Monthly Archives: February 2018

Life, liberty and the pursuit….

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Recently  I heard that one man owns five authentic copies of the Declaration of Independence. He’s a billionaire.  Scholars have determined that there are fifty-one in existence.  On either a trip to Washington D.C. when I was a teenager, or when I was in fourth grade and took a tour of New York City, I acquired a copy of the same document.  Suffice it to say, it was not one of the original (facscimile) fifty-one but was a commercial copy acquired at a museum store or at Fraunces Tavern in New York where one could see George Washington’s wooden teeth.  I held onto it for a long time. I liked opening it up and reading it and examining the signatures.  The words were meaningful even when I was young and didn’t know much about the world. Independence only meant going places on my own, with no supervision, under my own power with little accountability. It meant making decisions that only I could make in the moment without relying on anyone else.   Even then, I knew it gave me power.  I think at one time, when I didn’t like the rules at home, I wrote my own declaration of independence.  I drafted it with intent and put it with the “real” one but never declared it to anyone by myself.

Having had a short break from the routine weeks of working and working more, my FHB  and I took off to head north into New Hampshire.  Our destination was a place that was off the grid, not in terms of electricity or water, but more a place to recalculate and find our centers, both as individuals and as partners.  It was, no joke intended, a place that even a GPS couldn’t find.  We attempted to follow a route from the Google directions and ended up on a road surrounded by the contemporary way of siphoning maple syrup, which is through blue and green tubing attached to maple trees.  Long gone was the way of tapping the tree and letting the syrup fill a galvanized bucket.  The road was muddied dirt, and was somewhat reminscent of what I imagine a stagecoach ride might have felt like.  We were off the beaten track for sure.  We reached our destination and found ourselves in a place that time forgot by about two hundred and twenty five years.  We were welcomed into a space, rustic and warm, with the view of a field and a mountain and a wall of windows to take it all in. We sat in time worn chairs in front of a large woodstove that was the source of heat to fill the room and bookshelves from ceiling to floor filled with knowledge and history on every shelf.  There was no television or radio or sounds other than a few trucks or cars passing by.  It was a little bit of paradise filled with large amounts of quiet.

We are a pair that don’t need ongoing conversation. We came equipped with books and the twenty first century tools to write or catch up on information.  Our breathing was slower and our heart sounds healthy.  Our vision was clearer and not mired by worries or thoughts of the past or the future.  We found our way to places to eat and then back again to sit and write or sit and sit some more.  My FHB has always had this ability to sit for long periods in silence and contemplation.  I struggle to do that.  It seems as though having to leave home, and the obligations of things undone that I believe, in the moment need doing, is the way for me to learn that skill.

We spent 44 hours in “our” respite and it felt like a very long and productive span of time.  We sorted through our thoughts and let go of some, and recycled others.  The concept of ” We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” resonated through my mind as I looked at the surroundings outside our window, as well as acknowledging the feeling inside.  The billionaire, who has those copies , might be considered a lucky man.  I understand the value of the words, but luck is subjective. Being okay with yourself, gives you your own sense of independence and can be as enduring.

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Negotiating a Piano

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For my most recent birthday, which was over three months ago, my FHB told me that rather than get me something I wouldn’t use or wouldn’t like, he decided that he would get me a piano.  I believe that he got the “idea” after I would read to him, and show him, ads for free pianos (you pick it up, it’s yours). I had piano lessons as a child and I was not a cooperative student, i.e I didn’t like to practice.  My parents had gotten a piano which looked like it came from a saloon in the wild, wild west and had been the witness to a bunch of gun fights, when you looked at the condition of the wood.  How it ever got upstairs to the fifth floor apartment still remains a mystery.  When the time came to empty out the apartment, it was left to be someone else’s moving problem.  My mother played as did my sister, who was a cooperative student, and my father took lessons which became the bane of my mother’s existence at times.  I fooled around and played by ear and liked to play popular tunes, rather than classical.  My FHB has a lovely singing voice and when we had a piano, several years ago, I would play and he would sing.  It seems like a nice thing to do together as we enter the next phase of growing older together.

I think I have been patient about waiting.  I am only a patient person when it comes to my work. Other than that, I am borderline whiny and I embody a six year old child.  So, despite the fact, we have already discussed the where of the piano, we have not determined the when.  We have a lot of furniture shuffling to do and discarding to consider and then we can presumably get it.  It seems reasonable and yet I am not.

I have come up with a very annoying strategy.  I have opted to ask for a little monkey for a pet. I am fully aware that some people are now horrified at the idea, but putting your horror aside, I am considering just fostering a monkey who might be displaced for the moment.  I would be caring and patient and I would ensure harmony between our cat and the monkey.  I got the idea when I saw a picture of a monkey hugging a dog and they were like the peaceable kingdom.  I thought to myself, this could be the answer to the question…when will I get my piano.

Hence, I began the discussion, which of course was rather one sided.  I proposed that we would get a monkey until we were ready to get the piano.  My idea was that my FHB would quickly bypass the monkey idea, and go right for the free piano.  I thought I framed my argument well.  I didn’t have all the words out of my mouth when I heard a vehement negative “No!”.  I am not easily deterred.  I went in for the counter punch.  I said ” what about a dog or another cat”.  Have you ever experienced that look from someone you know fairly well that says, without words, that you have clearly lost your mind?  This is not an uncommon visual exchange.  It has nothing to do with love, more with taking a stand.  Sometimes we are on very different mountains, looking in two very different directions.  I have gone back to the drawing board, knowing that the next step is probably critical to the eventual win.  Harmony often starts with discord and dissonance.  When I remind him that we have always played beautiful music together, I might strike the right key. Wish me luck.

Kleine Schwester (little sister)

 

IMG_2389A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves – a special kind of double.      

Toni Morrison

The photo was  taken in 1972. We were either at the Tower of London, or  at Windsor Castle.  It might have been Scotland or somewhere in between.  She was 14 and I was 18.  We were on a bus tour of England and Scotland with our parents.  I always glowered. She still always has a beautiful smile for pictures.  We tried to stay awake during the bus rides but invariably we both slept until there was another ruin or a castle or a church to see.  We were the youngest by probably twenty plus years.  I still like the picture which tells a story of two girls who shared a room for most of their growing up until I graduated from college and got married. It was no castle and we were hardly princesses.

I always wanted a baby sister and my parents cooperated…the narcissism of thinking something will make it so. It was February 18th, 1958.   I remember going in our 1950-something hunter green 88 Oldmobile, with a velvet rope on the back of the front seat, and driving with my father to pick up my sister and mother from the hospital.  I wore a light blue dress, my best dress, because this was a very important day, and a very important baby.  I liked staring at her in the bassinet and watching her.  I would stand outside the crib as she got bigger and encourage her to stand up. I could barely reach over the railing but would try to get her up by her hands.  Finally, she stood and held on and screamed like bloody murder.  She was so afraid but I was so proud of what she had accomplished.  It was the beginning of being proud of her although I rarely treated her that way as time went by.  We shared a very small room which was about nine feet by ten feet.  It contained two beds, two dressers, bookshelves and maybe a desk.  I wanted the window and she wanted the closet.  I was older by four years, three months and five days.  It was never easy.  We were, however, in cahoots, when it came to being in trouble with the adults.  We were sent to our cell (room) and had to manage to tolerate our differences.  I was a pain because I constantly wanted to rearrange the room so I could have privacy. I insisted, when I got to high school, that my parents get a folding three-panel screen to which I installed a small doorknob and cordoned off the window area so I did not have to deal with her, and her with me.  She had the closet because I couldn’t figure out how to effectively assume all the real estate.  She was a great student and the antithesis of how I learned.  She excelled academically and I actually liked her friends.  It would not have been cool to let her know that at any cost.  We were very different but we knew how to make one another laugh.

It is inconceivable to realize that I truly have known her for her entire life.  I was too young to remember a life before her.  We grew up and managed to both end up living in Massachusetts.  I remember when she called to say that the silver lining for moving from NYC to Massachusetts, was that we would both be in the same state.  That was quite a while ago and I would have to say that as a result,  life went from silver to platinum from my perspective.  She is a good woman who can keep my secrets and know my myriad of flaws but is still kind and such a good listener. We have mothered our children together and grieved losing our parents together.  We both live full lives and when we stop for a moment and share a few hours, I realize that I could still share a room with her. I would even give her the window.  I love you, my kleine Schwestie.  The world is so much better with you in it.  Happy 60th!

 

Just another four letter word

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Not sure what there is to talk about that I haven’t talked about a couple of times.  Anything I put here tonight reeks of mundane platitudes.  Here’s the deal, once again.  I am a social worker/counselor in an urban high school in Massachusetts.  We have about two thousand students.  We are an economically, i.e. poor, community with limited resources,  a multitude of social challenges, and a constantly changing climate in reaction or sometimes in response to the world around us. In other words we are just like a lot, or more than a lot, of other schools.  Wednesday night, that feeling of horror and disbelief.  Thursday and today, pull out the duct tape and try and piece together our students and staff who wonder if we are safe, ever.  Here we are again. Here we go again.

Somehow, because I am a social worker, I am supposed to have a better handle on why people do what they do and what they don’t do.  Maybe I used to feel more competent to offer an explanation.  I still can muster up a whole lot of compassion but a reasonable explanation does not come to mind.  I’m as lost as everyone else.  That also scares me as this new reality is unchartered.  I am no sage.

I had a conversation this evening with my millennial son, who is almost a year from the finish line to become a nurse practioner.  He was livid.  He ranted.  Perhaps it was less of a conversation than a listen to the next generation’s charge to me to explain what the f*ck is going on in this world, like I created it.  I am often in the role of moral compass.  I’ve got nothing  to give, but some trite words.  I certainly can’t tell him there is no Santa Claus.  All I have is my emotional resume’, written in hindsight.  He had a bad day today for a multitude of reasons, the least of which was the national news.  Yesterday he had a good day because someone thanked him for being kind.  Then the rant became a conversation.   Sometimes it is therapeutic…this is the social worker hat…to tell your feelings and thoughts out loud.  To release them is sharing them.  I told a young woman today that eating a whole cake by herself might make herself sick although it might be what she felt like doing.  Giving me a piece might make her less sick and be an opportunity share something good.  I am the queen of metaphors.  Back to the angry son…he calmed down and said that he tries to do what he knows I try to do “help just one person at a time.”.   People are mostly predictable, until they are not.  The signs are there if we stop and really assess what is going on.  It takes a bit of time and desire to help…to be kind.  So, a refresher on my rules….if you can’t seem to follow them, figure out what’s in your way and try again

  1.  Learn something every day.
  2. Teach something every day.
  3. If you hurt someone, say sorry.
  4. Be kind.

For me, writing is like talking it out.  I am not happy with the human condition, but I allow myself time to process (a social work thing).  There is an awful lot of ugly but perhaps hope is another four letter word we can use along the way.

Old song, with some good lyrics, for my generation to remember and for the newbies to listen to:

 

Bless us all to gain the wisdom to fix things…some day soon. Peace.

 

A Short Rant

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I was seventeen when the Pentagon Papers were released.  I had just graduated high school.  A year earlier the massacre at Kent State happened.  The nightly news reported the numbers of casualties and losses  in Vietnam.  I read the New York Times daily,  and asked a lot of questions.  Walter Cronkite was in our living room every night delivering somber news about a place I could find on a map but was on the other side of my globe.  I was headed to college in the fall and didn’t know anyone who was drafted.  It was the time of the draft lottery.  People I knew were making arrangements to go to Canada or to get a student deferment or were going to be conscientious objectors.  I was sheltered by my middle class, educated standing in the world of New York City.  I didn’t have a clue.

I am not a big believer in coincidence.  I don’t think it was a coincidence this past weekend,  that my FHB and I should have gone to see a movie in Plymouth Massachusetts. “The Post”, is  about what became known as the Pentagon Papers and their release by the New York Times and Washington Post in 1971.  Plymouth is home to the famous but underwhelming “Plymouth Rock” which is supposedly where the Pilgrims landed after leaving England because of religious persecution.  All of New England has ties to the Founding Fathers and the wish for independence almost 400 years ago.

Living through those times (not Plymouth Rock or the Tea Party) did not make me a student or true witness of history.  The film brought those times to light and evoked feelings that I was witnessing  the history of my growing up years almost fifty years later.  I knew the music. I recognized the faces of the politicians.  I knew the names of the reporters.  I read the papers, every day, but I didn’t know how to understand how it effected my life.  Was I naive?  Absolutely.  I saw protests and felt the passion of my peers  and others who were angry and hated the war.  There was only one war…the wrong war, a friend called it.  The film, despite the Hollywood creation, left its mark. It was good writing, great acting and a sense of clarity that showed that we had bad guys right in our backyard.  We didn’t need to go around the world to figure that out.  I remember signs that said “Don’t Trust the Government”.  Now I get it, just when it seems like it’s coming around again.  The film affirmed the role of emerging awareness by women to rise up and push back and take their places at the helm.  Katherine Graham, and Meryl Streep’s performance in that role was powerful.  The character showed development of her moral conscience and the actress delivered it.

I enjoy a good drama until it seems as though life mirrors art daily.  I can’t read the paper without anxiety.  I don’t read the NY Times as much but check in on line.  The media bombards us with information that conflicts and contradicts with no immediate resolution to anything.  Recently,  I pulled up a clip on Youtube…. Remember Howard Beale?

 

It’s been 42 years…or has it?

Lessons Learned

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Grandparenting is a lesson in velocity.  Time and distance.  I can’t explain it from the scientific view, but only from the emotional one.  One of the only reasons I took off some time from writing was to spend time with a very important four year old.  To say we are taught lessons we need to learn in life, is to know that our teacher may be a small child.  Being in the moment and responding to a request to read a book, color a paper or “come and see this, BeeBee” was a test of my usual behavior.  I always have something else to do, until I have reason to be there right now.

Moments while I was in the midst of preparing pancakes or waffles were going to evaporate.  Waffles waited, and pancakes paused.  It was as easy as breathing to sit on the couch “right there!”  and be BeeBee, and read a book to the sweetest audience. She leaned against my hip, and listened to Amelia Bedelia, which has always been one of my favorite books.  Amelia Bedelia is still as funny as she was back then and appreciated more.  The nuances of her adventures perhaps were not fully understood but it was about the listening and the attention my voice drew and the knowledge that this was the best feeling, right here and right now.

Penguins are funny creatures who lead with determination and energy, not unlike this grandgirl.  She stood mesmerized watching the constant motion as the birds swam past and she patiently waited for them to come close and then to move along.  I learned that these days together were much the same.  Long distance love relationships are difficult.  Long distance relationships with grandchildren are beyond that.  My FHB was sad before she arrived thinking about her leaving.  I had to corral him with a little bit of Dr. Seuss and remind him “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” before we picked them up at the airport.  We both know that the next time she will be different in many ways, because four is a special age that challenges what is real and what isn’t and that so many questions are asked of us with curiosity and wonder.  It is important to pay attention to the question as much as in preparing the answer.  The synergy of influence between us is the lesson in itself.

Making memories that will carry us all between visits is like taking a picture and not knowing if you captured what you hoped for, until the time has passed.  Four year olds are in the now.  The world is all encompassing and to hear “I want to show you all ‘the Nemos’ ” meant we were invited into her world and her world view. At the aquarium,   I could totally see how Disney saw the magic in clownfish and offered it up to wide-eyed four year olds to enjoy.  I got to bring her to my favorite library and sit on a tiny stool and a tiny chair and look face to face at a smile that lights up my heart.  I did need help getting up but that’s what FHBs are for.

We were given commands to sit down, and sit here, and read this and read that, and our compliance was one hundred percent.  I only pushed back when she wanted me to color a picture of shells and I just really don’t like coloring in the lines.  She was pretty patient as we negotiated that I would color two, but that I didn’t want to do two more.  I, too,  can be four for a minute.

The morning that I had to say good bye I squatted down so that we were face to face. I  took in her serious expression as I told her how much I would miss her, and that having her  with us for a few days was the best.  Her big eyes listened, and her hug was tighter than I had remembered.  Love hurts for a minute, but we’ll always have Nemo.