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Posts Tagged ‘growing up’

What was your life-changing moment?

In aging, behavior, Crime, culture, domestic life, education, family, life, love, travel on June 20, 2014 at 12:08 am

By Caitlin Kelly

She was wandering the shoe department at Bloomingdale’s, the one at 59th and Third in Manhattan. On a hot, humid day, her pale arms were fully bare, shoulder to fingertips.

But something terrible had happened to her, and to them; they were covered with deep, wide scars, dozens of them up and down each arm. Had she flown through a windshield? Been pushed into a window?

Whatever had happened to her surely divided the moments before and the moments afterward into two very different lives.

We all have them.

Sometimes joyful — a scholarship, a career-making award, a fellowship, a new baby, a wedding.

 

Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!

Sept. 18, 2011. Jose and I tie the knot!

Sometimes devastating — an awful medical diagnosis, the onset of a chronic illness, an accident and subsequent injury, a divorce, the death of a child or loved one, getting fired or long-term un(der)employment.

It might not be, and probably isn’t, just one moment, but the epiphany that results is often very powerful and, like a river suddenly silted after a landslide, can radically alter a previously set course.

For my husband, Jose, then a White House Press Corps photographer for The New York Times, it was the 1995 assignment — which he volunteered for — to cover the end of the Bosnian war, over Christmas, a job that would prove to be frightening, dangerous, bitterly cold and mean spending six weeks, often alone, in utterly foreign surroundings with very little to eat in rough living conditions.

The first few times I asked him to describe it, he teared up. This is a man of ferocious sangfroid, so a lot had happened there and it changed him forever; he came back and soon afterward became a devout student of Tibetan Buddhism.

Three moments stand out for me:

1) At 25, I won a fellowship to live in Paris for eight months in a group of 28 foreign journalists from 19 countries, ages 25 to 35, and travel alone and in the group, all across Europe, from Denmark to Italy to Istanbul. I was bored with my quiet, calm life in Toronto with all the boxes ticked: boyfriend, dog, friends, work, family. I craved a major kick in the ass, both personally and professionally. That it was!

But I was also terrified to leave, knowing that it would forever change me. I’m still friends with people in Ireland and England and the U.S. and France I met that year, and have since traveled widely for work using my language and reporting skills polished there.

It showed me that the world beyond my city and country is filled with smart, passionate, kind people. By doing hard work, alone, I learned how fully capable I really was.

2) At 41, I was lonely, broke, struggling mightily, and nursing the sounds of an abrupt and unwanted divorce and two break-ups since then. Into my life came a smart, caring, witty man who seemed to want to help me.

But then he didn’t — the day the phone rang and a credit card company informed me that he had opened my mail, stolen my new credit card, activated it from my home phone, forged my signature multiple times and run up all sorts of charges on it. When I called him to ask if he had done it, his three words — said many times in his career as a convicted con man: “It’s not provable.” Nor was it, despite evidence of six felonies. The police and district attorney scoffed at my request to act: to arrest, charge and prosecute him. They refused.

I learned to be much less trusting and know that “authorities” in charge of protecting us from crime may legally choose not to. It was my job, and my job alone, to be much smart(er) about my romantic choices and to stay safe.

Landing in Bilwi with Jen. The start of a great adventure!

Landing in Bilwi with Jen. The start of a great adventure!

3) The third came recently, after an intense eight-day reporting trip to rural Nicaragua for WaterAid, in the poorest part of the second-poorest nation in the Americas. There were many emotionally powerful moments, from Marly, 5, who let me braid her hair, to 69-year-old Ailita, who used her machete to carve a bamboo stem into a canoe seats for us. Jen and I spent a morning trailing two women in their world, one completely alien to ours, (no electricity, no running water, sixth-grade educations, no shared tongue) — walking through the rain forest, crossing the river in their dugout canoe, watching them gather cucumbers and beans and squash from the vine so that we could best describe their lives and their need for water. They were kind and welcoming to us, even though we had never met.

It reminded me again that potential connection, mediated by empathy, kindness and curiosity ignores many visible boundaries.

What was one of your moments?

How has it altered your course since then?

 

 

 

Are you an adult yet? How will you know?

In aging, behavior, children, culture, domestic life, education, family, life on July 22, 2013 at 12:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Toilet paper Español: Papel higiénico

Toilet paper . Yes, you actually have to go to a store and buy it! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you an adult?

Here’s a new book, with 468 tips from a 28-year-old, about how to become one:

Ms. Brown, a 28-year-old advertising
copywriter in Portland, Ore., has set out to become a kind of Dear
Abby/Martha Stewart/Yoda for millennials.

Her new book, “Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy (ish)
Steps” (Grand Central Publishing), is meant to help her peers navigate
the rocky shoals of maturity, to guide those 20-somethings who are just
figuring out that radio silence is not an acceptable breakup technique,
and food does not spontaneously manifest itself in the refrigerator.

“One of the most jolting days of adulthood comes the first time you run
out of toilet paper,” Ms. Brown said. “Toilet paper, up until this
point, always just existed.”

The idea for “Adulting” (which has just been optioned for television by
J. J. Abrams, executive producer of the “Lost” series) was refined when
Ms. Brown worked as a reporter for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore.,
consulting her Facebook friends for a column about what skills or
possessions they should have by the age of 30.

It’s an interesting progression, this growing up thing. I know some people in their 60s and beyond who still don’t have a very good grip on maturity while I recently met a 21-year-old, deeply serious, who worries terribly about others — and felt like someone a decade older in this respect.

I moved out of my father’s house in the first semester of my second year of university and found a tiny apartment.

Living alone there, I learned how to shop for clothes and food on a minusucle budget. Who to bring home and what would likely happen if I did. I learned to do my own laundry, find freelance clients for my writing and photos, how to haggle with cheap-o landlords and landladies.

As a freelancer, even then, I learned how to juggle the competing needs of my professors and my clients — not surprisingly, perhaps, the clients usually won!

When my mother, traveling alone, had health problems alone in places like Germany, Italy and India and ended up in trouble, I had to field calls from the Canadian and American consulates there asking me what to do with her.

So, truthfully, I have limited patience for people who find adulthood or independence frightening or overwhelming, who can’t understand the need to buy toilet paper or cook a meal or know how to figure stuff out.

And yet, here’s another new book that describes the very real struggles that working-class young adults are having as they try to gain traction in this crummy economy:

In a working-class neighborhood in Lowell, Mass., in early 2009, I sat across the table from Diana, then 24, in the kitchen of her mother’s house. Diana had planned to graduate from college, marry, buy a home in the suburbs and have kids, a dog and a cat by the time she was 30. But she had recently dropped out of a nearby private university after two years of study and with nearly $80,000 in student loans. Now she worked at Dunkin’ Donuts.

“With college,” she explained, “I would have had to wait five years to get a degree, and once I get that, who knows if I will be working and if I would find something I wanted to do. I don’t want to be a cop or anything. I don’t know what to do with it. My manager says some people are born to make coffee, and I guess I was born to make coffee.”

Young working-class men and women like Diana are trying to figure out what it means to be an adult in a world of disappearing jobs, soaring education costs and shrinking social support networks. Today, only 20 percent of men and women between 18 and 29 are married. They live at home longer, spend more years in college, change jobs more frequently and start families later.

The markers of adulthood to me aren’t then the usual: college-grad-school-marry-procreate-own real estate-get a job-get-another-job.

Not everyone has those dreams. Or can afford them.

They’re things we all can do, even in our teens — like writing thank-you notes on paper; bringing a gift when you stay with someone; going to a funeral for someone you didn’t know to show respect for their family, which you do.

Knowing how to cook a healthy, affordable meal and serve it to others, lovingly and gracefully.

Understanding the importance of volunteering your skills and mentoring others when you can.

Knowing how to handle your own money intelligently and responsibly — your credit score, low-interest credit card (singular), your taxes and savings.

Helping someone prepare for major surgery and helping them heal after it. Going to chemo with them or helping them choose a wig when their hair falls out.

In an economy when one-third of us are working for ourselves anyway, defining ourselves as an adult by “getting a job” is an outdated metric.

And, again from The New York Times, the putative value of getting an English degree – which arguably will never get you a decent job:

STUDYING the humanities should be like standing among colleagues and students on the open deck of a ship moving along the endless coastline of human experience. Instead, now it feels as though people have retreated to tiny cabins in the bowels of the ship, from which they peep out on a small fragment of what may be a coastline or a fog bank or the back of a spouting whale.

I was an English major, a choice I don’t regret. But I graduated with no debt.

Has that choice helped me as a writer? Frankly, no. I didn’t enjoy college much. I found it impersonal and bureaucratic and have never gone back for a graduate degree as a result.

What being an English major did teach me, by attending a ferociously demanding school, University of Toronto, was how to think, how to frame an argument, how to discuss ideas with passion and focus out loud with other smart, determined people.

So, those are life skills I’ve been using ever since. Chaucer and 16th. century drama? Not so much.

When, how and where did you learn your life skills?

What do you consider the markers or milestones of adulthood?

How was your childhood?

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, parenting on April 19, 2013 at 4:04 am

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved this recent special issue of New York magazine focused on childhood in New York.

Barbara Walters’ dad ran nightclubs?

Chevy Chase got stabbed in the back by a mugger?

Matthew Broderick in Sweden to promote Ferris ...

Matthew Broderick in Sweden to promote Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matthew Broderick was robbed constantly?

The black and white photos are fantastic, and the memories, of New York and childhood, lovely.

I was born in Vancouver, and lived in London ages two to five, before moving to Toronto where I lived to the age of 30.

My childhood was a mixture of material comfort and emotional chaos. We lived, until my parents split up, in a large, beautiful house in a nice neighborhood. We had a huge backyard, a maid named Ada and I walked to school. But my parents were miserable and I used to hide behind the living room curtains as they shouted at one another. It was a relief when they divorced and my mother and I moved into an apartment in a downtown area much less charming.

I was at boarding school at eight, and summer camp all summer every year ages eight to 15. So I didn’t see that much of my parents. I was then an only child, so grew used to amusing myself with books, toys, art, sports.

I spent my school year awakened by bells: 6:55 wake-up; 7:05 walk around the block, regardless of weather; 7:25 breakfast. And so on. We wore plaid kilts and ties, in the Hunting Stewart tartan, and black oxfords and dark green knee socks. In summer, our camp uniform was yellow and blue, white for Sunday chapel. I spent most of my childhood surrounded by strangers — room-mates, cabin-mates, teachers, housemothers and counselors.

In retrospect, it was a distinctly odd way to grow up.

But it’s what I knew. I got a terrific education, made some wonderful friends at camp and developed my athletic skills. Camp was my happiest time and forever shaped my love of nature and outdoor adventure. I learned how to canoe, water-ski, swim, sail, ride horses. I collected badges and awards and prizes, at school and camp, for my talents, whether athletic or intellectual.

Every summer I would act in a musical, Flower Drum Song or Sound of Music or Hello Dolly!. I usually won the the lead, so knew from an early age I could win and hold an audience. I wrote songs and played them on my guitar, singing before the whole camp, an audience of 300 or so, strangely fearless.

I felt loved and safe at camp, while by Grade Nine I was always in some sort of trouble at school — my bed was messy, I talked too much in class, I sassed teachers and got into radio wars with room-mates. When my neatness scores (!) fell too low, I’d be confined to campus on weekends and had to memorize Bible  verses to atone. (“For God so loved the world…” John 3: 16, kids.)

We were only allowed to watch an hour or so of television on Sunday evenings, although we were taken to the ballet and the Royal Winter Fair to watch horse-jumping. Every Wednesday night, after filling out a permission slip, we could go out for dinner with a friend or relative — the lonely kids left behind were fed a comforting meal of fried chicken with cranberry sauce and corn.

Privacy was an unimaginable luxury when you always shared a room with four or six others. There was nowhere to shut a door and just be alone in silence, to exult or cry. I was sent to my room at school, as punishment, for laughing too loudly. We were constantly told to be “ladylike.” In both places, we ate our meals communally, at large tables, consuming whatever food was served to us whenever it was offered.

Many decades later, I’m still seeing the many ways this has shaped me, for better and for worse.

How was your childhood?

Do this before you turn 30

In aging, behavior, domestic life, life on October 31, 2012 at 3:48 am
Paris Sunset from the Louvre window

Paris Sunset from the Louvre window (Photo credit: Dimitry B)

As Broadside has grown — now almost 3,000 readers worldwide — it turns out that many of you are in your 20s, even teens.

Oh, the 20s!

I loved mine and have so many great memories of that heady, dizzying decade. Dated a ton of guys, from the bad-boy Serb with the black leather trousers to the blue-eyed Welsh engineer working in Khartoum I met on an airplane to the Actor who dragged me off on a three-day canoe trip from hell. I began writing for national publications right after my college graduation until 1982 when I won a fellowship to go to Paris for eight months and travel Europe on someone else’s franc.

I shrieked with joy when that letter arrived, desperate to flee Toronto, a stale relationship and the hamster wheel of freelance work.

At 26, back in Toronto (that boyfriend now history), I was hired as a staff writer for The Globe and Mail, Canada’s best newspaper, having never studied journalism or any newspaper experience anywhere. But by 28, I was bored and restless and at 29 moved to Montreal to work for the Gazette. I needed to lift my foot off the gas pedal of workworkworkworkwork. I wanted a husband, (and found one there, a tall, clarinet-playing American medical student at McGill.)

My 20s were a heady mix of insatiable professional ambition, dating, taking five dance classes a week, ballet and jazz. I traveled alone to Kenya, Tanzania, Ireland, France and England for pleasure — in addition to traveling to places like Copenhagen, Istanbul and Sicily for my fellowship. For work, I met Queen Elizabeth, spent eight days crossing Europe in a truck with a French truck driver and danced in the ballet Sleeping Beauty at Lincoln Center (as an extra). I had a small black terrier named Petra.

So, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, for those of you hoping to get it all figured out (hah!) by 30, some advice:

Date a few people who aren’t your “type.” You’ll learn something about them, yourself and the world. I once dated a man named Bob from a small town in Saskatchewan, who drove a Beemer and worked at IBM and wore white shirts and blue suits. In the middle of a dinner party with my writer friends, he said, “You’re a bunch of limousine liberals.” He was right.

Become financially literate. Understand, if you live in the U.S., what a 401(k) is and why you need to pay into it, right away and every year. Especially If you’re self-employed, put away 10 to 20 percent of every check you earn and be thoughtful about how you invest it. Read widely and deeply on personal finance so no one can bamboozle you. I suggest the books by three funny, down-to-earth, plain-spoken personal finance writers I’ve interviewed: Americans Manisha Thakor, Carmen Wong Ulrich and Canadian Alison Griffiths.

Learn the meaning of the acronyms RRSP, REIT, ETF, APR. Learn your FICO score and how to improve it.

Have two credit cards. That’s it. And one of them is only for emergencies. Make sure they have a low APR, preferably 10 percent or lower.

Needs beat wants. You want a $600 handbag/new car/bigger TV. You need: food, water, safe housing, health, savings, a decent education and good friends.

Conduct yourself professionally! Use proper grammar, diction and spelling in every business communication; dress appropriately for the occasion or job; look people in the eye and shake their hand as if you mean it. Show genuine and sustained interest in their skills and experience. (Thanks to social media there is no excuse for not preparing adequately for a meeting. conference or job interview.)

Get a passport and use it. Try to flee your native land at least once every year. We live in a truly global age. You must learn firsthand how other people live — and not just by visiting “Paris” in Vegas. Here is a beautiful blog post by someone just past 30, recently Freshly Pressed, about what she is discovering in India on her own.

Read and listen widely. Don’t limit your consumption of “news” to Facebook or Twitter or outlets whose political values comfortingly echo your own. Continue to choose intellectually challenging material after you have left the halls of academe — or be prepared to have your lunch eaten by those who do.

Buy and stock a toolbox. Know how to use an Allen wrench, cordless drill, hammer, screwdriver. Self-sufficiency is sexy in both genders.

Read the business pages every day. Everything starts with economics.

Figure out what you want sexually. It might be abstaining until marriage, or for a while, or forever. Get to know your own body and what pleases you most. Learn to clearly express what you want — and do not. No means no! If you’re sexually active, consistently use a highly efficient form of birth control; know what the morning-after pill is and how to get one quickly.  Know how and why you must avoid HIV, HPV, chlamydia and the rest of the STDs. If all you want from a sexual encounter is some quick amusement, try not to break someone’s heart.

Travel as often and as far away and for as long as you can possibly afford. The best way to find out how much in common we all have with one another — yet how differently we interpret religion, culture, ethics and public policy. Even a road trip within your own province or state can teach you something (and be a lot of fun.)

Always pursue personal projects unrelated to your job. It’s tempting to meld your identity with your job and title and company and paycheck. You’re a person with multiple interests, not just a worker. If you get laid off (which is likely these days), you’ll have other passions and skills.

Unplug regularly. Get away from everything that beeps and buzzes, every day. Silence, and solitude, is deeply restorative.

Find a community where you feel deeply loved and valued, no matter how much you weigh or earn or who you sleep with (or if you sleep alone) or whether you even have a  job. When times get tough, and they will, you need a solid posse.

Spend an hour every day in nature. Walk to work. Find a park bench and stare at the sky. Invest in clothes to keep you warm and dry so you can be safely and comfortably outdoors even in rain and snow. For a super-icy or snowy walk, Yaktrax rule!

Find doctors you like and trust. Ask lots of questions. If they won’t listen to you or answer you, find those who will. Take your good health seriously and protect it through eating well, exercise, sufficient rest. Right now, you’re taking it for granted. In 20 years, you won’t.

Ditto hairstylist/dentist/massage therapist/accountant/career coach/tailor/florist.

Invest in some really beautiful personal stationery and/or business cards. Use them, often. Write real thank you notes, promptly. They leave a powerful and lasting impression.

Find at least three forms of physical activity you love so you don’t have to go to the gym: softball, volleyball, cycling, hiking, skiing. Invest in some decent equipment so you’ve got no excuse not to get out and stay active.

Cultivate a compassionate heart. Don’t forget others whose lives are still much tougher than yours. Mentor a kid. Be a Big Sister or Big Brother. Volunteer. Set aside some cash for charitable donations or offer your time and skills to a cause you passionately believe in. By the time you’re partnered and/or a parent and/or super-busy with your career, it’s easy to forget how many people helped you achieve your dreams.

Learn to cook. Healthy, cheap, sociable and fun. One of my favorite cookbooks is Bistro Cooking, with yummy easy stuff like clafouti and vichyssoise.

Don’t take everything personally! Some people are just mean. Some are deeply distracted by a personal sorrow you cannot begin to imagine. Or they have a headache. It’s not all about you.

Fail. Don’t just keep picking the safest and easiest path. Take a (calculated) risk and live with the consequences. (That’s where resilience comes from.) The most successful people are not those who avoid risk, but know how to live with it and bounce back from it.

Drink less. A shocking number of young women and men routinely drink to excess. Empty calories, hangovers, (and the sexual risk of being drunk around people you don’t know well), and alcoholism are really unattractive.  Step away from the margarita!

Find a few old fogies you like and trust who are not related to you. Spend time with them. Listen to them. They have wisdom to offer.

If someone is unkind to you, flee. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to figure out why they’re a dick. Just go.

Remember that everyone comes with some emotional baggage. But it’s not your job to carry it.

If you’re utterly miserable all the time, tell a good friend and find a therapist. Honor what your heart is trying to tell you. Don’t hide your sorrows. They are lightened when shared.

What other advice would you offer?

Ten warning signs you’re an adult

In aging, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, Medicine, women on April 9, 2012 at 12:07 am
My Mortgage Docs to be Reviewed by an Expert

My Mortgage Docs to be Reviewed by an Expert (Photo credit: Casey Serin)

We all know the standard metrics: graduate college, grad school, marry, have kids, acquire property and a vehicle.

I never had kids, so that typical dividing line into Maturity escaped me.

But for many of us, different moments mark a definite end to innocence.

Here are ten that resonate for me:

Taxes!

I grew up in a family of freelancers whose approach to paying income tax — which is never deducted at source, for those of you who’ve never done it — was, hmmm, variable. One day my Dad said, “I have two pieces of advice for you about taxes.”

“Running and hiding?”

Suffice to say I now have a very good accountant and genuflect to him deeply.

A mortgage

In New York, getting a mortgage is like some bizarro obstacle course littered with lawyers with out-stretched hands. Check, check, check, check!

Knowing — and caring about — your FICO score

For those of you outside the U.S., this is your credit score whose quality determines whether life is pleasant (low interest rates on mortgages, car loans, credit cards) or a hell of slammed doors refusing you access to any sort of credit. Surprisingly few consumers realize what sort of leverage you have with a good score — a lot!

Giving informed consent for my mother’s brain surgery

That was very weird, given how deeply private she always was. I looked, literally, into her head, staring at the four-inch tumor on X-ray that soon, successfully, came out.

Putting my mother into a nursing home

Pretty much the hell you’d expect: having to sell 95 percent of her things and make consequential decisions quickly. Being an only child makes it both easier and harder.

Getting a colonoscopy

For those of you under 50, something to look forward to! (And those putting it off out of fear, it’s no big deal. You have one wearying day beforehand to cleanse you colon, go to sleep during the procedure. Done.)

Knowing your neighbors

When you’re young, single and often behaving badly, you may not want to know your neighbors. Who was that guy/girl skulking out of your apartment? What were those weird noises at 3 a.m.? Once you’re a bit older, maybe traveling for work, maybe with a place you own and/or value more than a dive shared with six roomies, having kind and watchful neighbors is a wonderful thing.

Regular mammograms/Pap smears/prostate exams

I’m always a little stunned when I hear of someone, (who has health insurance, which in the U.S. means these are no-brainers), who skips these essential tests. No one wants to hear bad news. My mother has survived breast cancer, so mammo day is always a little shaky for me. But seriously? Just do it!

Joining a faith community

No disrespect to atheists and agnostics. But for many of us, finding a congenial place to nurture your spiritual growth is a major step. It’s easy to focus solely on family/work/friends/fun — until the shit hits the fan.

Making a will/living will/power of attorney/health care proxy

So cheery! But if you have been fortunate enough to have accumulated anything of value, it’s worth deciding who to leave it to. And facing any sort of major surgery — even childbirth, my mom-pals tell me — means facing the scariest of fears about mortality or severe injury.

How about you?

What milestones have marked your path to adulthood?

When Do We Become Ourselves?

In behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, Media, parenting, women on May 6, 2011 at 11:44 am
About a decade ago (when I was 14) I found the...

Image via Wikipedia

A friend recently sent me a fifth-grade photo of himself, wondering if I could guess who he was.

It was pretty clear.

In my second-grade class photo, maybe third, I’m surrounded by a sea of perfectly composed little girls, their braids neat, hands folded on their laps, gleaming patent-leather Mary Janes, skirts, tight, bright smiles.

There I am, a happy mess — hair that desperately needs brushing, my front tooth missing, well-worn sneakers.

Except for the gap teeth, I’d say that’s still me. I’ve always been someone who — as early photos reveal — is often less worried about appearing perfect than having fun and being comfortable, the sort of kid whose worst tantrums erupted if my clothes felt constricting or I had to wear shoes I couldn’t run in.

In an early photo, taken in a London park, I’m wearing a lovely wool coat, holding a paper bag and looking a little anxious. It’s not clear if I am holding a cookie or about to feed some birds. But I recognize the mix of style (boiled wool double-breasted coat with nice sleeve details), anxiety, food.

These three themes, including feeling antsy if I can’t travel overseas every year or so, have remained consistent for me. I love great food and enjoy cooking and entertaining. I’m a worrier — my sweetie’s nickname for me is N-squared (for Nervous Nellie). And I do passionately love elegance and beauty.

I had my photo taken this week for an article about me in the local newspaper. What an agony of self-consciousness! What to wear? What decisions will people make about me when they see it? Will it make them want to buy my new book — or avoid it because of something in my demeanor, clothing, smile?

I was so fretful about how I would appear, not so much from vanity as…not sure. Fear of disdain? Of losing readers? (Surely my choice of clothing that day, a black blazer and softly draped cowlneck blouse, would also gain me some!)

I was badly bullied by a small gang of boys for three long years in high school, and have ever since felt terribly self-conscious about how I look, even though I know objectively I’m attractive and can dress stylishly, even on a budget.

It’s hard to shed that teenage persona, of fearfulness and judgment.


When did you realize who you were — and are you still OK with being that person today?

Did a photo reveal it to you?

Have You Re-Visited Your Childhood Home? What If It's Gone?

In behavior on February 21, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Mexico APTNice Wall Street Journal piece ran this weekend about re-visiting your childhood home(s).

It’s a poignant thing, often clouded with nostalgia. For some, it’s simply impossible.

My sweetie, who grew up in Santa Fe, was a Baptist minister’s son. His Dad’s church and their adjacent home were both torn down to make way for the city’s Georgia O’Keefe Museum, opened in 1997. He has often reminisced about riding his bike alone as a little boy through Santa Fe’s streets, so I was eager to see where he grew up. But it’s gone.

When we visited the museum, he stood at the north end of one room there: “This used to be my bedroom,” he said. How odd that hundreds of people, possibly thousands by now, have stood  — having no idea that this space once housed a family and a congregation — where he once slept in his little boy pajamas and dreamed his young dreams.

Only the apricot tree, the one his mom made jam from, still stands in the museum’s tiny courtyard. His parents are long-dead, so the memories of that home now reside in his head and those of his two older sisters.

The old three-story brownstone apartment building at 3432 Peel Street in Montreal where I lived with my mom — where I came home night, alone, at the age of 12 to find that we had been robbed — is long-gone. The white brick house in Toronto, on a busy corner where I lived while in high school, is still there. I wave to it each time I go north.

I went back, in May 2005, to the apartment building in the Mexican city of Cuernavaca, at the corner of Copales and Naranjos, where my mom and I lived when I was 14.  I used to walk up a short, steep hill to my school, where I spent too much of my day staring out the windows at two distant volcanos, one per tall, narrow window.

In that building, my bedroom window looked directly into a next-door field full of cows. Surely, by 2005, it had changed. Surely, by then there was some flashy high-rise or a new house or…

Nope, still a field full of cows. The photo with this post shows our Cuernavaca building; we lived on the third floor.

What a soothing pleasure that was to find a spot from my childhood so unchanged. The nearby waterfall, Salto San Anton, was of course still there — and now three pottery candle-holders from a store on that street sit on my terrace wall every summer, a tangible reminder of one former home now gracing my current one.

Have you gone back in search of a childhood home? What did you find?

The Six Warning Signs Of Adulthood

In Uncategorized on December 3, 2009 at 8:38 am
Land of Oz

Image by _rockinfree via Flickr

For some Americans still finishing up the last scraps of their Thanksgiving turkeys, hosting a meal for 8 or 10 or 16 or 20 is a feat worth celebrating in itself. Here’s a totally subjective list of activities or events I think mark the end of innocence:

1) Your first successful dinner party. I chose dinner, instead of lunch or a shower or a party with chips and dip, because, done well, it demands forethought, planning, shopping, inviting, re-minding the people you’ve invited, making sure they won’t die at the table of allergic reactions, choosing a menu that makes sense and, if you’re as insanely fussy as I (and my name has been used as a verb, meaning “to fuss”), choosing the dishes, flatware, linens, candles and flowers to make the table lovely. Nothing has to cost a lot, but it does require effort and grace and timing and coordination; sweating and shouting tend to run the effect. This is why the cook always needs a good stiff drink beside them in the kitchen. You’ve got the desire and skills to make a lot of people comfortable, welcome, happy and well-fed all at once.

2) Coping with injury. It might be a broken bone or recovering from ACL tears or rotator cuff surgery. Pain and months of rehab force you out of your private, swift-moving individual self into the wider world of the slower, those who wince when they reach for things, the land of imposed patience. It slows you down so much you start to notice much more. You also see who gives up a bus or subway seat or who kindly opens a door for you and those who let it slam in your face. It’s really hard for some of us to ask for help, to be visibly wounded, to accept generosity. It’s not a bad thing. People’s kindness can stun you.

3) Attending more than five funerals of people unrelated to you. It’s an arbitrary number, but it marks your soul to see someone you loved and respected lying in their coffin, and to watch a room fill, as I did at the service for New York Times photographer Dith Pran, with so many people they run out of chairs. People who met him once for an hour years ago and who drove four hours one way to be there to pay respects.  Another Times colleague, David Rosenbaum, who was murdered the day after he retired; people came from across the country to be there for his family, as they did for Pran. A neighbor’s husband, who died a brutal death from cancer. A neighbor’s wife, my age, dead of cancer. It’s anyone whose family you want to support. You know someday you, or your loved ones,will need it. It’s our job to be there for one another. It is often not much fun, but it’s essential.

4) Buying or re-financing your home. Unbelievable! We’re, thank heaven for our good fortune, almost through the tunnel of re-financing our apartment, a process that’s included almost a month, so far, of negotiating with and coordinating with eight busy, and some incommunicative and deeply confusing individuals. (Talk to the paralegals, not the lawyers!) I’ve been on the phone sometimes three times a day bird-dogging everyone and trying to keep straight who’s doing what and when. People charging you $$$$$$ for their time need a lot of managing to get to your timely goal.

5) Coping with a friend’s serious illness or that of their partner. Right now, a friend from church is battling cancer and a friend out West has a husband likely to die of it within a month. What can you possibly say? Or do? It’s terrifying. They’re terrified. Their partner or spouse might be angry and lashing out at them, which I’ve heard of many times and have seen in my own family. It is so tempting, and so many people give in, to just flee. To hide behind your own fears or inability to help. I call, send flowers and cards. It’s not much, I know. I’m not sure what else, from a distance, one can do. I helped one overwhelmed neighbor find a hospice for her husband. Cook a meal, babysit their kids, walk their dog. Do whatever you can. When it’s your time, you will need help as well.

6) Prolonged unemployment. Much has been written of late about how all the fresh new grads will be scarred by coming out of school into this recession. It will hurt their incomes and their ideals. It might.

It might also, as those of who who’ve now lived — and survived — through three recessions since 1988 know, toughen them up, albeit sooner than they’d planned or hoped. Yes, student debts are onerous and scary. Yes, it’s deeply frustrating to not do what you want and have worked and studied hard for. Join the line! Right now, millions of unemployed people who have done the same are also staring at the walls and wondering what, if anything, they are going to do to find paid work and put food on the table. Your dreams may change, even for a while.

I moved to New York just in time for the first recession in my industry. I knew no one, had no job, no alumni ties. I cold-called strangers for six months and finally, truly in the depths of despair by that point, found my first Manhattan publishing job from a newspaper ad. Those six months of incredible frustration forced me way beyond my comfort zone and challenged every comfy certainty I’d had about my skills and talents and experience. It was useful prep for the next two recesssions.  It sucks. It won’t kill you. You will, and will have to, find new reserves of strength, flexibility and ingenuity you had no idea you had. It will also remind you that a laissez-faire capitalist system is based on “shedding” labor whenever and wherever and as quickly as those million-dollar-earning CEOs think necessary. Don’t rely on their goodwill or loyalty, ever.

I know this list skips three standard measures, having kids — which some of us never do, getting married (which some people do four or six times) and facing the death of one’s parents. I am lucky enough still to have both of mine and dread those days.

What are your signs?

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