A Little Red Riding Pants Thanksgiving

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Little Red has agreed to a radio appearance!

 

Fun for the whole family! Tune in to KSQM Community Radio to hear LITTLE RED RIDING PANTS’ NARROW ESCAPE, written and narrated by Eva Stanfield. Two airings: 9AM and 5PM. For bonus laughs at the end of the story, the 5 PM airing will include Little Red’s Handy Vocab List! Total running time 40 minutes with two breaks for station identification.

Go, Little Red, go!

The Rose

(First thing I ever wrote, circa fifth grade.)

THE ROSE

Green her stem

Green her leaves

Red her garment but then–

I was there on that day in fall

She had lost her leaves, her garment, her all.

But wait! There’s still a hope–part of her garment is still there,

Torn from her heart, her heart so fair.

Then I discovered a very sad thing,

She wouldn’t be back ’till the coming of spring.

 

 

How Mr. One-Leg Does It

dark-eyed-junco-on-groundEvery morning a one-legged junco shows up for his job at Starbucks. He stands alone, one foot away from the closed glass door. Coffee vapors seep through the edges, lace a frosty morning. Roasty goodness smiles, beckons you inside with its brown finger. You step closer. Mr. One-Leg refuses to move. You reach for the door. Forget about it. Not moving. You feel like you can’t get at the coffee, though in truth you could. Does the bird understand you’re on a tight schedule? Mr. One-Leg has moxy.

Only when you give this well-fed junco your crumb pledge does he hop aside and let you pass. Now, he has you trained. Then, something else happens: his confidence and courage earn your attention and respect.

Sometimes you may feel like a one-legged junco. You may have come into this world intact but birth family had its way with you and now you find you’re “missing a leg.”

  • You may hunger to be seen.
  • You may long for mutuality.
  • You may also experience crushing loneliness. This may come as a result of choices you make, which may not be bad choices at all–I’m talking about the hard and best choices a person makes to protect one’s self from others who would harm.

Sometimes good choices can feel incredibly bad when it comes to choosing not to stay around people who make you feel bad. You may feel like you lost a family or mate that wasn’t really family at all. A double whammy. This can be crippling. That’s one possible outcome.

Yet, you, like Mr. One Leg, continue to show up for life because you’re made of good stuff. You may have received some awful programming. You may have been bound for years by unhealthy family ties. You may have lost some feathers, picked up some dents and dings along the way. You may have lent your heart to someone who vandalized it for a while. They may have even burgled your voice. You may have lost sight in one eye. A broken wing may have mended badly, a beautiful dream may have ended sadly and maybe, just maybe you can’t fly like you thought you somehow would. Life took little child you and did its thang. You got a bum rap. And yet you survived.

It’s good to establish the facts. That way you can look into the mirror and view your strengths, your remaining options. We are all damaged. Don’t be afraid. You have new choices to make so you’d best get busy. Think about this: as you look into the mirror, let’s suppose your world of CAN’T shifts to a world of WHAT IF?

  • What if your remaining leg has gotten so strong that it’s given you REAL STRENGTH?
  • What if the other birds respect your COMMITMENT to the door?
  • What if your woundedness gives you REAL COURAGE–the kind that brings you to a better way of doing life every morning? What about that, my friend?
  • What if your tactics for survival in the past may now help you to STRATEGIZE for your future?
  • What if you dig deep and ACT on your hard-won knowledge?
  • What if there’s more to you than you realized?

I give Mr. One-Leg a lotta credit. Once he figures out a basic strategy he takes it one hop further! He gimps alongside you to the patio table (making sure you follow through on your commitment). Then, he looks up and says, “More, please!”

 

Witness–Is It Real?

If we have a family member who suffers from mental illness, then we suffer alongside them. Or beneath them. We are their witness, yes. We understand too well the tumult, the moment by moment, the wrinkled implication of their affliction, especially as it pertains directly to us. We are forced to come to the realization that they may never be our witness. We suffer out of our own want for them to please get better or out of our desire to be seen by them. We suffer out of our basic unmet needs to be clothed and warmed, the very indicators that they care for us. We want them to witness us. But they cannot see beyond the thing that binds them. They cannot see us.

Who will be our witness, then?

Well, heck, we reason, haven’t we been lovingly placed in this physical time/space thing right now? Doesn’t all of nature see? There is so much out there that is real that we haven’t seen yet. We cannot see the true largess of life (or its smallness)–we only see glimpses. With great relief and wonder we stand and gape at the portal.

Then we break down the biggest most beautiful things into the smallest, even into quarks (But are they really the smallest?) You may want to check this out: Tiny Grandeur: Stunning Photos Of the Very Small.

Are we, ourselves, any less awe inspiring? Our bodies, our spirits? Our sheer will to struggle? To overcome? To really live?

If we were somehow able to pause on our path and pull back the curtain all the way–if we glimpsed all of it right now, the big and small stuff behind all we see and experience here, I wonder if our eyes wouldn’t go blind from brilliance and our physical bodies unable to manage the weight of its abundance.

Meantime, we pass through this very real space one step at a time (sometimes two steps forward one step backward!) doing what we were meant to do. All of nature–great and small–is our witness. Our body is our witness. Our spirit is our witness. What happened and will happen to us was and will be real. Our struggle to live in this time/space continuum is real. We know it because we see growth here, in spite of or because of the difficulties of a family member’s mental illness. As we continue to move forward we forge a path by clearing the brush of uncertainty out of the way.20161017_1246331

As a result of our work we see dynamic change spring up not only in us but all around us in nature. Nature is reciprocal. Nature reflects back to us our struggle, rewards us with glimpses of what lies just beyond the scrim. Then, we see that we are our own witness. Witness is all around us. It’s inside our very spirit too.

And it is enough.

Hunting Lions

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My legs are tall. My tail is short.

I watch my mistress. Watch watch watch.

It is time to go stalk lions now. I stalk lions in tall grass at the beach. I never find them but I always look for them. I will catch one soon. 

I wait. Wait wait wait. She cleans the kitchen after supper.

After dishes mistress calls me, “Mia Flower, Come.”

I always listen. Sometimes I play a game. Sometimes I do not come when she calls me.

I love her. She feeds me.

She walks with me at the beach. I love the beach. I love–

“Mia.” She calls again and I run to her. I love her.

It is walk time.

She scratches my ear. Right. There. Ahh.

She holds something in her hand for me to sniff. A tiny stick.

Sniff sniff sniff.

Too small for fetch. Each end of the stick has a fuzzy ball. I like balls.

Too small for catch.

Time for beach. Time for the huntress.

“QTip, Mia,” she says. 

She cleans my ear. Not too deep. Gentle mistress never hurts ears. OOH, ball on stick in ear feels good.

I love her with my eyes.

It is time for walk now. I stare at my leash on a chair. 

“See?” Mistress lets me sniff a shiny tube. She holds it tight. Brown goo comes from the tube. I sniff. Mmm. Peanut butter toothpaste.

“Toothbrush,” she says. She holds up a different stick. It is longer than a QTip. A brush at one end. I do not like the toothbrush.

Walk?

Up and down and all around.

I do not like the brush thing. I love goo.

Mistress finishes brushing my teeth. I love the tube of goo with my eyes all the way to the drawer.

It is time for walk now. I go to the leash on the chair.

She stays. 

I point to the leash with my eyes. See? See? See?

She reaches. She holds a big bottle. I know the big bottle.

I do not love the big bottle with my eyes. It is squirty.

I run away. 20170604_141412

To the window. Lions live out there. I must watch.

Mistress calls me. I do not look at her with my eyes.

Not time for walk. Four wrinkle day.

She comes to me. No.

“We must wash your ears,” she says.

I don’t think so. In my head I hunt lions in tall grass right now.

I do not like the bottle.

Mistress holds me close. I squirm. I cannot get away.

She will not hurt me. I hold still for her.

Mistress squeezes a squirt into my ear.

I do not like it. I shake my head.

Mistress rubs my ear with a towel. I love towels. OOH towels feel good. Ooh. Ooh. Ooh. Yes towels feel good.

She does not hurt me.

My ears are clean.

My teeth are clean. I like the goo.

Mistress holds my face in her hands. She loves me with her eyes.

“Good girl,” she says.

Mistress lets me go now.

I stay. Stay stay stay.

I stare at her. I sit tall.Tall tall tall.

She says, “Go for a walk?”

My tail is too short. It tries to shout.

“YES YES YES!”

My eyes ask, “Now?”

My eyes tell her I hunt lions.

Mistress laughs. “I will take you to hunt lions now.”

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I stalk a lion at the beach. I never find one but I always look for him. I will catch him soon.

I will catch one soon.

Forgiveness

20170816_201344A tough topic, but let’s run with it. Rather, let’s fly. Let’s hold forgiveness tight against our thumping hearts and fly away from fearful grudges hiding like mice in the field. Let’s let the falcon of un-forgiveness do its own hunting. Let’s us fly like the eagle to a high tree and rest on another branch. That grudging field isn’t the only game in town.

Anger has its place and we should not deny our anger. Anger let’s us know of injustice against us, against others. Anger tells us something must be done to protect ourselves and others. Anger helps us pinpoint unsafe people. Anger is powerful and helps keep us safe. So, let’s hold forgiveness even tighter than our anger so anger may serve its purpose then release its grip. Otherwise, anger will give way to fear.

Fear, the little thing that looks up big-eyed and helpless, little thing that leaves the little creature so exposed, armour-less, and begrudging it lets itself be snatched up by a falcon, the swiftest of the raptors, the one who dives and precisely snags the fearful mouse in the field and tears it apart before it knows it has died. That mouse was too busy being big-eyed and fearful. Non-forgiveness, the bird of prey that lives on fear, digests it and expels its shell on the floor of its nest.

Let’s fish the river of forgiveness, a glittery stream that flows, dances, advances toward somewhere big. Let’s fish from forgiveness and feed on something that fights for life. Unforgiveness is not us. It can go a-hunting in its own little boxy field that doesn’t flow anywhere.

Parenting Yourself: the Power Of Witness

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith a mentally ill parent love may very well come hard or not at all. When a child comes into a family you can bet your life that little kid is very interested in getting the parent to notice her, because that kid believes her daddy is equally interested in his offspring. My dad’s interest in me started out as genuine, then slipped away as his mental illness took him over until his meager efforts appeared phony.  Confused the heck out of me, why, at every turn he had abandoned me. I kept trying to get him to see me.

As I grew older I mistakenly believed that, since my dad was still present bodily, then he must still be there for me. I really didn’t understand how ill he had gotten. His downward slide paralleled my growth incrementally. As my material, emotional, and spiritual needs grew greater his provisions for me quickly dwindled to nothing. For example, living conditions got so bad we had to haul water from town for months on end because the well pump stopped working. He seemed unable to make things better for those who depended on him. I did not have adequate clothing or heat. Mom happened to be a resourceful hunter/gatherer so she made sure we were OK in the food department. In the midst of Dad’s wealth, and in spite of Mom’s efforts, desperation ruled our days.

His body was still there, living at the house, fed by Mom. He talked, yes. He had gumption to feed the monkey. He worked some, too. However, the thing I couldn’t quite wrap my head around was this: he was not really at “home.” Though I could see, touch and speak to (at) him, his mind, the thing that made him him, had gone away.

A kid loves a parent, right? So, the parent loves the kid, right? If not, maybe the kid thinks she hasn’t tried hard enough. Some adults think this, too. If the kid tries harder he or she can get Daddy to love him or her back, right? Wrong. Not a little kid’s responsibility to present the love model to the parent. The onus is on the parent to model love for the child. Imroperly modeled “love” by a parent is something a lot of kids don’t receive, an awful gift that keeps on giving. A lot of time passed from early childhood to adulthood before I was ready to swallow that pill–my truth–about my mentally ill father who could not love me. No matter how much I looked to Dad to even see me, his window had closed long ago, and would not be opened by him again.

However, I vowed at a fairly young age not to let Dad’s depression rule my life. While I still lived at home I did everything my gifts allowed in order to offset the overwhelming influence his illness tried to exert on my life. Later, when I had the freedom, in my early twenties I sought counseling. Counseling invoked the power of witness. Witness is powerful. Witness sees and understands. Witness validates things that cannot be seen. Witness helps us parent ourselves.

  • Witness can be a professional counselor. You can trust yourself to find a good one because you are caring for yourself.
  • Or, witness doesn’t have to be in the form of a counselor. Witness can be a five minute phone call to a friend. Sometimes simply hearing someone say, “I have your back” is enough for that day.
  • You can experience the power of witness by reading the story of Hagar in the Bible, or inspiring stories like Jeannette Walls’ book, the GLASS CASTLE.
  • Witness can be writing a letter to yourself and keeping it in a safe place.
  • Witness can be a book or story you write, a song you compose or even someone else’s song you sing.
  • Witness can be a poem you write about a little tree that grows in spite of lack of rain, a tree whose roots learn go deep to find an underground pool.
  • Witness can be painted, drawn or doodled on paper, then hung on a bathroom mirror to remind you you are caring for your heart.
  • Witness a powerful tool and helper, a good one you can trust yourself to find.

When I was old enough, free enough to parent myself I followed my instincts to care for me. I wrote, created music and drew. I walked a lot, got into nature. Still do. Not afraid to say it, I still get counsel from time to time. And what a difference counseling, writing, walking and creating has made in my life.

These are smart things we do for ourselves so we can break the chain of neglect. Neglect has to stop somewhere. Why not with us? Why not explore the power of witness?

 

Heating Oil and Monkey

I can smell Dad now: he smells of heating oil and monkey. Having consigned his adult self to fixing refrigerators and oil heaters for a living, it was all Dad could muster, given the abuse he suffered as a child and his subsequent breakdown at the age of seventeen. Repair work — Dirty, grimy work, helpful work that made others’ lives better — was tedious work of which his beautiful mind grew bored. So, every evening in order to decompress he carried a newspaper pouch heaped with leftovers across Second Street to his pet monkey, Squeako. The beast’s Sacred Feeding Time was sacred to them both. Mom refused to go. She had had enough of the monkey business — all the injuries Dad’s various monkeys had inflicted on her and Dad through the years. Often he allowed me to go with him to feed Squeako.  This was where the mere memory of Squeako and Dad combined to make that sharp blend of monkey and heating oil. It permeated his skin and clothing. I both hated and loved its pungency; it invades the nose of my mind right now.

He — Dad, not the monkey — could have been an architect. As with any creative, not all of his ideas were home runs. But, judging from his many brilliantly conceived ideas such as the the Luggage Buckle, and the Tricycle Go Cart (fastest in the hood), and the Duct Tape Butterfly Bandage On the Six Inch Chainsaw Wound (self inflicted), the Taj Mahal For Primates turned out to be one of his best. He designed and  built an elaborate network of rooms and runs: a heated feeding room, an exercise room, sleeping space and the piece de resistance (in Port Angeles we called it the piece of resistance): the Sun Tower. Ah the Sun Tower, but I digress. Another time, perhaps, you and I will pick fleas together in the Sun Tower. Right now, I want to talk about Dad’s music.

As a professional musician myself, I can say with confidence that Dad’s musical talent was of the highest caliber; he possessed an excellent ear and a fine-tuned, silken voice of phenomenal range. His rhythm was on point, his interpretations were marked with great insight and tenderness. This was a man of great creative potential, potential of pure essence stripped of him at an early age by his own father who quite thoroughly abused him. At the age of seventeen Dad, before he was Dad to me, snapped under the strain of abuse. To say he never recovered his essence would be a gross understatement, though it helps to believe he did the best he could.

So, it’s a thing worth thinking about. Abuse often triggers the onset of mental illness. Here’s a link: http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/15/how-child-abuse-primes-the-brain-for-future-mental-illness/

Abuse, a prolific breeder, begets a many things. It begins with verbal abuse which, in turn, spawns emotional abuse. You can’t document verbal or emotional abuse. Can’t take a picture of it. Hard to get a witness. It’s insidious that way. Makes you think you are the crazy one. Then, abuse breeds more abuse: physical, sexual and where does it stop? So a person copes by shutting down all but the most basic survival system. That’s what happens to so many abuse victims. They, in turn, abuse because abuse and subsequent shut down have stamped their imprints onto their psyches. Such was the case with Dad when he was a boy, and it all started with words. Not only is this worth thinking about but it’s worth changing ourselves for.

Abuse –our rampant societal ill — from parent to playground to President — smells to the mind a whole lot like an uncleaned monkey run. Abuse starts with our words. Escalates from there. Like a slow buildup of discarded banana peels, buckwheat pancakes, oatmeal slime and sodden newspapers, the stench builds as the breakdown of waste continues to pollute that which was once clean and new, until that place becomes unreachable.

Such wasted space robs us all.

Mental illness is a huge problem. And where does much of it begin? Perhaps it begins with the quieter thing to which we have grown accustomed: verbal abuse. We do not have to scream at or beat another person in order to abuse. Perhaps we as a race have grown so accustomed to a verbal abuse so subtle that we do not realize we ourselves are abusing others with our words, with our put downs and our withholding. Abuse spawns more abuse,  so why not prevent what we are able to prevent? Why not nip it in the bud and stop our cruel words, our unkind actions? Or let’s stop withholding and actually dare a conversation about the effects of withholding? This is where it begins.

Dad failed to reach a potential that matched his gifts. He didn’t need to be famous or spectacular to be successful. Most of us don’t. He did need to live the way he was designed, in accordance with his gifts. Verbal abuse, physical abuse and subsequent mental illness stole real life from him. Adult he, in turn, abused his family, withheld from us. And, when life got to be too much for him he went to that dark fortress he had erected in his mind, one not unlike the Taj Mahal For Primates. Instead of giftedness, he smelled of heating oil and monkey.

Perhaps I am being unfair. On church days he added Old Spice to the mix.

Caged

That’s the thing about having a parent afflicted with mental illness: you feel caged. I can only imagine how my dad felt. Speaking of cages let me tell you about my dad’s monkey’s cage. Talk about the Taj Mahal For Primates, an edifice Dad took great care designing and building. The finished product boasted a warming room, a tunnel leading to a sunlit monkey run about twenty feet long, and a sun tower that jutted far above the tar papered roof of the adjacent building. It really would have been impressive except for the fact that the Taj Mahal For Primates was warmer than my bedroom at home. Dad saw to it. Why my dad afforded the monkey every comfort and failed to build warm fires for me, his flesh and blood, was something I spent a lifetime trying to figure out. Plus, the monkey had fur. Not fair.

About my dad’s monkey (there were six total). Think Rhesus. Think Mean. Fangs. Cage rattler. You would be those things, too, if you were caged most of the time. This monkey’s name was Squeako and I am here to tell you I am not making this up; Squeako was born the exact morning as I. Not kidding. The day my mom came home from the hospital with infant me in her arms she found a surprise awaiting her: a monkey in the oven. Baby monkey. In a shoe box. Sadly, while I was busy nearly dying from my own birth, Squeako lost his monkey mother in his. Thankfully I lived so I could tell you — work with me here — everyone has got to have a purpose — this completely ridiculous yet true story.  From what I understand of the situation, my near death experience couldn’t hold a candle to Dad’s concern over his monkey in the oven. An incubator, Dad said, since the mother was dead, and could we please use the baby girl’s diapers for Squeako? I had a name for Pete’s sake.

Squeako lived forty years. Just like my dad’s mental illness, Squeako watched, chased, terrified me, terrifies me still, in dreams. Growing up I simply could not get away from him, especially when Dad got bored and “accidentally” left the door to the Taj Mahal open. He laughed and laughed a scary high pitched giggle when he was pleased with himself, especially after he had done something stupidly dangerous, followed by, “See, kids, it’s funny, isn’t it?” Not funny, Not at all. I was terrified of the monkey. None of my needs registered with Dad. So I stayed cold and afraid and there was no comfort. Until I learned the power of pen on paper, the power of witness. Then I learned to express myself through music. At last, when I finally learned there was no shame in talking about mental illness I shared my truth and got some great tools to help me cope with the strain of a mentally ill father.

I was glad when that monkey died forty years later. My whole life I pitied Squeako, yet feared he would get ahold of me eventually. He seemed a perfect picture of my dad’s sickness, of our family’s torment, something I couldn’t understand, something that chased, caged us all, for a very long time.

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Squeeko looked like this Rhesus, fatter due to excessive consumption of Dads buckwheat pancakes.