jump to navigation

Who’s Your Daddy? Dexter! September 30, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Entertainment, Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

My husband, a hopeless romantic, surprised me with this shirt

The only thing that’s gotten me through the the first two weeks of the new school year was knowing that the fifth season of Dexter was premiering Sept. 27th. I first wrote about my fixation on this show in Why I Love Dexter.

I, for one, loved watching Dexter balance his new role last season as a doting daddy with being a serial killer. Nothing like a sleepless night to throw you off your game. But from everything I’ve read about psychopaths (and I’ve read way than you’d ever want to), the one false note of last season was how Dexter’s becoming a daddy made him think twice about putting someone on ice. Dexter, himself, said that being a better killer made him a better father. Go figure.

In the Season 5 premiere, Dexter can’t even conjure up any fake tears for his dearly departed Rita. “I got some mouse ears,” he says, matter-of-factly. Yeah, that’s as good as it gets. It should be interesting to see how the writers handle Dexter’s parenting of his stepchildren Aster and Cody, and son Harrison this season. I’m afraid they’re taking some artistic license so as not to make Dexter too dark and despicable. He is, after all, America’s favorite serial killer, so the audience needs to be rooting for him. But what’s it really like to have a psychopath for a parent?

Psychopaths have strong narcissistic streak. It’s all about them. Just like those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), they view their children as extensions of themselves – things to be manipulated. The parent projects their “ideal self” onto them, so the child has to follow “the script,” or they’ll anger their parent. Yet, no matter what they do, it will NEVER be enough to earn the love of the parent with NPD. Many children spend their entire lives trying to get in their parent’s good graces, or just to get their parents to notice them, not realizing that this is impossible.

Last season, Dexter’s nemesis, the genial Arthur Mitchell (aka the Trinity killer), appears on the surface to be the consummate family man. It is only as the season progresses, that cracks appear in the carefully crafted image that Arthur has created, and Dexter can see how Arthur’s wife and children live in mortal fear of his rage. The majority of psychopaths are not serial killers or even physically violent. They kill the spirit of those near and dear through their callousness.

I have several friends and relatives who have children with narcissistic spouses. After coming to terms with the disorder themselves, they’re often at a loss as to what to do when sharing joint custody of a child. How do you prop up a child’s fragile self esteem when the other parent views the child as an extension of themselves, and/or delights in cutting the child down? One friend said she can only hope to give her son the skills to cope with his father’s taunts and criticism. He’s three years old.

If you think back to Dexter’s attempts to play Daddy, he mimics cultural stereotypes to play the part. When he asks,”Who wants pancakes?” it sounds more like a TV commercial. That’s because Dexter, like all psychopaths, is merely playing a part. In this case, he’s playing the part of TV dad.

The following comment was received from EMZ on my Close Encounter with a Narcissist series. She grew up with a narcissistic father and I think her experience is fairly typical.

My father was a classic narcissist. He was married to a woman (my mum) who all her life was, too, a narcissist. One of my brothers I fear is also. They undermine every achievement with a heart-stopping accuracy and coldness that you are left to wonder your own sanity. They contradict themselves just to oppose an opinion you may have dared utter. As a child you are dependent upon their guidance/encouragement/world perspective. But as a child they train you to know that you are worthless (to them), but you must accept it and pretend that it is normal.  So you question – does every parent act like this?  Is everybody just “acting’ normal.” I began to think and unfortunately hoped that all parents did hate their children, and it was normal to degrade and emotionally abuse friends especially boyfriends. Obviously, friends abandon you.  You don’t realize why, as nothing seems to fit together. I knew I was not normal.  It is such a relief to know that it is they who have a disease of the mind and very soul. My parents watched me suffer for years with a slow-growing brain tumor. I survived, but my father said, “The worst thing that could happen is you don’t fully recover and we might have to look after you.” Yeah…that would be a serious annoyance for you? It never came to pass, and I thank you lord.

Amen.



Extreme Makeover Hits Close to Home August 19, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Personal.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
11 comments

Always Jane

Karma has come ’round for my sister-in-law Jane who awoke yesterday to the sound of chickens, but by noon could hear the Extreme Makeover truck rumbling out in front of her house. Oh, what a year it’s been.  No, make that years for Jane and her amazing family.

Last summer when Jane went to her high school reunion in Pocatello, Idaho, her former classmates asked her if she wasn’t worried that her house might burn down while she was out for a night –  what with all those kids.  (Jane has a married daughter from her first marriage and eight children at home from her second ages 9-18.)  Jane just laughed, so when someone told her later that her house WAS on fire, she thought they were kidding – but they weren’t.  The fire started in the basement where the washer and dryer were located and where most of the kids slept. Everyone got out safely, but the house was toast.  All was lost save Jane’s indomitable spirit.

The fire came just a year after Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I wrote about that in Fortune Has Arrived.  Jane underwent a double mastectomy followed by chemo and eventually breast reconstruction.  Then she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, (which fortunately is benign and slow growing).

A friend shot some video and sent it in to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (a show I’ve never seen, but I’ve heard it’s the ultimate “feel good” experience). We all crossed our fingers, toes, and eyes. There were endless interviews and hurdles to clear.  I think the show spent more time vetting Jane and her family than they do with most presidential candidates.  And so we waited.

Last month Jane was told that the show had narrowed it down to five families. Meanwhile, rumors swirled around Pocatello about building permits being pulled.  It was like pulling off the world’s biggest surprise party ever and no one was supposed to spill the beans.

I can’t imagine any family more deserving than Jane’s. One year she drove down down with all of her kids to spend Thanksgiving with us.  They all packed into two rooms, the kids sleeping like puppies in a pile-up in the den.  Her children are all incredibly responsible, creative, and downright fun! That’s the way they’ve been raised by this single mother with a BIG heart. They work together. They’ve had to. Over the years Jane has received support (financial and otherwise) from family, friends, her church, and the government.  But they’ve worked hard to fend for themselves.

Her children all play a musical instrument, and I still remember when they set up outside a restaurant to make some extra change.  They had their own cleaning business. They’re very good at making do.

With the house uninhabitable, but still waiting for the insurance settlement, they spent last winter in a rental making daily trips back to their old house to feed the chickens. When we visited this spring they’d decided to move back and camp in the backyard.  There they’ve been living in a trailer and a small back house which was untouched by the fire.  The washer and dryer are in a tent. And it’s easier to tend their chickens.  Jane told me the kids refer to their outdoor digs as “The Haitian Five Star.”  When we left, Jane sent us off with a jar of smoked paprika.  She said that since the fire, the smell of anything “smoked” makes them all nauseous.  As the months went by, we began to wonder if this Extreme Makeover was for real.  The clock was running out.

Several days ago all of their cell phones were taken away, so it was only after my mother-in-law drove by their house that we got the news.  She reported that there were also two vans packed with their suitcases as they were being whisked off to an undisclosed location. They got a choice between a tropical island, a mountain resort, or a theme park. I still can’t believe they didn’t want to come stay with us, where we have our own extreme home makeover going on. (Though you can’t get much done with a crew of one.)

In case you’re here because of the NPD link, you can read Jane’s story on the Close Encounter with a Narcissist – Part 3 Comment 27.

I so wanted to blog about this great news, but waited until the story broke on Facebook. Their story will air later this year. In the meantime, they have their own Extreme Makeover Facebook page where you can follow the construction day by day by clicking on Photos. It was on this site that I learned they’re in Key West, Florida (even their dog Betsy went with them!).   Everyone loves a “feel good” story and this is it!  Karma has come ’round.

Photo Credit: Shellee Christiansen

Adopting a Family for Christmas December 19, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
8 comments

This year I adopted a family for the holidays at my school. Staff and parent volunteers worked tirelessly to deliver baskets to 80-plus families.

In the spirit of recycling, I came across the first story I ever had published and thought I’d reprint it.  Operation Santa Claus was appeared in Parents in December 1993.  When I reread the article, what jumped out was how my writing has evolved.  I’m inserting some original commentary in italics that was edited out.  My original piece wasn’t so saccharine. WARNING:  Reading this could induce a diabetic coma.  Always, Jan

Operation Santa Claus

Last year, as Christmas approached, I started wondering if this would be my son Taylor’s last Christmas as a believer.  After all, he was eight, and as a native new Yorker, he’s a born skeptic.

But my husband, Richard, and I had perpetuated the myth of Santa very well. Taylor and his five-year-old brother, Ian, wholeheartedly believed that a man who had a belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly parked his team of flying reindeer on the roof of our ten-story apartment building and popped down our chimney to deliver presents to us.  Each Christmas Eve, Santa wrote the boys a long letter in flowing script.  Each Christmas morning, the boys found the fireplace screen pushed aside and  large boot print in the soot, irrefutable proof that Santa did indeed exist.

I wanted to help Taylor – who spent hours working on his list for Santa, even attaching coupons in case there was a Toys “R” Us near the North Pole – begin to understand the joy of giving before he discovered the truth.  But how?

That’s when I heard about Operation Santa Claus.  Sixty-plus years ago, clerks at the New York City General Post Office knew that the letters addressed to Santa that they received would go unanswered.  So they dug into their own pockets to buy food and toys for the children. Eventually the public was invited to respond to the letters, and today many cities have similar programs.  I decided to enlist Taylor’s help.

I wandered around the crowded post office lobby until I found Santa’s official post-office box: a cardboard cutout of jolly old Saint Nick, and two long festively decorated tables that were laden with boxes of letters labeled “New York State” “New Jersey” and “Foreign,” as well as one box for each New York City borough.  I joined a dozen or so people who were busily sifting through the piles of letters.

There were many poignant stories.  One was from a needy mother asking for food and clothes for her children.  Another was from a special education teacher who asked for class supplies. After several minutes, I found the letter that touched my heart.  It was written by a child who lived in a New York City public housing project and began, “Dear Santa, I believe in you.”  I read on.

“I hope you and Mrs. Claus are fine and healthy.  I’ve been sick with asthma and that feels so bad.  My name is Maria, and I am almost 11 years old.  I have three brothers – Juan, age 16, Jose, age 15, and Carlos, age 9.  Carlos is handicapped, but I say to everyone that he is handicapable.

This year we all have been through a lot of scares and crying, including Mom, because Carlos has been very sick and in and out of the hospital.  He has a brain tumor and gets seizures. Our wish is for Carlos to get cured and to be able to walk, talk, and be normal.”

“Carlos and I share a room, and because he’s so sick, he still sleeps in a crib. So for Carlos, I wish a beautiful crib set – one with sheets and a pillow and curtains to match and a quilt.  He loves Mickey Mouse.”

“I would like an American Beauty Queen Barbie.  Juan and Jose would like some presents too. And can you also bring my mommy something?  She always gives to us and she never gets anything for herself.

“Thank you Santa.  I love you, Maria.”

A postal worker sitting behind the table smiled at me and said, “Did you find a letter?”  I nodded, and she handed me a form to sign.  I tucked Maria’s letter in my pocket and hummed Christmas musical all the way home.

Later that night, reality set in.  How could I afford gifts for other children when I could hardly afford them for my own?  (I have to admit, I wondered if maybe the letter was a scam – really, a brother with a brain tumor?) I considered returning the letter but instead let it sit in a drawer for several days.  Still ambivalent, I took a chance and shared it with Taylor.

He was shocked.  “How did you get Santa’s mail?” he queried.  I told him about Operation Santa Claus, but he still didn’t understand.  “Santa will bring Maria the presents she wants,” he said with conviction.

I took a deep breath but was surprised at how easily the words came out. “Making children happy at Christmas is too big a job for just one person to do, even Santa Claus,” I blurted. “Santa needs all the help he can get.”

Taylor went for the lure.  It was as though Santa himself had asked Taylor to be one of his elves.  We resolved that we would answer the letter.  But Christmas was only ten days away, and we had our work cut out for us.  We made a list of Maria’s requests.

The next day I went shopping for a Mickey Mouse crib set.  But even at a discount store, the set cost $45, well beyond our budget.  I called all my friends, but was unsuccessful in locating a used crib set.  I started to get discouraged.

Maria had included her phone number in her letter, so I nervously called her mom.  “You don’t know me,” I said, “But I’m a friend of Santa’s, and I’m calling about Maria’s letter to Santa Claus.”

There was a long silence.  Then Maria’s mom made the connection.  I was relieved to find her warm and friendly.

I was honest with Maria’s mom about our financial situation.  “Of all the people who could have picked your daughter’s letter, I’m afraid you’re stuck with us,” I apologized.  Maria’s mom assured me that any gift, no matter how small, would mean a great deal to Maria.

Sadly, Maria’s mom confirmed that Carlos had a brain tumor and she told me that he didn’t have long to live.  She also told me that Carlos loved to watch cartoons and that Maria had a tape player and liked music, which gave me some ideas.  Maria’s mom and I set a time on Christmas Eve for the package to be delivered.

The big day was only a week away, and Taylor stopped working on his “want” list to join me in a last-minute scavenger hunt.  This is what we found:

•  At the Salvation Army: a just-like-new Mickey Mouse T-shirt.  Paired with some bright red leggings, we had a pair of pajamas for Carlos.

• At home: two never-worn boys’ shirts, a Sesame Street book, and a video of classic Mickey Mouse cartoons.

• From Ian’s kindergarten teacher: an extra copy of a book-and-tape set called Las Navidades, which featured Christmas songs from Puerto Rico (where Maria’s family was from).

• From holiday visitors:  a large store-bought Italian cake, festively wrapped and decorated with Santa stickers, and homemade bread shaped like teddy bears.

• Finally I splurged and paid ten dollars for a video cassette tape of Home Alone.  I also bought some Christmas candy.  Behind the cash register was an enticing display of giant brass jingle bells dangling on red satin strings. “I’ll take four of those too,” I heard myself say.

The day before Christmas Eve, we needed one more item: a Barbie doll for Maria.  I was surprised when Taylor, who gags at the mere sight of a Barbie commercial, announced that he would help me choose one.  Our budget limited us to buying a special-edition Barbie made exclusively for a discount department store.

On the morning of December 24, we found an old corrugated plastic postal carton on the sidewalk in front of our apartment.  It looked very official, so we carried it inside and washed it in the bathtub.  Then we stenciled “To Maria” on one side and “From the North Pole” on the other.  We wrapped the loot in Christmas paper and tied it up with a red ribbon.

Midafternoon, I sat down to write Maria a letter.  I explained that I was fortunate to be one of Santa’s friends.  I told her that I wished with all my heart that Carlos would be better, but sometimes all the love, money, and prayers in the world couldn’t change what was destined to happen.  I also told her that Carlos was lucky to have such a loving sister, for there is no greater gift than love.  I remember crying as I signed the letter “Merry Christmas, Maria. From one of Santa’s many helpers.”

The sun was starting to sink low in the sky when we pulled on our coats. (The housing project was on the Lower East Side, and to be honest, I wanted to get in and out of that neighborhood before dark.) “Wait a minute,” yelled Taylor. “What about snow?  If a package came from the North Pole, it would have snow on it!” Needless to say, there was not an inch of snow in New York City.  So we made some by chiseling ice out of the freezer. We packed several large “snowballs” into a cup.  Finally we were ready.

Richard, Ian, Taylor, and I donned our jingle-bell necklaces and then raced out of our apartment building and down the subway steps.  As people heard us jingling, they turned their heads and smiled at us.

A short while later, we found Maria’s building – a drab institutional high-rise. Richard and Ian held the elevator door while Taylor and I tiptoed over to Maria’s front door and set the box down.  Taylor sprinkled “snow” on the package, and then he took off his necklace and hung it around the top of the package.  “She’ll love this,” he whispered.

We shook our jingle bells and banged on Maria’s door.  As soon as we heard footsteps, we ran for the elevator.  The apartment door opened, and Maria’s mother called out, “Thank you! Merry Christmas!”

Once outside, Taylor was ecstatic  We’d pulled it off! Maria would never expect.  “Next year,” announced Taylor, “I want to answer three letters!”

That night at home, we sat around a roaring fire and drank hot cocoa. Taylor and Ian carefully laid out nine carrots, one for each of Santa’s reindeer. Once the boys were asleep, Santa filled their stockings and placed the presents under the tree.

On Christmas morning, Taylor and Ian awoke to find the carrots gone and the fireplace screen pushed aside.  The same child who had sprinkled snow on Maria’s package carefully examined the boot print in the soot and proclaimed that it was, indeed, Santa’s.

I’m no longer worried about Taylor’s finding out the truth.  Whether he realized it or not, he already knows the biggest truth of the season.  It is better to give than to receive. I think he is going to make a terrific Santa.

How Did You Get Your Name? November 8, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
11 comments

janetjan018

I could have been named Susan or Barbara, but the relatives in California nabbed those first. So, I was named Janet. When I got married my husband started calling me Jan. I was fine with that. Because I was such a happy child, my nickname was “Jan-ny Gay.” But that was back before…oh, you know.

When I was in LAUSD’s District Intern Program, (but that was back when there was one), one Saturday morning, our class was asked to stand in a circle and tell how we got our name. It was fascinating exercise, as it was a diverse group.

There were two people whose parents had taken their names from rock ‘n roll songs. Several others had been named after a character in a book or movie. There were the usual biblical names, the juniors, and family names. One man had been named after his father’s best friend who had died.

Several Asians had decided their names were too hard to pronounce, so they chose an “American” name. I’m afraid my Susan, Barbara, Janet story seemed pretty lame in comparison. Why couldn’t my parents have been more creative? Years later when I was a sub in San Gabriel, I smiled whenever I met Elvis Wong (and there were FOUR of them). It reminded me of the book The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. The main character’s American name is Shirley Temple Wong.

Any teacher can recite an exotic list of names of the students they’ve taught over the years. There were twin boys, D’wayne and D’won, and twin girls, Eunique and Especial. Klinsmann.  Toshiba. Cinnamon Jade. I could go on and on. Maybe it’s an urban legend, but teachers always swear they’ve heard of a girl named Chlamydia.

Several teacher friends are hoping to get pregnant. They want to do so before every name carries with it the image of a child they’ve already taught.

Recently, I did an art lesson on lines for my third graders using their names. This must be something that third graders have done since the dawn of time, because I remember doing it when I was in third grade. The pharmacist had typed my name as “Janette” on a prescription label. (That was back when the pharmacist typed.) I thought “Janette” was was way cooler than “Janet,” so that’s how I wrote my name. My teacher was surprised. My mother was not happy. And me?  I reminded that I was just Janet.

For the “Names” art lesson, students first draw a border the width of their ruler on 8×10 paper. Next, they write their names and color them in with black marker. They use a variety of lines to fill in the background. Diagonal. Wavy. Zigzag. Organic. Have them fill in the lines with colored pencils, as using markers is overkill and you don’t get all of those cool details and colors.

This year, I decided to take the project a step further. We’d just finished reading Angel Child, Dragon Child about a little girl who comes to the U.S. from Vietnam. It was hard, at first, for the students to pronounce the Vietnamese names in the story, but they got better. I always tell children that it’s a sign of respect when you call someone by their given name.

My students’ homework was to find out how they got their name. I wasn’t concerned about the origin of their name. I just wanted students to talk to their parent/s about why they chose that name for their child. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, ” Your parents spent a lot of time choosing your name, so you can at least write it on your paper!”)

The form I sent home is below. I was surprised that every child actually talked to a parent (this year every child is living with a parent) and returned the form the next day. Okay, one girl told me her name meant “African princess with chocolate colored skin.” She was so busted!  But by the time I called home the next day, she was in the midst of a conversation with her mother about how she really did get her name. It’s a fun project. If only I had that girl Chlamydia in my class this year!

How I Got My Name

Last week we read “Angel Child, Dragon Child.” The main character was a girl named Ut, who was from Vietnam. We learned that “Ut” was her “at home name,” or nickname. We also learned that in Vietnam, people say their surname, or last name, first.

How did you get your first name? You need to talk to a parent and find out why they chose this special name for you. They had thousands of names to choose from!

1. Were you named after someone in your family?

2.  Were you named after someone famous?

3.  Does your name mean something special?

4. Or, did your parents just like the sound of your name?

Find out how you got your name and write about it below. Do you an “American” name or a nickname? Use the back if you need to.

Photo Credit:  Mark Shaver for The Times

The Village People Save Halloween October 18, 2009

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Parenting.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
7 comments

Mark'spumpkin

Halloween in New York City in the 1980s was a tough call.  The big draw was the Village Halloween Parade. But how many gay guys can you watch prancing around dressed as poodles in costumes made from pink plastic bags? (The answer is quite a few!)

The trouble was that my sons, Taylor, who was in third grade, and Ian, who was in Kindergarten, were eager to go through that American rite of passage called trick-or-treating. In Manhattan, that meant going from deli to deli and getting a piece of candy or maybe having a slice of cheesy pizza dropped into your bag at the local pizza parlor.  Not quite the Halloween of my childhood.

When I was a kid, Halloween was a pretty simple affair.  You carved a real pumpkin and it always had triangle eyes.  None of that artsy stuff you see nowadays.  If you were hard up for a costume, being a hobo was always an option, but that was before there were homeless people.  You could wear your dad’s shirt and carry a stick with a bandana tied to it. Now those same bandanas signal gang affiliations.  Sigh.  Word traveled quickly as to which families were handing out the “good stuff.”  I’m talking homemade popcorn balls and caramel apples (before they had razor blade fillings).

Fast forward.  We were living at the Hotel Chelsea on West 23rd Street.  Built in 1883, the hotel is 10 stories tall and has an ornate wrought iron staircase winding through its center.  The residents were mostly “artists,” (code word for eccentrics).  We moved in the year after Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend Nancy. There were residents who swore the elevator always stopped at the first floor, even when no one had pressed the button, because that’s where Sid had lived.

At the Hotel Chelsea, it was pretty much Halloween year round.  We once walked into the wrong apartment once and found ourselves in a casino.   It’s not like the boys could go from apartment to apartment trick-or-treating. No, we would have to bite the bullet (the silver one intended for werewolves) and throw a Halloween Party.

Other parents, who were equally desperate for something to do on Halloween, quickly RSVP’d.  We enlisted the help of some of the hotel’s residents, some who we only knew in passing.  I was willing to buy the candy for them to hand out, but they insisted they would to do it. But what it they flaked – or OD’d?

That's Taylor, the mad scientist, out front wielding a the pliers.

Mad scientist Taylor wielding pliers.

I ordered a sh*tload of plasticky crap from the Oriental Trading Company.  Skulls, spiders – Typical boy stuff.

I made a huge platter of spaghetti with eyeball meatballs (olives) along with vampire repelling garlic bread.  Jake’s mom, Arlene, who was a caterer, arrived bearing the most incredible cupcakes I’d ever seen. They had black frosting and a green plastic witch’s finger protruded from each one.

We set up games out in the hallway.  Stick a skewer into a bowl of flour and try to hit the lady apple. (What a mess that was!)  There was a little fishing rod with hook on the end of it so kids could try to snag a skull ring out of a jar. This was all time filler until the main event. Finally, it was time to go trick-or-treating.

I shouted out an apartment number and a dozen children raced up the stairs with parents trailing behind.  From floor to floor they raced, maybe ten apartments in all.  The last stop was at our friend Susan’s.  She was a teacher and lived in the penthouse.  I expected candy.  Instead she’d gone all out with spooky lighting and a scary soundtrack. Her apartment was already a jungle filled with terrariums of exotic animals. When she had the tarantula walk across her shoulder, the kids were mesmerized.  But then, so was I. This was the grand finale.  But wait, there’s more!

My husband’s office was across the hall from where we lived.  It had a wrought iron balcony that overlooked 23rd Street.  Flying high on sugar, the kids tied rubber bugs to fish lines then dropped them down to street level. When someone walked by, they’d jerk the line to make the bug jump.  When unsuspecting people were startled, they laughed hysterically.

Everyone swore it was the best Halloween ever.  And it was.  A motley crew of people who wanted to create a lasting memory for children made it happen.  Yes, it takes a village – Or in this case, the Village People.

Moxey, whose blog Middleground is on my blogroll, wrote a hilarious post about her own ambivalence about Halloween and the inevitable  Costume Drama in outfitting her eight-year-old son, Spawn.  It’s a fun read.  This year, the party is at her house!

Photo Credit:  Spooky Spinner by Mark Williams at markrosswilliams.com

I, Santa Claus December 7, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Holidays, Parenting.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

santa7

My son, Ian, was in the third grade when I, Santa Claus, was exposed.  Only weeks after Christmas, Ian approached me with a bewildered expression on his face, clutching a piece of paper. “Why do you have all my letters to Santa Claus?” he asked point blank.  Oh s**t!  He’d found our cache of letters the boys had written to the big jolly man.  

The frozen look on my face said it all. “You’re Santa Claus?” Ian asked incredulously.  (Yeah, like I couldn’t eat a plate full of cookies).   “I…I…I am,” I stammered, and my son burst into tears. Before I could begin to explain how this ruse worked, I saw my confession’s stunning ripple effect.  Still wailing, Ian choked out, “And the Easter Bunny?”  I nodded.  More tears. “And what about the Tooth Fairy?”  At this point I was so busted that I merely hung my head.   Ian locked himself in his room and a tsunami of tears followed.   What my son didn’t see were my tears. 

You have to understand.  As a child I loved Santa Claus.  Just at that age (third grade), when everyone else was muttering something about Santa being your parents, I received a pair of roller skates from Santa that were the wrong size.  This was proof that Santa WAS real.  My parents would have known what size to buy me.  But with so many children in the world, I could forgive Santa for not knowing my exact size.  This mistake bought me (and my parents) another year of me being a “believer.”  To be honest, I don’t even remember when I finally figured out Santa was my parents, or if we even talked about it. Maybe it was so traumatic, I’ve supressed the memory. But I tend to think I finally realized that it was a bit of a stretch that some jolly fat guy could deliver gifts all around the world without routing them all through Memphis.  

When our first son, Taylor, was born, we were eager go play Santa.  It’s the role of a lifetime and we played it to the max.  We were living in New York City and the city is magical at Christmas.  One year friends invited us to their block association’s “Visit from Santa” event at a small park in Chelsea.  It was freezing and we huddled together stomping our feet to try and stay warm while awaiting Santa’s arrival.  

All of a sudden we heard a jolly, “Ho ho ho!”  We looked up and there on the rooftop of a three-story brownstone, illuminated against a starry sky, stood Santa waving!   I got goosebumps.  I was five years old again.  I was a Believer!   Moments later, Santa emerged from the front door of the brownstone with his bag slung over his shoulder.  He passed out advent calendars filled with chocolates before disappearing into a waiting Cadillac. It was only later, I found out that Santa was actually a Jewish guy named Morty. Morty was so overjoyed that he’d married off his last daughter, he asked if he could play Santa that year.  That’s what I love about New York.  

When Ian was born the next year, his big brother Taylor was only too happy to fill him in on Santa’s penchant for cookies and his elusive nature.  

On Christmas Eve, the boys would write their letters to Santa.  When they finally drifted off to sleep, we went to work.  I snarfed the cookies then wrote a letter from Santa on parchment paper with a calligraphy pen.  I even burned the edges so it looked like something out of a storybook.  Before Richard and I went to bed, we pulled out the fireplace screen just a tad and made big sooty footprints over to where the cookies had been.  It was a crime scene worthy of CSI.  

One year the stockings looked so adorable hanging above the fireplace that Richard took a Polaroid.  The mirror hanging over the fireplace reflected the flash and the image blurred.  It actually looked like a being of light was moving toward the fireplace.  In the morning we excitedly told the boys how we’d heard a noise and rushed out to the living room just in time to snap a picture of Santa.  Taylor was determined to contact the National Enquirer because he knew they’d pay lots of money for a “real” picture of Santa. “Finally,” he announced.  “We have proof!”

Taylor figured out the Santa thing by the fourth grade.  We were living outside Seattle by then and he seemed nonplussed.  He said it explained why Santa always gave gifts out of the Hearthsong catalog.  That year Taylor helped set up the stocking for Ian and enjoyed watching his little brother delight in seeing what Santa had brought on Christmas morning. After we moved back to LA, Taylor continued to play along.  Wink, wink. 

So Ian’s heartfelt tears were like a knife to my heart.  This wasn’t how I’d imagined it.  But how much of life isn’t?   So what did we do to help our traumatized son deal with the TRUTH. Taylor finally lured Ian out of his room and we all went to see a movie – A violent movie.  All I remember is it was rated R and there was lots of shooting, which as we all know, Santa wouldn’t approve of.  Ian walked out of the theater and the storm had passed.  

Ian is now 22 and loves to retell the story about finding Santa’s letters.  The funny thing is his favorite thing about Christmas is still coming out to see what Santa has left in his stocking. (We tried to phase the stocking out when he was 17, but he wouldn’t hear of it).  So I told Ian if I, Santa, still have to fill a stocking then he has to write “Santa” a letter.  So Ian writes a letter giving me (I mean Santa) an update on his college grades, and I, Santa write a letter back, but don’t bother to burn the edges.  And I still get to eat the cookies!

My Son – Who Happens to be Gay November 22, 2008

Posted by alwaysjan in Life, Parenting, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

love-is-so-gay1

I have two sons. My younger son, Ian, happens to be gay. I didn’t set out to have a gay son. But then Ian didn’t set out to be gay, and to be honest, it came as a shock to him as well. He was confused about why he felt “different.” And he struggled alone. Even now, I can’t imagine what that was like for him when he was only nine and had a crush on a boy in the fourth grade.

When Ian was 14 and a half, we were sitting in the doctor’s office, and he announced he was gay. We laugh now remembering what happened next. I blurted out, “Oh my god, I hope my parents die soon!” This was because my parents had left their church in the Midwest over the issue of gay unions. My head was spinning. Driving home, I was in a fog. I’ve always had gay friends, but my son? My eyes brimmed with tears. Why me?  What I remember most is what my son said next. “Mom, I’m the same person I was before – it’s just that now you know.”

“Please don’t tell Dad,” Ian asked. My response? “That’s like asking me not to tell your father the house is on fire!” So he told his dad who was surprised, but ultimately okay with it. Then he told his older brother who shrugged. “Just don’t expect me to go riding around in one of those gay pride parades.”

Ian felt such a sense of relief to be able to be honest about who he was. This was the same kid who had written “I’m gay” in Sharpie on the back of another boy’s jacket in middle school. Talk about confused self-loathing. It wasn’t easy for him though.

Ian, who’s outgoing and always had lots of friends, thought once he came out, other students at his high school would come out as well. He waited…and waited. There was one other boy who was extremely flamboyant, who Ian wanted nothing to do with. Ian had played Little League baseball and considered himself a jock. His attitude was, “If I want to hang out with a girl, I’ll hang out with a real girl.”

Looking back, I can’t believe how brave my son was. Yes, he took a boy as a date to the prom. He was confident no one would give them a problem as Ian is infinitely likable and has a wicked sense of humor. No one did, but I held my breath. As a parent, I was frightened that someone would lash out at my son, verbally or physically. But being young, Ian was convinced he could change the world – or at least people’s opinions – one at a time.  And to his credit, he did and continues to do so.

Meanwhile, my husband and I found PFLAG ,Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians And Gays. (I should note that at the meetings I attended there were also families with transgender children.) We met so many incredible people at those meetings. People came because they too had family members and friends who were gay. Those who’d been attending for awhile always described being able to acknowledge their child’s sexual orientation as an amazing “journey.” It was painful though when parents who’d just found out their child was gay came to a meeting. Some were still in such a state of shock or denial they couldn’t speak. But the important thing was they showed up. It was the first step on their journey.

There was a Chinese woman who wanted to know if there were herbs that could turn her son, who was in his 30s and a doctor, back to “normal.”  There were African Americans whose childhoods were so interwoven with the church, they felt ostracized in their own community. And there were people who’d gotten married because, “I thought if I got married and had a family, it might make IT go away.” They’d come to the conclusion that telling a lie is easy, but living a lie takes a toll on one’s soul.

Eventually, I couldn’t keep The Secret any longer. After a year, I broke down and told my parents their grandson was gay. They were in shock, but they love Ian. Several years later when they were visiting, my father said to Ian, “Someday when you meet the perfect woman…”  He caught himself. “I mean man,” he said. Ian was overjoyed as he adores his grandparents.

My son has never been interested in the club scene. “That’s not the way you and dad raised me,” he said with such earnestness, that my heart ached for him. He talks about “when I have a kid.” He has that optimism that comes with youth. It helps that we live in Southern California. Ian is still put off by “girlie” guys and was critical of people who are transgender until he saw the movie Transamerica.  He watched it again the other night and said it made him cry. So even he has been on his own journey of understanding.

My son is now 22. He goes to college and he, and his boyfriend of a year, live with us. The other day he asked, “Mom, at what age are you considered a loser if you still live at home with your parents?” I told him with the economy the way it is, this might be as good as it gets.  But we’re all okay with that.

I really don’t give much thought to my son being gay anymore. It’s just one part of who he is, but certainly doesn’t define him as a human being. I was disturbed though when he came to me last night and told me how upsetting it was when several young men chanted, “Yes on 8!” when he and his boyfriend walked by. Ian is a peaceful person, and it was all he could do to not say something. And of course, you always think of just the right thing to say afterwards. But hate, even though Ian knows it stems from ignorance, still hurts.

So when my friend TIna, who also has a gay son, emailed this morning that she’s going to attend a peaceful march tonight to protest the passage of “Yes on 8,” I said count me in. She and some of our friends marched last weekend. They sent me pictures of them holding their placards. What impressed me most was that most of those who showed up didn’t have a gay child. They were there because they thought it was the right thing to do. They believe in equal rights for all Americans.

So now it looks like it’s going to be a gay day. I can think of a lot of things I’d rather be doing on a Saturday night. But the stakes are just too high. We’re not talking about one of THOSE people. We’re talking about my son.

One of the most eloquent and impassioned commentaries I’ve seen on this issue is “Keith Olbermann’s Response to Prop. 8.”  To view his commentary, please press the following link. Peace.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 305 other followers