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.

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.

You Can Call Us Old, But We Are Not Selfish

The first mention of the article came to me by way of Twilert–my morning hashtag delivery service–via some young guy named Charz Kelso. (Coming attraction: I’ll talk about Twilert on my next post about Baby Boomers and Twitter.) True, we can all use 30-year-old pictures of ourselves as Twitter avatars (translation: pictures), so maybe Charz Kelso isn’t a Gen Yer angry at his parents. But this was his tweet:First off, I don’t get the idea of someone mad about not getting his inheritance. A woman I know once complained bitterly while her parents’ estate was being settled that she wanted her money. “Her money,” I thought. “It’s your parents’ money. They worked for it. They had the right to do with it whatever they want.” So I object to that kind of spoiled kid attitude, whether the person is six or sixty-six. An inheritance, should one be so lucky, is a gift, not something you are owed.

Anyway, next I clicked on the link in his tweet, which brought me to Time.com’s “Moneyland”: http://ti.me/oiPZF0. This article cited a study by U.S. Trust (a retirement investment company) that concluded that “a surprisingly low 49% of millionaire boomer parents said that leaving money to their kids was a priority.” They also referred to the Baby Boomer reputation for selfishness–something I hadn’t heard before and would much dispute. (The so-called “me” generation was around before Boomers had come of age.) I tried to check out the study itself, but the U.S. Trust page didn’t have a link. So I went to the original article in the L.A. Times. (http://lat.ms/oUvor4) The only information I got there was that U.S. Trust surveyed some millionaire boomers. But how many they surveyed, how they picked their sample, and so on I couldn’t ascertain. So I called a friend who manages money for millionaires. He was circumspect, of course. That’s his professional stance. But mostly he was “huh?” His logic? The multi-multi millionaires have more than they can possibly spend in their lifetimes, and their plans often include trusts for children and grandchildren.

The L.A. Times article also quotes Ken Dychtwald, a former economics guru who somehow manages to still be a quotable person, even though the recession flushed his “age-wave” theory down the tubes:

“Many boomers already are giving the equivalent of an inheritance, except they’re doling out the cash while they’re still alive, said Ken Dychtwald, chief executive of research firm Age Wave. They’re supporting elderly parents, adult children or other family members who are suffering professional or financial woes. ‘How can you say no when a child asks ask for a down payment for a house or money to remodel their house to have a bedroom for a second child?’ Dychtwald said. ‘A lot of boomers are finding that family members are taking cash advances on those inheritances right now.’”

In other words, come inheritance time, what with all we’ve spent sending out kids to college, helping them buy homes, getting our parents the best medical care, well, there just might not be that much money left. Let’s forget about the multi-millionaires. There aren’t that many of them anyway, and really, whether the Hiltons are putting away money for Paris or the Kardashians for their famous kids, I don’t give a hoot.

Let’s talk instead about the upper middle class or regular old middle class baby boomers whose 401ks and other retirement investments kind of shrunk during the recession. We aren’t nearly as rich as we thought we were. We also can expect to live well into our 80′s. It might be really hard if we want or need to retire to live just off principal so that there will be a chunk of money available (when we die) to our heirs. The continued resistance, indeed vilification, of a sensible medical system where people could get good care for relatively little money–the kind of system in place in Canada, Israel and many Western countries–makes more plausible the possibility that we shall have to finance our own care should we get hit with an illness in our older years.

I might have ignored this tweet, except that Creating Results (http://creatingresults.com), a PR company that focuses on BabyBoomers and seniors and that usually tweets important information about this enormous cohort of our population, picked up the same quote as Charz Kelso, and tweeted this:

To which I replied, “no way, silly study,” or somesuch. They came back with this (and by the way, I’m @wordwhacker on Twitter, for those of you who don’t know):

And that’s the point. For most of us, decisions about inheritance might be moot. We are not selfish. Far from it. So many of us are right now helping out unemployed recent college/professional school graduates. How could we possibly do otherwise? They’re our kids. Or we might be paying medical bills for the elderly and infirm. But how could we do otherwise? They’re our parents. Personally, I am grateful for how comfortable my husband and I are. And if we somehow amass a nice chunk of cash before we die, I’ll be really happy for my kids to have it. I’m glad I’m not so rich that I’m too busy spending everything I’ve got so that there will be nothing left for my children and (I hope) grandchildren when I leave this earth.

One more thing: Charz Kelso’s tweet reminded me of other ones that come through on my #babyboomer Twilert feed or comments I read online–young people all lathered up into a fury by right wing Republicans and Tea Party-ers because they say we’re taking their money when we get Social Security and Medicare Baby Boomers. I’m not going to argue that there aren’t problems with the way Social Security is set up now because there does seem to be a tipping point a couple decades from now when the system could go broke. Nonetheless, it’s not “their” money we’re getting. It’s money that has been taken from our paychecks every day of our working lives. It belongs to us. It is not a gift. It has been an investment.

Some things to consider:

  • Clue your kids in about your finances. No, not when they’re in their teens, but if they’re adults, they should know where your money is invested and how you foresee financing the rest of your lives.
  • Talk to them about what they’ll inherit. Look, we’re getting on to 60, and people die. Adult kids should have some idea how to access your assets. At some point, you should also have the “Suzie gets grandma’s china” discussion. Find out what is important to them and write it down. Your lawyer can keep a copy.
  • Speaking of lawyers, have a will and a living will. Even if you don’t have that much money, it’s important that you leave clear instructions about what you want to happen when you die. Do you want your kids to sell your house and split the proceeds, or are you hoping one of them buys out the others? Be clear. Also, make it known what you want to happen to you–do you want “heroic measures,” i.e. feeding tubes, if you’re in a coma an not expected to revive? Do you want to be buried or cremated?

Finally, a shout out to Charz Kelso (who seems maybe to live in Singapore): That was a really well done tweet. For those of you interested in what makes a good tweet, note that he has all the elements: A new and interesting idea; a hashtag (#inheritance) under which this tweet will be filed and seen; a link to an article; wit.

As always, you can leave your comments here on the blog. You can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/Linda.Bernstein or facebook.com/LindaBernsteinPhD. On Twitter I’m @wordwhacker. Do you think Baby Boomers are selfish? Let me know.

 

Charlene Spierer (and My Kids) on My Mind

Until last weekend, I don’t think I had spent a total of 60 minutes of my life thinking about Amy Winehouse. I liked her music OK, but I found her brand of uglifying herself and her life unappealing. When, immediately after her death was announced, her parents and handlers said they didn’t see it coming (an opinion that they amended in subsequent days), my thought was only that how didn’t they see the train sliding off the rails. YouTube videos of some of her final concerts (Amy Winehouse’s Onstage Meltdown‬‏ – YouTube http://bit.ly/oTQiZt) show an out-of-it performer stumble onstage and even drag a backup singer to take over the vocals. She became more famous for her mishaps than her music.

Then I started thinking about her parents. Her father has stepped forward to announce that he will start a foundation in her name for people with addictions. (His assessment of the British National Health’s facilities for treatment is likely incorrect, however. The National Treatment Agency disputed Mitch Winehouse’s claim that there is a two-year waiting list. They say 94% of people who request treatment receive it within three weeks.) In some way this gesture must be therapeutic for him. But there’s still the undeniable fact that his daughter is dead, forever and ever.

I’m not sure at all how parents deal with seeing their adult children self-destruct. Even many of us with absolutely normal kids spend a lot of time agonizing over their happiness. My friends and readers have been aware that my main focus this week (besides the debt ceiling) has been my kids, their significant others, and the bar exam. They have been studying all summer, and on Tuesday they got up very early and sat down to six hours of testing. They completed another six-hour round today. Tomorrow my son and his girlfriend take the New Jersey Bar (which I maintain must have questions about the Jersey Shore, Pineys, and the New Jersey Devil). Yes, my children have done things that are dangerous (most of which I probably don’t know about), and they have at times given me due cause for worry. But they are alive, in Brooklyn, and I think that they’ll get over the hurdles of finding jobs and places to live. They are alive. They drive me crazy. They are alive and functioning.

I also spent time this weekend thinking about Charlene Spierer, the mother of the missing 20-year-old from Indiana University, a woman I knew when the family lived nearby and our daughters were besties in elementary school. As the search for Lauren has passed out of the news cycle, Charlene and Robert remain in Bloomington, waiting for answers. All the volunteers and the press have noted their graciousness, a perfect word to describe their composure during this trying time, their generosity to the community, their earnest wish—belief, rather—that someone who knows something will step forward.

Charlene wrote an open letter on their blog (http://newsonlaurens.blogspot.com) six days ago describing what it is like to wake each morning hoping that today is the day they “find” her. How they in their hearts are defining “find” I cannot know. I can feel their pain, though, their anxiety. I think about how they “don’t know” and I get a headache, a heartache. I joke about a nightmare I had of being in the Apple Store and of the geniuses not being able to fix “it” (unspecified in the dream). It was a dream about my anxiety about my kids, though, and when I awoke, I felt I had a nightmare. Charlene, Robert, their lovely daughter Rebecca, their nieces Emily and Ariel, all the family, are in a living nightmare.

When she was 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, the years she was so close to Rebecca, my daughter used to say, “isn’t Charlene the nicest person you know?” Yes, the answer is yes.

Our kids do dangerous things. We worry. But some people have a lot more to worry about than others. Terrible things happen; some of them can be prevented, some of them can’t. Our job as parents is to be there for our kids, even when they’re adults. I called my son tonight and said, “It’s your cheerleader. I’m carrying pom-poms, making a pyramid. You go!” I called my daughter and said, “Wow. It’s over. What are you doing to celebrate?”

I plead with the parents of Lauren’s friends: Talk to your kids. Support them as they come forward and do the right thing. Think about Charlene’s nightmare. Your kids will be fine. They are alive.

The picture of Lauren is blurry because it was taken with a surveillance camera and is the last known image of her.

I know I always end with bullet points, but only two tonight:

  • Even something small could be big. The telephone number for the Bloomington Police Department is 812-339-4477. “America’s Most Wanted” is also taking calls: 800-Crime-TV (800-274-6388). For more information, check the website http://findlauren.com.
  • We are also facing a financial crisis in this country. Call your congress people. We live in a democracy; what we say counts. If you need your congress person’s telephone, check http://house.gov  and http://senate.gov. You can also find many of them on Facebook—like their pages to leave comments. Or if you’re on Twitter, tweet at them.

As always, I love your comments, even ones from nuclear physicists. You can find me on Facebook at either www.facebook.com/Linda.Bernstein or www.facebook.com/LindaBernsteinPhD. My Twitter handle is @wordwhacker, and on Google+ I’m gplus.to/lindabernstein.