mothers, compassion for

Cast of Family Ties from a later season. (From...

Image via Wikipedia

Through the first three-quarters of Meredith Baxter‘s autobiography, Untied, I found myself extremely frustrated. Here was an actress whom I thought had everything going for her. She was best known as Elyse Keaton, Michael J. Fox’s TV mom on “Family Ties, an 80s sitcom. But sometime before that she had been one-half of the handsome couple in Bridget Loves Bernie.” David Birney played her spouse, and became the real thing after the show ended.

What was disappointing about Baxter’s real life story is that through 3 failed marriages, she was always the victim of her husbands’ verbal, emotional, mental and in Birney’s case, physical abuse. Where she might have projected a woman-in-control on the small screen, she was anything but, in her personal life. Yet in one important area she was in charge. Able to get regular acting gigs, Baxter became the “bread-winner,” and wound up paying alimony to her ex-husbands.

The source of Baxter’s inability to be an equal partner in heterosexual relationships, for she did recently out herself as a lesbian, was because her mother had opted out of that role when Baxter was very young. 

 

Craftsman-style bungalow in North Park, San Di...

Image via Wikipedia

I can remember coming home from first grade, walking through the front door of our little white Craftsman-style house on Indiana Avenue in South Pasadena, and calling out, “Mommy, I”m home!” 

No answer. I was confused; her car was out front. I stood very still.

“Mommy, I’m home!”

Still nothing. Then I remembered.

“Whitney?”

“Yes, dear?” her musical voice rang out from the middle bedroom, where she kept a vanity table at which she’d do her makeup.

Although I believe she had no idea about the psychological impact this might have on her children, now that I’m older I realize that Whitney was probably just giving us what she got. Whitney’s mother was born Martha Mae Wilkerson–my brothers and I called her Memaw. She was a scrappy, tough, smart, and wily survivor. She wasn’t the soft, fuzzy type; she didn’t coddle Whitney and she didn’t coddle me. …married five times…Memaw would leave her kids behind, once with a couple of former missionaries and another time with her elementary school teacher. …It wasn’t until the fifth grade that Whitney discovered drama class…From that day forward, Whitney realized that no matter what school she was in, the drama department would become home…(and) that the nearest thing she had to a real family when she was growing up were the casts of the plays that she appeared in.

AA meeting sign

Image via Wikipedia

It took Meredith Baxter the better part of her life to sort through the mess it had become. Having drifted into alcoholism, she eventually sought help from Alcoholics Anonymous upon the urging of the producers of a particular TV show she’d been working on. But even after attending the group’s meetings for 10 years, Baxter hadn’t engaged in the self-examination process recommended by the program, until a good friend intervened.

Carla noted that…I’d not laid to rest many of the issues that brought me into the program in the first place ten years before, the primary issue being my mother! Drinking had been but a symptom of my alcoholism; I used drinking to solve my problems, but my problems were caused by my thinking, my selfish, self-centered, self-seeking, self-pitying thinking, and the destructive feelings and resentments that resulted. This way, I developed and preserved a belief system that filtered all information through a warped prism of being unwanted, unloved and unlovable.

Baxter set about replacing her old belief system with a new one. She found clarity in acknowledging that she deeply resented having to call her mother by her stage name instead of mom or mommy, and that she didn’t acknowledge her children as hers for a long time, and that she left them in the care of their stepfather while she pursued her acting career.

In order to help herself heal, Baxter decided that she needed to understand her mother.

…figure out who she was, learn what kind of mothering/role modeling she received, what did she want that she didn’t get, what were her disappointmens in life and how did she deal with them? And why did she make the choices with her children that she made? 

After answering all of these questions for herself, Baxter found great relevance in the words of someone speaking at an AA meeting.

A woman was talking about our parents as wells and that we were wired to go to our parent-wells for nurturing and sustenance. Many of us found our parent-wells were empty, but they weren’t empty at us. They were just empty.

Meredith decided that while she felt she was the target of her mother’s empty well, there was no basis in fact to support it. Instead, the supposition was based upon personal feelings.

As a followup to her discovery, Baxter needed “to learn to have compassion for (her) mother’s empty well, to accept (her) mother’s limitations and forgive her.”

Well, as soon as I started thinking of ways I had disappointed my own children, I quickly had a much better perspective. I thought about being too fearful to protect them from David, times when I traveled and worked when they probably needed me, times I left them with nannies, times I, like Whitney, had chosen work over my kids, times when I’d had too much to drink to be useful to them in any way–the list is endless. I could honestly say, however, that I did the best I could given the tools and information I had at the time, and therefore I had to allow the same for Whitney.

What I came away with was a sense of understanding Whitney and appreciating her in ways I wouldn’t allow myself to before. In truth, she gave me the very best she had. What I thought of it at the time is not important because I wasn’t in a position to know.

Finally, Meredith Baxter enumerates the ways in which she has been a better parent as a result of her own mother’s failures. “Many of what I think are my best traits as a mother were developed as a protest to what I had experienced with her.” Where Whitney never spent time with her children, Meredith was sure to be with her own youngsters when she wasn’t working, “making breakfasts, packing lunches, doing carpool, play dates, homework, projects, school breakfasts, soccer games and practice, gymnastics, baseball games and practice, swim meets, piano, violin, track meets, open houses, teacher meetings, performances.” And she was thankful that she loved being a mother, who loved doing it all. For that Baxter credited her mother for leaving a legacy, of which she had no knowledge. 

I found this portion of the book the most befitting my own experience. Like Baxter I had to let go of painful occurrences with my mom as I was growing up. What I didn’t understand as a youngster, I understood only too well when I became a wife and mother. Furthermore I’ve had the love and support of my husband for 40 years, and counting. While my mom never remarried after becoming a widow at age 30, pretty much shouldering her burdens alone. I had only one child for whom to care, my mom had nine. She had serious health issues all of her life, like diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis. And they only worsened as she got older, added to which she also developed Alzheimer’s. I’m able to see to my health on a regular basis, because I have a spouse who provides a comfortable life.

Parents do the best they can with what tools they’ve been given. Rather than find fault, we can try to do better with what we’ve been given. But if at times we fail, and we will, we should be prepared to forgive, ourselves and others, and show compassion, knowing that we can always try again.

for moms…huge hugs…hugmamma.

Advertisements

getting back into the “game”

Returned to exercise class at the community center on Wednesday; went again today. While my upper body, including my arms, neck and head acclimated to the strenous movement, my lower extremity went into shock. After all, it’s been 3 months since I’ve dragged body and soul out of bed at 6:45 a.m. to make it there by 8:15. Somehow climbing into bed after midnight doesn’t quite jive with getting up again in 5 hours, especially if I expect my body to rock-and-roll at such an ungodly hour. Having left the work force 25 years ago, this month, early morning risings are ancient history, especially when I’m feeling ancient.

Besides missing the release of endorphins, I missed the camaraderie of my fellow exercisers who, like me, are not in it for vanity. We all figure if we don’t keep moving, we won’t be moving! Exercise keeps the joints limber and the muscles taut. They, in turn, ensure quality of life as long as we’re on God‘s earth. When we retreat to His heaven, well then maybe, just maybe we’ll be able to coast on our good looks. ha, ha.

Postcard:

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday being St. Patty’s day, Kristina, our instructor decided we’d celebrate the holiday today, with Irish music. Although I’m more inclined to bump and grind to Michael Jacksons‘s beat, I’ll dance to anything, even church music if need be. After finishing our usual aerobics routine, we turned to some fancy Irish footwork, including a touch of Riverdance, and a couple of jigs. You’d think I’d have these routines memorized, since Kristina has had us do them for as long as I’ve been going, which is about 5 years. But, of course, older age and a corresponding decrease in coordination, sabotage my efforts at remembering. No matter. All of us laugh at each other’s failed attempts to get the moves right. In some instances, even Kristina forgets.

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones in the ea...

Image via Wikipedia

As a bonus for dragging myself to exercise class, I sometimes join a couple of the ladies for coffee afterwards. Today Kristina, Mary and I gathered at one of our favorite watering holes, Starbuck’s. Conversation is always so varied and, therefore, really interesting. Today was no exception. Discussion flowed from gay relatives, to attending a wedding where the bride’s family are all “gushers,” to biographies of Keith Richards and Meredith Baxter, to husband’s and their peculiarities. Whether sharing like-minded ideas or venting about personal gripes, we ladies are on the “same page.” We’re there for one another, or as my daughter and I are wont to say, “We’ve got each other’s backs.”

An interesting question was raised when we were chatting about Baxter’s recent “outing”  as a lesbian. It was obvious from reading her autobiography that she’d been through 3 heterosexual marriages that failed. I believe she was married to the wrong men. Baxter was the “bread winner” each time, although her husbands dictated their lives, each in his own way. She allowed their abuse, mentally, emotionally and in David Birney‘s case, physically. Faulting her mother’s total lack of involvement in her life from a young age, Baxter leaned towards “invisibility” in her relationships. Only when she finally fell into gay relationships did she feel an equal partner. So I posited the idea to my coffee-drinking buddies, that perhaps Baxter wouldn’t have gone Lesbian, if she’d met a man who treated her more like an equal, than like a doormat. My friends nodded their heads, but didn’t look quite convinced.

No matter if the conversation turns toward more serious topics, my companions and I always find ourselves caught up in fits of laughter, sometimes even hysterics. I guess we middle-aged women tend to laugh at our own jokes. Whatever?!? We have a lot of fun…and the pain of exercising seems a million miles away.

as they say…no pain, no gain…hugmamma.

“just go with it,” and we did

My daughter convinced me, at the last minute, not to see “Black Swan.” I knew it was “dark,” and so was prepared for a Stephen King style thriller. But I wasn’t aware there was raw sex thrown into the mix. My daughter’s words were “raunchy,” “out there,” and more to the point, “sex between the 2 main actresses.” I might have stomached such scenes in my early 20s, when hormones were raging. But not so much into my “golden years,” and definitely not in a packed theatre. Yikes! I definitely didn’t want to hear the heavy breathing of strangers seated nearby. Double yikes!!

More disturbing to me, however, was the need to depict Lesbianism in its most damning, stereotypical imagery. Just when strides are being made among that community to show themselves to be upstanding citizens like their heterosexual counterparts, a much-hyped film with an Oscar for Best Actress, regurgitates the bad press that should remain ancient history. Been there. Done that. Don’t need to go there anymore. Was there a real need for explicit sex scenes between the 2 women? Did we need to remind people about their homophobia? Might the gay community have been spared the potential for a public relations setback? You who have seen the film will have to answer that one. I’m speaking “blind,” and it’s only my opinion.

Cover of

Cover of Cactus Flower

Opting to seeJust Go With It instead, turned out to be a happy surprise. Adam Sandler is not a favorite of mine, but after seeing him in “50 First Dates” with a definite favorite,  Drew Barrymore, Sandler is “growing” on me. Not until the credits were displayed did I know that the show was a remake of an oldie, but goodie,Cactus Flower.” Filmed in the 70s, I think it was a career booster for Goldie Hawn, but I only had eyes for the great Ingrid Bergman, and ears for the dead-pan humor of Walter Matthau. It’s good I didn’t know earlier that this later film was a remake. I might’ve spent the evening making comparisons. Instead I thoroughly enjoyed “Just Go With It” on its own merits.

Nicole Kidman at Cannes Film Festival 2001

Image via Wikipedia

I’d forgotten that I’d read in a review that 8 weeks of the film were spent on the island of Kauai. Seeing the green, lush beauty of a Hawaiian island brought huge smiles to our faces. Since it was the backdrop for most of the film, my husband and I obviously never stopped grinning, except when we were laughing. And seeing both Nicole Kidman, in a supporting role, and Jennifer Aniston do a pretty mean hula was an added bonus.

But the scene that brought tears to my eyes, and a lump to my throat, was a closeup between Anniston and Sandler. Watching her face as she listed things which she loved about him, I felt as though I were looking into the eyes of a good person, not just an actress. Never far from my mind, whenever I hear her name or those of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, is the pain Anniston must have endured throughout her marital breakup, and even years after the dissolution. The media scrutinized her every look, her every move, her  relationships, her breakups. While the hurt may have shown in the probing paparazzi photos, Anniston said very little. And she was probably entitled to say a lot.

Having seen Jennifer Anniston only a handful of times in films, and maybe a few dozen times on television, I was noncommittal one way or the other. But tonight I came away feeling like she’d be a good BFF, not for me obviously, but for someone who travels in her celebrity circle.

a full thumb’s up for Jennifer…and half-a-thumb for Adam…hugmamma.

a child’s “truth,” a lesson for all

It’s unusual that I write back-to-back posts about Oprah segments. But I’ll venture away from the norm because today’s show spoke of her relentless efforts to educate her viewers, numbering in the millions, to the gay and lesbian dilemma. If I remember correctly, Oprah has dedicated more than 100 segments of her talk show to the cause. Her goal has been to encourage gays and lesbians to own their truth, reveal themselves and live their best lives.

Among many who have spoken their truth about homosexuality, sitting alongside Oprah on her show, were Olympic gold medalist diver Greg Louganis,

Latin singer Ricky Martin,

and more recently country singer Chely Wright. Today’s segment also spotlighted viewers who had “come out” in their own lives to family and friends, as a result of seeing celebrities do so on Oprah’s talk show. Perhaps the most unusual guest was an Indian prince who’d announced his homosexuality to the world, including his parents, several years ago as a guest on the show. He returned today to say that Oprah’s public support, especially in view of her own heterosexuality, did much to loosen the once hostile attitude toward him and others like him.

A gay daughter and her mom made the greatest impression upon me. They had visited the show before, when the daughter’s rebelliousness and the mom’s refusal to accept the truth were obstacles in their relationship, going forward. After that show’s conclusion, Oprah introduced the two to her chief of staff, Libby, a lesbian. She spent 2 hours explaining her own experience. Hearing of the woman’s struggles to accept her truth, the support of her family when she revealed her homosexuality, and the tremendous strides she made in her own life since, convinced the girl’s mom to finally learn to let her own daughter be who she is. That was a “lightbulb” moment for me!

I realized that whomever my daughter decides is her soul mate will be her choice. Even as a heterosexual, she will know who makes her happy and who fulfills her life. Parents of straight children are also guilty of thinking we know best. We forget that we’re thinking what’s best in our estimation, not theirs. It’s not easy relinquishing control over the course of our children’s lives, but we’re not exempt from dying, so we’d better let them get on with living, now.

a lesson learned, hugs for…hugmamma.