Category Archives: mother

W is for Wedding


by Lillian Csernica on April 27, 2022

When I was fourteen years old, my father got married for the third time. My mother had been wife number two. My parents divorced when I was eleven, so I guess you could say Daddy had observed an appropriate period of mourning for that failed marriage before he decided to take the plunge once again.

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One of the many strange things about my father’s third marriage was the fact that I and my soon-to-be stepsister already knew each other. We were on the same volleyball team in high school. My stepsister had the unlikely name of America. People mostly called her Amy. She had long dark hair, big blue eyes, full lips, and a perfect figure. Amy reminded me of how Snow White might have turned out if she’d ended up on the beach in Santa Monica. She was gorgeous and she knew it. The third member of the package deal was my stepbrother Joseph, twenty-one and the black sheep of his family. Daddy put up with Joseph until the day he discovered Joseph had been growing marijuana in a garden shed out back. In 1979 people were a lot less tolerant of marijuana than they are now. Daddy kicked Joseph out. I was fine with that.

Preparations for the wedding included fittings for bridesmaid dresses made of yellow polyester. Sleeveless yellow polyester. In the heat of summer. Over the upper half of these sunny creations draped chiffon circles with a pattern of daisies and greenery. We also had to wear yellow garden hats with bands of similar chiffon. Somebody tall and willowy might have made that outfit look good. All I know is, I wasn’t tall enough and nowhere near willowy. These were the colors my stepmother-elect had chosen, so I did my best. Amy made the outfit look great.

Being a teenager who’d grown up in one dysfunctional family and knew she was about to join another, I had mixed feelings about this whole process. For one thing, my stepmother’s name was Amber. I had a thing for geology at the time. All I could think of was tree sap with bugs caught in it. Ancient bugs at that. Not the most maternal image. Also, Amber was short. That in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but next to my father, she looked more like his daughter than his wife. Amber and I got along well enough, but then, I only saw her when I stayed at my father’s house on visitation weekends. I recall one day close to the wedding when I was sulking at my father’s house, having a serious internal hissy about refusing to call Amber “Mom.” I don’t know what I was so upset about. It’s not like anybody ever expected me to do that. I suppose we can chalk that one up to adolescence.

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The wedding day itself was memorable for moments that have stayed with me like snapshots on my mental coffee table. All of us bridesmaids suiting up and trying to get those chiffon drape things to hang right. All the other women offering to do my makeup. They were all nice people, but in honor of the occasion they went a bit overboard. Makeup and I have never had a close relationship. I’ve worn it for the Prom, for my own wedding, and for a few other important occasions. Watching Amy go at it with enough palettes and brushes to fill a museum made me decline all offers. At that point in my life my father had never seen me wear makeup. Having overheard a few of Daddy’s comments about how trashy Amy looked when she went out on dates, I figured it would be a good idea to cause him one less shock on his wedding day.

The wedding took place in the Methodist chapel on a nearby military base. The guests were mostly people from my father’s workplace, where he’d met Amber. No family was present other than us kids due to Daddy’s people all being in Ohio. (As for Amber’s people, God only knows. I never have heard the definitive truth about her origins.) My father looked quite distinguished in his gray three-piece suit, yellow shirt, and yellow-striped tie. Amber wore a white wedding gown. I was still young enough to find that funny, but I was smart enough to keep my amusement to myself. I don’t know how they managed to find a wedding gown short enough for her. She had almost no waist. High heels and a long skirt that included a train can be a precarious combination. She did make it to the altar without tripping or falling. Amber’s bouquet was impressive, all red roses with babies’-breath and ferns. It made a rather dramatic contrast against her white gown. I had to wonder what possessed her to make us bridesmaids wear yellow and green. We looked like we’d wandered in from somebody else’s wedding.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the service itself, but I do recall wondering if my father was going to keel over. I’d never seen him look so nervous or emotional. At one point I thought Daddy might be in tears. This was really weird. My father had a temper, but he also had a sense of humor. To see this side of him came close to freaking me out. If this was the effect Amber had on him, was this marriage such a good idea after all? We all got through the service more or less intact. There were one or two people among the attendees who couldn’t help crying at weddings.

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The reception gave me a perfect opportunity to observe all these people I’d never met before and would probably never see again. My father had been in AA for a good three years by then, but there was a no-host bar for the guests. The punch was that frequent concoction of ice cubes, tonic water and rainbow sherbet. Who came up with that? Why do people think it’s a good idea? It makes you burp and you end up with a frothy mustache. Not exactly the most chic way to party at an event as formal as a wedding.

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After the speeches and cutting the cake, people settled down to socializing. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I kept busy getting people more coffee or cake and tidying up here and there. I noticed my newly official stepsister Amy didn’t care for the rainbow punch either. She was only eighteen, so she got my new stepbrother Joseph to buy her drinks. It soon became obvious Amy couldn’t hold her liquor. That she was holding any came as an unpleasant surprise to my father. Joseph had enough sense to stop buying her drinks, but by then she’d already been laughing too loudly and sitting slumped against him like some tart from a Victorian gin joint.

What really put the icing on this particular cake was the fact that other people in the wedding party started to notice Amy’s behavior. One of the older bridesmaids, a co-worker of Amber’s, called me over to where she sat at the head table. This lady announced in ringing tones that I was a real lady, behaving myself and helping out like a good hostess should. I suppose I ought to have been embarrassed, but I understood perfectly that she meant to point out Amy’s behavior by complimenting mine. Amy must have caught hell later for getting smashed at the wedding. One would think she’d have had a little more class given that her new stepfather was a recovering alcoholic.

At the end of the day, Daddy seemed to be happy, so that was what really mattered to me. That, and knowing that never again would I be forced to wear yellow polyester.

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Q is for Quandary


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2022

Lexico.com defines quandary as “A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.” This is a perfect description of the difficulties I’ve faced when trying to balance a career as a professional writer with being the mother of two special needs boys.

In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association as an Active Member. In 1998 my older boy Michael came into the world at only 23 weeks. That he survived the next three and a half months in the hospital is nothing short of miraculous. The writing I accomplished during that time consisted mainly of the notes I kept in pretty hardback journals, documenting Michael’s growth, his tiny but meaningful milestones, the tests and surgeries and growing list of medications. Once Michael was allowed to come home, life became crowded with doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. I tried to make the best use of the time available, editing manuscripts while in transit to the various appointments.

In 1998 John came along. Now I had two babies to care for. At that time it was just me while my husband was at work during the day. This is when I developed the habit of writing at night after the boys were asleep. Not the best plan when I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. John was getting better and better at climbing out of his crib. At age two Michael developed seizure disorder, so I lived with one ear listening for any strange sound that might indicate John had escaped or Michael might be in distress. It’s very difficult to achieve the state of creative trance necessary for writing when one’s attention is constantly divided.

When Michael turned three and was eligible for the Early Start program, one of the benefits was nursing care. Thanks to the RNs who helped out and the support of my family, I wrote Ship Of Dreams. Getting that manuscript research took two solid years, then writing it meant daily labor. I suffered a disk crash that cost me two months’ work. (Words of wisdom: “Finish it!” and “Back it up!”) I found a literary agent who sold the book to a publisher. I’d been having some success with selling short stories and writing nonfiction pieces.

This might sound wonderful, and it was, but it meant struggling against my own fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and what I later learned were the symptoms of PTSD. When your brain already feels like dead coral, it’s almost impossible to summon up the energy needed to string words together. By that I meant just making sense when you’re talking to another person, never mind the effort required for creative writing. How was I going to keep writing? How was I going to complete projects, edit them, and do the marketing work?

There have been many times when I’ve wanted to “do it later.” As many wise people have said, later never comes. Today is tomorrow. I asked myself, “How badly do you want this? How badly do you want to work toward a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award?” The answers to those questions drove me to find ways to do the work even while attending doctor appointments, during hospital stays for Michael, and then facing John’s difficulties.

John had been hitting all the developmental milestones up until age four. We knew he had speech delay. The speech therapist was the first one to suggest we get John evaluated by a neurologist. The neurologist diagnosed John with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. At that time I knew nothing about “autism” other than the really drastic examples most people think of when they heard that word. Mind you, this was twenty years ago when a lot less was known about neurodiversity. I was in shock, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. Managing Michael’s care was already a complex challenge. Now John’s doctor and therapist appointments would have to be shoehorned into an already tight schedule. How on earth was I going to maintain a writing career when I couldn’t even manage a regular night’s sleep?

So I learned how to write whenever I had a few minutes. Free writing. Word sprints. Call it what you will. These bursts of writing are manageable, fun, and can be fit into a car ride, sitting in a waiting room, while having a meal in the hospital cafeteria. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not easy, but practice promotes adaptation. I’ve written a total of seven novels and quite a few short stories. Now that some family issues and the first shock of the pandemic have settled down somewhat, I hope to move forward with editing and polishing these novels.

Living in today’s world makes it even harder to maintain a creative life. So many of us have had to take on the role of caregiver to a family member. Believe me when I tell you it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, and for your creative work. Somewhere in your waking hours there will be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, maybe even a whole hour. Use it. Sit down and take a good look at your daily schedule. You may find you have more time than you realize, it’s just a matter of making choices about what you spend that time doing.

Creative success. How badly do you want it?

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P is for Poltergeist


by Lillian Csernica on April 19, 2022

I grew up on ghost stories, monster movies, Halloween celebrations, and books about folkloric beliefs all over the world. A cynical person might say all that would leave me predisposed to believe in the phenomenon I’m about to describe. I’d like to think all that research left me with the ability to separate what’s real from what’s only make-believe. My aunts and uncles talked about family ghosts with a mixture of pride and apprehension. However many ancestral ghosts might be haunting Daddy’s branches of the family tree, I defy them all to match the power of pure aggravation caused by my mother’s personal poltergeist.

Ever since I was a little girl, I can remember scenes of panic as my mother rushed around looking for whatever she’d lost that time. Just as we were about to leave for some big event such as a wedding or graduation, Mom couldn’t find her car keys. Didn’t know where she’d put her glasses. The paper with the directions on it had been right there a minute ago. She’d run all over the house looking in some of the unlikeliest places, coming up empty every time. Just when she was about to lose it completely, she’d check her purse or coat pocket or glove compartment or wherever she’d looked first, and there the item would be. Mom had simply overlooked it in her hurry the first time, right? That’s what my brother, my sister and I thought, but things began to happen that made that explanation less and less believable.

The smart thing to do when Mom was in one of her “Where did I put that?” panics was to stay out of the way. After my brother and sister moved out of the house, I’d be the only witness to Mom swearing up and down she felt like somebody was hiding whatever she was looking for and doing it on purpose. Wasn’t me, that’s for sure, because I was in as much of a hurry as she was to get to whatever special event was happening that time. Since I’m an observant person, I’d keep an eye on the items Mom lost most frequently: keys, glasses, purse, wallet, directions, and any special gifts we’d be taking along. Because I kept a close eye on these items, they often did not go missing at all. And then I hit that awkward stage between ten and thirteen.

Some paranormal investigators believe the physical and psychological upheaval of adolescence has a corresponding psychic turbulence that might manifest as psychokinetic activity. Poltergeist activity has been shown to occur most often in locations where a prepubescent or pubescent child of either gender is present. If the child is removed from the location where the poltergeist activity is taking place, does the activity stop? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. As technology continues to develop, investigators get closer and closer to their goal of solid empirical evidence.

So who was causing the problem of the disappearing objects? Was it the poltergeist, some mischievous spirit who just happened to decide my mother made a good target? Was it Mom, running around like a chicken with its head cut off so much that she’d put something down and forget where she left it, so it seemed to vanish? Or was I the cause, directly or indirectly? I never hid anything of my mother’s, and especially not on a day when we needed to get somewhere on time. Did the stress Mom worked up over getting ready for a special event attract the poltergeist? Did all that uproar trigger the response in me that brought on the seemingly poltergeist-based phenomena? Or did the poltergeist come first and get us all wound up and nervous so we created a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Here comes the part that really freaked me out. There were a number of times when I watched my mother put an item into her purse or pocket, her closet or a drawer. Later on when she’d need that item, she’d call me over to look in the exact place she’d put it, and it simply wasn’t there! It’s not like Mom had reason to suddenly move the object, changing the pocket or drawer. Even the possibility of something falling out of her coat pockets was rather remote because my mother favored coats with deep pockets to prevent this exact problem. The point here is as long as my mother had been the one to put the object in its “safe place,” there was a definite risk of the poltergeist making it disappear. If Mom gave the object to me to put on the dinner table or out to the trunk of the car, then we stood a good chance of finding it where I’d put it. My teenage years with my mother were full of all kinds of stress, money and hormones and attitude and the fallout from the divorce. One of the few areas where she did have faith in me was her belief that I had some kind of ability to make the poltergeist back off.

Unless, of course, Mom was behind it all, making those items appear and disappear. Was Mom having a good time, getting her laughs making me believe there was a poltergeist in the house?

I don’t think so. I really can’t believe Mom would have put that kind of effort into a prank that went on for years, a prank that resulted in her stressing out a lot more than I ever did.

So the question remains. What kept making all those items appear and disappear?

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L is for Love


by Lillian Csernica on April 14, 2022

LOOKING FOR LOVE

The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Take love, for example. I don’t know much more about what love really is than I did when I was in elementary school. For me, love started out being this big exalted dream of perfect happiness, perfect harmony, and total devotion to each other. I think I got that from reading fairy tales. (Disney movies also have a lot to answer for.) Then I listened to what older girls said about their boyfriends. I got the impression that having a boyfriend was one of those Rules for Living that showed everybody else you knew what you were doing.

One night when I was nineteen years old, it was so bitterly cold my body heat wasn’t enough to warm up the sheets and blankets. I lay there alone, shivering and miserable, thinking if only I had boyfriend. If only I could find a boyfriend to keep me warm, inside and out. The intense desire to avoid another night like that one prompted me to do some pretty stupid things. As I look back at that cold night from the perspective of fifty-plus years, I can see that I could have saved myself all kinds of trouble if I’d just bought an electric blanket.

Ever since I met my first crush when I was in the grade, I thought the right guy was the solution to all my needs and problems. I don’t know how I got this idea. It must have been all those fairy tales, because I certainly didn’t learn it from my family. My grandparents got divorced twice and married three times. (It’s true. I have photos of two of the weddings.) My parents divorced when I was eleven. My older sister never has married. My brother had to divorce his first wife. Why on earth did I think attaching myself to some boy who probably had even less of a clue than I did would somehow result in that magical state called “true love”?

When I was on the debate team in college, the first rule was “Define your terms.” That way both the Affirmative and the Negative teams knew exactly what the Affirmative team meant by the resolution being debated. When it comes to the search for love, I think the same rule should apply. After all, the statement “I love you” can have several different meanings and those meanings often depend on context. Matchmakers, dating services, and our best friends all ask the same question, “What are you looking for in a partner?” This is where it starts to get really complicated. Does the resulting list of characteristics represent the idealized image of the person whom you want to fall in love with? Or does it represent the person whom you want to fall in love with you? Are you really looking for a healthy relationship based on mutual give and take, or are you looking for a human transitional object that will soothe your insecurities and pay for your evening entertainment?

At this point in my life, I can see that wanting this perfect person to fall in love with me meant more than just having a boyfriend so I could go out on dates. It meant proving to the world that I had achieved the ultimate validation, the concrete emotional evidence that I wasn’t a loser, I wasn’t the last person chosen during schoolyard games. I wasn’t cold, alone, and miserable anymore. That’s what I hoped. Life hasn’t worked out that way.

Right now there’s all that Easter candy out there on the shelves. Most of it is chocolate. As adults, we know which brands are better than others. We know how to compare them and get the most value for our money. This skill comes from time, maturity, and a lot of taste-testing. Kids are different. When it comes to chocolate, kids don’t care. In the Dollar Tree you can find the phrase “chocolate-flavored” on many of the Easter items. There’s no actual cacao, just a lot of artificial colors and flavors. Unfortunately, the same can be said of some people. In the quest for love, some of us who crave True Love, the Real Thing, can become so desperate they will settle for the off-brands that are cheap, flashy, and artificial. It’s so hard to resist the temptation for a quick fix that will silence those nagging cravings and insecurities. It took me a while to learn the importance of patience, of saving up for the quality chocolate and the quality people.

My mother had her opinions about my boyfriends. When I was in middle school and awash in all kinds of hormonal angst over whether or not I’d ever get a boyfriend, Mom said I was “boy crazy.” Accurate, if not all that flattering or sympathetic. Years later, after I’d graduated high school and had spent some adventurous years working the Renaissance Faires, Mom managed to sum up both the quality and the quantity of my efforts to find love: “Well, at least you won’t wonder what you might have missed out on.” Once again, neither flattering nor all that sympathetic. Thanks, Mom.

So now that I’m a woman of a certain age, do I really know any more about love than when I first started dating boys? I’ve been married for thirty-four years come July, but that’s less of a testament to romantic love than to maintaining a stable home life for my sons. In a world of uncertainties, I know three things for sure: I love my sons, I love my cats, and I love really good dark chocolate.

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I is for Insomia


by Lillian Csernica on April 9, 2022

When I was a teenager I loved to sleep. Stay up late, sleep late, linger in bed, the very definition of a layabout. Science now tells us teenagers need a lot of sleep because they’re growing both physically and mentally. Adolescence takes a heavy toll on the body and the mind. I’ll vouch for that. Living through middle school meant two of the worst years of my life. Sleep as a method of escaping reality became a coping mechanism. I had what the psychologists refer to as “peer problems.” I grew up alone due to my brother and sister both leaving home when I was only seven years old. Now I was in middle school, twelve years old, and my parents had just gone through a really messy, bitter divorce. The divorce meant Dad was gone and Mom had to go back to work, so I was a latchkey kid before the term had been invented. I was miserable. I could escape that only when I was sleeping.

For somebody who liked to sleep so much, how did I develop all three forms of insomnia associated with clinical depression? It’s been a long and stressful road from twelve to fifty-six, and life wasn’t exactly all rainbows and unicorns when I was a little kid. Just to be clear, let me explain the three separate forms of insomnia:

1. I have difficulty getting to sleep.

2. I have difficulty staying asleep.

3. If something wakes me up, I can’t get back to sleep.

Do I take medication for insomnia? Oh yes. Does the medication I take work? Yes and no. If I avoid caffeine, don’t eat the wrong foods and don’t eat too late in the evening, take my pills on an empty stomach and then go straight to bed, I might have an even chance of actually dozing off in a reasonable amount of time. All of that is referred to as good “sleep hygiene.” In general, my sleep hygiene is poor. I stay up too late. That’s when the house is quite enough for me to write. I watch exciting mysteries or detective shows or supernatural movies on TV. Many of these self-defeating behaviors are tied into my depression. Some nights I’m just too agitated to sleep and the medication makes no difference at all. Then there’s the problem of my body’s tendency to acclimate to medication within about four months. Am I still depressed? Oh yes. Will I ever be cured? There is no cure for Major Depressive Disorder. There is only support through medication and therapy, along with healthy living habits and a determination to keep on climbing up out of the darkness.

I know these things for sure:

Sleep deprivation makes depression worse and causes weight gain.

Depression will make weight gain worse.

Weight gain will make depression worse.

See how easy it is to get stuck in the labyrinth with no way out? The answer is sleep. When I’m asleep, my body is restoring itself and my mind processes what’s going on at various levels of my consciousness. That processing is essential. Picture your mind as one big file drawer. When you get enough sleep, all the files are in the right order and new material gets filed and cross-referenced appropriately. When you don’t get enough sleep, information gets filed incorrectly, memory doesn’t work right, and if the sleep deprivation goes on long enough, what you end up with is that file drawer yanked out, turned upside down, and everything dumped on the floor in an impossible mess. Sometimes the mess is so bad you have what the psychiatrists refer to as a “psychotic break.”

Bear in mind I’m talking about myself here. Different people need different amounts of sleep. Newborns do very little but eat and sleep. Teenagers need a lot of sleep not because they’re lazy but because of their mental and physical growth rates. Older people might not need as much sleep as people in their thirties or forties. Your mileage may vary. All I know is I need more sleep than I get, and that’s partly due to my own bad habits. It’s important to be aware of that. The more control I have over the causes of my depression, the more I can fight it. The more I keep up the fight, the more often I win. It’s when I forget that I can stand up against the depression that it takes over. Fatigue, chronic pain, the endless stress of two special needs children, and the pandemic make it very difficult to keep moving forward. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is my friend.

Right now I’m sitting here at 1:30 a.m. It’s been another long day in a long week. Before I go to sleep, I will write down at least three good things that happened today. I will light that candle and keep it lit against the darkness of depression.

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G is for Grandma


FAMILY GARDENS, FAMILY TREES

“To be one woman, truly, wholly, is to be all women. Tend one garden and you will birth worlds.”

–Kate Braverman

Springtime with its new growth of plants and flowers always makes me think of my maternal grandmother’s flower garden. They say inherited traits skip a generation. That means we’re more like our grandparents than our parents. This is certainly true of me and both of my grandmothers.

My maternal grandmother lived large in a time when that just wasn’t done. Her role model was her own mother, my great-grandmother. Back in the ’30s Nana had gotten a divorce then opened her own modeling agency, two actions way beyond the social norm for women of her time. Nana raised my grandmother in that environment of independence and determination. Grandma became a fashion model. The natural companion for a model is a photographer, right? My grandfather was a professional photographer who later earned a Masters in Cinematography from USC and worked for Universal Studios. I have many of the photos he took of Grandma which show her devilish smile and the wicked sparkle in her eye.

Grandma wrote a society column, full of parties and social events and the kind of good-natured gossip that makes for lively reading. Grandma’s column appeared regularly in the paper, but one day she got her photo in a Mexican newspaper as well. On a trip to Enseñada Grandma donned the traditional traje de luces of the bullfighter, complete with hat and cloak, and fought a bull right there in the bullring. And she won! I now have that “suit of lights” as a treasured reminder of the Grandma who went through the world with high spirits and a fearless heart.

When I think of Grandma’s house, I think of the garden out in the backyard. It might have been the Hall of Flowers at the county fair or the sales floor of an upscale nursery. When I was three years old, we lived with Grandma for a short time. At that age I got into everything, and that included the garden. The roses looked good enough to eat, in sugary pinks, deep golden yellows, and reds even darker than Grandma’s lipstick. Their scents mingled with the delicate fragrance of the night-blooming jasmine and the down-home sweetness of the honeysuckle vines. On hot summer days I liked to sit out there and just breathe.

A lot more grew in Grandma’s garden than just flowers. The towering tree with drooping branches blossomed with thousands of pale lavender petals. This was a “jacaranda.” I loved that word. New and strange, it made me think of spicy food in faraway lands. The raspberry bramble was a dangerous place for little hands and little tummies. The best berries were always deep in the bramble where the birds couldn’t eat them. I had to stick my hand way in there past all the thorns and spiderwebs and bugs. One day my cousin Kevin ate a bunch of berries before they were ripe. His stomach ache taught me the importance of patience, and of letting him go first!

The garden remains a symbol for all of Grandma’s quirks and strengths. What my childhood self remembers the woman I am now can interpret and understand. Grandma was beautiful and exotic and livened up her surroundings. Some days Grandma could be thorny. Some places in her house and in her life little kids just didn’t go. Boundaries are reassuring to a child, even when they provoke unbearable curiosity.

My father’s mother had a much different style. She married my grandfather and set up house as a farm wife, giving him three sons and three daughters. She lived through the Depression and both World Wars. She made a great mulligan stew, played Yahtzee like a pro, and never once commented on the length of my husband’s hair (a ponytail halfway down his back). At eighty-four this Grandma was still going strong and objected strongly to the law taking away her driver’s license.

Grandma lived at the same address throughout my entire life, a trailer park in Ohio. When I think of her garden, I think of the little field beside her trailer, a shaggy patch of weeds and blackberry vines, dandelions and wildflowers, lizards and birds and bumblebees as big as my little kid thumb. It’s a great big happy organic mess. Mother Nature is left to her own devices there. If anybody understands the importance of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” that was my Grandma.

As you can see, my grandmothers are two very different types of women. From my mother’s mother come my sense of adventure, my fondness for costumes, and my love of travel. From my father’s mother come my cooking skills, my love of board games, and my contentment with less than perfect housekeeping.

From both my grandmothers I’ve inherited the need to locate and preserve photos of every generation of the family back as far as I can find. I want my two sons to at least see the relatives they won’t have the opportunity to meet. These photos have become a garden of memories, one that will show my boys and their children the rootstock that we come from, the sturdy vines and delicate blossoms, the everyday ferns and the hothouse roses. I hope that all the babies yet to come will one day know they are the latest buds to blossom in a garden tended with love.

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F is for Future


by Lillian Csernica on April 6, 2022

I apologize for the delay in posting. Today I received my first cortisone shot in my right knee. It was a bit of an ordeal. Thank you for your patience.

FINAGLING THE FUTURE

I was raised Roman Catholic. When it came time for my Confirmation, I decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church. Confirmation meant making a commitment to act as an adult according to the Church’s dogma and practices. I told my mother I did not believe what the Roman Catholic Church taught, mainly because I couldn’t reconcile the contradictions between this God of love and mercy I kept hearing about and the really scary people who served him. In my parish, we had several fire and brimstone Irish Catholic priests, the kind with silvery hair and brick red faces who never smiled. We had nuns, too, the old-fashioned kind in the proper habits with veils and their skirts worn below the knee. For some reason I never understood, those nuns were replaced by an order of nuns who wore what looked like ’50s twin sets in beige polyester with skirts to match and no head covering at all. One of these “modern nuns” taught my afterschool class (Sunday school on a weekday afternoon). She was more like a social worker than an actual nun. (She talked like a lawyer, which makes sense given how legalistic the Roman Catholic Church tends to be.) This drove me even farther away from the Church. I needed to find a source of spiritual growth that didn’t send so many mixed signals.

Mom let me off the hook for Confirmation, but she didn’t give me any ideas about filling the sudden void in my spiritual life. Chaucer said an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop. He must must have known a few teenagers. I had an active mind, a strong curiosity, and a love of reading, so I started looking into subjects much better left alone. Back then I liked to watch horror movies, classics featuring Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and Peter Cushing. I wanted to know where the filmmakers got their ideas for the monsters, sorcery, and strange occult organizations. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Lucky for me, my Holy Guardian Angel kept a lifeline attached to my silly soul and hauled me out of danger more than once.

I mention all this to give you a context for what I was like when I plunged into the world of divination, or fortunetelling. A lot of those scary movies I’d been watching featured curses, omens, and ancient artifacts, even items that could help foretell the future. So I rushed right out and bought myself a Tarot deck. Even in this new hobby I was very much a traditionalist, because I bought the deck created by Arthur Edward Waite along with his book on interpretation. Waite was a member of at least one of the occult organizations very prominent at the turn of the century when spiritualism was all the rage among the intelligentsia. The enormous popularity of séances, table-tapping, and Ouija boards, prompted professional illusionists such as the great Houdini to debunk the frauds. I’ve met a lot of people who have really wanted to believe they were psychic. A lot of them just wanted their dreams to be real. The problem with that kind of thinking is, you can’t just have the good dreams be real. The nightmares are part of the deal too.

When I was in high school I worked in community theater as a stage or lighting technician. That meant I got to hang around backstage, be part of the magic of a live performance, and go to the cast parties. The show onstage was nothing compared to what I’d see at the cast party afterward. At one of these parties I brought along my Tarot deck and set myself up in a corner. This was not a smart idea. Trying to peer into the mysteries of the Infinite for people who are drunk and/or wasted on recreational drugs does not end well. Divination should not be treated like a party game, like one more neat thing to do after you have your face painted. But there I was, sixteen years old and so sure I knew what I was doing.

A few people came to have readings done. The only one I remember clearly is the one I hope I never forget. An older woman wanted to ask the cards a question about a problem involving her daughter. I don’t recall the problem. I worked my way through the cards I’d dealt, watching the woman for her reactions. Fool that I was, I let my eagerness to please color what I saw in the cards and how I expressed it. The woman went away quite pleased, with a smile that seemed a little too broad. I was bright enough to spot that, but totally blind to what caused it.

A man who’d been sitting nearby watching me do readings asked me if I understood what I’d just done. By his tone I could tell he thought I didn’t know. He pointed out to me the way the older woman asked the question indicated she’d already decided what her daughter should do. I worked so hard for her approval that I totally missed the trap. I’d given that woman the answer she wanted. Now she’d go to her daughter and tell her daughter what she should do. If the daughter had other ideas, the older woman could back up her own opinion with the authority of my Tarot reading. I had given the older woman power she perhaps should not have gained. By doing so I might have set in motion events that would lead to a place that the daughter did not want to go, creating friction and hidden resentments and who knows what other emotional and spiritual damage. The man who explained all this to me wanted me to understand that I had no clue how much responsibility went along with presenting myself as any kind of fortuneteller. He was right. Even now, forty years later, I still feel ashamed for being so arrogant and ignorant.

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E is for Enlightenment


by Lillian Csernica on April 5, 2022

EMBRACING MY INNER FOOL

Once a person reaches Self-realization, they are freed from their own desires and worldly attachments. They’re also liberated from external pressures, such as cultural and social expectations, or political and economic influences. They are beyond self-delusion and material attachments. Yogapedia

If my life has taught me anything, it has taught me that I’m a fool. The older I get, the more convinced of this I become. (After all, the evidence just keeps piling up.) It’s amazing how bone-deep that foolishness can run. Of the many different ways my foolishness has manifested itself, a few examples stand out:

I have insomnia, so I exist in a state of perpetual sleep deprivation. That goes a long way toward explaining the bizarre things that can happen to me first thing in the morning. One day I put the box of cereal in the refrigerator, then tried to put the carton of orange juice in the full kitchen cupboard. Took me a minute to figure out why it wouldn’t fit. I’m so glad I didn’t try to lay the open orange juice carton on its side.

Another fine example of getting my wires crossed occurred the day my son John was about to go out for the afternoon with his aide, a young man named Dario. I was running around doing too much at once, my feet and my mouth moving too fast for my brain to keep up. That resulted in me handing John the money for gas and incidentals and then leaning over to kiss Dario goodbye. Perspective kicked in just before I crossed the line concerning Dario’s personal space. We both shied back with a yelp. I apologized profusely. By then Dario had been working for us long enough to know what a goofball I can be, so he laughed it off.

Early in my marriage my software engineer husband decided to take advantage of my trusting nature. We were out shopping for groceries. In the produce section, I was picking out items I needed for a particular recipe, concentrating on the list of ingredients. Suddenly my husband called out, “Put down those mushrooms! They’re covered with fungus!” I jumped and dropped the one I was holding. Only then did the truth hit me. A mushroom is a fungus. My husband has pulled that kind of thing on me more than a few times over the years. I’ve learned to watch out his “Mr. Wizard” voice.

Once in a while one of the worst symptoms of my Inner Foolishness will manifest itself in the form of me concocting some elaborate plan. This symptom usually comes out in one of two forms. One, I plot some elaborate payback scheme against somebody who has given me grief so intense it brings out my misguided Machiavellian urges. Two, I get caught up in somebody else’s drama and allow myself to be carried along in the wake of their personal upheaval.

My most memorable Machiavellian moment came back in the days when I was working at the Northern Renaissance Faire. I’d discovered a woman whom I believed to be my friend had in fact been conducting a campaign of deceit and character assassination behind my back. What she did not take into account was all the conversations we’d had that involved the exchange of personal hopes, dreams, likes, and dislikes. In trying so hard to pretend she was my friend, she had given me all the ammunition I needed to expose her vital emotional organs to the mockery of our entire Faire community. I got quite carried away with plotting her total destruction.

Did I go through with it?

I did not.

I could say my better nature won out, compassion triumphed over vengeance, etc. etc. The truth is, I just knew something would go wrong and it would all backfire on me. Also, I did realize it was a colossal waste of time and energy, a backhanded compliment to a who’d proven she was no longer worth that kind of effort. Karma would catch up with her. (The funny thing is, it did, about a year later. Stay tuned for K Day!)

The finest example of me letting myself get caught up in somebody else’s drama was also related to people from Ren Faire. I knew a woman who had some serious issues rooted in how her mother had raised her. All this baggage prompted her to redesign her own identity with an eye to becoming the person she really wanted to be. Self-actualization is a good thing, right? Not when it’s an excuse for shaking down everybody who cared about her in some strange effort to be compensated for what she felt her mother failed to provide. This person decided to change from being a Water sign to a Fire sign and switch everything in her life over to this new state of being. I’ve done a lot of reading about matters metaphysical. While I’m certainly no expert, I’m not sure this sort of thing is even possible. Just deciding to adopt a new birthdate and rising sign doesn’t make the planets line up differently on your natal chart. As far as what the Recording Angel might have to say about it, who knows?

I’m old enough now to know better about this kind of situation, but at the time I found it fascinating. When this person invited me to attend the wake for her Old Self and the Re-Birthing Ritual for her New Self, I accepted both invitations. I was hoping to witness genuine personal transformation. I ended up being a participant in two carefully orchestrated exercises in narcissism. The true dimensions of her commitment to a higher state of being were revealed after the Re-Birth Ritual. This woman got all bent out of shape because no one brought her a cake and presents. Where did my Inner Fool come into play? By allowing myself to be part of the audience this woman so desperately craved. In doing so I encouraged her ridiculous and self-destructive behavior.

It’s a great relief to realize your own foolishness. It frees you from the burden of maintaining a facade of sophistication and worldly know-how. If you embrace your Inner Fool, expectations fall away, agendas crumble, and you’re free to just roll on through life without the constant fear of looking stupid. You know that sooner or later you will. That confidence brings with it a certain relaxation envied by those people still ruled by their need to look cool.

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B is for Bullying


by Lillian Csernica on April 2, 2022

BULLYING: THEN AND NOW

This is about getting bullied at school. I don’t get into any really drastic details. Still, be advised. This might bring back memories you don’t want to revisit.

When I was in elementary school back in the ’70s, the officials took a much different approach to incidents of bullying. By the time I was ten years old I stood almost five feet seven inches tall. This caused me all sorts of problems. Because I looked older, adults expected me to act the age they perceived me to be. When I didn’t act that way, they accused me of being immature. This complicated matters when my height made me a target for bullies. Given that I was a girl, I came in for a lot of the usual bullying tactics as well.

The main bully saying nasty things while the rest of the mob watched or added their own insults.

The usual name-calling, i.e. “Four Eyes

Putting something in the desk of the person being bullied for a nasty surprise

Chasing girls into the bathrooms

Bra-snapping

What kind of responses did I get when I told my teachers about all this? What kind of support and protection did they provide for me, along with disciplinary action for my tormentors?

“Boys will be boys.”

“Just ignore them and they’ll stop.”

“You must have done something to provoke that.”

“You must have been asking for it.”

Do these statements sound familiar? They’re the responses women often get when we’re trying to report sexual harassment or rape.

When it came time for me to enroll in middle school, my parents got divorced. My mother and I had to move, which meant I left my few friends and all the classmates I’d grown up with to go to a different school. Being the new kid put an even bigger target on my back. Every day of my life at school included some or all of these:

Verbal provocation

People making up rumors about me

Harassment in the girls’ gym about my weight, glasses, hair, etc.

The older students ganging up on me while I was walking home from school.

Nobody would listen. Nobody took me seriously. I guess I’m lucky the boys in middle school were acting one at a time, only intent on breaking my glasses, punching me, spitting on me, pulling my hair and making me cry. Just imagine what might have happened if those thugs combined their strength to ambush me and commit a more serious form of assault.

One day after school two dozen of my classmates surrounded me with their bicycles and demanded that one of my archenemies beat me up right there in front of all of them. I ran up to the door of the nearest house, told them it was an emergency and I needed to use their phone, then called the police and my father. I was twelve years old, and I had to do this for myself. My father arrived in time to see the ring of bullies before they all took off. He knew I wasn’t making anything up.

This incident led to the principal insisting my parents meet with him at his office so they all could to discuss what to do about me because I was such a troublemaker. Unfortunately, due to the terms of the divorce my father pretty much left school decisions to my mother, who got custody of me. Mom was so busy smiling and groveling to the school officials she didn’t stand up for me at all. My test scores were high enough to enable me to skip sixth grade. That didn’t really help matters. It just created even more resentment among my classmates. The one mercy I received was being trapped in that educational hell for only two years instead of three.

High school? Same people, more sophisticated grief.

Let’s contrast my experiences with the anti-bullying policy of today’s educational system. This is taken from the student manual of the high school both of my sons attended:

Students may not coerce others through threats or intimidation. Students shall not haze, sexually harass or commit any act which degrades or discredits students and/or staff. Harassment has nothing to do with intent, and it is determined by the victim. Harassment is defined as intentional threats or intimidation directed against a person or group that is so severe that it disrupts class work, creates substantial disorder and invades the rights of the student by creating an intimidating or hostile environment.

Sexual harassment means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and/or other verbal, visual or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Any student who feels he/she is the victim of harassment must notify a teacher, counselor or administrator. The student may be asked to provide a written statement. Any form of sexual harassment toward personnel or students will result in automatic suspension and/or expulsion.

Consequences:

1st Offense: 1-5 day suspension; Parent contact/contract; Referral to Counseling/CRT

 2nd Offense: 5 day suspension; Referral to law enforcement.

 3rd Offense: 5 day suspension; Recommendation for expulsion; Referral to law enforcement.

Wow. What a difference forty years and a technological revolution have made. Thanks to cell phones and social media, everybody is watching everybody else. Any stupid, embarrassing moment can be captured and uploaded to the Internet in a matter of minutes. I’m glad I got through my school days before the Internet became an essential part of everyday life. Still, it would have been great to have photos or video proof of my tormentors.

In the Steubenville rape case, the two boys who were convicted used their cell phones to broadcast all the horrible things they did to that poor girl. Apparently it never occured to them they’d handed the prosecution evidence of their own guilt. Cell phones and other easily concealed recording devices have provided documentation of abuses committed in classrooms by both teachers and aides against mainstream students and even special education children. Discovery of such despicable acts has led some parents to call for surveillance equipment in all classrooms. Controversy now rages over invasion of privacy versus the active prevention of abuses against helpless minors.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’d almost be happy to have Big Brother watching us if it meant protecting innocent children, especially those who are disabled and defenseless, from any form of bullying and/or abuse committed against them by classmates, teachers, one to one aides, and any other on-site personnel. I’m an adult now, but I still remember all too well what it felt like to be victimized by bullies, then ignored and even punished by the very authorities who should have been there to safeguard my physical and emotional health.

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A Thousand Thanks


by Lillian Csernica on April 8, 2020

ASD T shirt2

April is Autism Awareness Month. As you can see, I’ve “gone blue” in support of ASD children and adults everywhere. As the T shirt says:

It takes a special mom to know what a child cannot say.

Both of my sons have difficulties with their verbal skills. John has speech delay. Michael doesn’t not speak at all, aside from some vigorous vocalizing. I am fortunate in that words seem to be what I’m good at in this life. Public speaking, sales, writing fiction and nonfiction. I had no idea my ability with words would stand me in such good stead given how hard it is for both of my boys to communicate.

What really keeps me going right now is the generosity and support of my community. By that I mean all of you folks reading this. All the folks who have donated to the GoFundMe, Safeguarding My Special Needs Sons. As of today, the total amount donated is over $3,000. In these strange, stressful, and scary times, the weight of enduring the divorce process is crushing me. I have to stay strong for my boys, to help them make the most of each day.

Thank you. Thank you so much. If I could do it, I would hug every single one of you.

Please keep sharing the link to the GoFundMe. Being able to pay a good lawyer to protect my interests and my boys’ future will do so much to keep all three of us strong until we get to that brighter future we all are hoping for.

 

J reading to M

 

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