STURBRIDGE WITH COUSINS

72-Garry and Marilyn in SturbridgeWe don’t get to see each other often. We’ve always lived several hundred miles apart, even when we were kids … but the distance didn’t matter as much back then. We were young, we had energy. We didn’t mind flying or driving.

Flying was a lot easier before terrorism became the biggest thing in the world. The roads were in better shape and there was a lot less traffic, so driving was easier. Gasoline was cheap before anyone noticed oil reserves wouldn’t last forever.

In the life of a family, ones cousins are often the people we know the longest and best throughout our lives. If you are lucky, and have cousins your own age whose company you enjoy, you get the  magical experience of remembering things together that possibly only the two of you remember.

72-roberta-closeup-sturbridge-070816_016At this point, my cousin and I are probably the only two people alive who remember playing with little iron toys that were kept in a special closet in Aunt Ethel’s apartment. Which was downstairs in that brownstone on East 96th Street in Brooklyn.

Four apartments, two up, two down. A flight of stairs in the middle. A hallway. Three siblings shared the building, plus a neighbor who had lived in that building with them … forever … or however many years that represented.

My mother’s two older sisters, lived on the second floor with their husbands. Until they grew up and moved away, other cousins lived up and downstairs too.

We remember together. Funny stuff, like how we were going to go into the desert to dig up artifacts. We remember this as we seek the shade on a summer day in Sturbridge.

We are married. We have children. I have a grandchild. We talk about who’s doing what. And retirement. And are glad that we still know one another and we can remember.

HELP PARENTS HELP THEIR KIDS TO THRIVE by ELLIN CURLEY

There was an article in the Sunday New York times Opinion Section a few weeks ago that caught my attention. It was titled “To Help Kids Thrive, Coach Their Parents.” It was written by Paul Tough and was an excerpt from a book he had written called “Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.”The article cited a long-term study that started in 1986 and has followed the subjects continually to the present.

The study proved that children who lived in poverty did substantially better than their peers, into adulthood, if one simple thing was changed in their homes during their first three years of life: Their parents received coaching from trained researchers who encouraged them to play with and stimulate their infants, for example, by reading to them, singing to them and playing peekaboo. The parents were taught the importance of these face to face exchanges in creating attachment, warmth and trust between parents and children. This, in turn, helped create a more stable, nurturing environment in the impoverished homes, which are usually plagued by stress, neglect and instability.

blocks

It’s hard to believe that some people don’t know that they should talk to and play with their infants and young children. But if no one ever did that with you when you were a child and no one later taught you how important it is, how would you know?

The impact of this easy and low-cost intervention was off the charts. The study showed that the children who had the play counseling had higher IQ’s, less aggressive behavior and better self-control than the control groups. They also had better ability to focus, follow directions, interact calmly with others and cope with disappointment and frustration. In other words, they improved intellectually, socially and emotionally. All this just by receiving the kind of attention that most of us take for granted every child automatically gets.

dad & baby

It turns out that adults can be taught to create an environment that fosters success for their children. Why isn’t this being done in every poor neighborhood in the world? Or at least in this country?

This is particularly frustrating for me because my father proposed the same type of in-home interventions in the 1960’s and no one listened to him. My father was a well-known psychoanalyst, anthropologist and sociologist who stressed the importance of the first 3 years of life. He also did a study that showed how little stimulation and affection a large number of black children living in poverty in Harlem, New York, in the 1950’s were receiving from their parents. He suggested doing exactly what the 1986 study did – send in trained professionals to teach the parents how to give their children the kind of nurturing they needed to thrive.

mom reading

Guess who shot my father’s idea down? The “liberals” of the day and the radical Black Panther movement. They said it was racist to assume that black people didn’t know how to be good parents. It was also considered paternalistic and condescending to send (often white) people into black homes to “tell them” how to deal with their own children. My father backed away from the conflict that surrounded his proposal.

smiles for Mom

Now, 50 years later, the idea is being proposed again. Think of all the kids who could have benefited in all these years! With so much poverty, even just in this country, you’d think this article would have been front page news. You’d think that politicians, as well as educators and mental health professionals would be jumping on the bandwagon and yelling from the rooftops. You’d hope that large numbers of “family counselors” would be amassing to go in and make a huge difference in the lives of millions of children.

I haven’t heard anything yet. But I’m still waiting and hoping.

mom & toddler

NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE

JJ’s Night Out, by Rich Paschall


Jason was pacing the floor of the living room.  He was excited about his date night.  They were going to a new night club.  It had received nice reviews and he thought they could do a lot of dancing and singing.  Jason’s mom watched the pacing with a feeling of indifference, while his dad watched in what could best be described as “disgust.”

Soon Jason’s date would arrive. Jeff was a handsome young man who Jason had met at college.  Jeff fell immediately for the boy with the constant smile, and it did not take long for Jason to agree to a date.  After a short period of dating, they became constant companions.  Their friends began referring to them collectively as “JJ” since they always seemed to be together.

When Jeff arrived in his best preppy, all American look, he stopped in briefly to say hello to Jason’s parents and wish them a good evening.  Then Jason exclaimed, “Good night, mom,” and gave his mother a hug.  It was returned in half-hearted fashion.

“See you later, dad,” Jason shouted at his father who was standing quite a distance  away.  “Yeah,” his father returned with his most annoyed tone.  The father’s look was his best effort at contempt.  Jason just smiled and the boys set out for a night of fun.  They both hoped that some day Jason’s father would accept them as a couple.  Whether that happened or not, soon the boys would find an apartment, marry and be on their own.  They had their whole lives ahead and could not be too worried at whether they would find complete acceptance.  They had each other.  That was the main thing.

The two men enjoyed the new nightclub.  The music was loud, the drinks were cold and the atmosphere was electric.  Around midnight, Jeff leaned over and gave Jason a big kiss.  Since he was not prone to such public displays, Jason asked, “What was that for?”  Jeff replied, “Because I love you so much, my prince.”  At that Jason’s usual smile became even bigger.

At 4 am the phone rang at Jason’s home.  By the time his mother was awaken and realized it was the phone, the ringing stopped.  She started to drift off to sleep but 10 minutes later the phone was ringing again.  When she got up and got to the phone, it had stopped again.  The mother thought Jason forgot his key or was staying with Jeff.  “He really did not have to call about that,” she thought.  She waited by the phone another 10 minutes but it did not ring, so she went back to bed.

72-BW-Boston-Night_004Just as she was getting up around 7 am the front doorbell rang.  She thought, “This must be Jason.”  She put on her robe and walked to the door.  She opened it to find a uniformed police officer standing there.  Behind her was a man in plain clothes, but he was wearing a police badge on his belt.

“Are you Mrs. DeAngelo?”  the officer asked.

“Yes.”

“And is Jason DeAngelo your son?”

“Why?  What’s wrong? What happened?  Tell me, what is it?” she blurted out, trying not to sound hysterical.

“There has been a shooting at a night club.  I am afraid your son was one of the victim’s.  We are sorry for your  loss, Mrs. DeAngelo.”
Jason’s mother stood there absolutely frozen to the spot.  She had been kicked in the stomach and her breath had been taken away.

“Is it alright if we come in and ask a few questions?” the plain clothes police officer asked.

For a moment Mrs. DeAngelo could not speak.  Her eyes began to water and her brain was numb.  She was transported through time to a place of unspeakable sadness.  It was a place where senses momentarily failed her.

“Would you like us to come back?” the man asked.

“No,” she replied.  “Come in.”

Mr. DeAngelo joined them in the living room.  He immediately knew what had happened.  He stood there silently.  His wife answered all the questions.

For the next half hour the two police officers queried Jason’s mom.  Did Jason go to the Club often?  Why did he go that night?  Was he with anyone?  Was he gay?  Did they know it was a gay nightclub and so on?  Mrs. DeAngelo answered as best she could.

Then they mentioned the name of the shooter which lead to a new round of questions.  Did she ever hear the name before?  Did her son know him?  There were other questions too but they all became a blur to Mrs. DeAngelo.  After a while, she was not even sure what she was saying.

The uniformed officer concluded by saying the coroner’s office would be processing the dozens of bodies over the next few days and they would be in contact with them.  Both told the parents “We are sorry for your loss,” as they were leaving the house.

Mrs. DeAngelo softly closed the door behind them.  She grabbed a framed picture of Jason off a table and sat down on the sofa.  She stared at the picture as a tear formed in the corner of one eye.  She tried to envision Jason’s happy face as a child and his boundless energy.  She remembered the time she called him “my little terrier” because it seemed he could run for hours and then come and lay down right by her.  She did not move from that spot for a long time.

Mr. DeAngelo recalled the look he gave the boys the night before as they left for the club.  It was the only thing he could remember.

TO OLD FATHERS ON AMERICA’S FATHER’S DAY

Lewis Carroll is my favorite poet. In this, one of his lesser known poems, he offers commentary on both parenthood and aging. These days, I find myself relating in some weird way and since today is Father’s Day in the US …

I’ve included John Tenniel‘s original illustrations because I love them.

From Wikipedia:

The poem appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and is recited by Alice (Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar” which was Chapter 3 in the original manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground). Alice informs the caterpillar she has tried to repeat “How Doth the Little Busy Bee” and it came out all wrong as “How Doth the Little Crocodile”. The caterpillar asks her to repeat “You are old, Father William.” 


YOU ARE OLD, FATHER WILLIAM – LEWIS CARROLL


“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

FatherWilliam-1

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

FatherWilliam-2

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

FatherWilliam-3

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

FatherWilliam-4

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

GERIATRIC COMEDY BY ELLIN CURLEY

My new favorite show to binge watch these days is “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix. The cast is amazing – Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston in the leads. The supporting cast, particularly the four adult children, are also pitch perfect. The characters are fully and thoughtfully developed, the writing is brilliant and the humor springs naturally from the characters and situations.

G & F couples

The show begins when two 70-year-old men tell their wives that they are both gay, have been having a twenty year affair and are asking for divorces so they can marry each other. The Lily Tomlin (Frankie), Sam Waterston couple are Jewish, hippy, touchy feely, chanting, pot smoking flower children. The Jane Fonda (Grace), Martin Sheen couple are status seeking, uptight Wasps and Grace was a super corporate, super successful career woman. Now, the two wives, who are not fond of each other, for obvious reasons, have to move in together when the men take over one of the family homes.

grace and frankie 1

The issues are dealt with honestly and on a personal, emotional level. There is no hint of ideology or agenda (except for acceptance of gay marriage). You laugh at the straights as much as the gays, the hippies as much as the wasps, the older generation as much as the younger one. The relationships with the adult children are fully realized and quite varied so the humor always rings true there as well.

G&F men

The center of the show is the evolution of the friendship between the two women. It is beautiful and edifying to watch as they struggle to focus on their common ground and accommodate their glaring differences. It is a wonderful affirmation that people who are so different can bridge the gaps between them and forge a strong bond.I see parts of myself in both women so I’m laughing at myself a lot. At times I want to BE them and have a female friend who can share and support and help me cope and grow at the same time. At other times I just enjoy watching them deal with the major twists in the lives from the comfort of my thankfully “boring” life.

G&F women

Another reason I love watching this show is that it deals sensitively but bluntly with elder issues that are not often discussed. The retired women have to come to terms with their feelings of uselessness and invisibility. They have to find day-to-day meaning in a life without the structure of a full-time job or of a family to take care of 24/7. They talk about memory loss, arthritis and other indignities of an older body. There is also a lot of talk about vaginas and sex in your 70’s. Vaginal dryness has a whole plot line built around it!

Baby Boomers are becoming Seniors at warp speed. So there is now a big demographic of elders to sell products to and pitch movies and TV shows to. So expect to see more sagging bodies and forgetful minds on all forms of media. The Geriatric Baby Boomers are taking over so move over and remind me why I decided to write this blog.

LOOKING BACK ON MY FIRST POST: WITHOUT BENEFIT OF CLERGY:

In a different context, WordPress asked us to share our first post. Well, actually, this isn’t my first post, but it’s the closest thing to the first I’ve retained in archives. Though I started blogging in February 2012, I didn’t really get into it until May. This was published May 22, 2012. It’s too long and rambling, but I’ll let it stand, minus a few typos.

Note that I’m away through tomorrow, so if I don’t answer comments, it’s because I did not bring my computer.


I was Jewish when I married Garry in a Lutheran Church. I said then … and I say now …  any God I might be willing to worship would not care what ritual was used or in what language we spoke our vows. I really believe everyone has the right to live life as they want, to have or not have children. Spend whatever day you consider the Sabbath doing whatever you want.

Travel your path and be glad.

All prayers are good prayers. Goodness is goodness, whether you believe in God or not. Faith is a choice, decency is a requirement. You don’t need a church to know the difference between right and wrong. Some of the worst people I’ve known were ardent church goers and some of the best were skeptics or atheists. I’ll bet that God knows who is who and is not fooled by how often you attend church.

Garry and I were married in his church on Long Island because he had a strong emotional attachment to it. I didn’t have any particular attachment to any religious institution, though still have an attachment to Judaism as a philosophy and as a moral compass. And as an ethnic identity: Yiddishkeit, as it were.

When we renewed our vows the first time, it was in front of a notary, but the next renewal was under the sky in our backyard by a minister of the Christian Reform Church. Maybe we’ll do it again and who knows who will officiate? We intended to renew our vows again for our 20th anniversary, but I was sick that year and I had other things on my mind. Hopefully, we’ll both be available for 25th. That seems like a good number for another renewal.

Marriage is a contract between two adults. It doesn’t require benefit of clergy. Any religion is okay and no religion is okay too. Unless you live in a theocracy and thankfully we do not … yet …you don’t need to believe in anything but your partner to get married.  I hate the theocratic trend this country is taking. I’m baffled as to how God and religion are suddenly the arbiters of what constitutes a family.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness …”

declaration_independence

The bit about pursuing happiness seems to have been lost along the way. Pity because it’s not less important than the rest. It may be the most important. What good is life and liberty if you can’t be happy? Gay, straight, old, young … we deserve the right to marry who we choose and be happy.

If we start defining the meaning of marriage, if we declare that marriage is sacred and exists entirely  for the creation of children, what about people who don’t want children? Are they the next group not allowed to marry? How about people who are too old to make babies? Can they marry? For too many years in a lot of states, people of different races were forbidden to marry … was that okay? They said that it was God’s decree too. Funny how it’s always God’s plan … no individual ever seems to be responsible.

You can interpret “God’s teaching” however you like, but if it’s so clear what God wants, why all the religious debate — not to mention wars — for thousands of years?

Gay, straight, or not entirely clear on the issue, marry if you want to. Or not. Be happy.

I have no opinion on an afterlife. I don’t know.  Neither do you. You can believe what you like but you don’t know anything because God doesn’t talk to you. Or me. Make this life a good one. It’s the only one you know for certain you’ve got.

Carpe diem, my friends. Carpe with both hands and don’t let go until you’ve squeezed that last bit of joy from your world!

GRANDDAUGHTER. WITH PUPPY.

Family. You never know what’s going to happen, but you do know that whatever happens, it will be complicated.

A couple of days ago, my granddaughter arrived and moved into the southern end of our house, otherwise known as “downstairs.”

Bonnie, meet Nitro. Nitro? Meet Bonnie.

Bonnie, meet Nitro. Nitro? Meet Bonnie.

With Nitro, the puppy. And laundry. I will not go into any of the details of how this happened because I’m not entirely clear on them myself. It just happened. Like a meteor hitting the house or a flash flood. There we were, enjoying a quiet Sunday.

My son, the leading edge of the oncoming wave, explained that Kaity was on her way over.

“How nice. A Sunday visit,” says Granny Marilyn. Fifteen minutes later, she was moving in. With puppy. Nitro.

72-nitro-051716_04

Garry, who had gone into the shower a little before the arrival of the son, emerged to find himself in a new world order. Although I explained that it was just as much a surprise to me as to him, I suspect he thinks I’m holding out on him.

I’m not. Honest.

I don’t know how long this will last. It’s fine with me, however it shakes out. If anyone is going to live with us, my granddaughter would be my first choice. Garry’s too, though he is worried about finding himself in charge of Nitro. I understand his concern.

As long as she house breaks and trains the puppy properly (I think he may be growing in the general direction of pretty big) and she keeps the place reasonably tidy, I’m good. Kaity grew up in this house, so there are no surprises laying in wait. She is comfortable in the space, knows that autumn brings the mice and spring, the ants. Though I think Nitro will be a formidable force with which any invading critter will have to reckon. He grows as I watch.

72-nitro-051716_07b

Everything else will sort itself out. This is probably a healthy move for Kaity. It’s time for her to separate from mommy. We all need to do it and it’s never easy. She can lead an independent life here, with little interference, but backup when and if needed.

I’m a bit pixellated by the rapid changes in life, so if I’m not writing as much, it’s because I’m busy absorbing a new reality. Keep in mind that Kaity could change her mind and leave tomorrow — be gone as fast as she arrived. I’m not quite sure how much to invest in this. I think I’ll keep my head low and let it sort itself out.

If I have learned nothing else in the past decade, it’s that young people need to make their own choices. Unless they ask for advice? Shut up, be supportive, be loving, and keep out of the line of fire.

HOPPING ON THAT SOUTHBOUND TRAIN