Before I rush off to style my hair and reapply my lipstick, and mix a cocktail and lay out slippers for the homecoming of hubby, I thought I’d share this with you…
Freud would say it’s because we want to have intercourse with our sons. Less sexually fixated psychologists might suggest we fear being usurped. Whatever the reason, mothers of sons I’ve been involved with have been a plague on my life. Their negative influence when threatened and ferocity in expression, knows no equal. Let this serve as a cautionary tale.
In my defense, I possess no traits that should set off motherly alarm bells. I value and respect family, and have never come between a mother and her child. I’m not addicted to any substance save tea, believe the demands of one man at a time substantial and seek not variety, and the style to which I’ve become accustomed is modest. Nothing prepared me for a mother scorned.
My first mother in law was lovely, welcoming and accepting. I spoke to her on the phone a number of times and our exchanges were pleasant. I met her once. Due to geographical distance and my abbreviated marriage to her son, it never went beyond that. There is an odd lesson in this, as it appears the key to getting on with mother’s in law is to have short relationships with their sons.
Prior to my next marriage, there were a couple of notable matriarchs. When Scott and I met, one part of my attraction to him was his age and relative maturity. He was a divorced father in his early 30’s with custody of his child. True, he lived with his parents, but in a self contained cottage. They ran the family business together and this seemed a logical arrangement.
After a month of dates, Scott felt it was time for me to meet his parents. I think he was more nervous than I was. It being a small place, some company staff warned me that his mother was formidably strict. I’d heard that a number of employees had done middle of the night flits to escape the wrath of this woman. The short, grey haired lady sitting behind the desk could not have been more of a surprise. Her office was feminine; a chintzy shaded standing lamp cast a warm glow.
The eyes though, the eyes were sharp and penetrating and the voice demanded submission, “What is the meaning of this?” A Royal Doulton cup clattered into the saucer.
It became apparent that she wasn’t expecting me, and that my new boyfriend was gone. In his place stood a 30 something child, discreetly clutching his crotch through his pockets, while rocking from foot to foot. “M-m-mother, may I present my f-f-friend, Stephanie,” he st-st-stuttered.
It was downhill from there. I could have been Queen Elizabeth and Mother Theresa in one and would not have impressed this harridan. Scott’s father, not surprisingly, was a mild and much cowed man. I was foolhardy enough to believe she didn’t matter and we continued to see each other. Most of the ‘seeing’ was done at my place as being at his required sneaking in under cover of darkness. A couple of weeks later my employer told me that Scott’s mother had interrogated him. The subject of the inquiry: me. This coincided with a car, identical to his mother’s, stalking my movements to and from work and such. I ended it after that.
One would think I would have learned my lesson. Similar to Scott, John also lived with his mother. His father had died years before and the two of them shared a big house together. He was nearly 40 when I met him, a mature man living with an elderly mother. I wasn’t living in the same area and after some months, John invited me to stay with them for a week. We had an idea that we wanted to live together and thought to try the arrangement for size. It was one long week of a nightmare, with a fierce and controlling little woman who sucked all joy from the air. My crime in her eyes was getting too close to her son.
By the time I met the mother of my second husband to be, I was determined to try harder, and bend myself into any shape to make the relationship work. It seemed to be going well at first, only pleasant words were exchanged and convivial times were had. It seemed. Mother in law number two did almost everything on the surface, except voice her displeasure and judgement. Her injuries were subtle and devastating, but invisible. Within a year, her son and I married and a few years later, I could hardly be in the same room with her. It was like fighting a ghost; impossible to name or exorcise. After he left, he eventually remarried a woman very much like his mother.
My third and final go at marriage, and relations with a new mother in law, was no better than the previous. Writing this, something came to me never considered before. Five men, and five mothers and all the men were either the youngest or only children. Without delving too deeply it’s clear this would only intensify feelings, fears of being displaced, protectiveness, etc.
Life has a brilliant way of keeping us humble though. I’m now a mother of a son myself, one with a girlfriend. According to my son, despite efforts on my part to be inclusive, supportive and non threatening – I’m actually quite terrifying. In his words, “Mum, when you look at someone it’s like you’re looking into their soul.” All I know is, it’s strange to be on the inside looking out for a change.
© S. Marian, Nov. 12, 2012
“If I told you that should you take a particular path in the woods you would have an over 50% chance of hurting yourself, would you do it? If I explained that over half the people that had gone that way would end up miserable, wounded, depressed, insecure and financially disadvantaged to name a few, would you still go? Yet, people continue to take that path, blithe spirits every one.”
© S. Marian, Oct. 30, 2012
An excerpt from “One, Two, Three…” a piece about statistics and their influence in our lives, to be found on “A View From Outside the Box,” url: adialogue. To read the whole piece click, go on a fabulous adventure.
(For image source, click here)
“According to numerology, the number five and to a lesser degree eight, are influencing my life; five representing action, restlessness and life experience, and eight being connected to power and sacrifice.”
© S. Marian, Oct. 30, 2012
An excerpt from “One, Two, Three…” a piece about numbers and how they affect us, posted today on “A View From Outside the Box,” url: adialogue. To read the whole piece, click on the old music is the best.
(Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A’Changin)
One person, married three times, and divorced twice. She’s the parent of two children, one boy, and one girl. Two of her siblings are deceased, one brother and one sister gone. She moved home over sixty times, and immigrated on five occasions. Her life has included two real floods, involvement in three lawsuits and setting two legal precedents, amongst other things. One woman and one life, reduced to numbers.
Who is interested in these numbers? Mathematicians concern themselves with numbers, as do numerologists who are commonly viewed as purveyors of hocus pocus. Statisticians and actuaries also deal with numeric data, but their jobs involve seeing patterns and making predictions based on this information. The statistician takes a sample of people and gathers data in order to make assumptions about a much larger group. The actuary also looks at statistics, but for the purpose of assessing risk in terms of insurance premiums.
It will come as little surprise to those who know me, but I am not a ‘numbers person’. The numbers stated earlier are mine, as is the life, and from them you may infer that my journey has been eventful. According to numerology, the number five, and to a lesser degree eight, are influencing my life; five representing action, restlessness and life experience, and eight being connected to power and sacrifice.
I do not inherently trust statistics as I have frequently fallen outwith their expectations. They are often misleading and subject to manipulation by whomever is looking at them or paying for them. It’s also obvious that many, despite living in the information age, simply choose to ignore the numbers.
Divorce statistics are an excellent example. I married and divorced in the UK, number four in the world for marital breakdown. Only Sweden, Australia and the United States are rated higher. Young people are delaying marriage and cohabitation is on the increase but still, people will get married. If these statistics are to be trusted, 55% of marriages in Sweden will result in divorce and this begs the question, why are they getting married at all?
If I told you that should you take a particular path in the woods you would have an over 50% chance of hurting yourself, would you do it? If I explained that over half the people that had gone that way would end up miserable, wounded, depressed, insecure and financially disadvantaged to name a few, would you still go? Yet, people continue to take that path, blithe spirits every one.
Looking at Canadian research, 66% of divorces are initiated by women. There’s an interesting statistic that goes with this; of the 35-50 year old divorced females, only 48%, compared to the 61% of men are likely to remarry. The statistician then extrapolates, “Therefore, it is obvious that age discriminates against women; the older they are, the lower their chances of remarrying.” Age does play a substantial discriminatory role in life, for women and for men. Is it not also equally possible that, at that age women have mostly had their children and they are not so motivated to remarry?
Considering my own situation in a statistical way, I may be confusing predictions. A first marriage has a 50% chance of leading to divorce, 72% for second marriages and a substantial 85% for third marriages. My first marriage lasted four and a half years, my second for 8 years and I did not end either of them. Number three and I have been together for ten years, so far.
Certainly, insurance companies and their actuaries take these statistics very seriously. One insurance company lists the top ten stressful events likely to put your health at risk:
-death of a spouse
-separation from a spouse
-serving time in prison
-death of a close family member
-personal injury or illness
I’ve personally experienced seven items on the happy checklist and have lived to cynically tell my tale. My health is good but maybe an insurance company would view it differently. If marital compromise is injurious to one’s health, every successful marriage contains physically compromised couples. Also, I would add lawsuits and flooding to that list. It’s interesting that it’s excluded financial worries, as this is apparently the number one thing couples argue over, money. Getting fired is certainly stressful but so is quitting a job.
One job I once held had a certain statistical focus, and it was this that led me to quit, thus increasing my stress and no doubt, chronic uninsurability. In brief, I worked for a company, calling other companies with the goal of securing accounts worth thousands of pounds. I was told upon starting that I would be expected to reach 100 people per day, must speak to 25 ‘decision makers,’ and convert at least two of those conversations into future accounts. Right from the outset my statistics were skewed. The rest is a matter of record: I spoke to anywhere from 25-30 people per day and at least 20 of them would be ‘decision makers’ (those who had authority to decide whether to open an account with our company). Of the decision makers 10-15 of them were encouraged by me to open accounts. My diminished calls, longer conversations and focused approach resulted in hundreds of thousands of pounds of sales for the company - consistently more sales than anyone else on the two teams. Yet, I continued to be shamed in weekly meetings. The company relied so thoroughly on their statistics that they lost sight of the bigger picture.
That’s the thing with numbers; they compel you to focus on detail. At 1100 words now and several hours elapsed, I’ve hardly scratched the surface and other jobs are starting to look fairly appealing. According to a 2010 study published in the Wall Street Journal, top jobs were ranked based on environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress. The study rated actuary as the number one job in the United States. Now there’s a question to leave you with, of those that get married, how many do you think are actuaries?
Whatever your statistics, a certain scepticism is advisable. Know that your existence is worth more than the sum of all its parts. No life can be reduced to numbers.
Additional research: (Click on titles to view articles or sites)
Marriage Report, CBC News
Marriage Breakdown in North America, Baha’i Notebook
Proportion Married at Lowest Levels, Population Ref. Bureau
Divorce Rate by Country, Nation Master
How to Keep Stress Out of Your Life, Blue Cross
© S. Marian, Oct. 30, 2012
“Divorce statistics are an excellent example. I married and divorced in the UK, number four in the world for marital breakdown. Only Sweden, Australia, and the United States are rated higher. Young people are delaying marriage and cohabitation is on the increase but still, people will get married. If these statistics are to be trusted, 55% of marriages in Sweden will result in divorce and this begs the question, why are they getting married at all?”
© S. Marian, Oct. 29, 2012
An excerpt from a piece to be posted tomorrow titled, “One, Two, Three…” found on “A View From Outside the Box,” url: adialogue. Find out whether you are in the curious 20% of people who will read this post.
“If I told you that should you take a particular path in the woods, you would have an over 50% chance of hurting yourself, would you do it? If I explained that over half the people that had gone that way would end up miserable, wounded, depressed, insecure and financially disadvantaged to name a few, would you still go? Yet, people continue to take that path, blithe spirits every one.”
© S. Marian, Oct 29, 2012
An excerpt from a piece titled, “One, Two, Three…” to be posted tomorrow on “A View From Outside the Box,” url: adialogue. Read to discover whether you are in the 20% of the highly curious.
… Try, try again.” There’s more self help books written about this topic than any other; everyone craves it but I’m not sure we really understand it. Whether we’re trying to transform our lives, lose weight, earn more money, attract the right partner, or make some other change - we all seek success. What if I told you that in order to be really successful, you’ve got to fail? It sounds counterintuitive but it’s true.
To begin with, we need to look at the definition of success. To succeed means to ‘obtain ones goal.’ That definition is broad but we can agree that success is subjective. For some it involves monetary goals, career heights or fame but my view is closer to this: “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” The words of Albert Einstein have increasing relevance in a world where job security is rare, economies are floundering and long term relationships are becoming the minority.
When a man I know, Procellis, ended his happily ever after, his wife was shocked and devastated. It was not by her choice and she wholeheartedly believed in the promises they’d made. He said he never felt equal to her; this was the reason he gave. He said he hadn’t known what he was promising. In time though, she knew she’d have to find acceptance, picked herself up, and got on with life. She tried to learn from her mistakes and not repeat them. She said, her ex had never been a man to cope with failure. Although it was his choice to end their union, to this day he is weighed down by its demise. He deals with this by punishing her by not speaking or listening to her, not sharing in parental decisions and contributing as little as possible to support their children. He is a man stalked by failure.
The interesting thing about this story is that by any other terms, Procellis is a successful man. He’s intelligent and has diligently climbed the career ladder to achieve vertiginous heights. He’s respected in his field and reaps the material rewards of his success. By all accounts, he’s happily re-married with a new family and yet… Procellis is a haunted man. He blames himself for his marital failure and consequently, takes it out on his ex wife. This has had serious consequences for his relationship with his children and retarded his personal growth. In a life where intelligence and diligence gave him most of what he wanted, nothing prepared him for this. He never learned how to deal with failure or the lessons that can be learned from it.
To expand on Einstein’s ‘life of value,’ I think success is defined by growth and adaptation. We place so much importance on the goal; qualification, monetary reward or title, and give scant appreciation to human values. For me, success is measured in the growth of the individual, what they’ve learned and in how they treat others. To illustrate this I turn to Naalla, the most successful of little girls.
This week she reminded me of something important. I was told a story about a recent race she ran for her school. She began full of enthusiasm and determination; she wanted to win a ribbon. She’s known for her beautiful smile, fantastic imagination and her sparkle, amongst other things. Naalla is not one of life’s natural born runners. This hasn’t detered her though because she loves what she’s doing. She had the absolute conviction that she would too. As the groups of children running the race crossed the line, there was still no sign of Naalla. Just when parents were dispersing and another age group had begun their race, Naalla crossed the line. She was so sure of her success; she hung around to see if she’d won a ribbon. When she discovered that she hadn’t, she wasn’t defeated, and said, “If I work hard and run in every race to come, I’ll get a ribbon at the end of it.” It occurred to me that Naalla has already won. Her belief in herself is unshakeable and she’s learned essential lessons about confidence and determination at a young age.
We’re all on a journey, running a race to live better and happier, and to become the people we think we’re meant to be. If we deny ourselves the essential learning to be found in failure, we can’t possibly achieve our full potential. I’m sure my dentist would love me for making this analogy, but failure is much like the disclosing tablets the dentist gives you. When you chew on them, they highlight where the plaque is to be found on your teeth. They tell you which areas to target with more rigorous attention. Failure does the same – it shows us what we have to work on and teaches us how to succeed.
It has other benefits too. If we don’t experience failure, not only will we not learn from it but also it’s likely we won’t recognise it. This can lead to blaming others or retreating into denial, neither of which are conducive to growth. Falling short keeps us humble and gives us the means to appreciate our accomplishments. You can be certain that when Naalla eventually wins her ribbon, she’ll savour it.
Enjoy your ribbons but appreciate when you don’t make it too – it’s as important and holds the map for winning. I’ll leave you with the slightly altered words of Rudyard Kipling:
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
And treat those two imposters just the same:
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a better Person, my Son.”
© S. Marian, Oct.9, 2012
The last two weeks have seen me doing some long avoided tasks. The reasons for the avoidance are complex, as dealing with these tasks would have made my life much easier. Three and a half years passed, the problems only increasing due to procrastination. They were now monsters of my own creation. Yesterday I vanquished my foes, smite the enemy and without putting too fine a point on it, I was triumphant. I did not get thanks from the powers that be for my bravery, they gave me resistance and obfuscation, they threw obstacles in my way but they did not take me down.
All of this sound a little over the top? It does to me but that’s how things build up in our lives when we don’t want to face them. In my case, the monsters were, the renewal of a long expired passport, getting a local driving license and challenging a bad decision. It sounds simple but two things hugely complicated this and both of them were psychological; one is that when I moved back to Canada, on some level I did not really want to be here. On the surface I did and had good reasons, so I dealt with it, tried to plant roots, made friends, created meaningful work, yada, yada, yada. All just words. In my heart, I was not here and resisted the move I chose. I let things slide a bit such as the renewal of a passport; I didn’t even really want one. Things became complicated because without the passport, I couldn’t get a provincial driving license. This had a big impact on my circumstances. I didn’t want to give up my British one, so proudly earned, and they will not let you have both. So stupid and as I said; only making my life harder. Add to this that my situation is not standard. This is the story.
I have been married three times, consequently I am familiar with that ‘look over your shoulder’ feeling when someone calls your name. After husband two left his post, I had already changed surname twice from birth….enough was enough. Although I was living with my ‘would one day be number three,’ I decided to change my name and nothing would alter that. I did not want to revert to the ‘maiden’ surname as it was long past and no longer felt like mine, and quite frankly, I was vastly not a maiden. I had some fun for a while considering options, listening to outrageous suggestions from friends, leafing through a Latin dictionary for inspiration but I just could not wear it. I tried to imagine picking a name for something I hold dear, like say, ‘freedom,’ or ‘integrity,’ but all I could hear when I said these out loud with my given name was ‘crazy as f—-.” So, Stephanie Libertas would not be born from this but I realised the answer was in front of me. I already had a name, surplus to requirements and it was mine - my middle name. I opted to take my middle name and adopt it to become my surname. In Scotland this is a simple matter, an old law makes the passage of this change smooth. I didn’t have to do anything legal but to be sure, I took out a statutory declaration and had it notarised. Here’s how it goes, “I was born this, then I married him and was this, then divorced and remarried him and became this and now I want to be this.” That’s it. A lawyer writes it up, notarises it and charges you for the pleasure.
Why am I telling you all this? It’s relevant to the story because by Canadian standards, it’s so far out of the box; the box is in another solar system. Canadian officialdom is not outside the box, its box is small, with impenetrable sides and it rejects and punishes anything that is outside of it. I did have some intensely frustrating conversations with the paper pushers. Eventually lugging a small filing cabinet of paperwork with me, I told my story and someone accepted it – I got the passport. They simply couldn’t understand though, why I didn’t go the way of the Maple Leaf, do it through Canadian channels and in the Canadian manner. I thought explanation would help (divest yourself of this idea when dealing with bureaucracy) and explained that I didn’t do it the Canadian way BECAUSE I DIDN’T RESIDE IN CANADA!!! Now this was a tricky sticking point for some reason. Then, I made the mistake of explaining how you can change your name legally in Scotland….you simply do it. The statutory declaration was not needed. In writing you notify, your bank, various companies you deal with, inform the ‘authorities’, and Bob’s your Uncle. Honestly, this is true. It was like I’d said, “…and then you strip naked in the public square, paint your new name all over your body in marmalade and whisky and sing Scotland the Brave backwards three times.” The look I got! Then what I’d heard so many times, “Well that’s not how we do it in Canada.” There was a stage when I could see, despite all the judgmental comments that the passport official was going to do it and the relief was immense. I cracked a little joke (never do this either) and said, “I suppose it might have been less confusing if I’d taken a new name like Purple Goddess or something…” Well, you could hear one symbolic leaf drop, the expression was beige and not a smile crossed the governmental face. When I walked out the door, I was practically floating because I knew; now I could get the driving license.
This part was going to be easy because I had already spoken to the guy in charge of this months before, who after hearing the whole colourful tale, examining everything in the way of paperwork I produced including shopping list and pet vaccination records, told me if I got the passport he could approve the application. A British driving license in my province is okay to drive on for so long, and then you need only hand it into the driving authority, and they will replace it with the provincial one. No need to sit the test. If you drove here you would understand why, and don’t even get me started on that. I skipped up the steps and approached the first hurdle, the information desk. I explained that I wanted to speak to the Manager but the terrier at the desk insisted I would have to follow protocol and go through a ‘representative’ instead. I tried explaining that the ‘Manager’ had asked me to come through to him but she was having none of it. I bit my tongue and sat down and waited. When my number came up I felt not a little dread. I’ve become accustomed to the reaction my story gets and I wasn’t in the mood for ridicule or chastisement for being the anti Canadian. My number showed up on the screen and I approached the representative and began. I told her my story and it was obvious she wasn’t listening. I said I was born in Canada but had been living away for 22 years and she said, “I need to see your citizenship papers.” This was just the beginning. After explaining that I didn’t have citizenships papers because I was born here, I showed her my birth certificate and oh, it went back and forth quite painfully. I said that I had spoken to the Manager and she said, “We don’t have a Manager.” I looked around and pointed at the office I had sat in not months ago, the office of the Manager -“That’s the Supervisor’s office.” Maybe she really didn’t know what I meant when I said Manager, but I don’t think so. This was her little bit of power, her fiefdom and I was not doffing my cap in the prescribed manner. My husband had done this same exchange of the British license, so I knew that it was simply an administrative exercise and I wouldn’t have to sit a test….
The application was finally put before the Supervisor and he approved it, probably to her disgust. She returned and while confirming my contact details she took it upon herself to give me an informal driving test. This was a shock and I hadn’t so much as looked at the ‘Drivers Handbook,’ but when she said, “What do you do when you come upon a school bus and both lights on the back of it are flashing,” well the answer was obvious. I said, “I would stop and wait for it to pull out again.” She scowled just a bit and then asked me to confirm my phone number, and then quickly with another question, “Why are motorcycles more at risk on the roads?” I thought about it and said, “They offer less protection and are therefore more vulnerable and there is reduced visibility.” She jumped on that and said, “It’s actually the driver’s blind spot, that’s why they can’t be seen” and I said, “I think that’s covered with ‘reduced visibility.’ It was a battle of the wills and she continued to fire the questions at me for some minutes but in the end, she had to grant me the license. I had ticked two things off my list and nothing could stop me now.
The third thing wasn’t so painful, the compiling of a lot of paperwork and filling in a lengthy form, to lodge it with the court. This was also a much avoided task as it involved confrontation and stirring up a hornets nest of feelings. As it was a family matter, the court required me to attend a “Parenting After Separation,” three hour class. I was dreading this to be honest, and had no idea what to expect. It was more than surreal sitting in this roomful of sadness, people whose lives were recently swept away by a tsunami of change. There were several facilitators and we listened to a talk informing us of our rights, someone else talked about the emotions of separation, “the wonderful opportunity it provides,” and the last one spoke from the child’s perspective. We were encouraged to speak, contribute with our own thoughts. I had promised myself I would keep quiet, ten years after my separation, life looks quite different. I kept my jaded mouth shut for a while but eventually, I did speak. Philip Larkin’s words were in my head, “Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf…” I tried to be helpful, told them it was certain that it would get easier. It was a jumping through hoops exercise and I jumped, with a certificate to show for my efforts. At the end, I was asked why I was there as it was clear I was in ‘another place.’ That’s me all over; I’m always in another place. As a foreigner to the Land of Box, I am delighted to have achieved a status that allows me to cross its borders. This week, I beat them at their own game and my monsters are no more.
© S. Marian, July 31, 2012