Unlearning Dysfunction

One of the strange parts of growing up in a dysfunctional family, and I resist using that term, is, in my case, you don’t have any other idea of how things should be. My parents struggled with alcoholism, and they were usually functioning alcoholics. But, because they were busy drinking, they surrounded themselves with other people who drank. Most of my extended family drank, too. I didn’t learn until much later that drinking too much alcohol was a problem.

Even though I was the one who had to find my father’s false teeth when he passed out in the car after a binge and lost them. Even though I had to pick the stones and black top from my mother’s back when my father and uncle decided to race their Harleys and my mother fell off. [As we like to tell with a raucous laugh, my dad was almost home before he noticed she wasn’t there.]

Such stuff isn’t funny. But when it’s your “normal” and you’re talking about it years later, it’s not your life any more but more like a movie you saw. And because I have this detached way of looking at it, it seems funny. Until I see the horrified faces of the poor victims of my storytelling.

If your mind is already reeling, grappling with this idea that it’s hard to realize that your normal is someone else’s version of screwed up, let me present a different example. Reality is what we perceive and what we are exposed to.

When I was in middle school, the corn fields in my rural township morphed into housing developments practically overnight. I grew up in a place where bus stops were a mile or more apart and only had one child (unless they were siblings). We never trick-or-treated. There was no where to go. So to suddenly have bus stops with many children, this fascinated me.

The mom of one of these newcomers volunteered to lead our Girl Scout troop. One night we were there for a meeting and the dad came home from work. It was the first time I ever saw a man in a suit. He came home from work in a suit. My dad came home from work in grease-covered brown uniforms.

The locals, we were mechanics, farmers, waitresses, bartenders, truck drivers, quarry laborers, garment factory workers. Some people worked in mythical factories in towns 20 or 30 miles away. I was impressed if someone I knew had a nurse in the family or a teacher. The doctors were all really old white men. We were a blue collar community.

So I remember the day I saw my first white collar worker.

The community I live in now is far more urban and diverse than where I was raised. But my experiences give me the opportunity to empathize with a lot of the different situations I see. And I wonder, for those who grew up in a more traditional home, do you realize how your neighbors or children’s friends view you?

I often think about this. I was raised an only child and my daughter is an only child. I know she loves to experience the chaos of multiple child households. She also likes to come home and be the center of attention. She’s had friends of different religious backgrounds, and some friends with difficult home lives.

Whenever the children are here to play, I wonder, am I showing them something they might be seeing for the first time?

A more contemporary issue of this might be the day I invited a neighbor child to preserve pickles with us. He lost patience with the canning process and didn’t understand why we would go to all the trouble to grow cucumbers and do all this work, when you could simply go to the store and buy pickles.

 

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The Wheel of Fitness

I know it’s common to witness women caught in a cycle of dieting/food deprivation. I know for a lot of women, weight melts away, plateaus, and returns. My experience with this yo-yo effect occurred due to various health challenges: cerebral palsy, anemia and anxiety, followed by an accident that broke my teeth, and two broken bones in the span of two years.

When I turned 39, I suddenly realized… my once relatively stable body had reached its lifetime heaviest and more than that, my stamina and strength had waned as well.

I vowed to myself I would get in shape before I turned 40.

Problem is, I had never tried to lose weight before. Turns out I was good at it. I started at 142 and dropped to 112 in about the span of a month.

I bought a fitbit to make sure I ate enough. I got my weight to 120. Then 125. Then 130. It didn’t stop there.  Today I’m at least 135.

But now, as I have my 43rd birthday approaching in 8 months, I have great upper body strength but I have gained so much of that weight back. I don’t have the stamina to go out and walk for four miles just as a fun jaunt. I’m afraid to ride my bicycle.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. In college I started weight training. Then stopped.

My first job came with a gym membership, my muscles returned. And I stopped.

Then I had a baby.

My first big supervisor job, I went to the gym if the staff started stressing me out. Between that, and the fact that my daughter ate half of all my meals, I got in shape again.

And then I changed jobs.

Now I am back to being out of shape. Strong, sure, but not as strong as a year ago. But I am out of shape.

So I started logging food, exercise, water and sleep habits. Even vitamins. Because what I need are healthy habits and routine. Seeing it on paper helps. And I won’t diet. I need good food to make my body feel hearty and to fuel it for exercise.

To start: do something every day. No excuses. I’m starting small, because I’ve had houseguests, worked a lot of hours, it’s PMS week and my daughter is in marching band. I’m rededicating myself to my home weights, doing ab exercises hopefully every day, and shooting for yoga everyday.

Yoga?

I find that a great place to start. I need to stretch out those muscles and body parts and prep it for whatever to come. Find the parts of my body holding stress. And most importantly, it can be a part of my day where I connect light activity with calm and breathing. A great way to slow down and reward my body, not just push it.

 

30 words

As a newspaper writer, I learned to write tight. A recent call for 30-word poems from Right Hand Pointing got me thinking super tight. The deadline for submissions is the end of the month, but I got mine in tonight and had to write a 30-word bio…

This is what I wrote:

Angel Ackerman left the dying newspaper industry, suspended her master’s program to raise a daughter, has traveled diversely through multiple continents and lives zealously riding waves of passion and agony.

Parenting, Existential Angst and a Book Review

My semester off from my master’s level work on World History has reached its end… only a few more weeks left until the academic session I skipped comes to a close.

I want my degree. I love African history. I am fascinated by colonialism, Islam, Francophonie and obscure languages. But I am forty-something and my daughter, at almost 13, floats between child and young woman/ angel and royal handful.

So my place is here. At home. I get it. But parenting is a thankless job, even with love and a well-behaved-almost-adult as its reward. Sometimes it gets hard to exist only as the nag, the disciplinarian, the cook, etc.

And sometimes I miss long discussions debating the similarities of the industrial and technological revolutions. 

I have been reading, and enjoying, Philip Gourevitch’s book We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow we will be Killed with our Families: Stories from Rwanda. It is a sobering book.

More on this later… my daughter is on her way home and I have to sneak a doughnut before she arrives.

A PJ Monday

So, I’m still receiving comments about how fun P.J. is. I have to admit, I didn’t expect him to be so popular.

I had a rough start to today. Let’s just say there wasn’t enough caffeine and sugar in my system to compensate for my Black Friday weekend in retail. Number seven. When I first accepted a job working part-time, I never thought I would stay this long. I wanted something to allow me flexibility and to leave my stress at the time clock. Both are usually true.

P.J. and I headed to West Chester early this morning and spent the day doing homework in my office between helping students as a history department graduate assistant.

Before too long P.J. had to use the facilities and you can imagine his confusion when I had to explain to him why the ladies’ room had urinals. You see, P.J., this building used to be a dormitory and it once housed male students.

We finished our work and had to decide what the next leg of our day would bring. After much debate, we opted for coffee. The nice man at Dunkin Donuts sold us TWO peppermint crunch doughnuts for a dollar. That meant we didn’t have to share! P.J. couldn’t have been more thrilled because he knows I am a bit of a glutton.

But I did have to be in the adult in the room and point out to P.J. that we needed “real food” and not merely sugar. I have a long night ahead and the sugar/caffeine roller coaster would do me more harm than good. We walked outside and right next to the Dunkin Donuts there was a natural food store (Great Pumpkin Market). That sounded great as P.J. and I have eaten more than our fair share of junk over the holiday weekend.

They had some raw honey at very reasonable prices so I picked that up and I discovered one of the “power sandwiches” I would eat occasionally during my vegetarian days.

As I walked toward the front of the store, I found a discount section and there was a power sandwich AND some fake turkey salad.

The clerk turned over the discount items and discovered they were out of date so she gave them to me for free! And since a bear is a scavenger P.J. didn’t mind at all.

Like good children we ate our dinner first and then had a doughnut.

The Adventures of PJ the Bear

A good friend recently gave me a little stuffed bear, a Corduroy bear. It’s a stressful time of year for me. The end of the semester. The holiday seasoning working retail. Family obligations. So when I received this bear, I got a little silly. I named him PJ and started taking photos of him. To my surprise, a lot of my friends started to look for his adventures.

My one friend says it’s because PJ is fun and non-political.

First thing PJ and I did was to go grocery shopping.

Then we came home and PJ took a nap.


When I went up to wake him, I discovered a very naughty bear.

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For more on his adventures, see his photo page:

https://angelackerman.com/photography/personal-photography/adventures-of-pj-the-bear/