Monthly Archives: March 2010

Memory lane is a lonely road

My parents finally kicked me out of the house. Okay, technically they kicked my stuff out of the house. It’s true that I bought my first house over twenty years ago but I’ve happily continued to use theirs as my off-site storage facility. The recent rain flooded their basement which in turn prompted them to start throwing things out. Years of experience has taught them that it’s unwise to pitch things that belong to me without asking first so they skipped that step and appeared at my house with a large box which they unceremoniously dumped on the floor. Dad said, “This is yours. You decide what to do with it.”

The box was labeled ‘Judy’s school stuff.’ I left it where it had landed in my front hall for a couple of weeks while I worked up the energy for a long trip down memory lane. The smell of the box, which had spent multiple decades in a musty basement, finally compelled me to explore the contents so I could decide what to do with them and air out my hallway.

As labeled, the box contained school papers and other treasures from elementary school through high school. A selection of notable finds included a ticket to a production of ‘Lil’ Abner’ that we did in Jr. High that had a bit of Mark V.’s fake mustache taped to it; a letter I wrote to NBC in 1973 protesting the cancelation of Bonanza which, along with letters to Save the Children and the local Board of Selectman, was apparently a school project not evidence of my precociousness as I originally thought; a tenth grade World Civilization paper marked ‘C-, barely’; and a paper where the teacher wrote, ‘Where’s the argument? I know you like controversy. I see it in class all the time.’ I was surprised to discover that I was not as bad at math as I remembered, or as good at everything else.

Over the course of several days (memory lane is a long road) I tried to engage my daughter in the review of my early years but she was singularly uninterested. I had her intrigued for a minute when I undertook an explanation of mimeograph machines but she wandered off when it became clear that I didn’t actually know how they worked. My husband lit up briefly when I gave him a printout from an early computer which we were teaching to play blackjack (or maybe it was teaching us) but mostly he nodded and said, “That’s nice, dear,” sounding exactly like his own father. I finally resigned myself to the fact that my cherished mementos are never going to become anyone else’s. Down the road when my daughter is cleaning out my basement she’s not going to stop and read my old papers, she’s going to toss them out. I guess I’ll save her the trouble. I kept a few representative things (all the papers that got A’s) and recycled the rest. I’ll have to remember to tell my parents that if they come across any of their school papers while they’re cleaning they should feel free to throw them out.

Mind you, this applies only to items found in the basement. When it’s time to clean out my room I’d prefer they not touch anything without asking me first.

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Cocktails anyone?

This morning I have buyer’s remorse because yesterday I bought a very expensive hat. Not only did I buy a hat, but to encourage me to buy a hat, my husband, Andrew, said he’d buy one too, so I’m actually having buyer’s remorse for two.

We went to a high end craft fair called Paradise City. I’m calling it a craft fair but the producers of the event call it ‘a fair of fine and functional art.’ It certainly was fine, and some of it was even functional, but I’d be hard pressed to label as functional some of the art (like the glass pieces that were so delicate we were afraid to breathe near them). There were a variety of things that fell in the ‘beautiful-but-who-are-you-kidding-about-functional?’ category. Take my hat (please!).

I tried on a lot of hats in the Denishe booth. They all looked wonderful on the round styrofoam heads they were sitting on, but once on my head they lost their appeal. I was shaken by the experience because my mother always used to tell me that I had a ‘hat head’ which I interpreted to mean that I looked good in hats. Now I’m wondering if she meant I had a head shaped like a hat. Eventually the artist, Denise, determined that we were looking at the wrong colors and indeed when I put on the red hat I was instantly struck by how cute I looked, despite the fact that I couldn’t imagine actually wearing the hat in the real world.

Denise, assured me that a hat can be worn anywhere, anytime; that I could put on my hat whenever the mood struck me and go about my business. She talked me into it. Not in a pushy way, in a soothing, ‘you can do it’ kind of way. I decided she was right. The hat was funky and playful and so am I. Later I visited her website, Denishe. She has a section for ‘funky’ and my hat isn’t in it. My hat is under the menu choice for ‘cocktail.’ She never once mentioned the word cocktail. I rarely go anywhere just for cocktails. Does that mean the hat will never get worn after all?

To understand just how unlikely it is that you’ll see me wearing my new hat in the supermarket, check out the cocktail line at Denishe’s site. The way the site is constructed I can’t get you directly to the photo. When you find the white cocktail hat that sits very tall and branches out in lots of directions picture it in red. That’s mine. Or visit this link for Paradise City; today it’s also shown there.

Denise insisted that she wouldn’t sell me the hat unless I promised to wear it at least twice. I assured her that I would. Not only am I a woman of my word, but I need to amortize the cost of this hat before I go out of my mind. Cocktails anyone?

Self-censoring is a parent’s best weapon

When my daughter graduated to the Young Adult section of the library I was proud and excited. I didn’t give a thought to what she was reading because I naively assumed that if it was labeled Young Adult than it was age appropriate. Granted, she hadn’t hit thirteen yet so I knew some of the books might be too adult but nonetheless I figured that if she wanted to read them, and could understand them, then it was all good. And if she couldn’t understand them it didn’t matter anyway.

Then one day she told me she’d read a great book and I should read it too, so I did. That was the end of my blissful ignorance. In that particular book, Deadline, (which, by the way, I thought was extremely well-written and recommend highly) there was, in no particular order; a boy with a terminal illness; a girl with a little brother who turned out to be her son, the result of being raped by her uncle; an alcoholic ex-priest who’d molested children, and more. That was when I learned that nothing is taboo in YA literature.

That experience made me question, briefly, my decision not to censor her reading material, however, my daughter is a voracious reader; it’s not unusual for her to take ten books out of the library at a time. It would be a full time job to stay on top of YA books to the extent that I could approve or reject her choices. Laziness aside (which believe me, is a major contributor to my resistance) censoring anything is a slippery slope. My daughter knows better than I do what she’s capable of understanding and if it’s too graphic, or too scary, she self-censors.

The movie rating system, designed to protect parents from making stupid mistakes with their children’s viewing choices, continuously disappoints me. The choices that the MPAA makes are not consistent with the choices that I would make for my child. I’d much rather she hear a few F-bombs than be exposed to people being blown up, yet the former nets an R rating and the latter a PG-13.

We were away for a weekend with another family and we rented I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry for the kids to watch, because my daughter insisted it was age-appropriate. The kids in question ranged from 9- to 13-years-old. The sophomoric humor was immediately off-putting for me but the kids were enjoying it. Each time something questionable was said or done the parents would sneak looks at each other to see who was going to be the first to crack and shut it off. Consensus came during a shower scene where several buff naked men, shot from the back, prepared to play ‘pick up the soap.’ Our collective parental gasp made it clear that no amount of arguing was going to get the movie turned back on. That movie was PG-13.

This weekend, we watched Up In the Air. It had one brief scene of a naked woman, shot from the back, and verbal innuendo about the sex post-facto. Oh yeah, there were F-bombs. That movie was rated R. Guess which one I’d prefer my daughter watch?

I continue to censor movies in my own, lazy fashion. I know from experience that the visual nature of movies makes a deeper impression on my daughter than reading, so if it’s too ‘adult’ or scary we don’t allow it. But then, if it was too ‘adult’ or scary she wouldn’t want to see it.

When it comes to books, however, self-censoring is a highly effective parenting tool, and the only one I need.

When did you grow up?

The expression came of age generally refers to a culturally prescribed time; the law says you can be tried as an adult; your religion says you’re a voting member of your community; your parents make you pay rent. Most people can answer the questions “When were you born,” and “When did you graduate from high school,” with a high degree of precision. I’m curious about people who say “I grew up in the ‘50s,” (or ‘60s, or whichever decade they deem appropriate). What do they mean?

What constitutes growing up? It’s not a vertical measure. Is it a moment in time, like when you came of age; when you started high school, had your first kiss, stole your first car? Is it open to interpretation or is there a rule for it?

If I grew up in the ‘70s can someone else my age have grown up in the ‘80s? I liked the ‘60s but can I claim to have grown up in the ‘60s if I was only eleven when they ended?

It’s not unusual to hear someone volunteer, “I grew up in the x’s,” but when was the last time you heard someone ask, “When did you grow up?” I think we shy away from that question because it’s too vague. We know no one will respond, “I grew up at 8:15pm, November 13, 1974,” so rather than ask we triangulate an assumption from dates like birth and high school graduation; questions easily asked and answered.

Growing up is a process. It can cover multiple decades. I was born at the tail end of the ‘50s, highly influenced by the events of the ‘60s, went to high school and college in the ‘70s and didn’t start to figure it all out until we tipped into 2010. I’m still not convinced I’m a grown-up.

So I ask you, when did you grow up? And perhaps more pressing, when will I?