Monday, February 20, 2012

Maslow and Me

     I just submitted this assignment for my online Developmental Psychology class. It was an interesting and enjoyable assignment.
Laura Thomas
Personal Timeline Assignment
     Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has always settled so well into my thinking over the years. It makes sense to me on so many levels. So, my life story starts out with my most basic needs being satisfied: my babyhood where I can rightly assume that my parents fed me and cared for me. My parents had four children and I am the third (and apparently the only one “planned”). My father is a retired rheumatologist who met my mother while doing his internship at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chicago. He saw her walking down the hallway in her starched nursing uniform and immediately fell in love.  They married four months later. After spending three years in Germany during the Vietnam War, my parents settled in Southern California where he finished his residency at County USC Medical Center. I was born in Pasadena and have lived in Southern California my whole life. You couldn’t pay me to leave this diverse, intense, crazy beautiful part of the world for anything.
    As I sat down to color with my Crayola Primary Colors over-sized crayons I will always remember seeing my name, “Laura” written neatly in kindergarten-teacher perfect handwriting on my coloring worksheet. Those are among my first memories of school. My beautiful, young teacher with over-sized, blonde Clairol curls was the epitome of 70’s style and loveliness. And she thought I was retarded. “But,” she told my concerned mother, “She’s tall so we’re going to pass her onto the first grade.” My mother didn’t believe it for a second. And so began my mother’s persistent search for answers to what would be the diagnosis of “dyslexia.” Yep, classic: “t’s” shaped like “x’s.” Years of “vestibular therapy” followed where I would do exhilarating activities like ride down a ramp on a belly board and spin in a hammock swing this way and that way many times.  This stage of my life would be considered the safety stage where my educational needs were met and my need for organization and stability greatly improved as all my letters straightened out. (My lefts and rights still confuse me, embarrassingly, to this day).
     Through the elementary and junior high school years I experienced teasing, exclusion, and painful, abusive family dynamics at home. I was angry and lonely. After graduating from high school, I started attending a church where I am still an active member. It was there that I met Jesus Christ. Nothing in my life, delightfully, satisfyingly and magnificently, would ever be the same. Pivotal moments occurred in which my need to be loved, to belong and be accepted were beautifully and wholeheartedly met as several Christian friends frequently prayed for me and accepted me right where I was at.  After my mother’s early demise from breast cancer when I was 20, I found my loving church family to be very supportive.
     “What can you tell me about Master’s Programs in Education?” I asked a friend after a Singles meeting. “You should talk to Tim. He’s a teacher.” That is when I met the man I would marry. Our first date was 5 or so months later on the 3rd of July. We attended a Dodger’s baseball game and have never been to Dodger Stadium since. However, we married 7 weeks later. That was 19 ½ years ago.
     We had a couple of babies, a few miscarriages, some more babies, and intense arguments over having more children or not. Throughout this process of being a mother and a wife, without a mother myself, I struggled terribly with my success and esteem in my primary roles. I was a stay-at-home mom after many years of school to complete two teaching credentials. I chose to home school my children and spent many enjoyable years doing that, but was greatly challenged by those demands. At times I felt anger and frustration at my children’s needs which exposed fear, laziness, inadequacy and selfishness in me. It was painfully humbling and I never felt like I was doing a good job consistently. My marriage was also a constant source of conflict and heartache. I wrestled through many “maturing” years of learning to take responsibility for my part in our conflicts and follow strange-sounding “wife advice” from the Bible. That Biblical advice worked in the most unbelievable and astonishing ways.  After marrying a man from a painfully broken family after only 7 weeks of knowing him, and coming from an abusive family myself, the fact that our marriage is better than ever is amazing in the most deliciously wonderful way.
     It didn’t come without a huge price tag, however. I will never forget the sheer panic I felt as I lay in the hospital bed with the right side of my body numb while my left side was radiating with intense pain and frantically asking the nurse, “Where is my husband?!?!” After being shooed away during my epidural, he left the hospital to get dinner.  I was ready to deliver our 5th baby soon after. My husband arrived 5 minutes after she was born to a room of gawking, insensitive hospital staff and an insensitive doctor. I had never felt so vulnerable and alone in such a crowded space. It was a profoundly upsetting experience.
          Years later, much to my own surprise, I wanted to have another baby. This time, I wanted a more compassionate doctor and a better childbirth experience. After much research and careful consideration, I went out of my way to ensure a better outcome for my last baby’s birth. Horrifyingly, it ended up being far more traumatic than my 5th delivery. My church had prayed while I was in labor.  I am convinced that alone is what protected my daughter from being injured as she got stuck coming out of me. I fired my absentee doctor the next day, the crazy nurse who yanked my daughter out of me was also fired, and I filed a 13 page grievance  a year later detailing “negligence and unprofessional conduct” by the hospital staff and my doctor. I won’t ever know what impact my grievance had on anybody but me. Thankfully, it lessened the victimization I felt to a small degree.
     In Maslow’s Hierarchy self-actualization occurred in a redemptive way with that last baby’s birth. Over the past several years, as I heart wrenchingly tried to make sense of all that happened, I emerged 60 pounds lighter, in great physical shape, more settled in my soul, more committed to enjoying my marriage and my children, and envisioned with a goal to become a midwife someday. I also discovered in intensely intimate ways that His comfort has been unmatched by any human being. I have since put all my children in school, except my 16 year-old 11th grader who will be graduating next year. Enrolling in school and preparing to enter the work force in the next several years would have been unthinkable to me so many years ago when I had all my babies and toddlers underfoot and in my arms. The self-actualization part, at this juncture in my life, is quite sweet indeed. I look forward to the years ahead with the flexibility and “open-handedness” I have toward my plans. The future looks very bright indeed.


foutfolk said...

I LOVE vulnerable stories like that! And you make my current situation seem like a walk in the park. :)

Your life really does reflect His love for you and your commitment to His work in you. GREAT job. And I am excited to see how the schooling comes out. I too have been swimming in Maslow all these years, as well as all the behaviorist since the 1900's.

Anonymous said...


I love you and am so proud of you. Mother would be so very proud too.