Parenthood

The vast majority of people consider their being parents one of the big milestones of life, that their decision to have children is an integral part of who they are, and who they want to be.

But the interesting thing in this is that no one really knew what it was they were deciding, in getting pregnant, or in planting the seed. Of course a certain percentage did not even make such decision, they just found themselves on the route, say by inebriation, partying, youth games, libido being what it is in the teenagers, both then and now.

You might say that of course we knew what parenthood was, ahead of it: by babysitting, by observation of other people’s interactions w their own, at the park, at school, parties, etc. By looking backward to one’s own parents, with you, and your siblings. But the truth is it is a chiaroscuro look, to use an art term: like looking at it through a glass darkly.

Until you have been in it post delivery, taking tyke home, raising him or her, and getting through all those years of caregiving, which you willingly undertook, and then figuring the hard work was over, at age 22, or college graduation milestone, and tyke is now able to earn his or her own keep…well, the truth is your assumptions have been upended.

At no point did you anticipate all the peaks and valleys of this role. That your role does not end, ever. Even in the horrible case of a child dying, you will always find that they changed who you are, and who you will go on being, even without their presence. But the majority will not have this happen to them, fortunately. Did you know that the role included a major leap of faith, that your thoughts and expectations will not match up with the reality??

Did you know that while your children do reflect you somewhat, they are not a rubber stamp? They will be who they are and who they want to be, or who they may be limited to being, by virtue of disabilities, that you didn’t figure on. They will encompass both you and your chosen mate, by the environment you create together, as well as how your genetics stack up, together. The personality is at least 60% of your genetic traits, so choose wisely.

For those who have chosen the adoption route, that is a kind deed, but of course when the child grows up, with the given love, he or she will not reflect you exactly, because of the aforementioned link of personality with the genetic makeup. There will be significant differences. I have a cousin by adoption, whose father told me how horrified he was that a daughter he had, when grown, decided to bear 5 of her own children, with a mate, but that the money situation was going to be beyond her ability to care adequately for all of them. And then he added that he raised her to only take on what you can carry yourself, to not expect from the parents, to be a burden. But she went on her own road, and the father was bitterly disappointed in her decision, because he was not going to be Daddy Warbucks. Some of the children had special needs as well.

This father was certain that it played out this way because of personality differences and a sense of entitlement, despite teaching to the contrary. And 5 children makes it rough to go out and have your own career as well, and what of a family car or a need for a big house, or the endless laundry, keeping track of doctor’s appointments, meals, all of it, times 30 years, and longer…because it’s never ending. He thought that his adopting a child was going to be different than how it turned out.

But that is what I am getting at here, in this treatise. No one really knew what they were taking home in a car seat and a blanket swaddle. How it would turn out. Who would this little person become, beyond the squalling that is their communication of need?  I hope your adventure turned out well for at least most of you, but you made a very big life decision in becoming this parent. And you did so blindly, effectively. You had no real idea what the result would be, and by virtue of neglect, abuse and other societal ills that are still prevalent, the clay you shaped in this child could be a gift to the world, or a mass murderer. I am often fond of you get what you put in, and that karma rules, so do your best. The observations you made of others were merely a dress rehearsal for your own adventure, of little Jane or Henry, who is not you, but is partly so, and who will be your greatest work in this life.

The only thing you can do is to choose very well who is going to be your mate, in this enterprise, because there is no escape after the fertilization, and later birth. This child will reflect the other parent as well, at least somewhat. And to those who are only having a child in order to increase their status in the world, and to pat themselves on the back, taking others to raise those kids, with no concern for their welfare, well, do the world a favor, and recognize there are already too many narcissists out there, who beget chaos upon the world. Every child deserves two parents who are committed to him/her.

Those who abandoned the pregnant women, or who raped them, or committed incest, well, you can figure what I’d say to these miscreants: repent and do good, or the damage done will come back to you. And the penalty will be at least tenfold. Parents, teach your sons how to conduct themselves! And parents of girls, don’t put the entire burden on your daughters, which is unfair. They deserve their freedom too.

Picture Note: Me with my mom, and newborn baby Magnus, in San Francisco, CA. Child of a close friend.

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The Vaccination Crisis

As of today, in Rockland County, a suburban county of New York City, the officials have declared that all children from ages 4-18, who do not have a measles vaccine under their belts will be unallowed to be in public enclosed spaces, until such vaccination is accomplished. Only public parks and being at home is the option for these children. The acting mayor/County Executive is right to issue such a draconian measure, on the backs of parents who, in the name of freedom, religious or otherwise, have chosen to not vaccinate their children, as recommended, when the pediatrician suggests that the child has reached the age of administration. How did we get here?

In 2000, measles was declared eradicated in the USA, which for the time it was, almost gone, with only a handful of cases, and only 1 death in 3 years since then, the latest being in 2015. In the years before 1963, when the measles, mumps rubella combined vaccine became widely available, most children in the USA got these childhood diseases, and some proportion of them died from measles, a slightly higher number had life changing complications like encephalitis, and the disease was endemic in the USA, with major rashes, fever and suffering. So now fast forward to 2019, and many people do not remember or simply weren’t alive, back in the early 1960’s, when it was all over, the problems, and the sequelae of measles, mumps and rubella. People today have a fallacy in their minds, about disproven autism being caused from vaccine preservatives. Or the right to prevent their children from receiving the protection due to religious views. Only a relatively small number of children have documented allergies to the vaccines.

Whether experts in the field, or simply this registered nurse, who has extensive experience with vaccine administration, titers of immunity to the diseases, protest against such short sighted parents who have foolhardedly denied their children protection from serious and in some cases fatal diseases, and in many cases bringing back “The Boogey Man,” I say your job is to protect and educate your children. Secondarily, but equally important, you owe society at large what is known in the field as “herd immunity,” which is when a certain percentage of the total population is inoculated against a disease, say 90% or higher, the ones who aren’t inoculated are less likely to contract the disease, by virtue of its relative scarcity in the population, like we had in 2000. NOT NOW. Now, we have major outbreaks, all over the world, but especially clustered in Rockland County, NY, and some of those affected, with active disease, are spreading the disease, and a certain percentage of those will go on to permanent cognitive disability and/or death.

So you sow, so shall you reap. The County Executive has no power of enforcement, but for visual examination of the characteristic rash of measles, when it is active. No parents are required to carry around vaccination cards with them. But this story in the news is unprecedented, and long since due, for public health. These parents have erred, and need to repent. Get thee to a clinic, go! In conjunction with this initiative, free clinics are providing the vaccine, and all you need to do is be responsible, and get the kids vaccinated! It seems that people have forgotten that if we don’t care for ourselves, we also don’t care for anyone else. We become reservoirs of disease, hosts.

I also advocate for all other available vaccines, as all my friends know, when you are in the appropriate life stage for administration. In our life stage, that includes Pneumococcal, Shingles, Flu annually, and if necessary, by lifestyle, Hepatitis A, B. Too bad that Hepatitis C did not get its own vaccine, because many Baby Boomers have contracted that one. And it’s serious as well, with likelihood of disability and death too. And keep count of your Tetanus as well, at least every 10 years. Keep a booklet, like you do for your kids. It’s the kind, responsible thing to do. Unnecessary contagion is just stupid. Next stop, seeing children in wheelchairs, due to polio outbreak and attendant complications….

Economic Discrimination

Pray for the less fortunate: I just read of 3 houses that were consumed by fire in my old neighborhood. 3 persons injured. I gasped at the news of a mansion on fire in Colt’s Neck, New Jersey, because that is where Bruce Springsteen lives! 4 persons dead there, 2 of them children. I go through a litany of people and intentions nightly, as I pray in bed, unable to kneel anymore, reminding myself that while women are likely to live longer than men, we are also statistically more likely to become disabled. If I had a choice, I’d choose sudden death, cardiac, because men have the edge on us all through life. Power, no need to wear high heels, makeup, dressing to impress, sexiness is our currency. If we don’t have that, and the look of youth, what use are we? Men don’t have to conform to that standard. They can come on national TV wearing an undershirt, like Simon Cowell does! And get away with that, because he looks like he does, and is rich and famous. Cocksure they are! They keep the cherries for themselves, engaging in a society wide economic terrorism, which keeps women most often in their place, because money is power. And women routinely are undervalued with the studied rate of 72 cents to every dollar a white man earns, at jobs that are more plums, and even when a woman takes on more, and more, in duties, in county government, she is still undervalued, when she shows what she has done, and still, paltry raises, like 1% per year, which lags inflation, which means you get poorer over time…and so does her family. Everyone around her suffers as she is undervalued, and can’t get the things that improve her life, like a fancy gym membership, with 1 on 1 boxing classes, that are directly responsible for an over 100 lb weight loss, as part of a regimen to overcome, and have a good life.

They take extra jobs, like fire inspector, doing more hours, saving the county oodles of budgetary dollars, but when it comes time to reward her for her vigilance and so much more, they say she is in the union, even though she is not. She doesn’t pay dues anymore, and has been let go from that yoke. Being in the union keeps her salary artificially low. She is management, but they won”t give her that title, or the salary commensurate with the new rank. They piss me off, because she is the best they have ever had!!! And they are throwing her away, as so much unnecessary detritus, basically unvalued, and admitted by some, because she is a woman, and sexism is rife in middle America.

When you unvalue someone’s work and sacrifice, you are declaring power over less fortunate people, and the men by extension put more pressure on themselves to perform, to be breadwinners, to drop dead faster, from high stress, because they didn’t want women to be equal. They cut off their noses to spite their faces! Makes some real sense, right? Go out on top, with power, a smile on your corpse face, because when you unvalued the women, you also unvalued yourself. And your families all suffer, collectively, when women don’t get what they are worth. Time for this travesty to STOP! 

“Get a life” like William Shatner said, re Trekkers, long ago. But this means treating us all equally, no matter if man, woman, black, white, Asian, Latino, LGBTQ, young, old, disabled or not, as long as the work is still doable with reasonable accommodations, wearing a long beard, shorts, skirts, sandals, work boots, makeup or not…these are not the criteria by which we consent to be judged!!! Judge us simply on whether we are adding value to your enterprise, and deserve to be rewarded thus.

I was also a victim, in my work life. Over many years, of a working lifetime, with suppressed wages, which impacts Social Security later, contributing to senior years poverty for many, as SS is the only source of retirement income, for so many. Only because my mom was married to my dad for over 10 years, she was able to collect his much higher SS rate, when he died, which covered the loss of alimony, upon his death. And even then, I had to take in my mom, because the money ran out, and was never enough. And that is part of why I live alone today, paying for this societal disgrace, with my very life. Poverty of women continues through the generations. STOP NOW!!!! 

Thanksgiving 2018

Baked brie, pumpkin soup, almonds, walnuts, raisins, ruggalach, rainbow cookies, succulent brine soaked turkey, 2 kinds of stuffing, both with and without sausage, sage, thyme, cranberry relish with clementines, cornbread, creamy mashed potatoes with garlic, sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, string beans, asparagus, several kinds of wine: merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and sweet too, like moscato d’asti. Sometimes Swedish meatballs, and other surprises too. Always the 8 inch round triple chocolate mousse cake, with dark, milk and white chocolate, decorated for the holiday. Also, coffee, tea, pumpkin and apple pie, a la mode with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, if you like that…

Preceding, a platter of crudité, with dipping ranch dressing, cheeses cubed, olives, gherkins, because the feast is waiting to be served up, upon arrival, with an over-busy kitchen, and many hands, all eager to help. Also, because the family is partially Italian, we have the nice meats out on a platter too: prosciutto, capicola, salami, etc. Reminds me of Roma in all her splendor, at the St. Regis Grand Rome Hotel, with its sumptuous breakfast buffet daily…only this home is my family, cousins, with love, working their butts off, to make us feel welcome, and loved too. A different feeling of love, and thanksgiving, from my soul. My favorite feeling of the holidays, which is otherwise quite barren, in that I have no other blood kin alive anymore, and a lack of children as well, except for these cousins, who have been a highlight through the years for me, but they are awaiting moving down south, in some few years, because of retirement, and the children’s college graduations, and then there is no need for this house in cold West Orange, New Jersey.

And then Thanksgiving will be forever altered to nothingness. But we have today, and for this, we are thankful. I bring with me a friend who also has no viable family to spend the holiday with, and who feels welcomed and comfortable with my family, because she fits in. We are all glad she is with us.

And this is the real curse of having major holes in a life quilt: that the years that would be necessary to find and hook a mate, when one is still fertile, are long past. Doing professional things, volunteering, caregiving, being trapped in a poor life, with danger, health problems encroaching, criminals, threats, not having the plenty that is necessary for emotional security, anger, violence, just everything negative. There was no space for finding that mate that I wanted, and now miss every single day, even while I give thanks for the considerable changes, and the life I do have.

I remind people with losses that you need to count your blessings every day. No one gets everything they want in life. But some people and things loom larger than others. And the losses are more poignant at the holiday season, while others gather by the dozens, and my own family is small, and growing physically distant, with no one else to replace them, going forward. I would have been a real kick ass wife and mom, and it’s a large waste that I don’t get to wear those hats in this life. But I remind myself that my friends are extended family, and they count, them, and all 10 0f their sons and daughters that I have adopted symbolically. And this is my fate, and has to be enough, because it’s all I’m getting. I make my rounds, toast and give thanks, and remind others to do the same.

Be good and do good, for others. Your reward is in so doing, as you know you have a grand purpose, just as you are, alone at the holidays, but also not so.

Success in Life

When you have a child with a spouse, under inauspicious circumstances, like trying to escape a very restrictive home environment, with neither freedom nor fun activity, but instead arguments constantly, disrespect between spouses, violence even, deteriorating further, ALL YOU WANT TO DO IS ESCAPE THAT PRISON! Now this is your backdrop for your own entrance into a marriage that was ill conceived from the get go. You only had this example to use also in your choice for a spouse.

One goal: have a child, or several. Make sure there is sufficient money coming in for the support of said child, and spouse. That is it. Your sole criterion. Escape dungeon of parents who do not listen to you as you wail about the injustice of only marriage for sexual expression, and no other outlet, ever. And then of course, in those days, only heterosexual marriage, to boot. What if you were gay? Nope, no outlet for that. It was 1963, and the sexual revolution was about the birth control pill, not other sexual activity. Women who slept with anyone other than a spouse were considered whores then. Men were given a free pass, however, by themselves. Double standard.

Jerry met Harriett on a double date. Both came into this arrangement with the aforementioned circumstances. Jerry didn’t know Harriett had a child already out of wedlock, given up for adoption 6 years before. Jerry was the closeted gay guy, all through his life, he kept it mum, but it reared its ugly head, to the detriment of that spouse and that eventual child. Never honest, never happy, never free, to express himself, he went berserk, in his 40’s, because you can’t fit a rectangle into a square. And they were really bad for each other, with life perspectives in conflict. Always violence, always disrespect, always that one girl watching, crying, absorbing the trauma, without any known recourse elsewhere. And these were her example for the future as well. What future??

I never had a chance at romantic success really. A wonder that I was able to be successful at several professions even: stockbroker, teacher, registered nurse, property manager, event coordinator, writer, travel photographer, name it. Yes, many hats worn. Even if I never sold a single stock to anyone, it still mattered later, when I was able to use the knowledge for myself, and to do better for people all around me as well. The success I have today is a reflection of all I did before, leading up to this point. So yes, success delayed, but real.

My father had only two criteria for success for me: that I support myself without any need from him or the family and that I marry and have children of my own. If I failed at these things, it was because I was set up from the beginning with very dire environment and bad genetics to boot. Being the only child of such a marriage, it was no chance from the beginning, to have such success. Bad coping mechanisms became the order of the day, and they became ingrained. It was clear I would need therapy to sort it out, but due to the inevitable divorce of my parents, and subsequent poverty that resulted from that, and my mom taking up with a drunk boyfriend, for 20 years, well, it went from bad to worse. Secrets and lies were the currency we dealt with there, trapped in irony and penury. There is a relationship between the life you get, and the life you grew up in.

I never had a chance. I was overly sensitive as well. Writing became a refuge. A way to deal publicly with trauma,  and hope it helps someone else see a different way. It became clear that dad was also a narcissist, in his narrow viewpoint of what my success was. Nothing I did was ever enough. Criticism all through, amplified by my growing body, not by pregnancy, but maladaptive coping by eating too much. Not enough happiness. Fat is proportional to how happy you are. But at least I finally understand as I wind down my years on Earth. I can give a life report to the elders who came before me, once on the Far Side, the other world.

I know that I did succeed in all the life ways that matter, not just those 2 criteria. I have decided to be the opposite of what my parents showed me, in terms of the bad things anyway. I do good for everyone around me and treat everyone fairly, the way I want to be treated. That is the true measure of success! AND I laugh often and revel in the joy of others too, not just myself. Can’t argue with that. I am fortunate. And the changed life is one I built as well, by business decisions I made, with my cousins. My education has been quite diverse, which was fortuitous. Everything was made use of, MBA and MA training, hard work, persistence, loyalty, prodigious amounts of love, not bottled up!

 

And the footnote: though not married, well, really a lot of romantic freedom, getting my freak on! That means not a lot of boredom, folks!

The Silence of Rabid Intensity

My spirit is screaming for a rap now, but silently, within. Because I hail from the Bronx, the Boogie Down, where hip hop was born, and so was I, plus a twisted juggernaut of wonderful people who are still here, hanging around my life. We are the tough stuff, because only the strong survive! Where housing is a collection of mold, plaster scraping off walls and ceilings, leaks ad infinitem, toppling the ceiling, but with no warning, so your head might be caught in the chunks of plaster and heavy laden debris…And the roaches, waterbugs and mice take up residence, without paying rent, uninvited! And you scream for a pet, or a brother or a sister, and the only substitute you can find is your lovely friends you make at school, but they are constantly moving too, from apartment to apartment, because of drunk, violent boyfriends, or worse, stepfathers, who beat your mom, or even you, or knock your teeth out. And when you start to develop curves, all these men look at you like you are some tasty meat, out on a spit, and that attention feels good, because you have been starved for it, all your live long childhood. Because kids should be seen and not heard, and you were even told that!!

 

I could tell you a tale of this childhood, but you get a picture already, and it ain’t pretty. And you are a lookout for your dad coming home, while mom is banging the drunk boyfriend, and you know that, out in the living room, under some covers on the floor, watching the telly, trying to be not seen and not heard, both. And because one can extrapolate that the marriage is dead, even if it hasn’t been declared null and void yet, you play your role, even though your only offered escape is to go to college, some years away, and you are in the house with this drunk, and mom doesn’t have sufficient money to keep the house going, so that’s power to this abusive relationship, even with begging monthly to parents, an aunt, and this boyfriend, plus the alimony, no child support, because dad screwed mom in the divorce, and that meant me too, because I stayed with her. Even though I was innocent in all this, a mere 13 when dad left.

 

So when you look at me, aged midlife, weighing too much, and in therapy probably forever, it makes sense, because these wounds do not heal fully, and they had already cut deep. And the upshot of it was I honored my own obligations to these parents, even though they didn’t quite do that for me. It is a tapestry that they wove around me, and my life is the remnant of that upbringing. I never had a chance to live the promised land, say with normal parents, unconditional love, a man who would accept me, really, not just meat on a skewer…or even liken me to a toasted marshmellow, sticky sweet, and gooey, and all too willing to melt, for the right person, who never came. I am literally the Brazilian steakhouse BBQ, endless meat coming to your table, succulent, tasty, but when the diner is full, the card gets turned down, and the diner departs. What should the meat say at that point? Glad you enjoyed me?? Now get the hell out of here!

 

I am flesh and blood, created for more than this fate. I AM NOT MEAT! Any more than any African American is a dog, because no one should be compared thus. Have respect for your fellow being, and recognize no one can judge, because no one has walked my own road. I join hands with all who have been shut up, and victimized, and belabored with mental illness, violence, threats, poor food, even worse housing, poverty, yelling, baseball bats, slapping, kicking, punches, name it! Such children never had a chance to live the good life, because they were merely silent witnesses to carnage. Screaming silently in a vast void, to anyone who would listen. Was there anyone out there?

The Spider and the Fly

Cornered man, living in 1960’s single, with big sexual repression at home

Entrapped woman, same era, judged, mocked, forever shamed, by out of wedlock baby

Given up for adoption, 1957, and then internalized the unworthiness, forever more.

These people meet on double date, and due to untenable options at home

Hurriedly get married, 1963. The home lives were inescapably crucibles for them both.

So they overlooked the obvious in each other, the obtuse angles in contrapositions, the utter inappropriateness of values, lifestyles, even sexual orientations!

 

I became their only child, born 1964. Born to a hellishness of witnessing the unraveling of three lives, all because of that crucible that put them in this situation.

Anything to escape what was essentially a Salem witch trial. How long must one suffer a high libido, no outlet but marriage, heterosexual marriage, which was the only type until 2015 June in these United States of America?

Dad died in 2010, a broken man, having tried to corner his drive in the only acceptable way, which was in fact hellish, and defiantly unfair to him, as well as his unsuspecting wife, who also brought her carpetbags laden with oak logs, heavy, dragging behind.

Mom died in 2014, also broken, from a life of not being good enough, for herself, her inappropriate mate, her parents, her drunk boyfriend, because what good man would want her?? She internalized the rejection, from the act of having a baby, out of wedlock, in 1957. She was forever tainted, scarred with stretch marks on her abdomen, if only dad had seen them, I would not even be here…but he didn’t.

 

Silence became the way of life, for all of us, until we screamed piteously at each other, and at the injustice, of being in a cobweb from which there is no escape. And the spider is coming to eat you…you can see him, as you squirm, and wail, to no avail. You are his meal. Law of the animal kingdom. Caught in a web of one’s own making, a tapestry of life, choices made, circumstances unfolding, being the only child of a complete travesty of marriage, screaming, crying, wailing at the obscenity of it, knowing it will fall on you to clean up the refuse, the excrement, make the decisions, knowing full well that you are unequal to the task, because you are shaped by a spider and a fly in a cobweb….

You are the sole arbiter of destiny. You decide to be better than they were, making an example of how not to be, from how they were, with each other, and you. You take the parts that are good, and incorporate them, and become unique, and forged by steel, a witness to so much, including attempted murder, abuse, neglect, dysfunctional coping mechanisms. There is a price to be paid. I fulfilled my role, despite railing against it.

 

And was rewarded in the end. And leaving no descendants is perhaps a fitting epitaph, as no one should be burdened by the genetics of insanity, of overcoming life, bit by bit, as if in a crimson forge, making horseshoes…The many friends are the next chapter, and they will find good uses for the treasure I share with them, and their kids. It’s like leaving a foundation to carry on good work for society…and that is a good ending. Something like Sidney Carton in  “A Tale of Two Cities,” by beloved Charles Dickens, assigned by an English teacher in high school. I remember their names even now. And I am 37 years past graduating…they live on in eternity thus.

 

I write because after me, there will be no blood witnesses, but there will be a community touched by a life lived in hell, in the flesh. I cannot go to horror movies anymore. You can imagine why. Peace to all whom I have loved in this life. Even if it didn’t get me where I wanted it to go.