Something happened

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Dear Daughters #1 and #2,

You turned 18 and 16 this week — a week for the history books, and one that I hope marks your entry into a lifetime of civic engagement.

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Thank you, Cupcake Royale

You are too young to remember much about your maternal grandmother and you never had the opportunity to know your great-grandmother, a beloved teacher, community icon, and an early believer in the global community, who set an example for her family on how to live a service and values-oriented life. She lives on in all of us, especially you, Daughter #2, because you look so much like her. Thank you for the daily reminder that she is the woman I strive to be.

What would she be thinking, or more importantly, doing if she were alive today?

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Your grandmother was a political activist, a Jack Kennedy Democrat, active on her county election board and a delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1960. She was invited to Kennedy’s inauguration in January, 1961 but there was a blizzard that week and my older brother had the mumps. Nine months later, I was born, the product perhaps of redirected political zeal and idealism.

What would my mother be thinking, or more importantly, doing if she were alive today?

Though I grew up with women who believed in politics and service, I also grew up in the wake of Watergate. One of my first political questions was to ask a teacher whether he thought Richard Nixon should be “impaired.”

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an honest mistake

I’ll be honest with you. My peers and I were apathetic. Too young to protest the Vietnam war, though some of us wore POW/MIA bracelets, we were the first wave of the disillusioned. Watergate began the breakdown in trust of our political institutions. Ronald Reagan was elected the first time I voted for president. Many of us threatened to move to Canada then. Some of us disengaged politically, though concerns about nuclear energy and Africa sometimes united us. There were some memorable concerts.

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Though it felt like breakthroughs had occurred, on the feminism front, there were still battles to be fought. You think I’m from the Dark Ages when I tell you about being discouraged from wearing pants to work or having to take typing tests for jobs that had nothing to do with typing (tests the male candidates did not have to take). You perk up a bit when I tell you about my own experiences with reproductive rights, though you have no idea how much harder it was to talk about and obtain birth control than it is now. I haven’t told you about my experiences in Thailand and Russia, when the men I was with, some of whom I respected, abandoned the values they practiced at home and acted disrespectfully towards women. I haven’t told you about the countless times, while at work, a man said or did something blatantly sexual towards me. I haven’t wanted to admit that I shrugged it off, laughed uncomfortably, and looked the other way.

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As planes crashed into towers on 9/11, we went to your toddler music class, Daughter #1, where we briefly drowned out tragedy through song and I tried not to think of the world I had recently brought your baby sister into. We drove around all day, avoiding the television, but I couldn’t resist listening to the car radio. Ever intuitive, even at age 2, you, Daughter #1, asked me what was wrong. “Something happened,” I told you evasively.

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I’m not shielding you anymore. You are 18 and 16 and this is your future. Something happened and I want you to be confronted by it every day. How you choose to respond is up to you.

Yesterday, while marching with 130,000 or so people of Seattle, I talked with a woman my age about how this march was affecting us. “I snapped at my family this morning,” she admitted. “So did I, ” I told her. We agreed that the march, that the need to march had stirred up so much emotion and urgency within us. As many a sign conveyed at marches around the country, women our age are incredulous that we have to fight for our rights all over again.

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I’m interested in the multigenerational response to Trump and was lucky enough yesterday to have the opportunity to interview marchers of all ages, races, and genders to hear what they had to say. I heard anger and hope and pain and calls to action and solidarity and I felt better because of all of it. I have you both to thank for opening my eyes and my mind to what young people care about and the future they hope to create.

Maybe we have to have pivot points like this in history so that each generation can decide for itself what is worth fighting for. I can’t tell you what to fight for or how to fight for it. I can only tell you that I have been awakened from mid-life complacency and that I hope this is your political coming-of-age.

As you each take one step closer to adulthood, my hope is that you will never be apathetic and you will never allow anyone else to decide your destiny. Follow in the footsteps of your grandmother and great-grandmother and be the change you want to see in this world.

Happy Birthdays.

Love, Mom

Here’s one young  Seattle poet’s powerful response to our new government. You go, girl!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mother’s Day Gift That’s As Sweet as Chocolate….

but with no calories.

In honor of Mother’s Day weekend, my book Ruminations from the Minivan will be on sale for Kindle. It’s offered today at 99 cents. The price will go incrementally up through the weekend.

Here are the details.

As your mother might say, “Such a deal!”

She’d also say, “Enjoy.”

Happy Mother’s Day.

Now available on Amazon.com.  Ask for it at your local bookstore.  They can order it.

Now available on Amazon.com. Ask for it at your local bookstore. They can order it.

 

 

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Mom

For seven years I have facilitated a mother-daughter book group, established when Daughter #1 was in second grade.  We started the group because the first signs of girl bullying were beginning to surface in the classroom, and so we gathered every girl in the class together on a Saturday to discuss the book The Hundred Dresses.

Over the years, the group has shifted from school-based to home-based and the membership has waxed and waned.  It’s now comprised of a core group of avid readers, young and not-so-young, who have discussed everything from race relations in the South during the early1960s to dystopian societies of the future; dysfunctional and functional families; the complexities of mother-daughter relationships; and girl power:  extraordinary and ordinary.

Our most recent book was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which was followed by a group outing to see the film.  The main character, who is a freshman in high school, deals with SPOILER ALERT suicide, depression, molestation, abortion, drugs and gay bashing, in addition to the typical emotional highs and lows of adolescence.

The girls, all but one of whom are in eighth grade, chose the book because they wanted to see the movie. Daughter #1, the first of her peers to read it, found it unexpectedly depressing.  “I can’t believe that the main character is one year older than me,” she said.  So I starting reading the book. I found it riveting because it captured many of my own high school experiences (especially the Rocky Horror Picture Show obsession).

Did you read Catcher in the Rye, Go Ask Alice, Girl, Interrupted or Ordinary People?  Depressing stories of depressed teenagers are nothing new (and Perks was actually written in 1991).  But there’s a moment in the book, and also in the film, in which the main character is riding in a truck with newfound friends and a song comes on, the perfect song.  He describes the way he feels as “infinite.”

A few days after I finished the book, there was knock on my door. A neighbor wanted me to know that the police had been called because one of the inhabitants of my house had broken into her house and set off the alarm. I looked at my charge, whom I still think of as young and innocent, and didn’t want to believe it could be true.

Hadn’t I spent years instilling good values?

He broke in through the cat door, stole some food and beat up my neighbor’s cat.

At the beginning of the school year, a group of ninth-graders in my neighborhood allegedly stole a parent’s car, sped down a neighborhood avenue and hit a parked car, which mercifully protected them from the telephone pole behind it. The owners of the smashed car left it there for weeks with a note on it and on the telephone pole, the gist of which was:  “Dear Kids, If you’ve come to see the results of your accident, know that we are glad you are okay.  Please take care of each other.”

I took Daughters #1 and #2 to see the smashed car and the note.  “I can’t believe the kids who did this are one year older than me,” said Daughter #1.

There were apparently marijuana-laced brownies at the middle school Halloween dance and whiffs of other pot rumors have been floating in the air. (Yes, I do live in Washington State, where we’ve just legalized recreational marijuana, but not for middle-schoolers).

My daughters and I watched a few episodes of My So-Called Life.  It was depressing to watch fifteen-year-old Angela Chase struggle with questions of identity, which involved sneaking out of the house and having confusing experiences, before returning home, usually miserable and defeated, yet sometimes grateful to be back in her mother’s orbit.

Late one Saturday night, my puppy, who is perfecting his watchdog skills, spied movement at the abandoned home of our recently deceased neighbor. As he barked, teenagers came spilling out of the house and scattered into the alley.  I wondered whether I should call the police.  There are so few abandoned houses anymore, as there were in my youth, and this one is likely to soon be replaced with a modern duplex. My guess is that the kids inside were feeling infinite.

The other mothers were as riveted by The Perks of Being a Wallflower as I was.  We discussed whether the book was too depressing for our daughters and C, who may sometimes be forgetful, but is always wise, said “Better for us to introduce these topics then for them to learn about them elsewhere.”

When our group came to discuss the book, we mothers told carefully chosen stories about ourselves in high school. The girls were fascinated.  “I can’t believe you’re telling us this,” said the daughter of the formerly raucous Catholic school girl, who became an emergency room nurse.  “We weren’t always the way you see us now,” we told them.  “We grew up.”

There is a scene at the end of the film version of The Perks of Being a Wallflower in which one of the characters, who has been away at college, tells the high school protagonist what he has to look forward to:  “The world gets so much bigger,” she says.

Our daughters liked the film, but they were equally impressed with the art house theater where we saw it. It was the first time any of them had seen a film in a venue so funky and cool.

Their worlds will get so much bigger and I am glad they will have moments when they feel infinite.

I just hope they will take care of each other when they do.

For most of my high school years, I felt infinite at the Jersey Shore, specifically the boardwalk at Seaside Heights. My heart goes out to everyone who was affected by Hurricane Sandy, especially the inhabitants of my former home state.  Please continue to take care of each other.

I won’t pretend that I’m not apprehensive about the looming parenting challenges, but I have found one sure-fire method to bind the family together:  potatoes. Specifically, the Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook.  No matter how angry or uncommunicative or hormonal anyone gets, these potatoes bring them around, even me, a rice aficionado, who has never been a fan of making or eating mashed potatoes. These mashed potatoes are tangy and comforting without being too decadent.  Anyway, sometimes it’s important to ignore the glycemic index in the interest of family harmony.

Here’s the recipe:

Zuni Cafe Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes (serves four, but I always double it to serve four)

1 1/4 lbs. peeled potatoes (I use Yukon Gold), cut into chunks

Salt

2-3 T heavy cream (you can also use milk or half-and-half), warmed

2-3 T buttermilk at room temperature

3T melted unsalted butter

1. Boil the potatoes with salt until tender.

2. Drain and mash, while piping hot and then add hot cream, followed by buttermilk.  Finish by adding butter.

3. Mash vigorously and add salt to taste.

4. Enjoy your family.

Someone to Watch Over Me

The two biggest things that happened last week were the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Obama health care plan and the passing of Nora Ephron.  So much has been written about both, that I don’t feel I have anything to add to the eloquence already expressed by so many others, though health care and loss are ever-present mid-life concerns.

Amidst the hubbub and emotions of a difficult weekend and week beginning, in which our family had a monumental decision to make, I received a quiet email from F, the father of my childhood friend C.  Entitled “C needs your help,” he told me that C’s mother R, who has been battling cancer for years, had been brought home from the hospital for the last time and was beginning hospice care.

C and I grew up together in a smallish town, where everyone knew everyone else and we all knew each other’s parents pretty well.

C and my mother had a special bond.  C had weathered an unusual number of blows for a teenager — the death of her high school boyfriend from cancer and a chronic and elusive auto-immune disorder that confounded doctors and would strike without warning.  After I left to spend my senior year of high school in France, as C dealt with the havoc the disease and its medication were wreaking on her body, my mother would take her to explore the growing number of ethnic restaurants in the area. When I traveled to Florida to bring my cancer-riddled mother home with me to Seattle, C came down from New Jersey to say a last goodbye.

My relationship with C’s mother and father was less intimate, but no less constant.  Snippets of memories have surfaced. I remember the Kiss posters in C’s bedroom, as we plotted how to sneak past her mother to go to the midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I still remember the exact placement of the table and chairs in C’s kitchen, where I would sit and tell her mother stories about France, while she played with her little dog, Muffy. I marveled at the ease with which C’s mother slipped into Italian whenever we visited her immigrant parents, and mostly I remember her faith.  As C’s eyesight waxed and waned because of her disease, her mother would light candles and pray to Saint Lucy, the patron saint of the blind.

Though I didn’t see them again after I reached my mid-twenties, C’s parents remained my cheerleaders from afar. They always asked about me, my mother said, adding that they were always proud of what I was doing.

When my mother was dying, C’s father, who by that time had been dealing with his own wife’s cancer for a few years, sent me encouraging words of wisdom.  I hope I’ve adequately expressed to him how much his support meant to me.

When you lose your mother, you lose the one person who keeps her eye on you, no matter how old you get, no matter how independent you seem. My mother never fully recovered from the loss of her mother and, as she lay dying, it was her mother she called out to.

I was missing my mother last weekend, as our family grappled with our decision, knowing that she alone would understand what I was wrestling with.  “What do you think she would have said to you,” asked a friend, when I told her that my mother and I had once had to make a similar decision.  I thought about it.  “She would have laughed and said, ‘Now do you understand how hard it was for me?'”

My daughters are blessed with an inner circle of mothers.  We celebrate their achievements and we provide counsel and support, when needed. My mother used to joke about being “Mother in the Dark,” that she was often the last to know what was going on with me.  But when you have a circle of mothers, there’s always someone to watch over you.

For Mother’s Day this year, my daughters and their friends filmed a tribute to all of us moms, which included an awards ceremony.  Among the mom honors they bestowed were: best dresser-upper, best with no make-up and all that jazz, best advice, best garden, best redhead, best cowgirl and best chef (yes, that was me, but when asked what their favorite dish of mine was, my kids were hard-pressed to come up with their answer:  pancakes.).

Just as I do with my own daughters, I like to imagine what these girls will be when they grow up.  I know I will always be their cheerleader, even from afar.

Shortly before my mother died, I received a call from one of my brother’s childhood friends, whom I hadn’t seen for more than forty years.  Until he moved away, his family lived in a house behind ours and he and my brother bounced back and forth between houses every day, backdoors slamming with every arrival and departure.

“I was at your house when we got the news that President Kennedy was assassinated,” he told me.  “Your mother brought us together to watch the news and explained what was happening.” For him, my mother was an inextricable part of history.

As we enter our fifties, more and more of my contemporaries are losing their mothers. Though I often get the news via Facebook and sometimes I did not know these women well, I still remember them:  the mother with the gentle eyes, the one who showed how beautiful a woman can look when she’s prematurely gray, the one who drank endless cups of coffee with my mother.

Thank you, R, for being an inextricable part of my history and for being a member of my inner circle of mothers.

With much love to R, C, F and your family.

Depending on your vintage, Nora Ephron was like a friend, sister or mother/mentor and the way in which she shared the experiences of being a woman was beneficial to so many.  Here’s Lena Dunham’s take on Nora from the New Yorker: