A tiny child with fluffy ringlets is tottering along the path, jabbering away in Ee-wah-e-meee small talk. She totters past my unit every day and has the gift of the gabble.
I don’t understand her language, but I have no problem interpreting what it says about her: she’s an engaging, peppy, strong-willed Miss Madam.
I hope she stays that way.
We’ve all been Somebody…
Somebody is going to tell little Miss Madam Natter to lose her voice. She’ll stop believing that what is innately hers, what is authentic, is worthwhile and applauded. She will be silenced, and shrink to fit in.
Somebody, or many Somebodies, will tell her to be little by belittling her.
In that uncomfortable place we occupy before we become self-aware, question who we are, how we treat ourselves and those around us, and identify our poisonous patterns, we are, to varying degrees, that Somebody. We are also, simultaneously, to varying degrees, a little-girl-shrunk.
It’s a rare person who hasn’t been a perpetrator (a Somebody), and it’s even rarer to find one who hasn’t been a victim (a little-girl-shrunk).
I think imperfection and generational gunk make it inevitable.
My lowest points as a human being were moments of crappy parenting. The shame and pain and guilt, the realization that a behavior is unhealthy, is a moment of blanching horror.
Such moments also offer redemption, if we have the guts and honesty to own our mistakes and shortcomings, work at rectifying them, apologize, take better care of ourselves, address our wounds and trauma, unpack our baggage, and do it all before we pass the baton onto the next generation.
Splinters and weight…
I’m not thinking only of overt baddies like screaming (on one occasion, my most shameful parenting crime) but also the insidious, often undetected, unaddressed baddies that trickle through our days. These traits can rob us of our purpose and potential, and sentence others to the same fate.
Our children have the best chance of running the life-hurdles race without coming a cropper for good if our baton is scarred and worn, but not bristling with splinters and so heavy they cannot jump while trying, painfully, to hold it.
Some traits appear harmless, even desirable: being self-sacrificing, the everyone-else-deserves-the-comfy-chair-so-I-won’t-sit-on-it kind of mindset, even though everyone else is just like you: more or less the same age, no disabilities or health issues, no booked and paid for seat.
I’m not suggesting we elbow our way to a prime seat.
What I’m suggesting is pausing to ask why – when we are standing right next to a vacant armchair, we are early, and we know those who will be arriving shortly are fit and sturdy – we choose to take the hard, cushion-less seat across the room?
Has the safest route always been to act as if we don’t deserve the same comforts as everyone else? Are we a little-girl-shrunk, fearing being labelled selfish, inconsiderate, greedy, badly brought up? Have we developed a servile attitude that smells like terrified rabbit and draws in cunning foxes?
If somebody does arrive who needs our cushioning armchair, of course we’ll get up and give it to them. That’s the thoughtful, kind thing to do.
If not, we need to practice sitting comfortably because, if we cannot give ourselves a little comfort and care, the heartbreaking truth is…
until we change our scent, we’ll attract predators who crave the taste of our flesh, metaphorically speaking.
From the freezer to the oven to the table…
Some traits are excused and tiptoed around, especially in adulthood, when they’ve settled in like a poisonous uncle in a comfy armchair. Most people pretend he’s not a big deal.
I, and many women I’ve known throughout my life, were CorningWare. Men can be CorningWare too; most of what I write, I write from a woman’s perspective because I’ve spent a lot of time being one.
We go from the freezer, to the oven, to the table, subjected to behavior and treatment – in the home, at work, wherever – that leaves us out in the cold, put on ice, burning with humiliation and injustice, roasted, or dished up and eaten to satisfy ravenous appetites, all the while being told we’re too salty, too bland, too hot, too cold.
Every time I ate dinner with my Ouma and Oupa, from childhood to adulthood, the delicious meals my grandmother cooked (she was a phenomenal, highly accomplished woman I need to write more about) were contaminated by the verbal condiment my grandfather brought to the table. The biting sauce was spiced with contempt and scorn.
What have you done to the rice, Woman? How much salt did you put in? You’ve ruined it. Look at you!…bloody woman, drunk again and so on and so forth.
She was sloshed, and so was he, but she could cook, sloshed or not, and being sloshed was, at that stage of her life, probably the best part of it.
Ouma tackled her drinking problem.
Oupa, on the other hand, remained an indefatigable insulter until, a few months before his death, he had another stroke and a change of heart. He was so nice I was scared to visit him. I didn’t know what to do with his newfound solicitous politeness and kindness. It was beautiful, a miracle, but weird. Another person inhabited his body.
To quote my mom, his daughter – he had about seven strokes before he died. The last one changed him from a tyrant to a teddy bear!!!!!!
It warrants six exclamation marks, I agree.
Ouma was CorningWare. Like so many before and after her, she put her heart into thriving, surviving the repeating, pitiless freezer-to-oven-to-table cycle. She did her level best to be comfort food, the steady staple everyone consumes when feeling outwitted by life.
Both Ouma and Oupa were a mix of Somebody and a little-girl-shrunk. I suppose the ratio of each depends on our levels of self-awareness, whether we stand still one day and think to ourselves This makes me and everyone around me unhappy, so why in God’s name do I keep doing it? Where did it come from, and how can I send it back?
That letter is not you…
If we receive a letter from a Somebody, few of us immediately write return to sender across the envelope and send it right back where it came from.
We open it, read it, believe it.
We might read it over and over again, wonder how to reply. Hide it in a drawer, only to find the words keep tripping us up even though we’re trying to forget them.
We’ll dread the postman arriving with his bag of letters. He’s harmless and happy, a cheerful chap, fond of a bit of chitchat, but we’ll avoid him, hide behind our net curtains. We’ll cancel our singing lessons because what the letter contains has closed our throat to song.
Until we write in big, bold letters across the front RETURN TO SENDER that letter/those letters is/are going to shrink our life.
The little-girl-shrunk can then become a caustic, irritable Somebody who starts sending letters, not just receiving them. And the cycle is perpetuated, often through generations.
We break the cycle when we write return to sender and find our own voice again. It’s like drinking an Alice in Wonderland growing potion. Suddenly, you’re taller than almost everything that made you feel small.
I say ‘almost’ because it comes with growing pains. There are still mountains to climb, but now you have the strength and will to begin your ascent.
I want wheels on this please…
One of the funniest things I’ve seen lately was our little Miss Madam Natter dragging her gigantic bag of disposable nappies behind her, looking for all the world like she was at an airport lugging her over-sized hand luggage to the boarding gate.
I could just see her stopping to whip out her phone and give the manufacturer a call.
I want wheels on this please, is what she tells them. If you want me to continue buying and recommending your product, please make it easier to transport, is what she says.
Amen, Precious. I could say that about life.
All I wish for her is that she stays just as she is and, as soon as she can write, she buys a thick black permanent marker and writes across all the letters from any Somebody RETURN TO SENDER.
That’s my girl.
Toodle-oo, I love you.
xxx ❤ TeaShell Michele
PS This week’s Happiness…
‘I’m so sorry to disturb you, but I have disturbing news to share.
It may come as a surprise to those of us not living in Las Vegas, but there are more Catholic churches there than casinos. Not surprisingly, some worshipers at Sunday services will give casino chips rather than cash when the basket is passed.
Since they get chips from many different casinos, the churches have devised a method to collect the offerings. The churches send all their collected chips to a nearby Franciscan monastery for sorting and then the chips are taken to the casinos of origin and cashed in. This is done by the chip monks.
You didn’t even see it coming, did you?’
That’s the text message I got from a neighbor this morning. Whether he wrote it himself, or was passing the basket on, I do not know.