Today I think
We should all take a peek at
A shadowy place
And see if there may have been a seed
Who was content enough to bloom
Without trying too hard at all
The Retaliatory Plan of a Narcissistic Mother
In February of 2020, I learned that a book was being written about my young daughter, who has Down syndrome.
The book had been written unbeknownst to my husband or me, prior to seeing the author's press release splashed all over social media. So, since the author is my estranged mother, we requested to see a manuscript.
In her tale, the author takes the form of an enchanted bird that assists a helpless disabled girl with the use of a 3D-printed flying machine (that breaks and has to go to the repair shop, even though the bird is magical?) and allows the disabled girl (based on my daughter) to vanquish all the bullies in her school, in a scene straight out of "Neverending Story."
The girl in the book (who had my daughter's full name until the author changed it) hides under a catalpa tree (our catalpa tree) whilst lamenting about the struggles of having weak muscles and poor eyesight, until a supernatural (but not omniscient; hence the repair shop) bird descends to save her from the perils of being "less than" everybody else.
Naturally, my husband and I recoiled at the poorly written, absolutely unauthorized "book."
Gobsmacked, I emailed the author. "You do not have permission from John or me to use our daughter's likeness, description, family status, physical stature, school status, mannerisms, etc., in any piece that you write. This also includes social media."
Her response? "The book will be published. Mirabel, and many others, will love it. I don't need your permission to do anything."
Things have become so strained with my narcissistic mother that, in June, a judge granted me and my children a 1-year Protection Order against her. While that judgment offered me immediate relief and a wash of gratitude, I know, as any victim of someone with a personality disorder knows, that she is going to use this time for her "revenge;" and paying a sketchy vanity publisher to publish this book is part of her sick ploy.
The sloppy, tense-jumping narrative was written entirely in one drunken evening (Christmas Eve, 2019) by a sad and struggling self-published author. "I did it," she told a friend, "to hurt [Emily]. And I didn't care."
My mom is a reactive bully, a person for whom revenge is best served with a snaky little lick on her pointer finger which she then touches to her thumb tip while hissing "tssssssss." She can't do that to my face anymore, so she retaliated to my decision to go No Contact by sweatily disgorging her absurd hero story.
My mom's decision to write an "educational children's book" about Down syndrome is coming from a person who has never volunteered with, advocated for, worked with, or been educated about people with Down syndrome; in fact, my daughter is the only person with Down syndrome with whom she has ever had any contact. The book is smattered with hastily-Googled facts about the basic descriptions of people with Down syndrome, cringey passages like "Having handicaps came in handy, sometimes," and offers zero personal knowledge of a condition for a story that the author claims will give readers "a chance to learn about it."
Naturally, no reputable publisher would carry through with the printing of this book, especially after a rallying cry from family, friends, and the disability community about the poor taste and offensiveness of it.
But Brown Books is what's called a "vanity publisher," which means that self-admiring wannabe writers who can't get picked up by a legitimate company pay tens of thousands of dollars to then be burdened with boxes of their own books that they are responsible for offloading.
My husband and I, along with several friends and family members, messaged the publishers at Brown Books about the abhorrence of publishing a book that is not condoned by the parents of the little girl, and that is shamefully misrepresentative of people with Down syndrome. Their response was……. radio silence. That is, until they published a blog post (now removed) defending their right to publish whatever the hell they want, calling my daughter a "mentally challenged protagonist" (yes, it really said this), and announcing "we stand by our author." [I managed to print out a copy of the post before they took it down.] My family has still not heard a word from them, and apparently the book is still slated for an Autumn release date.
So here we are. I with the dripping leaves of the vibrant tree I planted from a struggling shoot and a daughter who is strong and capable and loved… and an estranged woman (my own mother) who is not even allowed to come within 500 feet of her for a year, who is proudly bragging about her upcoming tome that is unconscionably dedicated to her.
In a sane and kind world, empathy would not be so hard to come by, and perhaps my mother would be able to find within herself - after enough work was put in - the error in her manic and ruthless ways.
But we are a people of finicky will and an abundance of struggle, shaping us into the creatures we become - with the ability to harm or help. The ability to soften or struggle. The ability to step back or push bullishly forward. And, perilously, the inability to choose the better option.
... but it's really baaaaaaaaaaad.
Having goats as pets has been an exploration of silly happiness. Their noises, mannerisms, fluffy cashmere winter suits, wild summer twilight leapings, and general sense of ease and mirth have given us so many opportunities to pause and simply enjoy some moments of simple “goat therapy.”
Have you had a chance to get a dose of goat therapy?
I want to Enjoy Nice Things, Despite this Lurking Estranged Bully
The blossoms that appear on the northern catalpa tree in June are orchidacae in appearance, the lips of their papery cream petals spreading delicately to reveal deep violet sprinkled dashes and golden yellow brush strokes within. They are fragrant, the kind of fragrance you may notice brushing past you in the early summer air. It’s the fragrance of jasmine, of honeysuckle, of Hawaiian pikake, a scent that makes you close your eyes wistfully on the inhale. If I were a little pollinating bee, I would relish the opportunity to wiggle into their gentle trumpet necks.
Within nature’s impeccable canvass, the flowers are professionally framed by the enormous slick green leaves, each as big as a dinner plate, sprouting a brilliant backdrop in thick, almost tropical bunches.
Ours is a tree planted shallow, in a hole atop a little hill dug fervently one day by my daughters and nieces. As such, its roots remain close to the ground and it has yet to show us much of a trunk heading up. Instead, the incredible branches spring away from the low, thick trunk in wide green arms, offering shady hiding nooks accessible by crawling up the soft fescue and into the deep dappled caverns underneath.
Today the blooms on the catalpa are sagging in the grey light of a thunderclapped morning, heavy summer rain coming steadily now, the sky’s muted light making the greens of the leaves and the grass take on a Technicolor hue. The birds are intermittently quiet, and the hiss and spatter of the rain offer a thrilling serenity as I take it all in through the giant picture windows, wrapped in a striped serape blanket.
I wrote about our catalpa tree several years ago, the summer we planted it. It is some of the most inspired writing I’ve done. Our tree has a pretty profound origin story for its life here on the gentle hill in our green backyard, and the therapeutic effect of writing about it has only increased my adoration of it. Our catalpa tree, and its significance to our family, is literally rooted into our story.
Which makes the fact that an unauthorized children’s book that uses my daughter as inspiration for the protagonist, and our catalpa tree as her refuge, makes my heart want to claw its protective teeth at the sky.
... To be continued
There was no way to know it at the time, but when we adopted four pygmy goats on a whim in the winter of 2015, we were embarking on a totally wide-eyed and unprepared journey into gleaning serenity from farm animals.
Fast forward nearly five years to our nine goats romping in their 1/3 acre playpen in our backyard. The biggest, Spices (named by my daughter who was responding to my name prompt that his white and gray coat ‘looks like salt and pepper!”) has an enormous belly that protrudes widely left and right. He is the brute of the group, pushing his way to the first of the line for food, but the sweetest with me, nuzzling his big, scarred forehead against mine.
There’s tiny Oak and his twin Star, who were two weeks old we met them. They used to fall asleep in our arms. Now, as spunky teens, they want very little to do with us and I can practically sense them rolling their weird goat eyes at us.
There’s rambunctious Henry, who makes a funny yuk-yuk noise when he’s excited and is the first to leap up toward the delicious branches of the willow tree when he sees me heading over to grab a leafy snack for them.
There’s Henry’s twin sister Daphne, who screams when she’s excited. It’s not a pleasant sound. Hers are not the gentle, adorable bleats of satisfied goats; it’s a guttural war cry of cray that has shockingly not gotten us a single noise complaint from the neighbors.
There’s shy Captain, who will finally come – ever so gingerly – to my outstretched hand after years of being perpetually skittish. Her bleat does not match her gentle demeanor, as she sounds like failing old-timey car horn giving up its final toot each time she speaks.
It is impossible to be grumpy when you are around these silly creatures. They make weird noises, they show their teeth in freaky smiles, they leap off of their wooden spool tables with a little jolted wriggle of their bellies as if they’ve been shocked.
It’s possible to tell when they’re happy, when they’re hungry, when they could really use a good beard scratch. Some of them love a beard scratch, and some of them only want their handful of oats before skittering away.
As with any beloved pet, the goats have grown to trust and adore me. They come running when they hear me approaching; they brush up against my legs as I enter their area. I’ve learned where each one likes to be rubbed (Captain and Spices on their dehorned foreheads; Henry right under his beard; Oak on the sides of his belly, which can get a little bloated; greedy nibbler Dakota literally anywhere on his cashmere-soft flanks.)
Sometimes I head out to the goat yard to just sit with them for a dose of “goat therapy.”
Here’s how to experience goat therapy: You walk toward the post-and-pole fence that separates the goats’ area from the rest of the yard. You know the moment they notice you arriving, because your senses will be greeted with a series of bleats, groans, yuk-yuks, and – oh, Daphne – screams.
You’ll lift the latch on the gate and step in, usually allowing your dog to leap into her favorite otherwise-out-of-bounds territory to sniff and snoop. The goats tolerate her well, and she is more interested in their poop than their personalities.
You’ll find a place to perch, maybe on one of the tall wooden spools, maybe on the soft green grass in the shade of the giant willow tree. The goats will come to you. Some will get their exploratory lips up in your neck, your shirt hem, or your hair (Dakota and Durango), others will hover to see if you’ve brought a tortilla chip treat (Star). Some will sit near you (but not too near; Oak), and some will plop close enough to get a neck pet or a few hugs and kisses.
And then, you can just settle in. You’ll leave your phone inside and allow your breath to flow easily. The goats may frolic around a bit (whether for show or because they’re so happy to have you near is never quite clear… maybe it has nothing to do with you), and you’ll find their frolicking so contentedly satisfying.
Once they realize you’re just there to sit, the goats will carry on in their easygoing goaty ways; nibbling, munching, butting heads. Henry may sidle right into you and stay until he’s been properly snuggled. Dakota might need a few reminders to stop masticating your shirt. It’s perhaps not the best opportunity to lie down for an uninterrupted meditation, but you may be surprised to find that the earth beneath you begins to absorb your burdens as the goats’ energy mingles with and eventually overtakes your own; you’ll feel your shoulders unclench and your heart become freer.
Goats have a soothing glory all their own. They’re not flighty birdbrains like our (sweet and lovely) chickens; they’re not needy for attention like dogs; they are less mercurial that cats. All they require is something tasty to munch on, a few places to climb and cavort, some friends of the same species, and a dry place of escape when it rains (goats hate rain!).
When we picked up our first goats from a friend in urgent need of rehoming them, we had no idea what we were going to do with them. We didn’t even think to consider what they were going to do for us.
Every day, I get to look out the back windows to see their current state of cavorting. Even when they’re being feisty headbutters, or when they daily witching hour happens at twilight (at which point they’re literally running circles around the place), I immediately smile with a sense of calm and ease. They don’t have to work at their tranquil joy, they are unbothered by the state of politics, they have everything they need in their well-fed life of simply existing. They’re my reminder of what’s truly important.
by Emily Nielsen
"I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition."
All posts are copyright ©Emily Nielsen