Reading Carlin’s latest Blog: "There’s One Story Left to Tell" has sparked me to think about parenting: my parents, the type of parent I am, what my parents did to support me, and not support me and the results. How much of who I am (who any of us are) is nature and how much is nurture.
I've thought about how open my parents were about some things, and yet how many years I spent squelching my sexuality – trying to please others. Hiding desires, embarrassed, ashamed and lying about my orgasms. As women, perhaps much of it is socialization and evolution? Perhaps it has to do with how we are treated by our parents? I wanted to share some of my experiences with my somewhat ‘revolutionary/enlightened’ parents and then how I ended up – regardless of my ‘different’ upbringing….
My parents were first generation American born children of Eastern European immigrants. They grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in walk-up tenements with parents who were barely educated but wanted more for their families than Russia and Hungary of the 1920’s could give. Somehow my parents met and the synergy of whom they were created an unusual mix. They were liberal, intelligent Jews who were all about expanding their minds and intellect as well as expressing unusual political beliefs.
When I was young my Dad ran the psychiatric department at a major NYC hospital. He was trained as a Freudian yet later in life incorporated much of the Kabbalah. My Mom was a yoga teacher and a Zen Buddhist for most of my life. Both very ahead of their times and I grew up in a rarified atmosphere of openness and liberal beliefs. Here are some interesting events that happened in my life. These are just a few to show the dichotomy I grew up in. Looking back I feel I should have been more open and liberated, having parents like this. But I had my issues as well…
When I was young, I remember, for a period of time waking up in the middle of the night to strange voices in the house and heard my father leaving.. I found out years later, that he was involved with a group of doctors from the hospital who were arranging ‘illegal’ safe abortions (in the hospital) in the middle of the night. This was before abortion was legal and horrific things were going on with young women and dangerous abortions.
When I was 8 years old, my Mom told me about getting my period. It was very matter of fact one night when I was taking a bath. She didn’t want me to be afraid when I saw blood. Well, when I was 13 years old, I got my period. My father came over to me and gave me a huge hug and said that he was so proud of me; that I am a woman now. No embarrassment, nothing strange - Just open and proud. He then said that he wanted to take me out to dinner; just the 2 of us to celebrate. I remember that night so well. We went out for Spanish Food at a fancy restaurant. It was wonderful. I only have sons now, but I think it was a wonderful idea and a great celebration and I tear-up whenever I think about it.
But then again, my parents did things that they thought were OK, but messed me up. I remember my Dad making what he thought were ‘innocent’ comments about my body that ended up staying with me most of my life and hurting me. He did this in front of the family and never thought it was a bad thing to do. For example, he would often point out how much thinner my brother’s thighs were than mine. He said my brother’s legs were too skinny but mine had a good about of substance to them. I heard that as my legs were fat. Period. Later in life, I told my mother this. She said that my father would have cried knowing that it hurt me, and it was a way to connect to me. I knew that. But it still hurt me. I became very self-conscious about my body. Would I have anyway? I don’t know. Perhaps…
When I was 18 I thought I was pregnant. I had had almost-sex with a guy. He barely entered me. But I didn’t get my period for 2 months and was worried. I was scared to tell my parents. I don’t know why, but I was. I went to a clinic that I saw listed in the yellow-pages for abortions in the East Village. I went by myself and waited for hours to have a pregnancy test and be checked. A doctor finally saw me and literally threw a piece of paper across his desk that said test was positive. He said to wait outside in the waiting room and they would get me an abortion. I didn’t get an abortion there. I left, in shock and went home, gathering the courage to tell my parents.
After I told them, the first words out of their mouths were this: “if you are going to have sex, you have to be responsible and use birth control”. This was an amazing response. However, I had never had a talk with my parents about birth control. I had never had a discussion with them about what sex is for a woman. They were a dichotomy of being open and modern, yet not teaching me what I needed to know, and therefore, I felt that if I did those things (birth control) I was disappointing them. But I did have sex, and that was me trying to find my way. I just didn’t know how. To finish this story, my Dad took me to his hospital to be examined by the Ob/Gyn there. And in fact I was NOT pregnant. The clinic, that was later investigated, scammed young women into believing they were pregnant and then charged them for ‘abortions’ that they never needed.
My parents continued to be a contradiction. I was to be independent and strong and educated, but I was also to be there for my husband and to compromise in huge ways. When I told them that he basically was asexual, that I was living a lonely and stagnant life with no sex for years, and not being touched, they emphasized that I had children that were the priority and my needs were not primary and that I owed it to my children to stay with him, because he “is a nice man and is not abusive”. My father, before he died, told me that I should probably have an affair to get my needs met.
After I took Betty’s workshop in the late 1980’s, I told my mother about it. She tried not to be embarrassed and we had wonderful discussions. She came with me to a showing of a film about masturbation that Betty was hosting. She actually purchased a vibrator. Several years later, she said she had something extremely important to tell me, and this was what she said: “if I die first, before your Dad dies, you must immediately go to my bedroom and look in the bottom dresser drawer where my sweaters are. Underneath everything are 2 vibrators. You must get rid of them. You have to promise me that you will do this!! You must get rid of them before Dad sees them. If he ever saw them, he would be so upset that I used a vibrator. Men of his generation must believe that they were always able to satisfy their women”.
So, my parents tried. I really believe that they tried. But I grew up being told that they were open and able to speak about anything and everything. So I thought everything was handled. But there was so much that they left out. I know that they did the best they could with what they had. I am trying to do better than them. I speak to my sons about sex to the point that I feel is correct. But as their Mom, perhaps some things should not be discussed with boys. Some of it they need to discover? Since their father is so passive and asexual, I feel they need more than what they have as a role model. But this is what life has given them.
And me, well, I am still trying. I try to express my needs to my partners. I try to not feel embarrassed that I take ‘too long’ to orgasm. I try to not do what I don’t want to do – physically and sexually. I speak to women all the time about discovering their own bodies and masturbating. I am trying, even now, to figure out my needs. I know that I need other women. I know that they give me the power and strength and synergy to continue the exploration of who I am.