Once Upon Dreary Time

blogxwornxoutxbearOne of the lessons you learn as a child welfare attorney is that neglect is harder to treat than abuse. Neglect–inadequate food, clothing, shelter, or emotional nurturing–often happens in a situation where parents are trying their hardest but life has conspired to make best efforts insufficient. It took me a long, long time to admit my own upbringing was characterized by some serious insufficiency.

The first and last time I recall sitting on my mom’s lap she shoved me off onto the floor because I wrinkled her dress.

blogxnightxlightI was afraid of the dark, but because I shared a room with three other siblings who weren’t afraid of the dark, the light was off every night.

Every night, I took blankets out to the floor of the hallway and waited until my siblings were asleep, then I’d turn on the hall light, and go back to bed. This went on for years, and my parents either didn’t know or didn’t care.

My neighborhood lacked children my own age to play with, and my sister was bored with me by about the time I turned eight (I was bored with her too). I can’t recall a single play date, or a time when a school mate came home with me on the bus.

schoolbus-driving-awayI missed the bus once after school in second grade, but my mother didn’t realize until well after dark that I hadn’t come home with my sister. I sat outside the school for several hours, wondering if I was just supposed to spend the night there, and go straight to class the next day–assuming nobody stole me.

I was never involved in extracurricular activities. My mom simply hadn’t the time to do any chauffeuring. I could take piano lessons only because I could walk to the piano teacher’s house.

blogxvelveteenxrabbitI recite this litany not to impugn my parents, who did heroically well raising seven children on a single income. I thought it was normal to have no friends, to do without affection, and to endure from one god-awful school day to the next, while being chronically sleep deprived. Other children had it so very, very much worse.

And yet, these deficits in childhood translated to problems in adulthood. I distrust authority, but can be suckered by charm. I’m not very good at building a support network. I struggle to keep healthy recreation in my life, and I’m overly attached to home.

trouble_450x2I also see, though, the benefits of having been lost in the Burrowes family shuffle. I’m fairly self-sufficient and self-motivating. I can entertain myself home alone for days. My imagination is a good friend now, conjuring dukes instead of dragons. I value my friends highly, whether they’re blog buddies, writin’ buddies, or auld acquaintances.

I think this year has been a challenge for all us. We’re tired, frazzled, and the economy hasn’t exactly put two chickens in every pot. Are there ways, though, that you’re better off for having slogged through the last twelve months? Insights you’ve gained? Issues you have in a better perspective?

To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of The Trouble With Dukes.




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15 comments on “Once Upon Dreary Time

  1. After 10 years, I changed jobs in my company. I knew I needed to leave my department and move on. I reached out to friends and contacts and was able with the Grace of God to switch departments. It’s been quite a challenge, leaving a job that you understand and excel at and learning something new. I am glad I stuck with it. It was hard, frustrating and upsetting at times. I have come around the learning curve corner and am enjoying work again. I realize that my researching and proofreading skills are positives and that I have something to offer at work….my skill set is needed and appreciated! I feel better about myself, sleep better at night and have more energy. All positives.

    Have a great week–

    • You have had one heck of a year, Sue. I’m glad your persistence and resilience paid off. I think what bothered me most about your situation was that you work for a big outfit, and somebody in upper management should have seen your situation and boosted you out of the pumpkin patch. Did they really want all your expertise and corporate history going to a competitor?

      Better days and years ahead!

  2. My childhood in a big family was not like yours….and yet it was. I was the eldest of six and expected to be self-sufficient from the age of eight on. I had the love, the cuddles the extras until then but with the birth of my first brother (#4), it ended. I still had the after school extras of Brownies, choir, piano and ballet but I had to get myself to them and remember which day was what. I think about that now and wonder how they expected a child to do it! And I certainly did.

    From the age of 13, I took ballet classes in downtown Chicago at one of the best ballet schools in the country and took public transportation by myself to get there. Mom went with me for the first class to help me register and figure out which bus and train to take but I was on my own after. I took five classes a week in high school and my Dad (a ballet dancer)and I took the same Friday evening professional class when I was a junior and senior. He all but ignored me because the Ballet-Mamas would have eaten me alive if they had realized who my father was; I know that now. Dad and I have talked about it many times with him explaining why, but at the time I felt horrible!

    All this brings me to your blog question of the week: because of my childhood, I am one of the most organized people I know. I get through the day, week, month, year by anticipating what needs to be done, by whom and figuring out how to do it. It cuts down on the *frazzles* for the other people in my life because I am this way. But for me, it’s exhausting to always be prepared and anticipating. And often I allow others needs to take precedence over my needs.

    I’ve gotten through the last year by being *the above* and almost a robot about it. In 2017, I plan to be less so if at all possible because I have finally come to the conclusion it’s not good for me. It’s time I worry about me ONLY for a change!

    • Time to be the prima ballerina in your own production!
      Nobody works harder, suffers more, gets paid less, has a shorter career, or longer hours than the dancers. You probably learned a ton about pushing through pain, and the high price of passion.

      But you also know how to express truth with the human body, as some express it with paint, marble, or words. What that must feel like…

  3. Some of your childhood stories hurt my heart. I know from personal experience that the things that happen to us as children stay with us forever. I had one extremely loving parent, and one extremely abusive parent. Sometimes I forget the abuse, and sometimes it overwhelms me. As for now, it’s been a rough year so far – unemployed, but not quite old enough to retire, health issues have cropped up, and there are some horrendous things happening to members of my extended family. Not to mention everything happening to us nationally…. Still, I’m trying to carry on and not drive my husband crazy. I’m trying to make sound choices and decisions. I’m reading more, and appreciating that I DO have so much more than many do.

    • I end each day with a list of written gratitudes, and that’s been helpful. I start with five, and by the time I’ve scrounged around to come up with that many, my mindset is usually in a better place. I DO have far more security than many other people, far more health. I have skills and friends and experience and oh, maybe it’s not all so danged bleak after all.

      In my late fifties, though, I feel an odd “in-between” status that resonates with my daughter in her late twenties. She’s still a young person, I’m not yet an old person, but she’s not a kid and I’m not exactly middle-aged.

      Odd, how life throws connections at us from strange angles.

  4. Thank you for sharing about the challenges of growing up. It is something that often came up when I was blessed enough to be teaching Sunday School. We were poor, but I did not feel it because in the 1970’s, the “it” items were so much simpler. I am thankful that this past year filled with health challenges, unemployment and various issues helped me to grow my gratitude muscle, stretch my appreciation for what I am blessed to have and also to enjoy all of my travels through the conduit of reading. I love the complexity, connection and compassion of all of your characters. Thank you for writing these wonderful stories. I am working on my correspondence ministry to try to send out cards to everyone everyday in December. Have a blessed week!

    • I get the same pleasure from writing those stories that my readers do from reading them. I delight in that sense that we’re enjoying the same stories from two different vantage points. Better than recycling!

  5. Your stories break my heart! I also come from a large family and can relate to everything you shared. My goal with my own children has been to make sure they never feel the neglect (however unintentional it was) that I sometimes felt with so many siblings.

    The more people I talk to, the more I realize that this year has been absolutely brutal for so many!! But, in an odd way, it’s nice to know that it wasn’t just me having a monstrous year!

    Over the past year, I have learned that I don’t have to be a chronic people-pleaser! I was raised to be “nice,” no matter what, and spent a good portion of my life making choices that I hoped would please others, even when those choices didn’t bring me happiness. This year has taught me to subdue that voice that has always told me to play by the rules and be a “well-behaved woman” simply to avoid conflict or disapproval. It’s still a work in progress, as it is with anything that has been a life long habit, but I feel freer and less burdened now than I ever have before!

    • Oh, what you said. I feel as if now, finally, as I go gray and short, I am becoming my most fierce, honest self. The real Grace Burrowes doesn’t care if you think she’s pretty, charming, or agreeable, she cares if you pay attention, tell the truth, and show compassion. Hit those wickets, and we’ll get along. Come with some other agenda, and–without being rude–I’ll find somewhere else to be, and somebody else to be with. That’s the deal. Period.

      I sound like a certain duke. Hmmm.

  6. Because of an unlikely friendship, my health is better, have traveled more, and have been doing some volunteer archivist work , which I have enjoyed. I by guess being more open to friendships, it has been of benefit to me.

  7. Five years after the end of a 20-year marriage, I finally realized that I have “engineered my own life,” as a friend put it. It has been a period of change and growth — and counselling to help me exorcise my demons. A hard slog at times, but well worth the result!

  8. I started formal training to be a meditations instructor for chronically I’ll & pained people like me. First time in years my health is at a point I can learn and grow and retain, admittedly often while I’m still & covered in cats. I’m driving sometimes with a loanet car, which is another Freedom unheard in 7yrs or so. The hard stuff is still here, and the election results are serious threat to my healthcare coverage, SSI, ad food stamps, but personally this year’s one of personal progress. One of my stress relief options when insomnia kicks in is discovering the Windham’s in audiobooks. You’re amazing family stories to a safe sheltered sleep. Thanks for the perspective Grace.

  9. I’ve had family issues with my mother who has tried to control me for 53 yrs. She decided 6 yrs to disown me because I wanted live my life with my husband of 30 yrs the way I’ve learned on it will work for my household. So she has put it out to my siblings, nieces and nephews it would be in their best interests to avoid me. It bothered me but she even has one of my own children not talking to me. She doesn’t believe in unconditional. I learned better relations work with unconditional love. My father passed away last april. No one was going to tell me but I found out. I was only allowed 10 mins to view my dad and the rest of my family was not allowed time. I thought then I was losing family. But something positive happened 2 months later I received a msg from a cousin who I hadn’t seen since I was 4yrs old didn’t even remember. We weren’t allowed to know them after a family squabble that I don’t understand or know the details. I contacted my cousin and we have connected and bonded again and learned so much about my paternal history. I’m am so happy to have what cousins I have left on my father’s side in my life again after 47 yrs. My Cousin and I believe our fathers are together now and guided us together. We both as adults tried for 25 yrs to look for the other side with no luck until my father’s passing. With her help I’m understanding things about the family. So where I lost some I gain elsewhere. I just have show patience for what I would like to have and not be mad in what doesn’t happen. Hope in my actions my children learn what’s best.