The Sitting Swing, by Irene Watson
Paperback: 248 pages
Publisher: Loving Healing Press; Revised edition (July 16, 2008)
Genre: Self-Help, Inspirational, Memoir
The Burton Review Rating: 4 stars
"Named for a childhood swing the author remembers as being impossible to get moving because of the rose bushes directly behind it, Watson's memoir recounts her fearful, highly sheltered years growing up an only child to Ukrainian immigrants in 1940s Alberta, Canada. Watson writes from the hindsight of her 50s, living in a Quebec addiction-recovery facility, where she has checked herself in for 28 days, unsure whether she can stay married to a husband she considers as overbearing as her mother was to her. Gradually, Watson uncovers the childhood wounds leading to her personality crisis: until age six, she lived in a log cabin in the wilderness within a few feet of her prohibitive mother, who pined for her dead firstborn son.
Watson was largely ignored by her farmer father, abused by cousins and neighbors, and unable at first to speak English at her schoolhouse or make friends. Denied expression and love within the family, she acted out and married a man who helped continue to make excuses for her lack of ambition. She undergoes a rigorous 12-step program and a systematic breaking down of her ego so that she can re-create herself. This is an earnest memoir, well structured, though the writing lacks rigorous urgency."
This is a rendition of Irene's life, which begins with her entry into a rehab facility at age 48. She then rehashes her life, recounting a harrowing ordeal of a childhood that she endured. It reads fast, with the feeling as if Irene is talking with you casually on a front porch. Unfortunately the events of her life cannot be misconstrued as casual; she has a domineering mother who probably has a few screws loose herself, and a father who was barely in the picture. She goes through some traumatic experiences and the fact that Irene lives to tell her story and then spin something as positive as this book is truly a feat in itself. Judging from the way her life was turning out you would have fully expected her to have made some serious wrong choices along the way.
"One matter stood out most of all - one matter that would make the biggest difference in their point of view and would so profoundly impact me that it could be argued as the defining period of my life, even though it was my parents' issue, and even though it happened some time before I was born. That matter was my brother, Alexander."
Amazingly, she escapes her parents and begins to live her life, yet how much can she take from a mother that won't let go even as Irene becomes an adult? What are the long-term effects of mental and physical abuse when the abused becomes an adult? And when Irene gets married, she wonders did she just marry another domineering figure to control her? Irene tells us how she endures the shame and anxiety of growing up in a dysfunctional family, and finally how she coped with it. How Irene was even able to write of her childhood memories and go through it all again is a triumph. I would have assumed the classic reaction would be to block it all out. What is heart wrenching is how Irene remembers simple things like a comment from her mother that Irene's 'tummy sticks out'. Three words that went a long way to fester Irene's hatred for her mom. Or it could have been: (page 81) "As I lay on my bedroom floor in a panic, that was the hour. It was the hour, at nine years old, when I knew I must get away for real. Mom left no question about whether she was my protector or my controller. The sooner I could leave home, the better it would be."
This revised edition of The Sitting Swing has the byline "Finding Wisdom to Know the Difference", referring to the popular saying by Reinhold Niebuhr: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." How many times have you muttered that to yourself? Irene is attempting to break the mold of the self-help genre to tell us her own inspiring personal story which really must have been extremely difficult, and is sharing her new-found strength with the average reader to remind us that it is never too late to heal.About halfway through the book, Irene has completed the retelling of the events that lead her up to the rehab facility, and she then explains what she experiences and what her reactions are to the counselors lectures. This is when there is some foul language thrown in via one of the counselors, so I must warn you if that turns you off. But otherwise, I definitely recommend this book. I understand the stigma behind 'self-help' books and even 'inspirational'.. and many feel that is just not the genre for them. I tend to stay away from that type as well. But the insights along with Irene's story make this a worthwhile read. And even though you may not want a sad story about a child's reality, it gives you pause to think. Where do you draw the line between protective and oppressive? And as a mother myself, what off-handed comments have I made that are harmful to my daughter? I shudder to think. Although perhaps this is not a literary masterpiece, this is definitely an eye opening story that is told with a heart and soul that pleads for hope for our society today.
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Also, Irene has a blog for which you can find more of her inspirational thoughts and essays. Irene's Weblog
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