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The Queen of My Self

The Queen of My Self

Memories From an Empty Nest

posted by Donna Henes

By Anna Quindlen

All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like. Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move food from plate to mouth all by themselves.

Like the trick soap I bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the unreliable haze of the past. Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach, T. Berry Brazelton, Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories. What those books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught me, and the well-meaning relations — what they taught me was that they couldn’t really teach me very much at all.

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Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice and a timeout. One boy is toilet trained at three, his brother at two. When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing. Eventually you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow.

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I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton’s wonderful books on child development, in which he describes three different sorts of infants: average, quiet and active. I was looking for a sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month-old who did not walk. Was there something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China. Next year he goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.

Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language — mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover. The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded, “What did you get wrong?” (She insisted I include that.) The time I ordered food at the McDonald’s drive-through speaker and then drove away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the first two seasons. What was I thinking?

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But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Even today I’m not sure what worked and what didn’t, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more than anyone to excavate my essential humanity.

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That’s what the books never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts. It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

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All Praise the Women of Menopause – Part II

posted by Donna Henes

By Sharon Mesmer

First, there was the buying of the white dress, white fake fur jacket and white shoes. I recall my mother and me marching up and down Ashland Avenue, the main shopping street in our South Side Chicago neighborhood, in search of something that I would actually deign to wear. It couldn’t be too ornate, according to Sister Eleanor, the principal of St. John of God grammar school, but according to me it had to be really, really pretty. (Twelve years ago I actually found the dress as I was cleaning out my mom’s house, and it really was pretty: sateen with sheer puffy sleeves and seed pearls all over the bodice.) As we shopped around, we’d run into other girls and their mothers doing the same thing. Seeing them and comparing notes — “Goldblatts ain’t got nothin’ good no more,” “I heard they’re gougin’ everybody over by 63rd” — heightened the feeling of the ritual’s importance.

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The ceremony, on a May morning in 1968, bordered on the pagan: All 60 kids marched slowly, piously, in a procession toward the church, led by the pastor and assistant priests, with altar boys shouldering a large statue of the Virgin Mary on a wooden pallet, her head wreathed in white roses. The streets were packed with our parents, grandparents, godparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and neighbors, all snapping photos from behind police barricades. We were told by the nuns not to talk to, or even look at, anyone — just keep our eyes focused on the kid directly in front of us, our hands folded in prayer. And yet at almost every step someone was yelling my name — “It’s Uncle Bob, honey! I wanna take your picture!” “Sharon! Look at your mother!”

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As we turned a corner, I could, for the first time, hear the booming sounds of the church organ and the choir. I remember thinking that that was a magical moment: all of us walking toward the thunderous organ playing just for us while the choir of adults sang us in to the tune of a hymn called “This Is My Body.”

A group of teenage boys stood with their arms folded, watching us; a young mother crouched, put her arm around her little boy, and pointed; an old man doffed his cap. As we walked up the steps of the church, the nuns, like security at a rock concert, waved back the mothers with flowers and dads with cameras. It felt like we were the Beatles.

Now I wonder: Why is it that we’re lauded and celebrated when we’ve only just embarked on the journey? Why do we stop marking, ritually, the accomplishments along the way? The hurdles that we overcome?

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I think all of us women who are going through menopause should gather together and then two-by-two make a pious procession through streets clogged with our living loved ones and long-dead parents and grandparents (resurrected just for us and calling our names). Whoever we are, whether svelte and wafting Chanel or pouchy with pendulous breasts, I want us to be made much of, cheered, recognized. I want our procession to be led by a bunch of men our age with beer guts pushing their shirt buttons apart, shouldering a statue of whoever our appropriate goddess is — possibly Coatlicue, an Aztec Earth Goddess, or maybe Hillary Clinton.

I want us to be sung to by a choir as we march into a secular temple, possibly some combination of the old Fillmore and the Society for Ethical Culture. Once inside, we gather in a circle around a huge ring of fire and, at an appropriate moment, accompanied by chanting, we reach into our purses and toss into the flames that unused old tampon that we’ve been carrying around for five years. As we do, the fire changes from red to pure white, tongues of it leap into our hearts, and we receive the ability to heal and bring blessings to our community.

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And then there’s a party afterward that lasts four days, with enough ice-cold drinks, Ativan and L’Occitane Verbena Refreshing Towelettes (chilling in hundreds of tiny personal refrigerators) for us all.

Of course the ritual she is seeking is a Queen Crowning Ceremony!

  • Queen Mama Donna


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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

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All Praise the Women of Menopause – Part I

posted by Donna Henes

By Sharon Mesmer

For some women, menopause is no big deal. Some say they barely notice it. My mother, long ago, described her menopause this way: “My periods just started gettin’ lighter and lighter, and my harmones settled down, and then one day … pfft! It was over.”

Not me. Not only did menopause change my life, it changed me.

Before I was laid low by hot flashes, panic-inducing adrenaline rushes and the constant oscillation between morbid sadness and killer rage, I’d prided myself on being fearless. I’d screamed obscenities at the masochistic nuns at my Catholic school, kicked undercover cops in the groin and once threw a chair at my abusive fiancé’s head while Allen Ginsberg read poetry in a room below.

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And suddenly, I was a person to whom sitting quietly with hands folded, ideally in a dark room with the shades drawn and maybe “The Lawrence Welk Show” playing low on an old TV, seemed like the best plan ever.

I wish I’d been better prepared. I wish I’d properly celebrated the last time I’d canceled plans to spend all morning soaking in a lavender-scented bathtub with a bottle of Advil. I wish I’d noted down the date when I’d dug that last extra tampon out of the bottom of my purse and thrown it away. I should have marked the event in some way, maybe even performed a personal rite-of-passage ritual: taken that tampon out to the woods, placed it upon an altar that I’d fashioned out of ancient glacial rocks, and set it ablaze while I chanted an invocation to whoever the crone-goddess of menopause is.

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I am now well acquainted with that goddess.

It’s possible that I have the World’s Worst Menopause. But how to quantify with hard data hot flashes that make me feel like I’m staring into the mouth of an active volcano or the engine of a coal-burning locomotive on the hottest day in history? To what previous record could I compare panic-inducing adrenaline rushes that occur every hour on the hour and, while I’m teaching, inspire concerned students to ask if I’m having a heart attack? When I hear women use cutesy nicknames like “power surges” I want to rip their throats out.

If you are one of those women for whom the transition from periods to no periods was like the transition from walking to sitting down — congratulations. Everybody else: You are my tribe. And I’ve come to believe that our tribe needs a ritual.

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I’ve heard menopause described as a second puberty. There are plenty of rites-of-passage for girls as they begin and complete puberty. There’s the bat mitzvah, the quinceañera and the Sweet 16. I’ve read about a beautiful Apache ceremony called Na’ii’ees, which usually takes place the summer after a girl has her first period and commemorates the story of Esdzanadehe, the first woman. It originally lasted a few days, during which a girl, covered with a golden mixture of cornmeal and clay, became imbued with the power of the first woman and received the ability to heal and bring blessings to her community.

I didn’t have a Sweet 16 or a bat mitzvah. But I did have a First Holy Communion, which supposedly marked my ascent to the age of reason, as a 7-year-old. As rituals go, it was a good one.

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Coming Wednesday, Part II

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

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Nourishing Relationships Interview – Part III

posted by Donna Henes

 

NR: Can you tell us more about response-ability?

DH: Response-ability is the willingness to encounter each person, situation, event, and emotion with an open heart and an open mind, so that we can respond to the needs of others and our own needs with equal care. Born of awareness and consideration, response-ability means choosing to be fully conscious and present in life and to participate conscientiously in its enfoldment.

Maturity brings with it the understanding that everything is not about us. That the world does not revolve around our personal story. That we do not exist in a vacuum. And that all those other people out there actually have lives of their own and are not simply extras in our movie.

Life and living have shown the Queen the value of community, cooperation, concern, care, and communion. Knowing Herself to be an integral, inextricably interconnected part of a greater whole, She multiplies Her ministrations to include the welfare of the entire world around Her.

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NR: Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

DH: If we mighty Queens bring to bear the amazing experience, understanding, and acumen that we have to share, we can, together, restore balance and bring healing to a world that seems bent on destruction.

Personally, I do not think that it is a coincidence that just as the planet teeters on the very brink of destruction, there comes along a generation of fiery, accomplished, clever, ambitious women at the height of our supremacy to whip it back into shape. And the sheer enormity of our numbers means that we can actually achieve the critical mass necessary to make a real and lasting difference.

Let us harness our impressive Empress Energy: our purity of purpose, our passion, our heartfelt compassion and our enormous power, and let us direct it toward creating a safe, sublime and peaceful world for us all. The future is in our very capable hands.

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NR: Our thanks go out to you, Donna, for sharing your exciting work with us. You’ve stimulated us all to think about our power and take up the challenge to use it wisely. Now it’s time for our readers http://nourishingrelationships.blogspot.com/2010/08/queen-of-my-self-stepping-into.html to have the opportunity to connect with you personally.

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to thequeenofmyself@aol.com.

 

 

 

Previous Posts

Memories From an Empty Nest
By Anna Quindlen All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief. I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost adults, two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the same books I do ...

posted 6:00:59am Apr. 29, 2016 | read full post »

All Praise the Women of Menopause - Part II
By Sharon Mesmer First, there was the buying of the white dress, white fake fur jacket and white shoes. I recall my mother and me marching up and down Ashland Avenue, the main shopping street in our South Side Chicago neighborhood, in search ...

posted 6:00:20am Apr. 27, 2016 | read full post »

All Praise the Women of Menopause - Part I
By Sharon Mesmer For some women, menopause is no big deal. Some say they barely notice it. My mother, long ago, described her menopause this way: “My periods just started gettin’ lighter and lighter, and my harmones settled down, and then ...

posted 6:00:38am Apr. 25, 2016 | read full post »

Nourishing Relationships Interview - Part III
  NR: Can you tell us more about response-ability? DH: Response-ability is the willingness to encounter each person, situation, event, and emotion with an open heart and an open mind, so that we can respond to the needs of others and ...

posted 6:00:28am Apr. 22, 2016 | read full post »

Nourishing Relationships Interview - Part II
  NR: What, exactly do you mean by Queen? DH: The Queen is a woman who is still energetic with youth, yet wise with age. She is confident and beholden to no one. She thinks, speaks, acts for her Self and is secure being powerful. She ...

posted 6:00:23am Apr. 20, 2016 | read full post »

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