March 20, 2006

And no, this probably doesn't refer to quite what you're thinking it might refer to.

(I had a really funny line here about it being safe for work, even if you're a nun ... but while surfing BlogMad and writing this post, I hit a website that crashed my browser and I lost everything that I couldn't get a fast screenshot of. *sigh*)

So, from the last couple of serious posts, I know I've made it sound as if joining the Cub Scouts was the most important thing ever, and strictly speaking, that's not really true. It's just that the whole issue with the Cub Scouts really uncapsulated a whole raft of issues which nicely demonstrate some of the challenges my mom and I had as I was growing up.

The real battles, though, came from Mom's addiction to the rules.

You see, as an infant, Mom was quite scared that I would be a victim of SIDS - Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Now part of that fear was simply Mom's terror over being a new mother. Part of it was something more "real." At three, I was finally diagnosed with both allergies and asthma which helped to explain why I often had such a difficult time breathing as an infant. In fact, I was allergic to a whole slew of things: grass, cedar trees (including pines ... think allergic to Christmas tree before people had fake trees), dust, dogs, cats, tomatoes, soy, peas, green beans, cottonwood trees ... and, of course, everything scored a 4 out of 4, meaning I was highly allergic to all of those things, not just mildly annoyed by them.

So, at the age of 3, I started allergy shots once a week. I got a "nifty" dry powder inhaler for the asthma ... which meant that I had to put a little pill into the inhaler and then suck real hard on it ... the little fan blades inside the inhaler helped break up the medicine and hopefully I'd inhale enough of it to forestall an asthma attack. That's a lot for a little kid to remember to do correctly!

My mom, wanting to do everything just exactly right, tore the house apart to make it more hypo-allergenic for her little girl. This meant that my mattress and box springs were covered in an allergy bag (which also made it crinkly and noisy), soon, though, the "bag" came off the mattress because I couldn't sleep for all the noise. For some reason, Mom didn't think that sleeping on the floor was good for my dust allergy.

She set up a cleaning regimen to make sure that the house was as completely dust-free as she could make it. She vacuumed the house on Monday and Friday. Sheets were washed every Thursday. The house was dusted constantly.

And, of course, something had to be done about my room.

*          *           *

According to my baby book and to pictures of me as a little squirt, I had at least three stuffed monkeys that I adored, several dolls, and a host of other stuffed animals. I particularly remember having a panda bear that I adored at age three.

Stuffed animals collect dust.

Not long after my diagnosis, during Mom's crusade to rid the house of allergens, we went for a drive in the car. I was strapped in to my toddler seat in the front of the car (this was before airbags and such, so every mother put their toddler shotgun to keep an eye on us). And Mom started bringing out all of my stuffed animals.

I thought I had the coolest Mom in the world. I was going for a ride with all of my stuffed animals and dolls. I'm happily singing a little song or babbling out the window and chatting with all of my toys who are residing in the back seat of our massive Delta 88 boat of a car.

We pulled up to a strip mall and I paid no real attention. Until Mom began removing all of my stuffed animals and taking them in to the Salvation Army.

Stuffed animals collect dust.

I was allergic to dust.

The rule was, get rid of the stuffed animals or wash them weekly (which was going to get expensive as they probably wouldn't survive that many washings for long).

I frantically twisted around in my little strapped in seat and fought with the buckles. I had to save at least my panda bear (who I'd already managed to wiggle out of the bag he was in). I tried shoving him under the seat, but Mom was thorough and hiding him did me no good.

I don't care how you try ... you can NOT explain to a three year old why "all" of their toys have to be given away. Now, you might get away with this if the toys disappeared over the course of a few weeks. Sneak into the kid's room at night and start snagging a few of the least played with stuffies and have them "disappear" like some mafioso ... have the kid pick out some stuffed animals to give away. Anything to pare the herd down with as little notice as possible. I mean, almost all kids go through the trauma of having toys outgrown and given away, but it doesn't have to be a complete shock to the system.

When we got home I was inconsolable. I ran through the house, desperately searching for any stuffed animal. Nothing.

I asked Mom about this incident years later and she was surprised that I remembered it at all, but she defended her decision to rid the house of stuffies in the way that she did. I pointed out to her that she could have gathered them while I was sleeping and perhaps put them in the trunk so I couldn't see what she was doing.

"I didn't think it would matter to you."

"Why couldn't you have left me just one?"

The answer was completely unexpected, even though I had long since become accustomed to her odd twists in logic.

"Because I knew your dad wouldn't quit smoking, and I didn't want to, either."

You see, the doctors had gone over a whole list of things that needed to be done in the house to help improve my health. Get rid of dust-catchers had been one thing, cleaning the bedding more frequently another, twice weekly vacuuming another ... and quitting smoking was another. Now, this was 1971 or so. No one was quitting smoking just yet.

So Mom's solution was to do absolutely everything the doctor said, absolutely, fully, to the complete letter of the law and courting OCD as she did it ... except for the smoking. That they continued to do, chain-smoking until I was in college. Then, finally, Mom was able to muster enough willpower (and, to be perfectly fair, it wasn't until the appearance of the Nicorette gum that she thought she'd have the support) to finally quit. It wasn't until we found a doll made of rubbery plastic, Baby Tender Love, that I got any kind of doll again ... and only because she could be dunked in water and bathed along with me every night.

From that early, defining moment on, I hid any toy that I really liked.

Later, when I was old enough to understand it had been done for my health, I still questioned her method of getting rid of the toys. And I think leaving a three year old one stuffed animal would probably not have killed me, either.

These were the things on the surface. These were the things that I told other kids, other adults about.

There were other things that I didn't talk about ... in fact, that I pretty much physically could not utter aloud. Or write, when I finally learned to do that.

There were those things out in my room ... the stuffed animals incident.

And then, there were things that I sequestered away in my closet, with the door firmly shut.

So, much later when I found the whole Cub Scouts story funny and an early indicator that I might need to be coming "out of the closet," I laughed. As far as I was concerned, that had been so obvious from such an early age, there was nothing that had ever been hidden.

A harder closet to come out of was to admit just how bad the abuse had been.

Posted by Red Monkey at March 20, 2006 3:49 AM | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


seawave said:

((((ender)))) - What a painful story and experience for a child, especially given the focus on the toys rather than the smoking. My heart breaks for that little girl on so many levels. I applaud your courage and your honesty over these last days in your sharing.

March 20, 2006 5:04 PM


nicole said:

NICE blog! I voted for you through BlogMad. :)

March 21, 2006 2:30 PM


angie said:

Ender, I am loving all these posts. This one is so sad. What a tragic thing for a child to go through. Seems simple on the surface, but a child's toys are really special and sometimes stuffed animals are darn near part of the family. I can understand getting rid of allergens, but wow, getting rid of your things and continuing to smoke. That just breaks my heart. Keep these great posts coming!!

I looooooove you! ;)

March 21, 2006 4:38 PM

Heya, ender. Great site! And I loved the Robin artwork, as I told you earlier. Keep it up :D

March 26, 2006 8:23 AM


Betsy Markum said:

I can't believe it, my co-worker just bought a car for $70044. Isn't that crazy!

May 17, 2006 5:37 PM
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