When my daughter was younger, like many parents, we marked important days with a photo.

First day of school for every grade, first rock concert, plays, awards and music performances.

Beginnings and endings are the tidy bookends we use to mark time and make sense of all that messy stuff in the middle.

But now the milestones and moments zip by mostly unmarked.

Tomorrow my daughter and I will drive 10 hours to her college (Go Badgers!) to move her into her first apartment. A car full of kitchenware, clothes and few decorative items to be merged into a household with a couple of roommates.

For whatever reason this transition is landing a bit harder than move-in-day at the dorm.

The dog days of August always trigger a melancholy, nostalgic mix of sadness, excitement and fear that, for much of my youth, was sparked by the announcement of the fall schedule by network TV.

Summer ends, you get a new pair of jeans, school starts, and boom – there are new episodes of M.A.S.H and Happy Days to look forward to.

Somewhere between my first grade excitement of new pencils & crayons, and chucking everything in my locker into a trash can the last day of high school, a whole buncha life happened.

And now my kid somehow has gone from running away from me on the playground, to running away to college and never coming back.

Ok it’s not that bad.

But like I said, something about her moving into an apartment feels more permanent. As in her life is now permanently on a parallel track to the track her father and I are chugging down.

Now we are separate. As we should be.

And that’s another first.

I’ll be happy and sad, irritated and irritating, a helpful mom & a bossy pain in the ass before it’s all over. It’s how it always goes when we surf these transitions together, and we end up just fine.

Got a bag of potato chips, a package of Tim-Tams and an excellent Spotify playlist ready for the drive.

One of our favorite sing-a-long at the top of your voice road trip songs to start the trip.

**** postscript****

By the way- writing a blog post on an airplane at 1 am almost guarantees that you will forget to hit publish. The 10 hour drive is nearly done.

The street where I grew up boasted a soft serve ice cream stand on the corner called Gigi’s.

At Gigi’s you could get vanilla, chocolate or, my favorite, a twist cone (why choose when you can have both?) with dip coating, which was extra and a rare splurge.

I never really liked the glassy hard coating that made eating your ice cream difficult and drippy, but I always wanted it. It seemed so fancy to have something “extra” on your cone. You could also get your ice cream rolled in chopped peanuts but that seemed like something invented by adults just to ruin a good time.

My mom didn’t eat ice cream from Gigi’s because she said it was “dirty” and she thought they had cockroaches. I don’t know why she thought that or if she had proof, but begging for money to get a cone always included her unsolicited opinion that “That place is dirty”.

Maybe it was, but what did we care.

The guy who owned it, and named it after his daughter who preened about the fact, converted his garage into a tiny stand with one window and a ledge to lean on while you waited to be served.

The most satisfying way to enjoy a cone from Gigi’s was on the way home from the public pool, exhausted from sun and chlorine and six straight hours of “horse-play” and diving for pennies. Countless summer days my mother sent us to the pool when it opened at noon and we stayed until they kicked all the kids out at 6pm.

Gigi’s was between the pool and home which meant the cone that was sure to ruin your dinner had to be eaten sitting on the downed telephone pole in the empty lot just off the corner. The house next to the lot had bushes so no one (my mom and her neighbor cronies specifically) could see you sitting on the telephone pole eating a pre-dinner ice cream.

I stopped going to Gigi’s as I got older after a few creepy encounters with the men outside Danny’s beverage. You had to pass through the beverage store parking lot on the corner to get to Gigi’s. It was a low-tech drive up place where young guys sitting on beer crates would hop up and bring your order to you while you waited in the car.

The guys on crates, and the old men in lawn chairs who ran the place, sat out front smoking all day. Once I hit puberty they started to make cracks about my body and all the ice cream in the world wouldn’t persuade me to cross that lot anymore.

Now, at least once a year, I take my daughter to get a soft serve ice cream. The stand I found is on the way home from the beach, is not at all “dirty”, and is run by teenagers just like a good ice cream stand should be.

The selections are many.

No longer is there just chocolate, butterscotch and cherry dip coating, (god bless you Red Dye #40) but now you can also have strawberry, blue raspberry and peanut butter. It’s still extra. And I still get it even though I don’t really like it.

Its tradition.

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The power to define yourself rather than allowing society to define you by your gender or sexuality is the foundation of feminism. Mean people wear tie dye too.

Attention Cranky Hippie Ladies: you are promoting the wrong kind of feminism.

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I came very late to the habit of going to the salon. For 30 years I wore my hair very long (and usually pinned up in a bun). For 15 of those years I dyed my hair various shades of bottle blonde.

The color started as a poorly controlled impulse. Once when one sister was dying the other sister’s hair blonde in the kitchen, I scooped some of the left over goop from bowl and pulled it through my hair in a streak. It wasn’t long before my whole head was blonde.

Because it was so long, and I was dying it myself over the bathtub, it wasn’t long before multiple shades were apparent. At the time it was vaguely Madonna-esque, now I think now they call it ombre. Looks a lot different when its deliberate.

Ten years ago I decided to cut my hair. I can’t remember the reason why, now but something must have prompted it. Now I go to an “Aveda Experience Salon” for cut, curl, color and whatever else my stylist thinks is a good idea. Who am I to argue?

Sitting in the salon chair with my eyes closed the other day, listening to the sounds of high heels clacking and dozens of voices rising and falling, I thought about the difference between this and the sounds of my mother’s beauty parlor.

Until I was an adult my mom went to the beauty parlor once a week to get her hair washed and “done”. This was a Saturday ritual that started with a 7 am trip to the West Side Market, a stop at Zannoni’s Italian Imports for whatever, and Mazonne & Sons for bread. And then Patsy’s Beauty Parlor.

Patsy’s was a store front shop with two chairs, 4 drying chairs and lots of hairspray. Instead of the thumping bass of my Aveda experience, Patsy’s sound scape consisted of WGAR Country radio, the whine of dryer hoods and middle-aged women, smoking and bitching about their good-for-nuthin, kids/husbands/neighbor. The smell was Benson & Hedges diluted only by industrial strength Aqua Net.

I’m sure those Beauty Parlor sounds and smells still exist somewhere, along with the pink foam sleep bonnet my mother wore at night to protect her complicated basket weave of a hairdo.

Often when I think of my mother – it is mother’s day after all – I fall into a rambly comparison of her life to mine. Middle class daily life versus childhood memories of her poverty class daily life at my same age. An attempt I guess to further understand who I am by trying to understand who she was.

Sometime after I was out of high school my mom stopped going to Patsy and switched to the JC Penny salon at the mall. The basket weave was replaced by a layered bob that took a bit of work with a curling iron to fluff it up.

She never told me why she decided to change her style. Lost to time like my own reason to cut my hair. Another twisty thread for me to pick at when I turn my kaleidoscope on memories of my mother.

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I re-post this as a salute to my friend who is brave, kind and more than just a pretty-good Mom.


A Mother’s Day Essay

A Pretty Good Mom

An ugly third-degree burn scar covers most of my left outer thigh. This is one legacy my mother left me. I was two years old and, the story goes, I climbed on top of our stove, turned it on, and sat down on the red-hot electrical burner while my mother vacuumed upstairs, unable to hear my screams. Neglect? An accident?  It’s a strange story, but it’s possible. I also knocked out my front teeth around the same age, falling down the stairs. Again, it’s possible. Nothing strange or unusual about a toddler falling down the stairs, especially in the late 60s before baby proofing was common.

Another legacy my mother left me was her voice, first in my ears, later in my head, telling me I was a mistake, an accident, that I was not loved but tolerated, and that I was capable of ruining lives (well, hers at least) by merely existing. I wasn’t even supposed to be alive, so I’d better watch it. It throws the accidents into a different light, this admission from her that I was not loved, was not wanted. It puts a small, scratching doubt in my head, enough to make me wonder what really happened.

It’s hard not to think about these things around Mother’s Day. All the stories in social media, newspapers and magazines that idealize and praise mothers and mothering, stories of bonds between mothers and daughters, are powerful triggers.

It’s also hard not to think about these things because I am a mother.

I like to say that my mother helped me become a good mother by demonstrating what NOT to do. I don’t yell, I don’t belittle, I don’t insult,  I don’t shame, I don’t slam things, I don’t break things. I’m not saying good mothers don’t lose their tempers and do these things sometimes. They do. But good mothers who do those things make up for the mistakes with love and affection, even apologies, that hopefully balance it all out.

Looking back, though, I think what was worse than what she did do was what she didn’t do. She did not cuddle, she did not praise, she did not thank, she did not protect, she did not apologize, she did not love. She fed, she clothed, she cleaned, she tolerated, grudgingly. When she wasn’t angrily doing housework, slamming cupboards and drawers, she was smoking and drinking coffee in the kitchen, one eye pinched against the smoke curling from the cigarette clamped in one side of her mouth, the other fixed on the pages of a Harlequin Romance.  I knew better than to seek attention from her, and usually just watched her from the kitchen doorway, trying to gauge her mood.

My most vivid memories of her from my childhood are saturated with feelings of fear and guilt. One afternoon she tried to show me how to clean my room. I know I was very young because I remember the vacuum cleaner was too heavy for me—try as I might I could not push it under the bed where I had been told to sweep. When she returned to find it unswept, she raged at me. I cried, feeling worthless. She eventually left me alone.

Another dim memory, playing Candyland, the only memory I have of her playing with me. I must have cheated, as very young children do–maybe trying to move my piece ahead without her noticing? Who knows. The game was put away very dramatically, with huffing and puffing and scolding and slamming and indignation. I cried, feeling worthless. She eventually left me alone.

That was our pattern.

And so it went. The fear and guilt morphed into loathing and guilt when I was a teen, and eventually pity and guilt when I was an adult and finally had a child of my own.

Oh, the waste of love. Until I had my own, I had no idea how eager children are to love and be loved, how easily it happens. It would have taken so little for her to have it, to give it. But for a variety of reasons (the subject of a future essay, perhaps), she could not. And as much as I tried to love her, I could not overcome my fear enough to do it.

I cried when she died, not because she was gone but for the life she had wasted. I do not miss her, and I am, if not exactly happier, at least relieved that she is gone.

Her voice is still with me, but it gets quieter as the years pass, crowded out of my head more and more by thoughts of my son, my husband, my friends, my work, my world. In spite of her, I give and receive love easily, even fiercely, especially with my son.  And I am grateful for that every day, but especially today.

Happy mother’s day.

speak truth to power

 

 

 

Congratulations if you are able to read that word and not hear singing. Unfortunately I both see and hear Topol as Tevye. Always.

One of the things that didn’t occur to me until I was a parent was how much our actions around holidays shapes a feeling of tradition for our kids. Growing up I had a feeling of “the way things are, is the way things are” that didn’t shift until I started experiencing holidays outside of my clan.

My father was a big believer in “there is only one right way” which, in retrospect, probably afforded him a feeling of control in a sometimes chaotic world. But it didn’t leave any space for the opinions or disagreement any of his six children. Come to think of it that may have been part of the motivation behind his attitude. Holidays were often…tense.

For many years after my husband and I got together we continued to observe holidays with both families in the manner dictated by their tradition. We were spared the two stop issue many couples face by virtue of his family being Jewish and mine being Catholic. When our daughter came along the holidays became about her. The traditions slowly crept in the way that they do, adopted, adapted and invented.

One way we acknowledge our differing traditions, and our whole-hearted lack of religious observance connected to any holiday, is by celebrating the Winter Solstice each year. The shortest day, the longest night, the Solstice has been used to mark the season since ancient times.

And now its our tradition – the light returns and so we dance!

Since I will be too busy dancing naked in the moonlight to post to my blog tomorrow – Happy Solstice to All!

(Some people still think “pagan holiday” when they hear Solstice so I included the de rigueur Stonehenge at sunset. And no, there won’t really be any naked dancing.)

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It is spring where I live which means there is snow on the ground and several more inches threatening this week. This time last year it was 80 degrees and sunny. Two weeks ago it was 65 degrees and sunny. Mother Nature is obviously menopausal.

As I drove my daughter to school she and the car pool kids were complaining about the weather because its almost spring break etc, etc, etc. I told them I remembered many an Easter Sunday with snow on the ground when I was a kid. Part of that is the magical liturgical calendar, which I am sure is calculated in a sub-basement of the Vatican using the phases of the moon and cast chicken bones, and part is global warming which causes the lake effect snow by us.

When I was a kid every Easter we would get a new dress, hat, gloves and Patten leather shoes for church. Invariably the dress was made out of some sheer material with cap sleeves guaranteed to leave you with goose bumps the whole day. Even the leg wear was thin – ankle socks with lace rather than tights.

My brothers on the other hand got a pair of dress pants, long sleeve button shirt, jacket and tie. They were warm, we were cold. And so began the lessons of women needing to suffer to look beautiful.

As I was relating the unfairness of the Easter clothing to my captive car pool audience I remembered the purse we would make in Girl Scouts every year. First we would spend several meetings crocheting a square. The square would then be made into a tube by lacing a piece of ribbon along two edges, with another ribbon laced through the top to create a drawstring. We would then cut images out of magazines and decoupage them them to plastic margarine tubs. Once the tub was sufficiently decorated and dry, we would punch holes around the edge and use another ribbon to lace the crocheted tube to the tub.

Found this on Etsy. Mine never looked this good.

Needless to say the kids in the car thought this was hilarious. I tried to explain that it was the 70’s and we decoupaged everything, but I guess you had to be there. I just found the instructions for Margarine Tub Purse in the 1972 edition of a “Polly’s Pointers” column. I was not the only one subjected to this craftiness!

This endless “craft project” produced what was now called a purse, intended to be used for church on Easter Sunday. A purse just big enough for some folded up Kleenex, some money for the collection plate, and a lip smacker. Bonne Bell Lip Smackers was a home town company and a big craze for a while. Originally they were as big as glue sticks & with a hook and a cord so you could wear it around your neck. Orange Crush, 7-Up and Strawberry were my favorites.

The smell of Spring.

Like many people in the US, and around the world, I have been deeply affected by the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th. When President Obama made his statement Friday afternoon I thought this has to be the single hardest thing he has had to do as President – be the POTUS while feeling like a father.

More than other acts of terrorism and public violence we have experienced in the last 11 years, this seemed personal. I found myself unable to concentrate once the story started to break, and spent the remainder of the day intermittently crying. As a parent, the idea that I could outlive my child is an abomination, and the idea that I might bury my child because of violence, a horror. That’s where everyones mind was on Friday.

Within hours the rage was unleashed, the natural companion to the compassion and sorrow. Rage against “gun nuts”, the 2nd amendment and the NRA lobbying dollars.  Rage against liberals who don’t understand the formula more guns = less violence (Rep. Gohmert, on Fox News wanted the Sandy Hook principal to be armed armed so she could have taken “his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”) Rage against the godless, gay agenda that causes such things to happen (Huckabee & Westboro Baptist). The usual.

As I have said on this blog before, I am a supporter of the 2nd amendment, and all the other amendments to the constitution for that matter, so I can’t get behind the folks who are saying things like “strike down the 2nd amendment”,  and “ban all guns”, because there are perfectly legitimate reasons for owning a gun…on a farm. Or for seasonal hunting. Or even for sport. Its tough to swallow, but there is a legitimate and compelling argument for maintaining and protecting the 2nd amendment.

I think instead we should reclaim the 2nd amendment for the people. Turn it back to the intent of the framers – common defense against a tyrannical government – rather than the modern interpretation of keep and bear arms to defend yourself. I would love to see semi-automatic handguns (used in Sandy Hook, Columbine, Chardon etc.) banned altogether.  Let the conceal & carry crowd have revolvers, “six-shooters”, 38-special – guns that no one has ever felt compelled to turn sideways when they shoot it in a movie. Can’t that be enough? Six bullets? To “defend your castle” and “stand your ground”?

There will be a great deal of opposition to any proposed changes in gun laws, the manufacture and sale of guns, or the regulation of gun owners because not only is the nonprofit, “grassroots NRA” funded by the likes of the Koch Brothers, but the firearm industry has  $11 billion in sales in 2012. So far. That’s a lot of skin in the game. The NRA spokespeople (some of whom are politicians) will try to deflect attention by advocating for increased mental health interventions rather than gun regulations. We need both so I hope they are successful. The Koch Bros. could redirect their lobbying dollars and make up children’s mental health services cuts in the 2013 Federal Health & Human Services budget. That would be a mitzvah.

The question that continues to worry me, is how long do we have for Congress to “take meaningful action” in regulating firearms before Sandy Hook fades to “another school shooting”. People were already irritated that the President’s speech on Sunday interrupted their football game and it was only 48-hours after it happened.

Given that many in our society follow football more closely than politics, is there “societal will” for gun control? Will this massacre of children, because they were so young, be enough to sustain US citizens through the intricacies and compromises of gun control legislation? Will the occasional reminder that someone else’s child will never grow old be enough to re-fuel the moral outrage that’s burning so brightly today?

Thinking about never seeing your child grow old should be the mental cliff we all stand on until meaningful gun regulations are passed.

I just want to say I am disappointed that I did not reach my personal goal for my blog this year.

I wanted to have 182 posts in 2012, half of the 365 days in the year. Instead, I had some weeks where I had five and other weeks where I had zero, so I am 59 posts short of my goal. This is better than 2011 when I only managed one post a week. I look much more productive if I count posts per weeks of the year instead of days – averaging 2+ posts a week! – but that was not my goal so that’s cheating. Or playing with statistics. Same thing.

My 2013 goal will have to be 3 posts a week, no excuses.

Since overall this is a very small disappointment in the grand scheme of things, I didn’t want to use a title that blew it out of proportion. Disappointed, Sad, and Regret are all a bit big, so I used Wabsy, a term coined by my daughter and her preschoolers friends that essentially means “Wah, wah, wah, so sad for you, quit your whining”. It is and was a lovely short hand word that we continue to use in our house to tell each other – get over yourself.

Try it the next time someone is acting juvenile about some “First World Problem” they are having. Its very satisfying.

As many people do we went around the table on Thanksgiving and everyone shared something they were thankful for.

There was a general consensus about being thankful for family, friends and health as we took turns, and then the kids start getting very specific with things like “Cows, because I like cheese”. The adults mentioned Obama’s election, ACA, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin among other things esoteric and mundane. When it was my turn, the first time before everyone started having fun with it, I said I was thankful for abundance.

Sitting around the table that night were adults who all had well paying jobs, two cars, big houses filled with electronics, warm clothes and all the food we could eat. That is abundance any place in the world.  

I remember the first time I realized I was not poor. I got into my car after grocery shopping and couldn’t remember how much I had just spent. I swiped my card, money was being debited, and I didn’t know exactly how much. I had only just recently gotten over my embarrassment at the parcel service, which is mandatory at this grocery, and stopped trying to carry all my bags to the car just to avoid having the high school kid wait on me.

I thought of this as I shopped at Whole Foods for expensive (worth every penny) goat cheese and fancy olives Thanksgiving day. What made me feel “not poor” then and now was the act of buying what I wanted at the grocery, rather than only what I could afford. I don’t use a calculator while I shop (my sister still does) and have a very loose food budget that accomadates organic produce and whims like fancy cheese. 

I say “not poor” rather than rich because its all relative. My husband and I have been middle class for more than 15 years now if you use the definition of “middle class” as those making anything from $30,000 – $250,000 a year. We are by no stretch of the imagination “rich”. On the other hand, while sorting my mothers papers after she died I discovered that my father’s highest salary was $35,000 in 1992, the year that he died. Using the inflation calculator that would be worth roughly $18,000 today. So by that standard, we are rich indeed.

Rich and poor are such interesting words. When I was truly poor as a kid I had no idea because everyone around me was too. Now that I am no longer in that category it gets kinda fuzzy. Richer than some, poorer than others, I still worry about money, cut corners, clip coupons and try to appease the warring factions in my head. The urge to share, treat and give gifts because I can is deeply ingrained.

Something that people who have grown up middle class or above sometimes don’t know is that most poor people, or I should say the ones I grew up with, are very generous with what they do have. They put money in the Sally Army kettle, give a stranger a cigarette and let people crash on their couch. Someones always got it worse. I’ve joked about my mother and her “Some people don’t have any legs” riff, but at its core its true.

Whatever your circumstances there is something to be grateful for. We live our lives in abundance.

Of all the things going on in the world I don’t know why this one thing made me so sad. Our local paper today picked up a story about Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) being attacked for their Mix it up Day program.  The American Family Association (AMF) is saying that mix it up day, programming to prevent bullying, promotes a homosexual agenda to elementary school children. And 200 schools cancelled their participation based on this.

Teaching Tolerance being demonized seems to be a new low. AMF has notified parents that their children’s schools are involved in subversive behavior and they have listed Southern Poverty Law as a hate group. That’s a petty retaliation for being listed themselves because of these kinds of campaigns, but it still gets reported. And repeated. All this when the SPLC is an organization founded to fight hate and bigotry.

I’m not even sure about the efficacy of Mix it Up Day – my daughter has a hysterical story about her experience of it last year – but I know it’s not evil to promote breaking down social and racial barriers at school lunch. There are many layers to cliques and popular groups that we all remember no matter how far removed from our K-12 years – looks, money, brains, sporting skill, sexual skill (or the promise therein) with other variables thrown in like class, race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. You get locked into who you are pretty quickly.

There is probably no more dangerous or difficult time in your life to attempt to change groups than school years. Teenagers are incredibly rigid in terms of what they believe is right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable, cool or uncool. This goes for people, places, and consumables (music, clothes, movies etc.), no matter how much they insist on their individuality. I speak from experience. Even rebellion is rigidly sanctioned.

I think I’m feeling this attack so personally because I benefited, in a very convoluted way, from an enforced Mix It Up Day. During my middle and high school years there was a court ordered desegregation plan for my school district, which meant that black kids were bused to white schools and white kids were bused to black schools. I’m old so the Hispanic population was relatively small at that point and didn’t come up much.

Busing “Mix It Up Day” meant that for the first time there was more than one black kid in my school. That kid moved by the way because as the notices were getting mailed to everyone about what school they would go to a small cross was burned on his front lawn. His name was Frank and he was the only black person I knew up to that point.

Busing “Mix It Up Day” also meant that I now attended High School in a part of town I had only visited once before. Because that’s where all the black people are. It was also where all the museums were but that was beside the point. The majority of white kids I’d been attending school with for my entire life transferred to Catholic Schools, or the bizarrely named and unaccredited “Freedom Academy”, so they didn’t have to go to the black school. They did however have to take a GED to graduate.

I was one of about 20 white kids in my class. This was no hardship. It was interesting. I got a terrific education and took AP classes. I met people I would never, ever have meet. I got to be the guest weirdly patronized by the grandma at my friends wedding (“Isn’t that nice Loretta invited that white girl!”), and had a glimpse of what it means to be a minority. Just a taste.

I know what it is like to experience prejudice because of various parts of my identity but I will never claim, because of this or any other experience, to know what it’s like to be a minority in the US. So if I was walking around in my white skin, looking indeterminately well-off in the way that white people do, and never had my Busing “Mix It Up Day”, how would I get around to expanding my world view? Why would I bother? What would compel me? Where would that information come from?

I don’t have those answers. Lots of folks call themselves life long learners but I wonder if they mean this kind of learning too. It appears that SPLC’s program Teaching Tolerance is one means to present ideas that might not otherwise see the light of day in some schools & households. Alternately, I would bet money on the the fact that limiting experience based on a religious or moral agenda does not reduce prejudice.

Teaching Tolerance offers this definition from UNESCO’s Declaration on the Principles of Tolerance:

“Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference.”

They go on to say “Tolerance as a way of thinking and feeling — but most importantly, of acting — that gives us peace in our individuality, respect for those unlike us, the wisdom to discern humane values and the courage to act upon them.”

Which do you think is more perverted – teaching tolerance to our children, or the AMF’s attack on Mix It Up Day? You know my answer.

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I recently returned from a (somewhat) electronics free vacation. I still had all my devices with me, I just resisted the urge to use them for work purposes. The iPad was for reading books, the phone was for the camera & maps. It helped that 1) the reception at the rental house was non-existent until you registered your device with the Wi-Fi, and 2) that I had turned off the settings for email and calendar the day before we arrived.  And they stayed off. This was a first for me.

It was also the first time we vacationed with another family. And this particular family is why I didn’t post to my blog during vacation – everyone got along great, we had fun together, kids only annoyed their own parents – in other words, no blog fodder. This is in stark contrast to my childhood vacations which have material I can mine for several years at least.

Both of my parents were scoutmasters which meant all vacations were camping. This is also the cheapest way to have a vacation with six children two adults and a dog. When I was about 10 or 11 my dad made friends with another scoutmaster who I will call “Mr. Perry” because that was his name. My mother became friends with the wife, who everyone called “Mother”, including her husband. That forced us kids to be friends with their kids who were roughly our ages.

My one brother stopped going on family vacations when he was 14 and learned how to run away effectively. My other brother was already married and expecting his first child, so that left me, my two sisters and my little brother to enjoy family vacation.

My first clue that we were camping with aliens was at dinner when one of the kids looked at the discarded corn cob on my plate and said “You gonna finish that?”,  snatched it up and started chewing it clean. The second was when Mother cut up all of Mr Perry’s food, including the corn off his cob, because he said “it was easier that way”.  No doubt.

We vacationed with this family several years in a row, and no one seemed happy about it but the dads who would canoe while smoking cigars. We camped one year at a park that had musical acts and got to see Eddie Rabbit (pre “I Love a Rainy Night”) among other country stars I couldn’t name then or now. We also went to Yankee Peddler, a festival of colonial living, food and fun. How subsistence living could be fun is still a mystery to me. I’d just like to say for the record that I hate both maple sugar candy and rock candy on a stick. Their olde tyme-ness does not improve the flavor or equal a colonial experience.

One night after we had returned from another stone drag potluck dinner at the Perry’s house, where their contribution was hot dogs and jello molds and my mother’s was lasagna and yellow cake with chocolate frosting, my mother started complaining about how for years they bring crap food and then eat all of ours and she was sick of it. My dad yelled back at her saying something like ‘well she’s your friend’, and my mom replied, ‘no he’s YOUR friend’, and within minutes they discovered that neither of them liked the couple but had never said anything. My sister said ‘none of us likes their kids’ and that was that, we never saw them again.

My family vacation 2012 did not include camping, extreme hardship to build character, or odious people. It was lovely.

And there was one photo we took that reminded me of the 1970’s. In a good way. You can almost see the Go-Karts at the end of the track…

My little sister beat me to the punch.

After an eleven year hiatus she asked to meet with me to discuss if we could reestablish our sibling relationship. Said meeting happened and then two days later I got a card in the mail from her saying how nice it was. Which means that she has officially re-opened diplomatic relations, not with the actual meeting, but with the use of postage paid.

In the traditional family quadrille I am now under obligation to make the next move. Without the little hand written note my meeting with her could have remained a one-off event, possibly even a footnote to a never-to-be-written memoir. The note however indicates that she expects round two.

It was an odd experience to spend time with her and I haven’t decided when, or if, I might make contact again.

The person I sat across from was a familiar stranger. She looked vaguely how I remembered her, a bit older and darker at the roots, with my fathers eyes. Her voice and mannerisms hadn’t changed at all so I think I can safely say it was not a clever impostor. She caught me up on her children who are grown (21 & 23  years old) and her husband and his family. I learned about her long trek to getting her RN while putting kids through catholic schools and college. I learned who she stays in contact with in the extended family and what they are up to. What I didn’t learn was why she wanted to get re-acquainted or what she wanted from me.

When I asked her she made some hazy noises about “feeling it was the right time”. And mentioned suddenly remembering things from our childhood that she had forgotten that made her think we should try again. I thought it sounded like PTSD and a need for therapy, but kept those opinions to myself.

I am still ruminating about seeing her again. On the one hand it felt like trying to be friends with someone that a mutual friend introduced – no automatic intersection of common interest like kids, school, proximity or work. On the other hand we will always be sisters even if we are never friends because we are bound by our history. I keep chewing on the questions: What will be gained? What will be lost?

The only answer I can come up with is one that raises indignant protests from children the world over “We will see”.

I confess I am a fan of WebMD.

It is an invaluable tool for those among us that embrace self-diagnosis and self-treatment. You just click open that symptom checker and start choosing body parts and you are on your way to determining if your condition is, for instance, a tick bite or mango flies. Very simple.

My husband does not agree with this practice. Its pure speculation, but I do believe that my use of the symptom checker actually causes his blood pressure to spike. He grew up in a medical family. His grandfather was a doctor and treated the entire family.

I grew up in a non-medical family where sickness was viewed as weakness and my father treated everything with a butterfly-bandage and an ice pack. I have a long history of self-treatment, so my first impulse is home remedy.

But now I have the privilege of having health insurance. I have sick time I can use to leave work and go to the doctor. I have friends who will look after my kid at a moments notice. And most importantly, I can count on my husband for sympathy and support.

So I will go to the Doctor and get a professional opinion. And only look at WebMd when he can’t see me.

Went to a funeral last night.

The grandmother of my oldest friend died at 92. This was the kind of death that people call a relief because she had been ill and incapacitated for the last five years or so. Hospital bed in the middle of the living room, diapers, oxygen and IV.

Watching people die is never easy. The impulse is to hold on to them as long as possible, and so my friends self-preservation doesn’t factor in. Like a frog boiled in water that is heated slowly, she was unable to see the toll caring for her grandmother took on her.

My friend has had a hard life, and will likely continue to have a hard life. Her brother died last April at 46 of a heart attack leaving her the sole care-giver for both her grandmother and her mother, who is on disability. She will keep going and support her Mom but at this point its not clear which of them will bury the other.

It is difficult for me to see folks who still call me by my childhood nickname. My friend is effectively the last one who really knows me from the past. Who I was before I crossed the river to the never-never land of the suburbs. It might as well be Mars.

The chat turned to kids as it does once everyone has them, and my friend remarked that I had lucked out because my kid is so well-behaved. No drugs, no drinking, no smoking or running around in the middle of night with dangerous boys – everyone laughed remembering just how much of that we did. I said ‘Yeah, I am very lucky indeed’.

Another friend started asking me how I “broke that cycle that we are all in” with my kid because she was really worried about her niece. I said ‘the difference is my daughter has nothing she needs to escape from that can’t be accomplished with a good book’. I got a blank look.

I told her when we were kids we were escaping from crappy lives into whatever danger or reality altering substance was available. A giant game of chicken because, so what?, past present and future all looked the same. I got a nod.

Finally I said to her, ‘You know what? Tell your niece her life right now is not forever and she can get out if she wants to. She just has to want to’. I got another nod.

I wish I could remember when or why or how I decided I had to get out and do something different. I would like for there to be some epiphany I could share with others and be all inspirational like Geoffrey Canada. But all I got right now is – You gotta want to.

I hope thats the end of the funerals for a while.