Category Archives: Childhood

The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Last week I found a photo on Facebook of the nun that taught (and terrorized) my grammar school. For years my husband had heard the legendary tales of Sr. Mary Margaret (name changed) and her ruler that had whacked my legs on more than one occasion for crossing my feet at the ankles while I was sitting in my desk in 6th grade.

To say she was “old school“ would be an understatement. I remember at the start of every nine weeks her ritual of rearranging the seating chart according to each child’s grade point average, which she announced to the entire class. Apparently, she felt that public humiliation was a good motivator. It worked on me. I had the highest GPA in the class, and I was perpetually terrified of her.

I did my best to please her. I volunteered to do the liturgical readings and bring up the offerings during Mass. I got to school early to say the Rosary with her and the rest of my petrified classmates seeking brownie points. And when she announced at the end of the school year that she would be leaving for Chile to become a missionary and hopefully a Martyr for Christ, I wished her good luck and much success! (My mom was mortified.)

But, I did learn a lot in her class. And in retrospect, I truly believe she was well-intentioned.

On the Facebook posting under her photo, were over 200 comments from former students ranting about the mental and physical horrors they survived under Sr. Mary Margaret. At first the comments were funny lighthearted jabs at a person who in her time (and even more so now) was almost a caricature of herself—an exaggerated distortion of the truth built over years of childhood fears and stories passed down from one grammar school class to the next.

Then, the comments turned ugly. Cringe-worthy ugly. And I thought, “Wow. Is this cyber-bullying? Cyber-bullying by middle-aged adults? Or is this more like a group online therapy session with people venting and commiserating? Or is this the equivalent to giving a retired teacher an extremely bad Yelp review? And if it is, why now? What’s the point?”

This lead me to rethink my feelings toward Facebook and social media in general. Here is my breakdown of the pros and cons of this particular form of social media:

Pro: Facebook is great for keeping in touch with old friends that would have otherwise fallen off your radar never to be heard from again.

Con: Facebook can become a trap from keeping you from moving forward in your life. Continually reliving the “glory days” from the past stops you from fully living in the present.

Pro: It’s an online record documenting the best parts of your life in photos and words.

Con: It’s not real. Most people only show the very best moments of their life online—overseas trips, fancy mansions and cars purchased, the gourmet meal they cooked from scratch, their perfect children’s brilliant achievements, etc. This skewed view of other’s lives can lead to a very depressing (and inaccurate) lifestyle comparison. “Do they have it better than me? Are they happier? Healthier? Having more fun?“

Pro: It can be a huge support system when needed. I’ve seen many prayer requests go out during difficult times and friends quickly rally to show their support.

Con: Facebook posts can be wielded as an abusive tool to cut down and humiliate others. And the reach is enormous. Fortunately, you can “de-friend” people who haven’t learned how to play nice with others.

I guess in the end, it all comes down to the individual.

As for “Sr. Mary Margaret”, while I still disagree that french kissing is a “Mortal Sin”, I whole-heartedly agree with the following Facebook post that came to your defense:

“She did have a message, not always perfectly delivered, but who among us is perfect. She was committed, and devoted, and carried a lot of lasting important ideas and approaches to living.“

Thank you for being my teacher. I wish you well.

Faith the Size of a Willow Leaf

I have always had very vivid dreams.

As a child I was plagued with night terrors, which are like nightmares on steroids complete with night sweats, rapid heart beat, and bed linens being thrashed about while sleeping. The next morning I was always able to recount my fiendish dreams in great detail. The retelling of the dream seemed to take forever, and my mother was always amazed by my recollection.

The nightmares that scared me the most seemed to run on a loop. My five-year old self called them my “reruns”, and dreaded going to sleep each night to see which dream would be airing. The worst of the nightmares involved a gothic castle, gargoyles, tribesmen and one magical weeping willow tree.

The dream begins with me finding myself attending a huge gala with my parents at a very creepy Gothic castle. All of the adults are dressed in their best attire and are drinking cocktails and enjoying the evening filled with music and laughter. The children were dressed in their party clothes as well and were running around playing hide and seek. The castle was an endless series of hallways, doorways and staircases. I found what I assumed was a closet door and thought it would be a good place to hide. Upon turning the big brass doorknob, the heavy door opened and there was nothing but a sea of blackness inside. It was a frightening vision, made worse by the dismembered skull that came flying toward me yelling that the wine the adults were drinking was poisoned.

I raced through the interior labyrinth of the castle to my parents and begged them not to drink the wine, but they couldn’t see or hear me. I then ran out of the building to find help. Around the bend was a small wooden bridge that led to a strange, primitive village filled with raised huts. As soon as I crossed the bridge, angry tribesmen carrying spears and wearing war paint came pouring out of the huts and began chasing me back to the castle.

Once I reached the castle grounds, I saw that all of the party guests (my parents and playmates included) were standing under a bare willow tree, staring ahead blankly, and holding a single leaf. The giant clock on the face of the castle was starting to gong the midnight hour and the stone gargoyles began to crack from their casing and become alive. Intuitively, I knew that I had only seconds before I was to be brutally mauled to death by the savage beasts. The key to avoid certain death was to hold one of the leaves from the weeping willow tree, but the tree was now barren. 

The tribesmen clan was at my back preventing me from running away, and the almost-freed gargoyles were growling on my right. I started to cry as I looked upon my parents and friends for the last time. And then, as the clock struck midnight, a light gust of wind blew a small previously unseen leaf off the top of the tree and placed it gently in the palm of my hand, saving me from a horrible fate.

I had this particular “rerun” so many times that I was eventually able to alter the script slightly and experience it from a different perspective. I came to recognize the flying skull as a friend warning me of impending doom and not someone to be feared. I decided that the tribesmen were heeding my call for help, and had sprung into action to defend me, ready for battle. The wretched growling gargoyles were just cranky and achy after being trapped in stone for centuries. They didn’t want to hurt me, they wanted to get the heck out of there.

But just in case I was wrong, I always knew that in the end God would save me by sending that precious little leaf on a soft cloud of air. Now the real trick is having that kind of faith when I’m awake.

I’m still working on it.

“I’m Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille”

JeffandBecky_1

To say that I was a ham when I was little is an understatement. I was playful, loud and very creative. I would dig through mom’s “rag bag” where worn out clothes found a second life as car cleaning rags, or if I discovered them first, they would be elevated to costume status in my latest stage performance. Mom’s half slips became floor-length sleeveless dresses for the princess, and old knee-high socks with the toe tips cut off became a pair of elegant long white gloves. A way-too-big pair of pants paired with dad’s funky shirt from the 60s and a random beret became an artist’s attire. You get the idea.

The costumes always dictated the story line, and although there was a loose script, most everything was improvised. The best seats in the house (the sofa) were always reserved for my parents who were our only audience. The wooden louvered doors served as our stage curtain with the foyer being backstage, and the green shag carpet as the stage itself. The play always contained several acts to allow for costume and set changes. Each sold-out performance ended with a full cast bow, a standing ovation and glowing reviews for the lead actress, writer, set designer, costume designer and director—all of which were me.

Then one day the curtain fell for the last time.

I don’t actually recall when or why this happened. Maybe I just outgrew pretend play, or maybe I started to become too insecure to be in the limelight. At some point, I became very aware that my parents were predisposed to applaud and love me no matter what I did, but the rest of the world didn’t have the same obligation. In fact, I would learn that they are very often harsh critics.

In 6th grade, the nun taught us this Bible verse (1 Corinthians 13:11), “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

At the time, I interpreted this verse as a call to grow up and become more serious, more responsible, more like my parents. It was exciting as a pubescent teen to think that I was being considered in a more mature light, and I feverishly highlighted the Bible quote. But now, as a middle-aged adult, the same quote that once inspired me, makes me a little sad. I would love to recapture the unbridled sense of play and creative freedom that I had as a child on that green shag stage. Creating from the heart and free from worry of judgement or rejection. Confident that after every performance, there will be a standing ovation—and maybe even ice cream.

Definitely, there will be ice cream. Of that, I am certain.