Not Quite In-Laws

I love Yiddish and wish I had actually paid attention when my father tried to teach me to read it. The language is vivid, flexible, and has kinds of words not found in many languages, such as a distinct term to denote the familial relationship between a man and his mother-in-law. I don’t know that one. In fact, when it comes to in-laws, I’m reduced to one word: machatonim—the meshpuchah (family) into which your child marries.

Technically, I needn’t be thinking about this yet. Neither my son nor my daughter is engaged. It’s not something I’m waiting for with baited breath, either. I really like the current boyfriend and girlfriend and if engagements occur, I’ll be happy. Meanwhile, though . . . well, it will happen when it happens.

(One thing that might be delaying the engagement thing: right now, my kids and their significant others are unemployed lawyers, but that’s another column. In the meantime, check out this from The New York Times: http://nyti.ms/oM4yVi about the law school racket, how the schools churn out more and more lawyers in the face of fewer and fewer jobs while the presidents and faculties get rich)

But during the past two-and-a-half years, as both became romantically attached, they developed strong relationships with other families. At first, I did not like this. I still sometimes feel a little piqued or put upon when my son or daughter chooses to spend time with the boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s family when I really want them to be home with us. I admit to the itsy bitsy part of me that wishes they were still little and totally dependent on us for everything, when we were their world. (Well, I got that over with. By the time I finished typing that sentence, I went back to loving that they’re independent and interesting young adults.)

Of course, I kind of knew this would happen. But I also sort figured my daughter would marry her brother’s first friend (son of good friends of ours—didn’t happen). I also wanted my children to have much better relationships with their in-laws than I had with mine. My in-law problem had much to do with geography—they lived in Florida and came to New York City three times from the day I married their son until they died. My husband and I, later with the kids,  went to Florida for at least a week a year, but we never grew close.

My parents and my in-laws were a bad match, too. Not that they actively disliked each other. They just had nothing in common. Maybe they’d call each other on holidays, but that was it.

So, I am pleasantly surprised that my children picked partners with really nice families with good values. In the realm of coincidences possible in this life, my daughter fell in love with a young man from the small town nearest to our country house. So we started seeing his parents socially every now and then—movies, informal dinners. Now it’s more often. Yesterday afternoon I found myself in town in the hardware store, frustrated that I couldn’t find a crock just right for making cucumber half sour pickles like the ones my grandmother made. It occurred to me that I was a 1 minute drive from Dave’s folks. So I picked up my iPhone and spent the next two hours sitting on the front porch of a Victorian era farmhouse. Nice. My son’s girlfriend’s mom and I have been exchanging emails as the kids study for the bar exam. Her dad is on Facebook, and sometimes I see him there. Nice. My son’s girlfriend’s family go to the shore for a vacation each year; my son is joining them. Nice. My daughter’s boyfriend’s family goes to a lake in Maine, and she’ll be part of that group. Nice.

There’s no name for this expansion of family pre-marriage. We have new friends, not necessarily besties, but people we like. Our kids have other adults with whom they interact, about whom they care. I suppose there would have been a word in Yiddish, should the language have evolved in that direction. (The only people who actively and daily use language, aside from some cultural enthusiasts, are certain sects of Orthodox Jews who do not, I imagine, have these kinds of relationships since their kids get married. Early.) Me, the word person—I’m willing to just enjoy the feeling.

Here is a t-shirt I hope I’ll be wearing one day:

  • Follow your kids’ lead. My kids weren’t the type to “bring home” just anyone. When they were ready, we were happy to meet the person. I’ve always tried not to pressure or nag, though, I must say, I haven’t always succeeded. So I say, “follow your kids’ lead” in the spirit of “take this good advice I’ve heard from others,” not, “oh, follow my example.”
  • Try not to mention ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends. We’ve been pretty good about that, though sometimes it’s hard not to mention them especially when they play a role in a funny story. My rule here is that you get to tell the story, but you don’t emphasize the ex.
  • Don’t call a current boyfriend or girlfriend by an ex’s name. I mention this because I’ve done it. My son dated a girl named Megan in high school, and I sometimes call the dog Megan. I don’t get it.
  • Be there for your kid, even when the significant other is in the right. A corollary to this is that even after a break-up, don’t overly malign the ex because they might get back together. A former boss whose kids were a bit older than my gave me this advice: her daughter unengaged and re-engaged about three times before that relationship finally bit the dust.

As always, I invite your comments and would love to hear your almost-in-law stories.

Lauren Still Missing; Still Missing Lauren

“People just don’t disappear,” Robby Spierer said at a news conference about the search for his 20-year-old daughter Lauren, who vanished in the early morning hours of June 3, 2011.

Unfortunately, Robby is wrong. Young woman, girls, go missing every day, all over the world. And what we Americans don’t like to see is that young women and girls get abducted and forced into sex slavery here in the United States of America all the time. Amy Fine Collins wrote an amazing column about sex trafficking in the online version of Vanity Fair on May 24, 2011. For the women in this story, things mostly turn out OK. They have been rescued. The nightmare they endured is over.

But these particular words from the article haunt me: “Caught in the vice unit’s net was a fragile, ghostly, almost child-like blonde. Barely five feet tall and scarcely 90 pounds . . ..” That could describe Lauren: blond, barely five feet tall, scarcely 90 pounds. I am not positing that a pimp abducted Lauren and has turned her into a sex slave. I’m only calling attention to the fact that girls do go missing, girls just like Lauren. (Here’s the Vanity Fair article. Read it! http://vnty.fr/mSNleY)

As a mom—as a mom who knew Lauren Spierer when she was a child—I have been caught up in the “search,” but from afar. I blog; I tweet; I talk to my daughter, who was best friends in elementary school with Lauren’s older sister. Compared to those on the ground in Indianapolis, what I do barely crosses the threshold of nothing. There are people who put on hiking clothing everyday to search ravines and woods. Law enforcement agents sift through tips. Through this all the Spierer family has been resolute and dignified, eloquent.

Those in the Bloomington community have come to regard Lauren as one of their own, which she is. For them, even the hundreds who do not know her, finding Lauren has become a mission. And then there are the thousands and thousands who are following the blogs and Twitter feed. “What’s pulling them in,” I wonder. The wünderkind New York Times reporter Brian Stelter (twitter handle: @brianstelter) made an important observation in article on the Casey Antony case that the public suffers from a lurid fascination with tot killers. (http://nyti.ms/jP5VRO) To the list of what grabs an audience I would add “attractive young women who disappear into thin air.”

Still, all those people out there who have been tweeting and retweeting Lauren’s information are playing a vital role—because somebody out there knows where she is. Today we call it “crowd-sourcing.” It was through twitter “crowd-sourcing” that NPR reporter Andy Carvin (twitter handle: @acarvin. Follow him) was able to debunk the rumor that Israel was providing bombs to Libya. In 2004 New Yorker writer James Surowiecki called this phenomenon “the wisdom of crowds. This time we hope the crowd will be able to find Lauren. True, Robby was wrong: young women disappear all the time. But Lauren’s mom, Charlene, was right when she admonished: “Shame on you, shame on you” to anyone who knows something and has not come forward. No matter what you did or saw, the more time that goes by, the worse it will be for you. The more time that goes by, the worse it becomes for Lauren’s family. Be a human being. Say what you know.

Before I list a few things that Baby Boomers might want to think about, here are some important resources.

A woman in Indiana, who I’m not sure wants to be named, has been running a blog and twitter feed. Here’s some important information.

 

1. Twitter feed: @NewsOnLaurenS.

2. To find out how you can help online:

http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com/2011/06/10-tips-to-help-findlauren.html

3. For people in Bloomington, to help organize volunteers who want to search: http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com/2011/06/will-you-become-find-lauren-search.html

4. To remind others of the tip line and the reward. “Any information would be most helpful.”

http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com/2011/06/friday-evenings-tweet-please-rt.html

 

Malorie Janasek, who is young and hip and beautiful and an IU graduate, has a younger, hipper, more beautiful blog on her site: http://maloriejanasek.com. Read her. Follow her on Twitter at @maloriejanasek.

For a video of the press conference, see http://bit.ly/miCAlk, from Fox News Insider.

 

Takeaways for Baby Boomers:

  • Keep track. Sometimes the best way to stay close is to pull back and let our children have “their space.” But we need to figure out how to know their friends, their habits. Can we somehow be in their lives without being annoying? Suggestions here? (And I am in no way imputing that Robert and Charlene did anything they shouldn’t have or neglected to do something. As I wrote in a previous post, they are about the best people you’d ever want to mee.)
  • Do something about young people’s alcohol consumption. Bad things happen to young people when they are very drunk. But young people drink, and, it seems to me, there’s not much parents or even colleges can do to stop this. But any ideas? Are there ways for high schools and colleges to get involved without alienating their students? I remember my daughter had to complete an online course on alcohol before she started college. She made fun of it. But, I consider myself fortunate here, she doesn’t hold her liquor well and prefers being sober to being sick.
  • Rally for better safety surveillance. Yeah, this is going to go over big in a country that daily becomes more concerned about Big Brother and Big Government, whether it is healthcare or security cameras. Students won’t want to be watched, but more security guards and cameras might be the ticket.

 

Please leave your comments. I understand that since I moved the blog from Blogher to my own website, I’ve become impossible to find unless one knows the name of my blog. In other words, when one searches Google for “baby boomers,” I’m on, like, page 10. The more comments on the blog, the better the search engine optimization. I’m not saying I don’t love the emails and Facebook comments. I do! Keep those up too. You can all be my Facebook friends: friend me at www.facebook.com/linda.bernstein; like my page at www.facebook.com/lindabernsteinphd.

What I Want for Mother’s Day

This is the email I received from my son this morning:

“Lauren got her mom a magazine subscription for Mothers’ Day.  I asked her which magazine, and she said ‘Neurotic Weekly.’  I said, the cover would read, ‘Are You Forwarding Enough Articles About Health Hazards to Your Grown Children?’ What do you want for Mothers’ Day?”

Well, first off I might want him to stop misrepresenting me. Yes, I do forward a lot of news articles to my son, especially since The New York Times paywall went up. (We have a subscription; as an impoverished law student, my son does not.) But they’re on all kinds of stuff. Actually, mostly stuff having to do with Brooklyn. And then the occasional article about bedbugs.

(Bedbugs are a big one for me. Yesterday in a phone call, when my son told me the titles of some books he and his girlfriend had picked up from the street, I said to him—before even commenting on the lucky find—“quick, check the bindings for bedbugs.” He threw the books in a plastic bag and put them in the freezer instead. I’m not sure that works.)

So what do I want for Mother’s Day? This year that question feels a little fraught since I’m spending the day totally without family because I’m at our weekend house preparing the vegetable gardens for planting in a couple of weeks and trying to make sense of the flower gardens. The kids are studying for finals. Howard had to be in the city. So it’s me, myself and I, as we used to say.

Actually, it isn’t fraught at all. I’m perfectly content to cultive mon jardin and eat what I want when I want and not have to answer questions and stuff. OK. The last clause isn’t really true because my husband calls every few hours and the kids bombard me with IMs and emails. (We don’t get cell service here, so no texting.)

And actually, there’s nothing I really want for Mother’s Day, except the big things. World Peace. My kids happy, settled and employed. Health. More money. Lots of more money. Wait, I’m getting going here: published novels, lots of speaking engagements, world travel, an appearance on Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart. (Where did that last item come from?)

Sure, a new Chloe pocketbook or a pair of Prada sandals might be cool. But I have a lot of stuff. A lot a lot.

Of course, whenever someone special—husband, kids—gives me something, that thing becomes special. On the shelf above my desk I have a picture my daughter drew in second grade in a Popsicle stick and macaroni frame titled, “New York City Mother’s Day Ballet.” Holding my books in place is a ceramic head of a wolf, gift from son when he was 9 or 10. Last year my son gave me a novel I wanted to read, my daughter tried to get me a new camera. (Long story.) I treasure these things. So perhaps I don’t mean it when I say, “I don’t want anything because I have so much.” Or “what I want is for all of us to be nice to each other.”

Stuff I really do want: an iPad2, though I can’t figure out what I need it for. The new iMac and MacBook Air laptop, but my three-year-old equipment is doing just fine. Also, those are out of my kids’ spending brackets, and I could never trust my husband to buy electronic equipment.

Unfortunately I can’t take part in the current Facebook meme where people are using photos of their moms as their profile pictures—I have no pictures of my mom on my hard drive (thanks to a few computer crashes several years ago when I used a PC and didn’t back up automatically I lost every digital photo I had taken before 2007.) Our all-in-one printers are old enough so as not to be fully compatible with the Snow Leopard OS, so I can’t scan in a picture. But here in my weekend house, I am so surrounded by my mom’s things. Half the furniture came from my parents’ house, not to mention the chachkas on the shelves and tables. So I am reminded of her all the time.

And my children are in my heart and mind all the time, even as they become more independent, more . . . adult.

I liked that when I looked at Facebook a few minutes ago, my friend Sally had posted a picture of her sons with their fiancées. She commented that before the end of 2011, she’ll have two beautiful daughters-in-law. Indeed, the young women are beautiful, and it’s probably one of the best gifts she’s ever received.

As for the magazine Lauren really sent to her mother: it’s called Cooks Ilustrated. My son came by his wiseguy stuff genetically, I think.