Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Rise of the Crocodile by Sharon Lurie

© 2015 David's Harp and Pen

Mood:  Wild

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, except the part about the babysitting.  Please don’t tell my old boss I wrote this.  He’s seven now, owns four more conglomerates, and if he gets wind of this, I’ll never work in this town again.  

A few years ago, I had to babysit my then boss.  My boss at the time was four.  (Through clever wranglings, some of which I don’t understand from a legal standpoint, his parents gave him controlling stake in the company.  I was in my late 30s, struggling to get by, and living in someone’s basement, whereas a toddler was the Chief Executive Officer of a successful business.  And to answer your next question, yes.  Life is cruel.)

For those that don’t know, and for reasons unclear to me, boys between the ages of 3-8 love to pull animal tails.  It doesn’t matter the animal or its size.  It’s almost as though little boys have some sort of biological drive or scientific need to do so, and according to them, being told not to pull animal tails is not only oppressive but downright totalitarian.  Little Boss Man kept pulling his German Shepherd’s tail, and I knew if I didn’t intervene, the German Shepherd was going to take matters into his own hands…er, paws.

I made a call to the Chairwoman of the Board, also known as Mom, as to proper punishment.  She told me to give Little Boss Man a time out in the corner with his hands raised.  Little Boss Man immediately began crying, saying the German Shepherd’s tail was asking for it, and that if I didn’t shorten his punishment, he would die and his arms would fall off.  He also told me what a horrible human being I was.  Since this wasn’t my first babysitting (or boss-with-a-Napolean-complex) rodeo, I suspected his tears were crocodilian in nature.  So, I decided to put it to the test.  In what I thought was a necessary violation of the normal employee-employer boundaries, I tickled him.  Little Boss Man laughed profusely.  When I stopped, I asked, “Now what is this?  I thought you were dying and your arms were going to fall off!”

Without skipping a beat, Little Boss Man went back to sobbing about the cruel and unusual nature of his punishment.  So, I tickled him again, which resulted in additional uproarious fits of laughter.  As the reader can imagine, when the time out was finished, Little Boss Man did not, indeed, die, and he retained full use of his extremities, ensuring that he could and would live to pull many a dog tail another day.  I, however, did not leave the experience unscathed.  Though I am not a parent, I witnessed something every parent does at some point or another:  I saw Little Boss Man learn how to lie.  More specifically, he had learned how to manipulate, and it made me profoundly sad.

I remember hearing a lecture about ten years ago by a psychologist about how children learn how to lie.  (Much of what he said is referenced in this article.)  He said it starts as young as six months.  The example he used is of a child being hungry.  The child may coo or whimper a little bit to get his mother’s attention, but if he’s ignored for whatever reason, he will escalate the situation by screaming louder and louder, as though in bodily distress, in order to get his needs met.  For most of us, if we encounter a pattern of being ignored or overlooked when asking for our basic needs, we either get in the habit of trying to meet them in inappropriate ways, or try to just go without.  Some of us vacillate between both.

Crocodiles are said to cry tears of ostensible remorse as they devour their victims.  The dictionary defines crocodile tears in part as “an insincere show of sorrow.”  The crocodile shows his deception in many ways.  For Little Boss Man, it was pretending to be near death to avoid a well-deserved punishment.  Sometimes the crocodile screams fire in order to simply get attention.  However, sometimes the crocodile puts on a brave face to give the illusion he’s in more control than he actually is.  Last summer, I realized I’ve worn the crocodile face in many regards.

It’s not an easy thing to admit one has a problem.  For me, the realization came from reading the second chapter of "Boundaries in Dating," entitled “Require and Embody Truth.”  I remember when the lines from the book hit me over the head like a velvet brick:  “Finally, if you don't want to be in a relationship with a liar, be an honest person yourself.”

I had found myself in a pattern of relationships with dishonest people.  Part of it was I had a terrible time addressing problems that I saw or being direct about things I needed.  A good part of that was learned behavior on my part.  I guess you could say I come from a culture of crocodiles that either pretend they’re stronger than they are or who only know how to get what they need through manipulation and theatrics.  Because of that, I developed a pattern of communication that was great for appearances but bad for long-term relationships.

Sometimes, we don’t remember how a bad habit started, but we had an “event” that cemented it.  For me, it was a guy. Someone I really admired, respected, and trusted.  I tried to be honest with him about some emotional support I needed.  In his defense, I think he was channeling the crocodile, too, but he lashed out at me, to my surprise, and let me know in no uncertain terms that not only was I wrong for asking for help, I was wrong for even needing it.  I couldn’t get his words out of my head, and it began a long period of me pretending I didn’t need anything, even if going without put me in danger.

Around the time I began reading “Boundaries in Dating,” many of my single friends began either dating or getting married in disastrous fashion.  I won’t go into the gory details, but they were all making romantic choices so destructive and unwise that even Larry King, Donald Trump, and the late Elizabeth Taylor went on record to say, “Folks, you’re rushing into danger here.  Maybe you should work on your issues, not jump from relationship to relationship, or at least date the person longer than a week before getting engaged, don’t you think?”

As the reader can imagine, almost all of these ill-conceived romantic ventures ended badly.  I found myself not only sad seeing my friends suffer, but terribly disillusioned.  Some of them were older than I am and had been single longer than I have.  I kept wondering how these people who were so sensible otherwise could ignore such glaring red flags and be so foolish.  I also wondered if it were possible for me to be deceived like that.

I pondered and prayed about the situation, and finally the answer came to me:  my friends all fell into that trap because they were lying about their wound.  Some came from terribly dysfunctional homes with no support to speak of, while others had been alone a long time and were ashamed of their loneliness.  I remember one friend of mine who had said to me repeatedly, “I feel like I can’t talk about it with anyone.  If you’re still single at a certain age, people tell you it’s your fault because you’re either doing something wrong or you just want a relationship too much.”

Watching my friends get hurt made me realize I was in danger.  If I didn’t learn how to be honest about my emotional needs, I was going to be the next one to fall for a charlatan.  I realized, though, that part of getting needs met in healthy ways was learning to seek out healthy relationships.

There’s a person I’ve done a lot of writing with over the years whom I’ll call Mister Storyteller.  He was the one who first encouraged me to write scripts, and he and his lovely wife, Mrs. Script Editor, have been very kind to me over the years, like spiritual parents.  I have solid history with them, and they have stood by me when others couldn’t or wouldn’t.  I thought if I was going to do the hard work of being honest about my emotional needs, they would be a good place to start.

Mister Storyteller and I were working on a literary project together.  He asked me how I felt about the writing process.  I told him that I needed to get positive feedback.  I said I’d worked for many people who only told me what I did wrong, and never mentioned things I did well, and I really needed the encouragement.  While Mister Storyteller was always one who had offered positive comments about my writing, after we had that talk, I noticed every time he emailed me with notes on a current draft, he included positives about my work with each update.

A few weeks later, I took a chance and asked Mister Storyteller and Mrs. Script Editor if we could have a chat.  I was scared to death to admit to someone else that I’ve failed in my relationships in the past and needed help navigating those waters.  However, when I told them, they were so understanding.  They told me I was part of the family, they loved me, and would help me in any way they could.

I wanted to go further with learning to own my needs, address problems, and communicate honestly.  I joined a group of Christian women who meet once a week.  We laugh and cry together, and we allow one another to speak the truth and process our emotions without shame.  This has been a slow and difficult process for me, but a rewarding one, because as I’ve learned to be truthful both about what I need and problems I see, I’ve seen my relationships become all the more fruitful and rich.

Killing the crocodile is not any easy task, nor is it a one-time deal.  There is always the temptation to pretend we’re okay, to hide when we’ve screwed up for fear of rejection, or to seek attention and validation in unhealthy ways.  I don’t know that the crocodile ever dies completely.  I think we can get to the point where we just stop feeding him.  The sooner we get there, the better, and if you don’t believe me, just ask the toddler CEO.  *grin*

The End


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