Losing Icons

I am 53 years old. Over the past couple of years, many of my childhood icons have been dying. Some are dying natural deaths due to old age and/or incurable disease, but some have died tragically. This past year, the deaths of many “celebrities” have forced me to come to terms with my own mortality and it’s not pretty.

As far as I know, I have pretty decent health. I only take one prescription medication and that’s a low dose blood pressure pill. I have gone off my Wellbutrin which was prescribed for ADHD. I am, by nature, a morbid person. I think about death a lot. I think about my own death, how and when it will happen. I think about the deaths of others, especially those who die tragically “before their time.”

My husband was recently very affected by the death of one of his favorites, David Bowie. David was 70 years old and had cancer. He kept his illness private, so many of us were shocked when he died, including me. That happened at the end of 2016. This year, we have lost Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Mary Tyler Moore, Gregg Allman, David Cassidy, Tom Petty, Malcolm Young, Walter Becker and many more. Tom Petty hit me very hard. I am a huge fan of his and always thought one day I would love to see him and The Heartbreakers play live. I have said that often about musical groups such as Steve Miller, another one of my favorites.  Well, Steve is getting up there in age and who knows when he will go? Who knows when any of us will go?

Many of the stars who have passed that I didn’t mention were around the same age as my parents. I am lucky to still have both of my parents, but they are not young anymore. Many people might read this and think that I am naive or in denial about the aging process, death, etc. I’m not. It just takes something drastic sometimes to really bring it into the light. Or dark, if you will.

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A “Not Perfect Life”

I was chatting with my best friend on Sunday. She and I have been friends for 35 years and we have seen each other through marriage(s), children, jobs, divorce, illness and death. When we met she was a young bride going back to college to finish her degree while working part time. I was a young college kid, fresh out of high school who wanted to party all day and night in order to forget my feelings. I was on the cusp of adulthood and I wasn’t ready.  My family was ripped apart when my brother joined the Army. I didn’t have career plans. I wanted out of my parents’ house and I was determined to do that, no matter what. 4 years later she was my maid of honor at my wedding to a man who was never right for me.

She and I were each other’s lifelines during the lonely and turbulent years when our children were small. We talked on the phone daily and went on outings with and without our children. On the surface, both of our lives looked idyllic, but neither were and that was one of our strong bonds. When you are a young mother and you’re surrounded by everyone else’s perfectly clean and perfectly behaved children and your own clothes came from the thrift store, you tend to wonder what you are doing wrong. Remember, this was the 90’s. Parenting magazines focused on childhood milestones and ways to help yourself stay organized. The show “American Housewife,” which depicts a mother who wears flannel shirts and curses like a sailor, wasn’t even a thing yet. You weren’t accepted into the Mommy crowd if you were an Earth mother (I was) or if you dared to raise your voice to your children within earshot of others (like my friend did.)

Fast forward to the present. I am divorced and remarried. She has resigned herself to staying with her husband even though it’s a very unsatisfying marriage. Her two oldest children are doing well in life and so is my oldest. Our youngest children are both special needs and are “getting by,” but they continue to be a source of worry and emotional stress for us. We are still not a part of the Mommy/Grandmother crowd and may never be. My friend said that she visits the Facebook page of a mutual friend of ours and “gets ill” from seeing all of her perfect posts with her perfect husband, children and grandchildren. I get it. We always wanted the perfect life. I tried like hell to make the perfect life with my ex-husband. He wasn’t perfect material and neither are my children. You might be saying, “well, nobody’s perfect!” That is true, but some are closer than others. Some marriages are better. Some people did everything right and their children ended up in trouble. Or on drugs. Or worse. Some people’s families are close and some aren’t. My friend and I still don’t have the careers we longed for. Money is a worry in our lives.  Many of our friends are already retired and living very well. We hope that someday that is us.

My friend said that she has realized she has a “not perfect life” and probably always will. I am right there with her.

Ball of Confusion

There have been so many blogs, opinion pieces, etc. about the poor rural whites who voted for Donald Trump. Why did they vote for someone so unlike themselves? Did they really think a rich, white New Yorker could do anything for them or did they just detest Hillary Clinton that much?  The answer is a complicated one, even for social scientists. There are people who dedicate their lives to studying groups of people and there are those who have lived the life and have their own opinions, e.g.,  Hillbilly Elegy. A lot of attention has been given to this group and rightly so, given the outsome of the last election.

I have made some observations lately and while they probably don’t come as a shock to anyone, I just want to talk about some of them, perhaps get some comments on your own experiences and maybe a layperson’s view of the subject. Much has changed in the years since I was a child. A lot of people say that the world is a better place and I suppose in some ways, it is. A lot of social issues are more understood now and people who are different don’t have as much fear about their differences.  For example, when I was in high school, I didn’t know anyone who came out as gay, though it was suspected. Now there are LGBT support groups in high school. One way that things are better. Women now have more positions of power and more opportunities than they had in the 60’s and 70’s, with thanks to the pioneers who came before me. Of course, during the 60’s, civil rights became law. I have heard people say that crime is no worse now than it was then, it’s just more publicized now. I haven’t done the research, so I can’t refute that.

Today I heard a story on the news of a 13 year old shot dead in what appeared to be a middle-class suburban neighborhood just outside of Baltimore. I know quite a bit about the area and I have friends who live close to where this occured. I researched the history of the area and discovered that it used to be a fine place to live and raise a family, but now it is crime-ridden. The schools are mostly Title 1 and a lot of the housing is Section 8. What happens to a neighborhood to turn it “bad” in a generation or two? Much of the same problems that have afflicted the rural poor also have caused good areas in a city to become undesirable. Lack of good paying jobs (jobs going overseas), drugs, and gentrification (in the city) have contributed to the problem. There is something else that is a little more controversial and that is white flight. Historically, whites on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum have had different outcomes than blacks on the same spectrum and of course, we all know that institutional racism has a lot to do with that. Poor people who are hopeless about their futures cope in all sorts of ways, some not so good (drugs, gangs, etc.)  As I see it, the “ghettos” of the big cities are increasing in circumference, affecting suburban areas, bringing its crime, failing schools, drugs and everything else that makes those looking for a home keep searching.

My first home was a single family, very small home on a back road off of a main road in a suburb of Baltimore. My particular street was not usually affected by crime and the schools at the time (late 80’s, early 90’s) were considered pretty good, but not great. My oldest son attended the local elementary school and middle school and seemed to do well. By the time my youngest got to elementary school four years later, he was a minority in his class, whereas my oldest had many white, middle-class classmates in elementary school. The school’s reputation started to decline. The school doors remained locked during the day. Many white families moved. Now, 20 years later, the test scores are abysmal and its ranking out of Maryland elementary schools is in the bottom 5%. (By the way, this is not meant to be a racist rant, it is merely observation)  Even in the planned city of Columbia, MD, where James Rouse’s vision was that all races and socioeconomic classes live nearby each other in “villages”, things have changed for the worse. The least expensive neighborhoods are still unaffordable for many and for those who can afford to live there, crime is a growing concern and the once very good schools are now producing low test scores and there are many more children in poverty. The families who fled our former elementary school 15 years ago probably find themselves in a similar situation now. I know for a fact that one family moved to an area that used to be a low-crime area but now is not.

What is happening to our country? The government can’t create family cohesiveness. As more and more families break down and (yes, I’ll say it) women continue to bear children that they are ill equipped to care for, things are only going to get worse. In my solidly middle class but aging neighborhood, crime is starting to become problematic. Many neighborhoods such as mine, with their 60’s and 70’s era homes and aging populations aren’t attractive to young professionals with children Those who can afford to do so move to bigger homes, farther away from the perceived problem areas.  This is a distinctly different pattern than the way things used to be. Many of my peers grew up in small homes. A lot of mothers stayed home during the day and could comfortably afford to do so.

I may be pining for a simpler time, but I don’t believe that any hard working American should have to live in unsafe conditions. If you are working full time, you should be able to provide for a family. I could go on a tangent now about the rising costs of healthcare, funding for education and raising the minimum wage, but that’s a rant for another day. In the meantime, I hope I haven’t offended too many with this post. These are merely observations, not judgement calls or victim blaming.

Bucket List

This is on display here in my hometown. There is chalk available and people write in what they wish to do or accomplish before they do. It was interesting to read the wall. Some of the responses were heart breaking, some thought provoking and some just plain silly. Someone had written in F U C K, but someone else came along and changed the F to an R. Just doesn’t have the same meaning, does it? Changing it to a B might have made more sense, I don’t know.

I haven’t really thought about my bucket list, because that tends to depress me, leading me to regrets about things I have not done, rather than focusing on the fact that life is short and opportunities should not be wasted. I didn’t graduate from college. Not even community college. I attended long enough that I should have graduated, but I didn’t. My early adulthood was a hot mess. Depression, anxiety, family struggles and abandonment issues prevented me from making good decisions. So, yes, graduating from college is something I would write on the “Before I Die” wall. There are so many things I could say, but many of them involve other people involved like “have grandchildren” or “move back to my home state.”  I would like to travel to Canada or California, at the very least. I would very much like to see more of this country, especially the west coast and northern states. My “before I die” list is pretty simple. Learn some crafts, go to school, do a little traveling. I am already pretty blessed with the life I have. I try not to take anything for granted.

What would you write on the wall?IMG_1905

Abe the Arachnid

I have never, ever been a fan of spiders. In fact, when I see one, I usually find the nearest heavy object in which to smash them to smithereens. My capacity to actually care about the life of a spider surprised me recently.

My job can be quite solitary. There are people who come in and out, but for all intents and purposes, I work alone most of the time. One morning in May, I noticed what I thought was a Daddy long-legs spider hanging from a web behind the door to my office. Of course, my first reaction was to kill him, but something made me stop and reconsider its life. He (she? it?) wasn’t threatening me and he was actually kind of cute. The next thought I had was to gently put him outside, but even that seemed cruel and heartless. So, Abe (as I named him) stayed. He hung around, literally, for a few days and became part of my space. He was always out in view in the morning, but by the afternoon, he found places to hide, I presumed. One day, Abe wasn’t in his usual spot, but had found a new place not far away, but in a much more open area. I did start to worry that someone else might see him and stomp him, but every morning, he was out and every afternoon, he was hiding again. I looked forward to seeing him. I realize that this sounds crazy. I also started noticing more spiders, so I guess he was procreating. There were at least 4 other spiders taking up residence in the office and I decided to let them all live, even though I was momentarily freaked out every time I saw one in a new place.

Yesterday, I came in to the office late and a co-worker who only comes in occasionally was there. She joyfully declared that she had killed “at least 4 spiders” and I guess she expected praise, but I was mortified and quite saddened. After she left, I looked in all their usual places, but there were no spiders to be found. I mourned Abe and his family and tried to console myself with the fact that they had lived inside the office for almost 2 months.

This morning, out of habit, I looked for Abe and he was there, in his usual place. I can only surmise that he knew he was in danger and ran for his life as fast as his 8 legs could travel.

I hope to see many more little Abes very soon. Does this mean every spider who enters my personal space will be welcomed? Probably not, but this experience has taught me about the infinite capacity to care for even the smallest, most feared among us.

My mother’s politics

My mother is a quiet, reserved person and she would never be described as an activist. She spent her life molding the minds of her students in her many classrooms. She may be quiet, but she has always had strong opinions about things and the way she taught me about them influences me even now.

These days it is not uncommon to see advertisements that feature what I call purposeful role reversal. A father may be folding the laundry or a mother is coaching sports. In the 70’s, there was an ad for Jif peanut butter and the tag line was “choosy mothers choose Jif.” The fact that the commercial insinuated that only mothers choose peanut butter and that you’re not a good (choosy) mother if you don’t choose Jif pretty much outraged my mother. She stuck with her favorite, Peter Pan, thank you very much. She showed me that it was possible to “vote” with your wallet.

Long before conservative Christians began speaking up politically and years before the Moral Majority was formed, my mother was on guard to protect me from certain types of religious indoctrination. Vacation Bible school was forbidden and if a friend invited me to church or youth group, the group/church had to be investigated by my mother. If they had any conservative/prejudiced/evangelical leanings, I wouldn’t be allowed to attend. My churchgoing desires were satisfied by her taking me to a local liberal Episcopal church, where I would be confirmed.

In 2015, same-sex marriage became the law of the land. The first thing my mother said to me about the decision was, “too bad Uncle Max and Charlie aren’t alive to see this.” Uncle Max was her paternal uncle and Charlie was his partner. I knew about Uncle Max and Charlie because my mother was honest about their relationship. In the mid 60’s, most gay people had to keep their orientation a secret even from family members. As a young child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I knew my Great Uncle Max was different, but in my eyes, he and Charlie were just handsome relatives whom we saw at holidays.

My mother is now 75 years old. I love the fact that she has friends of all races and religions. Her strong opinions are something she holds close to her and unless you are family, you might not know about them. As long as you respect her, she will respect you and her political views won’t be discussed among friends. I admire this and strive to emulate her quiet strength.

Enough with the graduations!

I am tempted to temporarily suspend my Facebook account until after graduation season is over.  I just find the constant graduation pictures and celebrations, complete with tears and “my baby is all grown up now” posts too much. First of all, your five year old didn’t graduate from kindergarten. They are moving to 1st grade. Your 8th grader will be a high schooler now. If your 5th grader failed elementary school and has to stay back a year, I’m sorry, but for the rest of the kids moving on, it’s no big deal. Really. One friend of mine actually posted that today was a big day for her daughter as she moved from 9th grade to 10th. Um, not a big deal. Let’s put away the tiny caps and gowns and save the celebrations for graduations that really matter, like high school or college. Enough with the tears and emojis all over Facebook. Honestly, I couldn’t care less. I apologize. It’s been 6 years since my youngest child graduated high school and the oldest one graduated college. I can guarantee that I did not go crazy on social media then, bombarding all who gave a shit with pictures and tears. I posted one picture of each of the high school and college graduations. One. There was not a countdown to the “big day” or collages of the children or side by side comparisons of him as a toddler and him as a graduate.

Why am I so cranky about this? I feel as though I should comment on all of these pictures with appropriate supportive comments such as, “Aw, congratulations to little Johnny” or “I can’t believe she is 10 years old already!” Your child is doing what every child in every school has done everyday for hundreds of years and the fact that they “passed” kindergarten or 5th grade is not necessarily a reason for caps and gowns, diplomas and parties. My youngest son had a rough time in 5th grade. I was happy that he did make it and took him out for lunch on the last day of school. We didn’t have a party and I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to participate in any graduation ceremony if the school even had one.

Celebrations are fun. I get it. Some people live for parties and like to make a big deal out of things. The problem I have with all of these “graduation” ceremonies is that when you make a huge deal out of every transition or every childhood growing up step, it diminishes the importance and specialnesss of the ones that really matter. It also teaches the child that simply making it from one grade to the next without failure is really something to be commended. I disagree with that. It is expected. It was expected that I would graduate from high school. (For the record, not a single one of my peers ever had a graduation or ceremony for any graduation except high school and/or college.) Same with my children. I did not feel the need to whoop it up and hoot and holler and when they walked across the stage to get their diplomas. The fact that they graduated was not the reason for celebration, but the recognition that they were no longer public school students and were moving on to the next phase of life, which is adulthood, was certainly a reason to celebrate.