June 21, 2007

Happy Daughter's Day, Part II

June is the month of the parents for me, and this past week, it arrived in concentrated form, even though both my mother and father passed away many years ago. Father's Day came out on June 17th this year; and my mother was born on June 18. Since his passing, it's been easy enough to reminisce fondly about my dad, warts and all. He was a character to be sure, but I largely made peace with him even before his death.

However, until recent years, remembering my mother was likely to put me to bed for a few days. She was—to quote the King of Siam in the old Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. referring to the headstrong British schoolteacher of the royal children—"a very difficult woman, and much more difficult than generality." I could get lots of agreement on that statement and could even provide compelling evidence, but I think I'll save that for a worksheet and tell you what I've realized about my mother instead.

As I said, it has been a simpler matter to resolve my issues about my father in spite of our disagreements and my judgments. This isn't because I'm highly evolved and have done tons of work on my "daddy stuff," but rather because I never doubted his love for me. Pearl Skolnick was another story...and a story it is!

My mother was sick and confused, and I was sick and confused in her presence. I lived in fear and resentment of her; Alternately I tried to win her love and approval, and tried to blow her off. Ours was a crazy tango between two frightened people (depression is fear; anger is fear; resentment is fear) who wanted to love each other, who ultimately did love each other, and did not know how to live sanely out of that love.

When my mother's surgeon called to tell me that she had stopped breathing, and asked if I wanted to put her on a vent, I said I didn't know. That was partially true; because she wouldn't fill out the DNR statement at the hospital, I had no idea if she wanted life support or not. (After she died, in her bedroom, I found her signed and dated Living Will, which she had never shared with me. How very like her; this was the ultimate in passive aggression, I believed at the time.)

My real answer, the answer of my heart, was "no." I didn't want her life supported, only mine. I couldn't wait for my mother to die so that I might live; I'd been praying for this moment for years.

The doctor said I had a minute to decide. I called my friend, the physician, who had been slated to go with me that day to the hospital and decipher her charts. She advised, "Put her on the vent; she's going to die anyway." I was about to call back when I got the second phone call: too late. Decision made without me. My vote didn't count.

I killed my mother: is that true? No, I can't know that with any certainty. Can I know she would have survived on life support, or that her living longer would have been for her highest good? Absolutely not.

Can I know that she didn't consciously check out?

I tried to kill myself for years, believing what I thought about my mother. I was an inept serial killer, attempting to snuff myself out and make myself wrong for living at all. But I didn't kill my mother; I am not that powerful, to end someone's life with a wish.

Today, for the first time, it occurs to me that my mother both lived for me, and died for me. Without her, I would not be this, now. Without her death just as it happened, I would not be this, now.

This, now, is good...very good.

Thank you, Mommy. Thank you for this, and for all of it.

Happy birthday...to us.

P.S. Got Mom? Transformational Inquiry: Working on Mothers and Others is a handbook for navigating your relationship with your mother, with 73 pages of exercises and insights. Let this practical guide help you to heal your past as you unravel your most stressful thoughts about the parent you think you know so well.

To purchase this eBook and for information about other titles in the Transformational Inquiry series, visit

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

June 17, 2007

Happy Daughter's Day

I am without parents these days, it would appear. And, for better or worse, they are always with me. I have just moved into a new home, and although I have not unpacked any family photos yet, on this Father's Day I am very aware of my Daddy, Harry Skolnick, as he lives on in my memory and DNA.

The floors of my spacious new closets are now lined with shelving from my former apartment that I don't dare attempt to do anything with. I'm completely useless when it comes to installing shelves...or hooking up or troubleshooting most electronics...or putting together anything marked "assembly required." I often try to do these things myself, because I think, as a woman living alone, that I ought to be more self-sufficient, handier, hardier. So I don't often call for help until I make a large hole in the sheetrock, or tear a ligament.

When my Daddy was alive, it was another story. It's not that he was the most capable handyman around; he didn't read directions, and aesthetics mattered not a whit to him. I'll never forget the bookcase he constructed for my first apartment. I was going to buy one, but I was practically penniless, so he insisted, "Daddy will make it for you." (He loved to refer to himself as "Daddy," rather than use the pronoun "I.") Perhaps I should have whipped out the credit card, because the finished product was...different. It was constructed of solid wood, yes, but with deep holes in places, making it look shabby rather than shabby-chic. He varnished the piece, but neglected to erase the pencil marks indicating where the (immovable) shelves would go. Oh, and the bookcase tilted forward, ever so slightly, making it necessary to shove all of the books back a couple of inches every few days.

I wasn't gracious about it. However, I kept that bookcase for more than 20 years.

Shortly thereafter, I needed a desk, because my old fiberboard student desk from Pergament started listing to one side...and anyway, I'd become a "serious" writer and felt I had outgrown it. Again, I couldn't really afford a new desk on my editorial assistant's salary. One day as I was leaving my apartment, I noticed the skeletal remains of a desk on a trash heap near the corner of Union Turnpike and Queens Boulevard. I ran back home and phoned my parents.

"Daddy," I said, "I'm not sure if it's worth it, but...there's most of an old wooden desk outside, it has no legs, no drawer pulls, there's some bad Contac paper stuck to the top, and it's painted black..."

"Stand guard over it, I'll be right over," he said. Forty minutes later, my father arrived from West Hempstead with muscle and bungee cords. He tied the detritus to the top of his car, and within days I had a desk...sanded down, sort of, with legs that didn't match the body, and hardware that looked like it had landed on it by accident.

I most likely complained about the amount of time it took him to complete the restoration, and probably didn't compliment him on a job well done either. And, I held onto that piece for a long time, too.

At times like these, I miss my father, and I would hope—since he's been the topic of much self-inquiry—that I would be nicer to him as he tried to please me and be helpful. I've only been in my new apartment for a few days, and I've already messed up one of the walls in my bedroom, attempting to install a simple lamp bracket. This time, I called a female friend who owns power tools. She did a cleaner job than my father, and also applauded my efforts to do it myself.

Were it within his power, my dad would be here today making marks all over the walls, scratching up my nice, expensive shelves, and installing them over my complaints and protests. He'd chide me for trying to do things that it's not my job to do, and he'd be right.

My father always seemed a little uncomfortable with Father's Day. He was better at giving than receiving. He'd thank me for his Father's Day gifts, then quickly put them away in his bureau and forget about them, unless they were very practical items, like a much-needed new wallet, or the plain, utilitarian undershirts he would have bought for himself anyway.

Only one time did my father appear to be very happy with a gift I gave him. He was extremely hard of hearing—deaf in one ear and half-deaf in the other, I believe as a result of having his ears boxed as a child by abusive foster parents. Talking to him on the phone was frustrating to me, while he would have happily stayed on for an hour going, "Hanh? Speak up, Carol, goddammit." One Father's Day, I bought him a phone amplifier; I worried that he'd be insulted, since he was very sensitive about his deafness. I fretted that he'd see through me, because the gift was more for my convenience than for his comfort.

When he unwrapped it, he put it on the dining room phone receiver immediately, saying, "This is the best gift I ever got."

I used to think my father didn't hear me, in any way. And I saw in that moment that he wanted to. I had been the deaf, clueless one in our relationship, but only for 30 years.

My father isn't here...is that true? Not at all. Though he passed away in May of 1990, I can easily picture "'Andsome 'Arry" in his prime, flipping burgers on the backyard barbecue, which he liked to do on summer Sundays and especialy on Father's Day, wisely keeping me away from anything to do with flames and sharp implements while he barked at my mother and me to bring him this or that ingredient. And, with much gratitude to him for being truthful with me about my limitations, and a new realization that I am not a "helpless female" as long as I've got the Yellow Pages and some cash, I'm going to hire someone capable to put up my shelves.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

June 9, 2007

Elephants, Yeah!

I thought that as long as I'm on a media roll, I'd post one of my favorite sources of online chuckles:

Pavarotti Loves Elephants

It's a lighthearted example of how we hear what we hear, which is not necessarily what was said (or sung). A native Italian speaker with no English would know the true meaning of Pavarotti's parole and not mistake them for a pachyderm predilection...but since my Italian is limited to phrases like buona sera and filete de pomodoro, it definitely sounds to me like Luciano P. approves of elefanti!

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

June 8, 2007

"Elderly People Are..."—The Zimmers

If we have negative judgments about the elderly, it's because we fear what we don't understand about them...and about us. Here is a short film featuring some groovy eminence grises rockin' to the beat.

Before you watch the video, take a moment to jot down your thoughts about the elderly, or about growing older. Some examples:

"Elderly people are needy."
"Old people have no energy."
"Old people are unattractive."
"Growing old is sad."
"Elderly people are disgusting."
"Elderly people are scary."
"Old people are boring."
"The elderly are a burden."
"I'll be alone when I am old."
"When I grow old, my body will cease to function."
"I am getting old."
"I am too old to _________."
"I am old, and it means that __________."
"Old people are cute." (This could be a stressful thought if it's condescending, or if you are objectifying old people rather than relating to them as your own self.)

After you watch the video, you may want to do The Work on the thoughts that continue to disturb you.

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.

June 5, 2007

New Woo-hoo Review! From Molly Gordon

The kudos continue for Transformational Inquiry: Working on Your Work.

My colleague and friend in The Work, Molly Gordon of Authentic Promotion© , writes:

"My only complaint about Carol Skolnick’s new eBook, Transformational Inquiry: Working on Your Work is that, at $14.95, it is seriously under-priced....as for the rest, this little gem is a delight to read as well as a practical guide to healing your heart and regaining sanity at work.

"It is rare for an eBook to be as lucid, complete, and practical as this one. At a mere 95 pages it won’t poop-out your printer or cause your eyes to glaze over. It will repay your thoughtful, open-hearted attention a thousand fold."

—Molly Gordon, Master Certified Coach
Shaboom Inc.

Transformational Inquiry: Working on Your Work, by Carol L. Skolnick.
Available from Clear Life Solutions


(It's the second eBook listed on the page.)

©2007 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.