Sunday, June 26, 2011

Where do our phobias come from?

I’m proud of myself because today I survived my first MRI scan despite my claustrophobia.  I had requested and been promised a scan in one of the “open” machines, but it turned out that, because the scan was of my left shoulder, my head and upper body were inside the lighted tube and only my lower body was in the open.

But the technician was comforting, not critical about my fears.  She gave me earphones that played music, but did not drown out the loud rapping of the machine (which at times sounded like machine-gun fire).  Once I was wedged with pillows and slid inside and felt the first wave of panic, I shut my eyes and kept them shut for the entire 20 minutes. I kept thinking how lucky I was that the scan was only about a possible torn rotator cuff. I overhead a woman saying to a male patient who went in ahead of me: “I’ll be praying”, so I knew he had a lot more reason than I did to feel stressed and panicky during the MRI.

(My claustrophobia is not crippling—I’m okay in a crowded elevator, but if the elevator got stuck between floors, I’m not sure how I’d react.  And as for crawling into a narrow tunnel or cave, you can count me out.)

I have this theory about phobias that will probably convince you that I’m crazy.  I think that early and life-long phobias may be the result of some subconscious memory of how we died in a previous life. 

Of course some phobias are the result of traumas in this life—for example my dear departed Aunt Mary was so terrified of birds that even a feather duster could drive her into hysterics. But that was because, when she was little, her mean older brothers would terrorize her by chasing her with a live chicken.

But in some cases, like my claustrophobia, there’s no clear explanation.  When I was very small, around five or six years old, I was listening in my room to a radio broadcast of some scary program like “Inner Sanctum.”  (Radio was a lot scarier than TV because your imagination provided your own images.) The program began with a man’s voice saying something like: “Where am I? Why is it so dark in here?”  Then a sinister, resonant male voice replied, “You are buried alive.”

I happened to be eating a Hershey Bar with almonds and I leaped off the bed, bolted to the bathroom and got violently ill.  Needless to say, I turned off the radio.  It took something like ten years before I could even look at a Hershey Bar again.  Because of my violent, instant reaction to the words “buried alive”, I suspect that in a previous life I died, as so many have recently, by being buried in a mud slide or avalanche or earthquake.

As you can see, I believe in reincarnation, which is a very controversial subject in the West  unless you follow one of several Eastern religions.  But at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, there is a Division of Perceptual Studies (formerly the Division of Personality Studies) originally founded by Dr. Ian Stevenson, a Canadian biochemist and professor of psychiatry,  which has collected more than 2,500 case studies of young children who claimed to remember a past life.

I’ve encountered a few such children myself who arrived in life, as Wordsworth wrote, trailing intimations of immortality.  If you know a small child who is very verbal and ask something like, “Do you remember where you were before you were born?”, you may get a surprising answer. These memories seem to fade by around five years old.

But reincarnation is a subject for another day. Today I’m talking about unexplained phobias and my crazy theory.  Not too long ago, I was at unisex hair salon and, in the next chair, sat a man having his hair cut by a blonde young woman. He was telling her how he had just come back from a trip to the Empire State Building in New York with his teenaged son.  The dad, who had a phobia about heights, made it up to the 88th floor where you have to switch elevators, but then the father realized he  couldn’t go on. He had to go back down to ground level. The son went to the top and later mercilessly teased his father about his phobia. 

Then the blonde hairdresser told about her phobia, a new one to me.  “When I’m driving and I go over a hill and look down and see that the road leads to a body of water, I’m always terrified that I’m going to drive the car right into the water and drown.” 

Naturally I didn’t let on that I was eavesdropping, but that sounded to me like a phobia born of a past experience.   Some phobias seem understandable: snakes (that one we can blame on Eve), spiders, bugs, sharks… but others: bridges, tunnels, airplanes, heights—may be rooted in early memories of a previous life.  (Did you know that Woody Allen refuses to drive or be driven through tunnels or over bridges?) 

What are your unexplained phobias? 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Photo Tribute to a Dad and two Grandpa’s

                                                                  Nick & Christos 1972
When our three children were born in the 1970’s, my husband Nick was not the kind of dad who'd change diapers, take a kid to the park or coach them in sports. But as these photos  suggest, he was always an important presence in their lives, ready to offer support, advice and unconditional love when they needed it.
                                                               Nick & Eleni circa 1976
This past week, President Obama launched the “Year of Strong Families” to do something about father absence, which he experienced growing up without a father.  Nick experienced it too, because, as he wrote in “A Place for Us”, he never knew his father, a short-order cook in Worcester, MA, until he and his sisters arrived in the U.S. as refugees in 1949 after their mother was executed during the Greek civil war.  Nick was nine years old.  His father, Christos, was 58.
                                                         Nick & Marina, circa  1979
My father, Robert O. Paulson, was born in 1906 and died in 1986.  Because my parents lived far away, he was not a real presence in our children’s lives, but when we visited California in 1973 I took these photos of him showing our son, Christos, his first view of the ocean, and reading to him at bedtime.

I only met my paternal grandfather, Par Paulson, once.  He was stern and completely deaf and the only way to communicate with him was by writing on a blackboard in chalk. But my step-grandfather, John Erickson, my grandmother’s second husband, had a special relationship with me during the years I lived near their small town of Monticello, Minnesota. 

 I still have a small garnet ring that once belonged to his mother. I remember vividly how he taught me to shoot his rifle across the wide Mississippi river, and in the spring, when it was time to get new baby chicks for the chicken yard, he would take me down to the hatchery, pull open drawers of chirping chicks and let me pick out the ones I liked.
                                                              Ida & John Erickson circa1952
 In the current "People" magazine President Obama wrote, “I grew up without a father around. I have certain memories of him taking me to my first jazz concert and giving me my first basketball as a Christmas present, But he left when I was two years old.”

 As he knows, even a one-time memory—choosing chicks at a hatchery, showing a grandson the ocean, reading a bedtime story or unwrapping a first basketball can be a gift that a child will cherish for a lifetime.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Crone Considers Modern Childbirth

 About a month ago I wrote in “Pregnancy – It Ain’t What it Used to Be” about all the new wrinkles there are to the processes of pregnancy and childbirth since I gave birth (by Caesarian) to three children back in the seventies.

Since Christmas Eve, when daughter Eleni and her husband Emilio broke the news that we were to become grandparents (at last!) I’ve been having a lot more fun following her pregnancy than I did with my own and I’ve learned a lot at the same time.

I picked up such new-fangled terms as a babymoon, a push present, a birth plan, a birth mix (of music), a doula, and of course the baby daddy.  (How did we ever give birth in the olden days without all these improvements, not to mention the pregnancy web sites that e-mail you news and advice every week?)

Eleni’s blog is called “The Liminal Stage” and, as she says, pregnancy is the most liminal stage of all.  She has written several posts on the topic which have reduced me to both laughter and tears, because she’s so funny, while being honest and wise about the hurdles of a first pregnancy, that I have to share some of it with you.

In “Have Ipod, Will Give Birth” she discusses the almost universal tendency of moms to tell a pregnant lady their terrifying birth stories (which reminds me of a maternity t-shirt I saw for sale that read:

No advice
No birth stories
No touching the belly

Eleni wrote that she’s much more excited about preparing the playlist of music to listen to during labor than preparing the birth plan to distribute to the doctors.  As she says, “Birth plan? Who am I kidding? …I have a feeling that the list of people who are in charge of this birth is a three-legged stool: God first, Amalia [the baby’s name] second, me third (although without me, the stool cannot stand!)…So yes, I’ll study up and write a birth plan, and I’ll take childbirth prep class and breastfeeding class and infant CPR, but when push comes to shove …I’ll do whatever it takes to end up with one healthy, happy baby and one healthy, happy mommy.”

The classes Eleni and Emilio will be taking teach hypno-birthing, which was originated in the U.S. in 1989 by a four-time mother, Marie Mongan, who was inspired by the teaching of Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, (who wrote “Childbirth Without Fear.”) They believe that by refocusing the mind away from pain, birth can be a painless process.  If you want to know more about it, here’s a video showing calm and happy moms popping out calm and happy babies.

Back when I was birthing babies at New York Hospital in New York, we were required to take Lamaze classes to prepare.  My husband dropped out after the first class, telling the startled nurse/teacher , “If God meant for men to help with childbirth, then men would get pregnant.” No baby-daddy would dare talk like that today!

I had heard from my children’s contemporaries about many unusual (to me) methods of giving birth—in a birthing tub, for example, or squatting and tugging on a bar, so that gravity helps. But last week, I learned about a method that left me speechless.  Eleni mourned that her pre-natal pilates classes in Miami had ended because her pregnant teacher, Kim, had gone off to Hawaii to have her baby in the ocean while attended by dolphins.  Yes dolphins. 
 (This image is from Jonathan Goldman's "Healing Sounds" -- "for birth meditation and deep relaxation")

Apparently dolphins bring calm and good karma and all sorts of help. Birthing with the dolphins is gaining popularity all over the world. If you don’t believe me, or want to know more, check out Eleni’s post: “The Dolphins Ate my Workout.”

Dolphin birthing would not work for me.  I’d spend all the time worrying about sharks attracted by blood in the water, or dolphins kidnapping the baby once it comes out.  But then, I always was a worrier. I was the only woman in my Lamaze classes who always flunked “relaxing.”

I know I’ll have a lot more surprises coming before I’m finally a grandmother.  I plan to go down to Florida shortly before Eleni’s  due date of Aug. 19.  I already know I won’t be allowed in the delivery room, which is fine with me—It will be crowded enough with Eleni, her husband Emilio, her sister Marina (who’s trained as a doula), and assorted doctors and nurses. 

Eleni is the only one in her pre-natal pilates class who plans on giving birth in a hospital—and I’m real glad she does.   She and her friends are much better informed about the whole childbirth process than my generation was.  As she wrote, “Not to get too Zen about it, but I’m not attached to any particular method of birth; my plan is all plans and no plans all at once. I’ll try to give birth without drugs, but if that gets unbearably painful, I’ll have an epidural, and if there’s some sort of issue with the baby that indicates a C-section is recommended, I’ll do that if I have to. Either way, I’ll be a mom in the end.”

Meanwhile, she writes, choosing the playlist of music for Amalia’s birth-day has been “hours of fun for the whole family.  I’ve been listening to it all morning, and Amalia has been dancing away.  I think she loves it too.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Degrees of Infidelity – Which is Worse?

(I wrote this two days ago before  Anthony Weiner confessed to his internet escapades, so have added a footnote about his now widely discussed  degree of evil at the end of this post.)

The other evening over dinner, while talking with my husband and a woman friend, after pondering such gentlemen as Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards and Dominique Strauss-Kahn, I posed the (totally theoretical, you understand) question:  What is the worst kind of cheating husband?

I tossed out some (completely rhetorical, of course) examples: Is it worse to have your husband leave you for, say, another man, or the trusted baby sitter, or his secretary (whom you know) or a colleague whom you don’t know, or, maybe your best friend?

My husband immediately said the worst would be to have your husband leave you for a man, but my friend (who is on her third divorce) and I both instantly disagreed, saying that, no, that would be the least crushing kind of betrayal, because the wife can tell herself “It’s not that he’s leaving me because I’ve failed in some way.  He just has never acknowledged that he’s gay.  It’s completely NOT MY FAULT.”

Just for the sake of argument, I would like to propose the following ratings on my cad-o-meter, ranging from one to ten degrees of evil.
1.  One.He leaves you for a man, having finally acknowledged that he’s gay.
2.  Two. He leaves you while insisting that there’s no other woman, but he just doesn’t love you any more. (This category may deserve to be higher up on the evil scale.  I think it also includes men who leave you because “You’re no fun any more” or because “You don’t turn me on any more.” And extra evil points for the ones who leave because “Ever since the kids came along, you don’t pay attention to ME any more.”)  Please discuss.
3.    ThreeHe cheats on you with an age-appropriate woman you’ve never met. (Extra evil points if she’s 20 years younger and/or looks just like you did 20 years ago.)
4.    Four. He cheats on you with a paid professional sex worker, (Extra evil points for exposing you to a possible S.T.D.)
5.    Five.  He cheats on you with an employee—his secretary, the videographer for his political campaign, an intern. (Extra evil points if said employee produces a child. Many extra evil points in any category if you happen to have a terminal illness.)
6.  Six.   He cheats on you with an employee who is like a member of the household: a babysitter, longtime housekeeper, teacher or nanny whom your children have come to love. (Hello there Robin Williams and Jude Law!)
7.  Seven.   He cheats on you with your best friend (who’s single.)
8.  Eight.  He cheats on you with your best friend who is married to his best friend and you have always gone on vacations together.  (Although Shania Twain made this situation work.)
9.   Nine.  He cheats on you with your sister.
10.Ten. He cheats on you with your daughter (who is not his daughter.) Hey there Woody Allen!

Beyond this category of cheating we move into areas  which are punishable by law, like incest and pederasty.   Let the courts and the police deal with these types of evil, hopefully by locking the perpetrator up for life.

But what is an appropriate punishment for the various degrees of cheating described above?  And what should a betrayed wife do if she doesn’t have the nerve or the money to hire a hit man to teach the cheater a lesson?

What kind of recompense would be enough to convince you to forgive him? (Like giving you fabulous alimony or getting you a very high post, say Secretary of State?)

How would you rate the various types of cheating on your cad-o-meter?

Breaking news update—now that Anthony Weiner has admitted that he has harassed women, willing and unwilling, with “sexting” on the internet (and in one  soon-to-be-classic slip of the  computer, sent to the general public an e-mail message and photo that he meant to be private), everyone is now discussing the following question: —is it really cheating if, as he claims, he has never laid eyes (or anything else) on these hapless women, (some of whom were more than willing to play his creepy game.)?

I think that on my cad-o-meter, he only gets  to be  .5 (half a point) because he didn’t really have sex with them.   But he has terminally destroyed his career and embarrassed his wife.   Now everyone is asking WHY he did it (my answer—he’s a narcissist who loves looking at himself).  So Anthony Weiner, in my opinion,  definitely gets a rating near the top on the dirty old man creep-o-meter.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Our Secret Garden

Ever since the tornados several days ago and the arrival of house guests, I've been neglecting this blog. (Our electricity was out this morning, but now it's back.  Luckily the worst of the destruction stopped 20 miles away.)

Next Sunday (June 12) in our town of Grafton, MA, the Historical Society and the  Garden Club are sponsoring a tour of nine "Historic Homes and Gardens" and ours is one of them.  So I thought I'd post the brief house history/garden write-up that I prepared for the booklet and show you some photos of the "Secret Garden" (plus grape arbor, pool, fish pond and waterfall) that we've put into the stone foundation of the  Colonial Barn on our property that burned down in 1965 .  When  we bought the place in 1974,  the area  where the barn burned was filled with weeds and rubble, but it was my husband's idea to fill it with a pond, swimming pool and "secret garden."

The Daniel Rand House -- Grafton MA. The rear wing of this building was the original house, built in 1723 by Daniel Rand, one of the original proprietors of Shrewsbury.   On Dec. 15, 1723, his son Solomon was the first child baptized in the town when it was incorporated. Solomon lived 80 years and is buried on the property.  His gravestone is on display in the lower garden.  Two of Solomon’s sons served in the Revolutionary War.  In 1822, the property was sold at public auction  to Tarrant Merriam of Grafton,  a wealthy landholder who built the Greek Revival farmhouse which now faces Nelson Street.  Because he didn’t like to go all the way to Shrewsbury Center to church, Merriam had the boundary of Grafton moved slightly to the north, so that the house is now in Grafton.

The Rands built an enclosed walkway from their house to the barn so they could feed the animals without plowing through snow.  This very large Colonial barn, measuring 120 feet by 45, burned down in 1965, taking with it four horses and a cradle believed to have come over on the Mayflower.  All that remained was the stone foundation, which now serves as the walls surrounding the enclosed garden and pool area.
From Nelson Street the “Secret Garden” inside the barn foundation walls is invisible, but plantings of perennials can be seen on the left side of the house and running along the fence that leads to a second (modern) structure built  twenty years ago to serve as guest house, office and (on the lower level) a garage, rec room and bathroom, opening onto the pool.
 In the pool area there is a rock garden, small waterfall and fishpond on the far (south) end, plantings of impatiens, foxglove, irises and shade-loving perennials.  Antique cast-iron garden furniture and small garden sculptures can be seen throughout the area. On the  near (north) end of the enclosure is a grape arbor , supported by a pergola with ionic columns.  Hydrangeas, hibiscus, roses  and many perennials bloom throughout the season.

 When the house and three acres of property were bought from from  Richard and Marie-Louise Bishop in 1974, it came with the two large weeping willows, three different colors of lilac bushes, an apple tree, blackberry patches , lilies of the valley and a wide variety of irises.