SPIRIT OF INQUIRY OR DEFIANCE?

OVERCOMING CHILDHOOD ISN’T ALWAYS ABOUT NICENESS AND OBEDIENCE

So I found this question on Facebook and it brought back a deluge of memories.


Hey moms, I’m in desperate need of  help. I’m at my wit’s end with my lovely little defiant child. I love him lots, but enough is enough. Every morning, my son wakes up at 3 in the morning and refuses to go back to sleep. He will literally be up for the entire day. I’ve repeatedly tried putting him back in his room. I’ve tried time outs, taking away his privileges. Tried having him do chores. Nothing works. He talks back, makes faces, or just laughs at me. I literally don’t know what to do anymore.


My mother used to tell stories about me as a baby. How I’d be up and wide awake by 3 or 4 in the morning. We lived in a crappy apartment on Rose Street in Freeport. She would get up, put on her overcoat and wait until the heat came up, which wasn’t until seven at the earliest.

I was smart child and mentally active. She eventually figured out that the only thing that made life better was keeping me busy. Finding things for me to do that I enjoyed. Crayons, paint, and lots of paper were important items in my world.  I pretty much did whatever I wanted — which fortunately, wasn’t dangerous.

Eventually I learned to read books and write stories. And draw. Life got better for everyone, especially me.

Even as a toddler, I went to bed hours later than the “official” bedtime for little kids. I never slept as many hours as other children. I would read in bed for hours after “lights out.” Even today, I still don’t sleep a lot. If I get six or seven hours, to me that’s a good night’s sleep.

Garry recalls being much the same, too.

I don’t think we were defiant. That term gets rather loosely used today. Defiant often means that this child doesn’t want to do what mom wants him or her to do. Doesn’t sleep enough. And has a great sense of humor.

Highly intelligent children need mentally challenging activities and they can be hard on caretakers.

We were active, curious, and drove our mothers crazy, but it wasn’t defiance. We wanted to do what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to do what we were supposed to want to do. I was never interested in what the rest of the kids found fascinating, though I tried to act interested.

These days, we label kids like this as defiant when maybe what they are is very smart, with a marked desire for information or knowledge. It’s not a character flaw. My mother, having not had the fortune to read modern psychology, read stories to me. Taught me to read. Gave me paints and drawing pencils … and lots of books.

Sometimes pop psychology is a dangerous beast. Don’t label your kids. Saying it might make it true. Just because he or she doesn’t “behave” doesn’t make him or her defiant. Maybe smarter and more creative than other youngsters. Stronger-willed — and not ready to sleep because mom would really appreciate it.


Obedience isn’t always the most important thing you can get from your kid. Being a good little child who always does exactly what he’s told doesn’t show a lot of imagination, creativity, or smarts. Personally, I think obedience is overrated.


I’m 70 now. My mother quite liked me, eventually. I’m sorry she’s gone. We could be good friends today.

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The good news is that my son, David, now 37, is an amazing, well-adjusted adult. The bad news is that he had to overcome severe and consistent adversity to get there.

He started life as a preemie. He was born eight and a half weeks early, at 4 pounds 2 ounces, with Hyalin Membrane disease – his lungs weren’t working. At 36 hours old, his lung collapsed and had to be surgically re-inflated. He spent one week on oxygen and six weeks in an incubator before he could come home at 4 pounds 15 ounces. I got to watch his eyebrows and eyelashes grow in!

David and me in the Preemie unit. David is 6 weeks old and out of the incubator.

He had an amazing disposition as a child. He was happy, outgoing and friendly. But he was also hyperactive. He had behavior problems at school from day one. Teachers didn’t know what to do with this delightful kid who couldn’t sit still or keep his mouth shut and was often a distraction to the other kids.

At nine and a half years old, David had a tonsillectomy. The anesthesia didn’t work properly and he woke up during surgery. He was totally paralyzed but he could see and hear everything going on around him! This was a traumatic enough event to trigger PTSD. He was never the same after he came out of that surgery. One child went in and a different child came out. It was that dramatic!

David started getting sick all the time and missed a lot of school. His behavior problems got worse. The private schools in New York City didn’t have the resources, or the interest in dealing with children with ‘issues’. We moved to Connecticut and put the kids into a public school. This school had a Special Ed Department, a school psychologist and a Guidance Counselor , all of whom tried to help David as best they could.

David was diagnosed with ADHD. The only medication of the day for ADHD, Ritalin, had terrible side effects for him so he had to stop taking it. We tried numerous other drugs and therapies and some helped a little but not much.

David was also diagnosed with learning disabilities. And he had mood swings. He could function adequately for a while but then he would crash and not want to get out of bed or go to school. Everything was a struggle for him. His school years were a nightmare for the whole family.He somehow made it through High School, with the highest absentee record his school had ever seen. He went to a wonderful two-year college called Landmark, which is specifically for kids with various learning and behavior problems. For the first time, David was taught how to manage his ADHD and his learning disabilities. He was given the tools to help him handle his work and regulate his behavior. Landmark was a wonderful and transformative experience for David.

At 23, while finishing the remaining two years of college, his kidneys began to fail. He took a year off from school to recuperate. During this time, David taught himself about the stock market and switched his major from education to business. He graduated college and became a financial analyst, and is now also a portfolio manager.

At one point he had to be rushed to the hospital in kidney failure. He was told that his condition was chronic and that his kidneys would continue to fail until he needed a kidney transplant. His kidneys didn’t hit bottom till he was 32. But it was pretty rough on the way down. On April 12, 2012, I donated a kidney to him.

David at 27

Unfortunately, David is still not symptom free. He has side effects from the immune suppressants which all transplant recipients must take to avoid organ rejection. In addition, his kidney is not functioning at full capacity, so he has days when all he can do is sleep.

Fortunately, his attitude is amazingly positive. He is grateful to be alive. He uses every day to fight his demons and make a happy and productive life for himself and his loved ones. He is one of the most self-aware people I know. He had to fight to get here, but the fight itself is part of what has made him into the person he is – caring and empathetic, upbeat and funny, loyal and giving. I could go on and on.

David three years ago, at 34, with me and his sister

He says that he wouldn’t change anything in his life, however awful much of it was. Because that was the path he had to take to get him to the wonderful place he’s in now. I would love to be able to change his past, but I wouldn’t change a thing about who he is now and where he is in life.

LIMPING INTO THE GOLDEN YEARS

I’m not one of those people who romanticizes the “old days,” but there are some truths worth remembering and revisiting.

I grew up in a different world. Play meant imagination. Physical activity. Jump rope, hide and seek, tag, Stick ball because no one owned a real bat. Stoop ball, jacks. Building a “fort” or climbing a tree. Cowboys.

Toys were simple, not electronic. Getting a new doll was a thrill. She never needed a reboot, unless you count having to find her lost shoe. Almost nothing except flashlights needed batteries.

If you were having a hard time with the bullies in school, you got up, got dressed and went to school. It didn’t mean you weren’t scared. I was plenty scared. It simply wasn’t a parent problem … it was mine. Yours. Ours.

You didn’t get a lot of pats on the back for “trying hard.” You might get an “attaboy” for doing exceptionally well, but you were expected to do your best. Nothing less was acceptable. Doing your best was your job. You took it seriously.

You learned your lessons in elementary school so you could go on to junior high school and then high school. You had to do well in high school because if you didn’t, you couldn’t get into college. We all knew — with 100% certainty — if you didn’t go to college, you wouldn’t go to heaven.

Pretty much every family has family members who didn’t make it. The ones who never found real job or formed a serious relationship. Or accomplished much. If they happen to be our own kids, it makes us wonder what we did wrong. Usually, we have a sneaking suspicion the problem isn’t what we didn’t do. More like what we did too much.

I don’t think we should be mean and uncaring to our kids, nor am I an advocate of corporal punishment, but I think it’s important to recognize we didn’t get strong by being protected from every pain, every hurt. We didn’t get everything we wanted the moment we wanted it. Or, at least I didn’t. If I got one really cool present, that was a big deal. Now kids get so much, it’s meaningless. They don’t appreciate anything because there’s always more where that came from.

So, in memory of the good times, the bad times, the hard times, the great times. The schoolyard battles we fought and sometimes lost. The subjects we barely passed or actually failed — and had to take again. The bullies who badgered us until we fought back and discovered bullies are cowards. Getting cornered in the girls’ room by tough chicks with switch blades, wondering if you can talk your way out of this.

Being the only Jew, Black kid, Spanish kid, fat kid, short kid or whatever different kind of kid you were in a school full of people who didn’t like you. Getting through it and coming out the other side. Being the only one who used big words and read books when everyone else was watching American Bandstand. Being the klutz who couldn’t do the dances and never had the right clothing or hair. Then, finally, getting to college and discovering the weirdos and rejects from high school were now cool people.

Magically, suddenly, becoming part of the “in crowd.” Metamorphoses. No longer outsiders. Whatever made us misfits were the same qualities that made us popular. And eventually, successful.

The fifties and early sixties were not idyllic, especially if you weren’t middle class, white, and Christian. Yet, whoever you were, it was a great time to be a kid. Not because we had more stuff, but because we had more freedom.

We had time. Time to play, time to dream. Whatever we lacked in “things,” we made up for by having many fewer rules. We were encouraged to use our imagination. We didn’t have video games, cable TV, cell phones and computers. We were lucky to have a crappy black and white TV with rabbit ears that barely got a signal.

We learned to survive and cope. Simultaneously, we learned to achieve. By the time we hit adulthood, we weren’t afraid to try even if success seemed unlikely. We had enough courage to know if it didn’t work out, we’d get up, dust ourselves off and try again — or try something else. We knew we would make it, one way or the other.

When we got out into the world, for at least a couple of decades, we had a blast.

Here’s to us as we limp past middle age into the so-called golden years. We really had great lives. We’re still having them, but more slowly.

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY

PHOTOGRAPHY: GARRY ARMSTRONG


An awful lot of people seem endlessly fascinated by childhood, especially their own childhood. Maybe it was such a wonderful time that they will forever regret leaving it. Maybe it was their best of times. For them, the grown-up world has never been able to compete. Maybe, with the passing years, even if childhood wasn’t all that great, it has achieved a retrospective perfection that was not present during the original experience.

Regardless, it wasn’t the best of times for me. I was glad to get out of it alive. I have never had any interest in revisiting it. At this point, thanks to the passage of time, much of it is a fuzzy around the edges. The earliest memories are just plain fuzzy all the way from beginning to end.

Everyone had a childhood. I think by the time you’re entitled to pensions and senior services, it’s time to move away from the delights of childhood and find something wonderful in the grown up world.

Childhood.

It’s where we all come from, but it’s not where we’re going. Most of life is adulthood. I prefer it. I like the adult me a lot better than the kid me.

WHAT IF IT WAS YOUR BROTHER? – RICH PASCHALL

Just Imagine, by Rich Paschall


Growing up. It’s hard, sometimes. For some, it can become hard forever. A youthful psyche can be delicate. An abusive environment can turn out to be too much to bear. Mistreatment can come in many forms, at many places. It can be home, school, or playground.  The young need to be loved — as does everyone. They most especially hate being laughed at.

I’m a little boy with glasses
The one they call a geek
A little girl who never smiles
‘Cause I have braces on my teeth
And I know how it feels to cry myself to sleep

The Peter, Paul and Mary Song “Don’t Laugh at Me” wasn’t just a generic story about kids that are picked on.  The author, Allen Shamblin, wrote it following his daughter telling the tale of being teased at school.   Years later Peter Yarrow was inspired by the song to found Operation Respect.  The non-profit provides a curriculum to schools and uses the song to promote the message:
Just another day,
with the damage done.
You never know how your words can cut someone.

It is hard for a child to “dare to be different.” Someone that does not conform to what others do may be laughed at or ridiculed. This can lead to dire consequences for those who can not handle it.  A young Rachael Lynn asks who will care about others in this anti-bullying anthem:
Someday I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?

Some are fortunate enough to know how to deal with those who are mean, or at least they know how to withstand the pain.  The prolific Taylor Swift shot back at those who were mean to her in the Grammy winning song, Mean:
Take a little look at the life of Miss Always Invisible
Look a little harder, I really really want you
To put yourself in her shoes

Some children can feel invisible within their worlds.  Ignored or pushed around by others, they may feel as if nobody sees them and nobody cares.  Marie Digby shares a song that is autobiographical in nature and refers back to her time in Junior High:
Trust the one who’s been where you are wishing
All it was was sticks and stones
Those words cut deep but they don’t mean you’re all alone
And you’re not invisible

While admitting he did not have it as bad as some others, young country and pop star Hunter Hayes knows what it is like to sometimes feel Invisible.  Here he offers up words of encouragement to the young in his Grammy nominated song:
Well he’s not invisible anymore
With his father’s nine and a broken fuse
Since he walked through that classroom door
He’s all over prime time news

What if being “invisible” pushes a child over the edge to suicide? Or Worse?  Kelly Rowland examines some scenarios in the critically praised song about stolen lives in Stole:
You could be a hero – heroes do what’s right
You could be a hero – you might save a life
You could be a hero – you could join the fight
For what’s right, for what’s right, for what’s right

Those who are picked on, those who are lonely, those who are feeling invisible all need a hero, someone who may save their lives through a little kindness.  In fact, it may also save the lives of others.  Superchick deals with potential heroes and other growing up issues in the album, Last One Picked:
I took my time, I hurried up
The choice was mine I didn’t think enough
I’m too depressed to go on
You’ll be sorry when I’m gone

The pop punk rock band Blink-182 took on the topic of depression and suicide in Adam’s Song.  Written by the band’s Tom DeLonge and Mark Hoppus, the motivation for the lyrics came not only from Hoppus’ feeling of loneliness at home, but also by a teenage suicide letter he read in a publication.  The song itself takes the form of such a letter:

What if it was your brother sister mother father child
Then would it still be cool
Why can’t you see your words are hurting
Everybody deserves to be themselves and no one else
So think before you move

For those who may be bullying others through their actions or their words, Darin Zanyar asks “What If.”  Consider if it was your family.  Would you still act the same?  What about if that was you?  What if you were “the victim of the criticism and they treated you that cruel?”

If any of these songs and stories make you feel uncomfortable, even a little, just imagine how it is to live any of this.  Wentworth Miller explains how it is when there is no “us and we.”
 

HANGING OUT – GREENWICH VILLAGE MEMORIES

Garry and I watched a documentary on Netflix titled “Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation.” It was about Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Both Garry and I were there. He was already a working reporter, but young enough to enjoy the special culture of this corner of New York. I was still a teenager, in college. I was with my first boyfriend who was into the Village scene. I took to it like a proverbial duck to water.

From the Italian coffee shops that sold amazing coffee, and hot and cold chocolate, to the tiny, dark caverns where folk music was born, this was the Heart of Hip. And it was just a 15 cent subway ride from home. The world was mine. There’s a lot of good things to be said for growing up in the country, but it can’t compare with being young and having New York as ones playground.

The Figaro was the coolest of the cool cafes. Everyone talked in whispers. I knocked over a table one day and almost collapsed from the humiliation. Grace was never my forte.

The Figaro was the coolest of the cool cafes. Everyone talked in whispers. I knocked over a table one day and almost collapsed from the humiliation. Grace was never my forte.

Greenwich Village in the 1960s was the stuff dreams are made of. Everyone was there. Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton. Pete Seeger and Judy Collins. Joni Mitchell and Leon Bibb and Harry Belafonte. Everyone. The famous, soon to be famous and a few who would be infamous. All young, making music, and passing the basket.

I’d take the subway from Queens. Get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and still in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with lots of other people to make the rent and afford something to eat now and again.

All I needed was 30 cents for the round trip — and maybe, if I could scrounge it up, a dollar for a chocolate at Caffe Reggio. A dollar and a half would carry me a whole day into evening in the Village. Because hanging out was cheap.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat. Read a book or a newspaper. Watched people coming and going on the street, hoping you’d see someone you knew or wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. That was the definition of hanging out. No one hurried you, or told you to buy something or leave.

This may be the only place I remember that's still (more or less) as I remember it. Cleaner, bigger, but recognizably Caffe Reggio -- the place where cappuccino (in America) was born.

This may be the only place I remember that’s still (more or less) as I remember it. Cleaner, bigger, but recognizably Caffe Reggio — the place where cappuccino (in America) was born. It’s now a protected landmark. Good thing, too.

You could sit with your coffee and book all day if you wanted to. No one would bother you. When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. Sometimes, you had no money. More to the point, you had exactly enough to buy a coffee and a couple of subway tokens. But that was okay. It was the 1960s. We were cool.”

No cell phones. A lot of people had no phone, period. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Car? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I didn’t. That was a dozen years in my future.

People were friendly, funny, and convinced we were going to change the world. Maybe we did. We certainly tried.

Out near Hofstra where I was going to school (and was a music major), my soon-to-be husband and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island and opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. They brought in the guys and gals who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

What did I do there at the AbMaPHd? Hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Just hanging. No one was texting, computing or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the mikes). No beeping, dinging, or strange wailing noises of incoming calls. The noise was human. People talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating and drinking.

It was a wonderful time to be growing up and if I hadn’t been there, I’d envy me for having been a part of it.

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?

72-Kitchen-Autumn-Home-1023_021

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.