How Did They (Do We) Do It?

I often wonder how mothers of our mothers did it. In the age of keeping up appearances and, in the generation before that, of simply surviving.

There were no therapists, no LICSWs, no yoga retreats and meditation circles. There was no opportunity for a facial and hot stone massage. There was no medication to make the pain go away – except for those self-prescribed.

There was alcohol sipped in secret. There was valium – and laudanum in the early days. There might be lashing out at the children when the husband or society did the same to them.  Catholics might find solace in confession – if the guilt of their perceived shortcomings and ungrateful attitude didn’t keep them away.

I wonder how many women thought they were flawed because they didn’t love the life handed to them.  That they were failures because they didn’t find rearing children and keeping house easy.

But that’s not even the point.

Mothers today still flounder with the many resources available to them.

How the hell did women of previous generations keep it together?

Was it the lack of a pervasive media that kept us from hearing about children murdered by their own mother’s hand? Did bubbling anger dissipate through more readily accepted floggings? Were extended family and neighbors more readily available and willing to step in and pick up slack?

Did women suffer in silence?

I wonder how many women devolved into mental illness from the stress of responsibility, relentless duty, stifled desires. I wonder how many Academy Award worthy actresses were forged in the face of an uninterested audience.

And what do we do for them now? How do we celebrate the uncelebrated?

By feeling guilty as hell that we don’t like this comparatively golden portion we’ve been dealt?

Or by saturating the dry earth of hopelessness with resources for women struggling with themselves, with motherhood, with life?

Part of me yearns for the ironclad persona of the women and mothers of my thrice-removed family. But another more unwilling part realizes that armor came at a merciless price. Not only are these women I cannot question because of space and time, but because they would never answer. Perhaps one small admittance would open the chink that would crumble the entire suit. They would never take that chance. Nor would society let them. They did what they had to because there was no other choice. Their own mothers had it hard and so, then, would they.

I wonder if in this age of modern convenience we have too much time on our hands to ponder our existence. However, I’d like to think, even amidst the stirring of lye and slaying of chickens, our female forebears wondered the same things. They probably wouldn’t have lived so fiercely if they hadn’t.

How do we live fiercely in their honor while fighting for what we all need?

Losing Suction

It’s been a rough few days (weeks?).  I wish there was a good reason why – that might make it better, or understandable anyway – but there’s not.  I’m just miserable for no good reason.  Irritable because I have angst.  Angst-ridden because I have hormones and a crippling sense of self-awareness? (Thank you, Virgo)

There have been days I have camped out with my laptop for hours.  Stared out the window waiting for the light to change.  Held myself because it was the only thing to do.

And then the strains of PBS children’s programming came to me.

The minutes and hours marked by Arthur and Thomas, Maya and Miguel rather than numbers.

And I knew I should move.  I knew I should engage.  I should scoop up that little wonder of a child and take her out into the world.

One day, we did.  We traipsed around the yard, trekked to the mailbox, tried to imagine the garden in full bloom.  But the mailbox was empty and spring was still a ways off.

Yesterday, we shut off all electronic devices and ate lunch together.  We sat side by side, but I buried my nose in some manner of printed matter.

Today, we compared notes on the types of yogurt we ate; she turning her nose up at my Greek with honey, me trying to convince her she ate blue banana.  green guava.  purple passion.

The silly word games I remember playing with my first baby when I was a first time mama.

Learning colors through the culinary.

Exploring math while masticating.

And for the first time in a long time, my sense memory elicited a positive response. Bubbles of laughter reminding  me that I know how to do this.  I know how to make it fun.  I know how to enjoy it.

All it takes to make it enjoyable is a little more effort.  An invitation to join me as I move about my day.  A question here, a comment there.  Inclusion.  When all I’ve been is insular.


I’ve so needed space for me, I’ve been pulling back.  But all I’ve done is created a vacuum, a void they notice and try all the more vehemently to cross.  Perhaps if I reach across the void, giving them what they need, I will get what I want.

Joy and peace of mind.

Being able to lay my head on the pillow at night knowing I’ve done my best and not feeling guilty at the time I set aside for myself.

There’s no sense doing a job you hate.  And there’s no reason to make mothering more onerous than it is.  That wouldn’t just create a vacuum; that would suck.

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