BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

Month: May, 2016

Aha

Aha moments. Sometimes, they happen over and over. Our mind protects us from difficult matters – we may discover something crucial about our existence but then over time, push it to the far reaches. It tends to resurface, whether we want it to or not.

I have realized several times in my life, that I spend a lot of time trying to make things better for my dad. Let me explain. When I was young, he used to talk to me about his relationship with my mom. They were not happy and I came to realize as I became an adult, they were ill-prepared for marriage. Their culture, their upbringing, the times in which they lived – all combined to impede their efforts at finding common ground.

They were married in 1953. Men were kings in those days. Women were meant for childbearing, childrearing and housekeeping. My father had a 6th grade education. My mother graduated from high school at 16 and could easily have finished college but poverty intervened. They were both very intelligent. Both came from very humble beginnings and learned at an early age to make due, to do without.

When they met and married, they were happy or at least they seemed to be based on the way they told the story of their early years. Over the course of their life together, things slowly fell apart. They were angry and disappointed and didn’t try to stay on a joint path, but each went their own way. They lost interest in having a common goal. They gave up – over and over and over. The difference between mom and dad, and the way they handled the demise of their relationship – was that he would talk about it, at length. She would shut down in extreme anger and frustration – cry, yell and ignore everyone. We always suspected that she was angry at my dad, but we never really knew. We learned to observe and detect – stay in the background and don’t ruffle the feathers.

I remember, very specifically, my dad telling me that when I married, I should never treat my husband the way my mom treated him. I received the message, loud and clear, all it takes to make a man happy is to listen to him, to never ignore him, to anticipate his needs, never to greet him with an angry scowl… A recipe for disaster in my first several relationships.

Aha moment. When I married my first husband, I truly believed I was doing the right thing as a woman and wife. I saw many things in the relationship that I did not abide by – however, I was going to be a better wife than my mother was. I was going to make it up to my poor dad by being the perfect wife. Any time I felt opposition to something my husband proposed – I would think of my dad and feel obligated to try to make it up to him by being complaisant. I would not make waves, I would suck it up. That lasted about 2 1/2 years. In the end, it was the realization that my mother was not the criminal that my father led me to believe. She was angry with good reason. I did not want to end up like my mother or for my children to feel the same anxiety and apprehension I felt. I believed in my own value, I had (and wanted to have) a mind of my own. I ended the relationship despite the fear, the trepidation, the upheaval a divorce would bring to me and my children.

Aha moment rerun. Every now and then, I will feel myself being complaisant with my current husband. I can think of a number of times in our 30 years together that I didn’t agree but acquiesced. When that occurred, I was always disappointed in myself and a little ashamed. I don’t ever want to feel discounted. Every time I go along when I really don’t agree, I discount myself.

In truth, on a base level, he is always surprised with I present an opposing view. In years past, I would have sat quietly and gone along with the conversation or changed the subject. I feel more compelled to speak my mind these days and it feels good, to me at least.

Unfortunately, as women, we tend to be relegated to the role of secondary whether we want to be or not – even in this day and age. Men still have higher wages and achieve better success in the corporate world. Most women, not all, have to rely on their counterparts for financial security – especially when children are born into the situation. Frankly, we put up with a lot of shit for a long time, because we have little choice.

Most of the time, for me, it is the little things: like going to an action movie because I know my husband won’t like a chick flick; going to a restaurant that I know he likes because it is easier than listening to him complain about the restaurants that I like; buying furniture that he likes because he believes he knows better. Those are compromises that don’t really amount to much sacrifice on my part until I think of 30 years worth. Then I begin to feel like my mother must have felt – resentful. As I age, I begin to assert myself more – while those compromises are minor, they are minor – compromise is a two way street right?

As women, we don’t always have to make the compromise, not because he makes more money, or because he is stronger or because he is louder. We can say, “I don’t think so”, “I don’t agree”, “Not in this lifetime”. I have to turn off my dad’s voice, I can’t make things better for him and his view of how a wife and woman should be are not my own. There are voices and memories that rule our choices – we have to understand that. Sometimes, we have to quiet those voices so we can hear our own.

Shadow people – book 2

**See previous post…

Do moms resent being in the shadows? Sometimes. Perhaps when your children might have the impression that you don’t mind being last on the list. That’s the way it has always been – why would it change now? Perhaps when moms do all the “behind-the-scenes” orchestration and work, and the dads get the attention and recognition because they are on the set, ready for action, ready for the next close-up. Who do you think wrote dad’s script?

My children are grown and out on their own. They really don’t need me and haven’t for a very long time. I never doubt that they love me. Now that several of them are parents themselves, I think they understand more about the refocus that occurs to a parent. Your choices are your own but you aren’t the only one who will be affected by the consequences of those choices. Most of the time, you happily do what is best for your children, putting them first above your own desires. Once in a great while, you long for the past when you weren’t responsible and you could do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. But those yearnings are short-lived when you look at the deeper joys of parenthood.

One day, they will awaken to an awareness of their own life “in the shadows”. They won’t regret it but they will go through the same transition that I am experiencing – finding your own light after having it on low flame for so long. There is joy in rediscovering my “self” but it isn’t an easy road. There are good and bad days – days of floundering and days of giddy elation for no other reason than I just have a FREE day to myself – to do anything or nothing as I choose.

To be honest, Mother’s Day can be hard for moms, it is for me. We want recognition for all that we have done – but it needs to be sincere. We can’t ask for it. We NEED to KNOW that our kids KNOW how much we’ve done. The irony is we have a hard time accepting gratitude and praise. If you tell a mom thanks for all they’ve done, their answer is usually universal, “It was nothing”.

Shadow people

Mothers are shadow people. If you are a mom, you know what I mean. We don’t mean to be. In fact, in this day and age of personal awareness, we try NOT to be. But despite all our best efforts to “hold onto” our ‘selves’ – put our ‘selves’ first – we fall back into the shadows.

From the moment we learn we are pregnant, we focus all of our energy on to that wonderful little being. We give up alcohol and coffee, we avoid any fumes or chemicals that could be dangerous, we don’t eat foods we know could have certain bacteria, we try to maintain a healthy diet and eat what is best for a developing fetus. (Sidebar: In my case, I was so nauseous in the first trimester, I had to eat whatever I thought I could hold down or what might make me feel better. It wasn’t always on the healthy spectrum…)

The worry seed sprouts and our mind fills with concerns about possible miscarriage or birth defects or other complications. Thus begins a lifetime of uneasiness and fierce protection when it comes to matters of our offspring.

We prepare for the birth, learning which methods are best for the infant. We know it will be painful but we will endure. Our pain means very little compared to that of the infant.

The scrunched little face appears. The mewling cry serves to fortify the bond between mother and child. From that moment, we choose to go into the shadows of our own free will. And we do it over and over again – throughout our lifetime.

In this modern age of choices, as mothers, our individual choices are still limited. If it is our choice to work outside the home, we have to work three times as hard. Why? Because we put our children first. We know their needs still have to be met – if we want to raise healthy beings, they need guidance, tutoring, nurturing. And we just really love them and want to be with them. So, we get up early and we stay up really late. We are constantly on the move, preparing for the next thing. When the children are awake, we are present, or try to be. When they are asleep, we are doing laundry, sweeping and vacuuming, pulling weeds, washing dishes, preparing food, filling school bags. If we’re lucky, we might squeeze in a workout – but that is pretty low on the list.

Mothers buy clothes and shoes for their children when they really need them for themselves. Many a shopping venture is quickly diverted by purchases for the children instead. We can wear tattered underwear as long as they have good shoes and warm jackets.

Doctor and dentist appointments for the children come first. Time is limited, so our yearly examinations generally occur every 5 years or so.

Photo albums are filled with precious moments but very few photos of mom – we are always holding the camera.

It is different for fathers. They don’t experience the umbilical cord bond or the mouth to breast bond. For the most part, they don’t have the same focus. They take their cues from the mother. If they are observant, they will learn what needs to be done and lend a hand. They will become part of the household familial system but it is the mother who directs the spectacle from the shadows. (Sidebar: there are exceptions – there are men who take very active roles in the household, my son is one example).

There are times when, as mothers, we don’t want to be the shadow people anymore. We want to stand in the spotlight and absorb some of that warmth. But, alas, we feel the pull of that mewling cry, we remember the pudgy little fingers and that toothless grin and we choose – of our own free will – to urge our little urchin forward into the light where they belong. We stand in the shadows so they don’t have to…

Mother’s Day

I almost walked past her. She was sitting on the couch in the common room with her back to the door. The more this disease advances, the less she looks like my mother. Her face no longer shows emotion, no recognition, no smile, no anger; just an expression of bewilderment.

Her hair is longer than it has ever been and it is curly. Depending on the day and who is working at the home, it can either be braided or it can look wild and disheveled. On this day, someone has taken the time to put a french plait in the front and the back lies quietly at her shoulders. It looks very pretty and very normal.

I say hello and tell her who I am. She repeats, word for word, what I say. I ask her how she is doing today and she responds with her usual, “Good”. I tell her that tomorrow is Mother’s Day and that I have brought her a card. She has no reaction. I open the card and hand it to her – she looks at it, opens it slowly but does not read it. I didn’t expect her to. I tell her I am going to put the card in her room and that I will be right back. I walk down the hall to her room, sign her white board, do a sweep of the room, flush the toilet and put the card on her table. As I am returning to the common room, she is up and moving, heading to her room. As we walk slowly down the hall, I tell her my news; the same news I’ve told her on my last two visits. She looks at me as if I have two heads.

Once she is settled in her room, I tell her again that tomorrow is Mother’s day. I thank her for all she has done for me and tell her that I love her. My original plan had been to thank her for specific things – for sewing beautiful dresses, for sending me to college, for making sure I had braces and straight teeth, for teaching me to be kind, for being such a loving grandmother to my kids…but looking at her expressionless face just knocked the wind out of me. We say goodbye and I walk to my car. The emptiness is brutal.

I drive away feeling grateful that I am a mother too and that this is not my only view of this holiday. I am thankful for my children, for their strength, character and kindness. They are generous, caring people. They are creating lives that mean something. I am so proud of them.

While it is difficult to see my mom in this condition, it reminds me that I need to live as best I can, while I can. I still have a lot to accomplish, to learn and to give.

One memory…

If you could keep one memory, what would it be?

I don’t think I could choose…

  • I have four kids – each of their births is a remarkable memory. It was the first time I got to see their lovely faces.
  • My children are a joy to me, they have full lives. They are accomplishing so many things and I couldn’t choose just one proud moment. As I look back, they are all proud moments.
  • The day I met my husband is a great memory, those blue eyes and that strong chin – smiling back at me with a knowing expression. Love at first sight is not a myth.
  • Witnessing the birth of my grandson, Jack. Phenomenal.
  • My wedding on a hot day in July, surrounded by family and friends – feeling such joy.
  • Every day with a grandchild is a glut of precious memories. The funny things they say, their smiles, laughs and tears. You wish you could just hold onto them forever.

There are so many memories that I could never choose one. And in surveying all of the possible memories, I am reminded of my mother who can no longer grasp all of the precious memories she once stored.

She doesn’t remember meeting my dad. Or the births of her children. She doesn’t remember her friends or family. There may be fleeting moments where names come to mind or a brief glimpse of a place or a face flash through. She has photos on her wall of those she loves. She KNOWS they are “hers” but, often, she doesn’t recall a name or what the relationship is – just that they are there as a reminder of where she belongs. It is heart wrenching for us because we know what she’s lost, what we’ve lost. She has no idea.

If there is one memory of her that I would like to hold onto, it is when she was in her early sixties. We were at her house, sitting at the kitchen table. We were playing a game of some kind and something made her start laughing. She laughed so hard that she cried and could hardly breath. The rest of us joined her in her laughter, how could you not? It was a rare occurrence when she would let herself show that much pleasure and joy.

I worry a lot about dementia. It is my desire to hold on to all of my memories as best I can. In the end, it is a crapshoot as to whether I will develop memory loss. For now, I will cherish every moment I am given.