Learning to Live with the Unknown

Jule and Kristy early Spring 1970
off kilter
Blue Globe
Photo by Elena Mozhvilo

If your whole world suddenly shifts off its axis, you remember that moment in time for the rest of your life.

By the time my first child, Kristin Margaret was nine months old, she filled my days with delight and my heart with pride. Her wispy baby hair deepened into a shimmering gold blonde and curved naturally around her cheeks. When she smiled her wide blue eyes lit up like stars and deep dimples creased her cheeks.  And she smiled most of the time. Kristy loved the whole, wide world. Unlike most babies, she had never heard of “stranger anxiety.” Fearless and friendly, she allowed just about anyone to take her from my arms and give her a big hug.

a shattering scream

Just before Kristy's first seizureOne placid February Tuesday I slid a sleeping Kristy out of my arms and into her porta-crib for her afternoon nap.  Secure of some quiet time, I picked up the phone to call a Mom friend. Ten minutes into our conversation a high-pitched, piercing cry vibrated through the whole house. What? I stopped talking. There it was again. The baby! “Something’s wrong with Kristy,” I cried and dropped the phone into its cradle.

Taking the stairs two at a time, I burst into the nursery and froze in place. Kristy writhed in the middle of her crib, her back arched, her head thrown back, her arms and legs jerking. Foam dribbled from her lips. Oh, dear Jesus, I thought, she’s having a seizure. a vision of my younger sister Nanette in the midst of fever convulsions flashed through my memory.

men in helmets

I scooped Kristy into my arms. The jerking vibrations of her little body sent shudders through me. I should know what to do, I’d watched my parents dozens of times, but I couldn’t think. Kristin continued to convulse.  I needed help. Holding Kristy tightly for fear she’d thrash right out of my arms, I ran downstairs. I yanked the telephone receiver off the hook and pushed the “O” button.  As the ringing began, tears began streaming down my cheeks.  When I heard “Operator,” I babbled something incoherent into the phone, but she understood and assured me the fire department was on its way. Fire department? But…She was gone.

I heard a siren screaming down the quiet suburban street. Men in uniforms pounded at the door. They took one look at the baby seizing in my arms and rushed her to the waiting ambulance. I tried to run after her. A strong hand grabbed my upper arm, “Wait, we’ll see you get to the hospital. I need some information first.” I stared at him. My baby might be dying and he wanted to fill out a form!

“I can’t,” I croaked.

He nodded. “Okay. Let’s go.”

forgetting to pray

I climbed into the back of the ambulance, but I couldn’t get near Kristy. Three huge men hulked over my tiny girl.   One had inserted a needle in her thigh, another held an oxygen mask over her face. I couldn’t see what the third one was doing. Abruptly her convulsing body went completely limp.

“Kristy,” I cried.

“It’s okay.  We just gave her a tranquilizer to stop the seizures.”

Hospital lobby
Photo by Mar Ko

Then the siren drowned out his words. At the hospital, Kristy was wheeled away from me and rushed to an examining room. When I tried to follow the cart, a nurse barred the way.

“Mrs. Ward, you’ll have to wait in the waiting room until the doctors finish.”

“No. I can’t. You have to let me go in. She’s going to be scared. She needs me.”

“I’m sorry, but you’d just be in the way. Listen, I’ll get you a glass of water and you can calm down a bit.” She headed to the nurses’ station.

I stationed myself outside the examining room door, slumped against the wall.  When she returned, the nurse urged me once again to take a seat in the waiting room. I shook my head. After that, the doctors, nurses, and techs came and went from the room. Everyone ignored me. After an eternity, I straightened up and crossed to the nurses’ station.

“What’s happening to my baby?” I begged. Tears choked my words.

“We can’t release any information until you see the doctor,” the woman in white at the counter told me.

“But she’s my baby.  I need to know.”

“Please sit down. The doctor will be out soon.”

what can a dad Do?
Kristy and her father
Kristy with Jay at 13 months

Just then I saw my husband Jay push through the double doors at the end of the corridor. I ran down the hall.  “Where’s Kristy? Is she going to be alright?” he asked.

“I don’t know.  They won’t tell me anything.” I laid my head on his shoulder and sobbed. He held me tight as we stood there, letting people detour around us.

Hours dragged on. a doctor approached us, insisted we take a seat, sat down himself, and began, “Your daughter has a very high fever.  That’s what probably brought on the convulsions.  We’re doing everything we can to bring her fever down.”

“What’s causing the fever,” Jay wanted to know.

“We’re uncertain, but she’s been transferred to our pediatric ward for observation.” And he got up and left.

The nurse told us how to find the room where they’d taken Kristy. In the midst of whirring machines and draping tubes, Kristy slept peacefully. A nursing nun sat in a rocking chair beside her enormous steel crib.

only questions. no answers
Rocking chair at
Photo by Anabela De Sousa

“I can take over now, Sister,” I told her, but the floor doctor who had walked in behind us said to Jay, “You have to take your wife home. She’s been hysterical.  She needs to rest.”

I wanted to resist.  Kristy needed me.  She had only just weaned from the breast a couple weeks before.  We’d never been apart. But even Sister urged me to go. Torn and guilty, but too tired to resist, I left my baby in their hands.

But sleep elude me that night. I stared at our bedroom ceiling. Was something seriously wrong with our daughter?  I could be just a worry wort.  Do stars have a dark side?

when you wish upon a star…
Kristy's bright smile
Photo by John Ward

On the average, babies to speak their first words between ten and fourteen months and have a vocabulary of about three words by their first birthday. Kristy, however, was a natural communicator. She smiled by the time she was three weeks old, waved bye-bye at three months and blew kisses at six months. She had pronounced, “Dada,” before turning six months old. Since then she had picked up more than a dozen understandable words, which she had begun to string together into small sentences.  And she didn’t only say the words she knew, she often babbled to us, her friends, and her toys in strings of sounds that had the cadence of real speech.  We were convinced that she knew exactly what she was saying even if no one else did. Right at that moment, however, Kristy’s singular brightness felt blurred by the worry I felt.

our same sweet girl, but . ?

We weren’t supposed to visit until ten in the morning, but by eight o’clock, I had slipped into Kristy room. Sunlight streamed from the tall window and lit the gold in her hair where she sat huddled into a corner of her crib, “reading” a picture book on her lap.   My heart lifted.  She looked healthy and well.  “Kristy,” I whispered.

Kristy and Jule
Photo by John Ward

“Mommy,” she yelled, crawled to the side of the bed, pulled herself up by the slats, and reached her arms for me.  I could only lean over and give a hug.  If I had lifted her, it would have dislodged her intravenous feed.

“Up, up,” she insisted, giving me her biggest smile. I couldn’t say “no;” I couldn’t say “yes.” That trapped feeling would forever shadow my interactions with this beloved child.

A nurse had seen me go in and come to tell me that visiting hours hadn’t started, but assessing the situation, she chose instead to unhook the feed and allow me to take Kristy in my arms.  I sat rocking her in the comfy rocker until the doctor appeared. “Well?” I asked.

He looked at the chart rather than at me, “Kristin’s fever is back to normal.  She has no other symptoms.  All the tests have come back negative.”

What Now? sign
Photo by Tim Mossholder

Confused, I asked, “Then what’s wrong with her? What cause her convulsions”

“Nothing as far as we can tell. She just spiked a fever in response to some low-grade infection.  It was part of her body’s response. She’s over the hump and on the mend.”

It didn’t sound like much of an answer. “Will it happen again?”

He actually shrugged his shoulder – as though it didn’t matter.  “We have no way of knowing. It could be a one-time occurrence.  It could be a pattern.  We have to wait and see. In the meantime, it doesn’t help her at all for you to become overly anxious.”

starting over

We returned home, puzzled and wary, but with no choice but simply resume our life, hoping the whole episode would become a distant memory. Returning to normalcy is easier said than done.  For three weeks I slept on the floor next to Kristy crib.  She was fine – healthy as a young filly, learning new words and skills almost every day, and remaining a sunny, friendly baby about to celebrate her first birthday.

Easter, the first Sunday in April, I woke up to two happy realizations.  It had been two months since our frantic trip to the hospital and Kristy had remained seizure-free the whole time.  Also, I hadn’t had a menstrual period since that fateful day.  My missed periods could be due to stress. My anxiety level over Kristy had remained high despite her apparent good health. But there was also a chance I might be pregnant.  That seemed a wild card. It had taken four years to conceive Kristy and she was not yet one year old.

life: joy all tangled up with anxiety

Kristy and baby CarrieA month passed before I could get to see the gynecologist because two days after Easter, Kristy had another seizure.  It wasn’t long.  It didn’t necessitate a trip to the emergency room, but it did us send back to the pediatrician asking more questions for which there seemed to be no answers.  When in early May I made it into the gynecologist, the news was wonderful, a balm against our worries about Kristin.  Our daughter would be a big sister by Christmas. Infertility ceased to be a concern.  But one every bit as frightening took its place.  What was wrong with Kristy?  And what could we do to make her better? Those became the two central questions of our life for the next 40 years.

 

Little girl follows big cat pawprints
Photo by Hugues de Buyer-Mimeure

 

Creating Galatea

Pygmalion Creates Galatea
Pygmalion Myth

In a much-loved Greek myth, the sculptor Pygmalion, unattracted to the frivolous women of his city, creates a statue that represents his ideal of the perfect woman. He endows her with exquisite features and a graceful figure, but more than that he projects onto the sculpture every possible virtue. As he works, he falls so completely in love with his creation, who he names Galatea, that he can love no living woman. This ancient tale ends happily. Pygmalion appeals to Aphrodite the goddess of love who uses her power to bring the statue to life. Galatea and Pygmalion marry and raise a son who founds the city of Cyprus.

changing dreams
Line drawing -hanging from a heart
Photo by Nick Fewings

On the day, shortly after my twenty-fifth birthday, when my obstetrician informed me that it would be very difficult for me to conceive a child, I transformed into a Pygmalion figure. For over ten years, I had cherished the dream that once I finished school, I would become a journalist. That hope had informed a multitude of choices I made, including courses I took, part-time jobs I accepted and extracurricular activities to which I devoted my time. When I married, I fully intended to continue in that life protectory. Financial necessity forced me to accept other work when my search for a spot in journalism ran dry.  As soon as my husband finished law school and started working full time, I promised myself I would again seek a career in journalism and not give up this time.

a new avocation
Pregnant woman
Photo by Jan Canty

My doctor’s diagnosis, however, tilted my psyche off its axis. After that my choices altered. My ambitions wavered. Motherhood, which had once seemed inevitable, now became elusive, and therefore, the preferred goal. The determination to become pregnant drove away all other aspirations. Could the stress of my work helping abandoned, abused and neglected children adjust to life in foster care be contributing to my infertility? It was a possibility the doctor admitted. Ironically, when I quit my job, I took a job with a magazine publisher – but as a secretary, a mundane position with very little pressure.

My real work, my true avocation at that time, consisted of following the advice of infertility specialists.  I was both Pygmalion and Galatea, sculptor and creation. I molded myself into a woman dedicated to becoming a mother.  Through that endeavor, I transformed myself into a person who desired children more than any other treasure life could offer. Other parts of me fell, chipped away, to the studio floor.

escape the long wait
Road in Door County
Photo by Alisa Anton

In October, 1968, the brilliant fall colors enticed Jay and I to take our Fiat for a spin up to Door County, Wisconsin. We sped north out of the city through the vast farm fields of northern Illinois. Just over the border in Milwaukee we stopped at a favorite restaurant we had discovered on one of trips to visit my family in St. Paul. The Brat House served several tasty versions of that traditional German sausage.  Stepping into the wood-paneled space, we spotted an empty booth and slid in.

“Lucky we got here early or there’d be a long line at the counter,” Jay noted.

Beer taps
Photo by Gonzalo Remy

“I feel like I haven’t eaten in days.  I think I’ll have two brats,” I told him.

He smirked. “Keep that up and you won’t keep your girlish figure you know. Didn’t you have three donuts for breakfast.”

“So, I did,” I admitted. “But I’m famished and we have five more hours before we get to the motel tonight.”

“Can’t have you starving to death before midnight.  What kind do you want?”

anxiety – an unwelcome passenger
Milwaukee, WI skyline
Photo by Tom Barrett

After lunch, we decided to chance driving straight through Milwaukee.  The traffic might be heavy, but it cut several miles off the route. Negotiating the city freeway system took all of Jay’s concentration. I watched the grimy, old city neighborhood whiz by, allowing myself to think about how unusually hungry I’d been lately. It had actually been going on for about a month, but I hadn’t gained any weight. Even more worrisome, my menstrual period had been very light last month. Could the tumors have returned? I wouldn’t bring it up now.  This was going to be a great weekend.

“Hey, Yulsey, wake up. We’re there.”

I’d slept all the way to Elks Bay in Door County. “Geez, I’m sorry. I should have been keeping you company.”

“Nah, you really zonked. It’s funny you being so tired.  You’re always asleep when I get home if I have to stay late at the office.”

“It’s a good thing we took this break then.” I touched his arm.  “You must be the exhausted one now.  “Let’s get our stuff into our room.  We have some serious antiquing to do tomorrow.”

a brief respite
Fire in fireplace
Photo by Clay Banks

The knotty-pine paneled motel room had a wood-burning fireplace with a very big, deep leather chair and ottoman pulled up to it. Heavy wool blankets and flannel sheets covered the double bed. Yes, we needed this. But as I curled up in Jay’s arms, listening to his soft snore that night, anxiety about my hunger and fatigue nagged me. First thing Monday, I had to call the doctor.

It took three weeks before I could get in to see Dr. Grimes.  My concerns mounted. A small voice of hope suggested that maybe I could be pregnant. Perhaps that explained my symptoms, but they didn’t match anything my sister-in-law or my friends had told me about early pregnancy. I felt no nausea, none of the infamous morning sickness. I realized I didn’t know much about what it felt like to be pregnant. Although determined to have a baby, I avoided being with friends who were mothers. Being in their company sharpened my sense of incompleteness.

the verdict
Doctor with stethescope
Photo by Online Marketing

In the doctor’s office, I lay on my back, sheet draped over my spread legs and tried taking deep breaths. Would I ever get used to this ignominious position? I doubted it. “You can sit up now,” he said.

I pushed up with my elbows and clamped my knees tightly together. He was smiling. Smiling! “I’m okay?” my voice quivered. I’d come in scared, prepared to hear I needed another surgery, but he was grinning.

“You’re more than okay, Mrs. Ward,” he beamed. “You are expecting a baby.”

“I’m pregnant?” All the air in my lungs rushed out those words. The room spun.

Dr. Grimes reached a steadying hand to my shoulder, “Most definitely.”

“But, but I haven’t been sick or anything.”

“That’s not exactly the case, is it?  Didn’t you say you’d been very tired and that your appetite had increased?”

“Well, yes, but…”

“Those symptoms can signal pregnancy as often as nausea. About a third of pregnant women never suffer. Check with your mom. I get you find she didn’t have it. It seems to run in families.”

But his voice had faded away. Talk about symptoms and genetics were just a bunch of fluff. The real substance of our exchange, “You’re expecting a baby,” became a star glimmering so brightly that all other words faded into obscurity. Five years of anticipation and hope, despair and doubt had ended.

answered prayers
Pygmalion, Venus and Statue
Painting by Raoux

Pygmalion so fell in love with his own creation, he begged Venus, the goddess of love, to make her real. His prayers were answered. My prayers were also answered.

Even though I know that most, if not all, parents think their babies are the most beautiful ever born, when I look at photographs of the tiny Kristin Margaret, her astonishing beauty still haunts me. Kristin and I settled into a dream-like daily rhythm completely ruled by her needs. To be the best possible mother became my single most important ambition.Kristy at 6 months

In that dream state, a young woman’s sense of a separate self faded away. For fifteen years, being a mother encompassed me in a bubble. How I would wonder did I let myself get so lost? Could I have possibly juggled a career in journalism with motherhood? I have no way of knowing. It’s time to let go of the question.

It’s intriguing, however, how many times it gets asked?

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/12/motherhood-television-news-difficult/576913/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/anushayhossain/2016/07/20/day-in-the-life-being-a-journalist-and-mother-from-home/?sh=6a26a86b39d1

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/25/insider/working-parent-mom-journalist-juggle.html

Mom and baby at computer
Photo by Standsome worklifestyles

‘I’ve yet to be on a campus where most women weren’t worrying about some aspect of combining marriage, children, and a career. I’ve yet to find one where many men were worrying about the same thing.’ – Gloria Steinem, feminist and writer

 

 

 

Too Old to Sing Rock ‘n Roll?

Woman hiking in wilderness
“Old age is not for wimps”

Man on exercise bikeThe woman in the photo was slender with clearly defined muscles rippling along her arms, torso and legs. Her eyes squinted fiercely, staring directly at the camera, in a face lined with wrinkles. Long grey hair pulled haphazardly into a bun at the nape of her wiry neck escaped in strands caught in the sweat pouring off her furrowed brow. Scrawled across the bottom of the poster, bold letters read, “Old Age Is Not for Wimps.”

Every time I exited my gym locker room, dragging my thirty-something self toward the weight machines, I paused mesmerized by that woman.  I was determined to be her, to be fit and ready for anything in my elder years.

“The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.” 
― 
Jean-Paul Sartre

Then and Now

I’m so glad she’s not here to judge me now. I bear no resemblance to my ideal. There have been times over the last thirty years when I approached my goal. There was that year I went to the gym three times a week.  And a different year when I woke in the dark to run three miles every weekday morning.  For almost five years I met a friend at 6 a.m. to walk two miles almost every morning. When my younger daughter was getting married, I hired a personal trainer and joined Weight Watchers for eight months.  I love those mother-of-the bride pictures!

More recently, I spent a spring and summer, working out three days a week, and building up my walking until I could walk 20 miles in a day. By October, I trekked 30 miles in one day as a participant in CureSearch’s Ultimate Hike program, a cause that has raised over 5 million dollars in the battle against childhood cancer.

Drinking by the fireplace
Photo by Sergio Solo

And it’s ageism, far more than the passage of time, that makes growing older harder for all of us.” 
― 
Ashton Applewhite, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism

But after the hike, just as before, I slipped into my old couch potato ways.

There Comes a Time

Now, I’m beginning to pay the price. I don’t stroll as quickly as I once did. I’m out of breath if I climb more than one flight of stairs. I fall more easily. And all this scares me.  Am I becoming an elder wimp?

The time when my motivation for losing weight and getting in shape was mostly to appear more attractive has come and gone. It’s become more a matter of life and death.  Not death in the absolute sense, but the death of the freedom to be myself, to be a person who choses what she can and cannot participate in.

I’m not alone in recognizing the now or never of this proposition. The authors of “Aging with Freedom,” a fantastic website that explores multiple aspects of transitioning into the “golden years,” studied the supposed connection between early retirement and early death.  The literature clearly indicated that it’s what you do in retirement, not when you retire that makes the difference.

If you use early-retirement to exercise more and replace or improve work with other social connections and purpose, early-retirement is good for you. It can dramatically improve both longevity and quality-of-life. https://agingwithfreedom.com/2018/03/27/early-retirement-health-odds-good-or-bad/

Women doing yogaThere go my hopes that exercise doesn’t matter anymore!

I’m looking for motivators and “tricks” and best practices to pull myself away from this computer and out onto the sidewalk or into the gym.  If you know of any, please take a minute to share them in the contact box.

I promise to let you know if I try your ideas and how they work out.

Growing old has been the greatest surprise of my life. Billy Graham

 

 

Sisters – A Bond Like No Other

Sisters on a couch
weird sisters

In the delightful novel, The Weird Sisters, three women in their early thirties land back at their parents’ home for a summer. The twists of fate converge to bring them together when each is facing a life-changing crisis. The author Eleanor Brown transforms these ordinary moments of everyday life into a narrative so engrossing that it’s almost impossible to put down. She does this in no small measure through her vivid portrayal of each sister and of their complex relationship.

3 sisters circa 1890
Photo from Boston Public Library

A dear friend recommended I read the book because I also am one of three sisters. She thought I might find similarity between my family and the one in the book.  On the surface, the family of this novel and my own family of origin have little in common. The heroines of the book grow up in a small mid-western town where life centers around a prestigious liberal arts college. Their father is a literature professor. My sisters and I grew up in large urban centers where manufacturing was the lifeblood of the community. Our father, as intelligent as he was, had no college degree. Popular mechanics were his passion.

first, middle, last – it makes a difference
Three Nepalese sisters
Photo by Terry Boynton

Despite these differences, from the first page the story resonated with me at a deep level. What struck me right away was the influence of birth order not just on the sisters’ place within the family, but also on the choices they had made as they left the family. I could see a parallel structure in my own family.

In the past, some psychologists like Alfred Adler, a 19th- and early 20th-century Austrian psychotherapist and founder of individual psychology, suspect that birth order leads to differences in siblings. Broader twenty-first century studies have questioned this theory,   Other studies based on Myers/Briggs theory have confirmed it.

excellent writer’s tool

Psychology aside, however, this theory works well for writers as they develop their characters. As we read, we believe. When an author weaves a fine tale in which a character’s birth order influences importance aspects of the self, readers not only accept the reality on the page, they begin to look for similarities in their own life.

Like the oldest sister in The Weird Sisters, I always had an overdeveloped sense of responsibility to the family. I didn’t always like that role, but I knew my parents expected me to help my mother with household tasks, caring for my younger siblings, and running errand when needed.

caught in the middle
3 Sisters from Logan, Utah
Photo by Adam Winger

In the book, Bianca, the middle sister shrugs off the responsibilities of home and narrowness of small-town life.  She is the beauty of the family and she uses that beauty as a commodity. My middle sister was also the beauty of our family – a beauty with a prickly rose bush grown around her, keeping her separate from the rest of us – somehow living in another plain.

Her given name was Mary Antoinette. My mother never called her anything else. We siblings had trouble spilling that out all at once. At first, we called her “Marnette.” Later that phased in “Nanette,” the name we still use.  She herself insisted on being called “Mary.”  This was problematic because our youngest sister, the baby of the family, was Mary Elizabeth. Mom shorted that to Mary Beth, but then us older kids shortened it to simply “Beth,” which might have worked except that when she went to high school, she told all her new friends to simply call her “Mary.”

Consequently, if someone phoned our home and asked for “Mary,” we always had to ask, “Which one?” A little flustered, the caller would say “Mary De Jager,” to which we again answered “Which one?” My brothers and I were loud in our protests over the confusion that the two “Mary’s” were causing, but neither sister would give way.  Each hold her claim to “her” name.

the favored child
3 Sisters in Carterville IL
Photo by Blake Cheek

In The Weird Sisters, each of the young women is certain that she is actually her father’s favorite.  No such mistaken notion occurred in my household. Nanette was far and away the “favored child.” Her delicate features, huge blue eyes, and very curly flaxen hair mesmerized adults. More than that, she very early learned to be what she herself termed “a lady.”  And I talking about when she was just a kindergartener. For one thing, she would only wear dresses or skirts never jeans or shorts. My mother complied and dressed her like a favorite doll. Mom also spent a great deal of time fashioning Nanette’s curls into perfect spirals with some of them piled charmingly on top of her head.

My maternal grandmother doted on this beautiful granddaughter.  Our family, as a rule, never ate in restaurants unless we were traveling, but my grandmother and “Grandpa Ed,” her second husband loved eating out. They often took Nanette with them because they enjoyed the admiration and attention that other diners showered on her and because my sister had learned at a very young age that “children should be seen and not heard.”

As we grew Nanette became ever more attractive. When we got to our teens, she spent most of the day at the neighbor pool. She was the only one in the family who could tan. Her skin turned the color of honey in the summer and her hair bleached to an even lighter shade of blonde.

unanticipated metamorphosis
3 sisters in a rural area
Photo by Fabio Centeno

When she turned seventeen, a metamorphosis took us all by surprise. The Barbie Doll caterpillar spun a cocoon and disappeared, becoming uncommunicative and unsocial.  Nanette went to school, watched the television news, and read for hours. When the butterfly emerged, she was a socially conscious advocate, determined to make a difference in a world she deemed was falling apart. After high school graduation, she joined a group of lay missionaries. Their work took them to schools in Appalachia. She returned at the end of the summer and enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study social work.

briefly royal

She had, however, one more turn as the family beauty.  During Nanette’s sophomore year, our mother became very ill. She expressed to her middle child that she had been harboring high hopes for years that Nanette might someday be Miss America. When Nanette tried to laugh it off, Mom begged her to consider trying.  Seeing Mom’s desperation, my sister applied for the Miss St. Paul pageant – and won. My mother was in seventh heaven.  The next step, getting ready for the Miss Minnesota pageant meant taking time off from studies, but Nanette didn’t know how to refuse. In that contest, she became one of ten finalists.

Goth sisterss
Photo by Angello Pro

Then in an interview with the judges, each young woman was asked what she wanted to do with her life. Nanette laid out for them her plan to get a Master’s in Social Work and to then go to areas of the country that were under served to help those struggling with poverty and lack of supportive services.  One of the judges nodded. Then he said, “You have the talent to win this contest, but most of the girls either have no concrete plan for their life or want to go into show business.  Being Miss Minnesota would take a year out of your life.  You have a great vision. We don’t think you should waste a year of your life being a beauty queen. Go follow your dream.”

the rainbow ends here

Nanette not only understood she was relived.  She had done her best. It wasn’t meant to be.  Our mom still had her photos to display with Nanette wearing the Miss St. Paul crown.  Her daughter had done her duty as the “favored child.”

Mary Antoinette followed her own yellow brick road and became a high school counselor, devoted to helping young teens find a way to transform their most authentic dreams into reality.

“And I felt closer to you. Because you knew me so much better than I’d realized – and still loved me.”
Rosamund lupton, Sister

Three Sisters Peaks Oregon

Erin Donley: Hidden Force

book, glasses, computer

With this first post of March, 2021, I add a new feature to my website. From today forward, each month, I’ll be offering a story about a contemporary authors — how they came to this avocation and what it means to them. We begin with Erin Donley of Portland, Oregon.

brand new graduate
Radio station
Photo by Fringer Cat

Erin Donley (contact Erin at erin@erindonley.com), the force behind fourteen non-fiction books, did not set out to be a writer. Following college graduation, Erin felt unsure what field to pursue. Then, out of the blue, she landed a position at an advertising agency, which created radio commercials. Her job – sell the commercials to local businesses. Almost from the first day she began, Erin noticed an interesting discrepancy. She had much better success selling through email than in person. She went over her presentations, looking for an answer. Two facts jumped out. One, as a young, blonde, woman, she didn’t have the same credibility as her peers. And, two, on the more positive side, she excelled at written communication. This new understanding of her own potential planted a tiny seed, the one that would later lead her to seek a career as a writer.

self discovery
Girl at bookstore
Photo by John Michael Thomson

Unfortunately, it felt to her like her job demanded that she pretend to be someone not quite her true self. As much as she enjoyed business and sales, her most abiding interests were personal and professional development.  To pursue these interests, she left marketing and began working for a bookstore, where the titles focused on personal growth and self-help.

Soon after she began her new position, Erin approached the owners. “I believe,” she told them, “that I can make a positive impact on your sales and your reputation through writing a column in your newsletter.” She laid out for them her writing credentials and proposed a weekly feature, which reviewed books and interviewed authors.

a project takes off
Girl with lots of books
Photo by Annie Spratt

They accepted her proposal.  Erin let her own personality shine through in those weekly columns. She reviewed books on controversial topics.  She drew authors out about the most fascinating aspects of their lives and careers. Every week, her column had a high open rate, the response to the reviews and the interviews were numerous, and the books she featured flew off the shelves.

The writer’s seed sprouted and pushed out of the depth of Erin’s soul and discovered the sun of a satisfied audience. Erin came to know that audience intimately and to recognize that no occupation gave her as much personal satisfaction as writing.

Questions about how she could possible support herself as a writer cropped up even as she continued to enjoy her work at the bookstore. She could, she knew, write her own book, but the topics about which she was passionate were, she suspected, too controversial to attract the corporate sponsorship she might need to be successful.  In the field of personal growth literature, an author’s true income comes from teaching courses in their topic and speaking engagements before large audiences.

to be or not to be . . . a personality
Grafitti about Social media
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina

Erin also had to face that publishers in the 21th century are seldom willing to take a chance on any author who does not already have a huge social media following.  They prefer writers who are “personalities.”  “Being a personality” was at odds with her true goal.  She didn’t want to be “on stage.” Earning a living and contributing to society and culture through writing were her dreams. Having a readership for Erin was quite different than having a “following.”

a happy medium

The more she pondered her quandary, the clearer it became that the best way for her to do work that satisfied her and make a living doing it was to become a ghostwriter in the field she knew best, personal-growth books. She already knew the readers, what they were seeking, what they wanted more of, what topics were getting tired, what would hit home again. The authors were close to her heart. She had seen the heartbreak and disappointment of too many when their books would be published, but wouldn’t sell. Erin knew with certainty that she could help such authors write better books.

Collaborators
Photo by Kraken Images

Fortunately, she had built up a plethora of contacts, colleagues in other bookstores and people in the book selling industry, and marketing and design experts. Also, in the seventeen years since college graduation, Erin had met industry experts and leaders in many different fields of business. Within an amazing short time, she landed a first contract. (Erin cannot reveal the names of books she ghost-writes; nondisclosure agreements are built into all her contracts.)

Her first author/client, a wealthy, impulsive individual, actually bailed while they were writing the final chapter of the book! But the process convinced her that she could keep find-tuning not only her writing, but her interaction with aspiring authors, that she was, indeed, on the road to earning a living as a writer.

where was erin?
Erin with her book
Finally she had to write her own book.

After a while, however, she sensed a “problem” in her work with her clients. She found herself saying things like, “What about this idea? Or “How about including…?” Erin realized she had to write her own book and get her passions, beliefs, and ideas into the world and out of her system. In January, 2019, she published, Don’t Tell Me to Calm Down: Face Your Power and Find Your Peace.

Being an author, she found was a much more arduous journey than being a ghost writer. It was emotionally, intellectually, and financially taxing. She felt humbled by all the help she needed to bring the book to completion. It’s not a process she wants to repeat, but in the end, it was exciting to hold in her hand the book that was truly hers, that took her own ideas out into the world. She does not, however, feel any need to “scream from the rooftops” about it.  The ideas and causes she advocates are valuable and she will continue working for them.  In the meantime, she’s more than happy to return to the anonymity of ghost writing, where she can be the hidden force behind her client’s message.

a voyage of discovery

She loves her work. Through her writing she gets to dig deep into many different subjects, becoming a mini-expert at those topics, but she’s not hemmed in by any one field. Every new book is an adventure into an exciting new area of discovery.

Although she’s completed fourteen books, Erin still feels every completed manuscript is like a small miracle. She loves the way the whole publishing team works together to bring a new work into the world. She compares it to having a child. “The moment when you first hold the book in your hands is like the moment when they first place your baby in your arms.”  All the hard work and long weeks of waiting has produced this thing of beauty!

Girl reading in sunset
Photo by Max

Knowing that the book changes the author’s life and the lives of its readers feels “absolutely wonderful.”  She knows with conviction that she is on the right path for her.  Presently, along with working on her ghost-writing projects, Erin edits work for other writers and coaches aspiring authors.  She is, however, building toward a time when instead of ghostwriting two to three books per year, she can be hired for one single, lucrative project per year. That’s her dream, and I’m convinced she’ll make it come true.

In the meantime, if you are reading this and you’ve been dreaming for a long time of writing your own non-fiction book, but just don’t know where to start, reach out to Erin.  She has co-authored memoirs, personal growth books, how-to books in fields of business, activism and other fields.  And she would love to hear from you at erin@erindonley.com.Erin with her book

 

 

 

The Sky Is The Limit!

Irises

Over the last two blog posts, I’ve shared two events in my own “coming-of-age” experiences when my world suddenly became much wider.

This week a guest blogger, Nancy Louise, weaves a tale similar and yet very different than those stories of a time in her childhood when the door to a possible new life opened up for her.

Hitting Rock Bottom

Huge family of young childrenRight before my ninth birthday my Daddy was killed in a car accident in Shreveport, Louisiana, one of the many towns I’d lived in over the course of my short life. His death left my Mama with six young’uns, under the age of ten to raise on her own. I was the second oldest. Unable to consider employment and with no means of support, Mama moved us into ‘The Projects,” free housing for indigent families. We froze in the winter and sweltered in the summer, but we stayed together with a roof over our head.

Housing project
Photo by Joel Muriz

The Federal Housing Projects of the 1950’s was very basic. Everything was concrete and hard metal. And HOT! Hard Edged. Teaming with kids. And noisy. Always very, very noisy. I loved to escape—if only for a little while, if only in my imagination.

a trick of the imagination
Girl in African dress
Photo by Magdalena Manchee

Of course, we had no car. We lugged our groceries home on foot. As the oldest girl —that task frequently fell to me. From our apartment house, in one direction on Southern Avenue stood the A&P, the source of most of our groceries. But in my fantasy world, I trekked not to a supermarket, but to deepest Africa. On my way home, I strode down Southern Avenue precariously balancing dry goods, such as a 25-pound sack of flour on my head. As I bounced along, I swayed my hips and sang nonsense words what I told myself was “jungle language.” I was no longer a Southern school girl; I had morphed into a bearer on Safari! The blessing of a great imagination lit up my dull, everyday life!

In the other direction on Southern was “The Cotton Boll”—an early convenience store with higher prices and, therefore, only used for “emergencies” —like when we ran out the baby’s milk a.k.a. a can of Pet.

secret garden
Deserted lot by railroad tracks
Photo by Wil Steward

One fine spring day Mama sent me up to the Cotton Boll to fetch something-or-other—she probably hoped quickly! On the four-block walk, I passed by a huge empty lot that backed up to a ridge with the railroad tracks on top. The lot looked nasty, filled with high weeds, scrubby bushes, rusted out car parts and trash.

Girl picking blackberriesAlways a curious child, I forgot my mother’s urgency, and I decided to “explore” the lot, just as any self-respecting adventurer would do.  Also, I was in search of blackberry bushes, which I knew grew plentifully along the top of that ridge on the rail road tracks. Blackberries were the only fresh fruit we could afford growing up because they were free for the picking. But I didn’t find any blackberries.

Instead, there in the back corner of the lot I found something I never expected to see. An enormous patch of purple irises in full bloom! I have no idea how they got there. Perhaps in the far distant past there had been a house on the lot and had irises graced the back yard. Or perhaps one bulb floated in on a strong wind one day, took root and multiplied as irises are wont to do.

a place for dreaming
Irises under blue sky
Photo by Roberta Guillen

But for whatever reason…there they were. Totally unknown to the world. . .except me! I got down on all fours, crawled past the brambles and weeds into the patch, I carefully turned over on my back in such a way that all I could see was a wide, open sky framed by the purple blooms. As I lay in total quiet of my hidden garden, my heart swelled and out of nowhere, as though spoken by the wind, words swept into my head, “THE SKY’S THE LIMIT”.

I never shared the secret of the irises with anyone. But each spring for years after, I would make a pilgrimage to “my garden,” lie in the blooms, and dream – very big dreams of a life that would take me far beyond “the projects.”

the journey begins
Painting of nuns singing
@Eurpeana

As a first step toward the dream, at sixteen I entered the convent. While I prepared for a life of dedicated sisterhood, “progress” came to my old neighborhood. Southern Avenue was ripped up.  The A&P and the Cotton Boll were torn down to make room for the Interstate. My irises disappeared forever.

After four years, I left the convent, a good, but heartbreaking decision. The move thrust me unawares into the American 60s.  New things were “Blowing’ in the Wind”. I couldn’t go back home. My dreams still tugged at me. I went into training to become an airline stewardess. (Never a “flight attendant” mind you. But that’s another story!) My “stew” job launched me into a career in travel.

Airplane wing w sunset
Photo by Nick Pryde

Just as I dreamed in my garden, I left the projects far behind. I spent my life leading tour groups to every corners of the world. With each and every trip, I grew more and more aware of that God always walked with me, showing me those Limitless Skies.

The Light Returns and We Are Glad

Northern Lights in Norway
My Favorite Day of the Year
Christmas tree in Scandinavia
Photo by Samuel Bryngelsson

Today is Winter Solstice. The winter solstice is the moment in the year when Earth is tilted as far away from the sun as it will be all year. For the northern half of the planet, the winter solstice results in the shortest day of the year, meaning it has the longest period of darkness.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved this day, loved the whole idea that the light that slowly seeped away from us over the last six months is about to return.  The darkness cannot overtake us. I rejoice to know that I, along with millions of other earthly creatures, am tilting back toward the sun. At the same time, I delight in the grand array of artificial light my own species threads throughout the habitats of humanity. These cheerful beacons do not deny the darkness. Rather they proclaim that we recognize the allure of sparking light against velvet darkness. This magic combination lifts spirits and call us to make merry. Every couple must, I claimed at the beginning of this series of posts, grasp every possible reason to celebrate that comes their way.  This time of year is one of the best.

Introducing Jul
Norwegian town in winter
Photo by Vidar Nordi Mathisen

I have an odd but intent affinity for the season. My name, Jule, is an Anglicized version of the Norwegian word for Christmas, “Jul.” In Nordic tradition “Jul” stretches out for weeks. In pre-Christian times, it began around what would be for us today, mid-December and lasted until mid-January.  The time period was a month called “Ylir.” It was associated with the god, Odin. One of his many names is Jólnir which comes from the word Jól. In those ancient days, Odin traveled around Midearth more than usual visiting the locals. The children will fill socks with hay for his horse Sleipnir, and Odin might give them a small gift in return.

julenisse
Photo by j pellegen

Even today Santa Claus is not the most common Christmas icon in Norway. That honour goes to julenisse. A creation from Scandinavian folklore, a nisse (tomte in Sweden) is a short creature with a long white beard and a red hat. Julenisse means the gift-bearing nisse at Christmas time.

The real yule log

You may be more familiar with another Anglicized version of “Jul,” which is Yule. This pronunciation most likely came about because the letter “J” in Norwegian and Swedish sounds more like the English “Y” than the English “J.”  This means that while all my life the sound of my name has been identical to the word, “Jewel,” it would be more properly pronounced “Yoo-laa.” But I’ll save the whole story of how I came to be named one name and called another for another day.

The total abandonment to merriment that is the focus of the “Jul” entrances

Extra large burning log
Photo by elijah Hiett

me. There are so very many ways these people of the far north have of pushing back against the dark and the cold it can be breath taking just to read about them. We’ve all heard of the Yule Log.  For many of us, it’s a kind log-shaped cake, one of many mouth-watering sweets in which we indulge at this time of year.

The cake, however, takes its name from a very special Norse ritual. Their tradition calls for a whole tree (not just a log!) to be brought into the home to burn for the entire 12 days of Christmas. I feel all soft and fuzzy inside writing about that single tree giving Yule-Log Cakeits whole life to bring light and warmth to a family in the midst of the frigid darkness. Humans could do well to emulate the tree. Just in case you don’t have a whole tree to burn, here’s a recipe for the cake.

now that’s a party!

Those hearty Nordic folk are not, however, spending their time curled up on cozy sofas staring into the fire. No way.  They are off celebrating at multiple julebord. I have to admit – it’s super cool to share a name with such a spectacular tradition. These communal gatherings serve up trays ladened with traditional food. The most common popular dish Christmas Eve dish is ribbe,

Pork belly roast
Photo by Sebastian Coman

or seasoned pork belly. It’s usually served with sauerkraut and redcurrant sauce. Christmas sausages, cranberry sauce, and fried apple slices with honey are other common accompaniments. Here’s one that might not sound wonderful to you, but 70% of Norwegians feast on pinnekjøtt sometime over the  season. Pinnekjøtt, which translates literally into English as ‘stick meat.’ is dried and salted sheep ribs. https://www.lifeinnorway.net/christmas-food/

Clinking beer glasses
Photo by Yutacar

Usually guests and hosts consume large amounts of alcohol and then head out to a late-night party. With true festive fervor, every company, school, sports club and social group hosts their own julebord. Over the season, one most Norwegians attend two or more of these events. So, it’s no wonder that after the somewhat quieter family celebration of Julaften (Christmas Eve), the day when Norwegians exchange gifts, Norwegians welcome romjul.

time in between times

Romjul is their name for the period between Christmas and New Year’s. It roughly translates to mean a time when no one knows what to do. I can totally relate to that. If any of you have ever been at work, as I have in the past, during this particular week, you probably know what the Scandinavians mean.  Doldrums set in at work.  By Christmas, we’ve wrapped up most big project.  There’s not enough time to launch a new venture. Everyone’s still a little hung over from all that Christmas cheer while gearing up to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

And that’s just at work. At home the Christmas bubble deflates as the letdown of no more gifts sets in for the kids and diet regret takes over the adults. No one wants to watch their favorite Christmas movies any more. Going out to play is a major process of gearing up and doesn’t last for long. Yes, I have to go along with the Norwegians.  That week deserves its own name and romjul sounds just right.

year end for julewardwrites

When it comes to this blog, I think it’s only fair to let you know, I’ll be observing romjul and giving you a break from reading it for a week.  See you in 2021. Until then – –

Gingerbread house cake
Photo by Bruna Branco

God Jul! & Godt nytt år

What’s your favorite Holiday tradition?  I’d love to hear!

 

Surviving the Holidays

Dog in a gift box
pulling it all together
Cupcakes and candy
Photo by Brooke Lark

The holiday season is a time of abundance, a time of more of everything. And one of the things there tends to be more of around our household at this time of year is conflict. This is not a new experience, but one that descended upon us the first time we set out to celebrate a major holiday together. It took us completely by surprise.

Familiar as we were with the biblical verse, “And the two shall become one flesh’ so then they are no longer two, but one flesh,” its full meaning didn’t reveal itself until the Easter Sunday just three months after we married.

who is the family?
Gathering before dinner
Photo by Antenna

For both of us, holidays were first and foremost about spending the day with our family and secondarily about the actual feast that the day commemorated. But in our first year of marriage, the meaning of the words, “our family,” became confused. Who were “our family?” What John Gottman has named the “we-ness of us,” meaning the solidarity of husband and wife, was still so new that neither of us considered our married partnership a “family” per se. My husband and I were both the eldest children in large families. Although we never voiced it aloud, we assumed that a couple without children wasn’t a family.

A couple of idiosyncrasies in our family backgrounds also left us unprepared for a holiday battle.  Jay’s family had simply always celebrated holidays and every occasion of note with his mother’s family.  No questions asked. His father’s family history stayed shrouded in mystery. During my own childhood, my extended family was small enough that we all gathered, my mother’s and my father’s family, together for not only holidays but vacations as well.

reasonable versus fair
Couple holding tightly and tensely
Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk

Then that Easter rolled around and a decision had to be made, one neither of us had ever faced before. With which family would we spend the day? Jay assumed we would do the “reasonable” thing and join his family at his grandparents’ home, which was only a half hour from our apartment on the northside of Chicago.   I maintained that we saw plenty of his family in any given week. It was only “fair” I declared that we drive to St. Paul to spend Easter with my family.  When the lines are drawn between “reasonable” and “fair,” even Supreme Court Justices have their hands full. The decision process overwhelmed two young people in their early twenties.

at odds and out of kilter
Hands letting go
Photo by Toa Heftiba

Conflict between committed partners is inevitable.  As true as I know those words to be, whenever I find myself at odds with my husband, life feels out of kilter. Thus, when a rancorous debate drove Jay and I apart for days and seemed to have no possible solutions, it convinced me I had married the wrong man.

Experts tell us that it isn’t fighting that drives couples apart, but the nature of their arguments. That early clash followed none of the experts’ rules. We were so shocked to be enraged with one another, words of contempt and distrust flew threw the air like knives in a circus act. And just as miraculously none of them resulted in a fatal wound. What won the day finally were tears. I broke down sobbing about how much I missed my parents and siblings even though before our fight I hadn’t been conscious of that longing. That won Jay’s heart.

healing as we journey

Toast a feastOur trip through Wisconsin affected a sweet healing.  The countryside was bursting with new life in the happiest of yellow-greens. Roadside stands sold daffodils by the dozens. It rained much of the way, but just past Eau Claire, a rainbow broke through the clouds.  By that time, our seven-hour conversation had led us to our own pot of gold.  We had worked out a way to alternate with whom we would spend our future holidays.

Jay and I not only resolved that conflict, but more profoundly we learned that we could engage in even deeply rancorous disagreements, but our solidarity was stronger than we had known and would see us through such troubled times. Since that time, this stalwart sense of “we-ness” has gotten us through hazards much difficult to negotiate than that first major confrontation.

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength. While loving someone deeply, gives you courage. Lao Tzu

Have the holidays raised a conflict for your family?  How did you find your way through?

Worthy of Honor and Respect

Couple in the rain
an election day anniversary
Droping vote in box
Photo by Element5 Digital

Only one more day until November 3, 2020, Election Day in the United States of America. It also happens to be the fifth-ninth anniversary of the day Jay and I met. Such a unique twist of fate brought us together that we celebrate the anniversary of that evening every year. One of the commemorations I remember best was the anniversary we spent campaigning. In 1966, November 3 fell five days before the first election of our married life.

Before my marriage, politics held a place at the edge of my peripheral vision. But marrying into an active, political Chicago family sharpened my understanding of the local democratic process.

worthy of honor and respect
Couple holding hadns
Nathan Dumlao

My blog post for September 7 this year, “New Year, New Beginnings” announced my intention to share with you some principles I believe helped sustain our fifty year plus relationship. https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/marriage/new-year-new-beginnings.

Near the top of the list I placed recognizing a partner’s expertise in some areas and accepting their lead in those domains.  This premise resembles one of the principles found in John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, often cited as the definitive guide to developing a relationship’s full potential.

In his work, Dr. Gottman observed that admiration, the belief that one’s partner is worthy of honor and respect, is crucial for a committed relationship. Jay and I can’t help but notice each other’s flaws. (And living together 24/7 since the pandemic has only acerbated this.)  Keeping in touch with what we admire about each other stops us from being driven to distraction by our individual  idiosyncrasies. https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-much-do-you-admire-and-respect-your-partner/

politics, our everyday fare
City of Chicago
Photo by Pedro Lastra

Jay never ran for political office himself.  His passionate engagement in the political life of our community,however, became part of the rhythm of our daily life as soon as we returned from our honeymoon. He involved himself at the most basic level as a Democrat precinct captain.  The City of Chicago is divided into fifty legislative districts or wards. Each district is represented by an alderman who is elected  to serve a four- year term. Each ward is divided into as many as forty-four precincts. And that, according to my husband, was where the real politics took place.

His work in the precincts was a far cry from our college discussions. Those, while fascinating since Jay majored in Political Science, were highly theoretical.  Politics at the neighborhood level, I discovered, was a whole different animal. I watched as Jay went out every night to knock on doors in an effort to speak with every potential voter in his precinct and it swelled my heart with pride.

He worked hard all day, processing dozens of cases as a State’s Attorney in Traffic Court, came home, ate a quick supper and headed out. I could have felt abandoned.  We were, after all, close to being newlyweds. The emotions, however, that filled my soul were admiration and respect. Jay said his precinct work was a necessary link in the democratic process. I chose to believe him rather than listen to the grumbles I heard at work about the cronyism of the Chicago Democratic party.

politics in his dna

Jay’s participation in the Chicago political scene also had another dimension. His father, John F. Ward, Sr., was the purchasing agent for the City of Chicago.  He had been appointed to that position in 1948 by a reform mayor, Martin Kennelly.  When Richard J. Daley was elected, Jay’s dad assumed he’d be asked to step down.  Daley surprised him by asking him to stay, saying that Mr. Ward was known for his honesty and professionalism.  Daley wanted that to be a part of his own administration. Because of his father’s position, Jay had sat in at lunch with the leaders of the city, county and state Democratic parties since he had been a young teen. What he learned from those sessions, he kept to himself. I honored him  for that.

campaigning as celebration
Bridges of Chicag
Photo by Alex Livingston

It was no surprise, therefore, that when the fifth anniversary of the day we met came around, we found ourselves not going out to dinner and a movie, but passing out campaign leaflets. Although the Democrats felt their usual security about the city and county offices, there was enormous concern about the Senate race. Paul Douglas had held the seat for eighteen years.  A prominent member of the Liberal Party, he was a great friend of most of the prominent Chicago politicians. For Jay and me, he was more than that.  He was a passionate crusader for civil rights and had helped pass the Civil Rights Act just two years before. But he was in a tight race with a prominent Republican businessman, Charles Percy.

Union Station
Photo by Danielle Rice

Our position for passing out the pamphlets was the Washington Avenue bridge that spanned the Chicago River just west of the Loop. Commuters streamed over this bridge on their way to Union Station as they headed to homes in the south, west, northwest, and north suburbs of the city.  There were thousands of them. The timing was perfect.  If they held onto our reading material, they could study it on the train. We were bundled into several layers so we could withstand the long hours on the bridge. The temperature did not drop below freezing until after dark, but the sun set at five-thirty. We remained at our posts until the last stragglers from the Loop offices scurried to catch the final trains around seven-thirty.

fondness and admiration: a system
Couple under umbrella
Photo by Clay Banks

My feet felt frozen to the bridge, but my heart was warm with pride. For four hours, I had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with my husband and collaborated with him. Together we had attempted to make a difference in the way our nation would be governed.  Jay would always be more invested in politics than I would be.  Sometimes his active lobbying took him from home for days at a time. My admiration for his dedication assuaged the annoyance I felt at being left to run the household on my own.

On his side of the coin, he often assured me that his confidence in my ability to care for our family  on my own when necessary served as a ground for him to do the work he loved. Most likely this is putting what Dr. Gottman calls “a positive spin on our marriage history.”  But that’s actually a good thing, a true test of a couple’s “fondness and admiration system” and a good predictor for future happiness.

evaluate your admiration system
Kissing couple
Photo by Scott Webb

Kyle Benson, who works in the “Love Lab” at the Gottman institute loves doing something similar to what I do in the Relationship Guides on this website. (https://julewardwrites.com/radicalpromises-2/for-better-rather-than-worse-fun-fill-ins-for-couples.) Benson takes the research on successful relationships and transforms them into practical tools for romantic partners.  If you would like to try one of them, try his brief quiz designed to evaluate the fondness and admiration system in your own relationship. https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-much-do-you-admire-and-respect-your-partner/

If you take the test, I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

“America’s higher purpose is not just to allow you to have what you want, or to allow me to have what I want. Our higher purpose is to give everyone a fair shot at making their dreams come true.’
Couple sharing coffee
Photo by Christine Hume

October: Love Among the Pumpkins

Kristy in a pumpkin patch
turn to each other
Older couple embracing
Photo by lotte-meijer

Celebrating whatever we could whenever we could added reserves to our marriage’s emotional bank account, a concept offered by John Gottman in his relationship guide, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  This principle works just like a monetary bank account. Every day couples have opportunities to turn toward each other in small and big ways that build up a reserve of trust and goodwill. Couples can draw on this through stressful and conflictual times. https://psychcentral.com/blog/7-research-based-principles-for-making-marriage-work/

maximize the “maxi-moments”

As much as such crucial feel-good mini-moments have contributed an overall sense of well-being to our marriage, Jay and I have also regularly relied on turning as many of them as we could into “maxi-moments.” In other words, we sparkle the glitter of celebration’s magic over life’s small achievements and imbue them with extra joy. We are now

martini splashing
Photo by Amy Shamblen

coming into the time of year that is a heyday for celebration. The pall that has been cast of 2020 causes some people to feel as though hoopla and revelry might be out of place, but the rest of us are proclaiming, “Not at all.  Never has there been a more crucial time than now to commemorate life small joys and blessings.

Through the past year I’ve taken my readers along with Jay and I through many adventures and good moments during our earlier married years – the time before we were parents. Once, we began welcoming children into our family, lots of things changed – even our love for each other. It became deeper and more meaningful as it blossomed into new life. The times and ways we celebrated also evolved.

getting ready for halloween

When our children were young, Halloween beckoned them from the end of every October, transforming the entire month into one of almost daily merrymaking. Often planning for costumes began even before October 1.

Fairy in woods
Photo by Anthony Tran

Almost daily, my children feasted on stories about dragons and princesses, fairies and witches, sprites and elves, magicians and wizards. For most of the year, those wondrous creatures were confined to the pages of fairy tale books.  On Halloween, they came alive.

My children planned their costumes with dedicated enthusiasm and amazing creativity. They didn’t simply “dress up” as some fantastical character.  At the core of their being they transformed into their roles. For that one night, they’d be actors on national stage. They took their parts in that performance very seriously.  Many educators have noted the academic, social and emotional benefits of “dressing-up.”

Child as dinosaur
Photo by Jeremy McKnight

https://blog.bellalunatoys.com/2016/10-benefits-of-dress-up-play-for-children.html But my children didn’t need grown-ups to tell them this. They could no more resist the pull of this alternate reality than they could resist the clanging of the ice-cream truck.

a month is a long, long time

But waiting for Halloween, even with all the costume preparation, can seem very long.  A month is a big percentage of a small child’s life. Thus, like many other families, we built other rituals into October, milestones on the way to Halloween. They didn’t equal the excitement of the big day, of course, but they enhance both family bonding and holiday exuberance. Among these traditions, a visit to the pumpkin patch was, perhaps, the most anticipated.

Pumpkins
Photo by Kathleen DeNapoli

Like the grape stomping featured in last week’s blog post (https://julewardwrites.com/committed-relationships/laugh-together-stay-together-side-effect-of-grape-stomping), a visit to the pumpkin patch offered the chance to flee the city for the day.  While we all loved the vibrancy and convenience of city life, a trip to our favorite country haven helped our children learn first hand about the source of our food through a learning process that felt to them like sheer fun. Instead of heading toward Michigan, the pumpkin search took us north out of the city to Wisconsin.

city family’s day on the farm

All Southern Wisconsin, many working farms opened their gates to city

Girl holding bunny
Photo by William Daigneault

slickers like us, giving our family a peek into rural life at its best – at harvest time. We didn’t always choose the same farm because we loved exploring new places, but the experiences often mirrored one another enough that we were never disappointed. We enjoyed picking apples, drinking cider, and, of course, selecting a pumpkin for each child to take home and carve. The kids usually demanded that a corn maze and a petting zoo be part of the experience.  They loved hold and petty fuzzy bunnies and feeding goats kernels of corn right from their hands.

Hayride
Photo by Indianapolis Chronicle

We usually ended our day with Jay accompanying the kids on a hayride. I never wanted to go because I remembered the hayride of my childhood on my cousin’s farm. Horses pulled those wagons. At the Wisconsin farms, giant, rumbling tractors pulled the load of high-spirited kids and parents.  They loved it. But it wasn’t for me.  Instead, I’d wander into the farm stand and buy cider, apple butter, and pies. They were expensive but so worth it.

carve the pumpkins, eat the seeds

It would be evening by the time we headed back to the city with a car full of tired children. The next day we’d carve the pumpkins so they’d be ready to put on the front porch for Halloween. I would painstakingly clean all the strings off the seeds so we could salt and roast them. My children would not ordinarily have eaten anything quite so gritty, but it was part of the ritual. So, they savored them.

emotion bank account: in good shape

October filled our family’s emotional bank account. We would drawn down on the reserves of joy and enthusiasm in times of challenge and stress, grateful that we made plenty of space in our lives for the renewable resource, celebration.

If you are thinking that this sounds like something your family is up to, there’s sure to be a welcoming farm somewhere near you wherever you are. https://www.travelchannel.com/interests/fall/photos/top-10-pumpkin-patches

Making cider
Photo by Rosalie Barley

” I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne.

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=Quotes+about+pumpkin+patches