Friday, January 21, 2011

To Addison and Drew, with love

My days as Granny Nanny
Are drawing to a close;
I've fixed your lunch, I've wiped your bottoms,
I've even washed your clothes!

I've rocked you till you fell asleep,
I've held you when you cried;
I've tickled chubby tummies;
I've given a thousand horsie rides!

You've filled my days with untold joy,
You've made me very proud;
I've played with each and every toy,
We've giggled and laughed out loud!

I'll miss my days' beginnings
With joyful, lovely faces,
I'll miss our trips to parks and gyms
And other exciting places.

You've grown and learned so very much
And I treasure each memory;
But time moves on, as people say,
And, my sweethearts, so must we.

I know that I'll still see you
And we'll still have time together,
Not quite the same, but this won't change:
I'll love you both forever!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I dithered a bit about whether or not to post this to my personal or my political blog. You can see where it ended up! Even though it touches on the political, it really is personal to me and, I think, to many others. And it was inspired in part by another blog I read this morning.

You see, despite protests from certain political arenas, words really do matter. Although many of us were raised on the sing-song mantra of children everywhere, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me," those of us who have been wounded by words know the truth.

We may never have exhibited casts or bruises for the world to see, but our spirits - our psyches - have suffered damage. In some cases, it can be repaired; in other cases, the victims don't - can't - find their way out of the pain and so take their own life or the lives of others. But a CAT scan of our emotional selves would still find the lingering scars in the same way that an experienced eye can tell that a bone has at one time suffered a break, or lungs still bear the scars of pneumonia.

Words live on in our brains just as memories do, and words - as with memories - can be triggered by unexpected events or circumstances, often reopening those old wounds, even if just momentarily.

I have a younger sister whom I love with all my heart. She's enough younger (four years) and we grew up with interests different enough that there was no real reason for us to ever be compared to each other. We had different friends and never went to the same school at the same time. But within our extended family we were frequently referred to as "the pretty one," and "the smart one." The truth is, we were both attractive girls and young women, and both had - and have - above-average intelligence.

But I grew up thinking my only currency in life was my looks. This led, over the years, to some bad choices and to behaviors that can only be described as destructive. Imagine my surprise when I entered college as an adult and discovered how smart I really am! I'm prouder than a woman my age should be of my 4.0 GPA in college, and still get a thrill when someone acknowledges my intelligence in even the most oblique way.

My beloved sister, on the other hand, grew up feeling that she was playing second fiddle to the sister everyone described as "pretty." She made good grades, she pushed herself to excel in ways that still astound me, and - while I would hesitate to speak on her behalf - I suspect that she, too, found ways to validate herself that weren't particularly healthy. Frankly, I've always though she is beautiful - well, ever since I stopped thinking she was "cute" - and, although our looks have faded, as they are wont to do with the passage of years, neither of us could be described even today as unattractive. Okay, maybe when we first wake up in the morning...

The other wounding word was "fat." I am a large woman; there's no getting around it. I'm larger today than I've ever been, and the word "fat" can still cause me anxiety, but as a young girl and a teenager, I felt fat. What I didn't know then is that the people who referred to me that way were expressing their own insecurities and that it really had nothing to do with me. Until I was pregnant with my first child, I can't find even one photograph of myself where I would be considered fat. Tall, yes. Big-boned (my mom's favorite appellation), yes. But not fat.

(My mother's constant use of the phrase "big-boned" was finally validated when I was in my 40s and had my first bone density test. It turns out that I do have "big bones": my bone density is 125% of normal! With the history of osteoporosis in my family, "big boned" is my favorite thing to be!)

Moving away from the personal, how many news reports have we heard in the past few years about people killing themselves or others because of words? How many young people have lashed out violently after years of being bullied?

Four-eyes. Stupid. Ugly. Cripple. Fat. Queer. Crater face.

I'm not trying to use this forum to point a finger and say that the young man who committed the crimes in Tucson, AZ on Saturday was directed to do that by anyone. But I am saying that when we use inflammatory language there will be consequences. Sometimes the consequences are damaging only to the individual; it's internalized and a life is changed in some way. But sometimes the consequences are damaging to others. We can't know who hears our words and perceives them as a call to action. We need to appreciate that inflammatory words create a climate that elicits more inflammatory words, and that climate then can - and sometimes will - reach a state where words are no longer enough. Where some other kind of action feels necessary. Proverbs 15:1 tells us, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (NIV)

We share our planet, our nation, our states, our cities, our communities with people who may not always be able to distinguish between rhetoric and a call to action. There are mentally and emotionally fragile people among us; people who cannot be counted on to know that we "didn't really mean it that way."

I am resolved to use kinder words. I may not always be successful, and I will not turn away from a good and enlightening discussion or argument. But I can be kinder. I have never suffered name-calling (you can ask my kids!), but now I will work to guard against words that can engender hatred and anger. I hope I can encourage others to do the same.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Booming into old age

I can't say that I ever felt "special" in any way. Other than that each person is "special," that is. I didn't feel that I was privileged or that my childhood was better or worse than my parents' had been. Of course, they lived through the Great Depression and I didn't, but my mother's stories of those days were entertaining and she always cast them in a positive way, so it didn't really seem that awful.

And, of course, I was born after WWII, so I also didn't really understand what it meant to be so fully separated from husband/father/boyfriend during a time of war. And of course WWII wasn't divisive in the way our war was. People who were against the war or who didn't want to serve learned to keep their mouths shut. So the country may have been divided - but nobody knew about it.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood and went to a working-class school. The vast majority of my friends had parents who were in the military (we lived just minutes from an Air Force Base), or who did some kind of manual labor or office work. I don't recall a doctor, lawyer, or other professional person among my peers' parents. Oh, there were some at our church (I was raised Episcopalian), but we really didn't socialize with them other than on Sundays. And we knew that where they lived was a far cry from where we lived! But I don't recall being particularly envious, nor do I remember feeling deprived.

That was largely - maybe even fully - thanks to my mother and her upbeat attitude. She was the original "be-thankful-for-what-you-have-there-are-starving-children-in-China" kind of mom. We had little enough; our polio-crippled mother was our only support - other than the occasional generous help from our church - but I never felt poor. Somehow, if that new Elvis record was really important to me, mom found a way to get it. Money for a high school football game? She'd make it happen. The only way I really felt different was not having a dad, and I did create elaborate lies to explain his absence from our home in those divorce-unfriendly 50s and 60s. But really, mom worked very hard to make our lives as much like our friends' lives as was possible. We often had little to eat, and it was frequently what we called "filling" rather than nutritious. But we not only survived; we thrived.

And we lived our lives pretty much as our friends and neighbors did.

So, although the term "baby boomer" wasn't applied to my generation until we were in our 20s (by some counts), I really don't recall thinking of myself that way until after my youngest was born when I was in my 30s. Since then, however, we've learned how "special" we all think we are; how we influenced television programming, advertising, consumerism of all kinds (most recently health care), and are generally accused of being a fully self-centered generation.

There are a lot of reasons put forth for our supposed feelings of entitlement: our parents wanted us to have better lives than they did (what parent doesn't feel this way?); we exerted a fiscal force to be reckoned with (with 76,000,000 of us, we'd all have to stay home to prevent some kind of impact!); we overwhelmed society with our music and values (as if Frank Sinatra and the bobby-soxers didn't shock the previous generations!).

Remember, though, my generation gave the world Bill Clinton AND George W. Bush. Many of us fought in a war that others of us protested against. We sang along with The Rolling Stones and Cat Stevens. We let it all hang out at Woodstock, and covered it all up with granny dresses. We smoked pot because our parents didn't want us to, and then lied about it to our kids to keep them from smoking pot. We left home, rejecting our parents' values and indulgences, and then we protected and indulged our children to a greater degree than any parents before us.

We are a generation like any other, in that we defy easy generalities. Some of us embrace our ageing with grace; others of us are kicking and screaming. Some have sought and enjoyed early retirement and its attendant woes and blessings; other vow that we would have no real purpose if we didn't have our jobs.

So today, January 1, 2011, as the baby boom generation begins to turn 65, don't be too hard on us as a generation - and let us not be too hard on ourselves. We didn't choose the world into which we were born; no one does. We didn't emerge from our mothers' bodies demanding special treatment, except in the way every infant does. We didn't walk in lockstep in the 50s (some loved Elvis, others loved Pat Boone), the 60s, or the 70s; and we don't walk in lockstep today.

We're your parents, your grandparents, your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends. We're as individual as you are and most of us - not all of us, by any means! - don't want to be lumped together as a bunch of navel-gazing, self-important old folks.

After all, most of us are still dealing with the fact that we're older than 30!