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!

FAMILY ‘SUMMER CAMP’ – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I did a fun thing with my kids in 1993, when they were eight and thirteen. My ex, Larry, and I took them to a three-day Family Summer Camp on Lake George in New York State. It was just like regular sleep away camp except it was designed for families.

My two kids on the dock at the camp

During the day, everyone signed up for different activities, with or without your other family members. The families came together at mealtimes and for the evening’s entertainment. I did several things with my kids. It was fun doing things I had enjoyed when I was in camp, with my own children. Things like archery and riflery, both of which I, strangely, excelled at.

We also kayaked together and went waterskiing. At least the kids went waterskiing, all around the picturesque lake. I had waterskied in grade school and found it easy. I didn’t anticipate a problem. However, neither Larry or I could even get up on our skis for more than a few seconds. We got three chances and struck out 0 for three. It was embarrassing and made me feel old.

The accommodations were sparse. They took “rustic” to new levels. And I’m not a ‘roughing it’ kind of girl. So this was really a stretch for me. Each family had their own cabin in the woods. Ours had two sets of bunk beds, plain wood floors, a dresser and a table and chairs. There were, maybe two light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. No air conditioning goes without saying (a big deal for me). Also lots of bugs and insects.

Sparse cabin like the one we lived in for the weekend

Then there was the bathrooms. There were two communal bathrooms, one for men and one for women, The problem was, they were at least two city blocks from our cabin. We had to walk through dark and thick woods to get there. There were exposed tree roots and fallen branches everywhere to trip over on the way. Making that trip in the middle of the night with a flashlight and an eight year old was not a picnic. It was downright scary.

One interesting camp rule was that every family had to do kitchen duty for one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner. That meant setting and clearing tables before and after the assigned meals. That was one of my favorite memories from the weekend – sharing KP duty with my kids and a few other families.

My daughter on the camp’s dock

On this trip, I was also introduced to the art of Storytelling. We were regaled one night by a professional Storyteller. We were all mesmerized. She was amazing. She told a wonderful old tale with a theatrical delivery that made you feel like you were watching a full cast enact a play. I’ll never forget that experience.

I don’t think I could have handled more than three days of “camp”. But as a family “adventure,” I give it five stars! Except for the fact that Sarah came home with lice! Maybe it should only get three stars.

A HARMLESS LIE, A HARMFUL LIE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Growing up, my parents lied to me about a lot of things. To ‘protect’ me. The biggest lie was about my parents’ ages. They knocked almost twenty years off my father’s age and a few from my mom’s for good measure. They didn’t want me to realize that my dad was ‘old’. He was 59 when I was born and was twenty-six years older than my mom. That was just one of the many lies ‘for my own good’.

By the time I was 49 and my mother was 82, I thought I’d learned the truth about all the untruths that had populated my childhood. I was wrong. There was one more whopper waiting all those years for exposure to the light.

Me and my parents when I was about eight-years-old

My mom was diagnosed with cancer at 81. A little while later she insisted on going away for a weekend together. I never traveled with my mom so this, in itself, was unusual.

Then, at dinner one night, came the big reveal. “There’s something I have to tell you…”

I stopped her right there and said that I knew my father was really my father because I was so much like him. I laughed. My mother was serious. My father was really my father. But… I was conceived out-of-wedlock.

“On what planet would you think I could possibly care about this revelation?” I asked my mom, stunned. My next thought was “Oh, my God! You waited till I’m close to 50 years old to tell me this!!”

I knew my parents were together for three years before they married. I also knew that they had both been told that they were sterile and could not have children. My mother had given birth to a five month old stillborn son when she was twenty. She couldn’t get pregnant after that and was told she never would.

Mom and me at around ages 49 and 82

When my mother skipped her period, her Ob-Gyn gave her shots to bring on her period. She’s lucky I wasn’t accidentally aborted. It never occurred to anyone that she could possible be pregnant. Except for one of mom’s friends who was a doctor and was suspicious of mom’s complaints of nausea and fatigue. She insisted that mom get a pregnancy test. The rest is history.

Except the history that I had been told for almost half a century, was that my parents married on December 3, 1948 and that I was born on October 26, 1949. They celebrated December 3 as their anniversary for all the 33 years of their marriage. In fact, they weren’t married until April of 1949, only six months before I was born. My mother didn’t even remember what her real anniversary date was. I found her marriage license among her memorabilia after she died. My parents were actually married on April 14, 1949.

I didn’t understand why this was such a big deal to my liberated, professional, potty-mouthed, modern mother. She explained that, at the time, conception out-of-wedlock was a big deal for everyone. People counted the months between the wedding and the birth of the first child. A premature first-born could ruin your reputation for life.

But what about the intervening 49 years? Apparently once the lie was established, there was no good time to reveal the truth. The whole thing seemed odd to me. The oddest part was that my mom was so genuinely upset about having to tell me this ‘truth’.

I consider this the least harmful of all my parents’ lies. The motivation was pure self-interest. The effects on me and other family members turned out to be nil. By the time I was old enough to understand the situation, no one cared, least of all me. The era when being born a bastard was an issue, had long passed.

On the other side of the spectrum in my life was a very harmful lie that was told to me when I was a child. On it’s face it may have seemed harmless. But the damage it did was deep and long-lasting.

My grandfather adored me. He carried treats in his coat pockets at all times. Candies for me in one pocket and dog biscuits for my dog in the other pocket. I adored my grandfather too.

He used to tell me stories about a little girl named Sylvia, who he saw at the office all the time. She was the granddaughter of one of Grandpa’s real estate partners. Sylvia loved Grandpa. More, it seems, than I did. She always asked him to recite the American presidents in order for her. She loved his stories about Abe Lincoln, Grandpa’s favorite president. Sylvia always told him how much she loved him and was very vocal about how wonderful he was. Maybe even more so than I was.

I admit that I felt a little competitive with Sylvia. I tried a little harder to be as effusive and loving to Grandpa as she was. I felt the need to earn my rightful place as his favorite.

I’m sure you see what’s coming. I didn’t. When I was nine years old, my grandfather admitted that Sylvia didn’t exist. He had made her up to make me jealous. I can tell you exactly where I was standing when the world as I knew it crumbled. I can’t tell you how betrayed, used and manipulated I felt. And all to stroke my grandfather’s fragile ego. He thought it was funny. A joke.

Me with Mom and her parents when I was around eight years old

I never felt the same about my grandfather again. It took me years to get over the stinging anger and hurt.

That is an example of a devastatingly damaging lie. It had never occurred to me that grownups could treat children this way. I suddenly realized that even people you loved and who supposedly loved you, could use you and inflict emotional pain.

I got to laugh at my mother’s 50 year old confession. I never laughed at Grandpa’s ‘joke’ on me.

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.

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.