Lessons from Animal Kingdom

It was a beautiful Saturday morning when Sweetie came up with the great idea [insert sarcasm here] to get a couple of goldfish for Nugget. I’m uncertain what inspired this sudden affection for the cold-blooded vertebrate, but she was fixated and Nugget was beside herself with excitement, so we decided to add to our little version of Animal Kingdom.

We hit the pet store first thing because we wanted to beat the mad rush to the fish tanks. This is when Sweetie gained my total buy-in and respect, because for just $.39 a fish we could buy our daughter’s love and affection.

Driving home with the plastic bag that housed the two freaked out goldfish, I began to feel for the little guys/gals. I thought about their life experiences, and how much it would suck for someone to pluck me from my home, toss me in a Glad zip-lock bag, and take me to an unknown destination. It was then that I determined we would make them a happy home/tank.

At home, the tank decorating commenced. We dumped in Nugget’s choice of fluorescent pink pebbles, poured in distilled water, jammed a couple of plants into the pebbles and placed a fake cave-like rock in the center. What fish wouldn’t be thrilled with this?

Apparently one of them didn’t like it, because he/she offed him/herself overnight and we had a floater on our hands the next morning. In hindsight, I’m not sure why Sweetie and I hadn’t thought about this.

Going into emergency responder mode, I plopped Nugget in front of Elmo so I could take care of business. I was unclear about how to dispose of the fish. Nothing seemed dignified. Trash? Toilet? So, I fed it to the Feline. Joking. I chose the toilet option and watched him/her swirl down the hole, all the while thinking what a dark place that must be.

For days after this, I couldn’t shake the memory of my childhood dog, Doogan. Doogan was a mix between a Terrier and a Dachshund. Some might say he was really a mix of a rat and bat.  A scrappy little guy, he was 12 pounds of pure muscle, resembled a gremlin, was known to chase cars, and had humongous ears.  Check him out.


Although he was the family dog (Note the professional photo.), he was really my dog. Doogan slept with me, followed me everywhere and was loyal to me through and through.

For example, one afternoon I was pulled from my algebra class because he had walked the couple of blocks from our home into my high school, looking for me. He must have gotten sidetracked by the screech of our choir as he was found in the choir room, howling. I was asked to escort him home.

You may be asking yourself, “Why wasn’t your dog fenced?” Well, I’m not sure why. When we got him, we always let him out the front door and he would scratch on the door when he returned, usually after making his rounds with the neighbors. Everyone loved him.

But, the honeymoon was over when the dog catcher told us to lock him up, or else. As you can imagine, Doogan didn’t go for being fenced in the backyard, so like the prisoner that we made him, he dug escape routes under the fence.

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I met my inner child in a yoga studio.

I have a love/hate relationship with yoga.

The “hate” stems from the fact that my girls are 34DDs and yoga clothes are not designed for large-breasted women, regardless of what the nice sales woman at the yoga clothing store says.  My breasts become unruly during yoga, which leads to an issue with breathing, particularly when in the Downward Facing Dog position. After initially smacking my face, they calm down only to bury my nose in my own cleavage, leading to suffocation.

Historically, the “love” has been in part about how good I feel after yoga and in part about my perception of what yoga can do for my body. I say “perception” because I’m a little on the heavy side and although I carry it like nobody’s business, there’s usually a skinny, bendy thing on the yoga mat next to me who inspires illusions of a thinner, more flexible me. This hasn’t occurred.

That said, I’ve one upped that expectation by meeting my inner child in the yoga studio.

It happened when I took a community class. The community aspect means free, lots of incense, candle light, groove music, poor college kids crammed in, a few throw-back hippies with copper bracelets on, and couple of token moms and seniors wishing they had chosen the 6am class.

Something was off with me that day. I couldn’t say what exactly, but when I saw my hippie yoga instructor, to my surprise, I kinda wanted to hug him.  Feeling uncharacteristically warm and fuzzy toward a stranger, I wanted to bolt. But surrounded by all the yogis, my ego said stay.

The vulnerability went out the window and was replaced by disgust and irritation when somebody farted about 10 minutes into the class. I realize it’s un-cool among the yogis to lob harsh judgments at the release of toxins in any form, especially because it’s bound to happen to you or someone you love, but I’ve got issues with bathroom-type things that I have no desire to resolve in therapy. In fact, even with a 3 year-old in my life I haven’t really loosened up about it, so I prefer that people release their gas on their own time and in their own, private space that is located far away from me.

But, I digress.

Finding my focus, I was able to hit a Zen place and became completely relaxed by the end of the class. Laying face-up on the mat, with my eyes shut, I heard a guitar.  Hippie was strumming a sweet, soft tune while we collectively lay silent and that’s when it happened.

Initially, I thought of Nugget, giving myself a “bad mama” talk because I hadn’t signed her up for yoga, which I think she would love. We do a couple of positions at home, but she may appreciate the real deal. Then I began to think about her interests, and one thing led to the next. Who would she become as she grows older? What will she look like? How will her voice sound? Already smart, will she be athletic, artsy, a mix? Then suddenly, Nugget morphed into me. A 7 or 8 year-old me; my inner child.

She looked a little like this:

Mini Me

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PTSD: My BFF during flashbacks.

Thinking of myself as someone with PTSD only occurs when my therapist, Healer Lady, gives me that look and says, “You have PTSD.”

Generally the labels have been a bit of a challenge to accept. In the beginning of therapy, I would cringe when she nonchalantly said, “child abuse” or “adult child of an alcoholic” or “co-dependent.”  Obviously I can write these phrases now, but I’m not talking them up at a dinner party.

There are other words she uses that I hate so much, typing them, right now, in this moment, feels like a giant feat. In fact, PTSD is at the top of the list. It’s only because I’m cornered that I use it. It’s a desperate grasp for sanity when the flashbacks happen. Sometimes the name “PTSD” reminds me that I’m more sane than not. Sometimes.

I think that I’ve always had flashbacks. While visiting a crappy therapist in my twenties, I told her I had “painful thoughts.” She didn’t seem interested. I didn’t push.

I’m uncertain of whether I continued to have them throughout my twenties and early thirties, but I can say with confidence that they intensified almost immediately after Nugget came into our lives.  Blaming them on baby hormones was impossible, because I didn’t carry her. It was just crazy me with crazy thoughts.

Telling Sweetie seemed too risky. How do I tell her that I feel like this:


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Trust: John Bradshaw says I ain’t got none.

I’m in a group once a week that focuses on interpersonal relationships or something like that. Healer Lady thought it would be good for me and I suppose she’s right.  Really, it’s my big night out for the week.

On occasion, because of busy schedules, we hire a babysitter to watch Nugget. Most people hire babysitters for a romantic dinner or cocktails with friends, but we hire babysitters because I’m wacked and a weekly infusion of group therapy is necessary.

A couple of weeks ago, we hired one of Nugget’s favorite babysitters who doubles as a teacher at her daycare.  Nugget LOVES her. So much so, she called her Mama once.  I was like WTF! Taming my Mama Bear, I reasoned that it clearly happened only once and it was because she had low blood sugar. That settled that.

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Nona, the enabler.

The dilemma: What kind of relationship should I encourage Nugget to have with my mother, her Nona and the enabler?

Happy Nugget with family.

Nugget’s  sense of belonging when she visits her extended family is evident. The moment we enter their company, she squeals with joy and bolts for them, leaving us behind as if we’re her chauffeurs, and after arriving at her destination, it’s understood that we should make ourselves scarce.

Growing up in Texas, I traveled to Massachusetts for family visits every few years.  To their credit, my parents attempted to foster a relationship between us kids and the New England family, but with the exception of an aunt and uncle on my mother’s side, no dice.

In hindsight, I think part of it was that I had heard stories about my grandfather, who softened in his older years but as a young man was an “SOB,” as my father would say.  This was our family’s euphemism for a violent alcoholic.  And, because he was Irish, his behaviors were romanticized as charming.

As a little girl, my grandfather handled me with care and tenderness, but I felt the remnants of his meanness and I was never comfortable with him. My feelings for him pretty much colored my feelings toward the rest of my family. Continue reading

Breaking the cycle.

Ah, the bedtime ritual. Oh how I love the constant interruptions of a good movie, dinner or maybe even a make-out session because my little one has decided to defy sleep.

Something happens to her sleepy body when I leave her bedroom. My absence acts as an amphetamine for her. I put her down. I leave the room. She gets outta bed. Sometimes she fakes exhaustion to get her little game going, and I fall for her deception every time.

Generally, I’m snuggled up on the couch with a trashy magazine, a book or Sweetie when I hear what sounds like Darth Vader in the hallway. The loud sucking sound of her paci gives her away and when we spot her, she always, always has a proud smile behind her paci.

The other night this went on for two solid hours. Continue reading

EMDR, Francine Shapiro and Vibrators

Does anyone find it strange that you can hold two vibrators to rewire things in your brain?  I can’t shake this thought as my therapist hands over the mouse-like vibrators used for EMDR. I know there’s a headphone option and some eye thing that you can do, but I started with the vibrators and I’m a creature of habit.

Still, I couldn’t help but to think about the person who thought “Eureka! Vibrators are the answer for trauma survivors!”  I googled EMDR and voilà, up came www.emdr.com. How easy they made it.  Apparently the brilliant person is Francine Shapiro, Ph.D. She looks nice enough.

Healer Lady talked to me about EMDR several times before I finally took the leap. I was chicken about the whole thing. Mostly it was because I just didn’t get it. It was a little too hippie-dippie for my taste. I couldn’t imagine how rolling my eyes around, listening to an annoying beep or holding a vibrator in the wrong spot was going to do me any good.  But  Healer Lady pressed on in that therapeutic way she does and I finally caved.

One EMDR session later and I was a believer.  It was amazing. I thought I was damn near close to Continue reading

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