Drama at the Bird Feeder

An Oasis in the Backyard

It was a beautiful balmy summer afternoon and the gang was busy making preparations for granddaughter Emma’s surprise birthday party. There had been a temporary hiatus in the COVID warnings and such get togethers were no longer frowned upon.  I had escaped the chaos and responsibility associated with major decisions like whether the balloons should be tied down or allowed to escape to the ceilings by sneaking out to the back deck.  I settled into a comfortable chair hoping for some peace and quiet.  My favorite son-in-law (I can use that term without offending anyone since he has no competition for that honor) devotes nearly every minute of his spare time working in his yard.  The result is a carefully choreographed weed-free wonder of plants and flowers surrounded by patches of manicured grass in the front of the house, but my favorite place is the back yard which he has converted into a beautiful wildlife-friendly oasis.  It all began when he planted some shrubbery and small trees around his back lot line in order to provide some privacy.  As is his style, he soon immersed himself in learning all about landscaping, and the fence line around his backyard began to widen at the expense of the lawn due to the addition of more varieties of flora.  The diminutive pond fed by a trickle of water, at Jim’s behest, now got its fill from a more substantial flow which emitted a mesmerizing lullaby as it cascaded over a series of carefully placed stones into a small pool stocked with koi.                                                                                                                                                  

Indeed, as I settled into my adirondack chair, I felt at peace and somehow comforted. My knowledge about flowers, plants and trees is very limited, but I was impressed that all this stuff seemed to look as if it belonged.  There was all manner of shades of green in various shapes and sizes.  There were delicate ferns dwarfed and shaded from the assault of too much sunlight by their taller brethren who turned their leaves to face the sun’s rays head on, gratefully absorbing all they could get.  In the midst of this sea of green was the contrast afforded by those plants who seemed to compete for attention by showing off their ability to produce vividly colored flowers.  Presiding over this show was a backdrop of several varieties of tall trees silently dominating the scene. 

Let the Games Begin!

The quiet was soon interrupted as mother nature raised the curtain and the show began with the clarion call of a squirrel who was barking at me from his safe perch high up in a tree.  He was staring at me and his bushy red tail was swishing back and forth as he told me in no uncertain terms that I was invading his space.  This guy, I will call him Sammy, soon lost interest in me when a smaller version whom I named Freddy appeared on the scene. 

Freddy was aggressively attempting to access all those goodies in the bird feeder.   Never mind that the feeder was designed to be squirrel proof, Freddy was not to be denied.   He initially decided to attack from above and slid down the wire which suspended it, but with nothing to hold onto, slid off the top and fell to the ground.  Undaunted, he immediately was back up the tree.  Having changed to a strategy of frontal assault, he opted to leap from the trunk of the tree directly onto the feeder.  This time he appeared to have some success even managing to briefly reach paydirt by contorting his body around the feeder, but alas with nothing to hold onto and with the feeder swinging back and forth wildly he once again did a backflip and hit the ground.  However, his efforts had not been in vain for bird feed now littered the ground.  His good fortune was short lived however: as Sammy who had been preoccupied with my presence suddenly became aware of what was happening directly beneath him. 

Sammy had apparently decided that the immediacy of Freddy’s attempt to steal his cache of sunflower seeds and stuff represented a greater threat than did my presence consequently; he attacked poor little Freddy who was barely half his size.  Since I had been bullied as a kid, I had great sympathy for Freddy, and was rooting for him to kick Sammy’s butt, however Freddy was no dummy and took off running with Sammy in pursuit.  Their speed and agility was amazing as Freddy raced through the trees with Sammy on his tail.  Freddy’s diminutive size allowed him to leap onto small branches which would barely support Sammy, advantage Freddy. 

While those two were fighting, a flock of sparrows saw their opportunity and swarmed around the feeder determined to take advantage of the absence of those hair covered monsters.  In order to lessen the chance of being grabbed by some predator hawk or eagle, these guys opted to land, take a bite, and quickly fly away to seek refuge in the foliage of a tree.  Speaking of bullies, at this point a couple of blue jays showed up squawking and shoving the smaller sparrows out of the way, but it was not long before Sammy, after dispatching his adversary, was back at the bird feeder determined to reclaim it as his personal domain. This time he used his size to grab the birdfeeder with his front paws and somehow anchor his rear legs to the tree, thereby gaining access to the goodies.  It appeared to be a successful strategy until my little hero, Freddy, reappeared.  He slid down the wire and holding onto it with his hind legs was able to hang on since Sammy had stopped the feeder from swinging back and forth.  Needless to say, Sammy was a very unhappy rodent.  He reacted by attempting to reach Freddy, but in the process lost control and the feeder began swinging loose again.  You guessed it Sammy and Freddy both fell to the ground and took off running up, around, and through the trees.  They had barely disappeared from view when Charley the chipmunk showed up to clean up the spoils of war which had been left on the ground. 

Soon the sparrows who had been waiting unseen in the trees also showed up to share in the bounty.  Charley seemed to have no problem in sharing his find, and the birds seemed comfortable with him.  I guess they all felt there was enough for everyone.  I sat in place for a time waiting for Act 3 to begin, but neither Sammy nor Freddy showed up, besides it was time for me to return to my nest where I could participate in a different life drama which would be equally loud and raucous, especially following the arrival of the guest of honor.    

The Miracle of Life

The drama that I had witnessed on the patio merged with the realization that Emma the birthday girl was to be honored for 30 years of life, barely one third of the time I had been alive.  There was of course nothing new about this revelation, except that it awakened me from my usual lack of appreciation for the miracle of life in spite of the fact that our environment is teeming with it.  I believe most of us take our own lives for granted except for those of us who are more at risk of finishing our stint such as old men like me or those suffering from other possibly fatal conditions.   It has been said that awareness of our mortality leads to a more zealous appreciation of life, and my own personal experience confirms that to be true. 

In spite of endless speculation, observation, research, meditation, and spiritual inquiry, there is much about life that remains unknown or perhaps even unknowable.  There is not even agreement as to its definition.  I have spent nearly all of my life studying various aspects of life and the more I learn the more I become awed and humbled by its complexity.  We are told that life had its origins over 4 billion years ago, only a mere 250 million years after the earth was formed.  It is said to have originated from random chemical reactions to form amino acids which combined to form proteins. The proteins coalesced, and became encased in a semipermeable membrane.  Thus, the cell, the basic building block of life, was formed.   

Those “Why” Questions

Evolutionary biologists have provided extensive evidence as to how life has progressed from one cell to its current state of development, yet do little to explain why it all happened. Why questions only lead to more why questions and in the end can only be answered by God.  Reproduction is Job One for all living things, including the participants in Jim’s backyard drama, in order to assure the continuity of life.  An individual’s life is finite, but life goes on, at least it has on this planet. Since life began on earth there have been 5 cataclysmic events that have resulted in mass extinctions, but some type of life has always survived.  Some ecologists suggest that we are now entering into a human caused period of mass extinction. They base that conclusion on the large number of animals that are now seen as endangered mostly due to loss of habitat and climate change.  Some feel that all life including that of homo sapiens is at risk. 

No matter the current threats to our lives we need to remember Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote:

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt

To follow that admonition is likely to earn one the epitaph of a life well lived, but for millions throughout the world such reaching out proves to be very difficult.  Ben Franklin who had something to say about everything was only 40 years old when he wrote in POOR RICHARD’S ALMANAC: “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.” When Ben wrote the almanac, the average life span was 33 years old so I’m sure 40 must have seemed old to him.  As a bonified oId guy, I can personally attest to the brevity of life and to the urgency one may feel as one’s time winds down. 

As a physician who wore many hats, first as a general practitioner and later as a Psychiatrist I have been witness to many deaths, all of which were sad, but perhaps none more so than those who died from suicide.  It is true that in spite of its wondrous qualities, life can present us with pain that can be so intense as to be intolerable.  There is also the recent phenomenon of the so-called suicide bombers who are conned into killing themselves along with others for political reasons. We Christians honor life, but ignore the Biblical commandment “though shall not to kill” by sanctioning executions and wars. 

In spite of its difficulties, life is a marvelous state of being as evidenced by the fact that even those whose lives we consider to be horrible cling to it.  As a matter of fact, during my stint as a shrink I witnessed so much unremitting pain that I was surprised there was not more suicide, but nothing was more satisfying than to see one who had suffered that torment return to experience joy in their lives. The human spirit is indeed resilient.

As for me, every morning I look on the wall of our kitchen and read a plaque which was given by a Grandson.  It is the best advice I have ever been given:

            THIS IS THE DAY THAT GOD HAS MADE

            LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT

Downsizing is a BITCH!

DOWNSIZING IS A BITCH

Note from editor: HE'S BACK! I can assure you that eshrink is correct when he says his children are part of the solution to he and mom's downsizing. Enjoy the read...I'm sure we can all relate. 

It has come to my attention that some of you readers have questioned my absence lo these past few months. Although it is true that old bloggers suffer from the same rules of nature in that their life is brief, this one survives in spite of having flouted all the rules which are designed to promote longevity. Indeed, I am back following my latest misadventure.

It all began innocently enough when following a visit to my son and daughter-in-law’s new home in a neighboring community, Barb suggested that it would be nice to be closer to them and to downsize. It is true that we had discussed our lack of need for our “dream” house since we basically lived in only 3 of its rooms.


There was however, the problem of Floyd, who would limit our choices were we to check into one of those assisted living warehouses, for he had become persona non grata in the neighborhood due to his penchant for attacking any dogs who exhibited the audacity to walk on his street. You may recall from my previous accounts that Floyd had long ago defeated the underground fence, thus allowing him to exercise his homicidal impulses and explore the neighborhood and beyond.

Nevertheless; we decided to look around, and our son Peter arranged for us to visit a couple of facilities, one of which consisted of a couple of rooms about the size of a small chicken coop, and another which had no vacancies with approximately 200 people on a waiting list. You may be asking why they bothered to show us their place. My question, too! Realtors assured us that the shortage of housing in the U.S. was further accentuated by the fact that baby boomers were now looking to downsize. In short, we found nothing that even remotely fit us (and all of our stuff).

DESTINY or Google’s Artificial Intelligence at Work?

As a result of our fruitless search, we returned home having given up on the idea of moving while attempting to convince ourselves that it was probably best to sit tight. However, on the following day, I found myself trolling through some computer stuff when I noticed an ad for a condominium located in the area where we had been looking. It had recently come on the market. As a matter of fact, it had suddenly appeared while I was looking at the screen. Now, I am not a guy who is big on destiny and all that kind of stuff, but that picture on the screen seemed to be calling to me. (Note: Editor and daughter Maggie says that’s digital targeting–the power of AI). Consequently, I dialed the number and made an appointment to see the place the following day.

There’s Always A Price to Pay


It was located in a quiet secluded neighborhood within a few minutes of major shopping areas. The sign at the entrance announced that the houses populating the development were villas so I knew it must be a classy place. There were several people walking their dogs and they all waved as we passed. I wondered if they were really that friendly or if such behaviors were mandated by the condo association. I would later learn that there were rules about virtually everything else. Indeed, those rules were documented in 43 pages of small print along with 21 pages of amendments.
My family have accused me of being an impulse buyer which may be partially responsible for the accumulation of the huge amounts of unused stuff in our possession, although my marriage to a collector of beautiful and momentous objects certainly played a part. With that in mind I spent at least five minutes carefully inspecting the place, before saying: “I’ll take it”. I quickly qualified my comment after realizing that Barb might also have an opinion, but she agreed, our offer was accepted and we were on our way to our latest adventure oblivious to what we had begun.

We had discussed our next move and I had developed a simple game plan for our downsizing. We would move the stuff we needed into our new digs, turn the kids and grandkids loose to grab what they wanted, and have an auction for what was left. Yes, the plan was simple, but its implementation not so much.

Floyd Friendly?

Floyd the dog

Floyd remained an unresolved problem. On one of our visits to the new “villa” he jumped out of the car and after an extensive search was retrieved by Peter near a busy highway some distance away. Those condo association rules I previously mentioned had a lot to say about dogs and it became obvious that Floyd would find it difficult to comply, and make it even more difficult for Barb and I to control his exuberance, which is often misinterpreted as aggression. We saw many residents in the condo neighborhood walking their fuzzy little dogs, and it was doubtful that Floyd, the hyperactive disobedient mongrel with a rap sheet, would ever fit in.


Floyd and Barb had developed a very tight bond and she was reluctant to lose him. I must confess that I had also been taken in by the feigning of affection by those big brown eyes. After much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, Barb relented when our yard man Steve, who is one of Floyd’s favorite people, offered to take him. She was partially convinced after Steve explained that he lived in the country where Floyd would have free rein.

The closing of the deal on the new place was uneventful. Fortunately. I took the advice of our realtor and insisted on an inspection of the place which resulted in the replacement of a defective HVAC. That thing about the best laid plans of mice and men turned out to be appropriate for the operation was largely down-hill from there.


STUFF

Our last move had been more than 35 years ago and we found that one can accumulate a lot of stuff in that period of time much of which has sentimental value. Some things were gifts, others items which had been bought as souvenirs or represented special times or places. There were what seemed like an endless parade of boxes of photos in albums, slides, framed or loose, some going back 5 generations or more. We decided to keep them all by promising ourselves that we would go through them all with the kids, identify all we could and digitalize them for safe keeping although in our heart of hearts we knew this would never happen. They now reside in 4 large boxes in our new garage.

Furniture however; presented a different problem for it goes without saying that 10 rooms of furniture do not fit very well in a 4 room house. Likewise, much china, glassware, figurines and all manner of doo dads had special significance to Barb, and there was no room for much of it. I wasted much time and energy fruitlessly arguing that point, (you would think that after 68 years I would know better).

As for me, I found myself emotionally attached to my tools. Through the years I had accumulated a lot of woodworking tools and all sorts of wrenches, pliers, screw drivers, and assorted gadgets along with the tools and materials to satisfy my favorite hobby of framing pictures which was one of the few hands-on activities in which I felt reasonably confident. I did move a few hand tools along with my 70 year-old collection of screws, nuts, bolts, washers and miscellaneous hardware which were categorized and labeled, my only feeble success at becoming organized.

Packing with a Twist: Paid by the BOX

In prior moves, Barb and I had packed up the stuff (correction: with major contributions by our four children…this detail was added by smith kid #4), but this time I decided to pass that chore on to the pros. I should have been prepared when the estimator told me that the guys who packed were paid by the number of boxes they filled. She had estimated that it would probably take 2 trucks to move our stuff, but we ended our move with 4 truckloads of stuff in the condo–most of which were in boxes. The boxes were stacked 3 and 4 high all through the place to the extent that there was no place to sit. There were so many boxes in the kitchen that it was almost impossible to unpack them. As we began unpacking the reason for so many boxes became obvious: paid by the box not paid to FILL THE BOX. Each box had wads of paper filling half the box and then just a few (sometimes ONE) For example, in one box I found a half-used candle about 4 inches long wrapped in a package about the size of a football. Those boxes disgorged enough paper to require 4 trips to the recycling center in addition to the truckload of cardboard boxes. Had we not moved, we would have saved not only a tree but a whole forest.


Naturally, it was frustrating enough to look for specific items hidden away in all those boxes and to get enough stuff unpacked to give us room to function at even a primitive level, but in the midst of it all Barb managed to complicate our problems further by having a very untimely heart attack. The roto-rooter guys (interventional cardiologists) unplugged and stented 4 coronary arteries one of which was totally occluded and the others more than 90% plugged up. The doctor said he was amazed that she had been able to even stay on her feet, but his prediction that I would not be able to keep up with her post-op proved to be fallacious for I have not been able to get a lick of work from her since the surgery.


Fortunately, the kids all helped out with some of the unpacking otherwise, rather than writing this I would still be trying to find my computer, wrapped in an armload of paper. In addition to the recycling center, there were multiple trips to Goodwill after we squeezed everything into our new house that it would hold. It has been over 3 months since the big move. Although we still have too much stuff for this place, It is cozy and we can now walk from one room to another without moving something.

Why is it so hard to let go of “stuff”

As for downsizing, that mission has been accomplished. The pain of “letting go” of treasured items was minimized by giving stuff to kids thereby burdening them with stuff which they will need to get rid of some day. We studiously avoided learning about how things went at the auction; although we know that some of that “valuable” stuff went for pennies. With an overstuffed 4 rooms and no basement or attic, whatever urges we may feel to accumulate more stuff are quickly extinguished.


Recently, I complained to one of my new neighbors about the pain of downsizing, and his response was “I know, we have all gone through it” referring to other neighbors in this 55 and over development. This started my thinking about why do we spend most of our lives accumulating stuff until it suddenly becomes a liability, then work hard to get rid of it. I asked Barb, a well known collector, why she collected stuff. Her reply was simply: “Because I like to look at it.” That shouldn’t have surprised me as Barb is a truly an “aesthetic” person at her core. She elaborated that all that “stuff” also reminds her of pleasant times in the past.

I presume there are other reasons that motivate us to accumulate and sometimes even hoard. There is that ego thing which says look at what I possess which is another way of saying look at me. Objects may stimulate intense feelings of nostalgia. I had a very special relationship with one of my grandfathers who was a carpenter. I still have some of his tools. When I look at them I visualize those gnarled hands working a piece of wood and I know that as long as I possess those tools I will never forget him. There is also the “I might need it someday” phenomenon which rarely happens. Although, I confess that I feel a special kind of exhilaration whenever I find the use for a screw or bolt in my collection.

Minimalists Anonymous!


Some millennials have advanced the idea of minimalism which would certainly eliminate the downsizing problem. Their philosophy is the less stuff the better. They would advise me to take a picture of Grandad’s tools, send it to the cloud and get rid of the tools. Advice that sounds like sacrilege of the first degree. I could no more experience Grandad’s tools in a picture than I could the Grand Canyon in a photo. Fortunately, the solution comes with having children whom you hope will not be minimalists, and will honor that stuff and the stories you tell about it. The minimalists insist that being bogged down with stuff hinders them from the enjoyment of more satisfying activities.


There are signs that this philosophy has taken hold by many. It seems as if reverence for old things has taken a hit as evidenced by the demise of the antique business. It makes me wonder if that same idea has fostered a disdain for longstanding traditions and ideals. Does it also prevent us from learning valuable lessons from the past? Minimalist ideas are also likely to have provided the impetus for the genesis of a “throw-away society” which is inevitable when people don’t want to keep anything, which contributes to the widespread pollution which surrounds us. It is true that the minimalist lifestyle does protect against the ravages of downsizing, and that their penchant for use of disposable products fits well into an economy in which consumerism is applauded. After all, the disposal of stuff means more stuff can be manufactured. We do glory in a burgeoning Gross Domestic Product, and wealth which is largely a measure of how much stuff a person has is generally admired and often envied, yet we profess great concern for the health of our planet.


As for me, I do not have enough walls for all the art I would like to hang, but I still have the tools and as I write this, I look at a knife hanging on the wall above my desk which has a scrimshawed drawing of a sailing ship on the handle. It was done by a close friend who is long gone from us. I get a warm feeling when I look up at it.

Floyd the dog

The Annual Christmas Letter

Editor’s Note: The holidays are typically so busy, I intentionally decided to post Eshrink’s Christmas letter AFTER Christmas. Yes. That’s it! I didn’t forget to post it. I’m not suffering from menopausal A.D.D. or anything like that. I decided Eshrink readers deserved a good laugh to end this crazy year of 2020.

Dear Friends, Family and Christmas letter afficionados,

We are living in another one of those times which “try men’s souls”.  In our case both our souls survive in spite of the isolation imposed by this damnable virus, and we remain in possession of all necessary body parts.   Our efforts to avoid the bug have included cancellation of the annual Smith vacation, and Thanksgiving by Zoom.  It is not looking good for Christmas either.  The kids did conspire to throw a big outdoor family party for the old man’s 90th B-day complete with balloons and posters, but lacking in hugs.  When I am not hobbling around the house with my cane complaining about my aches and pains in fruitless attempts to elicit sympathy, I can usually be found at my desk writing a blog, a stupid Christmas letter, updating my obituary, or dealing with Floyd the devil dog. 

That latter activity has become a full-time job.  Those of you who have visited us have undoubtedly met Floyd whom we rescued from our local dog pound 3 years ago, for he is a very gregarious outgoing mut of undistinguished lineage.  As a matter of fact, his welcomes can be overwhelming at times, as it was for a rather staid elderly widow who after seating herself on our couch was enthusiastically greeted by Floyd via his leaping over the coffee table to land directly in her lap (did I mention he is very athletic?).  His other favored method of greeting a visitor can be even more problematic.  Some who read this may have been conned into helping Floyd exercise his fetish of having his belly rubbed without realizing that when he enters into that state of ecstasy his bladder sphincter also relaxes and the one who rubs will find themselves in the direct line of fire.   

In a previous letter, I believe I mentioned some of Floyd’s past exploits.  I could tolerate his digging up a well-manicured lawn, constant barking, burying our newspapers, and even the embarrassment of his leaping into the mail truck, but those behaviors are minor compared to his more recent attempts to kill me.  He is quite capable of feigning affection while possessing the heart of a cat killer (another story).   He has even attempted to break up my marriage by refusing to allow me to even come into contact with Barb.

Floyd’s bona fides as a devil dog were confirmed by his ability to make Barb and I the neighborhood pariahs.  Although he is in many ways very gregarious and welcoming to other dogs, he has decided that they are not to be allowed to walk on our street, and he routinely stands guard barking at the many dogs that are walked past our front yard.  Until last Memorial Day he was contained by an underground electric fence but on that day which will live in infamy he decided to brave the shock to run through it and launch a vicious attack on a neighbor’s dogs.  Needless to say, our neighbor was not happy.  A week later, in spite of my cranking the fence shock level up to the max, he again attacked the same dogs – this time drawing blood.  I learned that the middle of a dog fight is not a good place to be nevertheless; I managed to pull Floyd away from his victims but ended up flat on my skinney butt holding onto his collar.  I barely had time to get up off the ground when an ambulance arrived followed minutes later by two cop cars and the dog warden.  The ambulance guys seemed disappointed that I was not hurt, the sheriff deputies were amused, the neighbor was only mildly homicidal, and the dog warden gave me a serious lecture and a ticket to appear in county court.  All the players in this little drama were unmasked, by the way. 

Peter, always the good son, insisted on accompanying me to the court appearance even though I assured him I would be allowed a phone call before they locked me up.  The court appearance was an illuminating experience.  The room was packed with fellow criminals, but I decided to play the gimpy  old geezer card and made sure my cane was on full display as I hobbled up to the podium to plead guilty.  I was surprised to learn the judge had a rather comprehensive description of the events leading up to my appearance, and was impressed that I had paid my neighbor’s vet bill ($242.90).  I assured him that we were lo longer depending on the underground fence and were in the process of hiring a dog walker.  He seemed impressed and suspended my sentence and told me I would only pay court costs of $50.00, but when I checked out I was told I owed $98.00.  I didn’t complain out of fear that I might be charged with contempt of court or something equally disgraceful.

Floyd’s absolute favorite activity is riding in a car, and a recent episode in which he attempted to engineer my death explains why.  With the covid thing, Barb and I have spent time exploring some of the less traveled back roads of the county.  Though he feigns ignorance when convenient, Floyd seems to be electronically gifted for he learned some time ago that he could lower the car window by tramping on the button.  On this one particular trip I neglected to set the window lock button, and when I slowed to turn off the road, he was instantly out the window and racing down the middle of a heavily traveled 2 lane country road.   As soon as I could turn around, I succumbed to Barb’s pleas by going after him, but when I caught up, he turned and ran in the opposite direction.  I turned again, and this time he had stopped to investigate something in the middle of the road.  With deep ditches on each side of the road, I was forced to stop in the traffic lane.  Barb got out to retrieve the scoundrel, but found we did not have his leash.  It was obvious that a gimpy old fart like me would be of little help, but as I attempted to extricate myself from the car, I was saved by a guardian angel.  This person was not your stereotypical angel.  He had no wings, but of course you can only know an angel by what he does, not by how he looks.   He stopped his pickup truck in the lane opposite mine, and stepped out – a man mountain with biceps the circumference of my thighs.  Meanwhile, cars were backed up in both directions, but amazingly no one was rear-ended.  I knew this angel must be heaven sent when he got his female boxer dog out of his truck,  Floyd found her irresistible.  When the devil dog approached to check her out, my angel scooped him up, dumped him in my car and drove away before I could even thank him.

The angels who look after my family have also done a good job.  Barb is still a delightful companion (most days) and everyone has escaped the ravages of the covid virus except for Emma whose case was mild.  Caroline’s roommate has contracted the disease and Caroline is in quarantine but so far remains negative.  Everyone is gainfully employed in spite of the pandemic.  Barb and I remain perplexed as to how we managed to end our lives surrounded by such a marvelous group of people, and what I have done to deserve the longevity with which I have been blessed.  We can only assume divine intervention was involved.  Therefore; with love for all and in the spirit of the season Barb and I  WISH FOR YOU THAT YOUR ANGELS WILL KEEP YOU SAFE AND BLESS YOU WITH THE MERRIEST OF CHRISTMASES AND THE HAPPIEST OF NEW YEARS.

How to Survive Loss

Life can be defined as a finite period of time characterized by continual change. Consequently, since nothing is permanent, we all experience losses. Some are trivial, others are devastating. We are now living in a time of great turmoil with millions of people subject to losses beyond their control. Thousands of homes and businesses have been destroyed by the effects of climate change with fires, floods and storms throughout the world. Many more have been displaced by wars and political upheavals with thousands having lost their homes, possessions and way of life, but the most immediate and tangible threats are due to the COVID-19 pandemic where in addition to the loss of over a quarter million lives, several million remain unemployed, and self-imposed isolation has taken a toll on mental health.

According to the CDC, 8 out of 10 deaths from the virus have been in those over age 65, but they noted even those in their 40s and 50s are at higher risk than younger folks. Many studies have documented that widowhood carries with it a mortality rate of well over 30% during the 1st 90 days of bereavement and 15% thereafter, powerful evidence that loss of loved ones has serious consequences for survivors. The pandemic has limited traditional mechanisms of dealing with grief since last goodbyes are often denied due to isolation policies, and funerals, wakes, and life celebrations are limited. Time will tell if their lack will result in an increased prevalence of unresolved grief.

Grief | Loss due to death vs Loss due to breakup

Meanwhile, we are still subjected to the ordinary losses associated with the process of living. Much of my time as a psychiatrist was devoted to helping those afflicted with the pain of losses, as I am sure is true for most clergy, counselors, social workers, psychologists and bartenders, etc., but it is only recently that the Board of directors of the American Psychiatric Association has recommended that unresolved grief be considered a diagnostic category. Although death of a loved one may seem the ultimate loss, in some ways it is easier get over than the termination of a relationship via other means, such as divorce or breakup of an important personal relationship. The finality of death encourages one to move on, but when the object of one’s affections is alive a relationship real or imagined will persist. Thus, Don Jackson, a renowned family therapist said there is no such thing as divorce. Or as I have often said: divorce is like a death in the family, but you can’t bury the corpse.

Our nature requires relationships. Relationships help to define our identity, i.e., who and what we are. For example, I am often introduced as Barb’s husband which provides considerable information about me. Our identities are also shaped by those with whom we associate even the organizations to which we belong or those we choose to lead us. Long term relationships invade one’s personal space to the extent that we often absorb some of the involved person’s personal characteristics to the extent that they become part of who and what we are. Consequently, their loss may result in what I call a psychological amputation. Thus, in the face of such losses, one is left with the feeling that a part of one’s self has been taken away.

As with the loss of a physical body part, a psychological amputation can result in myriad feelings and reactions in addition to sadness. There may be anger, at times even rage, directed to whomever one blames even him/herself. Instances in which rejected suitors have stalked, assaulted, or even murdered, are unfortunately not rare, which naturally leads one to question the nature of such alleged love. There may be feelings of betrayal at the deceased for being abandoned or for behaviors thought to have hastened his/her death. God is often a target for anger, especially in deaths, and in such instances the Biblical quote: “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away” rarely provides solace. Although I have found that referral to the patient’s pastor or Rabbi is frequently helpful.

GUILT

Anger may also be self-directed resulting in guilt. In such cases, the patient may spend endless hours ruminating over what he might have done to prevent the loss or even worse how he could have caused it. A close friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, continues to have pangs of guilt over her Grandmother’s death nearly 80 years ago because as a child she had “sassed Grandma” shortly before her sudden death.

There are instances in which survivors may feel guilty for not grieving enough. One case from many years ago, which has stayed in my mind, involved an elderly lady who was referred to me by her family doctor with the complaint that she had lost the strength in her right leg. An extensive workup had not yielded a diagnosis and the referral appeared to be a hail Mary. She walked into the office unassisted. Although using a cane, she appeared to walk quite well. Her story was that her husband of many years had recently died following years of a debilitating illness for which she had been his primary caregiver. She reported that she rarely left the house during all that time, having obviously taken seriously the vow about “in sickness and in health.” Shortly after her husband’s death, she was excited to visit a friend in a neighboring village whom she hadn’t seen since her husband became ill. After starting her car, she was unable to move her leg to the accelerator in order to drive away -a classic case of conversion reaction, resulting from the guilt she felt over enjoying her new found freedom.


The Affect of Death on Children’s Development and Attachment Theory

It has long been noted that children who become orphaned are at risk for significant relationship or mental health problems later in life. (This is a relevant post from Psychology Today). Konrad Lorenz’s studies of imprinting demonstrated the importance of relationships in young animals, and Bowlby, with his Attachment Theory, came to similar conclusions regarding humans. When the process of attachment is interrupted prematurely it may leave the child lacking in skills necessary to develop healthy relationships, and leave them impaired for life.

Much has been written about the stages of grief. However, I have not found that concept particularly helpful, for in my experience people do not always follow a particular pattern of behavior when they have lost something or someone, though I have found that denial is frequently present especially when the loss involves another human life. Although at a conscious level there is realization that a person is gone, a survivor may behave as if expecting them to return. In such cases there are frequent slips in which the deceased person will be described in the present rather than the past tense. There is resistance to disposing of clothing and other personal effects, or to removing the voicemail greeting from the family phone. Frequent trips to the cemetery are common and may involve imaginary conversations with the deceased. The survivor may be said to have “held up” surprisingly well during the burial proceedings.

Perhaps, the most painful loss of all is the death of a child, and in my experience the most likely to result in denial. Although at a conscious level the parent knows their child is dead, they may continue to insist that their room will remain untouched as if they are waiting for him/her to return. Deaths by suicide usually introduce a series of unanswered questions which further complicate the healing process, often leaving survivors blaming themselves.

It goes without saying that it is very difficult to resolve a problem without acknowledgement that it exists, and in my experience, denial following the death of a loved one is quite common. It is usually the first hurdle that must be overcome in order to find resolution of grief. There are numerous exercises which may be ordered to help one achieve acceptance. My favorite is to arrange a visit to the graveyard with a close friend or pastor, simply say goodbye, and have a good cry. For those in denial, there is usually a great deal of resistance to using that word, and the mere suggestion to carry out those instructions is often met with tears.

Loss of Relationship by means other than death can be even more complicated.

The break-up of young lovers, especially first loves, is complicated not only by the level of passion involved, but their lack of experience in dealing with loss. They should be taken seriously as such losses can result in serious suicided attempts especially in teenagers. But for anyone the loss of a love object can be devastating for with it go dreams of an idyllic life with the hope of loving and being loved. It may result in sadness, depression, anger, or even violence.

How to Survive Loss

Hope is invaluable with the loss of things which are replaceable for it inspires one to action. The streets of our big cities are littered with homeless people most of whom have lost hope, while those who have lost their homes in fires or other calamities, although saddened and depressed by the loss of all their possessions, need hope if they are to replace that which has been lost. However, with abandonment by a loved one hope can hinder resolution. It goes without saying that one cannot live in the moment if they are stuck in the past, which happens when we continue to dwell on recovering something which is beyond reach.

Recovery from loss is simple but not easy.

We must “let go” if we are to “move on.”

We let go by grieving. Grieving is the process by which we allow ourselves to grapple with and purge intense disabling emotions following a loss. Grief can be initiated by the loss of anyone or anything to which a person has a personal attachment.

Cultures have developed various traditions which seem designed to promote resolution of grief following deaths. In a previous blog I have written about those I experienced in a rural midwestern village 75 or 80 years ago, but my favorite funeral celebration is the traditional New Orleans jazz funerals in which the funeral procession is led by a brass band to the graveyard while playing a funeral dirge, then following interment the band marches back toward the decedent’s home playing a lively Dixieland tune. The message could not be more evident. There is acknowledgement of the sadness of death followed by the celebration of life, a perfect example of letting go and moving on.

Other Types of Loss

In addition to the loss of loved ones, since the word pandemic entered our lexicon, we have been subjected to losses of some of our most precious possessions. It has been said that you don’t fully appreciate the importance of something until it is gone. Granted, it has been catastrophic for those who have lost jobs, housing, or businesses, but the isolation and cumulative effect of the loss of activities which we previously would have considered mundane have also taken a toll.

On a positive note, if there is one, perhaps we have learned to know the value of some of those things we previously took for granted. There is also hope that constriction of our social activities may result in more family cohesion. Who knows? Maybe kids and parents will even start talking to each other. Losses of all kinds are bound to get our attention, and there is often a lot we can learn from them, especially those we create by our own mistakes for failure is the great educator.


CATHARSIS

Although in rare instances, loss may result in a sense of relief, in nearly all cases, there will be strong feelings elicited as previously mentioned. Such emotions are disabling and must find expression, a process which we call catharsis. It is not a good time to do the strong silent thing when consumed by grief.

As I have mentioned many times, we are herd creatures, which is hardly a new concept having been the subject of John Donne’s poem, “NO MAN IS AN ISLAND” written in 1624. As such, we are dependent upon others whether we like it or not. In the face of intense emotions we can become overwhelmed and confused. In such times more than ever, we need validation, i.e., someone who we trust to listen, be supportive, and reassure us that our feelings are rational. Indeed, the process of attempting to communicate those feelings verbally helps to organize one’s thoughts, and a recent study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, has confirmed what we already knew, which is that confiding in others helps prevent depression. After all, that is how I made a living.

Surviving Loss is a PROCESS

Usually catharsis is not a one-time thing and there will be triggers that will resurrect some of those feelings in milder form from time to time, but most will learn to let go of past traumas by focusing on the road ahead. Hopefully, they will come to understand that to look back over their shoulder will likely cause a stumble, and that they must let go of the past in order to move ahead.

With millions all over the world facing serious losses, we are not only “all in this together,” but we are also very much in need of each other and there has never been a better time for us to be our “brother’s keeper.”

ANNIVERSARY REVIEW by ESHRINK


This morning, I happened to look up at the top of a tree growing next to my patio and was amazed to see how big it had become. I guess it must be nearly 50 feet tall. It stands in full view of its lower half from this little office where I compose my literary masterpieces. I have probably spent hours looking out at the lower portion of that tree while trying to organize some great truth, yet today is the first time I remember looking up at its top.

 

It has been 35 years since I planted it. It was a scrawny thing with a bulbous out-pouching around its base. I have no idea as to its species, but it has become a good friend. It has used all that energy from those years in the sun to grow into this magnificent specimen which now shields me with its shade. One of the reasons I was shocked to take in its full size is that its trunk does not appear to be large enough to support a giant upper body.

 


Fortunately, I had preempted Barb earlier in the day by wishing her a happy anniversary before she had an opportunity to put my failing memory to the test for, I have a history of forgetting such important dates. Barb on the other hand has one of those minds which has allowed her to catalog not only birthdays and anniversaries of immediate family, but of anyone else we have ever known. Actually, I had prepared for the event by squirreling away an old card which I planned to recycle for the event, but I misplaced it–thereby losing my opportunity to be a real hero.


The day held little promise of anything exciting, especially since there is not much about the number 67 to generate enthusiasm, but just as we were on the verge of declaring this anniversary a washout, son Peter called to say he and Sue were on their way here. They brought flowers, Pete did some of my chores, and got takeout from Bill’s Barbecue, which we enjoyed on the patio. Trudy had called previously to tell us they would be coming to spend the weekend of Father’s Day with us, and after Pete and Sue left we retrieved a voicemail from Maggie and a text with her flattering epistle about us old buggers and our marital style.

 

As for Maggie’s analysis of our “discussions” she mentioned, I am sure most of them ended with my surrender for I am still no match for Barb. But on the bright side she fights even harder FOR me. It is easier to find a lover than a friend, and to spend my life with someone who is both makes me a very lucky guy. Later Barb and I did some reminiscing, which was sort of like looking up at that tree to see whole thing.

The view was pleasing.

 

 

 

The Smith Crew circa 1969

The Smith Crew circa 1967

 

60th Wedding Anniversary Dinner

Prepping for 2020 during Christmas 2019 Photo Shoot!

The progeny: The only thing better than perfect children is PERFECT GRANDCHILDREN

 

Barb and Darell Smith wedding

Happy Anniversary Dr. and Mrs. Eshrink | 67 YEARS!!!!

Barb and Darell Smith wedding Mom and dad circa 1978

 

Editor’s Note: Hello Eshrinkblog readers! Today is my dad and mom’s wedding anniversary and I’m hijacking his blog to share what I’ve learned from watching mom and dad as a married couple. I learned about loyalty, respect, appreciation, but also about the secret to effective arguments and all the red flags that come from ineffective arguments between couples or even the lack of arguments: resentment, emotional distance, loneliness, etc.

 

But before I share my perspectives, you might check out earlier Eshrink blogs about Marriage and his Valentine (the post “My Valentine” is the winner for the most read blog post on the eshrinkblog.com network)

LESSONS I’VE LEARNED from MY PARENTS’ MARRIAGE

These are just my perspectives from watching an incredible couple grow, change, and adapt throughout their life together as a married couple while taking that “death ’til we part” thing to heart.

 

ARGUING with a PURPOSE

It’s been my experience that I’ve learned more from the bad stuff than the good stuff so I’ll start there. My mom and dad argued. I hated it when they argued, but they didn’t hide it, which I guess made my little kid brain think it was okay or normal. I found out later that my parents’ style of arguing wasn’t the norm. I would hear about double binds, put downs, identifying the source of the hurt feelings, owning your feelings, etc. I didn’t understand half of it, but the arguments were usually at the kitchen table and lasted a long time (at least in little kid time it seemed like they lasted a long time). Somehow, listening to those “discussions” (that’s the term they would use when I would bring them a picture I drew and tell them I didn’t like it when they argued), I learned the “action” or incident that sparked the argument wasn’t about the action at all. Rather, it was about the feelings that action generated (i.e, leaving the dirty socks on the floor isn’t about the socks on the floor it’s about inconsideration…how it can make the other person, the one who is the primary “cleaner in chief” feel like they’re not important or appreciated or their role is undervalued somehow). Mind you, mom and dad never argued about socks on the floor…but you get the gist. The argument has a root cause that is about feelings associated with a particular action.

 

More importantly, I got to see them make up and resolve the argument. Even if a resolution wasn’t total and complete, it seemed the argument was worthwhile in that it was not only an opportunity to share grievances openly and honestly, but it allowed them to reach a renewed understanding or different perspective. It wasn’t about who was right and who was wrong. It seemed their process actually made their bond stronger.

 

RESPECT for the INDIVIDUAL. RESPECT for the UNIT.

As for the good stuff: my mom and dad have always seemed to have a deep respect for each other as individuals and an appreciation of their differences. Mom is an artist at heart. My dad has always been more practical and technical. They were equals who were different. Not equal as in the same, but their interests and differences were equal in importance. While I would say mom and dad had traditional gender roles for the time in most ways, it seemed they supported each other in broader interests; my mom’s belly dancing classes, art classes, bowling league, her decision to start a small business, The Tortoise Shell, etc.

 

And even though I don’t think I ever saw my mom mow the lawn or fix a leaky faucet, I do remember my dad cooking and doing dishes when it needed done…and not in a begrudging way, but just because it needed done…to boost the other half of the unit who needed a respite (since raising four children and keeping a house is more than a full time job). As I discussed in the argument section above, I sensed they had a respect for their choice to be a married couple…respect for the unit…and had decided the whole was greater than the sum of the parts (not sure I have that quote right, but they were better/stronger together as a unit than individually).

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APPRECIATION

My mom’s appreciation of my dad was always apparent to me. I would hear her brag about him to other people. She would correct people when they called him Mr. Smith instead of Dr. Smith, which would totally embarrass me. However, when she explained to me, “We worked hard for your father to get through medical school and become a doctor. He IS a doctor!” I started to understand why it was so important to her. Note the “we worked”…they shared in each others accomplishments because they did “do it together”… they built a relationship with the space for each to grow and achieve and explore. As for med school, my mom worked full time as a nurse to make sure they could get through and still have food to eat (dad’s always had a big appetite…it’s genetic on the Van Horn side of the family) haha.

 

I remember dad’s appreciation of mom, too, but maybe in more subtle ways (I remember us as being a genuine and authentic family…phony accolades weren’t our thing). I remember sitting at the dinner table with us four kids rolling our eyes and grumbling about the night’s dinner of cubed steak or chipped beef and gravy (shit on a shingle was dad’s name for it). Dad would go out of his way to make sure we heard him thank mom for making dinner or say how great the meal was. He also showed his appreciation for her ability to create beauty all around us…from flower arrangements, to gardens, interior design. He appreciated, not only the talent she has always had for those things, but how she continued to learn more and maximized those talents to bring beauty to everyone she touched. Later in life (back to that growing thing I discussed, dad would tap into his artistic side with the help and encouragement of mom, when he started framing pictures for her shop, The Tortoise Shell).

 

RESILIENCE and ADAPTABILITY

My mom and dad, both as individuals, but as a unit, seem to be resilient no matter what life throws at them. I’m not saying it has been easy or equitable. Sometimes one of them seems more resilient or open to change than the other, but overall I’ve noticed they don’t spend much time looking back…at least not looking back in a “good ole days” way…When I’ve noticed them look back, it seems to be to learn from the past (somehow they taught me…if you learn something about yourself or a situation when you make a mistake, then you nullify the mistake in a sense because the knowledge you gained will serve you in the future). However, there was always the caveat that we didn’t want to “overdo” this particular method to gain knowledge and wisdom 🙂

 

My parents seem to be in a constant change of learning and growing. I used to think people got fixed and rigid as they got older, but I’ve watched my parents continuously learn, grow, and change. New interests. New perspectives. New appreciation.

They take life as it comes and grab the happy when it comes. They celebrate the wins together. They grieve the losses together, but they never give up 🙂

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! Thanks for being such great parents (and saddling me with all of this liberal guilt…haha!!).

Love good,

Maggie #4 and Proud Eshrinkblog Editor

P.S LAST BUT NOT LEAST | PDA

I’ll never forget how my mom and dad would show affection for one another. As a little kid, my dad’s flirty grab of my mom’s bottom while she was fixing dinner at the counter would be met with “Smitty!” from my mom. When I was younger, I would giggle during those brief gropes and of course be completely grossed out and embarrassed for them when I was a moody teenager. Hugs were and still are in abundance between my mom and dad, discrete pats, and kisses hello and goodbye and in between have always been the norm. Keep Rockin’ Matrimony M & D!!!

Below is the card I sent them for this year’s anniversary. The perfect card for the perfect couple.

10 items or less sign in grocery store

Eshrink and Editor – Point/Counterpoint? | Everyday Irritations | The 10 Items or Less EXPRESS Lane

Hello Loyal Eshrinkblog readers!

This is Maggie, daughter and editor of Eshrink’s blog. We’ve been on hiatus with technical difficulties, both computer related (more detail in a future blog post I’m sure…here’s an oldie but a goodie about computer stuff) and health related. Since Eshrink has been using his hospital stay and convalescence as an excuse to slack off, I decided I better find a way to get us jump started before all of his loyal readers abandon him for YouTube! In his defense, he tells me he is working on a masterpiece (the one he already finished once, but the computer deleted it)…in an attempt to lighten the load and return to our Curmudgeon Roots (a.k.a., a safe place to complain about “first world problems” in hopes we can all find some common ground, deeper meaning, and comfort), I’ve taken on a point/counterpoint about the EXPRESS LANE…specifically, violation of the Express Lane/Line…whatever

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Today’s topic: The EXPRESS Lane (note EXPRESS in all caps). We’re talking about the 10 ITEMS or LESS lane at the grocery store. 

I was at the grocery store today on my lunch break when I had to face the ugly truth: I exhibit rule bias.

I race to the checkout lanes, five items in my hand, and when I turn the corner, the line of people stretches across the aisle into the produce section! I have my coat on, balancing my items in my hand because who would need a cart in the express lane? Apparently, people who can’t read; people who don’t think the rules apply to them; people who think their time is way more important than anybody else’s; and people who just don’t pay attention. Anyway…the non-express line is longer than the “express” so I evaluate the situation.

Side bar: the lesson I’ve learned to successfully navigate these “First World Irritations” is to conduct mental gymnastics in order to make me feel better about said irritation, excuse other people, and somehow make myself feel like a kind person who is helping the world. The mental gymnastics can be exhausting…more detail below.

Okay…back to the grocery store and the rule bias…or even “bigotry” I mentioned earlier. In front of me…WITH THEIR CART…was an elderly couple. I didn’t want to be too obvious as I stretched my neck to inventory their cart, but I counted at least 20 items. In the past, I would have simply said to the Express Line Delinquents, “Since I have less than 10 items, do you mind if I jump ahead to check out?”

Side bar: However, I waive that option if I’m not in a hurry and want to make myself feel like a good person by saying to myself, “I’m not in a hurry, I bet they have to pick up kids, get to work, are having a bad day, on their way to visit someone at the hospital…” it goes on and on.

I had a colleague who told me he viewed behavior above (in addition to politely telling loud talkers in a movie theater that their talking is making it hard to hear the movie) as me being confrontational. Really? Confrontational? I just feel it’s way more productive and actually nicer than muttering under my breath, “How rude! Who do you think you are holding up the express lane!” I find the annoyance leaves much quicker after I say something to the person in a polite/professional manner. I’ve had different responses in the past that range from “Oh my gosh…I’m so sorry…I didn’t see the sign” to “Sure…go for it” and only one or two snotty, “I’m in a hurry…I don’t have much more than 10” or the “What are you…the line-Nazi” look accompanied by an adolescent eye roll.

But during this “express line breach” the fact that I was in full hot flash, in a hurry, and irritated did NOT prompt me to correct these express-line violators. And that’s when I realized, I’m a bigot (if they wouldn’t have been a cute, elderly couple and it was a yuppie-looking GQ guy, or Escalade-driving stay-at-home mom, I would have felt obligated to enforce the 10 ITEMS or LESS RULE and “make a scene” as my dad used to threaten). Instead, I decided to ride it out…mentally telling myself that the cute elderly couple might feel awful if I pointed out they were breaking the rules, also…it’s a lot more difficult for them to stand in a long line than me, and finally it’s just not that important in the big scheme of things. Once I decided to accept the breach, I felt better and low and behold, a cashier opened a new line and waved me over…

DAMN…another dilemma! When a new line opens, you always send the people IN FRONT OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN WAITING IN LINE LONGER THAN YOU to the new line…or at least give them the option. But I just didn’t have the time! I rationalized that the new line opened as my reward for the mental gymnastics I successfully completed to fully accept the Express Lane Rule Breakers with a good heart…but that’s how it starts…it’s a slippery slope as they say 🙂

Eshrink: I’m turning it over to you. Express Line Violators is the subject. What do you think is the best way to handle them? The rules are clear, the penalties are severe…treat them all the same? We are nothing if not a grocery store of rules? Maybe some passive aggressive tactics are warranted? Write below the line please.


ESHRINK EXPRESS LINE RESPONSE

On a planet of 7.7 billion inhabitants, it is clear there will be many different opinions as to what is acceptable behavior.  Amongst the animal kingdom, there appear to be unwritten rules which have evolved in the service of the survival of each species.  Since we humans with our big brains can find infinitely more ways to screw things up, we have developed millions of rules, most of which are ignored.  Nevertheless, there have been many examples of the serious consequences to a society when there is no enforcement of rules as we now see in Central America, and even worse when rule makers and enforcers are corrupt leading to all kinds of atrocities.  Our own country is now experiencing a crisis of sorts over the interpretation of rules.

 

As a matter of fact, for many, the reason for rules has been long forgotten, and some seem to enjoy circumventing them whether by robbing a bank or cheating at the check out line.  I must admit there is something satisfying about “getting away” with something and there are instances when civil disobedience is honorable.

 

Although I consider myself to be a follow-the-rules kind of guy and would never consider violating the 10 items or less rule, I do recall  pleasurable feelings regarding my violation of the “though shalt not steal” rule about 75 years ago.  My friend Bill and I with malice aforethought carefully planned a midnight raid on the cider press In Jake Davis’s apple orchard.  Although our presence was announced by Jake’s coon hounds, we managed to escape with a gallon jug of freshly squeezed cider which we proceeded to drink under cover of a near by haymow*.  It was one of those clear crisp October nights when the grandeur of that night sky with its limitless canopy of stars was overwhelming, and one could hardly doubt the existence of a God.  Nevertheless, we wallowed in our sinfulness without thought of retribution and quibbled over who was drinking the most cider.  Now , I can attest to the fact that a half gallon or so of fresh apple cider can have a dramatic effect on an adolescent colon.  This can  be especially disconcerting when said adolescent spends much of a cold autumn night perched over a privy* hole.

 

You may be wondering what this has to do with the question at hand and the answer is probably nothing. However, I do remember thinking that I would never ever steal anything again.  Could it be that by extension, that mantra includes other forms of ethical behaviors, leaving me stuck with the compulsion to heed the 10 or less item sign?

 

Regarding Maggie’s query as to how to handle the problem, I have no answers, but as usual can offer a complaint.  Rules are made to be if not broken as some would have it, at least to be tested (a la the Trump response to congressional queries); consequently if there are no penalties rules are unenforceable and therefore worthless.  If a store makes a rule, they should be prepared to enforce it otherwise, as Maggie points out, they are complicit.  As for confrontation of the offender- probably not a good idea in the era of concealed carry permits.

 

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

If you have read any of my recent blogs, you may have noticed the following quote from Lao Tsu, an ancient Chinese philosopher: “to be loved deeply gives you strength, to love deeply gives you courage.”

 

The wisdom of those words explain much about behaviors I observed and attempted to treat as a psychiatrist. Feeling unloved was indeed a common complaint and the cause of a great deal of pain and misery.  Without the experience of feeling loved one is weakened, and thus may lack courage to face even the ordinary demands of life.  This may progress to a conviction that one is not only unloved but unlovable, resulting in self-loathing, depression, thoughts of harming oneself, and according to Anthony Storr, may generate violent aggression which he says is: “a complex mask for a repressed longing for love.”

WHY DO THEY DO IT?

There seems little doubt that we are now in the midst of an era of increased incidence of depression and unsanctioned violent aggression. Mass murders by otherwise ordinary people of all ages are now occurring at a level never before seen in the U.S.  Most perpetrators have a history of relative anonymity.  Neighbors usually describe them as quiet and unassuming, a person to whom they would speak to in passing but never engage in conversation.  Acquaintances when found describe their relationship as superficial, and express profound surprise that the person was capable of violence.  There is little evidence of any closeness let alone intimacy in their lives.  Could such horrible deeds be as Storr said: a result of anger over the lack of love in their life?

THE THIRD MOST COMMON CAUSE OF DEATH

There has been an alarming increase in the number of kids diagnosed with clinical depression which is not limited to those who are disadvantaged or abused.  A recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention survey of young people between the ages of 10 and 24 years resulted in shocking statistics. They report 4600 lives lost each year by suicide (most experts feel the actual number is higher due to a tendency for many to go unreported), and that rate has nearly tripled since 1940.  Emergency rooms throughout the country report 157,000 young people treated for self-inflicted injuries each year.  In their Nationwide survey of high school students, the CDC reported 13% admitted to seriously considering suicide, and 8% actually made an attempt to take their own life.  The report goes on to list a number of risk factors however; at a time in their lives when they are dependent on others to establish an identity and self-worth, it seems to me that relationships deserve to be at the top of the list.  Indeed, many teen-age suicides do implicate such problems as precipitating factors.

MORE OF THE SAME, ONLY WORSE

Rollo May in his 1960’s book LOVE AND WILL, says  “Our culture pushes people toward becoming more detached and mechanical,” but that observation doesn’t come close to what we see now that the digital age has enveloped us.  The addiction of our children to cell phones and other electronic gadgets contributes to their alienation.  Consolidation of schools and overcrowded classrooms have made it easier for kids to fall through the cracks.  Social media has become a convenient vehicle through which kids can be disparaged or bullied.  They are often attacked where they are most vulnerable i.e. their lovability consequently; the common theme “no one likes you” can be devastating to developing minds.  Now we hear there has been a dramatic increase in suicides in recent years among not only teenagers but pre-teens.   Although there is no proof of a link to feeling unloved, logic suggests there often is.

DON’T CARE? SURE YOU DO

There is ample evidence that we are herd animals, consequently; it is not surprising that I spent many hundreds of hours listening to patients with relationship problems, for when people are so very important in our lives, dysfunction can present problems.  Although we often attempt to comfort ourselves by professing to not care what others think, in truth we usually do care more than we would admit.  During all those years I spent in the shrink business I must have seen hundreds of people who were contemplating suicide or had actually made serious attempts.  Although there are obviously many factors that may lead one to seriously consider killing oneself, I recall often hearing: “Nobody cares.”

DO WE KNOW WHAT IT IS?

It would indeed be presumptuous of me to attempt to explain what love is all about.  It has certainly been a popular topic for poets, philosophers, musicians, theologians, and artists, through the ages.  The stories of wonder, ecstasy, and tragedy associated with love resonate in pop culture to this day. There have been myths, and legends and attempts to define love by categorizing it (erotic, agape, filial, spiritual, etc.), but the force responsible for this peculiar phenomenon remains a mystery to me.  My favorite definition of the term is from psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan, as follows:

The validity of such explanations is confirmed by the intense love relationships experienced by warriors throughout the ages.  The myriads of reports of heroic efforts put forth by battle hardened veterans to protect their comrades, even risking or forfeiting their lives in the process gives credence to Sullivan’s ideas.  Indeed, when questioned as to why those who would in other situations have been considered unlikely heroes are questioned about their behavior, they will acknowledge that it had nothing to do with military or political beliefs, or patriotic fervor, but rather their devotion to their buddies (“No greater love hath man……”). That phenomenon has not been lost on those charged with training the military, consequently; camaraderie is encouraged and interpersonal dependency guarantees bonding.  One cannot wonder as to the part that the loss of relationships, solidified by the heat of battle, factor in the alarming rate of depression and suicide among our veterans.  Many report they worry about their comrades who are still fighting which may  also account fir the significant number who volunteer for additional tours of duty with their old outfits in spite of the known horrors they will likely confront.

WORTH THE TROUBLE?

Obviously, love has been a major contributor to the success of the human race.  Humans isolated from their kind rarely survive.  Sullivan posits that love is caring for others as for oneself and the old Chinese dude says as a result of love for each other, man gained the strength and courage to take on woolly mammoths and those guys in the next village who were trying to muscle in on their territory.  It is the latter part of that statement that has caused a lot of problems.  We seem to know a great deal as to the effects of love, but little about from whence it comes.  The neuro-physiologists and brain mappers continue to look for specific love loci, and geneticists will likely say that it is in our DNA, but I doubt that CRISPR will ever be able to install a love gene.  It would be great if such could be done, for we currently have little treatment for those who seem incapable of love, i.e. psychopaths.

I KNOW IT WHEN I FEEL IT

It may be that love is like the dark matter of our universe in that we know it exists and feel its effects even though we are unable to see, hear, smell or touch it.  Could it be that love is simply a product of evolution?  If so, how could we have survived long enough for natural selection to kick in?  The creationists insist that God snapped his fingers and we instantly appeared on the scene fully equipped.  Atheists on the other hand think the whole thing was an accident.  Others see love as spiritually endowed.  There are 4300 religions in the world with Christianity leading the pack and Muslims close behind.

WHAT ABOUT RELIGION?

Since I have been reared as a WASP, I have very little understanding of the other religions of the world or in particular where they stand on the love thing, but am pleased that love is at the core of Christianity.  When it comes to Biblical scholarship, I am a dunce, but I do find inspiration in those first few pages of Corinthians which are all about love.  The first 2 of the 10 commandments are also about love, and love is said to be the greatest of all, never fails, and is even better than faith or hope.  There is also that thing about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek, but most of all were the teachings of Christ who was all about love.  Of course, many see an inconsistency in a loving God who lets crappy things happen in spite of being all-powerful.  Since Christians are people it is not surprising to find they have found ways to subvert the love philosophy, and resort to violence with all sorts of rationalizations.

Loving others as much as oneself is a great idea, but very difficult to implement on a grand scale.  Excessive cheek turning is guaranteed to result in a lot of broken jaws.  Nevertheless, there have been many attempts to use love as a mechanism to provide peace and tranquility, which has been met with success in some instances.  In a rare instance of wisdom, our government eschewed the policy of gathering the spoils of war after WWII.  Instead they initiated a policy aiding even our enemies to rebuild their virtually destroyed countries which lead to their becoming our closest allies.   Of course, I was also around during the “love ins” of the sixties.  Although they seemed to have emphasized the erotic rather than agape version of love, they did call attention to long neglected human rights issues and war mongering.  There was also Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King who both emphasized reconciliation and learning to love each other.

We certainly could use more love in this world, but the chances of EVERYONE following the Golden Rule seem to be unrealistic.  Nevertheless, when I look back on our history it seems there has been some progress in the love department with more emphasis on inclusivity and acceptance.  Although it may seem that love is in short supply, it is alive in well and we can only hope the day will come when The Golden Rule is ever present. Even as millions of our fellow humans face horrors each day, there are millions of people who devote their lives to helping others individually and through organizations, which gives credence to the dictum that love never fails.

Corinthians 13:4-8 gives tells us everything we need to know: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…”

PART III: CONFESSIONS OF A RECOVERING MALE CHAUVINIST

This morning I saw Theresa May, the British prime minister, on television discussing the recent terror attacks on her country. Prior to her, Margaret Thatcher (the Iron Lady) held forth as the country’s leader all during the eighties. Angela Merkel is the highly regarded prime minister of Germany; Canada has a female Prime Minister; and we recently came within a hair’s breadth of electing a woman President. Nevertheless, at last count there were women heading 9.1% of countries worldwide and 4.6% of fortune 500 companies with female CEOs.

In my last blog, I discussed the significant progress women have made towards gaining equality and respect, but these numbers tend to confirm that they have a great distance to travel. The evidence presented also points to major differences between women and men both in the way they think and the way they relate to others. I reported on research which demonstrates that some of these differences are evident at birth. My interest in this subject originated from the random speculation on what the world would be like were it operated by women, which of course raises the question as to the effect these female qualities would have on their ability to lead.

TELL ME IT ISN’T TRUE

My daughter, Maggie, thinks that men lead by controlling while women seek to find consensus. There can be little doubt that women are more nurturing than men, and studies I mentioned in a previous blog confirm that they are also more empathic and observant of others’ communications. By contrast, she feels men are not as open to suggestion, are dogmatic, less tolerant, and less patient. You may be thinking “Oh sure, just another man hater,” yet a study of 7,280 leaders published in the Harvard Business Review shows women scoring higher than men on 12 out of 16 competencies thought necessary for good leadership. More surprising was the fact that the gap was even wider between men and women in upper levels of management.

ITS NOT MANLY TO ASK FOR DIRECTIONS

This latter factor could be explained by results contained in the same study indicating that women continue to consult with others as they reach a higher status, while men do not seek other opinions as they climb the corporate ladder. Perhaps men are more likely to become satisfied with their accomplishments as they reach the top of the corporate chart; consequently, they don’t feel the need to look for input, new ideas, etc. Or it may be that as men reach the top of their game they don’t like to admit they need help, whereas women are probably less likely to see inclusiveness as a sign of weakness or incompetence.

YAK, YAK, YAK

We guys know that on average women are more talkative than men, and that most women seem to hunger for conversation. It makes sense that with all that practice they should be better listeners. In a prior issue, I quoted a study indicating that females are more attentive and interested in both verbal and non-verbal cues, even at birth, so little wonder that in this study they were found to “communicate powerfully and prolifically.” As one would expect, women scored well above men in the “nurturing competencies,” i.e. building relationships or helping and inspiring others. What was surprising is that they also beat out their male counterparts on categories traditionally ascribed to men. For example: the largest disparity was with the competency “takes initiative,” which seems to negate the idea that women are too meek and passive to lead. We men can take heart that we were victorious in the category “develops strategic perspective.” Even so, I suppose those women’s libbers would say this means we guys can’t see the forest for the trees.

MITE MAKES RIGHT

Men have evolved to have superior upper body strength, which adapted them to be hunters and warriors. This has also made men uniquely qualified for many jobs in the industrial age. Women, on the other hand, are less physically powerful but posess superior manual dexterity, adapting them for infant care, food preparation and making clothes. Now, society is on pace to virtually eliminate the need for physical strength as robotics take over the jobs which required muscle. Conversely, most jobs, if there are any, will involve pushing buttons and fine tuning instruments. Even the warriors of the world will be out of work, for all the strength needed to fight a war will be the ability to look at a screen and push buttons. In that regard, women’s fingers are known to be more facile than men’s.

NEVER FEAR, WE CAN DO JANITORIAL WORK

If the foregoing assessments are correct, male employment prospects may soon be in jeopardy. In order for women to take over the world, they would also need to take the lead in politics. In addition to the aforementioned qualities needed for leadership, effectiveness in government requires consensus building, another talent in which women are said to excel. It has not been so many years ago that the thought of a female president of the United States would have been laughable, so lookout guys—they are gaining on us! All those strategies which we have used so effectively in the past to keep them in their place are not likely to be effective much longer.

NOT FIGHT FOR OUR COUNTRY?

In the event that it comes to pass that women are able to make use of their advantages in a digital world and become the top dogs, would the world be different and, if so, in what way? In pursuit of the answer to that question, I queried my favorite expert on the subject of women. Barb replied without hesitation that there would be no more wars. If that is true then she has answered the question of how to eliminate the most horrible activity of man—an answer that has been right under our noses for thousands of years. That idea seemed overly optimistic to me, but the idea certainly was appealing. Imagine a world without defense budgets and the ability to use resources to benefit people rather than to kill them. Of course there would be a down side in that the military industrial complex would no longer be needed, and that could cause some economic problems. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure that all women share Barb’s anti-war sentiments. After all, there was Joan of Arc, and women in the military continue to lobby for more involvement in combat roles; although, in general, men seem attuned to the so-called glory of war while women focus on its horror. Thus, it is reasonable to expect women to look for other means of problem solving.

COULDN’T SOLVE THIS ONE BY BEING NICE

If women should achieve the highly unlikely status of leaders in those countries famous for the most barbaric treatment of women, would they see fit to stop those practices, even though their religious leaders and judicial systems condone and even encourage such practices? Would rape victims be punished while their assailants go free? Would so-called honor killings continue to go unpunished? Would there be any serious consequences for those men who carry out genital mutilations in order to guarantee chastity? In many cultures, women are denied the most basic freedoms and are virtually imprisoned. Would women in leadership roles be prone to accept many of these practices as appropriate since they had been firmly ingrained in their culture for hundreds of years?

THEY ARE NOT PERFECT EITHER

The premise that power corrupts was accepted as gospel by our founding fathers, who took pains to see that nobody had too much of it. Since one of the highest scores for women in the Harvard study was “Displays High Integrity and Honesty,” one would expect women not to be as susceptible to such corruption, yet there is one example of such a happening. Indira Gandhi was the first female Prime Minister of India. She was much admired all over the world for the policies she had initiated to help achieve equality for a people who had been victims of a caste system throughout their history. She initiated many reforms including equal pay for women, which was indeed a revolutionary concept in those days. However her legacy was tainted by an about face in her style of governance when faced with an economic crisis. She became authoritarian, jailing her political opponents, limited freedom of the press, and was eventually convicted of “dishonest election practices.” I find it interesting that she was quoted as saying: “To be liberated, woman must feel free to be herself, not in rivalry to man but in the context of her own capacity and her personality.” It sounds as if she was on the right track, but slid off the rails.

Can we take from this example that women would exhibit the same flaws as men when it comes to governance, or would they function differently in a world dominated by women, where rules from a male dominated world no longer apply? Research cited in Psychology Today confirms that “men are more oriented toward impersonal or invidualistic goals, and women are more oriented toward social integration,” a result consistent with Baron-Cohen’s studies (see Part II of this series). In other words, men tend to gloat over a victory while women feel sorry for the loser.

“WINNING IS NOT THE THING, IT IS THE ONLY THING?”

Revered football coach Vince Lombardi also said “No leader, however great, can long continue unless he wins battles. The battle decides all.” For women, the most satisfying resolution to conflict would be that negotiations result in a happy outcome for all; most would probably prefer to avoid the battle. This does not mean that women are not competitive, far from that, but “happy ever after” is still their favorite ending. We men also have that problem with testosterone, which stimulates aggressiveness, a need to dominate, and may affect our judgement in some cases. Vince said one can’t lead unless he or she wins battles, but women would rather discuss the matter over tea.

Conflict has undoubtedly caused more pain and suffering throughout the ages than all other factors together. Politically, this has not changed since Cain and Abel. Nations in particular respond to an attack, real or imagined, “proportionally,” which is not much different from the way children react i.e. if you hit me, I will hit you back, and the excuse is always: “He started it.” Conflict usually results when one entity feels it is under assault of its person, possessions, beliefs, or integrity.

Early in my career (before the days of the 15 minute session), I was very involved in attempts at conflict resolution due to a special interest in family and couples therapy. We were able to categorize conflicts based on the methods the participants used to deal with alleged assaults by another person. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the most malignant and destructive relationships were the result of an attack-attack system: a perceived attack, physical or verbal, is reciprocated by an attack of equal or more intensity. As you might expect, in such situations the level of anger escalates, and violence may ensue even though the basic disagreement(s) may be trivial, which is further evidence that “violence begets violence.”

That term was first published in this country nearly 200 years ago in an editorial in the New York Times. There are biblical references to that same truth, but we continue to ignore it. Our leaders continue to seek military solutions to the world’s problems. They give lip service to negotiations but refuse to talk to their enemies, while millions are homeless, starving, and face death or worse. My research in writing these essays has convinced me that in situations where women leaders come in conflict with each other, a non-violent resolution is more likely to occur, and winning will be defined by the degree of satisfaction felt on both sides rather than by a body count.

WHO WOULD HAVE GUESSED?

Recently, in the midst of all these ruminations, I happened on to an interview of our ex-president. Mr. Obama admitted, in front of God and everyone, to being an avowed feminist. He even went on to say that he thought women would do a better job than men at running things. It is not clear to me the gender of his audience; however, I see no advantage for him by currying favor with any group since he doesn’t need their votes anymore. Although I am in basic agreement with his conclusions, I must confess to some reservations about a total transfer of power.

LITTLE WONDER THEY ARE PISSED

Feminists say their cause is equality, yet many of their leaders show signs of animosity towards men, perhaps aggravated by their prior experiences. Maggie recently allowed me to read  an article she wrote about some of her experiences in the workforce. I was shocked to hear about the insults and unwanted physical contacts she had experienced. Although she had previously made casual mention of some of these experiences, I had no idea that she had actually been assaulted, which is probably just as well, otherwise she might have spent her free time visiting her old man in the slammer. There was probably also an element of my excusing much of those behaviors as only a little good-natured teasing as we men are wont to do. It is to their credit that women in “the movement” are educating us guys as to the hurtfulness of some of these behaviors. Laws designed to protect women from discrimination and exploitation have also led many organizations to initiate more stringent rules against such behaviors. In spite of all these attempts at protection, discrimination persists, as evidenced by such obvious things as unequal pay and opportunities for promotion.

NOT PERFECT?

While contemplating this vast change in the gender hierarchy, a number of questions come to mind. If women were to become leaders, would they be immune to the corrupting influence of power? Would their attitude towards men be conciliatory, or would they reverse roles and become the discriminator? Would they be inclusive, and allow boys in their sandbox? Would their means of problem solving be more effective? Would they be concerned about environmental issues? To what extent would they become peace mongers? Would they be staunch defenders of liberty or would they be too wishy-washy?

As is usually the case, when performing these kinds of mental gymnastics, of which I am fond, the quest for an answer only results in more unanswerable questions. I did conclude that when men and women are working together, it is best they leave their hormones at the door. In such an environment, they are most likely to reach a common goal by combining their unique talents and thereby gain in respect for each other. We could use a lot of that.

THAT MOTHER THING

These days, it is difficult to forget Mother’s Day as there are plenty of reminders on TV, radio, newspapers, billboards, and now even the internet.  Although the holiday (it even seems disrespectful to call it that) has been a boon to florists, candy companies, and greeting card businesses, it also generates a type of sentiment not found in other celebrations.  According to Mr. Google, there have been times set aside to venerate mothers and motherhood since ancient times, but our modern version is said to have its origins in Grafton, West Virginia in 1908, when Anna Jarvis promoted the idea of a day to honor mothers. She was soon to be disappointed when the day which was sacred to her became commercialized.  Anna spent the rest of her life attempting to correct the image which she felt dishonored her Mother, and died penniless in an institution.

DON’T MESS WITH MOM

We are all aware that motherhood is necessary for the propagation of the species, but the relationship between a mother and her offspring is like no other.  Mothers will fight to the death and endure any amount of hardship to protect and nurture their offspring.  This is true for most of the animal kingdom, but especially for humans.  Most animals who have live births nurture their young until the kids are able to make it on their own, but human moms never stop mothering.  You might think since they are around for a couple of decades it might be that they simply become like an old pair of shoes which you don’t like to get rid of, but there seems to be much more to it than that.

Back in the old days, when country doctors did pretty much everything except major surgery, I delivered a lot of babies.  Many times I would hear my patients in labor crying out that they would never go through this pain again, but when that baby was delivered into her arms the room would brighten with her smile.  The ordeal of birthing would soon be forgotten and often at the six weeks checkup there would be talks of having another child.  The mother of my children describes her feelings of holding our babies as a feeling of joy which she could not find words to describe.

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Kids do grow up and leave the nest, but they carry a piece of Mom with them for the rest of their lives.  No one or no other relationship will have such a profound effect on their lives.  Without nurture, it has been shown that children will grow up with significant deficits similar to those seen in Harlow’s monkeys when they were deprived of maternal contact.  With that in mind, it seems clear that mothers’ roles involve much more than merely giving birth and providing sustenance.

When children are born, they have no sense of who or what they are.  One can see an infant at times appearing to discover his toes and other body parts.  Likewise, in their early years, they will need help to develop an identity, and to do so, they will depend upon those with whom they spend the most time. However, perhaps the most important issue they learn concerns their lovability.  In my practice, those who felt as if they were unlovable were among the most unhappy.  They found it virtually impossible to establish meaningful relationships.  They lacked self-esteem, often to the point of self-loathing; consequently, they were vulnerable to exploitation of all kinds.  They were often used and abused, which they felt they deserved.  This opinion of self, which appears to have its origins in childhood, resists change and seems to persist throughout life even when told their picture of themselves is inaccurate.

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

Obviously, the only way one can know they are lovable is to be loved, which brings us back to the subject of mothers.  Traditionally, they are the ones in charge of loving.  Their love is constant, unremitting and lifelong.  They continue to love even when their children are total jerks or perpetrate the most dastardly of deeds.  It has been said that a father’s love is conditional.  I have always resented that characterization, for I felt I loved the kids as much as did Barb, yet I must admit that her capacity for forgiveness and tolerance exceeds mine.  After all, I was only an observer and not a participant in their entry to this world.

If you think mothers are lovers, take a look at grandmothers.  With the responsibilities of teaching kids manners, discipline and societal survival skills gone, there comes an avalanche of unimpeded love.  For me, grandparenthood has been an opportunity to enjoy the kids without feeling any responsibility.  I have concluded that grandparenthood is God’s reward for enduring the vicissitudes of parenthood.

It is true that in the past mothers have received a bad rap from we psychiatrists.  Mothers have been accused by us of causing everything from autism to homosexuality.  This fad began with Freud, who attempted to unravel some of the mysteries of early childhood.  Although his work provided an impetus to learn more about the effects of childhood experiences on later life, many of his conclusions have been discredited.

IT DOESN’T GET EASIER   

In the past, motherhood was a full time job.  Although mothers would engage in activities outside the home (my grandmother helped with the milking), their primary function was to care for their families.  Today’s mothers amaze me in that a majority of them also have full time jobs outside the home.  That puts an exclamation point after the time honored phrase “woman’s work is never done.”  Granted, fathers are now more involved in domestic activities than in the past, but I seem to remember reading something about a study that indicated the duties of the woman of house have changed little over the years.  Without our so-called modern household conveniences, it would probably be impossible for the hardiest of souls to accomplish what these warrior mothers do.

However, the most amazing mothers, to me, are the single moms who take on the total responsibility for feeding, clothing, teaching, disciplining and loving their children.  The fact that many single mothers accomplish this without any outside help is inspiring, especially when one considers the number of kids who grow up to be good people.  Unfortunately, these mothers are often derided rather than praised.

THEY AREN’T ALL MUSHY

You should not be surprised to learn that I too had a mother.  She loved me for no good reason that I could fathom, and I loved her too (although I would never admit it when I was growing up).  Mom was not a hugger.  She was a patter—i.e. when she was glad to see me, or pleased with something I had done, she would wrinkle her nose and pat me on the arm or shoulder a couple of times.  I suspect this was a result of her childhood, for her family was not demonstrably affectionate and never wanted to be “showy.”  She was a great cook and enjoyed feeding us.  In later years, a visit would see her “throw together some leftovers” with little obvious effort, and they would always be delicious.  I was a child of the Depression and barely recall my parents on occasion telling my brother and I they wanted us to eat first.  It would be years later before l realized why they did that.

SUPER MOM

It has been my good fortune to meet and marry someone who was born to nurture, and I have watched her in action for quite a few years.  When we were married, she announced that she wanted to have four children.  I thought two would be plenty, so we reached a Barb-type compromise and had four.  Since they were all exceptional from the very get go, I agreed to keep them all.  It was a good decision.

As with most mothers, Barb continues to exude love from a reservoir that never runs dry.  Every now and then, she will reminisce about those days when she had them all fed, bathed and tucked in, and how she felt “so rich.”  When we see a baby in the grocery, she tells me how she would like to hold it.  If there is a young one in a restaurant, she will approach the mother ask its age and tell her how beautiful is her baby (she seems to have never seen an ugly one).  Those tear jerking ads on TV featuring small kids do a number on her.  She insists were she a little younger she would adopt some of those starving African kids.

As for the grandchildren, don’t ask unless you have some time to spare.  It takes a while to tell you how wonderful they all are, but you will be able to see those tired brown eyes come to life.  Like it or not, you will probably also hear the complete package which includes their parents who are also “above average.”

SHE WILL JUST SAY YOU SHOULD SAVE YOUR MONEY 

Meanwhile, it is nice to send your mother flowers and stuff, but all she really wants from you is love.  She deserves all you have to give.