Sturm und Drang

Are you afraid I’m going to steal your lunch?” he asked.

I was hunched over the table in the cafeteria of my junior high school when some guy, who I didn’t know, asked me that question. My left arm encircled a Tupperware containing a small chef’s salad, while I shoveled a forkful of lettuce in my mouth with my right hand.

“No,” I mumbled.

I could see how it would look like I was afraid of that, given my posture. But, actually, I was trying to hide what I was eating. I was trying to keep to the Weight Watcher program I had begun six months earlier. Most kids didn’t bring salad to school. I wished I was eating one of those moon pies – a chocolate marshmallow confection of gooey goodness that they sold at school – but none of that for me.

I was humiliated by his question, though I didn’t think he meant to be cruel. He sounded more curious and bemused as he asked it. Still I was relieved that he moved on and left me alone. I continued eating, but tried to look less protective of my salad.

Junior high school was a challenging time. I was still recovering from the death of Nana a year and a half before. I was trying to find my way in my second year at a new school where I knew very few of the other students. The vast majority of my elementary school classmates were zoned for a different junior high. I made it through 7thgrade and now it was the beginning of 9th(I skipped 8thgrade as part of a New York City program that compressed junior high into two years instead of three) and while I was beginning to make some friends, it still wasn’t easy. (I wrote about one aspect of my junior high school experience, the boycott of schools caused by the busing plan in this blog post)

Making matters worse was the fact that I had matured early. I was fully developed which made me self-conscious. I also had menstrual problems. My period was very irregular and when I got it, after missing it for several months, it was terrible. It would last for two weeks, with cramps, and I bled profusely. My situation wasn’t as bad as my mom’s in that when she was that age she would pass out when she got her period. She told me that she had a friend assigned to keep an eye on her when she was in junior high school. Though she shared that story, I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about my concerns. I wasn’t passing out, and the thought of someone being assigned to me was completely unacceptable. My goal was to fly as far under the radar as possible. At 13, if I could have blended into the woodwork at school, I would have been happier.

It was 1972 and they didn’t have the feminine products available today – sanitary napkins were bulky and didn’t come with a wrapper in which to dispose of it (you had to wrap it in toilet paper). If memory serves correctly, the girls’ bathrooms in school didn’t have waste receptacles in the stalls either, just a garbage pail by the sinks. All of which meant that it was nearly impossible to be discreet about having my period. I needed to carry a purse (something I didn’t ordinarily do), and I would have to take that purse with me to the bathroom. Even on an ordinary day, the idea of using the bathroom was an anathema to me, I tried to avoid it. I didn’t want to be marked, I didn’t want anyone to know about my bodily functions. I don’t know why I felt ashamed, but I did. I thought other girls, if they even got their period, didn’t have the issues I had, and I didn’t have the nerve to broach the subject with anyone. So, I suffered in silence and muddled my way through, hoping not to embarrass myself by staining my clothes (which sadly did happen on more than one occasion).

Eventually, I had an episode of cramps that were so bad, I had to tell my mom. She made an appointment for me to see her gynecologist. I remember Dr. Holland asking me a series of questions before examining me. Mom was not in the room with me for that part. He asked me if I had had intercourse. Surprised by the question, I answered no (I was still only 13!). He asked me if I was sexually active. I didn’t understand the difference between the first and second question, so I told him no, again. A nurse stayed in the room for the physical exam, which wasn’t that traumatic. Fortunately, he found nothing wrong. He made some suggestions to treat the cramps if they were painful in the future and that was that.

Though I continued to struggle with my menstrual cycle, not everything was bleak during my junior high school years. Eventually I connected with a few girls. Toward the end of 9thgrade, a couple of us made a plan to leave school for lunch, a daring idea. Geri and Lisa came up with the notion of sneaking out –  everyone had to eat in the cafeteria, no one was allowed to leave for lunch (maybe they were afraid we wouldn’t come back!). We decided we would go to Lisa’s house, where no one was home, since it was only a couple of blocks from school. We would make sure to get back in time for our next class.

The big day arrived and we successfully escaped. We were feeling triumphant and excited as we hurried to Lisa’s house. As we were walking down Avenue K, we heard a car horn and some hooting and hollering. We all turned to look. At first, I didn’t know what I was seeing. I saw flesh pressed up against the rear window. They were butt cheeks! We started shrieking and running. We were afraid the car would follow us. We got to Lisa’s house – we were laughing and terrified at the same time. One of the girls knew that it was called being ‘mooned.’ I had never heard of that. We took it as some kind of sign that we shouldn’t have snuck out. I didn’t leave school for lunch for the remainder of the year. I don’t think any of us did.

I ended my junior high school career on a high note. I was given an award – the Ben Ramer Memorial Award – for outstanding female athlete. When they told me about it, that I would receive it at the graduation ceremony, I was incredulous. The thing was there were no opportunities for girls to participate in sports, other than gym. There were no teams. We did the Presidential Fitness Program and we had physical education, but that was the extent of it. I couldn’t imagine how they determined I should get the award. I felt undeserving, but proud, nonetheless.

Mom and I went shopping for a graduation dress and found one that I felt pretty good wearing, which was saying a lot for me. Graduation day was humid with intermittent showers, which perfect for my hair! It curled just the way I wanted it to, the humidity calmed the frizz. I wore white platform heels and managed to walk across the stage without stumbling. After all of the Sturm und Drang of my junior high school years, things were looking up. I looked forward to a new beginning in high school.

A Loyal Sport

In preparation for writing a blog post, I went through one of my many boxes of memories. I have stashes of letters, photos and mementos and periodically I go through them either looking for something specific or looking for inspiration. In this case I was looking for something specific.

I had a memory of a particular article I wrote about a blind high school athlete, Andre Rodriquez. I have a yellowed, tattered portfolio of articles I wrote when I was in high school and I wanted to see if I had that one. As I recall, that article was featured in the centerfold of the Canarsie Digest, a two-page spread. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it among the clippings. I wanted to write about the experience of interviewing Andre, but I didn’t think I remembered enough without finding the piece. I did find three other items, though, that sparked other memories. One was a pad on which I wrote thoughts on motherhood when Leah was a baby. I shared that essay last week on the blog. Another was a profile of a college soccer star, which I will use for a future blog post. The last item I found was another letter from Zada. Here is that letter:

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10/31/74

Dear Linda,

            I think you might be interested to know why you possess such a love for sports and sportsmanship in general. It all goes back to an event that happened a long time ago. It was my father, your great Zada, who performed an act so sporty, that I think that even the Marquis of Queensbury would have been impressed, had he known about it.

            As you know the Marquis of Queensbury rules pertain to boxing. Our present boxing rules, and the most important one according to the Marquis, was that you never hit a person when they are down. The custom in boxing is to allow the fallen one to take a mandatory eight count, and if he does not arise by the count of ten, it is considered that he has been knocked out.

            Well the year was 1921, your Uncle Sidney was about eight years old or young. The Spilkens owned a bakery on 3rd Street and Avenue C, in Manhattan. So let me try to set the picture for you. It is a Saturday morning, the street is void of pushcarts, and the street cleaners, as was the custom in those days, brushed the accumulation of garbage of the day before, into one spot opposite to where the bakery was. Then a dump truck would come by, and all the dirt would be shoveled into it.

            Now from that particular place, a wailing was heard, it seems that Uncle Sidney and other boys had provoked in some manner, the Super. (in those days, he was known as the janitor.) But, as usual, the only boy caught was Uncle Sidney. The janitor had struck him, and his cries reached great Zada in the bakery. I told you before, Zada believed that when you strike somebody, that somebody should be of your size. The expression, why don’t you hit a fellow your size? Evolved from that ruling.

            Well, Zada, as quick as a flash, was on the other side of the street, and began pummeling the poor janitor. After a succession of blows to the head and solar plexus, the poor man went down into the heap of rubbish aforementioned. But Zada being the sport he was, and pursuant to the Queensbury rules, picked the man off the ground, held him aloft after he counted to eight, and fearing the man would collapse if he waited until ten, began to belabor the poor fellow, until he thought (Zada) that he had taught the man a lesson, you don’t hit anyone unless he is of your size.

            I’ll never forget, for it comes to my mind often how sportsmanlike my father acted because he did not strike the man as he was lying immersed in garbage. But put him on his feet so that he could continue the punishment in a fair and square manner.

            I must not leave you with a wrong impression, Zada being a thorough sport, gave unto his son Sidney a thrashing the likes of which your Uncle Sidney would carry with him for a long time. You see he was certain that the janitor was plenty harassed by Sidney.

            In other words, he felt that the man was justified in hitting Uncle Sidney, but the way my father figured as I stated before, Sidney was much smaller than the Super.

            Linda, honestly there are so many stories I could tell you about great Zada and about your Uncle Irving. They will wait for an opportune time but being the sport you are please understand the moral of this story. Always protect and defend any member of your family, but do it in a sportsmanlike manner.

            Write to your Zada. I love to read your letters.

  CS  (He signed the letter CS – Charles Spilken)

The letter sparks many thoughts. First, I can’t say I see the connection to my love of sports. But I imagine Zada was taking literary license. Second, I’m not so sure I see this incident as a shining example of sportsmanship. Perhaps Zada meant it tongue in cheek? But, then again, maybe he didn’t. I do know he took quite seriously the idea that you don’t hit a man when he’s down. There is another family story in that vein that my mother told us. When she was a young girl, her father took her to a baseball game. Apparently, the pitcher had a terrible inning and as he was coming off the field, my mother yelled, “You stink!” (A tame epithet by today’s standards!) They were seated close enough to the action so that the pitcher heard her. Zada was appalled by his daughter’s behavior and was quick to point out that you don’t kick a man when he’s down. I believe he had her write a letter of apology when they returned home. Mom liked to tell us that story to impart the message that you don’t pile on, you don’t add to another’s misery.

I also note that Zada wrote that his father gave Uncle Sid a thrashing he would not forget. It is interesting because I don’t think Zada used corporal punishment in his disciplinary approach to parenting. My parents certainly didn’t. Of course, as I have written before, our Dad was an imposing presence, with a bad temper, so he didn’t need to use his hands to discipline us. The raising of his voice and the intensity of his scowl were enough.

The other moral of the story that Zada highlights in his letter is the idea that you defend any member of your family (even if they are wrong), as long as you do it in a sportsmanlike manner. This is a topic of debate in my immediate family. Gary totally subscribes to that philosophy. He will go to the wall to defend Leah, Daniel or me (or his siblings, etc.). There is no question. His first response if his child has been in a conflict is to want to do harm to the offender, who he assumes is not his child. He is nothing if not loyal. He also holds a grudge. Anyone who did Leah or Dan wrong, it could be 20 years ago (they could’ve been 8 at the time!), is still on Gary’s shit list. Okay, I could be exaggerating, but only a little. I see the pluses and minuses of this. His children know with the same certainty that day follows night that he will be there for them.

For better or worse, that isn’t my approach. I have been blessed or cursed with seeing the world in shades of gray. When Dan or Leah or Gary had a conflict with someone, I do ask, what did you do? What was your role in the argument? Sometimes they don’t want to hear that question. Certainly, they don’t appreciate it when it is the first question I ask (I try not to do that!).

The truth is, I don’t believe in blind loyalty. I do believe in unconditional love. If my children or other family members did something wrong, I would be there for them, to help them, to support them as they moved forward and made amends. Of course, wrong-doing can take many forms – from minor to major – and that makes a difference, too. In general, though, I would not look the other way and I would not cover it up. On the other hand, if my child or family member was done wrong, then sign me up, I’m ready to do battle on their behalf.

What do you think?  What does loyalty mean to you?

Motherhood

Note: I was rummaging through a drawer and came upon a yellow pad that I jotted thoughts on many years ago. I found the following, written in March of 1988.

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I woke up to hear a very pleasant conversation. I look over at Gary to find that he is soundly sleeping.  At the same time my eye catches the clock. It is 6:04 a.m. Of course, our alarm clock is set to run about 17 minutes fast for some reason that makes perfect sense to my sleeping husband.

So, you ask, is the pleasant conversation the remnant of a dream, or is there someone else present? In the next room, Leah Rachel, all 9 months and 25 days of joyful life, is engaged in quite a discussion. I wonder: what does it all mean? Is she really saying something to her companions in her crib, her pink and white cuddly, soft dog or powder blue bear? Is she simply announcing her pleasure at waking up to find another day which promises new and interesting surprises? Or is the pleasure of experimenting with her voice, making new sounds or repeating pleasing ones? I wish I woke up that way. I wonder how soon this phase will end. When will waking up become the painful process for Leah that it is for most of the people I know?

I lay back and listen, trying to imagine Leah’s pleasure. I had not known, before her birth, how fresh things would look, sound and feel. That is not to say that there aren’t many mornings when I have been awoken at 6:00 am mighty pissed off at losing valued sleep once again, and not at all impressed with the vocalizations of my little baby girl. But, it has been quite an experience trying to see the world through her big brown eyes. On so many levels, it has made me see things I otherwise had ignored or thought of from a different perspective.

I listen for a while, knowing inevitably that the cooing and gurgling will turn into frustration. I imagine Leah saying, “Oh, I’ve been cute long enough! Where is breakfast?” I get up and go to the bathroom. Leah comes to the instantaneous realization that someone is available so she starts to fuss.

Anyway, once my necessities have been taken care of, I go into Leah’s room to find her little face peeking through the bars of the crib. Her joy at seeing me, and realizing that freedom is near, is a wonderful greeting. I love her little face, the way she nuzzles her head into the crook of my neck, while patting me on the back when I lift her from her bed. This is a terrific hug. It is amazing to me that most every time she greets me, she shows so much affection. After a nap, when I pick her up from the babysitter, after she has been playing with her toys for a while, oblivious to me…Did she learn to do that? Is it a natural thing for a person to do? It is incredible to me that, at such a young age, Leah is already so able to express her appreciation, her love. Is it love, though? What is it?

I guess over the years, as children grow up, they must take these little things for granted. I suppose it wouldn’t be natural to be grateful each time you saw your parents, siblings or spouse. Plus, I guess as you get older, there are more reasons NOT to appreciate them! I will try to savor these moments in anticipation of lean years ahead.

My treasure. Really the point of all this exposition is two-fold. One is to share what is in my heart for my daughter and other loved ones. It is to try to paint a picture of a moment in time that, for me, defines love. And, it is to ask a question: Is this what other mothers, wives and daughters feel? Because if they do, it is at once very exciting because what I feel is wonderful and life affirming. It is also frightening because of the intensity of the emotions.

It is apropos that I came upon this the day after the baby shower. I had wanted to say something at the shower, but in the hub-bub and distraction, I didn’t get to. I wanted to wish Dan and Beth the joy, love and pride that I have been privileged to know as a parent. I hope they are as lucky as I have been.

Monday Morning

I don’t have a blog post ready – again! I need to get back to my writing routines. Lately it has been difficult. We were in Boston, then Florida, I was sick and preoccupied with an event that was coming up. I haven’t written about this on the blog, in part because it wasn’t my news to share, and, in part, because I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But, Gary and I are going to be grandparents! Baby girl Bakst is due at the end of May. Many of you readers already know that, or heard about it through the grapevine, but I haven’t written anything about it.

This past weekend we had a baby shower for Beth (and Dan). Georgie, Beth’s Mom, Abby, Beth’s sister, and I planned it. I have to say that the McGlinchey women are creative and crafty – they know how to make a room festive and fun and pretty, too. Abby came up with “Broadway Baby” as the theme and created some very cute table pieces highlighting different shows. The gathering was this past Saturday afternoon in the city. Close family and a few of Beth’s friends gathered to celebrate this momentous event. We played some games, had a lot of laughs and bestowed needed supplies on the parents-to-be. I believe it was a rousing success.

So that is my excuse for not having a blog post ready. Sometimes you have to live in the moment and not write about it – at least not yet.

 

The Joy of Flying

Yesterday began at 4:40 a.m. in a Residence Inn in Miramar, Florida. Gary awoke with a start because the alarm on his phone was supposed to go off at 4:30, but in his exhaustion the night before, he set it for 4:30 p.m. Fortunately he opened his eyes only ten minutes later than the alarm. Our flight was at 6:45 a.m. out of Fort Lauderdale. We were off to the races!

Making things more complicated for me was that I had either a bad cold (with clogged ears, a cough and very full sinuses) or maybe it was an actual infection that needed antibiotics. Either way, with a morning of flying ahead of me, I slugged some Robitussin, took a Sudafed and ran around the room gathering the last of my things. Fortunately, I had packed the night before.

Traveling is stressful enough without adding the anxiety of being late. But the roads were nearly empty at that early hour on Easter Sunday. There were plenty of people at the airport, though. But, we had our boarding passes, we weren’t checking luggage and we had TSA-Pre, which has turned out to be a good investment. It cost $85 (for five years) and while sometimes it doesn’t make a difference, in some airports there either isn’t a separate line or it doesn’t operate at all hours, it has saved us a lot of time in many cases. Yesterday morning it was a huge help. One less line to stand in.

We got on the plane, stowed our luggage and settled in. I had all my supplies – tissues, napkins for when the tissues ran out, cough drops, a bottle of water, more cough medicine and decongestant. I was assigned a middle seat on a full flight. Gary had the middle seat across the aisle. This was less than optimal. No one likes sitting next to someone sneezing, coughing and blowing their nose. I was going to be ‘that person,’ on this flight. I sat, determined to keep all secretions to myself. My nose and throat had other plans.

We took off and that wasn’t too bad. But then the tickle in my throat started. “I will not cough,” I told myself. To no avail. I coughed. I used my elbow, I used napkins, I took cough drops, I chewed gum, I drank copious amounts of water. The people next to me carefully avoided eye contact. The woman to my left, next to the window, apparently came prepared – she had her hoodie covering her face and some kind of blanket that she draped over her entire self. I never actually saw her face – which was fine with me.

About half way through the flight to Atlanta things calmed down. I stopped coughing. Of course, then there was the descent. I didn’t start coughing again, but I felt like I was underwater. All sounds traveled from a great distance and were muffled. But, I could still hear, so that was good.

We landed in Atlanta with a tight turnaround for the second leg to Albany. We took the in-airport-train to concourse C and got to the gate just as they were beginning boarding. Gary ran into a little market conveniently located just next to the gate and picked up yogurt and banana for each of us and another bottle of water for me. Did I mention it was Passover? Gary observes the dietary restrictions carefully, I observe them generally. In this case, I would have gone for the bagel, justifying it as an emergency and God would understand. Gary didn’t cut himself that much slack. A yogurt and banana would do just fine.

We got on the next flight and, miracle of miracles, we were seated next to each other. And, the flight wasn’t full, so the third seat in our aisle was empty! I could cough with impunity! No, I couldn’t, I knew better, but at least I wouldn’t feel quite as self-conscious about it.

As it turned out, I didn’t have any coughing fits. I did go through every tissue and napkin I could find, and I had to hold my ears while we descended (somehow that made it less painful), but we arrived in Albany earlier than scheduled.

I told Gary I couldn’t wait to get home and take a hot shower, I felt like a giant germ. He told me I was a very cute germ. Though his voice had to swim through the congestion in my head, I still could hear him – so that was a positive.

Oh, and did I mention I lost my phone? I love going to Florida!

Full disclosure: This was not the blog piece I planned for today, but I thought I’d share my wonderful travel experience with you (and you didn’t even have to be exposed to my germs!). Also, I actually lost the phone in Boston, not Florida. But, I really like Boston, so I’ll take literary license and add it to my list of grievances against the sunshine state.