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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sharing Uncertainty with Kids: a Parent's Journey

I keep thinking there will be a day when I will look at my phone or the TV screen or drive home and put on the radio and tragedies will stop. Recently, it seems like every other day there is a terrorist event of some sort or another-- and I wince thinking of a parent talking with his or her kids about what we're hearing and seeing in the news.

Yes, life is precarious-- and we tend to forget that in our day to day lives, especially if we have good jobs and mostly safe neighborhoods, which is a great privilege, whether or not we realize it. Explaining tragedy and terrorism to kids though doesn't start (or end) with a grief counselor. And grief and fear have a way of growing the older we get, whether we want them to or not.

This is a really huge chunk of stuff to get our arms around and to tell the truth, I don't feel equipped for it. One thing I have been thinking of in these uncertain times is how to live with uncertainty, which we all do every day, and ever moment. Maybe that's the place to start?

The only way to live uncertainly, I think, is to be alert to the moment and aware of our lives in every breath and step we take. Tall order, especially for someone who likes to imagine other worlds and scenes in her head most of the time. (aka Writer's Disease).

But trying to stay in the present may help us live with uncertain futures better than we would if we were trying to anticipate the future (as if anyone could). That doesn't mean we can't try to prepare, say, by having an emergency stash of water or staying away from texting while we drive or not getting drunk with a guy we don't know well in the back seat of someone's car.

But we also need to take in the moments, and stay in them, because without them life is even more uncertain. Maybe that's how we talk to our kids about what's around the bend--and how to be brave in accepting that we aren't able to see down the road too far in advance--and maybe wouldn't want to, even if we could.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

Restaurant Kidz

When I was first starting to date Pete (the man who became my husband), we'd take my son out with us to restaurants. Josh was a friendly little guy who liked walking around to talk to people at other tables.

Pete didn't think this was a good idea. In fact, he let us know it embarrassed him, which I have to say was vexing. I wasn't that good at getting my son to stay in a chair for long periods--and didn't actually think anyone else would be good at it either. We did try telling Josh to stay with us, and that would work for a while--but only for a while.

As he got older, Josh got a bit better at staying in his seat at a restaurant. I never brought along any coloring books, though I did appreciate the restaurants who supply crayons. But crayons don't always keep active boys engaged, either.

My own childhood was very, very different. I don't remember going to many restaurants when I was a toddler, but my mother did take my sister and I on an outing to a New York City coffee shop when I was about six or seven. The older gentleman next to me commented to my mother about how much of a little lady I was at the table.

I remember thinking about how boring it was to be at a restaurant--and wishing I was home. I don't know that I ever did get into restaurants until I was a teenager. My first trips to the International House of Pancakes were fun with friends--especially because I got to order coffee.

Some years ago I read a piece by the food writer M. F. K. Fisher about her love affair with restaurants (the plush chairs, snowy napkins, waiters) -- but I don't think this really reflects the way most children feel. My one idea to make them more interested is to make them cook the meals for ten lunches and dinners in a row. That'll get 'em to appreciate restaurants, I bet. And what about the mothers who cook for them?

😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉😇😉

Couple of tips for getting kids used to restaurants, if you're interested:

7 Survival Tips for Taking Your Kids to Restaurants

How to Dine Out with Kids and Enjoy It

7 Tips for Taking Little Kids to Restaurants


Boy in restaurant photo: Sarah Stierch 


Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Room at the Top of the Stairs; My Aunt's Illness

My Aunt Ida was one of the most interesting people I knew as a child. Her clothes were exceptionally glamorous; she and her husband Lou lived in New York City; and they had their own business and were doing really well.

She was funny, fun loving and sophisticated. Everything I wanted to be.


Then Lou got cancer and passed away when Ida was  in her thirties. Sadly, she herself developed a rare and ravaging illness some years later called Pemphigus. It created sores on her skin that wouldn't heal and kept her in bed for months on end. 

I believe it was as painful as it was disfiguring; and we could find no drugs to treat it except a steroid for pain called Cortisone.

Years later, I learned that Chris Stein of the band Blondie contracted the disease, though by the time he did, more treatments were available. My aunt had no such luck. Sometimes she had to be hospitalized and at some point she came to live with us and stayed in my room. My sister and I spent a lot of time with her, and she was always gracious about talking with us. 

I can't honestly remember my aunt emerging from her room at the top of the stairs, which had been my room. I don't recall her eating with us at the table; but  memory doesn't always serve us when someone we love is ill. Maybe it's just that we do not want to remember, and send remembrances away.

I do know there came a time when Aunt Ida got worse and had to go to the hospital - or a nearby nursing home. I remember her crying and begging for my mother to keep her with us. I remember holding back my own tears and praying that somehow God would save her, or that my mother would figure out a way to let her stay.

Unfortunately, my mom wasn't able to care for her sister when things got bad. My aunt went to a hospital first, and then my mother found a long-term care community a few miles from our house where my aunt could live. It seemed pleasant and sunny and the staff seemed kind. Yet I knew my aunt would have given anything to live independently again, on her own. She once made a beautiful sewing basket for our family out of tongue depressors, and we kept it for a long time. We visited her frequently and I remember loving her smile and hating it when she cried.


When I was nine years old, my aunt died in her room at the home. I wasn't there and in fact no one in our family was with her. When I think back on this time, I am haunted by the idea of her being alone at the hour of her death.

I would like to think that today we are better about how people with chronic illnesses are treated, but unless they have really dedicated, committed family members, and the family members have support from friends, family or neighbors, I don't think much has changed. 

As a society, we are afraid of illness and of getting old. We tend to send people away and put them out of sight and out of mind. And that, I have decided, becomes not only their loss--it becomes ours as well. Because just because you are chronically ill doesn't mean you have lost your ability to think, share your stories and love the people you know.

If someone is ill in your family, how do you treat them? How do you want your kids to view them? How do we talk about illness with our children -- and with each other?

I understand it is extremely hard to be a caregiver, and since most women work these days (and most caregivers are women), it's hard for people who are ill or older to live independently in their homes. I think we are at least making strides towards that goal, but I can't help but feel it's not enough.  

I don't know how to get there, but I DO know we need to keep talking to our kids about it. Because if they can learn to stop stigmatizing illness, they'll teach the rest of us how to do that too.

Too late for my beautiful aunt, but not for others struggling now with chronic conditions or illnesses. We need to figure out how to make life better for them--and we can't let those illnesses win.

Reading ideas:








Saturday, July 29, 2017

House Clean or Messy? And Do You Care?

Is your house clean or messy? You don't have to answer me, but I DO want to proudly share that my home is the cleanest I've ever seen it - mostly because it's on the market right now.

Not so much fun, though, getting it that way.

Growing up, I had a super clean house and the word super is not an exaggeration. My mother had a professional cleaning done weekly - but somehow she managed to keep things pretty amazingly grit free throughout the week, too.

Reader, I did not inherit this trait.

My house and the apartments where I lived before I had a house could attest to that, if they could talk. In fact, just a few weeks ago, I was frantically cleaning up mounds of dust on a table in our bedroom -- husband not having noticed it at all, of course -- and he's allergic to dust.

Raising a kid in the house gave me an excuse (not to clean), but I still think it's a good one. I was always much more focused on playing, teaching, singing, writing and generally raising said kid than on cleaning our surroundings. Still and all, I do admire people who keep things tidy, especially because I had to work so hard this month (harder than I ever worked) on cleaning up my home.

That doesn't mean I didn't wipe counters and bath tubs and tile and mop or sweep now and again. It doesn't mean I didn't try to be neat and get my husband and son to pick up their stuff.

Because in my view, it's not the clean that's most important - though yeah, grime isn't great. But the biggest issue I end up with is clutter, and it's not usually mine.

But even if cleaning isn't a complete priority, or even an incomplete one, I would say it feels good to see our place so clean now. OMG yes.

How long will we be able to keep things just the way they are?

Let's just say I hope the home sells soon.

If not, well... I can say I'm proud of some of my parenting traits, like finding fun outings, advocating for my kid at school, hanging with him when he needs help on homework (and there's another blog about that if you're interested).

But cleaning... well. I have to say neither man in my life is exceptionally interested in it (or even a little). They do it. When pressed.

But otherwise I think they're pretty wonderful.

Isn't that the main thing?

I don't know. 

Meanwhile, I found some thoughts on clean houses and kids:

Secrets to Cleaning with Kids

11 Tips for Living Clutter Free with Children

23 Tips for Maintaining Your Sanity While Living with Children

!!!


Boy with vacuum photo: Russ

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Mandela and the Dead Sea Salts: a Payback Story

I was on my way out of town, way out of town, because our family was moving out of the city. It was a bittersweet move for me and I was having trouble envisioning myself outside of New York. I had just gotten on an almost deserted subway car and was alone with my thoughts.

Almost.

In a split second, a young man jumped out of the shadows, grabbed the canvas bag strap hanging over my knee and ran into the next car. I did not give chase.

Luckily, he did not grab my purse, which I was holding onto tightly (because you don't grow up in NYC without knowing something). I had to laugh a little to myself to think about what my thief would find when he opened the canvas bag.

Dead Sea salts and a magazine with a cover article about Nelson Mandela.

Over the years, I've experienced burglaries more than robberies (where someone actually steals something off you personally) and of course it's never been good. It also seems to be a fact of life for most of us.

Though we tell our kids stealing is wrong and never to steal, somehow there's always someone who didn't get the memo--and then you have to figure out how to talk to your kids in a way that helps them deal with stuff like this.

When my son was twelve, he had cash stolen out of his locker and I had to tell him to be very careful with his money (and leave it at home, where he could keep it safe). It was one of those life lessons you hate seeing someone learn, though - because we mostly never catch the petty thieves who steal so much more than material things when they steal from us. I suspect that is part of what they want, though--to make us feel small and vulnerable, and to make themselves feel bigger.

That's why I told him about the thief who ripped my canvas bag away from me in New York, some years before he was born. It's my own little revenge story against all the jerks who stole big and small sums from me and people I love.

I remember telling a friend this story and laughing about how disappointed the guy must have been opening the bag. She said, "He actually had the whole world in his hands, if he only knew it. Dead Sea salts and Nelson Mandela."

"Yes," I said, agreeing with her. Because thieves don't usually get whatever they believe they'll find when they steal things. I'm betting they never get enough cash to make someone's bag really worth stealing, but the thrill of taking things makes up for that.

Which is why Nelson Mandela would have so much to teach them, knowing as he did how hard it is and how long you have to fight to get what you want. After which, I suppose, you could try taking a long bath in Dead Sea salts.

I hope that's what my subway thief did.


Dead sea salt photo: israeltourism


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Funny Word Favorites

When my son was small and fussing, I found the best way to get him out of a mood was to make him laugh. Somehow or other I came up with the word "fluff-a-duffulated" when he climbed into bed and I pulled the covers up and "fluffed them" -- so that became a well-worn word in our home. I aslso discovered that saying it in a Bugs Bunny voice could earn me extra points.

As a writer, I love words -- made up or otherwise -- that describe feelings, whether they're funny, scary, angry or anything else. Today I've decided to share some of those words and tell you the stories behind them.

Because our family is one of mixed faiths, my husband gets a kick out of some of the Yiddish words I use and has also come to use them himself. When he's mixed up or confused or generally feeling exhausted, he says he's "verklempt" or "vermisht" -- which he heard me say in the early hears of our marriage before adopting.

My guy, on the other hand, taught me to say "Oof da," the equivalent of "Oy, vey" in Norwegian (or some Scandinavian language). His mother got me to fall in love with "kittywampus" when she talked about how she'd had a dangerous fall. I was really impressed with her humor in describing what had happened, and whenever i hear "kittywampus" now, I think of her bravery.

My friend John loves when I talk about my garden, which usually starts out "in a tangle" until I get things sorted out (or pay my friend Marlene, aka know as the Garden Goddess, to fix things up for me. John also likes it when I referred to my garage as a "sugar shack" before we spruced it up.

Another one of my favorite words is dunsicle, which I made up (or at least think I did) when writing a play based on The Little Princess for Steppingstone Theatre. It just seemed like the mean character Lavinia would call other students a dunsicle when she was annoyed. I still use it quite a bit, mostly when referring to myself when I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around something.

My favorite phrase for Ruby in The Beat on Ruby's Street is "kinds-sorta" but I really have to be careful not to overuse that one. In fact, I think you have to be careful about that with all the words you love, especially when writing stories. Because words are like food or wine, I think -- you don't want to repeat them so much that readers get sick of them.

I guess that's why I'm always on the lookout for new ones. If you want to share your favorites, I'd be so happy! Just send them over to jennazark.com.












Saturday, July 8, 2017

Love Note to Summer

Summer. Just the word makes me smile (doesn't it make everyone?)

This is a crazy summer (house selling, house hunting) but I know it will go too fast so I'm determined to at least write down all the things I love about it even if I don't get to do them.

1. My son visits because school is out

2. We can swim in lakes and pools

3. We can walk every day if we want

4. We don't have to pile on boots, sweaters and coats

5. It's a great time to take time off

6. Barbecues

7. Light lasts and lasts all day

8. Nights are gentle and warm

9. Summer fruits 

10. Time seems to last longer even if it doesn't

While my birthday is in August I like July better - and always tried to make sure we had family vacations in July.

That's my summer list - what about yours?

Send me your favorite things about summer - and if you don't have any and want to make a case for winter, that's fine too! I'd love to hear it.

Here's a little more about summer and kids: