Mentoring After Prison

February 27, 2013 by  
Filed under Family

By Madge Woods

I met her on parole, and now she’s AMAZING.

Keisha is my mentee (technically really not anymore as she finished parole April 29, 2011 – almost five years from the day I met her).

Meeting My Mentee

Keisha has become so much more than what she was the day I met her. She had trouble making choices about everything (she had no choices in prison). She was more like the teenager she was when imprisoned at age 15 1/2 than the 32-year-old woman standing in front of me.

Having been one of the first juveniles tried as an adult in California, she was sentenced to life plus 9. I never did understand this sentencing. When I first met Keisha, after she was out a month, we went to lunch with a program that we both signed up for, Volunteers in Parole (which is now de-funded). She was nervous and didn’t know how this would all work. But by the end of the lunch we were matched and the bond started.

Starting the Mentoring Process

For five years we hung out. We went shopping, and to museums, plays, lunches, dinners. Mostly we spent time just talking, in person and on the phone. We are very different. Our lives couldn’t have been further from the other’s, but somehow we waded through. I talked and asked questions and sometimes she answered me and sometimes she had no trust that she could tell me what she needed to say. But with time and work and energy we started to be friends rather than mentor/mentee. I guess this is proof of the mentorology cycle at work!

She’s Starting to Transform…

Keisha’s life after prison started back where SHE started. Living with her disabled mom immediately put Keisha back in the position of daughter, only now she was taking care of her mother. We talked about her roles in life, her roles in her family, and her dreams for her future, which needed a job to get going.

Keisha got a job right away and it took a while to find the right fit. A few jobs later she settled in and at the same time started thinking about helping those lifers still in prison and those outside. She joined groups and started speaking out on her story. She spoke on stage and with friends and among total strangers. She started to become the adult she searched for.

After mastering driving and cooking and making a place for herself within her mom’s home, Keisha flourished. She dreamed of the day she was off parole so she could move to her own place and start the life she so deserved and worked so hard to attain. Now, five years later, she is reaching all her goals. If she had buried a list when going to prison, I think she would feel she is moving farther away from that 15-year-old and more to who she believes she can be…and checking items off that list.

Continuing the Transformation

From that first day, I cared about Keisha. I tried to introduce concepts that she had never learned or seen in her family: saving, checking accounts, credit cards, and insurance. She thrived and started saving for emergencies and for her future. Did she always make the best choices? No. But she made choices and accepted consequences and grew from each encounter.

She  had her tattoos removed from Homeboys and became active in prison reform. She started talking and couldn’t stop. She turned her life around. She took advantage of every possible program in prison, she graduated high school, she represented the women in prison less educated than she and helped with rules, regulations, and programs in prison. She even went to Toastmasters and became a great speaker. We worked on some language and pronunciation and she continued to write and publish and perform. She became a tax payer.  She now can vote.  But most importantly she broke the family cycle that had led her to crime to begin with.

I have full faith Keisha will never offend again and will not ever put herself in a position where her character could be questioned. Keisha is a success at solving problems and resolving issues. I can honestly say I have learned more from Keisha than she could have possibly learned from me. She became part of my family. She shared my joys and struggles. I have a lifelong friend that I love like my own family. I am so proud of Keisha and I just wanted the world to know it.

A Life Completely Transformed through Mentorology

It is now over seven years since Keisha was released. She has her own place and is moving soon to be with her mom in their own place. She has a wonderful job with a big global shipping company and has passed all their requirements with a 100% accuracy. She is going from a temporary employee to full-time and is respected by all her co-workers. She has continued to speak out and help teens and pre-gang groups to see if her lessons can be shared and prevent violence among youth in trouble. Keisha also is in a wonderful relationship with someone who respects her and is a good partner. But most importantly for me, Keisha introduced me to her life, her friends, and I am now involved with the Action Committee for Women in Prison as their board president. Also, when another of her friends got released Keisha encouraged her friend to select me as her mentor. That relationship also has been very successful as well for over six years. I love my friendships with these two women and am so proud of them. I truly feel they are my sisters and we share so many great conversations and adventures.

madge_keisha-300x225

Mentoring works. I live it and breathe it everyday. It has totally changed me and showed me how a young, bright woman can get caught up in making bad choices -but with friendship, time, and energy she can change and become a remarkable citizen of this country.

 

Madge Woods is the board president for the Action Committee for Women in Prison, whch advocates for the humane and compassionate treatment of all incarcerated women, collaborates with other organizations dedicated to reforming the criminal justice system, works for the release of individual women prisoners who pose no danger to society, informs and educates the public, and promotes a shift of focus from punishment to rehabilitation and restorative justice.

Originally published on OverMyShoulderFoundation.Org

 

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My Head is Spinning. Literally.

December 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Family

By Madge Woods

The holidays are upon us and my head has been spinning since October. The culmination of the imagined spinning has morphed into real spinning (benign positional vertigo). It all started in August when I decided to end a 12-year relationship and, without this person in my life, I went off to Provincetown.  I painted, walked, rode a bike.  I put out to the universe that I was ready for something or someone new in my life. I guess I should’ve been more specific about what I wanted. I went to one of the gayest cities in America hoping to, I don’t know, fall for a gay man?

I have always had a knack for picking unavailable men, but I always maintained this hope that they would change their ways and become my “person”. But falling for a gay man was never in my realm of thought. I have always had male friends, but I have never been attracted to them other than the way in which they were presented to me in my life. But my latest foray has sent me far afield from someone attainable; I met a man 100% unavailable to me (except for friendship). There is no chance or hope that this man will ever be what I really can have and want in my wheelhouse for a boyfriend.

His qualities are ones of honesty, enthusiasm, and a love of shoes. We text a lot.  I get photos of his dog, his Thanksgiving tablecloth (which he made himself), and, well, his shoes. We have become the best of friends and really do care about each other, that I am sure of. But as far as my needs and wants for a boyfriend, I know this simply isn’t going to happen.  But what he has shown me, in a very short time, is what I do want in a straight man. I want the qualities of a gay man with a very well developed female side –one who engages in conversations on all topics, is attentive, who is there for me, and who appreciates my kindness and enthusiasm for life. I want someone who can handle his life and has it relatively together.  And I want someone who is… AVAILABLE.

I am now convinced I can share my life with a man. (I wasn’t so sure before my latest adventure.) It is time to let someone in. I think that my picking a gay man to fall in love with is my ultimate way of telling myself to pick in a different direction.

As for the 12-year relationship that I left behind, we have texted and talked and have become phone buddies again. But I have not seen him since returning from Provincetown. My new friend has become a constant in my life. He is a texter which I have learned to enjoy. His texts come at all hours of the day and night and remind me that I have found a very valuable new relationship. Platonic as can be, but much richer in ways I never could have envisioned.

So I guess my hopes for someone new in my life DID materialize, just not in the form I expected. Life constantly puts out challenges to test our visions, our loves, likes, and our friendships –both old and new.

I have been flying as high as a kite the last 8 weeks, but I am coming out of the clouds and landing back on terra firma.

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The Social Networker

June 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Family

By: Madge Woods

I am flying home from Texas as I write this.  I want to put my thoughts down about my recent adventures around the country meeting Facebook friends and The Next Family writers. I decided to go because I love what I do and getting to interact with people on a daily basis.

My journey started with a Facebook announcement that I would be traveling to the cities where people expressed an interest in meeting me. I grouped those that were interested by region and my path was formed. I decided to do a test run in Northern California first. I was up there for four days; I had the best time and knew I was on the right path with my original idea.

So I formed the big trip: in fifteen days I would travel to Toronto, Cape Cod, New York City, Minneapolis, and Dallas. I would spend a few days in every location, staying in either hotels or writers’ homes or just old friends who offered. I booked all my own transportation and off I went with hopes of it all working out. Some people were added and some canceled, but I was hopeful that those who were willing in the beginning stayed willing. I just had a feeling it would be wonderful and that every visit would offer something unique and rewarding. I had no idea just how truly rewarding it would be, however.

In each city I was welcomed with open arms and lavish praise and love; it warmed my heart. Because I felt such affection for the people I was meeting, I was so thrilled to see it was beyond my wildest imagination. I met relatives, kids, friends, and random people on trains, buses, and planes. With each meeting a story happened, organically and without predetermination. I was shown sights that were both unique to each area and special to the people living there. Some days involved relaxing in jammies, eating in, and just sharing stories. Other days were filled with the sights and sounds of the cities. Some days I walked until my feet were tired and needed soaking.

All of the homes were as different as the people living in them. The kids I met showed such love to me and to their parents. These were real families with real life stories and the makeup of each family didn’t (doesn’t) matter. Maybe the conversations were different, but in every case the love within the family was evident. The kids and the parents seem to be thriving. Anyone who questions how a family is formed, who thinks it can only be one way are so, so wrongly directed. Families are made up of people who love each other, who respect each other, and who cherish each other. They are made of listeners and talkers. Kids grow up and have kids of their own and follow their own life paths. I urge everyone to think of families in new ways and in every combination possible.

As I shared my amazing journey I hope all came to understand how important it is to be tolerant, generous, caring, and respectful of everyone and how people love differently.  It doesn’t matter how a family is formed, what matters  is that love trumps gender and ethnicity. I plan on doing this again and again. Until my next adventure, I just want to thank everyone who made this one of the best adventures of my life.

 

You can read more from Madge on her blog 

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America and My Sadness–We Need to March!

February 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Entertainment, Family

By: Madge Woods

Times they are a changing and I am beyond outraged. I wake up every morning hoping another ridiculous bill will not be introduced in some state that violates women’s rights. Roe v. Wade is always under attack but never more than now. Right before my eyes all that I fought for is slowly disappearing and I am not happy. Women are not stepping up with enough indignation that our rights are clearly and quickly being tested, whether it be vaginal ultrasounds without our permission or birth control not being on insurance policies while viagra is. When I saw the all-male committee deciding women’s probing, I was furious but what to do? I give money, I write articles, I read FB and sign every petition, but I just don’t find that as satisfying as when I marched or went to rallies back in the day. Why are we not protesting with our feet or our voices to a larger audience? Are we just too media drenched now that we don’t let our voices and feet do the talking and walking? Where are the women leaders that take us to the great heights of Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan? We are stronger now than ever. We stand up and fight (just look at Komen) when we stood up and charged forcefully to voice our outrage. Where is our outrage now? Where is the real fight? I am ready to march but there are no marches; I am ready to stand and fight but there is no place to actually go but Facebook and other social medias. I want a place, a center, a march on Washington, Los Angeles, New York, and every other city. I want to see all women fighting for our rights to protect our bodies. Men can join too because you will be next if I have anything to say. Bills introduced as jokes now will become laws too and men will be probed and violated to get viagra or vasectomies. If we have to, so do they. Instead of tit for tat, it will be balls off for vaginal probes (you get my idea). My country scares me now more than at any time in my 63 years and as each day of my life passes we seem to be going backwards. We talk a good game about liberties, yet I feel a small majority are taking away my rights and no one seems to care but me. Women, stand up, take a stand and fight with all your might. Pretend it’s your children you are fighting for. Oh wait. It is your children or future children or the right to no children or better yet, it is your body that is about to be stolen from you. Now is the time, now the energy must be spent and the money spent and your time spent. Help me please find the answers. I know we are capable, we have done it before. I have done it before. If I could close a college over the Vietnam War and get the women’s movement to accept that I have control over my own body, I can do it again. But I represent the older women. We need the younger women to fight this fight with us and I don’t see that as much as I would want. Get out, fight the good fight, know you did your best and watch what happens. We have the power NOW USE IT.
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Interview with Madge Woods

February 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Family

We continue our interview series with Madge Woods, Marketing Director for The Next Family and a huge support to the site and our community of writers.

TNF: How has it been blogging for TNF?

I love my work with TNF. I met Brandy a couple of years ago when we were doing a live storytelling show. We immediately liked each other and within the week she asked if I would enjoy finding writers and then it branched into Marketing Director. It changed my entire focus for my life. I have always written but never for anyone but myself. Now I blog and tell stories and have met so many amazing writers. I have started a third phase of life. Being the elder here (63) I enjoy all the stories and love to comment as you all know. I have friends all over the world through this little job.

TNF: How is your family like every other family and how is it different?

I was married at 19 for 20 years. I have two grown sons (ages 40 and 38) who are married and have given me the best 4 grandchildren in the world. I have been single for 24 years and love my life. I have been in a few long term relationships but have kept my mantra the same. I don’t want to live with anyone or marry again. I own my home outright after buying it twice (once as a married woman and then again when I divorced). I was a single parent from the time of my divorce. My grown sons have no relationship with their dad to speak of. When we divorced I would have said that would never have happened but it has and my ex is the loser in this deal. My kids are fabulous and he has missed knowing them as adults with their own families.

TNF: Did your family accept you and your lifestyle? If yes, explain and if not explain what you have done to help them to accept your decisions and your lifestyle.

When I first got divorced my mom wrote me the best letter of support and she was so happy I was doing what I wanted and wanted me to know it. My dad, being old school, was worried how I would fare without a man. He learned I was a wonder at it. He encouraged me in all my endeavors and was a wonderful father and terrific grandfather to my kids. He never lived long enough to meet the great-grandkids but he would have loved them. He would have gone to all their events just as he did for my two sons.

TNF: How do you juggle the work at home with your jobs?

I am fortunate to work from home. I own real estate and have enough income to live well. I also have lots of free time to explore writing and my art.

TNF: What lessons do you feel are the most important to teach children in this day and age? Are there any lessons they, or perhaps we as parents, should unlearn?

As a grandparent I have learned to keep my mouth shut (mostly). Now that my older son and DIL live 5 houses away and across the street, keeping my mouth shut has become my newest quote to myself. I can’t wait until my grandkids can just come across the street by themselves and visit.

TNF: Any words of wisdom to pass on to our readers?

Take time out of your busy day to relax and breathe. Enjoy those kids, put away your cellphones and computers and play family games, read a book, and most importantly really listen. Your family has amazing things to say and it is true that kids say the darndest things. I regale my grandchildren with stories of their fathers. They laugh and can’t believe all the things their dads did when they were growing up. I share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

TNF: Anything you want our readers to know about you or your family?

I am very close to my sons and their families. I still remain close to all my ex brothers-in-law and their wives. I have been divorced for over 25 years and I love my life, my age, and I value all my amazing friendships from new to over 40 years old in lots of cases. I am honest, trusting (to a fault sometimes), and I speak my truth and try and empathize with our writers and readers. We have an amazing website and my goal is to travel the country to personally meet all of you sooner than later. I feel like I know you all so well. We truly are a unique family here in TNF.

Thank you, Madge, for all your hard work with and for TNF and its writers!

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An American Tourist Goes to China

May 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Travel

By: Madge

I just returned from China on a 33-person tour with a high-end company, and I have some advice for travelers looking to visit the country. First, you must decide whether you want to travel with a group (small or large), or individually (with maybe just one partner).  Secondly, you must pay close attention to the hotel star rating!! In China, one star off can mean the difference between not having a toilet in your room, no elevator in the hotel (in China, a building with nine stories or fewer doesn’t warrant an elevator), being too far off the beaten path, sleeping in filthy conditions, or having no air conditioner.

I am older and travel by myself (unless I can get a friend to join me), so I try to travel first class. I like comfort in third-world countries. I want to be on a walking street and near major subway or train lines for my days away from the tour. And since you can’t control the random people joining your tour, you can only hope someone shares your love of food or adventure so that you don’t end up being alone when the group has free time. I do well with going places by myself but I like to go to dinner with others. I like to talk about what I have seen during the day and share ideas and life stories.

Before my trips I tend to avoid researching my destination too much, as I want to learn along the way, and arrive with no preconceived notions. A high-end tour company usually provides so much information that one doesn’t need to study beforehand. It might, however, be beneficial to know some of the restaurants ahead of time, especially if you are a real foodie      –but know that the concierge at the better hotels will have lists upon lists of places to dine for all different prices and all different foods.

Once you check in to your hotel in China, discover the hotel’s amenities.  Many have free gym facilities, a sauna or spa, or even indoor pools. I found the gyms to be lovely and in top shape. As one who is spending her kids’ inheritance, I tend to leave it to the tour company to make all the arrangements. I just buy my airplane tickets through a travel agent and depend on them to get me the best deal with miles, points, upgrades, and anything else I can use to get into business class. When I was younger I traveled more standard fare, but now I want supreme services, a wonderful bed, and luxurious surroundings.

China has much to offer in the way of sights, so plan your trip to include those you want to see the most. The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and Terra Cotta Warriors are the main attractions in China. Each one deserves a day –at least –for exploration. Any good tour will include these sights. Then the extras…like good shopping, if that is your thing, and of course, food. My “thing” is to mix with the locals, where they shop, where they eat, where they play (parks, etc.).  I like tours that take you to local farmers’ markets, to schools to see how the kids learn, and on walks around older sections of the city.  If you have a religious bent you might ask the tour company to get a group together to take you to the area where your religion is followed or was allowed at one time. In Shanghai a group of us went to where the Jewish refugees were allowed to live during WWII. Shanghai was the only place that allowed Jews to emigrate freely. It is always worth checking into temples and monuments that suit your interests.

Unfortunately, my trip to China was not as rewarding as were my trips to Japan, India, Eastern Europe, South America, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.  China is being so overbuilt right now.  It is like any major city, destroying its history to make way for progress and rapid growth. Even with the one child rule, the country holds 1.3 billion people. (Geographically, it is a little smaller than the US, which only has 250 million.)  Chinese farmers have had to move to the city where they have no jobs (job waiting) and where they are not used to living in high-rise buildings with more Western-style amenities. They are missing their connections to the earth and are not faring well in the city. Also, the older sections of the cities that hold the riches in their history are being destroyed.

For me, the country lacked spirit and soul and reminded me everyday that it is communist. Capitalism and graft are alive and well in China. The government owns all the land (even the Starbucks, Dairy Queen and McDonalds share 49% to 51% – Chinese Government owned). I always find that third-world countries love our fast food establishments, which I can’t understand. The people seemed to me spiritless, just going through the motions. The men appeared much more aggressive than the women (like pushing and shoving to get ahead of the women in lines). In airplanes, men and women start moving towards the front, seatbelts unbuckling, clicking everywhere –before the plane has landed. No one waits in a line in the bathroom either but rather in front of a stall. I had to physically move a woman out of my way as she tried to beat me to the squat toilet (which I must admit is not something to rush for).

Gay rights are acknowledged in that they did away, just four years ago, with the declaration that homosexuality was a medical/psychiatric issue. Since so many women hold hands in China, it’s not easy to determine who is gay. But according to our guide there is a gay section in each major city with bars and clubs, but I didn’t have time to check them out.

If I were to compare China to India, I would say that India wins, hands down, as a place to visit. It is colorful, filled with sights and sounds and joyful people. Although the poverty is more prevalent in India, the people are much more spirited. I would recommend India for first-time exposure into a third-world culture. All in all however, because China and its growth will impact our planet in so many ways, visiting it should still be on everyone’s bucket list. Articles in Time and Newsweek state that in a few decades (or in 50 to 100 years), every family will have some type of Chinese facial feature in their families as they start to travel and move around the world. Better start learning Chinese, which has 50,000 characters for words! (You can get by on 3,500 but 10,000 will make you a Chinese scholar.)  I feel that with all its rapid growth (building dams and re-routing water has allowed them to make their cities bigger and bigger), China will soon hit a recession like we are feeling. China already doesn’t produce enough food to feed its people and imports almost all of its food, which I find amazing.

China is growing by leaps and bounds and I am lucky enough to have gone, but visiting has caused me to realize even more how great the US is, with not only our many conveniences, but also our ability to prosper, dream, and achieve our goals. Such promise is offered to everyone in the US (albeit for some it is much more difficult), whereas in China only the top government officials and the real estate developers are thriving.  Opportunities in China are not endless like they are in the US.

I always love to travel, as exploration is in my soul, but I love to come home. (And I also REALLY missed social networking, which is totally banned in China!)

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When Grammie is in Charge

June 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Parenting

By: Madge Woods

My son and daughter-in-law went on a getaway to a wedding across the country. Since I live on their same block they asked if I could stay with my three adorable grandchildren –twin boys age 5 ½ and a three year-old girl. It is a no rules, 4-day extravaganza here in their home. There are only Grammie rules: extra treats, staying up as late as they can (which is not past around 9pm), staying in our jammies, and watching TV and videos or just playing Wii.

As any busy active family (with two working parents), these kids have activities.  One takes guitar, two play T-Ball, two take art lessons, and then there are swimming lessons, play dates and of course, birthday parties. When Grammie is in charge we still do some activities that are already minimally scheduled and which can’t be canceled, but mostly we “relax” as I like to call it. They love staying in their jammies, a fairly uncommon luxury in their busy household.

We live on a wonderful street filled with kids and a lot of just plain, old-fashioned neighborhood gatherings. BBQ’s in the front of houses and basketball, hockey, and baseball on various lawns –just like when my sons were young (on this same street) and also very similar to my play habits as a child on my old street. My activities were Brownies and ice-skating.  Play dates were non-existent because we had the block. Our big excitement was being old enough to walk to the park just two blocks over and play there all afternoon by ourselves. Times were less chaotic and seemingly safer than now. But were they really? Or were we just left to our own devices to figure out what was safe?

Times have changed and I am thankful that my grandkids have a mixture of both. But in the end the best days for Grammie are those lazy days of summer when I can write and they can watch Star Trek, baseball, or a princess DVD. There is a moment of peace and tranquility until we need breakfast, showers, dressing, and activities culminating in a birthday party in the afternoon. Then there are carpools to the party and pickups and then before you know it –bedtime. And then the glorious part again in the morning when we get to relax for half the day or longer.

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Grandma’s Sneaking Out Again

May 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Parenting

By: Madge Woods

I got married at 19.

My parents had always said “no man will buy a cow if milk is so cheap.” I married so I could fuck. Yikes, was I young and inexperienced. I had my two sons at age 22 and 24. My pregnancies were my happiest times and I couldn’t wait to have two boys-no girls for me. Why would I expect to be a good mom to girls when my Mom and I were not a good team?

Fast forward: I was married twenty years and was separated/divorced by 39 and was I thrilled. I had just been married too young and was tired of taking care of an adult husband. My kids were 15 and 17 and now I was in an apartment by myself just a mile away for the first time in my life. I had my own space during the separation, in my own place.  I was like a kid in a candy store who only had hershey kisses her whole life and now was exposed to the riches of other candies.

My rule was the men I dated had to be at least as old as my sons and some were just that.

Fast forward another 20 years, and both sons were happily married (at age 31, I might add) and living in Chicago with their own families. I was again thrilled. Once I had grandchildren I flew out every 6 weeks and was a fabulous Grammie. I stayed in each son’s house for 2-3 days as to not wear out my welcome and then flew home happy that I had my life and they had theirs. I was a Jewish mother but much easier to control with the 2750 flight miles between us. I had a fabulous relationship with my daughters-in-law and enjoyed my time with them but when I came back to my Zen home, my life was my own. I could do whatever I wanted and I did.

Now we return to current time-the year 2009, and my older son calls me and tells me he is thinking of leaving Chicago and moving to LA to work for his uncle (my ex brother-in-law). He wants to move in with me to do a test run starting in April to see if it works for him and his family. This son had not lived at home since he left for college and now he was coming home and if it worked he would live here in LA permanently with his family.  Might I remind you it is me who only stayed a few days in his home as to not overstay my welcome?  My son had always been somewhat volatile, and like a volcano could go off and get to 60 in 10 seconds. He had told me he was receiving help and I did see a change in him when I visited, but living together??

We lived wonderfully together in my house for 5 months because we barely saw each other. He worked from early morning to late nights and then commuted home to Chicago every 10 days for a weekend. I did sneak out to an ex boyfriend’s.  He once was an ex for good reason, and as far as anyone knew he was history.

I found myself making up stories and using friends to cover my sleepovers. I was 60 years old and literally sneaking out of my own home.

This had to stop, but how? If I fessed up it would be a discussion and I didn’t feel I wanted to explain myself. I sent a message to both sons’ families and confessed and asked for no comments. One day after 5 months my son announces it works and that his wife and kids (twin boys age 5 and a 2 1/2 year old daughter) are moving and would it be okay to move everyone into my house until they find somewhere to live?
Let me go back to my ZEN house. I love it and my life. I was thrilled they lived in Chicago and attributed it to a great relationship and distance. My first response was “sure” (I rarely say no) and made a call to my therapist who I had not seen for years. She basically let me come in that week. I sat in her office with anxiety and worry about boundaries and having three alpha personalities in my small (can you say 1500 square feet?) home.

But when the kids and his wife came to live with me–how would it be? I retouch paint in my house for god’s sake. How were three little ones who would be jammed into 2 rooms with their parents ever work? I told them that they could stay until Nov 1 before they even arrived on Sept 9th. All agreed. They moved in and boy did they move in. Every room but mine became a kid’s zone. Toys, games, balls, dolls, books and clothes were everywhere. Washer and dryer running day and night. For the first few days I was constantly on guard. I needed to keep my Jewish mouth closed and succeeded quite well. The Nov 1 date extended until Dec 31 then again until Feb3. The kids already knew the kids on the street and the families were all young and the arrival of another young family was perfect. But what about me and all these people who had been my friends first? I was a little worried that I would lose my standing on the block but soon I realized that wouldn’t happen. We could all be friends and this would not interfere with my separate relationships with my neighbors. Then the amazing part happened. They found a house. Not just any house but a house on my street.

And as Sarah Palin might have said, I can see their house from my porch. 5 houses down and across the street.  I asked, “did they think this would work?” and my daughter-in-law said if she didn’t think it would work she wouldn’t do it. My son was thrilled to be back on the block he grew up on. The kids were going to go to the schools he attended.

To back-track a few months, the living together worked. I was getting good at boundaries after only a few sessions with my therapist. I learned to keep my mouth shut except for once or twice. I learned to let chips in the paint go untouched. I had some rules about food and where they could eat which the kids followed. Shoes were left at the front door. My daughter-in-law was terrific at cleaning up but mostly I didn’t give her a chance to do it as I just had time and liked my clean better and she was very busy getting everyone in schools, classes and activities. I learned a lot about myself. I could share at this age. I could give up some of my compulsions and organization and I could also say no. I started having sleepovers with my friend with benefits and the kids would say “have fun at your sleepover, grammie.” I found ways to have privacy in a very small space or someone else’s place. I traveled too.

I also learned that I could live with someone temporarily and survive and still have a voice in my life. I saw a side of my son that I only dreamed about and thought about but didn’t witness on a fulltime basis. He was a terrific husband, father and son. He loves his wife and kids and would lay down for them in a heartbeat. It is nice to be able to REALLY see that. When a child grows up you hope that you instilled the right values but until they are tested you never really know for sure. And by the very nature of all being in a confined space, boy we were tested.

But the best parts were and still are those grandkids.  They loved me from birth but living in my house for 4 months established a new bond that can never be broken. We cuddled, we shared, we talked, we hugged and we told stories. We talked about the best part of our day when we had dinner together. I laughed at almost everything they said because they are funny. I got to really know their personalities and I know my son has been given a gift to see what he was like as a child as these children have all his strengths and weaknesses.  They also have strong opinions and can be stubborn just as he was at their age. Also as intense. They are adorable and loving and have a way about themselves that is truly unique. I won’t say it was totally without compromise but we are all stronger for it. And I can still say with a wonderful smile that my daughter-in-law is a fabulous cook, a loving wife, a great mom and a terrific daughter-in-law.

I thought I would lose my identity and become invisible as I have felt for a great part of my life but instead I saw my flexibility, my boundaries, and my true spirit emerge.

I must admit, within 36 hours of their move (down 5 houses and across the street), all the paint was retouched, the walls wiped clean of handprints, their stuff moved to their new house, the garage and every room as clean as before they came and my life back to that ZEN quality. But if I want some of that loving I just walk down 5 houses and across the street and the best part awaits when they greet me and give me hugs and kisses.

And now the grandkids have sleepovers here.

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Madge Woods is a freelance writers and has recently read for the Los Angeles show “Spark”.

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