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Friday, June 01, 2007

An Autobiographical Sketch in 3 Parts 

Before I explain some of the games embedded in my experiment on Twitter, I should explain more about my belief system, so the dilemma I'm wrestling with might make more sense to readers who don't think like I do. (If you think like I do, you've been laughing along with me, and of course 'we' want to share the joke with 'them', because, yeah, we're like that. [Although, we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are.])

First, you'll need to understand that I'm playing games with myself. And why. I began making games out of every situation I encountered when I was quite young. The earliest game I recall was challenging my mother. Wow, was she an easy mark! I'm not sure who she was expecting when I arrived, but even at 3 years old, I knew damn sure it wasn't me.

Over the years, she's told me who she'd been expecting and, while it's a little disconcerting, it explains a lot. Unfortunately, what's really disconcerting is the fact that she no longer remembers any of these 'seminal' stories she's told me. (Oh, I've found a way to help her but it will be a miracle if she listens to me... but that's in other stories I hope to have the time to tell.) And by seminal, I mean the stories that 'seeded' my way of thinking.

For example: she was expecting a boy. Fervently. I'm not sure why it was so important to her, but I know that when I was expecting a child, I fervently expected a girl. However, since I intended to be unlike my mother in specific ways, I planned on giving up a child sexed differently from my expectations. That may sound outrageous to some of my friends, but I knew firsthand how disruptive it is to be raised by people who aren't altogether happy with who their child is.

I had truly learned the lesson my mother had taught, even though she had no idea she was doing so.

The Bad Seed

When I was 2 years old, the movie The Bad Seed came out. I saw it while still a child. It's about a murderous little girl, and I won't spoil the ending but let me just say it made me gasp. Out loud. My mother laughed and told me what she'd thought when she'd seen the movie on its release: that her 'terrible two-year-old' might be the bad seed. I began then to understand some of her behavior toward me. As well as some of my responses to her, beginning at 3yo when I'd told her I hated her.

The funny thing is, I don't know what reaction I'd expected, but I remember clearly thinking hers was exactly wrong: She cried. Desperately [image: dagger in heart]. This reaction, when coupled with her irrational behavior toward me, angered me and engendered my disrespect. Yes, even at 3.

So I played games with her. At 4, I would refuse to leave the house unless I could wear my cowboy hat with my pink tights, red t-shirt, and a woolen yellow and green plaid kilt-like skirt (in summer... uh, in Texas). Oddly, I know I did it precisely to offend her sensibilities (she was always very stylish – her mother, after all, had been a catalog model who, with her jet-black hair and china-blue eyes, had inspired awe in the smallish town Austin was then).

Now, to get the whole picture of what I looked like back then (because I most certainly did not look like my grandmother) you'll need to understand that I have a malabsorption disorder... er, I think. Either that or a metabolic disorder that looks like a mild case of Marfan Syndrome to some people. Or both. Or perhaps one spawned the other. Well whatever the reason, until the summer I turned 14, I was short for my age and quite thin. Exceedingly thin.

I was so thin that I looked odd to my peers. And they let me know it in a variety of ways. So I created more games for myself, just so I could get to 'the next level', whatever it was. I didn't like to compete with others (it actually made me feel guilty), so I competed with myself. Pretty soon my father noticed the little gamer he had in the house. I think it surprised him.

A Gamer's Choice

It must have also amused the hell out of my dad, because, by the time I was going on 8, he was betting other fathers in our neighborhood that I could win against their sons at any game they chose, whether physical or mental. And I did. (Sorry guys.)

Even while I felt bad about injuring those little psyches (which I suspected were more fragile than my own), I continued winning because I thought if I made my dad happy, he would do more with me (and frankly, I preferred his company to that of the illogical person everyone said was my mother). I decided that doing more with him was worth the price I was quite aware I was paying, every time I won for him.

(And by the way, I'm laughing today about watching him pocket his nominal winnings without sharing any with me; but as a kid, I was confused. To put it mildly. However, to my credit, I managed to use it later as a bargaining chip for that weekly allowance he didn't believe children should have because he'd grown up in an era when all children worked for their families: It was their purpose, and their pride.)

But the trick was on me. He explained it to me himself, even though he didn't realize what he was saying at the time.

I was watching Michael, the boy next door who was older and my most frequently matched sparring partner. (Whom I was desperately in love with by the way, which is part of the joke. And if I were telling this instead of writing it, I would be laughing. Hard.) Michael was playing catch with his father, and he resented it because he hated sports. But his Italian-immigrant father persisted because he was not about to have a son who lost games to a skinny girl who was younger than the kid's own little brother.

I knew all of this while I watched them throw the ball to each other: father burning fast balls into his son's gloved hand; son whining that it hurt and he just wanted to go read; father barking that he didn't have any daughters, and he wasn't about to start now. Even while I felt sympathy for Michael's tribulations, I was simultaneously jealous of him. In other words, long before I knew the word, I recognized 'irony'.

I turned to my father, who was fixing Michael's brother's bike at that moment (a bike that that the brother Steve lent me, because my father didn't see any point in girls having bicycles) and asked, "Do you wish I had been a boy." He looked up, looked at the scene I was watching and said, "Nah, I'd have to do stuff with you." Yep. That was a truly seminal moment in my life.

At that moment, I learned that I had been paying a price with no hope of returns on my investment. So I stopped winning, which promptly ended our poorly conceived, poorly understood 'collaboration'. Nevertheless, these lessons I learned at home continued to reverberate throughout my life. And I want to share them as cautionary illustrations of the things we do to our children without even realizing it.

Well, I won't pretend I know what's coming in my next blog entry, but I think I better go apologize to my parents for their making me the butt of my illustration. Um, well... you know what I mean. Oh wait, that's exactly what I mean... I think. Uh oh, feels like another loop coming on...


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