5

The Case for a Little Benign Neglect

I came across this 2009 post of mine deep within the bowels of my blog’s archive. 

(Sorry for the colonic imagery.) 

I think it’s still relevant today, so…here you go.

AUGUST 24, 2009

By today’s standards for parenting, my entire generation shouldn’t have made it to adulthood.

lg_27helicoptersThe other day my daughter attended a “meet and greet” with the teachers at the private school my grand-kids attend.  She figured it would be the usual get-together where the teacher expounds upon the lesson plan for the year, the parent listens while politely munching on a cookie provided by the room mother, and then the teacher fields a few questions on mundane topics such as “can little Herkimer wear his orthodontic headgear in class.”

Instead, my daughter was taken aback by the grilling some of the mothers gave my grandson’s second grade teacher, Miss F., a young single gal with a bookish demeanor but, apparently, nerves of steel.

The intensity and depth of the questioning were quite surprising.

Sarah Palin was given more leeway by Katie Couric than the young Miss F. received from her inquisitors.

The climax of the interrogation arrived when one of the mothers said she wanted to personally deliver a Subway sandwich to her daughter every day for snack time.  (I will interject here that the kids in kindergarten through second grade get out of school at 12:15, so there is no actual lunch period.)

Our Miss F. maintained her cool while informing the mother that this was not an option.  She explained if the children want a snack, they must bring it with them from home.  Anything out of the norm would be disruptive to the class and interfere with the egalitarian atmosphere that the school was trying to project.

The mother wasn’t listening.  She pressed on by asking if she could just “hang it on the classroom doorknob” so as not to disturb anyone.  Miss F. wasn’t buying this either, but apparently it took some discussion before the case was closed.

When my daughter related this conversation to me, I raised my hands to shoulder level and made little fluttering motions with my fingers.

“What is that?” she asked.

“Helicopter parents” I said, to clarify that I wasn’t having a stroke or something.

She hadn’t heard that before, so I went on to explain the concept of parents who continuously hover over their kids, anticipating their every need.  These are parents who have completely invested themselves in their children, possibly setting up their kids for a rude awakening at some point when they discover the universe is not centered around them.

In the days since hearing of Miss F.’s inquisition, I’ve been reflecting upon my own upbringing.  Certainly my mother worried about things like me putting my eye out if I ran with scissors, but there wasn’t a lot of concern about many of the things that are taken for granted with child raising today.

We rode bikes everyday and didn’t wear protective helmets.  We wandered around the neighborhood and beyond all day and into the dusk, only returning home after hearing my father’s loud whistle from the front yard.

My mother used to put big gobs of Vicks Vapor Rub up our noses when we had colds.  If you actually read the directions, it emphatically says not to use it anywhere internally, only on the chest.  I should be dead right now.  But, if my mother had her way, she would have found a way to cure cancer with Vicks, she loved it so much.

My parents had a baby-blue Oldsmobile.  There were no seatbelts and the dashboard was solid metal.  We kids used to rattle around in the backseat and very often I would ride in what we called “the way back”, that spot that was sort of a ledge behind the backseat and below the rear window.  If there had been a quick deceleration, I would have been a projectile object.  No one gave it any thought.

I practiced a form of benign neglect with my own kids.  Yes, they wore seat belts, always.  (By that time we did have them, thankfully.)  But when it came to overseeing every little detail of their day, that I didn’t do.

Maybe this attitude of “live and let live” was a result of my mother always wanting to know what I was thinking.  It wasn’t out of concern for my well-being.  She just wanted to know what was going on in my little head at all times.  So perhaps allowing my kids to have some independence from the Thought Police resulted in my being more of a laissez-faire parent overall.

Yes, things have changed in this country since the 50’s and 60’s and not in good ways.  There are a lot more threats out there to children than there used to be.  But kids need room to grow into individuals and they can’t do it with Mom and Dad always fluttering overhead.

Be like my mother.  Send the kid to school with a warm tuna sandwich.

Now, that’s living dangerously.

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3

Give. Me. A. Break.

“Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush says President Obama has missed out on the opportunity to promote his family as a model for others to follow.

Bush on Friday told the Faith and Family Presidential Forum at Bob Jones University that a strong family is the best way to fight poverty.

“This is a place where I think President Obama missed a real golden opportunity, because he has a stable family, loving children – great, balanced children from what I can tell – a strong relationship with his wife, and he could have shown that as a model for others to emulate,” he said, according to CNN. “And I don’t think he’s done it as much.”

The former Florida governor said the “public persona of the presidency has power” to influence the behavior of the public.”

Sure. When the Republican Neanderthals make “jokes” about Mrs. Obama’s appearance and kvell about the “inappropriate” clothing of Malia and Sasha. Or how they should be more respectful at the annual pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey.

Yeah. We need more of that.

9

Birthday Remembrance for Dad

Today would have been my dad’s 100th birthday, so I thought I’d repost this piece from Veteran’s Day a year ago.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.  I miss you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here are some photos of my dad from an earlier post I did on my family history.

I find this photo particularly poignant.  I managed to date it to Dec. 25, 1942 from the headline on the newspaper my Dad is reading.  He would be going into the Coast Guard soon to serve during WWII.  He had the opportunity to get a job at a factory that supplied the war effort and essentially sit out the war safely at home, but he wouldn't do it.  He didn't feel he could face his children if he didn't "do his part."  My Mother (on the right) is about 2 or 3 months pregnant with my older brother.  My Grandmother is on the left, lost in thought.  To me, this scene reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting.

I find this photo particularly poignant. I managed to date it to Dec. 25, 1942 from the headline on the newspaper my Dad is reading. He would be going into the Coast Guard soon to serve during WWII. He had the opportunity to get a job at a factory that supplied the war effort and essentially sit out the war safely at home, but he wouldn’t do it. He didn’t feel he could face his children if he didn’t “do his part.” My Mother (on the right) is about 2 or 3 months pregnant with my older brother. My Grandmother is on the left, lost in thought. To me, this scene reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting.

 

My mother found her own hunky dude in the form of my father, Jack, seen here on his Coast Guard ship during WWII.  His ancestors came to this country from the Alsace region of France, probably in the early 1700's.  (That region typically veered back and forth between the control of France and Germany until finally coming under French rule in recent times.)  My Dad's relative during the Revolutionary War provided meat to the troops, so we qualify for membership in the DAR for that "patriotic assistance."  They say an army travels on its stomach....

My mother found her own hunky dude in the form of my father, Jack, seen here on his Coast Guard ship during WWII. His ancestors came to this country from the Alsace region of France, probably in the early 1700’s. (That region typically veered back and forth between the control of France and Germany until finally coming under French rule in recent times.) My Dad’s relative during the Revolutionary War provided meat to the troops, so we qualify for membership in the DAR for that “patriotic assistance.” They say an army travels on its stomach….

 

Jack Coast Guard

When I was a kid, my Dad would let us play with the semaphore flags he had brought back from the war. Sometimes he would demonstrate how to send certain messages and occasionally, with a mischievous gleam in his eye, he would spell out words that we knew had to be “naughty,” but we didn’t know what they were. My mother would just say, “Oh, Jack!” and laugh along with us.

 

My parents' union was "blessed" first with the arrival of my brother, Tim, in 1943 and then with me in 1947.  Get a load of the noggin on that baby!

My parents’ union was “blessed” first with the arrival of my brother, Tim, in 1943 and then with me in 1947. Get a load of the noggin on that baby!

Dad passed away in 1998 at the age of 82.  His generation had to deal with the Great Depression and WWII.  They had a job to do and they stepped up and did it.  Many never returned to their families.  We were among the lucky ones.  Thanks, Dad.

8

“It’s Not Your Mother’s Oldsmobile” Revisited

Back in 2013 I wrote a post about receiving a sign from my deceased parents letting me know they were okay, entitled “It’s Not Your Mother’s Oldsmobile.”

Today I found myself back in that same gift shop. I had decided to walk around in town and soak up the Christmas spirit before things got too crazy with tourists crowding the sidewalks. We’d had rain and colder temperatures earlier in the week but today was sunny and around 60 degrees. A perfect day for poking around in the stores.

I must confess that I was more than a little hopeful that I would have some kind of reprise of my last experience in that shop. I was already in a very nostalgic mood after gawking at a large collection of Shiny Brite ornaments in another store.  They reminded me of the ones I’d lost to the storage locker thief.

And here, again, were my old friends, the Christmas stockings with the 50’s Santa on them, propelling me back in time to when I was a kid, lying under our Christmas tree at night, gazing up at the lights and breathing in the wonderful scent.

I went over to the card rack just to see if they still had that same card with the Oldsmobile on it, but they didn’t. Of course not. It’s been a couple of years and they had put new cards in its place. Kind of silly, really, to expect the same experience, wasn’t it?

As I made my way around to the front of the store, I stopped at a table with some interesting small books on display. One set was called “The Little Book of Saints.” I’m not Catholic, nor were my parents, but the cover intrigued me. It looked like (and was) a copy of a vintage holy card. I love artwork like that, so I picked up one of the books out of several in the stack. It had a padded cover that felt smooth and soothing in my hand.

I noticed it had a pale blue satin bookmark attached at the top. It was marking one of the pages that was not quite in the middle of the book. I opened the book to see what saint it was and found that it was St. Jeanne of Valois.

The patron saint of those who lose their parents.

Oh…my.

I picked up a couple of the other books and found only one other one had a specific page marked with the satin ribbon. Most had the bookmark pulled down just inside the front cover.

Why did I pick that particular book and not the others?

Because I needed it, I guess.

 

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8

It’s a Van Gogh! (Sam Van Gogh)

My daughter really loves Vincent Van Gogh’s art, as do I. Recently she asked me if I would paint three acrylic copies of his work for her birthday. She gave me a book of some of his paintings and marked the pages of the ones she particularly liked. This is one of them. Only two more to go. Oy.

I’m reminded of the episode of “The Addams Family” where they think Morticia is getting art lessons from Picasso.

Turns out it was Sam Picasso.

That’s me, Sam Van Gogh.

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3

For My Dad, On Veteran’s Day

Here are some photos of my dad from an earlier post I did on my family history.

I find this photo particularly poignant.  I managed to date it to Dec. 25, 1942 from the headline on the newspaper my Dad is reading.  He would be going into the Coast Guard soon to serve during WWII.  He had the opportunity to get a job at a factory that supplied the war effort and essentially sit out the war safely at home, but he wouldn't do it.  He didn't feel he could face his children if he didn't "do his part."  My Mother (on the right) is about 2 or 3 months pregnant with my older brother.  My Grandmother is on the left, lost in thought.  To me, this scene reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting.

I find this photo particularly poignant. I managed to date it to Dec. 25, 1942 from the headline on the newspaper my Dad is reading. He would be going into the Coast Guard soon to serve during WWII. He had the opportunity to get a job at a factory that supplied the war effort and essentially sit out the war safely at home, but he wouldn’t do it. He didn’t feel he could face his children if he didn’t “do his part.” My Mother (on the right) is about 2 or 3 months pregnant with my older brother. My Grandmother is on the left, lost in thought. To me, this scene reminds me of a Norman Rockwell painting.

 

My mother found her own hunky dude in the form of my father, Jack, seen here on his Coast Guard ship during WWII.  His ancestors came to this country from the Alsace region of France, probably in the early 1700's.  (That region typically veered back and forth between the control of France and Germany until finally coming under French rule in recent times.)  My Dad's relative during the Revolutionary War provided meat to the troops, so we qualify for membership in the DAR for that "patriotic assistance."  They say an army travels on its stomach....

My mother found her own hunky dude in the form of my father, Jack, seen here on his Coast Guard ship during WWII. His ancestors came to this country from the Alsace region of France, probably in the early 1700’s. (That region typically veered back and forth between the control of France and Germany until finally coming under French rule in recent times.) My Dad’s relative during the Revolutionary War provided meat to the troops, so we qualify for membership in the DAR for that “patriotic assistance.” They say an army travels on its stomach….

 

Jack Coast Guard

When I was a kid, my Dad would let us play with the semaphore flags he had brought back from the war. Sometimes he would demonstrate how to send certain messages and occasionally, with a mischievous gleam in his eye, he would spell out words that we knew had to be “naughty,” but we didn’t know what they were. My mother would just say, “Oh, Jack!” and laugh along with us.

 

My parents' union was "blessed" first with the arrival of my brother, Tim, in 1943 and then with me in 1947.  Get a load of the noggin on that baby!

My parents’ union was “blessed” first with the arrival of my brother, Tim, in 1943 and then with me in 1947. Get a load of the noggin on that baby!

Dad passed away in 1998 at the age of 82.  His generation had to deal with the Great Depression and WWII.  They had a job to do and they stepped up and did it.  Many never returned to their families.  We were among the lucky ones.  Thanks, Dad.

17

Happy 2014…..Whatever

Timothy Egan of The New York Times wrote a piece today about “Words for the Dumpster.”  These are words that have been so overused and misused that they need to be dropped from our vocabularies because they have lost all meaning—if they ever had one.

WHATEVER Long ago, “whatever” was a cover for inexpressive ignorance — Hitler invaded Poland and then, whatever.  Now this word reigns as a facile dismissive:  I know it’s Mother’s Day, but whatever.  For the fifth year in a row, “whatever” was just rated the nation’s most annoying word in a survey done by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, beating out the hardy perennials “like” and “you know” and “just saying.”

The ever popular “whatever” was a mainstay of my mother’s lexicon.  For a nostalgic look back at that, here’s my post “The Mother Who Didn’t Cry Wolf!”

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57

It’s Not Your Mother’s Oldsmobile…Or Is It?

Recently I wrote about my brother-in-law receiving a “sign” from his wife on the day she passed away, letting him know she was safe and that he could move on with his life.

I’m a big believer in things like this, even though I’m not what you’d call a religious person.  See my post “The Orthodox Agnostic” for the particulars.  Even so, I do believe we are connected to the spirit world.

I used to do Tarot card readings by email years ago and had close to one hundred of them under my belt before I took down my shingle, not because I wasn’t helping people but because too many folks had become dependent on me for advice.

The cards weren’t “powerful” or “magic.”  My view of them is they’re similar to a search engine.  You ask your questions and the answers pop into your head while you look at the cards.  I’d hazard a guess that if folks in biblical times could have seen someone using Google, they would have stoned them for heresy.

It’s the same with signs from the dearly departed.  My late father used to leave feathers for me over at my mother’s house as a way of telling me he appreciated what I was doing for her.

But my mother has been gone these past nine months and I hadn’t really received anything that I could definitively point to and say it was from her.  I chalked it up to the fact she always, always hesitated to try anything new because she had this fear she would somehow make a mistake and screw it up.

So I asked that she and my dad get together on this and let me know they were, indeed, together again.  A joint metaphysical effort, if you will.

And this time I asked for something quite specific.

The “sign” would be an Oldsmobile from the late 1940s or early ’50s like the one my parents had when I was a kid.  It was a light baby blue and the car my mother used when she learned to drive at the advanced age of about 35.  I remember lying in the backseat (no seat belts, of course) getting kind of nauseous from going around and around in an empty parking lot as my mother practiced her driving under my father’s tutelage.

This sign could come in any form—verbal, pictorial or written.  Didn’t matter.  I just knew that if I encountered it in some way, that would be it.

A couple of weeks went by and I gave the sign only occasional thought.  The thing about it is—you really can’t go “looking” for it.  It has to come unexpectedly, which is part of the thrill of having one turn up.

So, I was at our local park having lunch after one of my exercise classes and decided, on a whim, to walk around a bit in town and look at some of the shops.  We don’t do this nearly often enough because I’ve found that living in what is essentially a tourist town tends to make hermits out of us locals.  We go out of our way to avoid driving or parking on the main drag because it’s just that—a drag.  Consequently, we only do the “tourist” thing ourselves sporadically.  And it’s a shame because we have some great shops.

I’d gone up one side of the street and was almost down to the corner of the other side where I would go back across to the park, when I decided to go into a shop that I’d enjoyed in the past but hadn’t visited in a while.  It had an eclectic mix of stuff I like—funny, quirky and artsy-fartsy. I wandered in a counter-clockwise pattern from the door and found myself in front of a display of Christmas ornaments and decorations.  It was now September but I knew this display was kept up all year.

Last year, about a month before my mother passed away on Dec. 22, someone broke into a storage unit where we were keeping a lot of our stuff while we prepared to move from our place out in the country to our new house in town.  Luckily, this unit was the “overflow” one of the two we had and it didn’t have a lot in it of value.

However, the thieves made off with all of my Christmas decorations and ornaments, ones I’d had for fifty years or more.  Irreplaceable things my kids had made, or I had made when they were small, and old ornaments belonging to my late in-laws; also some my mother had when she was young.  Gone, too, were my daughter’s red baby socks with white pom poms on each cuff from her first Christmas when she was just a month old.

Yeah, Mr. Grinch.  I’m lookin’ at you.

I stood wistfully in front of the display.  I couldn’t have a Christmas tree last year because of the pilfered ornaments and my other holiday decorating was somewhat listless and not really in the spirit of things.  Understandable, given the situation with my mother.  So I gazed at the ornaments and gradually discovered that a lot of them looked like the old ones I’d lost.  They were undoubtedly new, but they were “antiqued” to look old and some were reproductions of the old Shiny Brite brand of which I had quite a few, thanks to my in-laws.  There was a wreath made with these “old” ornaments that was remarkably similar to my dear, departed decorations.  Even though I couldn’t take all of them with me, it felt like a reunion of sorts.

As I turned and started to walk back toward the door, I spotted a standing display of knitted Christmas stockings.  Each stocking was nearly two feet long.  My stocking from when I was a kid only came up to mid-calf on me.  It was red and white striped cotton and kind of grubby, but I’d kept it for over 60 years until it also disappeared with the rest of my things.

When I looked at the cuff on these new stockings, I found they had the same Santa figure standing in front of the fireplace saying “Merry Christmas” just like mine did.  Probably a pretty popular design from that era, but it strengthened the feeling of being reunited with my lost belongings.

I sighed and turned back toward the front of the shop.  A few steps away were some revolving racks with greeting cards.  These were all from independent card companies, not Hallmark, and they had vintage black and white photos on the front with funny sayings inside.  I picked up a couple and had to laugh.  Then, I picked up one that had a car with two ladies in ’50s attire standing proudly next to it.  I did a double take.

“Seriously?  An Oldsmobile?”

The car, although a convertible, was shown in three-quarter view with the rear end facing the viewer.   The iconic Rocket 88 insignia on the trunk unmistakably proved it was an Oldsmobile from the era I’d requested.  The photo was in black and white but the car was light colored—perhaps baby blue?

The impact of this encounter didn’t really hit me until the next day when I had an email exchange with my son in California.  He’d sent me a photo of the spot in the Pacific where he’d scattered my mother’s ashes, as per her wishes.  I half-mentioned that I’d received a sign from my folks and in several back and forth emails I finally told him about the Oldsmobile.  He said, “Oh, now I get it…I’m scared…but I get it.”

I’m not sure if he’s scared for my sanity or scared about the general “woo-woo-ness” of the experience.   Probably both.

Anyway, my folks came through for me (thanks to Dad) and maybe now I can feel better about moving on.

It may not have been my mother’s Oldsmobile, but it was good enough for me.

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6

Home Again

Today would have been my mother’s 94th birthday.  As some of you long time readers will remember, she passed away suddenly last December a few days before Christmas.

Her final wish was for her ashes to be returned to California and scattered at sea like my father’s were fifteen years ago.

She and my dad lived in a little 1920s house two blocks up a hill from Pacific Coast Highway in Laguna Beach for about 25 years, the happiest years of their lives.

Mom spent the last fourteen years here in Texas near her family.

Here is a photo my son took from his paddleboard about a half mile out, looking back at the beach at the end of my folks’ street.  He told me it was a calm, beautiful morning when he said a few words in remembrance of Granny (Mom) and then scattered her ashes in the sea, reuniting her with my dad once again.

Happy birthday, Mom.  Welcome home.

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