Category Archives: family

Honoring the Work of Women

We were married ten years before having kids. My husband finished law school at the University of Michigan and we moved to Chicago, where both of us had job opportunities. After working for a year at Children’s Memorial Hospital in immunology research, I was accepted at graduate school, earning my Ph.D in microbiology from the University of Chicago. My field was molecular genetics research (DNA cloning, studying gene regulation in yeast and fruit flies).

When our son was born we decided we wanted to raise our children ourselves. Since I earned less money, I was the logical one. After my maternity leave, we hired a wonderful woman to help and I worked part-time. When we built a house and moved out of Chicago, I stayed at home with two small children. It was an enormous shift in my life. I remember being very lonely at times, missing the intellectual part of my life. Slowly I made friends, often through the children (parents at pre-school or other activities). I ran the household and kept track of everything. My husband went off to work. We each had our roles. And we worked hard to keep a balance. Still, I collected no salary. And in a culture that values what brings in money, it can seem that “women’s work” is not valued.

Often this work is invisible, each thing done is so small, yet in the aggregate, the essential glue holding daily life together. It is easy for me to completely fill a day with these small tasks and yet feel no accomplishment. So many things are repeated over and over. Easy to get discouraged when it seems like nothing gets done. Often this work is unacknowledged or under-appreciated by others. So important then, for women to honor this work ourselves, to notice and value what we do, what we bring to our family. Crucial to see the whole of it, the big picture. Like a stone dropped on a still pond, gentle ripples go far out from the center and can affect things near and far.

1/30/01

Woman’s Worth

My worth as a woman,
as a human,
has nothing to do
with whether dust
collects on my floors
and everything to do with
my heart wide open,
my arms embracing.

Even that is as nothing.

My worth is in being—
whatever form I may take,
for how long or how deep,
how high, how steep the climb,
worth not earned, but given,
grace bestowed at first breath.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2001

2/21/03

Is It Enough?

In this house for fifteen years, just to begin the discussion,
not complaint, but observation…and,
yes, other things were done by others—
this is not about them.

Conservatively, five thousand times making the bed,
several hundred times changing the towels, washing,
drying, folding corner to corner, putting away.

Sorting mail 260 days per year—
let’s say some skipped, some holidays,
still then, totals at least three thousand.

Watering plants 600 times.
Diapering babies and baby laundry and kids sick at night
and late-night school projects—left to last minute.

Buying supplies in timely fashion,
planning for most every possible (likely) situation,
cleaning—some in spurts, not fanatically.

Is it enough that I see—and admire
all the complex steps of the daily dance
that I make all look so easy?

Clothes sorted, washed, dried (or hung) and folded,
returned to drawer or closet in one apparently smooth motion.
Our house is far from immaculate,

but still much to do to be just livable.
Sweeping when my eye or pride demands
the piles of onion skins, Kix, flour from pancakes

or dust fluffs grown large on kitchen floor.
Invisible work, only noticeable by its absence,
when clutter piles high, obscuring desk or counter,

when dust lays so thick a hand-print
is as obvious as a painting.

Appointments to be made and kept, bills paid and filed…

“Keeper of the memories…encourage, support,
listen, take care, stay connected to the earth…
do not drown in the sea of essential trivialities.”

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2003

2/19/06

Shrinking Woman

If a woman’s worth
is measured by the cleanliness
of her house, then
the old woman was worthless.
But since that was a myth
she once swallowed whole,
she could take her place
among the elders
spending her remaining
precious grateful moments
doing something else.

What doors were once
open to her? What expectation
laid on thick and heavy?
What dreams might have been
drowned in the parade of seasons;
her life defined narrowly
as was the custom of her time,
ultimately wanting more for her daughters.
Now, waiting out her allotted time,
slowly shrinking as was her world.

She had never intended
to live so long
had never seen herself
as old, yet
here she is more than
three quarters of a century…
and still counting.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2006

8/8/06

Re-thinking

Where was it written
that a woman: mother or wife,
must absorb the darkness, the strife,
no salary, but as a measure of worth;
where is it written?

Where was it written that sacrifice
is required to satisfactorily
carry out those mostly chosen roles:
at any cost keep them safe, secure.
Where is it written?

Somewhere deep in me I feel better
if I take on the pain, the troubles,
even at expense of my health,
even if heart can hold no more.

I would rather suffer
than watch suffering;
I would rather be dark
than watch darkness engulf another,

a loved one, someone in my special care.
But yet,
this is not sustainable,
is harsh and unkind to my body-mind.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2006

3/4/08

Care of the Household

Some things done daily
some weekly or biweekly
some monthly, seasonal or annual

some every couple of years
and some rare, maybe every 10-30 years.
All important, necessary, even essential

and most…invisible…unless undone
each one not amounting to much
but in the aggregate…a mountain.

Sort mail, wash dishes, wipe off the table
clean the clutter, do the picking up
make the bed, check what needs to be checked

wash clothes and linens, drying, folding, put away
pay bills, resolve questions
clean air purifier filters

get ready for Stella to come and heavy-clean
arrange for window washing
get house painted and sump pump checked.

Listen for anything that sounds “off”
or smells “funny” or doesn’t look right:
the front sidewalk sinking and driveway sealed

the roof repaired, cedar shakes preserved
ants trapped, threatening bees exterminated
rooms painted, decorated or “freshened up”

clutter cleared and clutter cleared
curtains washed, plumbing repairs made or arranged.
Any little or big thing attended to

fast or slow all in the flow of days…
and the cycle keeps cycling without end
again…mostly invisible…these mountains

filling my minutes, hours, days, months, years.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2008

7/3/08

Treading Water

From something Lisa said about her mother

The daily tasks
consume so much

time, energy, attention:
mail, wash, picking up,

dirty dishes, bills, calls, emails
gardening, watering, following up,

making the bed, folding, putting away,
empty dehumidifier, check furnace filter….

Yet if done
as meditation

conscious of every breath,
gratitude for all I have:

loving family, beautiful home, nice clothes,
good food, pure water, abundant guidance, ready support.

Yes, then beyond
mere treading water:

transcendence!

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2008

All Manner of Critters

I was moved by a recent article in the newspaper. A local woman had started a pet food pantry to help people keep their pets in these hard financial times. Animals are so important to us. I thought of poems I had written and pictures I had taken of all manner of critters over the years. Once I started looking, I found more than I remembered. Here are a few.

8/19/96

Birds on a Line

How many birds
can sit on a line
not quite wing to wing?

How many birds
can sit for how long,
waiting patiently
to burst into song?

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1996

82896

Convention in Town

Such loud birds
at the Caw Caw Convention
with all their early morning
blustering and posturing,

throwing their weight around
to get first dibs at breakfast,
not caring who hears them or who
wakes up to their raucous conversations.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1996

10/22/96

Flying

There are as many ways
to fly as varieties of birds.
There is no right way,
only flying or not flying.

Some birds glide gracefully
going far on one powerful stroke;
some flutter glide, flutter glide
or breast stroke in peaks and slopes.

All get where they are going,
as they were designed.
The only wrong way is to not fly
and then starve in body and spirit

for the lack of soaring.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1996

3/11/97

Once Again

Once again, as in all other years,
robins are seen in abundance
and tiny black and white birds
flock and flit in still bare branches,
and in morning light now, gentle calls
float into my dreaming ear.

Once again, as in all other years,
grass will green and buds will sprout
and weeds and flowers alike
will grow in rich profusion.
Rabbits may come or ducks,
to lay hopeful eggs in our daylily bed.

Chipmunks will scurry
and frogs and insects of all description
will bellow full-throated song.
And maybe the occasional snake
will be seen sunning on a convenient warm step.

As in all other years, wind will blow,
sometimes raging, through fresh green leaves
of all shapes that will enclose
my particular grateful space.
For in this winter past
I often wondered in my darkness,
if spring would ever come.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1997

4/2/97

What Do We Know

of the lives of dogs,
of the richness
or lack
of their conversation?

We, who have such
blunted senses
and overdeveloped mind,
what can we know

of a life
of abundant, excited smells
and awareness of
the very highs and lowest lows
of sound?

What do we know
of love without
boundary,
of the fullness of feeling,
the sleep of content?

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1997

5/6/08

Birdsong

A mutant bird
sang his errant song
at 2:30AM
well before dawn.

The melodious notes
slid out of his throat
lingering there
in cold night air.

Still awake,
she heard as
the notes slid into her ear,
lodged in her brain

and for months
remained there,
not washed away by rain
nor blown by wind,

pure bird notes
sung in tune
from a pure heart
that opened when it opened.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2008

6/12/08

The Pond at Daniel Wright Woods

late afternoon

Look at how the sun
shimmers the continuously
rippling water
and dragonflies flit
in the cattails.
The fishing line shines
as it’s cast and re-cast
and the clouds like fish
swim languorously above,
the air dotted with
cottonwood like bait.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2008

1/19/09

Silverfish

(not silver and not fish)

The silverfish are gone
whether because
I asked them (nicely) to leave
or the increased
activity of bees

or some other unlikely
improbable explanation…
makes me no never mind
because…
The silverfish are gone

no longer browsing
my bookshelves
or burrowing to die
between glass and mat
of my hung pictures.

No swatting the ceiling
or brisk smack with
a rolled magazine,
no more bug stains
from remains.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2009

Birds on a Line,” and “Flying” are also in As Easy as Breathing.

Walking Wounded

Around this time last year, a dear friend who is from Poland told me a story about close friends of hers who also came to the US from Poland. They had a bright son who grew up here and loved all things American. He went off to war in Iraq and came back physically OK, but mentally and emotionally damaged, not able to sleep, not able to function, one of the walking wounded. I gave him my book and told his family about Belleruth Naparstek’s powerful guided imagery for helping to heal PTSD (https://www.healthjourneys.com/). Within an hour of hearing his compelling story, I had written a poem/song which I later sent to him with a note. Even though the war in Iraq may be winding down, it is important to remember that those who died were not the only casualties.

February 25, 2008
Dear M.:

I wanted you to know I believe in healing. I have had personal experience in healing from multiple sclerosis, cancer, depression, and panic attacks. I cannot know what you have been through, but when S. told me a bit of your story, this song came to me for you. I do not have the melody yet, perhaps you may write one some day. I wish the best for you. You can find more about my story on my website. I have not written about my latest healing from cancer, but that will come. You have my book and I know you are a powerful healer. Keep on. You will find your way.

Love, Margaret

2/11/08

Walking Wounded

For M.

There are those who didn’t come back
and those who came back but didn’t come home
and those who came home but were never the same,
the walking wounded. This song is for all of them.

Immigrant family from Poland,
bright son believed in the US of A,
went into the military
to get money for school.

And now he’s broken…
no college in his future,
just trying to get through one more day.

He was the smart one,
always got good grades,
always laughing, joking,
promising future stretched out before him.

And now he’s broken, broken…
no college in his future,
just trying to get through one more day.

He figured how hard could it be,
four years and out
money in hand,
then he was sent to Iraq.

And now he’s broken, broken, broken…
no college in his future,
just trying to get through one more day.

And what he saw there
no man can understand,
no heart can withstand.
And what he heard and tasted and smelled
he cannot forget like
shrapnel embedded in his memory,
shrapnel embedded in his cells.
He cannot remember normal,
he cannot find his way back.

And now he’s broken…
no college in his future,
struggling to get through one more day.

Pray for this young man
that he find healing,
pray for his family and friends.

Pray for this one man
and all the countless others
wounded by this latest senseless war.

And learn.
And remember.
And remember.
And learn.

And now we’re broken …
no money for our future,
just trying to get through one more day.

Pray for all the walking wounded
to whatever God you believe in:
pray, pray, pray,
it’s all the same to me.

We are all in this together
whether or not we walk hand in hand,
in whatever ways we differ
in more ways we are the same.

Wake up, wake up people
do what can be done,
do not believe those who don’t believe
in peace for everyone.

Pray for this young man
that he find healing,
pray for his family and friends.

Pray for this one man
and all the many others
wounded by this senseless war.

And learn.
And remember.
And remember.
And learn:

Never again.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2008

Note: I picked the photo above (healing daisies) before I realized that my friend from Poland had given the flowers to me when I was healing from a double mastectomy last year. Interesting how things come full circle.

Second note: In a recent email newsletter, Belleruth Naparstek mentioned research findings that showed her guided imagery CD, Stress Hardiness Optimization, (which is less intense than her Healing Trauma CD), is helpful for soldiers in reducing PTSD symptoms.

Michigan Summer

The first time I stayed at a hotel was on my wedding night. I was 22, with a fresh B.S. in Zoology from the University of Michigan. Growing up, family summer vacations meant camping out in Michigan state parks. Just once we rented a cottage on the beach for a week. R. P. Scherer Corp. where my Dad worked, closed down two weeks every July. And so we packed the car and off we went. With a family that eventually included seven children it saved money. We camped by the Great Lakes: Lake Huron and Lake Superior (Brimley State Park in sight of the Soo Locks) and smaller lakes like Higgins Lake, etc. Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes. This poem is about rich childhood memories that were triggered by smell. And like all memories, only partly reliable. Each of us has different recollections of those summer jaunts.

6/9/96

Smoky Hair

Standing in the shower
with the smell of smoky hair,
the memories of summers
thirty years ago or so, sharp and clear,

when the whole family
would pile into a much-used,
sturdy station wagon
and head north to camp, not really far,

still inside the state; my father insisted, since
we paid taxes for those parks.
We’d head toward water, a Great Lake
or small pond, for a week or a bit more

of tented living, sleeping in bags on hard ground,
usually over a rock or two felt through air mattresses gone flat.
I looked forward to exploring, riding horses, hiking,
swimming, jumping the waves, diving like dolphins,

long, beach walks on soft, wet sand.
Eating meals prepared outside, home food never tasted so good!
Fresh, juicy Michigan peaches and tomatoes,
blueberry pancakes or oatmeal made on the Coleman stove.

Black nights under stars, so bright and numerous
we seemed to be suspended in outer space.
Each dry evening Dad lit a campfire
of collected sticks and logs

to keep away the damp and bugs.
We’d stare into leaping flames, a favorite pastime.
After a night or two, all our clothes and hair
would smell of smoky night fires,

burning companionably under the stars.
In the day, Dad would
drive off to find something new,
a waterfall perhaps, museum, or a scenic stop or two.

And everyone had to go
where everyone was going,
usually where Dad had in mind,
a bit of local color, a landmark or shrine.

A favorite picture: all of us, arm in arm,
standing under Tahquamenon Falls
water rushing out in front,
tan faces, wide, white vacation smiles.

***

We still had chores to do:
watch the kids, some quite small,
wash clothes, air sleeping bags, cook,

set the table, wash dishes,
straighten and sweep out sand,
without the conveniences of home.

One time, on our first outing,
when we totaled only seven,
my older brother, Tom, and I woke early
and left a note: Gone Fishing.

With one rod and one sinker
we went off at just light,
around the clear bright lake,
no goal in mind, but adventure.

We stayed together and fished some
and lost the sinker,
eventually circling back
in time for breakfast.

I don’t remember, but
I can imagine the response
to our leaving without permission.
Still, the impression that remains

is of rare freedom
and fresh, bright morning sun
and being together
with my adored, older brother.

Another time, somewhat later,
I woke before the rest,
not a usual occurrence
as I have always been a night bird.

I went down to the beach
on my own in the pre-dawn,
dim, quiet light
and soaked it up,

enough to hold onto
for a lifetime,
but that is another story…

***

For a while we each had our own
sturdy beer case in which to pack all
we’d need for the week or two,
each responsible for our own.

One dress outfit for Sunday church
(followed by a restaurant dinner), enough socks and shorts,
jacket, tops and underwear, bathing suit and shoes
to hold us with minimal washing.

One summer I packed only one sock and went
horseback riding sockless. I ended the first day
sunburned, muscles sore, and a quarter sized spot of skin
worn off my ankle. Still I slept the sleep of the justly satisfied.

The heavy cardboard beer cases fit nicely
in the wood car-top carrier
designed and built by my handy Dad.
We’d load up the station wagon in early morning,

cases and coolers wedged together,
sleeping bags laid out in back
with seats flat, where small kids
lay side by side like sardines.

I don’t mean to imply
all was smoothness and ease,
the ride was often hours
and I’m sure we bickered.

But mostly we made the best of it,
singing crazy songs and playing wacky, word memory
games like: I Spy and My Father Went Down To The Bottom
Of The Detroit River and with him he brought…

made up and recited in alphabetical order, each taking
a silly turn. Mom always brought
traveling candy, especially lemon drops
for Dad. He drove as fast as allowed

or even a bit more,
left arm draped out the window,
getting unevenly sunburned,
no air-conditioning those hot July days.

We would arrive at the park ranger’s office,
somewhat later than hoped for
and get our spot (or not)
for the days and nights

we needed, once on a beach
where the tent stakes blew out in a storm,
usually in the woods, a cleared area
with a picnic table and matted, grassy space

to set up the tent or camper.
Along the beaten, dirt camp road
would be a bath and shower
to walk down to on dark, bug-specked nights.

We’d walk in the dark
to wash up at each day’s end,
sandy and sunburned, tired and mostly content,
free of the normal routine.

We always made friends
with our temporary neighbors, Dad
finding a long-lost, distant cousin
or boyhood friend just down the road.

Then the grown ups would gather at night
to talk and play cards by lantern light,
and we might roast marshmallows and go
to bed early, exhausted from activity and fresh air.

My sister, Michelle, used to
burn her marshmallows on purpose
then blow them out and pop them in her mouth.
I preferred to aim for brown perfection

of toasted white puffs evenly golden,
taken just before they melted off the stick.
Sometimes I took off the crust
and re-toasted the gooey inside.

***

One year it rained the entire trip.
What a long vacation that was!
Eventually Dad and Mom bought a tarp
at the Sears in town and made a side porch

where we could sit at our picnic table
and play board games, cards, or drink hot cocoa.
We still went out driving
to look for new sights,

but it was too cold for the beach
or even for shorts,
so we each lived in our one warm outfit
and the matching gray, zipper-sweatshirts

with the navy, thermal-lined hoods.
We went out in the rain, in our khaki, army surplus raincoats.
Even so, it was a change and made for good stories,
and made coming home all the better;

how strange it felt to walk on a real floor!

***

The drive home was not a fun affair,
as we were confined again
with people we’d already
spent too much time with.

When we got within
a safe distance from home,
we’d stop at a Dairy Queen
and all get cones,

graded from baby size to large,
depending on age and position of power.
Marie, two years younger than me,
always made her dripping, soggy cone last.

And we’d all quite happily lick
and chase dribbles, surprised at this usual treat,
for we never knew if this time
would be the time it didn’t work out.

How good it felt, how strange,
to sleep on sheets in our own beds,
to wash dishes in a sink with running water,

to pull a cold drink or ice out of the refrigerator,
to have a bathroom right in the house,
to watch television, to talk on the phone.

Isn’t that what vacation is all about:
a break from the everyday
to enable a fresh, grateful look?

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1996