Strong women


Today is my forty-second birthday. I am officially twice the age of 21 – the last age anyone looks forward to. Wow! It took so long to get to 21, but it was such a short ride to 42. Where did the time go?

I have been thinking about that 21-year-old woman this past week. Although she was half my age, she was far from a kid. She was married, a home owner, employed full time and going to college at night. She was a hard worker. She was also naïve, low on self-confidence and unaware of how strong she really was. Her journey is what got me to this point today. I am not envious of her youthful ignorance. I do, however wish I had her hair pigment, her non-creaking knees and the ability to sneeze without bracing for back pain.

That woman imagined a life like mine, but wasn’t 100% sure how she was going to get there. With my 21 extra years of life experience, I thought about what I might tell her to ease her mind.

1. You are on the right road, but don’t be afraid to take the scenic route once in a while. You will eventually find the road again and be on your way.

2. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Follow your heart. It will not lead you astray.

3. The reason there is no guide book in life is because everyone’s journey is different. Imagine how boring people would be if we all did the same things in life.

4. Be patient. It will happen.

5. Volunteer. Be charitable. Share your blessings with others. It will come back to you one day.

6. You picked a good man. He will help you achieve your dreams.

7. There is no “perfect” time to do anything – change jobs, have children, etc. If you believe you are ready, you will find the strength to do it.

These last thoughts I learned from my husband:

1. Surround yourself with people who believe in you.

2. Don’t spend your time seeking the approval of those who don’t believe in you. You will never convince them otherwise.

3. People don’t change, they evolve.

4. The things in life, that make you a little nervous and sit just outside your comfort zone, make life worth living.

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Meet Aniela. She was born in Poland in 1924 and was 15 when WWII started. When the war ended in 1945, Aniela had lost her family and many friends. Her hometown was bombed so badly that she had nowhere to live. Nothing was left. Although I am not sure of the circumstances, Aniela ended up in Germany after the war. The only places still standing were the concentration camps and prisoner of war camps. After the war, the camps were used as displaced persons camps – and that was exactly what Aniela was.

Aniela met her future husband in the camp. He had a similar story to hers. Marko was from Yugoslavia. Whether they knew a common language or got by with their native tongues, they started a relationship. They married in the DP camp. Ironically, a place that many tried to flee was becoming a place to flock. A place of horror was becoming a home to so many. Aniela and Marko had a daughter while living in the DP Camp Seedorf. They named her Dragica.

I looked it up online and found that the camp was as I would have expected it. The families were given basic food and clothing but both were of poor quality. Their rations of food were half of the calorie intake for the average person. Many families shared one room, using only blankets to divide them for privacy. I don’t even want to think about how unsanitary DP camps were. Diseases were commonplace.

Being a wife and mother myself, I can’t imagine what it was like for Aniela. Their families, friends, homes, possessions, even their surroundings were gone. Yet, here she was, making a life out of nothing. She had a little girl to raise – a glimmer of hope in so much darkness. The new family lived like this for 3 ½ years. How do you raise a child, an innocent child, with no understanding of war or danger or death in an environment like that? Aniela and Marko must have asked that question themselves.

When Dragica was 3 ½, they boarded a ship to the United States. A church in Chicago sponsored them, although I am not sure if they needed to contribute anything themselves. How incredibly hard it must have been to leave the comfort of the DP camp and come to a foreign country. They traveled to a place where they did not speak the language, where they knew no one but each other, where they had only the promise of a job and better life. Could you imagine how bad it had to be to pack up your few belongings and take that leap of faith? What if it didn’t work out? What else did they have to lose?

The family left Bremerhaven, Germany on December 20, 1951. I know how hard it is to travel with a 3 year old for a week while we stayed in clean hotels. Our traveling with the kids always included new toys and lots of entertainment for them. What did Dragica do on the ship? More importantly, what did Aniela do? I’m sure she was terribly worried about what life was going to be like for them. How did she keep her spirits up for Dragica? Whose idea was this anyway? Could you imagine if your husband told you that you were leaving your new homeland, as messed up as it was, and starting over in another country? I would have had a hard time being supportive of that idea. Aniela was a very strong woman.

They traveled to Ellis Island – some of the last immigrants through there before it closed in 1954. The family spent that Christmas and New Year’s crossing the Atlantic. I wonder if they celebrated with the others on the ship. Did everyone share the food they brought along or did the ship provide a holiday meal? Did someone play music? Did they all keep to themselves? Did they have a small gift for their daughter? Maybe because of the war in Europe, they saw the holiday as just another day. Aniela and Marko were Orthodox. Traditionally, they celebrated Christmas on January 7th. It is hard to say what they did that year.

They arrived in New York on January 2, 1952. I looked up the weather for that time and place on the Farmer’s Almanac Weather History. It was unseasonably warm – high of 50 with fog and rain. At least it wasn’t the snow and cold I imagined. Even so, it was not a beautiful day. They headed to Chicago shortly thereafter via train, where they would live out the rest of their lives.

Aniela and Marko had two more children in Chicago. Marko worked hard and bought a 3 flat on the north side of the city. Pictures of them show them smiling, visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo and picnicking. It looked like they achieved the American Dream. Sadly, the people who knew them said they fought like cats and dogs. Dragica eloped at 20, refusing the traditional wedding of the Orthodox. I’m sure it broke her parents’ hearts a little.

Aniela died less than 20 years after she got to Chicago at 46. She must have been the glue to hold her family together. Shortly after her mother’s death, Dragica’s marriage ended. Aniela’s son joined a gang and quietly slipped away from the family. Marko passed a few years after that. Aniela’s youngest daughter was only 13 at the time of her father’s death and lived with her sister for a few years before heading out on her own.

Aniela and Marko are buried in separate graves a few rows from each other. Their three children have since passed on, too. The chapter on their family is closed.

I wonder if Aniela could see down the road to their life in Chicago, would she have gotten on that ship? Personally, I am glad she did.

Dragica was my mother-in-law.

About 6 weeks ago, I broke the hinge on my dog grooming clipper. No fear. I had a backup clipper. I decided I would order a new hinge later and use the backup clipper in the meantime. I put off ordering the part because they have a minimum order of $60.00. My plan was to go through my inventory and see what else I needed – tomorrow. Well, tomorrow turned into next week and so on. Flash forward a couple weeks. I was grooming a dog with my backup clippers when they just stopped working. I turned the switch on and off and nothing happened.

Thankfully, I could scissor cut the rest of the dog. I still had one more dog to groom that day, and luckily, I had an hour between dogs. I ran over to Petsmart to find a new clipper. Petsmart is not where groomers shop, so they only had the layman’s version of dog clippers. Yes, they are cheaper, but they are also slower. It got me through the rest of the day and the next couple weeks. Knowing I had no back up, I finally got my act together and bought the parts I needed.

I knew I broke the hinge on the one clipper, but I had no idea what was wrong with the one that stopped working. After spending some time online reading about dog clipper maintenance (great for insomniacs), I took a guess as to what was wrong with the other clipper. I ordered what I needed and waited for the parts to arrive. UPS delivered the package on Wednesday.

Normally, I would have asked my husband to fix the clippers for me. It’s not that I am incapable. In my former life working in printing, I would troubleshoot and fix both Mac and PC computers. I have replaced my own harddrives, fan motors and memory cards. I worked on several film and plate processors and changed out parts. It was often easier to fix it myself than to have to wait for a service call. Many parts come with directions. It is not that hard.

Then why ask my husband to do it? Over the years that we have been married and more so after we became parents, we have learned to divide and conquer. The jobs just fell to the person that did it the best. My husband is capable of washing his own laundry, but I do it for him. I am capable of getting my oil changed, but he takes my car in for me. Before we married, we did those things ourselves.

On Wednesday, my husband was traveling. I had a break between dogs, so I decided to try to fix the clippers myself. The broken hinge was the easy one. It did not come with directions, but it probably should have. There is a tiny (3/16”) spring under the hinge that I couldn’t see. When I cleaned out the hair over the garbage can, I heard it drop. It would have been helpful to know that spring was there. I dug the spring out of the garbage, replaced the hinge assembly and we were back in business.

The other clipper was a little more challenging because I didn’t know what was wrong with it. I guessed that it was the blade drive assembly lever based on what I read online. To get to that part, I had to take apart the whole clipper including the hinge and case. The on/off switch fell out when I took the case off – minor problem. While it was apart, I cleaned up the pieces of hair, replaced the parts and put it all back together. I walked over to the electrical outlet and plugged it in. AND IT WORKED!

I’m telling you. It really doesn’t take much to make me happy. I let out a yell and jumped up and down as if I just won the lottery! Bring on the busy grooming season. I have three working clippers!

I love to read. I love to be in the middle of a good story – one where it is impossible to put down and you still find yourself reading it long after you should be asleep. I can read a book like that in less than a week.

I get most of my books from the library these days. If I am going to be done with it in a week, why buy the book? If I read a book review or a friend recommends a book, I go to my library’s website and put it on hold. I have a least a half dozen books on hold right now.

The other day, after just finishing another book, I got an email from the library. One of the books I put on hold was available. The next day, I ran over there to pick it up. It was “One Day”, by David Nicholls. I had seen the book at Barnes and Noble and made a mental note to put it on hold at the library. It got a lot of good reviews. The movie had just come out and I wasn’t sure if I would see the movie before I got a chance to read the book.

I almost never read the book AND see the movie. If I do, I usually read the book first. The book is always better. The movie characters almost never look like I had pictured them and the movies usually leave out a lot of details.

I’m not big on books on CD either. I love the idea of them. I can’t tell you how many times I would love someone to read out loud from the book I can’t put down so I can get some work done. I have the kind of job where I can listen to the radio or a talk show. Why not a book? I tried it a few times and HATED it. Maybe I had the wrong book. Maybe I would have hated the story even if I was reading it.

I hate books where the author fills it with too many fluffy details. Tell me that they are up watching a beautiful sunrise. That is usually enough for me. I have seen a beautiful sunrise and I can picture it. You don’t have to fill paragraphs describing the sunrise. That bores me. Unless the sunrise is a main part of the book, you do not need to spend more than a sentence or two telling me about it. Two is probably too much. When I am reading a book, I can skip over that fluff. If I am listening to someone else read it, I am stuck listening to the reader going on and on about the damn sunrise to the point where I don’t remember what we were talking about before the sun came up.

Back to “One Day”. I was thrilled to get one of the books I put on hold. If there is a long waiting list for a book, I take that as a sign that it is good. The book is about a couple that hook up on the night of their college graduation. For whatever reason, they decide to remain friends, despite the fact that they have nothing in common. I thought this was going to be like the play, “Same Time Next Year”, where the characters are having a long affair. They meet at a resort the same weekend each year and tell each other how their life has changed over the past year. In “One Day”, Nicholls shows a glimpse of his characters’ lives every year on that same day, although they are not together. The chapter includes a letter from one of them (they are penpals – at least as far as I got) and a brief introduction of additional characters. Dex and Em, the main characters, are annoying and not very deep. It was way too busy and honestly, not interesting enough for me to read. I was only 50 pages into the book when I returned it to the library – my library receipt still holding the place where I left off.

I usually trudge through uninteresting books, waiting for them to get better. I assume that if it got published, it must be a good story. Sadly, I have finished several poorly written books, with weak characters and no plot. I hope that the ending will somehow help the book redeem itself, but it never does. I simply close the book and mumble about what a waste of my time that was and how the tree they used to make the book would have been better off as a an issue of The Enquirer.

My friend, Nancy, has told me a few times in recent months how life is too short to do things that you don’t enjoy. I have offered her books that I have read and after hearing what the story line is, she will politely pass. I have watched her say no to parties, dinners, and outings that don’t interest her or that will not work with her schedule. She is not offended if everyone else goes. She doesn’t have some hidden agenda about not participating with her friends or family. It just doesn’t interest her, so she doesn’t want to do it. I have taken that to heart in many parts of my life, but only recently started closing books that were not worthy of my time.

Many women still need permission to say no. These same women can be, if you can excuse the term, ball busters for a lot of things, but saying no to the simple stuff is still their weakness. So here it is. You have permission to say no today – Close a worthless book, decline an invitation, and return a gift that you will never use. Find something that is worthy of your time and you will be a lot happier.

A few of my stay-at-home mom friends, have told me that they are going back to work in the fall. Whether it is the economy or the fact that their kids are finally old enough to take care of themselves, there seems to be a lot of women returning to the workforce.

“What are you going to do?” I asked them. Most of them have no clue. They have been out of the workforce for many years. Their skills are rusty, their contacts have moved on or they were in an industry that is overwhelmed with unemployment.

The main problem for the working mom is how to have a job AND be there for your kids. If you still have little ones, day care is expensive. Even when the kids school-aged, the problem still remains. Not all kids take the bus and not every day is pleasant to walk to school in Chicagoland. In addition, how do you get your child to the softball field at 5:00 when you are still at work? What if your child is sick?

One of my friends has recently gone back to work after being home for 12 years. Her family situation has forced her to return to work and they rely on the money she brings in. However, with gas over $4.00 a gallon and the cost of her sitter after school (she doesn’t get off work until 7:00), she is not bringing home much.

So what is the solution? Start your own business! According to the U.S. Dept. of Labor, in 2002 women-owned firms totaled 285,072, an increase of 19 percent from 1997, and generated $47.2 billion in revenues. Women represented 34.6 percent of the self-employed persons in Illinois (The 2007 results come out in a few days – I guess it takes government a long time to tally results!)

So there you have it. Women represent over 34% of the self employed in Illinois. I’m proud to be one of them. That statistic was nine years ago. I believe that number has gone up.

Whenever I have suggested that a friend start up her own business, their first reaction is, “I can’t do that.” Why not? I did. Their comeback is often the same – “But you are different.” The only difference is that I tried it and didn’t just wonder if it could happen.

For those of you that don’t know, I am a dog groomer. I work out of my house from 9-3 and occasionally after school. I have only been grooming for four years. In order to be a groomer, I had to find a path to get there. I needed to go back to school (500 hour program) and still bring in money. I worked as a graphic artist and a printing production coordinator before that. My family counted on my income. My kids were 8, 6 and 4 at the time. How could I find a job that worked around my kids’ schedules, didn’t require daycare and did not take up my evenings so I could go to school?

Let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. I took a long time to decide on grooming in the first place. I wanted to find something that I enjoyed, that I could make work around the kids, and that wasn’t going to cost an arm and a leg to start up. My poor husband had to listen to every crazy idea I had before I settled on this path. Once I made the decision on the career, I had to figure out how to get there. Where would the money come from for the classes if I was taking a paycut from graphics job? Like most moms, if I had extra money, it went to the kids. Who would watch my kids while I went to school and my husband was working?

My solution was this: I started a dog walking business for dog owners who worked. I worked most days from 10-2 and brought my 4 year old with me after preschool. I also did pet sitting on the weekends and for vacations. Again, the kids could go with me. I also started doing before and after school care in my home. I had to be here anyway for my kids, so why not? That was my contribution to the family income. It wasn’t too much less than I was making as a graphic artist.

I found a local grooming school that had flexible hours. During the day, I had my sitter watch my son and my husband got home in time to pick the girls up from school. I went to school one evening a week when my husband was home. When I was in school, my dog walking was covered by my husband and friends of mine (that I paid). I still found time to volunteer, keep up the house and socialize. It was a crazy time but it all worked out.

My point of this very long story is that you can find a path for yourself. You can be a small business owner and be a mom. Start by making a list of what you like to do and what skills you have. Next, research careers in those fields both online and at the library. There are TONS of books on the subject of home based businesses.

I believe you can do it. What are you waiting for?

I was talking to a friend the other day and she was telling me a story about her Golden Retriever. It seems that this dog was busy smelling around the yard while my friend chatted with another woman. A few minutes later, the dog joined them and lay down at their feet. She soon noticed that the dog was chewing on something. When she bent down to see what it was, she realized that it was a baby bunny. Grossed out, she told her husband to get it away from the dog. She described it to me as “playing the Woman Card”.

It’s funny, but I find that I do that myself sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I have done a lot of gross stuff myself – I am a mother of three and a dog groomer. We have two Labs that have brought us headless animals and dead baby birds. I worked in restaurants that had cockroaches which I had to cover with my hand to avoid showing a customer. I have killed thousands of spiders, picked up more animal poop than I care to recall and cleaned up the aftermath of projectile vomit. However, when the glue board finally got the mouse I saw in February, I waited until my husband got home and had him clean it up. I played the Woman Card – I had reached my limit of grossness.

I don’t play that card often, but I have used it once or twice when trying to get away from a salesperson that was persistent. I am too nice to shut the door in their face or walk away. To the cable guy, I told him that I couldn’t mess with my husband’s sports channels or he would kill me. Actually, as long as we have ESPN and Fox News, he is good. When I was at the oil change place, a man in his late 60’s or early 70’s kept bugging me with “extras” that I could replace while I was there. Since he wasn’t taking no for an answer, I told him that my husband gave me strict instructions to only get the oil changed. That was enough for him. The funny thing was that my husband didn’t even know I was going to get the oil changed that day.

We are not the only ones with a card. Men have one, too and believe me, they use it. My dad used it when my mom and I left him with my newborn daughter. As we were walking out the door, the baby started to make “that face” and we all saw it. My mom and I grabbed our purses and headed for the door. He yelled after us that he hasn’t changed a diaper in 25 years. He was playing the Man Card. We laughed and told him it was like riding a bike and it would come back to him. I yelled “The tabs go in the back”, as we were closing the door. My husband uses the Man Card, often called the Dad Card, when the kids ask him for permission to go somewhere or do something. He answers yes, but then follows it up with a “you better ask mom”. He just doesn’t want mom’s wrath if he gave the wrong answer. If it is wrong, he is not to blame.

The problem with the Man Card is that women see right through it. We know they are just trying to get out of something they don’t want to do and we are not falling for it. With the Woman Card, men feel this rush of testosterone. They are either helping a damsel in distress (in the case of the mouse) or women are acting as they would expect them to (clueless when it comes to cars in the case of the oil change man). In all honesty, we are very capable, but we don’t want to do it either. We just have a better poker face then they do.

In Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Inaugural speech, he said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” I use this quote as a motivator when I feel like fleeing myself.

I had a dream the other night that I entered a writing contest and won. It was the last dream of the night; the one I was having when the alarm went off. I woke up with a smile on my face and a feeling like it really happened. After a few seconds, I remembered that I never entered a writing contest. I have been toying with the idea, and have even written some things for submission, but haven’t gone any further.

What is the hold up? Fear. Fear of rejection. Fear that it won’t be good enough. Fear of winning. Fear of winning? Isn’t that what I want? Yes, but fear of winning comes hand in hand with fear of the unknown and fear of change. It’s a lot to think about.

By not submitting anything, I still have fears – Fear of never knowing, fear of never trying. Those fears spark regret. When I was in 4th and 5th grade, I was in the chorus. I loved chorus and my music teacher picked me a couple of times for solos. I would have continued singing in 6th grade if it wasn’t for the fact that I had to try out for the chorus. All these same fears came up – rejection, not being good enough, etc. – so instead of facing them, I never tried out. Who knows where that would have lead me? The only good thing that came out of that situation was that it gave me a story to tell my kids. I have used it on my older daughter when she feared trying out and it motivated her to do it. She was successful. Why don’t I think I will be?

Franklin Roosevelt must have felt fear when running for office. He was a victim of polio and in a wheelchair. How would he “stand up” to the other candidates? Would he be rejected? Would he be good enough? Apparently, if he had any of those fears, he pushed through them and went on to be President for the next 12 years. What state would our country be in if he didn’t?

No, my writing will never change the country like FDR did. Like FDR, I cannot please everyone and I shouldn’t feel I have to. Later in Roosevelt’s speech he says, “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” If I can touch one person with my writing, by a moment of entertainment, a good laugh or something you can relate to, I am happy.

Therefore, I am putting it in writing. I will overcome this fear of rejection, inadequacy, and the unknown and submit my writing. Who knows where this will lead me!

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