Saturday, January 11, 2020
Unremembering White-Boards: one wallball at a time
[Dec 17, 2018]
I remember the slick smell of the markers the most. A sweet, inky scent, pleasant at first, but then off-center somehow, sickly, disagreeable. And I see the white-board resting in the guest bedroom with lime green walls. It charted our achievements and named our progress in its symbols and ink. When the markers were out, so were the chips. Red, blue, and black poker chips, purchased by a religious, non-card-playing family to goad toward actions deemed successful: brushing teeth, making the bed, setting the table, cleaning up the dishes, dusting, and more. Each color had a number unit attached to it, each week added up to ‘successful’ amounts, compared and celebrated. I didn’t know how many chips brushing my teeth was worth, though. I was three years old.
To be fair, it was 1972. The brightly lit horrors of consumerism had not really blossomed yet. The ‘chip system’ seemed an innocent way for loving parents to motivate two little girls to get their chores done and learn how to be in society. Chores did get done, and the two little girls have now grown into mature women in society. Funny thing, though. I’m nearly fifty and I still don’t know how many chips I should get for brushing my teeth. I never ‘won’ at this system, after all, and refused regularly so I would ‘lose’ trying to ‘not play.’ My parents hounded me in it, finally giving up after a long while…do not remember how long. Today, I see a white board and I’m immediately awash in shame, feelings of inadequacy, isolation and emotional fires. We never know what’s going to ‘stick’ from our earliest years, and the flash-fire emotions that can erupt five decades later startle those willing to awaken to them.
I wish I could find some way for another to truly feel what it feels like, this three-year-old’s experience of never measuring up, competing with her sister for parental praise, always lacking in the orderliness to be seen and celebrated. But then I wouldn’t want anyone else to feel this way. It sucks. Who the hell places a toddler into such a market for ‘love’ anyway? Will the sensation of a three year old ever wane? Will the rage at competing for her parents’ affection, never measuring up or being seen ever ease? Part of me says, of course, Oh for Pete’s sake, get over it. Nearly 50 years ago and they did the best they knew at the time. And I have done that for nearly fifty years. Which makes me wonder if there’s a better way to get free of this trigger…sensing in my body that yes, there is.
I remember the sensations rising in the post-workout stretching time, open community space with a new-to-me CrossFit crowd. I had my hands on a bar on the rig, stetching my abs and upper arms. I looked at the white boards on the wall, startled as tears sprang into my eyes. 47 years later, white boards still brought tears? I said to myself. A completely new situation, new age, different people, but the trigger remains. White boards with numbers send me to such a young place of shame, tears, isolation, that I bolt the room, regardless of anyone else.
I don’t have visual or audible memories anymore, associated with these tears. I have little memory of my young years, period. Five years ago, this didn’t strike me as odd, but today, I see a larger pattern of wise repression, the ability to go unconscious with deep feeling in a family system that could not receive or hold it. Today, after decades of inner and outer work in my own profession, I have the capacity and the willingness to listen when deep feelings arise. It’s still inconvenient, of course. I easily get embarrassed by how deeply I feel things, unwilling to repress them as much. But it matters less now if those around me cannot withstand my deep feeling, at unexpected moments.
Like this morning. My life is weaving more and more closely into this CrossFit community I enjoy so completely. I love how my body is moving these days. I love my energy. I love being challenged and the intensity of the workouts in which I can finally ‘lose my mind’ and simply be in my body, moving. I learned this body space in college, with the women’s soccer team, especially on long runs. It has returned in me over the years, when I’m as active as I desire to be. I have found a belonging here that I did not expect. Yet CrossFit has whiteboards. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone there, I hear, except a way to name achievements, track progress. And I have found a beginning ease, seeing my name up on the list with everyone else. Good. Progress. And I even named a number for the wall-ball challenge once. I smiled the first time I saw a smiley-face next to my name, free of the numbers question. And this morning, I wondered whether this strand of my life was finally done, over, better. As the names were spoken aloud, and each person spoke his/her number of wall balls, I leaned in to see what it would feel like to say my number, one of the lowest to be given. I heard my name, said my number ‘17’, and there I was again…tears and shame and bolting the room. Damn it, I ended the text to the coach there.
I will get free of this body-shame-sensation, just staying with it, honoring that my tender heart still aches from not being seen or heard just as I am, that the only pathway to ‘love’ for me, for many years, was the chip system and damnable white board accounting. These are new people who don’t have this history, it seems. It’s a circle-esque community focused upon healthy living, healthy movement, challenge and intensity too. One day, the numbers won’t matter to me, I know it.
For now, it’s progress to see my name up on the white board, and to see a smiley face shining back at me. That makes me smile, helps me feel seen as my body moves.