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Ageism and the Queen

Why was it that when Mic Jagger produced his last child a few months ago he was not shown in a rocking chair beset with grey hair and cane. More likely, with responses of thumbs up and “Attah boy,” gossip was impressive that an old dude was still so young.

But be a woman – of quite a lesser age! and the image that comes to mind is dowdy, frumpy, lacking in lustre. In the last year, I have been associated with this image at least twice.In not revealing my own age but describing myself in blogs and articles as a child of the 60’s I have received negative epithets that suggest I am ready for the Mosha Zakanam( Yiddish for old folks home). And it really infuriates me.

My grandparents WERE old and worn out by their 50’s, my buby Molly huffing and smoking “ special” asthma cigarettes, her stringy hair pulled back in a bun and never dyed, her short waisted body always in drab shapeless dresses, her lopsided hobble completing the resemblance to a crone. Yet the image of her lilting warm eyes remains as well. Molly’s husband ,Sam, was unsmiling, ageless, posture ramrod straight, and although he did not wear tails, one had the impression that behind his back he might have carried a pointer stick. They spent their days, before I knew them, crouched over sewing machines at Tiptop Tailors, immigrants with few choices but the weight and burden of life on their thin shoulders.

My mother’s parents, too, although seemingly better polished, also were not attached to a particular age; however, I did think of all grandparents and people taller than I as “old”. My mother’s father always cupped a half- smoked cigarette in his palm, and appeared to be coasting or dancing across the floor. My other grandmother’s scowl was timeless as well, angry from her dislocation from Europe, her cleaning and cooking for the landsmen from Poland my grandfather,Joe, trooped through their doors as unwelcomed guests. As a child, I found my grandparents all distant and cool, rarely hugged or even smiled at by them. Yet my mother adored her father, and the stories concerning special foods my father’s mother made for him out of love were endless.

But I was a baby boomer, one destined to jangle my lovebeads into grandparent hood.As well, all those my age had aged nicely, strengthening their core, exercising, consulting the latest experts on health and food choices, contemplating mindfulness training, gauging their cholesterol, finding Contemporary clothes to disguise the bag and sag of accumulated years. We moved easier( well some with knee or hip replacement), we were more knowledgeable about good heart choice meals and more veggies. We got down on the floor with our grandkiddies. We learned how to commandeer technology, computers, iPhones, IPads, that superseded typewriters, adding machines, snail mail and telephones. Some even ventured on Social media. So we moved with the times and adapted.Unlike the dinosaurs( or so I reckoned).

So last year when I had a trio of blogs accepted in a newspaper in cool California, I was pretty impressed that such a publication that appealed to a youthful culture would first, be interested and then actually, pay for my writing. The first two blogs , on my experiences in the San Diego scene, perhaps hinted at someone beyond a Millennial; however, the third concerned how I had tripped at Belmont Park, an experience I explained that had occurred from my earliest days as I am continually caught off guard by a scene, a flower, a friend and wind up with tangled feet hitting the ground hard, my head and body two separate entities, my knees permanently purple.

However the index that located the blog in the zine introduced my piece as” Old Lady Trips”. And I do not think they were punning on a Canadian connection to pot.

So infuriated was I that I emailed my contact who demurred that it was his editor who applied titles, not him.I immediately forwarded him a recent photo of me. True, it was flattering, as I did not send a picture of me in my worn nightie and rollers in my hair.He responded, “Oh my…!”. Oh my, in deed.

But just yesterday , so delighted to have an article published in a national newspaper, I could not wait to see the accompanying sketch. To my horror, the picture which did highlight the pointillism of Seurat’s Grande Jatte in the background ,displayed in the foreground a frump: the author(ME!). Upon closer examination, I noticed a purple cardigan, impressive rump and the most unshapely calves on the figure holding on to a picture frame. Her hair harked to the 20’s. Horrified , I looked closer to identify the personage as Queen Elizabeth the second- and not the one now dramatized in The Crown either. Certainly not a baby boomer.

What were they thinking? That someone who sat in a lecture hall in the 60’s was now 90? That someone who visits and discourses on art and art galleries is a decrepit soul who creeps in and out of rooms? That all this art stuff belongs to the over the hill types? The idea of the Queen being drawn into a picture frame was in deed cute, but truly, except for her horses and corgies, I have never associated her royal highness with colour, shape or form- with the exception of perhaps an interesting matching hat to her ensembles.

I wanted to scream ageism, sexism and send off a caustic comment to the paper, but my husband reminded me such a blast might prevent anything of mine being published there again should I follow the petulant like Trump model wherein he twittered about Meryl Streep’s comments at the Golden Globes. But perhaps only twerps tweet. So I took the higher ground . “Go high, “intoned Michelle Obama in my ears, and I chose to explode my outrage here in my blog.

Still, why is it that men get better with age, and women even boomers, get older?

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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.

Generations

En route to visit daughter# 2 several months ago, we turned on Marc Maron’s WTF and listened to two interview/ conversations. One was with Ivan Reitman of Meatballs and Ghostbusters fame and the other was with David Bronner scion of a famous German-Jewish family whose soapmaking tradition began in 1858. Each man spoke about relationships with family. Most specifically father and sons.

Ivan’s son, Jason, went on to produce less funny films than his father such as Up in the Air and Thank You for Smoking. In the conversation that highlighted Reitman’s early work with John Balushi Howard Shore ( actually a cousin on my mother’s side!), Martin Short and others, Ivan Reitman displayed a kind of humility and forthrightness about his directing career and what he suggested triggered Saturday Night Live’s emergence into comedy programming, My interest wasn’t so much on what Reitman said, but how he said it. Touching on a plethora of topics that eventually veered towards Jason, he displayed great affection and respect for his son, without being saccharine, or over the top. I flashed to a loving portrait I had seen the day previously at the AGO of the artist Henry Moore and his mother reading to him as he curled into her body. They were shown caught in a personal moment. No words, but the loving relationship was clear. Here in the podcast, it was the timbre of the words that responded to Maron’s questions and encouraged Reitman to carry on as long as he chose.

The second interview revealed that David Bronner ( whose “ magical” soaps are sold at Whole Foods) great grandfather who had had visions and was even locked away in a mental institution. On his soaps’ wrappings were printed such thoughts as “If I am not for myself, who am I for?”, from Rabbi Hillel as well as other messages to promote self-reflection into unity, collaboration and world peace. The soap business passed to David ‘s father and uncle who appeared to have followed a more conventional style of soap wrapper. Eventually David who had scorned any previous links to the business, took over: working for a year with his father who eventually passed away.

Here the conversation came alive as David Bronner presented his own mission: to wrestle from Monsanto harmful agents, and to work towards foods that are not genetically -altered as an impetus to maintain a healthier environment. He even sowed actual seeds on the White House lawn. David obviously hoping to garner attention to his causes, locked himself in a metal cage outside the White House, protesting the illegality of growing hemp, one of his soap’s main ingredients. The mantle had been passed to the grandson from his father, grandfather and great grandfather into this generation.

Bronner seems to have almost unconsciously inculcated the visionary spirit of his ancestors: towards improving the world. He spoke with such passion, explaining that only enough money to run the company is taken out and additional profits go towards charities. I was reminded of Albert Barnes, American physician, chemist, businessman, art collector, writer, educator, and founder of the company that produced Argyrol : silver nitrate antiseptic solution for the treatment of gonorrhea and a preventative of gonorrhea blindness in newborn infants. Philosophically, Barnes believed in profit-sharing with his workers and promoting diversity. His collection of mainly Impressionist art at the Barnes Collection ( a must-see for all art aficionados) is housed in Philadelphia. Mentored by John Dewey, Barnes was considered a rebel.

Both the Reitman and Bronner families had escaped oppressive regimes, Russians in Czechoslovakia, and Nazis in Austria, risking everything when they arrived in their new countries of Canada and the U.S. Perhaps having lost family or striving to establish themselves in foreign places had refocused parental energy towards demonstrating love and relationships in tangible ways, proving to their children that values live in people, not places. By the way, on September 8, the day before 2010 TIFF opened, Ivan Reitman and his sisters christened Reitman Square, the new headquarters of the Toronto festival’s year round administration on the property left to them by their own parents. Rather than parents being just a footnote or a passing comment, the interviewees revealed a real connection to the driving forces of their forbearers, paying more than just lip service.

As a parent and grandparent myself, I segued into how I and my husband will be remembered: hopefully more than our son’s lament that he was stashed with friends on his 5th birthday and pushed down hills because we were at work; or anger at being forced to share a bologna sandwich with his sisters. Hopefully it will be a memory of a trip where he consumed a delicious pizza outside Rome in an ancient castle aptly called Il Castello. Will he recall Howard and me dressed as maid and butler serving his friends at a celebratory lobster dinner for him , all of us consumed with laughter at each courteous course.

Maybe it will be our daughter’s birthday in Montebuono during Howard’s sabbatical; or perhaps a family boat cruise to Rio or watching the Cubs in Chicago all together. Maybe it will be revisiting our faces charged with pride and happiness at a graduation here or away; or Howard’s chaperoning the CCOC to Salt Spring Island. More likely it will be a resurgence of annoyance at the overwhelming deluge of toys loving bestowed to grandkids on my birthdays that riled my children into suppressing anger; or the “horrid” bulgur chicken or “healthy” spaghetti served to them as children. I hope it will be a mixture of some things good at least.

As the years go by, I actively try and make those moments with my own parents resurface, recalling more of myself; and with myself, them. Like buds from trees, we are parts of a whole, that continue to bloom and carry on, even when the branches have withered .

Bones and Backs: more than body obsession

When our grandparents were young, they wore shapeless clothes, laboured from dawn to dusk and fell into their soft chairs in the evening. They had little time or concern about how they looked. As a little girl, I recall my little grandmother and white-haired grandfather who arrived late Saturday afternoons to our store for supper. They came by bus. My grandmother was tiny, heavy and dowdy; my grandfather was taller, reserved and aloof.

My poor mother who had slaved all week in and behind our store now was required to cook a meal for her in-laws. She would often tell me how much my Bubby Molly adored her only son, my father, eeking out a few pennies to buy him sardines as a special treat when he was a boy and how she only truly finally accepted my mother once she saw how my mother had reacted to my father’s polio: not abandoning him, as her own mother had admonished her to do.

I don’t recall exactly what we ate on those Saturday nights, although it was likely Friday night leftovers: the remnants of a delicious tomatoey fricassee, and roasted chicken saturated in Heinz sauce. The dinner that stands out in my mind does not concern the food, however, but the actions of my grandfather and a bowl of chicken soup hurtling across the table. It was the one and only time my father actually smacked me across the face because of being goaded on by his father, outraged that I would speak up and perhaps be rude, mocking or disrespectful. Truthfully I do not remember what silly words had sarcastically spun out of my mouth, only the shaming repercussions of that terrible event. Shame, embarrassment, my father’s anger, my grandfather’s satisfaction, my refusal to cry as my cheek burned.

Usually they brought us chocolates and we would thank them dutifully. My grandmother had difficulty breathing and was said to smoke special asthma cigarettes. In my mind’s eye, they appear non-descript, her small and heavy-busted; him with that shock of white hair. They felt distant, and particularly him, judgmental.

Years later, and perhaps because I harboured that memory like a festering wound, when my husband and I gathered Zaida Sam’s last possessions from his dark house on Arlington, I refused to include the waffle-maker in the bundle we were transferring to the Baycrest or Moishe- Zakanam so- referred to in Yiddish,which I assumed meant old folks’ home. He made a plea for its inclusion but I looked sternly at him and refused to give in to his request.

Unlike today when we sit on the floor with our grandkids, joke and jostle with them, both my Bubby Molly and Zaida Sam sat ensconced in the pink brocade chairs in the corner. I think she smiled a bit. She loved my father unconditionally and maybe the first grandchild, my cousin Jon, had held them lovingly transfixed in his heart. I don’t know. Perhaps there were perfunctory kisses with my sister and me, but certainly not a lot of holding or touching.

When we visited their house for a family meal or stopped to took them for an occasional Sunday drive, I can resurrect in my mind a long alleyway of a house, couches that pressed the wall lengthwise, a television at the end, a tiny kitchen behind, very dark, badly lit and the feeling of claustrophobia. Yet welcoming smells did emerge from that kitchen and my aunt Goldi’s stories always included stuffed peppers, pies and the family chocolate cake-whose recipe I never received.

When my mother passed away, I discovered old photos of my grandparents and was amazed that Bubby Molly had once been lithe and lovely, slim and stylish instead of the baggily dressed, audibly breathing, straggled- haired woman I barely knew. In the pictures, she wears large beautiful hats and the narrative that was told was that Zaida Sam had wooed her with a very elaborate confection of a hat that he later tore to pieces before her eyes, he caught in a demonstration of rage. She was known to be modern, a procurer of new fangled things such as washing machines and frigerators, curious, loving and the scourge of her husband’s family Friday night poker games. Her life was hard.

Exercise I imagine consisted of walking to the bus stop en route to work at Tiptop Tailors where both of them sewed and beautifully executed fine cloaks and suits. Likely at the end of the day, they uncoiled their tight bodies that had been fixed to their chairs at their sewing machines hour after hour. This was the story of unions past, not quite the pits of New York or the sweat holes of Bangladesh. Certainly the Union’s desire to free people from the chains of their bosses gave rise to slightly improved situations. One has only to recall The Triangle Shirtwaist Company where 146 deaths and an unknown number of injuries occurred on Saturday, March 25, 1911. It is laughable to think any boss considered their employees needing bodily relief or even a bathroom break, let alone an outlet for stretching tired or sore bodies. Not to mention the sexual harassment foisted on young pretty women afraid to lose their jobs should they refuse the bosses’ attentions.

Jogging, stretching, massages lay far in the future, we only imagining how exhausted, tight and twisted their bodies felt. Maybe the Italians understood better that an evening promenade around the town square would ease the endurance of a long day’s arduous work, especially of sitting unmoving for long long hours. Research now shows that getting up from your desk and strolling even the length of the office frees your mind to be more creative. But then, no one was much interested in the creativity of drones wrapped around their machines, doing piece work.

My parents also never spoke of their bodies or appearances as anything but the mules that drove the work load, although my mother had her hair done once a week, sprayed and lacquered. My father laughed at men who styled their hair, ones who did not visit actual barbers, believing it an offense to one’s manhood. But she always looked nice and my father would compliment her. She dressed very practically, rarely in pants until she was older, reveling in the freedom from stockings and garter belts. Yet, even prostrate, practically comatose in his final hospital days, my father’s eyes would follow my mother around the room, approvingly savouring her freshly washed demeanour.

Once she had bursitis- likely pulling her shoulder when she, a mere 100 pounds, carried my father’s heavy equipment or televisions in from the car as he possessed no power in his legs. For the most part, neither of them complained of aches and pains. My father had experienced such searing pain as he succumbed to polio at Riverdale hospital that he confided that he willed the pain into the night table. It was excruciating. He dragged one foot ahead of the other, Sisyphusian, his life’s philosophy unspoken but emphatically conveyed to my sister and myself: keep on going.

Physical effort was difficult for someone in his condition. He resented being labeled crippled, much preferring the term “ handicapped’ as a golfer might be, but not a handsome man like himself who stood a proud 6 feet.

Once when my husband and I took him to the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition), he asked us to wait while he visited the men’s room. It seemed as if he was taking a very long time. Only then did we notice that he had had to climb up three flights of steep stairs and then back down again. Not much different than scaling Manchu Picchu for able-bodies persons. He did not complain, doggedly accepting while resenting this was the fate cast him. Fortunately? there were side rails so he could drag the heavy crutches along with him. No broken down curbs or accessibility washrooms back then. But I absorbed his living mantra: put one foot in front of the other and keep on going.

Having fallen out of bed the first night home from the isolation hospital and needing to be hoisted back, he told my mother he wished he would have died. Somehow the two of them trudged on. Much later, he would somehow get himself to Sunnybrook’s pool where a contraption lowered and raised him into the pool there. He did love swimming where at least he could stand free and without his hated supports. He’d laugh as he swam with the grandkids in the small pool he had designed for their house years later, calling out to the grandkids as he managed to chase them :that he was the big fish or shark. They laughed and played along. He was happy.

Still that generation, by and large,did not indulge their bodily concerns. My parents understood that life was hard and told themselves: get on with it- in rain, and snow and slippery surfaces, bodies sore, painful and throbbing. No matter the obstacles.I suppose in the past, people merely accepted the physical pain, plodded on and felt it was their due to suffer as generations before appeared to have also persisted in silence, with perhaps a small, wealthy handful, visiting chiropractors and knowing how to soothe that uncomfortable knee, painful shoulder or that more than troublesome pinch in the hip joint.

Today you rarely meet someone without an issue that revolves around their body, usually a back complaint. I have three herniated discs, no doubt incurred by an uneven gait and a wild ride down the Truckee River in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. So I personally know the torments of back pain. Recently I encountered a dentist whose twisted stance over his patients for so many years has resulted in a back that must be shot up with epidurals and will eventually result in surgical procedures. He too comes regularly to Pilates classes. Ah, the relief.

I cringe to remember myself instructing at Vic Tanney’s in the 60’s where I put people on a vibrating belt that jiggled their fat. I knew nothing about physiology of the body or kinasthetics. I was a pretty girl in a sparkly tunic, smiling and encouraging unhealthy people to stay with their program. After work, I would visit Sutton Place’s coffee shop for a chocolate soda.

In many ways, although I’ld bet my grandparents and parents would disagree, things are better and improved today. An awareness of our aches and pains has sparked an industry of real sportsclubs, massage therapists, acupuncturists,caring Pilates and osteopathic professionals who through education and course have learned how to treat or at least ameliorate the ravages of the work day. Classes are part of our routines and we miss them when a class or appointment needs to be cancelled.

Today many boomers still do endure; however, many make attempts to find the person or people who will aid in easing the agony of their aches. For me, it was five long years at Pilates to begin to tame those discs that caused me to lie flat on the floor after teaching a full day. Thank goodness no university girl ever put me through the paces that would have further damaged the disks. When I mutter about my back, I sometimes think of my father, his struggle to literally propel one foot before the other and how he and my mother made a life that continued on in spite of all its rigours.

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