Motivational Psychology and Marital Bliss

The cactus he would bring me from Arizona
The cactus he would bring me from Arizona

In 1996, I married the adorable man who proved, when we were dating, that he was metaphorically willing to uproot a massive cactus from the desert and bring back to me.  18 years later, sitting across from a tender but completely uncomfortably dressed “Tin Man” in his brand new, trendy yet stiff Baldwin jeans I insisted he wear, I realize that my husband truly is THE SAME MAN I FELL IN LOVE WITH.  I am lucky.  This is a wondrous truth that many women cannot uncover amidst the clutter of annoyances and distractions that make up our lives.

 

20 years later, trying to walk in stiff jeans
20 years later, trying to walk in stiff jeans

 I had chosen something “trendy and fresh” for him to wear – and “given” it to him for Father’s Day.  Selfish me.  My husband would have preferred  a new pair of cargo shorts from Costco.

I was a little irritated, at first, when the expression of exasperation began creeping onto his face during our anniversary dinner.  But then we began laughing.  This ridiculously confining “millennial outfit” I had forced him to wear became a metaphor for our strange yet powerful union:  over the years, we each asked seemingly impossible things of the other and the marriage grew stronger and more resilient in spite of the war wounds those changes left behind.

If you are reading this and it makes no sense, maybe you haven’t been married long enough to experience the tug-of-war that marriage can be at times.  Or maybe you chose a spouse more like than unlike you.  In any event, I am happy I chose my husband, so completely opposite myself in every way.  I humbly acknowledge his willingness to don stiff pants to make me happy and I will never ask him to wear them again.

Like a circus trainer holding a fiery hoop, I have challenged this sweet man to jump to prove his love and adoration and he has never failed.  I think after 18 years and 2 children, I can put the circus props and stiff jeans to rest and let my spouse be himself!

No more of this!
No more of this!

It’s not a circus act, it is a LIFE.  There are many days when I feel as though the demands of marriage and family are seriously cramping my style.  But then the image of my sweet husband in those stiff pants creeps back into my memory and I laugh out loud:  he has done his fair share of operating outside his comfort zone, too!

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Welcome To My Mid-Life Crisis

9 lives2002_mini_cooper_s-pic-8750964173784534205556964_3969215241468_697743296_nWho ARE these people that become so selfish and self-absorbed in their late 40’s and 50’s?  Pathetic.  Cliche.  So. Not. Me.

 

I have decided that I need a lobotomy or a conversion experience or both to expel the demons of MID-LIFE CRISIS lurking within!

We have all witnessed the predictable path of men’s mid-life:  the younger woman, the sports car, the sudden interest in physical appearance.  Cliche, right?  I lived through a mid-life crisis, of sorts, with my husband who is 11 years older than me.  His was definitely fraught with personal and financial torment, but it brought us closer instead of farther apart.  It made our family stronger.  Now it’s my turn.  And thank goodness I woke up and recognized it for what it was (is) before it was (is) too late.  True to my character, I’ll refer to my mid-life crisis in one simple phrase:  OVER-INDULGENT.

My life is becoming the metaphor of drinking from a fire hydrant to satisfy one’s thirst.  It’s too big, too much, too fast.  I suspected that navigating my children’s adolescence while walking through my own mid-life might be tricky.  They need guidance, wisdom and support from a SANE adult who is willing and able to step outside of the self and enter the world of the young adult’s psyche without the need for affirmation or adulation.  Let me repeat:  without affirmation or adulation.  That’s the part that stings!  Four years ago, when my daughter began her journey into adolescence and our family was undergoing a massive uprooting from our rural dream life back to the city, I used to joke innocently, I thought, about “Momma’s not getting a lot of love back these days.”

 The unsolicited hugs and flattering emulation had come to a screeching halt.  I was becoming “invisible” and it hurt.

 

Fast forward four years later with a husband who is turning 59 and a son in the throes of adolescence, too.  I realize my entire identity has been wrapped up in 3 separate individuals for more than a decade – my children and my husband.  And I am angry with myself.  I feel robbed of my youth.  I am going to REBEL!!!!!

Enter “Party Girl” Joanie, living large in the city.  Meeting peeps for drinks.  Sipping on amazing wine while making dinner.  Just being glamorous, right?  WRONG.  Oh, so wrong.  One drink every other day became two drinks every night.  And recently, it became A BOTTLE.  There was never ENOUGH of ANYTHING to affirm that I was ALIVE and SEPARATE FROM MY FAMILY.  My own cool mid-life self – living as though I had 9 lives.  But I only have 1.  Time to re-evaluate.

I thank GOD for the wisdom of my 15-year-old daughter and the unwavering love of my gentle husband who have enlightened me of late about my reckless behavior.  But in a way a rebel can accept and digest – non-threatening.  My daughter simply asked me recently whether I would be willing to remain sober long enough to pick her up at 10:00 PM from a party.  Simple and direct question, right?  It felt like a thunderbolt jarring my brain into a million pieces!  What is WRONG with this picture when your daughter has to ask such a question?

My “aha” moment was brief and we all escaped relatively unscathed.  I am 36 days sober today and plan to stay that way – after all, I am just as “interesting” over-indulging in sugar-free popsicles as I was champagne!  Now to the paradigm shift in my parenting and relating to young adults versus small children.  As tough as it is, I am beginning to accept that I can shift from a total domination decision-making model to a shared one with my kids.

When my daughter was about 3 and struggling with sharing her toys at play group, her adorably honest retort to the nonstop encouragement from adults to “share with others” was:  “I want to share with ME!”.  This is the battle I find waging within my middle-aged heart and soul as it confronts the challenges and responsibilities I have taken on in my life.   But I am not going to express my frustration in ways that drive my family apart and tear at the fabric of my most important relationships any longer.  I am putting my “BIG GIRL” panties on and moving forward towards 50, muffin top and all.

Yes, you heard me right:  I am at that delightful age where I weigh more than my IQ!

 

So, together with my bruised ego and expanding waistline, I choose to embrace Mid-Life and all the AWKWARDNESS it brings.  Ironically, I am going through a more awkward phase than my adolescents.  But it is THEIR time of discovery, not mine.  I can choose, every day, to “rebel” a little in ways that are harmless and not self-destructive.  I think I will get a Mini-Cooper!

 

 

 

The Women Behind Us All

Mary Blanche Greenwell
Far right, my Hot and Happening Aunt Blanche in the Waves

I recently went on a self-indulgent, whiny rant about how it is still not possible for women to “have it all” (career and family).  It was misguided.  It quickly became apparent to me from my friends’ reactions that my preoccupation with the notion of “having it all” is obsolete and a waste of time.  Smart women make use of their talents and available resources to craft “manageable,” healthy lives for themselves and their families every single day.  So what was I bitching about?  Maybe the gnawing feeling I have had since my 30’s that, for me, juggling 2 kids, a household and a career is more than I can handle?  Maybe a sense of disillusionment over a lie the feminists of the 70’s “sold” to women of my generation – that, not only COULD we have it all but we simply MUST?

I was raised by a traditional 1950’s housewife with 7 children.  As the youngest child, I had the unique opportunity to observe from the “caboose” the long train ahead of me that was our family life.  I know my Mother struggled to give each one of us what we needed while also compromising her personal desires to be a writer, artist, social reformer and business woman.  She simply did not have the time in one lifetime to do it all – like the rest of us. Enter my Mom’s greatest personal supporter – her Aunt Blanche.  Born in 1907, the only girl in a family of 8 children, Mary Blanche Greenwell became one of the first Waves in the United States Navy to arrive in Seattle during World II.  Witty, fun-loving and kind-hearted Aunt Blanche was my Mother’s childhood anchor.  She cherished her precocious niece.  For one thing, little Rhetta looked more like Aunt Blanche than her own Mother and this tickled her.  When Aunt Blanche left for the Waves, my Mom was a young girl, an aspiring journalist.  Mom remembers typing victory speeches and mailing them off to Aunt Blanche who was away serving in the Waves. Today, the 70th Anniversary of D-day, is a perfect opportunity to reflect on our heritage and the women who paved the way for later generations to “have it all.”  I am grateful beyond words for my great-Aunt Blanche and her service to this Country.  Above all, I am thankful that she loved my Mom so well all throughout her life.  She gave Mom a sense of meaning, hope and connection through the tough years of raising 7 young children born within a 12-year span.

In a letter written to my Mother in 1960 after she became a mother of 1 child herself, Aunt Blanche wrote:  “Even I with my one, decisions to make work to get done always hanging over me – I get overcome and feel that it’s too much.  Then I get remorseful and feel above all that I’m not a good mother because I get so cross. I’m sure every mother feels this way.”

These were compassionate and comforting words to my Mother from the woman she admired most in all the world.  Somehow, both women carried on, mothering and living and juggling it all simultaneously.  I cannot possibly believe that my silly little rants about “having it all” should be taken seriously with the humbling heritage of strong women I am fortunate to have in my life!