Down the Rabbit Hole

June solstice? Already?! I nearly missed it. Seems I slipped into a hole a few months ago and one thing after another drove me deeper into the darkness. I wish I could say I had fun or that I lost weight or I won…anything. Nope. But I did learn a few things.

I confirmed that I’m not ready to die; I still have unfinished business and I still have some fight left in me. I learned that people cannot get rest in the hospital, laying in a bed or sitting in a chair watching your spouse lay in the bed. I validated the fact that after all these years I still love my husband and want to stay married even though he aggravates me more than once each day.

The biggest surprise came in understanding and accepting the fact that once in a while I need to put myself first instead of last. Okay, maybe more often than once in a while. It’s going to take me some time to create new habits. Awareness and acceptance are the first step.

On this longest day of the year, I see the light, and I’ve made my way up from the depths to the rabbit hole opening. I’m even putting my head out. Wave if you see me.

The Bully

There wasn’t any specific reason why I took a mental trip to the past, and yet there were a thousand reasons why. Usually I avoid thinking about any of the abuse I suffered, but sometimes thoughts just creep through like a spider moving in and out of a crack in the floorboards.

My ex-husband was a master at it. His bruises went deep to the soul but they left no marks on the surface. He worked the graveyard shift and I used to silently count down the hours until he would leave for work. I treasured my nights without him at home and I dreaded his nights off. After a while I used to dread any hour he was home when I or the kids were awake. I never knew when he was going to blow so I would run scenarios through my head. If he blows today, this person is off work and we can go there. Plan B. Plan C. Sometimes all the way to Plan F. The girls and I got so attuned to his body language that we knew he was going to blow before he did, and we could give ourselves a little lead time to get to a place of safety.

Once you learn to read that body language, you can’t turn it off unless you close your eyes. So without even thinking about it, you find yourself reading it in others who exhibit it. Perfect strangers even. Once I was grocery shopping and encountered a man who was oozing anger so silently that he was odiferous. Instantly I became ill and had to run outside to vomit in a garbage can. I so desperately wanted to go back and talk to his wife, to find out how I could help her break free. But I didn’t. I understood all too well that if she was in his presence, she could not be approached.

Several months ago I encountered another bully, an influential person who liked his ego to be stroked often. It bothered me to have a bully rise to the top and be in the brightest spotlight of all, caught on video nearly every day and appearing in my living room on the evening news. I watched in horror as he mocked a disabled reporter. Even more horrifying was watching others defend the bully, trying to tell me he wasn’t making a mockery of the disabled person. I watched the bully knowingly lie, escalate falsehoods and advance conspiracies, manipulate a mob, and incite violence. He called others names to their faces. He publicly falsely accused others of breaking the law. He was disrespectful to his wife in public, caught twisting her arm to cause pain. And she, like the woman in the grocery store, silently spoke just as loudly with her body language. Even my grown children could hear their body language. Sadly, many people could not hear it or would not.

And now it appears some people, some very smart and conniving people, played with that bully, manipulated that bully, to the point that now the bully is desperate and paranoid. On one hand, it’s a welcome sight to watch a bully get a taste of his own medicine. But on the other hand, there is no escaping the fear of what is to come when he blows.

Do I Know You?

Like many people, occasionally I find myself sifting through my social media and networking “friends” to remind myself of how I met that person, why I connected with that person, and whether or not I still want to be connected. Given our new president and the current political divide in our country, I’ve found myself doing this a little more often in recent weeks. I’m guessing some of my “friends” have been wondering the same about me since I’ve become more outspoken about recent events. It’s sad, but I admit that I thought some of my friends had more compassion and more courage, enough that they would speak out against a bully or a dictator. And I was shocked when some of my friends made generalizations and assumed I was “one of those” just because I believe in improving human rights for all. In fact, a couple of times I wondered, “Who are you? Do I know you? I mean, do I REALLY know you? And do you really know me?”

Generally it takes me a very long time to make friends but when I do, I make friends for life. So when something happens to cause a friendship to fade, I find myself unsettled. Did I say something I shouldn’t have? Did I not say something when I should have? I find the whole process of a “deep dive” to determine what caused the end of a friendship to be disheartening and disappointing. I have a lot of questions and usually I can come up with answers. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no clear understanding of why a friendship died and I can’t help but wonder if maybe I didn’t know that person as well as I thought.

In my former job, I worked with a few people on a daily basis and got to know them very well. One woman frequently vented (and joked) about her mother’s dementia. Another woman shared her struggles as she tended to her father who was recuperating from a broken hip, then grieved openly when he was diagnosed with cancer shortly after. He died a few months later. She had to take a bit of time off of work during all of that and we all pitched in to carry her load. Sharing those kinds of sorrows create friendship bonds, or so I thought. I guess I was naïve in thinking that because we had “suffered” together, we could continue to be friends even though I crossed over to a different company. But since I am no longer on the team and don’t see those people on a daily basis anymore, they’ve stopped including me. Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

I’m reminded of when one of my brothers went through a nasty divorce many years ago and his friends chose sides. My brother joked about how he was grateful that the divorce left him with six friends, enough for pallbearers when his time would come. I laughed at the time, but stopped laughing when I went through my own divorce and came out with less than six friends.

It’s easy to make friends when your kids are young. They make friends at school and you get to know those parents and you all end up at school events together, or you live in the same neighborhoods and take turns watching each other’s kids or carpooling to games or dances. But what do you do when all your kids are grown? How do you make new friends then?

Perhaps instead of making new friends, I should focus my effort on sustaining the good friendships that I have by reaching out more often. But what do you do about those friends who don’t reciprocate when you reach out and work to maintain a friendship? Some friends are satisfied with the standard, “How are you? Good. Me too. No, nothing’s new. Great catching up! Talk to you soon.” I’m finding that no longer satisfies me. I know we’re all tired and overworked, but aren’t we supposed to be there for each other? Share our struggles and our successes?

What it all comes down to is, I value my friends who share the trivial along with the grand, who are not afraid to cry amidst laughter, who dance with me when no one else is on the dance floor, and who take turns at being the initiator of our conversations. I want the friend who asks me how I am and then waits to hear the answer. And I want to be that kind of friend in return.

Tell Our Children Something Different

When my four daughters were growing up, I used to tell them they could be anything they wanted to be. “Just pick something you enjoy because you’re going to do it for the rest of your life.” It wasn’t bad advice.

I never had any sons, but I often thought I would have told a son to treat women special. Open doors for them. Be kind to them. Be respectful. It would have been a good message.

Or, maybe not. On the one hand, I told my daughters to reach for the stars. I would have assumed a son would pursue his dreams for a career without having to be told he could do it. Would my daughters have noticed that I pushed them to advance but didn’t push a son? Would my daughters have thought less of themselves because they needed to be prodded? And I would have told a son to treat women differently because they are “special.” Would a son have interpreted that to mean women are weak? Or, if it was understood that by special I meant a positive thing, would a son have taken offense because I didn’t think men are special?

Words have so much power. It’s so easy as a parent to quickly answer a question without thinking about the words. I know I’m not the only parent who said, “Because I’m the mom and I say so.” At least I can honestly say that I never once told any of my daughters she was stupid or ugly or wouldn’t amount to anything. And every day as my daughters left for school I told them I loved them and again they heard it at bedtime, and often other times in between. To this day I still say “I love you” when I end a conversation with one of them.

If I had to do it over again, I’d stress equality, not in a political way but in a humane way. The janitor sweeping the floor of the office lobby is equally important to his or her family as the CEO riding to the top floor. I would guide my children to respect others always, and to be mindful that others are also respecting them. Without respect for each other, can there be trust in the relationship? I would encourage random acts of kindness as often as possible, in an effort to pay it forward and to teach humility. You never know when your circumstances will cause you to be on the receiving end of a random gift or a handout of support.

We all walk on the same planet. We all look at the same sun, moon, and stars. Some of us may have more power or wealth but we are all man and woman, equally unique and special and deserving of respect. We are life. Let’s celebrate that.

Re-Introduction

My eclectic group of friends have had their fill. “STOP!” one yelled at me on Facebook last week. So it’s time for me to return to my blog and speak anonymously for a while. Truth be told, I’ve missed writing in my blog. So why did I stop? It’s complicated.

One of my daughters gave up Facebook for about eight months because she felt her life was too boring and she couldn’t “compete” with all the exciting things her friends were doing and exotic places they were visiting. Eventually she and her husband bought a new house and she went on a work-sponsored trip to a foreign country, two exciting events that brought her back to posting. I had similar feelings. My four daughters have grown and are not the struggling adolescents they were when I first started this blog. All four are done with college (well, the last one will be in four months) and two are married with a third getting married in less than three months. The fourth is in a serious relationship that will likely lead to marriage as well. So the heavy lifting part of mothering is done. Well, I’d like to think that anyway. And my life as a parent had become boring, without drama, and I didn’t feel I had anything to share anymore.

I returned to my blog a few times in the last couple of years to write about the bullying I was experiencing in my (previous) job. It was a nightmare that elevated my blood pressure, caused me to gain a lot of weight, and brought on fitful nights of sleep. I knew if I stayed in the job it would kill me. Eventually I found another job and after a couple of months realized that manager was a bully too. I went silent, spending months trying to figure out what was wrong with me that I kept getting singled out on the job. Extreme soul-searching allowed me to right myself and know that I needed to respect myself as much as I showed respect to others. Just as I made that discovery and started to interview for yet another new job, my bully manager was replaced overnight with a very respectful, appreciative manager, the kind everyone wants and never gets. Pretty tough to blog about that without seeming to flaunt it. So I didn’t.

Last summer I felt a strong tug to return to blogging as the U.S. presidential campaign heated up but I just didn’t want to bring politics to my blog. My husband and I are on opposite sides politically so as the campaigns heated up, so did our discussions. I would have loved to write about my feelings but I was afraid I’d come off sounding like a left-wing lunatic when in actuality I’m a conservative centrist (yes, really).

In September I undertook a thirty-day eating plan called “Whole30” and I thought about sharing that journey. My oldest daughter was my “buddy” for the month and therefore it would have qualified as a topic for a blog about my four daughters, but I didn’t want this to turn into a dieting blog. So I squelched that idea. I am in the last days of finishing my second Whole30 and probably will share some of my life-altering lessons learned at some time in the future. But not now.

So what’s finally bringing me back to the blog? My four daughters. And my two grandchildren.

My oldest daughter is 31. She’s married and has a daughter who is 6 and a son who is 3. She teaches high school math. My second daughter is 29. She’s married and works as a medical radiology tech. My third daughter is 25 and finishing grad school and will be a veterinarian doctor at the end of the year. She’s getting married in April. And my youngest is 23 and will be done with her AA degree in May. She’s still deciding what she wants to be when she grows up.

These four daughters of mine are intelligent, compassionate, hard workers, independent, loyal, determined. They want good-paying jobs so they can own a home and raise a family and provide for themselves without relying on others. They want a good life for their children. And they want to be contributing members to the supportive communities in which they live.

We were all going along just fine until November 2015 when a candidate for president mocked a disabled reporter. There was a collective gasp among my four daughters. It got their attention. Soon they were watching the debates and two of my daughters even watched both of the summer conventions. They learned a lot about Benghazi. Three of them decided never to have a private email server and one admitted to already having one. And then Access Hollywood released a video in October 2016. My daughters could not believe a man of such stature could essentially get away with such disrespectful behavior. They turned to me for answers. I had none.

When my daughters were young, answers were easy to provide. I guess there’s a lot of truth in the old saying that with small kids there are small problems. Now that they are grown women, successful in their own ways, they have expectations of being treated respectfully and fairly. And they expect that others will be as well. Witnessing events unfold since the new administration landed in Washington, DC, my daughters are disappointed, frustrated, depressed. Each wants to know what she can do, one woman among four in a big, scary world. And the fact that I can’t immediately solve the problem or tell them what to do only adds to their disappointment. I’m grateful to have a relationship with each of my daughters and it warms my heart that they still come to me for answers. However, they need to form their own beliefs and philosophies. Even so, I welcome the opportunity to talk with them as we walk along life’s path at this moment in time. Maybe in the process I’ll find the answers I’m searching for.

And so, I’m returning to my blog where I can write about the changing world and how it is affecting my four daughters and me. A therapeutic exercise for me, perhaps a finding of common ground for you.

Six or Half Dozen

Six. A finite number. Definitive. While it’s more than one, it’s a singular entity. Six. Complete logic and order. Monochrome. You know exactly what you’re getting. Six.

On the other hand, half a dozen is ambiguous. Do you have exactly six, or do you have a little more than five or slightly less than seven? There are multiples with half a dozen. Is there chaos? Were there more and now you’re on the downslide? Or are you on the upswing, gaining more and more? Assumptions are made with half a dozen, but they depend on the context. Do you see potential or failure? And while one person may assume a positive grouping in half a dozen, another might see a doomsday prediction. Dichotomy. Half a dozen.

I asked for six. Half a dozen were served.

Standing By My Man

It’s no secret that my husband and I are on opposite sides politically. We met and fell in love before we knew that about each other. Shocking statement, I know. But it wasn’t a problem because we both did a lot of bi-partisan work and we each were well-versed in compromise, finding common ground, and negotiating. Besides, the political divide in our country was just a small one at the time. Our core philosophies were the same—work hard, do the right thing, treat each other as you want to be treated, watch out for the less fortunate, help others whenever you can.

I’m old enough to remember when Monica Lewinsky made the evening news, along with Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and others. I remember the backlash Hilary received for standing by her man. I even joked at the time that it was a good thing they lived in a big house with more than one bedroom because that meant Bill had somewhere to sleep.

When Al and Tipper Gore divorced, I was caught by surprise. And I wondered, how is it they didn’t make it but Bill and Hillary have survived as a couple? Political ambitions trump all else? Or maybe having more than one bedroom really did make a difference?

These last few months have challenged my marriage in ways I never expected. At first, I laughed out loud and teased my husband. “Did you hear the latest?” I would ask with each breaking story about Donald Trump’s behavior or bold lie. My husband usually justified whatever it was by saying Trump was misunderstood or misinterpreted. But then the news media began playing videos. Trump denied mocking a disabled reporter, and the media ran video of him doing just that. Trump said he never opposed the Iraq war, and the media gleefully ran old video of Trump saying he opposed it. Trump claimed no one respected women more than he did. Access Hollywood video proved that a lie.

Over the course of this election, I’ve witnessed a shocking turn of personality in my husband. Ten years ago I married a man who valued women as equals, who supported my desire for a career, who would never consider saying a derogatory or defaming statement about anyone. And now he supports a man who has repeatedly verbally abused, bullied, and sexually assaulted women; a man who has ridiculed POWs; a man who has laughed at the grief of a fallen soldier’s parents.

Funny thing about life. The older you get, the more of life experience you have to draw from and sometimes, not always, you’re wiser as a result. Many years ago I was desperately trying to get my daughters and me safely away from their father. Abuse and violence were a daily occurrence and I just wanted to get us out alive. I swore I would never allow myself or my daughters to find themselves in that situation again. Divorce was welcome relief and it saved our lives.

Fast forward to present day, to the political climate we are in. Events of the summer caused me to no longer talk about the election with my husband. Not because I fear for the safety of my life, but because I fear for the preservation of his soul. He has been brainwashed to the point of believing it is okay to joke about a person’s disability, that locker room banter can include sexual assault language, and that there’s little need for truth. His delusional mind now believes he needs to go buy a gun because civil war is going to break out if Trump loses.

No, I do not fear for my safety in the same way I did in my first marriage. But I am concerned about how I’m going to get my husband to walk away from the ledge of the extreme Right and bring him back closer to center. He is lost and needs help. No other woman would have him now. I am his only hope for a nurse to restore him back to a world of respect and love of country. I’m standing by my man. And if our country is going to have a successful future, I pray other women will do the same with their husbands. Gently, lovingly let’s bring these brainwashed souls back into our hearts. Maybe in the process we can restore civility and lessen the political divide.