Archives for posts with tag: mother

Part 1

TRIGGER ALERT: This article is the first in a series that contains graphic descriptions of violence the author experienced as a small child. Sensitive readers – especially those with a history of childhood abuse – may find the following content disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.

With businesslike precision, the sandy-haired doctor explains the basic structures and functions of the sinuses. He is aided by a series of full-color illustrations attached to the door of his office showing the structures in cross-section: red for mucus membranes, porous white for bony structures, blue for cartilage. He has given this same explanation so many times to so many patients during his years in practice that he has refined his presentation to its briefest, most crucial and most vivid elements.

He turns to a black-and-white transparency clipped to the light screen. “Now let’s talk about your CAT scan,” he says, gesturing toward the ghostly negative of a skull, eye sockets gaping, every tooth visible in jaws that are clamped shut to avoid movement while the camera captures the image. Aside from these obvious facial features, the image is mottled and streaked by white, grey and black blobs, striations and amorphous formations, the significance of which Dr. Mohs (pronounced MOZE) carefully explains.

The grey blobs are of particular interest. These show substantial infection in the sinus cavities, cheekbones, ears, eyes and forehead – the result of massive collections of mucus that fails to drain properly, becomes trapped within any interior cavity it can find, and becomes severely infected.

Dr. Mohs points to two thin black lines on either side of the septum, the bony structure that separates the two nostrils. The lines are so narrow it’s difficult to make them out at first.

“That’s the problem right there,” he says. “The reason the mucus isn’t draining properly is because the nasal passages are abnormally narrow. When you catch a virus, these passages become inflamed and swollen, which makes them even more narrow. That’s why so much mucus and fluid is collecting in the structures of your face and head.


An old wound, revealed

“Look over here on your left side,” he continues. “It’s completely closed off. You can see why: The septum visibly bends to the left, which makes that passage even narrower than the other one. Any swelling there will block that passage entirely.”

He goes on to explain how the blockage on that side means that I have only one minuscule passageway to drain an entire flu season’s worth of infected mucus, and that single inflamed passage quickly becomes overwhelmed. The result is what I have often described, after weathering many winters of these massive sinus infections, as feeling as though my entire head has burst into flames.

The bend in the septum is not a major disfigurement from a medical perspective, Dr. Mohs assures me, and will not be the focus of the surgical procedures he is proposing. The nasal passages themselves will be widened.

An unseen ghost …

But by this time I am only half-listening. What he doesn’t know – what he couldn’t possibly suspect – is that there is one more person in that office with us. He can’t see her, but she is there, behind the face of the grown woman nodding calmly and taking it all in. She is someone from another time and place, from a moment that is forever bound in the permafrost of memory. She is seldom visible but always present. And to her, the source of that medically insignificant disfigurement is the only thing that truly matters.

… and an untold secret

From the doctor’s perspective, this story begins in another doctor’s office several weeks ago. After a prolonged winter illness that included months of congestion, a violent cough, fluid in my lungs, and a sinus infection that required several rounds of antibiotics, my primary physician ordered a battery of tests to determine the underlying cause. The resulting chest X-rays and sinus scans prompted her to refer me to the ear, nose and throat specialist in whose office I am now sitting.

But from my perspective, this story begins not in a doctor’s office in 2018, but in the basement of a distant relative’s house many decades ago, at a time when no one talked about the isolated preschooler who might be experiencing rather more than the usual number of injuries. Indeed, in this particular instance, no doctor was ever consulted at all.

Even if anyone had thought to consult one, however, times were such, and my middle-class white family was such, that it’s unlikely any doctor would have noticed anything amiss. Most likely he or she would have done what they all did, unquestioningly accepting my mother’s explanation of how the injury happened.

Which, like all of her other explanations over the years, would have been a lie.

No, the real story of my sinus surgery begins many years ago with a bowling pin. Several of them, in fact, being swung tauntingly, threateningly, in my face by the three older kids surrounding me, the bowling pins drawing closer and ever closer while I struggle with my one free hand to protect my face from the blows.

(to be continued)

*The New Oxford American Dictionary defines dialectics as the art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions. It adds:  “The ancient Greeks used the term dialectic to refer to various methods of reasoning and discussion in order to discover the truth.”

Copyright 2018 Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.

“Police Rescue Malnourished Girl From Closet in Kansas City,” the headline reads.

The story is about a 10-year-old girl who was found in a closet, weighing only 32 pounds, while her mother had taken the other two to a restaurant for breakfast.

It is a nightmare when your own mother decides to scapegoat you while behaving normally toward her other children. My mother’s rationalization was very similar: I sucked my thumb and that embarrassed her. Therefore, I needed to be punished for making her look bad.

Her methods, on the other hand, were more calculating, more subtle, more effective … and far less likely to get her arrested. She got others to do her dirty work for her. More often than not, that was my siblings.

My heart goes out to this poor child.

To read the whole story, go to:–abc-news-topstories.html

I was more than a little surprised the day my older sister, Carol, invited Peggy Wilson* to our house to do homework.

Peggy was a violin prodigy who had started studying the Suzuki method at an age when Carol was still studying Wednesday and Pugsley Addams’ techniques on how to torture your youngest sibling. (In our family, that meant me.) Moreover, Peggy was so accomplished on her instrument that by fifth grade she had already been the featured soloist with the Kalamazoo Symphony.

But that wasn’t why I was surprised to see her at our house.

No, the reason I did a double-take when Peggy Wilson walked through the door, chatting amiably with Carol as if the two had been best friends all their lives, was that for the past two months since the school year had started, I had heard nothing but what a wretched person this Peggy Wilson was — this arrogant, conceited girl who had moved to town and thereby threatened Carol’s sense of entitlement as Perpetual Teacher’s Pet.

“That Piggy Wilsow is so conceited,” Carol would fume. “The teachers think she’s so big just because she was the soloist with the Kalamazoo Symphony.”

Or, “I hate that Piggy Wilsow. She gets everything she wants just because she was a soloist with the Kalamazoo Symphony.”

Or this: “Piggy Wilsow is so stupid. She only gets good grades just because she was a violin soloist with the Kalamazoo Symphony.”

On and on it went. You get the idea. Peggy Wilson was, hands down, the absolute worst thing that had ever happened to truth, justice and the American Way — and certainly to Carol — since time began.

A slap in the face — literally

So you can imagine my shock when Peggy Wilson walked into our living room and the first thing she said to me, in an accusing tone of voice, was this:

“I hear you think it’s funny to call me Piggy Wilsow.”

OK. I have to confess, I had laughed the first few times when Carol used that moniker. And, I had probably used it myself once or twice in conversation with Carol.

But this had a whole different feel to it. Somehow the insulting name had become my idea, rather than Carol’s.

Speak up, my mind shrieked. Tell her the truth.

But as was often the case when Carol would twist the truth around in a way that left me looking guilty and defensive, I stuttered incoherently, despising myself for my inability to mumble even a few words that made sense.

“Oh, really?” Peggy said sarcastically. Without another word, she slapped me smartly across my cheek, while Carol smirked triumphantly.

I stood still for a moment, my cheeks burning as much from rage and humiliation as from the stinging slap. Everything in me yearned to strike her back. But I knew from experience that if I did that, Carol would incite Peggy to join her in tackling me, and then I would have a fight on my hands I couldn’t possibly hope to win.

Without another word, I turned and walked stiffly out of the room, trying to muster as much of my tattered dignity as I could. I could feel their contempt burning into my rigid spine as I made my way clumsily across the room and stumbled up the stairs.

‘You be the bigger person’

Later that evening, as I recounted the incident at the dinner table, I asked my mother to speak to Peggy about it, and perhaps to Peggy’s mother. At the very least, I hoped against hope that she might reprimand Carol.

No such luck.

Mom shrugged indifferently, a reaction I had come to expect from her by then. “Why should I?” she said. “She didn’t hurt you, so it doesn’t matter. Besides, you’ll be the bigger person for it if you just let it go.”

But I did not feel the bigger person for it — not at that moment, nor at any other time as I grew older and reflected on that incident from the perspective of time, experience and maturity.

Quite the opposite. I felt exceedingly diminished by it.

Bullies and wimps

In his online article, “Dignity Beats Back Bullies,” Domenick Maglio, Ph.D. and self-described neo-traditionalist, asserts that because so many of us have been taught similar messages about turning the other cheek and Being The Bigger Person, we are becoming a nation of bullies and wimps.

“Bullies and their counterparts, wimps, are increasing in number,” he writes. “This should not be surprising given what we tell our kids. The child is told not to retaliate in self-defense because if he does he is the same as the bully. He is taught to ignore or accept the bullying until the perpetrator gets tired of abusing him and goes away. The problem with this is it doesn’t work.”

When a bullied child is pressured to “understand” and “befriend” the bully, it merely compounds the dynamic that has already been developing. The aggressive child, Maglio says, “sees this as weakness and becomes more emboldened, while the compliant child is further humiliated.” Furthermore, it solidifies the roles of victim-aggressor in the eyes of others, who may decide that it’s okay to join the aggressor in tormenting the victim.

Maglio further observes that all too often, school authorities take the easy way out by treating bullies and their victims equally.

“It is easier to avoid a comprehensive, time-consuming investigation [that would] get to the truth,” he writes. “It is more P.C. and less disruptive to give each child an equal consequence, avoiding all the problems of judging who was the initiator, eliminating parents being irate in defense of their child.”

‘Strike back’

In other words, Maglio suggests, a kind of pervasive moral cowardice prevails, so that even those who are in a position of authority tend to take cover rather than taking a meaningful and appropriate stand.

Among his more provocative suggestions: Teach your child to hit back when provoked.

“Bullying is part of human nature,” he says. “It has and it will continue to exist. Society, with proper standards and expectations, can keep it under control. Without an understanding of how our current practice of coddling and appeasing is fostering abusive behavior, we will continue this epidemic of bullying.”

In light of Maglio’s observations, I ask myself, all these years later, Should I have struck Peggy Wilson back? The answer, given my particular circumstances, is still a resounding no.

Not that she didn’t deserve it. She did. But she and Carol together no doubt would have subjected me to a far worse drubbing than a mere slap if I had retaliated — and I didn’t deserve that. Moreover, it was clear from my mother’s response that there would be no consequences whatsoever for either one of them.

Another way

Still, l think Maglio is onto something. Maybe there’s a larger lesson here, and it has something to do with each one of us — you, me, teachers, parents, everybody — deciding to be neither bully nor wimp nor heedless bystander. Maybe it means that we all need to develop and heed our own internal moral compass that can determine the right course of action. Perhaps only then can we hope that onlookers and others not directly involved will intervene and stop leaving it to the bully and victim to “sort it out for themselves.” Given everything we know about the dynamics of bullying, and how it escalates over time if allowed to continue unchecked, such a moral compass seems to be our best hope of dealing with the issue of bullying.

*a pseudonym

© 2012 by Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.

Your turn

OK, readers. It’s your turn. What do you think? Should children be taught to fight back? Should schools, parents and others take a stronger stance against bullying? Do bystanders have a moral obligation to intervene if they can? Please share your thoughts and ideas.