Leaving the Gender Gap Behind

I believe that the women in my generation have faced the biggest challenge in coming to terms with the legacy of the submissive role that previous generations of women in our family and society have accepted.

I was bound and determined not to fall into the subservience that had been so prevalent. I knew in my early twenties that should I have children, I would go back to work rather than lead the life of drudgery that my mother had for so many years. 

Given that we are on this earth to learn certain lessons, I am blessed with four sons, clearly making one of my life objectives learning to reconcile my role as a woman in today’s world, and teaching my sons to fit into a role more in line with what I hope is to become the norm. I am inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” 
As it turned out, I did stay at home with my children. Lucky for me I like snakes and frogs and spiders. I was not able to deter their interest in weapons or to squelch the tendency to employ anything in hand (sticks, rocks, legos, blocks) as a gun. I learned to accept the broken glass and furniture and holes in the wall created by four very robust males who insist upon wrestling and tumbling about, even to this day. Wishing not to transfer my fears to them, I was able to learn to squelch my terror as they jumped off 40-foot cliffs into the river, climbed 60-foot trees, created dangerous contraptions and explosions and all of the other foolhardy things that boys do. I am still repulsed by the rude and disgusting habits that seem inborn: hawking in the sink, belching, flatulence, whizzing all over the bathroom and leaving the seat up…
In an effort to discourage the idea that women are here to serve them, I have insisted upon their self-sufficiency, teaching them at a young age how to prepare their own lunch, do dishes, dust, and vacuum, set the table, do laundry, and be responsible for their own room.
Dinner table conversations revolve around topics that are generally of much greater interest to the men in my family than me, and I so often feel left out as they discuss their “manly” movie interests, and mathematical, scientific and computer pursuits. Sometimes I find myself obsessing over the woulda, coulda, shoulda. Maybe I should have made more of an effort to develop the interests that they have. If I made more of an attempt to get involved in reading and watching science fiction, learning to like the music that sounds like noise to me, participated in more of their activities, I wouldn’t feel like such an outsider in this family.
I refrained from doing more of these things in my endeavors to develop my own identity and place in the world. And while I was doing this for myself, I felt as though I was doing it for my mother, and her mother as well.

Our Parenting Roots


Often we develop our manner of raising children by way of the example set by our own parents, whether that be to mimic their style, decide to take a different approach altogether, or something in between. In identifying our personal and family values, and how these came to be shaped by our ancestry and upbringing, we become better prepared to make conscious decisions about our own approach to parenting.

You can learn so much about how you have come to be the person you are, by considering the basis for your parents’ child-rearing practices. What was going on in the world in the way of current events, media (music, television, movies), and the economy, when they were young and as you were growing up? What social issues were being addressed? What was their religious upbringing and how has that affected your spirituality? What interests and ways of life have you acquired as a result of your upbringing (Sports? Politics? Environment? Social action? Career goals? Dietary habits? Communication style? Discipline? Behavioral expectations?)
      From whence I come
  • I come from stock of the Depression era, with resultant parental frugality; and my childhood sense of deprivation in the midst of the well-off and ritzy suburb of Boston in which I spent my first 13 years.
  • I come from the fifties… Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best sense of strong family values and clear division of labor, martinis and cigarettes, the middle of five children- three sisters and a brother
  • I come from the sixties… Flower children, the Vietnam War, peace mongers, Kennedy assassinations, Martin Luther King and civil rights;
  • I come from a safe neighborhood, unstructured time, freedom to play and roam, to time fraught with stranger anxiety and relative isolation.
  • I come from the seventies… the Woman’s Movement and Environmental Awareness.
  • I come from Christian upbringing, Sunday School, parental pillars of the church, church fairs, pageants, youth group, Sunday School, potential seminarian…to become a “rejector” of Religion and an avid spiritualist with deep faith in a power greater than myself.
  • I come from generations of book lovers and wordsmiths; trips to the library and bookstores a weekly occurrence. Love of good books and writing is in our genes!
  • I come from a house filled with classical music; show tunes, Mitch Miller and Benny Goodman. I am a wannabe musician, former Student of the clarinet. Today I connect and attend to other cultures through world music…
  • My mother was a leader, a mover and shaker in the Girl Scouts as I grew up, hence my active involvement in scouts throughout childhood. That and family camping initiated my love and concern for nature and the environment.
  • I come from the anti-bureaucrat (my father)… resisting becoming controlled by state regulation and refusing to be categorized and limited by guidelines deemed necessary by the powers that be…
  • I come from a long line of alcoholics: family secrets, roles, and messages concerning worth and potential. I come from Violation by presumed friends of family and upstanding community members.  

My Father
Dad was the working man, breadwinner, fearsome, fun-loving Boss who fixed things, painted and wallpapered, did the yard work, shoveled us out after a blizzard, and took us to the museum, the library, the park, historic sites, sailing, camping, and comet chasing at 3 am.
He had a strong work ethic and high expectations. He was strict, and we were afraid of him. He was bull-headed and “never wrong”.
Having grown up during the Great Depression, he was a frugal man, always pinching pennies, and insisting upon a clean plate at dinnertime (“take all you want but eat all you take”). Never one to waste anything that may be of use someday, he recycled long before recycling was in vogue.
Ever the consummate engineer, he did his own plumbing and electrical repairs amidst oil can, baby food jars filled with old screws and nuts and bolts, TV and radio tube tester heaped around him on the dining table. I have a vivid recollection of him sitting on the edge of the bathtub shaking the commode in his lap and cursing as he tried to remove the Ban deodorant bottle that had been flushed down the toilet and lodged in the trap.
He considered the impact of his employment situation on our family, uprooting us from what he considered to be a pretentious community and the unreasonable demands of his work in a large corporation. We relocated to a small town in Maine which offered easy access to what he considered to be the finer things in life.
For you see, my father truly was a Renaissance Man. He was a wildlife enthusiast and taught me to be a grateful witness of natural beauty through all of my senses. A loyal patron of the arts, he sought opportunities to expose us to the humanities, passing along his deep appreciation of good music and art.
Despite the overwhelming financial obligations of starting a business partnership, raising his family, providing medical care for a desperately ill child, and putting his daughters through college, he persevered day after day. This is an amazing feat that is so often taken for granted. But his business sense was extraordinary and after many years of diligently paying off his debt, my father entered into a position of financial security.
For all of his hard work and the pressures of day to day life, Dad had a tremendous sense of humor and took great pleasure in shocking people. He loved a good practical joke and was so much like a big kid in so many ways.
Between his loathing for bureaucracy and disdain for taxes, he made a practice of giving much of his wealth to organizations he deemed worthy by virtue of their impact on his community and the world.
His curiosity and enthusiasm for life carried him through to the end of his days. When he was 75, he learned the art of Chinese cooking. At the age of 80, Dad started piano lessons and taught weather classes to senior citizens. His death in 2004 left a gaping void in the presence he held in the lives of so many.
My Mother
I once came across my mother’s old girl scout book (c.1929), an explicit account of how each room in the house should be cleaned, beds made, table set, how to do laundry, how to cook, how to take care of minor injuries, and most importantly, how to catch and keep a husband.
As I grew up, there was a strict division of labor within our household. Mom stayed home with the five children, taught us right from wrong (deferring to Dad as necessary), took care of us when we were sick and made a full course sit- down dinner seven days a week. She cleaned the house (Monday: bathroom and kitchen; Tuesday: dust and vacuum downstairs; Wednesday: dust and vacuum upstairs; Thursday: wash and hang laundry; Friday: iron (no permanent press back then!); Saturday: change beds, go shopping for groceries and make Saturday/Sunday dinners. She was given a meager weekly allowance, which she carefully eked out to cover groceries, dry cleaning, housekeeping necessities, and cigarettes. She had to ask for extra money to get her hair cut. Discretionary funds were out of the question. It was her job to care for her sick, incontinent and demented father-in-law who despised her. In fact, the huge house she was responsible for was not her house but her in-laws, complete with hideous décor and furnishings, which she abhorred and was powerless to alter in any way.

At age 45, Mom was uprooted as she approached menopause, and hit the bottle, had to contend with a gravely ill daughter and a marriage in which she was miserable. It was not until she was 54 that she got “out of the house” and into the workforce. The transformation in her sense of self was astounding to behold. Her resolve for independence and self-expression allowed her to break out of the subservient role that had defined her and the women in our family for so many generations.
My mother had a determination and gift for turning the most earth-shattering experiences to the advantage of others. She was highly respected as a leader and mentor for youth and young adults, inspiring me and other women following in her footsteps to create a better world for ourselves and our children. She was a mother not only to her own children but to others in the absence of their mothers, teaching me that motherhood must extend beyond our own children to any child in need of mother spirit.
My parents shared a strong sense of community and dedicated themselves to the betterment of society through their involvement with our church and its youth, the Girl Scouts, and the local hospital. They never hesitated to give someone a helping hand, a ride to church or the Synagog or doctor, making dinner or repairs for an elderly neighbor, footing the electric bill for someone in danger of having the power turned off.
While my parents had a difficult and at times stormy union, they remained committed to their 48-year marriage, joking that it cost too much to divorce, until my mother’s death of lung cancer in 1996.

Once you have a clear picture of where you have come from and how you have come to be the person you are, you can begin to identify the values you wish to carry into the future, as well as those better left behind.

This is a fantastic opportunity to set, or reset, the compass for future generations. As you determine how your own background will influence your parenting style, you must realize that you will be the primary example for your children. You are their most significant role model and they are likely to follow your lead:

  • If you show respect for them and the other people in your lives, they will learn to be respectful.
  • If you are environmentally conscious, spend time in nature, and feed the birds, they will learn to appreciate and care for the natural world.
  • If your children see that you find great pleasure in books, they are more likely to become avid readers themselves.

On the other hand:

  •  If there is swearing in their presence at home, they will curse in public.
    •  Physical and verbal abuse encourages bullying.


  • Children raised in a racist or sexist home find it difficult to see others as equals.


Ruminations on Being a Parent

Twenty-five years ago I stood on the rocky coast of Maine, lost in the rhythm of waves crashing along the shoreline and contemplating the imminent birth of my first child.

I could not have imagined that this day would arrive in the blink of a cosmic eye.

My pregnancy had been filled with thrilling, scary, idealistic anticipation; the awe of being in love with the child unfolding within my body; the fantasy of fulfilling my dream of motherhood; the satisfaction of believing that all of my experience to date had helped to prepare me to be a “good mother”.

There is nothing more magical than giving birth to a first child. Those first nights gazing into your newborn’s very soul, feeling that you are the only ones on the planet while the rest of your world slumbers and the constellations circle the night sky.

Having children gave me an opportunity to reconstruct my own childhood experience; to learn forgiveness and humility as I realized and learned to live with the imperfections in my parents and in myself; the priceless gift of once again seeing the world through the eyes of a child; the opportunity to experience that sweet innocence minus the judgment, distorted perceptions and cynicism that are the inevitable by-products of growing up.

As the years have passed, every moment has been a whole rainbow of feelings; the immensity of the task of being a parent playing itself out day after day after day, with all of its joy and fear and protectiveness and inadequacy and guilt and triumph and frustration and satisfaction and doubt and resentment and pride and enormous indescribable Love.

In being a mother, I have found myself constantly defining and redefining who I am, and who I hope to be, as an individual, a life partner, a parent; persevering through tough times that, had I not had my children to consider, may have turned out very differently.

Parenthood has forced me to come to terms with my own fears and shortcomings; to open myself up to the reality that I am not my children, and they are not me; to learn the arts of negotiation and compromise and letting go.

The miracle continues to blossom forth every day before my very eyes- that tiny bundle of wonder and joy and utter vulnerability evolving into the kind, sensitive, confident, funny, smart, talented men that my children have come to be a quarter of a century later.

Motherhood has enriched my life and taught me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and I am so very grateful for the experience. My sons are, without a doubt, my greatest teachers. RDW (2-24-11)


Part II: Laying in Wait


Bed rest. Weeks of confinement and being sequestered in my bedroom with admonitions to stay put, the only exception being to use the bathroom. 

It is a mixed blessing really- an opportunity to send long handwritten letters to everyone in my address book. It is a chance to read and sleep, be waited upon, and to complete needlework and quilt projects (the Michael Hague Christmas stocking I’ve been stitching for Henry since he was 8 months old; the rainbow Trip Around the World quilts for Henry’s and Phillip’s beds).

The precise therapy that every frazzled young mother yearns for- and it totally sucks. 

Imagine the pending holidays: gifts to make and acquire and get off in a timely manner, tree to get up and decorated, cookies to be made, parties to attend, carols to sing, and being helpless to participate in any of it. 

Friends are enlisted to assist round the clock with Phillip, age 1 ½, and Henry, 3 ½ years old. Thankfully they are able to shower those boys (and me!) with love and attention enough to get us all through this difficult time. 

Donna and Cindy, the dear wonderful women tending to my household (mothering my children, doing laundry, dishes, shopping, changing diapers, cleaning, running errands, cooking, … and getting paid to do it!) while I am bedridden sympathize with my predicament, and chide me to enjoy being queen for a day or however long it takes these babies to safely enter the world. They help me to keep the bright side to all of this in view, serve me nutritious lunches too big to cram into the limited space afforded by two rapidly growing beings within, and marvel with me as the babies perform their gymnastics beneath skin stretched so taught it threatens to split wide open. 

The boys are so sweet marching up and down the stairs to visit, or share lunch, or read stories (The Little Engine That Could, Chicken Soup With Rice, Good Night Moon, The Cat in the Hat- over and over again until every word of these treasured favorites is remembered yet, almost 20 years later). Their little table and chairs have been brought into the bedroom along with various projects for us to complete for grandparents and Daddy. We make miles of paper chains, paint sweatshirts and pictures to be framed, and make wrapping paper. 

But it breaks my heart to see them go back over the stairs to carry on with the life that I am no longer a part of. 

The Boston Pops Christmas music drifts up the stairs, as do Henry and Phillip’s little voices laced with excitement over the arrival of the pine-scented Christmas tree. The aromas: warm cookies straight from the oven, and hot chocolate, and popcorn to be strung with cranberries, seem to reach from the holiday magic of my early childhood and once again I am filled with self-pity. It is so not fair that I am to miss such an important and historic moment in the early lives of my children. 

I can’t stand it a moment longer and creep down the stairs to at least observe and supervise the tree decorating. You know how it goes- no one else can get it just right. All previous lessons in letting go are forgotten for the moment. (Naughty Ruth- bad, bad girl!) 
That visit in the real world satisfies me for a few days until a dear friend brings a promising recruit for the family practice my husband belongs to. 

Can you just come downstairs for a few minutes, she so needs to meet you.” 

Oh, I guess a couple of minutes won’t hurt.” (Bad girl, Ruth). 

Furlough #3: The boys are planning to watch the Bugs Bunny Christmas special.  “Come on down,” pleads my husband. 

Oh, I don’t want to watch that, I’ll wait until Charlie Brown or The Grinch or Rudolph are on.” 

You should come down now, it will be good for you.” 

But I really don’t want to watch that.” 


Oh, all right!!” 
As I make my way down the stairs, I look out the window to the left to see a car in the driveway. 

Huh, someone is here.” 

I turn my head to the right to find the living room lit with the warm glow of dozens of candles and filled with about 20 women! My heart leaps into my throat. We’re having a Blessing Way! 

A Blessing Way is an alternative to a baby shower, the focus deeply spiritual, as opposed to the commercial bent of a typical baby shower, which neglects the sacredness of the birth process. Women gather to bestow upon me loving care and energy to help guide me through the birth. This involves massage, washing of feet, brushing of hair, singing, and prayers for a hale and hearty birth experience. 

The initial self-consciousness gives way to the restoration of my resolve and gives me hope to endure the last difficult days of a long and tumultuous pregnancy. 

Given my life circumstances and my incapacity for being told what to do, it is rather amazing that there are only four breeches to my sentence of bed rest, the last of which is our traditional ooh and ah ride to check out the Christmas lights around town. On Christmas Eve we all bundled into the car wrapped in blankets, Mickey Mouse and Alvin and the Chipmunks providing festive music to the occasion. The cold night air and the magical twinkle of colored lights in my first excursion into the world outside of the hospital or our house since the day after Thanksgiving fills me with great joy and that sense of magic that fills my children with awe. 

Finally, on the day after Christmas, I have reached term regarding the safe delivery of those little dickens’ that have totally dictated my life for this last month. I’m free!


I re-enter the real world to carry on with my life to the stares and audible gasps that the spectacle of my enormous belly evokes from passers-by. Each day the stretch marks get angrier and I fear that the babies’ gymnastics will push beyond the limits of the elasticity of my skin.
When I go to the grocery store, I knock over a display of oranges because I have not compensated for the space required by the three of us. My arms are barely long enough to reach the cart.
When I go to use public facilities, I am no longer able to close the door. And when we have dinner, I set the plate on my belly because I can’t reach it otherwise.
The due date for the babies passes. Day after day I long to reclaim my body, but since they were refused entrance into the world the first time, they are quite content to stay put.
 I teeter on the creaking stepladder painting the dining room. The boys and I build a giant snowman in the front yard, providing quite the spectacle for our neighbors as I awkwardly push the snowballs about with my fingertips. When we go sledding, my sled plows through the powder to skim bare the earth; it takes three people to help me up from the ground.
The babies won’t budge.
Drastic times call for drastic measures. On the sly I consult with a friend who is a midwife, seeking her advice in inducing labor. She suggests taking Castor oil. My partner in crime, Cindy, beloved caregiver and friend, makes the necessary purchase and makes a rather disgusting concoction for me to drink. No-go. Cleans everything but the babies out of my poor beleaguered body.
Dear Cindy seeks out Black Cohosh Tea, a remedy used by midwives for inducing labor, certainly not available in this little berg. She brews another nasty potion, which I readily gag down- to no apparent avail. They stay put.


It is not until 4:15 AM two weeks after their due date that I am startled awake by a monstrous and searing contraction. If there is a Richter scale for contractions, this had to have been a 9.5, and increasing my 3 cm dilation to a gaping 9 cm.

I awaken my husband in alarm, only to have him roll over, mumbling to wake him when my labor is serious. This is the point, of course, that is famous in the annals of birthing, cursing superlatives flying out of the poor victim of delivery and the birthing experience in an attack of the person responsible for this agonizing and miserable predicament.

I’m sitting on the edge of my bed, stark naked, huge belly spilling over the edge, waiting for the contraction to end, only to realize that it is continuous. Amidst the indescribable agony, I so wish that Tony could have a taste of it. (Oh to be handed that little bundle of joy with none of the immense torture, and taking half the credit to boot).

Then Baby Phillip wanders into my bedroom in his yellow sleeper, huge brown eyes, and pacifier; the stark contrast between the intense pain of transition and the soft warm little hand that takes mine is so dramatic that the moment will forever be precious in my mind. 

I am finally coaxed into the car as our bleary-eyed neighbor stumbles in to care for the boys while I bring their siblings into the world.

As we cross Main Street en route to the hospital, one thing is certainly clear. I want drugs! I have proven twice that I can give birth with no medication, and I’ll be damned if I have anything left to prove. I want drugs! And oh my God you better step on it!

We arrive to the maternity ward to the great dismay of the nurses on duty. We have forgotten to call the hospital to let them know we are coming. As I undress and am begging for drugs, I am aware of the poor woman in the other bed, calmly hanging out with her family and having to listen to me freak out.

There is a mad scramble to prepare for the double birth. My family doctor and his wife (my coach), the attending OB-GYN, our pediatrician friend, Susan, who is planning to be on hand in case of complications, are still in oblivious slumber.

The nurse who checks me says to my doctor husband, “I don’t know how you feel about this, but you might want to check her. I think she’s fully dilated!” –And to me, “Don’t push!! No, you can’t have drugs it’s too late for that now!”

Rush to the delivery room with frantic admonitions not to push. Cold metal sterility seems blinding to me. Doctor and coach rush into the room, and with my friend’s gentle grasp of my hand, I calm instantly.

The magic words “You can push now” vaguely reach my ears before “Baby A” practically shoots across the room in one push. It feels so, so, so, so good!! And I think to myself, this is how it’s done! 

It’s a boy!

Just after Baby A arrives, the missing cast members: obstetrician, pediatrician, anesthesiologist, additional nurses trickle in. Given that my husband is well known throughout the hospital, word has rapidly spread far and wide, and bets are being made as to time of birth and gender of the babies.

As with the births of my older sons, the crushing contractions cease and all is well with the world.

“Would you like to hold your baby?”

“No I can’t do that right now. (i.e, Are you crazyI’ll crush the poor kid trying to get this other one out!)

Everyone relaxes and we wait. And wait. And wait. Susan has taken charge of photography, having missed the opportunity to record Baby A’s entrance into this world. My husband takes the baby and I greet him, but yet refuse to welcome him into my arms for fear of doing him bodily damage.

I’m frustrated that everyone is taking this all so lightly, chatting and joking, and having a grand time. I need to concentrate.

Now, I had imagined that the second would arrive in mere minutes- totally disregarding my friend Laura’s comment that it could be an hour between births. But nothing happens.

“You aren’t feeling any contractions?”

“No.” The monitor shows no contractions.

“O.K. Ruth, we’re going to give you a Pitocin drip to see if we can get this show on the road.” And I’m thinking, oh God I don’t want to do this again.

The contractions start slowly but quickly pick up in frequency and intensity. Baby B is breech. Doctor jokes, “Don’t quote me but I think it’s a boy!”

By this time, I am watching everything that is going on from up in the corner of the room. The anesthesiologist says, ” We’re going to put you to sleep for a moment” and before I have time to object I’m awake again being introduced to my fourth son! He is one hour and four minutes younger than his brother, something he will never live down.

I eagerly reach for both squirming little prunes, albeit the most lovely of fruit. 

And I Thank God I won’t have to contend with adolescent daughters!
The Beginning…


Part I: Letting Go

Living in a small town and lacking the anonymity I desire, I send my friend Rita for the pregnancy test. Damn. The instructions clearly state to wait until morning’s first pee. A long restless night filled with dread ensues.

Okay. Why do they have to make these damn packages so hard to get open? Hold the tip in the urine stream, wait three minutes: one bar not pregnant, two bars pregnant. Shit, it’s only been about thirty seconds but I decide to peek anyway.

Oh God no, please no, it said it would take three minutes. Wait a minute. The directions say to hold the tip down and I was holding it up. It must be wrong…

But I am pregnant. Again.
I walk through my life in a daze. When I look in the mirror, I see a pale and despondent woman with dark circles and greasy hair looking back. My body moves about like a sack of wet sand. I have all I can do managing the two little children I have. How will I ever deal with further compounding the situation? My desperation sweeps me away as I long to flee from this life.


While visiting friends, I lay on the dock, feeling the growing lump within pressing against the hot pungent and splintering wood, as I will the energy of the sun to nurture and love my unborn child in a way that I feel unprepared to do.
After confiding my misgivings to a dear friend, I worry about his admonitions regarding the emotional havoc wreaked upon the fetus of an unwanted child of his acquaintance, and the grown child’s struggles with chemical addiction and criminal behavior…
Four days later I go for an ultrasound. I don’t know when I had my last period; I always know when I last bled. My mother used to mark the calendar with a big R on the day I was due, for the entire world to see. But for years it has been my secret- only I know when to expect the red tide. Always.
Except this once.
At least they are not checking for twins as they had the two previous pregnancies. After the first rush at the possibility of twins, I had known the second was a false alarm as well. This time the ultrasound is performed to “check dates”.
Preparation for an ultrasound requires drinking water way beyond the capacity of the human bladder, creating extreme discomfort as the pressure becomes so great as to crush the other organs.
My sole thought and focus become not to embarrass myself by creating a lake in the middle of the waiting room. Of course, this is the day they are running behind. “Oh, you can pee, just not more than the three ounces it takes to fill this cup.” Right. I know better than to open the floodgates and use this opportunity for Kegels- or rather one long continuous kegel, as I will the technician to come for me.
Finally, as I lay on the frigid table, the tech squeezes the warm sticky goo onto my belly, chuckling as she sets the transducer onto my abdomen. As I look over my shoulder to view the screen, I gasp at the sight of two separate entities floating before my eyes, thinking in that split second, “at least it won’t be a ten-pounder” (the first two children being 8, then 9 pounds), and “we need a new washer and dryer!”  
“Oh my God, that’s TWINS, isn’t it? Are those twins?!? How did that happen?” (There is no history of twins in the family- but later a doctor friend says “sit down and I’ll explain it to you!”)
Wow, twins! That puts a new light on things. Preparations must be made. Call the contractor. Knockdown the kitchen wall. Rethink nursery school, after having made the decision that our children are already getting the experience they need to start kindergarten. Shoot, we’ll probably home school them anyway. Hm. Better rethink that too.
The tech asks, as though speaking in slow motion into a barrel, “Shall we call your husband for a look, he’s in the building.” My better half is a doctor in the family practice next door and has been called into the hospital for an emergency. “No, I’ll tell him… On second thought…”
He bounces in with a grin on his face. “Is there a baby in there?” He looks at the monitor, his face draining of color, chin dropping to the floor. “Wait a minute, that’s not …”, he murmurs in disbelief amid gales of laughter.
By the time I go for blood work a few moments later, everyone in the hospital is abuzz with the news. When he wanders, dazed, back to the office, his nurse asks him about the delay at the hospital. “Twins…” “You delivered twins?!” “No… we’re going to have twins…” he replies in a dreamy monotone. 
I delight in breaking the news to friends and family.
“Hey, Dad-you’ll never guess what.”
“You’re going to have twins, heh heh…”
“What?! You’re going to have twins?? You’re joking right?”
My neighbor looks at the photo trying like the dickens to yank those two images into one, for surely she is seeing double. Her husband jams his fist into his mouth, bug-eyed.  
My sister, upon picking me up at the airport almost slams into the car in front of us at the tollbooth as she and her daughter in their disbelief whip their heads around to confirm that this is a joke.
I have been suddenly plucked from the lower depths of depression as in the coming months I am showered with attention, and preparations are made.
We make plans for having the kitchen remodeled so that the house we purchased with two children in mind will seem more accommodating. We shop for another crib, purchase bunk beds, move Phillip in with his brother Henry. The days fly by and suddenly the holidays are upon us.
Then, the day after Thanksgiving, in my 32ndweek, after an interminable day of shopping, my exhaustion keeps me in the car while my husband goes back to look for Henry’s jacket. As I wait, world a-shine with city lights on wet pavement, the thought crosses my mind that this is exactly the way I felt the night before my firstborn arrived after a day of climbing on the rocky shore of Maine. 
Upon arrival home, I make a beeline for the bathroom and gasp in horror at my bloody underwear. A panicked trip to the maternity ward ensues. Bustling medical professionals hook me up to monitors, I.V., ID bracelet, all talking at once, asking numerous questions to which I am unable to respond, my fear rendering me speechless.
Labor has started and unless they are able to forestall it, the babies are in great jeopardy. Friends flock to my bedside, so very well-intentioned, and so very unwelcome, in my mind. I desperately need to stay focused on willing those babies to stay put. As the medication that is being administered to halt the labor sets in, I feel myself slipping off the deep end. I’m jittery, tearful, getting a bit paranoid, having hot flashes, unable to sleep at all, and completely miserable.
The following evening it is decided that I will be transferred to a hospital more capable of dealing with preemies. Those well-wishers are still streaming in to lend support, as I am tearfully loaded onto the stretcher, worried sick about what the attendants must think of this huge whale they need to be lifting into the ambulance. As I am being transported through the corridor, a crazy woman in a room we pass is screaming obscenities, adding to the sense of surreality.
As I speed (both literally and figuratively, for the medication has that effect) through the minutes in the ambulance, tubes swinging, vitals watched closely, I am reminded of hellish bygone days when trips to the hospital in this fashion were commonplace.
No time is wasted getting me admitted into the metropolitan hospital. Amid the commotion, I hear the doctor speak of difficulties resulting from under-developed lungs, blah, blah, blah.
Sleeplessness and virtual starvation have taken their toll as food is withheld in case of the necessity for anesthesia. I am at my wit’s end as the medication given me to stop the labor wreaks havoc through its side effects.
I hear myself whining that I am hungry and have had nothing to eat since the previous day’s lunch. The inconsiderate resident attending me refuses to allow me sustenance and then has the gall in the same breath to offer my husband pizza that has just been delivered to the nurse’s station. I feel the sparks fly from my eyes as through clenched teeth I admonish that thoughtless twerp not to be so unbelievably insensitive- “Don’t you ever dare do that again! At least have the decency to be more discrete when you are being such an insensitive JERK!”
I have so desperately missed the boys, having abandoned them with no notice, and am suffering pangs of guilt and breach of loyalty as I give the second two my full attention. I spend my days weighing outcomes. If the babies come now, they’ll be attached to tubes, monitors, breathing machines for god knows how long, but at least I can travel back and forth and continue to be a mother to the two sons I have. 
On the other hand, if it is necessary for me to remain here for several weeks, the babies will get off to a better start which would be better in the long run. But I may not see the boys for days at a time and what will happen if they see it as abandonment and being replaced.
But if this…. that. And if that…thus… Round and round until my already-fragile psyche feels ready to spin out of this orbit.
My husband brings the boys for a visit, but EEEWWW- the crusty goo of the worst pinkeye I have ever seen repels me. I can’t get pinkeye! What if the babies are born today? If they contaminate me, then I will not be able to provide the mother nurturance the babies will require. If I reject my sons because they are less than sterile in the face of tiny newborn fragility, will I be choosing my next born over my first two? And what kind of choice is that? If I reject these two, the others will have a better start, but won’t I undo all that I have worked so hard to achieve in the way of providing a sense of absolute security? And if I welcome them with open arms as I so long to do because I have yearned for their presence; aren’t I putting the others in jeopardy?
The boys come and go with their father in their slimy oblivion, with stories of eating in the cafeteria, Phil’s huge encrusted pink-brown eyes bobbing above the bulky blue and teal jacket, pacifier glued to his face with green snot, Henry in his blue and gray jacket and overalls, towhead, silly jabber and efforts to do bodily damage to his little brother under the guise of affection. Can’t their father see that they should not be here in this condition? What is wrong with him? He is a doctor for crying out loud!
They leave and I watch them climb over snow banks, plowing through every slushy puddle they encounter, and weep bitterly over my circumstances. Why is it that once again Daddy gets to have all the fun, bringing his sons on this adventure to the cafeteria, and oh, by the way, we should go say hello to Mama while we’re here…
Round and round and round I go, weighing all the possibilities, willing this or that to happen with all of my mind and soul, only to come to the sudden realization that all of my projections are completely pointless. I have absolutely no say in the matter and whatever happens, is going to happen regardless of bargaining and pleading and wishful thinking.
And within minutes, the contractions stop.
– RDW 1-30-07

Basking in the Glow of Family Traditions

As we enter into December, we move into high gear for another holiday season, and all that comes along with it: the joy, the stress, the commercialism, the exhaustion, the magic, the rush… As the month whizzes along, we tend to get swept away with the tide, and then heave a giant sigh of relief as it passes. 

Family traditions are what the most cherished childhood memories are made of. Take the time to sit down with your beloved to make a calendar of the holiday activities dearest to your family’s heart. Discuss your priorities so that you are able to simplify as much as possible, the days ahead.
Create two lists: Things you thinkyou have to do, and things you want to do. The idea of this exercise is to take some of the pressure off. For example, do you truly hate the office Christmas party? If so, why take the time from your family to put yourself through that? Are you sending cards because you want to, or do you feel obligated to? Can it wait until the beginning of the year, or even Valentines Day? I used to start at the beginning of my address book one year and at the end the next. 
By whittling down your to do list, you allow more time for the things that are meaningful to you and yours. The following ideas are simple, fun, and inexpensive.

  • Make Christmas cookies. Don’t have time? Use the ready made cookie dough found in the dairy case.

  • Make a gingerbread house. Graham crackers and canned frosting make an easy shortcut! 
  • Help your child make cranberry relish, fudge, or other gifts from the kitchen.

  • Rather than hosting an elaborate party, gather a group of friends to go Christmas caroling and invite them in for cookies and wassail-a traditional hot spiced fruit punch.

  • Go to a tree farm or ask a friend with land for permission to have a winter woodland adventure, perhaps even to cut your own tree. 
  • Start a collection of ornaments for each child, letting him/her pick out or make a new one each year. This creates a store of wonderful memories to be taken into their adult lives.

  • Take an “ooh and aahh ride” to check out the Christmas light displays around the village. 
  • Pick out a few select holiday videos and avoid those commercials! 
  • Make a collage with old holiday greeting cards; or weave place mats with construction paper, decorate with stickers, and cover with clear contact paper.
  • Make your own wrapping paper using post consumer newsprint or fabric, and gift tags using old greeting cards.
  • Make something special for your child. Keep it simple: a drawstring bag, a travel pillow, a painted tee shirt, a bird house, a card… Gifts made by you especially for them are the ones they remember.
Children enjoy the opportunity to get creative, and love making special presents for those most dear to them. When kids have made gifts that they feel excited about, they experience on a heartfelt level that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

If you can bring yourself to leave the TV off, not only will you have created more time for yourselves, you will cut down on the whining for this or that without the constant exposure to commercials.

Even if you do not participate in the religious aspect of the Holiday, share with your child the Story of Christmas. It is a basic element in the culture of our society. Coincidental with the Christmas holiday season is the Jewish celebration of Chanukah, or Hanukkah, as well as Ramadan, an Islamic celebration. There are many good stories and books about these important holidays. Don’t forget the valuable resource we have in the Public Library.

When things start becoming too frantic in your house, take a little break for a read with your children. The investment of your time will pay off and they will return the time you need to complete your task!

Above all, keep in mind that Time is the greatest gift you can give your family. 

To this day, our grown sons insist upon watching A Charlie Brown Christmas and the old Grinch cartoon once they have returned home for the holidays. As we decorate the tree, they pick out the ornaments they have each received over the years, and reminisce about growing up together. We still gather in the kitchen to make my great grandmother’s cookies, and drink wassail with childhood friends. 

Each Christmas morning they sit cramped in the stairwell, until we are all ready and the annual photo shoot documents their anticipation- not of what they will receive, but reaction to gifts they have chosen for each other. And in my mind, there is a time lapse vision of my childhood, and those of my parents and grandparents, as well as future generations, for I’m certain that the boys will take these traditions into their new lives.

Here’s wishing you and yours a blessed Holiday Season filled with love and warm memories.- RDW (11-19-09)

Christmas mourning and memories

My mother loved the holidays. She took great pleasure in creating a festive household: elaborately decorating our home with tasteful centerpieces and garlands, candles everywhere aglow from sundown to bedtime; house redolent with the mouth-watering aromas of Christmas cookies and wassail as we strung popcorn and cranberries to strains of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Boston Pops drifting through the house. She loved having various friends and neighbors in; preparing for family to arrive and planning gourmet Christmas dinners to lavish upon her beloved. 
In 1996 Mom lost her battle with cancer 10 days before her birthday, and 2 ½ weeks before Christmas. Until the time of her death, each holiday celebration had been an extension of former joys, as I tried to recreate for my children the magic I experienced as a youngster.
Tradition creates a bridge from the past to the present. Upon the loss of a crucial element of the past, that bridge seems to collapse, leaving us to wonder how on earth we can carry on. 

But life goes on, and carry on we must, particularly if there are children involved.

When we are in mourning, the pain becomes unbearable. As much as we wish to escape the anguish, it is necessary to face it before we can move beyond it. When the feelings come, let them. It is not necessary to put up a front; let people know if you’re having a tough day. Don’t hide your feelings from children in an effort to be strong for them or to protect them. You’ll only be teaching them to deny their own feelings.

It is best not to isolate yourself too much. You may not feel much like celebrating, but accepting a few invitations to spend time with close friends or family can provide great comfort.

Some of us are inclined to turn to drink. Alcohol is a depressant, so drinking serves only to worsen the heartache, not to mention all the other complications created by substance abuse.

Families can spend so many years following the same patterns and routines that we forget these traditions were made by others, suitable to their experience. Customs created under different circumstances may no longer be appropriate for the newly bereaved and it becomes necessary to make changes in the routine.

Change and adjustment are essential for those in mourning. The early stages of grief require new practices. Even customs “set in stone” need to be modified. We need to remember to include other grieving members of the family, especially children, in the decisions regarding family customs.
Incorporate the memory of your dearly departed into the holidays: Share your favorite stories over dinner. Make a toast or light a candle in remembrance. Making a contribution to a favorite charity, donating a book to the library or making a plan to plant a tree in their memory is of great solace. This in itself may become part of your revised holiday tradition.
Traditions bind families and societies tightly to one another. But altering our traditions to suit our current state of affairs makes sense. Each moment, each stage of life, demands its own customs and its own rituals. For while family tradition serves to build a bridge from the past to the present, an adaptation of custom is necessary to take us into the future.

Since my mother had been the cornerstone of what the holidays meant to me, it just seemed too excruciatingly painful to carry on, and every year the season’s celebration became a chore. Decorations remained in the attic, cookies unbaked.
Several years after she died, the idea of honoring my mother by celebrating her birthday was presented. Dinner on that date, consisting of her favorite holiday fare has since become part of our amended family tradition. Last year my sister mailed a package with instructions to open it on Mom’s birthday. It contained a beautiful old photo of her taken during the holidays, along with a cd of her favorite jazz band. It was as if my mother was in the room with us. -RDW (11-30-09)




Dinnertime: nourishment of body and soul

As we settle into the whirlwind of fall activity, it may become necessary to set aside down time to be a Family. 

“Down time?! Are you Crazy?! Between ferrying kids to and from scouts and sports and dance and karate and gymnastics and music lessons and play practice and jobs, and the multitude of meetings and appointments and errands and other obligations required of us, how in the world can there possibly be time left to set aside?”

There’s a story about a teacher who presents her students with a jar filled with rocks and the question of whether or not the jar is full. They unanimously answer that yes, indeed the jar is full. She pours pebbles over the rocks, shaking the jar gently and filling the crevices between the stones. “Is the jar full now?” “It sure looks full” Sand is added. “Full?” “Definitely!” She proceeds to add water.

This is suggested as a metaphor for setting priorities in life. The rocks represent the things that make our lives full: family, partner, children, friends, and health. The pebbles represent other things that matter: work, school, car, house… The sand and water are everything else. If you fill the jar with “sand” first, it leaves no room for the relationships that are most critical to our well-being in this life.

How can we find time to really get to know one another as individuals living in the same family, when everyone is running around doing whatever it is they do from dawn until bed time?

Having grown up during a time when most families sat down together to share the evening meal, I never questioned that the dinner hour provides the time necessary to connect with one another. But things have changed a lot since then and consistently gathering together over family dinner is no easy feat. So we settle for a drive through McDonald’s and eat together in the car while running to the next appointed task. Round and round we go, until we arrive home frazzled and grumpy, with little patience left for our most beloved.

The dinner table is the place to learn manners and how to be polite; it is where our children learn to be social with grace. You are a role model and when your children hear you say “please” and “thank you”, observe you sitting still, chewing with your mouth closed, and listening to one another, they are more likely to follow suit. If being polite in social situations is the expectation, children learn to carry their manners into other aspects of life.

By setting aside time to share dinner, more planning and careful preparation goes into creating a healthier meal than what we are able to get on the fly. One way to make this seem more manageable is to get into a routine of preparing several meals at a time for the freezer (soup, spaghetti sauce, chili, casseroles…) This in itself can become a family affair, with the added benefit of teaching the kids kitchen safety and the basics of cooking.

At the dinner table (or perhaps breakfast is a better option for your family), we become exposed to our children’s way of life through discussion of school, friends, books, music, TV, current events and societal pressures. Sharing a meal with those we love allows us to celebrate and commiserate, to problem-solve and learn about where we fit into the grand scheme of things.

When my kids were little and needed to have dinner before Daddy could get home, they would later join us at table with a bowl of cereal before going to bed. As they became involved in their own extra-curricular activities (which invariably occurred through the typical dinner hour) mealtime was pushed back, and often we did not sit down until 8:30 or later.

But here’s the thing: Two of my sons have gone off to set up housekeeping together with some of their friends in another state, and they continue to sit down together for dinner every night. For as my 24 year-old has so wisely observed: “Family is sacred.”- RDW (9-17-10)

Opening the lines of communication

As parents we often find fault with ourselves, and with the prospect of a New Year, tell ourselves that this year will be different: I will be more patient. I will spend more quality time with the kids. I will be a better parent.
As sincere as our intentions might be, a plan is needed to succeed in accomplishing such lofty goals. 
We all have struggles with our children. We have our day to day spats, but sometimes the same issue becomes a repeated bone of contention. So often we find ourselves entering into the same fight (over chores, discipline, money, personal time, family expectation…) over and over. The more frustrated we feel, the more unreasonable we become, the less likely we are to reach an acceptable compromise. Round and round we go in a circular dance that goes nowhere.
A change in our approach to the problem is required.
Family meetings are a most useful tool in raising a family. They provide an opportunity to discuss allocation of responsibility, plan family activities, and resolve conflict. Having a planned agenda helps to stay focused on the matter at hand, and can be created through the week as issues arise. Topics might include chores, menu planning, discipline, upcoming events and appointments, planning time together as a family, use of television and computer, or anything important in the life of your family.
One of my biggest frustrations was getting the kids to follow through with their chores. Creating a job chart made the expectations for each family member clear and was useful to a certain extent. Finally, we allowed the children to decide among themselves if they would rather rotate setting and clearing the table, doing the dishes, cleaning the counter and sweeping the floor, or choose one job to keep as theirs for the week, or month (or years as it turned out in our case). If one member of the family did not follow through with their obligations, it bollixed up the whole routine. If privileges were lost as a result, in the next meeting the others had a say about that: “How can I do my job if he doesn’t do his?” or “If you don’t do your share, someone else has to do it and that’s not fair” They responded to pressure placed on them by their siblings more readily than to my incessant nagging.
Menu planning allows each person to have a say in what kinds of things will be for dinner in the coming week. You might let everyone have their pick one night a week, or you may decide to plan by consensus. Choosing what they have for dinner is not only a privilege, it is a responsibility, and healthy choices need to be made. This is where your guidance comes in: “Would you rather have beans or carrots?”
When kids have a say in things that are important to them, satisfactory compromises can be more easily reached. Even children as young as three years old are able to participate in these kinds of conversations if they are presented in terms of simple choices.
During the week, various issues arise between siblings: bullying, territorial disputes, impact of one not doing his or her job. When the kids participate in the decisions regarding consequences and conflict resolution, they begin learning to consider how their actions affect others.
So much of the everyday conflict inherent in raising kids can be avoided by discussing issues during a time when we are not in the middle of a heated argument. Letting the children participate in deciding how family matters are resolved allows them to see that they are an integral part of the family unit, and that it is important for us to work together. Having a time set aside to bring all concerned in on the decision making process, clarifies expectations, improves communication, and unites the family in a common purpose. -RDW (1-7-2010)

Coping with the loss of a pet

Many people with children recognize the value of including pets in the family constellation. Pets provide remarkable lessons in friendship and love, responsibility, and the circle of life. They are unabashedly thrilled to see us at the end of a tough day, a comfort to us when we are sad, and love us when we feel unlovable. Before long, they have become an integral part of the family.
It is not unusual then, for children to be faced with saying goodbye when a pet dies. How parents respond to such a significant event as the death of a loved one determines how a child is able to understand and to cope with the loss.
We must always remember that young children tend to take the things we say literally:
I have known parents to explain Grandfather’s death in such a way that during the next encounter with an elderly woman in her church, one little girl blurts out, “I hope you die.” She is completely baffled by the reaction her innocent remark elicits from her elders, and has no idea what she has done to upset everyone.
A cherished pet bunny dies while a little boy is out playing. The corpse is whisked into the backyard for burial by well-meaning parents trying to spare the child “unnecessary” pain. Without having had the opportunity to say a proper goodbye, this boy carries the unresolved anger and grief for years.
What happens in a child’s imagination when they are “protected” from the experience of death can be more traumatic than the occurrence of the emotional pain necessary to lead to acceptance. Telling him or her that Grandma has gone to sleep forever is a terrifying analogy: we all go to sleep. “Does that mean that each time someone I love goes to sleep they may really be dead? If I go to sleep, will I be dead too?”
When children are allowed to experience death as a part of life, to see and touch and talk about the body of a pet who has been found dead in it’s cage, to bury a goldfish rather than flushing it down the toilet, is far less traumatizing than what they are capable of conjuring in their imaginations. They are able to see that the the only difference is that the spirit which has made their friend who they were, has left the body.
It is okay for children to observe your grief in the face of death, as long as it is not an overly dramatic display.
It is a mistake to run out and get an immediate replacement for the absent pet, for there can be no replacement. Time is necessary to work through our loss.
This is a good time of year to talk about the circle of life. Children are able to begin to understand that death leads to rebirth when as a flower dies, it creates seeds for new flowers; the leaves on the trees die to make room for new growth. Taking advantage of the teachable moments we encounter in our days becomes invaluable as we point out that a bird lying on the ground no longer contains the life which allowed it to build a nest and lay eggs and sing and fly. 
Children are able accept that death is a part of life, to learn that it needs to occur to create room for new life. Talking about death openly allows children to feel sad, while coming to a certain understanding which replaces fear of the unknown.
Leaving for college August 2008

Throughout the years my children have wrapped their mice, rats, birds and hedgehog in soft bedding, dug holes and created monuments to their beloved little friends. But following is a blueprint of a blessed farewell experience that I would wish for any family suffering the loss of a furry, scaly, spiked or feathered companion.


Our cat Acorn had been with us for 14 years and watching her rapid decline was devastating. She disappeared and was found in her severely weakened state in the creek after she had presumably gone off to die. 

Not knowing whose kitty it was, this kind neighbor made the decision to have her cared for, not realizing that the situation was hopeless. Animal Rescue came, the woman agreed to pay all bills incurred. She also made a donation to the rescue facility for coming to retrieve the cat. Then she started calling neighbors in attempt to locate its owner. Another neighbor told me our beloved pet had been found. She had been taken to emergency at an animal care facility.

When I was apprised of the situation I had to make the decision to euthanize her. Another friend arranged her following day to allow for me to be with our kitty while she was being euthanized, I held her in my arms, looking into her eyes while the vet administered the injection. 
I was given some time alone with her to say goodbye. As I stepped out of the procedure room with her tucked away in a little coffin-like box, a song played on the radio that was a perfect tribute to her and the connection we shared, especially at the end of her life. 
For weeks after she died we still expected her to come running between the bushes at the end of the driveway when we got home, or to scold us for not being around when we open the door to come in.


R.I.P. Acorn (May 1994-Sept 2008)

Our sons came home for her burial on a cold and rainy weekend. We stood in the rain for a good half hour, sharing our memories of her, laughing about our lives together, quiet with our thoughts as we listened to the rain falling through the leaves in the trees while twittering birds flocked in apparent celebration of her dear soul. It was a wonderful, magical sending off which was deeply comforting, and it was with reluctance that we pulled ourselves away from her graveside to enter our warm dry home. -RDW (10-23-09)