Oh Deer

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This might be the hardest month yet to write a blog post for me.  I have never missed a month without writing at least one entry.  It has been hard to find a topic during this horrible time…with the coronavirus and people being ill and losing family members and being unemployed.  I don’t want to complain because I am healthy and getting a paycheck.  I have racked my brain to find something to write about that is not negative or offensive or insensitive and I finally thought of a topic…deer skulls.

In the northeast region of our country, it is very common to see deer everywhere.  Just on my two mile drive home from my sister’s house last night I think I counted 8 of them.  Some people think of deer as a nuisance because they cause car accidents, while others appreciate their beauty.  When I think of deer, I think of a specific memory with my father.  It was a singular moment so insignificant in my life, I am surprised I even remember it at all.

One day, we were exploring some trails in the woods behind my childhood house.  My father and I were walking ahead of my mother and my sister and my dad was pointing out various wildlife and plants.  A squirrel would skitter along the path and he would shout “squirrel!”.  He warned me not to touch poison ivy and explained how to identify it (a skill I still find useful as I am VERY allergic).

“Whoa! Check that out!” My dad pointed to something round and whitish on the ground a few feet in front of us.  As we got closer, I realized that it was a skull of unknown origin.  A dead person! was the first thought I had until I realized the shape and size of it could not be a human.  My father, in true dad fashion, leaned down and plucked it off the ground with his bare hands.  He turned to me with a sly smile and then reached his arm out to try to touch me with it.  I jumped a mile and screamed, “groooooosssss!”.

My father carried the skull all the way home and by the time we arrived, he had determined it was from a deer, even though there were no antlers attached.  By this point, my initial shock faded and I was pretty interested in the skull, with its gaping eye sockets and teeth still attached to the jaw bone.  He soaked the skull in soapy water and cleaned it, while my mother disapprovingly kept asking, “what are you going to DO with that thing?” After the skull was clean, I was so fascinated with it that my father gave it to me.  This is most likely the strangest “gift” I have received. I sat for a half hour just wiggling the teeth, until one popped out into my hand.  I was able to put it back into place with much satisfaction.

I kept that deer skull on my bookshelf for many years.  Once I got my own apartment, I decided that it did not really fit with my decor scheme and that it was weird to have to explain to people why I had a deer skull in my home.  I gave it to a science teacher at the high school where I teach English and he gladly displayed it in a case in his classroom.  Over the years, once in a while, I would pop into his room to look at the deer skull, the memory of that day running through my mind.

Children remember the strangest and most random things.  My niece is only three years old and probably won’t remember anything from this time in her life.  Or maybe she will? My sister and brother-in-law are both unemployed and home with her all day now.  Maybe she will remember making tents out of all the couch pillows, baking cookies with my sister, or helping her dad rake sticks in the backyard?  I have a very poor memory and cannot recall much from my childhood.  And unfortunately, by the time I turned twelve years old, my father was a full blown abusive alcoholic, so there were not many happy memories made during my teenage years. Yet, there are these random moments, burned into my memory, that I fondly remember.  My dad was fun (and cool!) at one point during my childhood and now that he is sober, I hope that my niece will make memories with him that she can look back on someday to remember her grandfather.

My deer skull still is on display in the science lab classroom.  I am sure over the years, many students have seen it and assumed it came from a school supply magazine or they really do not think much of it at all.  Some of them are my students as well and they have NO idea that they are looking at a piece of my childhood…a tangible, albeit very odd, reminder of a happy memory with my father.

Summertime Blues

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Summer brings sunshine, pool days, lazy mornings…and anxiety.  I am grateful to have the downtime after a busy school year, but free time often triggers anxiety for me.  I am the type of person who thrives with structure and routine.  It is sometimes hard to pinpoint what exactly is making me anxious and why it gets worse at times.  Traveling causes the most anxiety for me and there are ample opportunities to go places over the summer.  Most of my family was off for the month of July, too, and so I was invited to participate in many activities.  I always feel the desire to go, but sometimes the anxiety is preventative.  I try not to let it “win”, but sometimes it does and it can put a damper on the summer and how I feel about myself.

This week, my family had plans to attend a festival about an hour away.  I decided not to go, but second guessed myself the whole time.  I wanted to go, but was uncomfortable about the drive and how I would feel.  About an hour after they left, I decided to go…to not let anxiety prevent me from living my life.  I bought a ticket, got dressed and jumped in my car before I could change my mind.  To be honest, I think I knew I might do this because driving myself places is one of the ways I can push myself- I do better on my own, when I am in complete control.  I decided not to tell my family I was coming, rather surprise them (I knew this would make my mom so happy because she has been worried about me).  I got on the highway and when I was about 20 minutes into the hour long drive, it began to torrentially rain and thunderstorm.  The venue I was going to was outdoors and so I was uncertain what to do.  I didn’t want to “give up” and go home, but I didn’t want to push myself to make the drive and then have to turn around and go home anyway.

After some hesitation, I decided to go home.  I was just too uncomfortable driving in bad weather when my anxiety was already bad.  The whole way back home, I beat myself up…I should have continued driving, I should have tried harder, I should have waited for the storm to pass.  When I pulled back in my driveway, I cried.  I felt like a failure.

It took some tears and some phone calls with friends and some time to reflect, but I was able to shift the experience in my mind and focus more on the attempt than the outcome.  I did not make it to the festival, but I genuinely tried to go.  And during the drive, I really felt okay and not terribly anxious.  Back at home, I was disappointed, but I knew I should also be proud of myself for trying.  I can’t really say that I would put this experience in the “win” column, but I know that it was better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all.

Nature v. Nurture

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During my therapy appointment on Monday, we discussed the concept of nature versus nurture.  I was curious about where she stood professionally on the topic.  She believes that it is a 60/40 split (60% nature/40% nurture), although she emphasized that an individual’s personality is a makeup of multiple factors.  I agree with this, but I think I have been affected more by “nurture” in my life, rather than “nature”.

My family moved to NJ from TX when I was in the 6th grade.  Shortly after settling into our new home, it quickly became apparent that something was different about my father.  My dad actually moved almost a year before we did so that he could begin his new job and supervise our home being built.  During that time alone, my father’s social drinking became full-blown alcoholism.  Once our family was reunited, things seemed to change overnight…for the worse.  My fun, easygoing dad had turned into a monster.  I would get into bed at night and wish that we never moved.  In my mind, if we had stayed in Texas, nothing would have changed.

I have wondered a few times in my adult years what my life would be like if we had not moved.  Would my dad be an alcoholic? Would my sister and I be as close as we are now? Would my parents be happily married? These are questions I will never have answers to.  I do believe I would probably be a very different person, though, had we not moved.  I am a type A personality.  I like things organized.  I am task-oriented.  I prefer things to be done a certain way (aka my way).  Those aspects of my personality, the “nature”, would most likely remain the same.  But my anxiety, my desire to please people, my need for control, my inability to make decisions…I know that is all “nurture”.  I am a pretty textbook case of a child of an alcoholic.  I have never wanted to blame things on the fact that I was raised in an alcoholic family, but there is no way to deny that it affected me very deeply.

Where do you stand when it comes to Nature versus Nurture??