From Generation to Generation: All We Need Is Love

Sometimes I wonder if my niece, Laura, and I would be so close if her dad (my brother) hadn’t died from a rare blood disorder when she was in high school. A death in the family sometimes dissolves even the most loving bonds. But when my brother died, I think we all got closer. Still, I adored Laura from the moment she was born. I was in college in New York City; my brother and sister-in-law lived about a mile downtown, a short bus ride away. I shared an apartment with four other young women, and we had one phone. (Yeah, those days.) When it rang at 2 .m., all my roommates could guess: the baby had been born. The next afternoon after classes, I took the bus across town to Mt. Sinai Hospital and saw what I then considered the most beautiful baby ever born. (Since then, my own two kids and Laura’s two have competed for the title.)

As Laura grew, I adored her even more. Remember those times when you were a teen and you just couldn’t talk to your mother? Laura was lucky to have me and another aunt, my sister-in-law’s sister Heidi, close by. Then, some time after she finished college and settled in Boston, we became friends. It helped that my kids adored her. My daughter in particular has become particularly close with her. In fact, Laura promised she’d have a baby if Ariel chose a college near Boston. Sure enough, baby Ben arrived a few days before Ariel’s freshman orientation. Someday Ben will tell stories about how he spent many days of his babyhood in a sorority house (being totally doted on by a bunch of wonderful young women). Harper arrived in time for Ariel’s senior year.

So this is how we have it now: a mishmash of generations who love and adore each other. I know Ariel tells Laura stuff she won’t tell me — back atcha Ariel, if you don’t think I talk to Laura about you! Oh, also add into this my sister-in-law, Zelda, who is, well, a sister and a friend.

As I mentioned in a previous post, over February vacation, Laura and the kids came into the city for a day of fun with me, Ariel and Zelda. We began at Dylan’s Candy Bar, had lunch at Alice’s Tea Cup and then went on the the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harper had enough after about two or three mummy cases. At first she was a little spooked — she is only 4 1/2. But after a while she informed us that there was nothing to be frightened of: after all, mummies are only dead people wrapped in tissue paper. (Love the tissue paper idea — I guess that’s what it looked like to her.) 7 1/2-year-old Ben loved the medieval armor exhibit. I mean, take a little boy and show him some interesting looking swords, and he’s in heaven.

Ben wanted to see the musical instruments and ancient coins, but Harper had had it, and we headed out to the park next to the museum where we all sort of pooped out on the bench and talked a while about what was going on in everyone’s life. Then, too soon, it was time for them to catch a cab back to the train.

I think about everything that went into making this such a special day: I live in New York City, where there’s always something fun to do. Laura lives in Boston, not too far away. Zelda lives in Lancaster, PA, also not too far. Ariel is in the city. We all had a day off.

But more than that there’s this funny generational thing that makes Laura my niece and one of my best friends — and Ariel and Laura first cousins and best friends. Ben and Harper worship Ariel, and I can see the day when Harper and Ben are there to babysit Ariel’s kids. There we were, over 60 years separating the youngest from the oldest of us, with so much in common, so much to share.

And there’s a lesson here: These days with all the articles about how Baby Boomers are selfish and not planning on leaving their kids an inheritance (um, first let us get over the college payments and plan our retirements; then we’ll think inheritance), when I look around, I see different generations working, playing and getting to know each other. Some people like to make theories about colliding generations. I’ve been shrugging them off as trouble makers. When I was small, there were always moms we wanted to hang out with and friends of our moms who were so interesting to listen to that we’d hang out with them.

With all this talk of Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomers and Traditionalists (or whatever we call the generation of those born before 1946), we’re all just people. As divided as this country is politically, I find that when we don’t talk politics, we have a lot in common. So that’s what I think we should concentrate on — building community and relationships, in our neighborhoods and so on. These days we have online communities. Are you reading this? Well, welcome my friend. Leave me a comment, and I’ll reply.

As usual, I’ll leave you with some things to think about — and comment on.

  • What are the best ways for building communities that include several generations?
  • What are your inter-generational stories and memories?
  • Hop/skip generations used to be so common in the days of large families, when uncles and aunts would sometimes be younger than their nieces and nephews. Is there anything like that now?

And that neighbor of yours, the kid who’s driving you crazy with his skateboard, the old lady with her cats — take a moment out of your day and start a conversation. It’s a beginning.

Our Children, Their Pets

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have stated in the most definitive tone, “I do not like animals.” Of course there have always been exceptions. When I met my husband, he had two poodles, a standard and a miniature. They were the sweetest things going. Of course, it was kind of love Howard, love his dogs. But Zeno and Tyronne were love-worthy. Definitely. A year into the relationship, I had become their primary caretaker — because that’s what happens. Which is why when my kids were little and asked for pets, the answer was always no. I knew I’d be the one walking the thing on freezing mornings or cleaning its cage, whatever. When my son was about eight, he asked for a pet rat. Being under the delusion that kids change quickly (which they do, but not in this case), I said, “sure when you’re 12.” That may have been the worst lie I ever told them because when my son was 12, I told him no way. And they both kind of resented the no pets policy ever since. (My son did have pet goldfish twice. The first one died in its bowl over a weekend; the second went upstairs to a neighbor’s tank, where it probably died immediately, but those generous-hearted men bought another so my kids could go visit.)

Pretty soon after my son graduated from college and acquired an apartment in Brooklyn, he also acquired two ferrets: Julius Caesar (known as Caesar) and Dizzy Rascal (known as Dizzy). I kind of hated these two animals at first. I mean, what does a ferret do besides

Dizzy and Caesar in their hammock

“ferret around”? Not much except smell a lot. Still, my son loved these two guys, and I developed a certain affection for them, enough to ask about their well-being and sort of take a peek into their cage when we would visit. Maybe I should also mention that we were willing to help foot the medical bills when Caesar swallowed something and needed surgery. It wasn’t just my son we felt for; we cared about the animal. Dizzy died a few months back at the ripe age of 6 1/2 — the lifespan for a domesticated ferret is 5-8 years. So now I kind of worry about Caesar alone in his cage. I may not love this animal, but I care about it.

A year ago, my daughter and her boyfriend adopted a dog they found listed for free on Craig’s List. I was beyond dubious. Craig’s List? They had to be kidding. But they went to look and fell in love with a cute many-breed mutt, definitely part dachshund: short legs, but a larger body and a tail that’s always upright and wagging. I wasn’t so happy when

Landry under the table, hoping someone drops food

after their visit to the vet, they informed me she had said Landry (named after the New York Knick) had one of the worst cases of fleas she had ever seen. Even when I met him, he was just, basically, a dog. And when it became clear that Landry would be living with us for a while, I was resigned. But a lot has happened to Landry in the year since my daughter and her boyfriend brought him home. To begin with, he has learned some commands and words and responds when we speak.  (I am pretty sure that the owners who either lost or abandoned him didn’t speak English.) He does tricks like “shake hands” and jumping on his rear legs to reach for a goodie. He is a top “people greeter.” When someone he knows comes in the door, he wiggles the rear part of his body and wags his tail like mad. Say the word “treat” or “dinner” and he’s all ears. Landry almost never barks. He was not meant to be a watchdog. But he’s a great companion. He likes having his people around — though not too close to his face.

So while I’m happy my daughter and her boyfriend are starting a new chapter in their lives, I will miss Landry a lot. Not that I want another dog.

How do you feel about your grown kids’ pets? Are they kind of like — dare I say it — grandchildren?

Meanwhile a few tips about grown kids’ pets.

  • They belong to your kids. What they eat, when they eat — it’s all up to your kids, not to you, even if you have had plenty of experience.
  • Give advice only when your kids ask. Again the pets belong to your kids.
  • Let your kids know how great their pets are. My daughter actually loves it that her dog was happy to be with us. My son appreciates that his dad plays with the ferret.

Sound a bit like I’m talking about grandchildren? Let me know in your comments.

We Teach Our ADULT Children How to Drive

My 25-year-old daughter doesn’t have her driver license. If you’re from New York City and you just read that sentence, you probably aren’t too shocked. Many New Yorkers never learn to drive. There’s no need to. Subways and buses, which go to most parts of the five boroughs, run 24/7. (Or not, depending on the on-going service disruptions due subway construction. This recent article from the New York Times captures our sense of entitlement, frustration and dependence.) In fact, I had a much easier time of the teen years than did my friends in the suburbs, ex-urbs or car-dependent urban areas: I did not have to worry about my kids driving drunk. Sure I had to worry about all the other things parents of teens do — teens do stupid things and can end up in trouble, or, worse, hurt. And it wasn’t until my son was in college that he mentioned that one night their senior year of high school, his friend Ben had taken his grandparents’ car (with permission) and driven them all to Great Adventure down in Jersey. But back to my daughter. While many New York City non-driving kids do learn in college because getting off campus becomes imperative, my daughter went to school outside of Boston, and was within walking distance of the “T.” (My daughter had one friend in college at Emory who owned a car before she managed to get her license, and got in trouble at a routine traffic check because she was driving without a license. As I said, young people can have lousy judgment.) So here she is, at age 25, without a driver license and maybe about to move out of New York City. (Yes, I wrote those words, and I’m sick over it, but that’s another blog.) Her permit had actually run out. But she took care of that. And now we (and her boyfriend) have been giving her driving lessons. I must say that this time around–she actually did try half-heartedly several years ago–she is fantastic. She steers well, keeps to the speed limit, and shows great confidence and determination. She came upstate for a few days and drove the long way to the supermarket (six miles) and the very long way back. We had even thought of making a trip to the outlet mall in Lee, MA on Friday. I90 may be one of the easiest interstates around. But we woke Friday morning to snow, and that killed our outing. No more driving lessons from us for a while. No outlet bargains for us.

Yup, it’s Thanksgiving, and I’m Giving Thanks

We became Thanksgiving nomads shortly after my brother died. For a year or two my sister-in-law continued to gather everyone for the holiday. Then there was a while when we’d go to my parents in Massachusetts and I’d take care of everything there. That stopped when my parents decided to begin their annual snowbird flight to Sanibel before the end of November. So somehow we joined the gang at our friends Marjorie and Doug’s–their parents, in-laws, cousins, cousins’ kids and any strays without a Thanksgiving to attend, because that’s the way Marjorie and Doug are. Generous. Everyone makes something: Marjorie’s cousins Susan and Larry make this scrumptious sweet potato dish that has evolved over the years–the recipe calls for condensed milk. I think they now use skim. Yummy anyway. I make cranberry sauce (in the pot in the photo above) and a scrumptious pumpkin chocolate chip cake. Ask me and I’ll give you the recipe.

The Thanksgiving Parade was baked into the tradition during the early years, when the kids were young. We live right off the parade route, and Howard and Doug would set off early to secure a spot on the sidewalk curb. A couple of hours later I’d join them with the well-layered children, blankets, a large thermos of hot chocolate, and a bag of homemade blond brownies. (One year it snowed and we managed to find seats in the grandstand. Luckily during the parade years it never poured.) Then we’d go home, change our clothes, and walk down the block to Marjorie and Doug’s. I can mark some of the years with images of Ariel’s winter dress-up coats: year after year of navy blue or green wool with velvet collars and cuffs. The dads would then take the kids to Riverside park for some football (the girls in their maryjanes and white tights, yes, crazy but true) while everyone else prepared the feast.

From the beginning Marjorie instituted a pre-meal ritual where we’d go around the table and everyone would say what he or she was grateful for. The kids hated this. Whether there were six or ten young ones or teens, they’d all say, one after another, in a sing-song voice, “I’m grateful for family and friends.” For a couple of years they were banned from doing this. Now when Michael, 28, says he’s grateful for his sister, Dana, 32, we all go, “awwww.”

I have always dreaded this saying-what-you’re-grateful thing too. For several years I was caring for my mentally and physically deteriorating mother. Yes, I always knew I’m so lucky to have what I have, but that fact of my life kind of soured the picture when I had to put things into words. Likewise, this year I really haven’t been looking forward to it: the kids remain unemployed. The economy is bad. I worry about what will happen when the republicans take over in January 2013.

Then a couple of days ago Howard showed me an article in the New York Times about being grateful. Actually, everyone was linking to it on Twitter and Facebook (http://nyti.ms/ruQIQN). According to the research John Tierney gathered, being grateful for things and expressing our gratitude makes us feel better. Tierney writes that as Robert A. Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, advises in his book Thanks, “If you want to sleep more soundly, count blessings, not sheep.” So here’s me doing some gratitude counting. I go from the sublime to the seemingly trivial. But nothing here is small in my life. And, of course, the list is incomplete. The more I think about it, the more I have to be thankful for.

  1. I am thankful for my family. I have a wonderful, smart husband who loves us all. My kids may be unemployed, and this does stress us all, but I know we’ll look back on this as just an episode in our lives. They’ll get jobs. That dog in the photo above: That’s Landry, my daughter’s “rescue” dog. Off of Craig’s List. Yes, I had a fit. But he is the best, sweetest pup. How lucky he was that they found him. How lucky I am to have him at my feet as a write.
  2. I am thankful for my friends. The people I know astound me (a natural cynic) with their generosity of heart and spirit. They make my world.
  3. I am thankful for my parents. My father’s been dead over a decade, my mother for nearly five years, but every day I benefit from the blessing of being their child: my intelligence, my talent, my values, what I am deep inside–I owe that to them.
  4. I am thankful for social media. Yes, this may seem a little trivial, but social media has opened for me a whole new life, a new platform. Through Twitter I have made astonishing connections and met people who devote their lives to promoting social good, people I admire.
  5. I am thankful for my piano. Yes, I am. Music enriches my life; my piano Mason & Hamlin concert grand, dating from 1904,  is special.
  6. I am grateful for WQXR and WMHT radio. When I think about how these stations improve the quality of my life . . . .
  7. I am thankful to the American Ballet Theatre. The beauty of movement and music coupled–I love ballet the most of all the arts.
  8. I am thankful to live in New York City. Truly this is the best place in the world. I feel so privileged to be a half block from Central Park, resplendent in all seasons. Lincoln Center is a walk away–and there is where I go the hear the New York Philharmonic, an organization that also brings me such joy.
  9. I am thankful to the authors of the wonderful books I have read this year. The list is long, but thanks guys.
  10. I am thankful for my country house. This gift from my dad keeps on giving every time I drive up the driveway and see the red brick chimney reach into the sky, the blue house surrounded by fields and trees. Even you deer out there that eat my plants, I guess I’m kind of grateful to you as well. You are part of the whole nature thing.

What are you grateful for? From the important to the silly, you probably have a list like mine. I’d love for you to leave comments below, but finding me on Twitter at @wordwhacker or on FB at either Facebook.com/Linda.Bernstein or Facebook.com/LindaBernsteinPhD. I’m even on Google Plus. Circle me.

A Jewish Mother’s Advice to Occupy Wall Street

First of all, all of you in Zuccotti Park or Chicago or wherever–what you’re doing is kind of amazing. As a veteran of the anti-Vietnam War movement, I look at your protests and think how much the world has changed. I also wish we baby boomers could have provided you with a better world. We certainly tried. But we let the fat cats get away with too much. We let the Republicans get a way with a massive cheat in 2000 and 2004, and when Obama came in 2008, things were a little far gone for a good and quick fix. But a lot of what’s going on with the economy and the job picture, we couldn’t have predicted that. I don’t buy into conspiracy theories. Yes, there are a lot of bad guys. Some good guys let us down. (I’m talking to you Bill Clinton.) So now you, our kids, are using your energy to say, “stop, no more.” At least that’s what I think you’ve been saying. You guys aren’t exactly clear. It’s that “human mic” thing, which I’ll talk about later. Also, you’re not all kids as some studies have shown. (http://nyti.ms/vE8NwV) People my age have been down there every day, sleeping over, showing support. And thus my first bit of advice.

  • Call Your Mother. She Worries. I’m not kidding. And you can substitute any family or friends for “mother” there. Even if people in your life don’t agree with what you are doing, they do want to know you are safe. So far in New York City, Occupy Wall Street people have been pretty safe. But you never know. The protestors in Oakland weren’t expecting a former marine to suffer a brain injury.

 

  • Think of How What You’re Doing Looks to Others. The chant “The Whole World’s Watching” worked really well at the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968 when Mayor Daley’s police went after the protestors with billy clubs. Indeed, it was the Democratic Convention, and the whole world was watching.  #OWS has a different kind of coverage–live-streaming, tweets–along with the mainstream media which has been very much on the story despite some complaints. This was The New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir’s tweet about her annoyance with this after Nate Silver’s story on the press coverage on October 7, 2011:A lot of what you’re doing in Zuccotti Park looks a little dumb unless you’re there and caught up with it, like the drumming circle.

 

  • So Don’t Make Drumming a Priority. Yeah, it’s cool and spiritual, but it looks really silly. And you are bothering people who live and work in the neighborhood. Take a minute to think how important it is to our economy and the eventual easing of unemployment to allow people to get a good night’s sleep and go to their jobs. The more jobs we lose now, the worse it will be. Meeting with the community board and getting porto potties, that was a good thing that showed strength of character.

 

  • Not So Much What Happened at the DOE Meeting. Since few OWS people went to the small meetings after the large one was broken up, those there looked more interested in disruption than construction. Believe me. I am a long time veteran of dealing with the DOE. I had two kids who went all the way through in public school, and things have gotten worse. But doing “human mic” checks instead of listening and designating a speaker from your group–you–we–lost an opportunity to put stuff out to the DOE.

 

  • One Thing About the Human Mic. Remember the game telephone. That’s what can happen. So be careful.

 

  • Don’t Antagonize the Police. @OccupyWallStNYC made a good point yesterday in the tweet:Document, don’t fight, unless you’re ready to be arrested and maybe beat up a little. Tear gas is painful (I’ve been tear-gassed).

 

  • But Count Your Blessings. This is not Tahir. You are not fighting in Syria. Thank your lucky stars for that. In Egypt protestors get horribly tortured (as the US has tortured and still may those they suspect of being terrorists). They die. We do live in democracy with a free press (even Fox is a free press, sort of). You can say a lot of things in the USA that people can’t say elsewhere without being in fear of their lives. Which reminds me:

 

  • Occupy a Voting Booth. Democracy is really slow, and that can be frustrating. But voting generally has an impact. (Look what has happened since people voted all those right wingers and Tea Party supporters into office last year.)

 

  • Back to the Police. Every since 9/11 Americans have had lots of nice things to say about police. They are generally brave people. But people willing to put their lives on the line often have a toughness that with a slight shove moves over to bullying. Most of the police don’t see themselves as part of the 99%. They see themselves as guys who can legally walk around with clubs and guns–and use them. Did you notice the turnout in the Bronx of off-duty police supporting the police indicted of ticket-fixing schemes? If a guy has a night stick, try not to come into contact with it.

 

  • And Don’t Be Naive. This from an article in today’s Times (http://nyti.ms/vE8NwV):  Sonny Singh, 31, a Sikh musician from Brooklyn who joined Occupy Wall Street early on, recounted the scene in Zuccotti Park the day the general assembly drafted its “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City” — the closest thing to a political manifesto the protesters have put out thus far.Mr. Singh said that he and a few other “brown” people at the assembly were appalled by what was going to become the first paragraph of the declaration: “As one people, formerly divided by the color of our skin,” the document began, “we acknowledge the reality: that there is only one race, the human race.”

    “That was obviously not written by a person of color,” Mr. Singh said, calling the statement naïve. “Race is a reality in the lives of people of color, you can’t put out a statement like that without alienating them.”

You don’t want to sound stupid.

  • And If It Gets Too Cold . . . Go Home. Yes, the protestors who are staying there all the time are admirable in their determination. But New York City gets cold in the winter. Soldiers manage to stay camped out in tents during frigid weather, but not everyone is supposed to be a soldier. At this point the Occupy Wall Street movement has changed the way Americans think about protest. It’s not clear that anything can be changed by these protests–except our way of thinking about things. So if you have to leave, you haven’t lost. In many ways you’re winning every day.

I’d love to hear from everyone what they think, those in favor of the demonstrations, those against. Use the comment box as a forum. And in the meanwhile, stay safe.