A Matter of Faith

 

 

faiith

In the Good News Department: I have joined a writers’ group.

In the Bad News Department: I have writer’s block.

You, my Devoted (?) Blog Readers, have a stake in this. The intent of the group is to improve our writing skills.  If I succeed, you will be the beneficiaries! So bear with me here.

The six of us (all women, fyi) met in an essay and memoir class we took this fall. We are going to keep meeting on our own to critique each other’s essays; all of us writing on the same subject or “prompt”.

Perhaps because it is the December holiday season it was easy, at our group meeting last week, to pick our first “prompt”.  You can probably guess what it is – “Faith.”

Immediately this subject prompted (no pun intended) some anxiety in me.

What is Faith anyway? And am I wrong to feel reluctant about sharing my feelings on Faith with a group of women I like a great deal but who I am just getting to know?

Some of us in our new group celebrate Christmas, some Hanukkah.  I know this because in class we read our essays aloud. Often these were about our childhoods, and what is childhood without holiday memories?  One wrote a lovely essay about making a family recipe for gingerbread and another shared a poignant story about a Dad’s struggle with a Christmas tree.

It is fun to write about holidays and their traditions. I am eagerly anticipating the start of Hanukkah as I write this. Not so much for the presents (I’ve given out my hints; you know who you are) but for the traditions, the music, the food, our family gathering together around the holiday lights.

Faith isn’t as much fun to write about as the holidays. Nor is Faith a subject we often discuss with each other.

At least not among my group of close friends. I know my friends’ thoughts on personal subjects as they know mine; one has had breast cancer and fears a reoccurrence, another worries about her daughter’s stability and a third knows her marriage is on shaky grounds. But how they feel about their personal Faith? That I don’t know. We don’t exactly discuss that subject over coffee or at book club or while taking a walk. Heck, I don’t even know how my own sister feels about her (our) Faith.

Perhaps we don’t like to talk about our Faith because it leads to conflict?

This summer at a casual dinner with friends we got into a discussion about what my husband and I believe versus what my friend and her husband believe on a specific matter of our shared faith. By mid-meal our relaxed conversation had escalated into a heated debate. And this was with two of our oldest and dearest of friends!  While we had cooled down by the time we had dessert and coffee, the feelings still rankled. And as my husband and I got into our car to go home that night, we agreed that it had been a mistake to even delve into this subject; that we would file it away in the basket of “not to be discussed again” topics.

Talking about Faith also gets you into trouble on the global stage.

If you read and watch the international news (the “breaking, breaking” kind) as much as I do, no doubt you are also concerned about the growing divide between those of us who have the certainty of absolute faith and those of us who are questioners. (I am somewhere in between!) And we have all seen quite enough headlines recently featuring individuals and groups who hurt or kill each other using their faith as pretext.

It was so much easier to share holiday stories with my writing group friends.

The chicken-hearted way out (for no one would ever give me a prize for bravery; the cowardly lion who proved otherwise I am not) would be to write a light-hearted essay about Faith, about how I’d rather sail along on the superficial sea of religious thought than dive too deeply into the subject. Maybe I will write about my Bat Mitzvah partner from eons ago whose first name, and this is true, happened to be “Faith”. I could weave in the religious angle that way, (also noting, with regret, that ours was the only the Bat Mitzvah party of its era to feature a folk singer playing a guitar (our mothers’ idea, not ours), instead of a popular d.j.)

Then earlier this week I received an email from one of the women in my writing group. She wondered if I, known to be someone who writes quickly, had already completed our first  writing assignment.

I told her that no, I was struggling with the topic.  She quickly emailed me back saying that she too was having problems getting started with her essay and asked me if I thought we should suggest to the others that we change our chosen “prompt”.

That tempted me for a moment, it really did. But I wrote back to her and suggested we stick with it.

Our writing class teacher told us that we should write about what challenges us – and Faith falls right into that category.

I’m off to take the leap of faith to do just that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Family, Female Friends, Holidays, Women, Writing

What Taylor Swift and I Have in Common

mallardduck

Let’s just say that I never thought that Taylor Swift and I would have much in common. Other than both being of the female persuasion, her life is rather different from mine. But recently I discovered how much we share.

Read on, please. I haven’t lost my mind comparing myself to Taylor Swift. Honest.

As is our custom on long car trips, my husband does the driving and I am in charge of the radio.  As a former radio lawyer, I like to change the channels and hear the different programming formats. But last month as we inched up the turnpike towards New York City, where the radio choices are plentiful, we heard the same person singing the same song no matter what station we had on.

Turn to 97.1 – Taylor Swift – “Shake it Off”

And on 100.3 – Taylor Swift – “Shake it Off”

Change to 101.9 – Taylor Swift – “Shake it Off”

Then listen to 103.9 – Taylor Swift – “Shake it Off”

My husband told me he had never heard of Taylor Swift. And when pressed, admitted to his belief that Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Brittany Spears are the same person. Don’t ask.

I know better. And while I wouldn’t say I am a fan of the young country to pop star, I agree that the melody of her latest hit song is quite catchy. After hearing it no less than 10 times in 10 minutes, my husband and I both knew the words by heart.

So as the new skyline of lower Manhattan came into view, we were singing:

          “‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play

          And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

          Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

I shake it off, I shake it off.”

And we were moving to the music too, as best as you can do while seated, (apologies here to the people in the other cars on the George Washington Bridge who may have looked over and saw the two of us, well past middle-age, actuarially speaking, bouncing in our seats. And yes, my husband did have his hands on the steering wheel most of the time.)

Have you listened to her lyrics? Three minutes and thirty-nine seconds of telling her detractors that they can say whatever they want about her, she is just going to shake it off.  With a sense of humor. Using music to tell the world that it can’t get under her skin.

Taylor Swift has figured this out at age 24. It has taken me a lot longer to realize that while I can’t stop others from criticizing me, I can (and should) shake it off.

Like Taylor Swift, I have had and still have plenty of detractors. Hers are public, mine (until now at least!) are more private but criticism is criticism. We are the kind of people who just seem to attract it, like ducks take to the water.

For me, unlike Ms. Swift, it isn’t my music or my hair or the way I dress. My critics are ones who don’t care for my personality, mostly, because they think I talk too much (true), can be a bit (a bit?) abrasive and have very little filter (if I ever had one) on my communication abilities. I am known for making inappropriate comments.

(I define “inappropriate” as when you say what you really think at a time when other people are thinking the exact same thing but just don’t say it aloud.) What I find humorous, others may not.

And unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I have been happily married for 36 years to someone who has absolutely no detractors. Never has, never will. My good-natured husband, the former president of his high school class, captain of athletic teams, Mr. Popularity himself, is liked by everyone he knows and by every person he has ever met and no doubt if you were to meet him, you would like him too.

So while I am an Acquired Taste, my husband is Universally Loved.  And I am reminded of this with some frequency.  Family and friends like to “joke” and express their sympathy to my husband, often while I am standing right next to him, for having to put up with me all these years. Ha, ha, hilarious. Not.

Of course, no one knows what really goes on inside a marriage. But here’s a hint: my husband likes me the way I am. He appreciates my sense of humor, my candor and has long since become inured to my verbal ability to get myself into trouble, to my “talk before you think” approach to life. And he helps me “shake it off” when criticism, constructive or otherwise, comes my way.

Some years ago we were at a holiday office party at the well-appointed, not a hair out-of-place home of a Very Senior Partner at my law firm where they had an incongruous bowl of animal stickers on the table as you entered their living room. We were instructed to select a sticker of the animal we most resembled. Without much thinking (a key trait of mine)  I picked a sticker of a duck and stuck it on my dress.

Why a duck, I now look back and ask? My instinctive choice was of an animal that had a large bill (you get what body part that is), one where the female of the species makes louder noises than the male (yup) and who has special feathers with a waxy coating that keep its underlayer of downy feathers dry.

See, Taylor? Shaking it off is a complex biological technique of staying dry despite the criticism. And be reassured that I am not comparing you to a duck. To a swan maybe. You can be the swan and I will stick with the duck. But we both can shake it off.

You do it. I can too.

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(p.s. it has come to my attention that the photo above may be of a male duck, not a female one, but you get the idea.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under friendship, Marriage, Relationships, Women

Sisters, Sisters…Never Were There Such Devoted Sisters.

sisterssisters

In the past few days, perhaps because of the subliminal effects that the Christmas season is having upon my brain, I have found myself singing  “Sisters, Sisters”, the song that Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen sang in the wonderful old holiday movie “White Christmas.”

Do you know it?

Sisters, sisters,

There never were such devoted sisters…

Caring, sharing,

Every little thing that we are wearing.”

(Note: it is o.k. for Jewish people, me included, to like both this movie and the song because (a) it is a lovely movie and (b) the music in the movie was written by Irving Berlin. Who happens to be Jewish, fyi)

(Further Note: Yes, I recognize that “White Christmas”  is an old movie. Released in 1954. And no, I am not so old that I saw it when it first came out.)

Recalling this song made me think of my devotion to and the devotion from my funny, clever (and only) sister who promised me several months ago that she would write a Guest Blog Post for me – but has not.  Despite Frequent Reminders.

Admittedly, she is busy. She works hard at her job, her kids are younger than mine, one in the throes of applying to college and the other in the throes of struggling through astrophysics (if that exists, which I doubt, that is his college major) and she buzzes around town with friends and volunteer activities. She also lives a few miles from our 91-year-old Dad and stepmother, and for this I am forever grateful, cooks a three course dinner for them every Wednesday night featuring items from the 1950’s culinary hit parade such a fruit cup, meatloaf and angel food cake.

But Too Busy to Write a Guest Post for your Big Sister’s Blog? Even though you promised you would do it?

I am not holding a grudge, honestly. I will just have to write the Guest Post for you.

If my sister were to write a Guest Blog Post, she might start by telling you that when we were younger I was not always the nicest of older sisters.

I did once, when we were teens on an early spring vacation with our parents at a golf resort lock her out onto the terrace of our shared hotel room. What can I say? She was bugging me. Then, as now, I like to hang out. She likes to do things. I talk a lot. She talks even more. I must have gotten annoyed by her and somehow tricked her into going out onto the outdoor terrace of our room in the high-rise hotel that overlooked the golf course below.

Maybe I accidentally locked the sliding glass doors and left her outside. Maybe it was purposeful. Who can remember?

What happened next was that our parents, off in the distance on the 16th hole or something, playing golf with a nice couple they had just met, heard very loud shouting. Very loud shouting coming from somewhere high above them on the side of the hotel that faced the golf course. Screams, girlish in nature. Where can those screams possibly be coming from, asked the nice couple they had just met? Later our Dad, after he had calmed down somewhat, told me that right away he knew what he was hearing. The sounds of my sister banging on the sliding glass doors and screaming at me to be let in. After a while I did so. She may still hold a grudge.

Perhaps I was retaliating against her for one of her earlier devious moves. The one when I was packing to leave for my first year of college. She tricked me into leaving my bedroom when I was in the middle of sorting through which sweaters to bring.

(You should know this about me: I love sweaters. I have stacks of them. While other women like shoes or jewelry, I collect mostly wool and a bit of cashmere.)

And my sister well knew about my sweater love. So when I came back to my bedroom and searched for my favorite fair isle cardigan and my new pale yellow cable-knit sweater, she feigned innocence. Nope, she had no clue where my sweaters were. So off I went to my freshman year of college without (at least) two of my favorite sweaters. Perhaps now is the time to reveal that at Thanksgiving of that year I did discover said sweaters hidden under her bed. I don’t hold a grudge.

When I wasn’t locking her out of hotel rooms and she wasn’t stealing sweaters, we did get along fairly well.

She was (still is) four years younger than I am. So she was entering high school just as I was leaving. Same with college. Our paths and friends didn’t really cross. I was the Susie Student Council type. The most radical thing I ever did was once listen to a “Jimmy Hendrix” record that an older boy gave me (I didn’t like either the boy or the record.)  My sister was more of the bon vivant type and to hear her tell it, had quite the social life while I was busy studying. But because she was the baby of the family, my parents looked the other way. Or so I thought. Of course, I don’t hold a grudge.

Our childhood memories differ. She remembers more about the old neighborhood and even older friends since she still lives nearby and I don’t. She bumps into people from our growing up days at the supermarket, at restaurants and at the movies. She will call me on the phone and tell me, “I  saw Bobby Lerner the other night, do you remember him, he lived around the corner on Curtis Terrace? He had a younger sister named Sharon. He’s married now, two kids. “

I have no idea who Bobby Lerner is or was. But my sister does and she knows all about him now and will likely stay in touch.

What my sister won’t tell you in her Non-Existent Guest Blog Post is that she talks to everyone, anywhere she goes. Everyone.

Of course, she could tell you that none of the above is true. That I didn’t lock her out of that hotel room and that she didn’t “misplace” my sweaters. That she really didn’t get away with all sorts of mischief when she was in high school while I had to obey the letter of the law (a/k/a Dad). And that she really doesn’t talk to everyone she meets to the point where her own teenagers, who may have mentioned this to Aunt Nancy (me), once or twice, now refuse to go on errands with her because a stop at the CVS can take hours if she runs into someone she knows or even someone she doesn’t know.

She could counter all of these allegations if she wrote the Guest Blog Post for me. The one that she promised to write a few months ago. But is Too Busy To Write.

Let’s hear her side of the story, shall we?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Blogging, Family, Holidays, Relationships, Women, Writing

Gratitude for a Thanksgiving Trip Not Taken (a/k/a why is it called the “Garden State”?)

 

pokerstars-welcome-to-nj

 

I wrote a really lovely Thanksgiving blog post yesterday which I am NOT going to share with you.

(lucky you)

It was a heartfelt, poignant, perhaps bordering on maudlin essay, one of my favorite kind.  I described the Connecticut Thanksgivings’ of my early childhood, my family’s visits to our cousins’ house on “Walnut Tree Hill Road” (a very Thanksgiving-ish name, no?), the New England-y food we ate, watching their old black lab, Domino, on his pillow, snoozing when we came into the house and still snoozing when we left hours later…

Then I thought – this post is a snooze too! Who really wants to hear about other people’s childhood memories? Unless they are either hilarious or deeply tragic, most stories of other people’s childhoods do not capture my interest, falling in that dreary middle between boring and mundane.

And I am neither.

Then I thought, I should write about what I am truly grateful for – as so many other writers do.

Health always comes in #1. All the more for me after I “enjoyed” most of November 2012 in the hospital, including a self-pitying and extremely long Thanksgiving day spent solo in my hospital room hooked up to beeping machines. (My family did visit me that evening, bringing stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie, but gulping them down on a hospital tray did not make for a festive holiday.)

So after my own health, there are gratitude votes for the health of everyone else in my family (ups and downs this year but we are all intact) and for the health of our two rescue terriers (also ups and downs but also intact).

But writing about gratitude can also be boring and mundane.

And as I may have told you, I am neither.

Therefore (a lawyer word I miss using) this Thanksgiving my emphasis will be on a more selfish kind of gratitude – for a task I no longer have to complete, an obligation with which I no longer have to comply, a trip I no longer have to take.

For what am I grateful?

We will NOT be spending the major part of our Thanksgiving holiday on the New Jersey Turnpike.

To my readers who grew up in, live in or otherwise admire New Jersey, I hasten to reassure you, that I, too, think New Jersey, nicknamed “The Garden State” for some reason, does have lovely spots, most of which I have not seen, except for a town near Atlantic City where I visited a boy I dated in college who lived in a very nice house near the shore, but I digress. But honestly, even you who live in N.J. must admit that your major thoroughfare does not show your state off to its best advantage.

Yes, your Turnpike has its moments in popular culture – think of the opening credits of the “The Sopranos” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “America”  where they sang about “counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.”

But those brief moments of beauty do not make it a pleasant place to spend any amount of time, particularly for holiday travel.

No matter what time we left Washington DC to drive to Connecticut, the minute we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge into New Jersey we would hit accidents, rubbernecking and traffic. The drive grew inexplicably longer each year, to the point where my husband and I had all but memorized the locations of the poetically-named “rest areas” – the “Walt Whitman” near Cherry Hill and the “Joyce Kilmer’ near East Brunswick – all the while enjoying ill-kept bathrooms and the company of surly fellow travelers eating yesterday’s French fries.

Then we had kids and we had no choice but to take them with us.

Traveling with little kids in the backseat of your station wagon during the holidays on the New Jersey Turnpike in the pre-historic days of the 1980’s and 1990’s before they were able to self-amuse with their own individual screens was an exercise in such extreme endurance as to make CrossFit seem like an easy stroll.

We fared no better on the return trip. Our Sunday drive back stretched to nine or 10 hours. Even when we changed our plans and left on Saturdays, we still found clogs of traffic. No matter what time of day, we hit tons of it. Always in New Jersey.

(Maybe residents of New Jersey, and there always seemed to be a suspiciously high number of New Jersey license plates on the cars stuck along side of us, have a passive-aggressive hobby on Thanksgiving weekend where they purposefully drive very slowly up and down the length of the Turnpike in large groups to create those road signs flashing “Congestion” so that non-residents will suffer enough to not want to return next year?)

But sadly, Thanksgiving travel on the New Jersey Turnpike resembles childbirth. It is painful but the outcome is good. So you do it again the next year even though you may have promised yourself otherwise.

About five years ago we hit a wall. Time to break up with the Turnpike. We had aggravated each other long enough. Let others have the pleasure of standing in line in a bathroom filled with screaming toddlers.

Yes, in consultation with our family in Connecticut, we made the mature and long overdue decision not to travel over the holidays. We would visit the grandparents early in November each year to assuage any holiday guilt and enjoy a faux Thanksgiving.

Now on the days before Thanksgiving instead of gearing up for the annual Turnpike slog, I anticipate being snug and cozy this Thursday with our own family (now adult kids who live within non-turnpike-driving-distance; one married, one significant other and one grandchild who weighs about the same as a large turkey but is much more fun to be with.)

Farewell Forever Mt. Holly Exit!

So long New Brunswick!

Won’t-Be-Missing-You-at-All Newark!

Happy Thanksgiving! And Safe Travels all.

 

 

 

14 Comments

November 25, 2014 · 6:26 pm

Female Friends Forever! But Where is My BFF?

 Baby_Bird_by_Monique_Haen

 

When my kids were little, one of their favorite books was “Are You My Mother?”,  a lovely picture book by J.D. Eastman that tells the story of a newly hatched baby bird who is left alone while his Mother is off finding food for him. He decides to go look for her.

“Where is my Mother? I did have a Mother. I know I did. I have to find her.”

The baby bird can’t fly so he walks and walks – and because he does not know what his Mother looks like, he walks right past her!  On his search, he asks, in turn, the same question of a kitten, a hen, a dog, a cow, a boat, a plane and a “big thing” who snorts (a/k/a a steam shovel.)

Are you my Mother?”

And each of them (The ones who can talk, that is. Somehow in this children’s book the kitten cannot talk but the hen, dog and cow can. Go figure.) replies:

No.”

Until at last the snort lands the baby bird back in the nest where he discovers his own Mother waiting there who knows him as he knows her.

I came across “Are You My Mother?” the other day while I was sorting through my kids’ childhood books (yes, I saved them) to give to my 1-year-old grandson (yes, I was a child bride).

The story of the baby bird speaks to the anxiety that all babies and kids feel when their mother is out of the room. We all had or have mothers; we need to know that they are there.

Just like women need to know that we have friends even if we can’t always see or speak to them. Which got me thinking. And worrying. Which led to an upsettingly vivid dream (one of my skill areas) in which I was searching f0r a BFF – a best friend forever – that singular and special girlfriend that the media tells us all of the celebs have so we should each have one, too.

But maybe I never had and don’t have a BFF?

In this dream I was walking (not very fast, because my right knee has been hurting me lately.  I never walked that fast, anyway. But I digress.) and walking and searching for my BFF.  I dreamt that, just like the baby bird, I went up to each of my female friends and asked them:

Are you my BFF?”

And each of them replied:

No, I am not your BFF. You must keep searching for your BFF.”

I do have many good friends (so I reassured myself in a semi-wakeful state.)  I went to an all women’s college where I learned the value of female friends. I’ve worked hard over the years to keep up with friends from the schools I’ve attended and the jobs I’ve had. And then add in friends I’ve made through my kids’ schools, who I got to know in synagogue or met in my neighborhood. Friends from committees and boards.  And of course my Book Club friends. But I don’t think any one of them truly qualifies as my very own BFF.

Why do I have to keep searching for a BFF?

In the many books I read as a bookworm child, all of the female main characters had best friends. Think of Nancy Drew (Bess) and Anne of Green Gables (Diana) and even Marjorie Morningstar (Marsha, at least for a while.)

So maybe, even before the term BFF was coined in the 1990’s (according to the Oxford Dictionary), I was primed to think that all women must have a BFF. And I’ve been searching all these years, not only while dreaming but while wide awake too, for one of my very own.

So here I am – older, wiser (I think) – and I actually now have the time to devote to a BFF. But maybe I’m just not the BFF type? –  Can I call off the search?

I am actually pretty happy with the crew of close female friends I already have. Each is special. Each fulfills something different that I need in a female friend. And perhaps none of them could or should ever be my “everything-in-one-package BFF”.  

I go to one close friend when I hit a new family crisis (she is on speed dial.) My best law school pal lives hours away but she and I are phone and email buddies.  She knows the inside of my marriage as I know the inside of hers. (Don’t tell our husbands.) Another close friend is my opposite self – calm – her even temper soothes me and I imagine my more, shall we say, non-sedate persona makes her laugh. And I have regular lunches with another good friend whose son was born two days after my daughter; we raised our babies together and now are enjoying getting older together.  More recently I made new friends in my writing class. (hum along with me, “make new friends, but keep the old. one is silver and the other gold.”)

Say it out loud, Nancy: you don’t have a single BFF!  And that is O.K.!

I am making peace with the fact that instead of one BFF, I have many CFFs instead. Close Female Friends.

That is not a very catchy acronym, I realize. I don’t expect the Oxford Dictionary to adopt CFF as a trendy term anytime soon. But if you are like me, maybe you too can call off the BFF search.

Remember the baby bird in the story who didn’t know what his mother looked like? His search was successful. Good for him. My female friendship story can have a happy ending too.

The End

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1st Grandchild, Aging, Books, College, Communications, Female Friends, Midlife, Moms, Reading, Relationships, Women

Up to Here with Helicopters! (Confessions of a Former Parachute Parent)

no helicopter parentingI have had it up to here with “Helicopter” Parents  – with the name, with the description, with the concept, with the articles praising them, defending them, explaining them.

(Nancy – tell us how you really feel!)

For those of you not living within the reach of any media, “helicopter” parenting is a term coined in the early 2000’s in connection with the college application process to describe parents who constantly “hover” over their kids, overly-controlling and excessively-involved in all aspects of their lives.

My two kids were in high school in the early 2000’s – but I was much too busy to hover! (Wasn’t I, kids? please submit your rebuttal comments in writing at the bottom of this post.)

I had a full-time job the entire time my kids were growing up, a house to take care of, volunteer groups to show up for, friends to see – and, last but not least, a husband who wanted my attention every now and then.

But – True Confession: I was, often, but not always, just a step above the hovering helicopters. I liked to call myself  a “parachute” parent.

Parachute parents don’t hover or linger but we did swoop in from time to time to solve a problem we thought our kids couldn’t manage on their own and then we lifted ourselves back up awaiting the next parachuting opportunity. And what did I learn from my parachuting days when my kids were in their teens and early 20’s?

That I shouldn’t have done it. Each time I parachuted in to fix something – what was the message I was sending to my kid? – I was telling them that they weren’t able to solve their own problems. But I was undermining them. I was depriving them of the chance to figure out a solution.

Which, of course, is the exact opposite message we want to send as parents, isn’t it? And for years I was as guilty of parachuting in and out as often as the most helicopterish of parents. I would defend myself (as I am doing here) with this very Talmudic (o.k. to look that word up) exercise to explain why parachuting was somehow more acceptable than helicoptering. It wasn’t. It isn’t.

Pro Tip: neither parachutes nor helicopters should we be.

Even jokingly. We owe it to our kids to let them fly the nest unaccompanied, to let them learn to handle the tough stuff on their own. They are way more resilient than we may like to think.

Yet this helicopter thing just won’t go away.

Today I read (yet another) article about “helicopter” parenting. In a semi-joking, semi-serious way, the author defended the concept. About how helicoptering intentions were honorable and it was only out of love that they made an appointment to meet with the head of the math department to complain when Emily or Josh was not put in a sufficiently advanced pre-calculus class. Or why it was necessary to “edit” (a/k/a write more than a few sentences) their college application essays.  Or to FedEx rolls of quarters to them while they were away at college so they could do their laundry and not have to walk that very long distance to the bank near campus to get their own quarters.

Or when the helicopter parents visit on College Family Weekend and actually do laundry for Josh and Emily who were too busy “studying”. (After all, What’s a Mom for?)

And when these same hovered-over, parachuted-upon kids graduate from college and leave for their first jobs, new cities, own apartments, the most helicopterish among us mount a new line of defense. They miss their kids so much that they delude themselves into thinking that the best way to stay close to their kids is to find new high-tech ways to hover. To “stalk” them on Facebook, check their twitter feeds, text them constantly, follow them on Instagram.

Really, fellow-parents, doesn’t this extreme “keep in touch” behavior fall into the “Get a Life, Mom” category? Our kids know how to reach us if they need us. Trust me on that. Shouldn’t we lessen up on needing them at about the same time that they lessen up on needing us?

My husband reminds me that he was a “1st generation to college” kid. He went on his own to a distant college in a state his immigrant parents had never heard of. While his classmates from Scarsdale showed up on the first day of school with their parents in their packed station wagons, he flew by himself, carrying one old suitcase across the old campus and miracle of miracles, managed to settle in without parental assistance. He then spent the next four years of college on his own talking to his parents once a week, if that. His Mom and Dad saw his university for the first – and only time – on the day of his graduation, 40 years ago.

Obviously we cannot return to the old days with their more limited methods of communications. But just because current methods of technology – email, cell phones, texting, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat — snapshut, whatever is coming next –  now make it possible for us to parachute in or hover above, let’s rise above those urges, shall we? We aren’t doing our young adult kids any favors. Let them show us how capable they are of independent existence.

That whirring sound you hear? Could it be the sound of the helicopter parents lifting up into the clouds to disappear forever?

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Filed under Adult Kids, College, College, Communications, Email, Letting Go, Moms, Parenting, Women

Don’t Take Career Advice from a Crabby College Professor

shakespearebooks

As a freshman in college I “placed” into a junior level class called “A Survey of World Literature.” Because I had done well in English in high school – AP classes, A grades, loved to read, wrote stories and poems – I thought myself quite ready to compete with college students two years my elder. It was an English class; I spoke that language, right? It would be a breeze.

“World Literature” was taught by an older male professor who was, in my not-so-humble-opinion, a “misogynist”. It seemed to me then, and now, that it was odd for a person who so disliked women to be teaching at an all women’s college but there it was. He spoke in a biting, abrasive tone and did not tolerate fools gladly. I bonded with the only other freshman in the class (still a friend today) and as I recall, we sat in the back row, looking down intently at our notebooks, hoping to avoid the professor’s eye so he would not call on us. (This was a skill I later practiced to perfection in law school. But I digress.)

We started off the year with Plato, then Homer and then Dante. Pretty quickly I realized I was in way over my head.

After we wrote our first essays, the professor asked each of us to meet with him during his office hours.

You have to picture me as I was then. Very Susie Student Council, straight as an arrow (marijuana, what’s that?) but with a hint of a rebellious streak, not fond of following authority but knew it was better to do so. Preppy shirts, cable-knit sweaters, knee socks. I looked like the naïve freshman I was.

After I sat down in the professor’s office, he asked me:

“Miss Wolf, where you were born?”

Good, I knew the answer to this one!

“Bridgeport, Connecticut,” I replied.

“Is that so?” he said, as his voice dipped acidly, “I find that hard to believe because your essay reads like it was written by someone who just got off the boat from Bulgaria.”

Although I probably wasn’t so sure back then where Bulgaria was,  I knew that was not a compliment.

And let’s just say that soon after that office meeting it became evident that I was not going to be an English major.

Skipping over the boring parts of the story here, jump ahead to law school (a couldn’t-think-of-anything-else-to-do choice but one which made my Dad, who has a passion for the law, happy) and then to thirty plus years of law firm life.

During my lawyering years I still had the itch to write, never mind what my college professor thought of my English language abilities. So I wrote the occasional free-lance article, reflecting, with humor, on where I was at that stage of my life. An essay on parenting (moms do more, that hasn’t changed), a piece on law student hiring (I was the hiring partner who specialized in catching typos on resumes), a commentary on some of the absurd aspects of the college admission process (lamenting that I didn’t make my daughter learn to play the cello or pursue fencing in the 4th grade to give her an added edge).

What I am doing now –  non-fiction, essays, memoir, blogging – has come about courtesy of my two open heart surgeries leading to an unplanned early retirement. Here I am at midlife (or a little beyond to be actuarially honest) and I’m lucky enough to return to my earlier love of the written word. Not everyone thinks that writing should count as a day “job”, though.

My 91-year-old Dad (still trekking happily to his law firm every day) asked me recently what writers get paid. When I told him that sometimes in the online world writers don’t get paid, or get paid very little, he harrumphed. Why again was I doing this instead of lawyering? Good question. My mortgage company probably shares his concern.

And the lawyer husband of a friend of mind wants to know if I find writing as intellectually challenging as the law.  I try to explain that I feel I must write, that it was tamped down way inside me all of those years I was chained at my desk writing legalese. He doesn’t get it.

But I do. And it pleases me when my son and daughter tell me they are proud of what I am trying to do “late in life.”  One of them asked me the other day why I didn’t become a writer after college.

It never occurred to me to become a writer, I told my kids. I didn’t have a role model or mentor to show me different career paths. Following in the legal footsteps of my Dad was a safe, practical, choice.

The remainder of my freshman year class in “World Literature” passed v-e-r-y slowly. By December we were into Shakespeare. We were reading “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The professor asked us to select one passage in the play that reflected humor and to analyze why it did so. That didn’t seem so hard, I thought. I chose a passage that seemed funny to me, duly wrote the essay, submitted it and went into the dreaded office hour with the professor.

“Miss Wolf”, (I called myself “Ms.” but I wasn’t about to tell him that.) he intoned:

“How did you manage to find the only passage in this play that reflects absolutely no humor at all? That takes a certain skill. Your essay misses the point entirely.”

I limped through the rest of the year, scraping by (in my mind anything less than an “A” in English was a failure) with a grade of B minus. I stayed away from literature classes for the next three years of college. I missed out on so many learning opportunities all because I let one professor shake my confidence.

So here’s the Life Lesson:

If you are now a College student (or a Parent of one offering advice) – consider NOT doing as I did. Follow your passion. Listen to your heart and your gut. Don’t be blown off course by one professor, one bad grade, a job you don’t get or an internship that doesn’t work out.  Everyone thinks they are career experts in the business of telling young adults what they should or shouldn’t do. But only you know your own dreams –  take the less traveled path is such a cliché but if only I had…

I still think of Professor Misogyny. By now he has likely passed on to the great beyond and if there is any justice, he is spending his afterlife on a puffy cloud surrounded by young female students who misplace their commas and don’t understand Shakespeare.

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Filed under Adult Kids, Books, Careers, College, Law firm life, Lawyers, Midlife, Reading, Second Careers, Women, Writing