Shaking off inflammatory learned behaviors

When I was a kid, I behaved like a kid. Ornery when dealing with what I thought of as in-my-face siblings. Shriveling internally when getting called names by some classmates who specialized in bullying. Ducking behind behind the covers of a book when life just got too overwhelming – which it seemed to do on a regular basis.

From those situations, emerged what I call “learned behaviors.”

You know, those inflamed automated responses that crop up. Such as sputtering “Shut up!” when discussing how much firewood I was allowed to use on a recent camp out. My next-in-line-to-me sibling was in charge of fire operations.

I stalked back to my tent. Brooded, growled and chewed over what I wanted to say. Versus how I should behave especially with younger family members watching. I located him later and scraped out an apology for the heated words. But not for how I felt about his assertion of being da boss. That – that part of him will never change so I need to accept that reality.

A few weeks ago my boss micro-managed a project. I understood they wanted a certain result – okay. However, the way they communicated their expectations, left me feeling like a first grader who’s struggling to figure out what C – A – T spells.

I’m still trying to figure out a pleasant and professional way to shape my response to that situation. One with using my “I” words versus the more inflammatory “you” words.

Yeah. Good luck to me on that one.

And of course there are other situations that trigger the learned behaviors of earlier adult years. For example, sharing a meal with a 20-something offspring – and wanting to spill out reams of parenting advice on how they could shape their lives into my image of success.

My” or “their” image? Hmm. I bit back the words that hovered on the tip of my tongue. Told myself, “hey, cupcake, this isn’t your life.” It’s tough. But all those lovely “how-to’s” and “you should do’s” need to be shared sparingly. Sometimes not at all, unless the object of my concern looks at me and says, “Mom, what do you think?”

Basically, shaping the responses that keep the doors of communication open calls for a lot of thinking.

In some ways, I think I’m making progress. Although I’d better be careful about saying that too loudly or life (karma?) will bonk me royally over the head.

My mother and I have survived nearly two years of life together under the same roof. Because her health issues, she needs quiet and simplicity. I am learning to clamp down on my tendency to overly explain myself. Inserting pauses that allow her to gather her thoughts. Knowing when to fill in the words she is struggling to say – and when to voice solutions that work for her.

So, I’m working to scrap off the old triggers and examine more thoughtfully what is happening between me and others. One event at a time.

© 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved. The writer can be contacted at


Views of life

Right now I am deeply grateful for the varied glimpses of life I’ve experienced and observed, based on living in different locations around the United States, and being a reporter who covered numerous topics including religion and politics.

Reporting city council meetings brought me face to face with good folks on all sides presenting their cases on why city leaders must approve certain actions. You want disagreement? You’ll find it in the council chambers!

Sitting in varied religious places of worship where I focused on the elements we held in common. Whether in a Christian church, or mosque, or in a synagouge, beauty, prayer, reflections on the sacred writings are taking place. Along with little ones who are squirming to get free of parents and go run!

Yes illegal actions must be challenged. Stopped. Corrected.

Yes people’s rights as human beings must be affirmed and re-affirmed.

Certainly differences exist between us human beings. We all have differing views on life based on our experience, genetics, and views on life.

I writhe with frustration when these disagreements are played up to the max — possibly fueled by misinformation. No bridges of understanding allowed for. People saying “either you agree with me or you’re wrong wrong wrong!”

I can only speak for myself. My choice is to focus on we hold in common — and to show respect even when I don’t agree with the other person’s conclusions.

Peace be with you.

(C) 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Take Flight

Little bird, clad in new flight feathers

You tremble. Gasp. Wings clench tight. 

Struggle to peer over the edge of your twigged sanctuary.

There! You spy a sibling perched on tree limb so far away.

Wings will you soar there?

But its so so far away.

Beak pokes down. Bright eyes follow to see what is there.

Oh too far. Too far! And is that “rowr” a cat?

You flop back into the cooling hollow of your nighttime hours.

Stay here. Must stay here.

Faintly in the distance you hear your siblings sounding bright chirps.

Made it! Made it!

Your heart beats strong stronger stronger strokes

Your wings flutter slightly. Open wider. You struggle to rise.

What is out there? A soft wind bats at your wings.

Come and play!

Once again you perch on the edge of the limb. Eyes close. Open

Spread out unshuttered wings

Come and play, breathes the wind

You lean forward breath in and take flight.

(C) 2017 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

November train wreck

Oh November. What a train wreck you proved to be!

I switched my calendar to you, November, with glowing bright ambitions to complete writing a novel in one month. Struggling to hope that somewhere out there was an affordable home meant to be mine. Content to be a caregiver during long weekend shifts and to chill out in my room during my off-hours.

Well, November, you had other plans for me. Smashingly, derailing plans as I discovered.


The writing contest I was participating in dared me to write 50,000 words in one month, or approximately 1,667 words a day to meet the goal. That’s a lot of words – and a lot of energy.

But I felt up for it. Hungered for it. Time to reclaim my inner novelist.

Well I made my start, kept on track for the first week or so. But then my mother got sick suddenly and couldn’t walk or manage life details without needing my assistance.

I had to stop. Focus on her needs.

I should have been more prepared for that, I suppose. Part of middle age is reluctantly giving up the illusion that ones’ elderly parents are hearty, and will remain healthy and be around for a long time to come.

But November, you definitely slammed that illusion. Each of my parents has health challenges. My dad struggling to recover from bypass surgery. Mom and mobility challenges – and well, having her associated life issues popping up.

Holing up in my room and staying on track with my writing wasn’t possible.

So I learned Mom prefers drinking water that isn’t hot or cold. Found myself sitting with her in waiting rooms, hoping medical staff would call mom’s name soon. Wheeling her down corridors to the examination rooms.

At home time was spiked by health care workers knocking on the front door. Sitting down with them to discuss the details of mom’s illness and how to make life more accessible for her.

I told them while I play a role in her recovery and ongoing health concerns, I want to be my mother’s daughter. Not a paid caregiver for her.

I’m still unclear on where the boundaries between those two are.

Even with December here now, there’s still so much to do. Paperwork for a caregiver program for which thankfully she qualifies. Getting a walker for mom to use – even while I fear she probably won’t use it much – and it will sit in a corner of the already overcrowded living room. Perhaps she’ll use it to hold  bags of groceries yet to be eaten or drape it with scarves she might wear some day.

The novelist inside me is stirring. Visions of characters and the next chapter to write  simmering. Waiting to emerge as my energy grows to encompass the newest realities of my mother’s life – and of mine. No home of my own for now.

So November, no, you don’t get the final word. But I cannot say I will remember you fondly.

© 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint go to:

Divided loyalties

Dear President George and Mrs. Martha Washington,
If you are keeping an eye on the affairs (dare I say) of the United States, you may find the current political scene strangely familiar. You know those elections where John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were at loggerheads over what directions the very new “United” states should take and loyalties to our former allies in Europe?
Well our loyalties — specifically knowing who to vote for in — the upcoming election are sharply divided.
Who will best represent our values? Oh the furor.
Candidate one — a blunt outspoken man whose past “locker room” words and actions, recorded in ways you never dreamed of, are coming back to haunt him in 32-pt type. Kind of an Andrew Jackson type — the man who represents the common man.
Only today, we say person to represent all of us. The ones who don’t make government their career and are feeling lost in the current forays over whose rights count for the most.
Martha, I can tell you women’s rights have progressed to the point where a former First Lady — the job you held during George’s two administrations — is running for president. I think your contemporary Abigail Adams would have cheered. She wanted women’s rights remembered when our constitutional rights were being established.
We have a woman nominee. A proud moment. But tarnished. Her record points to being the opposite of the blunt outspoken man. Electronic correspondence from her time as Secretary of State hidden, deleted, done away with when it is supposed to be subject to strict rules. And her husband is also a womanizer like the blunt candidate.
So, two flawed candidates to represent us folks — who are also flawed.
If you are watching, wish us wisdom and courage in this most interesting time, George and Martha. Wish whoever is elected the wisdom to put the United States’ interests first ahead of their own agendas — at least most of the time.
Sincerely yours,
A wary citizen
(C) 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.

Rental realities

I am trudging through the muck of discouragement and realism while searching for a place of my own. Even a room of my own (aka a studio) as Virginia Woolf advises.

My daily routine involves scanning Craigslist and linking into local housing sites. Querying friends and relatives if they know of anyone looking for a roommate or has an “inexpensive” place available for rent?

Currently the local market offers some opportunities if one can afford to purchase a home at a median price of $349,000. I can’t say that includes me. The percentage of available apartments is also low, about 1 percent I’ve been told. One percent frankly doesn’t offer much opportunity.

I submitted my name in to a few apartment complexes for a studio apartment – and was excited to get a call earlier this week. A perky voice told me a one-bedroom had come available for “only” $400 more than the studio I’d requested. Was I interested? I swallowed hard and said no, I couldn’t afford it. The caller said my name would be removed from the waiting list. Door slammed shut. Don’t come knocking.

Last weekend I met with a couple who are renting out rooms in their home. We met at a coffee shop to discuss the possibility of my moving in. Hope stirred as we discussed our various work situations and needs. The monthly rent was a little more pricey than I’d wanted, but I could swing it.

Reality struck when they revealed the location. I am a public transportation user and the location was located about a mile up on a tall hill The nearest bus route offers limited service. Up a hill, winter is coming and our area is famed for slippery black ice and limited to no snow plow service. Reluctantly I parted ways with that idea.

So I keep scanning the ads. Quickly weeding out all those that offer a “great room” for the burgeoning college age population that annually gluts most of the available rental market. Which is another reality that rankles. What are developers and municipal leaders doing to ensure more rentals for us year round residents? While keeping students coming here to this city.

Hope touched down briefly two days ago when I spotted an ad for sharing a two-bedroom apartment. My half of the rent was a figure I could manage. The tenant was open to meeting. Until I learned the rental agency required me to make enough income to pay the full monthly payment on the unit.

That possibility bit the dust. Okay, I understand what the agency is saying – they want their rent whether one or two people share the unit. But that leaves me – and others like me who manage on modest incomes – out-of-luck.

Me. I want a quiet – but not too shushed silent – place to live. Where I feel at ease and have shelves in the kitchen for storing cookware, dishes and food. Reasonably clean. A bedroom and a chair or lounger in the living room that are mine. Near an active bus line – I am tenacious about keeping that reality in mind now when answering ads.

Somewhere out there. My home is waiting for me. Despite the challenges, I will find it. I will.

© 2016 by Mary Louise Van Dyke. All Rights Reserved.