Tuesday, June 1, 2010

I Was Raised by Hermit Crabs

(Mentally insert a close-up photo of a hermit crab. The caption would read: My Mother. Or is it my father? Blogger will not let me insert a photo today. I've done all sorts of tricks for it, but I am not being rewarded. I tried. Sigh)

I have no idea when my parents turned into hermit crabs. Was it at a young age? Did it happen after my sister and I came along? Should I take it personally?

Stories my mother told of her teen years did lead me to believe that she had a few friends, and once in a while, when I was young she would visit with other women. This seemed to happen less and less as I got older. The same with my father.

You would not believe the chaos that ensues when their doorbell rings.

I’m assuming that most people have seen the movie Finding Nemo. There is a scene at the beginning when father clownfish is teaching son clownfish how to look out for trouble. Young Nemo was instructed to peek out of his anemone home and go back in. Peek out and go back in. Peek out once more and . . .

I was taught to never peek out and that the best things happened at home. I never really thought to disagree. Often, I did get out to play with the neighborhood kids. I was the youngest and smallest, so I took a great deal of abuse. I never really took it personally. But, eventually, the elder hermit crabs taught me to take it personally. I became a hermit crab myself.

My childhood bedroom became my shell. I could pretty much do what I wanted in there except make noise, make a mess or get into my sister’s things. And when I outgrew that shell, I moved into the unfinished back room in my house and made that my new shell. I did things that I assume other hermit crab children did: read, listen to music (quietly) and write poetry.

Eventually, I grew up. But not out. I never was able to leave behind my hermit crab shell. If I didn’t think something (a friend, a job, a party) was going to work out for me, I just avoided it and withdrew into my shell.

One of my parents' favorite questions (I took it to be a statement) was, “You don’t really want to do that, do you?” I have to admit, at times they were right. Every now and then somebody did “put me up to something.” But, other times, I did have ideas on my own. And I thought they were good ones. No matter whose idea, I usually heard, “You don’t want to do that, do you?” The only time I did not get asked that question (heard that statement) was when I said I was going to go to my room. I was safe there, so they thought. Out in the streets I could be accosted by a pervert; run over by buses, cars and trains; be abducted, teased or mauled; meet up with drug dealers; be struck by lightening; attacked by dogs; brainwashed by Hare Krishnas; offered cigarettes, rides or sex; or just fall of the edge of the earth. These things could not happen to me while I was in my room. I could, however, watch all of these things happen on my little black and white televison.

Occasionally, we would venture out to dinner. My sister often would be off with her own friends. For the better, since she was not a hermit crab and had no patience with hermit crabs. So the hermit crabs would venture out just a bit. And back. My dad had to make sure the windows were closed. And out and back again. My mother had to make sure she had put her cigarette out in the sink. And out and back again. Was the door locked? Finally into the car. At the restaurant, we requested to sit in a booth. I always wondered why it was always a booth. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that in a booth, you were in the outskirts of the restaurant, protected by upholstery and not on display in the center of the room at a table, where somebody might recognize us and say hello. The waiters could have served us shoes and spit on our food in front of us. None of the hermit crabs would have protested. We would have nibbled on our shoes and avoided the areas where we believed the spit to be. Send something back? God forbid. The hermit crabs paid up and went home.

I'd love to be able to say I've overcome all of that. I can't.

Slowly, through the encouragement of my husband and a few others, I have slowly ventured out of my shell. Not too far. I often ask myself the question, “I don’t really want to do that, do I?” Ask somebody to show my art? Sit in a tent at an art festival for four days and answer questions? Teach a class? The mere thought makes me shiver and look behind me for a shell.

I will, however, send back a shoe that has been spat upon.


  1. wonder if it is a generational thing as my parents sheltered us too and i WASN'T a hermit crab initially. but i was always held back. and my parents never had friends over either. its as if we were our own survivalist family.
    and kids learn from their parents (so i hope you have friends over!)
    and yeah, git out there....dont even ask yourself do you want to. maybe ask, can i? or how will i? or just jump and leap and let the water carry you wherever it may.

  2. For a hermit crab you sure know yourself really well WYCH! You are very articulate and I certainly found this post very interesting.

    I grew up in a very negative, worried household as well.....never look on the bright side only look on the side that something bad will happen.

    With age, counselling and good friends I have just about managed to get that monkey off my back.

    Good luck in venturing out of your shell, it really is a pretty wonderful world out here and never too late to take that first step.

    Big hugs
    Peggy xxxx