Embracing The Generation Gap

It feels right that there are differences between generations.  I like the gap.  It’s enjoyable being with younger people and then it’s sometimes a relief  being with people  who begin sentences with “I remember when.”

When I was in my teens, we didn’t call the progression from child to adult anything at all.  We weren’t “teenagers” or “adolescents.”  We were sometimes “youth” (how’s that for an impersonal label?) but mostly we were somebody’s kid.  Since our generation didn’t have its own name, we didn’t call the spaces between generations anything special either.  We had no “gap” as such.  That term began to be tossed around more during the blooming season of flower children when we cautioned the world not to trust anyone over 30.

By then it was too late to distrust my elders.  I was already looking forward to being older.  I admired women in their 30’s – thought they had all the answers.  I couldn’t wait to look like them, dress like them, and somehow achieve their mysterious sophistication.  It seemed to me then that they owned something I needed.

Now adolescence is prolonged so that sometimes a new generation doesn’t get started at all.  We’re chipping away at what I always considered a natural distance between kids and parents.  Terms like “re-juvenile” and “boomerang babies” describe some in their 30’s and 40’s who either never quite launched from the nest, or because of various factors end up living back with their parents for a time.

The sticky part is that while these grown children were away, some of their parents were taking good care of themselves, eating right, exercising, developing new interests, trying on different things and closing the gap even more, making it tough to tell who’s who in a household.

I embrace the concept of generations helping each other, and during these tough times, we see some families deciding to stay together, returning to an earlier model of more than one generation living in the same house. 

But I’d hate to see the differences between generations obliterated completely.   Nature acknowledges distinct seasons, and it feels natural that we should too.  It is a comfort, especially during trying times, to check in with the generations that came before us and realize that this too shall pass.     

Ó By Anita Garner

Other People’s Kids

“All unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy.”

                                          ….sign in a shop window

I sympathize with the owner’s wry sentiment.  It’s a tiny store with narrow aisles and plenty of kids roaming among the knick-knacks. I’ve been known to avoid stores entirely until the kids go home.  It’s not their fault.  Kids are doing what comes naturally – testing the rules, wandering away from their parents, bumping into things  and picking up breakables.  If their parents look away for a couple of seconds, kids will leave the store with the goods.  That’s how they sometimes behave. 

I was always the person annoyed by screaming babies on the plane.  Sure I knew they couldn’t help it, but since I’d pretty much raised mine, I deserved a break,  so whenever possible, I changed seats. 

I like kids but I was never anybody’s Universal Mama.  I didn’t try to befriend every child I met and didn’t ask to hold every new baby.  I enjoyed raising mine more than anything else I’ve done so far, but after she took her own steps into the world, I was content getting back to my own life.

A few years ago, sitting in the boarding area at San Francisco International, a baby screamed and the parents couldn’t comfort her.  Something inside me shifted.  My first thought was not the usual – I hope they don’t sit near me on the plane.  Nope.  This time it was  – why aren’t those parents taking better care of that poor little thing?

The small town I live in is full of children.  Every other person in the checkout line is attached to a stroller.  One day I found myself making direct eye contact with a spiky-haired toddler with a messy face.  I don’t know what manner of sticky cookie had attacked him while his mommy shopped, but he grinned at me through the gook and I grinned right back at him and felt a pang when he left the market.

One day you’re minding your own business, steering clear of noisy kids and all of a sudden every child  – everybody’s child – becomes precious. 

Maybe the universe prepares a whole bunch of us for on-call nurturing duty because a new batch of vulnerable beings arrives every day.  Nature has been known to turn unusual species into willing caretakers so that babies and puppies and kittens and all manner of helpless creatures will find care when they need it. 

Ó Anita Garner 2009

What does “Aging Gracefully” Mean Anyway?

I just came back from spending the weekend with a girlfriend in a nearby town.  (Yes, we still call ourselves “girlfriends” after more than three decades of adult friendship.) When we have a girls’ weekend, we talk constantly, eat out, critique every movie, TV show, book and nutrition plan we’ve heard of, and inevitably, the subject turns to how it feels to be this age. 

Becoming a grandmother isn’t what made me realize I’m aging.  It started when my last parent passed.  That’s when I first listened to whispers of my own mortality.  Every morning, one of the whispers says, “Better get moving.  Get to doing.”

Occasionally I don’t feel all that graceful when I wake up and parts of me don’t work as well as they used to.  (Knees, I’m talking to you.)  At first I’m ticked off, but by the end of the day I ask myself, what did you expect?  Things aren’t brand new anymore.

I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully.  My mother’s only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you.  She considered all men potential boyfriends and in her teens she married a man who, through some combination of mercy and grace, turned into a grown-up husband who behaved like her sweetheart all the days of their lives.  He raised his wife along with us kids while she clung tenaciously to the role of teenager, even in the face of some gritty realities.

When I got my first mailer from AARP, I jumped right into their arms.  There I was coasting along in the vague category of ‘somewhere past her mid-forties” and as long as my grown daughter wasn’t around, nobody knew for sure.  Then came that AARP card and full disclosure set in.  It felt like a kind of freedom.

I asked my mother once on a particularly significant birthday, did she feel any different?  She said what we’ve all heard a million times, that she still felt 18 inside.

I’ve had several significant birthdays of my own since I asked her that, and now I know what she meant.  And she was also right about the moisturizer.  Much more of it is required.

Most days I don’t care whether taking good care of my skin (I still do it) makes anyone like me better, because another surprise benefit of getting older is that it doesn’t matter as much what somebody else thinks.  I wish my mother had allowed herself that perk.

During this latest girlfriend weekend, we agreed that aging doesn’t feel like a cause for despair, but instead it feels like a gift, something we get to do if we’re lucky. Aging gratefully is something I wish my mother had understood.  

Ó By Anita Garner 2009  

Two And A Half Men, Goodbye

I’ve watched Two And A Half Men since it began, not because I was especially drawn to the premise but because there weren’t many half hour sitcoms left to choose from, and that whole CBS Monday night block is a breath of fresh air.  The show must have tons of viewers, since Charlie  Sheen is said to be the highest paid actor on television. 

It always did require considerable suspension of disbelief to accept the character, “Charlie,” as a stud.  And boy do we get to see and hear lots of examples of his sexual conquests.  I keep thinking maybe this show is meant for a male audience because I don’t know any women who’re drawn to that type.  He dresses like a little boy.  Wears  shorts all the time, and those ’50’s-era bowling shirts – didn’t a costume person already put them on Kramer on Seinfeld?  I believe that helped establish Kramer’s character as a kook, but I’m not sure how the costuming works with Charlie as a sex symbol.

After years of watching (I automatically dvr CBS on  Monday nights) I realize I’m hardly paying attention and am fast-forwarding through the meanest parts. Then I figured out it’s because, to me, it’s all mean.  I gave it one more week.  Last week I watched closely, waiting for the funny.  I never found it.

It’s not the acting.  Charlie Sheen is a talented man.  It’s the role and it’s the show.  Sure, there are some good parts -good acting also from Jon Cryer as Charlie’s brother, Alan,  and Holland Taylor as the mom and Conchata Ferrell as housekeeper, Berta, but even those well-drawn characters aren’t enough to make the premise enjoyable for me.  

I’m weary of everyone picking on Alan.  I understand how tragedy can become comedy, how in the right hands any sad story can have its smiles, but I can’t find the smiles here.  Alan gets a divorce, loses his house, has to move in with his brother, Charlie, who week after week reminds him that he’s always been a loser.  And then Charlie lets him know that he resents the money this whole brother-helping-brother thing is costing. 

Everyone makes fun of Alan’s son, Jake  (Angus T. Jones) who’s portrayed as a stupid/gross teenager.  Does he need to be only that, all the time? 

The show is unremittingly mean and dark and instead of being funny, it’s cringe-worthy.  Maybe it’s the times.  Maybe it’s just me.  I’m not in the mood these days.  So today I entered “Do Not Record This Series.” I’ve still got Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. 

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Our Computer Is The Family’s Scrapbook

When my granddaughter was born four years ago, I put photos of her into every kind of photo-saving device – albums, scrapbooks, Grandma’s brag book, refrigerator magnet frames, etc.  Trouble was, I took so many photos and received so many, that they started getting ahead of me.  When I want to show someone how she’s grown, most often I go for the jpg’s on the computer and attach them to an email.   It’s an extra  step to update wallet photos and to continue buying albums to put on the bookshelf, so I stopped. 

Now I have hundreds of pictures on my computer.  Lord help me if this thing ever crashes. I’m thinking I’ll get another flash drive and transfer them.  Maybe if, as soon as I put them onto my computer, I also save them to flash drive, I’ll be protected. 

My little girl was visiting me recently and she likes to watch the Windows Slideshow Screensaver.   One day I left the computer for a while and when I returned, I found her standing in the doorway reciting, as if for an unseen audience:

“My birthday party.   Skyla’s birthday.  School.  Mommy.  Abba.  Me and Hammy (that’s me).”

And on and on.  When pictures of her as an infant pop up,  she adds  a story from her imagination about what said baby in the photo was thinking, i.e. “That baby wants to ride my scooter.”  She knows the picture is of her, but she enjoys making up her “That baby” stories.

I don’t know how the sequence of slides is determined, but it seems like we get the same ones over and over for a few days and then up comes one we haven’t seen before.  I suspect when I add to my endless jpg’s from another source, they reshuffle.   I recently put in a bunch of vintage pictures.  The little one was standing behind me when a new one came up and she asked  “Who’s that?”  I told her that is her great-grandmother, that the lady in the photo onscreen is my mommy.  Then I showed her a picture of my parents together.  

Next time I found her in the doorway narrating the slideshow, she had assimilated these people (who passed away before she was born) into her performance.  She said, like a tour guide, “That’s Hammy’s mommy.  That’s Hammy’s Abba.”  Then as I walked by, she paused.  It must be a work in progress, and she wasn’t ready to reveal it yet.  Soon she’ll come up with something interesting about them and I’ll be eager to hear it.  That’s something no mere photo album can offer.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Caffeine Self Defense

At the nearby Starbucks, across from the middle school, at certain times of the day – every morning before class and when school is out in the afternoon – the lines of young people waiting to order coffee are out the door.

Backpacks on and cell phones engaged, clumps of them are pushing and joking around and ordering like world-weary veterans of coffee houses.  Some of these kids are small – as is often the case in middle school where that first year it’s tough to tell the 8th graders from the fifth and sixth graders they recently were.  They grow at different rates, so we have some girls dressed like The Pussycat Dolls and others dressed in oversize playclothes.   And I give up trying to guess the ages of the boys.  Some are six feet tall and the voice hasn’t changed. 

 Next door is a juice/smoothie emporium which doesn’t have nearly as many customers. 

I’m in line wondering where they get the money for custom coffee every day?  Do the same people who bought them their iPods and cell phones and PDA’s know they’re here at Starbucks before 8 A.M. ordering complicated coffee drinks like experts? 

Do parents drop them off at school and then the kids sneak over here?  Or is everyone aware – both parents and  school employees – that this time before school starts is loaded with potential pitfalls?

How about after school?  Why are they spending hours in and around a coffee shop?  Aren’t they expected home?  They fill the coffee shop and the plaza in front every day, and they’re all holding drinks.  

Current wisdom says  caffeine can be beneficial for some, when consumed in moderation.  Alternate current wisdom says caffeine is  bad, bad, bad for kids. 

Age-old wisdom says that kids who are ingesting stimulants before and after school may be altering their abilities (or maybe just their desire?) to do whatever the heck else they’re supposed to be doing.

I don’t envy the teacher facing this group in school.  But wait  – here comes a teacher to join the line.  He’s obviously a favorite.  All the kids let him cut in.  Then they cluster around him to sip and chat.  

But then he’d have to be a coffee drinker, wouldn’t he, just to keep up?  If the best defense is an offense, then this teacher’s best offense is  – who will spell it for us today?   That’s right.  C-a-f-f-e-i-n-e.  

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Who’s Using A BlackBerry?

That’s not the real question, of course.  We know lots of people who use BlackBerries, including President Obama, and we’ll probably learn during the  wall-to-wall inauguration coverage whether he’ll get to keep his, what with all the security concerns.

Switching from a regular cell phone to a BlackBerry is a big decision for me.  Could a BlackBerry be my new tiny dream machine?  Here’s what I hope it’ll do:  Handle most of my communications needs while I travel a lot this year.

I don’t love my clunky old laptop and in a hotel I use it mostly for emailing and looking up addresses on the Internet.  I’m told a BlackBerry can handle these duties and then some.  If I get a BlackBerry, is there a model with a screen big enough so I can actually read the Internet display?

Texting is another quandary. I’m not a texter, but might be if I can actually find the letters of the alphabet.  Since a BlackBerry has a keyboard, that might just do it. 

The dilemma is – which model to get and how much do I need to spend to get the features needed?

I hope to avoid buyer’s regret – or future BlackBerry lust –  by knowing which features I’ll wish I had, if only I’d paid for them at the start. 

Help me please.  I’m suffering from BlackBerry-Indecision-Paralysis.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Naturally Curly

“She has naturally curly hair,” my mother would say with great sadness in her voice  when she spied a young person with curls.  She made it sound like a curse.   Mother had curls of the type that sprang in tight spirals directly from the scalp and she hated them.   She did battle with her hair daily.  Her own mother urged her to wear her hair cropped short and just be done with the whole thing, but mother craved shoulder-grazing styles.  

She was born at the wrong time for her hairstyle to be considered stylish.  The only curls my mother’s mother wanted to see were the tiny half moons that women plastered to their foreheads while the rest of the hair was smoothed into a bob.  Those little spitcurls in front my grandma called “beau catchers” and they were meant to lay there dutifully and not pop right back up like mother’s did.  

Mother was a performer and hours before every appearance  she could be found fighting to hold down her fluffy hair with Vaseline or other goop.  She was often in tears as we traveled through the humidity of the deep south.

During my high school years, once again, naturally curly became an epithet.  A yearbook reveals row upon row of girls with hair freshly flattened (ironed) and plastered as close to the head as possible.

“Naturally curly” was a good thing again years later, “natural” I guess,  being the blessing, instead of the perms we felt we had to get in the 70’s in order to make our hair big and frizzy.  We carried picks in our purses instead of combs or brushes, in a futile attempt to simulate huge Afros.

My granddaughter has naturally curly hair.  It’s not like her great-grandmother’s.  This little girl’s hair starts out silky and then waves and curls at the end.  Instead of stopping in tight spirals just above the shoulders, the way mother’s did, the little one’s hair comes nearly to her waist.   The four year old loves her curls.  She treats her hair like a dear companion.   There’s the occasional griping about sitting in the tub while her mommy conditions it, but overall, she likes and accepts her hair just the way it is.

We clip it back  so the hair doesn’t fall into her cereal, and she removes the clips and expertly tucks the hair behind her small ears.  She’s in control of her own crowning glory.   For school we put it up high in ponytails because there’s so much hair we fear she’ll get caught up in playground equipment.  But negotiation is required – about what color the ponytail holders and clips will be and how long they must stay in.

It’s good to see a little girl with no negative hair issues.  In fact, so far we see no appearance issues of any kind.  One day she wants to wear jeans and a tee shirt with a picture of construction equipment on the front, and tiny black “biker” boots.  Another day it’s a dress over leggings and princess shoes.  But always she prefers her hair floating free.

Curls are all around me these days.  Women of a certain age are sporting silver and white ringlets.  Some are worn short and bouncy while others are wild and long.  All are beautiful. 

There are whole books and plays and intellectual treatises about the significance of hairstyles through the ages, and what each one means.  Women have come a long way thank goodness, and the way we’re choosing for ourselves how to wear our hair (without my mother’s tears)  is another way we can see our progress.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Can We Save Lipstick Jungle?

There’s talk of canceling Lipstick Jungle. Please let’s keep it.  It’s one of the few shows I’m committed to.  I don’t feel a bond with legal shows and police shows and dark prison shows and killing shows and medical shows.  I only invest in relationship shows. 

 

I sit down with my coffee and remote and turn on that dvr and I’m transported into the latest goings-on within the group I’ve chosen to care about.

Lipstick Jungle is fun.  It’s as good as Sex And The City – maybe better. These women are grownups.  They achieve and then they stumble. They have their triumphs, some on a grand scale.  And then they have some of the same problems as – well – mostly nobody else I know has the same problems as these three women. 

One of the three main characters is a parent.  This parenting is done in a gorgeous loft in NYC.  Another wants to parent but can’t yet.  And, to put this all into perspective, one is dating a handsome billionaire. So – maybe there’s no common ground and maybe that’s why it’s fun.  

They look good.  Really good.  The show is beautiful to look at and yes, it does look expensive, but where’s the problem?  We don’t expect television shows to come cheap.  Entertainment should sometimes be lush and well-dressed.  I’ve had enough gritty.  Surely NBC can figure out how to cut corners somewhere else and spare this one.   

Lipstick Jungle is made for looking through the window at someone else’s life and choosing the parts we’d like to have and the parts we wouldn’t want. The best part about the show is the friendship.  These three ladies love each other.  They disagree and then they make up.  Most importantly, they show up for each other. 

I’m having trouble finding another relationship show to bond with, so please NBC, let’s bring Lipstick Jungle back for another season. 

Ó Anita Garner 2008

 

Paperwhites – Bloom Where You’re Planted

My southern-preacher daddy often advised his congregation from the pulpit to “Bloom where you’re planted.”  He meant it in terms of doing good works, no matter where life takes you.  Another meaning of the phrase was evident in all his sermons as he exhorted the church to quit complaining and get on with what you’re put here to do.  

As a masterful gardener, daddy had an aversion to forcing blooms.  When pressured by mother, he’d cut flowers for her and bring them inside, one bloom at a time, in a small vase.  But he refused to buy hothouse flowers because of what he considered their unnatural growing conditions.  His theory about blooming where you’re planted was at odds with an industry’s need to “force” plants.

The root (sorry) of his aversion to cutting flowers may have been the fact that his family were farmers by occupation.  Some of them were sharecroppers and at other times they grew vegetable gardens and sold produce for a living.  Daddy gardened with his own daddy in order to survive. There was never time or space for recreational plants.

When we moved from the deep south to southern California, a new world grew outside.  Birds of Paradise.  Avocados.  Camellias.  For the first time, he had a pleasure garden and he delighted in tending plants that nobody had to have.  

At first he was apologetic about the rows of irises he planted around his vegetable patch, but soon delicate pansies lined the driveway out front.  He was fearless.  He’d try anything.  He coaxed to giant size some plants that shouldn’t have been able to thrive in Glendale, and later Palm Springs, California. 

To the end, he resisted indoor plants.

Daddy had been gone for years by the time I began putting narcissus bulbs in a pot on the windowsill during the winter. This year my small granddaughter helped pat the soil around the bulbs and give them a good long drink.  Every day we watch the shoots grow taller. 

I can’t wait to see her face when the first lacy white bloom pokes out.  Who am I kidding?  I plant these for me, for no purpose other than the pure enjoyment of watching them send up green shoots and then those blooms with the intense fragrance. 

If this is a kind of sinful excess, it’s one I intend to commit every year that I’m lucky enough to enjoy the winter light.  If Daddy were here, if he’d had a chance to meet his great-granddaughter, I’m guessing he’d make an exception.  He might find a way to include our windowsill garden in his definition of blooming where you’re planted.

Ó Anita Garner 2008