Return to Krista's Korner

"Each of us must come to care about everyone else's children. We must recognize that the well being of our own children is intimately linked to the well being of all other people's children. After all, when one of our children needs life-saving surgery, someone else's child will perform it. When one of our children is harmed by violence, someone else's child will commit it. The good life for our own children can be secured only if it is also secured for all other people's children. But to work for the well being of all children is not just a practical matter-- it is also right!" - Lilian G. Katz, Phd.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Modern Fairy Tale

So, here is my paper for Sociology. I did a shoddy job of editing, even with my devoted boyfriend’s help. (Thanks, sweetie!) The end is loose and I didn’t carry the theme throughout the paper, although I did bring it back. But here is the start of my future book….

Krista Long
February 21, 2006
A Modern Fairy Tale
Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a princess. A traditional beginning suited for an untraditional tale. Fairy tales are about morals and sanctions, good and evil, and tragedy and triumph. These teaching tools from another age are full of conflict and resolution, just like my story.
The first thing in this tale is the princess. I have always strived to emulate one, this desire was heavily influenced by an avid interest in medieval life and history, not to mention my early reading. In middle school I read translations of Christine de Pizan’s Book of the City of Ladies and A Medieval Woman’s Mirror of Honor. These two books were instruction books for ladies of high station, and shaped my concept of a princess.
A princess is someone who has the potential to be a leader, but is not yet one. She has great responsibility and a duty to take care of those around her. She is also the heiress to a preconceived notion of what a woman’s role is and what behavior is expected from her in society. A pawn of those in power, she also has little real control over her life. She has strict boundaries of what she can and can’t do, and consequences if she tries to not conform.
This appeals to me because I have roles and responsibilities that weigh heavily on me and severely limit my actions as well. These roles are diverse and often seemingly incompatible. I am a mother, advocate, woman, girlfriend, volunteer, social worker, writer, daughter, community leader, and academic. I am a teacher and a supervisor, and am frequently consulted on issues at that effect people on a policy level. At the same time, I am a student and an employee, and my family is served by the very same systems that I work for. The requirements of these roles and statuses often cause conflict. Some of the difficulties I experience stems from my abilities and knowledge in playing these roles.
Traveling back to my childhood will help us explore where in this tale some of these conflicts originated. The setting is a rural part of Central California, which had a very distinct culture. Two very diverse individuals, my parents were not originally part of that culture, but adapted to it. My father is a second generation Irish-American who was raised in Texas. My mother qualifies as a Daughter of the American Revolution and was raised in a small Connecticut town her family founded in the 1700’s. Remnants of their respective cultures and the culture of the town I was raised in still play a part in who I have become.
It was a second marriage for my parents. I have a half-brother from each parent who lived part of the time with us. Sometimes I was the only child, and sometimes I wasn’t. It made for an interesting childhood of constant adaptation and role shifting. At times I ruled the home as queen, but at other times I was lost in the shuffle. The challenges in my tale intensified when my mother had a nervous breakdown during my Kindergarten year. She was diagnosed with agoraphobia, which is the fear of leaving the house. In the beginning of her difficulties, I was sent away to live with relatives in Phoenix for a couple of months. I remember having trouble adapting to my aunt and uncle’s household and the differences there. In those days, my mother was considered just plain “crazy” and there were no medications to help her cope. The discovery of medications and the medicalization of mental illness have played significant roles in changing the way society views the mentally ill. My dad adapted to our situation by always working and when he was home, drinking. We lived in a small town, and knowledge of our challenges spread quickly and put us firmly on the wrong side of the tracks.
In third grade, even though I rarely turned in class work, a perceptive teacher sent me to be IQ tested. The brother who lived with us the most had been in the Gifted and Talented program since Kindergarten, and I was inundated hearing stories about how smart he was and how he was reading before he was two. The results of my testing came back unexpectedly high, and I was sent to a gifted and talented program at a separate school. This was a turning point for me. An institution with authority had contradicted the message that my family was unintentionally giving me, which was that I wasn’t smart enough. It wasn’t until adulthood I found out my IQ tested much higher than my brother’s.
This is not yet a tale with happy endings, though, and unfortunately, my school problems didn’t resolve themselves. The transition to the new program did give me one thing that growing up in “that” family did not: status. My peers in the honors program stayed together from elementary through high school, and being a member of this group gave me access to a type of privilege that I didn’t realize I could have. College became a possibility, and even an expectation. My working class parents did not go to college, and while they did acknowledge college was an option, there was neither encouragement nor expectation of my future attendance.
Then in 6th grade, there came a discovery that significantly changed the course of my childhood. I was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy which was causing my school issues. I was having multiple unnoticeable seizures a day that kept me from retaining a significant amount of information. This diagnosis required several adjustments at school which my peers noticed and sealed my fate. I was different.
I found myself in a strange social dynamic that still persists to this day. The popular kids had known me since elementary school, and never fully rejected me. The outsider kids, who I felt more comfortable with, never fully accepted me as one of their own. I was at the fringes of many groups, never quite fitting in. As I entered high school, though, I drifted closer and closer to counter-culture groups.
I still jump from social group to social group, trying on identities and looking for one that fits. In high school, I was a geek and a surfer, a mod (now known as Goth) and participated in several other sub-cultures of high school. I explored various religions, which had not been much of a factor in my life growing up. In my parents’ lives, religion had been significant, which is why they had rejected it. Through this journey, I acquired several good friends, some of whom stick by me to this day. They were all the different ones, too. None of us fit, so we created our own groups.
During these high school years, my father hit rock bottom and went into rehab. I developed severe depression and attempted suicide. I then became pregnant at 16 and miscarried the child. My mother was mortified when I told her I was pregnant. By this time she had found medications that worked, and ended 8 years of being housebound while I was still in junior high. She owned her own business and was worried that the news would affect her store. She owned a craft store, which attracts women to sit, gossip, and socialize. There is a certain morality and perception attached to this type of business that had to be maintained. I miscarried before I was showing, but this incident colored the next couple of years of my relationship with my mother.
During my senior year of high school I joined a group which seems to be a focus for many different subcultures and countercultures. The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is a medieval recreation society that has a very distinct culture of its own. This association continues to play a heavy part in my life. It was through it that I met my first and second husband.
After I graduated, I tried to go to college. My parents lived in a very expensive part of California, so even though my dad made good money, they could not afford to send me. My grades were not good due to the various difficulties I had faced throughout high school, including unmanageable seizures. I did not qualify for financial aid at that point, and my parents were not invested in sending me. I fell through the cracks of the government support system.
I then moved to Phoenix after high school. I married a man ten years older than myself who turned out to be a pedophile. I walked out that day, uncertain what to do next, and friends took me in. Through those friends, who I had met in the SCA, I met my second husband. I had originally moved in with him as a roommate, but there was a youthful indiscretion involving alcohol, and 8 weeks later I found out I was pregnant with my oldest son, Konal. Since we were already living together, we decided to make a try at parenting together.
Konal was the defining moment of my life. All of a sudden I wasn’t just living for myself, but I had another person under my care and responsibility. All of the early conditioning towards caregiving and the early independence that I had known coalesced into my idea of the role of motherhood. My parents distance as they dealt with their own issues had reinforced that early conditioning. This personal definition of motherhood provided a foundation for all the decisions I would make from that moment forward, including divorcing my children’s dad.
During my pregnancy with Konal, I stopped having seizures. I was able to enter the work force for the first time and found that not only could I successfully work; I could excel in my field. I was in the hospitality industry at the time, and my success at working inspired me to go college and start a career that could support my family. My husband was already showing a pattern of going through minimum wage jobs quickly and I was the main wage earner.
My prince was severely flawed, but I had already noticed that I tended towards men with flaws. He has bipolar disorder and it has especially limited his functioning in the last couple of years. I was not prepared for the chaos this disorder could bring with it. Due to my mother’s issues, my perception of mental illness was fairly benign.
When Konal was 3, we moved to Flagstaff so I could attend NAU full time in their Hotel and Restaurant Management program. I did well in school, but my home life was not doing so well. My husband’s mental illness was getting worse, and I discovered I was pregnant. Since I was the one attending school, this was a major obstacle. We lived on-campus, and the powers that be did not let anyone who was not attending school stay in their apartment. I had to fight my way through a briar patch of bureaucratic process to get the necessary waivers after I was put on bed rest for a difficult pregnancy. Those battles fought and won, and my pregnancy coming to the normal conclusion, we then started to discover that my oldest child had severe renal issues.
Having a child with a medical issue is one thing, but as time progressed in this journey, Konal also started having behavioral health issues. It was a huge blow to my self image as a mother, especially when both my mother-in-law and the people we went to for help blamed it on my parenting. Aidan was then discovered to have a condition called hydrocephalous. When conditions were right, and I didn’t think I could take one more tragedy, my husband had an emergency appendectomy and 6 weeks after, we were evicted from the house we had moved to.
We were homeless for approximately one week. It was a unique experience. My husband slept in the car and we were in a family shelter. We had to be up and leave the shelter at 7 am each morning and could not come back until 7 pm. I felt lower than dirt, and that society was blaming me for not being able to work, go to school and take care of my children.
I did not let that stop me and had already started looking into what to do next before we were out of the house. The church I went to in Flagstaff loaned us $500 to pay the first months rent on-campus again. I re-registered for school, and hopped through all the hoops required. That dragon was slain, but the effects on me were profound.
I fell into a deep depression. Meanwhile, Konal was having an increase in behaviors that lead us to believe that he had inherited his father’s difficulties. He began to have delusional and psychotic episodes and significant issues in his Head Start program. I could not get the mental health agency that was serving us to listen. That is when the media showed up to have a profound influence in our life.
I had turned to the internet for information and support with both his father’s issues and Konal’s issues. Through that medium, I was contacted by ABC’s 20/20 to do a special on Bipolar Disorder in young children. We had a consultation with a well known doctor who specializes in Juvenile Bipolar Disorder through the show. In January 2000 the special was aired. It had a significant impact on our family.
The show strengthened my in-laws belief that I was the cause of my son’s issues. It opened my families eyes to the difficulties that we were dealing with. It also had a significant impact on the way my child was viewed by the world at large. We were promised a balanced, in depth feature on the disorder. Instead, the show focused on the most violent aspects of the disorder. It was an eye opening experience for me, and it started a new section of my journey. I became an advocate, both for my son, and for other children like him, at that moment.
My husband’s condition worsened to the point that we had Child Protective services involvement and he was forced to move out. After 4 months on my own, I had to concede that I was unable to be a student, mother, and employee, and move back down to Phoenix to live with my mother. It was a humbling moment in my life. I have found that our current culture values independence and I always have to explain to people why I live with my mother. As adults, though, our relationship has strengthened to the point that it is a comfortable situation.
Since that point, which I would describe as the lowest point in my life so far, my tale starts into the happy ending. I was never rescued, although I had a lot of encouragement and help in this leg of the journey. In the last 6 years I have gone back to school, and will be graduating with honors May 2006. My volunteer efforts on the behalf of children slowly changed to a paying job, then a career. I am held in high esteem in my field, and was invited to sit on the Board of Directors of a 1.5 million dollar non-profit at the age of 31. My relationships with the people around me have become a web of support.
I continue to face obstacles and challenges every day. I face the disapproval our culture hands me daily when my child does not succeed in school or behaves inappropriately in public. I have to explain why our government system forces me to remain on welfare to receive the necessary services for my son. I am still very closely affiliated with several counter-cultures. I have found that I have to keep those fairly quiet, “in the closet” so to speak, because of my community standing. The difference now is that I sit here, sword in hand, ready to face those obstacles and knowing that I have the resources to overcome them.
There have been many more influences in my life that can not be expressed in a short paper. Every one of them has had a hand in forging me into the person I am today. I did not have the space to discuss politics, very much of gender, class and the thousand other things that concern me and guide my decisions. I focused on my journey, and some of my battles, as way to guide you through the tale that is my life. Am I a princess? I feel that I have the potential, but am not there yet. As for whether or not you agree with me depends on your story. What are some of the things that have influenced you?