by Wendy Schmidt


Sometimes an important truth surfaces during a fleeting moment in the middle of chaos. I remember my mother telling the teen me to find a better way. But, she neglected to mention how.

My mother had just served another makeshift meal mixed from a box of Hamburger Helper and leftover meat. Six kids, three of them teenagers, sat at the table, brawling over whose turn it was to do the dishes, at which time, she suddenly turned to me and said, “Wendy, find your place in this world first, before your self is swallowed by should dos or shoulda dones.”

I was a girl growing up between the sixties and seventies, bewildered by what kind of woman I should be as defined by everybody but me.

There was my mother, a strong but slightly dissatisfied housewife trying to manage, during certain days, to hold on to her sanity. Then, there was the growing awareness of young women embracing the liberation movement. Heightened consciousness was the new deal. Bra-burning, bearing children and barely scraping by was the old way of being.

My mother, like most women of her generation, was taught to love, honor and obey. She was caught in the basic rules of post-World War II society: Use your feminine wilds to find Prince Charming, even if Prince Charming turns out to be a cigar-smoking, sidewalk-spitting, beer-drinking, swine. Every woman was expected to do her duty for God and her country.

Fired from home-front factory jobs, they were instructed to jump on the fast track to family. Was everybody thrilled with this arrangement? No, a few sinful women bucked the baby rules, and paved their own way, though the price they paid was often harsh ridicule and loud roars from the local lionesses.

For my generation of women, the rules were not so cut and dried. Get an education, but get married. Don’t feel the need to marry, you fool, you slave to outdated rules? Build a career, build a new house, build a financial portfolio. You’re over 30, for goodness’ sake, get married before all the good ones are gone. But, whatever you do do, don’t forget to have kids. You are not a woman without bearing a child. I’m sure baby-spoiling and soiling diapers was what Betty Friedan had in mind when she wrote The Feminine Mystique.

It was, and to a certain extent, still is, quite confusing for women who don’t choose the well-worn path. They spend time searching to find themselves, to figure out what they truly want, instead of being a slave to societalshoulding.

I tried to find myself. I sought out sage advice from some savvy women. Only, they didn’t know what to say. Outside of marriage and mothering, women mentoring women was in its infancy stage. I found little support in my search for self.

So, I turned away from constant confusion, and chose the marriage route. When Prince Charming came along in a foreign car, I was desperate to hop in. It was easier to ride shotgun. Or, so I smugly assumed. Husband was smart, sexy, driven and he drove a SAAB. We were damned well not going to end up like all those other couples. We were following our own path.

Unfortunately, for better or for worse, we eventually fell right back into the trap our parents unwittingly set so long ago. We repeated the roles modeled in our childhoods. Marriage was hard and complicated. Our story did not end happily ever after. But, there were some interesting consequences, at least for me, once I was forcefully set free.

Singlehood is not much easier when so many are expecting you to marry. They cast a critical eye and ask, Where’s her other? She can’t go through life depending on herself. Crazy bitch! Just pair up, or put out and see what you catch. Then we’ll invite you to all the dinner do’s with your darling.

Not everyone fits the mold. We have to make our own, though we certainly need traditions and the wonderful women who hold them dear. We also need free spirits flying around, maybe catching some flak, but enjoying their chosen lifestyle.

Here’s what I wish some dyed-in-the-wool dame had said to me: Own your life. Don’t follow someone else’s dream, find yours and the rest will fall into place. Outside validation will never serve to satisfy. Obsessing about how you stack up against other women sets us apart. We are all sisters under the skin.

Look inward and ask, Do I want to be the other half when I can be whole accompanied by another whole which makes for two strong circles of support? Do I need to argue the Yes baby, No baby, Maybe baby debate? If I don’t do what’s expected, will my family and friends still accept me? That’s a good question. Here’s the answer: the ones who love you will let you be you. Create your own roles and rules.

My mother never had as many chances to makes those choices. I had a few more. And, my daughter a few more than me. We come into our own when we see ourselves as unique individuals first before all else. Woman, know thyself.


Top Image {source}


Wendy Schmidt is a native of Wisconsin. She has been writing short stories and poetry for the last ten years. The Four C’s — cat, chocolate, coffee and computer — are her chosen writing aids. Her pieces have been published in Verse Wisconsin, Chicago Literati, City Lake Poets, Literary Hatchet, Moon Magazine, and a number of other poetry and fiction anthologies. You can read one of her stories, The Curse Now Lifted, in the award-winning anthology, Shifts.



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