Hold My Tongue

There was a time in my life when I was too shy, too reserved and too fearful to stand up for myself or to make decisions for myself. I was two. In fact, my parents were in such a hurry for me to walk and to talk, but as soon as I was able to do that, they pretty much told me to sit down and shut up.

All kidding aside, I was raised at a time when girls were expected to be sweet, happy and quiet, mostly quiet. I was so indecisive and fearful, that I really couldn’t stand up for myself. I wouldn’t even send food back at a restaurant when it wasn’t prepared as ordered.

When I was twenty-four, and single, my mother was afraid I would be an old maid, and she told me I shouldn’t be so smart or so good at sports… that the boys don’t like that.  I had a hard time with that.  It was the late 70’s and early 80’s, and mom was kind of old school. I knew if I repressed who I really was, I would pay for it later. (I was already repressing a lot of things that had already happened to me, that eventually affected me in profound ways.)

Finally, I met a man who appreciated me for who I was (was being the operative word). Early on, we had a great marriage and were blessed with two wonderful, happy healthy children. As time passed, and we were left with an empty nest, we were also left with the task of getting to know each other again. The difficulty arose when we discovered that we were at opposite ends politically in 2016.  It has gotten exponentially worse, affecting our daily lives.  I can’t express an opinion without it turning into a fight. I can’t even make a comment about current events without it being turned into a political issue. All we have left is, “Did you talk to either of the kids today.”

Consequently, I have had to return to being the kind of person I was as a child and young girl, and it is most uncomfortable. I am expected to be happy and quiet, mostly quiet. This is to keep the peace.  I know it won’t last forever; in fact, I hope it will only last for another 18 months.

For now, I will hold my tongue.

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Ready or Not, Here they Come! (reprint)

Well, we thought we had prepared our children for college.  When the time actually came, we found out that in several small but significant ways, we had failed.  More than once.

Their entire lives, we had stressed the importance of education, without stressing them out.  Our intent was to teach them to put their maximum effort in, and that would certainly be good enough, because as with most parents, we saw our children as brilliant.  They both took school seriously, excelling in Advanced Placement classes and scored quite well on college entrance exams.  They both were extremely active in extra-curricular activities, clubs and sports.  Their social lives were vibrant.

We had also spent a lot of time talking about college on a different level.  As important as academics were, it was equally important that they grow emotionally and socially, learning to make good decisions for themselves and learning to rely on themselves.

When my son was accepted to six out of eight colleges to which he applied, and wait-listed on one, he chose to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville.  We packed with great anticipation to take him there for the new student orientation.

After our arrival in Gainesville, we went our separate ways… he with the students and us with the parents.  He would learn the Gator Chomp and get a tour of the campus.  We would learn about academics and safety on campus.  We weren’t to connect again until dinner.  He was to settle into a dorm room for the two days and we checked in to a nearby hotel.  Midway through the afternoon, I got a text from him.  “Forgot to pack underwear.”

That was our first clue that he wasn’t ready.  I calmly stopped at a store, bought some underwear for him and discretely put it in the top of his overnight bag with a note that said, “This is the last time I’m covering your behind… Love, Ma.”  We delivered the bag to him at dinner without a word about his faux pas.

The next morning he was to meet his registration counselor at 9:00 AM.  We arrived at 8:30, grabbed a sorely needed cup of coffee, and began, anxiously, to wait.  I knew which direction he would be coming from, and he would be carrying a neon orange bag so I could spot him quickly.  (This is the “hard to let go” mothering instinct that was still obviously very strong.)  My husband sat and read the paper.  When he hadn’t shown up by 9:05, I was sure I had done a terrible job in preparing him to be on his own.  At that moment, he came bouncing out of the registrar’s office with a grin that lit up the entire west side of the campus.  He was already registered and raring to go.  Okay, so maybe he was ready.

The next step was stocking his pantry.  This was my final moment to shine.  We went up and down the aisles, and since he had very little idea of what he wanted much less what he would need, he pretty much left it up to me.  When I picked up a package of “Baggies,” he wanted to know in what aisle he might find the twist ties.  Okay, one step forward, two steps back.

We got him all set up in his dorm room, met his roommates and turned on our heels to leave.  (Ha… I bet you thought I was going to talk about long tearful goodbyes.)   Well, I made my mind up not to look back, as did he, but I was choking on my tears before we got out of the driveway.  Fifteen minutes down the highway, I said to my husband, “Why hasn’t he called yet.”

Two years later, we went through the same motions with my daughter.  Same University, same orientation and same text, “Forgot to pack underwear.”

Don’t Sit On It

We live in stressful times, but sorry, Fonz… the advice wasn’t good in the 50’s, nor was it good in the 70’s when Happy Days was first aired on television.  And it sure isn’t good now. The saying that a burden shared is halved has more value in today’s world than it ever did.

Big girls don’t cry.

Never let them see you sweat.

Suck it up…

Men were never allowed to show emotion, as it was a sign of weakness. Women were told to be subservient in order to “get” a man, as if they needed their protection. The antiquated mores are so ingrained in our psyche, that to resist them is contraindicated by our own culture.  Anthropologists would tell you that it is part of our DNA to behave this way.

It does not necessarily have to be. Exactly when are we, as human beings, permitted to experience the human condition authentically? (I mean, without repercussion?)  We’ve seen the beginnings of it in the past two or three years with the #MeToo movement, with backlash for bad behavior, with a crusade on behalf of our better angels.

But what happens if you’re pockets aren’t lined with gold? What happens if you’re not a Gold Medalist in Olympic Gymnastics? What happens if the person who tried to rape you wasn’t a Supreme Court Nominee? What happens if you haven’t won an Oscar for a movie you made?

Then you are more like me and most women, who have had life happen to them but who have had neither the big stage nor the big name to fight your battles with or for you.  And like me, many women have snuffed out memories of some of these horrendous experiences and tried to live normal lives without making any waves.

Guess what? Big girls do cry. They sweat, too.  And after a while, they can’t suck it up nor hold it in any longer.  If you’ve ever held a spring down long enough, eventually it has to bounce back.  The energy amassed from holding down can be explosive.  Some of us handle it well, some don’t.

I didn’t.  Somebody had to tell me that a burden shared was halved.  Somebody had to stop me from blaming myself and being angry with myself and being unkind to myself.  You know, when you bang your head against the wall long enough, it feels good when you stop.

I stopped. I stopped, and then I started writing about it.  To date, I’ve written three fictional novels about some of the demons women deal with in life. “A Life, Well… Lived!”, “Okay, So I Lied!”, and “Voices from the Ledge” all deal with topics that women find it hard to talk about. (Sexual abuse/assault, sexual identity issues, addiction/alcoholism, suicidal ideation, etc.). All have been written in light fiction, approachable fashion so readers can identify with the heroines.

In essence, I’ve shared my burdens through fictional characters, in hopes that women like me will find solace in the fact that they are not alone. There is always hope.  So PLEASE, don’t sit on it…

A Letter to God

Dear God,

I usually use that expression when something is extremely upsetting or unbelievable.  In this case, however, I’m using it as a salutation in a letter.  A business letter, in fact, because I’m ready to get down to business.  I’ve been on this earth for sixty-one years now, and I have been preached to, told that, prevailed upon and flat out smacked down to believe that everything that happens in this life is God’s will.

So, let me start this letter again.

Dear God,

How’s it hanging? I know you’ve had your hands full lately. There have been hurricanes and fires, wars and mysterious murders.  There have been shady elections and strange bedfellows.  There have been floods and pestilence, riots and treason.  My goodness, you would think that you would have come a bit closer to perfecting the human race by now.  Or is that not your goal?

Although I’ve been told that ours is not to question why, is it okay if I ask you a few other questions? Like, for instance, what is your goal? Quite frankly, God, I can’t understand how a loving god can let some of this crap go down?

A few more questions, please? When will Mueller’s investigation be over?  Are Daytime Soaps ever going to come to an end? For that matter, is there a reason the three-minute story lines are cast over a period of three weeks? Do you really have to wait thirty minutes after eating before you swim? Did Trump collude?

I digress. My real question is this:  What’s the real reason I’m here? Let me tell you a bit about me, although you’re God, so you apparently already know.

As I mentioned, I’m a sixty-one-year-old woman.  I grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, with both parents and three older brothers. I’m blessed to still have my mother with me. I was thirty-nine years in the workforce, most of which was spent in the not-for-profit world, working on behalf of those less fortunate than me. I earned a degree in journalism and wielded my skills writing speeches, PR releases, and marketing pieces all at the behest of others, while raising money and consciousness of various causes, mostly geared toward the elderly.

All during this career, I was and remain married to a man, and raised two children. We had a united front in raising our kids. My philosophy had been that of my father’s: to throw them in the pool, and their survival instinct will teach them to swim in their own way. I won’t let them get drowned, because I will be there to support them all the way, but they will learn to make their own way in this world. In other words, we were NOT helicopter parents, yet we did instill a strong sense of morals and values in them. As a result, we raised two relatively well-adjusted, free-thinking adults.  Also, as a result, they forged their own paths that have taken them far away from home.

Almost three years ago, I was forced to retire early, as my employers were unwilling to work with me with regard to either telecommuting or keeping me on as a consultant.  The drive time to that last job took, without exaggeration, three or four hours round trip, depending on traffic, and I had taken on the responsibility of caring for my mother in my home. I could no longer be away ten to twelve hours every single day.

I use the time at home well, I think, as I have taken to using my writing skills in a way in which I have always dreamed of doing. I have written and published three short novels, all of which contain subtle messaging for women who have dealt with some of the same issues I have.  Although the stories are all fictional, the vignettes and the messages are true and strong, and they are all things about which a lot of women find it hard to talk. It has been a release for me, and a lot of fun. I only hope they help someone, any, if only one woman, somewhere.

The problem, God, is that I am a sixty-one-year-old woman with absolutely no idea what I’m supposed to do now.  I have no job, my kids are gone, my mom rests most of the time and my books aren’t selling much.

Since we did such a good job parenting and my children are out there doing good deeds and both in professions that help others, we (my husband of 36 years) and I no longer have anything in common.  During the time we were concentrating on raising the kids, they were our focus.  Everything else about us was at opposite ends of the spectrum. We used to laugh about the fact that opposites attract; about things like the fact that he was a Miami Hurricane and I was a Florida Gator; he liked his meat well-done and I liked mine rare; he was raised as an Orthodox Jew and I, Reformed.  But now, it isn’t so funny that he is a Conservative Republican and I’m a Democrat. (notice I didn’t say Liberal, because in fact, I’m closer to center than most). I wonder if I can sue Donald Trump for being the root cause of our divorce?

I’ve lived an honest, righteous life. I’ve never cheated on my taxes. I’ve never been in jail. I’ve looked to the stars for answers. I’ve talked to pictures of my father who left us way too early, at age 69, in 1999, but he didn’t answer back. I spent most of my career doing noble work for little pay. One of my employers used to call it “the Lord’s work.”  Don’t take that personally, God. I mean I could have said your work, but that wouldn’t have been a direct quote.

I imagine I could have simplified this whole thing by asking one question. What the hell is your will for me? Sorry, I didn’t mean to use profanity. But really man, what am I supposed to do? I have to confess, although you probably already know this, I’ve been extremely depressed lately. I almost took my will back from you and came to see you earlier than I think you intended.  That was last month. I think you were busy with the midterms, or the fires or something.

Yesterday I got a mouthful of sass from my daughter, undeservedly. It made me weepy when it shouldn’t have. I had yet another misunderstanding with my husband because we just can’t seem to communicate well. My physical well-being is teetering. So, I’m feeling kind of like taking charge again. Unless God, of course, you can send me some kind of sign, by return mail, by a text or some kind of sign…

With warmest regards,

Judy

What If…?

What if you discover at a late time in your life that you’ve lived inauthentically almost your entire life?  What if, through external circumstances, you find truths that exist inside you that turn you upside down, and leave you floundering in the world around you? Nothing seems right. Nothing seems comfortable or even familiar, even though it has been there all along.

I have been waking up next to the same man for the past thirty-six years. Today he is a stranger. He doesn’t have any idea who I am at my very core.  He couldn’t tell me what my dream vacation would be after all this time.  He knows my favorite food, but then, everyone knows its chocolate. That’s a lay-up. He can‘t communicate with me civilly. Of course, we always had trouble expressing ourselves verbally with each other. That was always the genesis of any fight we might have, and there were plenty.

My mother, who lives with me now, again, having had a 34-year sabbatical from me, has some sensitivity to my plight, but doesn’t grasp the depth to which it goes. She has the empathy for the reason I am questioning, but not the patience.

I was blessed eighteen months ago, to gain a step-grandchild. I lost the prefix step, because I love this child as if she came from my own bloodline. I marvel at her wisdom at all of age four.  What I really enjoy is reliving the days when I was so free inside my own body. I watch her play freely… at home, on a playground… anywhere.  She is not self-conscious at all. When do girls lose that? When do they become worried about how they look, or more importantly, worried about what other people think of how they look? When do they begin to feel that desperate need to fit in? When do they lose their self-identity and trade it for the desire to be popular or have a best friend or a boyfriend? My granddaughter is such a joy to watch, because that hasn’t happened to her yet.

My memories of my own freedom are vague and few.  I know for a fact when things changed drastically. I don’t like to talk about it, because it involved something physical and someone close. Thereafter, I was quite self-conscious. I knew my body was different than a boy’s body. That was in first grade. It was sad.  I didn’t know what happened was wrong until much later. That was even sadder.

All through my “formative” years, things happened that I neither invited nor understood. But they happened anyway.  These events changed the way I viewed men and people in general and led me down some interesting pathways.  From being raised in a house full of men, to a male-dominated world, (I hesitate to use the word misogynist), to a father who had difficulty showing emotion, to several episodes of sexual battery/assault, I developed not an irrational fear of men.

After an attempted rape in college, it took me several years to even consider dating men again. I even had a relationship with a woman for a year or so in between. I never identified myself as lesbian, or even bi-sexual. I believe labels make for resentments and hate. I just happened to be in love with another person who happened to be a woman.  Soon thereafter, I met the man who would be my husband of 36 years.  The only reason I let him through my shell is because he was kind, and he didn’t, at the time, place a price on my head, like other men had… I had dated one man whose father said directly to me that if a girl didn’t “put out” by the third date, you’re wasting your time and money.

I often wonder if the “sexual revolution” of the 60’sand 70’s is the reason some men felt they had the right to have their way with women whether the women wanted it or not. Spiking punch in the 80’s all the way through to dropping roofies (the date rape) drug in the new millennium, seem to me to be the generation methodologies… an outgrowth of hormone enraged young men.

Since I was so self-conscious and fearful, I guess I never was invited to those kinds of parties. I was neither rebellious nor adventurous. My Aunt even called me a Goody-Goody when she wanted me to sneak into the seated section at Tanglewood when we had only paid for lawn seats. I guess I should be grateful for being that way, lest I be one of those punch-drunk girls who got taken advantage of.

So today, at age 61, as I look back, I wonder who I might have been or how I might have felt about things or how far I could have gone with my God-given talents had I not been stifled by the men in my life.  And by the way, I remember every single one of those episodes like it was yesterday: every one of their names, approximate dates, exactly what the rooms look like, what they were wearing… but most of all, how they left me feeling about myself. Collectively, they ruined my life.

On Motivation

Writer’s block, I’ve come to discover, is all a state of mind. I can write whenever I sit down to write. It may be the most mundane thing, like a grocery list, but I can write. Whether I can write the most profound thoughts in a journal or the most sensational ending to a phenomenal novel depends strictly on my state of mind.

My latest inspiration has been, unfortunately for me, a deep sadness. A sadness for something lost. Out of the sadness came one of my most creative motivations during which I was able to complete work on the manuscript of my third novel.  I have so much confidence in this work that I have submitted it to an agent to shop it around to publishers rather than self-publishing. An epiphany for me, as I discovered through this process that I should see myself the way others see me, not the way I look at myself, which for most of my life has been less than.

The other recent motivation came from a dear friend who I will refer to as ‘the letter’, who had the patience to kick me in the rear hard enough to get me off my f-l-a (that’s a local term for fat lazy ass).  ‘The letter’ gave me great advice, tough love and tender compassion.

The end of the story is… look for “Voices from the Ledge” soon. Because I didn’t jump.

On Transparency

Someone recently called me “transparent” in my writing. I thought about it and the question came to mind, if not here, then where? I obviously can’t show my true feelings in the workplace. Aren’t we taught to leave our problems at home? And it has been proven many times that dragging my work issues home only upsets the dynamics of my family. My husband, like most men, can’t just listen and let me vent. He has to solve the problem and fix things; one, because he’s a man, and two because he hates to see me unhappy.

When my dog is around, I can tell him anything. He doesn’t judge me or try to solve the world’s problems and then go back to his nap. He just naps right through them. I envy him.

A while back, my life took a turn, for a long time, where I had isolated myself, and there were not many friends to whom I could vent. As a result, I created a cocoon for myself and the end result is that I now have very few people in my life to talk to, openly and honestly.

So, I talk to myself. In my blog and in my shower; on a walk or while on the treadmill; while doing computer work or gardening; while mixing up a cake batter or watching a baseball game. There’s a pattern here. All of these things are done alone. And if you know me, you know that I’m lying about the treadmill.

I noticed just recently that I had more followers on this blog than I realized, so being so transparent is probably not such a good idea. Or maybe it is. Maybe I’m not so alone.