Sunday, January 15, 2012

Here's my answer

Denise left a thought-provoking comment yesterday, one which I've not been able to get out of my head. You can read her entire comment here, but the gist of it is this:

… what … would you tell your younger self
now that you have the wisdom of age?
(Aren't I so trendy, using Tangerine Tango to spruce up the question? Heh.)

I would begin the conversation at around age 12, and say emphatically that a woman doesn't need a man to be complete. We're fine just the way we are. Women can take care of themselves. Should you find yourself attracted to a man, enjoy the moment, but don't marry everyone you meet.

My grandmother scandalized the family by getting divorced when my mother, an only child, was 12, which coincided with the beginning of World War II. Grandma went to work for Sunshine Biscuits, making Krispy Saltines all day, while Grandpa went to the South Pacific. He remarried, had a daughter and got divorced before he left the Navy. And when he came back to Ohio, he and Grandma remarried. Crazy, I know.

But the message to my young self, when I learned about it, was this: Life is better with a man, even a man with a drinking problem, a terrible temper and a child by another woman. (Although I didn't know about that until after my grandmother died 10 years ago. She took that secret to her grave, and there are so many things I'd like to ask her, now that it's too late.)

This is not the place to go into details – probably a therapist's office is the only place to do that – but suffice it to say that neither my grandparents or my parents provided great examples of how to be married.

My mother married my father when she was 19. I was born when she was 20. She married a man just like her father, including the drinking and the temper and – the biggest incongruity of all – my dad was a career serviceman. I married when I was 18, had my daughter when I was almost 19 and married a man who was basically a good guy, but had a drinking problem. Instead of displaying his temper, he quit speaking to me and seethed. And because of his eyesight, he wasn't eligible for the draft. Therefore, I thought he was different.

I was part of a six-girl group all through junior high and high school. Our little gangette did everything together – football games, slumber parties, shopping trips, movies, the county fair, dances and chasing boys. We were all boy-crazy by the time we started seventh grade, and none of our mothers discouraged us. The boys were welcome at our parties, we picked them up to go to games, they were as much a part of our families as our siblings were. Of the six of us, two are still married to their first husbands, and those husbands were the guys they went steady with in high school.

I win the prize for most husbands in our group. My current one (that's what I call him, heh) is my fourth. I hope I've gotten it right this time. But if I haven't, the one thing I've learned is that I will be all right alone.

It's taken me 60 years to figure that out. I was a book-smart, talented, creative young woman who just didn't have the self-confidence to follow my dreams. Instead, I did what my female role models had done: married young and had children. My path was not the same as theirs. I guess their unhappy marriages offered me some guidance, but I'm not sure being a serial wife was the best reaction.

Well. I guess that question is out of my head now. As Denise said, I'm not sure my 16-year-old self would have believed whoever told me I would be okay without a guy backing me up. The fact is, it never occurred to me. My script was to grow up, get married, have babies and live happily ever after. Alcoholism changed the direction of the play from a lighthearted story to a tragedy. Recovery has changed it to a drama in which the heroine triumphs. Thank God for Alcoholics Anonymous. And no matter how it sounds reading this, I truly have no regrets.

I'd love to know your answer. What advice would you give to your younger self? How would your life be different if you'd followed it? I would have been a hippie, painting graffiti peace signs on abandoned buildings and wearing flowers in my hair. I would have been a writer or an artist or maybe even an actress. Instead, I was a bad wife and a horrible mother. It's a wonder my children survived. Thank God for their stepmother.

If you blog your answer, be sure to come back and leave a link in the comments. If you don't have a blog, feel free to highjack my comments and tell us what you wish someone had said to you when you were a girl.

Thanks for listening. Peace out.

1 comment:

  1. Wow - that's a very insightful answer. I'm not sure I can zero in on one specific answer to the question.

    I think what's haunted me about the segment on the show is the answer given by Donnie D. who said he would tell his 16-year-old self to not be so afraid. Specifically, he meant fear of failure.

    It resonated with me quite a bit because I've come to realize the last few years that I was raised to be afraid. My mother is a big "what if" kind of a person. She does not believe in taking risks in any way shape or form. I have allowed that to influence me much more than I wish I had. Any time anything out of the ordinary is discussed, it's "but what if this happens or what if that happens..."

    It makes me hesitate to take even the smallest risk - first because I'm predisposed to be afraid and assume the worst will likely happen. And, also because if by some chance it doesn't occur to me to be afraid or concerned about the outcome, I can pretty much count on my mother chiming in to point out al the reasons why it's so risky and bad thing to do.

    Now as I am well into my 50's, I look back and regret not being more adventuresome - not taking more chances - and wondering how much happier I could be or how much better a life I could have had if I had not been so afraid.

    So I would like to go back and tell my younger self to not be so afraid - of failing, of looking foolish, of what others think, of potential (and unlikely) consequences. To live with more joy and spontaneity and let the cards fall where they may!

    Not sure how my life would look today if I'd done that - can't even imagine it.

    ReplyDelete

We LOVE comments! Your turn!