On Relationships

This was supposed to be my traditional Thanksgiving post about something I’m thankful for. But now that it’s written, I don’t want to wait that long, so I’m calling it a Love Thursday post instead.

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The relationships we grow up in as children program us to seek out similar relationships throughout our lives. This is a well-documented phenomenon, even among those of us who are aware of it and vow to break the cycle.

One of the most common motivators for people who grow up in dysfunctional families is a deep subconscious desire to recreate the original home situation so that we can “fix it” this time around and finally get a happy ending. This is especially true for people who were cast in the scapegoat role as children and blamed for their family’s unhappiness. We think if we had just done this or that differently, everything might have turned out okay. We form relationships with the same kinds of needy, unhappy people we grew up among and spend all of our energy trying to make them happy. When that fails, we are blamed for their unhappiness and the cycle continues. We internalize that blame, we believe it. Like salmon struggling back upstream to their spawning grounds, we batter ourselves against those same familiar rocks over and over until we either escape the pattern or are destroyed by it.

As is tradition, I married a man who very gradually revealed himself to be basically a composite of my narcissistic, manipulative mother and my alcoholic, womanizing stepfather. Astonishingly, this did not result in the happy ending I had hoped for. But it did result in me becoming a parent, and that was a turning point in my journey. I was determined that my somewhat broken life would not produce broken children. I started viewing everything through the filter of how it would affect Luke and Elizabeth’s long-term well-being. Whereas in the past I would compromise on almost anything to sustain relationships that I valued, I started setting healthy boundaries. My marriage failed, but it did teach me an incredibly useful lesson: it’s no good trying to change yourself to please someone else. I’m not talking about self-improvement here, I’m talking about giving up the things that you like and value about yourself because someone else doesn’t like or value them. You’ll only end up changing into someone that neither one of you likes or values.

The thing is, life keeps putting you into the same kinds of situations with the same kinds of people until you finally learn all of the lessons that you need to learn from them. I’m actually grateful for that, because it wasn’t enough for me to just learn to recognize those kinds of people. Even spotting them from a distance, my instinctive reaction was not to back away but to roll up my sleeves and try a new approach. I am tenacious when working on a puzzle or problem, and I mistakenly thought that the way to heal the wounds of my childhood was to learn how to heal those broken people. I’ve certainly had no shortage of opportunities to try. People like that tend to become fixated on people like me, partly because we try so damn hard to make them happy and partly because our own happiness feels like an affront to them and they want to take it away from us.

What finally got me off of that hamsterwheel was realizing that my misguided efforts were not just detrimental to me, they were detrimental to the people I was trying to help. Letting someone mistreat you and suck you spiritually dry isn’t any better for them than it is for you. It doesn’t heal them of anything, it just makes them resentful and contemptuous and cruel.

The most difficult part of this journey was discovering that most of the relationships I had valued and worked to maintain over the years would (and did) evaporate the instant I stood up for myself. I lost my oldest friend that way a couple of years ago. This was a friendship that I thought would be rock-solid until one of us died, but she walked away without a backward glance the first time I stood my ground in a minor disagreement.

This is the legacy of my childhood, these one-sided relationships, and what I am most grateful for in 2017 is that they no longer sing their siren call to me. I can still spot them a mile away, and I still wish them well, but I have no longer have any desire to engage. Their unhappiness has nothing to do with me, and I prefer to keep it that way.

Happy Love Thursday, and may all of your relationships be the healthy kind.

Categories: Family, Friends, kids, Life, Love, Love Thursday, Marriage | 1 Comment

Pretty Close To Perfect

I’m not a fan of breakfast in bed. I like to fix my own breakfast just the way I like it, and I don’t think food and bedsheets really belong in the same room together. What I do love is walking woodsy trails, so the first stop on our Mother’s Day outing was to meet up with some people from our hiking group at the Santa Margarita River Trailhead in Fallbrook. The weather was lovely, the trail was shady, and I was prepared this time for the fact that I would not be able to keep Luke and Elizabeth out of the water, so they had clean clothes in the car to change into. We got back to the trailhead pleasantly tired and, in the kids’ case, wet and muddy. No problem. Our next stop was the Temecula Public Library, which has restrooms right at the main entry that you can get to without taking your damp self anywhere near the books, patrons or librarians. They also have handicapped stalls big enough to stable horses in. The kids changed into clean clothes, put their wet ones into the plastic bag we’d brought, put the bag back in the car, and then we spent another hour or so pursuing our various interests in the library itself.

The Temecula Library (the big new on on Pauba Rd, not the little old one on Ynez) has a wonderful children’s area, but Luke has mostly exhausted its nonfiction section in his ceaseless quest for knowledge. Yesterday I introduced him to the Adult Nonfiction section, which he vanished into with great enthusiasm while I plugged my flash drive into a library computer and worked on my book. Sunday is usually a no-computer day in our family, but Luke rarely gets to go to the Temec library during the school year, and working on my book allowed me to let him stay longer than I otherwise would have had patience for. By the same token I allowed Elizabeth to bring her laptop and enjoy the library’s free wi-fi at connection speeds that are orders of magnitude faster than anything she can get at home. Like drinking from a garden hose when you’re used to sucking on a straw.

Luke had won two free movie passes in a school raffle, so our next destination was the Edward Cinema at the Promenade. Our plan was to confirm showtimes and to secure three tickets for The Avengers and then go get some lunch, but holy crap, everyone in the world was apparently taking their mom to the movies yesterday. Several screenings of The Avengers were already sold out, including the one we wanted. No problem. We got tickets for a showtime that was two and a half hours later and not in 3D, and then traded one throng for another at Souplantation. I was beginning to remember why I don’t normally venture out into civilization on Mother’s Day.

Lunch was nice though. Souplantation is my favorite place for a casual meal out, especially if the kids are with me. After that we still had lots of time to kill, so we did some grocery shopping at Sprouts (I had our cooler and ice packs in the trunk) and then we decided to wander the mall for a while. We headed back to find a spot in the parking garage nearest the theater.

In the past the kids have asked about what the top of a parking garage looks like, and yesterday seemed like the perfect time to find out. We drove all the way up to the roof level, which is apparently where all the vanpools and such park out of the way, and walked around the edges to look at the mall from a new angle. From up there we saw the Apple Store, and that reminded me that I’ve been wanting to talk to a Mac expert about a tech issue, so we headed in that direction next.

The kids scampered into the Apple Store like cats into a catnip garden, and I found the nearest Mac Guy and explained what I wanted to know. He spent at least fifteen or twenty minutes earnestly and thoroughly answering my questions, delightfully mixing in the sort of friendly conversation that not enough men bother with these days, and then said he would like to see me again, and if he’d been just a little older I would have taken him up on it. My ex-marriage seems to have flatlined my capacity to take chances on younger men. Even so, being flirted with by a charming male is an undeniable mood-booster, and I left the Apple store feeling positively exuberant.

It seemed to be a day for trying things we’d never had time for before, so Elizabeth said she’d like to check out the view from the veranda above the fountain courtyard between the cinema and the main structure of the mall, and so we did. By then it was a little over half an hour before the movie was due to start, and we wanted to get there early to be sure we got good seats, so we headed down.

Yeah. Apparently years of catching Tuesday morning matinees had left us unprepared for certain modern realities. The theater was freaking packed, and the ONLY place we found three seats together was up in the nosebleed section, unless you count the area directly in front of the screen where you’re looking up the actors’ pant legs. Nosebleed section it was. Luckily it’s a stadium cinema, so we didn’t have any trouble seeing the action.

Even if I hadn’t already known that “The Avengers” was a Joss Whedon project, I would have realized it fairly early on. Joss’ fingerprints are all over this movie, from the clever dialog and the constant little unexpected twists to the painfully detailed fight scenes and the wonderful combination of the familiar and the bizarrely original. This was a terrific movie.

On the way home I remembered that I hadn’t checked the mail Saturday, so I stopped at our mailbox and discovered that my oldest friend hand sent me a beautiful handmade Mother’s Day card, in which she’d written a lovely small poem describing a mother’s comforting whispers and lullabies as the music that soothes the world’s ills. I spent the rest of the drive home contemplating the incalculable worth of old friends and poetry and beauty and life in general.

It was after 11pm when we got to bed, unheard of on a school night for us. Totally worth it. I think this was the most enjoyable Mother’s Day I’ve ever spent.

TL;DR: Go see The Avengers.

Categories: Family, kids, Life, Love, Marriage | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Everything But Money, Part VII: The Modern Woman’s Dilemma, Continued

This is an excerpt from “Everything But Money” by Sam Levenson.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

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The easy answer is to proclaim that woman’s mission in life is to be a mother. Most women want to be mothers, but they were also trained for many other professions. Is is possible to be a good chemist and a good mother? Can a mother be in two places at the same time? What about the needs of the children? And what about the country’s need for talent of all kinds? If women were intended by nature to be mothers, why does nature also endow them with intellectual gifts equal to those of the men? And what right have men to ask their mates to deny their talents and devote themselves to housekeeping?

Some people have suggested that a woman should get a full education, then marry, raise her children, and after about ten years, go back to her career. The children would then be taken care of by some member of the family, or a maid. The chances of resuming her career after ten years, however, are not very good.

Perhaps the husbands of such women should stay home and raise the children. The husband as breadwinner is only a convention based on the assumption that he is the stronger of the two. In this age of technology we don’t need strong people; we need skilled people.

Perhaps there should be all-day schools that would take care of the children from 7am to 6pm.

Perhaps women should postpone going to college until after their children are old enough to be looked after by others.

Perhaps those college girls who feel very intensely about a life devoted to science or the arts should be encouraged not to get married at all.

At any rate, we have worked ourselves into a situation we did not anticipate when we proclaimed liberty and justice for all and built an educational system to promote it. Perhaps we did not truly believe that woman could become the equal of man. Well, she is, and, in many instances, superior. Man had better find a just way of giving her her due.

There are many fine mothers who want to stay at home but are forced by economic necessity to neglect their children and go out to work. Society should subsidize these women adequately and keep them at home. We cannot have Papa on the night shift and Mama on the day shift, leaving kids to shift for themselves.

There are also many mothers who use work as an excuse to get away from the responsibilities of home. They rationalize themselves into a job that will provide the “luxuries” they claim the children need. Most children would rather have the mother at home than any “luxury.” A key to the house is not a substitute for the welcome of a mother at the door. Unwarranted mother absenteeism is an unhealthy condition in the house.I am not talking about leaving the children with Grandma or some other competent and devoted person while the parents grab a few hours or days together. I do refer to chronic neglect in so-called “rich” homes where children of educated parents are being raised by semiliterate strangers. It does not make sense for an intelligent mother, presumably aware of the emotional, aesthetic, spiritual and physical needs of children to turn hers over to the care of a housekeeper. One of the most revealing comments was made by a youngster who, when his mother said, “Don’t tell me what to do. I know how to bring up children,” replied, “You do? Were you once a maid, Mom?”

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It’s unfortunate that in the half-century since this book was published, we seem to be no closer to resolving these issues. In many ways we’ve lost ground: instead of working together for a mutually beneficial solution, resentment and hostility seem to be mounting on all sides.

One thing I do take exception to is Mr. Levenson’s question, “If women were intended by nature to be mothers, why does nature also endow them with intellectual gifts equal to those of the men?” Is he suggesting that parenting isn’t an intellectual pursuit? That intelligence and wisdom and knowledge are wasted resources in the upbringing of the next generation of humanity? I don’t think that’s true AT ALL. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Another thing I’d like to add is that the father can make or break a mother’s sense of fulfillment and contentment in her role as homemaker. In my opinion, any man who gets his wife pregnant and then abandons her to her domestic fate while heedlessly continuing to enjoy freedom and recreation without her has earned himself a spot in the Special Hell. If both husband and wife aren’t ready to shift their priorities to accommodate the needs of children, then they should not become parents. Period. It’s not like the world is underpopulated, or needs more neglected children.

I could rant almost indefinitely on the subject, but this post is already too long. I’d enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives, though.

Categories: books, Family, kids, Life, Love, Marriage, School | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Everything But Money Part VI: The Modern Woman’s Dilemma

This is an excerpt from “Everything But Money” by Sam Levenson.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

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For the college graduate, male, the world today offers great opportunities. For the college graduate, female, there are almost equal opportunities, and more than equal agonies. The problem becomes more acute each year as more and more women attempt to combine careers with matrimony only to find out that the problems of home and children fall to her. What happens to the right to self-fulfillment, which is as much hers as her husband’s? She was promised the world. She is a free, thinking, educated, emancipated woman, with a message to deliver. She is different from her mother, whose world was limited to the home. She is at home in the arts, music, literature, science and philosophy. She is, in fact, at home everywhere but at home. At the age of twenty-one, holding a diploma full of career promises in one hand and a marriage license full of romantic promises in the other, she is carried over the threshold — into the kitchen. This is the true “commencement.”

For a year or two everything works out fine for the young couple. They are both working. He picks up the newspaper; she picks up the TV dinner. There are quick fun meals, rich desserts, much talk about their respective jobs, and much honeymooning. This is the college dream come true.

Then comes the baby, and with it the explosion of the equal-rights principle. Motherhood is the one career for which she has had virtually no training. While the possibility of such an eventuality was vaguely mentioned in college, it was just one of those remote bridges to be crossed if and when she got to it.

She is now trapped at home. He is out in the free world. She becomes jealous of his freedom. He comes home at 6pm to greet this prematurely old young lady, her dark hair highlighted with farina sprinkles, a strong-smelling kid on her arm, and anything but a Mona Lisa smile on her lips. She thinks, four years in college for this? He takes one look at her and he thinks, Oh, boy. What I married! and politely kisses her between the smudges. If she can afford full-time help she becomes jealous of the child’s natural affection for the mother-substitute. The child, naturally, has learned to love the hand that feeds it. The mother is afraid of losing the love of her child. She wants to be a mother. She also wants to have a career. Grandma had a saying about this dichotomy: “You can’t sit at two weddings with one fanny.”

Her job is more difficult than her husband’s. He has the greatest “out” in the world. He is making a living for the family. He can leave the scene of the crime every morning with the approval of the whole world. She cannot. She would trade places with him gladly, but she makes a noble attempt at homemaking, a career which, she hopes, will eventually provide the same satisfactions as the chemistry laboratory.

She gets down to the business of being an “enlightened” mother, of fulfilling the multiple roles expected of her: wife, mistress, and delightful companion in the evening: and, with the rising sun, chauffeur, shopper, interior decorator, crabgrass puller, den mother, PTA-er, bazaar chairlady. She appears to herself as a cubist painting of a mother and child: two heads, four eyes, three ears, four bosoms, one baby, mandolins, pots, pans, microscopes, diplomas and the death mask of a college girl.

Meanwhile, back at the lab, there’s her husband, the all-American boy, whose unmarried secretary looks like his wife used to. She’s pretty and young and calm. No kid has vomited onto her typewriter, and she has the freedom, time and availability that his wife has sacrificed — in the service of his home.

The frightened wife picks up the challenge. She’s got to look and behave like a seductive secretary. She colors her hair, lowers her neckline, heightens her heels, shortens her dresses, lengthens her eyelashes to re-entice her husband, whose sense is coming out with his hair. He thinks he has remained handsome, irresistible, the eternal Don Juan. The wife knows he’s behaving like an idiot, but she mercifully keeps the news from him.

The conflict in the mind and heart of the college-educated married woman is only one more aspect of the problem of individual fulfillment of one’s greatest gifts. To deny selfhood to a woman because she is married and a mother leads to profound unhappiness, a nagging sense of “might have been,” and too often a resentment against the husband and children who lured her away from her true mission in life. The tortuous division of loyalties inflicted upon this woman by our ambiguous promises of equality of opportunity for both sexes leads many women to the psychiatrist.

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More on this subject tomorrow.

Categories: books, Family, kids, Life, Love, Marriage | Tags: , | Leave a comment

These Small Hours

This one is dedicated to two of my fellow bloggers, who are having (separate and unrelated) rough times right now and are looking for some happy.


The first time I ever heard Rob Thomas’ song “Little Wonders” was shortly after Steve and I separated. I immediately downloaded it from iTunes and played it over and over for weeks. It seemed to be speaking directly to the tangled knot of pain and hope that had taken up residence in my chest, and I wanted the knot to hear and believe, and maybe loosen its grip a little.

For a long time (like, until just the past couple of months), it was difficult for me to look at photos taken during that first year or so after the split. You could see the hope and the growing glimmers of peace and joy in those images, but my memories of the raw underlying pain were still too fresh. I looked at those pictures and remembered just putting one foot in front of the other in a determined effort to get through the tunnel and into the light.

I’ve been out of the tunnel for a while now, but I still love that song. It’s full of truth and light and strength, and if you’re ever going through a difficult time you should add it to your favorite playlists and listen to it until the sunshine comes back.

All of this is to explain that today’s Love Thursday post is in video form, and also to express my gratefulness that even the first half of the video makes me smile now instead of making my stomach hurt. Always a bonus. I’m hoping it can bring a smile or two to anyone else who needs one today.

So now, without further ado:

Happy Love Thursday everyone, and special virtual hugs go out to Jenny and Mir. Things will get better. You are loved by so many.

Categories: Birthdays, Christmas, Family, Friends, kids, Life, Love, Love Thursday, Marriage, Music | 5 Comments

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