MYSTERY OF THE MISSING REPORT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Abram Kardiner, my father

The State of Israel was created in 1948. Part of its population lived on rural Kibbutzim scattered throughout the country. At the time, most of the Kibbutzim had all their children housed together, separate from the adults. Parents didn’t live with their children in nuclear families. Parents and their children spent time with each other, but every aspect of live was communal.

My father, Abram Kardiner, was a well-known and well-respected anthropologist and psychoanalyst.

He had created a methodology to study cultures or social groups using psychological testing as well as anthropological analysis.

The Israeli government contacted my father and asked him to do a study on the psychological effects of Kibbutz life, particularly on child development. My father hired psychologists and anthropologists to do in-depth studies of the child rearing practices in the Kibbutzim. They also did psychological tests on children and on adults who had been raised communally.

The results came out a few years later and were not favorable to the Israeli social experiment. The children were technically well cared for, but were always in a group. They had very little one-on-one adult interaction and very little involving consistent adult figures, like parents.

My father found that this type of upbringing created socially responsible individuals, but most of them lacked good self-esteem, were aggressive, and had trouble relating well to others.

The study concluded that breaking up the nuclear family unit was not a good idea long-term. My father recommended parents and children be allowed to live together as the primary child rearing unit, though children could spend the day, when parents were working, in communal day care centers. Everything else in the Kibbutz could stay completely communal.

The study was presented to the Israeli government. I think it was some time in the late 1950’s. Someone from the government met with my father and asked him not to publish his report. The government would take it under advisement, but it didn’t want these negative findings publicized. The mere existence of the State of Israel was under attack. The government didn’t want to give extra ammunition to Israel’s enemies.

My father agreed to keep the report to himself. But he did keep the original copy of the report. Here’s where the mystery comes in. A while later, my dad went to check something in the report – and it was missing! My parents knew where it had been kept and it wasn’t there. They searched my father’s entire office but still didn’t find it.

Dad was convinced that the Israelis wanted to make sure that Dad didn’t change his mind about sharing his report with others. The only logical explanation is that Israeli ‘agents’ took Dad’s only copy of the report. So we may have been part of a top-secret Israeli ‘operation’!

Kibbutz in the Galilee

There is a kind of happy ending to this story. The Israeli’s took Dad’s findings to heart and within a few years, the government had changed the social structure of the Kibbutzim. Most living arrangements on Kibbutzim to single, nuclear family units. Parents and children moved back together, as my father had recommended — and so it remains today.

So, not only was my dad part of a spy operation, he actually influenced the policy of an entire country! Not a bad outcome overall.

BUT IT ALL WORKED OUT IN THE END – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My first pregnancy went smoothly. No morning sickness, no back problems except for some sciatica, and low weight gain.

And then I gave birth too soon. Way too soon. Eight and a half weeks too soon. My water broke at the end of my seventh month. I thought that the doctors would refill my uterus and send me home. I was naïve and uninformed.

Two weeks before David was born

Once the amniotic fluid is gone, the baby is susceptible to infection. Plus, the doctors tested my fluid and the baby had Hyaline Membrane Disease. His lungs were not developed so he could not breathe on his own yet. Because of this, they had to get the baby out quickly. So they gave me a drug called Pitocin to speed up the labor.

I was totally unprepared. I hadn’t even brought a toothbrush to the hospital. And my Lamaze class was scheduled to start THE NEXT DAY. I knew nothing about the birth process, breathing, labor, nothing.

To top things off, I barely made it into the delivery room . And my husband, Larry, had just gone out for coffee when the baby’s head started crowning. I kept yelling for someone to go find my husband ASAP! Larry made it into the delivery room just as David came flying out into the world.

Within a few minutes the baby was in respiratory distress and had to be rushed to the Premie Unit to be put on oxygen. Larry went with the baby and I was left in the recovery room alone to try to wrap my head around what was happening. We had not definitively picked a name for our son yet. But I wanted him to be named David, so that’s what I wrote on the birth certificate. I later realized that the name resonated with me because my Mom had had a stillborn son at the age of nineteen and had named him David. I grew up being told that I would have had a brother named David.

David was 4 lbs. 2 oz. at birth so he wasn’t tiny as far as premies go. But he was on oxygen, which is always dangerous. Both too much OR too little oxygen can cause brain damage. At 36 hours old, Larry and I went to visit our son and all the alarms in the premie unit started to go off. Doctors started rushing to OUR BABY.

David at five weeks old in the Premie Unit

David’s lung had collapsed. We were taken out of the room as they did emergency surgery to inflate David’s little lung. David still has that scar, at age 37.

We watched our son’s eyelashes and eyebrows grow in. We went through many scares – he might be blind in one eye or he might have an intestinal disease or malfunction. He stayed in an incubator for five weeks and spent his sixth week in the hospital in a bassinet. He came home at 4 lbs.15 oz. I had expressed my milk for him for six weeks so when he got home, we started breast-feeding. We were very lucky that that went normally, despite his use of bottles in the hospital.

At the time, there were no clothes or diapers especially made for premies. So we had to put clothes repeatedly through a hot dryer and hope they would shrink enough. But fortunately that was the extent of our problems once we got him home.

We knew we wanted another child, but first I had to find out why David had been so premature. It was a scary experience that could have gone south in so many ways. It took a few years to finally discover that I had a Bi-Corniate Uterus, a uterus that is divided into two sections. I could have another child but the pregnancy would have to be monitored closely to avoid another premature birth.

I got pregnant again when David was four years old. At the end of my seventh month, I started to efface and dilate. So I was put on total bed rest for the next six weeks. I could get out of bed to go to the bathroom and to shower three times a week. That was it! The problem was that I had a four and a half-year old to take care of.

Eight months pregnant with Sarah and still on bed rest, with David

I had to figure out how to do everything by phone or by surrogate. My bed became command central. I had a housekeeper who was helping me during the day. She picked David up at school, watched him, did the shopping and made dinner. One day, she got sick and left me in the middle of the day. She insisted that she had to go to her own home to be sick. I was frantic! I got a friend to pick David up at school. Next I called an au pair agency to try to find someone to live-in, immediately. Did I mention that it was the week before Christmas?

I got lucky. A 19-year-old German girl named Daniella walked in for an interview. I hired her on the spot and she moved in that night. She got me through to the beginning of my ninth month, when it was safe to get out of bed because the baby was close enough to full term. My daughter, Sarah, wasn’t born for two more weeks. During that time, I could barely walk. I was carrying so low, it felt like I had a football between my legs.

Daniella with David and Sarah the day Sarah came home from the hospital

When my water finally broke, we checked into a birthing room in the hospital. That was a regular hospital room, complete with a TV and a phone. The OB-GYN would deliver the baby in theses relatively comfortable surroundings because it was expected to be a complications free birth and because I had agreed to forgo all anesthesia. I expected a quick delivery and I was right. I remember that we had the Today Show on the TV, to distract me. Teddy Kennedy was a guest, but I can’t recall the topic of conversation.

The only irregularity occurred after the birth, in the naming process. I wanted to name a girl after my grandmother, Sarah, and after Larry’s Aunt, Blanche. We were going to name her Sarah Beth. But there was a local bakery/restaurant down the street called Sarabeth’s Kitchen. So we decided not to name a daughter after a local business.

But holding our new daughter in the delivery room, we realized that it was important to name our child what we both really wanted to name her. It was silly to worry about who else out there might share her name. So we went with our original choice, Sarah Beth.

Sarah and David, the day she came home from the hospital

Unfortunately, we had already told our son that his sister would be named Rachel. So he went to school talking about his new sister, Rachel. When he told his class the next day that his sister was named Sarah, the kids teased him and said that he didn’t really have a sister at all. Apparently that traumatized our son because we still get grief about that Snafu to this day!

So I had issues with both my pregnancies, one on the back-end and the other in the middle. But I was very lucky in that I ended up with beautiful and healthy babies. I may have gotten a few grey hairs along the way, but all’s well that ends well. As someone once said.

SKIING MISADVENTURES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Skiing with my ex husband, Larry, was not all fun and games. We had some hairy experiences on the slopes with him. And when I say ‘we’, I mean me and my two young children, David and Sarah. Larry tended to want to go out in questionable weather and take chances on advanced slopes. He often persuaded us all to go along with him.

There were three skiing ‘adventures’ that stick out in my mind. The first was in Park City, Utah. Our kids were about seven and twelve. Larry convinced us to do one more run as the weather was turning ugly. We were three-quarters of the way up the mountain on the open ski lift when the whiteout started.

A whiteout is snow that blows so hard and thick, that there’s almost no visibility. The ski lift stopped. Fortunately for us, it started again and got us to the chalet on the mountaintop. Others were not as lucky. The lifts stopped again and stranded people for hours out in the cold and the snow, dangling high above the slopes.

We, along with many others, were also stranded. But we were stranded inside the ski lodge with heat and hot cocoa. We were there for about two hours, until they could get a ski instructor up to rescue us. He would lead us all down the mountain to safety.

We had to line up and follow the instructor, single file, very slowly, down the mountain. You could barely see the person in front of you. We put our daughter in the middle of our group because she was wearing a shocking pink snowsuit that was like a beacon in the dark! She thought this was great fun! We made it down and lived to tell the tale.

Another time, the four of us were skiing in Italy. They are less safety-conscious on the slopes over there. There are no lights and no one sweeps the runs after closing to round-up strays, like they do in America. So we were skiing without a safety net there. Larry had taken us over to a second mountain, a distance away from the one where our car was parked. It started to get dark. We had to make it back to our mountain get to our car before dark. We had to cross-country ski, as quickly as possible, across one icy mountain to get to the other. It was like trying to ice skate on skis. We were exhausted and terrified. But we all kept our cool. Except Larry, who totally freaked out.

By the time we got to our mountain, the gondolas were already closed for the day. We had to ski down in the falling dusk. It was very, very close. We made it to our car just as night fell. This was the kind of situation where you know it’ll make a great story if you can just survive it!

The third story takes us to the top of a Black Diamond/Most Difficult ski run. With both kids. Larry insisted we could all handle it even though Sarah was just learning to ski. She was good, but she was still a beginner. Larry didn’t know that the slope had not been ‘groomed’, which took it to the Double Black/Super Difficult level.

Once we started down, we realized our mistake but were committed. There was no way back up, only down. The run consisted of numerous large moguls, which are big man-made bumps. They were mostly chopped up ice, which made them harder to maneuver over. David made it down with no trouble. He ended up anxiously waiting for us at the bottom for the next hour.

Larry, Sarah and I were struggling, to say the least. There were a handful of other hapless skiers struggling down with us. We were all falling constantly. But when Sarah fell, she would lose her skis and poles, which would slide farther down the mountain. A few good Samaritans helped us nurse Sarah through this ordeal. I stayed with Sarah while Larry and some others retrieved her equipment. They then had to walk back UP the mountain to Sarah to give it to her. I had to get her back in her skis and then rinse and repeat. It was a laborious process.

The post script to these stories is that neither of my children want to ski ever again. I have skied with my second husband, Tom. He is cautious and non adventurous like me. But we can’t convince the kids to come with us. No wonder!

THE LONGEST FLIGHT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My first husband, Larry, me and our two young children, around ages four and nine, were scheduled to fly to Santa Fé, New Mexico for a vacation. We had a connecting flight from New York City to St. Louis, Missouri.

We got to the airport in the early evening and something was wrong with the incoming plane. So our flight to St. Louis had to be canceled. We were put on the next available flight with a connection possible to St. Louis. It was the following morning at an ungodly hour. We decided to take the kids home to get some sleep before schlepping back to the airport before dawn the next day. We were already off to a rocky start.

We got to the airport on time, but our flight was delayed – just enough to make us miss our connection through St. Louis. We got to St. Louis and tried to find another flight to Santa Fé. Apparently this weekend’s Hot Air Balloon Festival was the biggest event of the year in Santa Fé. Every flight was booked. We finally found a flight on another airline — NINE HOURS LATER — around 6:00 PM.

That left us with had nine hours to kill plus two small children and all of our carry-on bags, which when traveling with kids, was a lot.

We decided to do some sightseeing. We took the kids to the famous arch. Walked around. Shopped. We still ended up spending too many long, boring hours in the airport.

Our flight finally boarded and naturally, it was overbooked. The flight attendant offered a free ticket to anyone who volunteered to take the next flight in two and a half hours. My crazy husband raised his hand and volunteered the whole family! He figured that we’d waited this long, we should at least get something out of the lost day!

This part actually worked out well. We had time for a leisurely dinner before we boarded the next flight. The rest of the trip was fun and included a hot air balloon ride.

However, getting there was not half the fun!

THE JOYS OF APARTMENT LIVING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I lived in an apartment building in New York City from the time I was born till I was 42 years old. I loved it and miss some of the perks of apartment living, but I’ve lived in a house in a rural suburb for 26 years.

Surprisingly, I had more of a social life with my neighbors in my building in New York than I do now on my woodsy street. As a young mother, I was lucky to find four other young moms in the building with kids close in age to my kids. We all lived on the same elevator line. That meant that we could run up and down the back stairs to each other’s apartments. We could also take the elevator, but the stairs were quicker. By the time the kids were five or six, they could go up and down, safely, on their own. We all became very close.

Photo of my building on Park Avenue in NYC

This was a Godsend. When we wanted company, we could pop in for an hour or so, with or without the kids. When we needed a break or time to cook dinner or make phone calls in peace, we could send our kids upstairs or downstairs, depending on who was free at the time. Our building had a real ‘neighborhood’ feel. People don’t always think of cities as having these mini communities. But they exist pretty much everywhere, if you make an effort to create them.

Another great advantage of city living is the joy of having doormen in your life. They are an amazing class of people who serve their tenants in many ways. They act as mail deliverers. You handed them your packages and they magically delivered them to the appropriate carrier or service. You never have to deal with the logistics of mailing or shipping anything. The doorman would also accept packages and deliveries on your behalf, so you never had to stay home to accept a delivery. What a luxury!

City Doorman

Doormen can also let trusted workmen into your apartment when you’re not there. So you also never have to wait for workers to show up before you can leave the house. Another great perk!

Another role a doorman can play is to entertain your kids. If you get friendly with the day doorman, they will allow your kids to play in the lobby. My kids skated and skate boarded up and down the long hallway in our lobby. My daughter practiced her cartwheels down that hallway.

This was a part of the very long hallway in our building

The doormen also let the kids ‘spy’ on people in the elevators from the security cameras in the lobby. That was apparently great fun and a real treat.

Typical surveillance camera setup in apartment lobby

The best doormen will let your kids go wild, when no one is looking. There was a very large Ficus tree in our lobby. The doormen let my son, David, put his pet python in the tree to explore through the branches. This continued for a while, until one tenant saw the snake and complained.

Today’s version of our old Ficus tree in the lobby

There can also be disadvantages to apartment living. I grew up on the seventeenth floor. In 1965, there was a major blackout, extending throughout the city and into New England. I was home sick that day. So the housekeeper and I had to carry our thirty pound dachshund up and down at least fourteen flights of stairs to walk him. He could only do one or two flights on his own. (NOTE: most apartment buildings in NYC omit the thirteenth floor because of superstitions!)

Another disadvantage to living above and below other people, is gravity. When the bathroom directly above yours develops a leak, the water runs into your apartment. And often into the apartment below you as well. We had paint and plaster falling on our heads while we showered for a year and a half because our upstairs neighbors could not control a major leak in their bathroom. We replastered and repainted the ceiling three times during that period.

Painting in my old lobby of the apartment building

The apartment below us had similar problems. In addition to the inconvenience, this became an insurance nightmare involving three different insurance companies. For me, the benefits of apartment living outweighed the disadvantages for many years. But after living in my own house for so long, I could never again live in a little box within a bigger box. I have fond memories of city life, but I never want to go back!

THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT

I grew up the middle child of three and I was known as “the communicator.” My brother was four years older than me.  My sister was five years younger. My brother passed away more than a decade ago and my sister vanished into a world of drugs.

We three were the children of the same parents, but not really. Matt and I had a lot of similarities, but our personalities could hardly have been more different.

We do not create the children we dream of, if indeed we dream of children — and not all of us do. They are not those little chips off our personal blocks. We learn to understand them, eventually — or at least mostly — but it’s remarkable how different we are from our kids.

My mother was a hands on person. She painted, sewed. She was athletic.  She loved books, but she loved the outdoors more. Horses and ice skates and bob-sledding. All I wanted to do was read. I could not hook a rug or knit to save my life.

The single thing my siblings and I all shared was a basic failure to understand numbers. We made them work, somehow, but we weren’t kids who had that “instant grasp” of numbers as a language. We suffered through arithmetic and were nearly undone by geometry … only to be buried under trigonometry and algebra. It’s a pity. I actually loved science … until it got to the numbers part. Then I sank like a stone.

So we were three kids from the same two parents with personalities entirely different from each other. My sister seemed like a kid who dropped into the cabbage patch by the stork. My brother was merely different.

1952

We always say “Oh, we all had the same parents,” but we didn’t. Our parents were  different. The oldest sibling had the youngest “what are we doing with this kid?” parents. The youngest kid had the most mature parents. By the time they made it to the littlest kid, they had parenting basics down. They had eased up a lot on restrictions. I always thought if my mother had given me the freedom my sister automatically got and didn’t appreciate, life would have been grand.

I told her that, shortly before she died.

“Well,” she said. “Parents have to grow up too.”

That isn’t something we get until we have our own children or have other experience with children in “parenting” ways. That’s when you look back and say “Oh. I see. Now it makes sense.”

“PROTECTING” CHILDREN BY LYING – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My father was 26 years older than my mother. He was 58 when they married, a first marriage for him. He was 59 when I was born. He was only five years younger than my grandfather and three years younger than my grandmother.

Mom, Dad and me at two. They were 35 and 61.

When I was five or six, my mom got sick. I was scared but comforted myself by saying that only old people died. My parents decided that it would not be a good idea to tell me that my Dad was ‘old’ – he was 64 or 65 at the time, ancient to a little kid.

They made up a story about my parents’ ages. They took ten years off my mother’s age, since she was 33 when she had me and not a young woman in her twenties like most moms of the day. They took 26 years off of my father’s age and said that they were only ten years apart. So when I was ten, I thought my parents were 33 and 43 — not 43 and 69!

When I was 12, a friend’s father read one of my dad’s books. He also read the biographical section on the back cover flap. This said that my father was born in 1891, which would have made him 71 years old. My friend told me and I checked out the book cover. I was appalled that such an egregious error had not been caught on a major publication. I informed my parents that they had to contact the publisher immediately and correct the error.

Mom and Dad when I was about 11. They were around 44 and 70.

My parents had to confess their actual ages. I was in shock. I was also devastated that I had been lied to my whole life. We had celebrated fake birthdays for both parents every year. Even my grandparents had been in on the big lie. I felt manipulated and humiliated.

It got worse. A few months later, in a 7th grade Ethics class, we talked about the issue of ‘old people’, ‘senior citizens’ – people who were over 65. We talked about nursing homes and the obligation to care for the elderly. I suddenly realized that this meant my father, who was already in his 70’s, as well as my grandparents. I remember struggling not to cry in class.

I don’t advocate telling big lies to children. I think if I had grown up knowing my parents’ true ages, it would have been natural to me. No big deal. By lying, my parents made into a big deal. I became obsessed with people’s ages and it lasted for several years.

Mom with Dad at the end of his life. She was 63 and he was 89.

Lies like those my parents told me made me feel betrayed and I never fully trusted my parents again. I didn’t feel my parents had confidence in me. Kids need to know their parents believe they are strong enough to handle the truth. I think lying to your kids to ‘protect’ them, tells kids that you think they need protecting from the world. It makes kids doubt their own ability to cope and creates insecure and suspicious children.

I’m a big fan of truth-telling. I’m not rude, but I try to be honest as much as possible. For example, I didn’t automatically tell my children that everything they did was amazing. I’d tell them if I thought their art work or school project wasn’t the best they’d ever done. I believed they needed to learn to deal with criticism. I also thought they needed to learn that they couldn’t just phone it in and still get super praise.

I may have ended up being too honest with my kids, but i think it’s better than deceit.