doing her hair before bed. It’s a complicated process, that requires just enough (but not too much) conditioner in the shower and liberal use of detangler after a quick towel dry. Next I pull the brush carefully through the mass of her thick brown hair and braid it tightly so she doesn’t wake up with knots and frizz. This morning’s tug of war and tears as I tried to tame her locks motivates me to get it right this time. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Letting Go, Surviving

California

August 8, 2016
change

*Image courtesy of Tiffany Lucero

By Wendy Wisner

Sometimes California goes drifting through my mind as I’m falling asleep. It looks like it’s detaching itself from the rest of the continent, as I’d always heard it would, the sea levels rising, the land sinking.

Or I see it suspended in air, tilting back and forth, the way it did during the ’89 earthquake, my mother and sister in the living room, me standing in the doorway, the chandelier slowly swaying.

I think I want it to erode, break up and get washed away.

Or I want it never to have existed.

Mostly, I want it to come back to me. I want it to fill the odd-shaped hole in my gut that started opening all those years ago when my father left us—when he left us for California. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing

Guidelines For Submission

July 13, 2016
writing

By Katie Lee Ellision

When an essay I had written about my father was accepted for publication in 2013, I decided on a rule for letting him know about it. I would send him a finalized copy of the piece before it went live or to print–not so that he could decide whether or not it would be published, but just so that he knew what I had written and where it would be. I thought this was fair to both of us. So when I got the final from the editor, I called my father up, though we hadn’t been speaking much at that point.

I won’t spend time on the details about why my father and I hadn’t been in regular touch—that’s a much bigger story I’m writing. What I do want to talk about–and for a long time I couldn’t talk about anything else–is his reaction and its effect on me and my writing.

When I called to tell him about the publication, he was congratulatory and eager to read it.

“So…” he said, “is this about you and me when you were a kid or…?”

“Just read it, dad,” I said, and he said okay. Continue Reading…

Eating/Food, Family, Guest Posts

Starved

July 8, 2016
weight

By Vincent J. Fitzgerald

A week prior to my father’s arrival for his annual ten day visit, I am stricken by a plague of hyperawareness about my shape, and as much as I long to see him, I fear judgments to come. On the day of his arrival I am bloated with turmoil while I drive to pick him up from the airport. I have failed to reach his weight expectations, and a glance at my belly hanging over my seatbelt distracts me. At 44 years old, his approval of me maintains its pricelessness, and bearing extra weight is the same as presenting him with a subpar report card. To discern which way best hides my shame, I alternate pulling my shirt down, then rolling it up while I wait for him to exit the terminal. He struts out the door all swagger and smile while I suck in my gut until spleen hits spine. He scans me from afar, leering at my midsection, and I feel objectified.

My kiss on his cheek is a lone dividend of a childhood marred by paternal detachment, and I am grateful for it. When he pulls back to assess me, I cover my midsection with his carry on, and wonder how much baggage he brought with him this year. Body weight has become his obsession in recent years, but the central focus is my weight, not his own. He executes scrutiny the way narcissistic parents do, baking criticism within supportive suggestions, and belching health warnings to induce fear. On the ride back to my home, I try to update him about my kids, career, and impending nuptials, but zone out to complaints about his wife and professed love of his dogs. The conversation takes its inevitable turn towards all things gastronomic, and his saltiness seasons our dialogue at random intervals for the ensuing ten days. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Relationships

Old Dog

June 13, 2016
relationships

By Angie Pelekidis

In my late twenties, I lived in the semi-buried basement apartment of a three-family home in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Residing with me was my elderly dog, Shem, who was half-German Shepherd and half Doberman. He was a handsome mutt, with the black and brown markings of a Doberman, but the stockier build of a GSD. One ear was a floppy undocked Dobie ear, while the other stood upright, which I thought softened his intimidating appearance. Except people often crossed the street when we approached, though Shem was harmless. Not long after he turned fourteen, he had to be euthanized because he could no longer walk, and had lost the spark of life in his eyes. During his long life, he was a difficult dog to own –intelligent, destructive, and needy. My father often advised me to “Get rid of him,” in his Greek-accented English, as if Shem was a non-working appliance. And yet, never during the course of our tumultuous years together did I consider abandoning him.

Typically, I came home from a long day at work to find some sort of unpleasant surprise left for me or created by Shem. At some point not long before my arrival on one particular day, he signed his liquid signature on the hardwood floor of the apartment. The meandering path of pee stretched from my front door, through the living room, and into the adjacent kitchen. There, the pale blue linoleum flooring caused the puddlets to appear green.

I walked through the living room to the kitchen, carefully avoiding the wet spots. Under the sink, I found a paper towel roll and tore off the plastic wrap of the second one I’d gone through in the past week. I unraveled the roll at one end of the trail in the kitchen all the way to my front door without bothering to break off a piece at a time. Then, I did this again in reverse.

In his thirteenth year, during a conversation with my best friend when I complained to her of Shem’s behavior, she suggested that maybe it was time to put him to sleep. It came out sounding more like a statement than a question. I was sure as she made this comment that vague recollections of all the trouble Shem had put me through over the years, including his destruction of some part of every apartment I lived in during my early to late twenties, and instances of his running away, drifted through her mind. “Who’s gonna marry you, with that dog?” my father often said, assuming that marriage was a huge concern and that my ideal prospective husband would dislike dogs as much as he did.

I ignored her suggestion because Shem had been a part of my daily existence since my father brought him to me as an eight-week old puppy. He’d showed up with him at our country house upstate, having procured from who-knows where. I’m sure he imagined Shem would be an outdoor dog who never besmirched our home’s interior. And most likely he found him to prevent me from spending money on a purebred dog, something my frugal father, who had grown up during the Great Depression and Nazi invasion of Greece, thought was a waste.

I didn’t give my friend’s suggestion a second thought. There is always so much doubt and selfishness that comes into play at the end of an old pet’s life: uncertainty over whether you’re doing the right thing by euthanizing them because you have no way of knowing how much they’re suffering, and selfishness because you can’t bear the thought of having something you are attached to severed from your existence. The abstract concept of “never” only becomes concrete when you fully realize you will never see a being you love again.

I used the tip of my shoe to move sections of the paper towel from side to side. Then, I gingerly bunched it up hoping it had absorbed all the liquid on the floor. I would have to mop again, the second time I’d done this that week. I hated that no matter how often I did, my apartment still smelled like an old dog.

I was accustomed to finding this or worse when I came home. Shem, who weighed 90 pounds and had been neutered since puppyhood, always had a problem with marking his territory indoors. As he grew older, I took him to several vets, read many dog books, and always made sure we took long and frequent daily walks, but nothing changed his behavior. Once, when we went to my sister’s for the holidays, he marked her Christmas tree. He was never invited to her house again.

On this day, he was hiding when I came home, but I knew where to find him. Once, during a thunderstorm, he burrowed a hole through the sheetrock in the back of my bedroom closet and into a two-foot square space between the closet and the wall of the house. He wedged himself into this small space almost every day after I left for work as his separation anxiety became worse with age. When he was younger, I only had to worry about storms or Fourth of July fireworks triggering it, but later, my absence set it off. Often, when I was home during a storm, I perched on the edge of the tub while Shem sat in it trembling uncontrollably. Drugs helped, but I wondered, was a virtually paralyzed dog better than a frightened one? Still, I sometimes gave them to him because sleeping at night seemed to help me do my job.

Years later, I’d learn that my reassuring him during these storms, or whenever he was afraid, reinforced his frantic behavior. If I’d known more about puppy parenting when I’d first gotten Shem, I could have created a composed dog. Clearly, young dog owners can be just as inept as the premature parents of children.

I walked through the kitchen and past the bathroom, or as I liked to call it, “the crack den.” I named it this after Shem’s demolition work during a storm, when he was home alone and somehow got stuck in the bathroom. In place of the vanity, there was only a large, irregularly shaped piece of what was left of it propping up the sink; the trim around the door and the bottom of door itself was gouged and shredded; a corner of the thick Formica countertop was also broken off, though I don’t know how Shem was able to do this with his old-dog teeth. I learned to ignore the destruction and hoped my landlord wouldn’t find out about it.

Though I didn’t know how to replace doors and bathroom vanities, I had become a carpenter of sorts myself and repaired several holes Shem put in the walls of this particular apartment. Thanks to Shem, I learned that sheetrock came in varying thicknesses and that you had to buy the same thickness as your walls in order to properly repair the holes. Then, you had to tape the seams between the replacement sheet and the surrounding wall, before mixing and applying joint compound. Afterward, when the compound had dried, you sanded it smooth and painted it. I would never become a skilled carpenter, but at least there weren’t several dog-shaped holes in my walls.

My elderly dog had become the canine equivalent of a dementia-suffering senior citizen. I frequently found him staring blankly at walls as if he was lost in the memories of his youth, chasing cars in upstate New York, where we lived for the first half of his life. His pacing and peeing during the night turned me into such a light sleeper that at the faintest sound, I would shoot up from a deep sleep yelling, “No, wait, let me walk you.” I could be found at all hours of the night in my fortunately quiet and safe neighborhood of Dyker Heights, wearing a coat over my pajamas, and walking Shem.

Yet despite all of this, how I loved that dog! The way he would roll into my lap head first, moaning and groaning in happiness to see me; his constant presence through breakups and work stress; the very sight of him with his big goofy dog grin and crazy ears. He was a character and I loved telling stories of his exploits, both bad and good. Best of all, he was mine and no one could make me get rid of him.

When I was a four, my parents moved my sister and I from Brooklyn to Riverhead, Long Island. My father briefly owned a service station there, but it didn’t prosper, and after three years, he sold it and moved us to Florida. But before this happened, he acquired a puppy from somewhere to be a guard dog, who my older sister named Blackie. My father had never trained a puppy before and he may have expected Blackie would teach himself not to defecate on the garage’s concrete floors. This didn’t happen. So Blackie was demoted from security force to house pet. My mother, equally clueless when it came to dog training, let Blackie roam free, which eventually resulted in his getting hit by a car and a broken leg. He recovered, but not long after that he disappeared, taken by my father to some undisclosed location or hopefully to a new owner.

After seven years of living in Florida, my parents’ trucking business failed, and we moved back to Brooklyn so they could recoup the family finances. My father refused to allow me to bring my cat Fifi with me. I was fourteen at the time and tried to talk my Florida friends into adopting her but in the end she was left behind. After our return to Brooklyn, we briefly lived in Staten Island, where I adopted a kitten I named Baby. When we moved back to Brooklyn six months later, I made sure to bring him with me. My mother let him out one day, though I’d intended for him to be an indoor cat, and I never saw him again. A year later, I adopted a street cat who lived at my father’s new service station in Coney Island, Brooklyn, where I worked in the evenings. Right before I moved to the house my parents bought in upstate NY, my father took Serena, who I’d planned to bring with me, and dumped her somewhere in Brooklyn. Animals in our family tended to disappear, leaving me, the imaginative kid that I was, haunted by their unknowable fates.

In my bedroom, I found a pair of my pink underwear on Shem’s dog bed. He had been stealing my underwear since he was a puppy, often jumping up to pull them off our clothesline upstate, though thankfully he kept his fetish to that and never tried to hump my leg or anyone else’s. There was something both endearing and creepy about Shem’s obsession with my underwear; I preferred to think he acquired my clothing out of a need to comfort himself with a fragment of my presence.

The closet in my bedroom didn’t have a door anymore, thanks to Shem. I pushed aside the suits hanging in there, and, after noticing they were covered with black and blonde dog hairs from Shem squeezing past them, reminded myself to buy more adhesive lint rollers. When I found him in this hole, I thought about people who told me I would be cruel to use a dog kennel or crate. By choice, Shem hid in a much smaller and less pleasant place.

When we first moved into this apartment, I bought a kennel, hoping it would become Shem’s refuge. It was a huge, metal rectangle I placed in the kitchen. After only two weeks, I came home from work to find it empty, the kitchen garbage can overturned and its contents scattered on the floor, the remains of a bag of Dove miniature chocolate bars that I thought I had hidden out of reach on a five-foot high window sill smeared all over my sheets, and Shem hiding in his hole in the wall. He had learned he could escape his prison by biting or pawing at the latch until it sprang open. Fortunately, he was fine after eating the chocolate. But the crate ended up on the curb.

Now I know I should have bought a plastic crate that better simulated the enclosed space of a wolf den or the back of a closet. But I was young when I was first given Shem, and not at all knowledgeable about dog training. No surprise, given how little my parents taught me about being a good animal owner. Still, the most important thing I did know was that pets are yours for life: to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. Amen.

“C’mon, Shemma,” I said, to coax him out of the closet. I had to pull him by his shoulders as he crawled past my suits again. He was birthed from the closet with white sheetrock chalk on his face, looking like a ghost of himself. I leaned down and hugged him around his broad neck, before kissing him on one of the brown spots he had on the sides of his jaw, his dog dimples.

“You want to go for a walk?” I asked him in a voice higher than my normal one, to which he still responded by wagging his tail, though lately I found he was less interested in most things. He followed me slowly as I left the bedroom, and patiently stood by the front door as I clipped on his leash, which was finally, after years of dealing with his infinite energy, no longer necessary. By lifting his hips, I got him up the five steps from my walk-in basement apartment.

My neighborhood’s wide sidewalks were broken up by earthen squares where old trees emerged. Shem had a carefully worked out system of territory marking: he only went where other dogs had gone to supplant their scent with his; he refused to mark something he had already covered within 24 hours because this was a waste of good urine; and he rationed out his pee in order to cover a large territory. This last rule meant he needed to go at least seven times regardless of how far we walked so that I could be certain his bladder was empty. For every walk, I kept count and took him on different routes. As a result of Shem’s adherence to his system, and his indoor walking and peeing, I nicknamed him “The Urinator,” his motto: “I’ll pee back.”

As we walked, I wondered if there were dog nursing homes where, for a reasonable fee, I could commit him and give myself a break from the work of caring for him and cleaning up after him. I could stop by on weekends, bringing him the treats and toys he liked, petting him and reminding him of all his deeds as a young dog. Like the time he chased my car for three miles to the small town of Morley, before I saw him and had to bring him back home. Or when he tried to steal our neighbor’s Thanksgiving turkey from the kitchen sink where it was defrosting when she was pet sitting him. Once he ate the center out of a chocolate cake resting on our kitchen counter right after I baked it. Another time he ate four pounds of butter my mother had left in a metal bowl on the kitchen table to soften in order to make dozens of Greek cookies.

I imagined Shem getting even older and forgetting who I was. When this happened, I would stop visiting him, using his forgetfulness as an excuse. At some point, I would receive a phone call saying he had taken a turn for the worse. I would rush to his side and he would die peacefully in his sleep from extreme old age. This was a scenario I thought ideal, though my loyalty to him would never allow it. I’d had him since he was eight weeks old, I was responsible for the dog he was, and when he died I would miss him painfully. But maybe it was better that he exhausted me by being such a high-maintenance dog because when he died, my grief would be tempered by relief. At least with Shem, I wouldn’t be haunted, never knowing what happened to him, unlike the many pets that vanished thanks to my mother and father.

Today, when I think about my parents’ behavior toward our pets, I can almost justify it. They had grown up during World War II and had first-hand experience of the Great Famine of 1941, when the Nazi’s plundered Greece of its resources to feed Axis troops. Estimates put the death toll from malnutrition and starvation, not to mention civilian torture and massacres, at over 300,000 Greeks. Urban centers like Athens, where my father lived, were particularly vulnerable. My mother was from rural Meligala, north of the port city of Kalamata, though this didn’t prevent her from losing an infant younger sister to malnutrition. Or from being kicked out of her home by German soldiers and having to survive off of food they foraged for an entire summer.

People who experience hardships like this tend to put humans before animals. Even still, my father’s behavior showed a level of callousness toward me, his child, that I can’t excuse. He must have known how much I loved my animals, but his own preferences were always paramount. That was the only version of fatherhood he knew. Or maybe he perceived my affection for our pets as a foolish weakness that it was his job to purge so that I could be his version of strong. Regardless, the end result was that he treated our animals as though they were worn-out shoes.

During our walk, Shem peed only four times. I turned him around and as we headed slowly back home, I thought about how in his youth and middle age, he used to drag me in whatever direction he wanted to go. Now I had to coax him as he lagged behind.

“C’mon, Shemma! Good boy,” I said to him in a high voice. He wagged his tail gave me the dog grin I loved, and I thought, maybe we still had more time.

Angie Pelekidis has had her work appear in the Michigan Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Masters Review, Eleven Eleven, Bluestem, Drunken Boat, The MacGuffin, and more, and has pieces forthcoming in the North Dakota Quarterly. In 2010, Ann Beattie selected a story of hers as the first-prize winner of the New Ohio Review’s Fiction Contest. Angie received her Ph.D in English/Creative Writing from Binghamton University in 2012.

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Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 17-24, 2016. There are 5 spaces left. This will be her only international retreat in 2016 and is her favorite retreat of the year. Email barbara@jenniferpastiloff.com asap. More info here. Must email first to sign up.

 

Join founder Jen Pastiloff for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Adoption, Guest Posts, Young Voices

A Reflection on a Second Birthday

June 3, 2016
adoption

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Lucy Sears

It is February 23, and I am staring at a picture I have taken on my phone of a photo that sits in an album eight hundred miles away. In it, my mother hugs me close to her chest. There are tears in her eyes, but her face speaks a volume of joy that has been incredibly captured in a single shot. My father stands behind her, with a similar look.

This is the first photo that was taken of us, as a family. The date is February 23, 1998. It is not the day that I was born, but rather, it is the day I like to say my life began. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

Childhood Revisited

May 2, 2016

By Liska Jacobs

We end up at my mother’s condominium one Saturday, waiting out traffic. She’s at work and we have the place to ourselves so I begin going through cupboards, rummaging through the pantry and fridge just as I did when I was a child coming home from school. I find the burned DVD with ’84-85’ written in my father’s hand in the back of her DVD collection. The air conditioning switches on, there’s a comforting hum that we don’t have in our one bedroom apartment in Pasadena, and we’ve filled a bowl with Goldfish crackers, opened a bottle of sparkling water. We press play.

Fuzz and then a plump young dad, hardly recognizable—younger than either my husband or myself are now. He’s video taping his wife who’s even more unrecognizable, just a girl with big auburn curls and thin, thin arms. How could she have birthed twins? But there they are—my twin sister and me—two baby girls, one dark the other fair.

Then it cuts. They’re playing in a blow up pool now. Naked and splashing. The mother pours water on the dark one, the oldest, me, over and over because they both think it’s funny. Get back here Dolly, she calls to the dark one’s twin, who is pale and small and trying to climb out of the plastic pool. Where are you going?  This mother—face and hair so familiar yet alien—calls, splashing at my sister’s backside. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Young Voices

Moments of Silence

April 27, 2016
family

Note from Jen Pastiloff, founder of The Manifest-Station. This is part of our Young Voices Series for Girl Power: You Are Enough. We are always looking for more writing from YOU! Make sure you follow us on instagram at @GirlPowerYouAreEnough and on Facebook here.

By Aimy Tien

I’m cleaning the remnants of makeup and tears off my face when my father accuses me of hating my parents. “That’s why you don’t want to live in Colorado. That’s why you don’t want to come home and study here and be a doctor.”

It’s almost one am. We are three hours into this phone call, and I am tired, not just because of the conversation, but because this was Pride weekend—my eighth Pride, my third as an out queer woman (well out to everyone but my immediate family), and my first Dyke March. Dyke March is more low-key than the parade, no floats or gigantic balloon displays, just women and allies marching through the streets chanting about social justice and celebrating. After the march, I spotted an Angry Asian Dyke sign propped against a tree in Humboldt Park. With queer women as far as the eye could see, the sense of community was overwhelming. The rest of the weekend was a blur of rainbows, undercuts, and dancing at Backlot Bash, an outdoor queer woman party. And now, it’s Sunday night, I’m exhausted and I’m on the phone responding to my parents’ third in a series of increasingly angry voicemails.

Hour three of this call and the joy of the weekend is almost gone. My shoulders slump against the wall, and I let the sound of the Red Line rushing by my apartment settle me. I’m too tired to lie. “I’m not comfortable in Denver, Dad. It doesn’t feel like I can be honest there.”

“What do you mean?”

I think of the mantra I’ve been holding on to, “You can’t lose in a fight about your own happiness. You can’t lose in a fight about your own life.” So I say it.

“Dad I date men and I date women.” The train rumbles by. “You hate men and women? I don’t understand what that has to do with—“

“No, no, I date men and I date women.” The call drops, and I remind myself of a conversation I had six months before, sitting on a couch on the 8th floor of one of Columbia College’s buildings. Instead of discussing how to integrate writing and the arts into my scientific life, I was explaining to Megan, my former professor, how to be a bad Asian daughter. Continue Reading…