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Archive for the month “June, 2015”

Hurdles, Art Books and the Handicapped

Last night The Jays lost 8-0 to Tampa Bay ( remember I write several months ahead and then edit later), but we left before the end of the game. As I huffed my way up the stairs to the exit, I thought of my father. Not that he was a sports enthusiast although he enjoyed watching an odd golf game or even awkwardly dropping a ball to bowl occasionally. But the impossibility he would have had mounting those stairs caused me pause.

My father was a victim of polio, his legs forever destroyed so for the rest of his life from age 28, he required braces and crutches to keep him upright. When he left Riverdale Hospital in 1949, he was fully braced in something that would conjure a Hannibal Lector cage of straps and bars. Later he relied on half braces and wooden sticks much like Itzak Perlman’s to balance his body as he swung his legs. Eventually some design fool had decided that a plastic substitute should replace the rubber tips at the bottom of the crutches so that sliding on wet surfaces became another obstacle to overcome when moving from place to place.

As I puffed up the stairs at the ACC, I reflected on how many venues are inaccessible to the handicapped. Although my father had been forced to navigate before “ Handicapped” signs were designated for special parking privileges and broken down curbs or ramps were even a cloud in a city planner’s mind, he and others had somehow travelled the city.

Once he had brought me an art book from Queen Street and only years later did I ponder, how could he have parked his car, gotten into the store on that busy street, and carried that over-sized book back home? I was so amazed and overwhelmed by the act at the time, that thanking him for his feat did not even pass over my consciousness, so consumed was I by my prize.

When we chose as our first home, an apartment with two flights of stairs, there had been no thought of the effort required to hoist his 180 pound body to our door for dinner. I recall as well when I continued to demand he wear madras shorts and he finally retorted that he had no desire to expose his braces.

Now I reflect or rationalize with embarrassment that perhaps it was a need to believe that one’s parents are forever strong and invincible, like all other able bodies parents, or truthfully and more honestly, it is a lack of empathy, particularly when we, ourselves, are strong, bold and young, unmindful of the ravages that a disease or age can impose: in weighing down the body with limps, shakes, gasps or pain.

At more than 60 now, I regret such brazen insensitivity.

And now that my father is gone, I can never express to him that I am so sorry and so unmindful of how difficult his life was. Yet, he would have scorned my pity., brushing away my comments, perhaps not wanting to even discuss such matters.

As I struggled with my grandson’s carriage at Starbuck’s this summer, no person my age or much younger, jumped up to open the door as I fought to push the stroller through. Even directly meeting their eyes which did not flinch from my questioning gaze to suggest that they momentarily leave their frothy cappuccinos to aid diverted the course of events. Similarly on a bus or subway ride, it is not the young who rise to offer a seat, so ensconced are they by their earplugs. My friend Anne said a woman her own age offered a seat. Anne smiled but refused.

So when no one offers you a seat, or even deigns to open a door: you do it yourself.

That was what my father did. When even his and my mother’s family did not leave him a parking place in the dead of cold slippery winters, he somehow dragged himself through the ice, set on putting one foot in front of the other and not falling.

Year later, as a society we do pretend that we care and have put in place some support- or so we say. Perhaps it has to do with boomer aging as we find the stairs a bit more challenging or lose our balance so much easier than when we twirled effortlessly on ice skates. I often say that the boomers never believed that would lose the golden haze of youth and perhaps that is part of the everlasting Mic Jagger or Bon Jovi tours. We gaze at the wizening faces but applaud the flexibility in their limbs.

My mother used to use” you never know…” and it is true, you never do know until you experience the reality of a situation yourself.

Sorry dad!

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Styling

Like many people I thought it was Maya Angelou who wrote “ When I am old I will wear purple…” or some words to that effect; however, in checking on the cite, I see it was Jenny Joseph.

Jenny Joseph in Warning Poem writes,

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals…

Funny how we grow into purple, a colour I shook my head at when my younger daughter adored it – always. But now, passed age 60 I cannot get enough variation of it, from lilac to purple-gray to almost fuchsia, it draws me like a hummingbird. From plum eye shadow to lavender shoes, it tickles me. I find it rich and regal and delightful, funny and fantastic. No surprise then it was once considered a royal colour , a spiritual colour highlighted by ermine by monarchs, its value cherished due to its longevity, obtained from Mediterranean sea snails.

Most people will tell you that getting older sucks. My mother used to guffaw at the notion of The Golden Age. There are more deep wrinkles, more aches, slower moves, more forgetting names and a trend towards being a lesser-you—unless of course you have the body of a power athlete and the sharp brain of a scientist. Perhaps that is why we spend hours on bettering ourselves on games such as Luminosity every morning and twisting into the difficult El Doa poses at Pilates as we try to preserve what is vanishing like snow that once glistened on the roof.

However

what I do find enjoyable is how people of a certain age have begun to dress, carving out their individuality through their wearing apparel.

And it seems to matter less how I look on a daily basis so if I slip out to the store with a bright green fannypack slung low on my protruding tummy, I hardly care. Wearing makeup for a jaunt to the grocer’s seems downright silly too. I see others my age behaving similarly. Hair is less than coiffed, maybe with a baseball cap pulled low, pants comfy and relaxed, not the tight pinched jeans emblazoned with designer monikers once purchased to display curves. I see in these other passerbys that I do not approach a kinship, a community of women who would, like me, adore wearing purple. Instead of following the latest fashion fads, they have become relaxed about themselves, their outward appearances, forgoing trends for individual eccentricity. Many have forged their own unique style. . I like that.

A month ago I observed at the corner of Yonge and Roxborough a mature woman who had put herself together as Annie Hall might have, hat, upturned collar, slouchy pants and I gasped –in pleasure. Not a Halloween getup but I assumed an outward expression of her appreciation of a way of dressing. Inwardly I laughed but thought if this were California, no one would even looked twice but applauded her ingenuity- or perhaps it was her own style that merely reminded me of Woody’s paramour Annie. In any case I enjoyed her way of arranging herself that spoke out.

In contrast 65 year old Caitlin Jenner’s pinup pose left me cold. When I read Judith Timson in The Star’s Current affairs, on Jun 03 2015 , I realized that Jenner was calling on the “ beauty” of her generation, not the present day, to identify herself as a fully attractive woman, complete with bustier and boobs. So it seems that even when we strike out, society has brainwashed us with indefatigable images – such as even the iconic Annie Hall- as we are tied to uphold and exceed the ideals with which we first struggled. To explain ourselves as women, we call on the concepts we associate with our sense of what is /even once was considered desirable ,packaging ourselves as society has suggested we might be, even quirky versions.

But rather than veer into the psychological, I prefer to stay on the outside , the textural superficial that charms the eye . For that reason I I love to contemplate the aesthetics of clothes and when Comme des Garcons, many many years ago first put seams on the outside of garments I thought it brilliant to turn a fabric inside out to reveal the construction of a piece of clothing. We could simultaneously view process and product. Wearing the internal on the external, bringing both parts together? How post-modern is that?

I adore the texture, the structure above all, the cloth, the design of things: from doorknobs to fabrics. I have thought that fashion is merely wearable art in the hands of a gifted crew. Who cannot gasp at the clothes of the protagonist in Scandal as she emblazons in white, donning her modern gladiator togs suitable for a heroine in Washington battling Evil. Maybe it is the reverse of the old you can’t tell a book by its cover, but here, oh yes! You can as the avenging angel avenges-so stylishly.

I have friends who put down Vogue magazine, noses pinched tightly above the glitter of fashion, but for me it is a rich picture book, often with Grace Coddington weighing in by visual references to paintings in her thoughtful borrowing from famous art works, landscapes in her fashion shoots. The recent gory tantalizing Hannibal television show does the same, rearranging his corpses a la Botticelli and it is so terrifyingly beautiful, you cannot tear your eyes from the scene as you peruse the horror of the frozen images arranged for perpetuity.

Perhaps art is in fact that: life fixed forever in a framed canvas. So why not elegantly painted scenes in the ground stones of cobalt or the Madonna faces that look beyond into another dimension or even the flashes of billowing colour combinations that speak to tensions, and freedoms and the presence that exceeds reality?

However, as I once again ruminate, moving from style to society mores to art, I want to recatch my initial fascination with how women dress. And in spite of Dial soap’s ground breaking decision to use real women in their advertisements, none, I believe, was wearing purple! Ha.

Saying Goodbye to Maury

I read obituaries.

At first, it was to ensure my name wasn’t there, but then to watch for people I knew or may have known. Others must do this too as I was surprised by the unexpected visitors at my mothers’ funeral and subsequent shiva. Maybe obituaries established one of the earliest forms of social media, a written town crier or play on posting of bands at religious institutions: getting the word out anonymously.

Which is kinda creepy as you never know how many or who is reading your posts or reflections, but I guess that is the point- of needing to impart something to someone beyond yourself and your immediate circle.

For me, I express my thoughts as a personal need to write, rather than to communicate and anticipate others who will read my words ( although I am delighted by a comment, even disparaging ones as prompted by my own near and dear: for example last week’s regarding the commercialization of parenthood. Yikes). Guess it’s much like a Catch 22. Put yourself out there and take a chance because not everyone is going to agree with your version of life.

When I searched the Obits onE Friday I read that a second or third cousin had passed away. I knew him only briefly, one of those many relations that you encounter at a pretzel bar at a bar mitzvah or wedding, a quiet, lanky fellow, the late arrival of a bouncy, chatty woman and her silent sam of a husband. They were lovely, lovely people, my father’s first cousins, always welcoming, smiling, accepting: the kind of family people write books about when they idealize a friendly Jewish family. And both Fanny and Bella, my father’s aunt and first cousins, were the perfect stereotypes of a clan you would want to belong to, and great cooks as well, mavens of the artistry of matzoh balls, rugala, gefilte fish. At least that was how I drew them in my mind.

Likely shyly, I was introduced to Bella’s son once or twice, the cousin who passed away, now grown up: a husband, a father, a soul taken too early. I can mythologize him too because I didn’t really know him, but I had a sense of how much his parents adored and deep down loved him, one of those change of life babies, a delightful surprise to his very reserved and gentle parents.I could fantasize a little about Maury because my remembrances of his parents were so dear and palpable; and likely, if he followed in their footsteps, he, too was likewise good, kind and undeserving of an early death.

Ascending heaven, I imagined his adoring welcoming mother gather him to her arms and murmur “… enough suffering, my darling, come with me. “ Yet, having read Dr. Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven , I could also hear Alexander’s son imploring his father back to life, “Dad, dad, don’t go, come back.” And Alexander did miraculously return. But in the distant- cousin’s, Maury, case, his illness did not subside and Maury had to leave-even though as the obituary stated : his children were his life. As he was Bella and Sam’s: you could read it in their faces.

Last weekend when I had dinner, the first time in more than thirty years with my sister-in-laws, our talk focused on the passing of our mothers, theirs most recent in February. I shared with them an image from a film- whose title I cannot recall, but it had stuck with me: an aged grandfather succumbs in his wheelchair, but as he is passing, he props himself up to standing, and his physical frailty begins to recede so that soon, he is carefully walking, then gliding, then blissfully running as the years fall away. He gallops and gallops and then smack! he is encircled in his mother’s loving arms as she hugs him tightly to her body and his face is blissful.

Do I believe in an afterlife, I don’t know, yet I do not think we can possibly know everything there is to know in this realm and beyond. Far greater minds have grappled with an afterlife or spiritual ascent of our souls! Whether yes or no…but here is the time and place to enjoy: Gather your rosebuds while ye may, Robert Herrick implored all those dancing girls in the light of day.

Russell Smith in The Globe and Mail recently opined about the difference between life happening and being haunted by it. Better to be part of The Happening (with apologies to the existentialists and Alan Kaprow back in the boomer’s haydays) rather than the lament the many years passed that might have been, sighing for moments that could have but didn’t occur.

That remembrance of our earlier days enchants me a little as I envisage myself jumping on trains in Europe,hitchhiking, following paths with no idea where they might lead, footloose- but always a guardian angel at my back as I- even to my own surprise, returning time after time home safe , full of stories and excitement at what I had seen and done. Perhaps the world was safer 40 years ago and you could trust and be naïve and wander into dark streets by train stations reeking of city and encounter people at hostels and become part of their travelling bands, taking on their routes, abandoning them and picking up someone else’s when you got bored or tired or annoyed. A slipshod life without direction only a framework of addresses where to find your parents’ mail that might corral you.

I look out at the flowers this summer, the dark lilies in particular and I see their trajectory of life from bud to shrivelled carcass, the moment of full glorious bloom, and I foolishly hope it will endure to light the days and nights to come. Maybe that is partially the draw of San Diego for me- flowers in continual bloom, ravishing birds of paradise, ever blooming agapanthus, cacti that ignore the scorching heat so they manage to endure and survive.

And perhaps that is the blessing, the ignorance of youth, to scoff, to try, to fly before you learn your wings may melt.

For Maury, I hope that his life was filled with the sweetness his parents would have wanted for him; and now I hope he rests with them., embraced by that fierce love.

The commercialization of parenthood

Talk to boomer grandparents, and you will hear the same thing.

We are all thunderstruck that our children do not believe that we have any parenting skills. From feeding to dressing to any helpful hints we might offer, we have been relegated to the backseat of the van while they, our darling prodigy, just roll their eyes and cluck, almost sneering at our ineptitude –so forget it and keep your thoughts to yourself. We have been reduced to a class of imbeciles. Even discussing the sensitive topic of parenting with grandparents who are doctors with REAL medical knowledge, the reaction is the same. I recently heard a story related by a friend of a top pediatrician in the city who, allowed to babysit, was given the phone number of his offspring’s own doctor. In case the kid coughed or fretted in the night. Professional and personal knowledge are reduced to a handful of ashes. Mom, dad, you don’t know nothing!

And we, with incredulous stares, wonder why.

When my first child arrived, my mother made suggestions. Rather than merely ignore them, I reflected, accepted, threw out some, but I listened to her and my father. Her advice to supplement nursing was of course wrong but I did not challenge her outright. Her wisdom on exposing children to all kinds of educative experiences was sage. Even if I guffawed (silently! of course ), later I might think on her words, sifting the wheat from the chaff and deciding myself that perhaps she might have had a point- even if it were inconsequential. Yet, the attitude of the present generation is to firmly reject any possible or improbable wisdom offered by their progenitors, barely as the words emerge from our mouths.

We have learned to button our lips and not proffer advice as it is rarely in any case requested.

First, we are amazed and then we ponder this attitude.

How could our long years of childrearing be so disregarded by the perfect specimens we have brought to such a high state of evolvement?

I truly believe their aversion is a by -product of parenthood transformed into a commodity for purchase. Because- if you can pay for it, it must have value. Along with the right baby clothes, strollers, food, and baby recreation.Unless a product is intentionally marketed with all the façade, decorum and affluence of careful packaging, it is valueless. What is given free appears blows in the wind. Belying years of experience gleaned through trial and error, our children believe that like dogs, their children can be trained, taught and packaged into the smiling family I would have associated with the retro Leave it to Beaver or Father Knows Best shows where, ironically the outdated patriarchal images of society suggest that Someone( actually a slick marketing person analyzing how you will spend your dollars) really knows what is best/ appropriate for kids, thus promulgating those blissful images of family on their boxes and advertisements. Once more, it is advertising that dominates our society in a way to fictionalize what is true and what should be anticipated and purchased by us as consumers. As simple customers of another illusory world, we enter into a covenant to to buy, buy, buy.

And with money comes wisdom sold to us by all the fathers and mothers who pretend to know best and the keys to a happy kingdom where children behave as we expect they should as good little children as we proudly nod and take the credit of their fantastic intelligence and demeanour. Do I revisit shades of the kiddies paraded out from the nursery from Downtown Abbey segments? All flashy, frozen projections of a Skinner world where if I feed the child three pellets of food only when he is hungry, he will smile beatifically at me, be sated and do as I wish. Problem solved.

For example, at present, should your child cry at night, you book your friendly doula for 3 nights to teach your kid to sleep. Did someone say $450 a night? Should you have trouble with breast feeding, there is a lactation consultant at $200 an hour who will berate your technique. Long gone are the days of La Leche League where there was a number you could call and a friendly lady would talk you through your grievances. And it was free!

Yet if the present day programming works, why did I have to endure the bratty screams of a spoiled rotten kid at Menchi’s yesterday when he was not allowed all the frozen yogurts, twisting and repelling his mother’s loving arms and goofy, apologetic grin.

Notions of putting your kid on the Mediterranean diet may be all the rage although I recall reading Adele Davis on proper nutrition and even in my library in the Dark Ages were books on cooking for babies. Still there was a sense that we had to work through the issues of babyhood, offering first bananas and working up to strawberries, etc. and the answers or recommendations would not be sold to us and festooned with expensive stickers. Although perhaps Gerber’s smiling baby suggested s/he was satisfied by the strained prunes or potatoes and heralded the way towards that image of satisfied babyhood desperately sought and bought by the hipsters.

We sought answers. We did read books that helped explain the developmental phases where crying, screechy behaviour, tantrums would exist. We consulted experts whether they were in professions -or even in our own families. In deed, discussing a problem with a loving, understanding parent who had endured the same problem was a comfort. And an added bonus was that your mother might take the baby and walk her up and down a million times as mine did every Friday evening. Your father might murmur , “She’s an old soul in a baby’s body” and grin at the child with such adoring love that came from a spot so deep you didn’t know it had even existed- and your respect and love for your parents deepened immeasurably and you were joined in a new and unexpected way to your own parents.

I’m not saying some of this does not still occur, especially the grandchild-grandparent bond when the parents leave you to babysit. In fact, it is a marvel you are even allowed to babysit, clueless as you are considered to be, in the realm of child-rearing.

Times change along with attitudes. I never would have thought I would champion daycares, but I realized and observed how the work of bringing up children can be improved by a loving, well-educated professional in safe and supportive environments –although I wish they could eradicate the other kids’ cold germs.

The funny thing about getting older, and sometimes wiser is that you hear yourself sounding just like your own parents. The words may change but the music lingers on.

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