Mother’s Day and the Polar Bear of Reawakening

Last week we were at my parents’ for Mother’s Day when my mom mentioned that she would have loved to have been a landscape architect. She’s mentioned this before, but she sounded sadder than usual this time. She also would have liked to be a meteorologist or a construction worker. However, she had a very strict mom who believed women could only be stay-at-home moms, teachers, nurses, or secretaries. My mom became a (kickass) stay-at-home mom, and later a secretary and then a cashier at a department store. She also has a front yard that strangers stop to admire, and she’s done every bit of planning and planting herself.

Mom always told me and my sisters that we could be anything we wanted to be. As I’ve written before, despite what Mom said, I never felt like I could be anything I wanted to be. But why? Even after I had a degree in my chosen field I had little confidence. Why?

Mother’s Day evening, back at home, for some reason I was thinking about some of the other messages I’d grown up hearing about women. We didn’t go to church except for a very short time when I was young, but American culture is steeped in church messages, and two things I remember knowing about being a girl were 1) I was only created because men needed companions (and I was supposed to feel proud of this), and 2) women were supposed to obey their husbands, while husbands were supposed to love their wives.

Suddenly I became furious with Paul, the unmarried author of the verses about wives submitting to their husbands. And I became furious with myself. My husband was not even a Christian when we married, and I put the burden of obedience on myself. My husband had no idea I was doing this to myself. I started attending a lovely little church where people would give you the shirt off their back and older, married women told me that I could tell my husband my opinions but he got to make the decision in the end. Some of these women had stayed with abusive husbands, so who was I to complain about letting my nonviolent husband make all the decisions?

Submitting to your husband is a concept of concretes. You either do what your husband says or you don’t. And I did, from spending money right down to the direction of the toilet paper roll. Loving your wife, however, is abstract and vague. Realizing this was really what made me furious with Paul. Husbands can say they love their wives, and that’s that. Show some love here and there, and voila. Wives submit day in, day out. Minute in, minute out. At one point I remember reading Proverbs 31:16 about the perfect wife who considers a field and buys it with her earnings. This wife seemed to have significant authority, but maybe it was easier for me not to contemplate too much.

Around the time our daughter was born, my husband started attending church with me. I was thrilled when he was baptized. I’m still thrilled he was baptized. But even though we were attending the same church, he says now that he’d had no idea that I was learning at my women’s groups that he got to make all the decisions. I’m sure he has no idea how many things I would have liked to have been different.

When I fell asleep after Mother’s Day, I had a dream. In the dream, I had some raw steaks. I wanted to put the steaks outside on a wooden table (or fencepost?) but I didn’t want the white bear to get them. I put the steaks out and kept an eye on them. Almost immediately, though, here came the white bear. (At this point in the dream my inner editor said “polar bears don’t live down here” and my subconscious mind said “shut up, it’s a symbol.”) The bear got one of the steaks, and I put out some more steaks and kept a closer eye on them. This time when I saw the bear I ran and grabbed the steaks before the bear could get to them.

When I awoke, I knew that the raw steaks represented my raw emotions. But what about the polar bear? Not sure I’d believe what I read there, I went to dreammoods.com, a site I’ve enjoyed before. According to them, seeing a polar bear in your dream means a reawakening. I don’t know who decides these things, but I knew it made sense even before I made sense of it. Incidentally, raw emotion was one of the things they said raw meat symbolized.

I thought about my raw emotions. Do I want to leave my raw emotions out for all to see? Yes. I’ve been telling friends far more about my personal life than I ever did before. Lately I find I’m desperate to share my feelings. But what about the polar bear? In the dream I was afraid that the polar bear would get the steaks. Am I afraid that if I leave my emotions outside for all to see, it will lead to a reawakening?

I had to answer “yes” again.

And it hurt. Reawakening necessitates change. Change is scary.

Yesterday my friend posted on Instagram “Even on my worst day I’m deserving of hell.” This was one of the many moments recently that it was obvious how much I’ve already begun a reawakening and changed in the last year. My friend’s post was the kind of thing I used to think. But when I saw it on Instagram I said to myself “No! There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. I don’t want my religion to be about how terrible I am anymore. I don’t want my daughter to hate herself the way I’ve always hated myself.”

Thank God, when I told my daughter the other day that I’d been taught by other women that I could tell Daddy my opinions but he got to make the decisions, she said, “That doesn’t sound very fair!”

Every generation gets a little closer. My mom told us we could be anything we wanted even though she was told no such thing. My daughter might actually do it.

Come, polar bear of reawakening. Come back to my dreams, and I won’t be afraid of you this time.

Other Half (a poem)

OTHER HALF

By Rae Messenger

 

We mingle with our glasses full

of wine from someone else’s shelves

Not big on wine, I haven’t drunk

And soon we’re standing by ourselves

Now you have swallowed half of yours

Don’t worry, I add half my cup

Now mine’s half gone, but it’s okay

I’m happy to see yours filled up

About the time the party’s at

its liveliest and in full swing

I notice with a sigh that you have

Gone and drunk the whole damn thing

I don’t know why I’m doing it

(And someday maybe I can laugh)

But I look in your hazel eyes

And I pour out my other half

Into your glass, then comes along

An older woman, Botoxed lips

She eyes my liquid in your glass

“Half empty or half full?” she quips

“Half full!” you say, and she replies

“I really like the way you think”

But I have noticed (she has not)

That you are scared to take a drink

Someone conjures up more wine

You smile and ask me “Shall I pour?”

I clutch my empty, fragile glass

And I’m not thirsty anymore

 

So You Married an External Processor

I am not a psychologist. I’m merely an internal processor married to an external processor. But I think I might have some insight that can help you with your marriage if you’re a different kind of processor than your spouse.

It took me nearly twenty years to see how my husband’s being an external processor affected our marriage. First of all, I didn’t hear the terms internal processor/external processor until a few years into our marriage, and then I didn’t really think about which one I was and which one my husband was for years after that.

When I finally labelled my husband as an external processor, I realized that I had wasted much time trying to please him in ways that he didn’t really want to be pleased. Example: Once, my husband said that we should have dinner every night at 5:30. Together. At the dinner table. As an internal processor, I don’t say these kinds of things out loud unless I’ve thought them through and decided that they are important and achievable. And so my husband cleared the crap off the table and I did what food prep I needed to do to make sure dinner was ready at 5:30. I don’t know how long I did this. A month? Two months?

Music teacher schedules being what they are, many times one or the other of us wasn’t ready for dinner at 5:30. Eventually, after much internal thought, I told my husband that I just couldn’t keep up the schedule.

HE DIDN’T REMEMBER MAKING THE REQUEST.

After a few things like this happened, I realized that though it made me feel like a bad wife, I needed to wait until my husband had brought things up a couple times and we’d really talked it through before I bent over backwards to make a change.

Conversely, I’m sure my husband assumed that I was like him. Whenever I’d say something was important to me and he didn’t seem to take it seriously, I would be really hurt. But what seemed like a lack of respect was simply his taking my request for a change in our schedule or lifestyle as a passing thought—the first part of the decision-making process. Because that’s how he is. He doesn’t expect me to take his every word as a fully processed thought.

It has taken him as many years to understand that I don’t bring something up unless I’ve thought it through and it’s REALLY important to me. You can imagine the frustration we could have avoided if we’d realized this difference in communication style earlier on.

I know there are many, many discussions for new couples to have, but this is one more to tack on. Are you an internal processor? An external processor? Do you even know? Let me know in the comments how communication styles and internal/external processing have affected your relationships.

EDIT: This blog seems to be making the rounds again during shelter in place, which made me laugh. We have set some new rules in our house. They include times when no one can talk to me. Everyone needs that, and I hope your external processor realizes that it’s nothing personal ❤️