MuddyFingersMeg

Eat, drink, (garden, knit, quilt, think, fix, read) & be merry

2012 in partial review.

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Blueberry picking in July.  Life doesn’t get much better.

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I shook hands with Bill Ny*e!

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I gave up growing carrots because of root knot nematodes (which result in carrots like those above)

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But then I accidentally grew these.  Aren’t they gorgeous?

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We went to Red*wood National Park.  This fulfilled a childhood dream.  Amazing.

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It was the Year of the Fruit in my garden.  70+ lbs of strawberries, rivers of raspberries, and even some blueberries (but those ones at the top were picked at a PYO farm)

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Diablo cosmos stole the garden show this year.  The bees loved them, as did I.

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A childhood friend got married and had a potluck reception.  I adore potluck receptions.  YUMMY.  I made this lovely fruit salad with heart-shaped watermelon slices and edible flowers from my garden.

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I finally graduated from college!

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I did this at a county fair.  No regrets.

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I learned how to make bath bombs.  And bath salts (not the scary kind).  And body butter.  It’s been a good year in the homemade cosmetics department.

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My soybeans nodulated beautifully.  Lots o’ nitrogen fixing going on in those bumps (a non-nitrogen fixing plant shown for comparison above).

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The garden.

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Sorry for the crummy photo.  It’s dark.  Anyway, I’ve been experimenting with various terrariums.  They’re much more aesthetically appealing in real life.  Promise.

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I ruthlessly battled japanese beetles.  They loved my roses, and demolished the flowers before the buds even opened.  Sigh.

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Ellie and I did a lot of knitting.  And she developed some very expensive health problems (entirely unrelated to the knitting).  Fortunately, they seem to be under control and the medication itself is very affordable.

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We did a great deal of cooking, baking, and eating.  These cuties are homemade ice cream sandwiches made to commemorate P’s 31st birthday.  One is chocolate basil and the other is coffee chocolate.  SO GOOD.

Raptor Release

Raptor Release

We attended a raptor release this fall.  Several hawks, two bald eagles, a peregrine falcon and other rehabilitated birds were released to the skies.  A very moving event.

We also remodeled our bathroom, I started grad school, and we traveled to Mexico and the Redwoods.  But this is a start.  Cheers, friends!  I hope to be back several more times before school resumes in early January.

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Procrastinating

Hi friends!  Classes are over and finals start on Monday.  Blogging is such a great way to avoid studying.  ha!

The garden is going gangbusters after a very early spring.  So it’s time for the annual spring-has-sprung update, complete with loads of photos.  This is the first year I’ve had a perennial garden that has “leaped” and it’s so fun to watch.

Lupine.  The flowers on this are pretty, but I really love the palmate leaves.  They look so exotic and tropical in my midwestern garden.

I’ve been trying to establish low-growing Dutch clover in our lawn to help smother annual weeds like crabgrass and to provide a nitrogen-fixing service.  It’s finally coming in thick in several places.  I know some people consider clover a weed, but I don’t.  It’s pretty, soft to walk on, and it means I don’t need to fertilize my lawn as much! 

Our shittake logs have been fruiting like crazy with all the rain.  We harvested 1+ pounds already and they’re ready to pop again.  SO YUMMY!

Forget-me-nots.  These are one of my favorite spring ephemerals.  I let them go to seed every year and they always pop up for a bright splash of spring color.

Japanese Painted Ferns.  These have been oh-so-slow to establish but they’re finally looking robust and beautiful.  Love these plants so much.

I know they can be overplayed and boring, but I do love hostas, especially the varieties with hints of blue-green.

A very early spring brings with it the near certain promise of late frost damage.  Here’s a strawberry flower (with black center) that suffered from a spring frost.  Fortunately, most of my strawberries are blooming now, so I hope we’re in the clear.  

My violas came back!  How I love these sweet, edible flowers.

I’ve always had terrible luck with spinach.  This year I bought new seed, put down some pelleted compost, and have been occasionally foliar feeding with fish emulsion.  Look at those lush leaves!  The rabbits have been sharing in the harvest, but at least I am, too!

Speaking of rabbits, Here’s the set-up to protect the peas and brassicas from rabbits and cut-worms.  So far, so good.

Beets!

Braising Mix.  YUM!

Look at that pergola!  P built it last year and this year I get to plant it.  A few divides have already gone in, but I’ve got a nice list for purchases from plant sale fundraisers to fill this out.  Corkscrew willow, russian sage, scented geraniums are on the list.  P put in some hops along the back that will be trellised up to the top.  It’s going to make a lovely space for summer dining.

And I can’t post without some knitting, can I?  Of course not!  This alpaca, woodland shawl is hot-off-the-needles and will be my graduation shawl.  I thought the leaves were fitting for a horticulture major.  😉

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Spring.

Hi, friends!  I wish I had a compelling reason for my lengthy absence lately but I don’t.  BUT it is a whopping 21 days until I am in the first person in my family of origin to graduate from college!

It’s spring – which came ridiculously early – and spring brings loads of heavy emotions.  The lilacs are blooming (my dad’s favorite flower) and Mother’s Day is just around the bend.  I’m wrapping up a semester of 20 credits and preparing to enter a graduate program.  It’s no wonder I’ve been tired lately, no matter how much I sleep.  My brain is either learning or processing all the time!

The lilacs aren’t as sad as usual, though.  I miss my dad, surely, but it’s a dull ache now, and only when I press on it.  My mother’s absence isn’t as sharp, either.  I count her absence by holidays more than months, and it’s been nearly a dozen since she’s made any sort of effort.  It makes it easier to really close the door.  But, as “they” say, the closing of one door opens another and so it goes here.  I’ve decided since I did much of my own rearing, I’m going to celebrate myself on Mother’s Day.  It feels hokey and funny to me, but I, at a deeper level, like the idea.  I’ve finally given myself permission to give myself a little credit for who I am and how I got here.  In many ways I’ve been my own mother, and I was often a mother to my brother and other children that lived in our house.  I read bedtime stories, said prayers, and tucked in tiny children that lived in our house.  I woke them in the mornings and sent them off to school while I stay home, in a house by myself.  All day.  When I was seven or eight.

So I welcome the coming of May.  To me late spring feels like the beginning of a new year.  And this year I’ll be a college graduate, beginning a new career, free of my mother, with the world wide open before me.  It’s a transformative spring, and I welcome that with open arms.

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Learning to let go

It’s been four months now since I sent the last letter and my mother slipped, uncontested, out of my life.  Since that time I’ve started my final year of my undergraduate career, P and I celebrated our third anniversary, I turned 30 years old, and several major holidays have come and gone.  A new year is right around the corner – a year that will probably mark my first whole year without a mother.

It was as if she was waiting, waiting for permission to be done mothering.  Once it was granted she ran, ran far far away.  Last I heard she was in Mississippi.  Or was it Missouri?

A childhood narcissism wells up within me.  Doesn’t she miss me?  How can she live without me?  But, I forget.  I only lived with her for fourteen years, most of which she doesn’t seem to remember.  I haven’t lived with her for sixteen years now and her life has long since taken on its’ own rhythm.

At first she called once in a while, wanting to see me.  Then, over the years, that dwindled to a slow stream of cards punctuating some, but not all, major holidays.  It was probably no trouble at all to drop those, too.  Knowing her, she’s grateful to keep what she would have spent on cards and postage.

But it’s still hard and it still hurts.  Somedays I get a knot in stomach when I check the mail.  Other days I compulsively check an old email account that my mother may still know.  M tells me that hope is the last thing to die.  But letting go of the hope that she’ll “come around” will make accepting myself easier.  After a childhood spent subsisting on hope that someday it all might get better, it’s hard to kill what’s left.  Unfortunately, that hope is holding me in a pattern of childhood pining for a future that will never come

Here’s how I picture it: if my heart were a house, there’s a little girl, sitting on a window bench in a dark room upstairs.  On the sill is an oil lamp she’s been carefully tending the last 30 years, hoping the light will inspire her mother to come back to her.

Because doesn’t my mother miss me?  Afterall, P assures me I’m a pretty great person to have around.  Sure, sometimes I’m ornery and stubborn, but not always.  I can be fun, creative, interesting.  Why doesn’t she want me?

But then I wonder – do I actually miss her?  And the sobering, heartbreaking truth is that I don’t.  Holidays have felt lighter without the obligation to call her for an incredibly stressful conversation.  I don’t miss her haunting, shadowing presence – like an overgrown little kid that wants to crawl into my lap and suffocate me with her overgrown, untended needs.  All that I miss is an idealized version of what she represents: a mother.  And she’ll never be the mother than I need.  For reasons that extend far beyond me, she can’t.

My mother is not well.  My mother is not well.  My mother is not well.

I practice these words sometimes.  Mostly I speak them in my head but, once in a while, when I’m feeling strong and brave, I whisper them aloud.  Occasionally, I’ll say them in a normal voice to P or a good friend.  My mother is not mentally stable and we’ve stopped talking.

It’s like getting into a bath that’s too hot, too painful.  It’s a slow settling, a gradual acclimation and acceptance.  That’s how I feel about those words, about that reality.

M tells me that denial and rationalization can work together to build walls so strong nothing can break through – not the cries of a child or the threat of severed communication.  My mother is incapable of really listening to me and hearing my side of the story.  She can’t accept what I have to say.  She won’t accept responsibility for what she did to me and what she allowed to happen to me.  She’s not a safe person, and she brings nothing into my life besides stress and anxiety.  Believe me, I’ve tried mightily to find some good I can hold and focus on.  But there’s nothing.  Nothing.

And so that little girl tending that oil lamp is sitting on her hands so she doesn’t do what she’s been doing for thirty years – change the wick and refresh the oil.  She sits in the dimming light waiting for the hope to finally die.

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A Few Stitches

December was a whirlwind of knitting and crafting.  I entirely lost track of all the projects, and unfortunately, many of them slipped through my fingers without being photographed.  But they all were finished, blocked, boxed, and gifted.  Most were received with heaps of enthusiasm, which is always both gratifying and surprising.  I’m embarassed to say this, but homemade gifts were… looked down upon when I was little.  But, both times and people change and I’m happy for the opportunity to make things for people who love and use them.

P’s Sweater.  It’s an Elizabeth Zimmerman pattern (Saddle-shouldered) with Kn*itpicks Tweed (70% merino wool, 20% alpaca, 10% acrylic).  If the sleeves hadn’t been too long for me, I may very well have kept it.  It’s so soft and cozy.

P’s hat.  This fall, when I asked him if he wanted a new hat, he said yes.  I was pleasantly surprised when he asked for a hat that was red and cabled!  He typically asks for things that are plain and grey (or black).  It’s a lovely splash of excitement to his wardrobe!  It’s this hat knit up in a merino wool.

This cute little bunny is knit up in a merino wool for a friend’s baby, due in early January.  It’ll soon be gifted with the blanket below.

I do love this baby blanket.  So simple yet so beautiful.

And here is where I’ll sheepishly admit I didn’t get photos of the two mohawk hats I knit for my nephews, the two princess hats (and wands) I made for my nieces, the cute little bear hat for another niece…  I do have a few more items around the house I can still photograph, so I’ll be back for another round soon.

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The Other Side

Well, folks, it sure has been awhile.  In August I wasn’t sure if I’d ever made it to this point – the point where all that remains of my 18 credits is one test and the remnants of a paper.  Where only one semester of my undergraduate career remains.  The point where my large, unwieldy  directed study is done.  The point where no farm work remains, although the same can’t be said of farm meetings.  The point where I happily turned 30.  The point where I have occasional meetings with M to check-in and continue honing my new skills, but those meetings aren’t the only thread holding my sanity together.  The point where the sadness is more of a faint, background note than a clanging gong.  But I did, I made it, and it feels so good.

In fact, this may very well be the happiest I’ve been in my entire life.  There have certainly been more exciting times in life – India?  Thailand? Iceland?  – but this is, by far, the most consistently peaceful and content I’ve ever felt.  I type and erase, type and erase, trying to find the words to explain what happened, what it feels like but I can’t nudge the right words into the right places.  It just feels good and it’s (mostly) felt that way for several months now.  I feel loved, safe, secure.  And there’s no better way to head into the holidays.   Xoxo

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The Muddy Middle Ground

All parents make mistakes.  And all parents do unexpected, kind, loving things.  So where, then, is the dividing line between those that deserve the benefit of the doubt and those that don’t?

When we left John for the second, and final, time, my mother and I moved into transitional housing for battered women.  At the time I (without my mother) was involved in a rather conservative church.  Immediately people started talking about forgiveness and reconciliation.  It’s okay to be hurt but the ultimate goal, they said, was to forgive my mom and be reconciled to her.  The transitional housing staff felt the same.  When I went to the mandated sessions with the “children’s advocate” the discussion would commonly turn to my mom.  Although I don’t remember what I said, I do remember the advocate saying, “But haven’t you ever considered about what your mom went through?”

Didn’t the advocate hear me?  Didn’t she hear me describe my mom delivering me and my young, vulnerable body to her boyfriend?  My mom who would make me stand naked in the kitchen, in front of the entire “family” and be weighed, publicly, to the critique of everyone?  My mom who would smoke nearby while I was beaten?  My mom who was always behind a door, desk, or wall?  My mom who was never available?  My mom who loomed in my mind as a real and proven threat to my safety and well-being?

Ah, but there’s the rub.  Mothers mother.  Mothers are not threats to their children.  Mothers are mama bears who instinctively know how to protect their children.  And little girls, well, little girls belong with their mothers.  It seemed no one could fathom a mother being a threat, so my freakish and powerful need to get away from my mother must be a problem with me.

And so they, many good-hearted helping people, tried to set me straight.  They prayed for me.  They told me, repeatedly, to consider my mother’s point of view.  They locked me in a basement room with my mother so we could be “reconciled.”  That, as my limited memory recalls, ended with me screaming and banging on the door to be let out.  When the door was finally opened I bolted outside, hid under a bush, and tore up my skin with whatever sharp objects I could find.

One thing was clear – I was the problem.  We could all just assume my mother loved me endlessly, that she, of course, was sorry for all the terrible things that happened. She, of course, wouldn’t need to say these things.  I should just assume them and think about how much she suffered, too.  I was about 13 years old.

Enter years and years of emotional torment.  Why couldn’t I just forgive and let go?  Why I did I hold her as such a distance?  Was I punishing her?  How could I be so cruel?  Why was I such a b*tch?  I must be an awful person to hold such a grudge to my mom, considering how much she suffered.  I should just suck it up and love her, like any rational human being.  After all, she’s my mother.  

So a few months ago when M suggested I write a letter to my mom, giving back all the heavy burdens I’ve been carrying, I froze.  I stopped breathing.  But I went home one night and curled up under some warm, safe blankets and quickly scrawled out a note.  I can’t recall what I wrote, but I do remember being surprised at how gentle I was, how kind.  I promptly burned the letter.  It was too terrifying to have it exist in real life.

I went back to M and told her about the letter.  I felt proud that I had found sympathy and kindness within myself.  Since most people had expected me to forgive and be reconciled, I thought this was the goal I should be striving for.  I felt like I was making progress.

But M instead suggested that I hadn’t said everything I needed to.  Instead she created a safe space in my life, free from the cultural beliefs about mothers, to banish assumptions and look at the real harm she had done in my life.  M helped me view my mother not as the powerless individual she portrayed but as an adult with power she chose not to exercise.  I became proud of myself for protecting myself from such a toxic and selfish person.  I’ve stopped the vicious self-blame arising from my non-relationship with my mother.  But then I remember… She sent me a nice set of pots and pans when I moved into my first apartment.  She helped me move on several occasions.  She brought me an ice cream cake (my favorite) on a couple of birthdays.  She used to take me to D*iry Q*een on quiet summer evenings.  She threw me a great golden birthday party.

Does she deserve the benefit of the doubt after all?  How do I reconcile these two sides of her?  Figuring out what to do with the good memories is harder than mourning the bad ones.  The middle ground is so messy, so muddy.  I think I get a grasp of a reality I can live with and I remember something new or my old feelings change.  It’s just so hard to live in the middle.

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The Flip Side

Lest you think that all that goes on around here is sorrowful introspection, let’s take a peak at all the other stuff that gets done in a day.  Spring is in full swing with buds breaking on the lilacs, the hardy kiwi, the blueberries, the hazelnuts, the peach (the PEACH!), and just about everything else.  The perennials are poking up, the bulbs are blooming and the seedlings are splitting their time between the kitchen floor and the deck.  I had them under lights but now they spend the bulk of their time outdoors.

These are the artichokes!  I’m growing them from seed as an experiment this year.  They need a vernalization period of 250 hours between freezing and 50F to flower.  So they’re getting shuffled around a lot, but I’m hoping it all pays off come August!

The potatoes are chitting, waiting for the soil to warm so they can be cut and planted.

Last year I grew endive and stored the roots in the fridge over the winter.  Now I’m forcing them in darkness (a plastic bag in my closet) in an attempt to get endive hearts.  The roots have colonized the tupperware and above ground small shoots are emerging.  I’m doubtful the roots have enough stored carbohydrates to create decent hearts, but you never know.  At least now I know how to do it and I’ll do it again this year (and will hopefully get bigger roots!)

Continuing with the garden theme (it is spring, after all, even if it snowed this morning), I sowed 50 square feet of hard red spring wheat in our yard this year.  I have no idea if it’ll work, but I love little experiments.  Wouldn’t it be great to bake some bread with my homegrown wheat?!

I’ve nearly finished (just needs buttons and final finishing) a baby surprise jacket (Ravelry link) in 100% silk.  It’s for some friends who are having a baby in August.  There are so many babies due in August this year I needed to get a jump-start on the knitting.

At the beginning of the year I started a cable sampler blanket (Ravelry link).  I’m just over 1/5th done.  This is likely to be a two year project.  Lately, though, I’ve been pondering the appropriateness of making a cable sampler blanket at this point in my life.  Many different twisting cables weave into individual block which will be sewn together into a warm, coherent whole.  It’s mirroring what’s happening in my life.  Each stitch, each moment, each mistake, each frustration, each victory is part of the bigger picture.  It’s a big project but I’ll finish it.  I’ll finish both of them.

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The Sound of Music*

When I was little I loved to sing.  Some of my happiest early memories involve making up songs about everything – washing the dishes, skipping down the sidewalk, going to bed.  We had an old piano on the porch and I would sit on the bench and pretend that I could really play while banging out dissonant melodies, singing all the while.

My brother and I both were extremely stressed as children.  We expressed it differently – he acted out, wet the bed, started drinking at a young age.  I turned inward, daydreaming, trying to be good enough, praying to any god that would save me.  But when my brother and I clashed it was violent and vicious.  He slammed my head in the door, I hit him with a bicycle chain.  We would fight often, multiple times a day.  The screaming, the name-calling, the hair pulling and biting was relentless.  One day I must’ve  said or did something especially mean and he pulled back, took a deep breath, and, in a measured and triumphant tone said, “Yeah?  Well, John said you are a terrible singer!”

Internally I instantly wilted, I lost my breath.  But I was in battle and had to forge on.  I shrilly replied, “He did not!” and abruptly retreated to my bedroom.  John, my mom’s boyfriend, was mean, conniving, and manipulative.  But he wouldn’t, surely he wouldn’t, be so cruel as to say that.  Later I slinked out of my room and, when I saw John, I asked meekly,  “R said you think I’m a terrible singer.  You don’t really think so, do you?”  He said nothing, but shrugged in a way as to suggest it wasn’t his fault that it was the truth.  If I had a better voice he wouldn’t have to be so mean.  And then he laughed at me.

What haunted me most was that my family, broken as it was, would talk about me so negatively.  I was crushed that they had mean, private conversations about me.  They would laugh and cringe together while I was oblivious.  The humiliation was piercing and profound.

I was silenced that day.  I didn’t sing for years.  I can clearly recall my best friend’s birthday party a few weeks later.  While all the kindergardeners raucously erupted in “Happy Birthday” I choked back tears as I mouthed the words but let no sound escape.  Whenever a singing occasion would emerge, and when I was in the church they came up often, I would mouth the words, or maybe sing so quietly that no one would be subjected to my intolerable voice.

The pain of the deception bled through anything related to music.  I was embarrassed not only to sing but to dance, to play instruments, hum, whistle or even admit what kind of music I enjoyed.  At various points I’ve taken guitar or voice lessons, but I’ve never gotten very far.  My self-consciousness was too raw.  I hoped to find some measure of healing in music, but it only chaffed at open wounds.

Last year, on Saint Patrick’s Day, I took up fiddle lessons.  I’ve always loved fiddle music.  It’s one kind of music that cuts through the ache and sprouts wellsprings of joy.  My instructor has a little girl, the same age I was when my brother made those cutting remarks.  She sings and dances while we play, floating from room to room.  Originally I found that embarrassing, disconcerting.  But she doesn’t find  my rough music intolerable, and I think her singing is charming.

What human being hates the singing of children?

*Someday I want this to again be a space full of craftiness and cooking, but that’s just not my life right now.  I don’t know how long this naval-gazing will go on; however, I have hope that someday my focus will shift back to the beauty of the present.  But this processing space is what I need now and so be it.  Please bear with me or check back in a few months.  Thanks.

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Catharsis

I realized today that sitting in my jammies for days in a row makes me more depressed than relaxed.  So I cranked up the music, cleaned the house, and then went for a walk in our nearby woods.  It was 57 degrees and the sun was warm as I walked under the lofty, bare cottonwood canopy listening to the cardinals and chickadees.  I felt anxious,  like I was waiting for something, but I didn’t know what.  And then it hit me, “It’s over.” The tears poured down as I realized, for the first time in my conscious life, that no one was trying to hurt me.  It was over. I had survived.  It’s such a simple, obvious statement that it becomes difficult for me to convey the profundity of those words.

I was about three the first time I remember any  kind of abuse.  I remember waking up from a nap to a babysitter holding my legs aloft as he did things I can barely stand to remember, more or less speak outloud.  And it didn’t end there.  Soon we would move in with that babysitter’s family.  When I found out we were moving I hid under the table, in sheer panic, screaming until I was hoarse.  My mom scolded me, telling me it wasn’t polite to react that way, that I should be grateful to this man and his family for giving us a place to stay.

My memories of the following years are dark and nebulous.  I can clearly recall the tension between needing affection yet knowing the price that closeness demanded.  I remember the limber stick, wrapped in electrical tape, that lived in the kitchen corner.  I remember how it much it hurt yet how the pain paled in comparison to the fear.  I felt as though his delirious rage could have killed me, while my mom sat fifteen feet away, calmly smoking a cigarette.

I’ve had to protect myself ever since I could fathom that was possible.  I was prepared to charm, wiggle, giggle, or fight my way from adults with malicious intentions.  Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes they did.  But I never got over the need to protect myself, both emotionally and physically.  Although I haven’t been under physical duress for quite some time, I’ve maintained alertness, still prepared to do what is necessary to survive.  And I’ve never let go of the mental barriers to real intimacy, to closeness that might leave me exposed and vulnerable.

But it’s over. I’m not a child anymore.  I’m not dependent on others for my care.  If someone treats me poorly, I have the right to simply walk away.  And I’m so very lucky to be surrounded by people who love me, people with only my best interests at heart.  I do not need those protections anymore.  I can relax, I can be close, I am safe.

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