On Becoming Mighty Women

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At heart I am a naive cockeyed optimist, a Pollyanna, someone who loves the world and it’s people and assumes that everyone else is the same way. I like and prefer being that kind of person. It actually feels good to be able to see the best in people. I’ve had to accept the fact that the favor is not always returned. Over the span of my lifetime I’ve been stabbed in the back, hated for no real reason and lied about. Nonetheless I still choose love over hatefulness, but I have learned to measure my trust a bit more carefully. I am not a fool. I just don’t allow someone else’s hangups to take me down. When someone proves to be a great deal less than honorable I find myself feeling a bit concerned about them, because surely something or someone has truly harmed a person who is unwilling to accept me just as I am.

I’ll admit to being a big ball of imperfections. I am humble in that regard, but I also submit that each and every person is flawed to a greater or lesser extent. It is the way of the world. We take on characteristics based on our genetic tendencies and the totality of our existences, so when we form relationships with new people we must always take into account that they will be different from us. That’s part of the fun of our journeys. If we keep an open mind we learn from those who do not share our same ways of behaving and thinking. It becomes an exciting adventure to enjoy the variety of humanity without self righteous judgements.

I grew up in a rather isolated community. Most of us had similar backgrounds and we rarely ventured from our tight knit neighborhood. I was one of the few kids who did not have a father. It made me feel a bit weird, and I’m certain that it colored the way I behave to this very day. My mother had to be a strong woman, and so as my role model she taught me to be very independent. As a result I have always seen myself as an equal to men. I did not have to be liberated, I already was. I suppose that I naturally gravitated to my husband because his mother was quite powerful and unafraid of the idea of being a thoroughly modern woman at a time when many females still demurred to their husband’s wishes. Thus it was almost a foregone conclusion that would marry a man accustomed to viewing women as equals and that I would raise my daughters to be mighty women who were unwilling to simply follow. I taught them to fight for their rightful places in society. Luckily they in turn found husbands confident enough to be proud of their independent natures.

It has not always been easy for any of us to feel so free to express ourselves and stand up for our ideals. We have often been misunderstood by those who still believe that women should lead more traditional roles. We anger those who do not believe that we should have so many questions and ideas. The “b” word has been hurled our way more than once without an understanding that this is the way we were encouraged to be. We are perfectly willing to love and respect those whose opinions and ways of living are unlike our own. In fact we applaud our differences, but we will not become automatons just to keep the peace. We will listen and consider alternatives, but we will not abandon our fundamental principles. It is the way we were brought up to be. It makes us quite sad that some think that we are difficult because we will not simply defer to a so called usual or preferred role for women.

We really do want to be open to everyone, but if they take advantage of our largess by pushing us into a corner or threatening those that we love, we tend to react like mama grizzly bears. We have learned that women do not have to call upon the men in their lives to take care of themselves. They have all of the tools that they need to be self sufficient. When we choose to share our lives with a man it has to be on equal terms. We will be part of a team, but never engage in a master and servant bond. Sometimes it surprises us how many people still operate under the assumption that a man will always be the head of a household, the boss, the one who makes the ultimate decisions. For decades the women in our family have been just as competent as the men, and respected for being so. We can’t turn back to bygone days. We have to be who we are.

Just as my husband accepted me as I was, and even felt a sense of pride that I was accomplished, so too have my sons-in-law been remarkable in honoring and respecting my daughters. It pleases me that neither of them have attempted to dominate the relationships. In turn my grandchildren, most of whom are male have grown up viewing the marriage contract as a partnership of equality. I suspect that they will continue the long family tradition of allowing the females with whom they may one day form a bond to be on an even footing with them. Once the idea of parity between the sexes becomes the status quo, there is no turning back.

Still we are not yet there as a society, and so as women who have come to expect acceptance it is always a jolt to learn that not everyone has yet reached that level of liberation. We are appalled whenever we are bullied by a man. We cringe when we witness another woman being mentally or physically abused, and refusing to leave her oppressor. We are especially astonished to hear of instances of sexual harassment or injury, and the frequency with which such situations are hidden out of fear. We cannot understand why our sisters would turn on us and call us vile names just to gain the attention and affection of a domineering male. We still weep for women who have not yet found the freedom that we so enjoy.

Do not misconstrue my comments. My mother, mother-in-law, daughters and I passionately love our husbands. We enjoy a deep relationship that transcends any ideas of subjugation or mindless devotion. Ours have been powerful unions based on mutual respect and trust. As such they are healthy and fulfilling in all regards. I believe this is how the marriage of two people was always intended to be.

I suspect that my husband and I have weathered forty nine years of wedded bliss because we have always supported each other one hundred percent. If I wanted an advanced degree, my spouse moved heaven and earth to encourage me. If he desired to risk changing to a more enjoyable but lower paying job, I found ways to tighten the budget to provide him with that opportunity. We constantly listen and discuss and compromise and decide together. We also make it a point to learn together as well. We open our minds and our hearts to the beautiful variety of thought that makes our world such an exciting place to be. We find it wonderful that as our family grows ever larger we are introduced to new people and new ways of thinking. It makes us all better, and it all began with our mothers who broke the mold of restrictions that once dictated how women were supposed to be.

I am as proud of my daughters as any mother has ever been. They have forged their own pathways. They are literally two of the best wives and moms that I have ever witnessed. They are good and faithful daughters, neighbors and friends. All the while they have not sacrificed their own identities. When they gaze in the mirror they are able to see their own convictions. They are even better than I taught them to be, and I’m certain that their grandmothers are congratulating each other in heaven as they happily realize that they were the role models who started it all, the trailblazers who ignored the negativity and became mighty women in their own right.

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Blink

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I’m a child running barefoot through the grass with beads of sweat running down my back. It never dawns on me that my idyllic life will one day change. I live in the moment and enjoy each new day. I blink, and I am a skinny little spit of a girl just starting high school and dreaming of teenage years with all of the good times portrayed in the movies that I so love. I find myself working hard to learn new things that challenge me in ways that are wonderful. I blink, and it is graduation day and I am heading to college little realizing that it will be many years before I see many of my classmates again. I blink, and I have met the man of my dreams. I fall deeply in love and marry long before I should. It’s war time and things are so uncertain. I know that I must grab the golden ring while I am able. I stand at the altar and pledge my undying love. I am filled with so many hopes and dreams.

I blink, and I am expecting my first child. Even though I am barely out of childhood myself I am so ecstatic about being a mother. I talk to my baby even before she is born. I am naive about how much responsibility my new role will entail. I just know that I already love her and I have not yet seen her face. I blink, and she is running barefoot through the grass. I chase after her laughing and feeling so glad that I have these moments with her. I blink, and another baby is on the way. I love that my family is growing and I can’t wait to see my new little girl. I blink, and we are moving into our first home with both of our daughters, a toddler and an infant. I immediately fall in love with my neighbors. Somehow I know that I will be friends with them forever even though forever seems so far away.

I blink, and my girls are heading off to school. I wonder where the time went and how they grew so quickly. They are sweet and bright and they make me proud but I miss them when the house becomes so quiet. I go back to school again and use my free time to study and earn a degree. I blink and my eldest is entering high school while I have been a teacher for many years. I love the times when we share weekends with the good friends that we have made from church and school and the neighborhood. There is never a dull moment. We are always buzzing about. It’s so much fun and it never occurs to me that it may one day change.

I blink, and daughter number one is heading to the University of Texas for college. I don’t quite yet realize that she will never again be a permanent resident of our home. I focus on the second girl and love having her friends practically living at our place. Life is good. Work is good. Family is fabulous. I blink, and my eldest is receiving her college degree while the youngest is graduating from high school. I can’t believe that they are grown. Where did the time go? Where are those precious little babies that I held in my arms? How I love the young women they have become. How I miss the infants that snuggled and cooed.

I blink, and my eldest is getting married and moving out of the city. My youngest is studying at Texas A&M University. The house is so quiet. I have my work. It sustains me. I decide to go back to school for an advanced degree. I need to fill the vacant hours. I am not yet accustomed to such a quiet house. I spend more time with my husband. We fall in love again and again.

I blink and I am a grandmother of a new baby boy. I fly to the faraway place where he and his parents live. He is an angel and I love him so. I like to sit for hours just holding him and watching him sleep in my arms. My youngest daughter is in love as well and will soon be engaged. How is it possible that I have reached a time when my girls will be so independent? I work and begin to enjoy my students even more than ever. They become my new children, my extended family.

I blink and I am at the wedding of my youngest. She is moving all the way to Chicago. I now have two grandchildren from my eldest. Both of them are beautiful little boys. They now live close enough that I get to visit them all of the time. Life is good. Work is good. I have so much fun with my friends. I take my good fortune for granted and then I blink.

My family grows and grows. A set of twin boys from my eldest daughter delight me. Another set of twins, a boy and girl, arrive to my youngest. Not long after a little boy rounds out the crew. I can’t even describe how much fun I am having. I am so happy that I want the world to stop spinning. I don’t want to blink, but I must.

Death comes to visit us. My mother-in-law dies so unexpectedly. Dear friends leave this earth. I turn to my work as a distraction. I spend time with my own mother and my grandchildren to protect me from the sadness that I am feeling. The cycle doesn’t want to stop. One after another I lose important people and then I blink, and my mother is gone as well. I look up and my grandchildren are all in school. They are not babies anymore. My daughters are fine women who help me in my grief. My husband remains my rock.

I blink, and I am a senior citizen, retired from my teaching days and spending time traveling and writing and enjoying hobbies. My grandchildren are in college, high school, and middle school. They won’t stop growing, but that is not so bad because I am so proud of each of them. I keep in touch with my former students who truly are like members of my extended family. I smile at the photos of their weddings and their children. I enjoy hearing about their jobs and knowing that they too are just fine. I get back together with long lost friends from high school. I am amazed at how easily we reconnect. They look the same to me even though their hair is sometimes grey and their faces wear the wrinkles of time. I know that if I blink there is no telling what changes will come, but I have learned that each phase of life has the power to be grand. My life is unfolding just as it was meant to be.

My husband is still my best friend. These days we are quietly in love. We share all of those moments that came in between our blinks. We know that even the hard times have had a way of making us stronger and bringing us closer together. We’ve learned to dream a bit less and just enjoy whatever is happening. We walk through the grass in our bare feet and are able to see all the way back to our own childhoods. We blink and the world is a wonderful place to be.

How To Be a Great Partner

our weddingOn this day forty nine years ago at 7:00 in the evening I kneeled at the altar of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Houston, Texas to pledge my love and commitment to my husband Mike. I find myself looking back over our many years together and remembering all of the times that we have shared. Not once has it ever crossed my mind to consider that my leap of faith in joining hands with Mike might have been anything but the most wonderful and important decision that I have ever made. On Mike’s seventieth birthday which occurred only a few days ago our eldest daughter compiled a list of reasons why each his children, grandchildren and I love him as much as much as we do. I find that those praises for him that came from each of us encapsulate the essence of how being married to him for forty nine years has been a glorious adventure that I pray with all of my heart will continue for many more years. They also serve as a guideline for anyone wishing to create a loving and exciting partnership with another human being. If someone were to follow Mike’s example even partially I suspect that he/she would find the kind of great happiness that I have enjoyed day after day for all of those forty nine years. So here are some of the descriptors of my loving spouse that are offered as a gift to all of my readers on this day when I feel as though I won the lottery of a lifetime. Enjoy learning how to provide unconditional love from my Mike who is a master of such things.

Mike is always supportive of anything we want to do and he is always ready to help when we need it. He wears crazy hats and is so hilarious that even when times are hard he is still super funny and cracks funny jokes. He gave us an appreciation of good music that endures to this day. He is a fitting patriarch for the family, moral and loving. He always makes us feel welcome. He has a calm presence. He appreciates history and perspective. He would always give smart, logical and sound advice whenever we came to him. He well known for giving great hugs. He is temperate. His conversations are always filled with wit and information. He let two fine young men date and marry his daughters. He is hardworking and loves his family unconditionally, seeing only the best in every member. He is tech savvy and knowledgable, kind and intellectual. He doesn’t always let it shine through, but he has a soft side like a teddy bear. His wise comments mean a lot to all of us and demonstrate how caring he is. In fact, he is kind hearted and sweet to everyone in his family and it makes us feel special. He is a history buff who demonstrates a desire to go deep into an interesting topic. He is the number one Women’s Lib advocate for his wife, daughters and granddaughter.  He makes us feel safe and secure and cheers us on in anything that we do and comes to all of our special events. He is generous and showed us how fun and amazing camping can be. He took his eldest daughter on a special journey to Chaco Canyon that the two of them will never forget. He understands that football is special and he tells really good jokes. He demonstrates subtle simple shows of affection, like wearing a brand new TAMU polo to a grandson’s graduation party. He often sacrifices his own needs for the rest of us. He is guileless and what you see in him is real. He maintains a calm and confident demeanor in difficult situations, even when he is in the midst of having a stroke. He’s grateful for what he has and generous to others. He can fix almost anything and enjoys doing it. He gives those around him unwavering trust and loyalty. He taught us all everything we know about interior illumination. He has a chill vibe. He brings unique perspectives and culture to the family and keeps things spiced up. He loves to play the guitar. He is reasonable whenever something is going on or if we have a conflict. He shares personal interests with us such as trains, models and history. He’s willing to do anything for our enjoyment. He warmly welcomed two young men as his sons-in-law. He too many talents to number. He is a kind man. He has filled our lives with beautiful moments and memories. His is known for just always being there. He loves his family.

So there you are, descriptions of the man that I love from those who know him best. How could our union not have worked? He took all of his vows so seriously and mostly showed all of us how to love. It has been a marvelous journey walking by his side and feeling that love that he is always so eager to share.

A Birthday Gift To Us All

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I have to pinch myself when I look at my husband, Mike. I still can’t believe how lucky I have been to have him as my husband. I tend not to notice that he is no longer the young lion that I met so long ago nor that his hair has grown white and thinner than it once was. I marvel that he is still with me after so many years, as loving and faithful as ever. I rejoice that we will celebrate another of his birthday’s together today, and I can’t quite believe that this will be his seventieth. As I look back over time I have so many wonderful memories of our life together, but mostly I marvel at the person that he has always been.

I have learned that he is the amalgam of lessons learned from his grandmother, his mother, his father and his education at St. Thomas High School. He was taught through example how to be a truly great man. His mother was a remarkable woman who was far ahead of her time with her independent spirit. If she had run for President of the United States I feel certain that she would have won. She always insisted that Mike treat women with great respect and who better to learn from than his father who has always been the consummate gentleman? In high school Mike was shown the importance of faith, loyalty and good character. He learned his lessons well but in many ways it was his grandmother who showed him the value of unconditional love. All of these factors produced a man who has always been kind and generous and guileless, but never naive. He is a strong protector but also an equal and supportive partner.

Mike has a brilliant mind that allows him to digest and synthesize information readily. Conversations with him are beyond interesting because he draws his comments from a library of information that he has somehow managed to catalog in his brain and pull up at a moment’s notice. He is one of those lifelong learners who reads and watches continuously. He has made our life together so much more exciting because of his encyclopedic knowledge on so many topics. In many ways he is a true renaissance man with his abilities to do and discuss almost anything. He is as good at wiring a house as discussing history or business. He is a truly delightful person to be with and I have had the honor of walking at his side for almost fifty years, never once growing bored with our companionship.

Mike often tells people that he was thunderstruck when he met me, but I don’t mention enough that the feeling was quite mutual. I remember telling my friends at the time that I thought I had just met the man with whom I was going to spend the rest of my life. I had no idea then just how exciting our journey together would be. When people see me today they are encountering a woman who was much different when I first met Mike. He has been my mentor, my muse, and the one person who encouraged me to take risks to become who I am today. No matter what I have wanted to accomplish, he has been my cheerleader, telling me that I have the power to accomplish anything. I suspect that I would not have been nearly as happy or successful in life had it not been for our chance meeting so long ago. I thank God for him every single day.

This particular birthday for Mike is of especial importance to me because of my understanding that I might very well have lost him this summer when he had a stroke. In true Mike fashion he has been the rock who has helped me to deal with our new reality. He has prepared me for any eventuality and insisted that I will do well with whatever situation arises. That is the kind of person that he is, always thinking of me and our family. He loves with a passion that is immeasurable and he has always been willing to sacrifice for the well being of me and our girls.

Mike is a humble man except for when it comes to our children and grandchildren. Then he puffs out his chest and fairly glows with pride. He has quietly watched them grow in wisdom and age and grace and it brings him great contentment to see how well they continue to do. His love for them and for all of the members of our extended family is boundless. He is always at the ready to open his home and his heart to any one them who may be in need.,

Perhaps my greatest admiration for Mike is related to the way that he treated my mother. Her bipolar disorder often created very unlikeable symptoms. When she was in the throes of a manic episode she sometimes said horrific things to him. Somehow he always remained steadfast in understanding that it was her disease speaking and not her true heart. He continued to show her kindness even as she insulted him in every possible way. When she came to stay at our home at the end of her life he was welcoming and enjoyed being able to provide her with a touch of security as she slowly became more and more ill. At the very end he sat holding her hand and promising to take care of me and my brothers with all of the powers within him. He and my mom shared a bond of mutual understanding on the day that she died. They expressed their love for one another and it made my mother comfortable to know that he would indeed watch over her family in her absence. Like me, she had witnessed his steadfast strength and love.

I can only hope and pray that there will be many more birthdays with Mike, but I have most recently learned just to appreciate the moments that we have without overthinking and worrying too much about the distant future. He is a most extraordinary man and I celebrate that our world has been lucky enough to have someone of his caliber working day after day to make our little corner of it a better place. It’s funny how on his birthday I am reminded that he has been a gift to all of us who know him. It is so typical of him to be the giver just by his existence even on his birthday.

A Wedding, Two Funerals, and A Hurricane

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This summer has left me forever changed in ways more dramatic than I might ever have imagined. It began innocently enough with a visit to New Orleans with grandson Ian. He saw my favorite city with a new set of eyes that were innocent and inquisitive. It was the history of the place that fascinated him more than even the food and entertainment. He was particularly entranced with the World War II Museum which filled him with wonder and so many questions. I suppose that in many ways the day that we spent reliving the drama and importance of that era when was the beginning of a circle of life that left me profoundly different by the end of my journey through the warm lazy days that have heretofore represented fun and frolic to me, but would no longer be so simple to consider.

After our sojourn in New Orleans we travelled to Cancun for the wedding of two of our favorite friends, Tim and Dickie. We learned just how powerful love can be and that how it cannot be narrowly defined. We also went on a journey back in history to study the Mayan people and their glorious civilization that had been quite advanced in its time. It humbled us to learn of the ingenuity of mankind, but also to understand that the upheavals of life and how we humans react to them have the power to take down or raise up even nations.

We had scheduled so many more amazing travels for July and August when our world was shaken to its very foundation. My husband Mike had a stroke on July 3, and it was as though the earth itself had stood still. Nothing really mattered to me other than Mike’s health and I was thankful that he was still alive and that I would have more time to convey my feelings for him. I suppose that from that exact moment forward I quit taking anything for granted. I became more attuned to the colors and sounds and people all around me. I rejoiced each day when both Mike and I arose. I reveled in even the smallest bits of joy that came our way. Somehow I found myself caring little for things and greatly appreciative of relationships and love.

Mike and I shared a viewing of a partial eclipse of the sun rather than than the total one that we had planned to witness. I suppose that I should have been disappointed that we were not able to travel to Wyoming for the event, but having the pleasure of sitting with Mike in a park watching the little piece of wonder that we were given was more than ample for me. I felt that our day together was truly glorious just because we had the gift of being together. Whenever I thought of what might have been, I felt frightened but mostly grateful for my blessings. Each new day was glorious, but I had little idea that an even greater test of my endurance lay ahead.

As the summer drew to a close my two eldest grandsons readied to go off to college. We celebrated at our favorite Cuban restaurant, El Meson, in the Village area of Houston near Rice University and the Medical Center. It was a beautiful night in which we enjoyed knowing what fine young men our Andrew and Jack had become. It was yet another reason to be thankful and our hearts were filled with joy.

Later we had the privilege of having our twin grandsons Ben and Eli at our home while their parents helped their older brother to check into his dorm at Texas A&M. I was charged with helping the two boys to complete a project for their English class and we worked quite hard for an entire Saturday. I woke them up early on Sunday so that we might finish and still have time for some fun before their parents returned. Just as I had hoped we found ourselves with enough free hours that we were able to go bowling at the Main Event. Later that evening we played a rousing game of Scrabble with no holds barred, and Eli literally blew us all away with a remarkable score. We laughed and felt so good that I once again found myself silently saying prayers of thanks for such precious moments.

Then came the threat of hurricane Harvey. It seemed that because the eye of the storm would be so far away we would be in little danger. There were predictions of massive rainfall but somehow that didn’t seem to be much of a problem, and so we decided to stay in our home. On the first day after the hurricane made landfall we spoke of the hysteria of the forecasters because their promises of floods appeared to have been premature. We were much more saddened by images of the devastation in Rockport, Texas, one of our all time favorite camping spots. It was not until the evening that the rains began and kept going and going and going for three solid days leaving forty three inches in our neighborhood alone.

We began to hear dire reports of friends and family members whose homes were taking on water. The television stations showed us live pictures of familiar places that looked like ocean front property. More and more people that we knew were evacuating, sometimes in the middle of the night. Suddenly I became fearful because it was apparent that if my husband had another stroke there would be little that we might do to get the help that he would need. Those three days became a kind of terror for me. I watched the rain and the street in front and the yard in the back, ever vigilant and unable to sleep lest I might need to get Mike to a medical facility. I cared not about any of the things in my home, but only about my husband and his safety. I realized that I was going to do whatever it took to get him through.

When the rain finally stopped and moved away from our city after dumping fifty one inches across a one hundred mile wide area I was emotionally drained and filled with conflicting emotions. I cried for all of the souls whose worlds had been turned upside down. I sobbed for those who had lost their lives and their homes. I felt lucky that Mike had made it through the days and nights in good condition. I laughed that we had stayed home from camping trips and the eclipse lest he be in a situation in which he might not be able to receive immediate medical care, and ironically for three days we had essentially been trapped on a kind of island with so much happening all around us that we were actually quite alone. I had to praise God for caring for us and for giving me the strength and the calm that I had needed to weather the storm.

Last week our city began to attempt a return to normalcy in earnest. Children returned to school. Adults went back to work. There were actually days that felt so much like the glorious beginning of fall that has always made Houston a kind of Chamber of Commerce postcard. Only rides around town reminded us of the horror of what had happened. Still we had to be happy that we were able to meet with great friends for a brunch on Sunday. We were grateful that we got to visit Mike’s father on Monday and see that he was doing well. Then our week was punctuated with the sorrow and celebration of the lives of two incredible women who had died. I think that perhaps more than any other event their funerals impacted me with a realization of what is truly most important as we live out our days.

Both of these beautiful souls had lived through those harrowing events of World War II that we had studied in New Orleans with Ian. One of them had resided in England. She met her soulmate during that conflict, an American GI. The two of them fell in love and he took her back to his home in Texas where they had seven children that they raised in a home filled with love and goodness and faith in God. The other woman had been born in Italy but eventually immigrated to New Orleans where she too met the love of her life. They also wound up in Houston in the same neighborhood where I grew up. They had four children who would become dear friends of mine. Both women were devoted to their families and required very little in the way of possessions or wealth to be happy. They sacrificed for family and felt honored to do so. In the end they were in turn loved and adored by their children and their friends.

When I attended the two funerals I was accompanied by people that I had known since I was quite young. We had each accumulated a lifetime of stories and memories, but somehow we knew that those women had demonstrated to us how to truly get the most out of life. I felt a sense of peace and a feeling of understanding that has all too often eluded me as I have fought to accomplish rather than to relate. I saw that these women had always realized that titles and bank accounts and possessions were not the things that define a life well lived, but rather the moments when we touch hearts. Somehow I understood that in spite of the topsy turvy nature of this summer, it had been magnificent because it had opened my eyes to how I need to embrace each moment that I have. Somehow I am all the better for what I have learned from that wedding, the hurricane and those two funerals.