Sunday, May 26, 2013

Holding secrets

Blogging is hard when there are things you don't want certain people in your life to know. I hate secrets. I grew up with secrets. My mother does secrets all too well. I don't tend to keep personal secrets about myself (as my blog readers have probably figured out) and really only find myself holding one when someone else wants me to keep her secret. I dislike when that happens.

I must sit on my current secret a while longer. How long? That's as hard to predict as it is to predict when a life will run out, when the last breath will be taken, when it'll be too late to tell that person anything else. As my dad has told me in the past, I'll explain it all eventually.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy day of mothers? Okay.

May has always been a shitty month for me. I dislike the loss of winter with its quiet, soothing cover of clouds and coldness. I'm also prone to spring allergies, but mostly I don't react well to Mother's Day. Or at least I didn't in the past.

For a long time I've struggled with the practice and concept of motherhood. It just looks to me like a job that women are set up to fail. As a former ungrateful daughter, I never want to be on the mother side of the stories that end up in the therapist's office. Even if a mother does her very best, she makes many mistakes and she can't know which ones actually do damage until her child is unable to commit to a relationship or is unable to hold a job or develops an eating disorder or can't handle money, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

At least in part because motherhood is impossible to get right and so easy to get very, very wrong, I chose not to have kids. I look anxiously at babies and children, fearful of what they have in their future (abuse, neglect, neurosis, hunger, endless punishment?). When anyone mistakes me for a mother, I draw back in horror, insulted that they think I might be one of those people, The Mothers with the power of life and death over their children and whose actions weigh so, so heavily on the psyche and development of little personalities. No, I'm not A Mother. I would never do that to anyone.

As I reach my late 40's, it becomes more frequent that strangers assume I have children, especially on this day. But decades of therapy, inner work and healing of my childhood pain are finally starting to change this day for me. Yesterday a stranger wished me "Happy Mother's Day!" and I didn't feel insulted. I didn't glare at him and say, "I'm not a mother," forcing him to apologize for his mistake. I said, "Thank you," in the spirit of someone who isn't of the same faith as a religious holiday, but who still appreciates the festive greetings of others.

I shocked myself. As I walked away, I checked my mood for the old resentment and bitterness, but they weren't there. My Mother's Day resentment and bitterness were gone! It's a secular miracle! Actually, it's the result of decades of hard work on my childhood issues, using various therapies and techniques to release my old anger and fears.

Today I see families out together, but feel no envy of someone else's better childhood than mine, or anger that people keep selfishly having babies so the world can go on suffering. This holiday has become neutral for me. It just IS. I see individuals carrying bouquets, on their way to Mom's. One teenager held bright red roses which contrasted her dark expressionless look. I felt for her because I know that mask of bored detachment. It was my best defense against unpredictable holidays when I was growing up. I wish that young woman well, but she probably won't be. Not today.

Mother's Day is extremely difficult for a lot of people, but they get ignored by the bright greetings and colors of this day. I intensely dislike the false pageantry people are forced to participate in, but I'm grateful to have made my way to the surface of the bleak emotions that until now have penetrated my feelings about motherhood. Have a happy Mother's Day? Yes, actually I am.

[If you made the choice to parent small children, you can leave them at this Chicago preschool.]

Thursday, May 09, 2013

What is it like to be married? (Part two)

[My original post on this question was written in February, 2012]

Lately I've been talking to people who’ve been married fifteen or thirty or more years. For decades I've been hearing that “every marriage is different,” but I still thought marriage was supposed to fit into certain parameters of respect and decency, and if it didn't, it could not stand. I don't know how the heck I learned this from my life experiences, but I somehow I got the impression that there were rules to be followed.

I was wrong. Apparently marriage really doesn’t have to meet any standard whatsoever except that both people agree to be in it without anyone having to physically lock anyone up. This has turned into my theory called The Deal: that the key to a stable marriage (and "stable" does not necessarily include happiness) is The Deal that the couple has worked out, often without words or even conscious acknowlegement. I believe couples make all sorts of unspoken deals, some of which might seem awful or unhealthy, but they work and the marriage is stable. The deal might be “I won’t mention your drinking if you don’t mention my weight,” or “I’ll stop wanting sex to accommodate your sexual trauma” or “I’ll tolerate your affairs if you keep earning lots of money.” None of this is spoken out loud, but the arrangement is solid and can last indefinitely.

This theory also explains why people can be married for twenty or thirty years or more and then "suddenly" get divorced. It's because the deal stopped working for one or both of them and they were unable to negotiate a new one. When the deal becomes intolerable to someone, the couple divorces (or someone gets bumped off, depending on the level of relationship skills).

There are those who might call this theory of marriage cynical or jaded. I'm just processing what I've been hearing from the experts: men and women whom I'm friends with who've been married for decades. Decades.

Sometimes the deal is easy. At the beginning it's simply, "Love me and I'll love you" or "Keep being wonderful and sexy and I'll do my best to keep up." But I think all marriages eventually lose their shine, elasticity and water resistance, and when everyone isn't as wonderful or sexy, you look at what is there and decide if it works for you. Is the price of staying married worth it? Am I getting as good a deal as I'm giving? Is her depression worth how well she runs the household? Is his lack of ambition worth how great a father he is? Is my partner's salary worth how much our schedule drains me? Is his sense of humor worth how much he drinks?

Every marriage is different. Each contains its own bliss and its own nightmare, and each of those things can only be defined by the participants. You fall in love, you dive in and as everybody gets to know everybody better, you see what you've got. And you start dealing.