Archive for February, 2009

paa12100001010I warned you that I might deviate from my original intention, which was to write about knowing “when to speak up and when to say nothing.” Circumstances this week have reminded me of something that’s likely even more important: being sensitive to your partner’s stress or fatigue level, and knowing when to step in and give them a break.

It’s best referred to as “tag-teaming it’ and it’s the foundation of a good partnership, whether it’s two cops in an interrogation room or parents dealing with their children. When one is deep in the heat of the action, the other needs to be nearby, ready to step in, and give their partner time to “breathe.”

I learned to appreciate this after the birth of my first son. I was overjoyed to finally have a baby, but like so many new mothers, my euphoria dimmed once he developed colic and cried from early afternoon until midnight each day. I was worn to a frazzle but felt too guilty to complain to my husband. After all, I was the one getting to stay at home with our darling baby, while he made a full one hundred and twenty-mile round trip to work each day and arrived home hungry and tired.

How could I let him know that I not only needed a break from my new-mother role, I needed it right now?

The first time, I didn’t even have to speak. He walked in, said hello, showered, saw that supper was ready, and practically shooed me out the door for a much-needed break. It didn’t matter that we lived in a small town and there wasn’t much to do once I got outside that door. He knew that an hour or so of downtime was all I needed to feel rejuvenated, and the time alone with his son was his reward. He did it more than once. One look at my face was often enough for him to know I needed another “mommy break.”

Over the years, this has been our pattern. When one of us reaches the end of our rope, is unwell or overtired, the other steps in, no questions asked. And that is how it should be. I cannot conceive of a relationship where one person is exhausted and the other is not doing whatever they can to relieve their load. Yet we see it all the time, a situation where one partner is the giver, one the taker and the roles are never exchanged or shared.

In the end, it’s about sensitivity. It’s also about caring about your partner nas much as you do yourself.

There is a great misconception out there that women are weak, unable to handle as much as males. But the reality is that when studies evaluate the work done by both partners in a household, women generally work more hours per day. Women who resort to complaining about that situation or about the aches and pains that have accumulated, do so because they believe that their partner is unaware of the overload they’re feeling. They have become efficient at doing things on their own but inefficient at making their needs known. Their partner may not even notice the number of times they jump up to get the clothes out of the driver, or check the food on the stove, or run to answer the phone that everyone else has tuned out or chosen to ignore.

Yep, we women can be our own worst enemies. In our desire to have our world run smoothly, we can morph into mini-robots, beacons of efficiency, driving ourselves into the ground and not saving room for the good things in life.  We need to remind ourselves that “tag teams” only work well when the one who is tired reaches out, and the other is waiting there, ready to touch fingertips and enter the ring.

Men can suffer from the same “superbeing” phenomena, and depending on their own self-esteem and upbringing, admitting they’re in trouble might not come naturally. Keep your eyes open for the signs that they’re losing steam or getting discouraged. Chances are that they may not reach out their hand and ask for help until they’re going down for the count.


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forallthechildrenoftheworldA good friend of mine, who just happens to be a successful writer, recently suggested that I aim for my own unique niche in this blog. She generously pointed out the things of value she felt I could share. One stuck out. She said that based on the success of my marriage (now in its 38th year), I should consider offering down-to-earth advice on what works for us.

Naturally, I laughed. My dear husband (who for now I’ll simply call DH) and I could never be marriage counsellors. We are not what anyone would consider a “textbook perfect” couple. We argue. We get truly ticked off at each other. We do not share all of the same interests. In fact, there are things DH enjoys that I can barely tolerate.

So, I’ve been asking myself what is it that holds us together, because truly, if you’d been around long enough to watch our history play out, we’ve been put through more than our share of tests.  People say they envy the commitment we share, but neither of us is easy-going or particularly patient. Maybe we’re both just too stubborn to be the first one to say “uncle.” We’ve both been known to obsess and overreact to things. So, aside from sharing a love for sushi, Italian food and rhythm and blues from the seventies and eighties, what’s our connection?

Now, before your mind wanders to the topic of carnal pleasure, let me assure you that while it may be part of what brings a couple together, it’s worth shit if your find yourself grinding your teeth each time you spouse speaks to you.

Leaving you with a list, a  “Linda’s Tried and True Way to Make Sure He Stays Into You,”  is just all a little too trite.  Instead I find myself thinking about something I firmly feel, and that is it that people marry to fulfill a need. Nowadays, that’s such a politically incorrect thing to say out loud, to admit needs and maybe just a wee bit of baggage, but I believe it’s true. We all come to marriage with a preconceived idea that our needs, often subconscious, will be met – in spades even. The problem comes when those needs are 1. never admitted to ourselves 2. never voiced aloud to our partner and 3. never really understood by either of us.

Where do these needs come from?  Here’s something else we might not want to admit. They come from the hidden child within us, the one that we’d like to think is long gone, that one that we figured magically disappeared right around the time we hit puberty. The last thing we need to know is that this mosst vulnerable part of us  – the one we do our damnedest to hide, still arrives to taunt us in our weakest moment, still pulls our strings now and then.

If it’s hard for most women to accept, how much of an obstacle is it for the average man? Besides being pushed to get in touch with his feminine side, we’re now also asking him to travel back in time and reconnect with the frightened, needy little child he might once have been.

The thing is, our own inner child’s not going anywhere, so we have to understand him or her, and what things that he or she still needs, before we can possibly understand and have compassion for our partner’s inner child. 

It doesn’t matter if, to all outside appearances, you’re both the most well-adjusted people in the world. It helps for you both to learn early on what each of your “inner children” still seek. It may be a continuation of what they received as children; it may be something to supplement what they feel they didn’t get enough of. In both cases, the goal is a greater feeling of security and trust.  And seriously…isn’t that what we all want to feel in a good marriage?

My husband and I have  learned to do that. We understand that vulnerable place in each other. We accept that certain things either bring back positive or negative memories from our partner’s childhood, and we must be sensitive to that reality.

Case in point: I had the typical oldest child issue of believing I had to be perfect, and often feeling inferior to my talented, highly intelligent younger siblings. I also suffered from frequent ailments (now diagnosed as fibromyalgia) and I felt that people believed I was a hypochondriac. I can easily slip back into those insecurities. My husband understands my feelings and is able to help me work through them.

In my husband’s case, some issues are still at play. The same attention deficit problems that plagued him when he was young, alienating some classmates or causing him to lose a couple of early jobs, still rear up occasionally. When they do, I see the young man who hasn’t quite figured out why some things don’t work out for him.

Intellectually, we undertand these things; emotionally, it’s hard to get past the first reaction, a reminder of the first time our lives didn’t feel quite “right.”

The child in us will never truly leave, and realizing that allows us to make allowances for times when our emotional reaction to something is stronger than the situation seems to warrant.

And honestly, wouldn’t bit be horribly boring  if we were all perfectly well-adjusted beings who never made mistakes,  or never second -guessed each other? What would we have to laugh over? When would we have the chance to offer such comfort?

It’s decided, then. “Understanding and loving your partner’s inner child”  is, from my perspective, the number one step to making a marriage work. 

There are many more though. The next topic is a biggie: Knowing When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up.

Or maybe not.  Something could always happen between now and then that suddenlly knocks “knowing when to talk” right down the list.

Stay tuned.

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humor20105I’ve heard it said that comedians are, in their own private lives, not all that funny, that they are often regular “sober-sides.” Woody Allen comes to mind, and I realize I’ve never heard him laugh. No matter what Jerry Lewis says in an effort to be a clown, you just know that underneath it all he’s a bastard.  Ignore the good guy facade. This isn’t someone who cracks jokes in an effort to lighten everyone’s mood. And we all know that some comedians don’t even bother trying to hide their nastiness. Remember Don Rickles?

I say this all because lately, as you’ve no doubt noticed, my sense of humour is seriously lacking, and I’ve not even been able to fake it. That’s scary, because all of my life I’ve been told that I can be rather funny. My witticisms actually made people laugh. Not only that. I’ve been called a “blue-skier,” someone who’s almost foolishly optimistic. What the hell happened? Did my rose-coloured glasses simply lose their tint with the passing of time?

Seriously. Is it my age? I mean, the older you get, the more “bad stuff” invades your life. If something catastrophic happens when you’re younger, you assume that a lifetime of bad luck has simply hit you all in one big chunk, that from that point on, only good things await. At least that’s what my logic told me. Had a rough few years in my twenties and then I figured, “Whew! Glad that’s over with! Now let’s get on with the good life!”

But once you’re older, your outlook starts to change without you even realizing it.  bad stuff starts to happen, sometimes quite regularly. You gear yourself up for the next big blow to you or someone you love. What a way to exist! It’s no wonder no one’s smiling around me!

I try to look on the bright side. I really do. It’s about survival, right? I seek out every bit of good news I can, because otherwise, I’d drown in doom and gloom. There’s been so much of it lately.

I mean, just since my last journal entry a few other gems have invaded my world, or its periphery.  Yesterday, my cousin’s wife, a woman I’ve yet to even meet, was the victim of a “hit and run.”  It started out as a good news story, because she’d been a good samaritan, had stopped to help a woman who’d been struck by a car. For her goodness, she was nearly killed by someone else who drove into her and kept on going: the juxtaposition of her compassion versus the driver’s disregard boggles my mind, makes seeing the light side of anything very, very hard.

Today, we made a last ditch effort to stay financially afloat until our house sells by applying for money from my husband’s locked-in pension fund. It’s under a new government endeavour called the Hardship Accessibility Programme.  There is nothing laughable about that at all, unless it’s as a comedy of the absurd. How surreal is it that we somehow arrived at this point? If we can find a way to laugh about all of this, to make jokes someday and chuckle with our grandchildren about the whole experience, we’ll either be the most well-adjusted people in the world or we’ll have lost our marbles too.

So why the hell am I so fixated on my disappearing sense of humour? It’s because of this blog, actually, and my half-hearted, on again, off again efforts to find a place for myself in the writing world. You see, someone suggested I solicit ads to generate revenue here. Of course, that would assume I’d have a large enough following, a readership that would somehow morph into enough clicks to make a financial difference. And then, the very next day, didn’t I read about dooce.com? For those of you who don’t know, dooce.com is a mega-success, a blog started in 2001 by Heather Armstrong, a young woman (thirty-something, I’m guessing) who’s somehow attracted enough of a following to not only support her family but to garner a book deal, all based on her perspective and comments on life.

Go figure! I had to check her out. It didn’t take long to realize her appeal. It was her style – irreverant, in-your-face sarcastic humour that in our better moments, we are all capable of, but in our weaker moments, we forget.  And I thought to myself, that used to be me, or close to me, anyway. Where did it go?

I want it back. That “edge,” that bit of fight that younger women use to such great advantage. It’s what keeps us going, especially in times like this. It’s what keeps us from feeling and acting like victims. No one wants to be around victims so why the hell would anyone want to read about one? That would be moi, for those of you who haven’t read back enough to recognize the signs.

It’s a lot to think about. But there is one bright spot. In the midst of a stressful discussion, I burst out laughing today, thanks to my darling husband. As we age, I may be losing my sarcastic “edge,” but he seems to be losing his vocabulary. We were talking about a rather negative news item, and he called the person featured in the piece a “well-do-ne’er.”

I laughed until I cried. It’s a start.

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add_toon_info1Today I did something that was very, very difficult.  For a long while now, we’ve been dealing with financial insecurity, some of it our own fault, some of it the result of my husband’s connection to the automotive industry. Occasionally, we’d let slip a comment to indicate things weren’t good, but until now, pride, and perhaps denial, kept us from laying it all out in the open. 

Eighteen long months without a regular income has changed all that. Today, via email, I told friends and family what was happening to us, that we are forced to sell our home but are still short the money we need to prepare it for sale, and that, even worse, we don’t long how long it may take to sell.  I told them that between us, we’re applying to at least twenty jobs a week, with no luck. Our age, our prior employment, all of it could be a deterrent. I asked for help.

I couldn’t send it to only those I knew might actually be in a position to make a difference. I couldn’t stand knowing that I’d put them, and myself, in such a difficult situation. Instead, I sent it to everyone, no matter what their circumstances. I didn’t ask directly for a loan, but for a referral, for names of people who might be in the business of taking a financial risk via a second mortgage, payable when our house finally sells.

ARGGGH. The idea of asking for anything makes me ill.  Chest pains have been plaguing me all day. I tell myself that surely, people would have offered if they were able, yet I know that’s not always the case. They tiptoe around the idea, waiting for you to ask, perhaps hoping that you won’t, because they don’t believe in lending money to friends – and who can blame them?  Or maybe, they’d like to help, but don’t want to offend by interfering.

The last thing I want to do is appear so pitiful that others are made to feel guilty because they’re experiencing better times. I don’t want people to avoid us because they don’t know how to deal with the fact that they can’t or perhaps don’t want to help. I’ve crossed a line, delivered a tacky soliloquy on an issue that’s usually discussed behind your own closed doors. My face is still red. I wish I could just hide and pretend I’d never hit “send.”

I did do my best to backtrack, to tell them that we don’t expect a response, that there is no need to explain anything, that we feel like shit for being so brazen about our need.

I hope that they understand how hard hard it was to do,  that it was simply one of the many desperate measures we have to consider while trying to survive.

It is very, very humbling, but maybe if we’d demonstrated more humility in the past, this day would never have come. I once read that it is only when we are at our weakest that we find our strength, that we recognize our own humanity. I think I’m there.

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baby-cupidValentine’s Day is the yearly event that causes more headaches and heartaches than any other. Some may disagree, saying that Christmas is more stressful, but I’d bet my best red lipstick that more psyches suffer on February 14th. than on any other day of the year.

Think of it. The idea alone is masochistic. It’s the day chosen to show people how much you love them. Conversely, if you receive no such declaration, you may assume that no one loves you. It’s a logical deduction, even for a child.

Speaking of children, flash back to that brightly covered box in the front of the classroom, the one stuffed with carefully chosen paper Valentines? Remember how you waited with anxious breath for your name to be called, how everyone counted their cards, perhaps spread them out on their desks for others to admire? What must have been going on in the head of the classmate who received no cards? What a harsh reality for a child! Who knows what residual complexes remain once they become an adult?

I sympathize with people who are alone on Valentine’s Day, caught up in the melancholy envy of those in love who are out celebrating. But here’s the clincher: being in love does not guarantee Valentine’s Day will hold any romance, and relationships can be put to the test. I’ve learned that the hard way.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I love my husband dearly, but romantic expressions of love are not his strong suit.

His proposal to me was muttered under heated breath when, at 17, he pressed me against my parent’s back door for a goodnight kiss. “You’re gonna marry me, right?”

The budget for my engagement ring was negotiated between us. He would spend the proceeds from the sale of some musical equipment, not a dime more. I was too thrilled with the prospect of being engaged to dwell on the budgetary constraints.

To be practical, my wedding night was spent in our new apartment, rather than a hotel room. His best man and ushers had stayed there with him the night before, and the place looked like a charity bazaar after a three-day blitz. In the corner of the bedroom sat a partially dismantled car engine, evidence of his latest project.

Have things changed since our marriage? Over thirty-two years have passed, and my memory may not be the sharpest anymore, but truthfully, I can’t actually recall a Valentine’s Day that was the kind of romantic surprise women dream about. Therein lies the problem. Women fantasize about such things all their lives, but men are just not hard-wired on a parallel path.

I observed the “out-of-sync” interplay between my parents for years. Mom would watch soap operas where men planned extravagant and imaginative surprises for their loved ones; but Dad was another story. He’d leave a greeting card up on top of the fridge for her to see. Sometimes, there would be a heart-shaped box of chocolates with it. Once in a while, there would be a cheque inside the card, and his name scrawled hastily, devoid of any personal message. Of course, my mother did less. She was from an age where ladies did not bother to even reciprocate Valentine’s gifts. I can’t imagine how he would have reacted if she had.

So, though I’ve never really expected grand gestures from my own husband for Valentine’s Day, secretly, I’ve always hoped. I’d see the romantic gift a friend would receive, and I’d grow wistful.

As V-day approached, I’d inevitably become more and more anxious, gearing myself up for the inevitable letdown. Sometimes, he’d completely forget. Other times, he’d say he was planning various things for months, then he’d go on to tell me why none of it could be accomplished. To be honest, I believed him. An “event planner” he’s not.

“I wanted to take you somewhere special, but couldn’t decide where to go.”

“I was going to buy you roses, but they seemed such a waste of money.”

“I thought you’d rather pick something out yourself.”

“I didn’t know what you wanted.”

“I wanted to get you something sexy, but I figured you wouldn’t wear it.” Now, there’s a story behind this line. Years ago, he ventured into an erotic clothing store and bought me what the salesperson claimed was a negligee. Actually, it was four strips of very sheer blue material, two down the front, two down the back, perhaps three inches wide at best near the upper end and wider towards the bottom. Ribbons attached the strips to each other. Problem was, I could only wear it if I stood stock still. One twist and those two strips down the front no longer covered the “essentials.” At a time when two little sons might run into our room at any time during the night, it wasn’t too practical. We both laughed, he a little less heartily, and he’s shied away from sexy purchases ever since.

Another time, he brought me home a card and lovely wrapping paper but no gift. “I couldn’t find anything good enough,” he said, frustration dripping from every word. He seemed to have developed a “tic” while he was out too.

Sometimes he says, “What do you feel like doing for Valentine’s Day?” Of course, what I want is for him to plan it for me. If I actually suggest that, he looks like he’s about to have a stroke from the pressure of it. He’ll say “I thought we should go out for dinner,” but he’ll say it that night, at 5:00 P.M., when there’s no hope of getting reservations. Then he’ll squirm in remorse.

Once, we had a romantic dinner, and we followed it by going to a movie. “Total Recall” does nothing to keep the “warm and fuzzy feeling” alive, believe me.

But after all this time, I’m almost used to it. The truth is, he’s special in every other way that counts. He brings me tea and tells me I’m smart and beautiful all the time, even when I’m feeling like Phyllis Diller on her worst day. And I don’t think his lack of romantic inclination reflects anything more than an inability to recognize the special, small gestures that can be so heart-warming. In other words, big, expensive gestures occur to him, but limited by budget and circumstances, he flounders.

So, if Valentine’s Day is spent like so many other “dates,” I’ll be prepared. A dinner out if I make a reservation, followed by a tour around The Home Depot, and an early return home. Then, perhaps, a glass of wine each, a fast “I love you,” and we’ll each depart for our separate televisions. He’ll watch “This Old House” or The Antique Roadshow,” and I’ll watch a taped soap opera, probably General Hospital, so I can watch Jax as he plans a superbly romantic evening for his current lady-love.

If I grow envious, I’ll remind myself of what my husband said to me recently. He was removing wallpaper from a room, and he commented on the strong, unhealthy fumes from the stripper he was using. Then he added, “It’s okay. As long as I see your pretty face just before I die I’ll be happy”

Okay, so it sounds corny, but it goes a long way towards making up for Home Depot on Valentine’s Day


(published in the Globe and Mail, Feb. 14/05 under title: Valentine’s Day façade, Valentine’s Day feeling)

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untitled-human-spirit1Last week,  our close friend passed away. For the better part of twenty years, Janet fought cancer and outlasted the dire predictions of the best oncologists. Despite her frail appearance, she seemed invincible. We regularly compared her to that bastion of commercial longevity, the Energizer Bunny.

What was it about her that kept her alive? Surely, she had to have advice for others. Once, when I asked her for her secret, she answered with one word: denial. As long as she couldn’t see the signs of the cancer in her body, it wasn’t there. She locked the prognosis away, as far from her everyday thoughts as possible, and threw away the key. She decided to live each day on its own merit, and she lived them well. No matter what she was going through, she never lost her passion for people,  for food, for laughter.

Few of us are that wise.  The fear of trouble ahead sometimes cripples us. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about our health or our loved ones or even our finances. Instead of using each day to enjoy what we have, we agonize over what we may lose.

It’s within each of us to find the same kind of strength Janet had.  No matter what we lose, we only need to remember to appreciate the abundance of blessings that still surround us.  If we can do that, then maybe our struggles won’t seem quite so insurmountable.

Thank you for teaching us that, Janet. Rest in peace, dear friend.

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