The day the friendship died.

Dear Amy: My husband and I are retired. We have a good life in a city that we moved to about seven years ago.

We’ve been able to make lots of friends. I’m so pleased by the variety of people in our friend group.

What I’m not pleased about is that one of my dearest female friends, “Marge,” has a husband, “Mike,” who seems to insert himself into all kinds of situations where I would prefer that he not be.

Mike spends more time on Facebook than Marge does, and he seems to be “friends” with everybody in our social circle, which is pretty large.

The problem is that this guy has no filters. He comments on everything, is often loud and inappropriate, and is sometimes vulgar.

I think he thrives on being the center of attention.

I don’t believe there is a mean bone in his body, but there are days when just seeing his name on Facebook makes me want to shut my phone off.

Marge and I are close enough that we have talked a lot about our marriages, and we both agree that our spouses have their good and their bad points. She knows that Mike can be a nuisance.

There is at least one other woman in our social community who had similar feelings about Mike. She told Marge how she felt, and I’m pretty certain it has damaged their long-term relationship.

Do you have any advice for me?

I just don’t know if I have the patience to put up with Mike for the long run.

— Frustrated Friend

Frustrated Friend: Based on how you describe this, it seems that your connection with “Mike” on social media is a regular trigger for you. So, turn off his microphone! If you aren’t exposed to his constant comments and obnoxious behavior on Facebook, you will be able to put Mike on a shelf until you are forced into his actual company again.

Mike is his own man. “Marge” is not in charge of him, and so why did your other mutual friend report her feelings about the man to Marge, instead of responding to him directly? Don’t make the same mistake.

The unspoken rule about marriage is: “I can criticize my spouse, but if you do, I’ll be forced to defend.”

Marge knows her husband is obnoxious and vulgar. He’s the bull in her china shop.

Respond to Mike when you’re in his presence, but continue to develop your friendship with Marge in his absence. (c) Ask Amy

[Editing note: Ask Amy named Mike’s wife “Meg”, so I changed her name to “Marge” for purposes of simplification, since my name is Meg. I generally never alter advice questions and answers, instead printing them as they appear.]

I get what Ask Amy is saying here: the letter writer should deal with Mike directly instead of complaining to Marge. The implication seems to be that the letter writer should unfriend Mike. (Unfollowing him wouldn’t prevent him from posting on her posts, would it?)

Here’s the problem. I once had a similar situation, and I followed Ask Amy’s advice: I dealt with the person directly. It got me burned.

My best friend used to be Kristi, several years ago. Kristi is a nice woman who has two sons who were teenagers back when I knew them all. I went to visit Kristi and her family, and we had a great time.

However, her younger son, who might’ve been fifteen at the time, decided after my visit that I’m not “cool”. (I took out their trashcan with my car, among other things.) I was friends with Adam on facebook, and he interacted with adults regularly through his interest in cross-country biking. He seemed to be advanced for his age, as far as communicating with adults.

So when he quit “liking” my comments on his posts, where I (and all the other adults) would write, “Great bike ride!” or, “Great job making the honor roll again!” I asked him if everything was okay. He gave me a bogus line about spending less time on social media. However, that didn’t explain to me why he kept liking the other adults’ posts and not mine.

Several months passed, and I posted our “friendversary”. He ignored it, even though his mother and my aunt both “liked” it or “loved” it, respectively.

I shrugged it off. Maybe he wasn’t into friendversaries. They were pretty lame, come to think of it.

But the very next day was his friendversary with a woman biker who was also a friend of his family’s. He wrote on it, and I quote, “Here’s to many more years of friendship to come!”

I was through.

Now, whatever reasons the teenagers of today have for not thinking I’m cool, I don’t want to know. It was hard enough not being cool when I was their age. No reason to relive the glory years.

I thought about it and decided not to go to his mother. Adam was a mature young man who interacted with adults all the time. I wasn’t going to get him in trouble with his mommy for ignoring me on FB! So I just unfriended him and continued with my life. And see? This is exactly what Ask Amy is advising here!

Three pleasant days passed. My self-esteem was improving, and I was moving on with my life. Then all hell broke loose.

Kristi approached me. “Meg, did you unfriend Adam?”

I couldn’t think of how to tactfully say that it should be between me and Adam, so I went with honesty. “Yeah, sorry. He doesn’t really like me anymore, so it felt like the right decision.”

“How could you unfriend my son?”

“Kristi, he doesn’t like me. He thinks I’m not cool.” I gave her the evidence.

“He didn’t reply to your friendversary?” she asked. “Hold on.” I waited. “He says he never saw it,” she reported.

I scoffed. “Well, he’s lying. This won’t affect our friendship, will it?”

It affected our friendship.

Now, to be clear, I don’t believe for one minute that Adam was crushed or hurt by my unfriending of him. I never project my relationship issues onto people who are underage, which is why I blithely went along with his flagrant crap about spending less time on social media. I still believe, despite Kristi’s hysterics, that Adam was glad to be rid of me, and that Kristi was in denial about that. I would never have unfriended Adam as a means to hurt him, since he was under eighteen.

“How dare you call my son a liar!” she yelled.

“Kristi, of course he’s lying. He doesn’t want to disappoint you by admitting that he thinks I’m not cool. Put yourself in his shoes. It would hurt your feelings! He’s trying to protect your feelings, that’s all.” I truly believed this and had no real animosity toward Adam.

“No! My son is NOT a liar!”

I groaned. “Look, I don’t see anything wrong with his lying, given these circumstances. Again, he doesn’t want to disappoint you. He doesn’t want to admit that he thinks your best friend is lame.”

“No! I’ve taught my children never to lie!”

Because of course she had. I was screwed.

“Lying is wrong,” she added.

(Personally, I couldn’t disagree more. I’m a big believer in tact, privacy protection, and discretion.)

The sad thing was that this created an impasse. I’m normally a huge fan of backpedaling, but in this instance, for me to say, “I believe you. I’m sorry I called your kid a liar. I know Adam would never lie,” would require me to lie! Oh, the bitter irony! And once I knew how much she loathed liars, I didn’t have it within me to lie to her face like that.

And thus our friendship withered on the vine.

It could happen to this letter writer, too, if she follows Ask Amy’s advice:

Mike: “Marge, why’d your friend Anna unfriend me?” 

Marge: “What?! Anna did what?!” [Flies into a violent rage.]

After all, Ask Amy says it right here:

The unspoken rule about marriage is: “I can criticize my spouse, but if you do, I’ll be forced to defend.”

So I’m not sure that Ask Amy’s approach is the right one, seeing as it destroyed one of my most cherished friendships. And all I have left of it is this great story to tell about the day our friendship died.

That said, Ask Amy’s advice might be good. The whole debacle I’ve outlined here might’ve been Kristi’s fault because she made me answer for unfriending her son, even though it was between me and him, and even though I’d wager anything that he wasn’t upset by it. It could be a sign of how strong the friendship is, if Marge accepts the letter writer’s unfriending of Mike, or if Marge goes postal over it. I guess for me and Kristi, the friendship wasn’t strong enough to survive it. On some level, I’m wise enough not to blame myself for it, so there’s that.

Random updates!

I’ve got a few pieces of good news, but none of this is that exciting!

First of all, I’ve been wearing my hearing aids all the time, and I’ve adjusted to them pretty well. There are a few things about them that I don’t like, but for the most part, they’re great!

Also, I’ve actually been sleeping better ever since I started wearing the mouthguard. I love that thing! It enables me to bite my teeth together, which I can’t do without it because my teeth aren’t remotely lined up. Go figure.

And I went to the bank and put a travel notice on my debit card, and they were freakin’ nice to me and didn’t accuse me of identity theft. How lovely! And the nice man wished me happy travels. My credit card has lost my business that I was going to throw their way by using it primarily in Prague. Oh well! This is why good customer service is essential. The bank has my loyalty now; it’s in, and the credit card is out, points toward LL Bean merch be damned.

I’ve been working myself to death to deep-clean my room. I’m motivated by my upcoming travels, because I want to come home to a nice, tidy, cozy room where I can write a great NaNovel for NaNoWriMo in November.

I’ve still been hard at work on my memoir, and Sonya’s writers group has been incredibly helpful. The only issue is that one beta reader doesn’t like the stream of consciousness writing. I wouldn’t call it stream of consciousness writing. But what she means is that I drift from topic to topic, whereas I should have better transitions or segues; and I need to focus on the larger scenes instead of throwing small random tidbits in there. With that in mind, I’m going to do another whole edit after this one where I highlight subject changes and focus on what to include and what not to include, or what to expand upon, etc.

I’m so excited to travel next week that there aren’t words! YAY! And I’ll get to meet the writers in Sonya’s writers group who’ve been following my tragicomic life story. That should be interesting. I’ll be attending writers meetings in person! The area Sonya holds the meetings is awesome. It actually has a loft in it. I might sneak away to it if I’m sleepy and need to catch up on my rest from travel.

I hope everyone out there is having a great day!

Advices today!

Dear Annie: I have a child with a woman who is 20 years younger than me. Having a child was not planned. I’m grateful for our child, but I’m not in love with her mother. I’ve tried to explain to her that I love her for the mother she is but that I’m not in love with her.

She found old letters in my closet from an ex that I was in love with over six years ago, and she wonders why I can’t love her the way I did my ex. I tried explaining to her that she isn’t my ex and what we have is completely different from that relationship.

Shortly after our daughter’s birth, things got rough between us, and she took my daughter and everything I’d bought for her. I did not get to see her for two months. Through a lot of court and financial upsets, I finally got to see my daughter. We now live together, just so that I can see my daughter and know that she’s taken care of — but I’m still not in love with her mother, nor do I trust her.

How do you get someone to understand you’re not in love with them and it’s best to go our separate ways co-parenting our child than to live in a distrustful, jealousy-filled environment? Avoiding each other isn’t a healthy environment in which to raise our daughter. — Loving Father, Concerned for his Daughter’s Well-Being (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

I’m guessing that Annie Lane’s advice, which I haven’t read yet, will include instructions to tell the child’s mother that she needs to put the child’s best interests first and be cooperative; which is ridiculous, because the mother isn’t exactly being openminded here. What Annie Lane should tell him (but probably won’t) is to employ some excellent legal counsel here. Instead, Annie Lane is going to wax intelligent about the need for a happy home to raise a well-adjusted child in. (Like, no kidding!)

Dear Loving Father: Everyone comes into our life for a reason. Some are meant to stay forever. Some are meant to teach us something. Some are meant to offer companionship or love or guidance.

You share a child with this woman, and that is something very special. But it doesn’t mean she is a good match as your life partner and vice versa. If she doesn’t understand that message, it’s best to speak with a couples therapist or mediator to help you two communicate.

And do let her know that although she is not the love of your life, she has given you something no one else can: your daughter.

Oh my gosh, it’s worse than I thought.

I was right about her waxing intelligent. I called that! Everyone comes into our life for a reason?! That’s Spirituality 101, but okay.

Her second paragraph is tepid. The mediator idea might be a good one, if only for the mother to realize, in no uncertain terms, that she can’t control this situation forever. The rest of the advice feels like fluff, because this guy knows she’s not a life partner. He’s living with her solely to be a father to their shared daughter without having to endure endless custody disputes.

He needs to be told in no uncertain terms to launch the best campaign for shared custody ever. The fact that this woman prevented him from seeing his daughter for two months should work in the letter writer’s favor. Not cool.

Let’s see what Dear Abby is up to!

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have been happily married (with some ups and downs) for 30 years. We are in our 50s and have two grown children. We enjoy an active love life except for one thing. He refuses to kiss me passionately before or during lovemaking. When I met him 35 years ago, he was the best kisser! Kissing helps me to get in the mood, but he says we’re “too old” for that.

I have talked to him about it, to no avail. My first thought was that my breath was bad, but he assured me it wasn’t. Is this normal? Am I asking too much? When we’re watching a movie together, I will say to him when the actors kiss, “They’re doing it, why can’t we?” and he rolls his eyes. Should I let this go, as it seems like such a small issue? — KISSED OFF IN MONTANA

DEAR KISSED OFF: Considerate couples who love each other want to give each other pleasure. That your husband would withhold something you have told him you need to enhance your intimacy is selfish. I do not think you should “let this go,” because if you would write to me about it, it isn’t a small issue. If he can’t explain his change in behavior to you, he should explain it with you — in the office of a marriage and family therapist. (c) DEAR ABBY

Wow. “We’re too old for that,”? Really? There’s a simple solution to this.

Husband: “Hey, let’s have sex.” 

Letter writer: “Oh, I’m sorry. We’re too old for that.” 

If that doesn’t fix it, then this guy’s a hopeless case. And although that solution seems glib, he shouldn’t be viewing sex as being all about him-him-him and none about his wife.

It really rubs me the wrong way (no pun intended) when men prioritize their needs in the bedroom with no thought to the woman’s. I suspect that if I were to have sex under those conditions, it would kill part of my soul.

Annie Lane’s column for today is up!

Dear Annie: I am a single 70-year-old lady. I just found out I am going to have to wear a CPAP due to breathing issues when I sleep. Those things are so unattractive.

I would like to find love again, but would a guy understand if I have to wear one at night? Or should I just give up on finding love? — Dare to Dream

Geez, Annie Lane and her easy questions! She picks these questions that have commonsense answers because it’s the only sort of question she can field! Gee, will she say that true love will survive the CPAP? Will she say that someone worthwhile wouldn’t mind the CPAP? I’d almost like for her to be sarcastic and say, “Yes, you should give up on finding love. This is the end of the road. Hey, at least you won’t snore,” but we all know she won’t say that. I’m just irritated by her need to pick these easy questions.

Dear Dare: Any man bothered by your sleep setup is clearly not one worthy of lying in your bed.

And don’t overlook the silver lining here: The time in which you’re wearing the CPAP is when you’re fast asleep. Presumably, your Mister will be, too.

Oh, wow. I forgot to factor in the idiocy level of her advice giving. “Presumably, your Mister will be, too,”? Seriously? Okay, first of all, NO ONE calls their significant other their Mister. Second of all, no one capitalizes mister in that context. Third of all, the reference to being asleep is silly. Her “Mister” (gag me) will still see her set the device up and fall asleep looking and sounding like a female Darth Vader. This advice is so cringeworthy.

Why some mental illnesses are considered more severe than others!

I’ve been musing on why depression and anxiety are considered lesser-than mental illnesses, whereas schizophrenia and bipolar are considered hardcore mental illnesses.

Everything exists on a continuum. What’s weird, though, is that with schizophrenia, you never hear about someone being “a little schizohprenic,” whether or not such a condition exists. (Who knows? I guess anything is possible.) You can be “a little bipolar” if you have cyclothymia, which (to the best of my knowledge) is mild bipolar patterns. It’s considered rare.

But with depression and anxiety, everyone and anyone can be “a little depressed” or “a little anxious”. It’s all based on normal everyday experiences. Suppose you really need to pass the test you just took. Well, you’ll be a little anxious! Suppose you just got some bad news. You’ll be a little depressed!

And so both of those concepts: worrying and sadness, respectively, can become mental illnesses if they’re higher on the continuum, like if you’re worrying all the time, for example, or if you’re clinically sad (for lack of a better way to put it) all the time. And/or if your feelings of worry or sadness are severe, like you’re worried about that test so badly that you’re having a panic attack that lands you in the hospital.

So, the continuums we have are:

Sadness————————————————————-Severe Depression

Fretting————————————————————-Severe Anxiety

So just stop for a minute and fill in the blank below with the lower end of the continuums!

__[insert a normal human emotion here]__—————-Schizophrenia

__[insert a normal human emotion here]__—————-Bipolar

You see the problem. One thing I think that happens is that people hear that someone’s depressed and/or anxious, and their dismissive internal response is, well, sure, I’ve felt that way, but I got over it, which is an invalid reaction if you’ve only been on the “sadness” and/or “fretting” end of the above continuum(s). I mean, of course! We’ve all been there! But people who minimize depression and anxiety have never been farther right on the continuums, and they’re mistaking their previous experiences of the normal emotions with mental illnesses. That never happens with bipolar or schizophrenia! No one ever reacts to those diagnoses by thinking, I’ve felt a little schizophrenic or bipolar in the past, but I got over it.

I know my own mental illnesses are dire, but I’m exceedingly grateful that I never get depressed or anxious because I hate-hate-hate those experiences. It’s hard to worry or feel blue! It makes me miserable! I’m better able to tolerate paranoia! Go figure! But I don’t have the belief that my mental illness is more extreme or severe than depression and anxiety, except inasmuch as everything’s on a continuum that varies from person to person, and a lot of my issues are blessedly well-medicated.

It’s weird.

For example, I take antidepressants, but not for depression. I take them for obsessive thoughts and irrational behaviors. (If only they worked better!) 😀 But since I’ve got them in my system, it just becomes unlikely that I’d ever feel depressed. So I’m the happiest paranoiac I know. Go figure!

Meg, you’re the only paranoiac you know. 

Right, but I’m very happy! When I’m not acting irrationally. 

[Snort.] I won’t argue with that, Meg. 

She’s angry!

Oh geez. I just called my credit card company to alert them to impending travel, and it went disastrously awry.

“I just need to send you a verification code to your cellphone,” the woman said.

“Well, that would be fine, but I don’t use one,” I explained.

“Let me transfer you to our fraud department.”

I was on hold forever. I wanted to hang up, but I suddenly had this bad feeling, like if I were to hang up, they’d assume that someone was trying to steal my identity. What the hell?!

“Hello. So, you don’t use a cellphone?”

“Nope,” I replied.

“Well… what about the number you gave us when you signed up?”

I recited my dad’s landline.

“No.”

“Oh,” I said. “Well, it could be my new landline. It’s 502, something-something-something, 7997, or 9779. I don’t have it memorized yet.”

“No! I can’t verify your identity. You’ll have to wait for Citibank to send you mail.”

“Excuse me? What about my vacation?”

“I can’t verify that you are who you say you are.”

“Supervisor.”

“You want to talk to someone other than me?” She sounded offended.

“Oh, yes.”

She put me on hold.

“Hello, my name’s Don. You don’t have a cellphone, do you?”

“No, I don’t,” I said darkly. “I’m backward. Us country folk, you know. We don’t go for that newfangled technology, not when we can steal network television with our homemade antennae.”

“I see. You’ll have to wait for Citibank to call you and verify your identity on the phone.”

“I’m on the phone now.”

“Yes, but I can’t verify your identity.”

“Try harder.”

“I’m sorry. I can’t verify it.”

“What are you accusing me of?” I asked. “I thought this would be a simple phone call, but instead, you’re calling me an identity thief. I’ll have you know that I am not a criminal. I’ve never committed any criminal acts. And I always come to a complete stop at stop signs, every single time. And by the way, so does Meg Kimball, from what I’ve been told. So ha!”

He sighed. “I haven’t said anything other than that I can’t verify your identity.”

“It’s implied. You know how you can read between the lines?” I said. “I went to college.”

“The bank will call you shortly.”

“No, it won’t. Look, don’t lie to me. There won’t be a phone call. I’ll go to my own bank tomorrow, not citibank, and get a travel notice put on my debit card in person. And as soon as I can, I’m closing this card. I called you thinking it would be an easy phone call, and now I feel like a criminal. I don’t deserve that. I don’t care what you specifically said or didn’t say. You’ve treated me like crap, and I just want you to know that I deserve better.”

“The bank will call you soon.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night. And you think I’m immoral! Geez.” I hung up.

I logged onto my online credit card account. Huh. They had an outdated phone number of mine from years ago. Because, of course they did. [Facepalm.]

Well, I’ll gladly take my business elsewhere!

I called it!

Dear Annie: In the 12 years since my first child was born (and two more children followed), our military family has yet to actually celebrate Christmas in our own home because we are always traveling to our families’ homes, lest we hear from hurt grandparents bemoaning our absence.

Thus, every December, we have to balance the competing desires of two sets of grandparents who currently live six hours away from us in opposite directions (we’re in the middle) and who will pour on the guilt about not seeing their grandchildren. Additionally, the rest of the year, we also must drop everything and make regular pilgrimages to see them, always on our dime.

While we love our parents and our children love their grandparents, my spouse and I have jobs, lives and are limited on time and resources. It’s particularly galling when our two sets of retired parents, who are quite financially secure with plenty of time, demand that we must always be the visiting team.

Grandparents need to understand that, unless there is some overriding health or mobility concern, the road between their children and grandchildren goes both ways and they can make the trip occasionally. — Daughter on the Perpetually Visiting Team (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

Oh, geez.

I haven’t even read Annie Lane’s response yet. She tends to position herself well with these easy non-question questions. She’ll make herself seem reasonably intelligent by responding a là: Don’t be quiet. Let the grandparents know how you feel! All that driving is an unreasonable expectation. Offer to house them so they can visit, or some such drivel. I’m sure she won’t disappoint…

Dear Perpetually Visiting Daughter: Thank you for your letter and for your family’s service in our military. Your letter addresses a very important point. Every relationship is a two-way street and must remain balanced.

If you feel like you are doing all the traveling to see your mom, then tell her that. Communicate to her what you said in this letter. And as for all the grandparents reading this, maybe they will pack their bags today and start visiting their busy children and grandchildren.

BOOM. Did I call it, or what?!

Hmm… let’s see if I can go two for two here!

Dear Annie: I’m sitting at this wedding writing to you because I was asked to get child care for this event, but everyone here brought their kids. My nephews, over whom I have custody, have disabilities, but they are well-behaved at public events like this.

I feel that I was purposely told not to include them, and I feel terrible because there are family photos at the end of this, and they will not be included. This is embarrassing.

I care about my boys as if they were my own. I have no other children, and I feel so disappointed in my family for hiding them away. — Hurt Feelings

Wow, that’s heinous. Please, Annie Lane, whatever you do, don’t make excuses. She’s going to make excuses, everyone. Some people are uncomfortable around the disabled, she’ll write. Don’t do it, Annie Lane. Don’t make excuses for this. Please just don’t.

Dear Hurt: How someone treats you and your children says more about them than it does about you. If you know that your children behave well in public, just feel proud of the job you are doing, and continue to build them up.

Don’t write a narrative of the reasons why the bride and groom didn’t invite your children to the wedding. Without having a conversation with the bride, you don’t know what her thought process was in making the invitation list. Try to let it go, and do your best to forgive her for any hurt feelings. Congrats on doing such a great job with your nephews.

Well, okay, she didn’t make excuses for them, but she did tell the letter writer to let it go. I disagree. This needs to be addressed. It sickens me. Even if there’s an innocuous explanation (and if one was offered, it would have to pass my BS-meter), it needs to be addressed.

Annie Lane’s advice is lame. First, she says this:

Don’t write a narrative of the reasons why the bride and groom didn’t invite your children to the wedding.

Fair enough. We don’t want to jump to conclusions. But then she adds this:

Without having a conversation with the bride, you don’t know what her thought process was in making the invitation list. Try to let it go. 

You can’t have it both ways, Annie Lane. The problem is that this is very offensive to the disabled boys. They’re going to see those photos and feel shunned and demoralized. There’s no call for that.

Try to let it go, and do your best to forgive her for any hurt feelings.

Right, because we should be more tolerant of people who discriminate against the disabled. [Facepalm.]

Weirdness!

I hate my birthname.

My mentor has been trying to get me to be less, ahem, reactive to people who call me M-word. It’s like if someone says, “Am I speaking to [M-word] Kimball?” my reaction tends to be, “DIE!!!”

A photo of Mommie Dearest here would be good.

Mommie-Dearest-Still

So I read an internet article about what to do if you hate your name. (Because the internet has resources for everything!) And some of the suggestions were obvious: use a nickname (I had my name legally changed to Meg, so I’ve already thought of that), change your name entirely, etc.

But one suggestion caught my attention: change the spelling of your name. And I had some weird moment of inner awareness.

My birthname is spelled M-E-G-H-A-N. I don’t like it. It seems smug, ingratiating, and ugly. When I was a kid I liked the six letters, one for each rainbow color, but that was about it. I liked the silent-H, because why not? But I don’t know.

I don’t care for M-E-G-A-N, either. It’s too trendy and “cool girl”. There was a girl in my class at school named Megan McCall, and she was all that: carried a purse, wore makeup, had a nice figure, hung out with the cool kids, you get the picture. I think she looked down on me with cool disdain.

Also, I feel that the M-E-G-A-N spelling isn’t balanced right with Kimball. I’m not sure why.

And then it occurred to me. I love M-E-G-G-Y-N! It’s cute, snuggly, fun, and playful, just like me. It’s like the name you’d give to a frisky puppy dog. Also, if you take off the N, you get Meggy.

Have I hated my name for the past nineteen years because of its spelling?! Meggyn is so cutes.

I have no idea what to do with this insight, but for starters, if anyone calls me M-word I’ll try to picture it in my mind as being the Meggyn spelling.

This is awesome and could be life-changing. I’m lucky to have such a wonderful mentor!

No way to account for it!

So, I’ve been submitting 5,000 words of my memoir to Sonya’s writers group each week. Their feedback has been incredibly helpful. Oddly enough, I’ve turned it into a drinking game. Every time someone comments, Your mother did WHAT?! I drink some tequila.

It’s almost comical. I’ve heard of people with overbearing mothers who grew up okay because the mom was a good mom who projected her overbearing nature onto the other adults in her life; and now that the kids are adults, they’re suffering from their mother’s drama.

That wasn’t my experience.

My mother… oh my gosh. Looking back by writing and editing this memoir, she did a lot wrong aside from the obvious physical abuse. It’s just been one incident after another of emotional abuse, manipulation, scheming, extreme stress and negativity, and that sort of thing. My mom was proactive in creating problems for us. My brother and I never went looking for trouble. She was always available to be critical, negative, manipulative… well, I’m repeating myself.

The sad thing is that I grew up subtly protecting my brother, two years younger, and he was this close to entering adolescence as a happy boy. I myself never stood a chance. I was messed up for life by that point, but he almost made it. Then our mother swooped in for the kill and did something to him that was pretty damned heinous. I wish I could say what, but I’m not sure he’d want me to talk about it.

He then became a juvenile delinquent–well, almost. He pulled the school’s fire alarm twice, got threatened with felonies, and was thrown in jail as well as mental hospitals. I too was always being hospitalized and arrested. See, cops show up at a scene where the parents called, and the cops assume the sullen teenager needs to be taught a lesson, so…

Our dad was always bailing us out of lockup. My brother and I were both pacifists who never put up any physical resistance, but we’ve been handcuffed and arrested more times than I remember.

See, I only remember being arrested once, but my dad swears he bailed me out at least once. And the only time I recall, my mom came and got me, not my dad, and I’d been stuck the joint overnight by that point. (That was a fun drive home.) You have to wonder what’s hiding in my memory.

It was always hard. My mom deliberately presented herself as the world’s most perfect mother: caring, nurturing, concerned, loving, supportive, doting. And so we never had the chance to be taken seriously by other adults when we complained. It was always, “Oh, your  mother loves you so much! I’m sure you can work through whatever it is.”

My mother was indeed very loving. But her manipulative side was hidden from view. She could talk a huge talk about how she only wanted what was best for her children while simultaneously doing things that destroyed us.

One of my favorite memories remains the time I was in the mental hospital as a teen. I had overdosed, mostly because I was overwhelmed and had no recourse and didn’t know whom to turn to. So anyway, the nurse said, “Hey, your mom called. Want to talk to her?”

And I was like, “Oh, great, sure, I’d love to talk to her.”

So the nurse stretched the landline out into the common area and handed me the receiver. “Hello?”

My mom started screaming at me about how I was destroying the family, how our lives would all be ruined, and how I was a rotten teenager with a bad attitude. The nurse stopped in her tracks, turned, and stared at me with her jaw dropped.

Now, I suspect my mom was in good cheer while speaking to the nurse just moments before, because:

  1. That’s what my mom did around others! She faked it! And,
  2. If my mom had actually been mean to the nurse (which never would’ve happened), the nurse wouldn’t have allowed me to speak with her for my own protection.

I just listened to my mom’s screams, nonplussed. “Uh huh,” I murmured. “Uh huh. Okay, thanks. Sure. Bye.”

I handed the receiver back to the nurse, who seemed shell-shocked. Later, she pulled me aside and said, “We were going to send you home tomorrow because you’ve worked so hard and made so much progress, but we discussed it, and if you want to stay an extra week, it can be arranged.” Wink, wink.

I took her up on it. That place was posh! To this day, I don’t think my mom has a clue that her own abusive actions jacked up her medical bills. (We had medical insurance, but still.)

It can be easy–really easy–to just assume that an angry teenager is being rebellious and has a bad attitude. But some parents are great actresses. My mother was a professional victim who victimized my brother and me while acting forever wounded and heartbroken over our inevitable behavior problems. She had this amazing ability to take normal growing-up experiences and make them traumatic. It was her specialty.

Oddly, she’s super-excited to read the memoir. I have no idea how to account for that. And you might say, “She’s a schemer. She’s acting excited to read it in hopes that you’ll portray her in a good light,” but then you’d also have to take into account the fact that she bought me $1,800 hearing aids recently and a $17,000 car. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Obviously, as a parent (when we were younger), she was stressed. But she was also diabolical and horrible. Whatever the change in her is, I have no idea how to make sense of it. I mean, she was really bad. But now she’s really good. There just aren’t answers.

Seriously?

Dear Annie: My wife and I have two boys, 10 and 12. For years, my wife has been either brushing their teeth herself — long past when it was appropriate — or hovering over them nightly to ensure they are doing it the “right” way.

Every night she asks them, “Did you do all the things? Pre-rinse? Brush? Floss? Use fluoride?” The kids HATE it. Whether she is doing the brushing or the hovering, it always leads to yelling and screaming, largely in defiance.

In her defense, the hygienist did say that sometimes it’s OK for parents to step in like this since kids don’t have the ability to get those hard-to-reach places, but the hygienist is not in our home to witness the anxiety and frustration this causes everyone.

I have tried for years to reason with her that this sort of helicoptering has run its course and is now doing more harm than good, even if that means they get a cavity here or there, or need braces (both of which I argue will likely happen regardless!). I think it boils down to the old “no one can get the teeth as clean as me” approach.

I love my wife, but this has become a major bone of contention. Help! — Gritting My Teeth

Dear Gritting: At ages 10 and 12, excessive vigilance is not necessary, and it certainly is not worth having nightly fights over. Your boys will be aware of their smiles, especially around girls, in the next few years. If there is any complaining at that time, don’t be surprised if they ask you why you didn’t allow Mom to brush their teeth more.

It sounds like you have a close family, and this situation requires compromise. Ask your wife to back off some, so that you can both grit your teeth — you, because she will still be reading off her checklist, and she, because you will openly side with the boys in not taking each dental hygiene step so seriously.

Of course, no matter what, they should keep brushing their teeth. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

Oh my. Annie Lane has given some bad advice here.

Whether she is doing the brushing or the hovering, it always leads to yelling and screaming.

“Whether she’s doing the brushing,”? Okay, so this woman is physically restraining her kids and force-brushing their teeth?! What the freak?

In her defense, the hygienist did say that sometimes it’s OK for parents to step in like this since kids don’t have the ability to get those hard-to-reach places.

No, that’s not what the hygienist meant. The hygienist probably meant to monitor young tooth brushers and make sure they’re reaching all their teeth. I mean, there’s supervision, and then there’s rampant interference. The hygienist probably envisioned the mom saying, “Ronald, try pushing the brush back further on the top right. You need to reach all your molars.”

I have tried for years to reason with her!

I hear ya, buddy. I’m not sure Annie Lane hears you:

Ask your wife to back off some.

[Facepalm.] Annie Lane! He’s spent years trying to accomplish that!

I think Annie Lane sees her role here as expressing the benefits of compromise and the actual necessity for good dental hygiene. But the letter writer didn’t need an opinion as much as a way to actually get through to his wife.

And if he were to show her this column, she’d probably shrug it off, since Annie Lane’s advice was far too tepid. Not to mention idiotic!

If there is any complaining [when they become teenagers], don’t be surprised if they ask you why you didn’t allow Mom to brush their teeth more.

What the holy freak! Has Annie Lane ever known any teenagers?

I don’t know what the solution is here, but the letter writer could try videotaping these disasters and sharing the video with their pediatrician, who might be able to recommend some sort of parenting resources, as well as giving affirmation to the letter writer that his wife’s behavior is wrong. (I don’t feel Annie Lane even succeeded at doing that, because she sounds so blasé about it with her talk of compromise!)

Or he could share the video with a licensed counselor and ask for advice. I think calling CPS would be overkill, so I’m trying to think of how they can get parenting resources or parental direction without going that far. Similarly, he could show the video to his kids’ guidance counselor, who might be able to advise him or steer him in the right direction.

It might be as simple as someone strong-arming her into not being the parent who supervises the dental hygiene. She needs to be “fired” from that task, and then she needs to trust either her husband to supervise them, or just to trust her sons themselves. (We can hope she hasn’t turned them off of brushing for life!)

But the only way I see that coming to pass is if outside influences are brought in. The husband’s spent years already trying to reason with her, and that got him nowhere. It’s time to get outside interference. None of that compromising stuff from Annie Lane! Geez!

Let’s see what Dear Abby is up to!

DEAR ABBY: My spouse and I had our first child early this year during the pandemic. It was a difficult time because we couldn’t have any family with us during the delivery. We live in the same town as my in-laws, and this is their first grandchild.

Abby, their behavior toward this child has become possessive and intrusive. My spouse and I have tried to set boundaries, to no avail. We tried explaining that we are new parents in a very difficult time in this world right now, and there is more stress than there would normally be. They listen and acknowledge what we are saying, but their behavior doesn’t change. This is causing us more anxiety in an already anxious time. We would never want to restrict access to their grandchild, but every day is too much. Other than moving, what are our options? — NEW MOMMY IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR NEW MOMMY: Another option would be for you and your spouse to set specific times when the in-laws are welcome to visit. If they pop in when they are not expected, do not let them in. Explain firmly that they need to adhere to the schedule you have set because your stress level is already above where it should be. They may not like it, but if the alternative is you moving, it would be less expensive and disruptive for you. (c) DEAR ABBY

Wow. I got stuck at this part:

It was a difficult time because we couldn’t have any family with us during the delivery.

Seriously? If I’m naked with my legs in stirrups while waves of pain shoot through me just so I can create the miracle that is human life, I wouldn’t even want the door to my hospital room to remain unlocked, much less wide open. Like, if you want to come in, I can’t guarantee your safety. And if I’m hungry or otherwise depraved, I might lunge for you. Don’t put it past me. I can’t imagine anything worse than that scenario. (Good thing I don’t want to have kids!)

“During the delivery,” she says. Not after the delivery. Not before the delivery. During the delivery. Okay. And we’re supposed to feel sorry for her over this? That she was FORCED by the coronavirus to have privacy while she birthed her child, with only her husband present? You’ve got to be kidding! How is that a hardship?

I’ve always had this fear of being in the hospital for some physical reason when a visitor comes to see me and enters the room right while I’m doing something indecent, like urinating, or whatever. After all, hospital doors don’t clearly state, “Don’t enter just yet.” Is this all left up to our guardian angels? Because it shouldn’t be! But I’m honestly not sure how it works (if any of you know, feel free to comment) because I’ve never been admitted to a hospital for physical-health reasons. (In the mental hospital, you wear normal clothes, after they confiscate belts and shoelaces, etc.)

But it worries me! Ugh. Wow, this letter really set me off! Ugh. Oh well. Yeah, let’s all stare as I give birth! [Facepalm.]

What a fine mess!

Dear Annie: My 20-year-old daughter, “Jessica,” was adopted when she was 2 by her mom and her first husband, and I adopted her when she was 15. She decided to reach out to her birth mother in a very small town with very limited opportunities last February, and then she moved across the country to be with her in April.

This broke my wife’s heart, as they have had a strained relationship for the last few years. Naturally, she felt rejected. By June, things fell apart between my daughter and her birth mother, and she was couch surfing and living in hotels that were being paid for by a charity group that helps women victims of domestic violence.

My wife just spent three weeks in a hospital to work out a lot of issues that have finally boiled over — a tempest in a teapot, so to speak. But she is in mom mode and does not want our daughter to be homeless if there is anything we can do about it.

Jessica had a round-trip ticket to fly home for her brother’s wedding in October but then canceled it and bought a one-way ticket that is in a couple days. She did this without talking to us first, expecting we would take her in, as she has exhausted all the couches in town. I told her I would fly to her and help her pack and ship her stuff before taking her to the airport to fly home.

Since she’s been home, she has been really snotty to me, and I told her I didn’t appreciate it. She got mad and packed her things and went someplace else for the night. I cannot help but think I made a mistake by coming to get her. My wife cannot handle this attitude my daughter keeps giving us and the hurtful things she says.

Should I give my daughter an ultimatum and tell her we will not tolerate this behavior or she will be out to fend for herself? How do I handle putting my foot down with my wife if she fights me on throwing our daughter out? — Can’t Win With My Daughter

Dear Can’t Win: First things first, you’re doing the best you can, so please stop tormenting yourself. Your daughter has had a rotating cast of parental figures in her life, and she needs some reassurance of stability. Let her know that your love is unconditional and that there will always be a place for her in your family. It may take a while for you to become the happy family you want to be, but helping her move home is a good start.

That said, unconditional love does not mean she can live in your house rent-free, making snotty remarks and insulting your wife. Communicate some ground rules, starting with basic respect. It sounds like you, your wife and your daughter would benefit from a family therapist, who could help you get to the root of Jessica’s misbehavior. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com

Okay, so a woman–let’s call her Lorie–and her husband adopted Jessica as a two-year-old. Lorie and her husband got divorced, and then her ex-husband quit being a father to Jessica. Lorie remarried to the letter writer, who adopted fifteen-year-old Jessica.

Now Jessica’s twenty and spiraling out of control.

A family therapist […] could help you get to the root of Jessica’s misbehavior.

Uh, gee, any chance that the root of her misbehavior is abandonment? That’s just a total shot in the dark here. [Eyeroll.]

My sense is that Lorie has been unsympathetic to Jessica about her birth mother, probably discouraging any relationship and making her birth mother out to be a horrible person (whether or not she is one, although the evidence against the birth mother is pretty damning here). It’s easy to imagine Lorie and Jessica butting heads over it, because Jessica wants to know about her family of origin, and Lorie wants Jessica to just be hers. And then there’s this:

[Jessica’s decision to go live with her birth mother] broke my wife’s heart, as they have had a strained relationship for the last few years. Naturally, she felt rejected.

She felt rejected… Wait, Lorie felt rejected? Oh my goodness! I’m sorry, but Lorie had no right to feel that way. It’s Jessica who should feel rejected. That Lorie couldn’t support Jessica in finding her birth mother shows that Lorie was selfish and controlling and rigid. Parenting is never a competition. The more positive influences in a young person’s life, the better. I can’t believe Lorie made this all about herself!

My wife just spent three weeks in a hospital to work out a lot of issues that have finally boiled over.

I’m sure this will make me sound judgey, but why did Lorie even adopt Jessica if she wasn’t up to the task of dealing with birth-parent-related issues? It’s more Lorie’s job than Jessica’s to deal with these things. Lorie is more of an adult, and Jessica is confused, abandoned, and hurt by everyone whom she turns to. She probably hoped that her birth mother would accept her in a way that no one (including said birth mother, ironically) ever has! And while I’m sounding judgey, Lorie adopted Jessica with a man who presumably later abandoned Jessica, or the letter writer himself wouldn’t have adopted her! Bad judgment, Lorie!

But then things fell apart between Jessica and her birth mother, leaving Jessica with… no one? Just the loving letter writer! God bless this man! For anyone wondering what that must feel like, I have no clue, but I recommend watching the TV show Felicity. It’s heartbreaking what happens to the character who goes to college in NYC in order to meet her birth parents.

My wife just spent three weeks in a hospital to work out a lot of issues that have finally boiled over — a tempest in a teapot, so to speak. But she is in mom mode and does not want our daughter to be homeless if there is anything we can do about it.

So… mental hospital, or rehab? I can’t tell. But Lorie needs serious therapy to not feel threatened by Jessica’s birth family, so that hopefully Lorie could become a better mother to Jessica instead of being such a drama creator. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that any adoptive mother has the right to feel abandoned just because her adopted child is curious about his/her birth parents.

Like, here’s an analogy: you decide to go up in a hot-air balloon. The hot-air balloon flyer asks you if you’re afraid of heights. You say yes, you’re terrified. And then you board the hot-air balloon.

Or you could know your capabilities and stay on solid ground.

The letter writer needs to strategize here. He could maybe put Jessica up in an apartment and pay two months’ rent, making it clear that she’ll be kicked out if she doesn’t get a job and pay for subsequent months. Or, he could get her into college and have her live in the dorms. And then there needs to be therapy. A lot of it. One benefit of going to college is the campus counselors.

If I could have Jessica’s attention, I’d tell her to cleave to the letter writer, who seems to love and care about her more than anyone else involved in this. Lorie probably loves Jessica, but Lorie doesn’t seem to be rising to the occasion here. Maybe she will at some distant future point. We can only hope.

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