MOTHERHOOD WITH BENEFITS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My English friend’s daughter, Katie, just had her first baby. She is 37 and has an established career she loves. Because she lives in England, having her baby will not affect her position at work. She gets nine-months of maternity leave and is guaranteed her job back when her leave is over.

For an American, that whole concept is amazing. Women in America are afraid to take the full legal six-weeks maternity leave for fear of negative repercussions on the job.

I’ve recently read that many women in America are choosing not to have children because motherhood would adversely affect their careers.

Women have to fight harder to establish themselves professionally and prove they are as good as the men they work with. Therefore, they don’t want to give up the gains they fought for make by having kids. They shouldn’t have to, but apparently, mothers are routinely treated with prejudice throughout corporate America.

Mothers are not viewed or treated like childless female workers or even male workers with kids. Mothers’ loyalty and commitment to their professions are always questioned.

Corporate life leaves no room for a family life. At least not for women. Mothers in the workforce have a terrible time balancing work and home life. They’re afraid to give any priority to their families, which creates tremendous stress. And hurts families.

There are other benefits Kate has as a new mother in England which American moms don’t have.

The English National Health Service, though stretched to the limit, still offers invaluable services to mothers of newborns. Kate can call an experienced midwife whenever she needs advice. When Kate was worried about nursing, a midwife with an expertise in lactation issues came to Kate’s house. She sat with Kate while she fed her daughter and offered advice and support. This would have been invaluable to me but is unheard of in America. I would have to find my own expert and pay for her services.

In addition, the midwives, as well as the GP’s in England, pay close attention to the new mother’s mental health. They are on guard for any signs of postpartum depression. This is considered a major part of postnatal care in England. Not in the U.S.

The National Health Service also offers something called the Lullaby Café, a place for new mothers to meet each other under the guidance of a trained midwife. The professional is there to answer questions, offer advice and comfort, as the voice of experience. I would have loved to have something like this when I had my first child. Mommy And Me ‘classes’ were just playgroups, not healthcare.

The new moms in my group had to compare notes and figure things out on our own. Truly the blind leading the blind. We also had to pay for our group activities, until we could form our own groups and meet in each other’s homes.

For Kate, her group experience is both free and educational.

So if you’re going to have a baby, especially if you also want a career, you’re better off if you’re British than American. Given our broken and morally corrupt healthcare system, that’s hardly a big surprise!

 

THE TINY WORMS IN THE FRIDGE – Marilyn Armstrong

My house was neat enough if you didn’t look too closely. You could walk into it without falling over a pile of dirty clothing (that was all in the basement — another story entirely) and the dogs and cats were  (usually) housebroken.

I couldn’t say the same for my toddler or my friends. Overall, the toddler was less of a threat to house and home than the friends, but when they got to messing around, anything could happen.

As my son grew, he developed (what a surprise) a passion for all kinds of creatures. Rabbits. Hamsters. Birds. We already had cats (many) and dogs.

We never properly owned more than two dogs but often had three or four. Two of them were ours. One was on loan from a friend who was in the army or on the road playing gigs. The fourth had belonged to a houseguest who had left but somehow forgotten to take their dog. Sometimes, it took us years to get the owner to come back and take the furkid too.

I love animals that aren’t insects, so while I frequently pointed out that it was NOT my dog and would they please come and get him or her, I would never throw them out. The owner I might toss out the door, but never the dog.

The year Owen turned eight, he decided he wanted geckos. They were the “in” things for 8-year-old boys that year. I pointed out that I didn’t think they would last long with the cats in the house.

He wanted the geckos. I was not much of a disciplinarian. If you argue with me, I’ll say no at least twice. After that? I usually give up.

As soon as we got the terrarium and the plants and finally settled the geckos into their home, Owen promptly lost interest in them and rediscovered his bicycle. That left me to care for the geckos, who would only eat mealworms.

I am not a big fan of worms. Any worms. I can tolerate earthworms because they are good for the soil, but overall, if it creeps or crawls, it’s not my thing. Did I mention that the geckos would only eat LIVE mealworms? I had to buy them in little cups at the pet store.

So mom dropped over and the cup of mealworms for the geckos had tipped over in the fridge. Which was now full of tiny worms. I assured her that my fridge does not usually contain worms and the worms were what the geckos ate. I don’t think she believed me. It was years before she would eat anything at my house. She always quietly inspected everything, in case there were a few worms there.

As for the geckos, a few days later, the cats figured out how to open the terrarium and there were no more geckos. And thankfully, no more mealworms.

A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO LIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

I remember those bad old days. When contraception was nearly impossible to find and no matter how hard you tried, you could still end up pregnant. We fought a lonely battle to retain control over our own bodies. We won. I was sure we won, didn’t we?

Roe V. Wade put an end to getting abortions in a back room somewhere. Right?

pro-choice-advert

I remember backroom abortions performed with chlorine bleach, coat hangers, and turkey basters. When sepsis or perforation of your uterus was not an unusual price to pay to end a pregnancy. Where young women, unable to obtain an abortion threw themselves off bridges rather than have an unwanted baby, or tried to abort themselves, often with terminal results for mother and child.

Despite conservative backlash and brainwashing on this issue, and despite the current frenzy in Washington DC, having an abortion was not and is not a sign one is irresponsible or anti-life. It’s a choice to have a good life when the alternative is at its best, bleak.

suffragettes

Women have abortions for all kinds of reasons, including a desire to be more than a mother. Physical health. The welfare of existing children. The basic will to survive. Meanwhile, men are trying to stop a woman’s access to abortion are simultaneously determined to keep women from getting effective birth control.

That isn’t “pro-life.” It’s entirely “anti-woman.”

It has nothing to do with preserving life. It’s about power. Getting women back to their position of subjugation so old white men can regain world control. It has always been about that.

So many women my age went through an abortion. Were we happy about it? No, but we weighed our options, then did what we felt was our best (only) choice.


The most significant gains in personal freedom women have won are at risk. If we don’t speak up, speak out, and stand together, we will lose it.
All of it.


I am many years past child-bearing. This is about women. All women. Whether or not we are fully equal in our world and have the right to decide what happens to our bodies.

If there is a right to life involved, how about the right of women to have a good life, to bear the number of children we want from none to whatever.

No one wants an abortion, but sometimes, you need one.

TO MOM ON YOUR 101st BIRTHDAY

Today is “Flag Day” throughout much of the world.  Here, it is much more. It’s my Mom’s birthday.

Happy Flag Day, America

Esther Letticia Holder Armstrong left us 11 years ago. But for me and my family, she’s very much alive in spirit and 101 years young. They were singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Over There” when Mom was born on that June 14th in 1917.  Mom’s father,  my grandfather,  was over there. He was a sailor in the Danish Navy during World War 1.

Gramps, a Barbados native, saw plenty of action as he would tell us many times in the years to come.

Esther Holder, as Aunts and Uncles would gleefully tell me, was a feisty child and teenager.  “Smart as a whip,” friends said about Mom. She graduated near the top of her Julia Richmond High School class of 1935.  My Mother once described herself to me as a “Jazz baby,” showing off pictures of herself as a young woman who liked to dance. I’m not sure how that resonated with some of the older folks in the family but none of them lived in a glass house – if you get my drift.

I guess Mom left a trail of broken hearts when she and my dad, William Benfield Armstrong, married in 1941.  It was one of the biggest social events of the year. However, modesty aside,  the glittering affair was just the warm up to my début on the world stage in April of 1942.  A star was born —  at least that’s how I’d see it in my private fantasies which Mom frequently punctured.

Mom was a single parent during my early years because Dad was away — in the Army – seeing some of the heaviest action of World War 2 in France and Germany as a Sargeant in the still-segregated armed forces.

We looked like a Hollywood family when Dad finally came home from the war. At least that’s what I thought. Mom was beautiful and Dad was such a handsome guy.

Over the years, my Mother was “the voice” of our family. She clearly set the parameters for right and wrong, good and bad for my two younger brothers and me. I tested her many times, especially as I got older and became a “man” in my immature mind.  I always lost those confrontations.

Mom was tough! She was also tender, in her own way. She encouraged me to read and write.  She actually read my first attempts at fiction and assured me I had talent. She told me I should pursue my dreams.

We weren’t big on outward displays of affection,  something that I would have to deal with in later years. However,  Mom always found quality time for me. She knew I had a huge passion for movies.  We’d go to the movies, 3 times a week.  I was “Mom’s date.” She would explain who the people on the big screen were.

They were Gable, Tracy, Hepburn, Cooper,  Grant and all the others who reigned over my fantasies through my many years of loving Hollywood.  Mom said she named me after her favorite star,  Gary Cooper.  There was a mixup in recording the birth certificate and Gary became Garry.

There would be frequent mixups later when I became a news guy on television. Actually, there are still frequent mixups. Some things never change.

I’m not sure my Mother was excited about my career choice.  She always said I should become a doctor, lawyer, or minister.  She agreed I talked well.  What she really said was,  “Garry,  you have a big mouth!”  I’d smirk when she said that.  The smirk usually quickly disappeared she gave me “the look.” Mom also thought I was too good for the women I dated. I think she left that impression with many of those women in my life. I got lots of feedback about it.

I remember Mom and Dad celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  I saw a look in their eyes I hadn’t seen too often.  The look of love.

Dementia took hold of Mom in her last few years. Dad had passed away.  Mom was alone with my middle brother Billy in the old family home on Long Island. Anton,  my youngest Brother, was busy with his blooming career as director of the St. Olaf Choir in Minnesota. I was the married, busy TV news guy up in Boston.  Family get-togethers were difficult.

In what would be her last coherent afternoon with me,  My Mom floored me when she admonished me to be a good husband, to find quality time with Marilyn, to show affection and not stonewall Marilyn with internalized emotions. Mom held my face close with her hands like I was that stupid teenager. She smiled with patience and compassion, counseling me to “… be good to your Wife … you are lucky to have her. Show her you appreciate her, that you love her.”

I’m still trying Mom.  I’m not there yet.

In the meantime,  Happy, Happy Birthday.  Mom.  You’re the best!

MY REAL MOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

My mother was not a regular kind of mom. This confused me a lot while I was growing up. Other mothers made cookies, kissed boo-boos. Hung out with the other mothers in summertime. Swapped recipes. Watched soap operas.

My mother didn’t bake anything, much less cookies. She was a terrible cook because she hated it. She was an unenthusiastic housekeeper and the whole “huggy kissy” mothering thing eluded her. She didn’t watch soap operas, loved the Marx Brothers and MGM musicals. She never graduated high school. She read voraciously and constantly. Especially about science and space. She was fascinated by quarks, black holes, and antimatter.

She never kissed a boo-boo; I don’t remember her kissing me at all. She wasn’t that kind of mom.

Mom-May1944

She had no interest in gossip, recipes, or cute stories about anyone’s kids. She wanted to talk about politics or the space program and which nations were so hopeless they needed a complete redo, from scorched earth up (she had a list). I think if she were still alive, she’d probably add the U.S. to her list.

She enjoyed talking to me — I’m not sure if she talked to anyone else — about being a young woman when FDR became president. How, when the NRA (National Recovery Act) was passed, there was a spontaneous parade in New York that lasted 24 hours. Ticker tape and all.

1963

How the government had surplus crops during the worst years of the depression, and government agents took the extra food, dumped it in vacant lots, then put poison on it so no one could eat it. Even though people were starving. I thought she was just paranoid, but I have since learned that it happened, just the way she said it did.

She didn’t trust government, was sure they were spying on us. Positive that  J. Edgar Hoover was out to get us and he had a long list — and we were on it. Turned out, she was on target about most of it.

Mom1973-3She was in favor of equal rights for everyone, everywhere. Pro-abortion, in favor of birth control, gay marriage, putting wheat germ in everything (yech,) and holistic medicine before anyone knew what that meant. She wanted all religion out of the schools and government.

She was in favor of the death penalty. She felt there were people who should be taken out and shot. No long terms in prison (too expensive). No years of appeals. One well-placed bullet in the brain and justice would be served.

That was my mom.

She gave me Knut Hamsen to read and a grand piano for my 14th birthday. As well as appropriately anatomical books about sex (she figured I needed accurate information so I could make informed decisions).

She hummed most of the time, sang the rest of the time. She got the words wrong all the time. She read me poetry when I was very small and treated me like an adult. She was a grimly determined atheist and would debunk any hint of religious belief should I be foolish enough to express it. I always felt she had a personal spite on God for failing her and the people she loved.

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

She was the most cynical person I’ve ever known and it seems I am following in her footsteps.

So here I am. Almost as old as my mother was when she left this earth. I think my mother would like this version of me. I think she always liked me, probably more than I liked myself.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers, daughters of mothers, and mothers of mothers. Let’s celebrate being women and being alive. It’s not such a small thing.

A MOTHER’S WALTZ: MUSIC & PICTURES – Leslie Martel & Marilyn Armstrong

Mother’s Day – Sunday, May 13, 2018


FROM swo8 (Leslie Martel): Today is Mother’s Day. To commemorate this day, we have created a photographic montage of families together. It includes eight generations of my family and three of Marilyn and Garry Armstrong’s families.

The song is bittersweet because to be a mother, is indeed bittersweet. Our children bring us our greatest joys and our greatest sorrows. The first couple in the video are my great-grandparents. My great-grandmother died in childbirth leaving 3 babies and a husband.

When my great-grandfather remarried the children were sent off to their aunt to be raised. The aunt is the lady sitting by the fire-place. The first photo of children is of my grandmother and her twin sisters. My grandmother being the oldest would have missed her mother the most. In spite of her early losses she became an extraordinary person and had a huge influence on me and my thinking.

To be a mother has got to be one of the most difficult endeavours to under take in one’s life. We are given this helpless creature for a short period of time to nourish, educate and inspire before they disappear into the ether of adulthood.

As a tribute to mother’s everywhere we dedicate this song, “Mother’s Waltz” by swo8 Blues Jazz and Marilyn Armstrong. 


FROM Serendipity (Marilyn & Garry Armstrong): It has arrived. The melody of A Mother’s Waltz echoes in my mind. I feel as if it is something I remember hearing my mother sing a long time ago … but of course, it is brand new from swo8 Blues Jazz

The pictures of my family include my mother, me, much younger and my son as a toddler. Pictures of Garry’s family include his mother and father’s wedding, Garry’s dad back from WWII with little Garry on his knee. Garry’s mom as a young woman.

The pictures are family heirlooms that evoke strong and sometimes conflicted feelings.

Music by swo8 … with pictures from Leslie Martel (swo8) and Marilyn Armstrong. Memories in music for mothers everywhere.

 

RELATIONSHIP MYSTERIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist with a private practice. She saw lots of relationships up close and personal. She always wondered how people seemed to be able to find others who satisfied their unconscious needs. The Yin to their Yang.

How, she would ask, does the sadist find the masochist? You need one of each for a relationship to work. No one wears signs advertising their dominatrix tendencies. How does the person who likes to wear diapers or fluffy animal suits, find like-minded people? Today the answer is online, but before the internet, people still managed to find one another.

We are all like puzzle pieces. There are a few other pieces that fit neatly into our piece. But only a few. How do we find those needles in the haystack of humanity?

For example, everyone knows someone who always seems to end up with a similar ‘type’, usually one that is not good for them. There’s the woman who tends to go for men who treat her badly, cheat on her and/or abandon her. How does she know who is going to fit that pattern from their initial, usually neutral social contact? When we first meet someone, we can’t really know them. So what propels our choices?

My mother believed that we all put out ‘vibes’ or signals on a very subtle, primitive, even physiological level. Dogs can hear and smell things that humans can’t. Mom believed that the unconscious ‘senses’ things that the conscious brain is not aware of. Maybe it’s pheromones, maybe it’s micro facial movements.I’m a perfect example of this unconscious level of communication. When I was young, I was attractive but very guarded about relationships with men. I was superficially outgoing, intelligent and funny. But I was very closed off emotionally. Men sensed that and stayed away. I could go to dances, looking great, and never get asked to dance. It was as if I’d created an invisible protective shield around myself. I ended up marrying an abusive, controlling, manic-depressive. I stayed with him for 25 years.

Decades, and years of therapy later, I started dating again after my divorce. I had conquered my inner demons and was very open to a healthy relationship. I had no trouble finding men who were interested in me this time around, even in my late 40’s. I ended up in a wonderful marriage to a kind, caring, delightful man.

Something had happened to me on a deep seeded, emotional, unconscious level. Yet it made a palpable difference in my real world relationship experiences. How was that change so effectively communicated to the outside world? My outward personality hadn’t changed that much. To meet me, you weren’t hit in the head with my inner transformation. My friends still recognized me as the same person I had always been – at least on the surface.

I’m not a psychologist and I don’t have any answers. I just find it fascinating that who we are on a psychological level, somehow gets projected to other people. Haven’t you met someone and immediately had a strong reaction to them, either positive or negative? I met a woman at a book club meeting. I knew we were going to be friends. Years later we are still best friends yet we hardly talked at that first meeting.

We call this ‘chemistry’. We say we are ‘drawn’ to someone. I don’t know how to explain it. But three cheers for whatever it is!