The tree of control

Once upon a time, when my daughter was 2, there was an unwanted Christmas tree.

Being a busy and broke single parent, and living in the most ridiculously tiny 250 square ft one bedroom apartment with a 2 year old, I had decided that a Christmas tree would not be happening that year. We wouldn’t be at home much on the holidays anyway, she was too young to miss it, and there was really little chance of toddler-proofing anything in that tight of a space.

I did actually have a small tree that I’d purchased for my room years before, but this just wasn’t the year for it.

My mother, always the first to question every decision I make just because I made it, decided to lay on the guilt heavy, making it sound like I was just the most abusive parent in the world for skipping a year of tree. I still didn’t have the time or energy to care, and had long since gotten used to the fact that she would never be any happier about my parenting choices than she’s ever been about anything else in my life and would just go on with more evidence in her mind on how awful I am.

Until I opened the door one night, carrying my daughter inside as we finally got home at midnight from my second shift job, and there is a Christmas tree set up in my apartment.

This is one of those cases that it really takes someone familiar with manipulative or controlling people to understand.

Because if you aren’t, it’s just "Oh how sweet, she was so sad about the lack of tree that she took care of it for you."

They don’t see the whole pattern of repeatedly and blatantly disregarding my wishes and trampling over boundaries.

It wasn’t even just about the total pain of keeping a 2 year old from hurting herself or destroying the place by getting ahold of the tree, which was decorated with small toddler-mouth-sized ornaments and those little icicle strands, pretty much the least toddler safe decorations possible.

It was about the fact that she completely ignored that I had decided that I did not want a tree in my home that year. That she had come into my home without permission while she knew I wasn’t home to protest and deliberately went against my wishes, regardless of the reason being really minor.

Completely ignored that my opinions were not the same as hers, had been very clearly stated, and should have been the final decision as to the state of my own tiny ghetto apartment.

Nobody I told saw it that way, so I stopped mentioning it. Maybe I really was just the ungrateful jerk who should have been happy at the sight of an unwanted tree. Maybe it really was just a petty thing that I shouldn’t have minded having my home redecorated without my paying for it or doing the work.

Just like later in the month I should have been grateful for the expensive gifts of a full kid sized kitchen and full sized train table in our 250 square foot apartment for a 2 year old.

I mean, they were expensive gifts, way more than I could afford, that my kid really liked. So what did it matter if they were completely impractical and taking up tons of what very little space we had? Maybe I was just the jerk for not being overjoyed.

The tree was pretty at least.

Much time has gone by.

My kid is now in high school.

It’s still just the two of us, we’ve still always been really busy during the end of the year, still never been at home on the actual holidays, and still been in fairly small places and often on even smaller budgets.

And so, that tree has never been replaced. It’s still made an appearance yearly, though often not until the weekend before Christmas. Sometimes it gets ornaments, but some years I don’t even bother and just leave it with the lights since its almost always dark any time we are home to see it in December anyway.

But this year will be the first since going no contact with my mother a couple of months back. And though I did have an invite from a coworker to join her very large family, I’ve decided that I’d really rather just do my own thing than to deal with an awkward room full of strangers on top of the regular emotions of grief over the loving supportive family that never was to be.

And so, randomly standing in Walmart, I made the decision that this year we will be having a live tree, and welcoming every last one of the dead needles making the dreaded mess on the floor that always eliminated it from my mother’s home.

But this is MY floor, my home, my holiday, my tree.

And it wasn’t until that moment, happily picking up boxes of new lights and a large container of brightly colored large plastic ornaments, that I really realized just exactly how much I resent that stupid tree of hers. Even after all these years.

The tree was actually a pretty tree, with fiber optic lights. Objectively, I do like the way it looks, and so in all this time, I never noticed just exactly how it really made me feel.

My daughter is thrilled with both getting a live tree and with my selections in new ornaments. And her opinion of our decorating is the only opinion besides mine that matters, and should have ever mattered.

And I’m thinking that we are both going to be thrilled with having a holiday without my mother telling my daughter she ruins every holiday.
Or sitting though the reciting of how horrible life is for my mom and how every body part hurts all the time.
Or the re-telling of stories that trash me bad enough that one year my boyfriend at the time was completely shocked that she would actually be telling them let alone acting like they were amusing and funny rather than accounts of abuse.
Or feel like gagging at the sudden complete change of character into her performance mode when my brother in laws family arrives later on and she has an audience that doesn’t know her better.

Maybe I’m ungrateful, maybe I’m petty, maybe I’m taking things the wrong way, and maybe a million other things could be true that I’ve been told over the years when daring to stick to my feelings when my mother doesn’t like them. But if I am, it’s my right to choose to be those things rather than whatever it is she thinks she wants me to be that day, so I’m sticking with my own feelings and decisions and enjoying it either way.

And this year… If the holiday gets "ruined" somehow rather than being the peaceful calm I’m expecting, well at least we will know we are actually at fault and not just being blamed for it.


The lessons learned

So… we made it out to the farmers market this time.

And that’s about all I can say for accomplishments.

I’m trying to be positive… and to stay relatively vague on social media… but, well, it went completely awful.

I’ve been to this market as a patron for years… and always found it to be a nice place that I’ve had no problems supporting. I took kiddo out there a couple of weeks ago to scope it out, and she loved it.I had no doubts about picking the oldtown market as an in-person location.

As vendors… If I hadn’t already paid for three more weeks over this summer with the initial payment, I would not at all consider going back.

As it is, I’m thinking we might not go even with the pre-payment.

We didn’t sell a thing… or even honestly come close to it… which could be a fair outcome for a new vendor, and is something I could deal with and tweak.

But.. the other vendors were complete jerks.

As in, on 6 different occasions after I started counting, the staff of the booth next to us would literally approach people who were already _inside_ our booth space, actively looking at our products, and pull them over to their organizations activities instead.

But… their organization was a program that does art classes for deaf kids. So, no matter what I did, I was going to look like a total ass telling them "ya know, maybe they will after they are done with what they were already doing inside someone else’s booth…"

I held my tongue…but I’m not sure that I really should have.

They also had all sorts of tables, an easel, someone in a dinosaur costume, and a very large deaf dog outside of their booth in front of their tables… frequently blocking passage along the sidewalk at all for patrons… at best, bottlenecking them between their chaos and two trees… but more frequently, causing them to go around our corner of booths entirely.

And didn’t seem to care one bit when their activities completely blocked the doorway of our booth. Actually, at one point, the dog was intentionally told to sit right in our doorway and left there for about 5 minutes or so.

Looking at the pics on their facebook page pretty much infuriates me at just how obvious it was.

The booth on the other side wasn’t a whole lot better… starting the morning off with snide comments both directly to us and to others about us within our earshot… "You must be new, don’t worry, you’ll figure it out eventually" in a tone that said more than the words ever could have.

This is after she’d thrown a fit that we needed to move to the next parking spot over…. literally, a single spot over… after the directors husband had told us earlier we were parked in the exact right spot (after another vendor had told us to move out of his place earlier… at 5:15 in the morning when there were only 3 cars even around…)

And then followed by a fit that since we had closed walls, we needed to move our booth over so she could get into hers. Rather than moving her own tables over a bit, or going in her own back wall of canvas. I accommodated both requests… but only afterwards remembered that I’d rented a 10 by 10 space, but only made my booth 8 by 8 based on ability to fold and fit into my truck bed…. so since I was against the other booth anyway to the point that one of our poles was bowed around a pole, 2 extra feet on that side were mine to take up anyway.

And that was after having started setup in the place the husband had told us, only to then having to try to move the booth over about 6 feet with weight on it (which it already wasn’t taking very well and was trying to bow).. so it was in a position that we’d officially been told (for a second time) to put it by staff.

Between the attitude on one side already getting to me… and then the circus on the other having no resemblance of respect of others at all…. I was over it well before 10am… long before having our former pastor shop at the attitude chick’s booth and not even acknowledge us..

So.. honestly… I don’t even know how we are doing on prices or if the quality of painting made any difference or anything along those lines from the day. Very few people were even making it into the booth to really be close enough to see or to even know what the prices were…. and the handful that did were quickly attacked by the sharks next door.

I did also get a rather painful sunburn.. resulting from the decision to remove the overhead cover… to reduce the weight on the top until I could add some additional support to prevent the bowing problem.

I really don’t even want to go back out there again.

I probably should, hoping to get better neighbors and have a better go at it.

And I want to teach my daughter the value of getting back up and trying again.

But as I unloaded the truck tonight, much more roughly than I should have and in tears… I’m really just feeling done with dealing with this location and that maybe it would be better to move forward somewhere else.

And I wonder if on the other side of things, if what I actually taught my daughter this weekend was that people are jerks, that its all about money even if you are a charity, that deaf kids having art classes trumps her having a fair shot at her hard work getting seen… and that you have to be a jerk too or you get trampled and ignored.

Honestly… well… sometimes it does feel like that’s a better view of the business world than the one I’d like to pretend exists where work is appreciated and has a reward…. but it’s still not exactly the message I’d hope that this experience is giving her.

But meanwhile… the post I made on my personal facebook page… that only has 60 some friends… that only showed the pics of the booth with no commentary about our day… generated one sale, and one potential sale… plus several compliments.

That’s better than we did in the entire morning of work. So at least I still feel like it’s not for a total lack of interest in our stuff.

But it was very much a bad day.

Revisiting rules and protection

So as things have progressed down with my mom’s house with my daughter, I’ve continued to stay out of it.

I’m refusing to play bad cop, and be the one always being the bad guy while she keeps her strategy of always being the one saying yes and being the good guy but then throwing the problems created to me to deal with.

Instead, I’d decided to change strategies… and to treat it like a co-parenting situation with someone who is acting similarly… and to switch to a "parallel parenting" style.

Basically… this means giving up on attempting to come to consistent enforcement with someone who isn’t on the same page… and instead, what happens at their house stays at their house.

If they make rules for their house, fine, but it’s their problem to also enforce those rules. No discipline at my house for something that happened at her house, and the fact that its a rule there does not mean it’s a rule at my house as well.

But, vice versa, I stay completely out of their house happenings too, and don’t get to expect that things enforced at my house will be made to happen there…. even when its things like morning routines that seem pretty critical.

It’s not the ideal strategy… it would work much better to have everyone on the same page and working towards the same goals…. but when you have someone who isn’t going to be working towards that goal either way if it involves saying no, at least it saves a great deal of sanity and frustration trying to make that happen.

And so, as predicted, this has created a lot of frustration on mom’s end, not having someone to do the dirty work for her.

And I have walked out of her home multiple times when she’s tried to force me to do so anyway. Yes, she’s my kid, but if you allowed her to do something, you can also take responsibility for the consequences rather than just having me fix it for you.

And so, mom has had to start saying no in the past year.

Which has, of course, promptly been challenged… and failed.

Kiddo has been banned from mom’s house multiple times, with the longest it has actually been enforced being about 3 days.

And so kiddo has promptly learned that grandma isn’t actually going to be serious about any consequences, and pretty blatantly ignores them.

The end result has been that mom has resorted back to some of the same strategies that she attempted to use on us as teenagers.

Namely, completely arbitrary rules created out of frustration, and shaming.

And, there is part of me that wants to protect kiddo from these… especially the shaming… as it gets towards the line of emotional abuse.

But, there is a difference… kiddo is there voluntarily, and chooses to be there rather than to just come back down to our house.

Even so… it’s been very interesting to see things revisited.

And it’s given me a much clearer look at the way things really were back then.

For example… the shaming strategy.

How this works is that when you do something she doesn’t like, she throws something completely unrelated in your face.


Kiddo is upset because she wants her birthday cake cut one way, while mom is insisting on doing it another way.
Rather than throwing a yelling fit, she sulks over to the couch and fumes silently.
Mom then yells "Well that’s really someone who can be trusted with the keys to a car…"

Miss the connection between a birthday cake and driving? Well, that’s because there really isn’t one. If anything, the response of removing herself from the situation instead of fighting is probably a good sign for a driver… and if people getting upset were a sign they shouldn’t be allowed to drive, my moms keys would be in jeopardy themselves.

But, my mom knows that my daughter learning to drive is something she cares about, and aims for the soft spot.

All through my own teenage years… it was always "Well that’s really a good Christian…" in that same exact tone, no matter what I did that she wasn’t happy about.

And yes, most of it had about as much to do with Christianity as cutting a birthday cake has to do with driving qualifications. I’m remembering one round of refusing to take a particular brand of vitamins because they made me burp nasty tasting burps that got that response.

And its from these memories that I want to try and protect my child… but having to remember, that she’s willingly choosing to let herself continue to be exposed to them by her choice to spend time down there.

Instead, I point out the obvious to her, that the situation had nothing to do with driving suitability and grandma is just being hurtful… and feel all the more push to make sure kiddo gets through her tests to remove the vulnerability of the soft spot as a target. To try and treat the wound before it can become infected into a scar, and to build up resistance to it.

But as I do so, it helps me realize that there was nothing I could have done differently as a teen that would have prevented the shaming outbursts against me.

That if it wouldn’t have been my being a Christian, she would have just found somewhere else to poke at… something else that was important to me.

And that my making her unhappy at something (almost always minor, I’m now noticing) was not just cause… nor was it my fault having provoked it by not cooperating.

And the arbitrary rules side of things is just as eye opening.

Scenario: My daughter, who has ADHD and is not currently on her meds to allow a trial without (mostly by my mom’s pushing), is leaving pop cans around mom’s house rather than taking them down the hall to the trash can.

Mom creates a rule that no pop cans are allowed, and only one cup at a time can be taken out of the cabinet.

On this one, I slipped on not getting involved, and I pointed out to her that this rule was going to be a royal pain to enforce, and was told that she didn’t have to enforce it, that kiddo could just be banned from the house if she didn’t comply.

Now.. telling me about this new rule was actually a half-hour long complaint-fest.

You would think that my kid is just intentionally leaving these pop cans out just to spite my mother, out of pure evil intentions.

In reality… when my kid is thirsty, it’s a clear physical alert grabbing her attention. But, after that thirst signal is gone…. that pop can ceases to exist to her. It might even still be in her hand… but it’s not the focus anymore the second anything at all pulls her attention away from it. Even setting the can down is pretty much just an auto-pilot function in the background… her brain is already elsewhere.

The best solution to this that I’ve found is to have a trash can where kiddo spends significant time… even if its a small one.. to then train that background action to be using the trash can rather than setting down. A reasonable expectation that resolves the issue.

But not to my mother…. who feels like a teenager should be able to carry a pop can down the hall to the trash can every time she is done with it.

And yes, capability-wise, and assuming a normal teen, you could probably train them to do so reliably.

But it is one massively uphill battle to fight with an ADHD kid with no meds.

If she chooses to fight it rather than to work with the more likely to work alternatives, that’s her choice I suppose.

My kid isn’t going to be deliberately defying the rule… let’s face it… she isn’t even going to remember this new random rule even exists.
Thirsty=grab can of pop, stop thirst. A random rule to have to use a glass, and only one particular glass that needs to be hunted down before solving the thirst impulse, isn’t even going to make the slightest appearance on her radar until grandma starts screaming about it afterwards.

It’s not my battle… I’m staying out of it… and already said more than I should have into the matter.

But man, does it remind me of so so many abrupt dramatic rules that were doomed before they ever even started… and how many battles about reasonable alternatives that could have resolved the situation quickly and more effectively… but that instead turned into wars where normal actions got taken as if they were personal assaults.

While I can’t say that it’s a pleasant stroll down memory lane… its certainly an enlightening one.

The unknown brother

I don’t know how much it really has been mentioned much on here.. but I have two half-brothers.

I have one younger full brother… who is usually the one referred to when I don’t specify…

I have one older half-brother from my mom’s side, who I grew up with, but we don’t particularly get along the greatest, so rarely have any involvement other than holidays…. but that is usually the most likely other one to be mentioned.

But, I do also have another older half brother from my dad’s side.

It’s not that we don’t get along…. I just don’t know him very well.

I’ve only heard bits and pieces of the whole story… and I’m sure that’s probably a good thing.

But I do know that my dad’s relationship with his mother ended in a domestic violence incident that involved a baseball bat, and was significant enough that jail was involved even back in the 70s… though I’ve also heard hintings that my dad’s lawyer buddy got him off much lighter than it should have been in some manner or another.

And so… as a child, the only real times that I saw this half-brother were a couple times a year, mainly holidays, when my grandmother would pick him up and bring him to the family gatherings at one of my uncles for the day.

Even then… he usually hung around with the older kids, while I hung around with the female cousins close to my age… so interaction was still pretty limited even at that.

My only real memories of him much as a kid mostly involve conversations with one particular cousin about him being snoody and thinking he was better than the rest of us because his mom and stepdad had good jobs that paid well, and he lived in the more exclusive suburbs, and had the sort of toys that nobody else in the family would ever see. I don’t actually remember any interactions with him like that, just the cousin sessions.

Most of my memories when a bit older mostly just involve feeling like we were strangers with absolutely nothing in common. When I was in college, he was the goth sort, always in black, very into his servers and lan parties and that sort of thing. A bit older, he was more into the keeping up with the latest toys…. the expensive house.. the perfect picky princess of a first wife… pics of his fancy convertible… even running for political office at one point.

We mainly saw each other only at funerals… and later on, through facebook postings.

Again… not like we didn’t get along or had the issues like my older half brother… it’s just that we ran in different worlds. He had his life, and his other half siblings that he was raised with… my younger brother and I just lived in a different one, and never really thought much about it.

Except… now we attend the same church.

I’m still not really sure how to take that.

About the time he married his second wife and had their first kid, he started posting more God related stuff, and got actively involved in the Celebrate Recovery program.. even being a leader of that program at another large church, and more recently a middle school program leader…

But, I guess this spring they changed churches…. and, like us, were hooked quickly with the youth group with his wife’s older kids.

Which brought the realization that they have been married for 8 years now, and we’ve never once met the older kids. We actually had to search for their pages on facebook to show my daughter who they were to see if they’d met each other.

Nor have we ever met their 4-5 year old. The last time we saw the elementary school aged son, he was a toddler, and the only time I had seen him before that, he was an itty bitty baby, maybe a few months old at most.

Given that it’s a big church though, my first thought is that it’s probably not even likely that we’d see each other.

But then, this week, I’d gone ahead and sat down early after my kiddo headed over to work in one of the little kids rooms for second service… and their older kids, not having the foggiest clue who I was or what I looked like, sat down on the other end of the same row…. so when the brother came in, we ended up sharing the row and chatting a little bit about an uncle I’d run into the previous weekend after not seeing in a long time.

But so much, it still just felt like someone who is mostly a stranger that happens to look a lot like me.

It’s kind of interesting…

But also still just a bit awkward, that I don’t really know how to react just yet….

The souring of sweet with bitter

Sometimes I really can’t tell whether it’s just the depression, or if I’ve just become a jaded, grumpy, bitter pessimist.

Today was my daughter’s 8th grade graduation. A happy occasion.

And I’ve tried my best to focus on the happy parts… The proud parts… The achievement… That we have made it this far…

And I know this is where my focus is supposed to be.

But it’s so frustrating when that’s not where my mind and my heart want to stay.

Because it feels rather bittersweet.

It feels like I’ve let her down in so many ways.

Thinking back, I never would have expected that all this way down the line, her starting high school, that things would still be this hard. That things wouldn’t have gotten better.

That I’d still be in a job that does not particularly have any real hope of being any sort of long term career… Instead of somewhere nice and stable and comfy financially.

I sat through the ceremony, hearing all the large families and crowds of supporters, and feel like I’ve failed her that it’s just me, my former stepdad who sees her about 3 times a year only when she pesters him enough, and my mom who i think only really came for the chance to sit and gossip about former friends in whispers with her ex husband.

But then, since mom didn’t come to any of my junior high scuff, or even my graduation, i have to admit even this is an improvement.

As the other kids in her class host big graduation parties in expensive places and fancy houses… I realize that I’d likely not even be able to do that for a high school graduation for her.

I know that I’ve done what I could with the cards that I had… But sometimes… Sometimes it just shows how vast the gap is between what life is, and what I expected it would be by now.

And while I’m glad that she got pulled off afterwards by so many friends families insisting that they needed pics with her, I know from my own experience that it’s just not the same as your own.

I’d post a nice little pic here of me and her, by ourselves, our own little family..

But there weren’t any.

And never are.

I’m the one who takes the pics, who holds the 5 inch chunky heels that got uncomfortable and hauls around the clutch and all sorts of other stuff that is in the way… the one that is busy coordinating summer plans with the other parents as a social secretary. Not the one that you want to have pictures with.

But the part of it that gets me of that… Is that I’m the only one who ever noticed that the only pics of kiddo and I together that exist are generally from concerts.

It would have been nice to have someone else on the planet that cared enough about both of us to want one too.

The fall

Friday night was going rough.

The booth setup was coming apart as I was trying to get it loaded… I wasn’t getting much help from kiddo… and stupid distractions kept taking up time and making things later and later.

I’d planned to be in bed by about 9, to be up by 4, to be there by 530.

About 10:30, I had just gotten out of the shower, and went across the living room in a towel to close the curtains that had been left open.

And on the way across the room, I fell.


Damp feet on hardwood floor, again.

My knee went weird directions… but didn’t go out of place… but, although there was no sharp pain, it was very sore, had three small areas of bruising, and a ring of swelling below it.

But I could hobble to my bed.. so I wasn’t too worried…

Until about 5 minutes later, when I realized I had stabbing pain whenever I twisted my back or tried to sit up.

And it just got worse as a few more minutes passed.

So, I ended up spending from 11:30 until 5 am in the emergency room.

Nothing broken… so they think that the back is just a pulled muscle.

Pain killers and muscle relaxers… it’s still sore today (Wednesday), but nothing too extreme.

Knee also sore still, but I don’t think anything serious is messed up.

But, needless to say, leaving the ER barely hobbling at 5am, I didn’t make it to the farmer’s market by 530 this week either.

So, I’m feeling seriously discouraged right now.

I enjoy making the items… I know that there’s been interest in purchasing them…

But the whole sales process is really being an uphill battle, before things even get to involving any customers.

I have about 3 weeks until the next round, which should be giving me lots of time to be getting things fixed with the booth setup, get things tweaked, and get more inventory ready…

But I just haven’t even felt like looking at it this week.

The stool


This…. is the stool of assisted confidence.

It may not look like much…. but there’s a story.

The market runs for 5 hours.

I knew that with my knee, even with my brace on, standing for 5 hours wasn’t going to be likely to go well, if it was possible at all.

But, at the same time, plopping into a lawn chair wasn’t likely to go well for looking like I actually want business, especially with our open booth design.

And, a chair would be low, needing a lot of pressure on the knee with repeatedly getting up and down.

The barstools I looked at were just the opposite… they would require repeatedly boosting up.

Plus, my fat butt would take a toll of some of the cheaper ones that didn’t look too stable.

So, I was looking online pretty intensively one morning… and getting priced out of reasonable quickly on anything even close to what I needed.

And I was getting worried about it.

Could I even pulls this off if I wanted to?

And then, that very afternoon, there it was.

In the grocery store, of all places!

Just randomly added to the outdoor BBQ stuff like coolers and picnic items… not even put away on a shelf but just sitting in a stack in the middle of the aisle beside the shelf… was a small pile of these stools.

Never seen any other stools of any sort here… or even lawnchairs in this area… but here they were now, just a sort of a completely random addition to the store’s summer items.

Perfect butt height to be able to slide on and off with no knee stress.

Solid, durable metal.. no breaking worries.

Even has a build in handle for making it easy to transport back and forth to the booth.

And pretty, to boot!

I picked it up before I even knew the price… because there wasn’t actually even a sign around for them…. but it was exactly what I needed so much that at the moment, it didn’t even matter.

25 bucks.

Less than just about everything I’d been looking at… most of them by far… and pretty much perfectly in what I could reasonably afford.

A few days later, Boo claimed a matching one in light blue.

A random need makes me worry on it being a threat to the whole thing…. and then, suddenly and randomly, is perfectly resolved.

The stool is far from the only example… but its one of the cleanest…

And so, I’m trying to keep reminding myself to focus on this…

As I’m freaking out a bit.. and trying to take deep breathes…