Never Underestimate the Power of Loving Care
Valeria had been teaching fourth grade for 10 years and having the natural inclinations of the Goddess Demeter, she loved it until the presidential election up-ended her life. Her class of 25 children in Florida had been getting along very well with each other, give or take a few skirmishes that were normal for their age and for a class that was so diverse in its makeup.
This changed when these young students started picking up on the prejudice and mean-spirited atmosphere that they witnessed or heard about around them. A Moslem mosque sprayed with graffiti, malicious exchanges between counter clerks and customers at convenience stores, and nasty chants at school sports events – in which some of the parents vented racist slogans.
Valeria’s “make nice” talks, reading to students about tolerance, and team building exercises weren’t doing it. She thought of quitting her job to find work teaching in South America.
Then she focused on why she got into teaching. “I’m a nourishing person. I make people and ideas grow. These students need me. They are at risk for becoming adults filled with hate who want to do harm.”
She helped the students create a class garden in the larger community garden in town. As a group, when they walked to the garden, Valeria mixed up the students so they didn’t walk with their BFFs – instead they were side-by-side with students they barely knew. After having established this new way to ‘buddy-up’, Valeria gave each student a ‘mystery plant’ to dig into the earth in honor of their new friend. Nothing like sharing a task!
On their way into town, Valeria pointed out neighborhood buildings and places for people from different backgrounds and needs – a group home for the disabled, a synagogue, a Fire House with firefighters of several ethnic backgrounds. She had arranged one day to have these men come out to greet her class and show them around a firetruck.
She arranged her student’s desks in clusters so they faced one another and tacked posters on the walls – women and men of achievement from a variety of races and religions: Temple Grandin, César Chávez and African-American female pioneers in the space race: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson who worked in NASA’S team of ‘human computers.’
She decided to hold support groups for area teachers experiencing similar classroom negativity, thus extending her soothing sensitivities out to a broader base. They came together to share their ideas and what was actually working to banish the pejorative mindsets and patterns they encountered in their schools every day. She did this to balance her own anxieties as well as for the others.
In time, the nurturing energy of the Goddess Demeter blossomed again in Valeria as she became accustomed to hearing the giggles of new friendships when her students became more open with one another. Her cup felt over-full – she was no longer running on empty at the end of her day. She didn’t need to fantasize over life in another part of the world because she had confidence that her imagination would keep on supporting the work within her beloved, complex and exciting community.
Zinnia came from a divorced family. Under the agreement, she was required to spend summers with her father who was an alcoholic. From the time she was little, given the slightest provocation when he got drunk he would slap her around
When she was about 10 she tried to tell her mother about it, but her mother said he was too powerful, and could go for full custody. As a teenager, Zinnia gravitated towards abusive boys, smoke lots of pot and played truant from school.
Zinnia’s grades weren’t good enough for college, but she was physically strong and for that reason decided to go to massage school. It was a natural fit. She easily found work after graduation.
She was a hit at the spa where she worked because she was so adept at sensing where people were feeling pain and helped them address it. This success kept her demons at bay.
Ordinarily politics is not a subject that naturally comes up when you go for a massage. But Zinnia was seeing a big change – people were coming in with more headaches than usual.
Trying to lift the mood of the people who came to her for relief was becoming increasingly difficult. She was resonating with the collective anxiety which had risen in response to widespread national political problems. During her quiet moments, the bad times she had experienced with her father were coming back to haunt her.
She had to fight the urge to quit her job and go back to the self-destructive habits she had when she was a teenager. Empowered by the trust her customers and employer had in her hard-earned ability to empathize while with her clients, Zinnia chose another path.
She took a vacation from media. She limited contact with draining friends and acquaintances and she gave free messages at a shelter for battered women.
Abilene had been enjoying her later years concerned but not too distressed by problems such as climate change, the global spread of viruses, or politics. She focused on Reiki, healing, grief, mindfulness and compassion. The presidential election of 2016 lit a fire in her. Her great-grandmother perished in a death camp in World War II. She knew she had to make a contribution to women’s efforts at pushing back on some recent political changes, even though she dreaded moving out of her serene cocoon. Abilene lived in on beautiful tract of land in Oregon set by a river. Her husband had passed on, but he left her with an income adequate to her needs. She was free to meditate and create ceramics that she sold at fairs and festivals.
But with the direction the country was taking, she curbed her expenses and sent small checks to organizations she believed in, such as Planned Parenthood, Peace Action and the American Civil Liberties Union.
A phone call one morning changed everything. Abilene’s daughter Ruth had been married on the property five years before. For the event Abilene and Ruth went 50-50 on the purchase of a very large yurt for the wedding. Ruth had left the yurt behind when she and her husband moved to Chicago where they both had fellowships to continue their environmental studies.
“Mom, I got a call from the local resistance movement. They want to use the yurt to hold a fundraiser and also for their upcoming meetings.”
“Sure,” responded Abilene. “They will need a truck to transport it.”
“No Mom. They want to set it up on your property. It’s so beautiful and such a quiet setting by the river, that it will encourage people to come.”
After much hemming and hawing, Abilene agreed. From the experience of her great-grandmother, Abilene understood the importance of standing up and taking action.
Much to her surprise, Abilene realized she enjoyed these get-togethers and felt inspired by being around such committed energetic people. She also liked it when they left. It was just enough stimulation for her solitary nature.
Gretchen was the consummate Artemis. Gutsy, supernaturally strong, adventurous and a champion of children and animals – throw her a challenge and she was off and running.
Working as an EMT in a rural New England area, Gretchen felt she’d found her calling. She was one of the unsung heroes of emergency response. Taking control in situations that involved angry, drunk, and violent people didn’t faze her.
Her supervisor and coworkers marveled at her alacrity. A few months into the job, Gretchen began training as a paramedic where she could give shots or start intravenous lifelines. She even thought of becoming a doctor.
One night while tearing through a winding, treacherous road piloting the ambulance at a speed that was too fast for even an EMT, a fawn leapt out in front of her and was killed instantly.
A crewmember who sat next to her in the ambulance reported Gretchen’s reckless driving to their boss. “ You’re a cowboy. grow up,” he fumed, placing her on suspension.
Crestfallen, Gretchen slunk home to Phyllis, her partner of six months. Practical, cautious and organized, Phyllis was the soul of support, taking a backseat in their relationship. But after hearing the story, she showed her disappointment and turned cold.
Finally Phyllis said: “This incident brings to light concerns I have about being with you. You see yourself as a heroine, talking about how you love children and want to have some. Yet you drive like a bat out of hell, even when you aren’t on the job. That fawn could have been a child. You are too busy playing Wonder Woman to understand the implications of your actions.”
- Gretchen/Artemis gets stung – she knows there is a grain of truth in what Phyllis is saying. She values their relationship.
- She takes a step back to think about other experiences she’s had – close calls under the guise of knowing what’s best for others.
- She’s a ‘right-fighter’. Can she soften that aspect? Take on some humility and make amends?
Phew! For the next two weeks, Gretchen and Phyllis barely talked. Finally, as excruciatingly hard as it was for her, Gretchen sat down with Phyllis and said: “I’d like a do-over. I heard what you’ve said and agree. Wonder Woman will scale it back. I need you. You possess qualities I don’t have. You balance me. And I love you.”
It’d been two weeks since Skyler had jaw-reduction surgery. The pain was harsh and she was on Percoset. She was too miserable to feel like her well-organized and poised self.
Skyler was a Hera: Natural beauty (enhanced by pricey cosmetics), fiercely protective of her family, with a high value placed on monogamy.
Fortunately, her best friend Nancy was sitting with her, chatting over the kitchen table. Nancy was her only real confidant. They didn’t always agree, but their bond was indestructible.
“He’s in Chicago working on a mergers and acquisitions deal. In the hospital after the surgery, he spent a total of 15 minutes with me. He said, ‘The doctor told me your jaw is going to look great. I asked him about the bump on your nose. He said he could fix it.’”
Nancy rolled her eyes. “You didn’t want the jaw surgery. He pushed you into it. And I never heard you complain about your nose.” She paused then added, “I’m going to be brutally frank because you need to hear this. With Aaron’s colossal ego, he’s determined to keep you a showcase wife. He values your remarkable skills at managing the house, the children, and your talent for entertaining. But he’s making an object out of you. He just can’t accept the fact that you turned forty.”
Tears streamed down Skyler’s face.
“I’m worried about what it’s doing to you. You used to be so self-assured and it’s always been an open secret that you’re brighter than Aaron despite his business success. You have narcissistic victim syndrome.”
“What the hell is that?”
“Hyper-vigilance, easily startled, pussy footing around Aaron, always watching what you say to him, sleeping and eating difficulties, exhausted most of the time. All the things you’ve been experiencing long before the jaw surgery.”
Although Skyler tried to dispute what Nancy was saying, she knew her friend was right. “What should I do?”
“Where are his financial records?” Nancy asked.
“He keeps our mortgage insurance, and our household bank account here at the house, as well as some of his business records.”
“Find them and scan them,” Nancy said as she departed.
Fortunately, Aaron was a creature of habit. He tended to use the same password. While in the process of lifting out documents to scan, Skyler discovered that Aaron had a secret credit card account and an apartment in Chicago. There were many dinners for two on the card. Digging further, she found documents about an M&A deal in which he was involved that was clearly illegal. Although she was in shock, Skyler had the presence of mind to hire a first-rate lawyer.
Summer was approaching. Skyler signed up their twin 12-year-old sons for a summer camp that lasted eight weeks. Always a careful planner, she wanted to spare them the worst of Aaron’s temper when he got the news.
Of course he exploded and threatened her. Skyler calmly made for the door. Before slamming it shut, she announced: “I have the documents on your M&A scam.”
The following months were excruciating for Skyler. I have no identity now. She’d say to herself. Everybody knows me as the woman who was lucky enough to marry the golden boy in college. Even though she worked on and off after graduating and liked it, she regarded marrying Aaron as her biggest achievement, and her marriage had become her career.
- Skyler did not see the trickster in her husband. Still, she was strong enough to face the betrayal head on. No time for anxiety or panic. She paused and then resolved that she would go back to her youthful self who had interests and a firm identity.
- The news had been full of women protesting treatment by the patriarchy. Skyler was beginning to feel that anger too. She had no idea she had fallen into that pit by agreeing to being made over to suit Aaron – until hearing Nancy’s stinging comments. Trapped in a gilded cage? How had that happened? The price of being too attached to the role of the Perfect Wife.
- Skyler went directly into ‘response mode’, kept her cool, stayed organized and managed her exit with grace – leaving the dirty work up to the lawyer. She called on her mother’s examples on how to competently assert energy, rather than flounder in ‘react mode’, when dealing with Skyler’s authoritative father. Yay, Mom!
A funny thing happened after the divorce papers were signed. Chester, her divorce lawyer who was a partner in a prominent firm, had observed Skyler’s professional approach to navigating her life crises.
“We need a manager in our law firm.” He said to her as they left the courthouse. “It’s a lot of responsibility, but it pays well.”
Skyler let out a whoop of delight. “When can I start?”
Kate prepared meticulously for her speech at the annual strategy-planning meeting of her company which sold a popular soda. She heard rumblings from employees pushing for reduction in sugar grams in the soda which were jaw-dropping high. Of course, the suger jolt had a lot to do with why the drink was so successful.
An alpha woman to the core, Kate took great pride in having risen so quickly in the company. She was sure this speech would put her in line for yet another promotion, a birthday present to herself for having just turned 30.
Beautifully composed, confidently presented, she was floored when her speech was interrupted by boos. “Let’s face it,” shouted one young man in jeans and beard. “Sugar is poisonous. People are waking up to that fact. We’ve been cited as a dangerous product in numerous articles.”
A surprising number of people nodded in agreement. Kate stomped out of the room.
In the hall, her cell phone rang. A policeman was calling from a nearby hospital. “Your mother has been involved in a traffic accident. She damaged four parked cars when she lost control of the wheel.”
Her mother Adele had Parkinson’s disease. She had also been complaining about headaches. Kate assumed her sister Violet was looking in on Adele regularly as she had for years. Then she remembered that Violet was confined to bed because of complications in her pregnancy.
At the hospital, the cop said her mother was under arrest and could not be released unless Kate agreed to be her guardian.
What? Looking after mother was Violet’s role. After all, Kate was the family star. Her mother bragged about Kate’s achievements, but counted on Violet. Her mother’s friends seemed to value Violet more. “She’s True Blue,” they’d say.
Kate signed the guardianship paper. After the cops left, a hospital chaplain came and sat with her mother. Though her mother was weak and not completely clearheaded, she was surprisingly optimistic.
“I shouldn’t complain,” Adele said. “I’m rich in many ways. My volunteer work gives me a lot of satisfaction. I have so many friends, and interests such as reading books. And now Violet is going to have another baby.”
Kate was aware that her own name did not even come up. Back at her apartment, her boyfriend Edward called. He wasn’t that ambitious but he was her “steady Eddie” — husband and father material. Plus he was relaxed enough to be good in bed.
Though she often talked to Ed in the same ‘woman in command’ voice she used at the office, this time she broke down. Pouring out the details of her wretched day, she ended with “I realize I hate my job.”
Long pause. Finally Ed said, “Remember how we met at the American Red Cross fund-raising telethon?” Of course Kate remembered. She had signed up for the telethon because it would look good on a resume.
Ed continued: “That night I listened to your phone calls and you were so optimistic and persuasive. Well, I heard they have an opening at the Red Cross here in town for an executive. Why don’t you look into it?”
A nonprofit? Heresy.
Ed heard her gasp and said, “Maybe today the gods are sending you a message. They might be saying that you would be a lot happier if you used your high intelligence and formidable skills to make life better for other people.”
Kate was in the clutch of a Threshold Experience:
If you’re heavily influenced by the goddess Athena, you may be unduly focused on your own master plan. You may not easily get that other people think and act differently than you. Treat this realization as a challenge to explore. Be curious.
- Life was conspiring to stop Kate in her familiar tracks. She had grown up in a divorced family. Time with her dad was much more interesting than with her mom because he took her to work with him during Kate’s vacations where she shadowed the office manager – all her ‘take charge’ impulses fired. College and business school had been a snap. Adele’s volunteerism had never been on Kate’s horizon.
- What better way for the goddesses to conspire for change than to have ‘mother’ come to live with her? This could have proved to be a nightmare, but didn’t.
- Kate was observant enough to open to her mother’s – read feminine – ways. With Adele’s current position so up front and personal every day, Kate was dipping into a deep well of compassion and empathy. Her heart began to open to this unique mother of hers, and she realized she had never given Adele a chance to share how she’d found a life of ‘service’ so fascinating.
Listening to Adele’s excitement and review of her life’s work in volunteer positions, her varied interests, the influence of growing up in a household with a bedridden grandmother – all this led Kate to rethinking what her own life could be.
Kate had already called into work and explained that due to a family medical emergency, she was taking a leave of absence. She took care of her mother Adele with style and grace; helped Violet get ready for the baby and invited Ed to move into her condo. She was still bossy, but she was on her road to fulfillment. Kate followed the dots and discovered a more authentic way of being.
“Now, predictably, as they moved toward assignation and structure, Stella began to create a sort of arabesque in her mind, a pattern of thought and feeling whose function it was to lead her back to him.”
— From ASYLUM, a novel by Patrick McGrath about a terrifying sexual obsession.
Aphrodite calls the Divine down to earth with her sensual essence. Just because she’s married doesn’t mean she’s not imbued with desire. She has a tremendous yearning for things other than sex – laughter, music, dance, exotic foods, languishing afternoons in the hot tub, anything to amuse her senses.
Now in her 30’s with her children in school, Dani decides to take some classes in psychology at the local college– beginning with child development.
Stuart was one of her professors – an even smile, soft, deep voice, easy way with his body language, and younger than she. His wandering eye settled on Dani once too often, so she decided to ask him for extra help.
He suggested it would be easy to go to his place. She felt like she was having a one-on-one date with The Bachelor – city lights spread in all directions from his comfortable apartment high above the city. Have a drink and talk about child development issues? Really?
Meeting like this began to feel like an assignation – she was stimulated before she left home for class by thinking she had to calculate when her husband would be expecting dinner. Then pivot to organize the kid’s bedtime. And remember to call a friend who agreed to cover for her. Exhausting details, but not for this Aphrodite.
Able to sexualize any occasion, she made a move on him. He was a gentleman, showed appreciation, and let her down gently. She didn’t know he was looking for a wife, but not someone else’s. It whomped Dani. She couldn’t remember this ever happening before – her offer of an entertaining evening rebuffed? Her stomach knotted and she couldn’t catch her breath. It felt awful.
- Growing up did you have access to the loving gaze of your dad without your mother becoming jealous?
- Were you free to laugh and flirt with your father, or another man who could enjoy and honor your budding femininity without running over it?
- Perhaps a sense of ‘otherness’ inherent in male virility was exciting to you, and you laughed as you defined who you were by holding your own against it. Were you excited by this game?
Dani figured out that she needed to scroll back her behavior. She had really miscalculated some cues. She decided to step back and reassess exactly what was missing in her life. Questions she began to consider were:
What do I really want in a relationship? Do I enjoy chasing, or being pursued? What are my values? Do I take myself seriously and demand that others do too? What kind of life do I want beyond my boudoir to be able to express a more authentic me? How else can I spend my ‘passion’ without hurting those I love?
Not every man she pined for was up to the role of lover. And she had a good one at home. She woke up one morning sobbing from a dream in which her palm was open, and resting in it was her husband’s happiness. Was she going to squash that happiness – or not?
The snow was coming straight at me through the headlights. I needed a break and swung into Dunkin Donuts for a cappuccino. As I was leaving, I spotted Romy, all balled up and hunched over her coffee, as if to make herself invisible. Romy is Demeter incarnate: self-sacrificing, kind though fiercely angry when pissed off. She brimmed with mother love, but the hurly-burly of her daughter Suzanne’s adolescence was derailing the life she was valiantly creating since the divorce from her only child’s father.
She opened up about her state of distress: “I’m waiting for Suzanne right now. Weekend over, time to return to mom. I feel the weight of tremendous guilt bearing down on me every weekend that comes to a close with Suzanne coming home. God knows how much I love her, but my good will evaporates as I anticipate a week of fighting over homework, sports schedules, shared responsibilities around the house, and that damn cell phone.”
She further explained: “During the 2 days that Dan has Suzanne, I’m charged by catching up with friends, tackling the ever lengthening to-do list, catching up with my parents needs, and housework. Always catching up, never quite finishing.”
“You can’t be the perfect mother to everybody,” I cautioned her.
We would have talked further, but at that moment Suzanne sulked into Dunkin’ D’s with Dan. I bailed.
Once outside in the dark I sat in my car sipping the warm froth, watching a brightly lit scene unfolding inside.
When I called Romy the next day, she ruminated: “ Where have I gone wrong? Did I put too many limits on Suzanne’s behavior, didn’t teach her enough self-control? Raged too much with my own frustration when Suzanne’s demands for attention coincided with my own needs to spend extra time at work? Did I try to make a friend of her too soon, when Suzanne still needed a mother? Too much structure, not enough? Should I have initiated the divorce from Dan? Should I have had more kids so Suzanna would have a confidante at home to share the tough times with?”
Romy finished: “I’m really scared I messed up. And now that she’s in high school the stakes are getting higher. Boyfriends sniffing around. Pot offered up as an initiation rite. How does this guilt and fear ever go away?”
The woman influenced by the Goddess Demeter is filled with meaning – to nurture others gives her great joy. Once her bounty is being demanded, unappreciated or challenged, she feels disconnected from her own inner youthful spirit.
Here’s how I advised Romy. If you have some Demeter in you, study these pointers:
- Now, take a deep breath.
- Know that you have always been a really good mother.
- Your energy is depleted – you’re giving it over to guilt and fear.
- Take stock of your true worth.
- Grab your mojo and have a talk with your daughter. Use your leverage to set limits on how much of yourself you will spend on her. She must take increasing responsibility for her own happiness anyway. And you might find yourself glowing with new possibilities.
I will give up the desire to be swept away.
I will stop hovering over the kids.
No! Don’t ask me to change my sexy ways!
I’ll stop holding such a tight leash on my husband.
I won’t ‘talk shop’ when out with my mother.
I will listen more to others’ differing opinions.
I will go on Facebook once a day for 20 minutes.