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.

Living with Alcoholism

I was thirteen when I realized my mother had a drinking problem. I watched in horror as she spiraled deeper into the bottle. Her growing instability and mood swings were pretty terrifying in light of the mother I had known to that point. 

I kept constant vigil, secretly trying to smell her breath, searching through the cabinets and basement trying to find her stash, tearing through the village in a panic to find my Dad and let him know that it was happening again.

The humiliation as our secret became public; the confusion as to why this was happening and what I needed to do (it was all my fault, after all); the strong sense of guilt that my epilepsy was the reason for it; the fear for her safety when she would disappear; anger and disgust in the face of her drunkenness; and the helplessness in making it go away largely defined my adolescence.


Approximately one in four people is affected by alcoholism during their lifetime, but the stigma is so great that many remain unaware of what goes on in the homes of some of their friends and neighbors.
Alcoholism is a family disease. Not only does it tend to run through the generations of a family (grandfather, mother, uncle, brother, daughter…), it also negatively impacts those who are closest to the one with the drinking problem (parents, spouse, children).

Often there is a change in the behavior of spouses and children as a means for dealing with addiction in their home lives. The family members develop coping mechanisms in handling the pain involved with having an alcoholic parent:


  • The Hero is a high achiever, trying desperately to compensate for the family’s distress by being extremely “good”. She never breaks the rules and performs exceedingly well in school and all of her activities. She constantly seeks approval, but no matter how hard she tries, in her mind, it is never enough. Her sense of inadequacy is tremendous.
  • The Clown draws attention away from the pain and dysfunction at home by entertaining others, by being “cute” or funny. This behavior provides a good cover to the supreme sense of insecurity that this child feels.
  • The Scapegoat attracts negative attention by acting out, getting into trouble, hanging out with the “unsavory” crowd, often making extreme fashion choices (body piercings, tattoos, spiked hair, or perhaps a Gothic style). Feelings of anger and helplessness and being misunderstood abound.
  • The Lost Child tries to make himself invisible, keeping to oneself, attracting little attention or leaving to hang out with friends outside the home as much as possible. This child feels lonely and unimportant.
  • The Enabler is usually the child (or spouse) closest to the addict emotionally. S/he tries to protect the alcoholic by making excuses for her behavior, picking up the slack around the house, bailing her out of jail. This allows the drinker to continue without suffering the natural consequences of her drinking: social ostracism, financial effects…


While sibling rivalry is normal and necessary in children, becomes a huge problem when childhood competitions are carried into adulthood. On-going sibling conflict may be in response to family dysfunction, such as alcoholism, the mistreatment of others in a way that is detrimental to a child’s well being, or the catastrophic illness of a family member.

The result is a struggle of negative, childish feeling and a supreme sense of inadequacy and even betrayal which has followed us into maturity. At family gatherings, old conflicts reduce these adults to the childish response played out as youngsters. It is likely to cast a dark shadow over our relationships with our partner, children, professional relationships, and friendships. We are setting the example our children are likely to follow if the cycle is not broken. Guidance by a professional may be what is required to break these destructive patterns of communication. 

I have heard it said that one of the most valuable gifts you can bequeath to your children, is to work out or come to terms with unresolved quarrels with your family of origin.

Recently, most of my siblings and I gathered for the funeral of a beloved aunt. As usual, I was filled with fear and trepidation at the prospect of reuniting with my family of origin. I cannot stand the “games”, the secrets, the competition, the dishonesty; the pitting of one against another, and the tremendous sense of being so judged and completely misunderstood.

The opportunity presented itself to work through these lifelong rivalries that had escalated upon the event of our father’s passing, tearing us apart in ways that seemed beyond the scope of reconciliation.

After once again rehashing old wounds, we agreed to make a pact:


  • We will let go of past grudges once and for all.
  • We will say what we mean and mean what we say. 
  • We will talk to each other, not about each other. We will keep our relationship and issues with each other between ourselves; and not pull the others into disagreements that have nothing to do with them.
Our eldest sister, the “Queen Bee”, who was burdened with way too much responsibility at too young an age, and continued to think that she must step in on behalf of her grown siblings, is hereby dethroned! We will now stand 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

Gearing Up for Sobriety

She’s an alcoholic. This is dreadfully humiliating since she once professed to be a substance abuse counselor. She’d gone into the field with the intent of fixing her alcoholically dysfunctional family of origin, curing her mother and brother of their alcoholism, looking for the answers and tools necessary to get her own unstable psyche on track.
During her training as an alcohol counselor, she learned that it takes a child under the age of five,only five weeks to become addicted to alcohol; under the age of 15, five months; an adult, five years.
She  knew herself to be at risk, potentially alcoholic given the fact that she came from a strong line of drunks. Even then she ditched the initial three daily beer bottles in the barn at the back of her apartment until she could dispose of them properly.
But still, there was plenty of time. Given that this had only been going on intermittently for 2 ½ years; she was safe for another 2 ½ according to what she’d wanted to believe. After all, her “situational” bout of alcoholic drinking was purely “temporary”, until she got back on her feet after being abandoned by the love of her life.- Right?

Years passed, and she got married, relocated, had children.

During  a visit  to her parents’ house over the holidays, her mother discovered her stash in the closet. After agonizing for days over this turn of events, the elder woman confronted her daughter with her discovery of empties buried in her suitcase and dirty laundry- rather ironic given all the times that the shoe had been on the other foot. (What was her mother doing searching her belongings anyway??)
The younger woman fled with her two young children to visit a friend in another part of the state, and then spent her remaining time in New England in a motel so as not to face her mother. 
The older woman was convinced that her daughter had left to resume her drinking (wouldn’t she have done the same?). But she was wrong. Discovery was what the young mother had needed to stop drinking- for someone else to know so she could be held accountable. Her eldest was approaching the age she was when she became aware of her mother’s “drinking problem”.
She confessed to her friend and later, her sister. In passing she mentioned to her husband that she had the “potential” to become alcoholic.
“So stop drinking.”
And she did. For three weeks.  
She had learned that one of the “tests” in determining whether or not one is alcoholic (designed more to break through the denial of the “problem drinker” she later suspected) is to go 30 days without a drink, or 90 days having no more than one drink a day.  
She had clearly failed. She took her drinking into the closet; she no longer drank in public. Ever.
At her mother’s death bed three years later, not wishing for her to die with that boulder around her neck (it was her faulty gene passed on after all) she assured the dying woman that she had taken care of the problem. “I know,” her mother beamed. She had noticed that her daughter no longer drank at family gatherings. Little did she know… She was her mother’s daughter after all… she knew the signs, She had them all. 
Following her mother’s death, she nearly went off the deep end because she was convinced that her mother now knew everything from her cosmic perch.
 Three years later… 
She came home for a moment from a neighborhood gathering, for some brilliant and well planned excuse,  to fortify her alcohol level with the wine hidden behind the furnace, or in the root cellar, or her closet. She remembered the times that she had chalked up her husband’s discovery of hidden bottles to her mother’s previous visits. (Couldn’t do that anymore; she had to remember to bury the bottles in the garbage on pick up day.)
By now she was plotting to ensure that she had a constant supply. But she didn’t want everyone in her small town to know, so she alternated between liquor stores. She learned the liquor shop keepers’ schedules so as to make her purchases seem more spread out.
She invented reasons to go to the city: She needed some supplies from the craft store – and while she was at it she’d just slip into the liquor store next door.
When she went out with friends, she’d leave the restaurant to go to the package store next door under the guise of going to the ATM two doors down for cash.
She stopped on the way home from appointments in another town to “get wine for a friend who is unable to get a certain kind in the local store”, or because “Joan asked me to get it for her”.
She was constantly on the lookout for options, and excuses to go to new locations. She’d even gotten a purse large enough to accommodate two 1.5 liter bottles without splitting it out.
When she arrived home with her stash replenished, she was giddy with relief and anticipation.
At  the airport, during  layovers she sampled wine  from each bar within the  allotted time frame. She even tried once to smuggle a bottle onto the plane, but security made her get rid of it- “oh, no problem” as she nonchalantly deposited three liters of wine into the nearest garbage receptacle, cursing under her breath.
She dampened her husband’s suspicions by claiming that the alcohol he thought he smelled was the breath freshener she used; or that she was slurring because she was so exhausted and could scarcely keep her eyes open.
She stayed home when her children would go skiing, or hiking, or camping, or bowling with their father. 
Over the last two or three years she was spending as much as $60 a week, asking friends to pick up wine for a “romantic dinner”. She threw up a quart of wine that graced the toilet in it’s original form, and went back to the closet for a replacement slug.  
In the mornings over those last three months, as she stood at the bathroom mirror gazing into her mother’s eyes, she sensed her spirit presence day after day, as Mother seemed to nudge her left shoulder and breathe encouragement- Come on Girl, it’s time to pull yourself together. Girl, you can do this, it’s time…
But she couldn’t do it. She’d try. She would resolve to put an end to this hell. And she couldn’t make it beyond a day or two.
 Finally she realized that the only way she could do this was to let her husband (who had been in denial all those years) know that she was in trouble. But she didn’t know how to tell him.
So she hid her bottles where he would be certain to find them- in the cabinet with the cat food. He fed the cats every day; he couldn’t miss it.
After several days of dread filled walking on egg shells, she chickened out and moved the bottles.
Several days later, the dreaded confrontation happened as her husband angrily told her of his discovery. He was furious!
He insisted that she see an alcohol counselor; she told him she would if it became necessary. She was after all, a former substance abuse counselor- she knew the drill. Besides, seeking outside help would be so humiliating!
It became necessary.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross writes, “It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth- and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up- that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”
And so, she embarked on the long and difficult and blessed journey to recovery.

RDW 7-28-07

The Old Man and the Little Girl

As I understand it, her mother’s father died a painful death of esophageal cancer when she was two. Being a sensitive child, she felt for his pain and tried to soothe him with the white blanket which brought her so much comfort, patting him gently and singing softly as she covered his lap. Of course, she was too young to understand about death, and was bewildered by his absence when he passed on to the next world.

Her eldest sister, eight years older than she, doted on her, relieving her mother by taking her little sister in the stroller for a walk about the neighborhood. Occasionally they made the expedition to the center of town where she released the little girl to run about the common and watch the trains arrive and depart from the elevated station across the street. On one such adventure the sweet little blond spied an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife, sitting on a park bench, and mistook him for her beloved grandfather. Climbing into his lap, she threw her arms joyfully around his neck.

In the days that followed, the little girl and her sister would often see him on their jaunts downtown and they grew to become friends. Finally, one day at church, the girls’ parents met the grandfatherly soul they had heard so much about, and from that day forward he joined the family for Sunday dinner and the afternoon. When it was time for the children to go to bed, he would say goodbye and go back to his lonely existence until the following week.

As the years passed, he became the young girl’s special friend, and she the grandchild that he would never have. They saw each other several times a week as she grew old enough to venture downtown on her own, and he continued to join the family on Sundays. After dinner the old man and the little child would walk hand in hand downtown. They would go to Brigham’s ice cream parlor where he would enjoy a vanilla shake as he watched her eat her ice cream, and then lovingly clean up the sticky mess before resuming their walk. They visited the other shops in town, picking up candies and trinkets along the way.

As time passed, the man joined her family for holidays and other special events as well. To her delight she discovered that he was able to reliably predict the weather a week in advance. He was an avid fan of the Boston Red Sox, and drew her interest to follow the televised games on Sunday afternoons . When she was in fourth grade, she was assigned a research paper on the state’s capitol. Given that he had grown up in Boston, he dictated the whole thing, incorporating his life experience of the city, relieving her of the research that had been the intention of the assignment.

In the summer he sent the girl letters and postcards through General Delivery in the town closest to the family’s current vacation spot. Upon their return, he would greet her with his favorite song, Hello Dolly. Once, upon returning from a two week camping trip, the family was devastated learn of their elderly friend’s admission to the hospital. The girl accompanied her mother to the hospital for visiting hours, but broken-hearted, she remained in the lobby due to the age restrictions placed on visitors. After he became well enough to return home, he occasionally stopped by the house to pick his young friend up for one of the church suppers being held in the area, for that was often where he found his evening meal. Then one day he took the girl, her three sisters, and their caregiver, to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston, and it was with great alarm that the older woman reported that their friend was a danger behind the wheel.

As she grew older the girl became aware of the fact that she had him wrapped right around her little finger. All she had to do was gaze longingly at an object that drew her fancy and the following week it became hers: the beautiful orange and white gold fish, the adorable pink Easter bunny, the Kodak Instamatic camera in the drugstore. For her eleventh birthday, he presented her with a beautiful garnet ring.

As they each became older, he well into his eighties and she approaching puberty, their relationship began to change. Their Sunday afternoon walk became a game of hide and seek, the girl running ahead, hiding in a doorway or alley, heart thumping in suspense as he approached, peering into nooks and crannies along the block. It was terrifying.

He came to require a nap in the afternoon and sulked if the budding young woman wanted to spend time with girls her own age. Not wanting to hurt his feelings, she lay on her bed while he napped on her sister’s bed in the room they shared. As soon as his breathing deepened she would sneak away to her friend’s house and guiltily, fearfully stay away until it was time for supper, coming home to find him watching TV or reading the paper, clearly upset by her abandonment. As it came time for him to leave, rather than accepting a kiss on the cheek as he had always done, he wanted a kiss on the lips. “Oh, that was just a peck,” he would chide as she brushed his lips with her own, and in her confusion and disgust, she felt obligated accommodate him. As he left he would place into her hand three Cadbury Chocolate bars.

One afternoon, because her friends were going to the movies and she was required to stay at home to “entertain her guest”, filled with resentment, she reluctantly walked with him deep into the cemetery as they had done on occasion over the years. They sat on a park bench and he pulled her to him, kissing her wetly on the lips as she attempted to pull away. She was deeply humiliated when a couple walking by looked on intently, and even more so when the cruiser pulled up, the officer telling them to get into the car, he was taking them home.

The next day, the child was sent to spend several weeks with friends in another state. Upon the girl’s return home, her mother informed her that their friend would no longer be spending Sundays with them, as she had forbidden him to see her daughters. She was at once relieved, angry with her mother for having hurt his feelings, and deeply ashamed that she had somehow caused each of these people whom she loved dearly further humiliation.

As the weeks and months passed, the girl became intensely fearful of running into the man on the street during one of her trips to the center of town. When she did catch sight of him, she turned to flee in terror, dizzy, her eyesight dimming as she felt the blood rush out of her head, heart pounding in her throat.

That fall, she was admitted to the local hospital for exploratory surgery, resulting in an appendectomy. While recovering from the operation, she looked up to see the white haired man in his damp wool coat looming in the doorway, a large armful of pink gladiolas in sharp contrast to his black coat. He started to sing Hello Dolly, as he had so many times before. Despite the familiar panic sensation, she had the wherewithal to ask him to go to the coffee shop to get a strawberry frappe, and then pretended to be asleep when he came back. The next morning before dawn, the flowers having been placed in a glass vase on the counter across the room, inexplicably crashed to the floor, shattering the vase and ruining the flowers.

The following spring, he attended a concert in which she was a choral and orchestral participant. With a frightful gasp, she looked up to see him sitting in the second row. She left the stage for the bathroom, refusing to come out until the auditorium had been cleared. Slipping out the side door she peered around the corner of the building to see him waiting out front, the familiar panic seizing her as she rushed to hide in the back seat of family car.

That was the last time she saw him, for after that she rarely left her own neighborhood.

Eight years later, the girl having moved with her family to another state, was walking up the hill to the post office, when a sob caught her throat and she burst into tears for no reason. The next day she received a call from the man’s cousin informing her of his death at the precise moment she had broken down the previous day. He died a peaceful death: looking at family pictures, they began to slip out of his hand onto the floor, and he was gone. He had left one third of his estate to her, his cousin explained in bewilderment.

She attended his funeral with her older brother and sister. The officiating minister, who had not known the man, said that his favorite song had been God Bless America. But the girl knew better.   – RDW 6-19-07

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)