FAMILY TOLL OF BIPOLAR DISORDER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I never paid much attention to the Kardashian family and I certainly never thought I had anything in common with them. But now I suddenly have a connection with Kim Kardashian – we have both experienced the chaos of life with a bipolar spouse. I know this because recently Kim’s husband, Kanye West, publicly announced that he is running for president and gave several off the walls, extremely manic rants on TV. Kim later publicly apologized for her husband and asked for understanding because he was off his medications and suffering from a severe manic episode.

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West

Boy, could I relate to that! Most discussions about mental illness focus on promoting compassion and support for the person suffering from the mental illness. Fortunately, the stigma that used to exist around mental illness has diminished as we now understand the physiological basis of mental disorders and put them in the same category as other physiological ailments. We also understand that it isn’t the patient’s ‘fault’ and they can’t just ‘will themselves’ back to mental health.

Less has been written about the incredible strain and hardship suffered by the families of mentally ill patients. In my case, my ex was bipolar (or Manic Depressive as it is also called). He was more manic than depressed so most of my experience is with the manic phase rather than the depressive phase of this disorder.

Initially, many families go through a period when there is erratic, irrational, often volatile behavior but no diagnosis. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, this period with my ex lasted thirteen years because knowledge about Bipolar Disorder was in the dark ages then compared to what we know today. I insisted we go to a marriage counselor and she tried to analyze what I must be doing to provoke the unpredictable rages and paranoid fits my ex would have. I had a sense that his behavior was dangerous, but I had to go along with the idea that every marriage is a 50-50 proposition and therefore that  I had to be a big part of the problem.

One night my ex came home and went into an angry tirade about what a selfish, uncaring, inconsiderate wife I was because there were dishes in the sink when he came home from work, after I had fed my two kids. He threw a pot at me in front of the kids. The next night, the kids and I made sure that the dishes were done and the sink was clean when he came home. But my ex still went into an abusive rage, this time because the basement was cluttered. We couldn’t win.

The manic phase of Bipolar Disorder can manifest itself in many different types of behavior .This complicates diagnosis. Mania can show as paranoia, ‘irritability’, volatility, and irrationality. Extreme rages, way out of proportion to the alleged provocation, are often accompanied by verbal and/or physical abuse, the physical aspect applying to property as well as people. Mania can also be periods of unrealistic grandiosity, crazy schemes, uncontrollable spending of money or compulsive traveling. We once took thirteen trips in twelve months, many with the kids and many without, and many for just a few days each. It was very disruptive, as was the wanton spending.

The unpredictability of the manic phase was one of the worst features, especially for the kids who need consistency, security and routine. The kids and I would try to talk the their father before he came home from work so we could gauge what ‘mood’ he was in and figure out what to expect when he came through the door.

Family events and holidays are particularly fraught for families with mentally ill members. Our family stories revolve around which kind of ‘scene’ Dad created at which holiday and why and when Dad stormed out of which family gathering. He once left me and the kids stranded at my sister-in-law’s house in New Jersey when he impulsively drove the car to the train station so he could go back to NYC. My sister-in-law had to leave the festivities and drive with my son to the train station to pick up the car so the kids and I could drive ourselves home.

We were greatly relieved when my ex was finally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 1987. But the relief was short lived because, unfortunately, a common symptom of the disorder is a denial that you have it at all. My ex, as with many others, refused to believe he needed medication, though the Lithium he was prescribed actually worked very well and kept him significantly more level and stable and eliminated his manic phases. Also like other Manic Depressives, my ex refused to stay on his meds for more than a year or so at a time. He’d stop the medication without telling anyone, even his therapist, and he would gradually devolve into worse, more extreme and more and more frequent manic episodes until he was manic basically all the time. That’s when he would hit rock bottom and often had to leave the house because he was so out of control and destructive. Then we had to wait six weeks for the Lithium to kick in once he finally agreed to start taking it again. This is the roller coaster of life with Bipolar Disorder.

I understand exactly what Kim Kardashian is going through. She’s hoping to get Kanye back on his meds but knows in her heart that he won’t stay on it for long. How many times is she willing to go through this crazy cycle? I waited 25 years, until my kids were 14 and 19 before I decided that I had had enough. Knowing what I know now, I would not have subjected my kids to the irrationality, tension and chaos that marked their childhoods. But I was also traumatized and terrorized by the ups and downs of our lives as well, which limited my ability to be strong and confident and take charge of the situation. I was also financially dependent since I had given up my career when my first child was born, but that’s a whole other story.

So my advice to Kim Kardashian is: Get out now while your kids are still young and too much damage hasn’t already been done to them. You have the money to leave and continue to live your upscale lifestyle without the drama and trauma of Kanye’s mental illness in your everyday lives.

BITTER ROOTS

I am named after an aunt I never met. In my version of Jewish family, you don’t name babies after living people. Only after those who have passed. This is not true in all Jewish families. It depends on where you come from and your “tribe’s” traditions in the matter. When I was born in 1947, there was a serious shortage of dead relatives after which to name me. Of course, there’s no law requiring you name your kid after a dead relative, but it certainly is the more popular path for naming.

You don’t have to pick the whole name. You can just pick your favorite part of the name. Like, maybe the middle. Or the second middle. Or an Americanized version of the primary name — or what people who didn’t speak English thought the Americanized version might be. It accounts for the far-too-many boys named Isadore (for Itzchak or Isaac). Lacking a deep knowledge of English-language roots, baby’s name could be similar to the original Hebrew or Yiddish name by simply matching the first letter or syllable … a method resulting in some pretty bizarre names Jewish boys and girls spent a lifetime trying to lose. It’s too complicated to explain.

Even your Jewish friends can be reduced to tears of laughter. Most of us have Jewish names that we try to never mention. Anywhere. Ever. For any reason.

 

My mother and her sisters. 1953. Queens, New York.

The only dead relative lurking about my family at the time of my birth was my grandmother’s cousin (or was it aunt?). Her name was Malka. Which means Queen in both Hebrew and Yiddish, so don’t start dissing me. The problem is that this is not a name that has an elegant North American “ring” to it.

My mother didn’t like it either and decided to name me “Mara” instead.

Mara is the Hebrew “root” word from which comes Mary, Marilyn, Maria and all the other “Mar” names. But Mara has music in it. I wouldn’t have minded it. I liked its tone in my ear.


It means “bitter.” If you don’t believe me, look it up.


The moment she told her the tribe I would be named Mara, the family leapt into the fray. “You can’t name her Mara. That means bitter! Who’d want a girl named bitter?” Mom was quite the individual, but there was only so much family pressure a woman could handle. They wore her down. Thus came Marilyn, which apparently was a great name for 1947. It remained a pretty hot name for a few more decades too.

On the other hand, Malka? Not a hit. Anywhere. Still stuck with it as my Jewish name. You don’t get to choose these things and anyone out there with one of those names they wish they didn’t have knows what I mean. I never liked my name. I still don’t like it. I don’t even know why I don’t like it. It isn’t mellow. Doesn’t have music. It’s just a name.

As a kid, I figured if I found a name I liked better, they might bestow it on me.


Me: “Mom, I’d like to be Linda. It means pretty.”

Mom: “No.”

Me: “Mom, could you call me Delores? It sound so romantic.”

Mom: “No.”


And so it went until I went to Israel where some fool told me I should use my Jewish name. I glared him down and stayed Marilyn. I could live with Marilyn, but Malka? Really? I knew two other North American ladies named Marilyn. All of us refused to change our names. Malka not only wasn’t a lovely name, it carried the whiff of “cleaning drudge.” I don’t know why. It just did.

So now, here I am. Seventy odd years later and I’m still Marilyn. Still fundamentally bitter. It doesn’t seem as bad as it did back in The Day. Whenever that was.

SAYING NO TO BULLETS: THE FIRST TIME – BY ELLIN CURLEY

This is one of the funnier old family stories. My family believes that it documents the first time being a conscientious objector was used as a rationale to get out of military service. The concept didn’t exist in World War I.

Abe was my grandmother’s brother. He was a nebbish and a schlemiel. He was not too bright, whiny, screwed things up a lot and the family often had to bail him out. For example, in around 1908, he and my grandmother had first class tickets on the ship that was bringing them to America to live. He lost the tickets. New tickets had to be procured, but this time they were steerage. My grandmother was not happy with him.

My grandmother and Abe

Abe got drafted and somehow managed to snivel his way through basic training. He was scheduled to ship out to Europe to fight in World War I. The family got a call. It was Abe. “They want to send me overseas to get shot at! I’m not going! I’m coming home!” He went AWOL, was caught, thrown into the brig and faced a long prison term. Or worse – he could be shot!

Whenever the family faced a serious problem, the person to call was Ivan Abramson, a well-connected cousin. He was brilliant, charming and knew a lot of “important” people. He was a producer in the Yiddish theater and I think he had something to do with gambling. He was definitely “a player”. One of the people he knew was the Secretary of the Navy. Go figure. It just so happened that the Secretary was coming to New York City to review the troops before they shipped out. A perfect time for Ivan to talk to him about Abe.

So, picture the military pomp of a formal viewing ceremony. There was the Secretary of the Navy, the troops, the press, Cousin Ivan and – Uncle Abe, dragged out in chains, crying. The story goes that Abe was pleading with Ivan to “Save me! Don’t let them shoot me!”

Ivan was clever and made a persuasive pitch to the Naval Secretary. He said that Abe belonged to an obscure Jewish sect that didn’t believe in violence. He said that fighting in the war would be against all of Abe’s religious convictions. He argued that this should never happen in “the land of the free” etc., etc. The ploy worked. Or he paid off the Secretary in some under the table way we’ll never know about.

Abe was discharged from the navy and released back to his family. He continued to cause problems for everyone for the next 60 odd years! But I like to think that he had one shining moment, inadvertently paving the way for future conscientious objectors. It would be the only candidate for shining moment in his life. So I’m going to stick with my story!

WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM – Rich Paschall

When You No Longer Have a Home, Rich Paschall


Jimmy knew it was not going to be easy.  He had put it off for weeks, but after a while, the delay was just as hard as what he perceived the actual event to be.  So the high school senior marched home, mustered up all his courage, and prepared for the inevitable battle.

Born of a rather dysfunctional family, Jimmy’s parents were divorced when he was just 4 years old.  His biological father remained marginally in his life.  His mother introduced a new “step-father” when Jimmy was 5.  He was raised by ultra-conservative parents to have values of the ultra Christian right.  Unfortunately for the family structure, Jimmy did not adopt the “family values” of his rather right-wing parents.  Nonetheless, the 17-year-old boy was prepared to take a bold step forward and challenge the strict guidelines he had been given.

When he arrived home near dinner time on a cool fall evening, his parents were already watching television and absorbed in some crime drama.  At the first commercial break, Jimmy made enough noise to be noticed.

“Well, boy,” the stepdad began, “you are a bit late, but you can still grab some dinner in the kitchen.” The mother just smiled and went back to watching the television.

The teenager had already called up all his courage and was not going to back down.  The moment had come, and even though he was shaking, he began a speech he prepared all day.  “I had something important to say,” Jimmy stated rather meekly.

“Well spit it out, boy, the commercials are almost over.”

Without launching into his well-rehearsed speech about each man having to be his own and so forth, a nervous Jimmy did indeed just spit it out.  “I’m gay,’ he declared.

“What?” the middle-aged, balding, flannel-clad stereotypical alpha male shouted. At that, the mother turned down the television volume.

“What did he say, dear?  I don’t think I heard him correctly,” said the middle-aged, middle class, middle intelligence woman.

“I think he said he’s a damn faggot,” the man shouted in a loud and disgusted voice.

“No, sir,” the boy countered. “I said I am gay.”

“The same thing,” the fake dad declared.

“I am appalled.  No son of mine is going to be a sinner.”  The mother was as much angered by the “sinner” as having to miss her TV program.

The step-dad marched right up to the boy and shouted in his face, “You will stop that right now or you will get out of this house, do you understand me?”

“I am sorry sir, I can not change,” the teenager said in a trembling voice.  At that, the step-dad pushed him as hard as he could and the boy went flying over a living room chair and crashed into the dining room.

The mother then began shouting at the boy, telling him he would go to hell, that God would never forgive him, that such behavior was forbidden in the Bible and that God hated him.  The boy rose to his feet and stood there staring at the shouting parents.

“If you are not going to take back that sinful statement, then you are not staying under my roof.  Get out sinner,” the pretend dad shouted.  With that, he gave a menacing look as if he would hit the boy again.  Before long, he started after the boy and shoved him, knocking him to the floor.

“OK,” the terrified teen said.  “I’ll go if that’s what you want.  I don’t want to be here either.  I will get my school books and leave.”

“I paid for those books,” the man shouted.

“Like you are going to read them,” the teen retorted.

At that the boy hurried to his room, he put his books, a few items off his dresser and whatever items of clothing he could stuff in his backpack and headed toward the front door.

“God hates faggots, son,” his mother said with great disdain.

“I don’t know that God hates anyone,” the boy countered, “but he does not hate love.”

That prompted the step-dad to pick up an ashtray to throw at the teen, but the boy was out the door too quickly.  The angry parents resumed watching television as the trembling senior high school student walked aimlessly down the street.  Tears filled the eyes of the handsome youth as realized he had no home, no parents, and nowhere to go.

Attribution: BookCrossingBefore at the English language Wikipedia

He struggled forward, step by step, as the night air began to chill his bones.  Was he shivering because of the night air, or because of the sad situation he found himself in?  When he arrived at a major intersection, Jimmy took a seat on a wooden bench by the bus stop.  He was not planning on taking the bus.  He had no plan at all.

After many moments filled with crying, Jimmy pulled out his cell phone and called the one person he thought could help him, his real dad.  He located the number, dialed, and got a quick answer.

“Hello dad, it’s Jimmy.  I have been thrown out of the house.  I have nowhere to go.  Can I come and stay with you a while?  I promise I will not be a bother.”  The teen was not ready for adulthood, and certainly not this.

“Why, what happened son?  What would cause them to do that?”

“I told them I am gay.  Can I come there?”

There was a long silence on the phone.  Neither one spoke for what seemed like minutes.  Jimmy finally spoke up again.

“Please.”


Note:  This is a work of fiction, but there are many true stories of teens tossed aside.  What do they do?  

MEMORIAL DAY: THEN AND NOW, THE DAY AFTER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Time changes everything. It’s a given. Memorial Day is no different and that’s a shame.

When I was a kid, Memorial Day was usually a family affair. It seems as if it was always sunny and warm for the gathering of several generations. I was fascinated by the stories told by the men who’d collectively served in two World Wars and the Korean “Peace Action.” The stories were funny and sad as were the memories of when they served our country.

How many 78-year-old men can still wear the same uniform they wore at age 17?

My maternal Gramps, a Barbados native, served in the Danish Navy during World War One, the war to end all wars.  His stories seemed to be from a distant time that I grasped only in a haze. I’d read about WW1 a bit. Dry accounts in those history books of the ’40s and early ’50s we were given in school. My personal library included books by Erich Maria Remarque who gave bittersweet accounts from the German perspective.

“All Quiet On The Western Front” was the most memorable. I don’t think Gramps or the other elders liked my interest in Remarque’s books. I didn’t understand their attitude. Not then, at least. There was music, including songs like “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” which elicited smiles. The music blended with the sounds of the parade outside all the open windows. I usually dashed outside for a glimpse.

Those parades included veterans who’d served in the Civil War.  I was always impressed and wondered how old some of those men were who marched with pride and crispness, belying their years. I felt a stirring in my heart. I wanted to be one of those men someday.

In my adolescent and early teen years, family Memorial Day celebrations changed. Some of the men were gone. So were their stories. There was still laughter, fueled by liquor consumed in prodigious amounts by uncles, cousins, and friends.

My father in uniform, World War 2

My Dad, Bill “Tappy” Armstrong, had been an Army Seargent in WW2. He had seen action in the Battle of the Bulge among other places.  He smiled at some of the war stories but never shared anything.   He never shared anything about his personal war experiences until the final year of his life.

Those accounts were harrowing and gave his three grown sons a better understanding of Dad’s quiet demeanor, moodiness. and reluctance to share his feelings. After Dad passed, we found many medals stowed away apparently for more than half a century. It was his legacy of the Greatest Generation.

One of the staples of those family Memorial Day celebrations was watching war movies. Even before cable, the networks and local TV stations ran a marathon of our favorite John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Robert Taylor, Robert Mitchum, and other Hollywood gung ho flicks that raised the roof with laughter from the real-life vets guffawing over the exploits of Hollywood heroes. There was derisive laughter for Wayne and Flynn who single-handedly won the war according to the heavy propaganda scripts.

I thought those guys were real heroes. Hell, I was gonna be a Marine like Duke Wayne’s Sgt. John Stryker in “Sands of Iwo Jima.”  The parades outside now included WW1 Vets. The last of the Civil War heroes had passed. The music of Tommy Dorsey, Vera Lynn, and Glenn Miller permeated the celebrations. I loved their sad, sweet words and music. They would always be part of my musical collection.

My vow to emulate Duke Wayne’s Sgt. John Stryker was fulfilled as I enlisted in the Marine Corps right after high school graduation in 1959. I was a baby faced 17-year-old who needed his parent’s signature to become a gyrene.

Memorial Day 1959 was in my rearview mirror when I signed up. I had clear memories of that family Memorial Day. There were only a few WW1 Vets still around to participate. WW2 uniforms dominated. A fully integrated armed services participation brought big smiles to faces in my family. The music included new interpretations of war tunes offered by Elvis, Connie Francis, Paul Anka, and other fresh faces in the top 40-market.

My Dad cried when he saw me off to basic training at Parris Island where “boots” were turned in fighting gyrenes. It was the proudest day of my life.

I never became the new version of Sgt. John Stryker because my lifelong hearing affliction made it impossible for me to serve, especially as a Marine. Imagine crawling through the jungle, listening for any sign of the enemy. It would have been a catastrophe waiting to happen. I did get to “enjoy” a fair amount of basic training.

I left my mark with many a hard-nosed Drill Instructor frustrated when I laughed as they barked out intimidating orders. I drank homemade hooch (I’ll never give up the brewer), stripped and refitted my M-1 blindfolded, survived a few double-time forced marches, and had my first barroom fight with peckerwood Southern bigots in a nearby Beaufort gin mill.

My platoon mates and I cleared out the place with just a few scratches to show for our brawl. Now, I was officially a Marine!   Our C.O. smiled when he chewed us out for drinking and fighting. His main concern: Did we leave any of those miscreants standing?  Hell, NO!  The C.O. gave us a sharp salute and a night off to soothe our bruises.

A few days later, thanks to my hearing problems, Pvt E-1 Garry Armstrong was mustered out and headed home. in uniform.

My Dad cried again when I arrived home in uniform. Yes, he saluted me.

OO-rah!

This past weekend’s Memorial Day celebrations were lost in the COVID-19 headlines. A sad sign of the times for those who served and still serve our country. I salute all who put their lives on the line and am proud I still have my Marine Corps uniform. It fits better than ever.

I’ve never marched in a Memorial Day Parade. I leave that to those who’ve spent full tours in service and beyond.

Semper Fi!

THE PRICE OF FOOD, THE COST OF STAYING ALIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

This post started out as a comment to Rich’s piece, but it reminded me of all those years when the Fishery Department in New England begged the fisher-folks to hold back on fishing out the spawning areas. St. George’s banks — which is technically both U.S. and Canadian waters — I think the line runs right through the area. George’s Banks are closed, both by Canadian and American authorities because of overfishing.

If they didn’t close them, there wouldn’t be any fish in the future. Almost all our fish these days is imported. Salmon from Canada where it is farmed, and the rest from Asia.

Our food has more than doubled in price. We could buy a week’s food for the three of us for around $150 before the quarantine. Now it costs MORE than $300. We do have some locally grown food just beginning to show up in the markets and ironically, our farms which have been doing poorly are suddenly a very big deal. We can get (easily) eggs, milk, honey, and strawberries. We have tons of blackberries growing in our own back 40, but it’s even more lethal than our rose bushes and before we can get them, the birds eat all of it.
Squash is coming into season. Also cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and with a little luck, we’ll have a good year for peaches. Soon (I hope!) we will also have fresh corn. We don’t grow mountains of corn because we have so little flat land, but what we do grow is delicious.

Everything is organic. Not because we are such believes in organic produce, but because we have such a high water level, fertilizer seeps into the aquifer, and if we kill the aquifer, we are all in big, permanent trouble.

We have no slaughterhouses. I’m sure that the individual farms raise a few pigs and beef cattle for personal use, but it doesn’t go to the stores. There is a huge chicken farm nearby. They have a big restaurant (no open right now, of course), but they also sell it in their shop. It costs twice the imported prices but it is very good and their chickens roam free.

Shooting through a wire fence, these are impressionist chickens. Need eggs?

Anyone with a back that works grows acorn squash (by November I’ve overdosed on squash), tomatoes, and onions. Also round, red potatoes. Some people have started growing jalapenos, too. In this limited rural area, summer is the only time you can get fresh local fruits and vegetables. After September and October (apple season — we have gigantic orchards for apples and they are great apples … and the farmers keep cross-breeding new varieties, albeit our local apples are much more expensive than the imported ones. Probably not THIS year!

The cows in the meadow

Not much fish except via Canada where they farm salmon. We used to have wonderful fish, but they overfished the region and it’ll be decades before we can get fish from the ocean again. Our rivers are good for trout — if you like trout and none of us do — and while down on the Cape they are farming lobster, there aren’t enough of them for more than their immediate areas.

New England had the biggest and best fishing fleets in the world. All gone. The fleets are gone and the areas are now filled with private boats. Which is fine, but they don’t bring in fish.

The fisherfolk were warned yearly to NOT go to George’s Banks because that was where they spawned. Garry covered those stories and he always came back shaking his head at the thick-headedness of the fleets. Yes, they’d need to raise prices and wouldn’t be able to bring in the volume of fish they had before, but if they didn’t stop harvesting the fisheries, there would be no more fish at all.

Eventually, when no one cooperated, they closed down the areas about five years ago (maybe it was longer — has swept by so quickly — before there were no more fish to breed. The coast guard patrols the area and there are all these little wars at sea. If we don’t poison the waters, fish will come back — and that’s if we manage to keep the Canadians and Japanese from trawling the areas.

Seafood, the delight of New England is gone. We do get great eggs and butter, though. The milk is great, but we have a lot of people here who have inspected cows, so they don’t homogenize the milk. Garry loves the cream on the top. I stopped buying it.

After Garry steals the cream, even the dogs won’t drink it.

MORE PICTURES OF BONNIE – OUR SMALL BLACK SCOTTISH TERRIER – Marilyn Armstrong

Scotties can live a long time, though most pass some time between 12 and 16 years old. We lost Gibbs at the beginning of February, quietly, in his sleep on the sofa. Now, Bonnie is on her way to that land of rainbows.

Usually, dogs develop an illness you know about. You can’t always make it better, but you can often control symptoms for a while. Often before a disease takes them down, arthritis makes them so miserable there’s little reason to keep a dog in obvious pain alive because you’re too selfish to let them go. We have learned the hard way over many years of having pets who we didn’t let go because we couldn’t make a decision — is wrong.

Bonnie has been failing a little at a time for a long time. Her eyes have been bad for much of her life, but even with a lot of attention, they are worse now. I do not know how much she can see.

She is almost entirely deaf. If you shout in her ear, she hears a bit and certain treble notes seem to reach her. But our voices aren’t there for her and it’s surprisingly difficult to manage a once-hearing dog who no longer can.

She has developed canine dementia. She has good days … or more to the point … she has good hours or minutes. The rest of the time, she’s agitated and barks continuously until she is exhausted and so are we. I doubt she knows why she is barking.

She also isn’t the same dog we’ve known and loved. Garry feels like he is reliving the last years of his mother’s life, but this time, it’s his Scottie and the conversation is limited.

She isn’t friendly and doesn’t want to be petted. She has about two minutes of tolerating being close to one of us. She isn’t hostile, but a lot of the time, I don’t think she is sure who we are or, for that matter, who she is. She knows the house, though. Even with limited sight and hearing, she can find her way around. And she can manage the stairs.

Bonnie Annie Laurie

Her teeth went from fine a year and a half ago to appalling now. Assuming we could manage to find the nearly $1000 dollars it would cost to have most of them removed, that wouldn’t fix the rest of her. Her eyes won’t come back or her hearing. And her furry little brain isn’t going to uncloud.

It’s time to let her go.

The all-night barking is not doing much for Garry and my relationship either. We get very little sleep and we are tired and snappish a lot of the time. Three or four hours of sleep isn’t enough.

It’s hard to keep her in bed with us. Also, she is old enough that a jump from our rather high bed would likely break or tear something. The Duke will jump up and settle down, but Bonnie sleeps for only a few hours, then has to go out. Now she seems to be having trouble catching her breath. I don’t know what it means, but it isn’t good.

We finally decided that there’s not much for her or us to get from this relationship. She is so stressed and confused and this is causing us to stress, too. We aren’t spring chickens either.

It is hard to imagine life without her. She has been with us since she was 9-weeks old. She has been a wonderful dog. Funny, quirky, and full of fun. Last night, I took pictures. She still looks pretty good, though she has put on a lot of weight recently, maybe because she doesn’t do much anymore.

Sometime during the next week, she will be gone. It really is hard to imagine life without her. I still haven’t entirely become used to Gibbs being gone, and now, apparently, it’s time for another one to leave us.

NUCLEAR VERSUS EXTENDED FAMILIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Most people assume that the nuclear family is the natural and best environment for bringing up children. We probably also assume that it’s been the norm forever. But both assumptions are wrong. Both historically and cross-culturally the extended family – multiple generations living together and sharing responsibilities – is in fact the most common social arrangement. Remember the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child”?

The nuclear family only became widespread after the Industrial Revolution created a factory based, centralized economy. This type of economy favored the smaller, nuclear family unit because it could more easily pick up and move to wherever the work was. In the scenario that gave birth to the nuclear family, husbands’ incomes alone could support the whole family. For the first time in history, wives were able to stay home and run the household and care for the children full time, on their own.

The problem with this family structure today is that one income can no longer support most households and most wives also have to work outside of the home. However, children and aging parents still have to be cared for and this creates a vicious circle. Parents have to pay a big chunk of their income to caregivers for their children (nannies or au pairs, daycare centers, etc.) and must also often help their parents afford retirement communities, home health care, or nursing homes. Then the people caring for YOUR children and parents have to pay people to take care of THEIR children and parents, and so on.

In 1940, 25% of Americans lived in multi-generational homes, with grandparents helping to care for young children and later older kids helping to care for the aging grandparents. By 1980, only 12% of Americans lived in inter-generational homes. But after the Great Recession of 2008, economic necessity brought that number back to 18%.

The current Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the fact that our society today farms out and isolates our older population and puts unrealistic pressures on the nuclear family unit. Maybe now is a good time for another resurgence of the interdependence of the generations.

We have idealized ‘independence’ for a long time; the independence of the parent-child unit despite huge logistical and economic hurdles and the independence of the older generation who are proud to be able to make it on their own, despite loneliness, isolation, and often a huge price tag. It seems clearer now how dysfunctional the separation of the generations can be for a vast number of families.

Multi-generational living

With good childcare hard to find and prohibitively expensive, it’s a no brainer that willing and able grandparents could be invaluable to cut costs and increase the quality of their grandchildren’s care, at least part-time, while their children work. This may not always be feasible. I would not have let my in-laws spend that much time with my kids unless they promised to pay all the psychiatric bills that that would have engendered. And my mother was too busy living her own life to even occasionally babysit for my kids (she ‘visited’ with them at her convenience).

On the other hand, I have a friend whose daughter has three kids ages six, four, and two-and-a-half. She normally helps her daughter out a few days a week, but since the shelter in place order in Connecticut, my friend and her husband have been spending all day, every day helping their totally overwhelmed, home-bound daughter. Another friend moved down the street from their daughter so they could help out regularly with her special needs daughter. My husband and I were lucky enough to have had grandparents as a big part of our lives growing up and in turn, we helped care for them when they got older. It was a win, win for everyone involved, and enriched all of our lives.

It might take a while to trend back to extended families living together, or at least close by, on a larger scale. First, attitudes have to change back to valuing the extended family lifestyle. That may begin to happen seeing how both young families and seniors are struggling with financial and emotional stress today. Inter-generational families may be seen as a solution to today’s problems for future generations. Instead of the ‘sandwich generation’, balancing children and aging parents separately but at the same time, the extended family brings everyone together to help each other through all stages of life.

In the meantime, the government can ease the situation for younger parents by guaranteeing paid parental leave and also access to high-quality child care for everyone. That still leaves older people alone with their children helping with their care as best they can. But at least it could give young families a breather while we all figure out what type of family structure works best for everyone in today’s world.

RELATIONSHIPS CAN GET EASIER WITH TIME – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I believe that one of the benefits of age and experience is that romantic relationships should be easier than when we were young.

When I was young and married for the first time, I was insecure and didn’t know how to stand up for myself. But I was way too rigid and sure of my opinions and views and way too intolerant of people with other perspectives. I was hypersensitive to any slights or criticisms yet unsure how to express those feelings constructively. Looking back I realize how difficult I was, in many ways.

When I met Tom, my second husband, at age 49, after 25 years of marriage and two kids, I was a different person. More confident and not willing to put up with shit from people, yet easy-going and accepting of differences. Tom and I bonded instantly over the similarities between both of our mentally ill exes.

We got along seamlessly and talked until 3 AM on our first date. We spent the next weekend together and from that point on, we were a couple. That was 20 years ago. We didn’t marry for three and a half years, mainly because my kids were still living at home. But we knew we were till death do us part from the very beginning.

Tom and I on our first trip together early in our relationship

Our relationship has been as easy and positive as our prior marriages were difficult and negative. We understood what was important in a relationship – two ‘normal’ people who respect and accept each other as we are; who enjoy and appreciate each other without reservation, and who support each other 100% no matter what. All the rest is window dressing (except making each other laugh and the passion part, which goes without saying). Maybe we should have known all this in our twenties, but we obviously didn’t. We thought we could ‘help’ or ‘change’ our spouses. That rarely works.

My relationship with Tom has been smooth since day one because when there’s an issue, we talk about it and it’s over. We don’t hold grudges or bring up past issues. We deal with the issue at hand and never attack the other person. Then we immediately go back to friendly behavior with no anger residue. All of this is basic ‘Relationship 101’ advice. But I think time and experience helped us understand the importance of these maxims.

Another trip before we got married

I have two friends, one in her mid-fifties and the other in her late sixties, who have been dating online. Each had a recent nine-month to one-year relationship that ended a few months ago. Both of these relationships were difficult and up and down with lots of negative mixed in with the positive.

I felt that these men were wrong for my friends because they weren’t a good fit. It wasn’t ‘easy’ for them to be together. These women saw the negatives but didn’t want to give up on the positives. One woman kept questioning if she should break up with this guy and the other actually did break up, at least two or three times. I just don’t believe that if a person is right for you, things should be that full of angst at our ages. No roller coasters for the fifty and over crowd if you’ve found ‘the one’.

Luckily both women have met new guys with whom things are going smoothly and quickly.

One had a first date on a Saturday night that lasted till Tuesday! Way to go! The other said she felt so comfortable with this new guy after just a few dates that it felt like they’d been together for a long time. That’s what I’m talking about! Both women have slipped easily into relationships with major positives and no major negatives. No obvious ‘red flags’. They both feel as if this is too good to be true but they’re going with the flow and enjoying every minute.

This is the first time with these friends that I feel they’ve found the right guy for them. At this stage of life, it should come relatively easy if it’s right! I wished for them what I had with Tom from day one and I think my wish for them has come true.

GROWING UP IN THE MIDDLE – Marilyn Armstrong

I was both the emotional and intellectual center of my family. I was also the middle child and the communicator. Everybody talked to me which is WHY I knew everything while everyone told me to never tell anyone about what I knew. I kept secrets I probably should not have kept for many years, to my own and others’ detriment.

I think that was why my mother was stricter with me than my brother or sister. She thought I was going to blow up. I DID blow up, actually. At my father and eventually at her for telling me her personal truth, then acting against it.

Sex, for example. She believed in freedom. Really she did. She told me many times, with one exception. She never mentioned the exception which was, it turned out, me. Everything was fine, just not for her daughter. Since I didn’t know her beliefs excluded me. I thought she really meant it and joyfully told her the truth. The results were not what I expected.

I’m not into the “exception” thing. You believe it or you don’t. The rest is hypocrisy and for a long time, I resented it. Eventually, I recognized she had made a lot of intellectual leaps in her life, from a Yiddish-speaking Orthodox family on the Lower East Side through WWI to becoming a Communist and eventually, a socialist and from Orthodoxy to atheism.

She found some leaps harder than others. Sex was one of them. She thought of sex or the lack thereof as a matter of honor. I didn’t get to see a lot of honor at home or for that matter, anywhere else. I still don’t … except among my friends. Maybe that’s why they are my friends.

Uxbridge is notoriously full of angry, antagonistic people. I don’t know WHY this is true because right next door in all the adjacent towns, people are a lot more normal. But this town is very weird that way. it’s why most of the churches in Uxbridge are closed. Nobody could agree on anything. It’s also why no one bothers to vote in town elections. The candidates are always the same people or children or uncles or cousins of the people we didn’t like 10 years ago. I remember talking to the nurse in my Doctor’s office and I said, “The people in Uxbridge are jerks.”

She said, “Yes, I know. I live there too.”

So in other places, people are helping others. In this town, if Owen didn’t live here, we could be dead for a month and no one would stop by to see if we were breathing. Not all places are towns where people get together. I wish I lived in one of those towns.  This one is a good example of what’s wrong with the world.

JEWELRY AS HISTORY, PART 2 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently wrote a blog about how the jewelry I’ve collected over the years from other family members can trace our family history through the decades. I can also trace my personal history the same way, starting with the baby bracelet my parents bought for me when I was born. I guess it couldn’t be customized, because it spells my name the traditional way, rather than the way I spell it.

I spell my name “ELLIN”

Below are some pendants my parents and grandparents gave me as a preteen. I still have them all and wear the watch all the time (even though it no longer works).

A very meaningful gift from my grandparents was the Jewish Star of David they gave me on my thirteenth birthday. Boys were Bar Mitzvahed at thirteen but in the early 60’s, girls still weren’t. So this gift was meant to reaffirm my Jewish identity from the grandparents who shaped that part of me. I have already passed this down to my daughter, Sarah, and it means a lot to her too.

Here are two of the many fun costume jewelry pieces my grandfather bought for me as a teenager. Sarah has both of them now, but I wore them for decades.

I managed to get my grandmother to give me one of her Art Deco necklaces when I was in high school because I loved it so much and begged so hard!

Grandma’s Deco necklace

Another kind of ‘jewelry’ that represents an important part of my life, are the political pins I proudly wore and lovingly kept for all these years. My first political ‘crush’ was Gene McCarthy but ironically, I took time off after college and actually worked full time for Ed Muskie in 1971-1972, but I don’t have a pin from his campaign.

Political pins from my first forays into politics

One of my favorite jewelry trends growing up was the choker. I loved them and wore them for years. I had everyday ones and dressy ones and had one to match almost everything I owned that had an open neck.

Two of my large collection of chokers for many years in my late teens and twenties.

One of the most important pieces of jewelry I wear, always, is my wedding band. The one below on the left was from my first marriage and I wore it for 25 years. I loved it so much, that when I went looking for a new band for my second marriage, I tried to find something like it. My daughter and I searched everywhere and only found one that even remotely mirrored the style of the first band. I’ve worn the one on the right now for 17 years and I love it (almost), as much as the first one.

My first wedding band on the left, from 1974, and my second, from 2002 on the right.

While I loved jewelry, the one type of jewelry I couldn’t wear for many years, was the earring. I didn’t have pierced ears and the clip on earrings hurt so much I could only wear them for an hour or so, so I usually just didn’t wear them at all. Then, at thirty-two, a friend convinced me to get my ears pierced. That started a lifelong romance with earrings, now my favorite piece of jewelry. I have so many, I have several drawers dedicated to the unusual collection I’ve amassed over the years.

Below, the top, small gold earring was one of my first earrings. Very quickly I moved on to the bigger and more colorful ‘statement’ earrings, like the other two. I really went wild with earrings, though I’m too small to wear the really giant ones that are popular today.

My first experiments with earrings in my 30’s.

For a while, I was into matched sets of earrings and necklaces.

Matched sets of earrings and necklaces

The most expensive jewelry I ever bought were genuine Indian-made sets below that my first husband got for me over two different trips we made out west in the late 1980s or early 1990s. I still have them and wear them often.

For many years, my mother, daughter and I loved Craft Shows and got much of our jewelry there. We all favor interesting and unusual pieces and obviously love color and texture in what we wear. I never bought a lot of ‘real’ gold or silver jewelry because I could only afford very small pieces and I liked a more dramatic statement from what I wear. When my mother died, she left me her collection of glass jewelry from the artist on the right. So I now have a lot of necklaces, in different lengths, colors and styles from this artist.

Below are some more of the Craft Show earrings (and pendant) I have collected over the years.

Some other pieces that I cherish are the ones below that I wore at my wedding to Tom in 2002. I went back to my love of chokers and wore simple pearl and crystal earrings that matched the neckpiece.

Choker and hairpins I wore at my second wedding, to Tom, in 2002

Some of my jewelry is actually made by talented family members. The necklace and bracelet on the left were made by my first mother-in-law, Dorothy (Nana to everyone). The piece on the right was made by my incredibly talented, first stepmother-in-law, Joy. She was a welder and made amazing metal sculptures that I have all through my home. She also made some pieces of jewelry that are beautiful and unique. This piece is actually two individual sculptural pieces that she suggested I wear together.

The pendants in the middle were made by Sarah, who took up jewelry making for a year or two and became really good at it. The pendant on the right is a beautiful green stone, but you can’t see the color in the photo.

So a lot of what I wear every day reminds me of my past and my family members. And whenever my daughter comes home to visit, we go through the drawers of jewelry from the past that I no longer wear and we reminisce about the people and the places and the times that are evoked by each piece. It’s a fun way to remember our family history.

HAMLET’S TRAGEDY – Marilyn Armstrong

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Shakespeare
Act 1, Scene 3

LORD POLONIUS:

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!


I’ve been thinking about the difference between borrowing, grants-in-aid, and theft. Which brought the quote from Hamlet to mind. I felt a clarification was necessary because a lot of people don’t recognize that “borrowing” is different than getting a gift or grant, or for that matter, theft. Sometimes the line is narrow, but it is there. Let’s see if I can illuminate the differences.

  1. To borrow something implies you intend to return the item, or, in the case of money, to return an equivalent amount of money preferably during the lifetime of you and whoever lent it to you.
  2. If you ask to borrow money (or some other item) but do not intend to return it? That is not borrowing.

(a) If the lender believes you will return it but you know you won’t and probably never had any intention of returning it, you’re a thief.
(b) If the lender is Mom or Dad and everyone knows you won’t return it, it’s a family dance performed to save the feelings of all the parties. It preserves the borrower’s pride and makes the old folks feel less foolish.

On the whole, most of us know that money and other items “lent” to a child or relative is probably a “grant-in-aid.” We call it a loan so everyone gets to keep his or her dignity. It’s a gift, not borrowing.

72-Sunrise-March-12_12

Then there are the true leeches. Not only are they thieves, but they are righteous thieves who believe they deserve whatever they take.

We need new words for this kind of “borrower.” These are the folks who want your stuff because, in their twisted minds, they feel they deserve it. We can afford to give it to them because whatever we have, they are sure they should have it. Therefore, it’s okay for them to take it because it really belongs to them.

Not only do these folks lack boundaries, but they have a bizarre sense of entitlement which is not the result of need or poverty. They are sure they deserve “the good stuff.” If you have it and they don’t, you have deprived them of their rights.

These are the ones who won’t work for a living because they don’t feel they should work. They aren’t responsible. Ever. No conscience, no honor, no respect for anyone else’s work. either. Not immigrants. These are usually white Americans with a really bad attitude.

Envy rules their world. They hate immigrants who they are sure are stealing their jobs (even though they wouldn’t do the hard work immigrants are willing to do) and they hate anyone who has a nicer car, bigger house, or even looks better.

If you make the error of feeling sorry for them and offer to share your life with them, they will view your generosity as a sign of weakness and take full advantage of you and yours.

I love being generous and am tickled pink when I give things away and it makes someone happy, but I take exception to the inevitable ingratitude. I’ve heard this quote as having come from OscarWilde, Mark Twain, and several other people but cannot confirm its real source:


“I don’t know why he hates me so much;
I never did him a favor.”