FAMILY FIXERS – Marilyn Armstrong

Everyone needs help sometimes … so where do you go to get that quick fix? How about your family?

If it isn’t something I can fix myself or Garry can manage, I usually ask my son for help. He’s not shy about asking for my assistance if he needs it. We are good at different things. Also, he is tall and I am not.

My granddaughter can sometimes be cajoled into cutting or dying my hair … and occasionally, can be urged to come out and take some pictures with me. She’s a good photographer and has a great eye.

Kaiti

When my brother was alive, if there was anything that had anything to do with printing he was always my first call. I do miss him very much. Too many have died too soon.

Other than these folks? The rest of my family was more or less stuck in the 19th century. They were already past middle age when I was a kid and they never made it into the computer era.

I had Uncles. Jack, Abe, Herman, Louis, Mickey, and Sam. I still have an Uncle Sam, come to think of it, but I’m sure he’s not related by blood.

I cannot imagine under what circumstances I would have called any of these uncles to help me with anything at any point in my life, not even when they were still alive. Their current lack of aliveness makes them even less likely to be helpful in a crisis than formerly. It’s hard for me to picture big, bluff Uncle Abe, the guy who used to toss me in the air to make me giggle and scream, giving me advice on Men, Marriage, Career … or how to fix a computer.

uncle-sam

Or even asking him to read something I wrote to see if he liked it.

He wouldn’t have liked it. None of them would have liked it. Or understood it. Their brows would have furrowed and I am sure they would have found my interest in Such Matters perturbing and disturbing. At the very least.

So here’s the scenario.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

“Hello?”

“Uncle Herman, hi. It’s Marilyn.”

“Who?”

“Marilyn. Dorothy’s daughter.”

“Oh, Dorothy. How is she? Is she coming to visit? I haven’t seen my little sister since … ” Long pause.

“Last month,” I offer helpfully. I’m nothing if not helpful.

“Yes,” he agrees.

“Uncle Herman, I have a problem. My laptop screen seems to have an intermittent connection to the keyboard and I can’t figure out how to fix it. Can I bring it over and have you take a look?”

“Sure Bubbala. Your Aunt just made a big batch of the jello you like so much.”

I really did love the jello Aunt Ethel made. It was never too hard or too soft — always perfect. And she used bunny rabbit-shaped molds so the jello wriggled and jiggled, as jello should.

Jello notwithstanding, I cannot imagine a positive outcome to this encounter. Although in his day, Uncle Herman was good with machines, especially sewing machines (he was a cutter and tailor, as were most of the men in my mother’s family in that generation), computers were … well … not his thing.

July 1963

He could give it a good whack, which might cure the problem or finish off the computer. A simple, fast, permanent fix. Not exactly what I had in mind.

Or they could have served me jello and we would talk about this and that, forgetting the reason for the visit because seriously, when you have a problem, do you call your family to help you out? Really?

And as a final note of caution, quick fixes are rarely good fixes. Just an observation.

THE PEOPLE, PLACES, CRITTERS WHO MATTER … Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: The Things that Matter Most

There are quite a few more people who should have pictures than I have room for but suffice to say, I have forgotten no one.

It has been a hectic year, at end of which — Garry can hear. Our deck is full of birds. The Duke roams the woods at will. Short of rebuilding the fence, which is out of the question, I have to hope he’s not planning to go anywhere — like the road. He doesn’t go anywhere. Duke roams the front and backwoods, then jumps into the yard and come home for a treat. He’s been good, hasn’t he?

Garry and Dr. Remenschneider. When your doctor is not much older than your grandchild, you know you’ve put on a few years.
Chef Owen, master of turkey
Bonnie with Garry
The Duke
Gibbs
And let’s not forget the birds …
Home

There’s not enough room to include all the friends and family and everything … but you are all remembered and loved!

AS ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE SAID, “WHAT FAMILY DOESN’T HAVE ITS UPS AND DOWNS?” – GARRY ARMSTRONG


“What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?” – Eleanor of Aquitaine, “The Lion In Winter” (1968)


Family!

We are always in the middle of dealing with our relatives, especially this time of year. It can be a challenge. We love them but brokering who is going where while trying to avoid the inevitable battles which will last until the next century leaves us having “loud conversations” with each other.

Which is not fair. It isn’t even our drama. I suppose that’s why some families just give it up after a while. The drama overwhelms the joy.

Dublin, September 1990

We don’t have Mom and Dad, Gramps or Gramma, Uncles or Aunts to consult for help. We’re it!

July 2012

I look at the old photos of my family from long, long ago. I wonder how they dealt with these things. They look so young and carefree. I know things were not always easy for them as my brothers and I grew up. I still recall “loud conversations” between Mom and Dad.

I used to wonder why they didn’t resolve things easily like they did on family TV shows which were forever playing as we were growing up? You know, where father definitely knew best? I once even asked my Mom why our house wasn’t like Donna Reed’s home. You can guess how she answered me.

1963

Why didn’t the clock stop for Marilyn and me when we were younger and healthier with some of those beloved family members still around to help us deal with stuff. We’re the “old folks” now, the senior members of what was once a lot bigger bunch of relatives.

Family are us. It’s more than a little disconcerting.

HOW A FORTUNE TELLER RUINED MY GRANDFATHER’S LIFE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My father was a scientist and a very rational man. He didn’t believe in religion or have any superstitions, except one. He told me to never, ever go to a fortune-teller. He had a logical reason. HIS father had told him an eerie story about HIS experience with a fortune-teller, which had haunted him throughout his life.

My grandfather, on a lark, when he still lived in Russia, went to a gypsy fortune-teller in a nearby gypsy camp. He was given a long, detailed story about his future life. Most of the story seemed outrageous, if not impossible at the time. He forgot about the incident. Until, to his dismay, the predictions started to come true, one at a time. I don’t remember all the details but here are a few.

The gypsy told my grandfather that he would serve in the army. At the time in Russia, only first-born sons were conscripted into the army. My grandfather was the third son, so this would never happen. Except that his oldest brother shot off his toes to avoid military service. Then the second oldest brother died suddenly and young. So it fell to my grandfather to take up arms. Just like the gypsy told him. What are the odds?

My father’s father

Next, the gypsy told my grandfather that he would take a long journey involving a boat. He had no intention of ever leaving Russia. Until he couldn’t make a good living as a tailor when he finished his military service. Then he decided to come to America – a very long journey, part of it by sea.

The personal details the gypsy told him were the creepiest part of the story. The gypsy told him that he would marry a young woman who would bear him seven children, including a set of twins, but only two of the children would survive. Believe it or not, my grandmother had exactly seven pregnancies, including a set of twins. The oldest and the youngest, my Dad, were the only ones to survive infancy.

By now my grandfather was freaking out! The next prediction by the gypsy was that his wife would die young and leave him to take care of two children on his own. She died of tuberculosis when my Dad was three. The gypsy said that my grandfather would struggle for a few years but would eventually marry a strong woman who would be a good mother to his children. This happened exactly as predicted. His children, aged three and eleven, were latch-key kids until he met his second wife who, my father always said, ‘rescued’ them.

The rest of my grandfather’s life also played out pretty much as the gypsy had told him. He started making a good living. (He was the first to bring the pleated skirt to America). He lived comfortably until his death as an old man for the day – he was in his 70’s.

The story doesn’t end there. My father understood his father’s aversion to clairvoyants. But as a young man, he fell madly in love with a woman who was ‘beyond his reach’. He was a poor, Jewish medical student and she was a proper WASP who wanted a comfortable and respectable life. He was not in a position to give this to her.

My Dad as a young man

My Dad was so smitten, that he took a year off from medical school to pursue the woman full-time! During this period, he came across a fortune-teller. He couldn’t resist finding out if he would ‘get the girl’ in the end. The gypsy told him that the woman would never marry him. She said that the woman would string him along but eventually would marry a man from Chicago who was ‘like a locomotive’. Dad remembers this phrase because it was an unusual way to describe someone.

As predicted, again, despite a long courtship, his paramour eventually sent him a letter breaking off the relationship. She said that she had found a well established, well-off man and was moving to Chicago to marry him. She described him as strong and commanding, ‘like a locomotive!’

Unbelievable! My father had no rational explanation for any of this.

Neither do I.

PARENTING TRAINING SHOULD BE REQUIRED – 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.

Last year I spent time 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!

jen-and-kids

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.

jase

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.

all-4

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!

8/12/2018 – TODAY IS NATIONAL MIDDLE CHILD DAY – Marilyn Armstrong

I was a middle child. I’m not anymore because my older brother died and my younger sister got addicted to everything and disappeared. I’m assuming she is alive since no one has told me otherwise, but I have no actual evidence to that effect.

1963

Middle children have an interesting place in family life. If the family is big, there are lots of middle children so you can have quite a heap of middle children, but in the three-child family, middle children are often communicators. We take messages to the other warring family members.

Mom tells you to tell dad whatever, which you do, then he tells you to tell her something else. You brother confides in you because you are “The One Who Talks.”

It’s a weird role for a kid. It makes you feel important. Everyone counts on you to take and deliver messages. But it’s a fake importance. What you are really doing is helping your dysfunctional family not communicate with each other.

That was the final reason I went to Israel. My marriage was tired and not doing well … and my family had gone from dysfunctional to dangerously dysfunctional. Frighteningly dysfunctional with potentially lethal results. I felt — and I’m sure I was right — that if I didn’t go far away, I would never break the chain of recriminations, threats, lies, prevarications, fear … the whole ugly wrapper.

Not all families are equally dysfunctional, but mine was way beyond standard. Matthew and I survived. I survived better than he did, though he lived a good — if sadly short — life.

He had a great wife and an amazing relationship with her. I’m pretty sure she saved his life. Although I had one really awful marriage, Jeff and I got along well. As a marriage, it faltered, but it was a strong friendship. We were supportive of one another until finally, he died. Even after we divorced, we stayed friends.

I was right. My time in Israel broke that chain of me as the family communicator. Unfortunately, my mother died … and then, there was only my brother, and then Jeff and Matthew died — both much too young.

2012

But then there were new friends. There was the internet.

I communicate again. I don’t see your faces, but I feel you. I worry about you, want to know you are okay. You matter to me. I am not good at virtual relationships. To me, you are real. Distant, I admit, but real.

Stay real. Stay well. Stay safe.

STAY AT HOME KIDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I have a friend who has three daughters, including a set of twins. They are now in their late twenties and early thirties. And they are all back living at home now. I was shocked to hear this.

All three girls have four-year college degrees. All three have full-time jobs. But none can earn enough to live on their own. One of the girls has a one and a half-year-old baby. The mom is no longer with the father, though he is still in the baby’s life. He also works but doesn’t earn enough to contribute to his daughter’s support.

What is going on here? What a tragedy, that middle class, educated working, young people can’t afford to live on their own without their parents’ support. It can’t be good for twenty and thirty-somethings to be living with their parents. It’s infantilizing and demoralizing. There also doesn’t seem to be any prospect for them to move out in the near future. This set up is not necessarily great for the parents either, especially if they want to retire at some point.

Starting wages today don’t seem to be high enough to pay for a home and even minimal living expenses. At least in New England, where I live. And this is even true with a college degree. Part of the problem may be that kids leave college with heavy debts that contribute to their financial dependence on their parents. So, it’s a vicious cycle.

And if you have a baby, the financial situation becomes exponentially worse!

My friend’s daughters are lucky that their parents can afford to support them. And that they didn’t already downsize their home. The kids contribute to the household, but not significantly. What will happen when my friend and her husband want to retire? They probably won’t be able to.

My friend is also lucky that she can work part-time from home. So, with the help of the other girls, they don’t have to pay for daycare or other childcare. This makes a big difference, financially. I know young people who pay a large percentage of their annual income on childcare – just so they can continue to work. This is also a travesty.

I don’t have any earth-shattering insights or solutions to any of these problems. I just got to see first hand what this economy and this society can do to young adults and their retirement age parents.

I’ve read about this phenomenon, but things affect you differently when people you know are involved. I can now put a face on this problem. It’s no longer an abstract issue, but a personal story. I’m shocked, appalled and depressed.

What will happen to whole generations? What will happen to our society? This is our future. And it looks pretty bleak.