Sunday, February 19, 2017

Toy Story

"No woman ever ages beyond eighteen in her heart."

- Robert A. Heinlein

So, within weeks of watching my mother's side of the family say goodbye to my last uncle, my last aunt passed away at the tender age of 99.  My father's sister, she had married a Wisconsin farm boy during the war, and they had settled in Madison, WI and lived out their lives there.  I had always assumed I would be there for her funeral when the time came, but still contagious from the norovirus, and definitely not in the comfort zone to spend what the airlines wanted to get me there, I made the decision to stay here.  But it was odd not being there.  In addition to being a wonderful, warm woman with all the sense of humor my father often lacked (one of my favorite memories of my aunt and uncle was when they regaled us one night with tales of their wedding night - the more embarrassed my mother became, the more ribald their story became, and the more I loved it), she was the very last of my parents' brothers, sisters and their spouses.  Now there is only my frail mother-in-law standing between me and - well - I'm not sure what:  Matriarchy maybe, but that seems an odd term for such a tiny little family as mine.  But I am definitely having to face the fact that I am now the "older" generation.  One of my cousins said something similar at my uncle's memorial, so I know I'm not the only one who has thought about it.  It's odd, even though you know it's the way of things, and even though you know intellectually you're no spring chicken.

But, I never cease to be amazed at how fast time has flown.  I can never wrap my head around the fact that I'm not the starry eyed teenager that saw Star Wars in the theatre 17 times one summer (or some obscene number of times - it might have been more).  So, if I was a teenager yesterday, how can I be the old lady of the family now?!  Well, I don't know exactly, but here I am.  Guilty as charged.

So, it kind of begged the question:  who the hell am I exactly?  I guess it's about time to figure that one out.  But, more to the point, is it time to accept my station in life as an "elder", and what does that mean?

I took Harrison to visit his other grandmother yesterday.  It was the first time I had been in her house, but the house did nothing to dispel my impression of her as more a "traditional" grandmother.  You know what I mean - like the kind I had.  While she didn't have a couch covered in plastic, that was about all that was lacking to complete the picture of a woman who lives a neat, but small and concise life that stopped progressing some time ago.  Her television looks new, turned on to Steve Harvey when I walked in, and there is a perfectly huge photo of Harrison on her family photo wall, but other than that, time stopped at some point.   Everything is highly tidy, not disturbed by cats or dogs or an active lifestyle, but it could exist equally well 20 or 30 years ago.  Not there is anything wrong with that, but it's not even close to the crazy, chaotic life we lead, where I can't keep a couch longer than a few years because dogs live on them and wear them down.  I marched in wearing a Rush t-shirt (the band, not the blowhard) and matching ball cap and handed him off to a woman in her practical cotton shirt and polyester slacks and thought to myself, "Should I be more staid and dignified like this?"

Keep in mind that for Valentine's day I got a toy.  That I really, really wanted.  A remote controlled BB-8 droid.  He sits on my desk and talks to me during the day.  Occasionally we take a break and I run him around on the floor.   I am pretty confident my grandmotherly counterpart does not have a remote controlled BB-8.  I'm pretty sure that if she knew I did, she'd have something rude to say about it.

I think, without any empirical evidence to back this up whatsoever, my generation - the men and women who came of age in the freewheeling, disco dancing 70's - have retained a sense of the "Me Generation" we lived through as teens.   But, Harrison's paternal grandmother, while a bit older, was young in the headier days of the 60's, yet, like the fictional staid mother in Field of Dreams, I would suspect she took two fifties and moved right on to the 70's, and not the same 70's I lived through.   Again, nothing wrong with that, but we are a highly interesting counterpoint to one another, and I pondered which of us is the better role model, given that we're likely to both have a strong impact in his life?  The stable, quiet stereotypical grandmother or the scatterbrained, overly busy, dog-loving, Star Wars obsessed, sports loving woman-child who has not ever quite grown up.

It was a brief inner discussion.  I'm not young any longer, I have to concede that because I was certainly reminded of that painfully this past week when I was so sick and still having to trudge somehow through the days and nights with a baby in the house.  But, I like being young at heart - even to the point of silliness or what some might say is immaturity.  I've decided there is nothing wrong with it.  And, as for Harrison, I think he'll be well served by being exposed to different types of personalities.  I look forward to introducing him to experiences and opportunities, while I know she'll do the same in her own, different way, and she'll be a stable, quiet influence.  Together, we'll be a whole and he'll be the better for it.  At the end of the day, it's all about love and what's in our hearts.  As long as we both love him without reservation, then what we do - or what toys we have - don't matter.

I like to think my Aunt Eleanor would approve of that.  She taught me well to keep a sense of whimsy in the face of great hardship.  I like to think I got an A in that life lesson.

Love you, Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Jim.

"The happiest adults are those who never buried old toys nor abandoned imaginary friends."

- Richelle E. Goodrich

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Women Who Really Work

I had this well on its way to written when I decided it was a massive pity party. Maybe one that needed to be said, but it was so self-pitying, you would need a perfectly HOOUUGGGEE piece of cheese to serve with that whine. So, I thought better of it and am trying again.

The problem is, the entire household was struck, and struck hard, with the norovirus. If you don't know what that is, pray you never find out first hand. It is wicked. Yet, we're a house with an infant, so as much as you want to just roll over and sleep non-stop for 4-6 days until it passes, you can't. And that's if you can miss that much work. We can't do that either. And, while I knew a time like this would inevitably come, once it got here, that foreknowledge didn't make it easier. So, I'll admit it, I was looking for a place to put my angst. Along come Ivanka Trump, perfectly dressed in stiletto heels, just begging for me to get furious over the whole #WomenWhoWork thing. So I obliged.

So, in my gastrointestinal distress, I'd rather focus on women who actually struggle to work and raise their family, not have photo opportunities with their kids while the nanny waits in the next room. Not to say I wouldn't have a nanny at the ready for my grandson if I could - you better believe I would. But, even though I don't fall into nanny hiring bracket, I recognize we're pretty well off compared to most. We're firmly middle class. If we weren't too sick to eat, our bellies would be full, and Harrison has all he could want for and more. Yet that's not the case for so many young children in this country, and I think we as a community and our current President needs to keep all working women in mind.  Because, as I mentioned last week, for better or worse, they are raising the future of this country.  And of the world.

I try so hard not to make this a political blog, nor do I want it to be a pseudo-mommy blog, but it's so damn hard with so much material rife for the picking. And I know so many people just cooed and awed over that photo with the pretty blond and her adorable toddler and you, Dear Reader, may have been one of them. But, you know what, I'd be all aboard with her - finding a speck of common ground if you will - if I logged into her Twitter account and saw her relate stories of women who work hard to make ends meet, women who do without so their kids don't have to, women who scrub her father's hotel toilets so their kids don't have to. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to report that scrolling down a ways, I saw nothing like that.  Having Daddy use his bully pulpit to scold Nordstrom's didn't help her cause in my eye.

I came across an article by Jacueline Kirby, M. S. for The OhioState University that states, "Approximately 60 percent of U.S. children living in mother-only families are impoverished, compared with only 11 percent of two-parent families. The rate of poverty is even higher in African-American single-parent families, in which two out of every three children are poor." explains, "This is not to say that these children are in any way disadvantaged because their mothers are bad parents, on the contrary, they face the Herculean task of trying to juggle all the jobs two people normally would share."  And here was the line from that article that really struck me, "...these mothers often do not have adequate health care."  

I don't want to forget about any woman who works.  It's hard to compete as a woman in what is still very much a man's world.  But I want the administration not to forget about the single working women who struggle to make it through each and every day, and I think about those women now as we juggle caring for Harrison - it's literally down to whichever of is the least sick at the moment.  But, we're so lucky - at least there's more than one of us to choose from.  Lots of moms don't have that.  I'm going to raise a glass of watered down Ginger Ale in their honor.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Meanwhile Back in the Village

During the week when the President was Executive Ordering our environmental protections away and banning individuals legal entry into the country (and that's just what we know about), we had a dramatic week closer to home.  My daughter went back to work.

So many things have changed since my generation raised her generation, I said to her at one point this week, "It's a wonder any of you survived to adulthood."  But one thing hasn't changed.  It takes more than one income for most of us to raise a family, and that means placing parents in the untenable position of handing their beautiful child off to someone else to raise for part of the time.  If you're extremely lucky, you can afford an au pair or a full time nanny.  I looked into it.  If she could afford that, she could just let me retire and do it.  If I could afford it, I'd let her stay home and just pay for it.  But neither of us are in that financial position, so here comes the alternative:  daycare. estimates that 23.4% of children under five are in some form of organized daycare.  This week, Harrison joined those ranks, even if it's only two days a week.  And that was bound to make for an emotionally charged week.

Because it goes against everything you feel deep in your gut:  you are supposed to raise your child.  Not turn him or her over to strangers.  Some of us who have faced the choice do truly love our jobs, but others of us would gladly give it up to be able to stay home with our kids - at least for the first years before full-time school.  But the economic reality is that we can't.  So, we do the thing that seems so wrong to let us do what's right:  support our family.  But, it's more than an emotional double edged sword.  It's expensive.  So, you're working to pay someone else to care for your child and turning over half of what you're working for to do it!  In short, it's not an easy decision any way you look at it.  And when that first day comes, it won't come without some tears and second guessing.

And so it was with our little family.  But Harrison was unaware of the emotional toll the decision took.  He just loved playing with different toys and different stimulation.  After his first week, he's simply exhausted and has been sleeping most of the last 12 hours, like a normal baby.

The rest of the time, Grandpa and Grandmama help out.  A week in to this new world, I can now admit I was terrified we might not be up to it.  After the first night, I was really, really worried I had been right.  I sleep in Harrison's room since he's still needing a night feeding, and we wanted him to have as much of the same environment as he has when Mom's home.  Long story short, he survived the night, but I felt like I had been run over by a Panzer tank.  I was exhausted and my back was killing me.  But after night two, I felt a little better and night three left me feeling pretty normal.  There are some interesting perks to being awake in the middle of the night even:  looking out the window to see nighttime snow drifting down softly in the quiet of the night, for example.  Listening to a still house can't be discounted.  Our lives are so hectic, a little quiet time is rare.  But anyway, I'm still trying to figure out how to work exercise back into this new routine, but overall, with immense relief I think I can now declare that my aging body will allow me to rise to this occasion.

There are other sacrifices we all have to make, and it's sometimes striking the amount of commitment it takes to raise even a single child.  It's well worth it, we're happy to make it, but I'm constantly reminded of the African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child."

But I'm also once more reminded of how my gender shatters the "weaker sex" myth every day.  It takes a strong person, in every sense of that word, to balance work, family and all that modern society demands: like bills and laundry, keeping up with insurances, car inspections and registrations, taking the dog for walk even.  It's mind boggling what young mothers do every day just to get through to the next day.  They're not valued enough for it.  Audi will run a controversial ad during the Super Bowl citing that women are still paid 21% less than men.

It's interesting that at this particular time in history, this is where they take their stand, but I applaud them for it.

After just one tumultuous week, I can tell you that we, as a society, need to support these young mothers however we can.  They are raising the next generation of leaders, after all.  And we could use some good ones.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Ode to a Yinzer

One of the things I was amused by when I moved here was the Pittsburgh colloquialisms.  'Burghers are proud of their unique speech:  they put their phrases and pronunciations on t-shirts and publish books listing definitions, but they actually do talk like that.  Some of them at least.  I had heard of a local online series called Pittsburgh Dad before I moved here.  I always assumed his accent was over the top for the purposes of the role because my family, while definitely identifiable as hailing from Western PA, do not lather it on that thick.  Imagine my surprise the first time someone came to my door sounding exactly like this, and doing it without the slightest sense of irony:

When in Rome as they I've adopted terms like "nebby" (nosy) and of course call what Texans refer to as Coke by its correct name: pop.  But, more often than any of them, I use the term Yinzer, and some of you have asked me what that means.  Well, I think now is a good time to give you my definition of the term because I was reminded of someone this week who was a true Yinzer.

My family said goodbye to my Aunt Ginny's husband, Bill, this past week, almost exactly a year after burying my aunt.  They chose to send him off in much the same fashion they did for Aunt Ginny: more of a celebration of a life as opposed to a mourning of their passing.  I should be so lucky when it's my turn.  So, instead of a long sermon, each family member gets up and tells stories about their life with their loved one.  There is a lot of laughter mixed in with the tears.  It is a good way to say goodbye to someone - to keep the good memories front and center.  But as the family told their stories about my Uncle Bill, I kept thinking, "this is my perfect definition of a true Yinzer."  So, here goes...

A true Yinzer is someone who was born and raised in the general vicinity.  Not necessarily right in the city of Pittsburgh, but around it.  Little Washington counts, Uniontown definitely does, Moon, Butler, Canonsburg, Houston (yes, there is a Houston, PA), California (my dad went to college there, which used to confuse the snot out of me), Eighty-Four (home of 84 Lumber), and so on.  All the little towns that sit in the shadow of the steel giant.  They may have gone away for a while - Uncle Bill went to war, for example - but they came back and lived their life near their roots.  They are family oriented, which is why they stay so close to home.  It's not because they're ignorant of the world, but because family comes first.

A Yinzer loves the Steelers (or Stillers if you're pronouncing it correctly), but it's a tough love.  They might love the Penguins and Pirates too, but football is the larger passion because it embodies what this area is about: a proud toughness.  A hard working team for a hard working region.

And make no mistake, a Yinzer provides for his or her family and works hard to do it.

They are honest and forthright to a fault.  Because they will tell you what they think whether you're really up for hearing it or not.  They do not, however, do it out of spite.  They just assume you can handle it, and if you choose to give it back to them, they'll take it without taking long lasting offense.  And they assume that telling you the truth is the best thing for you.  You can't grow as a person if someone is molly-coddling you all the time, after all.  And make no mistake, they have very strong opinions on things, so there is very little that is nuanced in what they say.

But for all their potentially off-putting honesty, they are sincerely loving.  They may have a steel exterior, but it protects a heart of gold.  If you're lucky enough to be loved by a Yinzer, you will have it unconditionally.

That, in a nutshell, is what a Yinzer is to me.  I will never be one really because I'm not from here.  Sometimes I'm confused for one.  Recently someone called me some adjective (some less flattering version of stubborn that I can't recall exactly) Yinzer because I wouldn't budge on a particular topic.  I took that as high praise.  But I'll never be the real deal.  Uncle Bill was the real deal.  I was lucky to have known him.

Published without advance permission (sorry guys) from the Canan family

Saturday, January 21, 2017

History Lessons

Okay, I'm going to get political.  I've avoided it in all my social media for a long while now, which I guess a blog is just overblown social media (social media with no character limits maybe), because it got so heated and nasty with all my various contacts after the 2012 election that I decided I'm just going to try and take a higher road.  I know what I think, I vote how I think and with my personal conviction.  I'll let my voice be heard at the polls.  Every once in a while something will slip out of me, but I try not to rant, nor rave, and I really work not to demean others who disagree with me.  I've appreciated it when others have shown the same respect.  I've unfollowed a person or two who violated that, but, as I've said before, I've got friends whom I know and love for all kinds of reasons:  we grew up together, we love dogs a lot together, we're big Steelers or Penguins fans together, or we share the burden of having lost a child to an eating disorder together.  So, in sum, all people I love and respect for various reasons, but we may just differ on how we view the role of government.  And, you know, that should be okay.  As a matter of fact, it's more than okay - we are our own checks and balances.  My party, when in power, cannot get too out of hand because that other party is participating and watching over our actions and vice versa.  The fact that we disagree, as long as we keep it civil, is actually a great, great thing.  It makes us better.  Stronger.  In theory.

But, I'm breaking my own rule now because I feel we're on the threshold of a time when civility and open discourse over items will no longer be practiced or perhaps even tolerated, despite what our new President said in his Inaugural Address.  All the checks and balances of our government will come crashing down unless we're vigilant about protecting it, which, in part, means open discourse and debate.  And respect for one another in the process.  And respect for all of us in all our shapes, sizes, ages, races, religions, genders and sexual orientations.  I hope I'm wrong in my worry, but this is tale of caution, and please listen to it.  Because even if I'm wrong this time, there is history to back me.  And if we deem to turn our back on history, we are doomed to repeat it, to paraphrase writer George Santayana.

As you know, I am a student of World War II.  Because my father, the son of a German immigrant, fought in the war, I wanted to know him and what shaped him.  What I learned first was the politics of the war and what transpired gradually to engulf the world.  It's easy to see it now.  To see how one thing lead to another, and then to the next thing, and how people like me - who were worried about their jobs, about putting food on the table, and keeping their family safe - turned a blind eye to all those dominoes falling outside their small world of concerns, and you wonder from this vantage point how they could have been so blind.  But I understand how people coming out of the shadow of the Depression were not so clear sighted.

But because I've spent so much time with my nose buried in dusty history books, I was uneasy when an individual running for the highest office in the country stated on CBS's Face the Nation in 2015, "Well, I think profiling is something that we're going to have to start thinking about as a country."  He went to add, "It's the not the worst thing to do."  Many of you agree, I'm sure.  It might seem reasonable.  You're afraid.  I get it.  We all live with it since 9/11.  But, let us not be blind now to how the Holocaust started.  And please don't throw up your hands and say there's no Holocaust about to start here.  I'm not saying there is.  I'm just talking about what I know from four plus decades of studying the single most influential time in my family's life.  The slippery slope was at first so gradual, it seemed perhaps uncomfortably palatable even to the people it was victimizing.  Jews were first excluded from public life, then segregation laws began being passed.  You've heard of the Nuremberg Laws, which also enveloped other "undesirables", such as Gypsies and homosexuals.  If you don't see potential parallels here, let me remind you that as Jews realized things were dangerous and tried to leave Germany, even FDR's administration, whom I hold in general high esteem, turned them away.  We're all aware of what eventually happened.

It's always been hard for me to fathom the level of hatred it took to architect the Holocaust.  One megalomaniac lunatic, yes, I could see, if not understand, how he could hate a race that completely, but Hitler didn't personally kill over 6 million human beings.  Normal men and women did that.  People like us.  How did they come to such a pass?  There are a number of studies and books written on just that subject, but to boil it down, I found what I thought was a great blog post that said it pretty succinctly and mentions the word I keep coming back to:  "fear".  Germans were afraid and downtrodden.  They turned their fear on others.

Now look at us as a country.  We're afraid of terrorism.  Isis in particular.  So, the Trump campaign focused often on Muslims.  We're afraid of losing our jobs, even though the unemployment rate this week is 4.7%, so the campaign said a lot of things about immigration and building walls to protect American jobs.  He pandered to our fear both for jobs and for our safety by stating in his initial announcement that Mexico was sending us "people that have lots of problems and they're bringing their problems.  They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists..." As far as I know he never backed that with any statistics.  But, when someone is afraid, it's always good to have a landing place for that fear.  A target, if you will.  And our new President understood that and fed that to us.  All the months as I listened, I kept thinking back to all those history books I've read and felt there were some uncomfortable parallels, but was, like a lot of us, sure he would never reach the Oval Office and that hate speak could be forgotten.

Yet here we are.  Don't misunderstand: I'm not saying Trump is a modern Hitler.  I'm not.  For one thing, I don't believe he is as zealous as his speech.  But I do worry that he's unleashed and empowered individuals who are.  I worry that there are individuals in positions of power now that will work to undo gains that are important for a true "free" society, such as marriage equality, a woman's right to choose, and racial equality under the law.  I worry that things we still needed to conquer, such as pay equality and climate change are not in the current administration's vocabulary.   But, more than anything, I worry we are a nation divided.  And divided we will fall.

So, let's debate our differences.  Let's do it respectfully.  Let's not cast aspersions on people of a certain faith or race because we've seen what that can lead to, and it does not protect us in the end.   And let's not take away the gains so many have fought so hard to achieve.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

My Garden

I think I've said something similar to this before:  while I used to dread an ordinary life, I've since learned to be careful what you wish for.  So, on one level I'm not overly concerned that, as the household centers around the needs of an infant, life has folded down into a quiet, somewhat reclusive routine.  It doesn't leave a lot of room for adventure, this sameness:  work, hockey on the television in the evenings as we pass Harrison between us, my trying to teach him to say "Go" and then I'll add on "Steelers" or "Pens" depending upon the circumstance.  Then bed.  Tum Tum wakes me up at 3:30 AM for food and tries me again a couple of hours later just in case I forgot and might possibly give her a second can  (don't ask me why this timing developed suddenly, but I can practically set my clock by it).  I keep a soft pair of slippers by the bed to throw at her to shut her up - it works for a minute or so (she's a persistent bitch).  Then the sun comes up, Tum Tum settles down to sleep comfortably all day, satisfied in her nocturnal devilry, and we repeat.

Sometimes I stare dreamily out the window and think of places I'd like to go to and things I'd like to do - it's not the baby stopping us (nor would I mind if it were), it's all of the things combined that pull and tug on us as worker bees with bills and obligations to make.  And dogs.  It's really hard to jet off to places when one has a lot of dogs.  I do truly need a vacation, I think to myself.  You never know how long you have, so time's a wastin'....   It's hard in those moments to not worry about being unfulfilled:  never see Europe, never swim with dolphins.  Heck, I've never even made it to Niagara Falls, and it's not all that far from here.  I'm sure many of us have similar moments.  Life can be a grind sometimes.

So, as I was contemplating this on the treadmill a couple of days ago, The Garden queued up on my old iPod.  My brain always stops churning when that song comes on, so it was a little bit of serendipity that it just so happened to be next up out of a possible 4,000+ other songs to quiet my troublesome thoughts.  As I always do with that song, I became immersed in the lyrics.  In the meaning behind the lyrics.  And it struck me.  This is me.  This is my life.  It sums up what I believe I am doing with my life perfectly.

In this one of many possible worlds, all for the best, or some bizarre test?
It is what it is - and whatever
Time is still the infinite jest

The arrow files when you dream, the hours tick away - the cells tick away
The Watchmaker keeps to his schemes
The hours tick away - they tick away

The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect
So hard to earn, so easily burned
In the fullness of time
A garden to nurture and protect

In the rise and the set of the sun
'Til the stars go spinning - spinning 'round the night
It is what it is - and forever
Each moment a memory in flight

The arrow flies while you breathe, the hours tick away - the cells tick away
The Watchmaker has time up his sleeve
The hours tick away - they tick away

The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect
The way you live, the gifts that you give
In the fullness of time
It's the only return that you expect

The future disappears into memory
With only a moment between
Forever dwells in that moment
Hope is what remains to be seen

Every syllable, I think to myself, is relatable.   It's so perfect.  It's as if Neil Peart reached into me, saw my inner most thoughts and values, and then wrote this song about me.  Of course, I'm not daft, I realize he didn't really.  He wrote it, like all his songs, about things he knows, understands and feels, and it truly may mean something completely different to him.  But that's the beauty of great music (and, yes, we can debate Rush if you want, but they are great musicians with highly intelligent lyrics - just deal with it), literature and cinema even.  What I take away from something may differ from what you do, but we all are touched by it.

For me, in particular, it's, "The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect, So hard to earn, so easily burned, In the fullness of time, A garden to nurture and protect."

I'm indeed trying to build a garden here.  A haven for my child and her child to grow.  And for Rooney and Geddy, and even that devil Tum Tum.  I'm trying to give my little family a good, safe and secure life in an insecure time.

But, even more than that, it's the sage wisdom of the line, "The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect."  That line that I've heard a thousand times or more took on a new meaning when I think of the current political climate and how a certain nameless individual soon to be our 45th President could stand to ponder its meaning.  Am I perhaps richer than this titan of real estate because I strive to respect others?  Maybe so - maybe I need to work on that some (probably actually), but I think I've got a better shot at achieving it than he does.  Down here at my level, modesty and humility comes a bit easier.  Thank God.

Anyway, I let the song wash over me for the almost seven minutes that it runs, and realized that this is my life.  And this is the song that paints how I feel about my life.  And I'm okay with that.  I'm really more than okay with that.  That's fulfillment enough and more.

What's your song?  And what story does it tell us about you?