Enough

What a funny little word, isn’t it? A word that expands into a whole universe of stars and black holes. Especially dark ones.

You’ve had enough to drink. She doesn’t know when enough is enough. There isn’t enough money to do this. Love isn’t enough.

Or in disguise: You can never be too kind. Never say never. You could do this better. Can you stop? (please)

It started with the day I came back from getting the results to a difficult exam. Back in those days, in the country I grew up in, compulsory public education finished with grade 10: that meant kids had to take an exam to prove their worth right in the middle of high-school. Ridiculous, if you asked me then – and I still think so. One had to pass a couple of entry exams to go to high-school anyway, and there would be another series at the end of it to get the “baccalaureat” (very much in the French tradition). That middle-exam series only added extra pressure and, in truth, it was one of the mechanisms which the communist regime used to ensure people didn’t have much time for free thinking (’cause they would start getting ideas that the system was not quite right, right?) There were two such exams scheduled at the end of grade 10, and they were specific to the program of the respective high-school (some schools focused on sciences, other on languages, or arts, or medicine… very regimented to being with). At my school, I had to do a math exam and a physics exam. My grandfather was a well-know tutor of math who gave excellent instruction to countless kids grade 5-12. I was his only (and quite favourite) granddaughter. I owe him every bit of math that I know – and I know a lot! Throughout the year, we’d had our lessons in a group and all of us were doing well.

The exams were difficult, as they usually were at that stage. Only 60 would be able to promote to grade 11 – those who didn’t… well, they’d have to get a job (which was almost impossible without connections) and try again next time, and ONLY for evening classes. I was good at physics though not excelling: still, I got a 7.5 or so (out of 10). The math exam, I had taken extra care with: not only I was confident I did everything well, but I provided a double way of solving some of the exercises, and my writing was organized and truly impeccable. I was not surprised to see I got a full 10. Altogether, my over 8 average mark pushed me into the successful candidates. I was proud of myself and for no small reason.

So, big smile on my lips, I went to my grandfather and I announced my victory. He looked at me and said: Daniela did better. (Daniela was another student from our math lesson group) I said: what? What do you mean? He said: Daniela got over 9 average. I said: that’s irrelevant. Daniela is not in the same high-school; and by the way, how much did Daniela got in math? 9.4, he said. Well, I got a 10 in math AND I made it to grade 11 – shouldn’t this be enough for you?

He never answered that question. The smile faded from my lips gradually, my self-confidence stood fighting. In two years time, I would flunk the very difficult entry exam for the Architecture School: not the preliminary drawing exams (in spite of my Dad telling me I can’t draw well enough), but the geometry exam – my best subject. Both Dad and Granddad told me openly they were ashamed with me. I waited another year, tried again: guess what, I flunked the drawing. And then I did something they thought was crazy. I registered for the entry exam of the Math course at the University. Those were the hardest math exams ever. Dad and Granddad felt funnily proud I’d choose that, but they didn’t get me at all. I couldn’t care less if I made it into that program, I didn’t want to be a math teacher, just wanted to see if I could get a passing mark: and I did. I got over 5 average for math international Olympics questions. Right that moment, I knew I would pass the entry exam for the architecture school the following year.

Long story short, I finished architecture school and went on to Cambridge for my Masters degree. My grandfather had died in the meanwhile, but my father was secretly delighted. After immigrating to Canada later on, I spent another seven years over a doctorate only to see my academic teaching dream dripping like sand through my fingers as I sat down to write my thesis: at 40, I had become pregnant with my third child. I gave birth to the child and raised her along with my other two teenagers, while crying my head off and writing the doctorate. I was made to feel a not good-enough mother for crying over such a pathetic career meltdown. PhD under my belt, I accepted to teach drawing and geometry to college students who wouldn’t come to class and who wouldn’t do their homework, despite my best efforts to engage them. I was sacked when I refused to pass those students.

Nothing I’ve done was considered enough. They planted this idea in my head at a time when I was young, happy and confident. They did not celebrate my successes. They made me feel little and insignificant. They told me it’s my fault for this and this and this. I had to take the blame, whether it was my owning or theirs. They trapped me in this funny game and, ever so slowly, I became “they”. My self-confidence was nowhere in sight. I started to tell myself my dreams don’t matter; what use is to try this, I don’t know enough to make it work; I started to feel guilty when thinking of celebrating me simply because some of them thought that’s selfish. When I came to the full realization of this, I was (might I dare say, rightfully) angry. My love turned to hate. I wanted them gone, out of my life, but some just wouldn’t disappear. It was as if invisible murky threads made them cling to me, and I was trying in vain to clip and cut and push aside. Nightmarish, really.

Eventually, I took on a minimum wage job as an assistant in a Kumon centre where the enthusiastic and actually lovely owner would gently prevent me to teach – I was there only to welcome students and to grade their papers, not to instruct them: that was her job. I felt not good enough. Everything was pointing to giving up, so I willingly gave up that job too. “The kids will miss you…”

Days came and went, as I tried to fight my returning depression. Something very deep inside, in the dark hole of my guts, said you’re not a total quitter. Luckily, I had learned to notice the colours around me, the light, the music, and every now and then a ding of a text from good friends asking how I am. “You’re the best mom in the entire world, I can’t stop loving you!!!” And those diplomas on the wall in our home-office… tacky, I know. I have a more than patient editor at a famous university press waiting for me to finish the manuscript of a book from my thesis. Why would I do it when there’s no academic career at the end of it? Or is it… could it be? Does it matter.

And one day… I understood. Out of the blue. That happy, confident girl is still alive in me – maybe not kicking much, as she’s felt down lately… well, for about 30 years, on and off. She is not that young, but man, does she have some other good stuff up her sleeve. She’s used her time well. She has accomplished many things just by forging on. She’s raised three great kids, she’s taught some others, she’s cooked a few good meals, she’s been a friend. She has a good group of “they” who love her truly. When she wants to, she’s fantastic! It really isn’t all the work of her dear magic wand…

OK, enough with this! Did you get the message?

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Groceries: the BIG FUN job

Saturday morning. Quickly-quickly, before it gets to noon…! I’ll have to try prepare these posts in advance, Saturday mornings are the leisure part of our week (before it gets busy again towards noon, which is where I’m heading now…)

We do grocery shopping and laundry and fix things and other house stuff on Saturdays. It’s a good time to do this, I find. During the years, we’ve had one possible activity scheduled for the kids in the afternoon, though we’ve tried to avoid it in the early years as they’re more likely to be invited to birthday parties at this time. Talking about organizing your life so you stay (pretty much) on top of things?

Let’s talk about that grocery list today. Ideally, you’d shop for the whole week. That doesn’t exactly work as fantastic as it sounds in larger families if you don’t have two fridges or a separate freezer – and we don’t. We mostly cook from scratch, and I‘m mostly the one who does the cooking (almost daily; I know, but you get used to it), so I need to first do another list of possible dishes to cook in the following week. I have a friend who’s a dedicated working mother – and when I say “dedicated”, it’s in all respects. She has two altars she constantly dies on: work during the day, home during the night and weekends. To keep up with everything, on Saturdays she cooks for the entire following week. I could NEVER do that, it’s too depressing. But hey, if it works for you, go ahead and try it. I’ve adapted this by having a (tentative) idea of what I’ll be feeding my gang weekly.

My cooking list is usually 8 or 9 items long and it includes the daily dinners for the next six evenings and some loose thoughts on lunches or snacks, depending on the time of the year (school-time or summer vacation). I’ve developed an array of dishes which are easy and quick to make, need only a few ingredients and feed tons of people, plus leftovers for next day lunch bags. True that the bulk of these dishes come from the Romanian cuisine, which I’ve been brought up with and might sound strange to anybody who’s not Eastern European or Mediterranean – but you can always adapt it to the cuisine you know and love best. One of the dishes is necessarily some soup – why? Most complicated thing about it is the chopping – other than that, you just put everything in a pot and let it boil until ready. I’ll continue to post recipes on my Wednesday series.

Here’s a possible cooking list for the week:

Chicken and yellow beans (the Greeks call it fasolakia, same thing)

Fish (oven) + corn and peas (boiled)

Pasta with meat/mushrooms/peppers

Pizza

Chicken soup with vegetables and dumplings

Baked potatoes/ hummus/green salad/tomatoes etc. (vegan)

Munchies, snack bars, deli & cheeses for sandwiches

Banana bread / some kind of sweet pie………

Sometimes, I get ready-made dinners – once a month is no big deal, even for healthy-living crazed people. Or we get take out. Or I feel like trying Turkish recipes or Thai or fancy French ones like coq-au-vin (which is really a variation of a Romanian similar recipe, only we use white wine whereas the French use red). Once you start cooking, you get the hang of it and you can vary stuff. The idea is to get to the point when you don’t worry. You cook with whatever is in the fridge (and a little extra, which might require a trip to the store in the middle of the week). Which brings me to the REALLY fun part of doing the groceries!

My husband insists he does the Saturday shopping. He asks for my list, completes it with one or two things he likes, and then sticks to it almost religiously. Like most men, he has little imagination, (mildly) forgets about replenishing kitchen supplies like salt, oil, napkins and the like, plus he does. not. do. the. cooking. (he insists he cooks as much as I do. Sure.) He’s been annoyed for years that by next Wednesday (or some other aleatory day) I do a second (might I say, light) round of groceries. We disagree, obviously. He constantly bugs me about dropping that habit – and why on earth, why can’t I just stick to the list if I come along shopping with him? (does this resonate with any other women?)

So one time, it was I who got so annoyed with him that I let him cook with whatever he bought. Not just that Saturday night, but FOR SOME TIME afterwards. Guess what happened. That Saturday he did some barbecue, nice, he’s good at that. Sunday afternoon, I had to go out running some errands, and asked before I left the house: “so what’s for dinner tonight, honey?” He looked at me aslant and said: “it’s OK, I got it.” I get back home two hours later to find him cooking lasagna (a favourite of his, I never cook lasagna, his is perfect). “Lasagna?” I say with laughter in my voice. “I don’t recall you getting minced meat yesterday.” “I went to the shop and bought some.” he says, avoiding my gaze. “Oh.” I burst out laughing. “It didn’t last you till Wednesday.” He makes himself busy. Funny, right? Lasagna was great that night and it lasted, you got it, for another night. Surprise, surprise, on Tuesday night there was no more. “And what’s for dinner, darling?” Oops. “Err… we have stuff in the fridge.” Right. Sandwiches. We also had some pasta and cheese three nights later.

We lasted like this for about two weeks. The kids started to beg: “moooom, stop this… when are you gonna cook again?” I looked at the love of my life and raised my eyebrows. His lips were pretty tight closed. Ever since, he hasn’t commented much on either the grocery list, my mid-week second round of shopping or my cooking. Getting organized and sticking to a point is working in all respects, trust me. Just find your own way to do it.

Happy Saturday!

My expertise at your service

There was this phrase I came across:

The world is in desperate need of that something only you can offer.

Sure it is, I thought. I have expertise in so many things and I can’t help anyone, least of all myself. Do I know the answer to the question “what do you specialize in?” I specialize in managing a household, making conversation, drawing, teaching… skills which were a woman’s some decades if not centuries ago. Worthy women have careers nowadays. That’s how success is measured. The little hidden bits don’t seem to count. What big deal to put dinner (plus two or three other meals or snacks) in your family bellies every day? And the more, the merrier, right? What big deal to spend – quite literally a third of – your time putting things back where they belong? Or all those activities and planning for every single bloody week, regardless of school- or holiday -time?

How many times have you heard someone praising mothers and homemakers lately? It’s not fashionable any more. It’s not egalitarian. It’s too boring, too right wing in a global society leaning dangerously low toward leftism.

I tried to have a career and everything. Of course I neglected my children for it (although for the longest time I genuinely tried to – and believed to – balance family, house, jobs… I still believe I can do it). Then another pregnancy happened out of the blue and shattered everything. I couldn’t get tenure in the academia at 41 with two teenagers and a baby in the household, being completely burnt out too as a bonus of battling immigration, money and property loss, extended family crises, my husband’s own insecurities… so I dropped everything before I’d kill myself. I watched all my efforts going down the drain to have that third child, and my husband – who wants tens of kids if possible – wasn’t even grateful for it. I guess not killing myself proved a rather good decision in the longer run, though how hard everything was at the time only God and I know fully (and maybe one or two dear people who continued to love me and pray for me in spite of me kicking them… tough).

I was so angry! I grew angry by the day when I was battling the depression which ensued. They fueled one another, depression and anger. I got depresed because of too much suppressed anger in the past, and I was angry because I had let myself getting to the depression phase. I did address both, you know. But then I discovered an even bitterer problem: my husband, the guy who was supposed to be my support in all this, refused to accompany me to therapy, or to the priest. I said I understood that he is a man and that he deals with this by wearing a mask and that people should not find out why I am upset or that we have problems – So I asked him to at least read some books. Nope was the reply. Maybe go away for a holiday, the two of us? No. Just two days? It would mean so much to me. No. Put yourself together, get some sleep, it’s nothing. I bit my lips and I tried resolve my issues. I cried, I screamed, I started to treat myself nicer, I allowed myself to feel all the feelings, I stopped bullying people, I asked for forgiveness, even from my children and my husband. It was very hard and not exactly noticeable. No praise, no encouragement. None whatsoever! Still the only time my actions get a reaction is when I get so fed up that I raise my voice. I am immediately told to calm down. I asked my husband why doesn’t he notice any of my progress, or the fact that I managed to get out of depression without exposing our “secrets” to counsellors, never mind compliment me or thank me in any way. He said: “What depression? You had no depression. You didn’t take any pills. You were not diagnosed.” Surprised that I felt like splitting his head open? Yet, I didn’t. And I didn’t get a divorce either. Why, that’s a story to tell some other time, maybe.

I specialize in anger management, I think. But I don’t have a degree – and degrees are everything these days. So many shrinks, right? Admittedly, lots of these shrinks read books instead of living through crises so they will listen to you and charge you without giving you any advice. Been there, done that. Not worth the money.

So you want counseling for free? Go ahead, say what your problem is, here. The rules of the game are such:

You give your issues a think – deep one, if you can.

Then you summarize stuff in a comment to this post. I edit the comments so if you don’t want it to appear, just say so and I won’t publish it but I’ll email you at the address you provide.

I read your comment and will reply with my thoughts on the matter. Disclaimer: sometimes I’m harsh, though I do my very best not to offend (this being said, please keep in mind that we are only offended by things we haven’t come to terms with – It’s something I’ve discovered in the healing process). So I won’t just listen like a typical shrink, I’ll think of solutions you could try to improve your situation. I believe in improvement and getting out of shit. All you gotta do is want it badly enough.

What do you think? Moms, failed academics, former career women, architects of little fame, disillusioned teachers, exasperated wives… can I lend you a shoulder?

A Woman’s Job

Is it career or is it family or is it both? Or is there any other choice?

I’ve been torn between choices for a good number of years. In world’s years, that means nothing – in the finite time of my life, it feels too long. Time is precious and how can I use it wisely? I can do many things, literally. And when I say I can do them, that means well enough. I can draw, cook, write, teach, solve difficult problems, sew, knit, garden, design architectural plans. I can keep deadlines and manage projects of all kinds including the complex ones of a five-people household. I know the sophisticated grammar of two languages, a lot of history, advanced Math, geography, physics and politics. Some may think it’s ridiculous I can’t decide, that I don’t have a career. After all, women these days can do everything. Well, that’s exactly the problem, I’d say.

We are conditioned to think about what we’ll become when we grow up. It’s in what you’re taught when young, in your parents’ behavior and their life choices, it’s in your peers’ success (or lack of) and personal relations – ultimately, it’s in how much you let all of these affect you. Add to this your partner’s behavior, goals (or doubts), dreams and actions – that’s a biggie for no small reason: you two are supposed to share a life together.

Is it any wonder that contemporary women like me find themselves tangled in definitions of womanhood? At times, we can be focused or unfocused, depressed, overwhelmed, excited, sad, good busy, bad busy, frustrated – are we happy though? Are we at peace with our choices – or the incapacity of making at least one? Happy to be vertical, happy to breathe. Are you? There’s so much pressure. It has always been, but if we try compare to past times, it does look like there’s much more to fit in a day. It’s hard to resist that – especially when everybody behaves (and expects others to act) like a computer.

We do have many dimensions, but see, we’re not machines. Despite their amazing managing capacity (which is a thing of the head) women are ruled by their heart, and their actions – analytical as they may be – carry the heavy burden of pain. Formerly abused girls or women are likely to develop into feminist bitches who abuse others, or depressed addicts of sorts who continue to let themselves be bullied. It is quite rare that such women would snap out of destructive patterns and become balanced individuals.

Is this generalizing? Probably – and I’m no psychologist so I shouldn’t even talk. In my little life experience, I had lost some of my feminine dimensions along the way. Once aware of that, I have tried hard to retrieve them, as if they were applications which I could upload back into my system after a reset to factory standards. Hmm… some worked, some didn’t. Sure they didn’t – what factory am I talking about? Maybe it’s a matter of time and discipline. Maybe it’s matter of acceptance, of loss, of aging, of trust and belief.

A friend brought me some colorful yarns yesterday and I got inspired to start knitting. As I was doing row after row, I remembered how long it takes to make a pullover. In contemporary currency, it’s not worth it. I could spend my time much more efficiently. My thoughts floated to my mother who would knit and knit in the dullness of the office in the hydro-energetic institute where she worked. There were not many projects which engineers would work on during those communist years. People showed up at work in the morning and found ways to fill their 8-hour work days. My mom was a trained engineer whose real profession was to make colorful clothes for us in a country wrapped in gray bleakness. She would sew and knit countless pieces. I was the best dressed teenager in the high-school, no kidding. Not one single item survived… I gave them away, stupid me. Well, they did lose appeal, they went out of fashion. Thinking back, I should have kept some because they had timelessness sewn in. Fortunately, I still have some cards she wrote after we immigrated. I miss her.

I also miss my grandmother. She had worked twelve years in a flour factory moving heavy sacks around and when she finally retired, she cleaned our house, she cooked good food. She was quiet and stern. She was the reliable background, not much of a different career than that. I miss some of my teachers too, and colleagues from the museums and architectural companies I have worked for. They were exquisite professionals who did their jobs well. And as The Beatles say, some are dead and some are living, in my life I’ve loved them all.

Is it then only love that remains? Do you, my dear fellow woman, know the power of your heart? If there is pure love in your work, you are blessed. If you can wrap your family in love and give them hope and courage, you are blessed. If you can do everything, then you are blessed. And if you cannot decide on more than today’s effort, you are still blessed. A woman’s job may very well be that undefined matter of the heart, which takes shape according to the circumstances. Sometimes, we need to use the brain to get things straight – but please, please don’t dwell in the analytics. It’s hard when they tell you differently, when both men and women try to convince you that you’re a man. It’s hard when you’re a good planner. It’s very hard to detach but it’s worth it. Peace is not found in charts and problem solving, but in songs and in the – sometimes annoyingly perfect – geometry of the circle. The wheels of the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round… all through the town…

Woman, you can bring misery or you can bring joy. What would you like to be remembered for? Do you care to be remembered?

I am too scattered. Can I love so much?