March 5, 2009 by Judith Liebaert
I’ve been spending the last several days contemplating where my middle age is going from here. That is the most mental exercise I am indulging in while on vacation in Florida, other than contemplating what color I should paint my pinkies to flatter my deepening tan.
Could I live like this every day for the rest of my life? The short answer for this born and bred Midwesterner is, “You betcha!” There’s only one glitch. What would I do with my husband? He is your typical man retired before he should be — he doesn’t know what to do with his time.
In fairness, there is an added complication. He didn’t retire willingly; his heart gave out after too many years of neglecting his health. Now, the plan to stay alive includes no more physical activity than walking a few blocks after a preventative dose of nitro and only on his good days. Good days have as much to do with his moods as with his physical condition. Can’t blame him there
His life as he knew it is over. His laboring heart also won’t hold for any of the activities he planned in retirement. Golfing, swimming, home repair and improvement. To add to the conundrum, his laundry list of other physical ailments isn’t making travel easy or pleasant.
So where does that leave me? My life as I knew it, is over. With both of us suffering the same loss, why are we having so much difficulty understanding each other?
I want to know what’s going to happen with my life long plan to get the heck out of frozen tundra land during the winter months? What about my visions of a small, two story cottage or the storybook garden? The structures and foundations would be his handy work, the brush strokes of colored petals waving across the canvas of our backyard would be mine. Now he can’t climb stairs and chores are completely off the list.
I planned to write in the mornings while he puttered in the garage, doing whatever it is that men do when they putter. In the afternoons we’d walk to the grocer’s for quart of milk or to pick up the daily news. We’d ride our bikes through the neighborhood streets. Heck, I’d even golf a round or two with him.
Instead, when I try to write in the mornings he impatiently waits for me to finish. Right now, on vacation, he is sitting three feet from me looking as bored as any human being can be. He glances my way about every 5 minutes. I’m not sure what he’s thinking, but I can guess.
He seems jealous of my ability to occupy myself, to engage my brain in something that thrills me. Observation indicates that he is only able to achieve that from external sources; watching sporting events, watching action films, reading the newspaper and grumping at the anchors on CNN. I understand one can only do so much of that and then, apparently, I am all that’s left to entertain him.
The MAD Goddess in me wants to scream, “Exactly when did I become responsible for your contentment?” The answer is, of course, when I said I do. My 50 years in the conditioning of what a wife does is hard enough habit for me to shake. I indulge him to keep the peace – just like my mother did with my father. She had to tape the one and only soap opera she watched, her measly hour of self indulgence, because during that one hour my father seemed to absolutely need her attention for anything and everything. She could watch her show in peace only when he dozed off for his afternoon nap.
It’s difficult for me to break the habits of the good girl, good daughter and good wife indoctrination of my middle class rearing, even with all that’s at stake. It’s impossible for him to consider another model of wife. And why wouldn’t it be? He has nothing to gain and everything to lose.
And that is precisely where men always get it wrong. My husband has one choice, get with the program or get out of my way. For thirty years I have devoted myself to raising and caring for children, caring for a husband and being on demand for aging parents’ needs, both physical and emotional. I have waited, patiently for my time and now that it’s here, I am not giving it up.
He’s afraid that I will leave him. I won’t. It isn’t the answer. I will stand firm, stand up and speak out for what I need. His response is entirely up to him, but our life together will be much more joyous if he can (first) discern my needs in the midst of his neediness, and (second)understand that they are as important to his ultimate happiness as are his own.
I remember my father’s bitter complaints about my mother’s “change of life”. They were the worst years of his life. That sentiment angered my mother because she shielded him from most of the emotional upheaval of those awakening years. Being in her shoes now, I know what she was thinking. “Mister, you don’t know the half of what I wanted to say and do.”
The French have a saying that when a woman loses her blood she finds her voice. I’m sure that is inconvenient, irritating, perplexing and especially frightening for the men who have been in charge. That’s too bad for them, and if they don’t like it I suggest their best course is to learn to speak little and listen much. They might also be ready to duck because now we are carrying the metaphorical big stick.
. . . . . . mid
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