the MIRREN LEE

The 2012 Act Three Journey of an Actress/Coach/Writer.

Archive for the ‘A Different Kind of Normal’ Category

Day 357 Hum Bug Magic

Posted by themirrenlee on 25/12/2012

Growing up, Christmas was always a time of great chaos and hysteria. I was the oldest of 7 over a ten year age gap – 4 boys, 3 girls – and the daughter of a father who hid inside cans of beer and a mother who was always depressed and overwhelmed.

We never seemed to have enough money, even though the father unit worked in middle management, and the mother did part time jobs, as well.

Luckily, the mother was the Op Shop Queen, and on Christmas Eve we had more “stuff” to wrap than Wal-Mart. She was Australian, so she kept up the tradition of a pillowcase on the bed for Santa’s gifts, plus a big gift from under the tree, plus hanging stockings (always with an orange at the bottom?!), plus the family presents to each other on top of it all. Plus the presents for the family coming later on to lunch.

You do the math. I figured out once we had over 200 presents under the tree alone. We had to take a break in the middle of unwrapping because everyone got bored!

As the oldest, I was always the designated Santa helper to my mother. To this day, I have a phobia about wrapping presents.

Also large families, beer soaked fathers and mothers who do their best, but just really can’t cope.

And Christmas credit card balances.

It was all so ridiculous: putting a 40 pound turkey in the oven that my mother had to keep basting all nite, working like slaves to get the meal on the table (the dishes stayed dirty until the New Year), dealing with relatives who were crazier than us, and TOO MUCH STUFF!

Although I love how special Christmas is for children, I eventually lost interest in all the hard work attached to it.

One thing I have always believed in, though, is the “magic of Christmas”, and I taught my kids to have faith in that. Faith that somehow, every year, something happens that simply feels like magic. It might be finding that elusive present, or getting extra money when you need it, or guessing what someone really wanted.

It happened for me this year. I had no interest at all in the whole shebang, but I ended up finding all my presents for everyone really easily, then, after about reaching my exhaustion peak with the heat and humidity, the heavens opened and the temperature dropped on Christmas Eve. And stayed lovely all today.

Katie and David made a great, easy BBQ (with food for this vegetarian), we all got wonderful presents, and I have been able to rest in a cool bedroom.

Bliss.

So I have no happy memories of large families in general, and especially at Christmas. I’m happy, though, for those who do. And sad for those who don’t get the Christmas they wish for.

Focus on attracting the magic. It’s always worked for me.

One year, when I could still stand for hours, I spent Christmas day at a mission giving out food and presents. It was incredibly soul soothing. Giving back always creates magic for the giver.

So, whatever you do today, remember to do it in a relaxed, calm, mode. It will help you, and everyone around you, feel happy and healthier.

I’m just enjoyin’ the magic …

Posted in A Different Kind of Normal, Fibromyalgia/Chronic Conditions, I'm Just Sayin' | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Escape to Australia

Posted by themirrenlee on 02/12/2012

“Insanity doesn’t just run in my family, it fairly gallops.”   Arsenic and Old Lace (Film)

I don’t know how exactly I’m going to put all this together, but I’ve decided for now to just do free form writing on events that happened as I remember them. Those last three words are very important, because everyone sees experiences from their own perspective, which can be totally different than that of someone else. Just reading about the unreliability of eye witnesses proves that!

In my family there were seven children, three girls and four boys. My parents were not Catholic. We used to joke that they were sexy Protestants, but the truth is they were agnostic, and the last two children were considered accidents by my mother. The first five? My father had a great fear of death, and thought somehow that a lot of children to carry on his name would somehow prevent his mortality. Which also explains why the boys were considered more important in his eyes, since they would always be sure to carry on his name. So he pushed for children, and my mother gave in. Neither were suited to parenthood. However, they WERE a perfect match in that he was a sadist and she was a masochist.

I am the oldest. During therapy, I remembered what my mother said to me once: “We wanted a girl first so she could look after all the others.” No wonder I saw myself as a human doing instead of a human being.

But back to perspectives. The youngest, a boy, came ten years after me, so he either remembers things differently than I do, or doesn’t know about years of my experiences at all. We left California for Australia (my mother was an Australian war bride) in 1969, leaving my father behind, supposedly to follow us, which never happened. When we left, all of us older children knew my father as an alcoholic. When we started going back for visits in the early ’70s, it was to find a man who had stopped drinking pretty much right after we left. In Transactional Analysis this is called The Alcoholic Game, where the player stops drinking because he no longer has an excuse for it. He can’t say he’s weighed down by his responsibilities – they were all in Australia.

My mother’s issues involved regular bouts of depression, followed by manic episodes, and a need for co-dependency. Luckily for us, while she lacked as a caregiver in major ways, at least she showed us love as best she could. There are reasons for problems, which I’ll go into later, but one thing is for sure: if there had been anti depressants when I was growing up, I would have had an entirely different childhood. I have a very soft spot in my heart for drugs, especially since they also helped me to start breathing at the age of twelve, when Ventolin for asthma became available. I was a severe asthmatic from the age of five, but unfortunately it was considered to be “all in your head”, and a psychiatrist was the prescribed method of treatment. Australia was way ahead on asthma management.

So what happens in a large, spread out family is that the experiences of one child can come as a complete surprise to the others. I accept that. What I’ve always had trouble with is when the one child is not believed, or no one cares about what s/he experienced, as happened in Joan Crawford’s family. Her daughter and son recite terrible experiences, while two other children say they’re crazy. The victim gets doubly hurt.

I will leave this light introduction with the way we managed to get to Australia, after trying for years.

I won the money on a game show!

I was going to drama school in Hollywood, and we students were always attending tapings of game shows. At one, I was approached to audition for a show called “Funny You Should Ask”. I passed the audition and was waiting in the green room to go on when a contract was pushed in front of me to sign. Ooops. I was supposed to be 18 to sign it, and I was a month away from that. Fate saved me when one of the other contestants stepped in and offered to co-sign for me. I really have no idea what that meant, even to this day. I think it was about protecting the show for insurance purposes.

I was SO incredibly nervous when I finally got onto the set that, to this day, I have no recollection of what happened during the filming. When I saw it replayed on TV months later it was like it had happened to someone else. But the really weird thing is that my sister met me afterwards (she’d been in the audience) and was excitedly telling me that I was the champion! It seems I’d won all sorts of things: carpeting for the house, wall panelling (I know, weird), a piano, money and luggage. The last two were all I cared about – I could finally escape to Australia!

Why I wanted to go to Australia, and why my mother ended up going first with half the children, while I followed a few months later with the other half, and my 22 month old son, is another post …

Posted in A Different Kind of Normal | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Day 77 Pea Soup

Posted by themirrenlee on 17/03/2012

Pea Soup.

As a child of a dysfunctional family, I have always resented the expression, “Blood is thicker than water”.

One day I heard the best counter argument to this assertion: “So is pea soup – what’s your point?”

Today I caught up with some lovely friends in Sydney over a taste-bud-dazzling array of cupcakes from the local cupcakerie. My sweet tooth was in ecstasy!

We talked, we laughed, we were nice to each other – there was no hidden subtext or feuds lurking beneath the surface. It was as far removed from my life long family experiences as I could ever have wished for.

I believe we should be allowed at a certain age to choose whether or not we still want to be members of the families we grew up in – in effect, I’m advocating permission to “divorce” a toxic family, whether as a whole or individual members.

Then we can choose the people we want to be closest to us, creating our new “family”. After all, what is the definition of a family nowadays? All sorts of mixes. Even if we put aside gay or adoptive ones, what about inlaws and step families? All it takes to be a family is love, respect and loyalty, along with the justifiably unwavering faith that we’ll always be there for each other.

That doesn’t take blood. Sharing a big pot of pea soup together can be just as binding. And it’s probably better for you!

I’m just sayin’ …

Posted in A Different Kind of Normal, I'm Just Sayin' | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Day 71 My Friend the Cockroach

Posted by themirrenlee on 11/03/2012

Archy the cockroach writing about Mehitabel the cat, as imagined by Don Marquis

My friend the cockroach.

Well, not really friend – more like childhood companion.

What we cannot prevent as children we either grow comfortable with, or develop phobias about. I grew comfortable with cockroaches.

I am reminded of this every time someone freaks out at the sight of one. They seem to induce apoplexy in most people, with screeches of, “Look, a cockroach, eeeeek! They’re disgusting, filthy, get rid of it – DO SOMETHING!”

I simply shrug and watch it scurry away.

They are less bothersome to me than dust. I’m allergic to dust.

My parents always had a good relationship with filth. They didn’t bother it, and it didn’t bother them. Besides the usual assortment of non humans that came and went in our household of 7 children – the cats, dogs, rabbits, goat, chickens, ducks, mice, guinea pigs, fish, etc. – we also played host to ants, fleas, lice, maggots, spiders, silverfish, wasps, bees and, of course, cockroaches. An equal opportunity hotel – all species welcome. Unfortunately, more checked in than checked out.

We didn’t start to specialize in cockroaches, though, until I was 14 and we moved to a house in Ontario, California. They kept to themselves at first, but that all changed with our first meal. There were 7 children, from 14-4 years old, and 2 parents wondering where we all came from. Being permanently bewildered, my father drank and my mother did crossword puzzles. And read. A lot.

One of her favorite books was “Archy and Mehitabel”, by Don Marquis. It was about a cockroach who typed the stories dictated to him by Mehitabel the cat. The subject is worth Googling because Don Marquis and his two most famous creations are quite fascinating. Archy first appeared in Don’s newspaper column in 1916, as a reincarnated free verse poet who took over Don’s typewriter at night, and could only type in lower case because he couldn’t manage the shift key. Marquis was satirizing two new hot cultural trends: spiritualism (seances were big) and free verse poetry.

My mother was an artist, a true Bohemian, a hippie before hippies were invented, a free spirited, fey soul who thought carrots screamed when pulled from the ground. It stopped her being a vegetarian. I know the questions that are springing up in your mind. Don’t go there, you’ll just hurt your head. One of her famous quotes when watching a person in her rear vision mirror while driving was, “I’m following the person behind me.”

So maybe you can understand why I think my mother found it hard to eradicate a cockroach population that reached the size of China’s: she didn’t want to kill Archy.

I guess if it weren't for Don Marquis and his 2 "friends", I might find cockroaches as scary and distasteful as most people do.

As I said, our first meal in the new house became their invitation. When 9 people have dinner, there are a lot of dirty dishes and food lying around afterwards. My parents had no rules, and no one was going to volunteer for kitchen duty, so they just sat there. I’m sure the cockroaches came out in the middle of the night, as cockroaches do, saw the mess and thought, “Wow, thanks. We’ll be glad to stay in this hotel.”

And stay they did. They also took a hint from my parents and bred a lot. We soon noticed them. Mainly because they stopped being nocturnal creatures, partying both day and night. When no one paid them any attention, they invited their friends from other countries. I say this because even though we saw some big ones at first, we were soon overrun by what I later learned is the German cockroach, smaller and faster than his large cousin, who we encountered a lot when we made our regular visits down the coast to Mexico. (They are so big there I woke up one night to a noise so loud I still swear they were moving the fridge.)

The Germans soon kicked out the Mexicans. And this time they kept the occupied territory. Then they got bold and arrogant. They ran across the kitchen floor, daring us to squash them; they took over the gas stove, only getting out of the way if there were actual flames; they established their capital under the refrigerator; they made the washing machine and dryer (yes, in the kitchen) their holiday spots; and best of all, every single cupboard in the kitchen became a cockroach suburb.

EVERYONE, even the 4 year old, learned the rhythm required to get into a kitchen cupboard. Open, stand back quickly from door to allow for cockroaches crawling across the inside of it to drop to floor instead of on arms, then reach in – carefully – to achieve objective. Of course, often we had to actually fight a cockroach for the objective, but we had all perfected our “brush off” techniques with so much practice, and so usually emerged victorious.

All of this became absolutely routine to us, and when a visitor remarked upon the cockroaches sharing our kitchen (they didn’t move to the bathrooms and beds until much later), we just said patronizingly, “They can’t hurt you.”

There was only one slightly odd thing that interrupted our detente with our house guests. That was when my mother would periodically forget about Archy and go temporarily insane with a lust for cockroach blood. Without warning, she would grab a can of bug spray, aim the nozzle at their capital under the fridge, and press. Then she would stand up, take her shoe off, and as the millions of bugs fled in terror at this unprovoked aerial attack, she would calmly start squashing them with a “Thump, crack,” as their backs broke under the onslaught. This from the woman who worried about screaming carrots.

Some of the kids would join in. I was too busy fighting nausea.

We would be left with a battlefield strewn with bloody, dismembered cockroach carcasses. A small mercy was that the kitchen floor was never mopped, so they kind of blended in with their background. A token attempt was made to sweep up the remains, but only halfheartedly as that felt too much like housework to everyone. Not fun, as opposed to wholesale carnage.

Bits of carcasses could be seen for weeks; it was like rebuilding Berlin. But rebuild they did, and came back stronger than ever. It’s said they’re the ultimate survivors. I believe it. If the Nazis had been cockroaches, we’d all be speaking German.

To this day, though, I can’t squash anything. I either try to reason with them, saying I’m not licensed for their species, or forcibly remove them into the street.

Years later, I asked my mother why my parents let our guests stay. She said that she’d “heard” it would be really expensive, and we’d have to evacuate the house for a couple of days while they put a tent around it so the toxic fumes didn’t escape. When they finally got around to actually consulting an exterminator, after we’d all moved out, it was fast, inexpensive, with no tent required.

Of course, I blame Don Marquis for it all. However, it did leave me with no fear or distaste whatsoever about cockroaches. But I don’t choose to live with them, because I like living alone, so if they won’t listen to reason and leave on their own, then I buy real “cockroach motels” (wish they’d been around earlier!). I pretend I’m not killing them, just giving them a place to meet before they set off together for a more hospitable country. As they say, “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt”.

Wait until I tell you about the mice we shared a house with when I was a toddler. For that, we can probably blame Mickey.

I’m just reminiscin’ …

Posted in A Different Kind of Normal, I'm Just Sayin' | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Day 63 Single Parent: Duhhh …

Posted by themirrenlee on 03/03/2012

Single parent. Duhhh …

That’s what I was at 16. I got pregnant at 15, but didn’t know until I was about 5 months gone. I’d never had regular periods, so that didn’t warn me, and my weight gain was minimal. We had daily P.E. (physical education) classes in school, so I exercised a lot. At the time of getting pregnant, I was actually doing a term of gymnastics, wondering why it was getting harder to balance and tumble! I also began to notice my stomach pushing out my leotard a bit. The nausea I had been experiencing, mostly after eating, I just thought was some kind of bug.

In short, I was clueless. My friends and I would talk about sex, but the conversation was on the level of, “Do you think you can get pregnant through underwear?” Words such as “erection”, “ejaculation”, “sperm”, “orgasm”, “birth control”, were never mentioned. (Forget about “STDs” – herpes, chlamydia and AIDS hadn’t been “invented” yet! We’d heard of syphilis, but we thought that was just a guy thing.) All we knew was that sex could lead to pregnancy, which was highly shameful, but we didn’t know “how far” we could go before it was a risk. Without sex education (unknown at that time in schools, and parents wanted to pretend like we’d never do something like that), we didn’t know that sperm are tricky little things, and can sneak in without the guy actually having to “go all the way”. Nor did we know that “pulling out”, if we did go all the way, is not an effective means of contraception.

Do you know how I even found out I was pregnant? I was lying on my bed, complaining to my mother that I had “butterflies” in my stomach, making me feel unwell. She put her hand there, looked shocked, and said, “Oh my god, I think you’re pregnant, and that’s the baby moving!” Again, clueless much?!

This was the Swinging Sixties – the greatest irony of all. The Pill came on the scene in 1960, but in 1966 was still not in widespread use, and of course most parents didn’t want to give it to their daughters, anyway (because that would admit that sex was actually happening), while many Catholic doctors wouldn’t even prescribe it. People forget now why we NEEDED a sexual revolution – to bring it all out of the closet, and give us some control over protecting ourselves from unwanted pregnancies

In Los Angeles, where I was raised, teenagers got their driver’s licenses at 16, and then practically lived in their cars. Those of us who came from “challenged” environments, as I did, couldn’t take people home, so we used our cars for just talking and hanging out, as well. It was a breeding ground for intimacy. Not surprisingly, many of my classmates that year (my third year of high school) got pregnant, including the Homecoming Queen! The tragedy was that everyone I knew was given the choice of either giving their babies up for adoption, or being kicked out of home. One was not allowed to work if under 18 without a parent’s signature on a permission slip, so there was no choice – the babies were adopted out. One girl I knew had twins, and struggled trying to keep them for a few months, but eventually caved in, gave the babies up and went back home. How do you forgive your parents for something like that? Or ever forget the babies you’ll probably never see again? How do the parents turn their backs on their grandchildren?

I was reminded of all this by two things: a comment from Hollie McKay asking me what it was like being a young single parent, and what did I think of the single parent reality shows; and the news today on Huffington Post that Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin State Senator (would you be surprised to hear he’s a Republican?), wants single parenthood to be legislated as a form of “child abuse”. He says single parents choose that lifestyle so that they can get government benefits, and this is a way to stop them from doing that. I had to stop and take a breath over that one.

I answered Hollie’s question in the Comments section. In a nutshell, I was already Mom and Dad to my 6 siblings because, as my mother once told me, “We wanted a girl first so she could look after the others.” I had no idea I had gotten pregnant; I still thought I was a virgin! No one ever believes this, but it’s absolutely true. I was going with my first real boyfriend, and I always thought I stopped him from going “too far”, but obviously I didn’t. You had to be there.

Once it happened, even though I was pressured first to have an abortion (ooops, too far gone), and then to adopt him out (no way), he was just another one to look after – and he was probably the easiest of the lot! The story of being pressured to get married, to a man I ultimately found out was sleeping with my mother (!), is for another time, and gives you an example of what I mean by a “challenged” family.

The really tough thing was having to drop out of high school in my final year. I had David in June, and started my Senior year in September, but it was impossible to continue after a couple of months. First, my “husband” turned out to have major, major issues which made me leave him, and then back home I had my hands full looking after my family. One thing my parents were never going to do is kick me out of the house – they needed me to look after their children.

As for the esteemed Senator’s belief that ALL single parents are of the same mindset, and in the same circumstances, well, just … really? Are you really that stupid? Oh, wait: Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman … hmmm, I guess he might be. He says he’s talking about “non marital parenthood”, but uh, duhhhhh, unlike when I was raising David, being an unmarried parent is now as common as dirt. For goodness sakes, women are going to sperm banks precisely to BE single parents! Of course, it also smacks of racism because the feeling is that it’s black women doing this “sponging” off the government (as if people get rich on food stamps). Unfortunately, the photo used in the Huffington Post article was of a black woman and her daughter, which doesn’t help. So what kind of “ism” is it when against single parents? Singleparentism? I know, to even talk about it gives it too much credence. The man is obviously just insane.

The one thing, though, that I really haven’t ever understood is the single parents who struggle to raise their children, and yet keep having them. There are no excuses today for contraception ignorance, and being a good parent is too difficult and too important to blithely keep churning them out without being able to give them the right environment to grow up in. Which is what my parents did. I had Sarah 20 years after David; and I put the fear of God into them about having children before they were ready. David was 32 when Nicky was born, and Sarah, at almost 25, is not even sure she’ll ever be ready for the responsibility. I scared the shit out of them about parenthood! My work here is done.

So this will be the first post to start explaining my upbringing in the “A Different Kind of Normal” Category. There is a lot more to my pregnancy story, and the weird marriage to an insane bigamist, but another day …

BTW, Hollie is a fantastic Australian friend I’ve known for years who is now a highly respected Fox News Entertainment reporter, who both writes a column called PopTarts, and appears in entertainment news segments on TV. Catch her at this link:  Entertainment News | Latest News, Videos & Photos on Celebrities, Movies & Music | Fox News.

Finally, a note about my Cast of Characters post yesterday. Wow, I didn’t preview it and so when I saw it published I realized the formating was almost unreadable! Note to self: preview everything before publishing it! I will redo it soon.

What a long, complicated post. This time,

I’m really just sayin’ … a lot!

Posted in A Different Kind of Normal, I'm Just Sayin', Political, The Grumpy Bitch | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

 
%d bloggers like this: