Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Gloria Steinem still matters

Hope is a very unruly emotion. Gloria Steinem 
I grew up in a generation that shuddered often at the word "feminist".  Most of my friends and I, and even other girls I met, rarely ever wanted to be associated with that word or movement.  It seemed so outdated, so unkempt, so limiting...yes I said limiting.  We were girls who wanted to do it all, have a career, stay at home, be a great hostess, get married, live with a guy, go out by ourselves, drive, have doors opened for us, be whistled at, not degraded, and we were so not burning our bras.  I particularly love my bras to be expensive (let's face it the secret Ms Victoria is that for us ladies with bigger girls your bras..umm yeah well they are no miracle) and sexy so there is no way I am setting fire to them hope is they start a fire of different kind.  

Yes we are girls who came of age when, though still not 100% equal in everything, the possibilities to do anything already existed.  The idea of feminism with it's marches for the right to vote, the right for equal pay, the right to do what you want with your body, well those were a given to us.  We saw these women as angry, bit disoriented, having very little to do with our lives.  It has taken me many years and maturity to realize what a bunch of feminists we really are.   We have the thing Ms Steinem (love the Ms by the way) and her peers, and her predecessors, had to claw, march, and yes burn their bras for.  We have CHOICES!!!!! The woman who gives up her profession to be at stay at home mom (whether financially able to have help or financially unable to and work all day now in her home), the woman who chooses to go to work and still be a great partner/mother/wife/lover, the woman who chooses not to have children or when to have them, the woman who chooses her partner, the woman who chooses.....well that is what feminism wanted- just the ability to make those choices for ourselves and not have them made for us by our parents, by religion, by society.  

It saddens me that we as women are so incredibly judgemental (admitting that I am working on it for myself) of one another, that certain religions are so not enlightened that they fear that a woman has to be covered up- guess part of that means we are so powerful and men so weak but then again but who but a weak minded person would subject themselves to believing that treating the bearer of life as less than equal would be something any higher power would have decreed, that in general religions have not held women as equals and mostly it saddens me that I spent part of my youth dismissing Gloria as someone who had nothing in common with me. I shudder every time someone says to me "you are lucky you have boys" if we are discussing sexual behavior...I have an extra responsibility as the mother of boys to remind them that what they do with a girl has the same consequences for them, that they should have sex because they and the other person in the room want to and not because someone is checking off boxes outside a closet or worse counting lipstick rings, that they should be wise with condoms for themselves as well as their partner, and most of all because girls should be able to like having sex as much as they do and they should be thankful for that and not denigrate her on a bathroom or Facebook wall.  Today I am proud to be a sexy bra, high heel, make up wearing working woman, mother, friend with males and females who loves to cook ...I do not have it all together most of the time but at least I have the choice to have it my way. 

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else.
Gloria Steinem 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My days at Creedmore Mental Hospital

I recently had dinner with some very dear friends whom I have known since high school.  It is always a lot of laughs, sometimes at things past, and mostly because we find comfort in one another without pretense and without judgement.  This takes years to cultivate, to be able to pick up right where you leave off regardless of actual time spent between visits, and is something that anyone who has it in their lives truly appreciates.

In our conversations we started talking about the program 3 of us were in during high school. A little preface here, looking around our group, we all are in some type of healthcare.  We have a doctor, a pharmacist, a social worker, a stay at home mom (who is all of these 3 throughout her day to her family of course), and myself in pharmaceuticals.  I guess that is why while 3 of this group of 5 were doing the Advance Psych class junior year the other 2 were probably taking advanced chem and could not join us.  I thought of this little fact only as I was thinking of writing this blog.   We are all fiercely independent women, who are smarter than our active social lives during that time would make you think, and who somehow found a way to channel our abilities to be good friends into professional roles of good helpers.

Our class was very interesting because though we learned psychology we had an assignment for most of the year that placed us within a mental health facility.  Gerarda, Margaret and I chose Creedmore Hospital as our collective assignment, deciding it would be quite a fun adventure, a day out of school and that travelling together would be better than doing it alone.   The trip took us Astoria girls about 1 1/2 - 2 hours of trains and bus changes. The place itself was tall concrete buildings, bars on the windows, that awful greenish tile and paint that smelled of either disinfectant (if you were lucky) or the nasty smells and spills the disinfectant was supposed to clean up.  It was imposing and intimidating but we were not deterred. We were also not deterred that on floors above the ones we were on, which by the way a nurse at the front desk sent you to on an elevator where you did not really pick the floor, there were criminally insane adults.

We were assigned to be classroom helpers to three different classrooms. Gerarda and I had kids who were at most 2 years younger than us, they had to call us Miss before our names to differentiate that we were not peers, Margaret the younger kids.  These kids, our peers in real life but not within the confines of this place, were full of issues our teenage angst could not have imagined.  They were often medicated, told you they needed a time out (first time I learned that term) which involved a white padded room (it was frightening to watch their rage in there), learned almost nothing because they were either being told to be good or medicated and came mostly from homes that seemed like bad TV.  We loved them all and each week come rain, snow, and many bus rides we went back.  We had of course "favorites" there was Dallas (who was an arsonist at 16 and did not know his father and could not remember a mother..I don't remember who he lived with) he was witty and funny and made you forget that he was there because he could be destructive.  I know Gerarda and Margaret (before you say it) I was the object of his affections...though to his credit they never got beyond the walk to the bus stop and the occasional asking if I would come to his house for a party.  There was another young boy who we actually took the bus with, he was incredibly bright and had violent rages.  There was a girl who had 5 siblings they all shared a mother but all had separate fathers.  There were the kids who maybe with better parenting may overcome their delays but were not getting that anywhere. There were autistic kids, still kind of shocks me to remember them with their football helmets on ....even more shocking that they were in a mental institution.

I am a self admitted dork who loves learning but this may be the favorite experience of my educational life.  It is possibly also the saddest, both then and now, as those kids really did not have a chance.  We were good to them the 3 of us, the teachers were kind and patient but in the year I spent there I saw no progress, it was like they were in the same place in time that we left them every week.  I do not know if that program still exists at Creedmore and if it does I hope that it has evolved though I am not that much of an optimist.  It made my friendship with Margaret and Gerarda a bond that we have beyond the wonderful friendship we already share. Those kids may not have been changed by the environment but for a moment I hope they were impacted by the way we treated they were just kids.  I am not sure what, if any, difference we made on the place but I do know that Creedmore left it's mark on me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sunday Dinners

For as long as I remember Sunday afternoons were for family gathering at my aunt's house in Romania with my parents, my Mom's brother, his girlfriends and eventually his wife and then when my parents left with my uncle's wife and her family.  The family always got together, lots of laughter and lots of food - even in Romania where there was a shortage often they stretched and bought from the black market so that these get togethers could occur. 

When we moved to the US like many immigrants there was no extended family to have Sunday dinners with.  My parents recreated them with friends, and families that they met who either came to our house, hosted or we went on picnics with.  The food was plentiful, and never ending regardless of indoor or outdoor space, the kids got to be together and if in Astoria found a way to leave at some point to the movies or to hang out with friends (cigarette sneaking and promises to only see PG movies common occurrences).  These days are ones I remember fondly for their feeling of friendships that were forged, times when my parents whose marriage was not always a good one actually enjoying themselves, music and dancing, off color jokes from the parents, loads of loud political discussions and dragging goodbyes at the door that could take an additional 30 minutes before the guests actually left.  

When we moved to the suburbs I worried that I would not have any network or friendships.  My thoughts of my own children playing, bonding, creating our extended family with my friends and their kids all seemed beyond our reach since none of our close friends lived anywhere near us.  However, as I got to meet and befriend families in the area I forged some incredible friendships.  One of the ones that is quite similar to my own experience of friend-family is ours with our friends Dori and Ricky.  They are the Mertzes to our Ricardos (or vice a versa since our personalities are not matched with those characters but our friendship is similar to it - madcap laughs and even a road trip or two).  We started our Sunday dinner tradition at some point in our friendship and it has been a favorite for both of our families.  The dinners started before we had our second children and now all four children seem to look forward to them as much as the adults.  Dori and Ricky are incredibly gracious at hosting often, kids playing in the basement (some memorable incidents such as our youngest boys drawing on each other with non-washable markers...took a week to clean my youngest son's feet or the many time we have had to explain that wearing pants is not optional to the innocent giggles that greet us from all four smiling culprits) or outside, wine flowing along with laughter.  We exchange recipes, experiences, parenting advice and more than anything the feeling that our adopted family gathering is going to be something we will always treasure.  Sunday dinners are a tradition for families all over the world and they should be treasured as they are foundations for our children to feel a sense of community, belonging and appreciation for family.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Family Vacations

There is definitely a genetic predisposition to wanderlust and travelling that I inherited.  My parents both loved to travel and vacation. I remember the first time I heard someone tell me that they had never been on a family vacation and was astounded.  I grew up in a neighborhood where most people may have not owned a home but often had a place they would go back to in their native land.  If they did not have they usually drove to destinations for their vacations but most people did something as a family during the summer. Sometimes these were the times when after many days together in shared motel rooms there would be giant fights among different family members but since no one could usually afford more than one room these got resolved rather quickly.  

My travels as a child were driving vacations at first, sometimes with my own parents and other times with my good friend and her parents (my parents would gratefully pay for my trip when they could not afford their own).  These travels were often south toward Florida and Virginia Beach.  The summer heat brutal in both places making them not as appealing so therefore, less expensive.  The cars were big, there were no personal electronics and they were filled with great memories.  I remember the years that my own parents could not afford to have vacations and their friends with kids (whom I was friends with) were nice enough to take me along on.  I still distinctly can visualize being in the back of my Dad's '75 Buick Le Sabre and lying down, my entire length was comfortable on that backseat, and listening to their 8 tracks (if you do not know what they are ...well they look like a VHS tape and were like the Cd's of the 70s) of Dean Martin, Ray Charles, and a variety of radio stations.  I remember going on a plane to Pittsburgh at around age 10 by myself to join family friends who lived there on their vacation to Myrtle Beach, it was after I had seen Jaws, there was shark netting at one point in the water, I scared myself (literally) stiff and floated to the shore thinking I heard bubbles in back of me (why a shark would blow bubbles is still beyond me), and had a great time with them laughing at that incident. We usually brought our own food for the road trips, packed in coolers, a variety of offerings, food bought at the destination supermarkets for at least 2 of the 3 main meals of the day since "discretionary" income for these trips was ....oh yeah non-existent.  I am pretty sure we did this even when I went abroad with my parents for at least some of our meals and yes kids of today we survived not having a kid menu, or crayons, or even shockingly chicken fingers ..,....

We take a lot of trips with the boys and they are memories that I hope are as fond for them as they are for me.  Our vacations though are a bit more upscale so no Howard Johnson Motels for them, no eating a budget and definitely a 3 hour drive is about as far as their vacation plans will take them before we board a plane.  They have their own iPods but we do often plug mine into the car radio and listen as a family to music (sometimes the same songs my own parents had playing) but more often requests for the pop stars of today.  These days spent together are not about the destination as much as about being together in a world where we all four have our own activities during the week.  I think family vacations are necessary to a family's well being and they do not have to be expensive, though it does gall me at how much even "inexpensive" places like amusement parks feel they can charge families these days, they do not have to be more than day trips around your home.  They only need you to be present for your family, to let the kids jump in the pool about a gazillion times if there is one where you are, to laugh at things that do not go as planned and most of all to enjoy the time together.