I don’t like to talk about what I don’t like to talk about

When we lived in Germany, we watched the AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and TV Services) network which broadcast US TV shows and had no commercial content. They did, however, screen all sorts of public service announcements, and among them was a series of ads about prejudice. In them they asked children questions about prejudice. In one, they asked a little girl what she thinks of prejudice and she answered, “I don’t like to talk about what I don’t like to talk about.”

That line has stuck with me all this time and seems particularly apt for this blog post.

I was talking to one of my daughters about thoughts I have been having lately about getting older and what that means to me, how it changes how I view the world. I told her that no one ever writes about this because it’s too depressing. She said to me that she noticed that no one ever writes about menopause because that too remains a subject that women don’t want to talk about.

So here it is.

Menopause seems like a walk in the park compared to issues of growing older, so I will tackle that one first.

The information I had when I was in my late 30s was limited and frankly frightening. There was a long list of symptoms that one may have including heavy bleeding, night sweats, depression, rage– all sorts of mood issues and possible vulnerability to psychosis. From my point of view, it seemed a lot like a mini-death. After all, it seemed as if everything was going to go haywire.

Now I have never done a survey and since most women don’t talk about their experience, I cannot tell you what other people report, but for me, aside from a couple of years of heavy and unpredictable periods (which by the way, could have been made much less unpleasant had there been yoatzot at that time who could have told me that much of what I was concerned about was not relevant) and hot flashes, I had no symptoms.

The heavy bleeding was not fun. Once when I was giving a workshop on “The Uses of Humor and Metaphor in Therapy” in San Antonio, I was forced to sit behind a desk rather than stand while speaking as a veritable tidal wave hit. Experiences at work when I bled through onto my chair were less than pleasant. Finally, the doctor insisted on an endometrial biopsy which was a real experience. I was lying in that most unflattering position on his examination table as he stuck what felt like a hot poker into my uterus. It was so hot and shocking that I all of a sudden started to panic. I was blind!! I couldn’t see anything. And then I realized that my eyes were closed. When I opened them my vision returned. It turned out the pain was only momentary. When later he gave me pills to induce what he called “a chemical D&C” he told me to be prepared for a flood. In fact, that was not an understatement. The one good thing that came out of it (yes, indeed, something good resulted) was that at the time I was working full time and also trying to rewrite my dissertation, adding charts and case material that didn’t appear in what had been my final draft. I had to remain 5 steps from the bathroom for 3 days and I was able to stay home and finish my dissertation. After that there was still heavy bleeding from time to time, but I wasn’t worried about it enough to go through all of that again. And then, finally, the bleeding stopped and never returned. I don’t miss it.

Oh, the hot flashes. Well, they bothered me a lot less once I thought of them as power surges and I began to find them mildly amusing. All of a sudden I was like one of those space heaters who sit there innocently quiet and sedate until suddenly the coils turn bright orange and everyone nearby begins to feel flushed. Except, this time, it was only I who was feeling flushed. And just as there is no control over when that coil becomes orange, there is no control over when the surges come. Sometimes it was several times an hour, sometimes, only a few times a day. Over the years, they are farther and farther apart.

Of course it did make for some interesting experiences like when I would be teaching and would say to the room full of Orthodox women studying family therapy, “Is it hot in the room, or is it me?” Most of the time, it was me.

But even more interesting was when I taught a group of Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox men, most of whom were rabbis, family therapy. Since they take only single gender classes, they usually have male instructors, but because of my qualifications, a special exception was made for me to teach them. Now informality between men and women is not something one is likely to find when you have a group of dark-suited, bearded, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, so there were situations that were unusual. As we would sit behind the two way mirror and watch one of the men work with clients, we were sitting in the dark, a bunch of men and I, most likely making them far more uncomfortable than it was making me. When issues related to counseling women came up, I was able to teach them a lot about women that they had never known. Unfortunately, strict gender separation leaves men pretty clueless about women.

So, when I asked them one day, “Is it warm in here or am I having a hot flash?” I was pleased to note that none of them fainted and happy that I had added to their store of knowledge about women. I guess I got a bit of a kick out of the looks of shock on their faces.

In short, my experience with menopause was not nearly as bad as I had feared. I lived through it and life on the other side is pretty terrific. I would love to hear other women’s experiences.

…but do they know we love them?

Sometimes when I write, it’s only when I see people’s reactions that I realize what I’ve said. The responses to my last post were all different and reflected what they meant to the people who read the piece.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder how it is that we convey what we feel to those we love. Of course kind words, gentle touch, and thoughtful deeds, help, support, and caring all are important, but why is it that sometimes it doesn’t seem as if the message gets through.

“If he really loved me, he’d say he loves me,” the young wife said to me in my office one day.
“Do you love her?” I asked him.
“Of course I do,” he answered.
“Can you tell her?” I asked.
“I love you,” he said.
“He only said that because you told him to,” she said.

Is there anything he can do to get the message across? If she says that his washing the dishes would show he loves her and he washes the dishes, will she say, “but he’s only doing that because you told him to.”

So I leave the question open. How do we let those we love know that we love them in a way that they will understand? How can we do what they want us to do to prove it without their devaluing the effort?

Is knowing that you are loved something that only happens when you have been loved and cherished as an infant? Is that necessary? Is it sufficient? For others does it take lots of years and shared experiences?

Examining our tortoise pictures in the Galapagos

What are your thoughts?

…but do they know?

Yesterday I was talking to someone who is visiting Israel on one of those programs that exist for young people. When I asked if she would be coming back to stay, she said to me, “My parents miss me.”

Ah, how tender! Her parents miss her. I am sure they do. She is a delightful person. But more important than the fact that they miss her is the fact that she knows it.

I was immediately struck by the realization that I never could have made that statement. Did my parents miss me when I was gone? Sometimes I think the happiest moments of their lives were when they were dropping me off at camp or at some weekend experience. When I returned, there was never the feeling that I had been missed. In fact, it seemed like my re-entry constituted a sort of intrusion.

Did my parents love me? I’m betting they did. My mother in her own hung-up way probably did love me. My father in his very quiet, very gentle way, I am sure loved me. But did I know it? Did I feel it?

I think about my own children. I wonder if they felt that kind of love. I wonder if they knew that I missed them when they were gone. I wonder if my oldest son knows that I cried half the night when we left him in Atlanta to attend school there. I wonder if he knew the joy I felt when he came home for weekends. I wonder if my daughter realized that the day I went to pick her up in Oklahoma City 100 miles away, when I brought her back for a surprise visit to the States, I sobbed most of the way to the airport and practically jumped out of my skin when the plane was late. I wonder about my other children too, whether they know how many times I have spent days and nights worrying about their safety as they traveled to strange places, as they served in the Army and reserves, as they traveled on dark roads past Arab villages. I wonder if they know how much I love them.

Parents’ love is strong and fierce, but sometimes our gentle, laid-back manner belies the passion we feel for the safety, well-being, and happiness of our children. How can we let them know?

It seems that some parents know how to do it. I’d like the recipe, please.

Herding cats

Imagine for a moment that you had a very small family and all you ever wanted was a big one. So, you got married and had maybe 5 children. It was fun. They were great. Yes, there were arguments and pushing and vying for attention, but in general, it was fun.

And now suppose that you had forgotten that when they grew up they would want to have families of their own. It actually never entered your mind.

And now imagine that in the blink of an eye there are something like 28 grandchildren.. maybe even a couple more… and all of a sudden, it’s not that easy to do almost anything with all of them. Oh, and along the way, the children have acquired spouses…

And now, let’s say you wanted to get a picture of all of them.

Um, you get the picture. Only I didn’t. Watch the following to see people disappear and reappear. Guess how many are missing the day of the picture taking and how many are hiding or are blocked in each picture.*

Yep. Herding cats.

Oh, there are more, but you get the point…

*The winner gets to be the photographer the next time.

My $.02

Since everyone else has written about the US operation that ended with the killing of Bin Laden, I thought I would add my little part.

For me, there is no doubt that the man needed to leave the scene. He caused enormous death and destruction for many years through his evil organization. He killed indiscriminately innocent men, women, and children. One can hope that perhaps his death will save some lives.

In the Jewish tradition, however, we recognize that even our enemies’ downfall is not a source of joy. In fact, at the seder each year, we spill out a bit of wine for each plague, for how can our cup of joy be full when others, G-d’s creatures, are suffering.

I feel very sad about Bin Laden and those who follow him and other people who have chosen evil. They too are G-d’s creatures. They were given human souls and human bodies that could be used for good, healthy, productive lives and they have used them to cause pain and death and destruction. How can we rejoice at the end that Bin Laden brought on himself?

Our Creator must be very disappointed in him.

Waiting…

I have a firm belief that you never know how something will be until you experience it. I can give you quite a few examples– from decisions that abstractly seemed simple and when in the situation, the decision was also clear, but in the other direction– or my preconception of what a new place would be like when we were given an assignment by the Army to an area across the ocean or across the country.

Now usually, I try to keep my family out of my posts. I prize their privacy and therefore they do not appear prominently in my postings, but this time, I am making an exception.

I moved to Israel in 1995. My only close family member aside from my husband and my children and their families is my sister. She lives in the US. Wherever we were on our far-flung adventures in living in 18 different homes since we got married, she managed to visit us. Although we are different in many ways, we always stayed close. Since I have been living in Israel, my sister has managed to visit us about once a year. We handled the distance well. I enjoyed her visits and tolerated the time in between. It’s been a long time that we’ve lived far away from each other, and it seemed OK.

Several months ago she told me that she has decided to make aliya, to come to live in Israel. Surprisingly enough, although I had been tolerating her absence well, from that moment, it has been hard for me to wait until her expected date of arrival. Recently she visited. Discussing the nuts and bolts of her aliya was amazing. It became more and more real to me that she really is coming. I must have said to her about a hundred times, “when you are living here, we can…”

When I said goodbye to her this time, it felt good to know that this was the last time that we would be living separated by an ocean.

And I think back to that first glimpse of her when I was 4.5 years old, those big beautiful eyes looking out at me from a bundle of blankets, my long awaited sister, coming home at last. And now I look forward once again to greeting my long awaited sister, coming home at last.
Whn