Category Archives: girlhood

I like that

2B1BA3C8-94F6-4EDB-BBAF-12E804849B00When I was an undergraduate, studying English and Women’s Studies at the University at Albany, I didn’t often buy prepared food in the basement of the campus center. There was one occasion, though, when I was on campus in the evening for a panel discussion and needed a bite to eat. I walked downstairs and hesitated a moment before entering what was then the grill area of the food services concession. As I stood at the doorway I witnessed the cooks behind the line blatantly eyeing up (and down) each woman. As the women approached the counter to place an order I could clearly hear the men saying “I like that. I like that.” They made no attempt to hide what they were saying, nudging each other and smirking. Did they think they were offering compliments as a side order?

I, being full on a diet of Women’s Studies, stepped up to the counter and addressed the cooks and informed them that what they were doing was unacceptable and they needed to stop. Their response? “What are you? Anita Hill?” This was late fall, 1991 and the news was full of Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court and Anita Hill’s testimony accusing him of sexual harassment. Knowing that I wasn’t going to get anywhere dealing directly with the kitchen guys, I walked away shaking my head.

The next day, I wrote a letter to the then head of Food Services at the university. A couple of days later, I received a phone call from his office and arranged for a meeting with him on campus. He complimented me on my letter writing skills and we discussed the incident. I explained my position and the concern I felt for 17 and 18 year-old women who might not be comfortable confronting men who were engaging in inappropriate verbal harassment and that campus should be a safe place for everyone. He was sympathetic, understanding and assured me that the situation would be addressed. I never went back to the cafeteria again.

Maybe those men were spoken to and developed a new understanding of what is acceptable in terms of addressing women and professional demeanor. Maybe they have daughters of their own now. Maybe they even now know that we don’t like it. At all.

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Filed under Albany, Education, girlhood, Local, musings, writing

13 Reasons Why (I struggle with suicide)

About 30 years ago a friend of mine committed suicide. His name was John and he was sweet with a mop of messy hair and jeans that sagged years before it became the trend. He had a kind and strong heart, along with a sense of responsibility that once found him driving behind his cousin and me one night after we had all been out far too late, just to make sure we got home safely. I’ll never forget him.

It never fails to make me sad when I think of him. So much living has happened since that day he took his life with a gun, living that he has missed. It would have gotten better, I think. The disagreement or sadness that caused him to believe his only option was to depart would have become less overwhelming. I just know it.

Since that first suicide there have been others, none however to anyone I was closer to than John. The distance between me and those other, more recently lost souls only provided a single buffer – I was exempt somehow from the guilt of feeling as if I could have done something to prevent the ultimate outcome. That being said, there’s no escape from witnessing the pain of those who are left behind and that’s my biggest issue with suicide – the neverending question of what we survivors could have done to convince that person not to end their life.

After having read the book years ago, I’ve been watching the Netflix series that folks have been talking about, 13 Reasons Why. I binged out on a number of episodes, although my attention sometimes wanders. I think the characters are a little too self aware for high school kids and the tattoos and drugs seem unrealistic. I have, though, been impressed with some of the acting and the creative way the plot and characters were developed to provide material for 13 episodes. The music is pretty good, too.

Regardless of the presentation of the material, the take away for me is this: the pain of the person who takes their own life ends with their last breath. That’s the moment for those of us remaining, when it just begins. Our lives are not better without them, but they continue. We miss them eternally and their absence is a void we’ll never fill.

Even thirteen reasons will never be enough.

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Filed under Books, girlhood, Observations, television

So mothers be good to your daughters too

D0CB0C7D-372C-4FFF-A072-2C34D5F64266-1258-0000011A65462537When I was a child I often heard about my Oma with whom my mother had a strained relationship. The complaint my mother frequently made was that Oma treated her sons and daughters very differently. Sons were useful and contributed to the family’s existence and thus were to be indulged, while daughters were primarily useful only for assistance in taking care of the boys. Even though this was one of my mother’s greatest criticisms of her own childhood, you’re probably not surprised to hear that she herself was guilty of repeating the same behavior. Habits are hard to break.

I met some family members on my trip with whom I had never before crossed paths. It’s an odd thing meeting someone you’re related to after living five decades on this planet without ever encountering them. What’s even odder is when you realize how many remarkably similar experiences you share despite not having ever known each other.

Did you know that the word “cousin” is the same in both English and German? That fact makes me smile.

My cousin and I sat across the table from one another and told the stories of our lives, our relationships, our health and our mothers. At times the thread of our conversation was so personal and intimate that it was impossible to believe we hadn’t before met. There’s never been a time when I felt so firmly that someone understood exactly what I was talking about when I shared some moments from my own mother-daughter highlight reel. Why? Because she had experienced the same sort of unhealthy situations.

Our mothers, sisters that they are, had not really grown up together since my mother is more than a decade older and had left home when she was in her early teens. Despite the lack of time the two of them shared, what they did share was their own mother and that left a mark on each of them which they in turn, left upon their own daughters.

Neither my cousin nor I ever knew our fathers. When we were sick or injured as children, often we had to seek care on our own because our mothers were unavailable to us. We each have witnessed the astonishing deception of our parent in the way they conduct themselves with other adults and children while neglecting the very children they delivered. It is uncanny.

My cousin and I responded to our mothers’ disregard for us by growing into strong and capable women. We became educated and learned to understand that our mothers are frustrated, narcissists who will never perceive our own success as anything but an affront to their own unsatisfying lives. We severed our ties to these women not to hurt them, but to protect ourselves, and we’ve struggled with allowing others into our hearts and souls after suffering the disappointment and pain of what should have been a primary relationship in our lives.

I learned that my cousin has a physical condition very much like my own – we both have extremely low heart rates and a genuine need for vigorous exercise. She runs, too. Maybe that’s how we have learned to keep our blood flowing and our hearts alive. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that meeting her has changed me. Something good has come from something less than positive. I think my ability to recognize that is what makes me fundamentally different from my mother – and like my cousin.

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Filed under Europe, family, Germany, girlhood, moms, musings, relationships, secrets, Uncategorized

Growing up in black and white

imageThere’s been a lot of talk about race in our country and its got me thinking about the my own perspective on the relationships between blacks and whites. I was fortunate to have been raised by a woman who did not discriminate between races. My earliest school friendships were with a black girl and a Jewish girl – a real feat in a small town which was almost exclusively Christian and white. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of childhood.

When I was about 12, we moved to a house a couple of miles out of town in a neighborhood I had heard referred to as The Colony. That wasn’t said in a complimentary way. You see, this particular area was populated primarily by black families, including that of my elementary school friend. The house we lived in was only two miles out of town, but it felt pretty far removed. We had the telephone exchange of Warwick, the school district of Greenwood Lake and the zip code of Monroe, perfectly summing up the lack of interest in a single community to “own” this long road. It felt very much like a no man’s land.

In the spring of eighth grade, a number of us tried out for the freshman cheerleading squad in what would be our new high school. I was the only one who was selected and, even then, I felt that it was because I was white. Vicki and Brenda were both better than me and deserved it more. I ended up quitting the squad before football season even started.

A year or so later something happened that changed my comfort level with people of color. My brother had some sort of altercation with Vicki’s brother, I don’t know what it was about, and he got punched in the face as he boarded the school bus one morning. I remember being shocked by the violence and afraid of what might happen next, especially after listening to other students who had witnessed the fight. Their language was new to me and the prejudice they demonstrated was unlike anything I had ever heard, but it gave me a cloak to wrap myself in for protection. I didn’t spend time with Vicki anymore.

In the many years since then, I’ve had very few black friends. I’ve puzzled over this lack of diversity in my life as I’ve celebrated the friendships my own children share with kids from every imaginable ethnic and religious background. The single block in the DelSo where I’ve lived for 20 years is populated by Indians, Blacks, Jews and Whites and I think of them all as neighbors.

Last week, I went back to Greenwood Lake to spend an afternoon with friends. In the early afternoon, I took a run past the haunted houses of my youth accompanied by more memories than I could ever share. My feet took me along the roads I had walked countless times, most frequently to get away from home, but now instead in an attempt to take me back to where I came from. It was a very emotional run, especially once I saw the two “new” (to me) state historic markers declaring the significance of Nelson Road.image

Reading about the history of The Colony caused me for the first time ever to feel a sense of pride about where I spent some pretty influential years of my life. I was reminded of the cultural contributions of Black Americans and wished that those markers had been installed years ago. I hope Vicki has been back to see them.

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Filed under aging, girlhood, musings, Observations, road trips, running, Summer

49 and hotter than ever!

If by “hot” you mean experiencing hot flashes, that is. Holy perimenopause!

Male readers, be warned. This may not be the blog post for you. Unless, of course, you’re trying to develop your understanding and empathy for the universe’s women. In which case, read on.

The move to what I’m considering my third stage of life, is starting to amp up a bit. The night sweats are more frequent and now even appear during waking hours. The lines on my face are a bit more assertive and the flesh under my biceps seems a bit softer. My cycle is no longer a cycle as much as it is a random moment in time. Things are changing and I’m trying to pay attention without obsessing. Wish me luck with that, ok?

When I attempt to look back on when I transitioned from biological girl to woman, very few memories remain. I remember becoming aware of my need for deodorant and being relieved to find Tickle roll on atop my dresser. I was kind of oblivious about other changes in my physical appearance, you know, the new hair and curves appearing, but I felt males looking at me with different eyes than to which I was accustomed.

I recall receiving a box of maxi pads and a pamphlet from my mother, but it came without discussion. My period started and I used the feminine products without telling my mother. When the box was empty, I requested tampons and that was the extent of our conversation about menstruation and puberty. I wonder how it might have been different if I had a daughter of my own.

Soon, my reproductive system will cease to function as it has for more than 35 years. As my inner feminine systems go out in a blaze of heat and sweat, I appreciate how well I’ve been served by this womanly body of mine. Three healthy children have been conceived and grown within its confines, a miracle by any measure.  I’ve enjoyed an easy monthly cycle, never experiencing the discomfort from cramps and extreme mood swings that many women experience, but, I’m ready to close the door on fertility.  I’m seriously hoping that this internal furnace of mine directs its attention to something external that is productive –  and I’m not just talking about intense perspiration either.

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Filed under aging, girlhood, moms, musings, Observations, Uncategorized

When fights are good memories

image.jpegI grew up during a time when house parties were the rage. Going out was something rare, but adults gathering  for cocktails, pinochle and televised boxing matches was a big part of my childhood. I loved those nights filled with Lipton onion soup mix dip and chips with a side of ginger ale and grown up laughter. Knowing my place as a child among adults was incredibly comforting and I was careful to never misbehave and threaten my admission to an evening that I could only interpret as being sophisticated.

I have one particular memory of watching a heavyweight boxing match, the Thrila in Manila. Manila, naturally, being a place I had never ever heard of prior to the bout. We were at a home that I also don’t think I ever had been in before. The house and the enclosed front porch were made from big cold looking stones but it was cozy in a way that a new place doesn’t often feel.

The television everyone gathered around was big for the time, probably 27″, and color, something that was not necessarily a given during my youngest years. In my mind’s eye, I see rabbit ears, but I may be embellishing after 40 years and a collection of memories too large to properly sort. What I know for certain is that I fell in love with boxing that night.

The hype for the match was nothing compared to the media blitzes to which we’ve all grown accustomed, but I know I was aware of the fight, even as an elementary school student, because it was going to be an event. And it was. Ali was swagger before the word existed. He fascinated me with his larger than life persona and I was spellbound.  He won – the match and my eternal interest.

imageWhen I learned more about him, about his radical anti-war activities and steadfast conviction to his beliefs, I could only admire Ali more. He and Jimmy Carter will always somehow go together in my mind – the era, I suppose. Like Carter, Ali was an ambassador to worlds not yet in existence, peaceful places where priorities were more about taking care of people than taking people down and out. It sounds like a nice place. I hope the Louisville Lip is enjoying it as we speak.

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Filed under aging, Events, favorites, girlhood, musings, News, Observations, television, Uncategorized

Greenwood Lake abbreviated

Before I say another word – a note, know this: I love where I grew up. Greenwood Lake provided me with a foundation – friends, experiences and memories that will reside within me until the day I die. Even after nearly 30 years in Albany, Greenwood Lake is my heart’s home. What follows isn’t a criticism of a place or a population, it’s a lament.

imageWhenever I tell someone where I grew up, I nearly always have to repeat it. Sometimes more than once. Greenwood Lake, N.Y., often abbreviated as GWL, is a small village in Orange County. Despite its proximity to NYC and Bergen County, N.J. and Westchester, GWL is a modest village with a mixture of blue-collar and professional residents. There are folks who have lived there for generations, marrying and merging families into a stew of blended characteristics and histories that would be impossible to separate without an elder spokesperson, a piece of paper and pencil. There’s a comfort in that.

Recently, I became aware of a couple of losses that had been suffered. A young man and a middle-aged man, who had been cut down as a young man, were both laid to rest this month. Even from my safe distance of nearly 100 miles and 3 decades, I was rocked by these deaths. A tidal wave of sorrow hit me and I was swamped by the memories of all the other premature deaths of GWL residents I have witnessed over the years. There have just been too damn many.

I don’t know what it is that makes these deaths seem so perversely frequent. Is it simply that the names are so familiar? Do tragedies occur in my hometown more than in other places? Does everyone need more than a single hand to count the number of wakes and funerals for peers which they attended prior to finishing high school? Jesus, I hope not.

Through the years, there have been far too many car accidents interspersed with horrible illnesses, unshakable addictions and previously unimaginable suicides. There are parents I know who have buried 2 of their 3 children, families who have suffered in ways I don’t ever want to suffer and it makes sad and scared and a bit angry, too. Why do these deaths continue to happen? When will the lessons of risk and danger and speed and mortality finally be learned?

An elected representative of my hometown district told me last week that Greenwood Lake, along with Port Jervis, has the highest incidence of heroin abuse in the county. It doesn’t seem like the abbreviation of the lives of Greenwood Lakers is going to end anytime soon.  I only wish my sorrow about this situation could be equally short lived.

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Filed under aging, friends, girlhood, musings, Observations, Uncategorized