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.

MATURATION?

In my late twenties, we had friends in their 50s. One day I asked Betty at what point she had felt “grown up.” By then, I was thirty-ish, working full-time, raising a son, taking care of a home and married for ten years. I figured I ought to feel grown up.

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Betty looked at me and said “I’ll let you know when it happens.”

When I was a kid, I remember wondering when I’d feel grown up. What the “magic moment” would be. Through my working years, I never fully stopped feeling I was pretending to be an adult. I did adult things, had adult responsibilities. I was a mother, a boss, a career person. In charge of forming my son into a responsible citizen … but I felt like a child myself.

Having a child made me responsible, but not mature. 

Now, I’m a senior citizen. I’m grown up. I don’t know when it happened or why. I never noticed the transition, but  I’m not pretending anything. I’m just me, whatever that means.

It didn’t change anything. Funny how things work out.

REMEMBERING DAD ON HIS 100th BIRTHDAY

I planned to write an epic piece about my Dad who would have been 100 years old today. But my body has staged a mutiny, so I’ll be brief.

Dad must be smiling.

William Benfield Armstrong was the real life Quiet Man. I’m the oldest of three sons who realized that Dad meant what he said — just by the look on his face.

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My Dad was a handsome guy. Tall, lean and with a smile that dazzled women and men. I always thought he could’ve been a movie star, rivaling Clark Gable and Gary Cooper.

Dad rarely showed emotions. He kept it all inside. The day I left for basic training in the Marines, I saw something rare. Dad was crying as he put me on the train.

My Father didn’t talk about his experiences as an Army Staff Sgt. in World War Two. We knew he saw action in Germany but he never offered any details, always giving us an annoyed look if we persisted with questions. I finally got some answers a short time before Dad passed away in 2002. He told me about seeing his best friend killed in a jeep explosion, just a few yards in front of him.

He said it was an image he carried for the rest of his life. Dad talked and I listened. It was the longest conversation we ever had. When he finished, he just looked at me with a sad smile and patted my shoulders.

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After my Father died, my two brothers and I were going through his possessions. We found, buried under clothing, several medals he had been awarded in that war so many years ago. My Dad was a hero! We always knew that but never understood or appreciated him in that larger context.

So here’s to you, Dad. At 100, you’re still a ramrod, tall and proud.

WHAT AM I MISSING?

Working backwards from Gen X, I must be Gen W. My parents were Gen V. With the turning of the earth, we Baby Boomers are now {trumpets and drumroll} the “Older Generation.” When did that happen?

I’m not entirely sure how it became our job to “understand” younger generations. I am of the opinion it is their job to understand us. They might learn a few things.

My 6th Grade class.

Gen X, my son’s group, are now in their forties. No longer young, they are an odd bunch. Many grew up convinced they had a date with destiny, that their birthright was The Good Life. Some realized achieving the good life would require work and education, but a big percentage didn’t get that message. Or, on hearing it, felt it had been incorrectly delivered. It was clearly meant for someone else.

I did my best to be a role model for the work ethic. I strove to be good at my job.

As a group, many people of my own and previous generations were obsessive about doing good work. Whatever we did, we did it wholeheartedly. As a generation, boomers believed in education. Were sure work would redeem us. We expected to be grunts before getting promoted.

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Thus you can imagine with how much trepidation heard my son say “I don’t want to waste my life working all the time like you, my father, and Garry.” If he had been the only one from whom I heard these or similar words, it would not have been so alarming.

Say what? I realized — finally and rather late — that there’d been a serious, generational disconnect.

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The “success will come because I want it” thing did not work out well for Gen X or Y.

My granddaughter’s Gen Y group seems focused on personal happiness. They are entitled to a stress-free life. Anyone who forces them to do stuff which they don’t enjoy is a bully. An abuser. What nonsense.

Clueless or not, reality will bite them in the ass. Ultimately, Generations X and Y won’t have parents or grandparents to run to for comfort and a quick loan. Unless they re-evaluate their direction, life is going to prove a huge disappointment. We want the best for them … but they have to make it happen. It isn’t free. Everything has a price tag. Pay up front or later, but pay you will.

On the positive side, if you do something you love, it doesn’t feel like work. Maybe that’s the most important part of the missed message.

A COMING OUT STORY

A few years ago at this time a Facebook status, some stories in the news and a number of You Tube videos on “coming out” compelled me to write on a topic I might have otherwise avoided. 

As you will see below, I could not find a dramatic You Tube video at the time on the harrowing coming out story to which I referred.  I subsequently found it and posted it in a follow-up article.  I have linked it to Angel‘s name here if you would like to see it.  It is a tough 12 minutes.


Despite everything that has been in the news lately, I thought I would shy away from this topic. It is often a political hot potato fraught with emotional arguments that have little to do with rational thinking. There seemed no reason to be another voice among the already countless raised voices. Then I caught a status message on Facebook that got me to rethink my position.

A relative posted a status message that his daughter had put up. As I read through it, I was impressed with the thoughtful counter arguments regarding the opposition to gay marriage, as well intelligent remarks about being gay. I thought I need some of this when the haters start in with their venom.

As I read down the lengthy post I began to realize this was not just a rebuttal to recent actions in the news, particularly the gay marriage ban in North Carolina, but also a commentary by a relative of what it was like to grow up gay. I was totally unaware of the circumstances of her personal life or the problems that it brought her. She did not avoid the most difficult parts of the story, but put it out there bravely for us to see. I was moved by the willingness to try to help people understand by pointing to a personal story.

Unless you are a member of the 1 in 10 who grows up feeling different and alone, it is hard to understand what it is like. You may be picked on at school, bullied by classmates in ways much more hateful than mere childhood teasing. You might find the very thought of going to school as terrifying, and return home each day depressed, perhaps with thoughts of suicide. Recently a 14-year-old boy in Iowa took his own life as a result of the bullying at school and online. “Mom, you don’t know how it feels to be hated,” he had told his mother. He just could not live with it anymore.

What drives people to this kind of hatred? Recently I viewed some coming out stories on You Tube. The story of one young man absolutely stunned me. Angel did not appear to be overtly gay in his video. He told that his coming out was actually an accident.

His father saw him kissing his boyfriend. The boy was often dropped off a block or more from home so his father would not see them. When the father got home he confronted Angel and demanded to know if he was a faggot. Angel knew if he said he was gay, he would get a beating, but he got one anyway. It was a severe beating the boy could hardly survive. When the father had to go out, Angel called for help. He did not call the police, his father was a cop.

He called a hotline and then a family he thought might help. The woman told him to just get out and she would meet him at the corner. He did not make it that far. Bleeding he fell to the ground throwing up blood. He was found and eventually taken to a hospital emergency room. What father would beat his child almost to death because he dared to love someone not of his father’s choosing? Obviously, Angel recovered and was able to tell his story.

Imagine the terror many in the 10 percent may feel, if not for themselves, perhaps for their friends. Will today be the day they are bullied, beaten, or worse? Imagine not knowing who to trust, at home or at school. Imagine not knowing if life will hold anything of worth for you. “Imagine all the people living life in peace.”
Angel has forgiven his father, strange as that may seem. They have even talked since. When I saw his story, I did not have any idea about writing this, so I did not keep track of the You Tube link. I thought I would go back and find it to put at the bottom of this. I searched “A coming out story” since I thought that was the title and I got 149,000 results. For all the young gay people afraid to be who they are, you can be assured, you are not alone. I did find that most of these stories actually turn out well. Some were surprised at the acceptance they received. If you need some hope, search “it gets better.” It is the popular campaign of videos started by syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his partner, Terry Miller. Watch and you will find hope shining through the dark night.

I can not explain to you how people can use the Bible or other religious book to support a position of hate, it taught me that we should love one another as we should love ourselves. If you find it tough right now, for you or a loved one, don’t give in to the haters. It gets better.

http://www.itgetsbetter.org/
http://www.thetrevorproject.org/

Note:  Last year I wrote a short story to dramatize Angel’s video.  I sent Angel a message to ask if it was OK to proceed.  He said it was spot on and to go ahead.  You can read that story here.

HOUSEWORK

My mother hated housework. She did it only under compulsion and had a terrible attitude. She was also a dreadful cook and hostile. The kind of cook who tosses food on the table, glares at you, daring you to say anything other than “Thank you Mom” while choking on overcooked veggies and overdone meat.

I’m pretty sure she wasn’t entirely sold on motherhood either. But having birthed three of us, she did the best she could. Nurturing didn’t come naturally to her, though she made an effort. Her mother hadn’t been much of a nurturer either. It was an apology in the form of a story. I understood.

On the up side, she was a great mentor. She loved books, she loved learning. She an infinite curiosity about how things worked, history and art. She loved movies, laughter, and trips to Manhattan, which we called The City. It was just a subway ride away.

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As soon as I was old enough to have a conversation, we talked. Not like a little kid and a mom, but like friends. She told me stories. About growing up on the Lower East Side when horses and carts were common and cars were rare. How, when she was little, she lived at the library. If she stayed after dark, she’d run all the way home because she thought the moon was chasing her.

Mom grew up doing pretty much as she pleased. In turn, she let me do pretty much as I pleased. Freedom and a passion for knowledge were her gifts to me.

Some of my happiest memories were the two of us walking through Manhattan arm-in-arm. Like pals. Buying roasted chestnuts from the vendor in front of the library. Sitting on the steps in the shadow of the lions, peeling chestnuts and talking. Going to the ballet, which was Balanchine’s company.

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New York was culture central. Our local ballet company was Balanchine. Our local opera was the Met. If we wanted to see a show, we went to Broadway. We had the New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, and the Guggenheim. City museums were free admission and the rest were not expensive, even for a kid on an allowance.

She wasn’t a great housekeeper. Stuff got done, and I did a lot of it because I was the older daughter. It turned out to be a good investment. The time I shared with my mother gave me tools to understand her world. It took me years to put the pieces together, but I got most of those pieces while I ironed my father’s shirts … and we talked.

I hate ironing. But I know how.

A PIANO BY THE WINDOW

Leftovers – For this week’s writing challenge, shake the dust off something — a clothing item, a post draft, a toy — you haven’t touched in ages, but can’t bring yourself to throw away.


I started playing the piano when I was four and by the time I finished high school, I played pretty well. Well enough to impress a few people, mostly those who weren’t schooled in the finer points of classical music.

I followed through by majoring in music at college where I learned how deficient my music education had been. I had a lot of feeling for music and a deep, abiding love for it. What was missing was solid technique and high-end sight-reading skills. By the end of my sophomore year, it was obvious to everyone — especially me — that my future as a classical pianist would never happen. Being almost good enough in classical piano is not good enough. And so I moved on.

The grand piano my parents gave me was too big for the living room of our first house as well as for the much bigger second house. I gave it a bedroom in our first house, but had no place for it in the colonial we bought next.

I reluctantly sold my piano.

Life happened. I moved to Israel, lived there 9 years, moved back to the states. Moved seven more times in two years. Then, Garry and I married and settled down.

I missed having a piano. Whenever I was in a house with a piano, I would sit and play. Probably that’s why Garry bought me a beautiful electronic piano for my birthday 23 years ago. A tidy little instrument with a big sound and a full 88 key keyboard, it fits snugly under the dining room window and never needs tuning.

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I have played it, forgotten it, then rediscovered it over and over during the decades since it became part of my life.

A couple of years ago, I began to practice again, only to discover that after just a few minutes, shooting pains made me stop. It was arthritis in my hands. I have arthritis almost everywhere and it had gotten worse. Gotten so severe I wouldn’t be able to play unless I had surgery to remove some of the calcification. But other stuff got in the way of getting my hands fixed. The surgery never happened.

The piano lives in front of the dining room window. It needs a more thorough cleaning thank I’ve been able to give it. Sometimes, I swear, I hear it softly calling me. I feel guilty when I look at it. It deserves better than to sit alone gathering dust.

I could sell it, I suppose. But many generations of electronic instruments have come and gone. By modern standards, the piano is almost antique. I don’t think it would be worth much on the market. In any case, why should I sell it when it’s so easy to keep?

If I sold it, I’d never own another. Though I don’t play now, maybe I’ll get my hands fixed one of these days. Then I could play again and my piano will be waiting under the window, bright with sunshine.

You never know. Sometimes life surprises you.