Alone.

Alone. Irrevocably, irreversibly, incontrovertibly, and utterly alone.

My wife, Eva Parsons, died after two and one half years of being afflicted with metastatic breast cancer on Thursday, April 7, 2016, at 8:00 a.m.

Eva and I had prepared for her death almost from the moment she was diagnosed. Eva generated a great storehouse of equanimity to deal with her cancer. She was not angry about getting the disease; she was not afraid to die; she was not sad that her life would come to an end at 65. She accepted her death, and taught many of us about dying without the typical drama that surrounds a cancer death. She managed her life effectively until her last breath.

On the morning she died, I was with my daughter, Samantha. We stayed by Eva’s side for a while, hugged, checked in with each other, and then went on with the day as it unfolded. For a while, I felt like I was in a vacuum, but that passed almost right away. Sam stayed in Alaska for the next day, and left Saturday morning; I took her to the airport for her six o’clock flight to Nashville.

On the return drive home from Anchorage, I practiced my intentional breathing, and managed to not think about what I had lost, or to think about what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Eva directed me to live a long life, to be kind, and to set a “good example.” I think the “good example” part was her humor; I’ll never know; there’s nobody to ask.

I arrived home, let the Labs out of the car, and into the house. They ambled to whatever part of the house suited them and left me alone, standing in the kitchen with shafts of early morning sunlight coming through the window and splashing on the kitchen floor.

As I stood just inside the door, alone, I had a long moment of awareness: from that time on, I was utterly, irrevocably, irretrievably, and completely alone for the rest of my life. I stood there for minutes while I absorbed the feeling. I have never been completely alone in 65 years. Everything had changed forever, I realized. I think the word for this feeling is “bereft.” It seems like the right word.

Of course, I have lots of support. Now. Many friends say, “If you need anything, just call.” I appreciate their gesture. Eventually, everyone returns to their routine because their lives have not changed.

I, on the other hand, have changed, or rather, my world has shifted: I am alone.

I am okay with being alone for now; I’ll be okay later, also.

It is just an unsettling feeling to be alone without reprieve, and not be able to return to the companionship I shared with Eva for 44 years. She is gone forever; I will continue without her for a very, very long time. Sad. Bereft. Alone. At least for now.

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The trouble is, you think you have time.

Today, Samantha and I were watching videos I shot of her when she was a baby. It is always fun to look back and enjoy those moments forever frozen on the video tape.

One segment struck Samantha as funny; Sam named it “What Rhymes With Duck?”

https://youtu.be/Khd-LZTomxM  (click the link and then click the link below this link.)

As we watched this video over and over again, we realized that what we were looking at was not a funny video, but a snapshot of Eva, Sam’s Mom, and my wife of forty years, when Eva was thirty-eight. What struck us was how young Eva looked. Her smile radiated happiness. She truly loved being with her daughter and sharing a few moments opening Samantha’s birthday present.

We watched the video and realized this was before Eva had wrinkles, or grey hair. She has just come home from teaching school. Her smile is so warm; she smiles so readily even after she frowns at her husband’s inane implication about the rhyming of “duck.”

This was a time of great joy for Eva. Teaching was going very well for her. She had a baby to come home to every day after work. The baby adored her Mother. Her husband was keeping the house in shape and cooking and keeping the baby entertained during the day. What more could you ask for?

We didn’t know it then, but if we could have asked for anything, we probably would have asked to live in that moment (remain young and beautiful) forever. But like the quote says, you don’t control time.

Everything changes. Samantha grew noticeably brighter every day, Eva and I grew a little more each day; we didn’t notice the slow transition for another twenty years. Life got better for us every day, every year. While we weren’t looking, time changed; we changed.

Samantha and I look at Eva in this video and we love her as she was. We love her as she is. We thought we had time. We don’t. Soon, we will have to love Eva only as she was. She will no longer be with us. Are we sad? Yes. Can we be happy again? Samantha and I find great pleasure watching Eva find joy in teaching Samantha words and rhymes. Teaching is Eva’s greatest joy in life. It is just a brief moment in time, but it reminds us of how innocent and how happy we were to live in that moment. The moment.

I remind myself to focus on each breath, each moment: it is the only time we have together.

Spanking Nicole Abour

I love Nicole Abour! She is a prime example of how we need to listen to stupid people in order to clarify our own ideas about controversial subjects. Give her about three minutes of your time, click on this link and her video will load:

Abour reminds me of what my father said to me one time (in reference once to an example of my profound stupidity on a subject): “Nobody is ever totally worthless, if nothing else, they can always serve as a bad example.”

Abour can be is such an example; her thinking process is instructive: it demands that we find a different way to respond to ineffective parenting. Nicole’s problem isn’t really with obstreperous children’s behavior, it is really with the parents of these children, but she can’t think past the noise of these children to clear her mind and think about how one might help these parents and their offspring.

Did anyone besides me catch the sound symbolism in Nicole’s last name? Abour: a bore? Okay, it’s just the literature teacher in me raising my ugly head.

Before I get too carried away with Nicole Abour and her goofiness, I would like to tell a few of my own spanking stories.

One day, I had done something especially egregious to draw the ire of my mother. She had to resort to threatening me because she had run out of authority to discipline me. I must have been about five. She couldn’t spank me, so she did the next best thing, she pretended to call my father at work and tell him what a bad boy I had been and how I needed a spanking when he got home from work. She, of course, knew better than to bother my father at work, so she held down the kitchen phone receiver (old school phone) while she dialed the number. She proceeded to relate, as I listened from the living room, the laundry list of sins I had committed that day, leaving the worst for last. I was paralyzed with fear that my dad would come home and beat me. He had never done more than speak a few cross words to me, so my fear was totally ungrounded as fear always is. When she hung up, she said flatly, “When your father gets home, he is going to deal with you. He told me to tell you that.”

The day went on. Mother forgot about me, but I didn’t forget about my impending doom.

Upon arriving home after work, my father, totally ignorant of my manifold sins, bounded up the driveway, both arms wide open to greet me in a bear hug. I, remembering my mother’s phone call, had been worried, non-stop, for hours before my father’s arrival.

I was watering the front yard trees with a powerful stream of water. I flashed on my father’s open arms threatening to tackle me to the ground and spank my butt until it fell off. I defended myself with the only tool I had at hand: the water hose! I hosed that man up and down, down and up, and then hosed him straight into his shocked face with that water hose gushing forth it’s cold stream of water from a four foot distance.

Something in his face changed. I did not read it as anger: it was clearly chagrin at having been greeted so rudely and having his brand new, three piece, grey flannel suit completely soaked. Too bad there wasn’t an audience to witness this scene.

It was flight or fight time. I flew. Father became enraged. I got about twenty feet of a head start. I was no slouch at running! My father sprang into a sprint and was closing rapidly from the first bound. Off we jetted, three hundred feet south on Poplar Street to the corner of Twenty-First Street. I instinctively rounded left up the Twenty-First Street hill and thereby saved myself a guaranteed public spanking. As we ran up the hill, I maintained speed; my dad’s speed flagged. (He was about fifty-four and retribution running was not his forte.) I circled the block, hung out with some neighbors, and then bowed to the inevitable. I  returned home.

Dad was nowhere in sight. Mother was upstairs crying (a very rare event.) Unbeknown to me, my dad had returned home. Angry words were exchanged. To my mom’s credit, she must have come clean about the misunderstanding she had authored. He changed clothes and was walking the neighborhood looking for me. His objective was to forgive me, have a good laugh, and recover the rest of the evening: he had come home early from work to take us all to dinner. We didn’t laugh at me hosing him down.

Later, he didn’t even remember it.

Story two. I knew (and loved) a friend of my parents, Bill Hileman. He was a big man, a strong man, and a pleasant man to be around. He always welcomed me into a conversation when he was at my parent’s home. When I was a freshman in junior high, Bill Hileman was my ninth-grade physical education teacher and I was thrilled to be in his class. The greatest difficulty I had at the beginning of the year was to remember to call him Mr. Hileman instead of Bill. I settled on the jock approach: I called him coach.

One day, I was exercising my office of “Stud Ninth Grader” in the showers at the end of class. Little seventh graders were scurrying around in the showers trying to get showered and trying to not be late getting dressed and getting to their next class. My self-appointed job was to hurry them along by snapping my rolled-up towel at their naked little fannies (we were all naked). I had learned how to do this office from the ninth graders when I was in seventh and eighth grade.

The floor drain had been deliberately plugged and I was surprised by the sloshing through the water of an adult and then the feel of a powerful, huge hand on my shoulder. Coach Hileman barked, “Step into my office, Parsons.”

His office was the health room where ninth-graders changed. The rowdy gym students fell silent as Coach Hileman followed me into the room and closed the door.

I of course, thought the situation was hilarious. Nobody else was that deluded.

Coach Hileman positioned me at the front of the class and said, “Assume the position,” flatly. I grabbed my ankles. My little privates dangled between my legs.

Coach Hileman and the other coaches had a running joke going for years. They always asked the preparatory question: “Do you want a love tap, or the regular?” Nobody, but nobody ever asked for the latter. I said, “Oh hell Bill, give me the regular!”

Such audacity was rewarded with an arc of the paddle that swung so precipitously  the sound barrier was dented, if not broken. The water droplets, formally on my bare butt, rematerialized themselves as tears and shot out of my eyes. I saw the light. Literally. Excruciating pain flashed bright orange and yellow in my brain. I stood. I took one step. I passed out in front of thirty slack-jawed classmates. When I came to, seconds later, after I landed in a heap on the cold linoleum, I saw Coach Hileman’s face in my face, worried. He said, “Do you want me to tell your dad, or do you want to?” I said, “I’ll take care of it, sir.”

I don’t remember speaking to Bill Hileman ever again. my feeling were hurt, irrevocably. I did not refuse to speak to him out of anger; I wasn’t particularly angry. I would have easily forgiven him. After all, I was the one at fault.  I just never went out of my way to talk to him again. Neither did my family. That spanking damaged everyone. All were punished.

Story three. When I was about seven, I still played with Lincoln Logs. I didn’t always use them to build cool cabins and bridges, and whatever kids build with Lincoln Logs. I did build all of those things, but my first love was designing weapons with the green roof slats combined with the small log pieces.

One day, I was in my bedroom, pilot-testing a new slate/fulcrum/projectile combination. I launched the log-projectile at NASA launch velocity across the room, through the bedroom door, in a perfect trajectory into my father’s temple. I’m not sure how much it hurt, but it did draw blood near his eye.

He entered the room and I knew immediately not to blame the dog for this one. He picked up a green Lincoln Log roof slat and brandished it like a paddle (in retrospect, it was almost a laughable paddle). I reached down and picked up a slat, and for safety’s sake, picked up another in order to have one in each hand. I was ready to fight to the death like they do on television.

My dad offered up the old saw that is often spoken before a parent whales on his child, “This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you.”

My response drove straight to his heart and his mind at the same time, “Why do we want to hurt each other, anyway?”

He stopped, pondered that question for ten seconds, and then put down the slat and left my room. I didn’t win the day, we both did. He never threatened me again. Ever. And Lord knows, I gave him lots of reasons over the next ten years to punish me. He found a undressed girl one afternoon under my bed when she sneezed because of the dust bunnies she was keeping company with, but that’s another story for another blog.

When I first stated teaching, my principal at the time was four square opposed to spanking and all corporal punishment. I challenged him on the subject, being firmly rooted in the pro-spanking camp. He responded very authoritatively. His position was formed as an educator. He said that when we spank children, we teacher them a dangerous and dysfunctional lesson: we teach them “I can hit you because I am bigger than you.”  He continued that corporal punishment seems effective in the moment because it is. But all behavior is built on an inexorable timeline. Eventually, that child will become an adult and use that same behavior on a child.  Additionally, there is the problem of where you begin on the timeline to spank children. Is one too young, is two about right? Months?  Do we spank babies? Why not? They annoy us when they cry, don’t they? On the other end of the timeline when do we stop spanking to change behavior? Ten? Twelve? Eighteen? Do we stop when they are too damned big and might hit us back, or challenge our authority to spank them? Do we resume spanking when our spouse won’t respond any other way?

There is a great (if not painful to read) scene in Diana Gabaldon’s book Outlander when Jamie spanks Claire for running away and endangering the entire clan. This is no love tap spanking: he completely blisters her ass with a leather belt. An interesting side observation is that Jamie is whipped numerous times in the novel and it never changes his behavior. Claire has to bring him to his senses with reason.

And in this age of gender equality, do we spank girls until they are ten? Twelve? College? When they become our spouses?

I wonder if Abour ever thought about spanking in the concrete. Would she have herself spanked at fourteen? In college?  As a spouse? Would she spank her child with a horse whip as Mary Karr’s grandmother would have had Mary and her sister spanked by Mary’s mother in her memoir, The Liar’s Club?

I knew the Marquis de Sade when he was a young whipper snapper. I think even he would agree that spanking children is going too far and he was a man of extreme behavior. He would have us wait, Nicole, until children are adults.

Parents still believe that spanking is an effective technique to stop misbehavior because it is…in the short term. Parents reason that the threat of spanking is an effective tool to discipline children because spanking worked so well to stop their obstreperous behavior in the past. Parents mistakingly reason that spanking changes children’s behavior permanently and shapes them to become responsible, well-behaved adults.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

No responsible, thoughtful, well-informed, mother, or father, spanks his or her child in the twenty-first century. Society, as a whole, does not support, or condone spanking.  Spanking a child is not a question of being politically correct, or not politically correct. Spanking is not the answer that most of us have accepted to the question: “What is an effective way to discipline my child without damaging his soul? Or her soul?”

No school boards in the United States support the spanking of children in the schoolhouse. There may still be some schools that allow for the possibility of spanking disruptive children; almost none use that allowance in fear of severe censure from parents and the community at large.

Geoffrey Canada, of the Harlem School Project, trains the parents of his future students of the HSP not to yell, threaten, or spank their children in a well-meaning attempt to discipline them; he provides them with effective parenting techniques when he schools the parents in his “Baby College.”

I started teaching in the Fall of 1975. Several years before I started teaching, a junior high principal and a coach took a particularly obnoxious eighth-grade boy across the street from the school to “straighten him our.” They straightened him out all right: They broke his arm. They broke his jaw. Something else got straightened out: the entire school district. The only question settled after this child was “straightened out” was the size of the check the district wrote to the parents. Okay, so he was fourteen. Did that make him an adult? Did the adults in this incident act as adults?

Such as it was, Bill Mitchell, the new superintendent of the school district started the 1974 school year by issuing the following edict: “No staff member will ever touch a student in any manner except to restrain the student for safety. “Unstated was the understanding that if a staff member did touch a student in any other way than for their safety, the staff member would be dismissed from the district.”

After watching Nicole Abour spout her ridiculous diatribe, I just want to smack her. Just kidding. Writing this blog is probably more fulfilling  in the long term. After all, what Nicole Abour really wants is an audience: she just wants to rant and gain followers.

This brings up my question of the day: When are we going to get past this stinkn’ thinkn’? It’s time to call bullshit on people like Abour. I have done it. Many times. I have called bullshit on teaching colleagues who advocated a return to corporal punishment. I have argued with students who were operating under the misconceptions of Nicole Abour! She is a prime example of how we need to listen to stupid people in order to clarify our own ideas about controversial subjects.

Let me go on the record one last time: All parents who spank their children are ignorant. Spanking children to discipline them is a parenting strategy than needs to be buried once and for all.

Spanking is punishment.Discipline is not punishment.  Therefore, spanking is not discipline.

Just a minor thought bubble for those who don’t know that discipleship (discipline) is all about getting someone to follow you because they want to follow you and not because they can make you follow them. Think Christ. Did he use the rod on his disciples to get them to follow him?

My final thought on spanking is a more proactive approach to obstreperous children. My students always enjoyed watching this video, you will too:

 

 

Alcoholism and the Bell Jar

First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

I won’t gain too many friends by writing my thoughts today, but this topic has been on my mind for years.

 

I grew up in Casper, Wyoming. Wyoming folks, when I lived there, used to measure distances by how many six packs it took to drive from point A to point B. Drinking alcohol was that casual and that socially acceptable.

 

Alcoholism engulfed my family and me as I grew up. Alcoholism pervades every aspect of my life today.

 

Almost all my friends’ parents were alcoholics, or at best, really heavy drinkers. I didn’t know any family that didn’t have a well-stocked wet bar in their home; the majority of my school friend’s parents had a drinking problem. There was a lot of shame associated with our families’ alcoholism; nobody talked about alcoholism openly with their friends.

 

I thought alcoholism was about drinking alcohol; I didn’t understand that alcoholism was a symptom of a deep and powerful substance addiction. Alcoholism was a family affliction to almost every family I grew up with in the fifties and sixties.

 

I was a thirty-something before I even knew that it was possible to communicate effectively about the disease and communicate with an alcoholic; I’d given up trying to talk with my alcoholic mother; I shunned her for years.

 

In my thirties, I discovered a communication skill set to communicate with my alcoholic mother when I discovered a metaphor for alcoholism while watching the 1986 movie The Fly with Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis.

 

I discovered a metaphor for alcoholism and I found the tool to understand and defeat the alcoholism agenda. I used that understanding to learn to accept and love and reconnect with my alcoholic mother.

 

In the movie, The Fly, Jeff Goldblum is a scientist trying to invent teleportation. In the movie, he steps into teleportation booth A and flips a switch to travel to teleportation booth B. What he doesn’t know at the time he flips the switch, is that a housefly has surreptitiously entered booth A just before the teleportation commences. The machine transports the fly and Goldblum at the dismantled molecular level in booth A and reassembles them in booth B, confusing their genes in the process. Goldblum acquires some of the fly’s genes. His body starts to grow at the genetic level of the fly, changing his body in a most grotesque manner. Fast forward a bit to Goldblum’s hospital room as he tries to explain his perception of his body’s morphing into a fly to Geena Davis, his main squeeze. He sees the metamorphosis as a disease.  Goldblum’s character states: “I know what the disease wants: It wants control.”

 

I had never thought of disease as a sentient entity before, but it made perfect sense to me.

 

Somewhere in my reading, I learned that the objective of alcoholism is to degrade, demean, isolate, and humiliate the alcoholic and the people who are known, and loved by the alcoholic. Alcoholism has its own agenda.

 

The lingo of alcoholism defines the alcoholic as the afflicted and everyone else in the alcoholic’s life as the affected.

 

Everyone in the alcoholic’s life is affected by the disease until the key to extricate themselves from alcoholism becomes available to them. No one ever extricates themselves completely from alcoholism.

 

My mother choose alcohol addiction; and the alcoholism enthusiastically embraced her.

 

She lived the first forty years of her life as a brilliant, powerful, and attractive non-drinking woman who mistakenly thought that life owed her a living. My father inadvertently supported her delusion, not realizing his inadvertent role in my mother’s addictive descent.

 

Mother was so intelligent, so self-possessed, she could have run a small country. Columbia would not have been too big for her energy. Being a homemaker didn’t challenge her talents and abilities. She wasn’t up to avoiding an alcoholic lifestyle, however.

 

 

Alcoholism is not about intelligence, or lack thereof; rather, it is a powerfully negative life force that defeats one’s mind and soul.

 

On her fortieth birthday, my mother didn’t get out of bed. She had an epiphany:

 

The rest of her life became a slow slide into a slough of mental and physical decadence. She believed that she would never be as beautiful, or as popular, or as powerful as she had been in her first forty years. It was a self-fulfilling prophesy.

 

When she chose to drink heavily every day; her fate was sealed for the next forty-one years.

Whatever the cause, the effect was that she became a world-class alcoholic. The power of the disease, and the power of her brain, produced a synergy that outpaced the abilities of everyone in her life to understand, or respond to her disease.

 

In my thirties, I came to realize my mother not as a broken-down alcoholic, but rather as the wonderful person she was and always had been. She required what we all require: love, affection, respect, connection to her family, and friends, and the nurturing of her soul with their presence.

 

Alcoholism is a bell jar that completely encapsulates the alcoholic and thwarts any positive, or nurturing relationships with her family and friends.

 

A bell jar is a bell-shaped cover made of glass used for covering delicate objects, or a clear container used in a laboratory, or an environment in which someone is protected, or cut off from the outside world.

 

My dear, kind mother was a hungry ghost: she was desperate; she was starved for affection; she could never fulfill her needs: she was completely in the thrall of a disease whose agenda was to degrade, demean, isolate, and humiliate her and to degrade, demean, and humiliate everyone that she loved, cherished, or cared about.

 

Her alcoholism was a bell jar isolating her from her world: the disease was invisible to everyone including to her; like the wind that cannot be seen except by its affects on the environment, we could only see the affects of the disease, not the disease itself, or its agenda.

 

My family couldn’t separate the disease from our mother: she was a disease to us.

 

We slipped into the role of being complicit, and being participant in her degradation.

 

She contributed to her abasement by drinking, or so it seemed to everyone outside of the jar: we didn’t perceive an agenda in her drinking, we just saw the effects of her drinking.

 

Belatedly, I imagined the disease process for what it was, I seized the responsibility to respond to my mother as a person rather than to respond to her disease.

 

I fought for her instead of against her.

 

I said kind words to her.

 

I expressed affection for her verbally, and by simple acts of kindness.

 

I ignored her anger.

 

I deflected her rage.

 

I refused to respond angrily to her syrupy voice when she called me on the phone.

 

I no longer upbraided her for drinking.

 

I refused to take her phone calls when she was drunk; rather, I made a point of calling her almost daily, and visiting her in person frequently, when I knew she would most likely be sober and rational.

 

Initially, I accepted all of her ridiculous demands as a matter of course; eventually, her demands became reasonable requests as her needs for affection and positive attention were met.

 

I addressed her desires and her needs promptly and without comment. (To her, her wants and needs were the same thing; there was no need for me to quibble over the distinction.)

 

I became hyper-conscientious around her: I addressed her authentic personal needs, not her alcoholic confusion of those needs. Sometimes, they were the same; I didn’t differentiate, I just worked to meet her needs as she expressed them.

 

The disease hated my conscientious efforts to love my mother and support her growth away from helplessness.

 

The disease slowly lost its powerful grip on me:

 

I no longer allowed the disease to drive my life.

 

I gained power over my life as the disease lost its power over me.

 

I felt great.

 

I developed a positive relationship with my mother for the first time in my life.

 

Slowly, the bell jar lost its implacable grip on my mother and its firm grip on me; it released our family to function as a family.

 

The disease is never entirely absent from our lives: it is always in the background. Mother died an alcoholic struggling every day for the rest of her life with the affects of living half a century in the clutches of alcoholism.

 

I celebrate my creative resolution to an alcoholic relationship with my mother. It seemed a success to me.

 

I know and respect alcoholism for its power over me and for its power over many of my friends.

 

Alcoholism still has a unmistakable hold on me.

 

I ruined a friendship one December when I tried to explain my understanding of the disease process to an alcoholic. She (and the disease) did not take the discussion well.

 

My friend’s alcoholism (bell jar) understood my discussion of her alcoholism as criticism. (It was.)

 

No criticism is ever welcome, especially when it is understood by the disease as a threat to the status quo.

 

When I encounter alcoholic friends and alcoholic acquaintances, I invariably choose the wrong approaching their alcoholism. I still cherish the idea that I can challenge and defeat their alcoholism. I should leave well enough alone. I’ve never vanquished alcoholism completely in my lifetime and I’ve had lots of opportunities to do so.

 

My alcoholic bell jar shouts out to an alcoholic’s bell jar:

 

“Watch out for this guy! He really has an ‘ass-holic attitude’ about alcoholism! Avoid him! Straight-arm him! He’s no fun! Ghost him! Don’t let him play in our sandbox!”

 

As soon as I mention my thoughts about alcoholism and the metaphor of the Bell Jar to an alcoholic, that is pretty much the end of any meaningful relationship with that person… forever.

 

This is how I explain to myself why I don’t have 999 friends lined up to socialize with me: There’s a good chance my dormant alcoholism works to isolate me from many potential non-drinking friends and alcoholic friends.

 

I isolated myself from an alcoholic/psychopath person recently. I cared deeply about that person, a former student. I became addicted to the hope of saving her and the need show my love for her by sacrificing everything important to me to save her from her shitstorm life.

 

I realize now that I fueled a codependent relationship trying to rescue her from her alcoholic life; I became a controlling, crazy-person who was addicted to the hope of rescuing, and loving her as a means of saving her; she didn’t want to be saved.

 

I became the very addict that I was trying to rescue and reform.

 

I’ve moved on now; I have great respect for the addiction process. I escaped from that addictive event; I will always have the scars of addiction on my soul, however.

Lesson learned.