I'm posting from Freeland, WA, on Whidbey Island. Last family vacation of the summer. As a bonus, I am staying an extra day...alone. To write and read and walk on the beach. The beach condo on Mutiny Bay that I've rented from a friend has no Internet service, which is a lovely blessing.Thanks to the Island County library system, I am able to reach you.
Here is the first of the exercises from the book, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued by Susan O'Doherty. She asks me to draw a picture of the person who was my primary caregiver when I was a child, with a dialogue bubble starting with the words, "Girls should..." At first I had an image of my mother, but then I had an image of my husband! Instead of freaking out, I went with both. Here is what I wrote:
My primary caregiver then...
[drawing of my haggard mom with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, a frazzled perm, and a dialogue bubble]
"Girls should be pretty and well groomed. You want to be able to attract a man. It's important to be sexy. Iron your clothes, make sure your hair's clean, and use proper English."
Both of my mom's parents had come from homes with no stability or safety. Together, they raised a family that tended to be one paycheck away from broke, but strived to be clean and respectable. It was a point of pride to have a spic and span house, to owe no favors or debts. They were quite strict about boundaries and limits, even when it came what one was allowed to ask for in life. Especially then. About being so strict, my grandma told me, "My mother didn't know what all I did when I was girl. I rode the street cars all over Oakland and San Francisco when I was ten, twelve years old. When I had children [at 16], I wanted them to know that someone gave a damn about them."
My primary caregiver now...
[drawing of my husband with a mild expression and dialogue bubble]
"Girls should enjoy being wives and mothers."
His mother was quite stoic and I don't believe he had any idea how unhappy she was. They don't complain in his family. When I'm with them in Boston I pick up on their sense of duty and repressed conflict. It's one of the things I actually found refreshing when I met them.
In the interest of fair representation, I must point out that my husband is supportive and wonderful. But we had to work to get to a place where it was okay for me to blow off steam about the kids or struggle openly with postpartum life. I don't think he witnessed this kind of thing as a kid.