Friday, June 10, 2011

Phobias Part I: Fear and Loathing and Hard Boiled Eggs

I hate hard boiled eggs. Mind you, I don't hate every kind of egg, just hard boiled eggs and the recipes made from them. The last time I had a hard boiled egg was in 1985. I ordered a boxed picnic lunch from a deli and the sandwich included was egg salad. Hungry as I was, and in need of a shot of protein, I overrode my tongue's objections and took a bite of that sandwich. It didn't make it lower than my uvula. I gagged and retched that sandwich out, and haven't had a hard boiled egg since. Except I eat eggs in other forms; scrambles, custards, omelets, quiches, so clearly, it is not about eggs in general, but hard boiled eggs in particular. Over the years, I've spent a lot of time wondering about my hard boiled egg phobia, and why I have it. After all this time and contemplation I've come to this conclusion: I hate hard boiled eggs because as a child, I was traumatized by an Easter egg.

Easter was and is a popular kid candy holiday. Think about those chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and marshmallow treats. I think that for kids, Easter probably ranks between Halloween and Valentine's Day as a time to score a lot of sweet treats. Traditionally, Easter included the making and dyeing and hunting of hard boiled eggs. This practice has fallen off in recent years, due to several highly publicized cases of food poisoning, but in my youth it was an integral part of Easter. I remember "blowing" eggs in school to color. Imagine your child putting their lips on a raw egg in today's classroom. Now prohibited by law, I think.

My mom, Fran, was well aware of the after-effects of a ton of cheap sugary candy on my little bloodstream. So at the sugar holidays, she would insist on eating something proper before the orgy began. At Easter, it was hard boiled eggs, and we couldn't access our baskets until we ate our hard boiled egg. My sister would breeze through her egg and be happily biting the heads off bunnies while I sat with that chalky, green-coated, bile-yellow ball surrounded by a rubbery cold white casing. That did not look tasty to me, and I didn't want to eat it. But I wanted that candy, and I wanted to get it at the same time my sister did. So I sat, and sat, and refused to eat that hard boiled egg until Fran would allow me to "just eat the white part". After more drama, I could generally get her down to "just try it". Then I would grimly take a bite, reenacting the scene from the movie, The Ten Commandments, where Moses has his minions pour molten metal down the throats of the idol worshippers. Candy basket received.

As part of Fran's Alzheimer's paranoia, she fears men. She sees men as untrustworthy, suspicious and threatening. It is my belief that at some point in her young life, something traumatic happened to her that involved a man or men. I have no idea what this might have been, or when it happened, but it is real for her. It has made caring for her difficult, particularly when she accused various caregivers, friends and family of hitting her, robbing her, or being up to no good in general. This has been painful for those accused, as well as traumatic for Fran. Recent research in memory suggests that if the experience of an item or event is accompanied by fear or pain or trauma, even if that trauma is unrelated to the item or event itself, the brain adds a little extra "push" to the memory of that experience to mark the memory down as particularly pertinent. Apparently for some people, this push and reinforcement can result in phobias, often of unlikely things like cats, clowns or children. Why I have a phobia of Horseshoe crabs, I have no idea.

As rational adults, we can have our phobias and memories desensitized through therapy, and it appears, drugs. Apparently, every time we access a memory and re-store it, we have the ability to alter that memory. It becomes colored by our mood at the time, our feelings and preferences about how we want that memory to look. Indeed, the most accurate memories seem to be those that have not been accessed multiple times, but stored and then forgotten. Unfortunately for Fran, she can no longer do the processing required to suppress or desensitize her phobia to men. Stuck with a phobia that now can no longer be ignored, seeing a man can send her into high levels of fear and anxiety. I have had to take over her phobia management, to find therapies to calm her fears by other means.

Next Blog Phobias Part II

Monday, February 7, 2011

A good day at Unschool

I've been talking about my parents so much, I figured I should talk about my kids. I've got two boys, JJ who is 7 and Grant who is 4. This year we decided not to put JJ into first grade at the local elementary. We decided that I would "Unschool" him. I get a lot of questions about Unschooling, so in a nutshell, Unschooling is a method of educating children by making them an active participant in learning. There's a lot of information available about Unschooling, but I thought it would be a better illustration to write a blog about what a good Unschooling day would look like for me, JJ and Grant. Steven wanted me to point out that there are also bad days at Unschool--like anything, it has its ups and downs. But we agree that on balance there are a lot more good days than bad.
February 7, 2011, Monday morning before 8:00 a.m.
Steven, my husband is getting ready for work. The boys hear his bumping around and start to stir. JJ jumps out of bed, runs into the living room and begins assembling Legos. Grant is slower, rising and tottering out into the living room to check on what JJ is up to. I wake up and take stock of the day, plotting out in my mind the tasks and plans for the day. JJ comes in and asks if he can use the computer, and I ask him to do typing tutor before he starts. He groans about this and says the game bores him, so we cut a deal for 15 minutes of typing tutor, and he turns on the laptop. Boys are searching JJ's favorite Star Wars sites on Youtube (he's the fastest bookmarker I ever saw) and I, clad in my trusty housecoat, amble in to check it out. A video of a Sumo wrestler pops up and I say, "click that one." We watch a few more Sumo wrestling videos, and JJ and Grant start asking questions about Sumo. I help them find the Wikipedia entry on Sumo wrestling and read a bit about it. Grant suggests we have a few Sumo matches of our own on the living room carpet, I use masking tape to mark out the dohyo. Tired, we stop for breakfast and a discussion about the day's events. We decide to split into two groups, with me doing some personal work (bookkeeping and householding and organizing playdates for the boys' social life) and the boys watching Scooby doo and playing Legos until lunch.
Noon: I stop my bookkeeping and we eat lunch and take a walk to the store. We talk about what we have to buy and how much money we have to spend. We have gelato tokens, so afterwards we stop and get a gelato for a treat. Grant has strawberry and raspberry, JJ was caramel swirl and lemon, and we play CandyLand and ConnectFour. We continue our walk home and pass by the new neighborhood center, and JJ suggests going in. We visit the tea room and chat with the folks there and play with the domino set. Then we discover that they have an unused yoga room we can play in, so we pile in and play chase and wrassle and stage show and baby wolves and bobcats until Steven texts us that he is on his way home.
Evening: By now it is 6:00 so we have dinner, books and bed. The boys are in bed by 8:00 and from 8:00 - 10:00 Steven and I do chores, talk, write and decompress.

Every day is different, driven by a combination of boys' interests, mom's requirements and dad's work schedule. We've all learned a lot today. Did you know that centuries-old tradition dictates that Sumo wrestlers gain weight by skipping breakfast, eating a large lunch and having a nap? Always eat breakfast!
Unschooling means that the day is all about the boys. It requires a huge commitment of time and energy from both Steven and me. All day I have been at work as a mom and a teacher, answering questions thoughtfully, taking every opportunity to expand their knowledge, guide their behavior and supply them with the tools and opportunity to learn. Steven works all day, then works as a dad and a teacher evenings and weekends. This is in addition to all the other work we do. There is very little alone time for us until the end of the day. Steven and I have a date night once a week, but that's very little for a married couple to live on. But we both agree that our children are the most important things in our lives. I do this because I want to teach my children that living life is what life is all about. Completing a grade, achieving a benchmark or doing the same thing that everyone else simply because everybody else does it is not a recipe for a passion filled life. My children are very bright and shiny. Everywhere we go people remark on their excitement and enthusiasm. I believe Unschooling will keep their sparkle alive.