Posts tagged ‘parenting’

Dear Gram

9 March, 2019 | | 6 Comments

Over the course of the last 10 years or so, I sent my grandmother a number of letters, on the order of 40 or so. Mostly, I told her, this was because she didn’t own a computer, and I didn’t feel that the lack of a computer and Internet access should exempt her from having to read the deathless prose of the Big Ugly Man Doll. She was, after all, the Queen Mother of Pink! (And yes, I addressed most of the envelopes to “The Queen Mother of Pink” at her address. The Post Office had no trouble finding her.)

This was mostly the hubris of her eldest grandchild speaking, but I was reliably informed that she appreciated the updates – by her, because she often wrote back with comments. (The comments were often variants on “you’re out of your mind,” proving that comments on blogs are the same the world over, regardless of medium.) The other reason I sent the letters, though, was because I was never really great at sending thank you notes when I was young, despite Gram’s unfailing ability to remember my birthday. (Between Christmas, birthdays, Easter, and Valentine’s day, for myself and all my cousins, and all of our kids, she must have sent literally thousands of cards – possibly keeping the local Hallmark afloat.)

I know she kept quiet track of the notes: When she found out that I had joined my high school debate team, she sent me the one medal she’d won while she was on HER high school debate team. I thought this was pretty cool, and when I won a (one and only) medal, I gave mine to her the next time we were in Chicago. She thanked me and laughed and said, “This gets you off the hook for a lot of missing thank you notes!”

The Queen Mother of Pink
The Queen Mother of Pink

The Queen Mother of Pink passed away a few days ago, at 101, in her own home, just as she’d said she would. She lived her life her way, tiny and fierce, short of stature and strong of will. She was the nicest person I know of, and certainly the nicest person I’ve ever known in person. Nice was never the same as weak – she had a will of iron. I learned a lot from her.

And so, finally, one last Thank You note – late, as usual.

Dear Gram,

So, you’re dead. I’m sure you’ve finally got WiFi now, so I know you’re reading this. I’ll miss your reply, typed on the old Smith Corona – I never understood how you did that with non-standard paper sizes. Even the checks were typed.

Thank you for teaching me what power grandmothers have. My earliest memories of you are from Omaha: You and Grandpa were visiting, and I was perhaps 5 or 6. I had been being my most usual self, I’m sure, and was about to get in trouble for it. I heard the words, “Do you need a spanking?” And suddenly, before I could say anything, I heard “Oh, not while Grandma’s here!” I’m sure my mother must have been near apoplexy, but to me, this was paramount to Mr. Rogers himself reaching through the television to intercede on my behalf. Wow!

Thank you for providing a road map on how to age without really getting old. You earned a college degree in the 1930s, and you never stopped learning. Learning to drive in your 50s? Going back to a local college in your 70s and 80s, to audit courses about the history that you’d lived through? That’s genius. Staying in your house, in your 90s and 100s, because it was your house and you damn well felt like it – that was maybe a little goofy, but strong. And reading – I didn’t get to your house very often, but there were always books. Not a library, hording them like I do, but you were always reading some new books.

And thank you for being an example. As I face my 50th year, I think of all the things you saw. You saw two states admitted to the union, and three Federal holidays created.  You were there to see cars replace horses; you saw Ford replace the Model T with the Model A.  You saw the infield fly rule amended to not apply to bunts. You lived through 18 Presidents, starting with Woodrow Wilson. (Jimmy Carter was the first one younger than you were!) You saw the end of the Great War, and then presided over a century that saw little else. 

And yet none of those things made you jaded, or less hopeful – not even the infield fly rule. You saw the good in people.

Thank you for sharing some of the stories about that history. You told me that when the victory in Europe was announced in May of 1945, and everyone was banging pots and pans in the street to celebrate, you had to use a stool to reach some of yours from the cabinet – and this was when Uncle George first realized, “Mommy, you’re short!” The end of the war? Never mind that – his mom had to use a stool to reach the pots! Man, that was a milestone!

One of these days, I shall compile my letters to you, with your replies, and post them as an epistolary record. Just to be goofy.

I’m sure you’re enjoying things there. I hope they have Twinkies, and Peeps for Grandpa. We’ll keep things moving down here, and we’ll try to live up to the examples you set – in niceness, in compassion, and in strength. Maybe not in pink, honestly, but I’ll see what I can do.

Much Love as Always,

-Big Ugly Man Doll

Suppressed Memories and Other Tales: Counting

31 May, 2018 | | No Comment

A long, long time ago, by which I mean ‘before Facebook,’ we had some kids.  These days, those kids are all teenagers, but that wasn’t always the case!  They were young, even like unto babies, and SOBUMD and I were completely new at parenting.  (These days we’re such old hats at parenting that we run seminars.  And by seminars, I mean about recreational alcoholism.)

But the point is that there are stories that were missed, because we were too freaked out to write them down, fill in the little embellishments, add the filigree, and post them, and also because we weren’t blogging at the time.  Also, blogging wasn’t much of a thing back then, but that’s less of an excuse.  And so, I’m going to try to add a few True Tales From the Crypt of Early Parenthood.

We will begin with Counting.

One day, when the kids were small, we had a playdate with friends who had small kids as well.  By small, think 4 or 5 or so.  My kids were running around with blocks and singing songs.  Their kids were running around with balls and singing songs.  We and our friends were sitting around with drinks and talking about how tired we were.  We got on the topic of knowing their numbers and how much fun it is to watch them struggle with the digits, and I had to go open my big mouth and show how smart the Human Tape Recorder was.  “Hey, come over here and show how you count to ten!”  (Our friends were also techies, just so that’s understood.)

HTR:  “Sure!  0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10!”

They were duly impressed.  Having learned to count in hexadecimal before learning basic math is probably why she hasn’t scored less than a 97% on any given math test.  (She’s now in college studying math that would Einstein barf.)

Suddenly, a voice from the din:  “Hey, I know!  Let’s sing the Counting Song!”

All the kids decided this was a wonderful thing, since it seemed all the kids knew the counting song.  “You know the counting song?”

“Yeah!”

“Great!”

And with no further prompting and no accompaniment required, the other kids started singing:  “Well, there’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 wheels on a Big Rig!  And they’re Rolling, rolling, rolling; Rolling, rolling, rolling…”

They trailed off.  My kids looked at them like they’d just sprouted an extra head and some kind of a 4-headed, country-truck-song-singing quadruped had just landed on the carpet.  “THAT’s not the counting song!” said mine, with the indignant authority of a 5-year old who knows her numbers.  “Ours goes like this:”

And just before they started to sing, I realized what the counting song was.  Too late.

“I take one, one, one ’cause you left me
And two, two, two for my family
And three, three, three for my heartache
And four, four, four for my headache
And five, five, five for my lonely
And six, six, six for my sorrow
And seven, seven – no tomorrow
And eight, eight, I forget what eight was for
But nine, nine, nine for a lost god
And ten, ten, ten, ten for everything, everything, everything, everything!”

I was torn between proud and horrified, and settled for a kind of horrible pride.  Our friends allowed as how that was the funniest thing they’d ever heard, really, but oh look at the time, we need to be going, let’s pack it up guys.  For reasons that were never made entirely clear, there were no further playdates.  I’m sure it went down in our permanent record somewhere.

So, let this be a lesson to all you young parents – if you don’t teach your kids about numbers, the Violent Femmes will.  I leave you with both songs, so you can do your own side-by-side comparison.  Or, teach your kids to count.  But not in Hex.


(Trout Fishing in America)

 


(Violent Femmes)

 








Of Birthdays and Saints

17 March, 2017 | | 2 Comments

When did I get old?

Nine pm used to mean there were 4 more hours left to pack in every inch of an exciting life. Later on, 9 pm meant another 2 more hours in the day.  Now 9 pm means I’m late for my medication and need to get to bed as soon as I can. What the hell happened? 

When the kids were going through puberty – when they started, that is, since they’re not all completely finished with the process – we got them a book called something like “Hey, What’s Going On Down There?  A Teenager’s Guide to Your Changing Body.”  

We need to update this book.  

Now that I’m staring down the barrel of 50, I think we need a book of our own:  Same concept, same title, but a drop-head like “A 50-Something’s Guide to What the Hell Just Happened to Your Body.”  It would include chapters like “Is it Supposed to Look Like That?”, “Never Trust a Fart,” and “Three Ways to Tell if You’re Actually Urinating RIGHT NOW!”  (Hey, it’s not like we can see it anymore.)  There could be a handy guide in the back for dealing with insurance companies.  

My parents gave me The Talk when I hit puberty, but I feel like they fell down on the job with the “Next Talk,” which parents should have with their kids when you hit about 45 or so.  Not their fault – as a society, we don’t talk about this kind of thing.  I guess women talk to each other a bit about menopause, but trust me that guys Never Talk About Anything.  No 50-something dude has ever swiveled his chair around, leaned over to the cubicle next to him, and asked a co-worker, “Hey, Tom, is yours getting smaller?”  We don’t talk about it. 

(Imagine if he did, though:  “Does it still work?  As long as it works, size is NOT the biggest issue.”)

So, I’m getting old.  I’m so old that I remember when loose coupling described a dating technique and then, later, a programming technique.  (Although honestly, for most of us geeks, it described a programming technique and a dating concept with which we would have liked to become familiar.) 

As I reflect on my birthday today, I realize that these days, loose coupling describes the relationships between most of my bodily functions.  

We need to be talking to our kids as they hit their late 40s and early 50s, and try to prepare them for these changes.  Imagine Carrie’s 30th High School reunion, wondering why we’re all suddenly incontinent?  “Son, your shit’s gonna start falling apart, and that’s OK.”  I’ve had shit stop working that I didn’t even know I had in the first place.  Plus I’m still in denial about my glasses.  Luckily, I don’t really need them, except to read and to see things at a distance.  Other than that, I’m fine.  

But it’s not all bad.  As I rack up birthdays, I realize that I still don’t have even half as many as The Queen Mother of Pink, who’s 99.  With any luck, I’ll have years to complain about my shit slowly falling apart.  Gram doesn’t complain, though – she just powers through.  Ninty-nine years old and still, she persists.  Pretty good role model, if you ask me.

The Three Lunatic Children are getting funnier, too, and faster on the draw, so that’s another advantage to getting old:  watching them grow into their own.  Sometimes they go out of their way to sound like me, which is most certainly going to get them into trouble one of these days.  I mean, look how I wound up?  The oldest one got me a few nights ago:

HTR:  I was thinking about déjà vu.
BUMD:  I‘ve thought about that before.
HTR (without missing a beat):  I knew you were gonna say that. 

Birthdays – they’re like the ultimate déjà vu, until they’re not.  But since it’s my birthday, I want to tell you about St. Patrick, who is the reason my middle name is Patrick.  (Actually, that’s not true:  My godfather, Mike Burke, is the reason my middle name is Patrick.  I understand the conversation went something like: “If he’s born on St. Patrick’s Day, you HAVE to name him Patrick!”  “No.”  “Middle name?”  “OK.”   I owe him a debt I can never repay.)

St. Patrick died around 493 – pretty good gig to be remembered for more than 1500 years, to say nothing of having libations drunk in your name every year.  I’m not much given to prayer, but since I seem to have a patron saint of my own, I’ve been thinking about asking him about that whole deal with the snakes.  I’m thinking we could use a good old-fashioned snake drive these days.

So I’m not as old as St. Patrick, nor even half as old as the Queen Mother of Pink, but with the luck of the Irish, I’ll get there!  Perhaps in a thousand years, they’ll be drinking libations in my name as well.  It could happen!  In the meantime, I’ll have one of whatever that man on the floor’s having.

And so, happy birthday to me, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you, Dear Friend, Fond Relation, and Gentle Reader!  Beannachtam na Femle Padraig, and let’s get all these snakes out of here!

Oh, look at the time!   I didn’t realize it was that late – I need to get to bed.








A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Next Four Years

21 January, 2017 | | 4 Comments

Don’t Panic.

While I am certain that I do not speak for all Americans, which is these days mainly a question of decibels and volume, I feel comfortable speaking for some reasonable percentage of us when I describe how many of us feel this morning.

If you haven’t read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you should.  There is a scene very early where Earthman Arthur Dent has just regained consciousness on a Vogon spaceship, where his friend has rescued him from what is now the smoking remains of what had been our planet.

“…There was no way his imagination could feel the impact of the whole Earth having gone, it was too big. He prodded his feelings by thinking that his parents and his sister had gone. No reaction. He thought of all the people he had been close to. No reaction. Then he thought of a complete stranger he had been standing behind in the queue at the supermarket two days before and felt a sudden stab: the supermarket was gone, everyone in it was gone! Nelson’s Column had gone! And there would be no outcry, because there was no one left to make an outcry! From now on Nelson’s Column only existed in his mind. England only existed in his mind. A wave of claustrophobia closed in on him.
He tried again: America, he thought, has gone. He couldn’t grasp it. He decided to start smaller again. New York has gone. No reaction. He’d never seriously believed it existed anyway. The dollar, he thought, has sunk for ever. Slight tremor there. Every “Bogart” movie has been wiped, he said to himself, and that gave him a nasty knock. McDonald’s, he thought. There is no longer any such thing as a McDonald’s hamburger.
He passed out.”

That’s how many of us feel right now.  The enormity of the situation, the magnitude of the mistake – there is no way for our imaginations to feel the impact of climate change denials and LGBT rights reversals and ACA repeals all at once.  It’s too big.   America has gone.  We can’t grasp it.  Many of us never seriously believed it existed anyway.

Don’t panic.  Yes, the Vogons control both houses of Congress, and we’ve elected The Donald to the White House, Zaphod Beeblebrox with one head and small hands.

I have learned a lot from having kids.  One of the most interesting things we noticed is that all of them – the Human Tape Recorder, Number One Son, and the Reigning Queen of Pink – all went through some of the same mechanisms of growth and development; parenting books and the internet tell us that most children do this as well.  When the kids were little, we’d watch them becoming older, more mature, and marvel at their independence – and then suddenly they’d be clingy and fearful.  It seemed they had regressed two years overnight.  Then, a few weeks or a month later, they bounced out and moved on, standing taller than ever, butterflies with new wings.  They had just needed that reassurance, that sense of touching home base, of being sure that there was a safe place behind them before they moved on to the next part of their broader world view.

That’s how I see America right now.

EIGHT WHOLE YEARS with a black president?  All that LGBT legislation protecting the dignity of all people?  The hard-line conservative core reacted like 6-yr-olds.  There was just too much change, too fast.  With this election, conservative America had a chance to regress for a while, to touch home base, and that’s the way the country voted.

Just like my kids at that age, though, we’ve *seen* the broader world.  The genie is out of that bottle.  We know it will be waiting for us; we know we’re going to go back to it.  America would just like a few more years under a fuzzy blanket, please.   Give us 8, 10, 15 years and we’ll be back where we were and then some; we will remember this episode as an embarrassing and brief blip in our history.

That’s my hope, anyway.  Don’t think it’s inevitable – it’s not.   Don’t think it won’t take a lot of effort – it will.  We need to do our best, as the parents of this still-young country, to keep prodding it to be better, to keep calling our elected officials, to keep yelling when yelling will help. to keep whispering when whispering works, to keep loving the country and the idea of the country.

It seems very dire right now, and many of my friends worry that the current spectacle is reminiscent of the Nazis.  They’re not wrong, and there is evil afoot in the world – it looks like intolerance, it looks like intransigence, it looks like the willful suspension of belief in facts, and we must speak against it when we see it.   Fascism is a scary specter, but don’t think it’s inevitable – it’s not.

America may not have been ready for the social progress that it made, but it will be.  This is a road we’re paving slowly, and the pendulum will swing back toward education, toward tolerance, toward dignity and a more worldly world view.

That’s my hope, anyway.

In the mean time…

Don’t Panic.

 








Of Meteors and Voting

12 August, 2016 | | 3 Comments

Last night was one of the great days of summer, with the chance to lie on the grass and watch stars shooting overhead, as the Perseids come streaking through our atmosphere, heating up and burning themselves out in a flaming blaze of glory as they crash.  The Human Tape Recorder and the Reigning Queen of Pink stayed up all night last night, on beach towels in the backyard, to watch one of natures great fireworks displays.  Around 1230, they woke me to join them.

I’ve always loved meteor showers, so I did as I was told, brought a blanket outside for a while, and stared up at the stars.  Within about 5 minutes, the score was Team Perseids 4, Team West Nile 3, and Team Zika was up to 7 with a hat trick.  Mosquitoes love me.  The girls were sad to see me go back inside, although that may just have been because I had been drawing fire from the flying vampiric plankton that flies around my back yard.  I itched my way back to my own bed and wished them well, but that’s not what I came to tell you about.

I came to talk about the draft election.

Are you on the fence about voting this November?  Let’s say you vote for Trump, and then let’s fast forward a few years into his administration with the current GOP platform.  (Go ahead, read it.  I’ll wait.)  Now, ask yourself these questions:

If your daughter wants an abortion, or worse, needs an abortion, and she can’t, legally, have one, how will you feel about having voted for a misogynist-in-chief? How will you look your daughter in the eye and tell her that you voted for this man knowing that he doesn’t believe she has the right to make decisions about her own body?

If your teen-aged child, maturing in this political environment, is conflicted about their sexuality and wonders about their possible attraction to their own gender, how will they ask you about it? Knowing that you voted for a party that holds hate in high regard, a party that has pledged to repeal laws allowing adults who love one another to marry, how will you look your child in the eye and tell them that you’re looking forward to their straight sibling’s wedding, but that you voted against their right to have one?  If your gay child should leave the nest to live with their same-sex soulmate, will you remind them that you’ve voted against their right to legally adopt your grandchildren?

When your Muslim friends ask about celebrating Eid in their public school and are laughed at, or worse, while walking past the Ten Commandments or the Christmas tree in the school office, how will you look them in the eye and tell them that you voted for a government that values “America’s Judeo-Christian heritage” more highly than America’s heritage of freedom? Will you remind your Hindu friends that you voted for a party that believes a good understanding of the Bible to be indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry?  Just the Bible, not the Koran, not the Talmud, not the Upanishads, or the Tao Te Ching.

When your neighbor asks you to attend their young son’s funeral, how will you look them in the eye and tell them that you voted for increased magazine capacities in automatic rifles?  That you voted for the right of anybody who hears the voice of god whispering in their ear to carry that gun anywhere they go, Linus with a 5.56-mm security blanket and a hundred rounds in the clip, a good guy with a gun until he saw that kid in the hoodie with his phone, wrong place, wrong time, his mom didn’t know he’d stopped taking his meds two weeks ago, our thoughts and prayers are with you?

When your neighbor asks you to attend a loved one’s funeral after they succumb to an anaphylactic allergic reaction because they ate something that wasn’t accurately labeled, how will you look them in the eye and explain that you voted for a party that has pledged to repeal federal mandates for food labeling?

When you look in the mirror in the morning, will you be able to look yourself in the eye knowing that you voted for a party that holds monochromatic monotheism in higher regard than modern medicine, a party that puts faith before fact, a party that will sideline science, social justice, and STEM schools because stem cell research might offend their narrow notion of God?

You don’t have to vote for Hillary Clinton.  I understand.  She’s a career politician, and she’s made the Faustian bargains that career politicians make.  She’s competent, she’s qualified, and she’s not cuddly and likable.  You don’t have to vote FOR anything.

Against, now – that’s another story.   When you go to the polls November 8th, don’t vote FOR anything.  Press the button that says Hillary Clinton.  You’re not really voting for her.  You’re casting your vote against.

Vote against misogyny.

Vote against racism.

The Trump campaign may flame out like a Perseid meteor long before November, a spectacular magnesium flare streaking across our political sky as millions stay up late to watch.  But it might not.

And if it doesn’t, and if in November you find yourself faced with the dilemma of decision, I urge you to cast your ballot for sanity and competence.   If it really bothers you, remind yourself that you’re not voting for Hillary Clinton.

You’re voting against hate.