If You Don't Laugh, You'll Cry - Laughing's Better!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Table for One

Do you have any idea how it feels to be a widow after having been married for forty years? I was widowed at age 62 just when my husband had retired, at age 65.
 I was married just after my twenty-third birthday. I remained married for almost 40 years.
In July of this year, I will have been a widow for 16 years.
My husband was a terrible hospital patient, and hated being in the hospital so much he drove everyone around him crazy. So when Tony was diagnosed with terminal cancer that had already metastasized to the bones, I promised to keep him at home. No hospital and no nursing home.
He lived five weeks after the diagnosis.
Dee and Bruce stayed with us as much as they could and Tony’s older brothers and their wives were in and out. All were a great help but most of the burden of Tony’s care was on me. I never left the house and just gave up on getting any sleep, since I had to give him his medication every hour. I called in the Hospice folks finally, and they were a great help the last three days of his life. I wished I’d had them all along, but none of us had any idea he would go so quickly.
After the memorial service, Dee was able to get reservations at a beach front condo, on St. Simons Island, near Brunswick, Ga. We spent several days there and I started to recover from the months of worry and nursing care for Tony.
It was there that I began the long process of widowhood.

At first my big house was like a cavity that needed filling – empty, painful. Tony had been such a ball of energy, a force of nature, and his absence was so very obvious. It was hard not to listen for his footstep, or the sound of his key in the door.
No human could have better or more caring children than I had, and still have, of course. At first, they were more worried about me than I was myself. I knew that some way I’d get it together and go on living, even though I’d never lived alone before.
When one gets past all the mundane problems of taking care of a house and pool, plus the bills and business aspects, there is still an emptiness that defines widowhood. What is left is people.
I expected the many friends and family members in our social circle to remain my friends. I didn’t expect my social life to change much, if at all. I was so wrong. At times, the changed attitudes towards me were almost overwhelming.
Couples we’d been friends with, couples who we were related to, many of them just faded into the woodwork.
It had never occurred to me that being a widow meant that I would automatically lose many of my friendships. I felt very left out at social occasions too, until I just quit going to many of them without Tony around to escort me.
I don’t see well to drive at night and going home alone at night was scary for me. I’m not sure I could have done that without my big black Lab mix and my .38. Also, I had a good security system but the feeling of being totally alone was eerie. I only watch the news on TV but got where I left it on just to make it seem not so lonely. Some nights, I played the piano half the night and cried.
Now, not all our friendships were changed. There were two couples who were very kind and included me in some of their activities after Tony died.
One couple went to the beach with me, to my timeshare condo, several times. I have many good memories of meals and get-togethers with them at their Augusta home. That wife and I had met as freshmen at UGA, so we go back a ways.
Another couple, also old friends, made a point of including me in some of their activities, and took some care to make me feel welcomed and included. Unfortunately, both the husband and wife have now passed away.
Right after Tony died, I changed churches in order to go to a small church near my home. It was a good move and I made friends with other women who were alone.
Being single again made me a target of jealousy, which was baffling to me. At no time have I wanted to remarry, or even date. I certainly don’t flirt. I don’t call up husbands to ask advice, or for any reason. I don’t go to lunch with married men. With that said, some women have a possessive attitude that is difficult to understand, even some relatives. Here in Atlanta, I even attended a church for a while where I was ostracized by wives (in my age group) when I so much as said “Good morning” to their husbands!
When Tony was living, we often included women who were widowed or divorced in our socializing plans and both of us enjoyed their company. However, I don’t have a jealous bone in my body, unlike some people I know.
Not long after Tony died, I was invited to a party at the home of a relative of Tony’s. I went and spoke to my hostess, and then I was ignored for the entire evening. I left and went home and nobody even noticed. That was a rude and painful introduction to the ostracism of widowhood.
These days, I enjoy living with Dee and her son. Bruce comes to visit when he can, for birthdays and holidays, and if we need him for some reason.  I want to remain physically close to my children, and I wouldn’t dream of moving far away from them. They take care of me, and I take care of them, in tangible and intangible ways. We enjoy being together as a family, albeit a small one. We think it’s particularly important for Dee’s children to feel part of a close and loving family. I find it puzzling when seniors choose to live far away from their children.
I feel so fortunate to be close to my children.
For those couples who are still together, walk a mile in my shoes. How would you feel if you lost friends because you were no longer part of a couple? How can you call yourself a Christian and yet turn away from widows and divorcees who were formerly your friends?
Sometimes I feel an innate sadness that I am not seen as a person in my own right, by people who know me well. Now I understand the Indian custom of suttee, where the widows throw themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre.
And, before you are critical of my closeness to my children, remember that I do not have a husband to celebrate holidays with, and escort me to events. My children and grandchildren help me feel less alone. I certainly don’t wish on anyone the pain of being alone but I long for more tolerance.
 Michael and I at his baptism in the fall of 2010.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Handling Kids

Not long ago, someone said to me, ”You really don’t like kids, do you?” I was startled at first, then thought of a bunch of flip answers. Well, perhaps not, I thought. Obviously, that explains why I taught Sunday School, music, voice, first grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, Girl Scouts, was a Room Mother for 12 years [sometimes in two rooms] and taught all the music for Bible School at our church for several summers. I have a major in Education and a minor in Child Psychology etc…..    And, yes, it’s true, I don’t always like all children, all the time. I do like all children, most of the time – but, hey, don’t push it. I didn’t even like my husband all the time!

In dealing with groups, supreme self confidence is helpful and I suppose I have that. Kids need to know that you are tough enough to handle whatever comes along. Don’t let them know you are quaking in your boots. 
And NEVER beg! A woman who taught across the hall from me, used to do that--- “please get in your seats, please get quiet etc.” The kids ignored her so she’d come get me to make them behave. I never did a thing but walk into the room with my arms folded and look at them.
Like horses and dogs, kids smell fear. Never show fear. If you have to, Fake it Til You make It.
When my children were growing up, I found that my favorite age child was about the same ages of my own children. However, I dreaded the teen years and wondered how I was going to survive them. My kids were not perfect, there were a few bumps in the road, but for the most part, they were very happy years for me.
More recently, I’ve been spending time with my teen grands. Oh my, how times have changed! One afternoon, I casually offered an opinion, I think on contraception, to my granddaughter. She just hooted,” Granny, you don’t know anything about sex!” I opined that she’d best think about that because her uncle ain’t Jesus.
I’ve already advised our 15 yr old that his mother and I will get a lot smarter as he matures a bit.
The easiest way to learn about your kids is to carpool. The back seat crowd just assumes that the driver is deaf. You hear lots of tidbits if you don’t act like you hear them.
When my son was in kindergarten, from the backseat I heard this exchange between my son and the little son of a prominent clergyman . My son, “ My dad could whip your dad in a fight.” Thoughtful reply, ”He probably could but my mom could really beat your mom.” Thank heaven, we never put it to a test. However, I gained a healthy respect for that lovely mother, that day.
When I was teaching 5th grade, I was clearing off my desk, after school, one day, when this tall woman came striding into my schoolroom. She had those big, fat, pink rollers in her hair and she was furious. “Mrs. Thompson, you give entirely too much homework! Bonnie has piano on Monday afternoon, ballet on Tuesday, youth group on Wednesday, art appreciation on Thursday, tap on Friday, skating on Saturday, and most of the day is spent at church on Sundays. 
Wow. I took a deep breath, and explained that the “work” of children, is school and suggested she let Bonnie chose one or two activities – then drop the rest or save them for summer vacation. Well, the mom flounced out of my room and I did not reduce the amount of homework. I had thirty-five students that year and I needed them to do some work at home so I could be sure they understood it or practiced it a little. Fifth grade, back then, was a hard grade plus I was a hard teacher. I had no helper and I taught every subject plus art, music, and PE. I was also the school nurse because I was the only teacher who had taken the Red Cross first aid classes. 
Several years later, the same woman stopped me on a downtown street and thanked me. She said Bonnie never had trouble in school after she was in my room, because I’d forced the child to learn how to study. That pretty much made it all worthwhile.   
By the way, if a child shows you something they have built or drawn, never ask what it is. You may say, tell me about it – or, nice lines, or colors, or “I think puce and red are interesting together.” But, this is where they’ll trick you - they may say something along the lines of, what do YOU think it is? Here is your answer so be prepared: when I was in the museum of modern art, in Boston. I saw a painting [or whatever] that looked very much like this. Perhaps we can find it on the computer etc.  Sometimes they’ll say, it’s not really anything  --- then you call it a design etc.
If a child tells you about his pictures that describe a person, child, or animal, being hurt, pay very careful attention. Sometimes this is a child’s way of asking for help, so be aware. It may mean nothing more than a violent movie or comic book. Just be his friend and be a very good listener.
Really, the bottom line in dealing with children is to listen to them. Let them tell you what happened. Most of the time they are truthful and often, they just want you to care about them. 
Now that I think about it, that works for all ages, doesn’t it?