Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tribute to the City

In 1990, I graduated from high school, and started college. My college experience was going to be in the city, and I was excited about living somewhere new and different. I was a kid, who had been raised in suburban America. I had been craving for a change, and thought urban life would be the perfect place to spread my wings and put on a new pair of shoes. I spent my four years in the city, and loved every minute of it. Reluctantly, when I graduated, I moved back home for one year. I hated to leave the city, because I had become intoxicated by it. I missed the excitement and liveliness that the city offered. Like a child waiting for my birthday to arrive, I could not wait to go back. As soon as I got married, my husband and I bought a house in the city. As of now, I will never return to the suburbs, not if I can help it. I have so much admiration and intrigue for my city, and I want to share it's allure.

Looking back, growing up in the suburbs, was a surreal and an imaginary world. The phrase "cookie cutter", evolved in America when the suburbs developed, to describe a place lacking originality, with a conformist attitude. In a nutshell, that is exactly how I remember my childhood. Everyone in my suburbia was white, of European decent, of a Christian faith, middle class, and living in the same architectural homes. There were (and still are) two Jewish families on my street, but they were the only Jewish families in the whole borough, they just happened to be on my street. My brother and I could never understand what they did on Christmas. Seriously, how could they possibly be of another faith? They must just be confused: that was how I thought. In my school district, there were three black families. If you met a black kid, you had a good idea of where he lived and what his last name was. Diversity was not a term anyone was familiar with, or cared to understand. It is a society of homogeneity. Everyone wants to keep up with the proverbial Jone's. No one wants to diverge from the norm, because that is being different, and different in the suburbs is not good. That is how I grew up, in a world, which conforming, was and still is, the only way of living.

Every couple, once they have a child, and if they make enough money, will look at a home in the suburbs. Even if it is not what they want, they will look, because it has been burned into every Americans mind, that suburbia is the next step. It is the American dream: homes with picket fences and blue ribbon school districts. It is the epitome of uniformity and conformity: defined families, with two cars, two and a half kids, and a dog. It is just safer there, right? I know, with absolute certainty, driving down any road in a suburb, exactly what to expect: strip malls, chain food restaurants, soccer fields, MC mansions, and teenagers wearing Abercrombie and Fitch. I do not believe it is safer, it is just predictable.

Although, it may be a natural tendency in human nature, to be attracted to those who are most similar, it is not a productive tendency. There is a comfort in being surrounded by people who are similar, but it creates stagnant and sterile behaviors. Nothing evolves out of a comfort zone. Diversity induces change, and change is a sign of an advancing, and evolving society. But, change is intimidating and uncomfortable. Therefore, it is understandable, how the suburbs evolved to be a place that resists change. It is a place of safety and comfort, where people want to raise their children. But, the world is changing. Globalization is the trend. In order to educate ourselves, and our children, we must live as a member of a global community. The city is the perfect alternative to a tiresome and dull suburban existence. It is the one place where everything comes together, in a melting pot, and being alike is extraneous. Families and businesses have been migrating to the suburbs for far too long, and it is time to migrate a new direction.

I live in the city. I live in a place that on every block you will find something inspiring or maybe, even revolting. It is it's uncertainty that is intriguing. There are mansions one block away from apartment complexes, row houses, and the ghetto. Catholic schools function right next to Yeshiva schools. The synagogues and the cathedrals are scattered in the sky line. Everyone is just trying to make it through their day in the city. It's people are too busy living life to worry about who the Jone's are, or trying to understand a useless concept of being alike.

There are different markets in every neighborhood of a city. Even the worst neighborhoods, have at least one special spot, that everyone has heard of, and everyone likes. It could be the Muslim butcher, the Italian groceria, or the kosher deli. Sometimes all of these markets can be found all in the same block. There are seedy convenience stores selling lotto tickets and cigarettes, and right next door there is a sophisticated restaurant. Not one block is alike.

I have wondered, are my children influenced by the city, like I have been? So, on a recent family drive, we discussed the ethnicity and religions of the United States. I wanted to know if my kids have any concept, of the percentages of whites and blacks in America. Of course, I just filled out my census form, so it was on my mind. Overall, they were correct in their estimates, based on our city. They figured 50% of the population was black and also thought about 25% of the population is Jewish. Interestingly, only my middle child, stated that it depended on your location in the country, as to the breakdown of diversity. My city is 68% white and is one of three cities in the world (outside of Israel) where the majority of the City's Jewish population still live in the city limits. Why is this important? It is important, because my children do not think that the world is all white, middle class, practicing the same faith, and following the same path. They have a strong grasp on the differing cultures that make up this world we live in. They do not want to be like everyone else, they want to find their own voice. They have no pressures to be the same as all the other kids, because all the other kids are so different.

My children do not even notice, or care if their new friend looks like them or not. It is more common, that their friends will be of a different ethnicity or religion. What they do care about is: character, morality, being fun, being nice, and wanting to share. Our closest friends, as a family, are Muslims and Jewish. Their friends are colorful and multicultural. They have Russian, Italian, Egyptian, and American friends. Their world is so different from how I perceived it at their age. The ability to comprehend and accept people's differences, is an education that cannot be taught: it must be experienced. As the world becomes smaller and smaller, this experience and understanding, is imperative for a successful future.

There are so many reasons I love where I live. I will continue to pay tribute to my city, because it gives so much back to me. It does not ask for anything in return. It will embrace, it will excite, it will cause a stir in your soul. It will make you see the world through a clearer lens. Cities offer you the world in a few square blocks. It might not wrap it up in a pretty little package, and it might not hide it's flaws. It is honesty and reality in all it's splendor.

What do you like about where you live? Are you in the country, suburbia, or a city? Will you move to suburbia when you have a family or are you already there?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Who Pulls Your Strings?

I feel like I am being manipulated all day. And I am not referring to yoga, because that type of manipulation would be welcome. The feeling of manipulation that I am referring to, is the one that evokes guilt. Guilt, the emotion that dominates many of today's conversations, and our actions. I have only been blogging a short while, but I have read about this topic, ad nauseam. In particular, parents fall victim to this strategy the most. It has swallowed us whole. Do not be mistaken, this is no accident, there is a reason for everything, and this is no exception. Children, if your parents love you they will give you what you want. Mothers, if you truly love your babies, then you must buy them the best. Fathers, if you love your wife and child you will give them the best. What is the best? This is where the manipulation begins.

Enter stage left: Madison Avenue

Madison Avenue is a very powerful force against our private consciousness. It directs us to buy, and participate in activities that it deems worthy of our time. Can an outside entity really now what we need, and require? In order to gain power, and make a profit, it will search and create tactics that make us do what they want. And if we don't: GUILT.

Collectively, as a society we have always been comfortable relating to those who are like ourselves. Individuality and separateness has never been encouraged. Because that is the case, Madison avenue knows, that if it can get a majority of people on board, the rest will follow. No one wants to be left out.

Enter stage right: religion

People need to be controlled or they will not know how to act with a moral code. This is the context in which religion arose. Historically, every religion evolved when the people collectively needed a new power over their conscience. And, as religion becomes dated to those it rules, the people cry out for a change. It is not any different today. The major difference today, is that religion has lost its grasp in the industrialized world. It cannot manipulate our actions as easily. Information is at all of our fingertips, not just the intellectuals. Knowledge is everywhere, simply read a paper or look online. With all of this knowledge, one would think it would be more difficult to manipulate society. But, that is not the case. Religion is losing its grasp and Madison Avenue has come in for the kill.

For example, there are five people living in my house: three children and two adults. On any one day, there has to be at least five different places, and activities to do. My husband must go to work. The kids must go to school. There is: piano, dancing, choir, play dates, homework, eating and just playing. I have to either: go to the store, exercise, cook dinner, visit a sick relative, go to a doctor appointment, and do anything else that the family needs. In addition to all of this, I have to love everyone, kiss them, support them, and make my home a place they want to be. Trying to accomplish all of this is so daunting, and at times my head spins. But, for the most part, it is a crazy, beautiful kind of fun. Until, Maidison Avenue and religion walk in my door.

I know that being an object of manipulation will never stop. So there must be a way to cope with it, without resorting to guilt. If I can accept that there will always be someone or something wanting power over me, then maybe I can rise above it. I have started to think of it like this: it is a privilege to have some one's undivided attention, even if only in a blog. With that privilege, comes the responsibility not to manipulate those who trust you. If I can do this in my own home, if I can just start there, then maybe it will spread. And at least my home will not be filled with the plague of guilt. I want my family to have joy, because that is part of my job. I want my family to love without guilt. I want so many things, but I do not want to need them because of guilt.

The constant need to make everyone happy is unnatural. In past generations, the only aspirations of parents, was to feed their family and to put a roof over their head. Because the roof is much easier to provide, there is now a struggle and demand to provide more and more. Now that the church is losing its influence, it has become the power of Madison Avenue to manipulate us into believing we cannot live without certain things. A family can not be happy without the following: new clothes, designer shoes, fancy cars, MC mansion, manicures lawn, and a private education. I don't know about you, but I am ready for a new paradigm of thought. I am restless and agitated. I want to be the one pulling the strings on my marionette. Recognizing what is manipulating me is half the battle, maybe I just have to get comfortable with the fact that so many people want my attention.

Who is pulling your strings? How do you suppress the guilt?

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Church Lady

This weekend I had the pleasure of witnessing a lapse of manners; not from a child, but from an adult. Manners, usually are the first lessons most of us remember being taught. Please and thank you, are the basics that every kid learns. It is reasonable to expect that even a grade school kid can master this technique. But, what happens when what is wanted and expected does not happen? Normally, the first response is to get angry, even though, this might makes the situation worse. For example, a waiter brings the food out cold. You could either rant and rave, or try to sympathize with the waiter. Most times than not, the sympathy will elicit a better outcome. Taking the bird out for a wagging will not make your food turn out any better, it will probably make it worse.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of driving my youngest employee (F) and her one of her coworkers to a birthday party about 30 minutes away from our home. It was a lovely event, and my car was full of smiles and lively stories about all the children at the party. I proceeded to drop the coworker off at her family home for a barbecue, and then return home with my happy little employee (F). We pull up to an intersection on a 4 lane road at a red light. Apparently, the car beside me had waved the car opposing us to go ahead and make the left turn across traffic. As I am not and have never been psychic, I was unaware of that gesture. The light turned green, the opposing car began turn. I was creeping forward, but I stopped when I saw the bold turning maneuver, and let them turn. Here is where it got funny: I know the family driving in the other car. They are from the church and school that my employees attend. Interestingly, the father laid on the horn, and the lovely, demure, church going mother, that I see at school gave me an evil scowl and flipped me the bird in a very aggressive way. Needless to say, I was shocked. F, in the back seat, commented on the bird: "Why did she do that Mummy?". F recognized the woman too.

Admittedly, I was angry and thought about returning the gesture for a split second. Then, I realized that might not be good idea, considering F was watching my every move. I told F that they must be having a bad day, and they certainly would not have flipped us the bird if they knew it was us. F replied, "Even if it was not us, Mummy, that was not very nice". Simply and accurately stated by a kindergartner. Flipping the bird is not a tactful response.

I do not know if this family has any idea that I knew them. It is quite possible, this same moment has occurred to me without knowing. Not that I am in the habit of having road rage, but I will admit to partaking to it in my lifetime. All things considered, I will never tell them that I saw them flipping my daughter and I off.

When the windows are up, the traffic is heavy, and time is precious: the mixture is perfect for inconsiderate, rude, nasty, and ugly road rage. Although, there may be a feeling that no one will recognize you: BEWARE. The next time the bird angrily erupts while driving your car, be careful. The driver beside you just might be your neighbor, your elderly mother, your priest, your rabbi, your child, or your friend. I just hope F does not go to school and tell her friend, "Hey! I saw your family yesterday and your Mum flipped us off!".

Friday, March 19, 2010

Did Birth Control Cause Competetive Parenting?

Prior to the 1960's, there was a cause and effect relationship between sex and pregnancy. The more sex, the increased likelihood of becoming pregnant. There were several bizarre prevention techniques, but none as effective as the birth control pill(BCP). The BCP was introduced to the public in the early 1960's. It was supported by the women's movement, and genuinely recognized as a way for women to advance their rights and ability to function as an equals in the workforce. But paradoxically, what was it going to do to the future of parenting?

Up until this point, having children was just a part of being married or having sex. There was no waiting for the right time. Women did not plan their lives around the years they might want to have a child. Families were just created; there was nothing fancy about it.

The word "parenting", was not given much consideration as a verb. Mostly, parenting was just a noun to identify that someone had a child. Children had pretty much been raised the same way since the beginning of time. There was no way to decide how many to have. If you were infertile, outside of adoption, there was no other way to become a parent. Most infants were breastfed and slept in a dresser drawer. Fancy bassinets were not the standard. Children's rooms were not designed upon their arrival. The sex was never known. Clothing had to be a neutral color or was not bought or made until the child's arrival. Usually, a simple pair of booties and a blanket were the only new items.

Baby showers have only recently become exceedingly elaborate. Mostly, people were superstitious and did not want any baby items in the house until the baby arrived and was healthy. As a matter of fact, still today, most Jews and Orthodox women do not celebrate baby showers. Pregnancy was simply a normal and expected part of life; get married and have a baby.

Children played in the yard and in the woods. They ran about the neighborhood as if it were their backyard. They were responsible for finding friends and they worked out their differences without an adult to referee. "Playdate" was not even a word a mother would have understood. There was not competitive parenting, and children just existed without too much thought, they went to school, and successfully became adults.

With the arrival of the BCP, women now have a choice. There is no expectation of having a child unless it is wanted. The time and date can all be adjusted. Sex can be had just for fun, and without worry of becoming pregnant.

Is it possible that with that choice and flexibility came a whole other group of expectations? It seem logical, that with this freedom comes some underlying guilt that because the event is postponed it has to be done PERFECTLY. Now, having a baby comes with greater expectations.

In third world countries where the birth control pill is virtually impossible to obtain; parenting is not a competitive sport. There is no conversation among parents about how many activities little Johnny is participating in this year. No one worried about the psychological babble that dominates in our country. Parents have created worry upon worry, and invented a whole new psychology for raising a child. A psychology that was previously unknown. Parents did not compete, and children were just a part of life; without much forethought.

I do not know if competitive parenting was the effect of the invention of the BCP or not. It does appear, that since the BCP has become a normal part of a woman's life, the competitive nature of parents is increasingly pervasive in our culture. Maybe it is too much time on our hands because life is made easier by machines. Computerization has given us more time to over think the concept of parenting. It appears as if everyone is trying to cram as much into one life as is humanly possible.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Listen Up

It is a skill we are born with: the ability to listen. Some of us have it fine tuned down to a science. And some of us, well, we never hear anyone over ourselves. We all have the friend who never shuts up and we all want the friend who really listens to us. If we are lucky, our spouse fills the space for listening and we do the same for them. We all want to be heard and that probably is a good reason why there is blogging. Who doesn't check their comments to see who was listening. Most of us probably consider ourselves good listeners, but do you ever forget to? Do you ever just blather on about inane b.s. and wonder why the person we are talking to has tuned out. To anyone who has kids this happens all the time. As a matter of fact it also happens to anyone who has employees. Sometimes I feel like my kids are my employees and they are never really listening.

Let me tell you about my employees. I have three very wonderful girls, full of energy and the desire to learn. They are all in school, in which I know for a fact that they sit and listen and learn there. But on a daily basis, sometimes several times a day I have to say, "will you listen!", "are you listening?", "did you hear what I said?" Ironically, for something we given at birth, it takes a lot of fine tuning to master something so incredibly simple.

Here is where I think: I have this mastered right? I am an adult, I am a nurse practitioner. My whole career is based on the fact that I am a great listener. I am teaching my employees how to listen so I must be good at it. That is where I was wrong.

Recently my oldest employee came home from school with some tears in her eyes and full of stories about how so and so is such a meanie and no one is nice and she just hates school. Let me preface this by telling you that I am Italian, and I think evolutionary speaking we have cornered the market on being reactionary, hot headed and stubborn. My first reaction is to want to bitch slap that little @#$er for upsetting my precious baby. But then I come back to reality, hoping I did not say that out loud and ask her a few more questions. I don't even think I have really heard her, I am just mad. After a long lecture from me on how to deal with the meanie I notice she has this glazed look in her eye like, "are you serious?". Damn. Maybe that did not go so well. Being the good boss that want to be, I tell her I am sorry if that did not make sense but its all I got. I hope it helps and I am here for you so lets just move on and you can tell your father about it later.

Stage Left: Mr. Q (my spouse) walks in the door. What happened today, he asks? Well, I tell him our oldest employee is having some problems and I think he should intervene on this matter. Really I think, "what is he going to say that I have not?", but lets give him a shot. So they start to talk and I walk away pretending not to be listening as I go upstairs. I don't hear him say much of anything and they are down there for quite sometime. Then the oldest comes up the steps smiling telling me she feels better.

What the heck? What did Mr. Q say? Now I am desperate to know what just happened.

So Mr. Q., what did you say?


Nothing ! What does that mean?

Mr. Q tells me he just listened to her and gave her hug and told her he was always there for her to talk to and would always LISTEN. At this point I feel like the worst boss ever. How could I have missed that trick. It is so easy, so natural. But I missed it. I was so busy reacting to the pain that I saw in her eyes that I forgot to do the one thing that we are all born to do: listen. For god sakes we have not one but two ears.

There are moments in our lives when we think we have something mastered. But to truly be a master at something, there has to be acknowledgement that there is always a way to fine tune it even more.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Defining a Moment

Moments are, simply put, brief intervals of time. Every moment that passes in front of our eyes will never return. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the moment. Time moves very quickly, although at times it can feel very slow. Sometimes it just swallows up every ounce of energy we have. Is it possible to appreciate every moment, really? And do you want to? Some moments are better left in past, right? If the good and the bad make us who we are, then should we accept the bad as a simple brief interval of time and leave it there? The past is a very current part of our human make up. Remembering the past can create a uniquely wonderful life as long as it does not consume us.

My most vivid memories of the past are sometimes not the prettiest. They haunt my thoughts at times. They rear their ugly head just as a reminder that life is not always beautiful. My youngest daughter, when she was 2 pulled a sofa table over and it landed on her face. She had multiple facial fractures and an intracranial hemorrhage. It is the most awful moment of my parenting career. I was only steps behind her in the bathroom when I heard the crash. It felt as if time had stopped. I have such a visceral reaction now just contemplating that moment. Could I have known? If I have been right there next to her it would not have happened. Maybe I should have anchored the table to the wall. Why was I not able to prevent it?

The ambulance and the police came to the house. I rode in the ambulance with her as she vomited blood and just held her close. The emergency room came to life as we walked in the door. I remember thinking: what if this is my last moment with her. They took such good care of my baby but they did ask me a many accusatory questions. They were required to make sure it was not me who caused the harm. I will never forget that feeling.

Now that it part of the past, my beautiful daughter is recovered to perfection. She is 6 and there are no permanent scars or issues from the incident. But I will always remember. I almost lost her. I realized at that moment what it meant to be a parent. I knew I was her protector. This moment reminded me that life is fragile. Every moment is precious.

The past is beautiful thing as long as it makes us stronger. I took this moment and have become a better parent for it. It changed me, it changed my husband, it changed our children. We became more vigilant of recognizing dangers. Sometimes to the extreme of being overprotective. Every piece of furniture was anchored to the wall in every room of our house by the time we came from the hospital. Even now that they are older and this memory is a distant part of the past I sit and look at that table and think; who would have thought that table could have affected us so much?

People are always saying to live in the present moment. Does this mean the past moments should be forgotten? Maybe that is not the point of living in the present but I think it does insinuate to forget the past. Trying so hard to hold on to the present moment feels like trying to clasp your hands to hold water. The more you try to hold on to the water, the more the water slips out.

There are no definitive answers to all these questions. The thread of our existence is one long continuous strand. All of our moments are a part of that thread. Knowing that we never get a new piece of thread can be discouraging. But that thread can always turn a new direction and make something new. The future is daunting, the past is part of our future and the present it what we make of it. I will never forget my past because it has led me to this moment.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Art of Accepting the Truth

Mistakes, just a part of the ordinary existence. They happen all the time. Some are bigger than others and some are little. The idea that perfection is the only way to survive in this world is a fallacy that society has bought hook, line, and sinker. Are we really never supposed to screw up? We grow up believing that being flawless is the ideal. Then we find ourselves being dishonest just to keep the fallacy alive.

It all starts when we are children. A child thinks if I make a mistake my parents will be mad, so I am going to lie to get myself out of it. The only way children know to tell the truth is by it being taught. The natural instinct is to lie.

Recently, my middle daughter E, a second grader, was caught stealing pudding from the school cafeteria. I knew it, because the principal had caught her and called me. But when I asked her about it, she lied. "I did not take anything!" she said with such conviction. It seemed so easy to believe her. So I posed the question another way, "if you did steal something, I promise not to get mad at you but I need to know the truth so we can work it out". So after many minutes, which seemed like an eternity, she lied a few more times and then finally, the truth came out. "I did steal pudding, but only on the days there was chocolate!" As if the idea she would steal vanilla was so far beneath her. This made me laugh but I had to conceal it. Really she just wanted me to know it was not an everyday occurrence. I never figured out for sure how many times this had happened but it was too many. "Why would you do that, we have enough money to pay for the pudding, why didn't you ask me?" She then tells me that I have made it very clear to her that she is only to get the $3 lunch with no extras, so she would just take it and then no none would ever now. If no one knew then it was okay, right?

Had this moment never happened I would have never known and she would have gotten exactly what she wanted without ever having to deal with the consequences or without having to tell me that she really wanted chocolate pudding. This was clearly something important to her. Teaching her to ask for something reasonably was not her natural instinct; her instinct was to lie about it. She learned to express her needs and confess her mistakes without "getting in trouble". It was a lesson in patience for me. I had to stick to my guns and not get mad, I had to reason with her. In the end, we both learned to trust each other more and that just because no one knows does not make it okay.

In this high speed, you-can-have-it-all world, it is easy to lie in order to stay off the radar. I was always told to learn from others mistakes; never making a mistake is the ideal. But that is a cop out. That is based on the assumption that we can remain flawless. Mistakes are how we grow to be better human beings. Maybe what we should really be teaching is: go ahead make some mistakes,be honest about it, and learn from them. Gaining knowledge from your own mistake is priceless. Do not be afraid to admit it everyone you love. In the end you might just find you live a better life for it.