Here I Stand....

"Standin' on the edge of something much too deep
It's funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word
We are screaming inside, but we can't be heard..." Sarah McLachlan, I Will Remember You

....will you join me?

I started this blog a few years ago when I was on the threshold of menopause. Now that I've passed through that particular gate, I found two more awaiting me... one called "Divorce" and the other "Breast Cancer." This is my journey through both.

I appreciate the company of friends.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Thank you and welcome...

to my first TWENTY followers!  Thank you so much for joining me here on my journey.  I hope you will continue to share parts of yours.  If there's an aspect you'd like to discuss... please suggest it. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Of Matriarchs and Mothers

The main activity at my stepdad's 75th surprise party was the taking of a family picture that included all my siblings, grandchildren, in-laws and significant others.  We gathered on my brother's backyard slope, under the searing afternoon sun.  Chairs were suggested for my mother and stepdad.  As we clustered around them, a motley crew if ever there was one, I was reminded of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip sitting side by side in William and Kate's bridal picture. 

There were a lot of us.  Besides my parents and my three sibs, there are five significant others, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.  It took a lot of shuffling and shifting to get it right.  My mother sat and chuckled while the rest of us scurried back and forth at the photographer's bidding.

As in the wedding pictures of the royal couple, there won't be any doubt who's in charge. 

I come from a long line of strong women.

The first woman of my lineage I can name is my great-great-grandmother, Angelina.  She was born exactly a hundred years before I was, in 1859, in a little village on an island hugging the shores of Naples, and she died before my mother was even born, on an island that hugs the South Jersey coast.   When she came through Ellis Island, she had her daughter, Benedetta, for whom I am named, with her.  When my mother finally went back to see the little island within sight of Mt Vesuvius from which my mother's family comes, she was amazed to see so many of the same last names she had known as a child in Ocean City.  "It's like a member or two of every family just picked up and moved to another six thousand miles away."  My great-grandfather's family was from the same village; he didn't have to go a quarter way around the world to find her.   And it certainly explains my itch to move to the Big Island - an island six thousand miles from the one on which I was born. 

But what it would have been like, to get on a ship and know you would never see your home again?  In this day when my youngest can text and instant message and Facebook me any hour of the day or night, she has no sense even of what it was like for me when I went to England as a 17 year old exchange student.  No cellphones, no computers - only pay phones and letters that still took at least five days to cross the ocean.  I thought that required a lot of backbone then... I can't imagine what it would've been like to get on a ship with children in tow, and know that not only would you never see anywhere or anyone you ever knew or loved again, you might not even make it to your destination alive. 

My grandmother evidenced the steel to make those kinds of decisions:  she was a strong, but rigid woman, who didn't know how to let go or give in.   I know she loved me; the trouble was that her kind of love was as sweet as vinegar.   A few years ago, I happened to catch a documentary about Neapolitan "godmothers" - female leaders of the Italian Mafia capable of running their family businesses every bit as cold-bloodedly as their male counterparts.  I watched it, fascinated, feeling both a chill, and a familiarity.

But it's my mother who embodies the concept of matriarch.  No monarch of any empire past or future will ever occupy a position as secure in the hearts and minds of her subjects.   Our feelings may waver between love and terror, fondness and frustration in the same way, I imagine, a sailor experiences the sea.  I've never met another woman who can match her.  I haven't always liked my mother.  But there's something about my mother I've always respected and mostly admired.

I didn't really understand what it was until one day my husband observed that he found my mother awe-inspiring.  "Your mother is a woman who made a man give up God."  The admiration in my husband's voice was palpable.

Men love my mother, I answered, somewhat dismissively.  Even her friends notice it, wherever she goes, men just love my mother.

"No, no," my husband said.  "This is more than that.  Of course, men love your mother... I love your mother...but I also know men.  I know a lot of ministers and rabbis and priests.  You don't just leave God for anyone.  Your mother is... is like  a force of nature."

That was when I began to understand the real gift that my mother had given to me.  By breaking with every tradition available to a small town Italian-Catholic wife and mother, she set me free from every traditon that might've bound me.  She opened my mind to the realization that human will trumps just about every force in the known universe; that all so-called "sacred" scripture isn't necessarily sacred and that Authority isn't just to be questioned; it's to be challenged, and when appropriate, fought and overcome. 

As a mother, she showed how to raise my own children both in what she did and didn't do.  As a writer and a story-teller, her choices are an immeasurable gift to my imagination and my intellect.  And as a woman, there is simply no one like her.  If I am facing my old age bravely, I know it's mostly because of her.  My mother, goddess bless her, makes 76 seem young. 

Which brings me back to what I thought yesterday as the photograph from across my brother's street so kindly snapped away at us in the sultry heat:  Long live the Queen.     

Friday, September 2, 2011

Gray hair part two

I just read an article on the Huffington Post about whether or not gray hair disadvantages a woman in the workforce.  I've had gray and graying hair 75% of my life.  My mother found my first white hair when iI was 13 and I'm 52 now.  

I started coloring my hair when I turned 30.   Photographs of me holding my third baby, born when I was 28, show me with hair the color of steel.  I needed steel, then, to endure the life I was enduring, but I was so focused on survival, I didn't see it.  When a hairdresser told me my hair wasn't very attractive, it occured to me she had a vested interest in making me believe my hair wasn't flattering.   But I was young and vulnerable, and so I started to color. 

By the time I was forty, I hated it.  My hair was so white, by that point, and so fine and straight, that a white line appeared down the center of my head a mere ten days to two weeks after I colored it.  I didn't like the texture - it was fine and straight where it grew in, but the closer to the ends you go, the drier and coarser it became. 

Curling it permanently was out because the double processing was so hard on it.  And the color wasn't right.  When I was a child, my hair was such a dark brown, it looked black until you saw it in the light.  But no manufactured process can replicate that color.  And no other color I tried - and I tried them all - quite fit. 

So on my fortieth birthday, I took the plunge and stopped coloring my hair.  To my surprise, and everyone else's, my hair grew out to a soft shimmery platinum white.  People stop me to ask who does my color or how I get it so white.  In the same way nothing could reproduce the color of my hair in my childhood, nothing can produce the color of my hair as it naturally is. 

So what would induce me to change it?    

So I can fit into some corporate groupthink approved mindset of what is appealing and attractive in a woman?  Not this woman, thank you.  There wasn't a cubicle made that could hold me.... I drove three companies into serious financial trouble in the very short time I worked for them all.  My hair in some perfectly apt way, is the perfect color for someone who identifies with and is comfortable with the energies of Trickster and Fool.  

For those wondering if gray hair inevitably makes one unattractive, I've never lacked for male attention and I sincerely doubt I ever will as long as I'm interested in men. 

The kinds of jobs I had in the corporate world I didn't think really worth doing, not in comparison to what I see as my "real" Work: mothering and writing, and certainly not worth giving up my identity for.  I remember one boss who told me, "I think you come here just to make the rest of your life work."  I said, "Why else would I be here?"  (Yes, that's a risky answer, but that's the truth.  And until each and every one of us can be who we really are and be frank and honest about our priorities, we're all in serious trouble.) 

So to all those women who are considering whether or not to make your hair one of the same 39 shades Miss Clairoll can make, consider that the Goddess who made YOU  made your hair.  Maybe there's something about the color of your hair that is as uniquely YOU as the rest of you is.  And maybe... just maybe... you want to think twice about whether or not you wish to be a wage-slave to a culture that would have you deny a most essential part of you.   In other words, its not just your hair color you're sacrificing. 

I think there's a real message for women in this act of culturally-mandated coloring of one's hair.  It's one thing to color one's hair because the natural color is displeasing to one's self, I think.  It's one thing to color one's hair as reflection of some personal choice one has decided to make.  But to color your hair to make others believe you are something you are not is an act not only of deception but of self-deception. 

And why do it?  The Founding Fathers who are so much with us lately wore white wigs.  There's a certain kind of power in claiming who you really are on very basic levels, and hair color is just one way of many.  As the hippies sang, and Samson and indigenous practitioners of magic everywhere know, there's power in Hair. 
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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lessons in Letting Go

I can feel fall coming.  It's in the taste of suddenly delicious apples, in the loamy scent of the leaves brought down by Hurricane Irene.  I can see it in the shifting light, hear it in the geese screaming overhead.  The air when I walk the puppies nips slightly at my sun-spoiled blood.  I need shoes...and a shirt with long sleeves.  

Tonight my Pagan Study Group discusses letting go. 

My first lesson in letting go came when I decided to file for divorce from my abusive ex-husband.  He had begun to threaten me with getting a divorce.  Three times over the course of six weeks, I heard him say it.  I was a stay-at-home mother at that point, with four very young children who ranged in age from 14 to 14 months.  By the time he said it the fourth time, I was able to say, "You'll hear from mine first."

The next one came when I was laid off the first of what turned out to be three times in five years.  As my lawyer ex waged legal warfare, I was just staggering onto my feet when my fledgling corporate career was knocked off its track.  By the time I was laid off the third time, I decided that Someone was trying to tell me something (every company I worked for lost successively greater amounts of money) and retired from the for-profit world.  Needless to say, I don't miss my days in the cubicle (and frankly can't imagine how anyone could).

The third one came as I looked back at my parents and my grandmother and how they had all chosen to live their lives, and how those choices affected and impacted me.  My mother left my father and made another man give up God.  My father went to California and invented an industry.  My grandmother held on to her bitterness, to her anger and her jealousy until it ate her up and brought her house to the brink of shambles. 

The fourth came one morning when my oldest daughter, Katie, who was then 13, came to me in tears.  "I had a really bad dream, Mom," she confessed.  "It was terrible... I dreamt you died.  You were in a coffin and we were at church, and it was terrible."  And as I rocked my baby, I wondered to say. 

And then, somehow, I knew.  Katie had just started her periods a month or so before.  "Well," I said carefully, as I held her in my arms.  It was amazing how much of her still fit.  "In a way, I have died to you.  You don't need the same kind of mommy any more, as you used to.  So that mommy, that old mommy, is dying - she's dead.  The dream is showing you that that mommy is dead.  But that doesn't mean that your real mommy is dead... I'm obviously still here.  But I'm going to be a new kind of mommy now.  Because that's the kind of mommy you need.  And if I stayed the old kind of mommy - the mommy who was there for teething and toilet training and that kind of thing, that wouldn't be very helpful, would it?" 

"Hm," she said, and I could see I had her attention, which was rapidly becoming a rare and wonderful thing.  She raised her head and pinned me with that piercing stare that hadn't wavered from the day she opened her eyes on my belly.  "That means you have to change, too."

"Yes," I said, as my eyes filled with tears.  "Yes, my baby, it does."  And then we both cried, for the mommy and the baby we used to be. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Empty Nest

Little Libby's off to college.  We took her there on Friday.  The move went like clockwork - it helps that Libby's three older sibs all attended the same school.  Both my oldest daughter and my son knew exactly where we were going and the lay of the land when we got there.  We met her roommate and her family, who seemed like nice people with an older son already esconced in an off-campus apartment.  

At 3:45, as we were mostly finished unpacking, a Resident Advisor came to the door.  She reminded the girls they had a meeting on the quad at 4:15.  Then she looked at us.  "Parents should probably start walking over to the Convocation if you're staying for it.  It's quite a long way.  You can meet up with your student at the barbecue after.  If you're staying for it."

Libby wanted me to stay.   I told her I was willing but that I really didn't think she needed me to stay.  It was time for her to look forward, not back.  Then her roommate's family said they were leaving.  If we left, Libby and her roommate would start off on the very same footing. 

Libby looked at me.  "I think this is a good chance for you and your roommate to get to know each other," I said. 

She looked at her big sister.  "I have to get home to Jake and Grace," said Katie. 

She looked at her big brother.  "Lib," said Jamie.  "It's Friday night." 

Thirty one years of motherhood has taught me a lot of when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, and when to walk away.  "It's a real good chance, honey," I whispered as I hugged her goodbye.  "You'll do just fine." 

The car felt emptier than it's felt in a long long time as I drove off.   And I felt a way I haven't in thirty-one years.   

Friday, August 26, 2011

Today's the Day... in Move Libby Into College Day.  Two of Libby' siblings- her biggest sister Kate and her big brother Jamie, who fortunately has remained a big brother at least in relation to Libby - are coming to help.   The fact that a hurricane named Irene is bearing down on the state adds an extra soupcon of I'm not quite sure what. 

Students at colleges closer to the shore line are being told to evacuate once they've moved their stuff in, but Storrs, CT, just happens to be one of the most geographically safe places in the northern hemisphere.  And we already had an earthquake last week. 

But today...whatever the weekend and Irene beautiful.  The sun's rising in long golden spears of light, the mist is rising off the ponds.  The birds are calling, the roses are blooming, the world is lush and ripe and beckoning.  I'm feeling rested and strong - all that good eating and those other healthy practices are paying off in terms of energy and awareness.

And I am about to get my life back in a way I haven't had it in more than three decades.  No wonder a hurricane is roaring up the East Coast in a way one hasn't in over fifty years. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

...And Mind Malfunctions

I distinguish a senior moment from a mind-malfunction.  They're what I call when I pound up or down the steps or stride into a room with great purpose, only to realize once I arrive at my destination I have no idea what I'm there for.  Although feeling like I've fallen into a black hole in my head is annoying, it doesn't bother me to the extent the senior moment I described yesterday. 

Mind malfunctions happen when I'm trying to think of more than one thing at once.  As one reader has already pointed out, this can happen to mothers a lot.  The antidote seems to be to slow down and stop trying to multitask.  There's nothing wrong with not zipping around like Speedy Gonzales (if that doesn't date me, I don't know what does) - its just antithetical to the way our culture spurs us to live our lives.  There's nothing wrong with rejecting the multi-tasking path; it's just not encouraged. 
What I was talking about yesterday was something all together different.  When I walk into a room and can't remember why I'm there, I just retrace my steps back to the point where I was before I decided I needed or wanted whatever it is.  Forgetting who wrote Madame Bovary was an entirely different kind of experience.  There was no place to go back to.... it was simply something I knew I knew....and couldn't retrieve. 

It was, I would imagine, something like what an Alzheimer's patient might feel in the early stages.  You know you know what the object in front of you is and what you use it for.  You just can't remember what. 

So... you might wonder.  What have I done it since?  After my moment of panic subsided - because, after all, one senior moment does not an Alzheimer's patient of us make - I decided to take a long look at what the culture tells me to do about it, and what I was going to do about it - if anything.