Since the Pandemic hit in March of 2020, I have filled my Prius with gas a total of six times so far – the first time after about 15 months. I had been driving so little; it was much more frequent that I frantically rousted my husband out of bed to come out and give me a jump. So, it is easy to remember each visit to the Arco station.
The last time I went for a fill-up was early in the morning on my way to the office, and it was still dark. As was not unusual, there was a homeless man offering to clean windshields to garner a little cash. This particular man looked ancient, although it is hard to discern the age of someone toughened and weathered by life on the streets. He had a ragged gray blanket thrown over his shoulders like a poncho, a good quality squeegee, and a bottle of window cleaner.
I declined his offer. I knew I did not have any cash, and admittedly I was a little scared of him and didn’t want him too close to me. He persisted, and I realized it was not to pressure me for the money. He seemed to believe that I did not have any cash. Rather my windows were so pathetically filthy and unkempt, it would have seemed to him unprofessional or unconscionable to turn his back and walk away, leaving them in that state. It seemed a point of pride. The man insisted and set upon my windows with his energetic squeegee. He didn’t just do the windshield; he went all the way around the car, leaving every window gleaming. By the time the car had finished filling up, he had finished. Satisfied, he and his blanket slipped back into the blanket of darkness, vanishing into invisibility again.
I saw my reflection in the sparkling glass in the light of the gas station streetlamp, and I was gripped and moved by the strange irony. How many times a day do people like me turn and walk away from someone like him, perhaps dirty, even “pathetic”, not doing what they could easily and quickly do well, simply out of caring and pride. The feeling and the image of this man reverberated inside of me. That day I went home and put two twenties in my purse, committed to looking for him and giving it to him “next time.” I continued to go back looking for him for about three weeks.
Somewhere in the 4th week, I had a dramatic blowout on the Bay Bridge. Fortunately, it was daylight, and the traffic was light. I was able to pull over, no small feat on that bridge. I called Emergency Road Service, rattled but blessedly less so, thanks to my “new” neurofeedback protocol. The amazingly comforting and kind man on the phone told me that since I was on the bridge, CalTrans, the public transit traffic control person, would come and help me. The CalTrans angel appeared in minutes, put on the skinny little Prius spare, and told me I should get off the bridge and turn around. Driving slowly, the little spare would safely get me home. For some reason, I remembered the little man and his blanket and gave this CalTrans angel “his” two wrinkled bills that I’d been carrying around. He too seemed to take pride in his heroic work. He hugged me and, driving behind me in his big bulky public works truck, shepherded me safely to the other side of the Bay. Admittedly it still rather astonishes me to feel so taken care of. And it is not lost on me that I am both white and privileged.
I saw my reflection in the sparkling glass in the light of the gas station streetlamp, and I was gripped and moved by the strange irony. How many times a day do people like me turn and walk away from someone like him, perhaps dirty, even “pathetic”, not doing what they could easily and quickly do well, simply out of caring and pride.
I am not a mother, and neither my husband nor I have living mothers. Although it has been over 20 years since both of our mothers passed, we still somehow feel like we dodge a bullet every Mother’s Day. I remember all those years of waitressing Mother’s Day brunches, sticky with Hollandaise, witnessing families in their own little Mother’s Day theaters, glad to be an audience and not a player.
Now it is an ordinary Sunday, marked only by the jacked-up prices when I go to buy the weekly flowers for the house.
With relief that it is past tense, I remember my endless quest to please our mom. Mother’s Day was monument to that. I was on a mission: the perfect gift; breakfast in bed. And yet I was never good enough to make her proud. I have always quipped that the only way she registered when I left home was that she hired a “cleaning lady, ” Donna. She used to laugh and call the day Donna came “Donnerstag”, a play on the German word for Thursday. I was jealous. Not only was Donna seen and paid, but she had a day named after her, even if only in fun. I don’t think I ever succeeded in making Mom proud of me. At least I never felt like I did.
It was no surprise when I learned from attachment research that the way a child develops a sense of Self and self-worth is by looking up into the face of the parent and seeing a glowing and joyful reflection of “me!” I always believed that the people who said you can’t love another person until you love yourself had it backwards and still do. I also learned that “your self-image is the last thing to change.” I’ve known many people who were chubby or fat as children, and even after many decades of being svelte, still see themselves as that rotund little kid. The same is true of feeling invisible or hated – hard and slow beliefs to change.
When my first book was published in 2010, I was 55. I heard the words I had waited all my life to hear. Our Dad said, “I’m so proud of you.” My book stayed on his coffee table; I think until he died in 2020, although I’m sure he never cracked the covers.
Although it has been over 20 years since both of our mothers passed, we still somehow feel like we dodge a bullet every Mother’s Day.
A Sports Bra
I’ve never darkened the doorway of a sports bar; I don’t drink. And although I have read most of the memoirs and biographies of professional athletes in the known world, I never watch sports, preferring to be the one to play myself. Nevertheless, it was with great interest that I heard this story on public radio last week about a new sports bar in Portland, Oregon, called the Sports Bra. What distinguishes it is that all the sports events shown on their screens are women’s sports. It never dawned on me that women athletes are never featured in bars.
Of course, another important way we are validated in both a sense of self and pride is in the larger community and culture. For these reasons, monuments, songs, art, celebrations, many rituals, and a bar like the Sports Bra help supplement missing experiences. San Francisco and many world LGBTQI events are referred to as Pride. In the late 1960s, a prevailing rallying cry of a movement to stand tall and be visible was “I’m Black and I’m proud!”. Huge populations have been invisible or worse, as a group; that, for many, layered over their original invisibility and neglect.
Le Chaim! Salud! Cheers! A toast to women athletes emerging from the bullpen.
And Happy Belated Mothers’ Day whatever it might mean to you!
Of course, another important way we are validated in both a sense of self and pride is in the larger community and culture. For these reasons, monuments, songs, art, celebrations, many rituals, and a bar like the Sports Bra help supplement missing experiences.
My book “Working with the Developmental Trauma of Childhood Neglect: Using Psychotherapy and Attachment Theory Techniques in Clinical Practice” was published on August 31st. It provides psychotherapists with a multidimensional view of childhood neglect and a practical roadmap for facilitating survivors’ healing.