Not Strong

1343863240_3320_fearIt is all I can do not to stay in bed all day every day. That seems to be the safest and most secure place in the entire world, my bed. I do not want to get up, for anything but a fresh cup of coffee and now and then some instant soup. Once a week I strip the sheets, replacing them with clean linens. I have a king sized bed, covered in pillows. I sleep on one small part, the furthest away from the door. It takes me less than two minutes to make the bed in the morning because I barely move in my sleep, barely wrinkle the bed covers.

It is all I can do not to stay in my bed all day every day.

I am on the brink of throwing my hands in the air and giving in, giving up. Just saying fuck it all, why bother.

It has been seventy-six days since my husband, the one I called Dearly Beloved walked away from our marriage without a backward glance or a good-bye. It may be more but that is how long it has been for me.

It has been fifty-eight days since I have had an income. I will admit this is my choice, but who knew it would be so difficult to find another contract. Who knew, certainly not me or I might have chosen differently. I might have chosen to continue to be miserable, bullied and treated disrespectfully for the privilege of a paycheck.

At my age, perhaps that is the best I can hope for, the market certainly seems to be telling me I have no real value and my experience is not worth a damn.

It is all I can do not to stay in bed all day, every day. Some days, I give in and I do.

I am becoming what I do not want to be, what I fight hard not to be, what I never wanted to be.

Bitter.lonely-old-woman

Angry.

Uninspired.

A recluse.

I am unable to find my way out of this fog. Every ‘no’ feels like a nail pounded into my body sending me deeper into hiding, into my self imposed and designed hermitage. My fear is overwhelming, some days I wander through my home and wonder, when will I lose it? When will I lose everything I have worked for my entire life? While I was busy taking care of everyone else, making certain everyone had what they thought they needed, what they wanted and then throwing it back in my face as not enough; now, when will I lose what is left?

I can’t breathe.

I am so tired of people telling me I am strong. Yes, I get it I am strong enough to have survived all the world has thrown at me. I have picked myself up and slogged through the quagmire. I have done that, often I have done it without help from any damned person who was supposed to be there for me. I did it without getting hardhearted and mean-spirited, for the most part. At least I think this is true. I have to be honest though, the next person who tells me I am strong, I will get through this I am liable to throw them to the ground and kick them till they take it back.

Does anyone understand I am not strong? I am what the world made me, but I am not strong. I am just me, weak, tired, afraid and alone. I could win an Oscar for the front I put up, making certain everyone around me sees what they expect to see and gets what they need. I have only one question…….

When is it my turn? When will someone step up to take care of me?

Okay, that was two. After all these years though, aren’t they fair?

I can’t breathe and I am afraid.

Summer Sun

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen all you have isn’t enough, then what?

When everything you are isn’t good enough, then what will be good enough?

When your entire history is poured on the ground and the only thing you can make is mud pies, should you plan to forever go hungry?

Someone once said to me, “You won’t live to thirty”. Yet here I am I lived past fifty.

Someone else once said to me, “I will kill you”. Yet, here I am alive. They didn’t succeed in killing me though they damned near broke my spirit.

Another person said to me, “You will never amount to anything, you are stupid”. I believed them for years and let their judgment dictate my direction and choices.

I approach my next birthday, sooner than I like to think and I consider the consequences of my choices. Pardon me while I wallow in a fair bit of self-pity, maybe not self-pity so much as ‘well shit, what next’. I stare down this slope of the unknown and consider options:

–          What is next for this last third of my life?

–          Why am I asking who I am at this late date?

–          Should I even care about definition or instead just get to living as best I can?

If you could, would you say despite not being enough, not being good enough, despite dust turning only to mud, I am still grateful. My heart is full of gratitude I have lived, I am alive and my eyes have beheld great beauty, my soul 013has burst with laughter and I have trod paths both new and ancient searching for nothing more than passages to joy. I have risked my heart more than once, because well because I am a romantic and despite I have had the ever-loving shit stomped out of me more than once I still believe in love. Despite a tough as nails exterior, despite scars, not just on the inside but some prominent ones on the outside, I am still somewhat mushy and sometimes all too forgiving of the failure of others to take care of the gifts I freely give.

I often accept hurtful words and judgments of ‘less than’ and ‘not enough’ as the truth. I often absorb these through my skin and into my heart. I allow these judgments, harshly rendered to send me into myself searching for different truths or forgiveness. I reach outward sometimes-begging forgiveness for harm unintended, other times for harm never done but easily identified as mine.

Hard to believe anything but early judgments even after all this time of fighting for new definitions. Yet still I will live my life with a grateful heart for all the gifts of light, laughter, joy and pathways to victorious survival against great odds. We might not always be warrior queens, perhaps it is enough sometimes we simply find a sunny spot and be thankful for the color yellow and the warmth at noon.

Am I crazy? Maybe just a little. Am I still a romantic, seeing the world through rose colored glasses? Yes, I suppose I am. The truth? I suppose the truth is, still after all this time I simply want to be loved just as I am, flawed, scarred by a life I didn’t ask to live but lived in the best way I could.

That is all, just loved; perhaps after all that was and is too much.

New Middle Age

Linda_1960When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11

When we are young it seems the opportunities are endless doors to the future are flung wide open and we are bulletproof.

Bad love affair? Lost job? Bad grade in a class?

Never mind, we will overcome any and all of these very quickly with a few days of lamentation, perhaps a bitch session or two with our friends and then it is back to life. This is true of most of us; we are indeed invincible and these inconveniences teach us, toughen us up for adult life.

When we are young, doors are flung wide open and we march through them, assured life will hand us the gold medal, most of us rarely reach middle age unscathed by the arrows of real life beyond childhood. I look at my own history as a long hallway, some doors flung wide open and others securely locked with blinking “Do Not Enter” signs above the jams. My future is simply the continuation of that hallway, with fewer doors, fewer choices and not nearly as many frightening outcomes as my past.

My mother once said to me, “Keep it up and you won’t see 40!”

I don’t know if she was threatening me at the time or simply receiving visions of my future, I have always suspected it was part threat and part wishful thinking. Needless to say, not only did I see forty, I will be fifty-six this year. Each decade of my life has seen real changes take place, sometimes those changes have not been of my choosing but the upheaval brought something new and in later years usually something better.

They say fifty-five is the new middle age, with this I have reached a new pinnacle a new point in life. I am no longer ‘young’, can no longer excuse my indiscretions on youth; I am not ‘old’ either, I don’t have the excuse of age or memory loss. I don’t think of myself as anything other than me, just me with all my body dysfunction brought on by injury and misuse. I think of myself as just me, with foibles and strange predilections brought on by my history and need to protect myself and control my environment.

Having reached this wonderful milestone, this spectacular new middle age of fifty-five I can only consider what is next. There was no light flashing over my head last September when this magical age was reached, in fact I believe I was sitting at my favorite restaurant having forgone the normal holiday to bright and sunny spots. I am far too young to retire and honestly couldn’t imagine life without the hustle of work, despite there are days I do not love it.

I worry sometimes, how does society view us? Those of us reaching this magical new middle age, we aren’t old; we aren’t ready to retire to our rocking chairs. Most of us, no matter the lives we have led to now are vibrant, smart and ready still to rock-n-roll, we have much to offer yet we are often sidelined. I am lucky for now, at fifty I began to contract myself rather than work as someone’s employee. This transition gave me freedom though it is a frightening freedom to be sure, especially now in our economic uncertainty. They say though reinvention is necessary and so I reinvented myself, one more time.

Each decade of our lives, we change, sometimes the change is small and other times the change is spectacular. With each transition to a new decade, we carry with us the hopes and disappointments of the previous decade and our dreams for the future. It is inevitable our dreams change as our life is changed by providence. We grow up and expand our world, with people we love and causes we align with. As our world expands, as our vision of what we are capable of grows we are enriched and we are better able to enhance the lives of those we touch.

Although the pasture ahead of me seems welcoming, I am not quite ready yet. At the ripe middle age of fifty-five I suspect I still have some hell to raise and some childish things I haven’t put away. I am guessing the secret to not growing old even as we transition from one age to the next is holding on to all those special memories, loves and lights that caused us to cherish each decade  while releasing the hurts of the past to galaxy.

Letting go of Animosity

Last week I was in Seattle where both my mother’s live, what a strange twist of circumstance and fate that is. Originally my trip was planned so I could step into the role I have always played so well, the one I am so expert at, Bad and Evil Daughter to my second mother. The plan was for me to move my second mother from the apartment she had lived in for 28 years to Assisted Living, all in a single fell swoop.

The strategy was laid. The deposit was made on her new apartment in the Assisted Living place; it is literally two blocks from where she is now. It is a nice apartment, frankly nicer than where she is living today. The movers were arranged for and the time agreed. Her home care support was notified so they could start preparing her, reminding her she was moving. My second mother has dementia, her memory and cognitive skills on a scale of 1 to 5, five being the best, are approaching two now.

I was going to spend my Labor Day weekend moving my second mother into her new Assisted Living facility. It isn’t what I wanted to do and I approached this task with much trepidation, some resentment and frankly some fear. Anyone who has read Broken Chains knows the story of my relationship with my second mother, the time leading up to this weekend had been filled with a great deal of soul searching and angst. I landed in Seattle Thursday night though and made my way to the hotel with some peace in my heart. It would all be fine, my brother was convinced all the pieces were in place and everything would be fine.

Well, maybe not so fine. The movers, who were supposed to arrive at 9am on Friday morning, arrived at 7am instead. Was I confused? I am certain I wasn’t, in fact I had the move confirmation right there on my handy CrackBerry, right there in green and lime green, 9am. Nevertheless, let me rush across the bridge to and get things moving. When I arrived at my second mom’s apartment, no one was there but her and she was still in bed sound asleep. You cannot get a 92-year-old woman with dementia out of bed and tell her, “come on old woman it’s moving day!” This is simply not the way things work, hell this approach wouldn’t work for me and I am significantly younger. It took her nearly 20 minutes to realize who I was and that I was there, in her apartment.

We talked about her move. She was genuinely confused and resistant to any thought of moving. She doesn’t remember falling and has remained on the floor until her home aid comes the next day. She believes she can continue to live independently and that she is not a danger to herself. She doesn’t remember that she forgets to eat or that she has bouts of incontinence. We had the same conversation at least seven times in the space of an hour.

I called my brother in Korea, it was 3am there but I did not care because I was doing this for him. He didn’t want to be the Bad and Evil Son. We had gone through this with our father who had Alzheimer’s, my brother didn’t understand how bad it was, how horrific the failure was. My brother couldn’t face the failure of our fathers mind. Now we faced the same issue, he didn’t understand or couldn’t face the failure of our mother; she said ‘yes’ but did not retain the information.

I sent the movers away agreeing to pay for their time. I sat with my second mother and continued to talk about the move, about what she needed to make her comfortable with it. I wrote on her White Board, “You Are Moving to Ballard Manor”. I gave money to her favorite caregiver to buy moving boxes so she could start sorting some of her personal things when Veronica was with her, it helps her to feel in control.

I will never hear from my second mother the words I spent my entire life wishing to hear; never will I hear any of these;

Mom and I, San Marco Square, Venice Italy 1965

“I love you”

“I am sorry I hurt you”

“I understand”

Despite my original trepidation, anger and fear going out to Seattle to be the Bad and Evil Daughter, I am glad I went. Although I don’t think my mother knows this, we made peace. She is at the end of her life and I realized in sitting with her over the days I was there, despite it all she deserves my protection and care. For her humanity, for the fact that she was so greatly damaged as a child and was unable to heal throughout her long life she deserves my protection and care. I came away knowing I would always have a small hole, but it was one I could fill by preserving her dignity.

To the other side of this trip, the time I didn’t know I would have I filled in a way I hadn’t originally considered. Early this year I had reached out my first mother, we hadn’t spoken in several years and at the urging of one of my siblings I opened the communication door again. I wanted to repair old wounds and re-create a relationship with my first mother; we had a rocky start the first time. With this in mind, well I just picked up the phone and called asking if I could come to Vashon Island for to visit.

Ferry to Vashon Island

Why not? Surprise I am here!

One visit turned into two, they were both wonderful and peaceful. We were both I think changed in some fundamental ways by life and our experiences. We were both different and the same, but both ready for a different relationship with each other. For me, it was easier to internalize ‘this is my mother, blood and she did what was best.’ I had always pragmatically thought so, but my emotions had overruled my thinking and I wanted to lay at her feet so much of my pain, even when I didn’t realize I was doing this. I can’t speak for her, but at least on the surface she was softer though I worry for her health.

The bonus visit was with one of my siblings, a younger sister! I learned something on this trip, though in my head I have always known. I have this large extended family, some of whom I keep up with at least within the context of social media and some of whom I rarely talk to at all. I think we do ourselves such a grave and terrible disservice by losing sight of the bonds that tie us together. We don’t have to love one another, but at least for me given my status as an adopted child I want at least the chance to know who I love and whether I can love you before I let go entirely.

If you are confused by my references to mothers:

First Mother – my biological mother

Second Mother – my adopted mother

Gentle Shackles

My second mother is 92 years old, that is a lot of years to live. For most of the past twenty-five years she and I have been estranged, or maybe a better description of our relationship is distant. I acknowledge she exists, at Christmas and on her Birthday I send a card, flowers and a $100 gift certificate to Nordstroms; she rarely ever remembers to thank me and I have long since stopped caring.

My second mother has spent the better part of the past forty years telling anyone who would listen what a miserable daughter I am. I have never defended myself nor attempted to correct her version of the truth, except with her. Ultimately I stopped trying to correct her and stopped looking for an apology.

I have covered all this before, I apologize if some of that seemed redundant.

As the day grows closer to her move to Assisted Living,  I realize I will have to get on a plane and take on the role of ‘caretaker’ to a woman I have, at best, a difficult relationship with and conflicted feelings for. I am still dancing around some very difficult and delicate realities. Initially I thought I could just deal with the checkboxes of what needs to be done; you know make a list of what it will take to move this woman from one place to the other. As anyone knows who has had to undertake moving an elderly parent it isn’t easy, there is a ton, a lifetime of emotional baggage. You can’t just swoop in and say to them, ‘come on old woman time to pack it in, we’re heading over to this strange new place where the nice people will take care of you.

This is especially true when you are talking about me and my second mother, we barely speak, barely know each other and I am not at all certain she trusts me.

But this doesn’t change the what has to be done or the reality of our situation, I am still left with the hard part. It also doesn’t change that underneath my somewhat tough exterior I am mushy, I have compassion and I am even likely a kind person (please don’t tell). My second mother is old, she has a touch of dementia and from all reports she isn’t doing all that well mentally. I feel sorry for her. My brother left this too long, he should have insisted she make this move two years ago but he didn’t. Now it is left to me because he can’t get home from Korea soon enough. At the end of the day I suspect I will wind up the bad guy, the one with the hard job. Funny I have always been the ‘bad’ daughter and her biggest disappointment, now I will be the ‘evil’ daughter the one who packs her off to assisted living potentially ‘against her will’. He will swoop in a few weeks later and pacify her and listen to her complaints, commiserate even; but it will all be done. Everything will be as it always has been.

I know this is the right thing for her. She cannot continue to live alone, she is not safe. I think there is something I am supposed to learn from this, perhaps some forgiveness I am supposed to achieve in this process, some softening of my hard-heart. Some peace I can gain, I hope so. Two weeks ago I was very angry and had a very difficult time with the situation I was left in. The more time I have the more I am able to find some peace in myself, though I haven’t yet figured out why this is left to me.

My brother hopes I will finally stop hating my second mother, he doesn’t understand I haven’t hated her in decades, I simply find a relationship with her to be toxic and not in my best interest.

My brother also doesn’t understand if I didn’t love him I would not do this. My true compassion is for him. I think I know in my heart, he left this so long because he couldn’t do this it is too hard. My big tough Special Forces Iron Man brother can’t do a little thing like move an old lady for her own good.

So one more time I am going to go be the bad daughter, the evil one. I think I am actually okay this time. Maybe my chains are finally falling away gently.

Chaining the Past

My second mother is 92 years old. That is a great number of years to live in a bubble of your own sanctity, wrapped in lies of your own making. For very close to twenty-five of those years we have been on less than good terms, not entirely estranged but certainly not a normal mother-daughter relationship either. Those that know my mother think she is charming, funny a thoroughly likable woman; they do not understand our estrangement and blame me. This is true whether they know both of us or only her. This is also true whether they are family or just friends of my second mother. Those that know me intimately or have read the rest of the Broken Chains series, may have a slightly different view of my nemesis.

My second mother has a touch of dementia now; her body is beginning to fail. She has lived alone since her divorce from my father nearly forty years ago, the next stage the end stage of her life for her to be safe and comfortable she needs to in a place where there is help. This has been a battle between my brother and me, one we fought once before when my father’s health was failing.  Oddly, that battle had the same lines in the sand; with him saying there is nothing wrong and me saying there is and we can’t fix it. The difference this time is my brother is the only one close to our second mother, he had a different childhood than I did, lived in a different home I think.

I have been enraged for weeks now, but finally this weekend my rage hit a wall of secrets I have held and I discovered the batting I had wrapped around family so everyone could pretend there was nothing wrong. Already by Saturday I was hurt and angry with my brother for placing me in the center of ‘taking care’ of many of the issues surrounding my second mother and her care, move to assisted living and finances. I kept asking myself, why is this my problem? I realized I had to let go of the question, I was not doing this for her, but rather for my brother yet still I resented it and could feel my hurt and anger building with each phone call that failed to acknowledge my life was different from his.

SATURDAY PHONE CALLS FROM THE BLUE ETHER

Ring-a-ding-ding

My second mother has a sister, I actually like her a great deal always have. Perhaps this is why I have always kept silent. My oldest cousin was the first ‘Hippie’ I ever met, she was my idol, she died young and it was tragic. My other two cousins are not tragic, rather they are classic East Coast overly entitled judgmental twits, this is especially true of my youngest cousin; let’s just call her Snobbery.

Snobbery has interfered more than once in the care of my second mother. She and my brother have argued over this issue. This time apparently she sent an e-mail to her mother, my brother and friends of my second mother laying out what she believed was right and proper care. I was not of course included in this communication. My Aunt, not realizing I was not included picked up the phone and called me, it wasn’t a call entirely out of the blue so I did not think anything of it until these words came out of her mouth:

“Snobbery is unhappy that you and your brother haven’t acted on her recommendations, I thought we should discuss them.”

I didn’t know what she was talking about of course, had to ask. She told me and finally after nearly forty-five years of protecting my second mothers secrets gave up. First though I told my Aunt that her daughter Snobbery was simply an interfering Bitch and should mind her business unless she planned to pay for her recommendations.

I made my eighty-eight year old Aunt cry. It wasn’t my intention to do so; truly, I had intended to let her go to her grave never knowing anything. Why would I break my silence after all these years? The problem was I simply found I was worn down by the judgment of everyone who knew me, everyone who was supposed to be my family who had decided I was ‘bad’ and I was ‘evil’ and I was ‘ungrateful’. My Aunt tried to excuse Snobbery for her decision not to include me with;

“Well you don’t take care of you mother, you ignore her and her needs. She must have thought you were better left out of it.”

Really? I do that and it must be for no reason at all that I am just that mean!

I don’t know that what I did was the right thing. I certainly didn’t spill it all; only some of the doors were opened so my Aunt could peer inside my heart and discover that there might indeed be reasons for my choices.

More broken chains and I find I am bitter, angry even shattered that so many of my relationships remain tainted by this history of pain. By my choice to keep secrets. To protect those who did not earn my regard or deserve my protection.

Shattered

These past two weeks have been tough; my soul feels as if it has been rubbed with sandpaper the constant grinding polishing until it weeps salty tears onto my heart. My heart in turn feels torn between my love for my brother and my need to distance myself, from my second mother and our history. Just when I think I am done with this the universe spins and the answer is …..

NO…not quite yet

Career Trajectory at Fifty-Five

Let’s talk about some of old adages we use to accept as truth, but not so much any longer.

  Age before beauty
  Practice makes perfect
  Experience is the mother of wisdom

What has changed you ask? Better, what exactly am I referring to when I say these are no longer truths within our culture?

These I think are more apropos for today:

  Hype and arrogance trumps experience
  Blame the other guy or circumstances beyond your control for your failure
  Two in the bush for half as much makes perfect cents

Why do I think this, it is a fair question. Honestly, this is about career progression and how those of us who have not been fortunate in our bonus checks, must navigate the ever-increasing rough waters we find ourselves in as we age up and out of our career relevancy.

My career and educational path was not a straight line, by the time that sheepskin was in my hand, the shine was slightly tarnished and I had a few years of work behind me. What that first degree gave me was the burnish I needed to move up the ladder, be taken more seriously and yes, be paid a little more for the work I was already doing.

As a woman in the world of business, you may move up, usually more slowly than men; this will depend on your willingness to throw others under the bus in your climb to the top, including your friends and family. My rise

The difference truly men are willing to go to great lengths

through the managerial ranks was impeded only by lack of corporate / political sophistication; encumbered by my failure to identify my enemies and my belief that ethics and quality outweighed arrogance and a penis. It didn’t, not even once.

In my thirties I was handed a gift, a career opportunity that would change my trajectory and open doors that might not have opened otherwise. I walked through those doors; I also walked through University doors once again and pursued a Masters to polish my credentials, one more time. This gift didn’t come without sacrifice, including playing in an entirely new sandbox with much different, bigger and more aggressive dogs. There were pros and cons to this career gift such as:

PROS

  • Challenging work
  • Fascinating, always new experiences
  • Travel, national and international
  • Education, lots of it
  • Decent income and decent opportunity for women, myself included, initially

CONS

  • Long hours, 70 hour weeks were the norm
  • Long weeks away from home, it wasn’t unknown to be away two to three weeks at a time
  • Dog-eat-dog mentality within the industry
  • Ten years ago the industry was outsourced badly

Career Relevance and Age

I don’t think of myself as old, irrelevant or outdated. Truth be told, I think of myself as damned near in my prime. I am experienced, knowledgeable and unencumbered by many of the outside influences others might still have. I no longer want to move up the career ladder, been there done that and found I didn’t all that much enjoy some of the jobs I landed in. Now I know the jobs I enjoy and am happy when I am doing them. I love challenging work and love to produce quality results, whether for an employer or a client.

I have worked as both an employee of consulting firms and as an Independent Consultant. There are clearly pros and cons of both. The problem with independence is the market is no longer geared toward individuals and their

How it feels, stop and all

capabilities or past references. In fact it is rare to find an opportunity that isn’t through one or many off-shore farms that advertise on the boards, set the rates (low) and nine times out of ten will rarely talk to you if you are (1) a woman; (2) American.

Does the above statement sound bitter? It is not bitter; it is simply the truth of what has happened in our market today.

What is happening?

I did not think at fifty-five my future would be no-future or at least as frightening as it is. I didn’t think that all my work my 70 hour weeks, my time away from hearth and home, my investment in certifications and additional

degrees would result in nothing. Just a career that came to a screeching halt in my prime. What I thought was I would do my consulting time, I would learn my craft and prove myself (I did this in some of the most difficult

environments there are) and then I would go to work for the last fifteen or twenty years of my career in some capacity as a full-time employee. I would earn a decent living, with benefits no less. I would mentor younger members of an enthusiastic team. I would write books about my experiences. I would be a visiting lecturer at local universities about quality, ethics in business and values, how to do things right.

What I didn’t realize is at fifty-five I am old and perhaps the best I can hope for is Wal-Mart Greeter.

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