When Insanity is Normal

I’ve started a new case for my volunteer work.  So I don’t repeat myself too much, you can read a previous post about what I do and what my observations have been as of about 2 years ago.  But this new case has made me realize something else.  I can’t name names but let me give you a taste of what’s going in the case.

A 24 year old woman had her kids removed from her because upon the birth of her last child, she and the newborn tested positive for cocaine.  Her partner also tested positive for cocaine.  The partner is the father of the youngest two, the oldest, who is 5 has a different biological father, who until recently hasn’t been involved because the mother actively tried to keep him out of her life when he remarried.  The father of the youngest two was reported as having sexually molested a 3 year old girl.  He claims he didn’t do it, but the child’s story was detailed enough that he is on record as a known perpetrator.  This father is 32, the mother 24, which is a bit of an age gap, given that their first child happened when she was only 22 and he was 30.  He has 3 other children of which he has lost parental rights to all 3.   There was evidence that often the oldest who is 5 was locked in a room with her 1 year old brother and was at times the primary caretaker of him.  Since her children have been removed from she and the father have continually tested positive for cocaine.  If they are unable to keep clean they will lose parental rights to their children.  Currently they both live in their car, and have no home.

The children upon being removed were originally placed with the maternal grandmother.  The story of her life involves her baby brother dying of SIDS when she was 5.  She has cleary had undiagnosed mental illnesses throughout most of her life from PTSD, to bi-polar, to clinical depression.  To give you a sense of the situation she has been recommended to receive mental health treatment from 9-2 pm…Monday through Friday.  Upon the death of her brother she began being extremely violent towards animals, and pushed her sister onto the driveway as her mother was backing out who then ended up running over her sister (luckily this only result in slight injury).  She has 4 children through 3 different fathers ranging from the age of 26, to the youngest being 12.  Her youngest daughter was actually a twin, but she was with an abusive partner while pregnant, killing one of the twins.  She believed that the birth of a daughter would soften this guy (who was also a cocaine user) but not surprisingly this did not happen.  Her oldest son has 3 children, her oldest daughter (the mother in my case) 3 children, her 18 year old daughter is pregnant.  Recently, the partner she has been with now for 10 years was accused of sexually molesting her 18 year old daughter since she was a young girl.  This turned out to be true, and this maternal grandmother apparently knew about it and didn’t do anything.  The maternal grandmother’s sister also hit her niece badly causing child services to remove the niece for a time from her sister’s home.  It would be too lengthy to give more details but this maternal grandmother has exposed her kids to some broken people, has moved back and forth from different states, has at times not had her own home, and has clearly suffered through some nightmarish experiences.

I know that most of my readers will read those last two paragraphs and be like “WTF!?”  Some of you might feel anger, some sadness, probably both.  Overall, if you’re like me you will recognize this as an insane situation in which can hardly connect to.  This is chaos, and my intuition is helpless as I observe all this because it is so foreign to me.  I cannot fathom how this is real, human life.  But what I’ve come to realize is that this is normal for them.  This is just how life is.  This is how life is for much of their family and friends as well.  You might say, how can a mother let her daughter be molested and not do anything about it?  The only answer I can come up with is that through generations of poverty that the tolerance for deeply troubling behaviors and people is high given that this all seems like par for the course.  And poverty is at the heart of this at the heart of this tale.  Now that’s not to say that there wasn’t a period of prosperity in the maternal grandmother’s life, but the people she imported into her life, because she grew up with no parent recognizing her mental illness, because the behaviors of her own parents seemed normal, has kept a level of dysfunction in the family that would break most of us if we had to tolerate it for more than a day.  I remember my first visit to the maternal grandmother’s home.  Two of her other grandchildren were there along with her son and daughter in law.  The place was a mess with laundry everywhere.  It was a small two bedroom trailer, in which the 3 grandchildren she was fostering, her 12 year old, and her and her partner lived.  I felt claustrophobic and wanted to leave and try to pretend that people didn’t have to live like that.  And that’s not to say that people don’t have it worse.  All I’m saying is that for so many families, all this is absolutely normal.  This shouldn’t be normal.  In talking to the maternal grandmother I actually found her to be fairly prescient, places importance on school and education, and seems to at least have good intentions for those in her care.  What’s not clear is that she necessarily always understand what good care actually means.  If anybody expects people to just reason their way out of the situation, theysimply don’t know what they’re talking about.

Thankfully at the last hearing a couple days ago.  The oldest daughter got moved to her biological father and his wife. Both seem like really good people.  The two youngest children have been placed with a foster family who seem really nice and nurturing.  They understand that re-unification with the parents can happen, but are also willing to be a permanent home should the parents not be able lose their addiction.  There is some stability there and there are all sorts of hardworking people trying to do what’s best for the children.  Children are innocent and born into these situations.  It’s easy to condemn the adults, but when you learn more about them you just realize that they were just like these children and born into impossible situations.  I do this work for the children, but my heart breaks for the adults as well.  Most of the time they just get judged by the rest of society and forgotten.  When the mother had her visitation reduced at the last court hearing and found out she wasn’t going to get any special time with her children at Christmas she was in tears.  Despite the fact that she isn’t capable of being the parent her children need, the pain in her voice, in her face, and the intensity of her sobs made it clear that what little love she had in her life was slipping away.  I am not saying this is an excuse for giving her her kids back, and I’m glad Pennsylvania always tries to give parents a path to get their kids back, but I can imagine the pain I would feel if the same was happening to me.  It still broke my heart.

I appreciate all the people who dedicate their lives to helping children and families in these situations, but it’s really just all not enough.  We have to do better.  We have to make these kinds of things priorities for our politicians and raise awareness of what poverty is really like.

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For those of you interested in volunteering for the organization I work for it is called CASA.  You can check out the national website, but you’d have to see if they exist in your county if you wanted to volunteer.  But if you just want to donate to them some time that also helps.  There may be other service providers that help children in your area as well that could use your support.

Yoga – The Art of Self-Torture

Yoga.  It sounds like a friendly word.  Sounds a little like yogurt.  Smooth and creamy.  Maybe a little like a low mobility shriveled old alien spouting words of wisdom in Star Wars.  Or Maybe it reminds you a little of Yogi Bear:  that lovable cartoon animal that really just wanted picnic baskets.  He didn’t want to ravage people, he was just hungry for a sandwich.  So what harm could come from doing yoga?  Plenty.  It’s a horrible practice that should have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention.  The non-threatening name only exacerbates the horror and trauma it causes.  I shall now attempt to explain how this system of abuse works.

It begins by a suggestion from your wife that yoga will be beneficial to you and that it’s something you can do together.  While I don’t blame my wife for the suffering endured, she is responsible for tending to injuries afterwards.  Anyway, what husband wouldn’t agree with that suggestion – so off to yoga I go.  Keep in mind this suggestion has been made for a couple years before I  finally relented. This is a great way to spend a Saturday morning if you aren’t a fan of sleeping or taking it easy on the weekend.  I am not sure what every yoga studio looks like but the ones I have seen are similar to this.  A big open space and as you walk in you feel comforted by its openness.  It’s similar to one of those big empty warehouses the mob might ask you a few questions in with just a chair sitting at the center.  Except there are no chairs.  Off to the side the room is stocked with many implements of your future torture.  Unlike in typical torture situations where the torturer has to at least expend some effort to get the equipment, you have to get it yourself.  There is the razor thin mat, which gives you little protection from the floor, but prevents your feet and hands from sliding on the floor into a comfortable position which might save you from the pain you will have to experience. There are straps which you use to bind yourself with, there are blocks and pillows that you use to prop yourself up with (more will be explained later about how these will be used to weaken you psychologically).

The class is largely full of women.  If you are a single man interested in women, you might think this is the place for you, but you’d be mistaken.  The only way you can impress a woman here is through your ability to take pain.  Some women might be impressed by that, but probably only the kind that want a man they can inflict pain on.  Others might feel sorry for you and take pity.  I submit that nothing here is the basis for building a meaningful relationship.  My suggestion is that you hone other skills and impress women elsewhere.  And as I’ll soon explain, it’s unclear how many people here aren’t part of the grift that is yoga.

Your instructor is the true deceiver here and you will look at her and really think everything will be alright.  She is friendly and welcoming.  She doesn’t look overly imposing although a careful glance will see strong muscles safely tucked into her yoga pants.  Of course, she need not be too formidable in appearance as the method of torture comes from what she tells you to do to yourself, not what she does to you directly.  This is the brilliance of it all.

As the session begins the trap is sprung.  Why?  Because this is the beginning of the psychological manipulation to follow.  You start by sitting and breathing.  Her voice is calming as she tries to relax you so you become more pliable later.  Often there is some music in the background played at the exact right volume to make you more compliant and ensure complete submission to her orders.  So there I am sitting and breathing.  Pretty easy stuff.  I’m getting relaxed.  I look around the room…I feel a sense of unity as we are all sitting and breathing and I am on par with the rest of the class at this activity so I’m feeling good about myself.  But this peaceful feeling doesn’t last.  It’s not long before you have to start doing poses.  This by the way is also the beginning of many Hindi words that I’m pretty sure mean rather insidious things, but sound spiritual.

Related image
Yoga participants in worship of the instructor

I got to do a cow.  That was easy.  I pretended like I had a really heavy udder.  Then there was the cat.  That was also not bad, except cats are ready to pounce and flee at a moment’s notice.  This was only making me more stationary.  Then there was the cobra.  All I know is that if a mongoose found me it would be over quick.  Then I am doing something called “a child”, which is not like my child at all who is energetic and obstinate.  In this position you are more like a worshipper praising the teacher for the pleasure of being tortured.  Then I’m told to take the strap and put it around my foot to hold my leg straight up in the air.  I quickly notice how my leg doesn’t go straight up in the air.  It is roughly at a 20 degree angle above the floor in order to remain straight.  Everybody else in the room is like a fucking submarine and I begin to feel shame.  I begin to wonder is yoga really just part of the feminist agenda so we know what it feels like to constantly feel shame over our own bodies in a patriarchal system?  As a feminist I quickly agree that yoga is for the betterment of society and continue.  My hamstring already feels angry as the teacher calmly has me moving my leg to the left and right.  Her language becomes a maze of confusion.  “Turn to the right, but open your shoulders.  Pin your hips to the floor as if you are breathing through your thigh.”  I quickly notice that my thigh is completely without the requisite respiratory system and begin to worry.  That worry is quickly forgotten as I am told to lose the strap and do a cobra again.  Now it’s downward facing dog.  You will, in this moment, realize that no dog would ever pose like this.  My arms quiver under the weight of my body.  “No”, she says, “the weight is supposed to mostly on your legs.”  I quickly try to work out how this is humanly possible because hard as I try I can only make my hamstrings scream.  I collapse on to my knees and look around as everyone looks like statues and my complete incompetence becomes glaring.  I’m sweating as I glance up at the clock.  Only 15 minutes have passed.  Also why does my sweat smell worse in this environment?

Typical yoga “plant” used to grift people into thinking that yoga can be accomplished by anybody, but only enhances your shame.

As I alluded to earlier the extreme shame you experience is what makes you go along with the instructor.  Every move you try to follow her on reminds you that you aren’t worthy.  All the while she will say things like, “Lift your arm up straight so that it brushes your ear.  Now drop your shoulder.”  What?  How do I drop my shoulder while lifting up my arm? And on and on it goes, “Open your shoulders, stretch your spine, drop your tailbone, turn your pinkies inward to work your triceps, reach out with your ring finger to feel it in your armpit, bend down to left while lowering your right hip.”  Basically the rule of thumb is that whatever direction they want you to move, you are supposed to, somehow, at the same time also move in the other direction.  And I begin to realize that yoga is simply the art of tearing your own body apart as slowly and painfully as possible.

I am on the ground, left leg over right and told “turn to the left, but not to move my neck, and to keep my buttocks on the ground, and to reach behind me, turn my hand, open my shoulders, but now look back in the other direction, without using my neck, only my shoulders, also open up the sides of your body, push your ribs against your tailbone.”   Somehow no time has passed since my last excruciating look at the clock.  As I look around, illegally, using my neck, I am reminded once again that I am surround by flexible supple women who look like dancers and begin to realize that they are all part of the plan to torture you.  The teacher beforehand selected them to make you look as pathetic as possible.  And as you look over at the teacher, you can’t even feel aggression, which would be the normal way to get out of this situation, but shame weakens you.   You are ready to tell her where the bomb is located, what the encryption code is, turn over your family to the authorities, but your tormentor doesn’t want any information and only wants you to experience pain.  A 5’1″ sadist who somehow manages to say “namaste” with a smile on her face from the well of darkness that must be her soul.  You want to run out of the room, but this would only add to the humiliation.  Peppered throughout her tormenting instruction is “Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.”  Even though, minus the sitting and breathing, everything she’s asked you to do since makes you uncomfortable.  If my comfort was her concern she would ask me to leave.

The final mockery comes with the warrior poses.  As a man my instinct is to think that this is finally something I can sink my teeth in, but again she exposes the patriarchy for what it is.  I look around and I see women who could very well be Amazonian soldiers ready to strike me with a deadly blow.  I on the other hand feel like a Chihuahua who has less that confidently stood in front of Doberman Pincher, only to realize that not only do I have a sprained ankle, but I’ve also got spinach between my teeth when I try to growl.  I listen to Yanni playing now.  I hate Yanni.  That bastard plays a note for 30 seconds while sipping a coffee, making millions and leads a pleasurable life, while his new age feeble “compositions” are now a soundtrack for my pain.

The best part of it all is that this was called “gentle yoga”.  Imagine lying on the ground while a crane slowly in small increments lowers a 1 ton weight on to you.  At first you are like it’s just touching me, now it’s a bit of a massage, and then “Oh my bones are being crushed and I will soon be flat as a pancake”.  This is really the only way I can me sense of the use of the word “gentle”.  Gentle and continuous pressure will still ruin your day.

Man being tortured by gentle turns on the rack. AKA early yogic practices.

After a length of time which can only be measured on the geologic time scale, the barefoot punisher allows you to relax and asks for you to reflect on what you did today.  Afraid to relive the trauma I decide to think of the bagels I have at home and which flavor cream cheese I want.  I do some more very competent breathing. She wishes us all happiness, and that we cause no harm, remorseless for the harm she caused me.  I get up and put my torture implements away obediently, wipe down my mat, smelling the residue of my fear.  As I leave, hips wobbling, the teacher smiles at me and I say “See you next week!”

Do you know her?

I’d like to tell you about somebody.  Maybe you know her.  She’s not uncommon.  It is perhaps why we don’t talk about her that much.  Maybe she’s your mother, your aunt, a sister, or friend of the family.  She calls on Christmas.  On the rare times you visit, she’s always good to you.  She’s getting older now and she’s tired much more than she should be for age.  Still she keeps going even if she herself isn’t always sure why.

She was raised in a pretty traditional household.  Raised on Christian values, but not too overtly as there was too much work to do during the day to worry too much about it.  She learned good morals in her upbringing, she learned to work hard, and she learned what love is.  But she never knew herself really.  Normal was that a woman didn’t get that many choices in life.  Women, as far as she could tell was for others.  She wasn’t the oldest of her siblings either, so never got to do anything first.  She flew below the radar most of the time, but never really made any special attempts to get attention.  She just accepted her place in this world.  As a result of remaining in the background and assuming she belonged there, she never really got to know herself.  She was probably a bit smarter than her other siblings, or at least had her talents.  Maybe it was cooking, decorating, or sewing.  She would learn to use them, but never really thought they were anything special.  Never really let them be a source of pride for her, even though you could tell that it made her happy to do them.  Her true talent was probably much further than what she showed.  Cooking could have easily turned into a career in nutrition and diet, decorating could have turned into interior design, sewing could have turned into fashion.  Those jobs were for people with big dreams.  She was in no kind of position in life to have big dreams.  And for the most part she was just happy to be close to family and love the people in her world.

She was good at loving others, but never really good at finding someone to love her.  Even at the best of times she never felt as pretty as she was.  Love was something you’d probably just grow into.  She got married when she was young, because that’s what you did.  Someone was paying attention to her and it felt nice.  His drinking problem?  Well…everybody drank.  But eventually it did get too bad, and her family who always loved her helped her to get out before it got worse.  She did, with child in hand.  She kept looking for love, but hadn’t really learned what she did wrong the first time.  She knew that life was hard being a single mom, and a fear of being alone kept creeping up on her.  So she found someone else.  Someone who paid attention to her that could help her financially and lighten the load.  She believed once again that if she just loved, good things would come of it.  This time there were bruises, and the family helped her get away again, a second child in hand.  It was best to go it alone for a while she figured, it was even harder now.  If she wanted to get to know herself, she’d have to find the time.  With two children and a full time job to support them who has the time to find themselves?

She still had her family, and she loved them a lot.  Siblings and nephews and nieces, she always gave love without question.  She was never the cool aunt, she was never the funny sibling, but she knew how to listen and she knew how to laugh.  Her children were the world to her, even if they didn’t quite understand why she couldn’t always be there for her.  The mystery that all children whose parents are always working live with.  She’d do anything for them, except perhaps be tough with them.  When they hit their teenage rebelliousness she couldn’t follow through with the discipline.  What if they hated her?  What if they abandoned her?  How alone would she be then?  She loved them and never wanted to push hard.  She traded their respect for their company, but she never stopped loving them.  And even if they had a bit of a tough road, her kids turned out to be good people, but perhaps still feeling a little lost, without really knowing why.

With children grown and gone she was once again alone.  She was older now…certainly not as attractive.  Years of hard work, with only food as an indulgence had taken its toll on her body.  But she put on her hope cap, and the young girl inside her went looking for love again.  Still not really knowing who she was, she couldn’t find anybody who really appreciated her.  Just another man who was once again happy to have a quiet, compliant partner.  For just a little attention she didn’t need to be respected.  She seemed content to just have another living human being in the house so she didn’t have to be alone.  And maybe she would have walked away again, but that body who worked hard and was still trying to work hard didn’t have much energy for walking once the day was done.  And who had the energy for trying love once more?  So she resigned herself to just the emotional bruises every now and then, to have somebody else’s voice to talk to every once in a while.  She wouldn’t die alone.  She still believes in God, but mostly out of habit.  She’s really not sure if any other options make any more sense.
She still loves others well, whether they deserve it or not, and it is still uncertain how much she loves herself.

I love this woman.  She’s not uncommon.  Perhaps you know her. Perhaps you remember her.  Maybe she has always loved you.  Don’t be afraid to love her back.  It can only make her happy.

Love Child

After my son was born I suddenly realized how people could be baby crazy and wrote an apology to all those who I thought were insane.  🙂

In that same vein I would like to continue with this topic as I reflect upon the love I have for my son right now.

It’s insane.  The love is like no other.  It feels so strong that it’s like it could literally jump out of my chest and wrap itself

My son at 9 weeks
My son at 9 weeks

around my boy.  I am not going to say it’s better or worse, but it’s unique.  It’s like falling in love, but as I mentioned before, even when you fall in love it feels like it’s based on something in the other person that is describable, even though the love you feel is more than the sum of those tangible criteria.  This feeling is totally biological.  My son barely has a personality, has barely acknowledged my existence, knows nothing about me, and we can’t communicate, but my love grows each in every day.  So much so that it scares me.

I’ve always tried to understand the darker nature in ourselves and what I am feeling right now helps understand some behaviors better, while others I am even more clueless.  For instance I don’t understand how people can do unspeakable cruelty to their children; beat them, scream at them, shake them to death, forget about them.  I am not talking about parents who work very hard to try to provide for their kids and whose hearts are broken that they don’t get to spend more time with them.  But real abuse.  It feels as wrong to me as 2+2=5.  It’s just not an option.

On the other hand I get a glimpse into the type of parent who would do very irrational things to protect their children.  Or parents who would make their whole world revolve around their children to the point of their detriment.  I am not condoning these behaviors only that I see it.  It’s not an abstract thing to me anymore.  I can see how the intense love you feel would make you do some pretty stupid things.  As intense love is prone to do, for whomever you feel it for.  But it is still very different from that intense love and passion of romantic love.  Perhaps I lack some depth of feeling but there is something about falling in love with an adult that is different because the other person is an adult.  You have the feeling that they can take care of themselves, they have the ability to make their own decisions, and there is a certain understanding that you can’t control the other person (healthy love anyway, obviously many try to control their partners and this usually become dysfunctional quickly).  The helplessness and the innocence of a baby turns your love into such a fury of protection that it’s without measure.  As my love grows I get so scared about what would happen if I lost him.  I already have no idea how I’d emotionally deal with something so big.  I hope I never have to pass through such a trial because I am not sure I could carry the weight.  So I get it.  I see it as though I stand on the top of a hill and see how slippery the slope is to just doing stupid

Trying to convince my son to smile...he wasn't quite ready at 5 weeks. :)
Trying to convince my son to smile…he wasn’t quite ready at 5 weeks. 🙂

things out of love.  And whenever this happens I am thankful for it because I know I have increased my capacity for forgiveness.

And though I see such things I know that I am capable of keeping my sense of reason.  It is precisely because I love my son so much that I know that if I really want to give him the best opportunities in this world he needs to have a dad who maintains a measure of reason in the face of overwhelming emotion.  So I must continue to be vigilant and direct my love into ways that will strengthen him and not weaken him.