Fade to Grey

    Black and white is easy. 

I come from black and white. I don’t live there anymore, but it is where I started.

    Growing up, I had an ironclad vision of the expectations that were placed upon me. Black and white. Wrong and right. Not a whole lot of in-between.

    I’m sure at the time I probably didn’t view it all that favorably.

    Now I do.

    But it isn’t just nostalgia.

    Parenting in today’s 3D Digital world can be deeply disorienting at times.

    It makes me long for an era when the rules were simple and clear. And laid out by somebody else. Sometimes I think that the only thing scarier than the fact that my friends and I are in charge is the thought that someday our children will be.


    And what tools have we given them to handle that responsibility?

    On off days, I think –not nearly enough.

    But then I look to the black and white world my parents gave me and wonder how grey became my favorite color.

    Like my parents, and theirs before them, I’ve tried to add to what they built.  My own structure may look different and feel unsettlingly unstable at times, but the foundation of it was long ago set. I started from the same premise they did –to give to my kids more than I had. Just a little bit more. And in some ways, I have. I’m just not sure I’ve always chosen the right ways.

    Our literal house is bigger and our town smaller. We have more land and less worries about it. We’ve taken more vacations. I’ve spent more time on fields, in parks and on playgrounds. More time in my kids’ classrooms. I’ve had memberships to the library, the PTO, the museum. My children have had a lot of lessons, and teams and coaches. My daughter orders her clothes online as if it’s a part time job. My son thinks Zildjian cymbals are the only kind worth having and so he has them. My kids have had access to a whole lot of stuff. Material things –lots of them.

    But they often don’t make their beds. And have to be reminded that dishes go in dishwashers. And clothes go on hangers that hang in closets. Their rooms are messy and they don’t share them with anyone else. They’ve never had paper routes or shoveled snow or washed cars to make a buck. My daughter forgets to make those birthday thank-you phone calls. My son goes to bed without saying goodnight.

    Something’s off-kilter. How is it that they do less, and get more?  How is it that I –and I don’t think I’m alone- have allowed this to happen?

    It’s different.

    Sounds like a cop out, huh? But isn’t it different? I want to say that times are different; were different. But then, that phrase sounds too reminiscent of my parents: Those were the days. You don’t know how lucky you have it. You have it easy. It sounds too much like my parents sounding like theirs. And I don’t want to lay blame on a past that’s faded by hues of nostalgia.

    Instead, I place the blame on myself. And I don’t think our parents did that. They might have known guilt, but not doubt. At least not when it came to raising their children. Black and white. Simple.

    I often think that my muted tones don’t measure up.

    But then I look to my own beginnings and realize that my parents laid some solid ground work. And I have built upon it. And in spite of the shaky ground on which it sometimes seems to stand, I’ve got to believe that it can withstand even the seismic activities of late.

    Because its pillars are made of some pretty powerful stuff.

    Pillars of strength -and love. Trust and belief. Respect and encouragement. Kindness and warmth. Family. And food. . .

    A few weeks ago, my daughter texted me a rainbow. There’s a story behind it, but that’s not important. What is is that she knew that sending it to me would make my day. I kid often about how we’ve all lowered the bar with regard to the expectations we place on our children. But the rainbow wasn’t low. It was pretty high, actually. She looked up to the sky, appreciating a specter which many do. Then, she snapped a photo from her phone, and forwarded it along. To Me. Because she knows me. In a way that I may not have known my mother.

    So I’ve been thinking. If I had settled upon only the black and white I knew, I probably would have missed a whole lot of rainbows.

Unjustified Paranoia

    I had a friend in high school who warned me of the dangers of committing anything to paper.

There were a few things wrong with this right advice.

    First, she was talking to the writer of the group. Really? Don’t put anything down on paper?

    Second, writing notes was our version of texting. We all did it. It was a clandestine escape in boring classes, a lifeline in harried hallways.

    Third, her message that anything I put down on paper had the potential to come back to bite me, smacked of paranoia. As it turned out, although I don’t think she was so afflicted, her father was. Perhaps that was at the root of her cautionary note.

    Lastly, she didn’t take her own advice. Years after we had gone our separate ways, I found notes and letters authored by her. She poured out her heart and soul in every passage.

    Interestingly, I never did. In this regard, I know I was in the minority.

    And I still am.

    Even in emails and text messages, I edit. And reedit.

    Not so the legions of girls and young women of today with their up-to-the-second technology and lightning fast fingertips. They text with abandon, and with utter disregard for the backspace which could give their thoughts pause. The speed with which they communicate has rendered the delete key virtually obsolete.

    Thus it is that I hear from my students, while in class with an overseeing professor, immediately of the just-received grade on the test or the essay. Although I admonish them at the inconsistency of texting their tutor while in class, I have to admit I like when they share good news.

    And they do. A grade, a completed assignment, a pushed back deadline.

    But in the immediacy of their media-driven lives and hyperquick blip of their messaging, they share much more. So much more.

    In the jotted lines of their texts, I’ve been granted access to their world. And in the spaces in-between, into their lives. I know I wouldn’t give to them what they give to me. At least not in writing. The content is often akin to the stuff which we might have shared with a trusted friend through the lines of a telephone. It’s immediate and funny and potent and raw, and at times, heart-wrenching. And almost always -urgent.

    I wonder what it is about my young friends and my daughter that their messages seem so fully fraught with this sense of urgency. Even when it’s my daughter’s question about a song’s artist that comes from the midst of a party she’s attending, she needs to know –now.  Never mind that her phone has a direct link to the Google gods who could answer her much more quickly than I and my scattered brain. The question arises. She texts me her query. And I answer.

    In a different scenario, this would be called enabling. Maybe it still is. And maybe I and those of my kind are part of the reason our kids crave immediacy and lay bare so much out in their cyberworld.

    Facebook has hoards of detractors. And anyone advising students stepping into the workforce has warned and doubly warned of the dangers of revealing too much to the world through the site. I’ve done it countless times myself.

    But lately I’ve been rethinking the message. Just because I couldn’t have put myself out there the way my girls do, doesn’t mean they can’t. Or shouldn’t. It is, after all, their world.

No, I’m not advising that FB uploads of them taking ice slide shots through something resembling the male anatomy while wearing their bathing suits is the stuff that impresses future bosses. Instead, I’m saying that perhaps we can find middle ground. There are just too many of these less-than-perfect photos opps out there to expect anyone to come off as perfect. There’s also something a bit inauthentic about a college kid donnig a cap at the end of four years that too closely resembles a halo. I can’t imagine that anyone is served by an all antiseptic version of another’s life. It’s not terribly believable. Or likeable.

    So I liked the story of the young woman running for office in Virginia last fall who went on national television to confront her own FB photos. I actually thought they were pretty tame. (but then, as I’ve mentioned –my kids share A LOT, so maybe my view is skewed) However, she brought up a good point. If the only people who run for office from her age group are those who’ve never been caught in a bad photo, the ranks of the running are going to be pretty slim. And grow slimmer with time.

    I also liked her name: Krystal Ball. Seriously. Maybe she is one and maybe, despite her loss in the election, she’s giving us a bit of foreshadowing. If we continue to try to find perfect people, we’re likely to be perfectly fooled.

A New Year to Believe

    I still believe in love.

    That’s a song. A lyric.

    And a philosophy.

    For love.

    But also for life.

    My daughter’s at the perfect age to be smack on the center car of the roller coaster ride of her own revolving love story. As a spectator, it’s not a whole lot of fun to watch.  I imagine it’s a bit jolting for the rider, as well. I liken it to that rickety wooden coaster at New Hampshire’s Canobie Lake Park –not so much dramatically scary as it is just really bumpy. Okay, at times plummeting. But then, the view from the top of the tracks can be pretty amazing. And as she would to the ride itself, in spite of its careening depths, she keeps climbing on board.

    She came into this world with an indomitable resilience which I could never have taught her. But she’s needed that spirit. Before she was a half-day old, she was desperately ill. It may have been the meds in which she was almost immediately infused, or the expertise of the professionals at one of Boston’s best hospitals. It may just have been the general advances of medical science that saved her life from the same ailment that killed her great grandmother’s son.

    I don’t know about all that.

    I think it was her resilience.

    My students are her age. And most of them are girls. Because of my unique relationship with them, they share much that has nothing to do with what we’re studying. That’s okay. I’ve accepted my role in their education. It’s not always about grammar and parenthetical phrases. In fact, it rarely is. Apparently, I may have other stuff to teach them.

    But when they talk to me about their love lives, I sometimes feel like that what I have to offer may not be fully relevant to their 21st century interactions. But I could be wrong here.

    One of my students considers herself a cynic when it comes to love. So I agree with her that boys are stupid or shallow or whatever the negativity of the day is. And then I find myself quietly cheering on her would-be suitors. Not because I know them or like them or necessarily believe that they’re a right match for her. More because I want her to believe. In them, in herself with them, in it –in something. I want her to believe in love. Again. Or maybe for the first time. I want her to shed that cloak of cynicism she wears so proudly. I want her to step to the vortex of life and get fully sucked in by the tidal wave of emotions that comes with love.

    I want her to start over –each time, as if for the first time.

    Happy New Year.

    Every culture has its version of what it is to renew. In New York and Boston, we drink too much, make a lot of noise, watch a crystal ball slowly descend. Some of us make resolutions. Most of us lose them before spring pushes off the area snows.  

    I think we’re missing something.

    In Greek Orthodoxy, the New Year coincides with the season of sowing, on September 1st. I don’t know about that. A harvest doesn’t sound like a beginning.

    Countries with large Hindu populations celebrate the New Year with their spring’s planting. That makes a bit more sense. Perennials pushing up to the sun. A silent seed taking root, starting as a tiny kernel of life.

    In preparation of their spring celebration, the Bengalese clean. So do the Chinese, before their winter parades. My mom would like that. Remove the clutter, start clean and fresh. And scores of cultures have symbols of luck closely tied to their New Year’s celebrations. A food or a flower, a color or a coin, a custom. Something to ward off the evil spirits, welcome the good.

    The Jewish New Year has a bit more depth. Yom Kippur doesn’t coincide with our Gregorian calendar. It doesn’t even fall on the first day of their first month. Instead, on the 10th day of the month of Tisrei, Jews the world over seek a spiritual renewal. They look to the past, acknowledge their shortcomings, search for atonement.

    I like this idea. It speaks to a bigger picture. It’s about redemption and potential –like that seed. It’s more than a few penciled resolutions on a page. It’s about an acceptance of missteps and a willingness to change. I especially like the notion of not merely looking to a Creator for forgiveness. Even Jews who don’t count themselves as particularly religious can take the Yom Kippur opportunity to seek out people whom they may have wronged in the course of the year and solicit their individual forgiveness. Cool concept.

    I believe in the New Year. I believe in the inherent possibilities of it. 

    I believe that my student will fall in love, that my daughter’s ride will be worth it.

    And I don’t really believe that kids suck. Although I do believe that sometimes our job as parents does. It’s difficult and frustrating and most of us don’t have any of the answers that seem to come so easily when we use an outside-looking-in view of others. Perhaps the job is so particularly daunting to those of us who do believe. Who believe it makes a difference; that we make a difference. Who believe that these kids of ours really are the future.

    So I also believe in my son. I believe in that little boy with the big imagination who didn’t quite buy the notion that teleporting wasn’t an actuality. But did believe me when I told him he could be anything he wanted to be.

    He doesn’t believe much of what I say these days. But I still do. I still believe that the seed of who he is, albeit buried, is in there. It just needs a bit of light to guide it from the darkness.

I believe that the good of him has taken root and that on the other side of the little boy, he will become the man who he is meant to be.

    I more than believe; I know.

    Because I still believe in love.