NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT – Marilyn Armstrong

Maybe getting old isn’t all that bad, now that you mention it.

There was a question on my local Facebook page asking for suggestions about local pediatricians. I suddenly realized I don’t actually know any pediatricians. Not a single one. I don’t know where to buy Pampers and I haven’t had to get up at dawn to make sure I get the kid on the bus in the middle of January when it’s 10 below zero. No more making dawn sandwiches or buying pounds of bologna, cheese, and sandwich bags.

My son is 49 and my granddaughter is 21, so I guess it shouldn’t be a big surprise, but it was. Because I don’t exactly remember when I slipped free of worrying about kid stuff. As long as Kaity was a child, it remained part of my world.

Now … it’s finished. Whatever worrying I do, it’s about my adult son and grownup granddaughter.

I’m not worried about the routes for school buses or looking for a great playground. Or wondering how many pairs of shoes the child will need this year. I am not wrapped in the world of children anymore.

Do I miss it?

Are you kidding?

I won’t be packing lunch or overseeing homework assignments. I will not have to listen to the kid lying about how he or she did the homework during study hall, trying to decide whether or not to call him or her on it, or just say “screw it” and move on.

The only bus in town

What is more, I don’t need to update my résumé. I won’t be commuting to a distant office or planning a vacation based around a two-week vacation. Given our finances, I might not get any vacation, but I don’t really need a long vacation, though I wouldn’t mind one should one wander this way.

I will probably only set my alarm a dozen times during the coming year and that will be a dozen times too many.

There are worse things than being old and I think going to work is one of them.

Retirement. Way to go!

I WILL NOT BE A BALLERINA (OR A COWBOY) – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was a girl, my mother took me to the ballet. She didn’t take me to the typical “first ballet” for kids — Nutcracker Suite — which mommies take their little girls to see. Instead, she took me to the New York City Ballet Company, while Balanchine was still its choreographer.

It was magic. Extreme magic. I left the theater sure I’d found my future. All I needed were a few lessons, a pair of those cool ballet slippers and I could leap and twirl on my tiptoes, just like the stars at the ballet.

I had not accounted for the klutz factor. I was young and sure that wanting it badly enough would make it happen.

Sadly, I had no talent for dance. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I had a go at ballet, tap, jazz — even belly dancing. All had the same results, yet somehow,  I survived the disappointment.

I was simultaneously coping with the realization I was not going to become a cowboy, either.

For one thing, I wasn’t a boy. For a second thing, I was living in New York, didn’t own a horse, wasn’t likely to ever own a horse and pretending the fence rail was a horse was not going work out long-term.

For anyone who likes dance … even if you don’t … check out the  delicious parody of classical ballet from the original Disney “Fantasia.” No matter how many times I see it, it always makes me laugh. You have to love hippos in tutus.

THE TRUTH OF SCHOOL

I always find myself defending school to kids. They complain it’s dull. That there’s nothing in it that “grabs” or fascinates them — and nothing they will find useful in life.

I find myself trying to explain that school wasn’t fascinating, but that many of the boring stuff you learn in it is indeed going to be useful. Like arithmetic, the ability to add and subtract mentally without a calculator or even a piece of paper and a pencil. The point of school wasn’t only to intrigue or titillate us but to make us ready to face the real world in which we all must live.

High School, really

Some studies were dull, but you needed to know it because while there’s creativity, there is day-to-day life too and unless you are one of the entitled few, you will have to do your share of it.

I was the kid who had a book in my lap so when no one was looking, I would read. Although I love science today, in school, it wasn’t interesting. Maybe it was the teachers who were dull. In high school I had a double period of botany beginning at eight in the morning when I was already half asleep. The class went on for two hours. We had a teacher who knew her stuff, but talked in a monotone. She’d start to talk — and I’d black out. Gone.

I did not do well in that class. A pity because I was interested, but she was better than a sleeping pill. Twice as good, really. Nothing I ever took knocked me out as well as she did.

 

Social studies which would today be … what? Social science? History? Some weird version of both? It consisted of everything that wasn’t English, math, or science. What we called “the rest of the stuff.” I was a passionate, ardent, enthusiastic reader.  I loved history and the world. But social studies? With those stupid work books where you would answer a question and then you had to color the pictures. Seriously? Color the pictures?

I flunked coloring.

English was dull, too. We had to read books that were of no interest to anyone. I suspected the teachers found them dull too, but it was in the curriculum and that’s what they were supposed to teach. They did. We yawned. I drew pictures of horses in my notebooks. Sometimes, when I got tired of horses — I never got the feet right — I moved into castles. I was better at castles.

If they let us write, I was good at that. But being good at it didn’t make it interesting. My summer vacation wasn’t the stuff to brighten my week.

The teachers droned on and on. Those of us who intended to go to college hung in there. It never — not once, not for a split second — crossed my mind that I should drop out and work at an entry-level jobs for the rest of my life because I was bored at school.

 

1893 Thayer Library Photo: Garry Armstrong

For me, going to college was exactly the same as going to heaven. I would go to college because I knew I could learn. I never doubted my ability to think. I was sure if I made it to college, the rest would follow. And so it did.

I learned a lot of things in college. Ultimately, the really interesting parts of my education were learned at work, when math, science, and statistics were relevant and meaningful.

When you are working, the things you learn are in a context. You discover science has a purpose. Numbers are not random shapes which you jiggle around until you get the answer or sit with empty eyes wondering what this is supposed to mean. I did stuff at work I had found impossible in a classroom.

It wasn’t my fault. It was their fault. They taught the material so poorly no one who didn’t have a special fervor for it figured it out. What a pity for everyone. Worst of all, they meant well. They genuinely did the best they knew how.

College had its share of drones and bores … but there were enough wonderful teachers — maybe a dozen — who were inspirational.
They were was enough.  For each year of school, there was at least one or two teachers who made a difference in my life. Plus, I was in an environment where everyone wanted to learn. We needed to learn.

We chose it.

I have never properly explained the whole school thing to my kid or granddaughter. I told them “Oh, it’s not that bad.”

PS 35, Queens

Except, it really can be that bad. Sometimes, it’s even worse and comes with boring teachers and brutal classmates. That is very bad. Whether they are teasing you because of your color or because you are smart and they aren’t … cruelty is cruelty and kids can be cruel.

The thing is, you don’t stay in school because it’s fun. Or because the quality of education is uplifting. You are there because you know that this is what you must do if you want to have a real life.

If you also get wonderful, inspiring, enlightening teachers, that’s better. But even if they are dull, you still need to be there.

School is the work of childhood. It’s the “why of the how” of growing up.

CONGRESSIONAL KINDERGARTEN – BY ELLIN CURLEY

COMPROMISE AND LIVING IN THESE UNITED STATES


We are a country of babies. Spoiled babies. Over-indulged, entitled babies.

No amendment to the Constitution says that everyone can do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. No country could survive the anarchy this would create.

All societies have laws and regulations for a reason. Parents have rules for their toddlers for a reason. We have reached the point in our violent history that the ‘parents’ in the country have to just say “No!” to the toddlers who are running rampant. Let them have a full-blown tantrum in the aisle of the supermarket.

I’m really talking about guns in America. But I don’t want to focus on the politics, which are mind bogglingly corrupt and twisted because of the NRA.

I want to talk about the issue from a sociological/psychological perspective. It’s time someone just said “NO!” to the groups of people who are disrupting our society. “NO!” to the people who want to own AR 15’s outside of the military. You just can’t have that weapon of mass destruction in your bedroom because you like it and want it. You can have some, less lethal guns. If you abide by the normal regulations that govern other things, like cars.

To drive a car, you have to pass several tests to get a license. You need insurance and you have to live by all the rules of the road. Otherwise, you get your license revoked. You also have to get your license renewed regularly and pass an eye exam.

No one screams bloody murder about their Constitutional rights because they can’t drive a Formula One race car on the highway at 140 miles per hour. Or that they have to pass a driving test (actually a written test AND a road test) to be able to drive legally.

The Congressional GOP and the White House are two other groups of people who need to hear a loud “NO!” for a change. Governments only function with compromise. Everyone can’t get exactly what they want all the time. Aren’t you supposed to learn that in Kindergarten? Did the entire GOP and the everyone in the White House all flunk Kindergarten?

Where do elected officials get the chutzpah to insist on ‘My way or the highway’ even if it means shutting down the government? Why do people think it’s okay to bull-doze others on their way to total ‘victory’ for THEIR special interest group?

I don’t have answers to these questions. I feel as if Washington DC is run by people who refuse to live by any of the rules I grew up believing were necessary for a civil society. Is it a fluke? Are the stars misaligned to give us the most childish, selfish, greedy bunch of amoral politicians ever to run our government? Is this some kind of Karmic lesson?

I know the corruption level in government has been better or worse at various times in our history. Washington has often been run entirely on favors traded and bribes offered, but even that assumes acceptance of the concept of compromise. Of give and take. Today it seems like intransigence is the standard, as well as self-righteousness and narcissism.

The impasse on guns is one symptom of our broken system. It’s sad although a majority of NRA members favor reasonable gun control laws such as universal background checks and bans on assault weapons, the NRA (read “gun manufacturers”) have paid off our Congress and our President. They don’t even reflect or represent the will of their own members much less the non-gun-owning public. They don’t care.

I’m optimistic that when Democrats take over the government, hopefully in 2020, we may see more serious gun control legislation. But there will still be plenty of pols who collect a big hunk of their campaign contributions from the NRA and all those Republicans who behave like spoiled toddlers. They will still refuse to play nicely with others.

Trump Republicans are a minority in the U.S. — yet they do an enormous amount of damage and exert a disproportionate amount of control. Hopefully by 2020, they will be relegated to an insignificant minority who we can disregard. Maybe then we can move on.

We can walk past the toddlers and ignore them while they have their tantrums in the aisles of Congress. It’s a welcome thought.

WHEN A BEATING SOUNDS BETTER THAN A LECTURE

One day (true story), my granddaughter told her father she would prefer that he would beat her because almost anything would be an improvement over another lecture.

The lecture was TWICE as long.

There are times in life for children, adults, and dogs when your best bet is shutting up and pretending you are paying attention.

CHECKING IN WITH MYSELF – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I haven’t written an introspective blog in a long time. I’ve written about things that have happened in my own life and stories about other members of my family. I’ve written a lot about the political situation in America and the social schisms it has created. I’ve written about my dogs and the weather and what I’ve watched on TV.

But I haven’t checked in with myself recently – and there have been some internal resets. Over the past six months, I’ve had some uncomfortable and inconvenient but not serious medical issues. I forgot how closely one’s mental state shadows one’s physical well-being.

Constant physical issues for months at a time can really take a toll, both mentally and physically. I was chronically exhausted. No energy for anything. That translated to demoralization and withdrawal. Doing anything outside of the house became a big deal.

I started believing that my life was seriously lacking in many ways. I fixated on those deficiencies and my glass suddenly became half empty instead of half full.

When I started feeling better physically, I could step back and see where my body had dragged my mind. I realized I had to turn myself off and then back on again. I had to totally reboot my attitude.

I realized that I am, in fact, fine as I am. My life is fine as it is. Is it what I wanted, ideally at this stage of my life? No. Is it where I imagined I’d be at my age? No. Is that bad rather than just different? No.

Me and my dogs

I wanted to be a grandmother by my age, with a life revolving to a great extent around my nearby adult child and my grandchildren. Many of my friends are ecstatic and devoted grandparents. But I’m not a grandmother. And the most likely child to give me grandchildren in the future lives in LA, 3000 miles away.

As a retired person, I expected to be part of an active and gratifying social life with my large group of local friends. But people moved away. My remaining best friends still work 60 hour weeks and have limited time to socialize. As a result, Tom and I spend a lot of time alone with each other.

But this doesn’t make my life bad or inferior or deficient. Just different than planned or expected. I can’t compare my life to other people’s lives. I can’t measure my life against my past expectations.

Am I actually happy spending most days at home with my husband and my dogs? Yes! Am I fulfilled reading, writing blogs and working on our Audio Theater Group? Yes! Do I love my wonderful friends spread all around the country plus England and Germany? Yes!

So I wake up happy every morning, looking forward to another quiet but satisfying day. I focus on what I have and who I share it all with. I’m good. I’m lucky. And I’m grateful. I just have to try to keep this positive outlook when my body throws me the next curve.

A POSITIVE PARENTING MOMENT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I had a brief shining moment as a parent. I did something right. It felt right then and I still believe that it was right now. I even think that my daughter, Sarah, would agree.

It has to do with Sarah’s Bat Mitzvah, which took place in January of 1998. We started planning it in 1997, when Sarah was twelve. Sarah has always been a very organized, efficient person. She could reorganize her closet, on her own, when she was five. So, my brilliant idea was, why not give Sarah the lead in planning her Bat Mitzvah events! She loved the idea.

Sarah at twelve years old

I gave her the budget and off we went to the invitation lady, the potential venues, the party planner, the florist, etc. Sarah got the final word on all decisions (after some maternal prodding and advice) as long as she stayed within the budget. That got tricky, which was the point of the exercise.

I remember, at one point, she fell in love with some fancy invitations. But, she realized that if she spent the extra money there, she’d have to cut back on the party favors for her friends. It was a carefully thought out decision. She finally went with the simpler invitations and the better favors.

Invitation Sarah picked

She had to use a calculator to plan her menu. For table decorations, she decided to save money on flowers. So she used balloons and paper decorations to supplement the very basic floral treatments on each table.

It was an enjoyable as well as an educational process. Sarah took great pride in doing everything herself. She learned about budgeting, time management and other sophisticated organizational skills.

The event was beautiful and lots of fun. I think it also had more meaning for Sarah because the day’s festivities were a result of her own input and effort. She not only had a memorable coming of age party, she actually grew up a lot in the process.

Sarah at the evening party

I’m proud of Sarah for handling everything so gracefully, maturely and responsibly. I’m proud of myself for giving the reins to the soon to become Jewish “woman”. We both benefitted from the experience and Sarah blossomed. A+ for the Bat Mitzvah, A+ for parenting.

Sarah and me at the morning services at the Temple