Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chatty Chads, Catty Carters, and Others of those Persuasions

So it's official: I am a highly anxious individual. If my awful, twenty-five-year-long nail-biting habit did not give you a clue, then perhaps the fact that (if it is within reach of my foot) I tend to rock Elanah's car seat when she is NOT sitting in it. My nervousness is hard-wired, but was probably exacerbated by various experiences during my childhood. It cannot be blamed on the side-effects of drugs or serious childhood trauma; mostly, it's just my brain and its strange chemistry (although it is not that strange in the grand scheme of strange brain chemistries that roam about the earth).

Last night I was at a La Leche League meeting at Early Beginnings. I brought my sling with me, and at the end of the meeting was asking for a demonstration on how to use it because I just never felt comfortable with it or got the hang of it when Darah was a baby. She always seemed oddly positioned, and her head was hanging off my right hip. I even bumped it once or twice while vacuuming (sorry, Baby). I hardly used it because there was always some negative aspect that bothered me: the vulnerable head suspended in the air; the way the little body pressed up against my (usually multi-layered) also little body made us both hot and sweaty, even though I am not one to sweat; the way her legs and arms seemed scrunched up to the point of being straight-jacketed rather than wombed; and the way it strained my back in a manner similar to that caused by pregnancy. Plus, she seemed too long to be draped across me in the pea pod. That's what the sling looked like as Darah's long baby body lay in it and across the front of me. But somehow we got off-track in our use of the sling. We had more success with the Bjorn carrier, as it was less versatile and more simplistic in its appearance. That was mainly Sandy's carrier, though. I was determined to get used to the sling but I never did. Until last night, when I learned that I had been misguided in my attempts with Darah. Apparently you hike the baby over one shoulder, cross her legs and pop her into the sling with her head up on your chest (rather than down on your hip). Iye. So I carried Darah upside down a few times. Who can blame me? I watched the Baby Carrier (sling) video. I did what I was supposed to do. It just didn't work. Every baby needs a little time upside down (or, almost upside down); it did wonders for Darah - she still loves to be carried around the house upside down. Anyhow, it is not the mishap with the sling per se that reveals my nervous nature; it is the nervous way that I react to my mistakes that is revealing. I laugh a lot. I come from a family that laughs a lot. It feels good and calms me.

Usually I laugh when it's appropriate - over stupid mistakes I make, over stupid mistakes others make, over humorous events. But sometimes I laugh when I am scared. I suppose it is a coping mechanism that allows me to feel more comfortable with something uncomfortable. A wonderful therapist I was seeing in Buffalo in 2004 once asked me why I was smiling (and sometimes laughing) while I was talking about an experience in my life over which I felt deeply hurt. I wasn't sure why I was doing it, but I found it hard to stop doing it. It was so interesting to notice how often I do smile and laugh out of discomfort. In fact, as I recall, when I was in middle school I could not talk to a teacher without feeling like I was going to cry. I would fight that feeling by doing nervous laughing instead (much more socially acceptable, I suppose). Confrontation makes me want to cry, and so I fight it by smiling (and sometimes laughing). It is difficult for me to know how it began, or even exactly what it is that I am doing.  I distinctly remember standing in the living room at the duplex we lived in on Sunshine Drive when I was six or seven years old. My dad thought he caught me in some lie, but I wasn't lying and I wanted to be believed (or, if I was actually lying, I do not remember it that way). He thought that if he could get me to smile or laugh, that such an expression would reveal the act of lying: if I was telling the truth then I would remain serious. He still says to this day that I could not keep a lie and would start smiling when I was trying to lie. Which is probably true; I have a hard time keeping secrets...lies or otherwise: like when I was six or seven and I couldn't stand that I knew Santa wasn't real and Missy still believed. I had to "ruin" it for her, by saying over and over, "I know something you don't know. It's about Santa. And the Easter Bunny. And the Tooth Fairy. But I'm not allowed to tell," until she went to ask my parents herself. I can still picture her sitting on the bed with them as they broke the news to her. I just watched from the doorway. I was probably punished in some way, for being selfish and cruel for telling the truth. It still happens to me today: truth teller = insensitive, "bad guy."

I also had a model of confusing humor, because my father tends to be passive aggressive and say hurtful things in the poor guise of "humor." Like the time, last summer, when we were at the Buffalo Zoo and he randomly made a comment about Sandy's age to me - something like "Ohhhh, well we don't know if Sandy will be around for that." He was joking and smiling, but it was not funny. It was completely cruel and tasteless, in fact. Plus, it was out-of-context so it was clear that it was coming from some dark, mean, selfish place inside himself. Maybe he said it to hurt me because he was angry at me for something else, maybe he said it because he is having a so-called "mid-life crisis" over being a young grandfather and made himself feel better by making comments about Sandy's age. Well, I think I handled it well. Instead of pretending to laugh or brushing it off, I walked away for a minute to calm down. I really was crying behind my sunglasses and I did not want to start bawling so I sat on a bench, pregnant belly and all, and waited until I could speak without The Quiver. Then I went back to him and asked him why he made that joke. I said, "Dad, why would you say that to me? I don't understand why you would say something like that to me." He got the point, sort of, and said "I don't know, I was just trying to make a joke. I shouldn't have said that. I'm sorry." Then I said, "Dad, think of it this way. I love Sandy. When you say something like that to me, I feel very hurt. That is a horrible thought for me. And then I think of Darah. Sandy is Darah's mom. If you ever said something like that in front of Darah I would be angry. If you say things like that in front of Darah about her mom then I won't let her be around you. Do you know how bad that would feel for a child to hear someone say something about their mom dying as a joke?" He acknowledged me and seemed like he might also start crying, so I walked away because I felt he got the point and I also felt the tears welling up again. My dad isn't a bad guy, but he has his own childhood issues that cause him to use humor as a passive aggressive way of dealing (obviously, indirectly) with uncomfortable emotions. Usually he is very funny, but sometimes he tries to use "humor" to disguise verbal aggression. So that was all to say that maybe my nervous smiling and laughter are the result, in part, of seeing him deal with his uncomfortable emotions that way.

Back to the story of the time my dad was trying to get me to admit to my lie with a smile. I remember trying SO hard not to smile because I was telling the truth and I knew that if I smiled he would think I was lying. But he was making monkey faces and it was reeeeeeally hard to keep a straight face. I felt so frustrated because I wanted to laugh AND I wanted to be believed. I was being put in a trap, too. Actually it probably can be compared to tactics that some lawyers might use when they are prosecuting a defendant (to make the defendant look like a liar) - maybe not monkey faces, but something else to underhandedly make the person look like a liar. I may or may not have been lying, but who can keep a straight face when someone is making outrageous monkey faces at them? Not me, and certainly not child/Jesby me.

The sling brought out that smiling, nervous side of me. I wouldn't have noticed it. I did as I usually do, and started rambling on and on about how the sling worried me because of this and that. But a friend, Julie, pointed out my state. She did it politely, she didn't say "But Jess is nuts" when the LLL leader suggested that the things that I was worrying about were not actually that worrisome. She just said, "But Jess is a Worry Wart." She was right and I agreed with her in my smiling, laughing, rambling, scattered manner.

Ah, there must be something about me and warts - we just make a great pair, or maybe my face resembles a wart. Maybe it's something about my love of crones and hags. Well, whichever. That's me, a wart. It brought me right back to the days I would sit on the sofa chair at my Nana and Papa's house, watching musicals, drinking my cherry soda ("pop") with a spoon because it reminded me of the "Spoon Full of Sugar" scene in which Mary Poppin's gives Jane and Michael their blue and red magic medicine in a metal spoon, and biting the hell out of my nails. My grandmother, Nana, called me "Her Little Wart." She called me a wart because, she said, she couldn't get rid of me. But I have also been called a Worry Wart by her and many others. So Julie was right, I am a wart of worry. I had to write this post because, as I was lying in bed last night, I remembered that Sandy recently called me a "Nervous Nellie." That was a new one to me. I don't know which is better - a wart or a Nellie. You decide. I thought it was funny, Sandy calling me a Nervous Nellie after all these years living with me - had she just realized this? And can't we somehow use my name? How about Jittery Jessy or NuttyJ? I think what Sandy said was, "Well you're a Nervous Nellie, aren't you?" Sandy could only have meant it in a loving, observant way, since her great grandmother (who she adored) was named Nellie, and I can imagine the name would bring back only the sweetest of emotions. I can't even recall what I was nervous about. Was it Darah's eating habits? Was the playroom a wreck? Was I thinking about how I hadn't dusted the basement in a while? Oh, I'm getting nervous just thinking about what it was I was nervous about. Just kidding. Frantic, perhaps. But not nervous. I guess I am a Nervous Worry Wart named Nellie. That's what the title of the book will be, anyway!

I also got to thinking about these names. Nervous Nellie, Chatty Cathy, Simple Simon, and the like. Where do they come from? Are there staples or can I just come up with my own as I please? Apathetic Andrea. Lonely Lauraine, Vindictive Vera. When we can come up with whatever we please, why is is that a few are so common and widespread? Why Nellie and not Natalie? Why Cathy and not Chad? Are these stereotypes, most often aimed at women? I have heard of Chatty Cathy but never of Simple Simon. I only managed to find him when I looked up Chatty Cathy.

Being the Nervous Nellie that I am, I cannot help but feel nervous that I am not exploring my nervousness enough in this blog entry. I imagine I could run a whole blog on nervousness. We could call it I can just, nervously, imagine all of the nervous activity the site would generate!

For those of you who want more of Nellie, just Google her:

Mmmm. I'm getting hungry. Nervous Nellie's Jams and Jellies. You can always trust a Nervous Nellie to worry day on end about her jams and jellies...

And now, a few fingernails and a cup of tea to go with my jellies.


Anonymous said...

omg, you crack me up! You Funny Fannie, you!

Anonymous said...

I mean, Jocular Jezzie

Mason McFadden said...

I'm glad you read it, Anon.

Jewls1697 said...

Glad I could make into your blog.