Making a Difference

Typically on Sunday mornings my husband and I share articles from the New York Times. He’ll often read me pieces while I prepare breakfast or visa versa, and we’ll discuss the ones that pique our interest. The year end edition of the Sunday Magazine runs detailed obituaries on a handful of famous and infamous people who died that year. Though many are well known— actors, x-presidents and the like, some are more obscure, but they all share one thing in common. They all had [at least] 15 minutes of fame.

As my husband read on from person to person I began to feel more and more irritated. Where was the balance with the everyday hero— the dad who worked his life to support his family, or the career woman who slated her ambitions to be a mom? Their stories are equally interesting as some one hit wonder, or marginal actor. Even the most common among us had lives that mattered, that touched many, and deserve to be told.

On my mother’s death bed she asked me “Did I make a difference?” She stared at me with sunken eyes, her skeletal face practically begging me for an affirmative answer. And I gave her one. And, of course, it was true. She was my mom. She made a difference to me.

She turned me on to love, light, color, beauty, nature, music, art. She would often point out a vibrant flower, stop everything to view a sunset and be truly awestruck by its magnificence. She genuinely liked people. She was open to most all ideas as long as they weren’t filled with hate, or born of ignorance.
My mother was a humanitarian, and without prejudice, and she taught me to respect all things equally.

She was a wife for nearly 50 years. My father used to call her his ‘sunshine.’ Laughter and joy came easily to her. She exposed him to simple things—good talks during long walks, exploring new places, trying different foods. She loved to dance, especially with my dad, and they were grace in motion. She sang all the time, had a beautiful voice that blended perfectly with my father’s melody.

My mom was a passionate and devoted teacher. She created a magnet ocean science program she taught to underprivileged and gifted kids that is still active today. I’d met several of her students, decades later while with my mom in the market or mall, who claimed they became oceanographers and biologists because of her influence. She loved kids. They were uncomplicated—what she pretended to be, even want to be, but wasn’t. She was childlike in many ways however, always curious and loved learning.

As I sat on her bed and ran through her list of accomplishments her expression became sadder and sadder, and my “turn that frown upside down” mother started to cry. She wanted to give so much more. She had so much more to give but she realized her time had run out.

Two weeks later I stood over her grave and refused the dirt filled shovel the Rabbi handed to me. I knelt down and scooped a handful of moist, sweet earth from the freshly dug ground, smelled its musty richness, then let it fall off my hand and run through my fingers as I released it onto her casket. And then I silently thanked her for teaching me to recognize natural beauty and engage with it at every opportunity.

My mom died of cancer at 73. Over 100 people attended her funeral. Another hundred or more have contacted our family since her death to give their condolences—lives she touched, who will touch the lives of other, and so on.
Andy Warhol was wrong. Most of us live and die in obscurity.

But we make a difference.

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Letting Go of Our Kids

Heavy sigh as I drove away, watching him in my rear view mirror struggle with his gear and then disappear into the school.
And quite unexpectedly, I burst out crying.
My son was growing up. He needed me less and less.

Our son went on a camping trip with his 5th grade class last week. He was gone four days, spent three nights bunking with eight of his classmates and a high school chaperone. They shared a cabin (with heated floors and a private bathroom), one of many scattered around Camp Arroyo, nestled in the eastern foothills of the San Francisco Bay.

High drama days before he left. Lots of spontaneous hugs. He’d grab me on the stairs, or in the kitchen while I stood cooking at the stove, wrap his arms around my waist, bury his face in me and say, “I’m going to miss you, mom.” And, of course I returned the sentiment, which seemed to sate him, and me momentarily. I put on a brave front, but as his day of departure drew nearer I dreaded how much I’d surely miss him.

Other than rare sleepovers at local friends, my son’s first overnight experience without mom or dad was the previous weekend on his first Boy Scout campout. He didn’t seem all that enamored with camping. Dirty and tired when he got back (after less than 24 hours away), he endlessly repeated, “It’s so great to be home.”

My son was not the only kid feeling nervous about the 5th grade campout. Two of his friends admitted feeling scared, one never having had a sleepover anywhere but relatives. Several parents laughingly confessed to feeling anxious about missing their kids over the four days they’d be gone. Many had yet to be away from their children for more than a weekend at most.

I, too, felt apprehensive. My child wouldn’t be safe at home where I could watch out for him, be there for him if need be. A long time ago, when I was in my late teens, my mother told me she never fell asleep all the way until her kids were safely ensconced in their beds at night. Only then would she be able to rest. At the time I figured she was trying to guilt me out for coming in late a lot. But as I helped my son pack for camp the night before his departure, I anticipated three restless nights without him.

Dropped him off at school the next day like any other morning, except for the sleeping bag and pillow he put down on the curb so he could hug me goodbye. He held me hard, and long, which was weird right in front of his school and classmates like we were. I hugged him back, tried to transfer my love without too much drama and left. Heavy sigh as I drove away, watching him in my rear view mirror struggle with his gear and then disappear into the school.

And quite unexpectedly, I burst out crying.

My son was growing up. He needed me less and less. As he moved into his teen years we’d naturally separate, until he’d no longer be completely immersed in my life. We’d been bonded for 11 plus years and I could feel it coming to an end. And sadness consumed me on my way back home, but only for the first block from the school.

As suddenly as I started crying, I stopped. The next four days I didn’t have to stop working at 2:30 p.m. (and 1:00 p.m. every Wednesday) when he came home from school. I didn’t have to be the constant nag, reminding him every other minute to study, practice guitar, do his homework or his chores. The dinner menu didn’t need to be altered to my son’s particular tastes. Sushi was a distinct possibility since our daughter was generally open to trying different foods. And best of all, I didn’t have to play ref or break up their petty sibling rivalries.

The four days my son was away with his 5th grade class passed in the blink of an eye. I published two new articles, finished the second chapter of the final, final, final…etc. draft of my second novel, finished the French screens I was building, found and set my daughter up with a great new 2nd grade math program, and shared with her some of the best Japanese food ever—turning her on to a brand new cuisine. There were no sleepless nights while my son was gone.

He hugged me when I picked him up from school after his trip last Friday. His embrace was warm, and tender as usually, but over quickly. He pulled away, looked around and then picked up his stuff. I carried his pillow to stop him dragging it along the ground as we walked home. He told me about his time away, but I had to prompt him a lot, and though he insisted he was just tired, I felt a contextual difference between us, a distance imposed by him, or me, or both.

We were quiet for quite a bit of the walk, but it didn’t feel awkward. He seemed introspective, more grown up than little kid. His youth, like much of our time together was passing, as it should be, but none the less, there is sadness in this. The upside is as my son moves on, I get to as well. As he embarks on life on his own, I can get back to mine—the life that became secondary when my kids arrived on the scene. From the day they were born they’ve been my first priority, and though perhaps they always will be, their daily demands are getting less as they become more self-sufficient. And as we all grow and mature, I find I no longer fear, but accept, and even welcome the separation occurring between us.

Jobless America

Greed, laziness, the-world-owes-me work ethic so many Americans possess won’t win us jobs, or help us keep them here in the States.

Took a family vacation to Yellowstone this last August. After a day of exploring the spectacular park, we ate dinner at Canyon Village, a sprawling development in the mist of the natural wonders that includes a cafe, a lodge, a fancy restaurant and several stores. The kids wanted some souvenirs so we stopped in the gift shop before eating. The clerk at check-out was a kid, no more than 20, as was most of the customer service staff in the park. His name tag said Mal-Chin, and under his name was his country of origin: Korea.

Seated inside the restaurant we were served water by Jianyu, his country of origin: China

We were served rolls by Mi-Cha, Korea again.

Earlier in the day, at Yellowstone Lodge, where Old Faithful is, the check-out guy at the mini-market was Yeo, China again. At breakfast, at the restaurant in the lodge, our waitress was Fedheeta, country of origin: India

Our waitress at dinner was Kathy, her country of origin: USA. She was probably one of 10 Americans out of the 50 or more employees of the park I saw that day.

Yellowstone is the United State’s first national park. Over 2 million acres of pristine, protected wilderness resides in a massive caldron of a dormant super-volcano in the states of Montana and Idaho, with the majority of the park in Wyoming. The USA preserved this land for families and fans of natural beauty to come explore, discover and study natures wonders for present and future generations. Tens of million of taxpayer dollars goes to maintaining Yellowstone National Park annually.

So why are most of their service staff from everywhere but the USA? I asked our waitress, Kathy, at dinner in Canyon Village. Why are our kids not landing these jobs, which provide a great opportunity to acquire sales and communications skills, add to college applications…etc?

The American kids get fired here constantly, Kathy told my family after taking our order. They party a lot, get drunk, don’t show up for work, are rude to the customers. They write the orders wrong, or charge people the wrong amount because they can’t do simple math quickly. The management can’t keep them for more than a few weeks into the summer because they’re mostly irresponsible and lazy.

Her words literally hurt me, because I knew they were the truth.

Kathy went on to describe the programs that land the out-of-country kids the jobs at our national parks, the thousands they have to pay to get here, which is generally less than the salary for six days of work a week, food and lodging during their contract with the park. They clearly want to be here very badly, usually to acquire work skills and develop their English fluency, and they do an excellent job. It’s easy to see why management prefers them.

Heavy sigh.

If Jesus really saves, he better start saving our kids. Someone better, because it sure as hell isn’t our education system, and clearly most parents aren’t doing any better. A generation of spoiled, unmotivated, under-educated Americans can not, will not, and DOES NOT compete in our global economy.

World New Tonight on ABC has a segment they call Made in America. It’s a joke, an embarrassment to any sensible, educated, aware adult who knows that China, Japan and India are, and will continue to dominate manufacturing globally, with Mexico, Korea, and many other nations close behind them. The World News segment is touchy feely, saccharin and all smiles with David Muir interviewing American manufactures of unique hats and scarves, or a cupcake maker gone viral, and then touts these businesses as being the cornerstones of our future success. But that’s bullshit. The USA is not, and will never reclaim its manufacturing base when we charge in excess of ten times as much to do the work other nations are willing to do, and well, for so much less.

The atom bomb united our world [in the abstract] because it gave us the ability to destroy the planet.

The internet has united our world directly, as it gives most everyone the opportunity to see how others live. It’s easy to find the American lifestyle attractive. Our families generally have warm houses with running water, electricity for light, computers, entertainment systems, cars in almost every garage, freedom from religious and/or political persecution. The U.S. is losing it ranking among the ten richest nations on the planet, yet most countries still aspire to US, to model our independence and luxuries.

Watch World News Tonight’s entire broadcast, and David Muir will tell you all about the Americans out of work, losing their warm houses, their garages. He’ll show you families now sleeping in their cars, or homeless encampments springing up across our nation. He’ll tell you about our personal debt crisis, where credit card debt in 2016 will top 1 trillion, and he’ll introduce you to one of the many of families bankrupted from a medical catastrophe not cover by their private insurance or Medicare.

This decline in the American lifestyle will continue for most U.S. citizens, and eventually even the 1% wealthy will be effected, guaranteed, if we stay the course we are on.

Like it or not, we are a global world now. Today’s technology bind us, and gives us the opportunity to thrive as a people, a planet; or we can destroy everything we have here, through laziness and greed.

Our K-12 public education system is garbage, and failing our kids. Out of 34 countries, U.S. students ranked below most, unprepared to compete globally. And according to our server, Kathy, at Yellowstone, who went to a private school back home in New York, the American employees clearly demonstrated their lack of education in their reading, writing, and math skills, regardless of their poor interpersonal skills with customers.

Partying, with attitude, instead of doing their work, like the stream of U.S. kids fired from Yellowstone; playing Halo, killing endless hours on Facebook, or binge watching Netflix instead of studying math and science (as school curriculums around the world require of so many kids today); cutting school hours of instruction with furlough days, short days and extended holidays has not, does not, and will not produce a nation of creators. It takes education, practice, and focused persistence to produce inventions of value, or improve on existing ones. For the U.S. to achieve the potential our parent’s achieved—have jobs, and retain the lifestyle to which most of the middle-class has become accustomed, we’re going to have to limit our play/relax time and work a hell of a lot harder.

Greed, laziness, the-world-owes-me work ethic so many Americans possess won’t win us jobs, or help us keep them here in the States. We must teach our kids that practice is the only way to get good at anything, and that means investing the time and energy into academics instead of iPhones and video games, which mean parents need to pay more attention and invoke more discipline. It means educators need to step up to the plate and give more homework, harder tests, teach longer hours for the same money because more and more is simply not available with so many on the government dime vying for tax dollars. And why do teachers have to take the hit? We all do these days. It’s the price we’re paying for our arrogance.

 

trumpy

1st Journal Entry to my Newborn Daughter

How am I going to raise a girl, and help you establish a strong self image?
How do I teach you what I myself don’t know how to be?

JOURNAL FROM MOM TO JRW

1/10/02

Hi JR. Welcome to the world. What to say… It’s hard to arrange all the things I’d like to say to you here, now, on this 6th day of your life, outside of me. You’re sleeping on the bed next to me as I type this into my laptop. You’re sure cute. And small!

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to have two kids. I always pictured having two boys. When I found out you were a girl it scared me a little. A lot, actually. How am I going to raise a girl, and help you establish a strong self image? It’s easier with boys. Socially, boys are indoctrinated with a strong self-image. But in my experience, that’s not been the case for girls. It’s been, and still is very hard for me to believe in myself, to trust myself, to like myself, for the greater part of my life. I don’t want that for you. So how do I teach you what I myself don’t know how to be?

I wanted two kids so that you and your brother can have someone of your own generation to grow with, to share life with, to align with. Your dad and I are older parents, two generation drops from you and your brother. We didn’t intend it to be that way. At least I didn’t. I wanted kids much younger, but even with vigorous searching I didn’t meet anyone I wanted to marry until your dad, when I was 37. We tried having kids straight away, but I had a lot of miscarriages (7), and it took us two years to have your brother and another 2 plus to have you. After losing 5 pregnancies before your brother, I was scared out of my mind that I would never get to have any children.

After your bro, I was sure all those loses were behind me, and your dad and I tried for you 6 months after your brother was born. But I lost that baby, and another one a year and a half later. And I didn’t think I could handle another loss. So we stopped trying so hard. And 4 months after that last loss, you were conceived. And I was so afraid I’d lose you too. But you hung in there, and saved my sanity. And you were born to me on January 4th, 2002. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I kiss your head with my words.

I hope I serve you well as your parent. I hope we can grow to be good friends. I’m not quite sure how to be a mom to two children and give you both what you need. As I’ve told your brother, and I am telling you now- I’m sorry for the times you will feel I was not there for you. I hope they will be few. And I hope you can forgive me for the times you will feel you are left wanting. I promise to do my very best, and to make you and your brother the highest priority in my life. I love you more than you’ll ever know, unless you get lucky, like me, and have children of your own.

I’m looking forward to you growing. Infancy is a hard stage for me, as I don’t really know anything about you, who you are, how you are, what kind of person you will want to be, and become. I hope for you that you are kind, that you care about the world around you and the people in it. I hope for you that you are strong and stand by your convictions with actions. I hope for you that you are wise and understand when compromise is necessary as it will be so much of your life. I hope for you that you choose wisely whom to love and that you understand that love is an action and takes constant work to maintain. And I pray that you will always know that I deeply and passionately love you, my beautiful daugher.

Welcome to earth, JRW! So very glad to meet ya!!