Saturday, July 31, 2010

August- What is is Change

August comes up on me like one of Charles Dicken's ghosts in Scrooge. Probably most like the ghost of life to come. I reluctantly follow along knowing I won't like what's coming. I lived in Rochester, New York for thirteen years. I enjoyed a great deal of the surrounding environs, cultural opportunities, human service vibe, friends and family. Unfortunately, the seasons somehow had some sort of screw up when they divvied up and allotted time and Summer got the short end of the stick. Or it was confused by Spring. Spring in Rochester, attempts to make a bold announcement, but Winter doesn't give up easily and it is not unusual to spend Mother's Day in your winter woolies, shoveling the driveway. Spring tumbles into Summer, blink and you miss it. Fall behaves like a middle child or more aptly, the black sheep of the family. Occasionally it outshines all, seemingly without regard for anyone. Generally the risk of gaining that attention causes it to go underground by way of gray, cloudy skies submissively allowing Winter to step in and overshadow. Winter definitely won out in Rochester. August is very clear about this battle of the seasons and like a child raised in this seasonal dysfunction, I still don't trust August. I won't be fooled. I know it's coming and I know what it means.

I use to roll with summer and enjoy the spontaneity. The life and liveliness it brings. Flowers brightly peaking. Beaches, pools, sprinklers and chasing lightning bugs. Ice cream trucks, doubling up on bicycles and riding fast! Being barefoot. Sundresses, first kisses, rooftop parties. Summer, come what may, the living so easy.

I love the night sky of August, how close it appears and with it a sense of possibility and connection. Most constellations visible and identifiable. I loved to show these to my children when they were young and still amazed by me and the night sky. Can you remember being able to stay up that late? Or your first shooting star? I do. My parents brought their four antsy children upstate for a vacation. Away from Queens and the inner city we could see the night sky. It stayed with me. I passed it on, but I still look into the sky of summer and can feel my parents with me, and the wonder.

I am perhaps, in the mid to late summer of my life cycle. Autumn is not quite here but it is certainly calling to me. Maybe it's happening slightly prematurely. Or I just ended up on that end of the continuum. Some of my peers have preschoolers. I have a college graduate, a sophomore headed abroad for her Spring semester and a high school sophomore. I am struggling with the high school sophomore. Not him personally, more the distribution of seasons, so to speak. He seems to be getting a Rochester summer-type family. Sometimes it's fun and light. Sometimes almost non-existent. The journeys began by his older siblings seem to be pulling him away, quicker. This is hard to grapple with. I want him to have the “same” experience. I am beginning to understand this is impossible, as much as unnecessary. His experience will be important, thoughtful and valuable, just different. This is what happens in the summer of one's life-cycle. You start to actually believe what you have always known but refused to accept. You gain acceptance. You can't control what's going on. Your flowers can peak brightly, but ultimately the petals will start to brown and wither. All the miracle-gro in the world isn't going to change this. It may add a week or two, but it won't stop the process. I am coming to terms with my age. Albeit, reluctantly.

I went away earlier in the summer but had a hard time leaving my “kids”. I have left them before, but generally it has happened under the careful watch of a grandparent or two, or there were two young adults, no one was ever home alone. It wasn't normalized or typical. My husband found an amazing restaurant in Westport, New York. The Normandie Beach Club- great view, incredible food, great wait staff. The wait staff, as it turned out were prior students in a school where my husband was principal- three and a half hours south, infinitely small world that we live in. After the initial surprise, and small talk they asked about our children. I am certain that I sounded pathetic. I shared that we were up in the Adirondack's alone but my tone was not upbeat. The idea of being alone before, meant a romantic weekend. A break. This feels so different. It's difficult. Change. This was a huge change for me. It seems to be hanging over me like August in Rochester. I'm not ready or willing to get the sweaters and warmer clothes out yet. I don't want the extra blankets but like it or not I have no control over this.

What's next? What does it mean that I can leave my children, or that very soon they will all have “left” me? The feeling is palpable. They have tethered me to this earth, or at least my current location. They have given me purpose and very clear parameters. The sun came up every morning and went down each night. In the cycle of each day they have been at the center. This may seem a bit, shall we say, rectitudinous? That's not the intent. They had stability- breakfast, lunch, dinner, and I was able to provide this. Meals shared and for the most part, prepared with love or at least with a clear sense of nutritional value, some variety and almost always a degree or two of desirable palatability. Laundry was done, clothes were purchased, homework was overseen, projects guided, sports, music, creative events attended. Cookies baked, birthday parties thrown, scoldings delivered. Boo-boos kissed, hands held, eyes understanding and all-seeing.

I need to be tethered. I have this great propensity toward flight. Or at the very least that has been my belief of myself. The great winds of change are here, and I fear being blown away, or gliding along. Where may I land? (It is no surprise that the hurricane season is in the fall.) Change is a comin, and I need to find something to hold on to. Time to figure out how to batten down the windows and stay the course. Have I planted enough seeds to spread possibility and color into the lives of my children? Have my interests been interesting, will they sustain me? Can I, will I develop new ones at this point? Have I built a levee, that will protect the fragile, unknown shore of what is to be? I suppose I will find out, soon enough, and learn to roll with it. Creating toilet paper cozies has very little appeal even if I were equipped with the talent, but maybe I will be able to create something just as engaging. I may be wearing clunky Earth shoes to help keep me grounded on my way to the next phase or at least into the nearest arts and crafts supply store.

Change is a measure of time and, in the autumn, time seems speeded up. What was is not and never again will be; what is is change.

- Edwin Way Teale

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Everyone Who Is Anyone Knows Peter Dinklage and Chelsea Clinton

Everyone who is anyone, and those that wish to be, are abuzz with the upcoming wedding that is to take place in Rhinebeck this weekend. Unfortunately some seem a little put off and disgruntled by the affair. (Most likely the same folks that clog up the intersections on a regular basis driving their children two blocks away 5 or six times a day.) But groans and moans about traffic and commotion aside, it is nice to recall the attraction of this special town I call home.

While the Hudson Valley is certainly and apparently a natural choice for the wedding of Chelsea Clinton or anyone else for that matter, Rhinebeck is truly spectacular. I can think of no other setting that closely embodies the best features of the Hudson Valley in history, beauty and romance. The splendor of the valley, the Hudson River views framed by the rolling hills of the Catskills and Shawangunks, make this an area unique and abundant with visual charms. Isn’t that what most brides wish for? A beautiful visual back-drop that will frame the event?

The early Hudson River exploration lead to settlements that were among the first in our nation. This is a region founded for freedom in a state that early on offered varied resources and forward thinking. What's not to love? Few other early colonies were open to diversity and valued tolerance. Numerous industry magnates who built up this nation, culled this region for their leisure. This is evidenced in the many Hudson Valley estates that enrich the scenery. Wouldn’t the former President’s daughter want national history to be sprinkled about without overshadowing her day?

Gore Vidal, once and for many years, a resident of Barrytown, noted the Hudson Valley’s long standing attraction with the rich and influential. He observed the positioning of the homes of the Roosevelts, Vanderbilts, Astors, Delanos, Millses, Chanlers, Aldriches, and Montgomerys. Lined up along the Hudson River from Staatsburgh to Clermont with Rhinebeck in the center. Proudly and dramatically. Vidal observed, as these wealthy American’s began examining their brief national history, they collectively gathered inspiration from their European heritage. This is evident in the design and construction of their country homes. Gothic architecture is a theme throughout some of the estates and detailed in numerous village homes. Vidal also decribed the interest and correlation to democratic ideals of ancient Greeks as the inspiration for the Greek Revival style evidenced in many of these homes and landscape designs. It is worth noting that Poughkeepsie and Hudson stretch this landscape with Locust Grove and Olana. I believe a tour through Olana boasts the relics of the Parthenon picked up, rather innocently, on a vacation. The Clinton’s may not appeal to all, however, the nation was certainly on an economic upturn during President Clinton’s command. Remember the word surplus? Wealth, abundance, productivity? (I think Bush is the antonym for surplus and Obama’s promise of hope seems a fuzzy dream. Too bad he won’t be able to attend- the charms of this region could certainly inspire.)

Perhaps Hillary Rodham Clinton’s interest and admiration for Eleanor Roosevelt is what introduced the Clinton’s to this area. Perhaps, the beauty alone was enough of a draw. We, who make our homes in this area, are truly lucky to start each day amidst the storied pines of Ferncliff Forest, the meandering stone walls and the newly burgeoning, organic, as well as, the long established farmlands. The vast estates don’t hurt either.

Best Wishes to Chelsea and Mark and thank you for helping to remind us of our daily good fortune. Rather than groan and complain about the traffic, or whether or not Bill will personally pay the local police for their additional tasks, why not pack a picnic and head to one of the other local estates. Blythewood at Bard boasts a beautiful garden with a fountain leaving you to feel like you just walked into "The Secret Garden". At any moment a wood sprite will meander through playing Pan’s flute. The children can frolic and dirty their knickers the way the little Vanderbilts, or Astors, or Alriches once did. Perhaps you can drive through Barrytown and guess where Gore Vidal once lived. Maybe you’ll spot some other famous visitors. Peter Dinklage is known to travel these parts. I’ve had the great pleasure of spotting him on three separate occasions. I don’t believe he offered to pay any police for the cost of his fame. Oh, you don’t know who he is? Oh, everyone that’s anyone knows who he is! Look around. Enjoy. And I might actually say hello familiar-like the next time I see Mr. Dinklage, unless it causes a ruckus, or slows traffic, or I become star struck.

Hey, on second thought, stay off the streets, have a Peter Dinklage film festival, give me a call, I'll bring the popcorn, or the syrup covered spaghetti, (wink) maybe the leftover Amtrak snack-pack(wink-wink). Ok, Im giving too much away.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

This is Your Mom on Vigilance....

A few weekends ago I went to a community drug awareness forum. I feel it is important to make a showing at these events. At least, at this point in my parental career, a showing will do. I might even leave with some new information that I can annoy my remaining teen with. I end up with the same credibility as a “Jew for Jesus” around my kids following these events. I have seen the light even though it’s not shining the same for them.

I used to feel downright energized and electric with the intention of changing the world. I am older and my children are as well. The knowledge that there is heroin in my local middle school does not shock or frighten me. I have been on this for awhile. (On this news, not on heroin.) I became well informed seven years ago when I attended the last drug awareness forum that was held and made certain to stay abreast of all news related to drugs and drug-taking in the community. Vigilant. Alert. Not on my watch, I figured, at least for my kids. I wanted my children to be safe or buffered from the reality of drugs in this community for as long as possible. I wanted them to have real life strategies to avoid the temptations, withstand the peer pressure and also be clear of mind when they saw their peers vomiting and making really bad choices that they later regretted. I wanted them to see this for what it really was. Not as attractive or as harmless as we are lead to believe. I hope I have been successful on this front, so far.

I don’t live in the mean streets of New York or Yonkers or Poughkeepsie even. I live in an affluent, bucolic town in the Hudson Valley. We are not too good for heroin, or methamphetamine or other standard issue street drugs. We also seem to have access to a wide variety of opiates that come in shiny amber vials with enough pain-killing power to stop a few charging bulls. I have been vigilant. I have forewarned and foretold. I have pointed out and been very strong about my feelings. I have not toked a joint or discussed the medicinal value of pot around my children and I don’t intend to. This doesn’t make me right, or right-winged, or better than. I do have to keep my righteousness in check and it does come seeping out at times with the same bitterness of an ex-smoker. This is also not so attractive and may lead to drug-taking behaviors if I’m not careful. Vigilance being a dangerous thing. (What would the ad campaign look like? “This is your mom on vigilance…." pan to a mother wielding a frying pan toward a teens head?)

I am astounded and put off at how often I hear some of my parental compatriots. We, the seemingly, upstanding and educated discussing the merits of pot and the need for legalization. We proclaim that kids will be kids and we all did it and survived. Some provide alcohol for other parent's children or knowingly allow parties to take place with drugs and alcohol around and watch as kids drive away. Some in positions of power and leadership look the other way regarding athletes, or students in the schools. They apply their personal philosophy onto their decision making about minors. They fear the consequences of getting caught may be too harsh. Not too much consideration for the consequences of the illegal behavior I'm sad to say.

Does this seem to be unusual behavior? Does it occur elsewhere? Help me out here. Stretch it a bit. Would we openly discuss the merits of sexual enjoyment and look the other way when young minors, starting at say, 12 years of age, or maybe 9, were sexually active? Would we explicitly model our sexual activities so that our children can learn how to be sexually responsible? C’mon we have all heard or even shared the idea- “I let my kids drink at home because I want my kids to learn how to drink responsibly so that when they go away they won’t be so tempted and irresponsible.” Maybe we could stop being so hard on ourselves about other responsible behaviors as well. Why keep working and paying those bills? All of the stresses associated with work certainly impact our children. Wouldn’t it be more fun to just see what the world has in store for us, give up the mortgage, the cars, the assorted toys? Why fill our children’s heads with false illusions, let them know now when they are young, say 11, that there are no promises in life. Stop providing for them so they may learn how to do it themselves. Why make them feel secure? Besides a few tokes will mellow us all out and help us face the next day.

Preposterous, yes? Extreme? Not the same situation? For me, yes and no. I definitely struggle with the concept of hypocrisy around these behaviors. I enjoy a glass of wine, sometimes a bit too much. I don’t want to pass on the message that drinking and drugs, or herbs if you need to feel a little better about the substance, or pharmaceuticals if they are carefully prescribed and monitored, are evil. They have their place. But I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that we need to somehow show our children how to partake. I’m grateful that parents don’t typically feel the need to explicitly show their children how to be sexual. Why then do parents believe they need to show and provide their children with opportunities to drink and do drugs?

I don’t know what the right answer is about illegal substances and minors. I do know that I don’t have to try and figure that one out, the laws take it off my hands. It doesn’t matter much to me if it is good or bad. It is illegal and that’s enough. I don’t particularly like to drive 55 or 65 miles an hour but I know I will receive a costly consequence for such behavior and I would be foolish to tell my children it is ok to drive faster than the speed limit, because it’s more dangerous to take a bath or hurt yourself at home. (Many feel the need to state that drinking is worse than smoking pot.)

The laws about drugs and minors seem pretty straightforward to me. I have always thought the argument about being able to vote, and serve in the military can occur at 18 indicates a need to change the drinking age to match, was odd. Did this originate after someone had a few drinks or pills, or inhaled long enough to alter their thinking? Why not change the laws to match the current drinking age? Why not expect the age for all of these so called “rights” to be 21? Would as many young people join the military if they were a couple of years older, perhaps involved with a few real-life decision making events? I imagine it’s a lot easier to decide to join the army when you have few other options. Hmm, do I stay home and have to ask to borrow the car and clean my room and get nagged about getting a job, or do I join the army and get to pick my weapon of choice? Generally, those that join at 18 weren’t choosing between an acceptance into the college of their choice, an athletic or academic scholarship, an apprenticeship at Apple, or possibly getting killed or killing someone else. Talk to those returning soldiers. Really listen. Many are seeking help to relieve the stress, the guilt, the trauma. Many look for therapeutic interventions. Sadly, many more are drug addicted or drinking away the pain. But I digress.

Certainly there are messages we can share with our children to help them make developmentally appropriate choices when they are old enough to make them. Allow them to grow up with healthy skills and strategies. With respect for themselves and others. Help them to understand their full potential. Teach them that adults are different from children and walk the walk as much as you possibly can. Life is a gift, each new day ripe with potential. Let moderation and your conscience be your guide. My legs are starting to chafe from this ride on my high horse (no pun intended) so I'll get down but I won't be a downer. Be well.

After I apply chafing cream I may go get fitted for my Guardian Mother beret and my safety guard vest. (It could happen.) I wonder what vigilance in moderation looks like? I'm sure my kids will keep me in check. Kids will be kids, after all. Just say "No!" and tie a red ribbon around my old oak tree at least until your 21 or legal or both.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Transference of Love or The Misery of the American Male Perspective on Marriage and Children

As luck or karma would have it, I recently perused 2 seemingly different pieces of literature (I'll use the term loosely). One was an article in the July 12, 2010 edition of New York Magazine, the other was a recent interview in the New York Times magazine section. Hold on to your hats as I weave these two together. Friends, sit back and pour yourself a glass of wine, or seltzer, or maybe for old time sakes, since I’m writing about magazines, go for a Cosmo.

The New York Magazine front cover starts us off with the following headline: I Love My Children. I Hate My Life. The premise: children are tough on relationships, burdensome, loads of work, real life buzz-kills. Mothers are less happy than fathers, and single parents are even more miserable than the mothers is the general theme. This seems redundant to me, but I’ll let that go. Ok, maybe I can’t. Aren’t most single parents mothers? Or most custodial single parents mothers? Most is the key term here. Most mothers single handedly parent? Ok maybe I'm pushing it... One man who was featured and complimented for his frankness states “I already felt neglected, and once we had the kid, it became so pronounced. It went from zero to negative 50.” (This is a good time to stretch and yawn and take a sip of your refreshing beverage.)

This little gem is my all time favorite from the article. I almost want to laugh out loud or slam my fist on the table like the scene chewing part of Jaws when Robert Shaw, aka Quint talks about his adventures with the Great White. So, let me recap: I (he) felt neglected. We (they) had the kid. I am just wondering. Just a little wonderment regarding the female experience at the risk of generalizing such a shared and common female experience. When he was feeling neglected, what in Gunga Din's name was she doing? Let’s see if I can recall any of this long ago experience. Oh I remember. I was working at a job full time. I was sick and nauseous followed by vomiting and dry heaving. I was stretching my skin to proportions that were not ever possible before, and unfortunately not ever capable of fully returning to again. I was sore and swollen, leaking and crying. I was elated and frightened in the same breath. I was tired all the time at some points, most. I was preparing a room and purchasing more equipment then I ever needed, to complete a variety of tasks I was uncertain of, all for the opportunity to love and care for an infant that was mutually desired.

Oh just kidding. I’m such a joker. We women like to kid, we joke. I was pretending to do all of that just so I could avoid spending time with another adult that I loved. The very adult that I chose to have a baby with. I never expected he might have felt neglected. I thought all of those carefully performed hi-jinx would be a turn on. Oh c'mon men love when women vomit. Actually, the books us gals read during pregnancy all warn us of these feelings that men have. What to Expect When You’re Expecting dedicates a section to this. I think the section needs to be revisited and perhaps the men folk can see what they might want to do to help understand that the needs of a developing infant will absolutely trump the needs of a full grown man. That should be a little easier to get at this point in the development of the species, or lack there of. Anyway, the article does end up providing some hope and the need to look at the lifespan and not the moment to moment level of demands, neglect, and frustration.

This is a nice segue to the New York Times interview. You may want to tighten up your lingerie or let it all hang out at this point. Hugh Heffner. Need I say more? First, and again note the frankness; when asked about bachelorhood versus family life offering a better chance at happiness, Mr Heffner responds that he was not happiest when married. (That is soooo surprising, don’t you think?) He goes on to say, “Part of the problem, quite frankly, is that when you get married, the romance disappears and the children arrive and the love is transferred. It shouldn’t be that way, but too often it is transferred to the children." Damn those little needy infants. Why can’t they just get up and go to work and allow the couple to carry on the way they want to! Who started this trend? Some selfish baby no doubt, plotting to make men feel unhappy and neglected.

I’m sorry. Does anyone else have a problem with this? Is it ok to state, frankly, these two particular men (and there are others, you betcha), are a bit shy of understanding the concept of parenting and the disproportionate physical and emotional demands placed on the mother before, during, and for quite some time after the birth of these babies? Can we start informing our sons that they were not made single handedly by Mrs. Robert Shaw as she was simultaneously beating a Great White Shark and fixing a few martinis while giving her man a foot massage? Can we break through this bizarre fantasy and help men understand that this is meant to be a shared partnership and since they can’t do too much along the lines of birthing and nursing at the very least they may be able to learn how to provide support and attend to their partners needs?

Really, we still have to have articles and interviews blaming women for neglecting their men for some fly by night infant? Jeez, everyone knows they don’t stay infantile forever, well they don’t have to. And some of them can even grow up and learn how to get dressed in their big boy clothes instead of remaining in their pajamas or bathrobes all day.

My experience with parenting: Work? Yes. Burden? No. At times, unpleasant, but overall, amazing and incredible. I would do it all again but I am at the other side of the lifespan and enjoying time with friends, my children, and my husband. I might even take up shark hunting with some of my free time.