Saturday, October 31, 2015

Turn Back! Beware! It's Halloween!!!!!

There is nothing funny about Halloween. This sarcastic festival reflects, rather, an infernal demand for revenge by children on the adult world. -- Jean Baudrillard 

It is just after 3:00pm on Halloween. I have already had four groups of children knocking at my door, demanding candy. Surprisingly, they were not little ones, but tween girls in fun and creative costumes or middle school boys dressed as creatures I do not recognize. I have yet to see a single little SpiderMan or Elsa or Lion King or Olaf. But it is early and it is Saturday and I expect there will be many, many more to come.

Even though I have no children at home, no Halloween parades to march in and a desperate need to avoid candy, I love Halloween. It is, without a fraction of a doubt, the best holiday each year. 

Why? Easy. It is a holiday without obligations. No family visits. No dinners to plan and prepare. I would say no decorations, but despite my lack of children, I still decorate for Halloween. I still buy and carve a pumpkin each year. 

I still put out skeletons and headstones and police tape and witches and ghosts.

I love this day and night because it brings children that are not mine to my door. They are all cute and funny and sweet and charming and oh so innocent, no matter the age, no matter the costume. I love seeing these children because they remind me of the boys I once lead by the hand to neighbors' homes. Laster, I sent them out in gangs with neighborhood children and one parent or another. Finally, and sadly, I let them out in the world to terrorize a neighborhood other than my own with friends I barely knew and certainly could not recognize.

My oldest missed his last opportunity to trick-or-treat as a high school senior (yeah, they do that around here) due to a freak October storm we called Hallsnoween. That was hugely disappointing for everyone.

The next Halloween was sacrificed due to the horrors of Superstorm Sandy. October 31st passed in a blur of darkness and fallen trees and cold nights. Only the smallest of the small missed going out that year.

Christmases and Thanksgivings and Independence Days all blur together as the years pass, but because costumes change, each Halloween sticks in my mind. Blond wigs, witch hats, parades at my grandparents' house with my innumerable cousins, and taking my much younger brother, dressed as SuperMan, around my childhood neighborhood are days and moments I shall never forget. I have little curled 3x3-inch Kodak prints with white borders of those events, stuck in a scrapbook, preserved forever. 

The clearest memory of all, though, is the year I was my hero, Mary Poppins, carpet bag and all. Sears had great costumes in those days. They were real clothes, not the flimsy costumes they make now with string ties in the back. I had that carpet bag for years. I wish I had it still and have no idea of its fate. My parents forgot to take pictures that year. Making the memory was more important than preserving the moment. As it should be.

I got a rock. -- Charlie Brown (Charles Schultz)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Parenting - The Purgatory, Um, Blessing That Never Ends

The trouble with being a parent is that by the time you are experienced, you are unemployed. ~ Anonymous

Then and now????????
My oldest son is a college senior. Somehow, I thought he would never grow up and all the little problems of his tiny life would stay small. No such luck. Instead, they years flew by and I am sitting here wondering two things. When on earth did he go from diapers to driving? And how am I possibly old enough to be the parent of an adult?

Okay, so those questions will never be answered, but that hasn't stopped anyone from asking them and I know they  have been asked for, well, a really long time.

Anyway, bigger kids - bigger problems. The time proven axiom of all parents. I mean, when they were three, we worried about chicken pox and potty training.  Now we worry about them finding jobs,  moving into apartments, and suffering the pain of significant others dumping them on the night before they go back to college. Yeah, been there - experienced that particular level of hell. Some worry about them moving home. Others worry about them not moving home. It is endless.

Why can't they stay this small and happy?
At any rate, senior year must present a whole vast spectrum of anxiety for college students.  I remember them. First you wonder how it is possible that those four years are almost over (yeah, yeah, back to time passing too quickly again). Then you worry that you won't find a job. You go through angst over attending the dreaded college job fair along with a thousand other seniors in your position. And then there is THE INTERVIEW.

(I confess that I didn't suffer through that particular senior purgatory. I applied to grad school which was a whole lot less angst-ridden. That presented a whole other set of issues that we can skip until the next kid becomes a senior since he has already made the very bad decision to follow his parents to law school. So, it was a misery delayed for three years, but I was familiar with the problem since friends and fellow dorm residents wallpapered the hallways my senior year with rejection letters. Seriously, there were thousands of them. Okay, hundreds, but it looked like thousands,)

So, one day my son calls, asking if he is supposed to button his jacket. [Insert long pause here while I try to figure out what the heck he is talking about.] Mercifully, an explanation follows that he is attending yet another job fair and he doesn't know if he is supposed to button his suit coat. Aha! Yes, button the coat. Off he goes, distributing resumes like fireman distribute candy during a Fourth of July parade - throw and run and hope for the best.

And then there is a miracle. An e-mail. From one of the businesses. For an interview.  With a company no one ever heard of.  No matter.  He has made it past step one in FINDING A JOB. Then, miracle of miracles, another interview. Oh, joy! Oh, rapture! Oh, the stuff of nightmares!!!!!

Monday passes. Then, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday morning around noon, I get the call about the first interview. It goes something like this:

Son: Hi, Mom.
Me: How did it go?
Son: It took five years off my life.
Me (stifling laughter with every fiber of my being): Well, it is over now and you gained good experience. 
Son: My life will be ten years shorter come this time tomorrow.
Me (covering my mouth to avoid making cackling noises): Mmmm,  nnnnn,  wwwwww.
Son: What?
Me: Nothing. Soda went down the wrong way. Hey, look, it is just an interview. Maybe you will get lucky on your first time out, maybe not.  Maybe you will get an offer and then you will know it wasn't as horrible as your suspect?
Son: Yeah, mom.  Right. By the time I find a job, I won't have any life left since I lose five years with every interview.
Me: Okay, well, call your dad and let him know how it went.

Or this small small and happy?
At this point, I hang up so I wouldn't strangle myself while suppressing my laughter because no self-respecting mom laughs at her son's misery. And yet, we wise parents know that this particular misery tends to work out one way or the other in the end. It is a right of passage that all must experience - parents and kids alike.

He survived that first interview and the second as well. He will survive them all. The funny thing is that instead of looking at bumper stickers for ideas on where my children might apply to college as I did in the good old days, I now look for corporate headquarters as I run my errands, looking for places he can send resumes. Seriously, while driving to a farm stand recently, I noted all the corporate headquarters that have replaced the disappearing farm stands.

Yup. The parental torment never ends.  It just moves on from little problems to big ones. Once a parent - always a parent.

And thank goodness for that.  I think.  Maybe. Ugh.

Because of their size, parents may be difficult to discipline properly.  P.J. O'Rourke

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Pull of Place

Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts. - Oliver Wendell Homes, Sr.

Last weekend, I attended a small reunion at my beloved college. Although fewer than thirty of us attended, we were a fierce and mighty group. We reminisced.  We laughed.  We poured over yearbooks and pawed through photographs. And we wandered the beautiful campus we called home for four years.

This wandering got me to thinking about the power of place. My favorite author is Anne Rivers Siddons. Almost all of her books have a location in the title - Colony, Downtown, Up Island, Peachtree Road. In fact, the main character is often not really a person, but a place - Maine, Atlanta, a river, an island.  These places take hold of the actual characters and never let them go. These places form the basis of their passions and their loves and their lives and their livelihoods.

Four places.  When I think back, there are four places that have infected my spirit, four places I dream of.  Some are home.  Some are places I dream of making home.  All call to me.  Oddly enough, none of these places is where I came from, where I grew up, where home really is.

Four places - three small towns and one large city, Paris. Yes, Paris.

 I think Paris is the most beautiful place on this planet. When I imagine having the luxury of spending a month in an exotic place, that place is always Paris. It would be my first vacation destination.  It would be my last as well. I love everything about it - the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Champs Elysee, the restaurants, the cafes, the winding hidden streets, the art deco details, the language. Ever since visiting as a teenager on a school trip (how lucky was that???), Paris has been the reason I travel and when travel is possible, Paris is where I want to go. A month in Paris would be a dream come true. Even a minute in Paris is a dream come true.

When I return from travelling, I am lucky enough to come home to a kind of Mayberry, a small town in northeast New Jersey in which the entire downtown exists between two train lines, where parades are held for Halloween, for the Fourth of July, for the opening day of football and baseball seasons and for Memorial Day. On clear fall days, I can hear the music and drums of the marching band on the high school football field. We have a wonderful town pool, tons of recreational sports, an amazing school system. We have a rich and surprisingly interesting history. Our neighbors are our friends and our friends are our neighbors. Sure, we have national banks, a Starbucks and a Dunkin Donuts and a CVS, but we have our own inn and plenty of mom and pop stores.  But for a local pharmacy, we wouldn't have our two boys. The recent death of a popular jeweler hit everyone surprisingly hard. I didn't start out here, but I certainly plan to end my days here.

And then there is summer.  In New Hampshire, there is a small village on Lake Winnipesaukee, a throwback to the 1950's with shoreline cabins, a rustic country store, mini-golf and a seafood shack with the best milkshakes (or frappes as they are known in New England) ever made. We cruise the lake on a ship that cannt really be described, but has to be seen to be believed.  We visit amusement parks with a Christmas or fairy tale theme.  We ascent the tallest in the northeast and take in the views with our mouths hanging open. We relax on screened in porches, playing cards or Scrabble or Uno. Until recently (okay, twenty-five years or so), there was only one channel on the TV, the phone had a party line and the road was unpaved. My much younger brother called it The Big Bumpy as a toddler. We still have the Bakelite phone with the rotary dial. When I think of my happy place, I think of my town in New Hampshire.

And then there is my college home.  Really, I spent the least amount of time there of all my happy places except, of course, for Paris. It was my first home-away-from-home. It was my first experience of fending for myself and being totally responsible for no one except me. As a senior, it was the first, and really only, time I lived alone. Those four years were the making of me. When I drive up for the infrequent reunions, I begin to cry when I see the first road sign. The waterworks begin again when I hit the small highway that takes me to the college. It starts again as I pass the college gates. This is the place that comes to mind when I think of growing up, of enduring friendships, of fun and laughter and learning.  My beloved college has changed over the years in response to economic and social pressure, but the campus remain essentially unchanged. I can visit and see my dorms and the windows that looked out on the world. I can wander and reminisce and feel young again.

These places.  They pulled me in and will never let me go. I want to be in all these places simultaneously, all the time, every day.  And, of course, while that can obviously never happen, all I need is a photo to bring me back to all the places I call home.

Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You'll find what you need to furnish it - memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey. - Tad Williams