Big Birthday Report – Better than Great

Birthday card 1 birthday care 2Brithday card glitter

It’s pretty damn weird that after all the build up I haven’t written a thing about my 70th birthday itself! It was so lovely that I just didn’t want to let go of it even enough to tell its stories.  I just kind of hung onto it for a day.  So here it is:

We all went to Santa Cruz, to the beach: sons, daughters-in-law, grandsons and Rick and me. The boys found a great house with a big open plan, perfect for people whose ages run from 70 to 19 months with an almost-five-year-old Nate in the middle.

It was just what I wanted. Toddlers Jake and Eli eating blueberries and flirting with their grandparents, grown-ups talking about everything from politics to child rearing to just-executed beach walks (of which there were many.) Goofing around.  Reading stories.  Cuddling on the deck.  Coloring. Being gifted with three home-made birthday cards covered in crayon and glitter-glue.  And with an urgently required lemon zester.

Staying up late talking – and listening to the boys talk with each other.  Catching up while the kids slept.  Hanging around in the early morning with the mommies and the little guys.  Walking from our house to the far end of the promenade, a windy point, and then back past the house to the other end, where there’s a lighthouse. We did it in different combinations, a couple of times in the daylight and one gorgeous time in the dark, watching the lighthouse lazily send out its signal and wondering at the full moon and its bright path of light on the sea.

It was, in short, our family at its best.  They gave me what I wanted most: to wake up and wander out in my PJs and find the little ones sitting on the floor giggling; to watch the sunset bundled up on the deck with Nate in my lap, and to enjoy our sons and their wives.  To all be together in the same place for more than dinner.

From each of them came hugs, and humor and generosity of spirit – and lots of love. Times like these are why we celebrate being born at all.

Big Birthday #21: You Asked for It (Notes for a New Mom)

JOSH AND CINDY IN MUIR WOODS 50pNOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from April 29, 2007.

That’s me with my older son, Josh, in Muir Woods outside San Francisco  — pretty many years ago.  I don’t know if you can tell but I’m pregnant with his brother.  Happy to join the virtual shower although despite my adoration of and respect for both Liz and Catherine, I’m from the generation that put their babies to sleep on their stomachs and so may sound a little old-fashioned*.

1. Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right no matter whose advice it is.

2. Trust yourself.

3. Remember that everybody makes mistakes and anyway a child is not a product, she is a person. You’ve heard that kids are resilient. They are. Do your best with love and if you don’t dwell on your mistakes neither will they.

4. You can’t turn a child into someone. You can only help them become the best somebody they already are.

5. Don’t be afraid to say no. Parents who don’t set limits and help their kids learn self-discipline are selfish. It’s easier but it’s not right.

6. No experience is wasted on a child. Maybe they’re too young to remember, but if it happened, it had an impact. So share as much of what you love as you can – music, museums, trips to Timbuktu or Target — poetry, cooking, washing the car.

7. No child ever went to college in diapers.

8. Listen to experienced people you respect, preschool teachers, friends, even, God forbid, your mother.  Experience really is a great teacher.  Then, though, think it through and then do what you think is right.

9. Everything is not equally important. Pick your fights and win them. 10. Leave time to just be. Lessons are great but quiet time is where imagination and a sense of self emerges.

10. LISTEN to your kids. They are smart and interesting and wise and if you respect them you have a far better chance of having them respect you.

11. Did I say trust yourself?

With love, admiration and the joy that comes from knowing all you wonderful, poetic and caring, committed and in one case, very new mothers on the occasion of this lovely virtual baby shower.

*This post was part of a “baby shower” if pieces by friends of this about-to-be new BlogHer mom.

Big Birthday Memory #11: Remembrance of Things Past – Tom Jones and So Much More

Albert Finney and Susannah York as Tom and his love Sophie

NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from September 17, 2007.

Not to be too obscure here but think about this: Marcel Proust’s REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PASTwas inspired by the scent of one cookie (a fancy one called a Madeline.) Sense memory is a powerful thing.

I saw Tom Jones 44 years ago, with my high school “film club.” The club was just 6 seniors and our creative writing teacher. Our mill town high school wasn’t a culture haven but this young teacher was. He handwrote Irwin Shaw short stories onto “ditto sheets” because there was no budget for the books, started a literary magazine (I was the editor, naturally) took us to Shakespeare performances and — started the film club. At first we rented films (screened on a projector in his classroom) and then moved on to evening journeys “downtown” to local art houses. We saw LA STRADA and THE SEVENTH SEAL, SUNDAYS AND CYBELE and SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER — and TOM JONES. The films were so intelligent, so clearly different from the “movies” we saw on our own; the theaters served espresso andeveryone was smoking. How sophisticated we felt!

This morning as I watched this nearly half-century old film – still funny and charming even though the playful sexual innuendo recalls a more tender time, that 18-year-old girl I’d been came back – all of her. I didn’t know whether to be sad — miss all that I was then – all that’s changed — lost — or just plain passed – or to be grateful for the remarkable kaleidoscope of experiences that my life has been. From the adventure of a 36 year old marriage to the joy of raising two of the most spectacular young men on the planet to presences at royal weddings and presidential inaugurations, travel all over the world and great music experiences to a gentle childhood with talents acknowledged and appreciated to memorable private moments at weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations and other celebrations with family and friends, a lot has contributed to the wiser woman I am today. I know there’s no way to live the life I’ve lived – or any other – without losing some of the shiny stuff of youth but even so it’s a shock when awareness of those losses lands on you in the middle of an unambiguously optimistic movie 44 years old.

Here’s what I think: there isn’t a person on the planet (despite Edith Piaf) who has no regrets. Recalling days that seem idyllic is a privilege – many haven’t got many to recall. Sadness about the joys of the past emerges only from an accumulated reservoir of happiness that is a blessing in itself. As Auntie Mame used to say“Life is a banquet, and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death.” My sisters and I swore we would live by that.

I’ve tried – and I’m still trying. That’s why this blog is called Don’t Gel Too Soon. Wherever that 18 year old film fiend has gone, parts of her are still part of me – informing and enlivening the person I’ve become. The real challenge in this portion of my life is to hang onto the enthusiasm and curiosity of those years – never freezing in place. The last line in Tom Jones, one of my favorite anywhere, was written by John Dryden – way before movies or even radio. It still works though, and I offer its wisdom for us all. “Happy the man, and happy he alone, he who can call today his own; he who, secure within, can say, tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.”

Big Birthday Memory #2: Home and Heartache

Home in DC
Home in DC

NOTE:  As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May.  Today – from December 4, 2006.

Yeah, we’re home – and as usual it’s like walking into an electric fan. We landed, unpacked, did laundry, slept (until 3AM) then Rick went back to the airport for a fund-raising trip to California. I’m working on several major projects and wanting to organize for when the boys come home for the holidays. Grocery lists and activity planning in addition to many hours of business obligations.

Lots on my mind. Today a friend told me about the last conversation she had with her father and I was ambushed by a deluge of memories. It’s tough to come to terms with the loss of a parent. Both of mine have been gone for years and there isn’t a day I don’t think of them — and, often, wish I could ask them something – or tell them something — or just feel their love again. I haven’t felt this way in a long time and it surprised me. I just wasn’t expecting the intensity.

I once sent my dad the lyrics to a Judy Collins song about her father. It’s a wonderful evocation of the love between fathers and daughters and the bitter-sweet realization that one’s life will exceed that of a beloved parent. It’s what they’d wish for us but it’s complicated. Anyway there wasn’t a moment of my life when I doubted the love for and faith in me felt by both my parents.

There were also circumstances in my life that led me, in my memory at least, to be less attentive than I wanted to be. I think it will haunt me forever- times when finances or my own parental responsibilities kept me from visits; times when I let my dad tell me not to come because he didn’t want us to “see him like this.” — all those things we all wish we’d done differently. I am beginning to think that this is a real issue for me and one I’ve got to get some clarity about.

This is the second time in the space of the 90 days or so I’ve had this blog that my dad has come up and he’s been gone since 1991. Somehow though I’m more at peace with the loss of him. I can summon memories that make me smile and I know that he had a profound and lovely effect on my sons, which adds to my own fond remembrances of him.

My mother, who died in 1998, haunts me though. I know things in her life frustrated her – and that she would have liked to do more in the world outside the house. My husband told both her and me that I was guilty that my arrival had pulled her out of a promising career but she insisted that that was HER choice and I should get over it. That she loved raising the three of us. I don’t doubt that she loved raising her daughters but I also think she needed more than she was able to get in life as a suburban mom. I don’t know – all I know is that I feel a need to be particularly helpful to elderly women on the street, or the bus, or the synagogue steps. As if I can do for her by doing for them. Agh. I don’t know. I’m going to bed to see if I can beat the last of the jet lag. This is too sad.

Happy Thanksgiving!

thank you cloud2Seriously.  Whatcha got?  Health?  Family?  Career?  Friends?  Purpose?  Beauty outside your window?  Music whenever you want it?  Food whenever you need it?  You know what’s there.

Let’s all use our inside thank you voices and remember.  There’s wonder amid the terror and love and laughter, and life.

Best wishes, in the most literal of terms, to you all.

Aunts and Cousins: Great Memories and an Uncertain Future

Nonny & 3 sisters

Sunday night both boys, their wives and kids came for dinner.  We won’t all be together for Thanksgiving; one son and his two kids will be with his wife and her family; we’ll be with our other daughter-in-law’s family.  So Sunday was special, and it was a lovely evening.

Afterward, for some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Thanksgivings when we were kids.  It was always at our house: my parents, my mom’s sisters and their husbands, my grandmother and “the cousins.”  There were 9 of us, six girls (I was the oldest) and three boys.  My Aunt Bettie, her husband, two sons and a daughter lived in Cleveland; the rest of us were all local, so when the Cleveland Cousins showed up, it was a big deal.

There was a kids table of course.  Nobody, not even bossy me, was in a hurry to move to the old folks’ territory.  We were having too much fun.  In addition to everything else (including games of “Murder” and “Sardines” and lots of running around outside) we planned and performed little dramas every year.  I doubt they were very good, but everyone clapped and we had fun.

I wonder about so much now, though: the covert sisterly conversations in my parents’ bedroom, my grandmother (that’s her in the picture), whom I thought had gotten mean but was apparently losing her sight and trying to hide it, the lovely uncle and the wild one, and the impact of the Depression on the sisters and their men.  There’s so much of that time that I’d love to see with my grown up eyes: about raising kids and being a grandparent of course, but even more, about what WWII and the Depression had done to them.   After all, as I watch events unfold, it’s scary to think how close we are to leaving our kids and theirs to face similar harshness.

I wrote this about them back in 2007, when the last sister died:

In some ways, they were the lucky ones; all three sisters and my father and uncles — were able, on scholarships, to go to college. All three marriages, despite tensions and tough times, survived with a real friendship between spouses for most of their lives. Each had three children who were smart, interesting, and self-sufficient. Even so, the bounty of choices they gave to us was so much more than they had had themselves. The young women in this photograph, and their husbands, never had the luxury of dropping out of school to campaign for Eugene McCarthy or majoring in music or theater or spending years doing trauma medicine a couple of months a year to pay for a life of mountain climbing and exploration. There was no give, no leeway, in the lives of those whom the Depression and the war that ended it – had stamped forever.

I’d give anything to hear it all now.  All of it.

I hope we, and our kids, have the guts to be as courageous — and tenacious, as they were.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Abortion and Olivia: Prison Has Many Forms and So Does Freedom

We watched Olivia Pope have an abortion right in front of us, with Silent Night playing in the background; it was unsettling, right?  Not just for the irony of the Christmas soundtrack, but also because the song’s “mother and child” were themselves unwelcome.  There’s more to these sorts of moments than pretty, sort of symbolic, Christmas music. As usual with Olivia, the truth is complicated.

“Family is the only thing that has kept you alive here.” Huck tells his captive, Olivia’s father Eli.  But Eli argues that family doesn’t save us, it’s an “antidote to greatness.”  “Family doesn’t complete you, it destroys you” he says.

For Olivia though, destruction is the inevitable outcome of the the stolid White House life, the outfits entombed in the Presidential bedroom, the so-called fairytale life of a First Lady, her very real prison.  We see she manages her performance well; we need to know that for her choice to make sense.  No she wasn’t leaving because she wasn’t good at First Lady-ing.  A bird (even a successful one) in a gilded cage is still locked up.

We always knew (and some of us hoped) that she’d go.  Fitz’s questionable worthiness, not withstanding, she had to get out o there!   Her life, however twisted, said so much to all of us and taught us this – that this is possible:  Olivia Pope doesn’t do shotgun, she drives the car!

Even so, a woman of such stature who had surrendered so much, couldn’t walk away without an amputation – metaphorical – but real too.  Alone, telling no one, she chooses to end a pregnancy that no one knows exists.  It’s hers.  Hers to keep, or not.  Hers to speak about, or not.  And so as she leaves her pregnancy behind her, so too she leaves a life that has been confining almost to the point of trauma.

As fiercely pro-choice but also a baby addict, I find I surprise myself as I write this.  I feel, I see, I know that sometimes choices I’d fight not to have to make myself are life and soul-saving for another.

Eli’s meditation on family is either a counterpoint or a validation of his daughter’s decision.  Like the decision itself, it depends on who’s watching.  From over here where I am, she made the right choice (because, after all, she had a choice) the right way.  Would that every women had the power, and the money, and the access, to do the same.

NaBloPoMo and the Cold November Rain


NaBloPoMo_1115_465x287_THEMEAnd it’s hard to hold a candle In the cold November rain   —  Guns N’ Roses

We’re on our way now- committed to NaBloPoMo*: the pledge to post every day in the month of November.  Needing the discipline of a public pledge, I’ve taken it on.   November: the month when my second son and first daughter-in-law arrived on the planet, when I first saw Africa, when the hero of my youth died in Dallas;  the month of Kristallnacht and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Sherman’s burning of Atlanta and the launch of Queen Elizabeth’s record-setting reign. So much has happened in this month that ends with our beloved Thanksgiving.

There’s plenty to talk about: a Presidential election that’s precisely a year away, an unprecedented assault on women’s rights, faith, grief, the vagaries of our popular culture, families, grandparents, holidays, admired friends, books, music, movies and the world in general.  Oh, and the wonderful work of the women whom I’ve joined on this adventure.  You can find them all here.
*National Blog Posting Month



A Gift from Grown Sons

On the Danube, 1985
On the Danube, 1985

My sons are gifted givers of love.  To their wives.  To their sons. To us.  The richness of this awareness is indescribable.

To watch a man, a son of yours, arrive home from work, lift his infant son and greet him with such easy confidence and comfort and tenderness, help his toddler handle his anger, joke with his wife, ask with deep concern “how is Dad feeling?” well – you can’t imagine.  If you’re lucky, maybe you can.

To watch his brother conduct serious conversations with his one year old, read to him, laugh with him, unabashedly speak of his love for his wife and child and offer small acts of kindness to us – and to so many others – well – you can’t imagine.  If you’re lucky, maybe you can.

I know many families share in these blessings.  But I’m writing it now because I woke up this morning thinking this, feeling so full of gratitude you can’t imagine.  If you’re lucky, maybe you can.

This Just In: The Longer You Live, the Older You Are!

Banksy seniors
Banksy’s view of older folk


They look like big insects with wheels, those people with walkers and canes.  I pass so many of them on the streets.  Every time, it gets scarier.

“That’s OK” I tell myself, “Lots of them are really obese, many are clearly far far older or looking it and some are obviously dealing with life-long disabilities.  They need all those appliances.  I don’t.”  Even so, each time they pass I see, for the first time, not another species but a possible (perhaps inevitable) future.

We all age.  Our grandsons are growing so fast; miss a week and they seem transformed.  Our kids have somehow become men of 35 and almost 40!   Younger people are more willing to reveal their resentment of those of us from the 60’s and 70’s. (“We’re just bitter because the media spent our formative years (well, the teen and college ones) calling us slackers and then our entire generation got known as a waste of space. It’s still mean about us! I think we are the hardest workers who will work until we drop dead.”)

I understand what that means, even though I disagree with much of it.  I don’t mind the idea of aging; so far I’m pretty lucky in how I feel and what I can do and think and be.  Even so, I know it all turns on an illness, or a fall, or a loss of strength or hearing or sight.  I continue to see myself apart from those old people, but somewhere inside I know the truth.  I can’t hide from it forever.

We all get old.  We all change, sometimes decline and sometimes gain wisdom.  Boomer or Millennial, Gen X or Y – all of us move along the continuum no matter how much we fight it.   And no matter how long I sit here trying to finish this, I can’t find a way to make it any better.