Carrie Maldonado – Writer

Freelance writer, wordsmith, and novelist

I was bullied for about five years, more than thirty years ago, and I still didn’t want to write about it today because some part of me is still ashamed. That’s the thing about being bullied, you know. Even when people tell you it’s not your fault, and that the problem is with the bully not you, you don’t believe them – not all the way. My experience was being bullied not by just one person, but by two or three, who then united most of the school to shun and ostracize me. It sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? I sound victim-y, don’t I? Deep down, you think I must have done something, somehow to deserve this, don’t you?

It was a different time. We operated in our own world, where adults orbited, but they weren’t part of it, and their thoughts, opinions, and rules weren’t what governed our lives as much as our own hierarchies and social opinions. Up until grade 4 or 5 it seemed like everyone co-existed without much drama. I remember when it all changed.

It started with the new girl. I felt sorry for her when she moved to town, because she had no one to play with. My best friend and I invited her into our circle, which was fine until she got acclimated, and then possessive. Pretty soon petty rivalries erupted, and she’d demand more and more of my time. I don’t really know why I let her do this. Partly I felt sorry for her, and partly I was acutely concerned with people being mad at me at that time.

I let this continue until she was my only friend, at which point she branched out and acquired more friends. Then things intensified, and this group of cronies determined who was in and who was out each week. If you were in, you got spoken to, you got to hang out with people at lunch, and you got to walk home from school with people. If you were out, then you were thoroughly and completely blackballed. People would laugh at you, walk away from you, and taunt you in the schoolyard. This continued through to junior high, at which point the boys were corralled into it, and took it to a whole new level. Stacy, a big, good-looking, mean-spirited hockey player got into the game with relish, and soon the bullying took a more physical aspect. Things were knocked off my desk, I was bumped into, and every part of my body was analyzed and commented on. Loudly. Constantly. The fact that my butt was fat, and my non-existent chest was non-existent was shouted at me publicly each day, every day. Until when that blessed day came where inexplicably it passed and someone else was on the outs.

Some of you reading this will relate. Some of you will have had it a lot worse and wonder what I’m whining about, and some of you will wonder why I didn’t just tell them all to go to hell and not let them bother me. That’s not what I did, because I was overweight, and I was shy, and got really good grades, and I didn’t believe I could do any better. So I clung to the bully, trying to keep her happy to hopefully minimize my time on the outside. When high school started, I believed her that all these new kids were worse. That they were judging me, and talking about me, and laughing at me. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know that once I was identified as an object of scorn, I didn’t have the fortitude to try to show anyone any different.

Every day was worse. It got to the point where I had a consistent gnawing anxiety all the time. The helplessness, and sheer, overwhelming f’ing unfairness of it all was unbearable, but rage wasn’t. Anger made me feel powerful, and the one thing you crave more than anything when you’re on the bottom so long is power. At age 14, I wanted power over my body, the bullies, the school, the authority figures who were letting it happen, society itself for being so f’d up that these tyrannical a-holes were seen as the ‘good kids’ and the popular ones.

I decided that there was something wrong with me, and that I’d fix what I could, and become dangerous to prevent anyone from treating me that way again. I gravitated to the tough kids, the rough ones, the smokers and the drinkers and the ones that talked back to the teachers.

Like I said, it was a different time and country, and I’m a girl so more likely to harm myself than others. I had a family who loved me, and I knew there was a very strong possibility that I’d be able to get out of that s-hole town forever and never look back. And I had a mom who, every night when I was up crying because I didn’t think I could face it again, would get up with me, and hold me, and tell me nothing was ever as bad as it seems. And even though she was wrong, I had that. And even though I had all that, there was a time when violence towards my aggressors seemed like the only solution to my problem. Did I carry it out? No. Would I have if I had had the means and wasn’t worried about being caught? I can’t honestly tell you. I don’t like going there, but if I let myself, I can get back to that dark place of fear, anger and hopelessness. I don’t know what would have happened if it had taken place today, with the social media factor. That would take unbearable to a whole new level, I’m sure.

Instead of hurting others, I acquired a ton of dysfunctional beliefs and coping mechanism that have taken most of my life to undo:

  • For years, I had a recurring fantasy about becoming skinny and beautiful and making that hockey player fall in love with me so that I could then cruelly reject him and humiliate him. I eventually lost interest in that, but the idea that if I was skinny enough I would be safe from rejection has hung on until this day.
  • That belief that skinny equals safe translated into an eating disorder that dominated my life for years, and it took even more years and therapy before I lost that feeling of terror at the thought of gaining so much as a pound.
  • I worked hard to be accepted by my new tribe; the losers, the burnouts, the headbangers. Eventually, even if the good kids would have wanted to hang out with me, their parents wouldn’t have let them. And the idea that I needed to lower my standard for companions hung on for two decades.
  • I learned to hate feeling weak, powerless, and in the control of others. I eventually became unable to feel any negative emotion other than anger, because anger made me feel powerful. I learned to numb out all my other feelings with alcohol.
  • I also developed a strong, almost visceral dislike of ‘victims’. My compassion was at a negative, to the point where I was borderline abusive to anyone I loved if they so much as came down with a cold.
  • On the other hand, I have had to work hard at overcoming an automatic dislike and distrust of anyone who seems too ‘popular’, or in authority of any kind.

So even though I had all the advantages that I mentioned, my response to being bullied was to become a monster inside, which led to self-hatred strong enough to lead me to attempted suicide. I’m pretty sure if there’s a spectrum, I’m on the more sensitive side of it, and genetically predisposed to addiction and self-destruction, but I also know that there are a lot of people out there subjected to so much worse.

It’s been a long time since I was in school. I’m gratified by what I see on Facebook that so many of the kids who weren’t the coolest and most popular are doing amazing. They have great jobs, families and seem really happy. I no longer wish ill on the bullies but not to the point where I’d ever be friends with them on social media, so I don’t know how they’re doing.  If I would have known back during those dark days how great life was going to be, it would have helped a lot. If I could have gotten a matrix-like glimpse into that other world, to know that high school (and the world of the internet) is only as real as you let it be and that you can live the life of your dreams outside the bubble it would have helped.

Maybe things are different now, but what wouldn’t have helped was adults telling us to be nice to each other. We didn’t care what adults said, and adults didn’t care enough to follow through. And adults believe the pretty popular kids more than the uglier, slower, less lovable ones. Anti-bullying was a joke.

If you’re out there, and you’re being bullied for any reason, you need to know that it gets better. If you know someone who’s being bullied, don’t just use your adult authority to try to change people’s behavior.  I mean, of course we have to stand united that bullying’s unacceptable, but to really change lives, you need to let them know it gets better. Give them the only thing that can help. Give them hope. I’m sure it’s hard to understand if you’ve never been there, but when you’re being bullied, you’re reduced to nothing but shame and rage. We won’t ask for help and we don’t think we deserve it. We’re probably not easy to be around, but you can change our world by helping us find hope. Even if, maybe especially if, it means you have to look at shame again and share it so we know we’re not alone.

Were you bullied? Were you the bully? Do you think sharing your experience would help others? Let me know your thoughts.

Common sense disclaimer: I would hope it goes without saying (although it probably doesn’t) that not all people who say they were bullied were, and that some people who act out in violence are just plain evil or suffer from serious mental illness and I’m not in any way ‘excusing’ or condoning violence or blaming the victims of violence. This is my experience. 

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Well, well, well…it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I haven’t been blogging on this site much lately, as you may have noticed (if you’re my Mom).  It’s been a season of quiet reflection and re-calibration for me and my family, as God is clearing paths, closing doors, and opening my mind up to new possibilities. He is not a TAME lion, is he…? (I’ve been on a C.S. Lewis/Narnia jag on top of everything else, so hopefully you get the reference). I feel like I’m getting ready for some amazing adventure, but I don’t know what it is, so I’m not sure what to pack. I’m sort of reminded of the end of the movie Grease. Not the stupid part where Sandy caves into peer pressure to become a hootchie mama courting lung cancer, but the part where they drive off into the sky in that convertible. I kind of feel like me and the fam are packed into that convertible heading who knows where, and all I know is it will be quite a ride.

Let me catch you up….

One of the areas where I continue to struggle is in that no man’s land where motherhood and career intersect. A lifetime ago, I had a career that I really enjoyed and was pretty good at. Then I had kids and became Mommy – something that regularly challenges me beyond my breaking point, that I rarely feel competent in, and that I usually enjoy more in the rearview mirror. The pay is crap, too, which is kind of a big deal because I greatly prefer my life to be safe and predictable, without undue financial hardship…bahahaha. But my God is a great big God, and He’s using this time in my life for so many other purposes.

For example…I have always felt called to write, coach, and work in non-traditional ways. That’s just how I’m wired and even in the midst of my professional life I felt a lot of tension because I wasn’t operating in those gifts. But, because of the safe and predictable thing, I put it aside for ‘someday’. Having my kids forced me to realize that working for someone else wasn’t in the cards for me for the time being (if it ever was) and enabled me to pursue consulting, coaching, and writing like I never would have if it weren’t for the kids and it’s been AWESOME!! I love my consulting business, my clients, and the flexibility it affords me.

It’s been an interesting balancing act, and I’ve entered a season where I’ve been focusing much more on my consulting and professional writing than on my blogging and on Grace Group. Of course, I’ve also come to a place where I’m not the mommy of toddlers anymore, and although they all still come up with some hilarious things that I just have to share, some of the things we’re growing through are their things now and not as suitable for funny blogs. I’ve also undertaken what is proving to be the most challenging writing project to date. It’s a fiction story, but one that’s much different than my usual style. This one is dark and complex and scary. If I do it right it’s also the most positive and life-affirming thing I’ll have written.

At the same time, I’ve been seeing a powerful move in my life of old, dysfunctional relationships shearing away, a refreshing of healthy connections, and new opportunities arising professionally in the areas of writing, coaching, and leadership. It’s all very exciting. I will be sharing more of some of the more noteworthy events as they unfold, mostly because they’re funny but hopefully there’s something here or there that could encourage someone.

I will leave you with this: Rightly or wrongly, I’m intentionally grooming my children to take care of me when I’m old. I absolutely want them to feel obligated to look after me and I figure if I do this right they’ll be fighting about who ‘gets’ Mom. I was talking to Bisky the other night about how much she’s growing up and how she’ll move out one day. I reminded her that we won’t be apart for long because I’ll be coming to live with her. She paused and said “Well, I might want some time with my husBAND (that’s how she pronounces it) before you come live with us.” I told her she could just give me a nice big room to live in and I wouldn’t come out and bother her much. She agreed, and then decided maybe it would be good to line the room with tinfoil, and I could just go lie down on the foil when it was my time to die. So I told her I thought I’d go live with NoBen instead (he’s really the nicest one). I asked him if I could go live with him and would you believe he actually had to think about it? He finally told me he’d have to check with his grandson whether that would be okay, and if the grandson agreed, I could share a blow up mattress on the floor with his grandson. So I’m not sure who will get me…but clearly more grooming is in order.

I’m really excited about what’s in store on all fronts…are you in a place of transition? Happy where you’re at? Ready for change? I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, please share the love, and let’s connect on Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook!

PS I’ve written, 10 tips on dealing with multiple (conflicting) priorities. If you’d like a free copy, just click here!

Happy New Year! I realize it’s been a while since my last article, so we have a lot of catching up to do, but suffice it to say that life’s never boring. In fact, there’s been so much going on that I’m still in the midst of my 2018 goal setting! I’m taking a big leap of faith this year and setting some goals based on my heart instead of just my head. Almost twenty years ago someone I worked with told me I needed to ‘let my giftings lead my way’. At the time I chalked him up as a wingnut who made up words like giftings and sounded like a fortune cookie, but darned if it isn’t starting to make some sense.

I wanted to write about this today because I have a feeling someone besides me needs to hear it. See, we all have a gift or two (or more). Mine happens to be the ability to put things into words gooder than some peoples do. This isn’t something I ever considered a gift, it was just something that comes really easily to me. I thought that this combined with the fact that I love to read it meant I should write books, and maybe that’s true, but there are a lot of other ways to use this gift as well. At every job I’ve ever had, I’ve been the company ‘wordsmith’ tasked with writing whatever needed to be written. I’ve also been doing peoples’ resumes forever (about fifteen years before it occurred to me to get certified in it and actually charge money for it!).  I’ve written people’s websites for them, eulogies, speeches, newsletters. You name it, I’ve written it, and because I love it and it’s easy, it just never occurred to me that it was what I was supposed to be doing professionally.

It might never have occurred to me, quite honestly. I’ve been able to keep my inner writer happy by blogging for several businesses, creating training, and ghost writing, but I really didn’t consider writing my ‘day job’ until the beginning of this year, when I was approached by several companies to do writing work. Although I like to consider myself a clever enough gal, sometimes life needs to hit me upside the head with a dead mackerel before I get the point, and in this case it took several paid corporate writing gigs to turn on the light bulb and say ‘hey, maybe you should let people know you do this, since there’s apparently a need for it’.

Well, you don’t need to tell ME more than a hundred times, so there you have it. For those who didn’t know, I do offer professional writing services in the corporate sectors and for individuals. For companies, this can take the shape of corporate mission/vision/values, handbooks, executive bios, newsletters, policies, memos, web content, ebooks or business books. For individuals, it’s often resumes, cover letters, social media profiles, wedding vows (yes, really), eulogies, speeches, and maybe even a novel or autobiography…the possibilities are endless.

It’s not a significant change in my life, since I’ve been doing this all along, but it is probably worth mentioning, since I kind of take it for granted.

But enough about me…what about you? I’d love to hear about something you are uniquely good at or enjoy doing that you have realized that not everyone can or wants to do. Please don’t be shy…I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised a the opportunities that arise once you claim your gift!

Again, Happy New Year! I look forward to regaling you with some truly hilarious predicaments I’ve managed to become entangled in recently.  Until then…

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog, please share the love, and let’s connect on Pinterest, Twitter, or Facebook!

PS I’ve written, 10 tips on dealing with multiple (conflicting) priorities. If you’d like a free copy, just click here!

Well hello there! I can’t help but notice a little something in the air, a bit of pine and cinnamon encroaching on the pumpkin-spiced everything. What do you know, Christmas time is here! I love this time of the year, but I didn’t always. There were about four years (in a row) where I was anxious, angry, and really lonely and during that time Christmas was the WORST. If you’ve ever gone through holidays when you’re lonely, or hurting, or anxious, or depressed, you know what I’m talking about. If that’s you today, my heart and prayers go out to you. What I found was that the more I could get out of myself and go be helpful somewhere, the less isolated and sad I became. The fact that it’s easier said than done doesn’t make it less true. And if it helps at all, during those dark years, I had no idea what was in store for me, which is glorious, unadulterated joy mixed with chaos.

Having three kids under the age of 6 is always kind of crazy, but Christmas amplifies everything so much! So much excitement and drama. Because we’re Christians, we do our best to make Christmas about Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that for little kids presents aren’t the main event. I don’t take my kids to the stores much, so they’re pretty sheltered when it comes to the sheer volume of STUFF there is out there for them to want. Well, they were. One trip to Target opened their eyes pretty darn quick.

I’ve celebrated Christmas as an agnostic, an atheist, and a Christian, and definitely enjoy it the most as a Christian. The internet being a degenerate wasteland of petty bickering, I’ve seen all sorts of responses to Christmas from both sides of the fence: ranging from demanding people NOT say ‘Merry Christmas’ to demanding a total refrain from any commercial revelry. My thought is that if you choose to celebrate a Christian holiday, don’t get mad when people talk about Jesus. If your biggest gripe against Christians is that you perceive us as overly judgmental and intolerant (as I once did), ask yourself how you are different if you get all hostile and nasty when someone does say the ‘MC’ phrase to you. If you are Christian, don’t try to ban people from your holiday because they don’t know Jesus – I’m pretty sure He wouldn’t approve of that tactic.

Anyway, we do buy presents, and we do the Santa thing to an extent, although we try to make him a bit player and not the main event. For example, Christmas Eve, we bake a birthday cake for Jesus and leave a piece out for Santa. Living in the world and all, the kids do hear that Santa has a naughty and nice list. Rather than try to control their behavior by invoking the guy in the suit or his creepy elf (sorry not sorry), I just tell the kids that to be on the good list, you have to be good all the time and they’re (obviously) not so they’re on the bad list (it’s not as mean as it sounds…really…I tell them no one’s good all the time, so to be fair, no one could actually be on the good list unless Santa grades on a curve.) Fortunately, their buddy Jesus will take the fall for them and He’ll tell Santa to put them on the good list.

I’m not sure how long this will even be a thing. Bisky came home yesterday and told me that a classmate of hers doesn’t believe in Santa. She was laughing at how silly he was, but I suspect she’ll be celebrating the ‘spirit’ of Santa by next year.

This all was swirling around last year and Bisky started asking a lot of questions about Christmas, so I wrote her a story. My intent was for this to become a Christmas tradition. She loved it, and some of the analogies have helped me to deal with her as her character forms and she starts wrestling with her own and others’ good and bad behavior. I wanted to tell the story of grace (God’s grace, that is) in a way a kid could understand. I did have a couple pastors verify it to make sure I wasn’t being inadvertently heretical (I hate when that happens, don’t you?)

In my original story, I had a lot of pictures that I downloaded from Google Images. When I had the idea of making this story more widely available this became problematic. I am too lazy to track down all the pictures and find the credits, and too cheap to pay for the rights if I need to, and too unlucky to get away with not doing either. My solution was to leave big empty spaces where you and your child can draw your own pictures. It will either be really awesome or really awkward. If your kids are like mine it will be a huge hit. I guess we’ll see.

I do really like this story, and I also really like people who read my blog, so I’m making my little book available to you for free! You just need to click here to get access. I hope you enjoy it. Do let me know! I’ll hopefully squeeze in one more blog before Christmas. We’re going to go see ‘Santa’ on Monday so I’ll have at least a few stories to share!

Merry Christmas and God bless you every one!

 

Well readers, it’s been a while. I haven’t posted in a few weeks and have a lot to catch you up on, including but not limited to dealing with anxiety/depression around the holidays, chasing dreams, tapping out, and where have all the socks gone? However, today we’re going to talk about gingerbread. See, I’m a sucker for holiday traditions. I love the repetition, which is funny because I have probably instigated more change in my life than anyone I know (other than Dreamy). All the same, I am comforted by routines and some of my happiest childhood memories revolve around some of the things we did year after year.

Ironically, most of the things I remember happily weren’t particularly happy at at the time…like putting up the Christmas broomstick with coat hanger branches while the lights NEVER worked and my sister and I fighting and getting yelled at for fighting while we were waiting…or getting yelled at for fighting with my sister while making UBake Christmas ornaments, or cookies. Or getting in trouble for fighting about who gets to put the presents in the stockings Christmas Eve…The point being that if you do something over and over enough times, you’ll eventually convince yourself it was wonderful and have happy memories about it. It has totally worked for me (seriously, I do remember these things fondly, and we laugh about them all the time now that we’re grown up and hardly ever get yelled at for fighting anymore). I’m really hoping it works for my kids too, because so far, ‘tis the season to yell at them while they fight as I try to make happy memories, DARN IT!!

Because I have 3.5-year-old twin boys and a 5-going-on-14-year-old-girl, who have been arguing about EVERYTHING, it seemed like as good a time as any to start an ambitious holiday tradition of making our own gingerbread house from scratch and decorating it. For the last several years, I’ve bought a pre-made house from the grocery store and decorated it with Bisky but this year no one is putting #NoBen in the corner and #StopThatAiden will not be denied an opportunity to do what his beloved lord and master (Big Sis) is doing. I’ll be honest, the initial driver behind the whole ‘do-it-completely-ourselves’ thing was cost. Three pre-made ginger homes would be upwards of $30, which just seems dumb, so I combed the halls of Pinterest and found what I was looking for; a step by step tutorial on how to bake and assemble a gingerbread house.

I wasn’t intending on doing it this weekend, but after I mentioned to Bisky what I was thinking it immediately became a promise, and we didn’t have anything else to do, so I headed off to the store to get molasses and gumdrops. Below is me excitedly about to go in and spend $10 on a few things to decorate with. Next, is me after spending WAY MORE than $10 because I should not be allowed to shop ever.

The next step was cutting out the templates to make the house. This is so not my thing, I’m much more a wing-it kind of gal, but after making 12 cups of flour worth of gingerbread, I’ll be you-know-what’d if I waste it by not following all the instructions. So I constructed all my little cutouts out of nice sturdy paper (so as to avoid a similar debacle as experienced with the pumpkin-carving stencils).

Making the gingerbread required boiling molasses and sugar over the stove, which brought back traumatic memories of spilling scorching hot ‘never fail fudge’ on my arms and feet as a girl (making fudge is another tradition I remember happily, second degree burns non-withstanding), so I made sure the children stood well away from the stove. Which distressed them.

There was a scary minute when I thought the flour would never incorporate, but using all of my considerable muscle, I kneaded it all to the right consistency and Dreamy helped me roll it into the pans. It came out much thicker than I expected, which is probably good. We are much more at a sturdy cottage stage of our gingerbread architecture (and life) than elegant and refined. I cut out the pieces while warm, and eagerly awaited construction time, while all three kids whined “can we decorate, can we decorate, can we decorate, can we decorate” over and over in between fighting over who would sit where when we DID decorate, and I yelled at them to stop fighting (aww, memories being made already).

Then I had to ‘glue’ the pieces together to make the house. This is the part that everyone warned me about. The house part was okay, but I think I did something wrong because there was a 2-inch gap when I put the roof on. Then the walls started to buckle. We pressed in though, spackling where we could and using soup cans to bolster the wall. I told the kids we couldn’t decorate until the next day, which made #NoBen apoplectic, but had to be done.

The next day the ‘glue’ really had firmed up to cement-like consistency, and it appeared that our little edifice was going to stand. I carefully divvied up all the licorice, and candy canes, and gum drops so nobody would have to SHARE, and after a brief but intense argument about who would sit where, I set them loose.

I can honestly say, the experience wildly exceeded my expectations. All I was really hoping for was that they’d get to put some M&M’s on the thing before it collapsed, but we got through the whole thing and everyone was pretty pleased with the results.

And after we finished, Bisky asked if we could also please get a ‘store-bought’ house because that’s the ‘real’ tradition.

Ingrate.

What are your holiday traditions?

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