Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Where's Your Mom?

Clicking through the channels, we came upon "Dancing With the Stars: The Announcement." Five women ... Brandy (who took Kobe Bryant to her senior prom), Baby from Dirty Dancing, a starlet with a strange name, Florence Henderson (yes, Mrs. Brady) and then, as if the devil himself had created the perfect storm of pseudo-celebrity, humiliation and self-abasement, the fifth and final contestant emerged from behind the curtain. 

Bristol Palin.

Even now, ten minutes after seeing it, I have goose bumps and a queasy feeling in my gut.  Sweetheart, where is your mother?  Can I take you in and show you that there are other options available to you?  Whoring yourself to an intrusive public, greedy for a glimpse of where is she now may not be the best example for you to set for your little one.  The poor kid already has a father whose naked self is displayed on newsstands everywhere.

You are a very public single mother, with easy access to any media outlet you'd care to call.  I loved your People interview back in May, 2009, where you said that teen pregnancy was "not a situation you want to strive for."  You moaned about missing hockey games and having spit up on your graduation gown and I loved your honesty and your forthright descriptions of the day to day drudgery of your life.  My favorite quote is here:
"Girls need to imagine and picture their life with a screaming newborn baby and then think before they have sex," she tells PEOPLE. "Think about the consequences." 
Right there - print it on every billboard at every intersection - that's the message in a soundbite.  I was so proud of you for being so honest.  I applauded your notion of becoming a spokesperson to discourage teen pregnancies. It felt like a grown-up way to handle a difficult situation.  It was what a responsible mom would do.

Although I was glad that your baby had his grandpa and aunts and uncles around,  I was asking the same question back then:  where is your mother?  Grandma Sarah stresses that there are no nannies in the house, but I didn't read anything that indicated that she was around the house, doing her share of the co-parenting.  Nope, she was out making speeches and quitting her job and going on tour while you were home learning to be a mom.  It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a mom around to answer questions and set an example.  Or maybe Sarah was setting an example.... just not the one I wish she were showing you, Bristol.

Like watching a train wreck, we stuck around for the next commercial  break when the men were announced.  David Hasselhoff and some jocks and then there you were, Bristol, sitting on the edge of the end of the couch, bravely clapping your right hand into your left as if you were at another of the interminable political rallies at which you and your siblings and your on-again-off-again-Levi-guy were displayed like trophies to an admiring and insatiable public.

I'm sure that the money was enticing.  I'm sure that a publicist was able to convince you that there's a small window of opportunity in which you can grab your 15 minutes of Warhol-ian fame (Do you know who he is, honey?  He had a lot to say about surface and substance and meaning or the lack thereof.) But did you ask your son's pediatrician what she thought about it?

I suppose that I might be singing a different tune if you had looked just a little bit happy to be there.  I kept looking for some sign of joy, of beginning a new adventure, of testing your physical limits... of something, anything that would alleviate the over-riding sense of shame that you are sitting on a couch, a faux-star in a faux-universe, where teen parenthood is trumped by the glamor and glitter of what passes for reality these days.

I'm disgusted with the whole thing.  And I'm serious, Bristol. If you want to come over I'd be glad to dispense all this advise in person.  You may not need parenting, being one yourself and all these days.  But everyone needs a mom......

Monday, August 30, 2010

Good Daughters

They were out in full force, today, the good daughters (and a few sons).  G'ma's pod-castle is one of several on a piece of former scrub land which is now labeled a village.  It's always seemed as if that were over-stating the case; there wasn't as much activity as the word village conjures up for me.  But today, for some reason, the inter-connected parking lot and the walkways around the individual pod-castles were humming with activity.  There was actually traffic in the round-about - a first in the 13 months I've been visiting G'ma there. 

A woman my age was holding hands with an older woman as they made their way from a parked car to the front courtyard of G'ma's building. There was an equal measure of physical and emotional support in their grip... and the emotions were going both ways.  I flashed to the same scene 50 years earlier, where the balance of power and cognition and responsibility was radically different, but the sense of responsibility toward one who needs care was exactly the same.  Mom and daughter.... then and now.

The van owned by the village was disgorging passengers as others waited to load themselves, wheeling or rolling or shuffling up the ramp, on their way to the doctor or the hairdresser.  "Look at everyone.  Where are they all going?"  I didn't know and didn't care because I was delighted with the fact that G'ma was paying attention to the world around her, and that her immediate little piece of that world was a-bustle.  Sometimes I feel as if I am driving into the Village of Waiting Around for Something to Happen when I enter the parking lot.  Today, it looked like my ship (or van, in this case) had actually come in.

The hand-holding couple were seated at G'ma's table for lunch.  The daughter and I shook hands and shared names and a glance that was more meaningful than just "Hi, nice to meet you."  Our mothers were living in the same small pod-castle, we were there to share lunch but not to bring them home to live with us, we were caring for our elders and it made us kind of sad..... it was all the answer to G'ma's "Who was that?"  I'm terrible with names, but hers I will remember.  We're in the same boat and it might feel good to share.

G'ma and I took off to Sauce for salad and pizza and the good children were there, too. We weren't the only older ladies lunching avec mamman.  There were a few of us scattered around the restaurant, sipping our drinks and chatting about nothing or something and it didn't matter because the event was more important than the content of the conversation.  G'ma noted the tall daughters and their even taller mothers and the over-weight families and we judged and chewed and sipped our passion fruit ice tea and I was happy. 

A 20-something and her mom held the door for us as we left, I shlepping purse and left-over pizza and half-finished ice tea and trying to get G'ma and her walker safely over the slightly raised door-jamb (I never ignore door jambs and uneven surfaces .... not since G'ma fell while trying to enter my house on the night she moved to Tucson).  They held it without expectation, continuing their conversation as we made our painfully slow way through the portal.  It was perfect - we felt no pressure and I didn't need to grow a third or fourth arm.  We four laughed as the door closed gently behind me, basking in the experience of dining with the women with whom we'd shared a womb... outside it or inside it, able bodied or leaning on a red rolling walker, grey haired or still sporting dark brown locks, we were women who were enjoying each other's company, and that was enough right then.

There are times when being a good daughter is as easy as pie.

Lemon meringue, please.  It's G'ma's favorite.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I Wish It Hadn't Been Said

 (For those of you who know me and are wondering if this story is about you, the answer is no.  I've been carrying this around since college; "Promise Not To Tell" was a frequent conversation starter in those days.  It bothered me then, and it bothers me now.)

What would you do?

You're talking to someone about a mutual friend and your interlocutor looks at you, cocks her head, says "OK, you can't tell Mutual Friend about this but.........." and then proceeds to give you information you wish you didn't have. 

It doesn't matter what you've been told. Maybe it's evidence of an affair, or a problem at work.  The content is less important than the meta-message: you know something which impacts someone you care about and you are bound not to reveal it.

Why are you bound?  Because that's exactly what it feels like - caught, tied up, trying to loosen one end of the bindings just pulling them tighter somewhere else.  

I'm going to skip ahead to the end, here, because it's obvious that what I should have done was interrupt the speaker before the but was spoken, stopping the story right then and there.  But I only figured that out a long time later.  In the moment, the intensity of the statement was such that I was drawn to the telling instead of to what was about to be told.  We were in the middle of one story and suddenly the conversation had taken a sharp left turn and we were in don't tell land and I was sad.

So, back to being the possessor of information which cannot be revealed.  I take full responsibility for not thinking of the obvious way out at the time, but here I am, knowing it and able to do nothing with it.   Do nothing but stew over it, mull over it, wonder about it... for something I can't talk about it's occupying an awfully big swath of my brain space.

If someone were in danger, I'd have no compunctions about sharing the facts.  If someone were to be hurt or damaged, there's no way a speedy promise over a glass of wine could keep me from saving the day.  But what if the words which were spoken were background facts or issues.  What if the person doing the talking was in a position to exercise power over Mutual Friend?  No one is harmed if I keep this secret, and no good will come if I break my promise.  

Maybe it's a chick thing.  TBG can't quite understand why I feel so awkward.  This may have something to do with the different qualities men and women bring to and expect from friendships.  I'm not sure.  My problem stems from the imbalance of power that suddenly exists between Mutual Friend and me.  We all have different strengths and weaknesses and assets and liabilities and they are all part of the package when you're talking about a close friend.  In the end, there's an equilibrium established which is pleasing to both of you.  The longest and strongest friendships keep this balance over time and distance and circumstance.  

I can trust the other because I know that she can trust me. 

There it is, I guess.  I feel untrustworthy.  

So, I ask again, what would you do?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Where's the Bromance?

Do men really have that hard a time making friends?  There's been discussion over in Time Goes By on the subject, with most of the comments coming from women.  Leaving that interesting fact alone for a while, I have been wandering in the valley of the man cave recently.  It started with Nance's love note to her husband, who seems like an all around great guy.  Then Ronni posted Bill's lament, and I began the old "compare and contrast" game.  Why is DH never referred to as lonely or alone?  Why can't Bill find anyone to discuss world events instead of sports and hunting?  They are both men, yet one is content and one is not.

Revenge of the Caveman was a C+ theatrical event, but it did have some interesting moments.  One came as he drew a distinction between the hunter and the gatherer.  The hunter - typically male - was engaged in a one on one battle to the death with another living being.  The gatherers depended on one another to collect enough food to feed them.  In a semi-funny way, the show went on to bring this distinction to the modern world, with the man going out to slay the corporate dragon while the woman tended the hearth.  I was struck by how 1950's that sounded, but the comic went on to link hunting alone to men's inability to connect with others who might want the prey for themselves.  Is this why men have trouble making friends - because they are always guarding their territory and have become innately distrustful of the motives of other men? 

Bill complains that he cannot find like-minded humans with whom to converse.  The Bride, my faux-daughter, just moved to a new town in a new state in a new part of the country and she's bored and lonely.  Making connections is hard work.  It requires lots of energy and an acceptance of the fact that most of the attempts you make will result in disappointment.  The chatty woman on the treadmill next to you turns out to have nothing of substance to say.  The gardener who promised to call and then never followed through, the volunteer organizer who reneged on her promise to sign up for the same shift you were working so that you could continue the very interesting conversation you began at the enrollment booth, the hiker who turns out to be slower and duller than you'd hoped.... you have to go through a lot of nonsense before you find the ripest fruit. 

Perhaps that's Bill's problem.  He's expecting to walk into a room and be overwhelmed with the wonderfulness of the conversation.  He's looking for someone to meet all his needs, when any rational being would accept the fact that no one person can be everything to anyone.  Perhaps the hunters don't talk about politics, but do they play a mean game of darts?  My book group friends probably wouldn't have much in common with my hiking buddies, but they each filled a piece of my soul. 

There's too much pressure to have everything be perfect, to have every situation turn out just the way we anticipated it would.  Yes, the housing market has tanked along with the stock markets and America's standing in the world, but there are still smart and engaging people out there.  Not all of them will be terrific in every sphere, nor will every one of them be worthy enough to join your circle of friends.  But some will.  If you search with an open heart and an accepting mind.

And maybe that's Bill's problem, in the end.  He's unwilling to do more than dismiss the men he meets on a superficial, what-they-like-to-do impression rather than probing a little deeper and seeing if there might be more.  Is he willing to make the effort to create and nurture a friendship?  Most of the women I know value these relationships and put time and effort into maintaining them. 

I had a long conversation with an old friend this morning. I was telling her things that were difficult to say out loud, but which she heard and accepted and corrected and took risks in responding to and at the end I was in a better place than I had been before she called.  And why had she called?  Because she's been wishing us a Happy Anniversary for 28 years and she's never missed a one. We didn't really have much in common except that our husbands shared a common friend, but our lives have been intertwined for decades, and today was a reminder that the effort to maintain a long distant but meaningful relationship has been based not on what was similar in our lives or our experiences but on the kind of people we are.  I wonder if Bill is willing to put in the time to see whether some of the friends of the friends he encounters might just offer more than they did at first glance.

And just when I was stumped for an end to this post, Amster dropped by with this little gem. After two long weeks of lonely lunches, Mr. 5 has finally made a friend in kindergarten.  This monumental event was greeted with the appropriate amount of joy and congratulations. "What's the friend's name?"  I asked.   

And after a slight pause, we both laughed as she said 
"He doesn't know."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One Woman - One Vote

Yes, I did.  Today, as my marriage is celebrating the fact that it is old enough to be president, I cast my ballot.

The polling place wasn't where the postcard had said it would be, but I was driving so it wasn't that big of a deal.  Of course, the fact that the people and machines were in the Y's gym and not on the campus of the Community College was somewhat confusing, but I just kept driving through their adjoining parking lots until I saw the signs exhorting me to 

          VOTE HERE     I am nothing if not obedient, so I parked and entered and
       followed the similarly sized and shaped arrows down the hall and past the Silver Sneakers doing their chair aerobics and down the ramp and there it was, in the gym, just like it ought to be.  G'ma was an election monitor/poll watcher/voter registrar in every election I can remember growing up.  These people were just as swell as she used to be.  We joshed and kibbitzed and giggled and verified and I turned down the offer of a heavy folder in which to transport my completed ballot from one side of the gym to the other.  Security was tight in Pima County today, rest assured. 

I've given up whingeing about the demise of the old fashioned voting booths.  I loved pulling down the individual levers and then shifting the heavy handle at the bottom to register my choices and open the curtain.  I am sure that my optical scan ballot is more difficult to alter and much quicker to read, but it doesn't feel very official.  I flash to Survivor as I deposit my paper ballot in the receptacle near the doorway, and I accepted my sticker with a smile.  

The physical experience of voting was fine.  The emotional toll it took was not.  Explore with me, if you will, the wonder that is Arizona's Candidate Statement Pamphlet/Primary Election.

There are disclaimers and greetings and explanations before we get to the meat of the document.  I am struck by the fact that the County Recorders all have different forms of email addresses : co.apache.az.us  and cocnino.az.gov and risc.maricopa.gov and navajocountyaz.gov and recorder.pima.gov.  Wouldn't you think that local control could give way to simplicity and symmetry?  

Then, there are the maps.  Do you know the number of your Legislative District?  I knew ours was somewhere in the 20's, but we're right on the edge of Tucson and Oro Valley and Marana so every candidate from 25, 26, 27 and 28 has signs up at the intersections.  I thought I would recognize the candidates I had to investigate, but the names all sounded familiar.  I guess that doesn't speak very highly of the current incumbent, does it.  He or she has not been doing a very good job of getting her name stamped on my consciousness.   So, when searching the 125 pages of names and statements brought me no closer to figuring out which were mine, I went to the front of the book and looked at the map.  Do you see any street names?  I know that I live east of I-10 and north of the Rillito River (yes, that translates to Little River River... another anomaly of Tucson's nomenclature) so I decided that District 26 was mine, but I wasn't certain until I got into the voting booth and looked at the ballot before me.  I had checked out District 27, too, just in case the map was as inaccurate as the location postcard.

Voting shouldn't be this hard.  And I hadn't even started to investigate the candidates.  

I stopped thinking that anyone with a robo-call would not get my vote when I realized that every single candidate had called during dinner time.  The list was longer than the piece of paper on which I was keeping track, so I put my petty cavils aside and plunged into the book.  

America is a wonderful country.  Anyone can grow up to be President.  That doesn't mean that everyone should follow that career path.  Read on, denizens, and be amazed.... disturbed... disappointed... bemused... depressed..... wherever your heart and your mind take you rest assured, I've been there too.

Janice K. Brewer, Jan to those of us who are stuck with her as Governor, is, apparently a national leader on illegal immigration and border security.  That's one way to put it.

Ronald Cavanaugh, running on the Libertarian ticket, worries about those who are left with no care for there children and family.  Yes, Mr. Cavanaugh, spelling counts.  Bruce Olsen, another Libertarian candidate for governor, thinks we need to produce our food locally and consume locally.  I'm all for eating foods that grow in the neighborhood, but it's kind of a self-limiting selection for most of the year here in the desert southwest.  And as for consuming locally, is he encouraging me not to eat when I travel?  Or is he encouraging me to eat more when I'm home?  Inquiring voters want to know.

We vote for State Mine Inspector in Arizona.  Somehow, I have the feeling that I don't know enough about mining or safety to make an informed choice.  A degree from the Austin Powder Blasting Academy and a daughter who's a navigator on the Destroyer U.S.S. Donald Cook may or may not qualify Manuel Cruz for the job.  On the other hand, Joe Hart has experience driving a hualpak and has 4 daughters and 8 grandchildren.  It's a quandry.

There's something called the Corporation Commission here in Arizona.  Here is an overview of the Corporation Commission, taken from its website, azcc.gov: 

In most states, the Commission is known as the Public Service Commission or the Public Utility Commission. Our Commission, however, has responsibilities that go beyond traditional public utilities regulation. These additional roles include facilitating the incorporation of businesses and organizations, securities regulation and railroad/pipeline safety.
Not only are these the people who set our utility rates, they also function as a mini-SEC and NTSB and Office of Economic Development.  Why isn't mine inspection included?  

And then there are the candidates for State Representative .  Ray Cullison II wants to know why we are spending money printing materials in another language.  Perhaps he should have read the explanation on page 3  of the pamphlet, the one where the Voting Rights Act of 1975 is explained, including the language minority provisions amendment.  Chester Crandell believes government exists to protect our God-given rights.  Funny, I thought it existed to protect our Constitutionally guaranteed rights.  God was kept out of the equation, as I recall. Teri Conrad and her husband celebrated (their) 34th anniversary by hiking the Grand Canyon and Sally Gonzales is married with five grown daughters...(and) has spent the last four years enjoying quality time with her husband, Luis, as well as with both her mother and mother in law....(and) their nineteen grandchildrenWhy any of that would make me cast a vote in her favor remains a mystery.  

There are candidates who are endorsed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and there are those who are not.  Randy Parraz, running for US Senate, brags that he was arrested by Sheriff Joe.  There are Native Americans and Native Arizonans and recent migrants and some of them are probably smart enough and tough enough and engaged enough to deserve my vote.  I just wish I had a better way to sort it all out.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Night Before

Do you know where you were 35 years ago?  Do you remember the weather and what you were wearing and what you had for dinner and who was late and who was obnoxious and how it felt to go to sleep that night? Probably not.... unless it's your anniversary today, too.

I'm writing this the evening before the big event, and I'm time traveling to G'ma and Daddooooo's backyard on Long Island.  There's a yellow and white striped tent covering the grass, and the tables are stacked alongside the path towards the garbage cans.  The cans which have been removed to a less conspicuous location, further from the walkway to be used by the guests as they arrive to celebrate with us, even though I thought it would be nice for my family and friends to admire the paint job we'd done on them one boring summer afternoon.  They weren't elegant, but they were us.  I lost that battle to G'ma's raised eyebrow and fifteen syllable enunciation of my name.

TBG's family had checked into their motel while he and Daddooooo and I were at the beach.  We joined them around the pool later in the afternoon for hugs and congratulations and swimming as the wind picked up and the leaves of the trees turned upside down and silver.  I watched Daddooooo noticing these sure indicators of rain and then watched him decide not to tell me.  The man had an expressive face. I imagined him wondering just how waterproof the tent really was, wondering how sad I would be as I swam through mud to get to the ceremony, wondering why this happened to him over and over again never getting anything right and then I saw him smile and dive under the water to wash away the worries.  Attention Deficit Disorder can sometimes be a wonderful thing.  He came up with a smile and no indication that anything was amiss.

It was a soft and muggy evening as we gathered in the driveway, waiting for the last two guests to arrive before we could leave for the rehearsal dinner.  They'd never been on time for anything we'd ever done together before; why we thought that this time would be different still eludes me.  Eventually we put a note with a map and directions on the screen door and set off, a caravan of celebration. The latecomers arrived after the first round of drinks (one of the 4 or 5 times I saw G'ma drinking... sweet vermouth..... it was a shocker) but before the salads and we ate and drank and had dessert and strolled along the piers, looking at the fishing boats tied up in the canals.  The sky was cloudy but there were patches of stars every once in a while and I remember the sound of my sandals on the wooden planks.  And the sound of Daddooooo expounding, always talking, pointing out semi-interesting features of the landscape, with G'ma's murmured "Enough, already" as counter-point.  But TBG's parents and siblings were along, too, and they were chatting and smiling and holding hands and looking at me with love and joy and I was happy thinking about the fact that they wanted me in their family as much as I wanted to be there.

Without air conditioning, it was too hot for all of us to sit inside the house, so we retired to the backyard for more talking.  Neighbors came over for brief hello's and congratulations and Daddooooo captured Grandpaw for 3 straight hours of non-stop jabbering in adjacent lawn chairs and Brother went to pick up some pizzas because we were all hungry again.  We caught fireflies in empty applesauce jars and played Kadimah and tossed a frisbee and football and we laughed..... especially when we realized that Grandpaw had turned down the volume on his hearing aide and was blissfully occupied with his own thoughts as Daddooooo chattered away.  Remember Daddooooo's expressive face?  It made it easy for Grandpaw to know when to smile and when to nod.  It was a win-win situation.... and no one else had to worry about amusing my dad.

There were clean sheets and a light cotton blanket on my bed that night.  I fell asleep to the sound of raindrops on the roof.
Happy Anniversary, Big Guy.  It's been real.

Monday, August 23, 2010

In Defense of Summertime

I'm having a hard time staying focused.  The Big Cuter is back in San Francisco, preparing for his first day of class.  Mr 5 started kindergarten while I was in New York 10 days ago and the Crayola kids are already playing Fall Ball.  All over the country, people are saying that summer is over..... I'm just not ready for that to be true.

I attended every single meeting of the Board of Trustees of our school district in Marin.  I may never finish the sweater I tried to knit as I listened, but I always listened.  We moved to town in July, and I decided to become involved in my community.  I began with the Design Review Board meetings, but there was too much hostility over the shape of the pavers in a driveway or the exact shade of taupe which might be acceptable to the neighbors for my taste. The School Board was 5 people behind some tables in the middle school library, and 30 or so folding chairs set up between the cookies and coffee and the door.  There were rarely more than 2 of us in attendance - the reporter for the local paper and I becoming friendlier as the years went by.  Those were the halcyon days, when everything was just going along without many hiccups.  Everyone had been there forever and no one made waves.  Of course, no one told me that.  And, true to form, I announced my presence with authority when, at the August meeting, my second, I wondered why school was starting before Labor Day?  Resorts and summer camps and restaurants and beach communities suffer by the shortening of the season and anyway, wasn't there something right and proper about starting school in September? 

My topic wasn't on the agenda; I'd asked during the Open to Comments from the Public section.  They listened respectfully and then agreed that they could answer my question without over-stepping their bounds.  As I said, those were days when the reporter knew when kindness was happening and never mistook a quick response (the starting date is negotiated with the unions in April) for anything more serious than a breach of Robert's Rules of Order.  We all smiled and they moved on to the business at hand but that was the first instance of what became my annual ritual of restating that position.

I think that's why I'm having trouble concentrating.  My inner clock is askew.  Part of it may be the whole travel/jet lag/airplane air/time zone thing and I'm sure a piece is that the boy was here for a week and now is gone, but some of it is this temporal disconnect. I'm not finished with summertime while the rest of the world seems to have moved on to school days.... dear old golden rule days.... while I'm still in those lazy hazy days of summer...... I told you, focusing is an issue right now.

There are school supplies displayed in all the big box stores, but they've been picked over and mis-dis-arranged by eager shoppers.  Each child receives a list of items to be brought to class on the first day of school.  In true kibbutznik fashion, all the shiny new supplies are warehoused by the authorities and are distributed randomly, with no consideration given to the rights of the original purchaser.  This tramples on my sense of the first day of school even more than starting in August.  I love school supplies.  I am particular about my pens and my notebook paper and the quality of the cardboard folders in which I arrange my detritus.  I would not be happy about using someone else's choices........ I guess it's a good thing that I'm not 7 years old any more, then. 

The UofA kids are moving into their dorms this weekend, and the traffic has increased exponentially.  That seems fitting; college always started in August, leaving town early enough for the high school kids to, once again, rule the roost before school began after Labor Day.

I've tried to avoid it, but I can't:  I am sorry to belabor the point..... ouch..... I know..... but this is just one of the many many things about which I feel strongly.  Thanks for listening.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bad Behavior

Well behaved children seem to be few and far between these days. The airports were filled with screamers and runners and whiners and criers and the generally disobedient. The third time the boys aimed the laser pointer at my face I felt called upon to comment. My raised eyebrows hadn't stopped them, nor had my scowl, so they heard my stern, G'ma voice reminding them that blinding strangers probably wasn't the best way for them to occupy their time. Their grown-ups grabbed the device and then went on ignoring them. I sighed and changed my seat.
Sitting on the beach with the Golden Girls, we watched as Maya and Jesse tossed crumbs to the seagulls. Big mistake, kids. Where once there had been one lonely bird floating on the air currents, suddenly there were a dozen or more, squawking and cawing and pecking and generally making a nuisance of themselves. It was a tribute to good parenting as Mike-the-Dad stopped the behavior as they began their second throws. Adding to his wonderfulness was the apology which followed close on the heels of the avian onslaught. Actually, there were two apologies – Mike's from his beach chair and then the one delivered in person by the miscreants themselves. There were many reasons to enjoy the fact of those kids sitting near us; this was just one.
Traveling cross country with the Little Cuter earlier this decade exposed us to a variety of American parenting styles.  Over dinner near the end of our journey, watching overly-boisterous young diners run laps around the room, my perfect daughter looked up from her pasta with a disgusted mien and queried thusly: "You never let us behave like that in public, did you?"
That, I think, is the crux of the matter.  Parents are so concerned about their kids' self-esteem and self-expression that they've lost track of the notion of self-control.  Little banshees drag racing grocery carts in the parking lot, oblivious to the presence of the elderly and the Porsches alike, reflect badly on the parenting skills of their adults.  I find it hard to be aggravated with the kids themselves.  Honestly, it looked like a lot of fun.  But I hear G'ma telling me that there is no way, no how that I am ever going to do something like that as long as she is alive and breathing, so I get in my car and drive safely home.
This post was sparked by Matt Lauer's Today show interview with Dina Lohan, mother of poor little Lindsay.  Apparently, Lindsay is not to blame for getting herself in enough trouble to require jail time and court mandated rehab; it's all the fault of the paparazzi.  In fact, the Lohans are starting a foundation to support the victims of tabloid journalism..... and they are accepting donations.

According to Dina, "you can't make your child not go out and go to a club and not get behind the wheel of a car." That is probably true if you wait until she is 18 or 19 before you exert any influence.  I remember a play group mom laughing as I insisted that the 18 month old Big Cuter put his napkin in his lap and say please and thank you.  Should I have waited until he was 12 to try to instill good manners?  I don't think so.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Every Picture Tells a Story

Between jet lag and the gym, laundry and the dry cleaner, G'ma and the Big Cuter (who's here for a visit and is a very attractive nuisance), I'm am post-less.  Absolutely out of deep thoughts.  Stuck in this semi-exhausted state, I am going to let my photos of New York City amuse you today.  I will try to do better on the morrow. 

For now, take a walk with MTF and me as we stroll down 5th Avenue, from 31st Street to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village:

We walked out of the Chandler Hotel on Thursday night, looking for a glass of wine and an appetizer to tide us over until MTF's travel angst had passed.  As we passed Guy and Gallard's Cafe
we overheard someone mention that the wine was 2-for-1.  Perfect!  After an artichoke pizzette (tiny pizza, apparently) and 3 glasses of Malbec we were rewarded with a warm elephant ear pastry by the smiling waiter.  There was no reason to search for dinner.  Our bellies were full as we returned to our small but lovely room and collapsed from exhaustion.  We used to have more stamina.

The next morning, we returned to Guy and Gallard and the same waiter and the same table for breakfast.  Bagels and Lox tastes much better in New York.  Is it possible that the foodstuffs feel more comfortable there?  I drank orange juice out of the same kind of glass we'd used for the wine the night before; I felt quite elegant.

We started to walk down Park Avenue, but there were no shops for browsing so we headed west to 5th at 25th Street.  Suddenly, we were in Madison Square Park, gazing at this fellow 

Passing this preserved stump

One wonders why it's fenced.... people must have loved it when it lived, don't you think?

we marveled at the greenery

To my eyes, accustomed to spiky cacti and teeny-tiny leaves, this was just wonderful.  There was no litter in the beds and the plants were perfectly pruned.  The Parks Department should be proud of itself.

We exited the park and found the first guy's friend awaiting us

on 5th Avenue. Were two of them necessary?  Apparently so.

6th Avenue is now Avenue of the Americas and 7th Avenue is Fashion Avenue and I was very glad that 5th had not been renamed Snob Avenue.  Some things should remain unchanged. 

The architecture continued to amaze us.  The details, the strength of the buildings, the solidity they presented.... it was very New York.  Take a look and see if you don't agree:

I love the triangular buildings, taking advantage of Broadway crossing the Avenues

It felt like we were looking at a French chateau

Credit Suisse has 3 buildings over two blocks, two of which are connected by a Sky Bridge 20 stories or so up.  They are very well protected.  These pretty filigree covers

sit atop metal poles sunken into the ground.  No one is going to drive a terror vehicle into their lobby, that's for sure.

Washington Square Park is aptly named

as George adorns each side of the Arch.  My photo of him in full Revolutionary War Hero garb is too blurry to share, so we'll just have to settle for George the landowner/surveyor/statesman for now.

The park is concrete and playground and benches and buskers and a man reading from a book at the top of his lungs.  We were hungry and thirsty and decided to walk back uptown, passing through a Farmers' Market with this sign

With visions of New Yorkers carting dripping bags of fermenting vegetables in our brains, we headed back to Guy and Gallard for lunch.  Why not?  The food was great and our waiter was holding our table.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The World's Best Chain Letter

There are chain letters and then there are chain letters.

Sometimes, the email just makes me want to remove my hair in great clumps.  Sometimes I sigh, wondering why this particular correspondent can't figure out that I never send them back to her --- oh yes, the best ones always want to instill guilt by saying be sure to send it back to me... I want to fire her as my friend.... if I didn't love her so much.... or if she weren't TBG's cousin.  I'm reminded of one of my favorite adages: friends: the family you choose for yourself.  But then I begin to wonder if that means family: the friends you are stuck with.

Anyhow, if you've been reading for a while you know that I often bemoan (ok, I whine about) the fact that it's been harder than I'd anticipated to make friends here in Tucson.  I have a couple of close buddies, but my bench is not as deep as it could be.  I look to the interweb and you, Dear Readers, for the connections I'm trying to develop in my real life here in Tucson.   And I'm obviously not alone in this.  Ronni Bennett, of Time Goes By fame, sent this email about a week ago.  

Hello everyone...

I can no longer count the many wonderful friends I have made in the nearly seven years I have been blogging. Among the very first I came to know is a lovely, funny, bold and special woman who is a friend to many of you too - or, if not a friend, you probably know of her.

Millie Garfield is a pioneer among elderbloggers, one of the first seniors doing it. She is also one of the oldest people blogging - at My Mom's Blog: http://mymomsblog.blogspot.com/ Her "I Can't Open It" series of videos have become famous on YouTube and in fact, you can see her latest episode posted at her blog today.

It is a great thing to attain a ripe old age and this year, Millie reaches one of those big-deal, must-celebrate birthdays - number 85 - marking the halfway point through her ninth decade.

It has become a tradition, going back to 2005 (this will be the sixth year), for us to celebrate Millie's birthday - 18 AUGUST - on my blog and other people's blogs. If you have done this before, you know the routine:

1. Create a birthday greeting

2. On her big day, 18 AUGUST post it to your blog.

3. Then go to Millie's blog that morning and leave a note in the comments with a link to your blog with her special birthday surprise.

My best,
As the title says, this is the best chain letter ever.  I've been invited to a party and all I have to do is make a birthday card for Millie, a birthday card with sunflowers because she likes them and I like her and I think you will, too.  Just click here and check it out.  My guess is that you'll have a big smile on your face.




ashleigh burroughs
(a  fan)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Golden Girls

We revisited our old haunts today.  The Little Red Store

MTF incognito...preserving her identity

smelled just the same as it did when we were in Junior High, trying to look old enough to buy cigarettes.  We knew that they'd moved the counter to another corner

Walking in felt just a little bit off.  The new owners were as interested in our old stories as we were in their new one.  It was disappointing to find no Pixie Stix filled with Lik'm Aid powder nor candy necklaces we could eat off our necks, but we got over it quickly.  We drove past MTF's parents' house, and her aunt's house, and her grandmother's house and her elementary school

and the car was filled with her squeals.  I know, she's really too old to be squealing, but this was her first visit in 40 years and we love her so we made allowances for the noises. 

Our high school has been expanded and there's a fancy digital sign out in front but the inside was dingy and dusty and dark.  None of us know the demographics of the neighborhood these days, but I can't imagine that G'ma, in her various PTA presidencies, would have allowed me to go to a school in such a state of disrepair.  Actually, as I type that I realize that it's not so much broken as untended.  How can you learn if the environment displays such a lack of interest by the people in charge?  One wonders.

Today was the last day of Summer School, and the pale and pimply kid walking out the main doors behind us was on the phone, proudly announcing to someone on the other end of his cell phone that he had just graduated from high school.  We applauded and smiled and he seemed to grow an inch or two as he returned our congratulations with a smile.  Eavesdropping on good news seems to be acceptable to the cell phone generation, I guess.

G'ma and Daddooooo's old house has been resided and the windows have been replaced and there's a fence where, formerly, the carport made a friendly connection to the neighbor's driveway.

There's a single woman living there now and perhaps she feels the need to be protected from interlopers.  Perhaps she got a deal on white plastic fencing.  The changes made me sad.  What was ours is now hers and she altered the space without consulting us.  I know that it's her house now, but the reality still pricks at my heart.

Nathan's was our lunch spot, and two hot dogs, french fries and a Coke later

we could barely move ourselves to Roomie's car for the trip to Kennedy Airport.  The distances which had seemed so great when we were young were covered in no time and all of a sudden we were in the departure lane, taking my suitcase out of the trunk and tearfully hugging goodbye.  We'll see each other again, I know, but for the moment, I am feeling bereft.  I love my Tucson buddies, but, as the old Girl Scout song says
Make new friends
But keep the old.
One is silver
The other gold.

I love you, my Golden Girls.

Monday, August 16, 2010

By the Sea, By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea.....

Roomie lives 3 blocks from the ocean.  Coming from the desert southwest, this was about as perfect an end to my New York sojourn as I could have imagined.  She's the Weather Goddess - bright clear skies and big big waves on Saturday and then a lightly overcast Sunday made it possible for us to bronze our bodies and then cement the tan without over-doing it.  Can you tell that we spent every weekend of our teen years perfecting the process?  Memories of buses to the beach and kisses under the boardwalk kept us chattering away like magpies.  We laughed at the 20-somethings who arrived as we used to do, in small groups looking for the spot on the beach where the rest of the gang was hanging

See how neatly they are lined up, all in a row?  Soon after I took this photo, three more girls arrived.  There was no room in the line-up for their beach chairs, and they were forced to create a second tier.  That was fine for two of them, who opened their magazines, dug their toes into the sand and relaxed.  The third girl was unhappy.  She wanted to be with the bigger group.  She sat in the sand, smooshing herself between two of the chairs until their inhabitants shoved her legs away.  It's unpleasant to watch a pouting young adult, but she was like a train wreck holding my attention. She walked to the front and tried to face them, but her chair was in the second row and the sand was in her suit and she was unhappy.  None of them swam, so she couldn't steal a chair.  Her attempts to initiate conversations were stymied by the neck wrenching required by those in front.  Shades of high school...... some things, I guess, never change.

The chairs that G'ma and Daddooooo brought to the beach in my childhood were upright, with wooden arms and plaid plastic woven backs and seats and they weighed about 50 pounds.... or that's what they felt like as we schlepped them across the sand.  Our beach umbrella had a wooden pole and heavy metal spokes holding the striped canvas top.  Today's beach goers have much lighter and brighter equipment

Aluminum poles and lightweight reclining chairs and boogie boards and is that underwear on the back of the chair?  I was too afraid to get closer to see for sure.

Roomie has the perfect solution for holding the beach blanket in place

The flip-flop ratchets up and down to grab the blanket, and the yellow base has a spike which anchors the contraption.  We were the only ones with such fancy accouterments.

The next day was cloudier, but the breeze was gentle and the sun still felt warm on our skin.  We made friends with the family who had settled nearby, and Mike-the-Dad managed to figure out how to attach the string and the tail to the kite I'd received from Daddooooo in 1972.  It has lived in the trunks of my cars for the last 30-some years, and I've never taken it out of its pouch

It fell into my way when I put my suitcase in the trunk on my way out of town, and I shoved it into my carry-on on a whim.  Mike's kids, Jesse and his girlfriend/older sister Maya

were able assistants, and Roomie, MTF and I enjoyed watching the bright colors against the grey sky.  The thank you's and gymnastic demonstrations and giggles and hugs brought sunshine to the gloomy day. And now, they are semi-famous here in The Burrow.

After 5 hours of girl-talk we were ready to leave.  The soft sand, the smell of the salt water, the families sharing picnic lunches, the lifeguards .... I was 5 years old again, riding on Daddooooo's shoulders as we made our way down to the shore for fishing

Friday, August 13, 2010

On the Road Again

Chicago is humid. At 9 o'clock in the morning, I'm greeted by the sweaty faces of the commuters at the bus stop on the corner. Taxi's fly by and SIR hails a white one just for me. He hoists my suitcase into the deep trunk, one of the little things he does that makes me (and the Little Cuter) love him. There's not a misstep in his wonderfulness – I go through doors he holds open, I enter elevators before he does, his eyes are always roving, wondering if there's something else he can do to make my stay more perfect. He looks at my girl the way a mother wants a man to look at her daughter. It makes it easier to leave, knowing she has someone who is looking out for her.
O'Hare is no more manageable at 9:45am than it was at 5:45pm. The breakfasts are overpriced ($12 for eggs, toast, frozen potatoes and a coke) and the crowds are moving right through the middle of the over-wide walkways. Is there some special terminal dispensation from the “keep to the right” dictum we follow everywhere else
Overweight children are everywhere. Eight year olds should not have bellies oozing down over the tops of their shorts, especially when they are eating a plate of french fries and chili. At 10 o'clock in the morning. Little girls in crop tops are cute when they are 3; by 10, it's a little bit creepy. And when their tummies are protruding in an imitation of pregnancy, well, I just want to go up to their parents and smack them. There's a 3rd grader sitting across from me whose underwear is proudly sticking up above the waistband of her shorts. It's a red thong. What are her parents thinking?
My gate was changed, and my walk has just gotten longer. K-19 is, of course, the very last gate in this octopus tentacle. There are no moving sidewalks so this must be considered a short walk. I'm fit enough to manage my suitcase and myself; the obese couple looking mournfully down the corridor were obviously girding themselves for more exercise than they'd had in a year. Once again, people are walking down the middle of the aisle. Perhaps I am just a little too sensitive today?
What makes passengers think that they can change their seats with impunity? Two UofI clad girls have moved 3 times since I took my seat. They want to sit with one another, but men keep coming to spoil their plans. At last, the taller one gave up and moved back to her assigned seat. Her compatriot is now squished between two gigantic men.
Stop Islamization of America was the headline on the CNN feed in the waiting area. Apparently, a group of New York women have raised funds to produce ads for the buses and subways with that headline in an attempt to block the construction of the Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. I can't revisit my outrage (you can read it here),but the sandal-wearing 20-something Christian kids reading this post over my shoulder were as appalled as I am. “Jesus says we should forgive our enemies,” the young man explains. I'm not a believer, but this made me feel glad that some people are. Whatever gets you to the place that I deem right, eh?  
It's raining west of JFK and LaGuardia and the landing patterns are disrupted. First we are taking off, then we are delayed 15 minutes, then we are leaving in 4 minutes. I don't pretend to understand air traffic controls, but this seems pretty odd. On the other hand, why am I looking a gift horse in the mouth? Is it better to sit on the tarmac in Chicago or circle the airspace above Queens? The pilot assures us that, even with the 15 minute delay, we'll still arrive 10 minutes early, thus proving once and for all what I've been feeling for a long time – the airlines have added 30 minutes to every flight-time to improve their “on time” performance. With that in mind, the flight attendant's repeated requests to take our seats so that we can have “an on-time gate departure” make much more sense. It's not a real departure, we're not taking off, but once we leave the gate someone gets to say that we departed on time. Sigh.
Mad Men creeps into this post, too. I'm thinking of Betty and Henry's flight to Reno. She's wearing heels and a proper dress, he's in his suit and tie. On this flight, I see nothing but sneakers and sweat shirts. There's not a pair of stockings on the plane, not even on the well-dressed elderly woman whose suitcase nearly beheaded her before she agreed to accept help putting it in the overhead bin.
American Airlines somehow managed to take off late and land us early. I'm looking to meet up with MTF when her plane arrives and then we are off on the AirTrain and the subway to Manhattan and our night on the town. I'll be back on Monday with an up-date on The City and the girls. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What Would You Do?

I'm on the road again.  I've left my flowering plants in CT's capable hands and TBG to fend for himself as I fly east.  MTF and Roomie and I are gathering this weekend on Long Island for another mini-reunion, and, for $30 more I tacked on a quick visit to the Little Cuter and her boys.  Airline pricing remains a mystery to me, but I was glad to take advantage of this peculiarity for the chance to hug the kids. 

American Airlines has bizarre overhead bins, smaller on one side than the other.  There were many helpful tall men available to assist me as I shifted my rolling suitcase, having misjudged the depth at first.  For some reason, I'd selected a window seat instead of my usual aisle, and the two men I dislodged were glad to see a small person curl up against the side of the plane.  The guy on the aisle slept, but the middle seat was occupied by a tall, dark and handsome 20-something test pilot.  Had he not been married and the proud papa of a 2 month old daughter, were SIR not the world's best son-in-rent, making the Little Cuter as happy as a clam, I probably would have his contact information in my phone.  I never talk to my seatmates when I fly; for this guy, I made an exception. 

O'Hare is huge. Absolutely huge.  We arrived at Gate A8.  In Tucson, that's 100 yards from the security station.  Yesterday, I walked through the terminal for 5 minutes before I found the escalator to Ground Transportation.  It was a short ride down to the baggage claim area and then two moving sidewalks, another long hallway and another escalator down to the CTA platform.  The ticket kiosks were working and I was able make my purchase and board a waiting train without delay.  The station was clean and bright and there were helpful police people ready and willing to answer my questions.   For $2.25 I sat in a comfortable seat, speeding past the cars stuck in the 5:30 in-bound traffic.  In less than 30 minutes I'd be downtown, drinking a brewski at the Blue Line Lounge and Grill.  No hassles, no exorbitant taxi fare, no unwanted intrusions into my personal space.... I was a public transit groupie and I had a smile on my face and love in my heart.

At the second stop, a man and his son boarded the train.  They were well-groomed.  They each had a backpack.  There were no available seats, so I wasn't surprised that they stood in the open space between the doors.  What was surprising happened next.  The father cleared his throat and announced
This is my 11 year old son.  I am unemployed.  I don't do drugs and I don't drink.  I am trying to make ends meet and I would like to ask you something.
Can you help us?
Suddenly, the silence in the car was different.  There was no more idle chatter between the airline workers to my left.  The student was no longer buried in her Latin text.  My novel lay unopened on my lap.  We were a captive audience, watching one another and the two who had interrupted our individual reveries.  There was a palpable sense of embarrassment as we watched the 11 year old boy shrink down into the collar of his sweater.  His eyes never left his father's back.  As his dad finished his appeal, the youngster hid his face behind the safety panel.  His shoulders were bowed in, his head was down, his feet were shuffling back and forth.  It was awful.

As the father made his way through the car, the kid moved to the center of the aisle, swaying with the rocking of the train on the rails, not holding on, arms akimbo as he held his balance and smiled.  He looked like any kid on an uncrowded train, playing with gravity and laughing about it.  But he wasn't any kid, he was a kid being used as a prop.

I said "Nope" when his father approached me, sticking to my policy of not dispensing cash to people on the street.  But I felt guilty.  I smiled at the son as he followed his father through the doors to the next car, but it didn't feel like it was enough.

I wanted to take him home with me.  I wanted to spare him further shame.  I wanted to smack his father for using him as a tool.

Was I right?  Would you have done the same?  Wondering bloggers want to know. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Brightening Up the Desert

It's summer, and I want to be outside in the garden.

It's summer, and I want my knees to be covered with soil and I want my fingernails to be blackened and broken by the earth I'm pushing aside as I place the transplants gently into their new homes.  

It's summer, and I'm sitting inside, typing to you, because it's just too hot to be out there.  We've turned off the heating elements feeding the pool and it's still 95.  That makes for a relaxing bathtub, but doesn't do much to cool off a suffering gardener.

I tried.  I really did.  I went out to water the plants which aren't reached by the irrigation system, and I nearly drowned in my own perspiration.  Dragging hoses across the desert - even a 50' hose reaching just across my driveway and into my front yard - is more exertion than I'm looking for these days.

Mattie offered a yoga hike on Saturday morning, and I signed up without thinking much about it.  As the temperatures rose along with the humidity I began to doubt the wisdom of my choice, but Saturday dawned and there were clouds in the sky.  At least I wouldn't fry.  The forecast was for afternoon showers, and the drops held off, perhaps not wanting to interfere with our vinyasa flows.  By the time we finished our silent, meditative walk back to the parking lot, our hearts and our souls were full.  There's something wonderful about practising yoga in the great outdoors.  Downward dog really does give you a different view of the world when you're outside.  Instead of looking through my legs at a mirrored reflection of the rest of the class, or seeing others doing the same, on Saturday morning I stood up facing the Rincons and my inversions presented the Santa Catalinas.  I wasn't focused on my tight hamstrings; I was watching a wren perch on a branch, a wrren who was watching the silly humans.  It was a wonderful smile.

But it's still summer, and the gardener in me wants to plant.  Since the soil is not accepting applications at this time (it's too warm for new root shoots, and all but cacti which are planted now run the risk of becoming compost before September ends) I was forced to find my camera and commune that way.

Share the joy, with me, if you'd like:

The crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) blooms at the hottest part of the season.  It's always a surprise.  Just when I think that I, along with every other growing thing in my yard, will be wilted and unproductive, out come the blooms.  The hummingbirds just love them, and so does my water bill.  Neither the two crepe myrtles nor the bougainvilla (a rare instance of where the common name is the latin name)
are on the drip system, yet they bloom profusely.
The crepe myrtle is deciduous, and that led me to believe that it would be a thirsty devil.  
But, no..... the sporadic monsoons are just enough to keep them happy.
Apparently, the bougainvilla displays a richer color with less water.
Who knew?

The Texas Rangers (Leucophyllum frutescens) are in full bloom

and the individual petals are as pretty as the whole bush.

Lest you think that the only summer color comes from these more familiar leafy flora, I'll leave you with my Fishhook Barrel cactus (Mammillaria microcarpa)

You can see all the stages of the blooming cycle right on this one plant.

Up close and personal, you get this:

It's pretty.  It's colorful.  But it's summer and I want to be gardening.  Guess I should have thought about the psychic disconnect before I moved to the desert southwest.