Monday, February 28, 2011

Now What?

The funeral and memorial services are over, family members and friends have flown home...yet you still cannot believe that your teenage son won't coming lumbering in the front door any minute, a sly grin on his face. The sympathy cards are piled up, still unread...your son's favorite jacket still hangs over his bedroom chair, but his bed has not been slept in in over a week. Every night when you go to sleep you hope that when you wake in the morning, you will find its all just a bad dream...but every morning you wake up and the nightmare that your life has become still continues. Sleep is a double edged dream that your child is still alive, and the story of his death is just a big joke...but then you wake up and you find that he is still gone.

Your mind cannot fully grasp that your child is truly gone from your earthly life....

And the heavy pain in the middle of your chest is never ending....the physical manifestation of the grief in your heart....that serves as a constant if you could forget for an instant...

Sunday, February 27, 2011


I'm not referring to the hot dog, or the Grouch. I am talking about THE Oscars. The awards are happening tonight, and like every year, I'm not watching. You know, the red carpet welcome, the Hollywood stars strutting their best (dresses) and their borrowed (jewelry), lame jokes from the hosts, one long (yawn) celebratory event revolving around movies I've never seen and actors I've never heard of.

This year, while the statuettes are handed out, I find myself watching a movie that just happened to be showing on TNT - "Saving Private Ryan". While I am generally not a fan of movies with a lot of violence, I love this movie. Its a movie I insisted my 16 year old video-gaming son watch when it first came out in the theater so he would understand that the reality of war is far different from the wars portrayed in video games.

"Private Ryan" is a movie about a subject no one ever wants to live through. It a movie about war at its ugliest, war up close and personal. No one is spared in this film. Even the leading man ends up dying. Its the only movie I ever saw my dad, a World War II veteran, tear up while watching.

It won five of those little statuettes in 1998.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Gavin and Matt

For the past week, I have not been able to get Gavin and Matt out of my mind. Type "Gavin and Matt" on Google and a dozen news stories pop up. Their names made local headline news. But the headlines were not the type any parent wants to see.

Gavin and Matt died while rafting down a local rain-swollen bay area creek last Saturday. They were seventeen years old, teenagers out to have some fun on a rainy afternoon, unaware of the hidden dangers that lay ahead. Its a story that touched the hearts of many people, people who didn't personally know the two boys, myself included.

Their friends posted tributes to the boys on Facebook, including a couple of videos of Gavin that just made me laugh, and reminded me of my own son at at that age. So creative, so funny, so full of life, so unaware that anything bad could possibly happen to them.

When your kids are toddlers, parents have to constantly watch that they don't wander into the street, or fall into a pool. When they become teenagers, you have to gradually let go, and let them make their own decisions. Sometimes they make good decisions and sometimes they make decisions that have less than optimal outcomes. Regardless, most of our children survive to adulthood.

A few are just not as lucky.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Way We Were

"When someone close to you betrays you, can you ever be close again?" asked a character on tonight's "Desperate Housewives".

I suppose it depends on the circumstances of both the relationship and seriousness of the breach of trust. The closer the relationship, the more the betrayal hurts. If you are very close to a family member, spouse or friend, the better the chances that both of you will want to mend the breach.

But, I have found that no matter how close you are, or once were, being close again is not always possible. Sometimes, you just cannot go back to "The Way We Were".

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Sometimes I am shocked by what I see -- on television, in the movies, and on the internet. I never thought I would be on the other side of the generation gap, but, it turns out that I am, several times over.

Growing up, my parents always told us not to discuss family finances, medical issues, or other personal/family problems with friends, never mind strangers. Alcoholism? Not discussed. Divorce? Unspeakable. Drug addiction? Anorexia? Suicide? Not in a million years.

In our current technological age, the younger generation post all kinds of personal information in cyberspace with wily abandon, information that is retrievable seemingly forever. Sometimes that information is the written word, sometimes it is a photo, sometimes its a YouTube video. Better not say or write anything you might later regret, because the internet doesn't come with an eraser.

When I was a teenager, my grandparents were shocked at the fact that teenage girls wore mini-skirts and tight sweaters. They were shocked at unwed teen mothers having babies, even though I am sure it occasionally happened in their heyday as well, it was just hidden and not discussed. Today, I can watch a TV show (on Lifetime) where women have the births of their babies televised and broadcast for all the world to see. (Certain anatomical parts are creatively not visible to the camera.) Photographing a live birth would be inconceivable to my grandparents, even if the technology had been available at the time.

Don't get me wrong -- I am glad that many topics are out in the open and can be discussed more freely. But I do believe judgment is required. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Just Call A Cab

Last night I had a dream that I was trying to get to the hospital to see a friend before she went into surgery --- but my only mode of transportation was a tricycle. It was quite an ordeal to get where I was trying to go, pedaling a tricycle, and it was painfully slow.

Growing up, my family lived in a small house in a blue collar neighborhood. Dad took the car to work, leaving Mom home with five kids, and no vehicle, unless she drove my dad to the train station in the morning, which she did occasionally. When my sister punched her fist through the porch glass window and needed to be taken to the hospital for stitches, I ran to the next door neighbor's house to get help. We didn't call an ambulance; the neighbor drove my mother and sister to the hospital.

I grew up in the suburbs outside of New York City. The only place I ever saw a taxi, or took a taxi, was in The City. Going into The City was a rare occasion, even though we lived only an hour away. The few times I was in the city, we took the train and the subway. Needless to say, growing up I never took a cab. Taking a cab was considered an extravagance.

I now live in the San Francisco Bay area, aka West Coast "suburbia". I have taken a cab once or twice while in San Francisco. But if I my car gets stuck someplace on the peninsula, I am likely to do one of two things: 1) call AAA or 2) call a friend. Calling a cab is just not part of my experience.

The other day, my car got "stuck" in the CVS parking lot late at night about twenty miles from my house (ie, I could not find my car key). I called a friend who happened to be close by. My friend drove me to my house, where I got my spare key. Then my friend drove me back to my car in the parking lot and I drove home.

And so, I was somewhat shocked when when my friend's girlfriend suggested that I should have called a cab instead. Calling for a cab never even entered my consciousness. The way I was brought up, you don't call a taxi..... you call a friend.

My friend didn't even bat an eyelash at my request to drive me to my house. My friend grew up on a kibbutz in Israel. Something tells me that in times of emergency, his parents called their friends for help.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What Happened to Kindergarten?

Kindergarten is the new first grade.

This has not happened overnight. I am aware that it has been creeping up over the years. But the "red-shirting" I just read on-line about is shocking. (Red-shirting is holding your child back from starting school because they are "not ready", even though they are age-eligible, so that they have an advantage over their peers.) One elementary school teacher wrote that in his school, kindergarteners were expected to be able to read a simple sentence BEFORE starting kindergarten. When did this happen????

I thought kindergarten was a time for kids to get ready for learning. Fifty years ago, most of us knew our colors, the alphabet and could probably count to ten before entering kindergarten. During our kindergarten year, we learned to obey the teacher's instructions. We learned when it was time to be quiet and when we could talk. We learned that we needed to raise our hand if we wanted to speak. We learned how to stand in line without shoving each other. We learned to listen during story time. We learned that when it was time to move onto another activity, we had to put away our favorite toys/crayons/blocks.

Fifty years ago, learning to read was reserved for First Grade. At the end of the kindergarten year, if someone was deemed not ready for First Grade, he/she spent an additional year in kindergarten, maturing so that he/she would be ready to learn when they entered First Grade.

By the time my son entered kindergarten twenty years ago, things had changed from when I was in elementary school. Twenty years ago, most children went to pre-school or daycare prior to kindergarten, while I had stayed at home with Mom. The children of my son's generation had already learned all the things that were expected of me in kindergarten, before they even entered the classroom door. My son's kindergarten teacher did a lot of pre-reading (and pre-math) conceptual assignments with her students, so that when they entered First Grade, he/she would be ready to learn to read and understand first grade math.

Fast forward to today. It sounds like today's "kinders" are expected to "be able to read" when they enter kindergarten. Perhaps many are able to read simple sentences, with the access and variety of electronic learning available at home today, in addition to socialization skills learned in pre-school. Perhaps we even need our children to learn to read in kindergarten, if we want to be competitive in a global environment.

But if parents are holding their children back another year, entering their children in kindergarten when they are six and have already learned how to read, then what is the point? If this trend is true and widespread, then Kindergarten has just become the new First Grade. Its just a matter of semantics.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Don't Leave Home Without It

I'm not talking about your American Express card. I'm talking about cash.

Most of us carry at least a few dollars with us whenever we are more than a block or two from home. In fact, I usually do so myself. But for the last few days I have managed to get by with only a dollar in my pocket. You see, my sister from New York was visiting, and she brought a lot of cash with her. And so, I worried not as we trekked to the woods, the ocean, and the city, the cash safely tucked away in my sister's wallet.

That is, until we approached the toll booth on the Golden Gate bridge. In case you were wondering, they don't take American Express at the toll booth, just cash (unless you have a prepaid electronic device). It was time to get out that giant wad of cash my sister bragged about having in her purse.

When she turned around to pull out her stash, her purse was no where to be found in the backseat. She had left it hanging over the back of the chair in the restaurant in Sausilito.

What do you do when you have no money to pay the toll? Backing up over the bridge we had just driven across did not seem like a very good idea. So, I trudged up the stairs to the toll office, which fortunately was on our side of the bridge, and explained my plight to the officer on duty.

Much to my surprise, he lent me the $6 for the bridge toll. Maybe it was his good deed for the day, maybe I reminded him of his favorite aunt, maybe I have an honest face -- I really have no idea why he lent a total stranger $6 to pay the toll. He gave me his business card and asked me to mail him the $6 back.

As he pulled the cash out of his pocket, he asked me, "You are going to pay me back, aren't you?". "Of course, of course!" I answered. "You will have to pay the toll twice, you realize?" "Yes, no problem!" I told him I would be back in 30 minutes with his money. True to my word, we retrieved the purse, drove back over the bridge and rolled up to the toll office about half an hour later. I made my sister go up to the office and pay the officer back his money. I hope she thanked him profusely.

Today, as I returned to work from a medical appointment, I again found myself on one of the bay area's bridges. I still had that same solitary dollar in my wallet, but no sister with a big wad of cash with me this time. And no toll office or nice officer on my side of the bridge. The toll attendant let me drive through the toll plaza so I could get back to work. Whatever authority controls the bridge will mail me the bill for the $6 toll....and for the $25 fee for not having the cash on me when I crossed it.

Next time, I will not leave home without it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I just dropped my sister off at the San Jose airport. She is continuing on to Pasadena for a work related conference. My year-younger sister lives outside of New York City, and she usually visits for a few days every year or two. We do some sightseeing, some relaxing and hanging out, some eating out at nice restaurants, and usually spend some time with my two cousins who live in the Bay Area. This year was no different, except that after three days, I am absolutely beat! My feet hurt, and I have that tired feeling you get after spending the whole day in the sun at the beach.

Our schedule was rather relaxed, as in we didn't get out of the house before noon any of the three days she was here. But we did some strenuous hiking, some serious shopping, and spent a lot of time in the California sun (and wind). Ocean beaches, redwood forests, Sausalito, San Francisco, and Los Gatos. It may be that I am just not used to being a tour guide, trying to think up new places to go, driving all over the bay area, and hopping from one scenic place to another. But I really think that the "shopping" we did today tired me out most of all. (She "shopped"; I looked for chairs or benches where I could rest my weary feet, or ran back to the car to move it before it was ticketed, more than once.)

So tonight, I am going to cook up some pasta (gluten-free foodies, eat your heart out), put my feet up and vegetate in front of the TV, watching my favorite show, NCIS. I think I've earned it.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Signs and Symptoms

A friend of mine writes a humor blog about being a twenty-something parent of very young children. (Read her column at "".) Recently she posted an article about all the physical symptoms no one ever tells you about before you become pregnant. I have to say that being pregnant is nothing compared to being over 50.

Changes related to aging happen more slowly than pregnancy changes, so perhaps we don't notice them as they sneak up on us. However, some of the symptoms of aging are similar to being pregnant. Your belly protrudes more than it did when you were younger. Your back aches more often. You can't bend over as easily. There are many things you can no longer eat or drink without your stomach complaining, and many other things you shouldn't.

Of course, there are many other changes that are not similar. Your hair thins. Your breasts droop. Other parts of your anatomy are slower to rise up to the occasion. You cannot read the fine print on medications without reading glasses. Teenagers ask us why the TV is so loud. Tylenol PM graces our nightstands for those everyday aches and pains. A few of us have already had knee or hip replacements. Or even open heart surgery. (Robin Williams, Charlie Rose, and David Letterman, to name a few.)

Someone once said "Aging is not for sissies". I think whoever said that was right. I am sure that there are many more changes up ahead, and it doesn't thrill me to think about them. I already own bifocals and color the grey in my hair, not to mention bearing the long-term residual effects of several accidents that happened while I was in my twenties and thirties.

These days, open heart surgery is routine (although still very serious business). People who would have died fifty years ago can get a new lease on life and live another 20 or 30 years. It is amazing what medical science can do today to prolong life.

Yes, I remember what it was like to be pregnant. (Well, sort of. Memory is something else that declines with aging.) But you have a choice whether or not to bear children. One does not choose to grow old; it just happens. However, as the saying goes, getting older is usually preferable to the alternative.