I WANT TO BE A CURMUDGEON – BY TOM CURLEY

I want to be a curmudgeon. I’m the right age. I’ve paid my dues. I’ve earned the right. Problem is, I’m having a hard time doing it. I want to be able to yell at kids to “GET OFF MY LAWN!” You know, traditional curmudgeon stuff. Unfortunately for me, I can’t do that. I live in the middle of the woods.

Nope. Not a kid in sight.

The nearest kids are at least a mile or so away. In over 20 years not one Trick-or-Treater has come to our door on Halloween. And who wants to walk over a mile just to play on some stranger’s lawn? And if they did, why would that bother me? I mean if they were blowing up my lawn, or stealing my lawn I’d be pretty pissed.

Photo: theketog.org

But just playing? What’s your problem?

That never stopped my Grandpa. He loved yelling at kids. I think he looked at it as sort of a sport.

OK, my Grandpa wasn’t really Yoda. I just thought the picture was funny. Photo: Imgflp

The problem I’m having with being a curmudgeon is that I’m too tolerant.  I think it’s a generational thing.  Us baby boomers  are a lot more tolerant than our parent’s generation. We let our kids get away with stuff our parents wouldn’t put up with. This has made some things tougher for our kids. For instance, pissing off their parents.

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It’s a kid’s job, especially in their teen years, to piss off their parents. It’s a rite of passage. Part of growing up. In my day, it was ridiculously easy. All I had to do was grow my hair long. And by long, I mean as long as the Beatles. The early Beatles.

PHOTO: The Beatles, left to right, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon (1940 – 1980) arrive at London Airport February 6, 1964 (Photo by Getty Images)

Long hair was responsible for every evil and ill in the world. Crime, Communism, the canceling of the Lawrence Welk show, etc.

Photo: gigoid.me

But our generation is way more tolerant. Kids today have to really work to piss us off. A while back I was in a shopping mall when I saw a group of teenagers walking by. One was wearing what I think is called a “side mullet”. One half of his head was completely shaved and the other half was a mullet. Yes, a mullet, the hairstyle of the Gods.

Photo: MachoHairstyles – Hipster Mullet

He was wearing a studded dog collar around his neck. He had pierced ears, a pierced nose, he had one pants leg rolled up above his knee and he was wearing his underwear on the outside of his pants. All I could think was, Wow. That poor kid. Look how far he had to go before his parents finally went: “That’s it! Your grounded!”

Not the actual kids. But close.

And here’s another thing. That kid got up that morning, got dressed like that and looked in the mirror and thought to himself “Yeah, that’s cool. I’m rocking this look.”

Which brings me to the flip side of this equation. While it’s a kid’s job to piss off his parents, it’s also a parent’s job to embarrass the hell out of their kids. Mostly when they are teenagers. Here, the advantage goes to the parents. The best my parents could do was to show naked baby pictures of me to my prom date. Embarrassing? Not really. Today? I’m sure the parents of that kid I saw in the mall have a Pinterest account devoted just to him. It will live in the cloud forever and will pop up at every family gathering for the rest of his life. And what the hell will his kids have to do?

What does any of this have to do with me wanting to be a curmudgeon? Nothing much, other than it makes me realize that all the traditional things I should be yelling at just makes me laugh.

So, I guess I’m out of luck.

Oh wait, there’s always Trump.

PARENTING CLASSES SHOULD BE MANDATORY – by ELLIN CURLEY

To get a driver’s license, you have to take a course and pass two tests, one written and one practical. To be a teacher, you need a master’s degree and years of specialized training, academic and on-the-job. To do the hardest, most important job on the planet — parenting — there are no requirements. None. Zip. No required preparation of any kind. No training. No test. You’re on your own. The first time I ever held a baby, I was six months pregnant with my first child.

I spent this past weekend with family in a house with a young mom, Jennifer, her eight-year-old daughter Jayda, and her two-year-old son Jase. I saw firsthand the tremendous advantage of training for parenthood. Jennifer had been a grade school teacher, trained in early childhood behavior and education. She is now a principal in an elementary school.

She was the best parent I’ve ever seen. She had mad skills!

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Jennifer had clearly studied child development and the best ways to handle young kids. She stayed mellow whatever was going on, so she was able to use her knowledge. In nearly three days, I never saw her lose her temper — or even her cool.

She was amazingly consistent with both children. Consistency is critical and was something I could never achieve. Every time Jase did something he wasn’t supposed to, like throwing something, he got a matter of fact, short time out. No drama, no anger. When told he needed a time out, he said “Yes, Mama” and went quietly.

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Jennifer knew how to distract and redirect a hyper-active and sometimes antsy toddler. Jase never reached the point of meltdown and neither did anyone else. He went down for naps and to bed without fuss because Mom was gentle but firm. She made it clear that there was no negotiation possible.

She also managed to spend time with Jayda. She got the two kids to interact peacefully. There was no sibling rivalry or fights for Mom’s attention. Peace reigned for more than 48 straight hours with only a few short bouts of toddler tears. In defense of all other mothers reading this, this child was an angel with a wonderful, happy disposition. He also had other relatives around to help entertain him.

But I could see in Jennifer’s actions textbook child-rearing techniques I’d read about. I believe those techniques and knowledge let Jennifer feel confident and in control. This, in turn, allowed her to stay calm and handle situations rationally and intelligently. She spread the calm to her kids. It was awesome. Humbling to watch.

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I was a good parent but I had an ideal in my head to which I was never able to attain. Jennifer embodied that ideal. I’m sure she has the innate temperament to be a wonderful mother. But I’m also sure she was helped by the practical tools her training gave her. They made it possible for her to reach the goal of most parents: to be the best parent we can be.

We can all use all the help we can get!

NO CRYING IN THE NEST

A woman, younger than me, has no children. So she asks: “What is empty nest syndrome?” The subtext is “why” because we all know the “what.”

I gave it a bit of thought. After all, my nest is empty except for two terriers and an adorable husband.

The empty nest is one in which the children have grown up and moved out. They have independent lives. These newly made adults have left the family nest and assumed the mantle of adult responsibility.  Isn’t that what we wanted all along?

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My mother’s life did not revolve around me, though I kept her pretty busy for a long time. She was a dutiful mother insofar as she did the right stuff. She fed us, though this was her least shining achievement. She clothed us … and to this day I wish I’d better appreciated the amazing clothing she made for me. I was just too young, awkward, and afraid someone might notice I was dressed “differently” from the others to see that this clothing was the finest I’d ever own. All other garments would subsequently pale in comparison.

She talked to me about adult things in an adult way. She gave me books, lots of books. Not the books my friends and schoolmates read, but grown-up stuff. Sometimes, I had to ask her what it meant because if anything, she overestimated my understanding of the larger world. When I was ready to go, she was proud of me for taking the leap.

It freed her to paint and sculpt and travel. To read, go to the theater, spend time with her sisters. Not cook and clean all the time. Make her own clothing instead of mine. She was glad my brother and I were independent and built lives of our own.

Mom1973PaintI doubt she suffered from any kind of empty nest issues.

Nor did I. Of course, mine kept coming back alone and then with the entire family so I could only yearn for an emptier nest. Having finally achieved it, do I miss the patter of little feet? The thunder of big ones?

Should I? Is there something wrong with enjoying the company of ones adult children more than little kids? I love having real conversations with grownups who look eerily like me. Even if we disagree, I’m delighted they have opinions. That they are part of a bigger world and standing on their own feet.

Maybe the difference is that so many women seem to prefers babies and little kids to adults. They don’t want the kids to become independent. They need to be needed. They need to nurture.

Children need nurturing, but they don’t need it all the time or forever. They shouldn’t, anyhow. After a certain point in time, their drive for separateness should overtake their nurturing needs. The drive to be independent should become primary. I have always thought it’s our obligation as parents to help them achieve that. We won’t be here forever. They will need to walk on without us.

An empty nest is one in which you don’t need to do a  load of laundry a day. A house in which the sink isn’t always full and you can park your car where you want it. A home where family dinners are a happy event when everyone is glad to see each other and has stuff to share.

Those extra rooms revert to your use, even if you use them as closets for all that stuff you seem to have collected. If you have a life of your own, interests of your own, there’s no such thing as an empty nest. It’s just the time when your kids grow up and all the work you did to raise them right pays off — for them and you.

Adult children are great. If you need to nurture, get pets. Adopt dogs and cats and ferrets and parrots. They will always need you.

If you did it right, your kids will always love you … but not always need you.

ON THE BEACH

And there we were, at the beach. Most likely, Jones Beach. Back then I lived on Long Island and it was the beach to which we usually went.

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Summer. Probably 1970. My son was already walking, but in that funny way toddlers have. Half a stagger, a bit of lurch, a hint of trot, topped with a dollop of falling over. I was with friends who had brought their children, most of whom were my son’s age, more or less.

One friend had gone to the food kiosk and come back with big sandwiches for everyone. In New York, we call them subs (I think short for submarine, probably because of the general shape of the bread). These are given different name in different regions. Whatever you call them, they are big sandwiches on little loaves of bread. Filled with chicken Parmigiano, meatballs, or maybe roast beef or Italian cold cuts. Hogeys? Grinders? Feel free to fill in your own word.

We settled down on our blankets to enjoy the food.

My son had been told we were having sandwiches. He obligingly came over to see what was going on. He smiled brightly, then poured a handful of sand into my sandwich.

Toddler logic?

SANDWICH | THE DAILY POST 

TO READ OR NOT TO READ, by ELLIN CURLEY

I recently read an article in the New York Times about the efficacy of ‘bribing’ children to get them to read. The article was “The Right Way To Bribe Kids To Read”, by KJ Dell’Antonia and ran on Sunday, July 24, 2016. The article cited a study that showed that bribery does work. However it also showed that the kind of bribe determined the longevity of the positive result.

The study found that monetary or other material bribes worked only as long as the rewards continued. Once the money stopped rolling in, so did the reading. So parents have to find another kind of bribe to foster enthusiasm about reading in order to form lasting reading habits. The most effective form of bribe used in the study was the promise of one on one time with a parent. This time could be spent reading together or just talking about what the child had read.

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This reminded me of one of my finest parenting moments, which I would like to share with you. When my daughter was 13, she was obsessed with reading a series of books below her reading level, called “The Babysitters’ Club.” Neither I nor the teachers at her school felt this was a serious problem. She was reading and loving it and that was enough for the school and for me.

However, her father (my ex-husband) was adamant that we “make” her read more adult books. He favored the classics, like Dickens and Jane Austen. I had hated these books when I was 13 so I did not agree that this was the way to go with our daughter. He also favored the banning of TV and other ‘punishments’ as the means of ‘motivation’. I obviously was against this approach as well.

books james lee burke

My solution to this sticky family problem was brilliant, if I do say so myself! I conceded to my ex the goal of getting our daughter to read age appropriate books. BUT, I would be the one to determine the method used to accomplish this goal.

My daughter loved movies. So I proposed that she find books that had been made into movies. She would both read the book and watch the movie. We would then talk about how the two versions differed, which was more ‘successful’ and why. And how well the book translated to the screen. The first book she choose was Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes” – a movie she had already seen and loved. She loved the book too. Without parental prompting, immediately read every book Fannie Flagg wrote. She took her library of Flagg’s books to sleepover camp with her and traded them with her camp friends for other books. She was off and running as a life-long, voracious reader.

netflix for books

My daughter is 31 now and is still an avid reader. She reads all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction, covering a wide range of subjects. She particularly loves history and historical fiction. I feel that my creative solution to her reading ‘problem’ years ago allowed her intellectual curiosity to develop freely. I firmly believe that we could have destroyed that curiosity and squashed her love of reading had we mishandled that situation when she was 13.

I guess the moral of this story is that you have to nurture and encourage your children’s interest in reading. Making reading a chore or something to do for Mom and Dad is apparently not the right approach. You have to make reading something exciting that they can share with you and with their friends. You can always ‘make’ your child read. The trick is to create an adult who loves reading and learning and passes this love down to their kids.

SIBLING REVELRY – ELLIN CURLEY

I was an only child and I loved it! I felt bad for all those poor kids with siblings who had to share rooms, toys and above all else, parental attention. The world of my parents and grandparents revolved around me and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. When I decided to have a second child, I was pretty much in the dark about what it meant to grow up with a sibling and how a parent was supposed to handle this, to me, alien situation.

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When I was pregnant with my second child I worried how I would handle sibling tensions. I wondered if I could avoid identifying with the older child who had been an only child for almost five years. I felt guilty about destroying his monopoly on adult love and attention and also about bringing a child into the world who would never experience being the sole center of the family’s universe.

In the early years, juggling the needs of the two children turned out to be easier than I had imagined because of the large age difference. For example, for several years I could give exclusive attention to my baby daughter when my son was at school. In fact, my kids got along amazingly well throughout their childhoods so I was spared a lot of the sibling rivalry and hostility I was so afraid I would mishandle.

Then they grew up and all Hell broke loose!

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They reversed the usual sibling process. Just when they should have stopped fighting and butting heads, they started doing it. I don’t know if it’s easier to be in the middle of this bickering and sniping with young adults than with young children. I know I obsessed about what I had done wrong that prevented the great sibling bond I had heard so much about from forming in my children.

It took years but the anger and tension seem to have ended. Lo and behold, my children have found that incredible adult sibling bond that surpasses parental approval and attention in importance. When one of them has a problem, the other is there in a flash with unquestioning loyalty.

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Sisters

They have very different interests and lives, but at 30 and 35, they have a connection I envy. For the first time I my life, I wish I had a sister or brother to share memories and family responsibilities.

I wish I had the special bond you can only get from growing up with someone, day in and day out, in the same house with the same family, sharing pets and friends, secrets and jokes. I don’t have that special person who shares my genes and childhood. The person who will always be there for me in a unique way no one else can.

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My long deceased parents and grandparents made me the center of their world, but now I have no one with whom to share those memories of my cherished only childhood.

THE MAGIC WORMHOLE OF MEMORY

What’s so great about me? Probably that I know how to laugh … and sometimes, I can make you laugh, too. Now, let us return to those moments in remembered time … back … back … back …

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To when we were young and stupid — as opposed to old and stupid. Through the magic wormhole of memory, to the back seat of the family sedan as we travel the roads together …


“Oh shut up. Can’t you kids ever stop squabbling back there? I’m going to put both of you on a time out, I swear I am.”

“But MOM, he TOUCHED ME!”

“Loretta, I am going to touch you and then you will have reason to cry. Joey, leave your sister alone.”

Voice of boy child with strong adenoidal whine: “But MOOOOOOM, she’s taking up the whole back seat and I can’t help touching her. And why can’t I touch her? She touches me all the time.”

“She does what??”

“I do not”

“Do too.”

“DO NOT!@!”

{Long pause.}

In a whisper: “Do too.”

“Do not.”

A booming baritone from the front seat, the Voice of Dad, speaks: “One more word out of either of you and I will stop this car and you will both be crying and you’ll have a damned good reason.”

{Whispers}

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

{Pause, pause, pause}

The sound of vomiting fills the car along with a sickening and pungent odor.

“Ew. Yuk. MOM he barfed all over me! Make him clean it up.”

Chorus:

“ARE WE THERE YET?”

(No, we are NOT there yet.)