Family Relationships

Join other women in the sandwich generation - share ideas and solutions as you learn to nourish family relationships without starving yourself.

Friday, May 29, 2009

NourishingRelationship and HerMentorCenter Readers Weigh In

Readers of our blog and our website,, have been having a spirited discussion since yesterday with Patsy Harman, author of "The Blue Cotton Gown." It continues today through the comment section of our blog. Please feel free to keep on sending in your opinions and questions. And our thanks to Patsy for being so generous with her time.

You can still read in full all of the responses that came in through yesterday's "comment" link. Here's a sampling of just some of them:

NR Reader: I loved your book, Patsy, and talking to you as well. Amazed by your candid writing about not only your own reactions regarding your patients, but your own relationship with your rather amazing sounding husband, too . . .a very touching and heartfelt book. Thank you for writing it.

NR Reader: What was the nicest experience you had with one of your patients? How about the scariest one?

PH: Recently a patient told me she really liked my book, "The Blue Cotton Gown"...This was the best review I ever got...I laughed, I cried, I was inspired. Is that sweet or what? The worst experience I've had...too many to mention. Babies that died, teens that overdosed, women that were abused. It is a hard world out there. I do what I can. Patsy

NR Reader: I've been wanting to go back to school to study for a degree in nutrition but I'm afraid that I'm too old. How old were you when you went back to school to become a midwife? Was it hard to compete with younger students? Could you keep up with all the reading and the assignments? I worry that I will become overwhelmed by my classes and not be able to set aside the time I need to concentrate on them with all that is going on in my family life. How did you make it work for you?

PH: I had three kids. I was 37 when I went back to become an RN and graduated with my masters when I was 41. Midwifery is really physically demanding, but I have a lot of energy so I was ok. I also love to study.

If you haven't been in school for a while, I would just look up the courses that are part of the major you are interested in. Maybe take a few classes at a community college. I bet you will do fine. You might even do better than some of the younger students because they are out partying. Never give up on your dreams. Patsy

PH: The life of a working mother is really stressful and with the economic crisis in the US and the rest of the world it's not getting better for any of us, guys included. We need to give each other all the support we can. Peace, Patsy

If you want to have more of these kinds of sessions, please add your comments here or email us at And visit our website by clicking on either the title above or on the first link on the left below, "Her Mentor Center."

You can sign up for our newsletter, Stepping Stones, by clicking on the link below marked "FREE Newsletter." We send subscribers a monthly newsletter that focuses on helpful strategies for coping with personal and family issues - especially in these trying times. Our May newsletter gave tips about how mothers-in-law can improve their relationships and learn from President Obama's MIL. Our June Stepping Stones will highlight how Susan Boyle, an unlikely role model, can be a guide to an emphasis on inner beauty and nourishing oneself.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Blue Cotton Gown

Today we are happy to welcome to our blog Patricia Harman. She is a nurse and midwife and, with her husband OB/GYN Tom Harman, is the founder of a women's health clinic in West Virginia. A first-time author, her memoir immediately went to several best-seller lists. "The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir" celebrates the women who she sees in their blue cotton gowns in the examining rooms. She shares their stories as well as her own very personal journey.

NR: "The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir" is a book about women in trouble. Why did you write this book?

PH: I've always been so impressed with the courage of the ordinary women. Patients of all walks of life come into my exam room and I ask them, "So how are you doing? How's your stress level?" At first they may make a joke about it. "Oh, terrible, but isn't everyone's…." But then I draw my rolling exam stool forward and they tell me their stories. I leave the exam room shaken and in awe by the very difficult situations women are in and the courage they have to have just to march on. Since I had insomnia, I began to get up at night and write down their stories. I felt there was something majestic about them. These women, with all their imperfections, are like all of us, and they're my heroes.

NR: Who is "The Blue Cotton Gown" written for?

PH: I wrote "The Blue Cotton Gown" primarily for other women, but the men that have picked it up have been fascinated. That's partly because one of the male protagonist is my husband, a mild mannered physician, who like the women in the stories has his own troubles. I think, in addition to women of all ages, the book is interesting to health care providers because it illuminates some of the difficulties of trying to maintain a private practice in the midst of a health care system in crisis.

NR: Did it concern you that you might say more about your patients than they would want you to?

PH: I went to great lengths to disguise each patient. If you were an Asian Teacher I'd make you a Hispanic Bank President. I also let each major patient read her own chapters to see if she wanted them to be in the book, or if she wanted me to change anything. Not one said no. One women spoke for them all when she told me, 'If my story can help another woman not feel alone, I want it to be in there.'

NR: Of all the many problems that women have, and that you address in the book, what strikes you as the most difficult?

PH: Women carry great burdens, often in silence. When I ask patients about their stress level, most of the time it is a 9 or 10. This is not good for their health. I am also concerned that women have so little support and feel alone. All this affects their health. Women take care of everyone else and themselves last.

NR: How did you decide which women to write about?

PH: I chose women who came back to the office several times over the course of a year and women of all ages so there's someone in "The Blue Cotton Gown" that every reader can relate to.

NR: Most people think of nurse-midwives as providers that deliver babies, but you're taking care of women who aren't pregnant, is that unusual for a midwife?

PH: Traditionally midwives did only deliver babies and give care in the prenatal and postnatal period but more and more women see their nurse-midwives for gynecology because they appreciate the respectful, gentle and holistic approach they provide. I have patients that are 10 and patients that are 80.

NR: The book has a lot of information about you and your family. How did your husband, Dr. Harman, and your sons feel about this?

PH: My husband Tom is my partner and back-up physician in our practice. I didn't start out to write about myself, or the practice, the health care system or our marriage and family, but it turned out to be an integral part of "The Blue Cotton Gown." Our story is interwoven with the stories of patients. Tom and my boys were incredibly generous in letting me write about our difficulties and our love. I guess we all believe that honesty is the best policy and that people can learn from other's experiences.

NR: What's been the most rewarding thing about writing and getting "The Blue Cotton Gown" published?

PH: The letters from readers. "The Blue Cotton Gown" celebrates the courage of the ordinary women and all professionals who struggles to survive with their souls intact. I get emails every day from readers who are touched by the book. It makes a difference to their lives.

NR: Thank you, Patsy, for sharing your personal story along with those of your patients.

Readers and Sandwiched Boomers, if you have any questions for Patsy - about how women cope with their medical challenges, her reactions to the stories she's heard, her own personal challenges, or even the process of writing such an intimate book, please click on "Comments" and let us hear from you. Patsy will give you her feedback tomorrow.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Stepmothers are People Too

Several weeks ago, as the blog focused on grandmothering, we wrote about how to move into the role of a step-grandmother - with patience, flexibility, love and realistic expectations. Some comments came in from stepmothers, who have the same kinds of issues with their new families. They wondered if their relationships can be helped by the same kind of approach.

With the continuing sizeable divorce rate, stepmothers now out number intact mothers in the United States. The step-moms in these blended families generally face far more tension with the children than do the step-dads. Especially difficult is the relationship between a stepmother and her teenage stepdaughter, particularly if the daughter's birth mother is still emotionally fragile concerning the divorce. The daughter is likely to reflect her mother's behavior and resentment as she relates to her stepmother.

So how can a step-mom improve the relationships with her husband's children? Getting a running start from the dad sure helps. When he sets the tone for acceptance, inclusion and respect the children are more likely to see the couple as a lasting team. Make it clear that you do not intend to try to replace the children's birth mother, but instead to be another loving figure in their lives. Then, as with step-grandmothering, don't attempt to rush things - be patient and the children will eventually come to you. Focus on learning about them and soon they will want to share more of their lives with you.

We'll address more about this difficult subject on the blog next month. In the meantime, you can read about one stepmother's experiences on our website, www.HerMentorCenter. Simply click on the title above "Stepmothers are People too," and it will take you to a story in one of our newsletter. To return here to the blog, click back on "Blog."

And tune in tomorrow for our visit with Patricia Harman, author of "The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir."

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Diverse Women

Visiting the Veterans Cemetery yesterday to honor our brave servicemen and women, I was struck by the diversity of the names on the graves. Men and women from all kinds of backgrounds had served and died together through the years and are forever joined together in this burial ground. While we continue to struggle today with enriching our country by such diversity - ethnic, gender, religious, social, economic - our troops have already learned that they can count on each other, no matter what their origins are. Nowhere is the view of the United States as a melting pot - or tossed salad - more visible than at a veterans' cemetery.

This inclusion of varied personal circumstances and experiences is reflected in the news today. Judge Sonia Sotomayor has been chosen by President Obama to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. If confirmed by Congress, she will become the third female justice chosen to serve on the Court, the second woman on the current Court. Now an Appeals Court judge, Sotomayor will be the first justice of Hispanic descent, having a Puerto Rican heritage. Raised by a widowed mother, her credentials include an undergraduate degree from Princeton and a law degree from Yale. Her nomination signals an emphasis on including qualified minorities in our nation's structure.

As a woman, maybe even a Sandwiched Boomer, facing your own challenges on a daily basis, caring for aging parents and growing children, what message does her nomination send? Can you too draw on your strengths as you struggle to make your personal mark? Let us hear from you, at or here at, about what this nomination means to you.

Today other unique women with different backgrounds are also in the news - over the weekend, Susan Boyle made it to the finals of the "Britain's Got Talent" competition, singing "Memories" from Cats and Amelia Earhart, brought to life by Amy Adams, soared in "Night at the Museum," which was number one at the box office. Can you use these women as your role models as you develop the resilience to thrive after facing your own challenges and difficulties? To get some tips about how to do just this, click on the title above to take you to our article on Susan Boyle.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Honoring Our Fallen Soldiers on Memorial Day

We respectfully remember today those who have fallen in service to our country, those who have served and returned, and those who are currently in harm's way in our defense. Please join as we express our gratitude to these brave young men and women.

To read about how observances of Memorial Day and Veterans Day can positively impact you and your family relationships, please click on the title above.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Families Together

Another mother-in-law has contacted us about her experiences with her children-in-law. Susan Lieberman has written a book about the process of improving relationships with sons- and daughters-in-law. We plan to host her on our blog in the future so stay tuned.

With Memorial Day coming on Monday, we salute those families who have a loved one serving in the Armed Forces and honor with respect those who have lost a family member in service to our country. Please join with us in celebrating the lives of these brave men and women.

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day in reference to placing flags on the graves of the fallen, has been observed since 1868 when it commemorated those who gave their lives in the Civil War. It has been a national holiday in the United States since 1971. Like Veterans' Day, it reminds us of the meaning of life and the value of family.

To read more about how a tribute to the sacrifice of veterans can guide us in our daily lives with loved ones, click on the title above to take you to an article on our website.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tips for Building Good In-Law Relationships

All week we have been talking about the challenges and joys of becoming a mother-in-law. If you feel your only choices are to keep your mouth shut or walk on eggshells when you are around your married offspring and their partners, think again. Our tips about improving the relationships with your children-in-law can also help cement good feelings with your adult children.

Here are some brief suggestions that we discuss in more detail on our website. Click on the title above to take you to where you can read more.

Be patient and give the relationship time to grow.

Give up your expectations about how "the kids" should relate to you.

Recognize and accept that your married children and their partners have the right to a different perspective.

Respect, and don't over-step, the boundaries as the new couple sets their own ground rules.

Get to know your children-in-law better. Work to form a personal connection with each of them.

Don't initiate competition by supporting your offspring over your son- or daughter-in-law.

Help out when you can, but ask first.

Choose your battles. You don't have to fight over every issue.

Share your frustrations with your friends and your love with your children

Create new outlets for yourself. See this time in life as a chance to develop.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Love and Children-in-Law

Yesterday we talked about some qualities to draw on as you settle into a relationship with the ones your children have chosen as life partners. We suggested respect, patience, acceptance and love as models to follow as you take on the role of mother-in-law.

One of our readers commented about how she has learned to move through this dynamic relationship - letting go of her preconceived set of ideas about how her adult children should choose to live their lives and how they decide to relate to her. And, as a result, giving up her belief that her way is the only right way.

What do you think? Is it hard for you to maintain a balance between holding back your opinions and being true to the person you authentically are? How do you do it? What guides you as you do? Support your fellow MILs by sharing your stories of success.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Respectful Mothers-in-Law Create Meaningful Bonds

Reading through some of the comments we've gotten from you, our readers, we are again struck by the wisdom and sensitivity of women. The theme of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, as Aretha Franklin put it, dominates the way successful mothers-in-law relate to their offspring and their partners. When we consider the relationship from the eyes of our children and look at the challenges they face, we can focus on how they are maturing rather than on how we are coping with their development. Their growth can give us a sense of pride and satisfaction when we view them as the fellow adults they have become.

As one MIL put it, "Becoming a new mother-in-law last August, I would say that there are subtle changes in a mother's relationship with her child as well as that child's new spouse. Basically, the focus for them becomes their relationship with each other, and this changes the relationships with their families of origin. As parents, we must recognize this fact and respect their new challenges and priorities. It may be painful in ways to release a primary relationship with one's child -- almost like 'empty nest' again -- but I don't believe being married lessens their love, just their priorities."

Thinking back to the time you were a bride and daughter-in-law yourself can remind you about the needs of the new couple and provide some ideas about how to move forward in transforming your relationship. A MIL continues, "I know I will miss my time alone with my child, but I can also make occasional efforts to arrange some special time, knowing that possibly my child would also occasionally appreciate some private time with me. I often reflect on how I felt in relation to my parents after getting married -- and this gives me new insights into how my getting married affected them! It boils down to experiences and emotions every generation shares."

Another MIL, who was coping with the resistance of one of her children to accept the same-sex partner of another, received these words of support from a reader: "I know the other son will come around. We have friends with a gay son whose oldest son was quite discriminating at first and who now loves and understands his younger brother. I am learning that change takes time and patience."

This MIL also focused on some of the positives that come from having a good relationship with children-in-law, noting: "I have to say that my daughter's partner has allowed and even encouraged our daughter to see her parents in a new light. Our new daughter-in-law loves and appreciates who we are and this has given our daughter a new love for the people who raised her."

So, son-in-law or daughter-in-law, same-sex or opposite sex partner, the issues are often the same. And the solutions too - respect, patience, acceptance, and most of all, love.

Please continue to send in your stories and comments so we can share them with other MILs out there!

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Monday, May 18, 2009

Mothers-in-Law Speak Up

Our recent Stepping Stones newsletter generated a flurry of readers' comments - not surprising since the topic was mothers-in-law. That's been a hot-button relationship since the beginning of time. We appreciate hearing from our readers and decided to open the discussion about in-law relationships to all of you on our blog this week.

You'll find a sampling of the responses below - feel free to weigh in on them yourselves. And send in your personal stories about getting along with your own mother-in-law or about your relations with your daughters-in-law and sons-in-law.

We focused the May newsletter, in honor of mother's day, on getting along with sons-in-law. A prime example is Marian Robinson, who made news by living under the same roof - in the White House - as her son-in-law, President Obama. Yet many of issues we talk about and the tips we provide in that newsletter apply to daughters-in-law as well as to sons-in-law.

One young woman thought she recognized her own family dynamics in some of the tips: "I felt like my husband was an example of the what to do/not to do with a mother-in-law. Interesting timing for such an article given some of the recent joys and tensions we've experienced."

A mother-in-law also wrote that she found the newsletter topic timely: "Interesting I could read this just now. My daughter-in-law has a less than stellar attitude about me. We just sent the kids some fun gifts for their anniversary. My husband said we shouldn't force our attentions on them. I said that her attitude shouldn't influence how we naturally are. So we sent them. I don't know how she took it, but we got a call from our son. He appreciated. So, GO for it, Mrs. Obama's mother! I hope she does something good for us all."

We were especially touched by the following comment: "I love receiving your online newsletter and enjoy the ideas, suggestions and articles. In this current newsletter you talk about being a 
mother-in-law. I would like to encourage more "inclusion" when you address 
this and future such topics. I am a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians 
and Gays) mother and extremely supportive of my Lesbian daughter and her 
new partner. I have a new daughter-in-law and I couldn't love and 
appreciate anyone more than I do her. Thanks for considering my point of 

We would like to hear from other mothers of gay and lesbian children about your experiences with your children's partners. We'll talk more about this during the week. 

Another woman with a daughter-in-law wrote in asking for more tips about how to improve their relationship. "I'm a new mother-in-law ... to my son's new wife! I'm a little surprised that your advice in the newsletter on becoming a mother-in-law is only focused on becoming one to a male spouse of a daughter."

If you are also wondering about getting along with a daughter-in-law, you can find an article we wrote about this by clicking on the title above. It will take you to our website, and an article in the Expanding Family section of Nourishing Relationships entitled, "From Baby Boomer to Mother-in-Law: How to Play Your New Role." It talks about the issues that commonly come up in the relationship with a daughter-in-law and gives some tips about relating better.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

NABBW TELESEMINAR: Irritable Male Syndrome and Midlife - Rites of Passages for the Men in Your Life

National Association of Baby Boomer Women two-part Teleseminar:

Tuesday May 19, 2009
3:00 PM (EST)

Jed Diamond, PhD

Author of Male Menopause and The Irritable Male Syndrome. With over 40 years as a licensed psychotherapist, Jed Diamond has been a consultant for business executives who want to use the mid-life passage to achieve life-long personal and professional success. He is Director of the, a program that helps men live long and well. Since its inception, Jed has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men's Health Network. He is also a member of the International Society for the Study of the Aging Male and serves as a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Men's Health.

In this teleseminar, you'll learn:

* The difference between male menopause, a mid-life crisis, and aging.
* The Irritable Male Syndrome - what it is and how to cope.
* Three things mid-life men need to know to stay healthy and live well.
* The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome: Why midlife men turn mean.
* What is depression and why it's vital to understand it.
* The four key causes of male depression and aggression.
* Suicide: Why it is a predominantly male problem.
* Why men die sooner and live sicker: And what you can do about it.
* How to Bring your irritable man back to life.
* Are men an endangered species?
* Five mistakes women make and ways to get through to a man in denial.

Register for the call by clicking on the title of this post.

PART II - Questions and Answers will follow
Tuesday May 26, 2009
3:00 PM (EST)

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Friday, May 15, 2009

PART 5 - Thelma and Her Daughter Together

In years to come, Joanna never said a word to her mother about the incident, even though she did marry Clive. At the wedding Thelma vowed sobriety to herself so strictly that she ended up completely plastered by nine in the evening, lying in the arms of a man dressed in a green suit, who suggested that they engage in lewd acts in the back seat of his Toyota.

The marriage lasted just under a year. Joanna could not find a job as a professor and so became a real estate agent in Oakland, California, where she makes a quarter of a million dollars a year. Thelma, Rafe and Ginny continue hopeful, intense and concentrated on that big win just around the corner. No one has heard from Clive since, though Rafe occasionally dredges up faint memories of the man with the mole when he mutters, usually after a losing day at the track, "How's Clyde?"

Joanna calls her mother every Sunday.

A. R. Taylor is an award-winning playwright, essayist, and writer of fiction. In her book Male Novelists and Their Female Voices: Literary Masquerades, she explores gender-bending narratives and what they reveal about male attitudes toward women. She received two Emmys for her work in public television, and has, just recently, finished a novel called Sex, Rain, and Cold Fusion.

You can learn more about A. R. Taylor's work by visiting her website, Click on the title of this post to enjoy a comic introduction to Anne's upcoming book.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Part 4 - Thelma’s Legacy

"What do you do, Mrs. Ryan?" Mrs. Huntley asked.

These people looked as if they spent most of their time inspecting the leather bindings on their books. What could she say, that if she had a big winner in the ninth she was going to buy a microwave?

"I manage my investments." Joanna looked over at her mother as she said this and smiled.

Dinner proceeded with bursts of conversation, then silence. Thelma lost track of exactly how many glasses of wine she had drunk, but still felt that she could focus adequately.

She was staring into a large black and white photograph of a bald man with a mustache. He smiled benignly.

"Who is that man, and the man in the large poster near the door?" Thelma asked Clive.

"Lenin is by the door, and that's Freud, across from you," Clive said, as if any dinner guest of his should not have asked the question.

Thelma stared at Freud. "Are you a communist, Clive?" Thelma asked stiffly.

Joanna started and then said, "Mother, really, people can like Lenin without being communists."

"Mother Ryan, that is an interesting question." Thelma knew right then that there would be nothing interesting about it.

"One's political persuasions are so rarely truly probed." I bet we're going to probe this one, Thelma thought.

"Political inclinations do relate to one's sexuality, one's economic status--," he went on.

Mrs. Huntley, who seemed, at least to Thelma's wine soaked eyes, a tad juiced herself, suddenly said, loudly, "People rarely entertain like this anymore. Do you entertain, Mrs. Ryan?"

A silence fell.

"No Mother Huntley, I don't much these days, not since my husband died." There was a pause. "I'm afraid that people might pour wine down my organ."

Mr. Huntley giggled, and Joanna, who had learned to expect anything out of her mother's lips, said softly, "Mother has a small organ that my grandfather gave to us. He was a missionary in Ethiopia."

"How lovely for you. But why would anyone pour wine down it?"

"Wine leads to that sort of thing, I think," Thelma muttered, conscious that she was now not sure where the wine was leading her. She had reached a state where she was a little shaky, where every word called for concentration and energy, so that lips would form them without slurring.

After dinner, drinks were served, and Clive bustled about, talking all the while of ideology, politics, poets, poetics, hermeneutics, a word that made Thelma want to grind her teeth. In fact, maybe she had made some funny noises with her teeth. Thelma was at the stage in her drinking in which she thought of doing things and then wondered if she had actually done them.

"Estate planning is crucial, really, and something mother and I have worked on together, as a team," Mr. Huntley went on. "We are quite a team," and he patted the fat bump on top of her stomach.

"I'm leaving my entire estate to Joanna," Thelma said proudly, and then realized that her estate would probably be the organ and the Oster blender she had had for twenty-five years.

Clive laughed and said, "Oh don't do that, Mother Ryan, we will just have to take them to the dump."

No one laughed but Clive, who experienced his wit as immediate and incisive. In the silence, though, he felt shock, not applause. Joanna went around to Thelma's chair. "It was just a joke, Mother," she turned slightly toward him, "He didn't mean anything by it."

Thelma laughed self-consciously, but then felt the kind of rage rising that she knew was very dangerous. She looked back at Joanna, in her black stockings and sensible beige skirt. So sweet, so serious, a young woman of purpose, of intellect, and very kind. In her drunken state Thelma was inordinately proud of the wonderful beauty of this fine girl, this person of substance.

How in the world had she sprung from the besotted loins of Frank and Thelma Ryan? Another wave of rage swept over her, and she knew she was descending into the madness that exists only over the edge, down into the bitter dark gall that ran inside, burning her, heavy, like molten lead. I can't lose her, not to them, she thought. She knew she was going to do it, she felt herself thinking of doing it, and then she did it.

She picked up the crystal wine glass and hurled it against the wall, where the brownish liquid splattered like dark blood.

Thelma heard someone yelling, it must have been herself; "You are not good enough to fuck my daughter in the ass."

Join us tomorrow to find out how Anne's story ends.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

PART 3 - Thelma's Drinking

"Clive, what the hell you mean, it's got to be Clyde, I'm tellin' you definitely. It's Clyde," Rafe pronounced,

"Rafe, I do think you might admit that my own daughter knows the name of her fiancé better than you do."

"Hell she do, you don't know, he could be shittin' her. It's Clyde."

Rafe, Ginny and Thelma were bound together by dreams, by the concentrations and obsessions of the gambler. Rarely did their conversation include anything external to those dreams.

"It is Clive Huntley, I'm telling you."

"It sounds like a name out of a play," Ginny muttered as she looked at the next day's racing form. "You know, 'bring me my whiskey and soda, Clive.'"

"It's Clyde," Rafe insisted.

"Rafe, I'm going to hit you in a minute," Thelma said angrily, as she took a big gulp of Jack Daniel's.

"Bring me my whiskey and soda, Clyde," Rafe said, looking down at several names he had circled in the paper.

"That does it, that really takes it. It's bad enough that she's marrying this guy, and now you keep saying he's Clyde. What if I said your name was Rade instead of Rafe?"

"It's not, it's Rave."

"Oh Christ," Thelma yelled. "First I'm listening to poetry about penises, then I'm talking to a deranged black man about names. Do I need this?"

Thelma walked a bit shakily up the steps to Clive's apartment, one of those Berkeley places she considered picturesque, with plants and trees twining around the top step. She had cut down on her alcohol consumption that day, knowing that she should be somewhat more in charge of herself. Thelma always looked a bit wispy and startled, but this evening her blonde-grey hair curled neatly around her face. She had on her best lilac dress. Lilac, the color of the soul, she thought as she had fastened the small buttons down the back.

It was a three-room apartment, and as Thelma entered, she glanced at a life-sized poster of a man with mustache, cap, and a generally gloomy visage. Mr. and Mrs. Huntley were already there. They rose graciously. Thelma lurched towards them out of nervousness and shook their hands rather harder than she should have, then backed down onto a chair.

"What would you like to drink, Mother Ryan," Clive asked with a too cheerful smile.
Thelma was so startled by the Mother bit that she giggled, imagining herself on a broomstick.

"What are you having?" Thelma asked as if she barely touched the stuff.

"White wine, that is, I think we are," and Clive looked around at everyone for confirmation. They all nodded.

"That'll be fine for me too, then." Goddamn, she thought. I should have known it, white wine drinkers.

The conversation had been interrupted by her arrival, and now Joanna started it up again, something about political systems and their relationship to ideology. Thelma now had a good chance to check out the Huntleys. The Mister was a bit portly, with grey hair and grey suit, altogether grey, period. Mrs. Huntley was something else again, short, not attractive, not colorful, unsmiling - she did have a small lump of a stomach that bulged just beneath the top band of her navy blue wool dress. Thelma hated stomachs like that and had often wondered what it would be like to carry around something bulgy like that up front. But then she couldn't hate her for her stomach, could she?

Another glass of wine was poured. Joanna was smiling at her, and once again Thelma vowed that she would not go over the edge - no going over the edge, no sir.

"The state of modern criticism, I'm talking now about hermeneutics, Marxist criticism, deconstruction - it's very healthy, active, a major contribution to the dialectic of modern thought," Clive intoned solemnly. Thelma stared at a white, hairy mole on the left side of his chin. What a pasty little man, with short, stubby fingers that looked like a baby's.

Mr. and Mrs. Huntley seemed to know what he was talking about and nodded. Joanna was in the kitchen, and wonderful warm, meaty smells were coming out through the door. Thelma looked around. The room was completely surrounded by bookshelves lined with books. Every book appeared to be arranged alphabetically. She glanced down at a shelf of records near her chair - all in order there too. For a moment, Thelma was stricken with a weird sort of awe.

Join us tomorrow for Part 4 of Anne's story.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

PART 2 - Thelma's Daughter Reads Poetry

Thelma walked solemnly up the stone steps leading to the grey, vine covered building that looked like a castle. Inside, people swarmed about, chatting, filling glasses of wine for each other. Thelma stopped a moment, until she spotted Joanna deep in conversation with a man who reminded her of Humpty Dumpty. Hell, she said to herself, I do know poetry after all. Joanna turned and waved, excusing herself from the fat man.

"Oh, mother, I'm so glad you came. I know this isn't your sort of thing, but I'm very glad you're here." Joanna took her mother by the arm and planted her in a seat right at the front. Too bad, Thelma thought, I can't take a snooze without everybody noticing.

Soon everyone was seated, the readers in a semi-circle in front of the small audience. Joanna sat next to the fat man, then there was a stern looking woman of fifty, and a pink looking young man. Thelma glanced down at her black shoes, her best, and suddenly felt that she needed more Jack Daniel's, preferably through a straw.

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for coming to this extraordinary event. We have here two eminent practitioners of the poetic art, Mark Pincus and Sandra Godzinski, and two wonderful critics of their work, Joanna Ryan and Larry Orgel. Mark and Sandra will read from their work, and Joanna and Larry will also read, then comment."

The fat man began to read, in a deep, rumbling voice, a voice that Thelma associated with high-toned radio programs.

"The wake of the sea, in its blue wash, oh god, in its blue waves of --"

Thelma looked down at her shoe. Shit - there was a piece of scotch tape where the buckle had broken. She reached down to pull off the tape, very genteelly, she thought, when her eyes rose to that of the stern looking woman. They were fixed on her. Thelma frowned, hoping her deep interest in the poetry would register in her brow.

"The deep anguish of my soul, when that sea washed over me--" How did Aegean Queen do in the fifth, she wondered. Aegean Queen was out of Royal Dynasty, that should be good for something, Rafael Pedroza was up - she had dreamt that one, dreamt that she would win.

"Royal, imperial was that moment, there on the shore--" Royal Donna, oh goddamn it, that's the one, Thelma thought. It'll be Royal Donna for sure. Why didn't I bet on her?

The reading went on. The fat man sat down, beads of perspiration on his face. He wiped himself with a big white handkerchief. The pink young man stood up. Thelma must have drifted off.

"’Love's pinnace,’" he pronounced it ‘penis,’ "will keep our bark afloat - now that line has tremendous significance as far as the sexual symbolization of the poem."

Did I hear "penis?" Thelma wondered with a start. She looked directly into the eyes of the fat poet, who was looking at her. He smiled and unbuttoned the lowest button on his bulging grey vest.

What would happen if I started yelling "penis, penis, penis?" Thelma wondered. He smiled at her again. He could read her mind! He was a poet, and he could read her mind.

Finally it was Joanna's turn. She stood up and started speaking, in that low, wistful voice of hers. What a beautiful girl, Thelma thought, as she looked at the solemn blonde, long hair tied in a velvet ribbon and hanging down her back, in her austere little T-shirt and denim skirt. But she was afraid to listen. It had always been that way. Her daughter was so lovely to her, but so alien, that she could never bear to listen to her even when she was the fairy princess in the school play or the lead singer in the high school chorus. She was the lead in everything, Thelma mused, and every lead meant loss.

Joanna held her arm as they walked out through the front hall. "I'm so glad you came, mother. Did you enjoy it at all?"

"It was fine, honey, just fine." Thelma said and patted her arm. "I don't know how you do it, really."

"Do what?"

"Do what you do, I mean, say all those things. You know so much."

As Joanna helped Thelma into the Plymouth, she said, "Listen, mother, I've been trying to tell you--"

"What honey?"

"I've been trying to tell you about Clive. We're engaged. I hope you won't be upset, you know, that I didn't tell you before."

Thelma sat uncertainly at the steering wheel. "Before when?"

Tune in tomorrow for Part 3

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Monday, May 11, 2009

"'Diving Duck Blues'" - Part 1 - Thelma's Daughter

A. R. Taylor is an award-winning playwright, essayist, and writer of fiction. We're serializing one of Anne's stories, originally published in the Berkeley Insider, all this week. "'The Diving Duck Blues'" involves the agony a mother feels at the great distance between herself and her daughter. Knowing full well that she has failed her child, Thelma still tries to understand her world, and to some extent, fit in. Ultimately, she can't, but she can still love her.

"'Diving Duck Blues'"

“If the river were whiskey, babe,
and I was a diving duck,
I'd dive on that bottom,
Baby - and I'd never come up.”
Sleepy John Estes

Thelma Ryan looked down at the red and white racing ticket and then tore it up. Outside Rafe and Ginny were talking on the swing. They were happy - they had had two winners and an exacta. Thelma's luck had been bad lately, probably because the moon was in Scorpio, she thought, as she looked down at the elaborately printed invitation perched next to the African violets over the sink.

"An Evening of Poetic License." She stared at it, gloomily.
"Come on out here, Thelma," Rafe yelled, "We're doing the Pick Six."

Thelma took a sip from a glass of scotch she had nearby, and sat down at the kitchen table. She held the invitation in her hand, wondering how she could possibly go to this event, not even really sure what the event was. Someone was reading poetry, and her daughter would be there, probably be in charge or something like that. She took another sip of scotch. Thelma and her husband, Frank, had been sipping whiskey for thirty years, maintaining, as it were, a fairly constant level of happiness. How much did her daughter know about her drinking, Thelma wondered.

"Ginny likes Prince Hardcastle in the eighth, Thelma," Rafe yelled again. Rafe was a handsome black man, about sixty, with very few teeth. Thelma and Ginny met him at Golden Gate Fields when he gave them a seventy-to-one shot that came in. Since they had had no big win in eight months, this made for a serious friendship.

"It's 'Slugfest,' I'm telling you," she yelled back. "The crap it is," Ginny yelled again. Ginny was a woman of few words, vivid dress, and intense dreams. Thelma wandered out to the swing and sat next to Rafe, who was completely absorbed in the racing form. It was a cool, sweet smelling day, the kind that made Thelma glad her fifty-two years had been spent in northern California.

"I don't know what to do," Thelma muttered. "Who does, Honey?" Ginny laughed.

She handed the thick white note to Ginny, who looked at it suspiciously, turning it around several times. "What the hell is it?"

Thelma suddenly felt too close to the edge of her drinking to explain, but then she focused her eyes on a dirty, almost mashed tennis ball lying in the grass. Joanna played tennis. She had given her daughter her first tennis racket, even though the steady "pock, plop" of the game put Thelma to sleep.

"Somebody's reading poetry, maybe a poet or somebody, or people like Joanna."

"Does Joanna write poetry?"

"I think she just reads it, or I don't--" Thelma drifted off. She did not quite know what Joanna did, studied a lot, that she knew, but about what, why and all, she just could not figure out. Some have their nose in a book, others in a bottle, she thought, not without a hint of laughter.

Thelma's drinking career had been long and steady. It had risen to a crescendo when her husband Frank died, and had now tapered off to about a fifth a day. She and Frank had been drinking buddies and had always managed to get each other home. Thelma never felt any real pressure to stop, although the night she sent the Plymouth into a ditch, called the tow truck, arrived home, whispering to the driver to keep quiet because Joanna was asleep, and managed to have not a single memory of the entire event (Frank told her about it)- all of this made her feel that she should cut down, if only a bit.

Thelma thought of herself as an artist of something she called the "buzz maintain." Whiskey just kept that little hum going that made the world spin at a slightly lower speed.

And she knew exactly where the line was that separated mere fuzziness and generalized good will from complete screaming wildness and blackout. Once in a while she went over that edge just to scare herself.

She wondered now if Joanna had known that at all those school plays, those ghastly talent shows, those award nights when the fat Spanish teacher would begin with "Buenas noches, everybody," Thelma was bombed. Unfortunately Joanna was sure to walk away with two or three awards, invariably presented at the end of the evening, after a horrendously painful list of Tommy's and Joey's and Kimberley's and Tara's, all of whose parents were dutifully present and sober, at least according to Thelma's glazed appraisal of the situation.

"At least I was there," she said out loud.

"Where?" Ginny muttered, now circling choices on her card.

"That 'Easy Easy' in the fourth, I've lost so much friggin' money on that asshole, he should be runnin' claiming races at the County Fair," Rafe declared. "Strictly glue factory material."

"Why do you bet him all the time, then, genius?” Ginny said as she inhaled her cigarette dramatically,

"I don't know, I keep thinkin', this time, baby, this time, but then I know that he'll be standin' in the gate, lookin' around sayin' 'A race, what race, I just want to stand here and fart.'"

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2.

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Public Service Announcements

Today we have a couple of Public Service announcements that may interest you:

The Fresh Air Fund's Host Family Program - In 2008, this organization gave close to 5,000 New York City children free summer experiences when volunteer families shared their friendship and homes for two weeks. Fresh Air Children are boys and girls, six to 12 years old, who reside in low-income communities in New York City and are eager to experience the simple pleasures of life outside the city.

Thanks to host families, children growing up in New York City’s toughest neighborhoods have experienced the joys of Fresh Air vacations. They need hosts for the summer of 2009 and are hoping you or someone you know can help.


Critical Issues Facing Boomers & Their Parents is a conference being sponsered by the UCLA Extension Public Policy Program and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Critical decisions regarding housing, transportation, communication and health are all core elements of dealing with the new reality of aging. And these are linked through public policy decision making, legal practices, and personal finance. The discussions will include policies, best practices, lessons learned and potential solutions to problems.

Friday June 5, 2009
8:15 am – 4:30 pm
The Westin Pasadena Hotel
191 N. Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena CA 91101

If interested, please call (310) 825 9971 or go to

Have a Happy Mother's Day - with all you do for others, for at least one day you deserve to have your family take care of you!

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

How Sandwiched Boomers Can Prevent Divorce

As sandwiched boomers, you and your partner are individuals who each have a mind of your own. What you want may have changed since you first tied the knot. And the present economic meltdown probably adds to the pressures in the relationship. But that doesn't mean you can't make shifts that will relieve some of the stress. And you don't have to accept the possibility of divorce. By taking the first steps, you can help strengthen your partner's trust in you - and the future of your marriage.

Support each other. Instead of focusing on the negatives or going your separate ways, spend time discussing what you want from one other. Think about what would demonstrate true emotional commitment to you. Prove that you are on each other's side by deciding to change your attitude and behavior. Invest in your marriage's emotional bank account. Create excitement, pleasure and fun together - then take advantage of the dividends.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Sandwich Generation and Communication

As members of the time-starved Sandwich Generation, do you sometimes wonder how you're going to get it all done? And now we're asking you to focus on your communication with your partner. Don't worry, these tips aren't too hard to integrate into your bag of tricks. And in the long run it'll help your other relationships:

Limit your arguments. If the situation between the two of you is tense, small annoyances can seem bigger than before. When you argue, allowing bad feelings to fester only makes it worse. Don't turn your quarrel into something more or attach your reactions to another issue. Agree that you will together explore the problems in your relationship. And spend time learning about conflict resolution, direct communication and active listening skills. There's a lot of information available through relationship workshops, on the Internet and in the self help section of the bookstore.

Begin a process of serious talking. Can't do it alone? If you really want to work out your differences, you might consider consulting with a marital therapist or joining a couples' support group. When you each understand more about the other's needs and capabilities, you'll be clearer about the compromises you have to make. Then it will be up to both of you to decide whether or not you're willing to do the hard work. That may include efforts to change your current expectations, redefine what marriage means to you and create new goals for the relationship.

Click on the title above and read an article on about couples' communication from the male boomer perspective. And share your ideas about what works in your relationship.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Take Stock of your Marriage

As Sandwiched Boomers with so much to do you probably spend a lot of time on automatic, going through the motions of your daily routine. When you don't deal directly with what's going on and how you feel about it, you may be surprised when you do notice. Here are some ways to 'take the temperature' of your marriage and start on the road to recovery:

Identify what you are feeling. As a first step, write down the emotions that now regularly surface. What is happening between you and your partner when you are feeling sad, scared, overwhelmed, embarrassed or frustrated? Chances are you have emotions ranging from disappointment to anger, and these are constantly changing. Don't worry - this is perfectly normal. But understanding what you feel and why can be the first step toward improving your situation.

Stop focusing on the past. Identify the hot button issues that are standing in your way and make efforts to resolve them. Your initiation of changes can be an encouraging sign to your partner. And the sooner you let go of the past, the quicker you can move forward to improve the goodwill in your relationship. It may not be easy to forgive, but it is a gift that you can give to both your partner and yourself.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

The Sandwich Generation and Stress

Do you sometimes feel overwhelming stress? And does that affect your marriage? This week we're going to focus on how, as members of the Sandwich Generation, you can get your relationship back on track.

You already have a lot on your plate. And as these times of financial uncertainty continue, you and your spouse may feel pressured about what to do. During any economic crisis, couples have to face tough financial decisions. This can lead to an increase in stress and exacerbate problems that may already exist in your marriage.

Think back to when you first met. Do you remember what originally attracted you to your partner? Was it a strong character, fierce independence, a decisive nature? Now, these qualities may suddenly be getting in the way of getting along. You may want to take a look at what has changed in your relationship so you can come to terms with your negative feelings. But that's not all there is to it. Try to recognize your own role in what's happening in your marriage. If you want to stay together and there's a glimmer of hope, accept the challenge of turning it around.

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Friday, May 01, 2009

Honoring Grandmothers

Yesterday we had an informative chat with Sally Olds, author of Super Granny: Great Stuff to Do With Your Grandkids. Click on the title above to see more about Sally's books. Today we want to highlight some of the interesting comments we had from our readers about the art of grandmothering and Sally's responses.

One question was about whether or not to discuss a grandparenting idea with the parents ahead of time. Sally weighed in with her wise counsel: "For some of the more elaborate and time-consuming activities or any that call for advance planning, yes, you want to bring the parents into your planning. One time I wanted to take a granddaughter to a show on Broadway, and her mom said that she had planned to do that and was looking forward to it, so I backed off. You want to offer special treats -- but not in a way that you'll tread on the parents' delicate toes!"

In response to a question about activities with special needs grandchildren, Sally offered these words of advice: "Yes, special needs kid require special thinking about activities that will be fun and rewarding for both of you. I'll be happy to give you some specific suggestions if you tell me the ages of the children and the nature of their special needs. Although my book is organized according to age levels, these categories are flexible and will differ according to individual children."

One grandmother was concerned about competition between herself and the other grandmother. Sensitive to the situation, Sally recommended focusing only on her time with her grandchild. "This issue of competition with the other grandparents is a biggie for many people. Every grandparent is different and has different things to offer to the grandchildren. I think that if YOU don't see the situation as competitive that your grandchildren won't either. It's hard to avoid the sense that you have to give gifts that are just as expensive or take the kids on outings that are just as strenuous or do other things that the other grandparents do. But if you're enthusiastic about an activity, the kids will pick that up and will enjoy doing it. Like one granny in my book takes her grandchildren fishing near her home. Doesn't cost a lot of money, doesn't take a huge amount of energy, but she loves it -- so the kids love it too. Just pretend (in your own mind) that the other grandparents don't exist, and make your grandkid plans without even thinking about the other grands!"

Another granny wanted help in keeping her teenage grandson entertained when he'd rather be with his friends. Sally gave her opinion, full of the great ideas that you'll find in her book, "Ahhh, the dilemma of adolescence! Yes, to teenagers their friends are the most important people in their lives -- for the moment. But you'll be there for the long haul, and as I wrote in SUPER GRANNY, "there will always be a place somewhere in their lives for a loving, interested, supportive grandmother." Some ways to spend time with your grandson could include taking him out for breakfast before school -- an hour when he won't be doing anything else (except sleep), being the legally required adult in the car while he practices his driving, either sharing a sport or taking him to see one of his choice, taking a city tour on a Segway (google to find the closest available city for this), or asking him to teach you how to text, make a video to put on youtube, or some other technical task.

Jealousy between her grandchildren was one grandmother's worry. Sally's had experience with this issue too and shares her suggestions with us: "It's hard when grandchildren live so far away you can't see them more than once or twice a year. I know because I'm in this situation. And like you, I also have grandchildren who live much closer. You mention that the different sets of grandchildren get jealous because of the different activities you do with the nearby ones and the faraway ones. If they're old enough for you to explain the difficulties of doing the same things with all the grandchildren, you can be upfront in telling them that this is not what you have chosen, but that you love them all and you want to do as much as possible to show this. You can then ask both sets of grandchildren to tell you what they would like to do with you, and then do everything that you can to fulfill their requests. I just asked my 12-year-old granddaughter whom I see only twice a year to email me a list of what she wants to do when she and her family come to visit this summer. I got a good list -- and everything on it is doable. It's often surprising how modest the children's requests can be."

Our thanks go out to Sally for sharing her special book, Super Granny, with us. You can see more about her books by clicking on the title above. And an early Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers and grandmothers out there!

We also had an interesting comment from a reader on Wednesday's post about step-grandmothers. The situation combined the issues of grandmothering after a divorce and step-grandmothering - and created a perfect storm for tension and mistrust. Luckily for our reader, the grandkids had more loving women in their lives to make up for it. Here's what she said;

"My ex-step-Mom was Grandma to my children. When she decided to divorce my Dad after 20+ years, I was understanding and supportive. And, I continued to be -- even when Dad began to jump through hoops to save the marriage. She'd already let go. I was open with her. Open for communication and told her she would be Grandma as long as she 'wanted' to be.

Things got ugly. She became non-communicative. Kids asked questions. I had to fend off the ugly. A year after, it's all finally resolved and my children have lessened the questions (now six and seven of age).

She calls out of the blue. Apology, requesting forgiveness, and I know insinuating rebuilding the relationship. I do not trust this now; my kids have come to see that she left them as a Grandma. They have my Mom and my wonderful MIL."

Although we can't control what other people do, we can decide how we want to react to them. Our reader is able to be flexible in her responses to her now ex-stepmother - inclusive, understanding, open at first; then wary and protective of her children when she needed to be; now turning to other positive influences and people in her life. As time goes on, the situation may change once more and her resiliency will be called into play again. What about you?

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