Saturday, October 30, 2021

As Yet Unnamed and Still Examined Time in My Life

 My husband told me a long time ago that my story is my pearl and not everyone deserves them.

My son told me that it is time, Ma, to write that story.

I've been contemplating my life, maybe it is the brush with a recent health situation of getting older and creaking knees, that has me thinking about the non-renewable resource of time.

"I have more years behind me than in front of me, " was something my late father said to me when I was flew back home to visit him when I was in my thirties and filled with hope and possibility.

"Nah, Dad, you will be around for a while." Little did I know that he was battling as blood cancer that hadn't been diagnosed until a few months later that would take his life six months after that. Daddy wrote and all that he wrote is lost to the moves and hands of those who cared more about themselves than his legacy. His brilliance whispered away with his last breath.

Perhaps it is the Twilight Zone of Covid that has me exploring the nuances of my life story and what can or should be uncovered. I mean, I'm not. unlike a lot of people who trotted through the doorway of Facebook to connect with family and friends, even forming some cyber communities only to realize years later that it was an exhausting adventure. Perhaps it was in that space of sharing and bantering that parts of my story have already been written. I'm not famous, so who cares.

"Mama, I've told so many people about your strength, write that sh•t," quipped my oldest son who, along with my oldest daughter, are my most ardent supporters of words at the ends of my fingers. "Yeah, maybe you're right." 

One of the things that has been on my mind is that there was such a failure of the adults around me. As an adult with emerging adult children, I wanted to spend my life parenting them with their future in mind, regardless of what it may have cost me. To me, the most important assignment I had was to raise them to be assured of themselves, to be confident in their abilities, to know that they were safe, and to go into the world knowing they could do whatever they wanted. For years, I poured into them.

And maybe it was because that was denied me the first time, when imagination and possibility was snatched away. When healing and journey meant not wanting to wear that moniker but it ended up being the one most cherished, later in life, when life emerged from me again. I may not have always been expecting it or even ready for it, but definitely threw my heart and soul into being a champion for the ones who walked around because of me.

I woke up today thinking about myself when I was eighteen, scared, far from anything familiar, silenced, and held by a real life Halloween monster, and what she needed most in life. As I look around at the shenanigans of elected officials who are trying to snuff out all knowledge and quest for women and girls, from Texas to Florida to everywhere red hats are running around recreating the Handmaid's Tale, I still think about that girl and the protection that was never her clock. So when my son told me to write about it and my husband told me everyone could not handle it, I sat with it all for years and wondered what could come from remembering a life lived over decades.

So many of us have overcome horrific things, even surviving Covid has posed challenges to a lot of people, so much so that some have literally lost their sense of reasoning, arguing over masks and if they can let their kids battle the forces of this virus unprotected. It is a communal and collective time that has people doing everything from stepping back from what the grinding wheel of work-life took from them, to trying to decide if someone like them even has a place in this world. Identity markers and reclaiming or remembering history, or looking through the lens of time to learn the lessons so others won't have to endure it, maybe that is the reasons for telling one's story. I'm not famous, but do I have to be?

"The ones who were supposed to care, didn't," was the sentence uttered by a young colleague about a challenging situation we both encountered at our former non-profit. What sits with me about it is that it could sum up the time of my life between 16-19. 

As adults, do we get past the causes of original situations? Do we keep pushing through life just thinking about ourselves and not the impact of those decisions on others?

I was on Instagram and there was a post of a Roma hip-hop group of girls who are ethnic Europeans and were protesting the custom of marrying girls off early. This post was a few days after reading a post about the Taliban who finally let the girls attend School, but only in some parts of Afghanistan. Then, I thought about my daughter ,at our former church, who quipped, "they are so busy trying to save the sons that they destroy the daughters." What is it about the power of women that men and society want to squash?

Why do boys get to do whatever they want and walk away unscathed, leaving the girl to deal with the consequences? And then, why do men in suits get to decide what her punishment should be for daring to believe? Or why do women follow behind those men and claim that she should be ashamed of herself when what happened to her wasn't even her choice? Why do we do that? Is it fear or because we don't want to face that it could easily have been one of us or someone we know and love?

In my lifetime, I've raised human beings who walk confidently in the earth, and I've counseled human beings who know I am a trusted listener and take action advocate. In the course of my life, I've driven a college classmate across states to get the care she needed for a situation neither she nor her boyfriend were ready for at the time. I've handed out shiny little round packages and driven around with them in my van for emergency calls. I answered an early Sunday morning panicked call from a girl and waited for the negative results to then counsel her that if that is not what she wanted, then she needed to protect herself and her dreams. My boys and my girls got the same "Mama! TMI! Ok, ok, we get it," conversations every time I talked to them about life. I wanted them to know what was denied me.

Maybe that was my purpose. That it could only be someone like me who did not let the monster win, even though the most precious was violently taken and the time of remembering brings back the mourning, I still lived. That is the thing, I lived. I'm far from perfect, but did not let the imperfect Destroy me and that is the ultimate memorial.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Seeing Beyond the Smokescreen

 There is a crippling fear that has gripped the heart and soul of people.

Covid 19 is still raging, many are dying in hospitals because they listened to folks who populated myths of what was in the vaccine, glorified snake oil salesmen while they and their families were not only vaccinated, but receiving monoclonal antibodies when some of them got Covid in the early days.

The jobs report came out and again, this fear of not enough is pervading the land, mostly written about with the top 1% of the 1% in mind, afraid of their stock market returns, but not afraid enough to listen to the cries of the workers kept in the endless wheel of capitalism.

The stage hands walked off the jobs.

Restaurant workers said $2.13 per hour plus tips that may not come was not enough.

Cereal factory workers stopped.

So many stopped.

Stopped being afraid.

Took back pieces of their own power.

I woke up thinking about that on this October 11th day that is Indigenous Peoples' Day. A day when the mail is not running and many have this day "off" yet the wheels of capitalism are churning making it a "one day only sale" to get more people to and spend money on a cheaply made shirt that took them three hours of work to get. I have been thinking about this day and the power of reclaiming oneself.

This is also October, my least favorite month of the year. 

I was looking back over decades of my life and it was on an October in a year ending in a 1 that something significant altered the trajectory of my life. Almost all of it wrapped around some terror of being or being harmed or being hungry.

So many are living in that right now and those who are able to do something about it, pretend to be afraid to have their hands tied.

Thinking about it is just one part.

Doing something about it is another.

I'm not sitting on millions to be able to buy everyone unhoused a home or even hire at a full and fair wage (far above $21/hour BTW), but I have a little bit of power and autonomy to do what I can do.

Asking why.

Why is it like this and trying to uncover and using the only tools we have in these United States - our voices, our circles of influence, our dollars, and our vote.

Do I really need a cheaply made blouse from some high conglomerate that does not pay the people who harvested the threads and made the thing? No, I don't need to respond to the pressures of the fashion industries to have the newest and latest. Our landfills don't need more discarded clothes and neither do those who have been intentionally marginalized need American cast-offs.

I can think about where I spend my disposable income and more importantly, use my voice and my vote. 

My voice to talk about issues and my vote to choose employees-of-the-people who will do something about it. 

Fear is entirely crippling and it is something those in power use a lot to scare everyone else. What if those people move into your neighborhood or town? What if real history were really taught in schools? what if people were paid fully and fairly? What if everyone just stopped and made the world pause, the way Covid did, and required that we take notice?

Taking back one's power is a daily thing.

Waking up to decide what you can do.

Just one thing different.

That's what I have been thinking about and doing over the past twenty years. Doing one thing, not always getting it right, but getting back up to try that one thing again. Realizing I have more personal power and that the grip of fear is just "false evidence appearing real." It is a smokescreen and like vapors, once it passes, it will whisper away so you can see clearly a path to what freedom in living can be like.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Liberation of the Trailing Spouse

I was watching a re-run of Grey's Anatomy yesterday afternoon, in that lull of my day from when I had already written what I wanted to write and when it was time to pick up my daughter.

"Meredith" was having a heated discussion with "Derick" about his impending opportunity with the NIH that would cause them to move from Seattle to Washington. D.C. I was a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity for him and would cause a severe pause in her career. He told her she could just be a surgeon at the Georgetown Hospital. She was in the middle of cutting edge research at Grey-Sloan Memorial. They had small children and well, she had envisioned her life there in Seattle. She mentioned the "trailing spouse syndrome" and that if she left and went to D.C., that she would always be in his shadow and would never get her career chance. She also commented that he had already had his heightened moments, that he didn't need another win, but she needed her shot.  

There was something about that episode that sat with me. I am one year in a new state, here because of my husband's position. We are in a state neither of us have lived in before and honestly, the one that I said I'd want to live in if I ever had the chance. We went from Midwest natives with Southern roots to being transplants in New England. It has been a journey.

One year in, resignation from a non-profit I worked for in my former state, and watching my last child, my daughter gain her senior year wings, I'm considering what will be my next. 

We moved in the middle of the pandemic before there were even vaccines. 

There was no one here that we knew. We each had connections through our social organizations that would at least be a bit of familiarity. I also had a clergy "place-to-go" that would set some foundations for us. Still, though, I am the trailing spouse.

A little over twenty years ago, I moved back to a state I never wanted to live in, a state that ended up being my home for the next twenty years, almost to the date. It included two moved within that state. It was where my husband had only lived and only had his career. We were in two different states for grad school and I wanted to consider the world. He wanted to set some things in place for the future, that were beneficial, so off to the middle of the country we remained. I had a great offer out of grad school and he was continuing his research, so it made sense. We would be able to drive or fly out of there to anything on either coast and did that for the next twenty years.

Still, I became the trailing spouse when we had a career change during the Great Recession of 2007/8 that necessitated a move across the state, from one metro area to the next. By then, we had the last of three children at home, the younger two were emerging from toddlerhood and I thought I was seeing some different possibilities from my newly minted career of "work-at-home-mom." The girls were three and five.

Once we moved and settled into the new city, I had to make some choices. 

My field was essentially non-existent in this place that was like a field of dried-up dreams. I had to pivot. So I started consulting, teaching at the university extension across the river, and became more of a community activist than one would imagine in an introvert like me. I also started writing, a lot, this space included. 

There was something nagging within me, though. I was the "Mrs." to his "Dr." everywhere we went in that city. At every university function we had to attend, because, well, he was up there in administration, it was almost as if my advanced degrees were nothing more than the window dressing I was that day, donned in yet another gown with pearls or diamonds to be arm candy. Now, my husband never treated me that way, but that was always the experience in those crowds. It didn't matter what I had done before moving there or even since as long as I was the dutiful present supportive spouse. Needless to say, that place was steeped in patriarchy.

But I made it work.

I threw myself into the real work of nurturing human beings to their fullest self. 

The youngest son went off to college and the year we moved to New England, graduated with his second master's degree. The oldest daughter started college the fall we moved to New England, and well, the. youngest daughter is now a fully independent senior in high school. In the mean time, I organized, ran for office, engaged with the community, started a literary circle, went to seminary, went to prestigious conferences, presented scholarly papers, and kept writing.

This trailing spouse find ways to be liberated from expectations of what I should be doing.

I never returned to the corporate world of my previous and still present career. I found ways to make it work in non-profit, consulting, and social entrepreneurship spaces. It is what I am still doing, in some ways, through the pandemic that sent everyone scrambling to the Zoomland that I had already been working in for four years. It also meant a lot of folks were figuring out how to do what I had been doing since 2003 - working remotely or hybrid - and still being successful.

That episode of Grey's Anatomy that sat with me was that in life and in partnerships, there are sometimes give-and-take. My husband is on what he calls either his last career or next-to-last as he retired from that state we called "beneficial." His forethought and wisdom was to start in his early twenties planning for retirement and calculating just how long he would have to work in that state system to walk away with all he needed to live a dream.

Now, he is truly doing the work that makes his soul sing.

And I am finding new ways of being in New England.

Sometimes, just sometimes, what the trailing spouse gives up ends up being a way to get all they wanted. 

Now, that is not what happened with Meredith and Derick, I just know from forward years of Grey's Anatomy that the decision to stay in Seattle worked exceptionally well for her and for their family. 

Choosing what works is never a science. It is always a bit of opportunity and consideration of what is gained and what is lost. For me, it is now a chance to discover who I am and what I can do without being under the cloud of expectations that smothered me in my former state. While no place is perfect, this place is showing itself to be perfectly suited for me.

The liberation of this trailing spouse is that I have a blank page to dream, to gaze out the window at the trees, feel the breeze of the ocean, grab my Moleskins and a latte, and wonder.