Tag Archives: writing a memoir

50 Years Later; An Apology to Mrs. Long.

15 Jul

2d02738ee9a2e4341513fffcd31d8487For such a long time I thought I hated Mrs. Long. Who did she think she was anyway? Mrs. Long was a neighbor of ours. She had two daughters near my age and we used to play dolls at her house if it was cold or rainy. The Longs were very nice, balanced people. So kind and calm, their house always felt a little bit like walking into a church.

There was no yelling at the Longs. No meanness. No tears.

I was about 8 years old when one day, our morning playtime extended into the noon hour and Mrs. Long asked me to stay for lunch. As her daughters washed their hands at the sink (standing on a child’s step stool) I sat at their formica kitchen table picking at a placemat, hungry for lunch.

Mrs. Long took my hand and asked me to please come into the hallway bathroom with her. As she helped me up onto a little step stool in front of the sink and turned on the hot and cold taps, checking the temperature with her hand, she began speaking to me in a low, very kind voice. She was cradling me in her arms and speaking very softly into my ear.

Let me help you wash your hands, dear. We’ll wait until the water is just right and then we’ll take this bar of soap and we will make it spin in your hands… See how you can make it go over and over? Let’s drop the soap while you put your hands under the water and then let’s do it again,” she said.

My hands must have been very dirty. My fingernails were usually black under the edges.

After we washed and dried our hands, she put a little hand lotion on the tops of my hands and she showed me how to cup my hands and pass them over each other in a way that smoothed the lotion around my skin surface.

Instead of melting into this kindness, my dander was rising the entire time. I distinctly remember thinking, “Who does she think she is, showing me how to wash my hands? My MOTHER has shown me how to wash my hands…”

And my mother had, but she rarely enforced hand washing before meals as a ritual habit. I never took any pleasure from removing dirt and sitting down to the table with clean hands.

After that day I never liked Mrs. Long. When she came over for bridge or parties I avoided and ignored her. I felt she thought she was better than my mother.

Mrs. Long was a soft-spoken, very kind lady, who decided to take a few minutes to show a scruffy neighborhood kid how people live. She included me in her family’s day and exhibited only loving kindness towards me.

Of course, she pissed me off.

Fast forward to my time as a police chaplain. One of the things they teach you when you go out on a death call is to say your goodbyes and then wash your hands at the kitchen sink as a ritual cleansing of the event. As you roll your hands in soapy suds and rinse them under the water you think, I am done here. And you pat your hands dry and you leave. It is a wonderful ritual that is very freeing.

Lately, so often when I wash my hands I am reminded of that day with Mrs. Long and I smile. It is the perfect example of how something seen through child’s eyes is very difficult to re-see as an adult.

I’m so sorry that I didn’t understand Mrs. Long’s kind heart at the time. I certainly do now.

The Power of a Stranger’s Prayers

23 Dec

fc9362b98632056c567d6f85b5348d5dIn the weeks that followed my leaving my newspaper reporter job in 2009, I spent a lot of time at the movies.

Having practically grown up in neighborhood single screens in San Francisco, I always gravitated to red velvet chairs and dark theaters when life was a little overwhelming. I had left my job of a decade and I was toying with the idea of writing a book. As I often do, I tucked a notebook in my purse.

As a few other daytime movie fans chatted while waiting for the previews to commence, I grabbed my pen and pad and started to map out a book about surviving toxic moms. I had an idea of what stories from my life could serve as a foundation and I made a list of women I knew that I could interview on the topic.

At the other end of my row two grandmotherly women were chatting and laughing. One turned to me and asked if I was trying to get homework done before the show.

“Oh, no, I’m a writer and I’m thinking about a book I could write. I’m outlining it.”

“What would you write about?” a lady named Doris asked me.

“I know a lot about surviving toxic, terrible mothers. I think I’ll write a half memoir, half interviews with other resources, self-help kind of book,” I said.

Then they BOTH leaned towards me, and burst out laughing. One said she had the meanest mother ever – that SHE should write that book. The other said she would buy my book and would buy copies for some friends. I could see that they totally “got it.” They were the very first Toxic Mom Toolkit fans – before I even had a title, a blog or a Facebook page.

The lights dimmed and I tucked my notepad into my purse and enjoyed the movie. The theater filled up and I lost a line of sight to the encouraging senior ladies.

But as I was walking out after the movie, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Doris handing me a card with her name, address and phone number scribbled on the back.

“When you publish your book, please let me know so I can buy it. Good Luck!”

*  *  *

Two days ago, I received a huge box containing 50 copies of Toxic Mom Toolkit meant for family and friends. All of a sudden, I wanted to find Doris’ card from years ago. I kept it tucked into my computer case and often thought of her early encouragement. It was like her immediate buy-in opened a floodgate of encouragement at every step of the book writing effort.

I checked the address and realized that her home is about 10 minutes from my home, so I grabbed a warm scarf and my car keys and drove over.

Encouraging one encourages all.

Encouraging one encourages all.

When I rang the bell, the house erupted in small dog barkiness and I heard Doris shushing a pack of tiny terriers. I held the card up to the locked screen door with one hand and held my book and business card in the other hand.

“You gave me this card four years ago — in the movies. Do you remember?”

Did she remember?

“Oh, HONEY, you did it. Do you know that I’ve told that story about our meeting in the movies so many times and I’ve always prayed that you would get your book done. Look at that! Isn’t that amazing?” she said as she hugged me.

As I often do when overwhelmed by emotions, I fled at the first opportunity.

I drove away and no sooner had I turned the corner, she called me on my cell and asked me to come back and sign her book. While I was re-parking she went back in her house to get something for me.

“I volunteer at the school, so they include us in school pictures,” she explained as she handed me one of her photos as  a momento.

I thanked her again for encouraging me and told her that her prayer must be powerful. I suggested she keep praying for as many people as she can. We both got a little choked up.

* * *

“Wow, that felt good,” I said to myself as I drove back home.

Wow. That felt good.

Toxic Mom Toolkit Road Map

22 Jun

Did you ever manage to avoid doing something so needed, so logical, so obvious for a long, long, looooooooong time and then one day you realize, hey I need to do that?  Well, that just happened to me.

73c2c5c188380db1718b1cf3745cc640In June 2010 I launched my Toxic Mom Toolkit book writing effort and along the way I posted little videos on YouTube, created this blog and started a long learning period in my life, where the Toxic Mom Toolkit community educated me. I’ve been very attentive to visitors telling them where they can find resources individually and then it hit me like a V-8 commercial that I should put up a post that puts everything a newbie should check out all in one place.

I know. I crack myself up too.

Toxic Mom Toolkit was founded by me and I’m a real person: Rayne Wolfe. I’m a journalist who quit my job to write my first book Toxic Mom Toolkit, which is entering the Amazon.com publishing maze. I wrote it at my kitchen table and thats where I’m sitting when I communicate with you. And yes, we should have a book soon.

The Toxic Mom Toolkit Community resides at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook, where we currently reach over 190,000 each month. (May I brad a little? We started with 30 people!) It is a place to get support and share experiences. It’s where our cumulative wisdom resides. The ground rules are few: Be kind, be positive, be supportive. You can vent, but try not to swear. You can post too, but please make it a positive or illustrative post.

Toxic Mom Toolkit on YouTube includes about half a dozen short videos including the Welcome Message and another popular message on Embracing Change.

579320_388462684522492_1860430887_nToxic Mom Toolkit red jelly bracelets are free to anyone who emails me at newsyrayne@gmail.com and gives me a street mailing address. I’ll send them anywhere in the world, promise. They have two messages imprinted on opposite sides: “It’s not you. It’s her” and  “Toxic Mom Toolkit. Did I mention they are FREE and that I’ve already mailed out over 600 to five continents?

When you have a toxic mother or toxic parent, it can be a lonely road. This community is here to let you know that you are far from alone.

Attack of the Toxic Mom Clones

6 May

1624a25b88cc825db4f642e6456b0562     I don’t know about you, but more often than I care to admit, I react to women of a certain age, who look a certain way, as if they were, in fact, my deceased mother.

I was in church today and half-way through the sermon I became focused on the sweater clad back of a lady I’d never seen before. From behind, from the shoulders up, she was a physical ringer for my mother. This woman was very thin with curly short red hair (gray at the temples) and she sat straight-backed throughout the hour. I couldn’t see anything else about her appearance, yet my brain dressed her in my mother’s polyester slacks and suntan L’Egg’s knee-highs with ballroom dance style open toe shoes. My mind raced. Certainly, she wore an elaborate jade and gold ring on one hand and a white gold and diamond Elgin watch on the other, even though that piece of heirloom jewelry my father had engraved “All my love on our 10th anniversary” in 1955, was actually on my own wrist.

If looks could kill that poor lady would have been found under a pew. This, while the sermon focused on not judging others, droned on.

I smiled.

Try as I might, I still have such fear in my bones that comes out irrationally.  These episodes remind me there is still work to do.

In my past, I’ve avoided friendships with older women who reminded me of my mother. I’ve avoided women who had red hair, or who played tennis, or who loved opera, because the associations with my own toxic mother just wore me down. I found it extremely difficult to trust older women most of my life. As I’ve matured, I’ve taught myself to tamp down those thoughts of imagined connectivity. I have to tell myself, no mad scientist cloned my toxic mother. Nobody dug her up and pulled out the stake. Nobody saved her DNA in order to replicate her particular case of Mad at the World. The truth is, the only person capable of cloning my mother is me. She may have been bad, but if she continues to bring the bad out in me, aren’t I sort of doing her job for her?

There are days when my brain clones my toxic mother to ride in the car with me and criticize my driving, parallel parking, clothes, weight and massive failures in life. A tiny version of her often hides in my purse, the wrong purse for my outfit – that makes me look cheap – to strike me with pangs of inadequacy as I walk into a nice restaurant.

Although my mother has been dead for five years, she planted and tended and watered so many fears and faith in my own shortcomings that her voice still hisses in my ear; her finger still pokes me in the back with the admonition to “show whatcha’ got.”  Those are the bad days.

The good days, like today, are when I see how her early negative imprinting still loops through my mind. I smile. I recognize that my mother only lives in my head and nowhere else and I choose not to listen. I turn the channel and pat myself on the back for rising above yet another attack of the Toxic Mom Clones.

Paris Calling Toxic Mom Toolkit

20 Dec

135319163774557788_UXJANyPs_bOne night I was curled up on my couch with a book and my little old dog in my lap when my cell phone erupted.The caller I.D. simply gave what looked like 20 odd numbers in neon digits. Feeling brave I clicked through and man with a charming French accent explained that he was calling Rayne, the founder of Tox-eek Mom Tool-keet — from Paris.

“Really?” I gushed. (Really – does any other word inspire such awe as Paris?)

He was quite concerned about a younger sibling living in the United States. It seemed that their toxic mother created such severe drama that there was concern for the well being of his brother.

Of course, I was concerned too. Concerned he had my private cell phone number. I had to ask him where he got it.

“It’s there on your website, really. I didn’t do anything bad to find it, but if you go back into how you set up your page, it’s there,” he explained earnestly. He went on to say that he was so relieved to find something on the Internet that seemed to address the exact problem he was worried about. He calculated the difference between time zones and he crossed his fingers that I’d be home in the evening after dinner time.

“I watched the hours. I really hoped I could speak to you.”

Which got me thinking of how many thousands of newspaper articles I’ve written that included my desk number and, who knows, might have linked to my cell phone. Does it really matter?

We had a long chat. He was so grateful to just have a sounding board. I offered some suggestions and we collaboratively created a short list of helpful things that could be done immediately. Before I hung up I complimented him on the obvious love and concern he had for his brother. It was really sweet. I made him blush.

Regular followers of Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook know that I tend to post first thing in the morning before I head out for my day’s activities. Quite often, “friends” who can “see” I’m online send instant messages in the lower right hand corner of my computer screen. Usually, they are messages of thanks or updates on particular toxic mom situations. Sometimes they make me laugh. Sometimes they require that we chit-chat electronically back and forth for a few minutes. I’m always happy to make myself available that way.

People have asked me to Skype and that’s where I draw the line. Only because women of a certain age who look like me should never Skype unless they own a Judy Jetson mask.

89720217546707539_HEJuPPmo_bAs Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook recently topped 100,000 people reached per month I noticed a few more urgent requests for phone conversations. My attitude is if I have time and someone feels they are in crisis, I’m available as long as its on the caller’s bill. (The entire Toxic Mom Toolkit operating budget is skimmed off of my grocery budget and my husband expects beer.)

It seems more and more often the stars align for these long distance conversations and my phone rings in Northern California and I put down laundry I’m folding.

It doesn’t hurt that my journalism career taught me to shut up and listen. Or that I’ve collected hundreds of life stories and conducted years of interviews on the topic of surviving toxic moms. Five years as a law enforcement chaplain trained me to accept everyone without that impulse to fix anything. Like you even can. Listening. Hearing. Repeating. Agreeing. Suggesting. Offering similar tales from others. Encouraging. That, I can do.

One sunny morning there was a call from a young woman, very upset at the sudden realization that for her entire life her mother had made it her business to be cold and unkind – but only to her and only in private. She offered many examples and stressed that the worst venom was always delivered in private. How could a mother single out a child to abuse, she asked over and over. Could it possibly be true that her mother would never accept her in a loving manner no matter how many kind gestures the adult daughter offered? The telephone line hissed and crackled as we spoke and I stretched out on our guest bed, looking at the ceiling imagining the cell phone waves rising up out of my 1970’s ranch home to a space satellite and blinking back down into an ancient city built on the pearl trade and sustained in modern times by oil. Was I really helping someone in the Middle East? Yes, I was.

279152876872500112_HLBA4gWB_bThese calls boggle my mind.

How can one person at their kitchen table be able to calm and encourage someone half-way across the globe? I guess it helps if you are earnest and honest and can identify with all the confusion and hurt and sadness. That I am upbeat and encouraging makes others brave.

I know after we hang up, the callers go back to the Toxic Mom Toolkit Facebook page and they read, read, read. I see them lurking in the stats. A few from the island of Mauritius. That nice lady in northern England. My friends in southern Italy. The writer in Iceland. Every story of crisis and the lines of support from other people create a platform for examining their own mother/son/daughter relationships. Is the passive aggressive mother in the deep south so different from the angry alcoholic mother in Central America? Are personal boundaries as necessary in Peru as in Poland? Visitors from different continents and countries, speaking different languages, all wade in like gold miners swishing the stories around in a shallow pan looking for that nugget that will help them find peace, or at least a visit home without a screaming match.

Callers may not always find exactly what they want in that moment but they do discover that they are not alone. They see that it took many, many people to create such a wealth of helpful information and resources and that they, too, can contribute. They gain perspective and start viewing their family story as a story. And then, if they are lucky, they decide to be the hero of that story.

Toxic Mom Toolkit – The Book – Sneak Peek

8 Oct

Here is a sneak peek at a chapter from Toxic Mom Toolkit. The book is finished and I am beginning the process of figuring out how to get it published.

CALL OUT THE GURKHAS

Jen and I were having our monthly eggs Benedict brunch (my eggs hard as golf balls, hers not so much) when she asked me what I’d do if I won the lottery. The newspaper headlines were trumpeting a huge jackpot.

I happen to have given this a lot of thought. I’ve even written out my “to do” list, should my winning numbers come up. In previous daydreams I had concluded that it all comes down to world travel.

Say you win $100 million. First you pay your bills, and then you pay the bills of those you love. Then you buy a house or two and have some shared experiences with loved ones to recall with a sigh when you’re old and in a wheelchair. But after that shower of riches, it really boils down to the ability to go see whatever you want.

The Vatican on Easter Sunday? Amen. Front row seats at the Paris Opera, gazing at the shimmering Aurora Borealis in Norway  or the running of the bulls in Pamplona?

Easy-breezy-peezy – with millions.

Jen agreed I had a point. So where would I go with my Lotto winnings she wanted to know.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go anywhere, that’s for normal people. What I’d do is build a small suite onto our house and hire a Gurkha houseman,” I said. “I’ve wanted a Gurkha houseman in a white jacket all my life.”

Nepalese Gurkha’s have fought alongside the British for hundreds of years and are considered among the bravest and most loyal fighting men on earth. When they retire from military service many work as bodyguards or house managers to those with security concerns, I explained as I tested the denseness of my egg yolk.

Jen’s eyes bugged out.

As a fellow undutiful daughter she knew that any story blurted out like that certainly had something to do with my toxic mother.

She grabbed the edge of the marble café table and said, “Tell!”

*  *  *

When I was little and the doorbell rang at our San Francisco flat my mother would grab me from behind – one arm around my tiny waist and the other over my mouth – and clutch me to her own chest, dragging me backwards to the hall coat closet.

She’d inch deeper into the space quieter than a cat to hunch in a corner behind the second-hand vacuum cleaner.

Is there anything worse than seeing nothing when your eyes are wide open in fear? With our faces smushed against musty woolen coats we’d wait until the coast was clear.

Yeah, I know. Who’s mother does this even once?

As an adult I can guess she was afraid of something.

Was the rent overdue? Was my mother avoiding man complications?  Was it the truant officer?

I’ll never know for sure.

But I do know for the little kid who still resides in my brain: Nothing is scarier than a doorbell.

Not too long after I confessed my closet story to Jen, The Mister and I bought our current house. Married for eight years, it wasn’t until we moved into the new house that my husband realized I avoided answering the door. He asked me why. (Dang, he’s so logical!)

Learning that I was carrying around my mother’s inexplicable fear of door bells he devised a regime of nearly constant random doorbell ringing and timed me on my responses. He briefed and encouraged neighbors and friends to pop in as often as possible.

What started as a two- to three-minute ordeal of looking out windows, through peepholes and smelling the crack for danger was whittled down to one super charged moment of dread as I flung open our front door expecting to be impaled with a rusty pitchfork. Yes, he successfully desensitized me but truth be told, I’d still pay someone to greet visitors.

Lotto gods willing, some day I’ll hire my own Gurkha.

You never know, one day it could be my birth mother on my stoop and I’ll be glad there’s a hired killer in my employ between us.

Misery Defined: Toxic Mom Toolkit’s Top Five Tips for Surviving Seeing Your Mother after 20 Years of No Contact

19 Sep

If you are planning an oft-delayed trip to see your mother after a long no contact period, remember – it’s never what you worry about.

If you have had little or no contact with your Toxic Mother for five, ten, fifteen or twenty years, keep it simple. Just expect to be surprised.

Are you the same person you were last time you saw your mother? Probably not. So, expect your mom to be changed in some ways too. She may still be an irrational hater, an under-miner, a conspirator focused on annoying or hurting you, but her skills will have become rusty without you around to practice on.  In fact, she may no longer be able to upset you as she has in the past.

What would happen if you arrived at this dreaded meeting a whole, calm, optimistic and ready-to-laugh adult? What if this time she didn’t see the child-based fear in your eyes? What if at the first hint of old hurtful patterns you said to her, “You know what? I’ve got other things I’d rather do than go over ancient history” and you left her there with her mouth open to enjoy a matinée movie instead? So what if you flew two thousand miles to see your mother one last time and when she turned impossible you switched gears and turned the vacation into an antiquing trip instead?

Would anyone really blame you?

Here are my Top Five Tips for surviving a long-delayed Toxic Mom visit:

  1. Bring or enlist an old friend to be at your side. Toxic Mother’s hate outsiders, also known as “witnesses.”
  2. Plan to do something your mother loves even if you loathe it. Then pat yourself on the back and reward yourself with a massage, or some other treat, when you get home.
  3. Have a short list of other people or places nearby to visit.
  4. Have a short list of pleasant activities to transition to should you need to cut your visit short.
  5. Plan all mother/daughter meetings and activities in public spaces. Cops swear by it.

I hope this is helpful to you. If you have a specific challenge feel free to post questions at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook. But please post carefully on this “open” forum. If you don’t want everyone knowing your TM business feel free to create an alter persona or e-mail me directly at newsyrayne@gmail.com. I answer every email.