Monthly Archives: March 2009

What Is

Today is my birthday.

The past 4 months or so have been stressful and I realize now that I have been making them so.  Last summer I was the Campaign Manager for a guy running for U.S. House.  I was busy.  I loved it.  I liked working for Tom, I liked working with volunteers, I liked having a purpose.  He lost and the campaign ended.

Since then, I have been clamoring to keep myself at that level of busy.  I worked on my marketing business, worked on my sales business, began this blog, began my dating book, etc.  In the past couple of months I became Vice President of a new Democratic group in town.  But I wasn’t happy.

I’d call my good friend and fret over taking on too much but still feeling unfulfilled.  She suggested I get a regular job.  She felt that staying at home with L just wasn’t enough for me and none of my projects were at the point of full operation – they were all start-ups, basically.  “You need to be with other women, create friendships, wear cute clothes, have something to do,” was the basic message.  And in some ways, she is right.  I do thrive in that environment.

I thought about her suggestion and decided it wasn’t for me.  I liked the sound of it but it is more complicated than that.  First, I’d have a boss, something I really don’t want. Second, I’d have to somehow take care of my family while working, something I didn’t want to do. And third, I like being at home and the feeling of freedom I have to do what I want (provided I take care of my family).

“What?” I asked myself.  “Did you just say you like being at home?”  It shouldn’t have been a surprise.  I have always loved the sense of freedom as a freelancer and I like being spontaneous, something an 8-5 job doesn’t offer.   Most importantly to J and I is raising L and being there for her in these early years.  So where does that leave me?  It leaves me with what already is: I am a stay-at-home-mom.  A homemaker.  A housewife.  That is my job.

Wow.  What a relief!  Since I have allowed myself to be what I actually am, I am much happier.  When L goes to school, I work on the two projects most important to me right now and the rest of the time I read, write my blog, clean the house, do laundry, run errands – but no rushing.  I’m not frantic like I was.  I feel peaceful.

I realize now how fortunate I am that I don’t have to work.  That’s right, I said it, in the face of the nation’s almost total economic meltdown.  For the lifestyle that we live, I don’t have to work.  Bills get paid, we can afford some new clothes, we go out to dinner from time to time…life is good.  We are happy.  For a while I felt pressured to bring in money so we could buy a house.  We are now looking at smaller homes using the money we have already saved.

I am grateful that my husband works hard to create the life I get to live.  He has few expectations of me (short of making sure I pick up L at school and managing our budget so we never overdraw on our checking account, he’s good).  With layoffs always looming, I know this might not last so I am enjoying it while I can.  And, perhaps most importantly, I am admitting it: I’m a housewife.

So what have I done so far on my birthday?  Well, I cleaned poop off the bathroom floor, plunged the toilet, got more laundry done, put dishes away, took my daughter to school, and stayed home while the carpet cleaner was here.  I am looking forward to taking L to dance class and then reserving a date for her “Get Doted On” birthday party in May.  I’ll get some writing done on an article and run to the mall for a few errands.

A typical day for me, and now, really, a perfect day.

What Was

If you read this post, you’d know that in honor of my 40th birthday I addressed the things that I dreamed about that I didn’t accomplish.  It was a way to be complete, to let go of old dreams to make room for new.

I had said that I was going to write a list of my accomplishments.  I wrote the list on paper, sitting in my car while waiting for L to finish her piano class.  It felt fine to do it, but I am not going to put it on my blog.  It seems…too…self-indulgent.  Besides, this way when I need some crazy story about my past, I haven’t already used it for a list.

Interestingly, after I wrote the list, I didn’t feel better about myself.  I didn’t feel a surge of confidence or more clarity about what I am supposed to do next.  Funny.  I thought I would.  Especially after looking at the things I hadn’t accomplished.  But I knew all of those already and so many were, frankly, old.  I thought, “If my old high school friends read this, it would sound sad.”

So where does that leave me?  Tonight, I’m not sure.  Been rough with my daughter the past few weeks, I’m struggling to write this unwieldy, overwhelming article where I have to act like a real reporter and confront public officials about unworkable policies (never done that before), and I need to have three different confronting personal conversations, none of which I want to have.  I’m not much in the mood to create big plans or tout my own successes.

Right now, I need a plan to get through this week.  A plan for the rest of my life will have to wait.

Aunt Bernadine – Our family’s oldest feminist

As you know, my Great Aunt Bernadine died last week.  (If you don’t, see this post.)  At her funeral, I learned some things about her that I wanted to share.  I don’t think I adequately, or at this point fairly, described her.  My experience of Aunt Bernadine was based mostly on what others said to me about her and my small experience of being with her.  We never spent time alone together and I didn’t get a chance to ask her questions about her life.  Now that I know more, I think it is the right thing to do to share what I learned.

  • Aunt Bernadine was 94, not 92, when she died.
  • She had 5 sisters and 1 brother, total of kids coming to 7!
  • Bernadine, along with all of her siblings, graduated from the University of Michigan.  That would have been around 1934.
  • Bernadine was married and divorced before she met my Uncle Ned.  Divorced in the 1930’s!!  Can you believe it?
  • My uncle was a very nervous fellow while my aunt was much more laid back.  My cousin thinks that is why they made a good couple. Apparently her philosophy was, “Tomorrow is another day.”  I now see why my Nana had such a hard time with my aunt – my Nana was the biggest worrier I knew.  Must have really rattled her chains!  Hilarious.
  • I knew this but forgot to mention it: after my Uncle Ned died, Aunt Bernadine took the QE2 (the premier cruise ship of the Cunard line) to England and then flew back on the Concord.  By herself!  Because she wanted to!

My aunt most certainly would have been one of the millions of professional women working today if she had been born later.  I don’t think she was on the front lines of feminism but rather quietly telling her daughter, who is now the epitome of the career woman in all the best ways, that she could be anything she wanted to be.  I respect my Aunt Bernadine more than I ever had.

PS: In the Jewish tradition, anyone attending a funeral can drop a bit of dirt on the lowered casket, a way of signifying that we are caring for our dead.  When my cousin dropped her little bit of dirt on top, she said with a smile, “Toodle-loo, Bernadine!” If if Aunt Bernadine was listening, I am sure she got a good chuckle out of it.

What Wasn’t

This post is about completion, not regret.

People have a hard time with the difference.  Talking about what was not to be is heard as an expression of regret: “disappointed over something, especially a missed opportunity.”  But if I don’t speak of my dreams that never happened, then I am also guilty of shoving those dreams under the rug to pretend that I didn’t care about them.  And that wouldn’t be true.  At some point, I spent time trying to accomplish these goals.  And, at some point, I quit.

I want to feel “complete” about the things that never happened and that won’t, now that I am 40.  “Complete” is more of a declaration than a feeling, really.  I say, “I’m complete about that” as a way to close that door without remorse, without sadness.  Being complete comes after the catharsis, after the tears are shed and a deep breath is taken.  It is said in that space between letting go and creating something new.

The following is a list of things I wanted to do but never did and now, given that I am (almost) 40 and a mom and wife, won’t.  It’s okay.  I have other dreams.  I need to let these go so I can make room for more.
  1. Lead Singer in a Rock Band: I love to sing and I crave self-expression.  I admire singers who allow themselves to be real and raw in front of an audience, who are completely themselves.  I envisioned being a version of myself whose only outlet is loud music and a room fully of happy, tipsy people trying to get laid.  (I sang in high school and joined a few bands in college, none of them leading anywhere.)  And, no, Karoake, while fun, isn’t the same thing.

    The song was, "I Touch Myself."  What did you expect?

    The song was, "I Touch Myself." What did you expect?

  2. Be Subject of Interview for Something, Anything, on NPR: I’ve come to realize that my life is simply too normal to be interviewed about anything on NPR.  Not that they only interview people with crazy lives – some are extraordinarily great, some are extraordinarily sad.  Of course I would prefer to be on the great side.  I wish I had invented some cool product or been at the forefront of some scientific breakthrough, or was an expert on something that is deemed important by the U.S. intelligentsia.  Alas, as a SAHM and a wife living in a Texas suburb, I don’t fall into any of those categories.  Sure, I could eventually do something NPR worthy, but I don’t see my current dreams moving in that direction.  NPR fame will have to pass me by this time around.
  3. Excel at an Artistic Expression (Besides Writing): For a while it was photography, then using keys (yes, keys) creatively, then just decorating my home in a fabulous way.  None of them have come true at this point.  The house is still a possibility, but did you notice how much it costs to decorate a room?  Yikes.  Besides, we have to buy a house first.
  4. Hob-Nob with Famous People: Not all famous people, just those who inspire me.  I won’t name names, that would be too embarrassing (as though this dream isn’t embarrassing enough!).
  5. Make a Difference on a Global Scale: When I was in college, I was part of the team that brought Earth Day back to campus.  It was a huge, and successful, effort.  I wanted to do more but there were so many areas to impact: the environment, the Iraq war (#1), women’s issues – I couldn’t pick which one I wanted to change the most.  So, I didn’t pick.  After a 20 year hiatus from organized activism, I am back in the game.  Only now I see my contribution as much more local and on a smaller scale – helping those right here in my community.  Doesn’t have the bluster of “World Leader in Environmental Change” but as I already noted from a previous post, I’m good with that.
  6. Be A Model: When I was in middle school, I had a modeling audition but left my Polaroid photo at home.  My mom was pissed!  (“I took you out of school and got your hair done for nothing?!”) I felt to guilty to ask again after that.  In high school, I got an actual body that simply isn’t model material.  The desire for public approval of my looks is not my proudest desire, nor my strongest – I haven’t had plastic surgery nor do I starve myself to look like a model.  I have been toying with the idea of setting up a photo shoot as though I was one (a friend did it and posted the photos on FB – I was annoyed and jealous) but financially this makes no sense.  I think it is time to let this one go.
  7. Be Rich So I Can Give Away Money: Make no mistake – if I were rich, I’d be sporting some serious jewelry first.  But after the diamonds and the Kelly bag purchase, I wish I could help those in need more than I already do, those close to me and organizations I believe in.  I wish I could afford a new car so I could help my cousin keep her job with GM.  I’d like to pay my parents back for my college education (not that they expect it).  I’d like to help my friends when they are in financial straits (more than a few of them now). I’d like to give significant money to organizations like Planned Parenthood, ACLU and Heifer International.  Money doesn’t solve all problems but it does solve some problems, and many organizations need money to solve problems.  I likely won’t have that kind of cash, though, so my small donations will suffice.  I know they won’t turn them away.

There.  Now you know what a young woman sitting in the UofM Law Library dreamt about while not writing her “Poli Sci 325: Political Philosophy” paper.  Looking at them like this, I see that the ideas behind the dreams are worth keeping (self-expression, creativity, charity); only the vehicles to fulfilling the ideas need to go.  If you feel so compelled, share with me what dreams you have given up to make room for new ones.  I’d love to hear.

Also, the next post will be about what I have accomplished in my 40 years, a kind of “list of things you don’t know about me.”  Except the list is more for me to take stock and be proud of myself as I move into a new decade.  And you get to marvel at what I have done.

Aunt Bernadine

aunt-bernadineMy great aunt is dying.  She is 92.

Aunt Bernadine is the last of my relatives in her generation, and she is not my blood relative.  She married my Nana’s brother, Uncle Ned.  My family was very close with Uncle Ned – brunch every Sunday, always holidays and birthdays together – but Aunt Bernadine wasn’t always around.  She was a bit of a recluse.  For as much as Uncle Ned was normal, Aunt Bernadine was a little on the kooky side.

Aunt Bernadine didn’t dress flamboyantly, she wasn’t into the arts or something cool like pagan rituals.  She never dispensed interesting or thoughtful advice, and she wasn’t the person I went to when I didn’t know how to talk to my parents.  Rather, she was kind of self-focused and not real loving, even to her only daughter.  My great aunt came from a family history of mental illness so even if she didn’t have a large dose of that, her family influenced how she interacted with others.  Certainly not an influence one might prefer.

But I loved her.  Yes, she was not to great to my Nana, but I came along well after all the fighting happened.  I saw this quirky, nice lady who smiled when I said hello to her and would listen to me when I had some story to tell (which was often).  I loved my Uncle Ned so I naturally loved my Aunt Bernadine.  When you’re 7, that’s just how it works.  Even as I got older and learned that she wasn’t the sweet old lady I thought she was, I didn’t care much.  Water under the bridge to me.

Once, when I was at college, Aunt Bernadine mailed me some poems she wrote.  I was touched that she thought to send them to me.  Aunt Bernadine seemed to know me as me – a writer, an artist – not just as one of her great-nieces.  I don’t know where those poems are, but I don’t think I threw them away.  In the event that I find them, they will certainly be framed.

As the last of the truly Elder generation, I worked hard for my daughter to meet Aunt Bernadine.  With L’s dancing and running around the lobby of the Assisted Living center, Aunt Bernadine would laugh or smile as best she could.  I doubt L will remember my aunt, and that makes me sad.  Sometimes I regret that I didn’t have children earlier so that my kids could enjoy as much of my family as possible (of course, who the father would have been I have no idea!).  My family, although strewn out all over the U.S., is the focus of my life.  I never thought I’d say that, but there it is.

Yes, Aunt Bernadine lived a long life.  Yes, her quality of life in the past 6 months or so hasn’t been so good.  Yes, everyone dies.  But I am taking this time (a day, maybe two) to just be really sad as we wait for her to die.  Kooky or not, Aunt Bernadine is a part of my family, and I love her.

**UPDATE**  After writing this post, I remembered that Aunt Bernadine used to say things to us that sounded like non-sequiturs but apparently were completely logical to her since what she said often made her chuckle.  I also remembered that she would end conversations with “Toodle-loo!”  We thought that was so silly.  But it made her unique.

Aunt Bernadine died tonight, March 18, around 9:30pm EST.   Toodle-loo, Aunt Bernadine.  Toodle-loo.


Two things about this video:

1. I love seeing the “fourth wall” of Sesame Street get smashed by Mr. Gervais.

2. My daughter can never see this video.

Legislative Day!

Tomorrow I drive to Austin on a bus full of men and women to advocate for medically accurate sexuality education in our schools. I have to wake up wicked early and since it is cold and raining I’ll likely be uncomfortable in heels. But it will all be worth it to let our Texas legislators know that teens need the right information, not misconstrued, misleading and false information, to protect themselves against STDs and pregnancy.

Soon I’ll be posting an article on another website about the condition of sexuality education in Collin County schools. If you can’t believe our schools would intentionally lie to students to scare them into abstinence, think again!

I’ll post a link here when the article is “published.”

Wish me luck!

For What I’m Worth

For five years I lead seminars for a company offering personal transformation courses.  The training program for seminar leaders is one of the most rigorous leadership programs in the country.  I probably put 30 hours of volunteer time a week: calling participants, listening to training tapes, coaching calls, in-office training sessions.  My life was about being a seminar leader – everything else was second.

It was a lot of work but my reward was directly changing people’s lives.  I could (and was expected to) help someone go from never speaking to her Mom to calling her mom on the phone and offering an apology.  That ability was the epitome of empowerment: I was empowered to help my seminar participants and they were empowered to make their lives better.

Being a seminar leader offered something else, something I have never been able to replace: when I walked into a room, people listened to me.  Not because I was “all powerful” but because of what I could offer as a seminar leader.  Mostly it wasn’t personal, although I had a lot of friends at the office I volunteered at.  I could be any where in the world and with that particular name badge on, people paid attention to what I had to say.  The organization called this “being known” – an acknowledgment of who someone is and that they make a difference.  Everyone was “known” at this company (meaning, everyone was thought to make a difference) but certainly the more people volunteered, and the more responsible they were to the company, the more they were known in this way.  I loved that feeling of being cared about by so many people and listened to like what I had to say mattered.  That feeling was how I determined my self-worth.  I mattered to others so I mattered to me.

My life is very different now.  I spend most of my time either alone or with my child.  L loves me but she doesn’t relate to me in this way – she isn’t capable of appreciation yet.  J loves me and appreciates me, but he can’t provide that same feeling of self-worth that I got while leading (nor should he).  I’d never go back to that life where others came before me and my family nor am I in sync with the company anymore.  So if I am not making a difference at that same level and that is where I fueled my self-worth, how do I fuel it now?   What can possibly compare to that?

The past 12 months have been a lesson in futility to answer this question.  I have discovered that nothing will compare.  Leading those seminars is a “gold chalice” kind of experience, one that can’t be duplicated and is put up on a pedestal never to be reached again.  I keep trying, though.  I begin projects in the hope that I might replicate that feeling of being known and mattering to others only to be disappointed, depressed and self-depreciating.  I am writing a book that intends to make a difference for people but writing is a lonely art form replete with self-doubt.  Attempts to lead in Democratic circles have been met with either indifference or outright resistance.  I love my blog because I love writing, but the game of increasing views and comments is exhausting.  And Twitter popularity? Oh, goodness, I am trapped like a rat on a sinking ship on that one.

Nothing I am doing now is enough to fill the void as long as actions I do now are compared to an irreplaceable past.  I can’t win even though I’m the referee.

Abraham Lincoln believed that “ideas of a person’s worth are tied to the way others, both contemporaries and future generations, perceive him.” (pg. 100, Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin)  Clearly this philosophy motivated him to be one of our greatest presidents, but for regular people, I don’t agree.  I think this is a trap that leads us to a never ending future of worrying about how our contemporaries view us.  And future generations?  That is more weight on my shoulders than I am willing to bear.   I am beginning to get the feeling that my self-worth is based only on the value that I give it.  I could look through my life and say, “I didn’t win a Nobel Peace Prize, a Pulitzer or an Oscar, so I guess I’m not worth much.”  Or I could say, “I did great things when I was dedicated to making a difference.  Those people’s lives are never the same because of me, so I am worth a lot.”

Rather than look to what I did or didn’t do before to determine my value, I’ve decided to simply say “I am worth a lot” and let the feeling of self-worth motivate me to do great (though perhaps small) things.  I’m starting with volunteering at a local non-profit community support organization that helps people in crisis with paying bills, rent and gas, provides groceries through its food pantry and goods through its resale store.  It isn’t a room of one hundred people hanging on my every word, but I know that when I walk in the door for my volunteer shift, people in that office will be very glad to see me.

Family: Can’t Live With ‘Em, And Killing Them’s Illegal

Here’s another guest blog post from The Mother someone I know on Twitter and through Twitter Moms.  She’s also the one who took me to task on one of my posts – but in a very loving way.  (Here’s her blog.) I’ll be posting a new entry tomorrow, promise.

The Mother needs your help: now that her husband accepted a house guest for the biggest weekend of their lives – Bar Mitzvah weekend of her oldest son – how does she handle it?  I gave my advice – she’s interested in what you have to say.

Okay, Memoirgirl. I have one for you.

My youngest is having is Bar Mitzvah next weekend. It’s a lot of work, and I’m catering two meals for out-of-towners.

One of my husband’s relatives called from Toronto and said she is sending down her 15 year old, ALON, for us to take care of for the weekend.

This kid has two uncles and a grandmother who are going to be here, too, but apparently they either weren’t capable enough or invited to take this kid for the weekend.

Would you EVER consider sending your child to someone else to take care of during one of the busiest weekends of their lives?

My first reaction is that it was a damn good thing my husband took that phone call, because I probably would have told her to stuff it (although I wouldn’t have been that polite).

Am I over-reacting? ‘Cause I’m no expert, either.

You Can Move Forward With Me, But You’ll Have to Travel Light.

This post is my first Guest Post, by my friend Cara.  She is a fabulous jewelry designer (you can find her website here) and recently divorced.  She is looking for advice on how to connect with other divorced moms in the most positive way, something she is finding challenging.  If you have advice, she’s all ears.

Ten months ago, when my divorce became imminent, I remember thinking, “No one I know is divorced.”  The thought was isolating, sobering. Now, due either to the laws of attraction or simple statistics, every other person I meet seems to be in some stage of divorce.  In conversation, when we establish that we’re among the ranks of the Divorced in some way, we have an obvious common ground and simple questions are asked: Who’s your lawyer? Have you filed yet? How’s *it* going? All above board and fairly impersonal.

Sometimes, though, the conversation quickly degrades into a marriage/spouse bashing session.  A hue of  “This is why I deserve my divorce” is added to the exchange.  I don’t discount the need for support and the feeling that we are not alone on this hellish journey to single status.  I do loathe the back and forth about who did what and wants what and on and on. I have had those discussions and I don’t find them to be particularly healing or even cathartic.  I have found that they can make me feel worse.

I know divorce is a gut-wrenching experience and that sometimes people need to just spew their anger and frustration about it. During the process people find out more about themselves, their to-be-ex-spouse (and friends and parents, for that matter) than they might have wanted to know.  For me,  I found out that I’m not comfortable airing my dirty laundry.  I also didn’t want to Monday Morning Quarterback my whole marriage nor did I want to relive it.  (If I’d wanted that, I could have just stayed married.)  I don’t mind sharing the facts but you aren’t going to find me bad-mouthing my spouse to everyone I know.  My goal is to leave my marriage in the past.  If I am talking about how upset my ex-husband makes me, then I can’t do that.

My problem is, then, how do I deal with other divorced moms (usually, with a dad here and there) who bash their ex-spouse?  Does it make me insensitive or unsupportive to not want to perpetuate the bashing cycle? Do I stand there, smile weakly and nod or do I find a way to force the conversation down a more positive path?  Is it even my place to dictate the flow of the conversation? What do you think?