When I was a little girl I lived with my grandparents for much of the week. My father was in the Air Force and my mother was holding down the fort and working full-time as a hygienist. That was a pretty big deal back in the early 1950's! Both of these women, my Grammy and my Mum, offered up examples of strong women.
My grandmother had immigrated from Nova Scotia and after working as a housekeeper and cook for an artist she met my grandfather, married him and had two children -- my father and his sister. Even though she often had the popular, day-time, tv soap operas of the day (Guiding Light, As the World Turns, etc.) on in the background, I can hardly remember ever seeing her sit down to watch them. While my grandfather was usually away on site during the week as one of the last of the steam shovel operators, she was always busy either keeping the house spotless, cooking and baking, doing laundry, outside raking the leaves, or sitting down at the sewing machine, often making things for her church fair, among other things. I remember her telling me one time "not to be lazy" and I wasn't even sure exactly what she meant, but I knew it would not be good if I were "lazy". Later, when I learned the meaning, I made a conscious decision to never be that way.
My mother was the fifth child and only daughter of immigrant parents from Russia and eastern Europe. They worked hard, died young and their children all had a strong work ethic. Coming from very little, they all pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and I never noticed any idle moments among them all. In addition to working full-time jobs, my uncles all fished and had gardens. They could cook (much to their wives' delight) and fix almost anything. My Mum was technically on her own from the time she was a teenager. She put herself through school and loved having a profession. Once my father was out of the service, he went to college on the GI Bill and she continued to be the main support of the three of us until he graduated -- oh, and by the way, he did a four-year course in just over two years and graduated Magna Cum Laude!
I can really brag about my parents and grandparents and I'm proud of what they accomplished. I admire their fortitude and commitment and, at the same time, I can see that there was also a dark side to their success. The message that I received, loudly and clearly, was that the only way to make a go of life was to engage in struggle, endure misery, and practice self-sacrifice. Actually, I'm not sure that any of my relatives would have easily agreed with the being miserable part -- the way they saw what they did was simply what they knew, however I didn't often see them having much fun.
I took their lessons to heart in a big way! I had a job from the time I was twelve years old and started babysitting. By the time I was sixteen, I was opening up a local coffee shop/luncheonette and while putting myself through college, I often had three jobs going at once. There was one difference, though. My family not only provided a very good life for me but also one that was much easier than what they lived through. Still, it was hard to let go of the idea that I could relax and look for joy as well as work hard. I remember the time I bought myself a beautiful, suede jacket. It was definitely a luxury and while I was thrilled to own it, I also had a little guilt around it.
Over time, I've continued to learn and reinforce the idea that struggle, misery, and self-sacrifice aren't as crucial as I thought to a good life. In fact, the opposite has become true. I now know that relaxing when I need to, releasing the "have to's" and replacing them with "want to's", and finding joy yields a life full of purpose, kindness, and satisfaction. I know that there are still plenty of people in the world that place a heavy value on fighting their way through life. Whenever I think of that I picture the kind of expression I would have on my face in battle. I'd likely be scowling, with a snarl and clenching my jaw. Then, I imagine how I would look if I was at ease and content and delighting in what was going on. I definitely prefer the latter and I imagine most people I would encounter would prefer to see that expression, too! I find that life is richer and fuller and I attract more of what I want when I let go of everything being so damn difficult ... and, this is what I wish for you.
Love and Sparkles,