Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Mom and Marriage

Now that Donald's job is sorted out for the next few months, I have mental space to address the other things in my life that make me less than happy.

One of those things is my relationship with my mother. I know that she loves me and she knows that I love her. Our communication, and the communication throughout my immediate family, is sorely lacking. I don't think any of us know what the others really think of them. I think we often walk on eggshells and are missing out on some wonderful authenticity.

Since these conversations have not yet happened (I am planning them), what follows are my impressions, assumptions, and beliefs. I don't know yet whether most of them are accurate or not. This is what I know right now.

There are so many background stories that set the stage for my process to work through this next challenge. When I left for college, moving from the west coast to the Midwest, I took my first step towards true independence. My choice also led to a stressed relationship with my mom. I think she resented the fact that I left. I haven't returned and that resentment is part of our relationship now. It hurts.

My mom left my dad just after Christmas a few years ago, just after Donald and I got married. I look at our wedding pictures, my parents smiling and happy-seeming, now knowing that less than a year later their 30+ years of marriage would disintegrate before the eyes of their children, their neighbors, and their coworkers. No one really saw it coming.

My parents' relationship has evolved since then. For a while, you could cut the tension with a knife. Now, they seem to have found a way to coexist when they are in the same space. My mom lives in an apartment several hours away from their house where my dad lives. They just recently made a decision, together, to replace the stove top. I have no idea how they feel about each other or what their intentions are. I suspect that they do not know either.

Donald says "Why don't you just ASK them?" I shake my head. I want to and I don't want to. I'm still somewhat in a state of denial, even though I knew for years before any trouble seemed on the horizon that I had to tell my mom and my dad the same thing myself - my mom would not relay my news to my dad. I didn't ask why.

They are very private people. My parents lived together for years and years and my dad did not see that my mom was unhappy. My mom didn't say anything. No one outside their marriage, including their children, knew that they were "in trouble". My mom thought her job was to show that they were "successfully" married, not to show the cracks, never to ask for help, never to say "I need to talk". My dad didn't know that anything needed to be discussed.

I have some very strong opinions on this, which I'll be writing about soon. I believe that the survival of marriage is dependent upon the support structure that surrounds it. The people in that support structure have to be able and available to ask "How are you?" and truly want to hear the answer. The married couple has to figure out how to lean on the support structure AND maintain their loyalty and privacy. It is not easy.

It is hard for me because my mother seems to believe that Donald is less than worthy of me. His recent unemployment has colored her view of him. The fact that we haven't moved back to the west coast has made her bitter against him. When she believes she sees in me a wavering from my values, she blames him. My loyalty to Donald bristles in the face of her criticism and my protective sense increases.

When we talk on the phone, I only tell my mom the good things. I do not share the things that are hard about being married because I think she will only add them to her negative feelings about Donald. She is not able and available to ask "How are you?". It breaks my heart that she cannot be in my support structure, at least, not right now. I have to turn to others, friends and family members, people who I can trust not to gossip, people who I know love us and support us no matter what.

These people are rare. I have turned to my online blogging community to supplement the people I know in person. I will be sharing more about this struggle for me. The tears I shed yesterday are only the beginning of a vast well of frustration that has been building over many years. It's time to empty it, one tear at a time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Good News

Those who follow me on Twitter know that Donald received good news on Thursday. He has a short-term contract from November to March with the company he has been waiting on.

I am amazed at how much of a difference this has made.

My outlook has changed. I find so much stability knowing that we have a plan until March. I can make plans, like signing up for yoga classes and visiting my family for Christmas. I breathe easier.

A change for me at work has improved my community of support, surrounding me with caring co-workers, little drama, and natural light (I hadn't realized that my previous work environment had been so dreary).

Donald's mood is sky-high, knowing that he will be contributing in so many ways. He starts just after Thanksgiving. I can truly say that I am happy. We have so much to be thankful for.

There are drawbacks, of course. He might not get the full-time position once March rolls around. He has to commute and spend three days a week in the office, so we'll be long-distance part time. We aren't moving anytime soon, so I will come up with a different decluttering timeline.

The benefits, however, far outweigh the costs. We have a wonderful, caring, supportive, and encouraging community to help us through the next few months. I am so grateful to my fellow bloggers who have been with us on this journey thus far. It is far from over. I hope you will continue to follow our adventures.

Thank you for your freely given love and continued support.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Patience and Waiting

When is it time to stop being patient? When is it time to stand up for ourselves and make different choices instead?

We have been so patient. Donald has been in touch with this company since August. Interviews have been successful. Feedback has been positive. An offer hovers perpetually just out of reach.

The rollercoaster trundles on, through frustration, hope, anger, excitement. We're starting to feel taken for granted, our patience feels abused.

We have been asked to wait a little longer. I'm not sure we should.

There are so many explanations why things have taken as long as they have. I'm not sure they matter.

We are so tired of waiting. Other things have been going wrong lately too. I'm wondering whether the problems we are encountering are a sign that we are on the wrong path.

Is it time to stop waiting? Even if it means a job for Donald in the next few months, should we start down a different road and abandon this one? Is the universe trying to tell us something?

What do we lose by staying the course? What do we risk by giving it up? What might we gain by trying something else? Our futures are riding on these questions.

Do the setbacks tell us that our perseverence will pay off if we just hang on a little longer? Or do they tell us to abandon ship? I'm not sure I know the answer.

Here we come, faith. We need your help.

Veterans Day

**This post is very different from most of my others. There is a soap box involved. It might have a significant impact on you. It might make you uncomfortable. I welcome feedback and comments. My intent is motivation and gratitude and the promotion of positive change.**

On November 11, 1918 at 11:00 am, World War I ended on the Western Front. The day came to be known as Armistice Day, a remembrance day for those who served in World War I.

An act approved in 1938 declared the holiday "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace". In the United States, this holiday is now known as Veterans Day, a day to honor Veterans from all wars.

November 11 is my birthday. I do not think it is a coincidence.

I have long been motivated to promote peace. I have a Masters in History through which I learned about peace and conflict, particularly in the way that war affects the home front. I quickly learned that historical events are not straightforward. They are complicated and messy and the only way to understand what really happened is to get many, many perspectives. This is true for current events, too.

I have learned that the best way to get people to engage with an issue is to make it relevant to them. Historical controversial topics must be presented to the public in a way that opens a dialogue rather than shuts people down. This is true for current controversial topics, like the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our military personnel sacrifice so much. Whether you approve of the wars or not, it is important to acknowledge these sacrifices. It is also important that we understand that their sacrifices are not over if they are lucky enough to return home.

You have heard the stories about PTSD. You have read about the soldiers who attack their own. They have been trained not to ask for help or acknowledge that they need it.

We must do more to help our Veterans transition back to civilian life. We must demand more attention to this transition from our government, from the military, and from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Silence in the name of morale is not justified.

Each and every soldier deserves to have a chance to lead as normal a life as possible when their service is done. Too many of them are not truly given this chance. They suffer. Their families and friends suffer. Our society suffers.

What can you do to help? Start talking about it. Start asking questions. Start making requests. Show your support beyond acknowledging a national holiday. Take the self-help strategies you so wonderfully share with your readers and find a way to address this need.

Humanity comes first. What role will you play in the cause of world peace? That is the best form of thanks we can give.

Thank you to our Veterans and military personnel.
Thank you to the parents, spouses, and children of our Veterans and military personnel.
Thank you to the friends, caregivers, volunteers, and government employees who support our Veterans and military personnel.

Special thanks to suZen at Erasing the Bored for a conversation that inspired me to share my thoughts with all of you.

**Update: I just found out about Bloggers Unite and their Veterans Day: Who Will Stand campaign. If you're interested in reading what other bloggers are writing about the holiday and about supporting our Veterans, check it out here.**

Monday, November 9, 2009

To All The Dogs I Have Ever Known

I am so, so sorry.

I didn't know how to act around you.

I didn't know how to trust you because I didn't understand you.

I withheld my affection because I thought it would change your behavior.

Instead, you tried harder and didn't know how because I didn't show you.

All you want to do is make me happy. And I wouldn't let you.

Through a conversation with Donald, and a dog-loving friend, and from reading about how to handle toddlers and tantrums on Zen Family Habits, I realized that my conditional love for the family dog is a detrimental situation.

Donald wants a dog; he's a dog-person. We already have two cats; I'm a cat-person. In a conversation last night about my relationship with the family dog, though, it seemed as though I am not only not a dog-person, but that I might even be anti-dog. As in, I might not want a dog at all.

This realization crushed me. I felt like I had failed Donald, that I was standing in the way of his happiness by preventing us from getting a dog. I didn't want that to be the case. I went to bed disappointed.

I woke up this morning feeling disgruntled. I wanted to impose my will on the dog, to make her well-behaved so I could show her affection. Needless to say, it didn't work.

And then I read about the toddlers, and how "your child is a little person having trouble expressing themselves right now". And I realized.... dogs are like perpetual toddlers. They won't be able to express themselves any better than they do now. They depend on me to show them what to do, to show them how to make me happy.

While I do not fear my ability to show a toddler love, even when they are throwing a tantrum, I need to understand that discipline for a dog does not need to come with disapproval. That, in fact, discipline from the perspective of affection and teaching will probably go much further and be much more enjoyable for all involved.

I was afraid to show affection for the dog because I thought it would undermine my authority over her, my role as pack leader. I thought showing love would make me weak.

Have I not been listening?

Today, I am going to change my behavior. I don't have to like it when she licks me or barks. I do have to let her be a dog. I owe it to Donald (and to myself and to the dog) to try. If I truly do not want a dog, it will become clear and I will accept it.

I need to open the door to possibility first. I need to open my heart and let go of the fear.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Great Clothing Clean-out Project

Over the weekend, I went through every single piece of clothing I own. I emptied the dresser, the closet, and any boxes within my reach. I tried on pants, sweaters, shoes, shirts, and coats.

I filled SEVEN large shopping bags with items to give away. I am so proud of myself.

The process wasn't as hard as I thought it might be. There were a couple of items that gave me pause, though - two flannel shirts that I have had since high school. One my mom brought back for me from a work trip she took. The blue/green colors in it are my favorite and remind me of the ocean. I tried it on and it swamped me. It's too big. It's not in style anymore. I haven't worn it for at least two years. Into the bag it went.

The second flannel shirt belonged to my grandfather, who passed away just after Donald and I got married. I had his shirt much earlier than that, when my grandmother was cleaning out her closets when we were visiting. It has autumn colors - deep reds and oranges and yellows. It's wool and has a good weight and is a little scratchy. I tried it on and it actually looked ok. I could picture myself wearing it on a cool fall day walking dogs through the woods or chasing my kids in the backyard. I haven't worn it because it has been hidden from view. This one stays.

Most of the items were easy. Shirts that were too short or unflattering. So many items I have had since high school (I graduated in 1998). Sweaters that were too boxy or misshapen. Pants that were too short or too big. Most not worth tailoring or trying to salvage.

I followed the suggestions I have read about decluttering and my mental and emotional state were ready. I had already pictured several items that went right into the bags without even trying them on. The black velvet vest that I wore maybe once when I was in high school. The tiny t-shirts I told myself I would sleep in and never did. The full-length, elastic waisted black skirt with a slit up to mid-thigh that I wore to a play in the city when I was in college (don't ask).

Ugh, now I'm embarassed to have even owned these things. I kept them for so long because I thought I needed to. They were a part of me. They told me a story about myself.

I'm writing a new story now. I can remember the events without having the clutter pulling me backwards into the past. I'm letting it all go so I can move forward.

I actually discovered that I have some very flattering clothing. I rediscovered several items that I thought didn't fit and do. I have three pairs of pants that just need a little tailoring. I replaced a missing button on a coat and now it's like new.

I have a very detailed and specific list of what I think I need (and want) so that my upcoming birthday shopping trip will only contribute good and happy things to my wardrobe. I told Donald that I want to be excited about each and every thing I bring home. If I'm not excited, I won't buy it.

It feels so good to know that all of those things are out of my life now. It feels good to have a sense of who I am through the choices I made about what to keep and what to donate. I feel lighter, more flexible and fluid, ready to take on whatever comes next.

It's perfect timing, really. Donald has a final interview with this company today. We're hoping to (finally) have a real answer by the end of the week. I'm trying not to hold my breath.

**Updated: I have to add something more from Communicatrix's string of decluttering posts. Her last one included this passage, which has me trying not to let my tears fall all over the papers on my desk:
Here’s the thing: no one’s right. No one’s wrong. No one can tell me or you or Stan or my grandfather what to keep. (Especially my gramps, unless you’re one of them psychic types.) In the end, though, my grandfather died alone, in a hospital bed, of a broken heart. The most meaningful thing in his life was a person, my extraordinary grandmother, and she’d left the planet several weeks earlier. And her constant refrain, even as she’d hand over some cherished objectstill warm with her unbelievably beautiful energy? “Sell it!” she’d whisper, gleefully, conspiratorially.

Trade that thing for freedom is what I now realize she meant. Don’t get burdened by your choices; let them liberate you. Let each thing that touches your life enrich you in some way—with joy, with experience, with the understanding born of pain—and let it the fuck go. It is not that thing you want: it is the thing that thing makes you feel.

My emotions are running high today.