Things I want to keep in mind.

Category: hard working women

The vanishing

It is hard to remember what she used to be like.  She has faded, physically and mentally, to a mere shadow of her former self. It takes effort to retrieve a memory from prior to this era of vanishing.

The hospice nurse recommended the use of a wheelchair to help prevent falls and because she no longer uses the walker, she is getting more frail by the minute.  It is rare to hear her talk.  I haven’t seen her smile in a very long time – although, others have told me that she still does.  Her only reaction/response is to eating – her last pleasure?  Or is it just animal instinct to satisfy a basic need – hunger.

It continues to be painful to visit her, to watch this decline.  You have to muster up your courage before you go and then decompress when you leave.  You sit in your car and you feel helpless and sad.  Your heart literally aches.  One thought plays over and over in your mind.  She would hate this if she knew.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my dad’s death.  It has been 16 years.  While it was awful to lose him so suddenly – watching my mother go like this is so much worse.


Tips and tricks – part one

I have been alive for 59 years and 4 months.  Hard to believe.  It has been a long road of learning, changing and updating.  Here is a golden review:

Lesson 1 – life is transition.  Nothing remains the same, no matter how hard you try to squeeze it into the little plastic box.  People enter and exit your life on their own timetable and at their whim.  Not much you can control about that – other than how you deal with your gain and loss.  There’s always a chance they will cycle back through at some later point, but there is also the chance that they won’t.  Be open for both possibilities.

Lesson 2 – Motherhood is not easy.  Babies are adorable, cuddly, soft and warm.  They will love you forever.  That is not in dispute.  BUT they are also a lifelong commitment of pooping, puking, crying, keeping you up at night, making you worry from dawn till dusk.  There will be illnesses, trips to the principal’s office, fighting, injuries with trips to the ER, an endless array of financial needs (shoes, clothes, costumes, science fair projects, sports uniforms, dancing shoes, pianos, band instruments, braces, winter coats, summer gear, vacations, school trips), as a mom you are “on” 24/7.  It’s easier with a partner who can (and will) tag in when you are spent.  Someone who is there for the long haul and will learn how to anticipate the needs of said infant/child as well as you do or a close facsimile.  **See lesson 3 part 2

Lesson 3 – Partnership in a relationship is never 50/50.  Each person brings their own skillset to the relationship.  In the household, there will be a division of labor that works for each couple.  This division is constantly under revision, depending on the situation, and both partners must be flexible, vigilant and mindful.  Small examples:  If you make a mess, clean up after yourself.  Simple lesson for children AND adults.  This includes dribbles on the toilet seat.  Dads, teach your little boys (by example) to look before they flush and wipe up after themselves.  Hair in the sink or the shower drain?  Clean it out BEFORE you leave the bathroom.  Cooking meals – what works?  Who comes home first?  If one cooks, the other cleans up.  Cooking together can be fun too.  Yard work – what works?   Every “job” requires effort and elbow-grease BUT also provides opportunity for togetherness.  The key point is that both parties are fully aware that this is a partnership – the desire to play an active role is important.

Lesson 3, part 2 – Partnership in a relationship changes drastically when offspring are born.  It is unavoidable.  Mom becomes a guernsey cow (or it can feel that way) feeding and in total focus on the new family member.  Dad may feel neglected.  It’s up to both of you to modify how you view your relationship, and how you contribute to maintaining your relationship.  The partnership is now a UNIT.  There will be diapers to change, books to read, extra laundry and cleanup.  If you thought your life was in constant motion before, welcome to the hurricane.   The dance has changed but it is possible to continue building your relationship/family.  Again, flexibility is paramount.  Dad’s need to participate in the care of the child – a father’s bond is as important as the mother’s.  The best bonding mechanism is when dads have an active role; feeding, changing, bathing, rocking, reading.  Moms need to let dad “in” – he will do things differently than you do.  That’s the way it works, and works best.   Child-rearing is difficult.  Work hard to find the middle road, always.  And it doesn’t stop with infancy and toddlerhood – dads need to continue feeding, reading, transporting (pickup or drop-off at daycare, school, sport/dance practices, etc. etc.), cooking, shopping, cutting hair, learning to braid hair, etc. etc.  Remember: The division of labor is constantly under revision.

Lesson 4 – Pregnancy is a crapshoot.  Some people can get pregnant on a wink and a smile.  Others require IVF or other fertility assistance.   Every pregnancy is different.  Some women claim they never felt better than when they were pregnant.  Some women have just the cutest little basketball belly and from the back, you can’t even tell they are pregnant.  That was not me.  I felt like shit for the first trimester and into the second.  Constantly nauseated and looking for something to eat that would settle my stomach and make me feel better.  I gained far too much weight!  The last thing I ever felt like eating was salad or vegetables.  Bread, pasta and potatoes were my only saving grace.  I was a huge pregnant woman – big everywhere.  Toward the end, I had a huge round face and swollen ankles.  From the back, I looked like Sasquatch.   In regards to my heavy weight gain, my obstetrician (a man) said, “Well, you’re the one who has to lose it”.   And he was right…

To be continued….more lessons ahead.

The Rummage

The rummage.  (Definition: an unsystematic and untidy search through a mass or receptacle).

As a child growing up in a very small town on an Indian reservation in Montana, like most of the residents in our valley — we didn’t have much.  My dad was a logger, working in neighboring towns at logging camps.  He would come home on weekends.  Mom stayed home with us kids – cooking on a wood stove and washing clothes on the back porch – no matter the season.  They owned their home, such that it was, and one vehicle.  Money was very sparse – but they made do.  Everyone did.

I don’t have a lot of specific memories of those days.  As children, we really had no idea how “poor” we were.   As far as we knew, we were royalty living in a castle.  Though the castle was always cold and the roof leaked when it rained.  We did have an indoor toilet, however!!!  That was an improvement from the modified granary we had been living!  My mom and dad were very proud to have their own place and unbeknownst to us, they had plans for further improvements as time and money would allow.

Meanwhile, we lived in the very old house and entertained ourselves as children do.  My mother’s companions were the few family members who accepted her, her sisters-in-law (who were also considered interlopers within the family); and the women from the Catholic church.  Mom belonged to the Altar Society – a group of women at the church who performed some sort of service – making quilts and helping the needy.   They had bake sales and meetings.  To be honest, I don’t really know what they did, I just know she attended the meetings and made friends with the other members.  In helping those less fortunate, they had an old building at the church filled with discarded clothing, shoes and other items.  I do remember that Tuesday was Rummage Day.

The building was called “The Rummage”.  It was an old Indian agency building right next to the church – I’m not sure what it was used for initially but it was full to bursting with OLD stuff.  Shoes, clothes, a veritable treasure cove for little children.  There were old bras to stuff, clothes for dress-up (including high heel shoes!) and some jewelry – but that was a rarity.  The Rummage was open every Tuesday for drop-off or for shopping.  Each item was sold for a dime.  Most of the clothing could be washed and would be in relatively good condition.  Some of it should have bypassed the rummage and gone directly to the dump.  There were boxes of old shoes, old coats, old dresses, old hats.  Truly, it was a fire hazard but there were no restrictions in those days and many were served by The Rummage.

The building and the contents therein smelled old and musty.  My mom and Delores would smoke and sort through the clothes, trying to keep them in some semblance of organization.  We kids would gleefully look through the piles trying to find something to buy for ourselves.  It wasn’t until we were a little older that we realized shopping at The Rummage was not an adventure for everyone.  The stigma became much more evident as we approached puberty – that glorious time when you become aware of comparisons, judgments and ridicule.

In those days, hand-me-downs, used clothing, “rummage” as it were, was very common.  It wasn’t just a fad, it was a necessity.  I wore hand-me-down clothing until I was in high school.  We didn’t have to shop at the rummage very much as we had other resources for hand-me-downs.  And I was really lucky because my mom could sew and, in my wardrobe, what wasn’t hand-me-down was sewn by my mom.  Although, I could never figure out why she always chose such wild and bold colored material.  At the time, I thought she was a little eccentric. I now know that she bought whatever material was on sale – it was never her intention to “choose” that wild and bold material – it was affordable.  Still, she sewed some beautiful clothing.  Our prom dresses were lovely!

I think I was lucky to live when and where I lived.  Most of us in the Jocko Valley (my home) were in the medium to low income range.  Many of us had hand-me-down or home-made clothing – it was bad form to criticize or judge.  And most of us knew The Rummage was there if we needed it.


Getting back to Bridge Club

She loved to play cards.  One of the most difficult parts of her illness in the end was that she couldn’t play bridge anymore.  That was borderline devastating.  How would they ever find a replacement for her at bridge club?

She had sclerosis of the liver, diabetes, a disease similar to leukemia and heart failure.  The combination kept her homebound for the last few months of her life.  This was the worst form of torment for her.  Normally, she had an activity on each day of the week – Bridge club, pinochle, bunko, newcomers club.  If you called to invite her to attend something, you had to squeeze it into her busy schedule.  She kept herself busy and had many friends right up until she could no longer drive or walk very far or travel.

She loved being the center and if she wasn’t, she would find a way to place herself there.  She was kind and loving but she was also bold and brash when she wanted to be.  She would tell it like she saw it — whether you liked it or not.  Getting older was very difficult for her – she fought it every step of the way.  Shortly before she died, after returning home from the hospital for the umpteenth time, she no longer wanted to hear about hospice or funerals or churches.  In exasperation she said, “I just want to get back to playing bridge, I’m not dead yet!”

The week before she died, we had a surprise party for her.  All of her children were there and most of her grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.  She had just gotten out of the hospital for the last time.  It was time for hospice.  Initially, when we rolled her into that room filled with people, she was a little confused as to what was going on – but then she realized that this was her family, all of her family, and she broke down in tears.  We ate dinner, sat around and visited and then took pictures of everyone, together.  I’m sure that was her favorite part, the photos.  Of course, she didn’t have a chance to refresh her lipstick…spent a few minutes looking for anyone with a tube of red lipstick then we finally gave up and just took the photos.

She didn’t talk much that day, which was very unusual.  I suspect she was exhausted and in need of a warm bed, but she smiled and smiled.  So happy to be with her family, happy that they did this for her.  Happy to have the chance to see them for the last time.  We all knew this.  It was as hard for us to believe as it was for her.  I still can’t imagine a world without her.

The funeral mass is Thursday, the burial on Friday.  It will be a strange thing – as funerals often are – realizing that she really is gone.  I only knew her for 32 years, she was my mother-in-law, but I will miss her.

A prompt from Carla — Before

In June of 2015, we placed my mother in a memory care facility.

Before that, she was living in her own home.  My sisters and I took turns bringing her meals and checking on her.  She slept a lot and watched TV when she could figure out how to turn it on.  We would arrive to find her in a mess of one kind or another – half naked or with excrement on her, the couch, the floor.  The dog would eat her food and there would be a trail of wrappers and containers strewn about.  She remembered who we were, most of the time.  She didn’t offer much in the way of conversation other than answering questions.  Unable to dial the phone and sometimes, unable to remember how to answer it, she was cut off from everyone and everything.  Because she was unable to drive any longer, she spent long hours in her house looking out the window, thinking about how she needed to go somewhere.  In the end, she thought she needed to go “home” even though she was already home, and she started going out of the house, half-dressed and in disarray.  We knew the time had come to get her in a safe place.

Before that, she was retired and at home taking care of herself.  She had moments of forgetfulness and confusion but we didn’t realize it.  Our family had suffered a break and we were estranged from each other.  Her visits with us were strained and less frequent.  She worked at her church and drove herself to town to run errands.  She spent a lot of time with our younger sister.   We knew that she was having trouble with her memory and we were concerned about her ability to drive but because of the discord, we were unable to address those issues with her.  Our first try with offers of assistance were met with defensiveness and more dissonance.  She believed she was doing fine on her own.

Before that, she was working at the post office.  She had a small mail route in a small country town.  Despite her difficulty with her knees, she worked any time she was needed and enjoyed feeling useful.  Very devoted to her church, she taught catechism classes and played the organ every Sunday.  She was also a eucharistic minister and took communion to the elderly and shut-ins.   My mother was a “gallivanter”, if she was bored, she would jump in her car and go visit one of her children or grandchildren or her good friend, Evalyn (or all of the above).  Losing the ability to drive in her later years was devastating for her.  Her vehicle was her mode of escape.   She would also call to check in with us once or twice a week and if there was a function at the school, she would stop in to see if it was something that might be of interest.  She attended any function in which her grandchildren participated.  She was a widow but she still had her family, friends and church.

Before that, she was living with my dad.  She worked at the post office part-time and devoted a lot of time and energy to her church.  In regular contact with her children and grandchildren, she made every effort to attend any activity they were involved in and always brought a treat of some kind.  At this point in their lives, my parents’ relationship was difficult, at best.  They were at odds with each other over many things.  They rarely rode together in the same car to any of the family functions.  My mom had a habit of leaving without saying goodbye – suddenly you would notice that she was no longer there.  I think she often felt overshadowed by my dad and unappreciated for her efforts.  She loved spending time with her grandchildren especially when she could have them to herself.

Before that, she was working as a home health care worker, taking care of the elderly who needed assistance with cleaning and errands.  She had several clients and she was very devoted to each of them.  My mother was always a very hard worker.  Her church and her grandchildren took up most of her time.  She traveled to Texas once or twice a year to visit her family.  She also did a little traveling as part of her training for the eucharistic ministry.  I don’t know much more about this time period of her life because I was busy with my own.

Before that, I am not certain of the details of her life.  I have only snippets of memories of interactions with her.  Mom was not one to express her feelings or desires.  I have had a lot of time to think about her, about this illness and about losing her.  I’ve thought about having to help write her obituary and feeling totally inadequate to do so.  I will have to seek assistance from others if I am to do her justice in that endeavor.

When a parent has dementia, there are so many layers of loss.  You lose that person that you have relied on all of your life.  The one MAINSTAY we all have, our mother.  You also lose the opportunity to repair or rebuild a broken relationship – or to create one where there wasn’t one before.  You have to give up on that dream.  And far worse, you see this person slowly disappear and you still remember who and what they were…before that.

Happy Birthday Jackie!

This is how I remember it:  Around 4:30 am,  I feel a strange discharge and wonder what it could be?  My water breaking?  It wasn’t a gush, just a trickle – not a flow but a dribble.  I go to the bathroom and I have some minor cramping.  Contractions?

I wake my husband.  We are so excited, we are giddy.  We try to be quiet.  We are staying at my parents’ house and don’t want to wake them.  But, of course, we do.  Around 6, we shower.  Mom and dad are up – dad is so nervous he pours orange juice into his coffee.  7 am we call the hospital, they recommend we come in to be checked – to confirm that it is amniotic fluid that is “leaking”.  Contractions are coming regularly but they are far apart and not very intense.

As we drive the 20 miles to the hospital, I feel very nervous.  This is really IT.  My husband talks nonstop – as is his way.  It is a cold November day, with some fog and expected rain.  It is Saturday and the day of the Bobcat-Grizzly football rivalry game.  On our way to town, we pass an old motel on Evaro Hill.  There are fire trucks everywhere and remnants of smoke and steam.  During the night, several of the rooms were gutted by fire.  It wasn’t a total loss.  I will always remember the day it burned….though it has nothing to do with my labor story.  Little trivial things of which your brain takes note.

We arrive at the hospital and I get the “litmus” test for amniotic fluid.  Sure enough, my water has broken so we are a “go”.  I call my nursing student who will be witnessing the labor and delivery as part of her training.  We call other family members to let them know we are in labor.  These are early stages – contractions are far apart and not overly strong.  I walk the hall and they get stronger, I have to stop several times to breath.  I get back into bed and they slow down again.  It is going to be a long day.

I am 23 years old, my husband is 21.  Neither of us is very mature for our age.  Our relationship isn’t such that we talk about these things – other than to discuss surface excitement and lofty dreams of our future as parents.  We know where we want to go but have NO IDEA how to get there.

I am scared shitless.  I have been through a lamaze class (as a stand-in coach for my sister-in-law).  I have listened to a lot of birthing stories and my best advisor just had a baby 7 months before.  My mothers’ only words of comfort?  “A year from now you won’t even remember the pain.”

This is 1981 – hospitals and doctors are only beginning to look at new, calmer ways of delivering babies.  Mothers are given the choice of delivering their babies in their laboring room, in special beds that have stirrups and the foot of the bed drops down and out of the way for delivery.  I was given that option; sounded way too “new-age” – I chose the delivery room.  Also during this period, doctors were moving away from pain medications and spinal block – or epidurals.  They would use them in difficult cases but mothers were encouraged to use minimal pain medications as this was better for the baby.  (I didn’t know a lot but I did know that).  However, I was told (by a friend) that if I wanted any pain medication, there was only a small window of opportunity for taking it.  If it was offered, best to take it whether I needed it or not – just in case things got worse.   If you waited until it was time to push, that was the point of no return and they would no longer administer the pain meds.  A little over halfway through the labor, I was asked about my pain level and though it was tolerable, I feared the worst and opted for the medication.   I believe I was given demerol.  After that point, things got a little foggy. (To this day, I regret that decision.  While it helped me tolerate the pain, I think I missed a lot of the experience because I was affected by the medication.)

There is no google, no birthing apps, no youtube videos.   There are books with photos if you have the stomach for it.  There was a 4 week lamaze class that you could take through the hospital – but being naive and rather timid, I didn’t even consider that option.  I went into my first labor and delivery relatively ignorant and not very blissful.

I don’t remember a lot of details about the actual birth.  I think it was around 3:30pm.   I remember things like having to go to the bathroom and feeling fearful of peeing and then delivering my child in the toilet at the same time.  I remember my doctor arriving from the Bobcat-Grizzly game.  I have no recollection of how long I pushed or how many times.  I remember hearing that I had a little girl.  Exclamations by the doctor about her size and all of her dark hair.  Something about the placenta and too much blood.  A nurse pushing on my stomach and another administering pitocin – everyone moving rather frantically.

Then, a warm little bundle on my chest.  Her dark hair is matted with blood and amniotic fluid.  Her eyes are little slits and she is gently crying.  She has a dark complexion and a full, chubby face.  She is here. She has arrived amidst a flurry of panic, worry and fear.  Warm.  Soft.  The best, biggest and brightest thing that has ever happened to me.  She calms me to my very soul.  She gives me purpose – I will learn, I will grow, I will be strong, I will become the best I can be as a person.  In that one last push, in that first full breath, she made me a mom.

Today is her 35th birthday.  We have been through a lot together.  As my first child, she suffered all of my inexperience, ignorance and mistakes along the way.  We survived a divorce and all of those trappings together.  In the middle years, I feared I would lose her forever to teenage anger and resentment.  She often threatened to move away – to a larger, more sophisticated city – never to return.  I believed her.   But then, through the gentle gift of time, we came back around.  We started listening to each other, sharing all the important bits and pieces.  Through her, I have learned many essential life lessons.  Happy Birthday Jackie!  And thank you for giving me so much.

Use both voices

Breaking free takes time. The decision is made long before the steps are actually taken. It may be on a day when he is particularly vocal and rigid; when he, yet again, forces you to acquiesce to his opinion fully expecting that you will take it on as your own. You may outwardly concede but inside there is a voice. Inside, there is the beginning of a churning.

There is so much fear and uncertainty. In addition to having to walk on eggshells in your life because of his oppression, you have an inner turmoil of your own. You wonder how this happened? How did you let this happen? How will you ever get yourself and your children out of it safe and unscathed?

In my case, there were many days when I just agreed to be agreeable. Arguing was pointless, no matter the issue. There would be a barrage of facts followed by another barrage of subtle insults meant to make you feel as though you really were very useless – predictable that a woman with so little education and such a strange family would be so uninformed (translation: stupid). This was the daily dose. This was what caused the voice to spring from the depths to commence the battle.

I don’t remember the day I became aware of the voice. Initially, it was a feeling, a defense against the untruths. Inside my head, I began to counter the arguments, the insults. Soon I began to covertly disagree, to say ‘yes’ with one voice and ‘no’ with the other: inside my soul where all important dialogues are held and plans are made.

Eventually, I began to disagree with both voices. It was a long and slow process and was met with discord. I had to choose my battles.   More times than not, one voice would have to return as a matter of self-preservation. It was a time of re-building of self.   It was also the most difficult time of my life to feel so much angst and fear; to feel fear for my children, for their safety and well-being; to have so little control and yet to be re-gaining control at the same time. It was a strange dichotomy.

I do remember the first time I finally spoke with both voices and with true conviction. We were driving home after my first appointment with a family counselor. There had been about two weeks of concerted strife between us – including our one and only violent episode, after which we agreed we needed help with our situation. During my counseling session, the counselor listened to my story and, in essence, told me I was being held captive and while I had an opportunity to escape, I wouldn’t take it because I felt concern for my captor. He said OUT LOUD what I had been saying inside. The voice applauded, the churning did a quick flip and then burst open with a spray of light.

I left that office feeling vindicated but frightened, strong but weak, totally terrified. I got into the car with my husband and children and started the drive home under a barrage of, first, questions then probing demands. “What did the counselor say, what did you say? Did he have some suggestions? Should we see him together? Tell me what he said.” My two voices spoke with much more calm than I was actually feeling inside. Now, 31 years later, I don’t remember what I actually said but it was something along the lines of “he said we should think about separating”. Of course, the typical tirade began but I only heard parts of it because inside I was feeling the first prevailing moments of freedom. Inside, despite his display of anger, irritation, then hurt feelings, then belittling…I felt like I was looking up from the bottom of a lake and the water was so CLEAR. I could see the sun, the blue sky, the flittering shadow of the trees on the surface. I sat up, then squatted, aimed for the surface and pushed with both feet.

Begin again

You will know in your heart of hearts when it is time. There has been pain, fear and dread for a long time. Self-doubt has been the main course for far too long. There is strength inside, there has always been strength inside. That strength was not lying dormant – it was waiting in the shadows for snippets of light and warmth, awaiting an invitation. Even in the darkest days, it was not resting on its’ haunches; it was crouching, making ready for fight or flight.

When you know, when you feel that surge, you will stand. Begin again. You will unsheathe the might that led you to this place.

Begin again. Start living in your own light. It will be a sliver in the beginning, but it will spread just as sunlight does at dawn, eventually touching every inch of the valley.

It is easy to say, harder to do – but it can be done. Inside is the voice of power. Use that voice. Begin again.

Spending wisely

My original intent was to sit down and write a blog article but there were so many sparkly things to distract me! It’s Prime Day on Amazon! Spent a good 45 minutes looking at sales on things I don’t need. Then, I searched a topic on Bing and ended up reading several articles. Damn those links to other articles! I was able to avoid Pinterest, but I did drop in on Facebook just for a brief run through. Oh, and then I needed some music to listen to as I write and spent 20 minutes trying to navigate through iTunes! Way too many distractions… Time thieves, every one!

Oh, and look out my window! The sun is rising and the sky is a beautiful, clear blue. I think I need to wash the windows, they are really disgusting. (When did I last wash them?) Meanwhile, there are the hummingbirds fighting over the feeder outside the window. Flit, flit, flit – I can relate.

It certainly is easy to lose track of time and end up having done nothing of substance with my morning, one of the perks and disadvantages of being retired and having free time. I can’t feel bad about that or should I say “won’t” – too many years of not having that glorious time. I watch my kids and some of my younger friends battle with having enough time to take care of their jobs, their kids, their homes and their own self-care. I remember those days well, so I’m going to be grateful for this wonderful, comparatively easy time in my life.

I also think of my mother, living out her days in a memory care facility. Time is irrelevant to her. Days pass unnoticed.

I am grateful that I can still experience time as a commodity worth holding and cherishing. I can still count moments. I can still dread hard times. I can remember good and difficult times with the same fervor. I may not remember every moment – but I can treasure the moments I do remember.

I’ve wished that time would pass quickly so that some tragic event and all the pain involved could just be over; or so that a wonderful event I was anticipating could finally arrive. I’ve wished time would slow down, or stop, on days that were particularly happy and life was pleasant and peaceful. There has been time spent waiting in a hospital, hoping for a recovery. Time waiting for a pregnancy to go to fullterm, to see that innocent little face for the first time. Time waiting to finally have some independence; to make my own choices and be on my own; to have someone I needed and wanted; to have children; for children to grow up; for grandchildren to arrive; for retirement; for freedom from worry (there’s no such thing, by the way!). So much time spent waiting, hoping, dreaming, agonizing, wishing.

When you are young and foolish, you wish so much of your time away. When you are old and foolish, you wish for that time back. Why does the mind flit from topic to topic in these quiet and laidback days? Because it can.


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.