From Housedress to Heroine: The Evolution of the Mature Woman

I adored my grandmother, and she adored me. In my youngest years, she was as much a mother to me as my mom, who needed to return to a full-time job once I started school. Grandma Bessie lived with us; she’d moved in after Grandpa passed away. We formed a bond from the very beginning. The story goes, one night at the age of two, I crawled out of my crib and into Grandma’s bed. We were roommates from that day on for the next eight years – until her stroke which, within several months, took her from my life.

Not only were we roomies, but she was my emotional lifeline. Sad Gina? Angry Gina? Disappointed Gina? I knew exactly who would help me feel better. It’s not that Mom and Dad were neglectful, but there were five older sisters and a brother to take up their time and emotional resources. And my siblings were 12 – 21 years older than me, so the household into which I was born was decidedly no longer child-centric.

Easter morning in front of the azaleas, ready for church with Grandma Bessie.

Thank goodness for Grandma who took the time for me and my childhood neediness while the rest of the household swirled with the activity and drama of young adulthood. I can honestly say that Grandma was my first friend; attentive, nurturing, patient and good-hearted. She comforted me when I was scared to go off to kindergarten and she delighted in hearing me sing the songs I’d learned there when I got home. She taught me to pray before bed, coaxed me to eat the crust of my breakfast toast and played with me when everyone else was otherwise occupied. We watched her “stories” and afternoon game shows together; and the westerns she was so fond of in the evenings.

By the time I came along, Grandma was 72 but it never occurred to me that she was old. She looked like an older lady (white hair, dentures that she rarely wore and raised veins in the backs of her hands that I innocently – and adorably – referred to as her “worms”). She dressed like an older lady (housedress, support hose, a hair net and sensible shoes). She acted like an an older lady (moving slowly, not engaging in physical activities and having a standing house call from Dr Eiseman every Tuesday morning). But nope, little Gina never considered her to be old. I now realize that by the time I’d come to know her, she was living life as a “senior lady.” Looking back, I now see how she was regarded, even by her family. She was all that she’d ever be; a cherished piece of the past. No one begged her opinion on current events, no one asked if she had more to contribute beyond baking amazing bread and cleaning the house every Friday. By all accounts, it seemed she was fulfilling her destiny, becoming more dear to us, yet less relevant to the world at large. And that fate was fine with her, and with us.

But here’s the thing… As much as I idolize her, I know to my core that I’m destined to go farther than Grandma Bessie did in her life. As the first woman of mature years I knew, Grandma Bessie is my mind’s archetype of a woman in her seventies. Intelligent, warm and capable, yet with her fruitful years behind her, fading into the cabbage roses on the wallpaper of life. My mature years are going to be full of personal growth, self fulfillment and brave, energetic steps toward finding deeper meaning in my life. I will not go gentle into that good night because my light is far from finished shining. There’s a lot more that I want to do. The way I see it, there’s no time like the present to get to it.

On the brink of 57 years old, I often consider how alarmingly close to my seventies I am myself. Looking forward into the next couple decades of my life, I’m terrified of the prospect of slowly, silently slipping into irrelevance with nothing more to offer. 

Grandma Bessie as I remember her

I believe Grandma reached the limits of what a woman could be in her era – all to which she could aspire and was allowed. It seemed Grandma accepted her elder status with grace (or perhaps she had little choice to do otherwise…) but I do not accept the inevitability of that reality for myself – because I DO have choices!

So what do I believe I have to offer myself and the world? In recent years, I’ve reached a significant juncture in my life where I acknowledge my wisdom and revel in my maturity. I’ve achieved an awareness I wasn’t expecting; it’s empowering and delightfully surprising! I don’t think I could know it until I knew it. One day, out of the blue, I realized it with every fiber of my being: There is something more that I have to be and contribute. The myriad of experiences throughout my life have led me to this revelation.

I will NOT sit back and let my accumulated knowledge and wisdom remain untapped. Likewise, I will not squish the big, meaningful life I want to live into a small box with narrow parameters and shallow depth. Although I don’t know what that will look like in action, I know that the next section of my life needs to fulfill an inner longing I have to serve myself – and thereby the world. And I know I’m not alone. Women of maturity today are nowhere near the end of our usefulness to ourselves, our families, our communities and the world. For many of us, this time in life marks a time to refocus our energies and discover our “next,” transforming into the reality of today’s female maturity.

Grandmothers then, grandmothers now.

The photo to the right says it all. The same age does not mean the same degree of vitality (or lack thereof). We are so much more evolved as mature women of the 21st century! All those years of feminism and increased opportunities are finally yielding us a world where we have many role models of female empowerment and accomplishment. While the playing field still isn’t close to level regarding men in relation to women, I’m of the opinion that, rather than bemoan that which we don’t yet have, that we celebrate the opportunities we do have, which will in turn open more and more of those previously closed doors. We women are world leaders, scientists, business executives, artists, activists, warriors… We are now highly engaged in government, education, leadership, finance and in positions of authority and influence. We’re on a path bathed in sunlight and possibility, rather than shrouded in darkness and constructed of brick walls. And that’s where we differ dramatically from my Grandma Bessie and her contemporaries… there is a path, there is precedent, there is possibility to continue to be valuable, valid, powerful and influential, even after some arbitrary age is achieved. We don’t have to be “done” until we choose to be done (if ever). 

The thing I love most about women’s empowerment is that we didn’t need to turn ourselves into men to attain it. We embraced our whole selves, which includes our perspective, empathy, so-called “soft skills,” diplomatic nature, nurturing proclivities… all of it. That’s what we bring to the party, in all our complex, multi-dimensionality. Intelligence, drive, raw instinct being equal between the sexes, these feminine attributes have proven to be our strengths, not our shortcomings (as some men would have us think). Traditionally female characteristics give us a unique way of moving through and operating in the world. Now that ours’ is accepted as an equally valid way, women can step up, use our empowered voices and make the world a place that uplifts all people – that’s our strength. That’s our power as women.

Grandma Bessie helped lay a strong foundation for the woman I’ve become by nurturing my emotional life and demonstrating the the importance of love, inclusion and patience (as well as eating all the toast). I’m fortunate that I have the opportunity to live this next stage of adulthood with more choices and empowerment than she had in her time. I can remain vital, engaged and powerful as I mature. Not only am I not nearing an end of relevance; I’m entering an age of new-found relevance. I believe that as a woman who chooses to embrace my maturity, rather than settle into invisibility, I can make a profound impact in my life – and upon the world.

Grandma Bessie poured her heart and soul into me. I hope the life I lead would make her proud.

Posted in Inspiration, Memories, The personal development of Gina | 4 Comments

I Dream of Houses

I’m rather a fan of the way my mind works; in waking hours and sleeping hours alike. Awake (especially in the shower for some reason) I’ve been known to be an introspective, profound, problem-solving whiz. I bring a raw intelligence, sharp wit and unique perspective to the days of my life. I don’t claim these qualities out of hubris or inflated self-image; the insight comes from years of observation and the wisdom gained through living this life with my emotional eyes open.

My sleep is equally interesting (at least to me). My dream life is rich and memorable. I’ve remembered particular dreams for many years, incorporating them into the fabric of my identity. I’m prone to experiencing recurring dreams that portray very particular themes all too familiar in my waking life: feeling invisible, being lost, and failing to escape someone/something pursuing me.

Another category of my recurring dreams I call my “house dreams.” These take place in very particular houses in which I may or may not have ever lived. The dreams always take place in the same houses and usually follow a very similar storyline. I’ve wanted to write about these dreams for a long time, in hopes I’ll stumble upon some revelation in the process of committing them to the written word.

My house dreams touch me on a spiritual level because of a deeply felt desire in my waking life to someday find and reside in my “forever home.” It’s an elusive (as yet) place I aspire to one day know and live in for, well, the rest of my days. My forever home isn’t a grand place; it’s comfortable and fresh and just spacious enough to stretch my imagination and support my creativity. It’s a place that cradles my Sweetie and our kitties and I in a sense of security and belonging. It’s our ideal place where we take pride in every square inch because it reflects and displays the things we hold most dear. If I have one desire above all others in my life, it is to experience the dream of living in our forever home become reality.

It’s only natural to try to make some sense of dreams – especially those that revisit us (or we revisit…) periodically. It’s human nature to attach meaning to phenomena, such as dreams, that we don’t thoroughly comprehend. But I’m a skeptic when it comes to dream analysis. I mean, I have a vivid imagination, a strong grasp of allegory and creative interpretation and, as my mom once observed, a particularly analytical mind. These factors combined could easily lead me to “conclusions” as to the meaning and significance of my dreams. But I in no way believe that I can apply those mental proclivities to magically unlock my dreams’ hidden meaning. Why would my mind communicate with me through metaphor? And even if it did, how do I know that I’m interpreting correctly? It’s just all too subjective for this analytical brain to buy without some science to back it up.

Now, about those houses… They fascinate me to my core; so I’m  going to write about them and the dreams that unfold within them. I’ll tackle them one at a time in as much detail as my waking mind can elaborate upon that which happens during the decidedly non-word accessible state that is REM sleep. It’s going to be an journey of deep introspection and, hopefully, self-discovery.

So watch this blog for those posts about my dream houses, coming soon.

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Cancer is a Bully!

We’re living in a particular hell right now as we await the start of Scott’s chemotherapy. We know it’s imminent; his port is placed and now we wait to hear the date it will begin from the doctor tomorrow. This is yet another version of various hells we’ve experienced since his colon cancer diagnosis in October – just three and a half months ago – but that feels like an eternity ago in a way. Many of the hells are similar to this: interminable, seemingly senseless waiting: Waiting for appointments. Waiting for test results. Waiting for information. Waiting for healing. Waiting to begin treatment… Other hells are of the scared-out-of-our-minds variety that are borne of having a certain amount of information, yet not knowing what to do with it. Still other hells are made of uncertainty. Uncertainty about now. Uncertainty about tomorrow. Uncertainty about the farther ahead future. So, so many new permutations of hell we never imagined existed.

It’s been a particularly “thinky” time for me as I try to make sense – any sense – of any of this. Leave to me to try to think myself out of hell… All that thinking has led me to the conclusion that Cancer. Is. A. Bully.

Just like a bully, cancer:

  • attacks you out of the blue
  • is absolutely senseless
  • attacks unprovoked
  • picks on you just because it can
  • takes what it will from you
  • brings you to your knees
  • leaves you feeling fearful, anxious, empty and weak
  • gains power over you when it knows it’s getting to you

I believe bullies are the most vile of villains. Hateful. Hurtful. Selfish. Opportunistic. Devoid of empathy. To me, bullies and cancer are one in the same. The insult to physical and emotional wellbeing is intimidating. The overwhelming nature of it is inescapable – it colors every thought and mood. If cancer had a human form, I would want to do battle against it with my entire being. This is my Sweetie we’re talking about – and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect and defend him.

But how do you beat a bully? That’s the age-old question, isn’t it? Conventional wisdom says there’s no easy escape from the clutches of a bully. Like cancer, a bullying situation can seem daunting, unwinnable, totally devastating, impossible to overcome.

Recently, I saw this video that demonstrated a fresh perspective on dealing with a bully and, likewise on cancer. Please watch so you can witness for yourself the graceful power of this mindset and technique:

So what if we approached the bully named cancer like the guy in the video… Try not to take it personally. Don’t take it in. Deflect. I know it sounds simplistic and much more easily said than done. But what if this is a way to cope with an unconscionable situation without having the bully destroy us? This is happening to us but we don’t have to allow it to define our life. We still have other gifts to give, whether the bully is grabbing at us or not. We can make our life about what WE want, not about what the bully tries to dictate. Because it’s our life, dammit – not cancer’s.

Posted in Inspiration, Life, Observations a la Gina | 1 Comment

The Power of the Purge

A week ago Sunday evening I began “THE PURGE in our basement!” ENOUGH of a lower level that looks like a hoarder lives there. ENOUGH of piles of “stuff” that should be somewhere else but instead is just down there because it can be. ENOUGH of storing items that could be of use to someone else. ENOUGH of avoiding the actual filing of things that are important to keep track of! ENOUGH of it all!

Photo by Gary Chan on Unsplash

I’m glad it was recycling week because there was so much stuff I don’t even know why we still had. Paid bills, random correspondence, stacks of meaningless/no longer relevant paper… the shredder’s gonna be VERY busy in days/weeks to come… And the other things… craft supplies, seasonal decor, packaging/wrapping items, sentimental stuff, displaced household items… It’s all been collecting down there for years. Years that have seen water pipe breaks, sewer backups, appliance replacement; all of which have caused these stored items to be displaced/rearranged – often not in an orderly manner.

A couple weeks ago, I would have been content to have left that mess continue to be, untouched and wholly unnoticed. That night, for whatever reason, I became keenly aware that I was overwhelmed by how things got “set aside” for so long and that they had become a monstrous weight upon my psyche. It was time to set about slaying the beast. So I dug in.

In light of our current life situation, this comes as no real surprise. Priorities are shifting before my eyes. These days, my mind is restless – searching desperately for distractions, things to do that transport me from the scary, uncertain reality in which we’re living. The purge is providing me with an escape. It’s turning into a spiritually fulfilling activity for me; something I can control, at a time when so little is under my control. It’s something with which I can make progress and measure my accomplishment – at a time when other, more dear, issues are enigmatic and wholly out of my control. At least in this part of my life, my will shall be done.

I hope I complete the purge before I look like this…
Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

So I sort. And organize. And toss. And assess my attachment. And get real about what is really important… in my home and in my life…

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Finding Our Way Through Uncharted Territory

Our life is currently in a state of turmoil. Upside down. Completely unrecognizable as our own. Why? Well, in a mere three months, we’ve transformed from a very happy, healthy couple of loves, married for 25 years, to a couple dealing with a husband’s:

  • colon cancer diagnosis in October, 2018
  • colostomy in November, 2018
  • chemotherapy beginning any day

How’s that for a reversal of fortune? Never in our wildest imaginings would we have ever conceived that what is happening right now would be a reality in our life.

It’s more important than ever to focus on the positives, but sometimes, truthfully, they are difficult to find. It seems more like locating the least shitty thing among all the shitty things. One significant item squarely in the “Win” column is that Scott’s colostomy is reversible. With the chemotherapy’s toll on strength and immunity, however, it will be delayed by several months. There’s no doubt that we’re looking at an extremely challenging 2019.

Togetherness!

We’re trying to keep this ordeal in as manageable a perspective as possible by thinking of it as a temporary (albeit a significant) bump in our road. The expression “take one day at a time” has never rang truer or helped in a more tangible way than it does now. Each day that stacks behind us is another victory; one more down. It’s difficult, but we’re trying to remember that this is not our forever fate; it’s just our now – and it straight out sucks. Scott and Gina stick together and find their way – always have and always will. We’ll weather this physical and emotional storm together with our particular brand of compassion, humor and irreverence; someday it will be behind us.

As a writer, processing events and emotions by putting words to them comes naturally. Writing has always helped me make sense of things and find perspective. So there’s no question I’ll be writing frequently and passionately about this experience. As I ponder this wordy undertaking, it occurs to me that my account of our upcoming months may be of interest – and maybe even help – to others also going through life-altering circumstances like this. So my reason for sharing this deeply personal and emotional journey here on Once a Time a Time is twofold; as a personal journal of sorts, recording this experience, and as a potential source of support and inspiration for others. I’m sure my observations won’t be entirely unique, as many have walked this path before me, but I hope that perhaps they will resonate with someone.

That being said, I have no intention of turning this blog into the Cancer Chronicles. I will continue to ponder, amuse, delight and recount stories that spark my spirit and imagination. That’s the only way I know to keep my emotional life alive and maintain a sense of normalcy that we will sorely need.

I hope you’ll follow along with my observations at this intense part of our life and continue with me once we’re on the other side.

Here’s a little something to remember when facing difficult times because remember, laughter is the best medicine.

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