Saturday, June 18, 2022

THE SECOND TIME AROUND: Further Thoughts on Being a Grandmother

(for my granddaughters Daisy Belle, Charlotte May, and Frances Rose)

     There are those who'll bet love comes but once and yet
     I'm very glad we met the second time around.

                                            -  Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen (sung by Frank Sinatra)


A few months ago, I wrote about the joy of meeting my first granddaughter.  And now, I have two more -- twins born to my daughter Anne.  The joy remains, but that's not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about the unanticipated difference between parenting and grand-parenting.  

As I have written before, raising my two daughters was one of the best experiences of my life.  It was also one of the hardest.  Of course, the early years get buried under the accretion of the years that follow; memories fade as we watch our children grow into adults.  It is only now, as I watch my daughters tend to their daughters, that I remember just how hard it was. 

Now, I remember sleep-deprived me tending to a baby, while trying to manage the many chores that keep a household running--grocery shopping, preparing meals, paying bills, running the vacuum cleaner, etc.  And then going back to work part time -- leaving the house with baby spit-up on my work clothes.  And a couple of years later, there was a second daughter -- so, all of the above, with a toddler to wrangle. My daughters' dad was a hands-on parent, so I certainly didn't do all of this alone.  And, still, it was hard.  

Wonderful, joyous, and hard.

But, now, I get to experience the first year all over again with my granddaughters.  And I get to pay attention in a way I wasn't able to the first time around.  Yes, I remember how excited I was when my daughters first engaged with the world around them; when they first rolled over, then sat up, and crawled; when they first walked and talked. But, I was also trying to attend to in all those other things I listed above. 

When I am with my granddaughters, I am simply present.  I am not trying to make a meal or pay bills. I can give these babies my full attention.  I am really noticing each new milestone.  And I don't think I'm alone in this experience.  Friends have told me they feel like they are also noticing more than they did the first time around, that they are enjoying having the time to savor the unfolding of these new beings. 

And here's another thing.  I am way more confident than I was with my first-born.  Certainly, my second daughter got the benefit of my experience with her sister, and this is even more true with my granddaughters.  If a granddaughter cries, and then keeps crying after I have tended to her needs, I don't assume I am doing something wrong; I just figure she needs to be held until her little nervous system calms down.  If one twin cries while I am tending to the other, I know that she will be okay until I get to her. 

There are downsides, of course.  I do get tired.  Sometimes, I get very tired.  I don't have the energy I had when my girls were babies, and lifting an 18-pound, eight-month-old is very hard on my back. The good news is I get to go home and rest, while the parents carry on, bleary-eyed. 

All-in-all, this grand-parenting is a pretty good gig.   

                                                 













Tuesday, March 8, 2022

A PRAYER FOR CHALLENGING TIMES

When the world feels almost too broken to bear, I struggle to find hope, to not give in to inertia born of despair.  In times such as these, I find prayer and meditation to be a means of centering, a balm, a quieting that creates space for a rebirth of hope and courage. In this space, there is the possibility that an idea will arise, an idea of what I might do, in my small way, to foster peace, to bring comfort to those who need comforting.  

In this spirit, I offer a prayer, a meditation for challenging times.  

 

 

I pray for the body of the world.

I pray for the ten thousand things.

 

I pray for the brokenness of the world.

I pray for the eternal Tao.

 

I pray for those I love and those I cannot love.

I pray for those who have passed and those who are yet to come.

 

I pray for those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit.

I pray that they be healed, comforted, granted peace.   

 

I pray for the creatures who crawl, run, fly, climb, or swim.

I pray for the non-sentient, for they are energy after all.

 

I pray for plants and trees and all rooted things.

I pray for oceans, lakes, and rivers.

 

I pray for peace.

I pray for kindness.

I pray that justice might prevail. 

 

I pray

I pray

I pray.

 

 

                                                Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS

 

You've heard of the age of reason.  (Begins somewhere around age 7.)

And the age of consent.  (Varies from state to state.) 


Well, it would appear that I have reached the age of forgetting.  (Let’s put this one at over age 60.)  


Sure, I passed 60 some time ago, but I have only recently reached the point where I can't deny that I have reached the age of forgetting, of losing things.  


At least once each day, I lose my phone.  It's not really lost.  I know it's somewhere in my house. I just can't remember where.  Same with my earbuds – they walk off regularly.  (It is possible they are partying with the  socks that never emerge from the dryer with their partners.)


It wasn’t always so.  When my daughters were young, one or another of them would ask, “Where are my shoes?’ or “Where did I put my book?” or would shriek, “I can’t find my homework!”  I would pause and do what I called “the vision thing,” (thank you George H. W. Bush), and promptly respond, “Behind the big chair” or "On the table” or “Check your bedroom floor.”  I knew where everything was.


Sigh.


And then there is the issue of forgetting words.  Again, it's more losing than forgetting.  The words are in my brain somewhere. They generally return after hovering tantalizingly close to the surface of my mind for seconds or minutes or, occasionally, hours before emerging.  I have learned that it is counterproductive to try to force the word to make an appearance.  This only causes it to burrow more deeply into my brain.  But if I wait and pretend I don't care, it will eventually step out of its hiding place – usually without any warning. This can lead to some awkward exchanges  I might be talking with someone about, say, the weather when I startle that someone by suddenly and irrelevantly declaring, 'japonica" or whatever word I had lost earlier in the day and suddenly remembered. 

  

image by absolutvision

(Is it a good sign that I know I have forgotten a word?  It would be worse, I suppose, if the word were so far lost that I didn't know I had ever made its acquaintance.) 


A couple of nights ago, while doing an acrostic puzzle,  I asked my husband to remind me of the name of the game with baskets on poles.  “Not jai alai,” I helpfully prompted. “The other one.”  


“Oh, yeah,” said he, and immediately lost the word. 


"The one that has become so popular on college campuses in recent years,”  said I.


He looked at me, stricken. Such a simple word and both of us had temporarily lost it.


Later the same evening, while we were talking about something else entirely, I suddenly cried out, “lacrosse.”  I had forgotten the earlier conversation, but the word jumped out anyway.  He was momentarily startled by my outburst, but we both went to sleep relieved and happy.


I had a similar experience while walking with a friend a week or two ago.  She was telling me about a book (I think -- it is possible that I am not remembering correctly), speaking with her usual easy fluency, when she suddenly lost a word.  "You know what I mean," she said.  "The word for wiping out a whole group of people."


"Oh yes," I said, "It's  . . ." and then I, too, promptly lost the word.  We figured we both knew what she was trying to say, and she went on with sharing her thought until I interrupted her just seconds later to later to cry triumphantly, "genocide!"  Not a word that should be spoken triumphantly, I might add.  (And now I remember, it was the Olympics and the Chinese government, not a book, she was discussing.)


So, does one person forgetting a word drive that word out of a companion’s head as well.  Is this a thing?

 

I wonder.


(It is interesting to me, that I rarely lose a word while writing.  Does this make me like the Alzheimer's patients who can sing, but not talk?)


Here's one that even youngish folk will have experienced - I will walk into into a room and forget what I was after.  Happily, this one is easily remedied by walking back to where I started to reboot my brain.


One more.  I used to have a great memory for conversations.  I still do.  It’s just that I can’t always remember who they were with, which leads to questions such as, “Did I tell you this already,” or “Have we talked about this?” 


On the other hand, I can hear one bar of a song that was popular in my teens or twenties and immediately identify the title and the singer.  The lyrics also flow forth easily as I sing along.


Very useful.


Really, though, this forgetting thing isn’t so bad.  I once read that if you forget where you put your keys, this isn’t a problem, but if you forget what they are for, you’re in trouble.  


So far, so good.   


Friday, December 31, 2021

ANOTHER NEW YEAR -- MAY IT BE KIND

It has been another exhausting year.  Covid has continued to circulate, even as climate change has become ever more difficult to ignore, bringing terrible heat here to the Pacific Northwest and fires, tornados, floods, and drought elsewhere.  

There have been blessings, of course.  A new baby born to one of my two daughters, and the other daughter looking forward to the birth of twins next spring.  There have been days spent with friends and family and hours spent in my garden.  There have been walks and writing projects and books to read.  

 

There has been love and there has been sorrow.

 

It is difficult to know how to approach this next year, which will bring the start of year three of our living with the virus, along with everyday blessings in each of our lives.  So, because I haven’t the words for my wish that the new year will be kind to us all, and because the Irish Mystic John O’Donohue left us so many beautiful words, I give you his Blessing For The New Year from his book, To Bless the Space Between Us:

 

BEANACHT (A Blessing For the New Year)

 

On the day when

The weight deadens

On your shoulders

And you stumble, 

May the clay dance

To balance you.

 

And when your eyes

Freeze behind

The gray window 

And the ghost of loss

Gets into you,

May a flock of colors, 

Indigo, red, green

And azure blue,

Come to awaken in you

A meadow of delight.

 

When the canvas frays

In the curraagh of thought

And a stain of ocean

Blackens beneath you,

May there come across the waters

A path of yellow moonlight

To bring you safely home.

 

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,

May the clarity of light be yours,

May the fluency of the ocean be yours,

May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

 

And so may a slow

Wind work these words

Or love around you,

An invisible cloak 

To mind your life.

 

                                

As we enter this new year, may your joys outweigh your sorrows and may you have an invisible cloak to mind your life. 


Friday, November 12, 2021

HOW DO I LOVE THEE? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: Some Thoughts Inspired by a New Granddaughter **

I have a new granddaughter.  Her name is Daisy. She is not my first grandchild – we have five on my husband’s side and I adore them all.  But Daisy is the first child born to one of my two daughters.  She is the first grandchild who was still a tiny baby the first time I held her.  And this is the first time I have looked for signs of my family in a grandchild. 

 

I’m not going to bore you with a long description of my love-at-first-sight reaction to this baby.  (I will save that for conversations with other grandmothers.)  Although, I must say, I didn’t know I would feel exactly the same love for this baby that I felt when I first held each of my daughters.  A fierce love. An I’ll-do-anything-to-protect-you love. When I first held Daisy, and every time I hold her, my heart--like the Grinch’s heart--grows to three times its size. 

 

I was 38 when Daisy’s mom--my Mara--was born.  When she was a teenager, Mara would sometimes state wistfully that she wished she had younger parents.  I would patiently explain that if I had had a baby ten years earlier, that baby would not have been her.  There would have been no Mara, or there would have been a different Mara.  

 

Each baby is the product of a cosmic lottery.  If my mother and father hadn’t gone to the same youth hostel on a particular weekend, they would not have met, and I would never have come into being.   And even given their meeting, a very particular sperm, out of millions of sperm, had to join with a very particular egg for a baby of theirs to have turned out to be me. And so it goes, back through time -- If each of my ancestors had not created the very embryos they created at the very moment they created them, neither my parents nor I would have have entered this life. 

 

And so it appears that the odds of any particular being winning the lottery and entering the world are vanishingly small.  If, for instance, the ruptured ovarian cyst that nearly sent me into sepsis at age 24 had killed me or rendered me sterile, the daughters I call Anne and Mara would not exist.  And if I had met a different man, I might have had children, but not my Anne and Mara.

 

And if Mara hadn’t reconnected with a college boyfriend, married him, and gotten pregnant just when she did, there would be no Daisy--not this Daisy anyway.  What a chain of chance it took for this baby to be born, for this Daisy to join the chain. 

 

Of course, I would have loved a baby conceived five minutes later, but now that this baby is manifest, it is she I love--she, who in all of her particularity, has won my heart. 

 

I am so grateful that she is here, so grateful to have lived long enough to be a grandmother to both Daisy and the bonus grandchildren brought into my life by my husband. For them, and for children everywhere who have run the generational gauntlet to arrive in this world, I offer a version of the Buddhist Loving Kindness meditation:

 

       May you have an open heart.

       May you be free from suffering.

       May you be happy.

       May you be at peace.

 

May it be so.





**Yes, I stole the title for this post from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and, yes, she wrote her sonnet for her true love Robert, but, honestly, I believe it is equally, perhaps better, suited to a parent’s or grandparent’s love.  

 

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

       


Thursday, October 14, 2021

DUOLINGO Y YO: How to Teach an Old Brain New Tricks

       For much of my adult life I have read popular science books--books written for lay people by smarty-pants scientists.  And by lay people, I mean English majors, history majors, philosophy majors--those of us who struggled through high school science classes and avoided them in college.  Stephen Hawking may have thought he was explaining physics to the likes of me in A Brief History of Time, but it wasn't "lay" enough for me. I found that although I understood most of the individual words, they didn't add up to anything that I could comprehend.

       And I tried twice. 

     So, I appreciate a book like Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain by David Eagleman, which I read last December.* Eagleman is a smarty-pants neuroscientist, and Livewired is a book about brain plasticity.  Here is some of what the book jacket says about it:  "The magic of the brain is not found in the parts its made of but in the way those parts increasingly reweave themselves in an electric, living fabric."  It is a fascinating book, that describes in great, and very readable, detail, the ways in which our brains reshape themselves, make up for deficits, and perform all kinds of tricks through interacting with the world.  And if I could read it, so can you.

    That said, I don't intend this post to be a review of, or plug for, Eagleman's book.  You can find plenty of those on line.**  Instead, I just want to give it credit as the jumping-off point for my looking into ways to keep my aging brain nimble.  Yes, we've all read that doing crossword puzzles is good for our brains.  But I do these regularly, so the returns are diminishing.  The idea, as I understand it, is to learn something new, and in this way, update the brain's wiring.

    So, soon after reading Livewired, I decided to learn something that, if not entirely new, is at least newish for me  As I recounted in my last post, I attended a bilingual (English/Spanish) secretarial school in my extreme youth.  This was preceded by four years of high-school Spanish.  All of which added up to, if not fluency, at least a decent mastery of the language.

    Then, because I was young and foolish, instead taking more Spanish classes in college, I tested out of the language requirement and let my language skills lapse.  Sigh - why can't our older selves whisper in the ears of our younger selves?

    This lapse continued until 1980, when I, for reasons not clear to me then or now (I am not particularly adventurous), decided to spend a month at a language school in Antigua, Guatemala. This was a very inexpensive program that involved living with a local family and taking one-on-one lessons with a native speaker each morning.  The conditions were somewhat primitive.  It was an adventure.  I learned a great deal, and many of my skills came back.

       I'll bet you can guess what happened next.  Yep, because life intervened and future me was still not whispering in my ear, I let my Spanish lapse once again.  

       Fast forward 40 years, and I am seeing ads for Duolingo--an online language learning program--on Instagram.  I remember that my friend Linda has been using the program and check in with her.  She likes it.  She thinks it works.  She hasn't missed a day in over a year.  

       I decide to give it a try.  Maybe it will jump-start my brain. It works pretty well.  The program is designed to build vocabulary and verb-conjugating skills over time, using repetition and a kind-of-fun feedback loop.  

     And here's how it keeps you coming back -- daily email reminders, prodding you not to lose your streak of continuous days with the program.  Also, Linda and another friend have not broken their streaks, so, I must, of course, not break mine.

    This is good.  Until it is not.  I keep my streak for over 100 days, and then, during a very busy week, it occurs me that it is ok to lose the streak.  I don't have to compete with my friends.  No one, except Duolingo, is keeping score.  

     Since I let that streak go, I have started another, and because I don't feel I have to engage every day, I am, in fact, engaging every day.  What do you make of that, David Eagleman?  Also, Linda, who--unlike me--reads directions, has advised me that I don't have to reach my "daily goal" to get credit for a day; I just have to do one lesson, which takes no time at all.   

     So, some days I do a lot and some days I do a little, but the net result, or so I tell myself, is new brain connections.  Much is coming back to me and much is new.  There were, after all, neither computadoras (computers) nor celulares (cell phones) 40 years ago.  

     And it's fun to experience the return of words I thought were lost forever.  As I go through the lessons, I picture words crawling out of dusty file cabinets in my brain and taking an accessible place in a shiny new file cabinet.  It's fun to find myself occasionally thinking in Spanish.  I've even started listening to podcasts in Spanish to see if I can gain enough confidence to join a conversation group.    

     Of course, even as Spanish words come back, I'm losing English words.  There is only so much one can expect of a fading brain.  Yesterday, my husband was searching for a word, and, after I found it for him, I promised, "I'll be your external hard drive, if you'll be mine."  (I think there are the makings of a country song here.  Maybe one of you can take on the project as a way of jump-starting your brain.)

     Perhaps it would be a good goal for all of us of a certain age to act as external hard drives for one another and to take on tasks that will keep our brains flexible for a good while to come.  

    Let's do it. 

    And now, I must away to complete a Spanish lesson . . . 

                                                Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

*    How do I know I read it last December?  See this post, in which I describe my obsessive list-making. 

** There is much more to Eagleman's book than I have suggested here, including some, to me, alarming descriptions of how our brains will soon interface with artificial intelligence.  Eagleman, who is quite gleeful about these coming changes, gives short shrift to how such interface might negatively impact our lives.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

STILL SHE PERSISTED: A Paean to My Younger Self

A while back, during a conversation with a ten-year-old granddaughter, I mentioned that my earliest job had been as a secretary, that I had, in fact, gone to secretarial school after high school.  

My granddaughter turned a puzzled face to me, and asked, "What's a secretary?" 

This word was completely unfamiliar to a girl who (at that moment, anyway) aspired to be an architect.  I explained that a secretary would now be called an assistant. 

Across this stretch of years, it is hard to bring that secretary, that girl-- for girl I was, into clear focus, but I will try.   

In September of 1967, 17-years-old and fresh out of high school, my best friend and I got on a bus near our suburban New Jersey homes and headed into Manhattan for our first day at The Latin American Institute, a secretarial school located on Madison Avenue, where we would learn to type and take shorthand (taquĆ­grafia) in English and Spanish.**  

We would take that bus every weekday for a year, immersing ourselves in Spanish and learning how to behave in an office.  (Of course, we would make coffee for our bosses.  And, of course, they would all be men.) Looking back, I am astounded by how very young we were.  (Needless to say, we believed ourselves to be entirely grown up.) No one accompanied us into the city that first day.  There were no helicopter parents back then. It was just, "Have a good day," as we walked out our doors.  I vividly remember stopping an ancient businessman (he was probably 40) as we left The Port Authority Bus Terminal, and asking him, "Which way is uptown?"  

Oh, yes, we were young.  And we swam in the water that surrounded us.  What else did we know?  This will be a stretch for those of you who grew up believing the sky was the limit, who grew up taking for granted that you could get a credit card or a loan in your own name, that you could grow up to be a politician or a doctor.  But try to imagine what life was like for a young girl just a few decades ago.  Imagine a childhood in the 1950s when every voice around you screamed boys are important--girls not so much.  Sure, your daddy might have doted on you, told you that you were pretty, but imagine a world where that “pretty” was your only passport to a good life, a world where the Miss America Pageant was a highlight of the year and where the local store displayed a row of photos of young women in tight curls and pointy bras, accompanied by the invitation to vote for “Miss Rheingold.”  

 

Imagine a world where girls wore dresses to school--were, in fact, forbidden to wear pants, where pre-schoolers wore ruffled dresses that discouraged rough and tumble play.  A world of stiff party dresses and patent leather shoes.  If it was cold out, we wore leggings (not the ones you are thinking of – these were bulky affairs that matched our winter coats) under our dresses.  


Imagine internalizing the message that girls grow up and get married and have babies and stay at home.  That was, after all, what most of our moms were doing. Imagine the message that you might have a job in the interim between leaving school and getting married, or maybe, if your husband were really enlightened, you would keep working until you had a child. Imagine that in this decade a college degree for a woman was sometimes called an MRS. degree.  Imagine, further, that well into the ‘60s, at least one women’s college taught classes in deportment – how to pour tea and step gracefully in and out of a sports car. Imagine that the only jobs suggested to you by society are store clerk, bank teller, secretary, nurse, or teacher. (There’s nothing wrong with any of these jobs--I have friends who have happily made careers of them all; what is wrong is that so many jobs were considered to be for men only, that it would not occur to you that you could be, say, a research scientist, a doctor, an accountant, a college professor.  And, of course, men were not expected to be, say, nurses or secretaries.)

 

Yes, there were little girls like RBG, but I didn’t know them. And, yes, I did have female friends who went off to college, and I expect that there were girls who were encouraged to seek a "nontraditional" job, but this was not my experience.  My immigrant parents, playing against type, did not encourage me to go to college.  The idea was never discussed in my house.  And so, off to secretarial school I went.


I did not excel.  I did not want to be there.  I liked the Spanish immersion, but my typing and shorthand skills were mediocre.  I was envious of my boyfriend, who was attending college.

 

After a year at secretarial school, I continued to take that bus to a job at an advertising agency, where I warded off attentions from my much-older boss. (Remember, please, I was still only 18 when I started that job.)  I was not happy and I was not good at my job. This was the era of manual typewriters and multiple pieces of carbon paper between the multiple copies of whatever one was typing.  It was so easy to make a mistake and have to rip all those pages out of the typewriter and begin anew.  Ugh. 


When I wasn't busy being frustrated by my ineptness, I was bored. After a year at my job, and after reading every book assigned to my college-attending boyfriend, I figured out that if I lived at home, I could afford to go to the nearest state college.  I'm not sure where I got the gumption to make this happen.  At this point in my life, I did not have much confidence in my intelligence. 


But, oh, I loved being a student.  I loved being an English major.  I had terrific professors.  I never had a TA.  I was hungry and I soaked it all up.  Living at home was challenging, but my time on campus was magical.   I had left the job for which I was not suited and headed off to college just in time for the beginning of feminism's second wave.  I loved my expanding world, a world that I hadn't, until then, realized had been so very circumscribed by our culture's limited expectations for women.  


Now that I was in the right place for me, I excelled.  I read and read and wrote and wrote.  I discovered that I was intelligent, that I was a good writer.  I began to imagine new career possibilities.  After college, I worked for a year as a journalist, then went on to law school--something that would never have occurred to my younger self as an option. (And may I add that I never stopped appreciating the secretary/assistants with whom I worked.  They were so much better at their job than I had been. It hadn't been the right job for me, but these assistants were whip-smart and kept the offices where I worked from falling into chaos.)


From my perspective in retirement, I am not sure that I would choose the law again. It was the first previously male-dominated career that came to my attention. There are other career paths that look more attractive to me now that I can see the full range of possibilities. I am, nonetheless, proud to be one of the women who stepped into roles forbidden to us in our childhood. I am happy to have a much fuller life than that allowed to my mother. I am delighted that my daughters grew up without the restraints I felt as a girl.


So, today I look back in gratitude on the girl and young woman I once was. Everything I am today began with her. I stand on her skinny shoulders. I am grateful for her courage.       

She would be surprised by this praise. It was decades in the coming.  May I never forget. And may all young people of every gender have the opportunity to do the work that is just right for them.  




Photo by Daniel McCullough on Unsplash

** Diligent Google searches have turned up no trace of this school.  I have no idea when it it ceased to be. 

(This is my story. I acknowledge that there are many who have faced far greater and graver challenges.  I will leave it to them to tell their stories.)