Remembering Sister

Today I learned that one of my favorite teachers has passed.

I was blessed to attend an outstanding, private, all-girls high school; Ursuline Academy in Dedham, Massachusetts.

I have referenced my school in several posts, including “Perfectionista!”  I specifically talk about Sister Ursula (Sister)in my post, “eye lock

In “eye lock,” Sister Ursula was the nurturing, caring and perceptive teacher who clearly saw through my “stiff-upper-lip-ish-ness” in homeroom on that cold December day. It was the day before my nana died.

As mothers, we have an inherent capacity to identify and detect our children’s needs, fear, sorrow and happiness. We know when something is off with our kids. We can FEEL it.

Sister Ursula was not a biological mother, but I observed on many occasions her innate ability to express that maternal love to her students especially when they were troubled. She extended her love and genuine warmth without appeal. She just knew what to do.

She did this for me, and I will never forget it.  She responded to her maternal sense toward me in her homeroom, first period,  in Latin 2.

It was the day before my nana died. I knew it was imminent. Although I kept my fear and sadness it to myself (without success, apparently,) she sensed my sorrow and despair within the first minutes of class.

After our opening prayer, she paused, looked at me with her head tilted in compassion and asked, “Mistress Mary, what troubles you so?”

I burst into tears. I sobbed in her embrace, and she just held me and comforted me as mothers do. My classmates looked on silently and respectfully with kindness and compassion. I told her that Nana was not expected to live.

That was correct. She died the next day.

Last May, I attended my 3oth high school reunion which, in itself, is gross and mean and hurts my feelings. Yes, thirty.

Despite the sparse attendance from our class, there was a remarkable connection between us. It was as if we had not lost a moment.  Ursuline is a special and unique school whose students have an uncanny bond as sisters. It is a bond which transcends time and does not discriminate concerning graduating year.

Sister Ursula, along with numerous other teachers, both religious and lay, made our experience one of learning, love of learning and just plain love.

I struggled immensely in my formative high school years. I was privately coping with repeated sexual abuse by my grandfather, Nana’s husband. I kept it a secret from my school. Despite that and all my sadness, my school community made me feel loved.

So, in close, here is my testimonial to this remarkable lady.

What a loss to our Ursuline community. Sister Ursula was a dynamic woman whom I will never forget. She was an inspirational and impassioned person. Sister went to great lengths to better our learning with her zeal and candor. She was a lover of art, humanities, sharing her knowledge and being in community.

She had MOXIE.

I will forever remember her for her blessed gift of shining a light on the uniqueness and beauty of each of her students.

One of the many remarkable things she did was to collect a stone from the beach each summer for every one of her homeroom students. She painted it uniquely for each young woman and gifted it on the student’s birthday. On one side she painted a relevant quote. On the other, she painted a picture

Who does that?

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I wish that all Ursuline girls had the wonderful gift of Sister. And for those of us who were blessed enough to know her, let her spirit live on in all of us.

Rest in Peace, Sister. Love to you.

 

That’s All.

 

 

 

Peanut Butter is Disgusting?

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Taken at the time of my grandparents visit which I share below. I am seven.

 

This morning I sliced a banana and put a dollop of peanut butter on my plate. All of a sudden my stomach lurched. I remembered something that has not crossed my mind in years.

I was triggered.

Anyone who has suffered trauma is triggered from time to time. Trauma happens as a result of anything that challenges or strays from what feels right to us as human beings. Whether the trauma is the result of an accident, the horror of serving during a war, sexual abuse or any other event, trauma happens.

I was seven years old and in the second grade. I got off the bus at the end of the driveway, walked up and entered my house to greet my mom, Nana, and Grandpa, who were visiting for a few days.

THE Grandpa. My abuser.

Mom asked if I wanted my usual snack, peanut butter in a small orange ramekin. Of course, I accepted.

As I sat there enjoying, propped up on the kitchen chair by The Yellow Pages, and swinging my little legs. Grandpa looked at me, curled his lip and said, “That’s disgusting.”

That moment turns my stomach. Not the peanut butter, mind you, but the way he was turned off by my snack choice.

All the while, he was sexually abusing me.

So peanut butter is disgusting.  What?

I have been thinking all morning about how insanely twisted and skewed that scene was.

My grandparents came to visit often. I remember their visits as a young girl before my abuse had started – before I was seven-ish.

I loved their visits.

I have fond memories of sitting at our octagonal kitchen table with the yellow 70-ish chairs playing Rummy 500. Dad and Grandpa would drink a Knickerbocker Beer and Smoke Raleigh Filter tips, the ashes of which they flicked into the amber, plate sized ashtray.

We had fun.

I remember that Nana was dear to me. She was kind and sweet and spoiled me. When I had an occasional temper tantrum kicking and screaming on the floor, she would gently put her foot on my back and say, “OH! What a nice rug!”

I would soon come out of it and return to my cheerful self. She would give me a chocolate out of the box with the red bow on it. I always chose the candy with the pink rosebud on top.

Grandpa was standoffish. He left me alone for the most part. Then things changed. He took an interest in me.

We would walk to the playground. I would run my little fingers along the chain link fence that abutted the sidewalk. I would pick up the remnant of a deciduous a tree – that little bit that looked like a coat hanger and hold it up to my face as if they were my mustache.

One thing lead to another.

Things changed. He was not longer aloof. He paid attention to me. I was little. I did not know what he was doing.

Grooming.

He was grooming me.

You see, sexual abuse does not always just start with a “BOOM!” Most of the time it happens at the hands of a family member or a close family friend who takes the time and interest to foster the victim.

It happens over time. I may start with things like tickling, or an inappropriate touch or the perpetrator telling secrets as a way to build a bond. The abuser wants to build trust.

Over time, it changes. There is a sick takeover, an overpowering, so to speak.

Dominance.

Children are usually dumbfounded, scared out of their wits and lose their sense of selves. They don’t know what to do.

I knew what he was doing to me was wrong. It felt yucky. But I did not know what it was or meant. Was it the baseline? Did it happen to every little person?

I was ashamed and embarrassed. I did not know how to communicate what had happened to me to my mom and dad. Even if I did have the words, I was too mortified to speak them.

Much like most children, I looked up to my folks. I was a pleaser. I was teacher’s pet and was the only seven-year-old at the YWCA that was brave enough to jump off the deep-end diving board.

I did not want to “upset the applecart,” anger my parents or make a fuss. It was only me after all.

Yup. That is when that feeling started. It was only measly little me.

Way. Back. Then.

In my case, I kept my mouth shut. For years. I did not have the words. I did not know how to tell anyone that that “innocent kiss” did not feel right. I sat on his lap, but I was told to do so. I had to. Most of the time I quickly struggled and squirmed away. Again, it felt yucky.

I would give anything to go back in time and change it all. I wish that I had shouted “no!” I wish that I knew how to say the words. I wish that I had the confidence in myself to tell. I wish that he was locked away.

If I had, my cousin would have been spared. And others would have been spared, too.

I do not feel responsible for the abuse that happened to My Laura and other children. I did not know any better. No one taught me.

I did know enough to warn Laura about what Grandpa might do to her.  But she laughed. She had NO idea what the details of my warning really meant. She laughed. She was little.

To a child,  my words, my warning, the details sounded preposterous.

How can a child effectively warn another child when she, herself, doesn’t have the words?

As adults, it may be uncomfortable to do so, but necessary. Imperative, even.

I am not sure that people think to educate themselves as to how to protect their children. I protected my child out of absolute fear; I was overprotective, and a helicopter but that was because I was keenly aware of the peril.

But I never studied or researched HOW to protect my babe. I made it up as I went along.

Now I know. Now I know that there are tools and sources, and there is valuable information to educate us.

Parents. Everybody.  You can learn the warning signs. You can teach your children the proper language to express inappropriate behavior or violation by another. You can convince them that it is safe to tell. You can cut it off before it begins.

There are no guarantees that you can prevent sexual abuse, but you can arm yourself. Be smart. Be proactive.

And if it has already started, that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is if your child never tells you about it.

I eventually told my parents. My abuse was swept under the carpet; it was not acknowledged by the other family members who were also told.
And neither was Laura’s, except by her mom.

Here is the takeaway.

Smarten up. Don’t be uncomfortable or embarrassed that you will insult someone or hurt their feelings if you are suspicious. Call the person out. Interject if you suspect someone has inappropriate behavior. Listen, speak up.

Join the bandwagon because when it comes to peanut butter and incest, you know which is is disgusting.

That’s all.

 

For more information or to register for a workshop or a lecture, please visit sayitsurvivor.org

 

Things that Blow My Dress Up

I LOVE…..

Sleeping under my duvet on a crisp night with the window open so my nose is cold

That tight feeling on my skin after a sunscreen-y, salty and sandy day

Creamed. Spinach. Anytime. Oh. My. Goodness.

Reading a paperback book that gets wet and then dries to be twice its size

Chugging a super cold Coors Light after mowing the lawn- and the little burp that ensues. It is a little bit hysterical.

Women who accept and love and refuse to judge. They are angels of God.

My untamed hair on a beach day.  It is wild and curly and crazy and fits in.  Cause usually, it doesn’t.

Jumping into the pool with my gross and dirty clothes on after working like a dog in the yard on a 90-degree day.

The smell of burgers grilling

My August feet- I am pretty sure  I could walk through fire with them.

I found my cousin.  I never thought I would see her again.

When my guests ask me for the recipe of something I served at a dinner party. And they wait until I give it to them before they leave.

My in-laws.  They make me happy. They make me feel loved.

My daily morning kiss on my forehead from My Michael.

REGINA PIZZA. Cheese. Red pepper flakes. A little sprinkle of salt. God is Good.

A raspberry lime rickey

My snakeskin cowboy boots

My morning walks with Dex

Cooking. All the time. Period.

The fact that I just looked over and saw My Michael busting a move to the Bee Gees.  I wish you were here. Now. To see him.  All your troubles would momentarily disappear.

Laughing so hard that my Pepsi comes out of my nose

That’s all.

 

After “MEAN”-ing. A Loving Message

My friends, following is a timely and beautiful piece posted on one of my favorite blogs, Momastary.

What perfect timing!  The topic of one of my recent posts was about bullying. Thanks, G for this letter.

Bullying.

I experienced it. My cousin, Laura experienced it. Now, my son suffers from it.

Please. Please. Please.

Talk to your children. Read this letter to your kids. Glennon gives her permission to substitute her son’s name with your child’s.  We can minimize bullying by being aware and educating our children on what this means and what it feels like to victims.

Glennon is inspiring. She is full of love. She brings good into this world.

We connect with Glennon. Glennon connects with us.  Want to know why? She is vulnerable, honest, real, and she offers a full heart. Consistently.

My cousin, Laura, turned me on to her. Laura took me to see her.

Here is Laura, our friend, Jessica and I waiting in great anticipation for G to arrive at The Old South Church in Boston. Glennon more than delivered.

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Then, by choice, the three of us waited at the very end of the line of many, many women to say hello to G.  It was worth the wait. We loved being last.

Glennon’s sister Amanda was by her side. What lucky women. They have each other. And they share full hearts collectively with all. And they make a difference.

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Glennon says, “Love Wins.”

She is so very right. And so is Amanda.

Thank you, both.

Right on!

That’s all

READ BELOW

http://momastery.com/blog/2015/08/18/before-school-conversation/

Namaste

“Senior Salute?”

I watched the news this morning before my daily walk with my Black Lab, Dexter.  When the clip came on I spit my coffee out.

A senior conquest. Interesting.  Shocking.

Today begins the rape trial for the St. Paul School graduate of the class of 2014.  This Harvard bound student has been accused of luring and repeatedly raping a Freshman girl, a fifteen-year-old child. Owen Labrie of Tunbridge, Vermont allegedly sexually assaulted this young girl only days before he graduated.

And do you want to know why?

He was participating and vying to win a school tradition called the “Senior Salute.”  It’s a sexual conquest in which graduating young men set out to have sex with as many girls as possible prior to their graduation.  They refer to this as “scoring.”

These young men use school walls as their canvas, and their medium is a marker.  They must keep the girl’s names documented.  That is how the boys keep “score,” of course.  The more marker, the better chance of winning!

This tally seems like a good idea.  Credit them for each and every child that they “conquer!”  It is important to keep track of each notch on their belts.  Right?

And the school just keeps painting over those walls.

If you read my post “MEAN-ing”, you will see a remarkable correlation between permanent marker, school walls, and fresh paint.

Bullying. Sexual Abuse. Interesting?

Not so much.

Tuition, room and board at St. John’s School costs over $50,000.00. It is one of our country’s most prestigious schools. Our Secretary of State, John Kerry attended as did some other congressmen, Pulitzer Prize winners, and other illustrious figures.

But who cares?

Sexual abuse does not differentiate.  It doesn’t matter whether it occurs in the most prestigious institutions or under a bridge in Chelsea.  It happens.  All the time.  There is too much silence around it.

And there is always a tin of paint to solve the problem.

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God bless this girl who has had the courage to come forward and out these young men for their conquests.  Imagine her incredible strength and conviction.

The heartbreaking part is that she may need to take the stand.  They will question her. They may cross-examine her. They may doubt her.  They may challenge her truth. And she may not be believed.

And that my friends is criminal in itself.

He has not been found guilty.  I am making assumptions that he is guilty.  Maybe he is not.

Fat chance.

But that is just one woman’s opinion.

These conquests such as the “Senior Salute” are abhorrent.  And they are in keeping with the theme of sexual abuse.  It’s ego based. These perpetrators are on a quest for power and dominance.

And nobody is going to stop them.

Except brave girls. And all of us listening.  ALL THE TIME.

No matter what.

That’s all.

“MEAN”-ing

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I think back to my life between the ages of 7 and 14. It is remarkable that I survived.

They did not believe me when, as a preteen, I told my parents and my uncle that I was being abused by my grandfather. The abuse had gone on for years. After that, I had to continue to stay at Grandpa’s house numerous times for years. And the abuse continued.

I had to accept it. When you are a child, you don’t have a vote on plans or where you will visit. I accepted that I was in a battle that I had to fight alone.

I felt abandoned and alone, not to mention scared out of my wits. But I carried on, and I survived.

When you muster the courage to cry for help, and your petition falls on deaf ears, it is unlikely, especially as a child, that you will speak up again. The rejection and feeling of desperation and abandonment are too painful the first time. Why try again?

So, I learned to button my lip and deal with it.

I learned how to avoid him. I learned never to be alone at his home if I could avoid it, and I did so at all costs. I learned to stay away from the bottom of the stairs and the pool cabana.

Simultaneously, between the ages of 11-12, I was brutally bullied by a group of girls.

Double whammy.

I became close friends with five girls when we started middle school. We were at the age where we discovered boys and wore Levi cords with combs in our back pockets. Our hair was feathered; we listened to Andy Gibb, and our biggest concern was when our sibling would hang up the “Trimline” phone so that we could make a call.

We rode bikes and went to the library on Thursdays after school. We didn’t go for the books. We went for the boys.

Grade 6 was a different beast altogether.

Things took a turn. It was awful.

One moment, the five popular girls were my besties, giggling during class and sitting together at lunch. We discussed what boys were the cutest and that our Social Studies teacher used to be a nun. Then, the next day there was no seat for me at the lunch table. Later I would open my locker to see one of the dreaded notes, a piece of looseleaf paper carefully folded into a square with the end tucked in just so.

It looked like a compact, hard little square rock and felt like one too. My gut lurched as I unfolded it.

I would read that they had decided, on that given day, that they were all going to be mad at me. There was never a particular reason for their cruelty. They just felt like it.

They would be mad if I got a new pair of chinos, earned a better grade on my science test or God forbid, a cute boy liked me. The duration of the girls ostracizing me could be anywhere from a day to 2 weeks.

My stomach hurt all the time.

One morning I walked into the girls room during the third period and saw my name in black sharpie all over the stall. It still makes me ill to think of the text. It is unnecessary to bring up. You would not want me to.

I don’t know if I will every fully recover from what was violently plastered all over those yellow stall doors. It still haunts me.

By the end of the fourth period, the girls rooms smelled of fresh paint. I never told my parents or anyone other than my teacher, who called the custodian immediately.

Nothing more happened. That was that. The dreary yellow paint masked that blasphemy.

Don’t you think that the school should have taken this one step further? Don’t get me wrong. I did very much appreciate the paint. But as horrific as that writing on the wall was the fact that they ignored the actual writing on the wall was excruciating.

That excruciating pain was reminiscent. It felt all too familiar. Not long before I felt the same way when my parents did not acknowledge my abuse. Now, my school did not acknowledge it either.

Can you imagine how that felt?

I put the thermometer on the radiator the next day and for four days following. You can’t go to school with a fever.

I arrived at school every day wondering what was going to happen to me. My parents advocated for me constantly, but it fell on deaf ears because “Well, that is middle school girls for you!” or “She just needs to toughen up.” The worst was, “Just tell her to ignore them.”

Really? Really.

The situation escalated to the point where my parents pulled me out of public school and sent me to a private school for girls. There were subsequent rumors around that, too.

Sadly, bullying occurs all the time, especially with tweens.

Boys and girls bully differently. Boys tend to bully physically whereas girls bully by exclusion.

Girls are clandestine. Girls bully in packs and frequently, it is over power and popularity. Often it is because they feel threatened.

The term used to define this type of bullying is Relationship Aggression, and my middle school life was a perfect example of it. The hate notes, whispering, unprecedented abandonment and fabricate rumors are all examples of this. The aftermath is devastating. It can cause irrevocable damage.

Victims of bullying are afraid. They feel horribly vulnerable. They feel exposed and powerless. There is an overwhelming sense of sadness and isolation.

I did.

And, these feelings were reminiscent of those of my sexual abuse.

There is an uncanny parallel between sexual abuse and bullying. The root of both is dominance and power. It is the control over one who is vulnerable and weaker. In both crimes, and they are both crimes, is an active and common thread.

Shame.

A lot of my blog posts address surviving sexual abuse. But can you see how similar these two epidemics are? Bullying is very much alive and well just as is sexual abuse.

It keeps happening because no one stops it. It continues to thrive because it CAN.

Let’s cut it out.

Talk. Listen. Explore. Get involved. Read the signs. Your child’s health and happiness depend on it.

Click the link below for an excellent source on bullying. It was a source of information in this post. Check it out!

That’s all.

tweenparenting.com

 

Throwing Rocks

One beautiful summer morning my brother and I fetched our good friend, Steven, who lived across the street.  We wanted to play. All of us were around 6-7 years of age.

I had a brilliant idea. I suggested we stand on either side of our street, Steven on one side and big brother and I on the other.

The charge was to demonstrate our 7-year-old strength, agility, and skill by throwing rocks OVER passing cars.

We were talented. We were accurate. We were well equipped to handle the challenge.  That was until the ’73 White Camaro drove by.

We calculated, we paused then I hurled that rock. But something happened.The rock neglected to clear the roof of the car. It failed me.

That damn rock whaled itself right into the driver’s side panel.

SCREEEETTTCH!

WHOA.

A thin, stylish young woman  with a large bouffant hairdo, wearing a white mini-dress and white patent leather clunky sandals got out of the car and pointed her long pink pearly fingernail at us and just-

Screamed.

We were petrified. We ran. Big Brother and I hid underneath sofa in our den. The one that had the burlap cushions and the black wood frame with swirls and little pears painted on it.

We hung out with the dust bunnies ’till mom found us. I confessed. She was angry and stern.

But later I heard her on our yellow rotary phone in the kitchen telling our neighbor, Mrs. Nichols what happened.  Mom did not seem so angry, after all.

Sometimes, we think that we have what it takes. We feel overzealous.   But our actions can be destructive even with the best of intentions. Sometimes we think we are a lot stronger than we actually are.

As grown ups, it is hard to keep company with dust bunnies under a retro couch.

I have had my moments of feeling like Helen Reddy. Other times I want to melt away.  I want to quit. And quitting is embarrassing. Quitting requires humility especially when you quit while you are ahead.

I had a crush on my banker.  There was idle prattle each day as I executed my official business banking activity. We learned that we both shared an interest in fitness. Soon after, I learned that he was on some serious, competitive Rugby team. G. Q. had just done a photo shoot of his team all dirty with “”cauliflower” ears.  But I did not know that when I agreed to go on a running date with him.

He invited me to go for a run along Boston’s Esplanade. “SURE!” an overenthusiastic Mary replied. Off we went me wearing my cute lavender/purple matching lycra running “outfit.”  He chatted. I panted

I thought, “How freaking long is this date (strike that) RUN going to last????”

I surrendered myself to a bench. He jogged in place looking puzzled.   Date over.

New bank.

I thought I was invincible. I wanted to impress him. I committed to a “running date” with an elite athlete and believed that I could keep up with him.  I bit off WAY more than I could chew.

And in trying to impress him, in attempting to be someone who I was not, I ended up feeling embarrassed. I did not end up with a second date, either. But that is another story.

That run was much like that rock that slammed into the Camaro.  I did not expect that outcome.  I was humbled. But I went to meet my friends for a beer after that humiliating date instead of hanging out under the couch. That was an uptick.

My girlfriends talked me off the ledge.

Let me share an example of my poor judgment that turned out with a positive twist.

I knew my first husband for many years.  We were acquaintances living in the same Boston neighborhood.  He was attractive and charming.  Over the years, our friendship grew and eventually we started dating.

Our relationship seemed perfect.  We were in the throws of early infatuation then puppy love.  It all seemed just ideal and fulfilling and meant to be, and I was over the moon!

Before long we were saying the L word. Within a year, we were engaged and together we bought a condo in Boston’s Back Bay.

Moving in together was an eye opener.

Our idealistic relationship became real and raw and hard.  What seemed perfect went sour.  I was unhappy. As was he.

We started out happy and loving and kind to one another.  Once the ring was placed on my finger, the tide changed.

Jealousy became poison.  I could not defend myself against crimes I did not commit. We were in constant drama and turmoil.

My stomach was in knots all the time.

We were co-dependent.  It was not good.

As a perfectionist, failure was not an option.  I could fix it. I could make him love me if I just loved him BEST and BETTER. I could teach him not to be unjustifiably jealous.

I could change him. I knew it.

All you need is love, right?

I took off my engagement ring about two months before we got married. When I learned that I was pregnant just ten weeks before our wedding, I saw it as a sign and put the ring back on my finger.

I decided that  I had enough love to save US.  I was certain that we would live happily ever after.  We would have a beautiful, perfect life with our condo in the Back Bay and our baby.

Boy was I wrong.

Three days before we said, “We do” we had our first appointment with the OB.  It was not good.  There was no heartbeat. I  miscarried.

His family was arriving from Ireland while I was in the hospital.  There was no turning back. Or so I thought.

I think he would agree that we both should have legged it from that altar.

A year later I was pregnant and nine months later had a gorgeous boy. Blessed.

But my husband and I never made it.  It was a struggle from the start. It was a hard six years.  It ended. But we had our joy, our son, which made it all worthwhile.

Here is the takeaway.  We all aspire. We have the best of intentions. But you know what? Things do not always go as planned.

We are not always capable of what we think. And that is a beautiful thing, kids!

At the end of the day, that just says that we have a high opinion of our power. Of what we are capable.

It is ok if you cannot hurl that rock over the Camaro.  The part to focus on is that you believed in yourself. You took the chance. You look back and see that your choice may not have been a wise one, but you lived through it.

And eventually, Sugar, you crawl out from under that couch, wipe off the dust bunnies and say, “Onward!”

Failure is an option.

And the strength to accept it, accept yourself as a human being with the delightful ability to be less than perfect is just, well, perfect.

Now, shake things up, honey, and have some fun.  And please, for the love of Pete, quit beating yourself up.  We can’t always clear the Camaro with a huge rock.

That’s all.