Keep Moving Forward

Here’s what happens when you have an adult child who lives and works in New York City and you hear that there was an explosion. Your brain starts firing off all kinds of signals, the largest of which is silently screaming out, “Where is my child?”

We had the TV on at home Saturday night. My husband was channel surfing and happened to flip to CNN just as the first news broke that there had been a large explosion in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. They were showing a map of where the blast had occurred. It took just seconds for my brain to process that location: it was very close to where our daughter works. Uncomfortably close.

Now, this was Saturday night, and chances were good that our daughter was not at work. But chances were also good that she was out doing something on a Saturday night with friends or roommates, somewhere in New York City. I grabbed my phone immediately and sent her the following text message: “We are hearing about an explosion in Chelsea and just want to make sure you’re okay. Please text and let me know you are alright. Love you.”

Seconds later, my phone rang. “Mom, it’s me,” she said. “I am okay and we were not anywhere near there tonight.” It turns out that she was miles away. New York’s five boroughs cover many miles, so you can be “in the city” and still be very far away from Manhattan. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. But as our conversation continued, I realized that she, too, may have been shaken just a little, because Chelsea is a neighborhood where many people go out at night and she easily could have been in that vicinity. This time she wasn’t. We chatted for a few minutes, and then knowing that she was safe, we hung up with confidence that our daughter was going to be just fine. But what about everyone else’s sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles? We had the luxury of breathing a sigh of relief. Not everyone had that luxury, but fortunately there were no fatalities. It was actually the next day before I realized that the second, unexploded device was found in the very same block where our daughter works.

We have two grown daughters, both living in major east coast US cities. We talked to them about personal safety and have always urged them to be careful where they go, with whom, and when. From afar, we continue to urge them to exercise caution regularly. But how can you exercise caution against senseless acts of violence? There is no warning sign. It’s not the same as someone following you into a dark alley, which would be very scary, but our daughters should NEVER walk into a dark alley since we have drilled that into their heads. An explosion in a dumpster or on the street or sidewalk means that anyone who happens to be walking by can be injured. Any person. Any time. Any place.

We do not want our daughters to live in fear. We do not want anyone to live in fear. We want people to be able to go about their normal lives, conducting normal business, building relationships, helping others, doing their jobs, and simply living.

While it is thrilling to see our adult children pursuing their dreams and taking on great challenges, it is a struggle for us as well. Sure, we understand that just getting out of bed in the morning presents some safety concerns. We absolutely get it. You can be injured anywhere: small city, village, rural area…anywhere. But terrorist acts don’t usually happen in small, rural communities. They most frequently occur in major metropolitan areas where they can do a lot of damage: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

So here’s my message to my daughters today: keep on living your life! When scary stuff happens near you, the best way to fight back is to keep moving forward. Don’t let it disrupt your dreams or your goals. Don’t let it interfere with your work or your friendships. Sure, you should always stay alert for odd occurrences and you should absolutely report anything that looks strange or out of place. But the best revenge is living a good life, and you are both doing that in your respective cities. Please try to stay safe, and continue to humor your mother when she texts and asks if you’re alright. It takes just a moment for you to text or call back, and it comforts us to know that you are safe. We love you both so much.

We sincerely feel for the injured and their families and are relieved that at least one alleged perpetrator of these crimes has been caught.  At the same time, and I don’t mean this to sound at all flippant, we encourage everyone to keep on keeping on. Nothing can truly settle the score, but moving forward with the business of life is often humanity’s finest enterprise.

Farewell Old Friend

My husband worked there. His late father had worked there. Both of our daughters worked there. So when the Chautauqua Amphitheater was demolished, our family felt a profound sense of loss. To witness the razing of a structure that has so personally touched so many people is heartbreaking. At the same time, we understand that our emotions defy logic.

A panoramic view of the old Chautauqua Amphitheater

A panoramic view of the old Chautauqua Amphitheater

Logic tells us that the building was no longer safe, nor did it meet the demands of its current role. It was incredibly difficult to get in and out of the Amphitheater, for performers who had equipment to load in and out, and for spectators who had incredibly steep ramps to traverse just to find a seat on a rock hard wooden bench where your knees may or may not have hit the back of the bench in front of you. Countless times we rose from our seats to help catch a person (young and old alike) nearly taking a header down a ramp. We also watched as parts of the Amp struggled to keep up under the weight of rooftop snow. We heard from the Chautauqua staff about engineering studies which showed that many of the columns holding the roof over our heads had never been permanently anchored in concrete below the frost line; that they were actually just stuck into the earth, and that the building was very slowly sliding downhill towards Chautauqua Lake.

This Amphitheater was not the original at Chautauqua. An earlier flat-roofed model lasted just thirteen years before it was replaced. In addition, this Amp had been changed so many times over the years that almost none of it was original equipment: the Massey organ chamber was built, the stage was replaced, and countless other changes were made over the years.

I don’t believe that replacing the Amphitheater was ever an easy decision for any member of the Chautauqua Board of Trustees. Every person who has ever set foot under its tent-like roof has felt the weight of the historic speeches and performances there. The gravity of the loss has not been taken lightly. Yet the board is also required, as boards are, to look forward for the good of the Institution. Creating a vision and mission are the most crucial roles of any board. I do believe that the founders of Chautauqua were progressive thinkers. Having read about Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent and their vision for Chautauqua, it is clear that they were in the business of focusing on teaching others in order to create what they felt would be a brighter future. It was their vision that created the Chautauqua Institution we have all enjoyed for decades. Now, their successors, are working towards maintaining that vision and looking forward.

Ruins of the Amphitheater

Ruins of the Amphitheater

When push came to shove yesterday, quite literally, the remains of the Amphitheater fell to the ground in less than sixty seconds. It turns out the engineering studies were right, and that the structure by itself was not safe. Once it was no longer anchored to the organ chamber, the crew on site could see it shifting and felt it could fall into the organ chamber, which would have been a disaster since that structure is being saved with a new Amp to be built around it. A few pushes by backhoes and a pull by a crane claw at the other end were all it took to knock it down in just about 45 seconds, according to the videos I have seen online. To watch it come down this quickly is both affirming and heartbreaking. Progress is often painful, but safety should always come first.

The landscape at Chautauqua is suddenly dramatically different, at least temporarily. It is very hard to see the place we have loved lying in ruins. Our family has spent hours in the old Chautauqua Amphitheater, both working and watching amazing performances, hearing fascinating lectures, and worshiping with inspirational preachers. Our children have graced that very stage, participating in All County Music Festivals and the Music School Festival Orchestra. We will always have those extraordinary memories.

Now, as we wait to see the new Amphitheater rise in its place, we look forward to making new memories. After all, it is the people and the relationships we have built that make Chautauqua a special place. The Institution remains focused on art, religion, music, and education, and that has not changed. We hope you will join us there next summer as we gather under the new Amp. Come and see if you’re inspired, as we have been, by the words uttered from the Amphitheater stage by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, to “think higher, feel deeper.”

Travelogue: Washington, D. C.

I was eleven years old the first time I visited Washington, D. C. I was staying in Maryland for the week with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, and during that time we drove to Washington to see some of the sights. The greatest thing about that day trip was that I got to see the nation’s capital through the eyes of my wonderful aunt. She loved the National Cathedral and made sure we stopped there to view the gorgeous stained glass and Gothic architecture.

Over the years I have been back to Washington several times. One of my sisters lived there for quite a while, and I also spent some time in that vicinity on work-related excursions. It was a thrill to take our children for their first trip many years ago, which allowed us to see the city again through their wide-eyed, youthful innocence.

Washington-Mon-Reflection

View of the Washington Monument and reflecting pool on a beautifully sunny late Saturday afternoon at the Lincoln Memorial.

Honestly, it is impossible to see the monuments in DC too many times. We have seen them under clear blue skies and under the beautifully done artificial lights at night. We have seen them close up by walking along the National Mall from one to the other, and we have seen them from afar through car windows. We have visited several of the Smithsonian museums: the National Gallery of Art, the Air and Space Museum, and the Museum of Natural History, to name a few. We have seen the splendid rotunda at the Library of Congress, strolled along Constitution Avenue near the Ellipse in front of the White House, explored historic Georgetown, driven through Chinatown, and enjoyed lunch in Foggy Bottom and dinner at Union Station. We once waited in line for nearly two hours to visit the Capitol Building, but the children grew restless and we decided to skip the interior tour. Then, as we wandered around to the steps facing the Mall, we watched a rally (I cannot recall the cause) going on at the front of the building: a display of the First Amendment before our very eyes – the Rights of Free Speech, Assembly, and Petition.

Votes for Women! Just one of the interesting little tidbits from the Newseum.

Votes for Women! Just one of the interesting little tidbits from the Newseum.

On this most recent trip we made a point of visiting the Newseum. It was superb! Long after I gave up journalism as a career, I am still a news junkie. Watching, listening to, or reading about today’s news makes us an eyewitness to tomorrow’s history. Especially compelling were the First Amendment exhibit and the Press Freedom Map of the World, and definitely step outdoors onto the sixth floor terrace to take a look around and snap some photos. The Berlin Wall exhibit was extraordinary, featuring pieces of the actual wall and a guard tower, as well as film from both the building of the wall and its dismantling.  We watched some teenagers filming stand-up news in front of an image of the White House and paused to appreciate the enormous weight of the words used by Edward R. Murrow to describe the bombing of London in 1940. While all of the Smithsonian museums are free in Washington, the Newseum is privately run and costs about $20 per adult. It is absolutely worth the price of admission, and there’s a 15% discount available if you purchase tickets in advance online. Oh, and definitely make a point of visiting the restroom while you are there – you will leave laughing at the specialty wall tiles featuring some tremendously funny headline gaffs!  Our only disappointment was that the Pulitzer Prize photo gallery was temporarily closed during our visit, so a return trip is absolutely necessary.

Smithsonian-Castle-from-Newseum

The Smithsonian Castle as seen from the observation deck at the Newseum.

After lunch in the Food Section at the Newseum, we began to walk towards the Smithsonian Museum of American History, but Mother Nature intervened. My husband donned his light jacket with a hood and I opened my compact umbrella as the sky opened up to become a downpour in a matter of seconds. Drenched, we ducked into the nearby National Archives center. What a fortuitous opportunity! Every American should visit this remarkable place just to view the original Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Aged and difficult to read, they are kept under glass in low light and on display in the rotunda, which also features beautiful murals that depict the formation of our government. Also kept in the Archives are written records, photographs, patent submissions, maps, films, immigration records, military service records, and much more. They are all searchable, or you can simply sample what’s there by walking through their exhibits.  Photography is not allowed in the National Archives, which admittedly was hard for me.

We dried out a bit during our walk through the Archives, and when the rain stopped we made another break for the American History museum. No such luck. The rain began again as a slight shower but quickly grew heavy and we detoured into the Natural History museum which was closer. The life sized elephant and whale displays are amazing and the Evolution exhibit was fascinating.

View of the Capitol Building looking down Pennsylvania Avenue after the rain on a Sunday afternoon.

View of the Capitol Building looking down Pennsylvania Avenue after the rain on a Sunday afternoon.

By then it was nearly time to meet our daughter for dinner, and fortunately the rain had stopped, so we walked to Union Station and got some spectacular photos of the Capitol Building against the post-deluge sky along the way.

For those of us who live in small town America, one of the hardest parts of visiting major cities is the very stark economic contrasts in the population. Sadly, in our nation’s capital, homelessness is evident everywhere and panhandlers are more bold than anywhere else we have ever traveled. We sat down on a bench briefly at Union Station, and a very tall and imposing man sat down right next to me, so close that our legs nearly touched, to ask for spare change. Because opening my wallet would have been a tremendous security risk, I lied and tried to be kind when I said, “I don’t have any cash.” He said, “I understand,” and got up and walked away. Another man approached us as we sat on a park bench, and a third circled our car at a stop light while holding out a plastic cup. We watched a woman in a busy intersection heckle a pedestrian until he tucked a few dollars into her plastic cup. We routinely donate to several charities, but I always feel like it’s too risky to pull money out of my wallet in these situations. It does make me feel bad, but personal safety is more important to me and if that makes me a bad person, then so be it.

You will also see and hear people from all over the world doing the same touristy things that we Americans are doing, visiting our national monuments and museums and soaking in the culture.  They take pause at the Vietnam Wall just as we do, speaking reverently in hushed tones in foreign languages.  They stand in awe at the massive Lincoln Memorial, gazing up towards the giant statue of a giant man and out over the reflecting pool towards the Washington Monument, taking selfies to demonstrate that they are standing in the shadow of great leaders.

If you’ll be visiting DC any time soon, these would be my recommendations: wear very comfortable shoes, decide exactly what your priorities are, scope out the map ahead of time so you can see just how far it is from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial and all points in between. If walking the Mall is not your thing you might consider one of the convenient services that rents motorized bicycles to get you between all of the monuments. The museums are open during the day and the monuments are all accessible and beautiful at night, so plan your time based on your priorities.  Definitely use the Metro buses or subway system as much as possible. Driving in DC is a nightmare. The spoked wheel street layout must have looked terrific on paper in the horse and buggy days, but with millions of cars on the road now it makes very little sense and is much easier and even faster to walk from place to place. In addition, like other cities, parking is expensive. Just getting in and out on the infamous Beltway with its six lanes in each direction can be challenging, and the best times to tackle that are late at night or very early in the morning, I would say between 9pm and 6am, or on a Sunday when traffic is lighter.

Despite numerous trips, there are many things we have not done in The District. We have not visited the White House. We have not watched the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. We have not been up into the Washington Monument. We have not visited the National Zoo to see the giant pandas, and there are a number of Smithsonian museums we have yet to investigate including the American History museum which eluded us this time due to rain. While I have walked through historic Old Town Alexandria across the river in Virginia, I have never visited George Washington’s home nearby at Mount Vernon.

We have visited in spring, summer, and winter, but amazingly have never been there when the cherry blossoms were in bloom. Perhaps that will be our next visit, especially since our most compelling reason to go now is that our younger daughter lives there, right in the heart of all the government and history and beauty and education and culture; right where she wants to be.

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Dear Daughter

Dear Daughter in the District,

The little one on the left is all grown up now, and living just a few blocks from the Capitol Building.

The little one on the left is all grown up now, and living just a few blocks from the Capitol Building.

I have wonderful memories of the first time we took you to Washington, DC. You were seven and your sister was ten. You looked in the encyclopedia (in those pre-Google days) to learn all about the government and the monuments so you could help plan the trip. I know you were excited to go this time, too, but maybe not quite as exuberant as your seven-year old self.

Of course you know this, but this trip was quite different than any of our previous visits. This one has some permanence built in. You know how I got just a little teary-eyed when we hugged goodbye? I promise you, I haven’t shed any additional tears. Of course I also haven’t wandered upstairs into your empty bedroom yet, so there is still time.

There are no major words of wisdom I can provide for you and I don’t feel a need. But the long drive home after we helped you settle into your apartment did give me time to reflect on several things.

I very clearly recall that one of your elementary school teachers felt we were pushing you academically. I told her that simply was not true and that you had a very strong tendency to push yourself. She felt that wasn’t possible for a child your age, and we assured her that you had been very much in charge of your own capacity for learning ever since you decided to learn the multiplication tables at the same time your sister learned. Of course you were in preschool at the time, but that didn’t stop you.

You already know this, but Dad and I are very proud of you. Starting law school is a huge milestone! When people tell us that we must be good parents because we have raised terrific daughters, it is humbling. Mainly because we feel that we tried to set a good example and establish some reasonable expectations, but that you both have outpaced any hopes we ever had for you by setting your own goals and then charging full speed ahead to reach them. It’s so exciting to watch you work hard to fulfill your dreams.

Your determination has always been exemplary, perhaps matched only by your level of personal discipline. I really have been in awe of those qualities, which seem to come so naturally to you. The discipline is especially compelling, since those genes seem to have passed me by entirely.

As soon as you were accepted at Georgetown Law, we knew you would choose to go there. Of course you made a show of doing all the right homework, asking questions, getting all the facts, and exploring all of your law school offers before you made your choice. We are delighted that you are able to attend your dream school in a city where important decisions are made all the time. Our hope is that you will continue to feed your voracious mind and thirsty soul in this new and exciting place. Stay true to yourself and you’ll be just fine.

We remain thrilled to stand back and watch as your future unfolds before you. This is a great adventure. Enjoy the ride!

Love Always,
Mom

One World

It is seriously beyond my comprehension why we seem hell bent on shutting one another out in this contemporary world. The Brexit vote was a disappointment, and as I watch from afar what has taken place in Great Britain, I see a lot of similarities to what is dividing us politically in the United States.

In this world of instant messaging and hyper-emphasis on social media, why do we still think it is okay to focus on just ourselves? Have we become strictly nations of narcissists? Have we become a world of “me first” thinkers? More importantly, if that’s how we define ourselves as individuals and as nations, what can we do to turn that around?

How did the United Kingdom do a complete turn-around from its very long history of colonizing territories worldwide to shutting itself off from its next door neighbors? Is it going to give up all those other territories now in order to isolate itself further?  I doubt it.

Here in the US, how is it that we have gone from Ronald Reagan standing by the Brandenburg Gate imploring, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” in 1987, to “We’re gonna build a wall” in 2016?  There were many positions taken by former President Reagan with which I could not agree, but I could never argue with his ability to make a good speech and always agreed with his drive to end the Cold War and bring nations together. We all remember one line from his speech at the Berlin Wall, but it also included another great line that turned out to be prophetic: “Across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

If we can learn anything from history, the key take-away should be that isolationism is never the answer.  Many historians believe that the US policy of isolationism after World War I was a key factor in the onset of World War II.  I’m pretty sure Great Britain does not want to repeat that, nor does the rest of Europe.  I am saddened by the British vote to separate from EU.

Here in the USA we have a long history of being a proud nation of immigrants. But take a look around the rest of the world. Isn’t that the case almost everywhere now? Since personal air travel became more accessible to individuals for both business and pleasure post World War II, the borders of many countries have been opened in an unprecedented way. It has become harder and harder to claim a single national identity, not just for Americans, but for all peoples everywhere. The advent of the Internet brought us all closer together in different ways, making it possible for people to create bonds with one another from thousands of miles away.

Like it or not, we are a global economy and there is no looking back. Anyone who tells you otherwise is seriously kidding themselves. Great Britain can never shut itself off from its European neighbors economically. The United States can never close its ties with Chinese industry. You may not know it, but even small, local, businesses are importing and exporting goods from around the world all the time now. That manufacturing plant where your father used to work is almost certainly selling its products online now, to buyers in Asia, Africa, and South America. Worldwide trade is commonplace, even among smaller companies that don’t have a multi-national presence.

I have read numerous articles about the key issues in the 2016 US presidential election, and also read numerous articles on the various rationales to “leave” or “stay” in Britain.  After all of this reading, it seems clear that the true driving force behind peoples’ votes this year is fear: fear of job loss, fear of immigrants, fear of crime, and fear of a changing social climate. Maybe what really separates us is the bigger question, “What are we afraid of?” My answer to that remains virtually unchanged: I refuse to give in to fear.

Sure, there are lots of things that trigger fear in people for different reasons. But if we become consumed by fear then eventually we won’t even get out of bed in the morning. I simply will not accept that in my life. It’s the prospect of embracing a new day, regardless of what it may bring, that keeps me going. It’s the idea that our differences make us special, that we each come with talents and inabilities, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. It’s the notion that behind the color of our skin, hair, and eyes, behind our gender, behind our economic status, we are all people. We all have families and friends and many of us choose to act in ways that make a difference for others. What separates us can also unite us. If it unites some groups for evil, it can also unite others for good.

I have seldom been accused of optimism, but still feel strongly that there is hope for people to get along with one another. There is hope for individuals and hope for nations. It takes work, and communication is the key. It’s always the key, whether you’re building personal or professional relationships between individuals or between nations. Ironic, isn’t it, that in this age of instant communication, we still can’t find the meaningful words to help us all get along?

With all of our fears, all of our poverty, all of our wealth, all of our colors, all of our faiths, all of our hearts, we are one world.  We have no one else in the entire solar system – just us on this single planet.  We are one world. We need to start acting like it.

I Am a Feminist

I am a feminist. Still.

First let me say that I am tired of having to repeat myself year after year after year. I don’t think we should have to, in 2016, still be pointing out that women are treated not just unequally, but actually with contempt in some cases. But then life as usual happens and I am reminded again that we feminists still have to speak out.

A convicted rapist is sentenced to just six months in prison because the judge feels that the young man’s life will be ruined if he faces a longer term. The rapist’s father tells the court his son can’t even enjoy eating a steak anymore. Neither of these men, privileged merely by the facts that they are white and they are men, seems to understand that the young woman was actually the victim of this rape. Rape is not an intimate act, it is a violent crime. SHE WAS THE VICTIM!

A major party candidate for President of the United States is accused of “playing the woman card.” What exactly IS the woman card? I am pretty sure I have been shuffling that deck for decades now. Her opponent can’t possibly begin to understand the intricate issues of governance and politics, so he simply attacks her for being a woman. Some of us yearn to hear a genuine airing of issues and policy statements, and instead we get sexist rants, and his supporters, many of them women, are okay with that.

Don’t even get me started on the equal pay for equal work situation. No matter how you do the math, 79 cents does not equal a dollar. It never will.

Also, don’t get me started on the horrific treatment of women in other countries. No, it doesn’t make it better that our country allows women certain privileges and doesn’t treat them like cattle. It just makes other countries worse.

So what exactly is a feminist, you wonder, and why should a woman who has been happily married for 32 years be a feminist? Because it’s not about holding doors, it’s about equality. It’s not about who is stronger physically, it’s about equality. It’s not about women’s rights, it’s about human rights. It’s not about whether a woman can still feel feminine and enjoy wearing dresses and high heels. I do, and I’m still a feminist. It’s not about which partner changes the babies diapers or mows the lawn (and the answer in our home has always been “both of us.”) It’s about women and men being treated with equal respect under the law and in the workplace. It’s about women and men collectively being welcomed at the boardroom table and the kitchen table.

Once upon a time I was a card-carrying member of NOW, the National Organization for Women. Card carrying, as in: I donated to the organization and they sent me a membership card, which I carried in my wallet. I believed in their cause in the 1970s and I believe in their cause now. I believe in equal pay for equal work. I believe we have not done enough in this country to stop violence against women or against lesbian, gay, and transgender people. We haven’t done enough to promote racial equality or religious tolerance. Oh yes…I also believe that women should have control over their own health and medical care.

And we sure haven’t overcome the stereotypes that women have certain roles in society which do not include leadership. Routinely, women who are strong, assertive, ambitious, and intelligent are still considered bitchy. Men with those same traits are considered leadership material. I know this because I have lived it.

It’s especially vexing to me when young women deny that feminism is even necessary. They treat it like some type of historical novel; something that had to be an issue for women in the old days – way back in the 1960’s and 70’s. Here’s the thing about that: those women who made a big deal about equality back in the day are the reason young women now have opportunities to play sports, legally get credit in their own name including student loans (for better or worse), purchase property, and apply for any job they may choose. Your grandmothers and great grandmothers are the reason you now get to vote. But it’s not just history at stake, it’s the present.

Feminism is not a women’s issue. It’s a human issue. Both women and men need a consciousness-raising every so often, to remind us that we are all in this life together. We all need to treat one another with respect and kindness and with an eye towards justice at every turn. Our gender alone does not define who we are as a person any more than our race or our religion. We are all the sum total of our physical, emotional, intellectual, relational, and artistic experiences. My husband and I, together, have tried to instill these values in our daughters.

Yes, I am tired of repeating these arguments. I don’t want to have to raise the continuing issues of misogyny and chauvinism. Yet there they are, still rearing their ugly heads at every turn, even in 2016. We should be above all that by now, but we are not, and the struggle continues.

So I am a feminist. Still.

Words Fail

Even for wordy people, there are moments in life when words fail us. Sometimes the words seem inadequate to the task. Sometimes the awe is too great, the sadness too profound, or the joy too immense.

As I watched my youngest receive her Bachelor’s Degree, I felt a mix of all these emotions: awe, sadness, and joy, all coupled with enormous pride. Her elder sister’s accomplishments have also been amazing and this does not take away from those moments. Those were “firsts” for us. These are closer to “lasts”; thus, the sadness.

This is our baby who walked across the stage and collected her degree. This is our younger child, who has been literally racing to catch up since the day she was born. She is a competitor in life. Never interested in living in the shadow of her gregarious and talented older sister, this one began life intent to not just keep up, but to outdo. Today, she deserves all her own accolades.

This one started out holding onto just my pinky finger when her hands were too small to grasp my whole hand. This one started to speak, hesitantly at first, and then stopped speaking for several months until she started to talk again in complete and fully formed sentences. This one hid behind me sometimes, too bashful to say hello to people on the street. This one insisted while sitting on her hands at the age of three that she couldn’t pick up her toys because she “had no hands.” This one was tentative on the playground with other children. This one was always a “joy to have in class” according to her teachers, and something of a hellion at home, where she felt completely free to reveal her inner audacity.

Now she is beautifully grown and has entirely emerged from her shell to demonstrate her level of ambition to the rest of the world. She is direct and sometimes uncompromising. She expects a lot from herself. She doesn’t just reach for what she wants in life, she works hard to earn it. No one pushes her; she pushes herself. And she does it all with compassion for others, a deep belief in justice for all, and unwavering faith.

We are delighted beyond words that she is determined to create the life she wants. Those steps across the stage to receive a handshake and diploma represent the completion of her undergraduate education where she has flourished, and the beginning of her next steps which will bring even more challenges as she heads to law school in the fall.

I am delighted that our once curly-topped, coy toddler has blossomed into a poised and savvy young woman ready to start the next phase of her life. She moves on with all of our love and pride and joy, with just a twinge of sadness that our baby is fully grown. So just pass me a tissue when these emotions begin to leak from my eyes. I have no more words. They have failed me.

Mothers and Daughters

Mother’s Day is rolling around again and there are many, many thoughts in my head.

First, I think of my mom. At age 86 she is going strong; very strong. This weekend, my sister and I will pack up everything in her kitchen in order to get it ready for a complete remodeling job which begins Monday. We’ll leave her with just some paper plates, a microwave, and her refrigerator, all moved into a temporary space in the dining room. Once the demolition begins she will have to make do with cereal, sandwiches, and anything she can heat in the microwave. If this sounds like a hardship to you or you have ever lived through a kitchen remodeling project I will just point out one thing again: Mom is 86 years old. Also, she is very much looking forward to this (not the plaster dust and the work involved, but the finished product.)

It’s a thrill, really, to live vicariously through one’s own mother as she makes this home her own. When we first looked at the place last August she knew the 1950’s kitchen would need an overhaul. She hoped to have it done before she moved in in November, but that was not to be. Now, instead of one of the first pieces to tackle, it will be the final piece; the jewel in the crown. She has already made decisions about paint and fabric and furniture placement and storage options and appliances and a variety of other items that one needs to think about when moving into a new home. Throughout all of it she’s been a trooper. We can all take a lesson from my mother who may have slowed down a little physically, but in her mid-80’s is still lucky enough and healthy enough to establish her own lifestyle and quite determined to live life on her own terms.

URgroup

Me, Mom, and my daughters last April

Mom has thanked us many times over for our assistance as we have moved boxes, ripped up carpeting, painted, and hung draperies. Her comfort and enjoyment has been our reward. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! We look forward to working for you for a long time to come, and you’d better make us something delicious when that kitchen is finished!

Next, I think of my daughters. For 25 years I have watched them grow into the thoughtful, savvy, resourceful, caring, and purposeful young women they are. Next weekend we will experience the joy of family togetherness as we gather for the younger one’s college graduation. We’ll take Mom along so she can see her granddaughter walk across the stage and receive her diploma. There will be tears, mostly mine.

Being a mother has changed me in ways that I never knew were possible. I am simultaneously stronger and more emotional, capable and inept, confident and insecure. I was never a nurturing person, by nature, yet their very presence has brought out some of that spirit in me. I am definitely more cautious and more careful with my own health, mainly because I want to be around to see how they really turn out. I want to be there for all of the big events in their lives and the small ones, too.

When you are a parent, your needs will always take a back seat to the needs of your child. When you are the parent of grown children, you don’t stop caring or worrying about them. But if you are lucky, as I have been, you will see that those children whose scraped knees you used to bandage are now loving, thinking, independent people who may still need you once in a while and will still call just to let you know you remain important in their lives.

I did not set out in life to be a mother. There were many times in my life when I had no interest in raising children and was convinced I would be really lousy at it. As the years have unfolded, motherhood turns out to have been life’s greatest reward.

Shopping With Daughters

When you’re a mom of active daughters you get to do some fun things during their growing up years. You get to attend dance recitals, band and choir concerts, piano recitals, science fairs, and sporting events. You also get to shop with them for dress up occasions. Well, maybe “get to” is not the right phrase.

I have spent countless hours in my life loitering outside department store dressing rooms. Each daughter brings her own personality to the shopping experience. For years (maybe she still does and I am just not there to know it) one of them had a habit of trying on nearly everything in the store as she sought just the right dress. She would max out the limit on how many to take in and ask me to stand outside holding the remainder so we could trade them out. The other was very choosy before she even got to the dressing room, looking through all the merchandise on every rack before selecting a very small handful to try on. Prom and homecoming dresses were the biggest challenges. We often went from store to store to store, checking out every potential item and negotiating budget discussions.  I actually made a few special occasion dresses for them, sometimes with more success than others.

When they did try things on and showed me the results I was always very careful with my words. Very careful. Especially during the teen years. If I really loved something on one of them I was cautious about tempering any gushing statements so they wouldn’t reject it just because Mom liked it. If I hated it, I also had to temper my remarks with something like, “that may not be the most flattering fit for you.” If one of their friends was along for the excursion I always waited for the friend to comment first, then could usually second those remarks. My daughters will tell you a different story. They may, perhaps, remember me as too outspoken. They didn’t know I was actually holding back a bit.

Fast forward a few years and now they are picking out clothes far away, so I am nowhere in sight during the process. But amazingly, they still reach out for my opinion once in a while. With the younger one’s college graduation pending they have both been on the hunt for dresses recently. The soon to be graduate called and emailed a couple of times asking my opinion on some things she had seen online. We exchanged some ideas and links to various sites. When she finally chose a lovely pale blue dress that will look fabulous with her auburn hair, she said, “Thanks Mom. I trust your judgement on these things.” Not long afterwards her sister texted me a photo of a dress she was trying on, just to show me what she had chosen. It’s navy and white and looks spectacular on her!

I have also been on the hunt for an appropriate dress as the mother of the graduate. I found a couple that fit well, but one looked too business-y. The other was nice, but I was afraid the Kelly green might be too bright. The goal is to look dignified for a spring daytime occasion without standing out too much. It’s her day to shine and our day to stand next to her looking proud. I sent a picture to my daughter and she loved the green dress. Then a few days later I found some fabric I really loved, so now I am making a second dress. It also happens to be navy blue but doesn’t look a thing like the dress my elder daughter has chosen. As it turns out we will have a couple of different ceremonies and special events to attend on graduation weekend, so I’ll be able to wear both dresses.

Here’s the kicker:  my daughters were always very vocal when I was trying on clothes.  They were blunt and honest, using phrases like, “Mom, that is not your color,” “You’re not going to wear that, are you?”, or, “It makes your hips look bigger” (the kiss of death for any article of clothing.)  They never held back and for that I am grateful.

Yes, having daughters has had both challenges and advantages.  But it turns out we still rely on one another for shopping, at least a little bit, even from afar.  It also turns out that I really miss those long hours waiting by the department store dressing room.

Pogo, Perry, and the Primary

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Some of us oldsters know this as a quote from the long defunct comic strip Pogo. Walt Kelly wrote the iconic phrase as his main character, a possum named Pogo, overlooked a forest floor littered with tossed out junk. The comic was made into a poster to help promote the first ever observance of Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

The comic strip quote is a takeoff from a phrase coined by American Naval Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry. After defeating the British in the Battle of Lake Erie in 1812, Perry had the presence of mind to utter two memorable lines: “We have met the enemy and they are ours,” and, “Don’t give up the ship.”

Strangely, these linked phrases from both Pogo and the Commodore have been on my mind recently. That’s not because Earth Day is coming up. Don’t get me wrong, I conscientiously do my part to reuse and recycle and to take care of Mother Earth. But the day itself doesn’t usually hold a lot of meaning for me since I firmly believe that we need to take care of our planet every day. No, the real reason I have been thinking along these lines which are oddly linked together is because of the New York State Presidential Primary.

IMG_4282Honestly, I have voted in this primary at every opportunity since I registered to vote at the age of 18. In all of those 39 intervening years my vote has essentially meant nothing. In the past the candidates have been all-but determined by now. But this year is a whole different animal.

For the first time ever we have seen major political candidates actually campaigning in New York State before the primary. We have seen and heard ads for the candidates. We have had auto-dial phone calls from candidates. This is unprecedented. I know for sure that it has happened in other states which traditionally run earlier primaries. But New York State has never been in the mix before, mainly because our primary falls rather late on the calendar and the delegates and candidates are almost always decided by now. This year, since no one has locked up the full delegate count from either major party yet, registered Republicans and Democrats in New Yorkers have a chance to make a genuine difference in choosing their party’s candidates.

Voting, to me, has always been more than just a civic responsibility. It is almost sacred. I never take it lightly and always vote. I vote on everything: school budgets, town council races, state representatives, questions up for referendum on the ballot – everything. And before I vote I always take the time to learn exactly what is on the ballot, who is running for what office, what those candidates stand for, and what the issues mean. I can’t understand people who vote only when there’s a race for governor or president. To me, every election is important, and that may be because I truly believe that government formed at the grassroots is the most sincere form of politics.

If you are a registered Republican or Democrat in New York State I strongly encourage you to vote in this primary on Tuesday, April 19. Because of the way our primaries run, registered voters from each party get to choose which candidate they want to see as their party’s standard bearer. Every registered Republican and Democrat gets a say this year. Even if you think you are voting for an underdog, your candidate still has a chance. So there it is, “Don’t give up the ship.”

Similarly, if you fail to vote and don’t like the outcome here in our state, you have no one to blame but yourself. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Polling places in Chautauqua County are open from noon to 9pm tomorrow (Tuesday, April 19.) If you are registered, there is no good excuse. Vote!