Posts Tagged ‘parents’

When did you finally feel like an adult?

In aging, behavior, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, men, urban life, women on February 11, 2015 at 1:52 am

By Caitlin Kelly



 Crossing the Atlantic -- thumb firmly in mouth. Adulthood? Nope, not yet!

Crossing the Atlantic — thumb firmly in mouth. Adulthood? Nope, not yet!

It happened to me at 14, when a series of frightening events beyond my control collided within a few days while I was living in Mexico.

My mother became ill and suddenly incapacitated; a friend my age had just arrived from Canada for a two-week visit and, while staying with us — we were then on our own — she burned her eyelashes and eyebrows off while lighting our hot water heater.

We had no phone, few friends and no relatives anywhere nearby.

We figured it out. Mostly because we had to.

I left my mother’s care after that and have never lived with her since. I keep reading blogs by women who talk about being “unmothered.” After 14, that was pretty much my new normal; my step-mother, only 13 years my senior, was not a nurturer.

So I’m always fairly fascinated by discussions of what it means to be(come) mature and responsible.

A recent New York magazine article focused on women in their 30s choosing to freeze their eggs as they have no luck finding a man eager — let alone willing — to take on the responsibilities of marriage, let alone of parenthood:

Before he was a fertility specialist, Dr. Keefe was a psychiatrist…

“There are a lot of options,” he said, “and people have to choose the one that’s right for them. But in order to know what’s right, you have to ask yourself, why are you here?”

“I wasted a lot of time in my last relationship,” I admitted. “I want to make sure that I take care of myself.”

He leaned forward and paused. “There’s something wrong with the men in your generation,” he said. I was stunned. Here was a doctor who had just been talking about the importance of considering statistical significance, and now he was chalking my dating problems up to the broadest of generalizations. But he was articulating two forms of truth: the mathematical and the personal.

“It isn’t you,” he said. “All day long, I see patients like you. You’re smart, beautiful, accomplished, nice. It makes no sense. I go home to my wife and I say, ‘There’s something wrong with the men in this generation. They won’t grow up.’”

People who fetishize parenthood assume that only by getting married and/or having and/or raising children can you truly become an adult.

I don’t buy it.


I’ve seen too many sloppy, careless brutes wearing wedding rings, running their vows ragged. I’ve also seen too many careless parents.

I do think that caring for others, actively and consistently, is key to maturity and generativity, the desire to give back. It might be a pet or a child or your neighbor or your students.

I recently watched an odd indie film, Obvious Child, in which the main character, a young comic named Donna Stern, gets pregnant after a one-night stand and decides to have an abortion.

I enjoyed the film in some ways, but found her neurotic compulsion to date losers and make lousy life choices in general, even with loving  and solvent parents nearby, depressing and irritating.

Grow up, I wanted to shout at the screen!

I feel the same way (cliche alert!) when I hate-watch the HBO series Girls, which follows the lives of four whiny white girls in their 20s as they try to find jobs, men and friendship in Manhattan. I know many young women lovelovelove the show and its outspoken young creator Lena Dunham.

I just can’t.

We all make terrible choices and we usually get most of them out of the way in our 20s and 30s. (I married the wrong man, moved to NYC with no job in sight, etc.)

When I met the man I’m now married to — 15 years together this spring! — I wondered if he was mature enough to be a husband, which is both a noun and a verb meaning to care for. (Well, actually to manage frugally and carefully, which is close enough for me.)

He ticked all the boxes, as the Brits would say: handsome, great job, funny, snappy dresser, global travel, devout Buddhist. But he felt somehow rooted in single life.



My doubts blew away in one powerful action, when we flew out to help my mother after she was found to have a very large benign brain tumor and we had to take care of her home, dog and paperwork with only three days in a foreign country.

He dragged her soiled mattress onto the verandah without a word and started scrubbing it clean. I’d never seen someone so nonchalantly do a nasty job with no drama, foot-dragging or avoidance. It meant a lot to me.

He stepped up.

I now teach college freshmen and am intrigued to see which of them are more mature than others and why. I’ve also met some lovely young people in their early to mid-20s, maybe old souls, who seem able to just get on with it, with grace, style and humor.

I don’t believe you have to be old to be wise nor do I assume that someone young(er) is de facto foolish and unable to make excellent decisions.

But I do fear for the current crop of children and teens whose parents and grandparents hover incessantly over them in a desperate and misguided attempt to protect them from every possible owie.

The world does not arrive with a big pile of bandaids to hand out.

Do you feel like an adult?

What did it for you?

Being rich and being happy don’t always go together

In behavior, children, Crime, domestic life, family, life, love, parenting on January 31, 2015 at 1:00 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Would you be happy shopping all day?

Would you be happy shopping all day?

It’s a world so many people desperately aspire to, the one where you finally have, literally, millions or billions of dollars, where your car(s) and homes are costly and many — and your worries, one assumes, become small and few.

Like the couple who rent out their Paris apartment part-time as they jet between it and their other six homes worldwide. I sat in it recently and admired a lovely framed graphic on one wall, thinking it looked a lot like the enormous posters all over the Metro for the largest show by Sonia Delaunay in decades.

It was a Delaunay.

Here’s a sobering recent reminder of how toxic that world can be for some, a New York man who murdered his father, after being raised in a life of privilege and power.

From The New York Times:

They were alike in many ways, Thomas Strong Gilbert Sr. and the son to whom he gave his name and who, prosecutors say, would eventually kill him.

Graduates of elite boarding schools and Princeton University, the two men were handsome, gifted athletes who — on the surface at least — seemed to be navigating the exclusive glide path of wealth, social position and success that has long defined life inside America’s upper crust.

All this exploded, however, when, the police said, Thomas S. Gilbert Jr., 30, marched into his parents’ apartment this month and shot his father in the head — after asking his mother to run out and get him a sandwich and a soda.

The attack shocked not only those who knew the Gilberts but also many more who live in their rarefied and intertwined world of hedge funds, private clubs and opulent homes in Manhattan and the Hamptons.

The Times received 500 emails commenting on that story, many of whom — perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not for an upscale publication — expressed pity for the alleged killer.

I know someone whose partner recently became a millionaire after a decade of intense effort. He built his entire company from scratch, both of them sacrificing mightily to do so. But he hasn’t slowed down a bit and his partner is not, as I hoped, now lounging in hard-won luxury.

When more is never enough...

When more is never enough…

If you can handle a searing glimpse into the folkways of the wealthy — and have a strong stomach — you must read the Patrick Melrose novels. Written by Edward St. Aubyn, from an aristocratic English family, they reveal what lies behind some intimidatingly elegant and polished facades.

For years, people kept telling me these were astonishing books.

How good could they really be?



And, for some of us, far too close for comfort.

Here’s a bit from a long and fascinating interview with him from The New Yorker:

The irony in the title of St. Aubyn’s third Melrose novel, “Some Hope,” published in 1994, points both to a career-long interest in the idea of psychological deliverance and to a desire not to be mistaken for an artless writer. To read the novels is to watch a high intelligence outsmart cliché (or, to use a more Melrosian word, vulgarity), and so protect his protagonist’s literary distinction. Similarly, St. Aubyn has been careful to protect his own life from the dull tarnish of remembrance-and-release; it would pain him if readers mistook a twenty-year literary project for a therapeutic one. “What he wanted was a very pure success,” Oliver James, an old friend of St. Aubyn’s, and a clinical psychologist, told me.

But the awkward fact is that writing saved St. Aubyn’s life. Years of psychoanalysis, and the controlled fiction that followed, deferred the threat of suicide. St. Aubyn describes Patrick as an alter ego, though there are some differences. Patrick ends up with a day job—he’s a barrister—which St. Aubyn, with a seeming shrug of privileged incomprehension, barely makes convincing. More important, Patrick has no experience of therapy, beyond a group meeting or two in rehab. Instead, he ruminates, and makes sour, studied jokes. The novels enact, and describe, therapeutic progress, but St. Aubyn, led by a literary taste for compression, and by the desire to create “vivid and intense and non-boring” fiction, left out much of the process that helped him survive to midlife.

I read the Melrose novels finally a year or so ago.

It felt as though my own life had been X-rayed and thrown up onto a large white lightbox.

The cashmere and jewels and lovely homes. The literary and cultural references. The shrugging assumption that everyone lives a life of privilege and ease — or should.

Or could if they just did things right.

Oh, but you’re struggling?

To some ears, it’s a foreign language. They try to understand a few words, but it doesn’t really register and just isn’t very interesting.

Other Melrose-isms rang true:

The sycophants and hangers-on, skilled in the art of flattery.

Those slickly determined to displace children in the eyes of their own parents, able to remain so much more amusing and so much less demanding than flesh and blood.

The ability to find almost everything in the world worthy of intense interest, except your own children.

The missed holidays and birthdays and celebrations.

There are, of course, many people with a lot of money who have terrific relationships with their families.

But there are also some unimaginable darknesses behind the glittering veneer and the-stuff-we-all-want-so-badly — the Benchleys and Goyard handbags, the Dassault Falcons waiting on the tarmac at Teterborough.

I recently met a couple a decade older than I; she, smooth and assured, he a tenured professor secure in his stature.

We talked about my family and, she, probing far more deeply and quickly than I was used to, elicited far more of my candor than usual — and, later, that would leave me feeling regretful and queasy.

It’s not a fun tale in some respects.

And then he asked:

“Have you read the Patrick Melrose novels?”

I had.

“I could barely get through two of them,” he said.


Do you hate Mother’s Day too?

In aging, behavior, children, domestic life, family, life, love, news, parenting, women on May 13, 2012 at 12:09 am
Česky: Matka a dítě. עברית: אם ובנה, 2007. Sve...

Česky: Matka a dítě. עברית: אם ובנה, 2007. Svenska: En mamma som kramar om sitt barn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bear with me.

Like many others watching the annual flood of maternal sentimentality, this isn’t a fun week for me. (It’s celebrated on May 13 here, but not necessarily in other countries.)

My mother lives in a nursing home in a city a six-hour flight away. I don’t plan to send flowers or a card, even though I know I should and would like to. I’m her only child. She has no grand-children and many of her friends have died or abandoned her over the years.

We haven’t spoken in a year, since our last verbal exchange consisted of her raging at me without pausing to draw breath. The Mother’s Day flowers I had sent went unacknowledged, then my birthday.

Like many mothers out there — not the cookie-baking, hugging, call me! text me! types — mine has no interest in my life. And she’s now doted on by a woman even the nursing home staff told me they found rude and weird, someone nasty to me whom I’ve never trusted.

So, Mother’s Day?


I know other men and women whose mother, for a variety of reasons, lost interest in their own children, no matter how well-behaved or accomplished or how hard we’ve tried, for a long, long time, to get closer to someone who…just doesn’t want it.

But we never talk publicly about it, the subject taboo.

I’ve re-written this post about 20 times, debating whether or not to even publish it. I am weary of secret-keeping.

My mother, who is beautiful, bright, sophisticated and charming, never re-married after divorcing my father when I was seven. She never seemed to miss emotional or physical intimacy.

When I was 14, we moved to Mexico. There, on Christmas Eve, she suffered a manic breakdown; I left within weeks to move in with my father and never returned to her home except for visits. I saw her first manic episode when I was 12, then again lived through them when I was 19, 25, 27 and beyond. She ended up in jails and hospitals all over the world, as she traveled alone and refused to stay on her medication.

For a long time, she wrote letters often and we spoke every week or so.

In 2003, a 4-inch tumor was pulled from her head and I asked the surgeon to “make her less of a bitch.” The words shocked me as they fell out of my mouth.

His answer shocked me even more. “Her tumor has made her aggressive for years, possibly decades,” he explained, thanks to its location in her brain. She was, for several blissful years afterward, loving, gentle and kind, the sort of mother I had longed for. (Here’s my magazine story about this experience, with a great pic of us when I was little.)

By the summer of 2010, when I flew out to see her on my annual visit, she had become unrecognizable to me, the amount she was by then drinking destroying what was left of her mental and physical health. I called my husband from the motel where I was staying and wept, in rage and frustration and despair, for 30 minutes.

When, if ever, would this shit stop?

The verb “to mother” implies nurture, care and concern. We automatically conflate the two, while “to father” often means simply to create a new life, not to stick around and take care of that child.

I’ve tried to be compassionate. I’ve tried to reach out, for decades. I’ve tried.

I’m done trying.

How’s your relationship with your Mom?

For Father's Day — My Dad's 13 Gifts

In behavior, men, parenting on June 19, 2010 at 11:25 pm
My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad

Image via Wikipedia

He turned 81 this month, an age he never thought he’d see — his Dad died at 59, so he spent his life until then fearful he might not outlive him.

He’s healthy as a horse, his arthritic hip much less painful than mine, bicycles every day, takes long walks with the dog.

He’s not big on giving gifts, but here are some of them:

Badges from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He went there to make a documentary and I became aware of the Olympics and Japan, at an early age. He gave the gift of curiosity about the world.

A pair of elbow-length sealksin mitts, again from a filming trip to the Arctic. And a caribou rug, sadly untanned so it shed like mad all over my teenage bedroom. The gift of wondering about entire swaths of my enormous country.

An Afghan rifle case, from another overseas trip. How many girls had that? It sparked my love of textiles, something I’ve been collecting for years.

A drive from Toronto to Vancouver, dipping into North and South Dakota along the way to visit Indian pow-wows; he filmed, I drew and painted. We set up our tent wherever he chose, sometimes in the middle of a farmer’s field. Those are some long drives. I think we played 20 Questions about 1,000,000 times. I love road trips!

Teaching me to ski, skate, play squash and badminton and remaining active his whole life. I’ve been athletic since childhood, and hope to remain so as long as possible.

When he had a house in Ireland, we went out for long walks, picking wild watercress from the creeks and mussels from Galway Bay, which we went home and ate for dinner. Bounty is all around us if we look for it.

He has always galloped off into the world, and still does, with unquenched eagerness to explore. A passport and the means to use it is a lifelong ticket to adventures and friends we have yet to meet. Get out there!

Teaching me – inadvertently — to stand up for myself, after I flew to France on his dime when I was 20 and we had a huge fight and I walked out and went home early. We have fought bitterly over the years, but he was no tougher than some of my bosses along the way. Man up, darlin’!

The end of the day means a single-malt Scotch or a great glass of wine and a big bowl of popcorn. Pleasures come in a wide price range.

He’s always driven fun, used cars, today a black Jag. Enjoy life, affordably.

We love to prowl antiques fairs, flea markets and auctions in search of treasures. We once stood, ravenous, outside a Wilmington, NC diner — with an antiques store next to it. We had to force ourselves to eat first. Have a passion. Appreciate the beauty and utility of objects designed and made 100, 200 or 2,000 years ago but use and enjoy them. (I use the sterling silver soup ladle he gave me for measuring pancake batter.)

Growing up, watching him — as he still does today — create art in a wide array of media: silver, oil, etching, engraving, lithograph, his studio forever littered with canvases in various states of completion. Creativity comes from within, not just something you have to go out and buy. It can also bring you into community; at his 80th. , I met the much younger man who taught Dad how to work with silver.

I left home at 19, to live alone and put myself through university. He’s never given me a penny and it was always very clear I would never have the option of moving back home. No matter how much I resented it, and have struggled with debt or low income, it taught me self-reliance.

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What Runs In Your Family?

In behavior, parenting on March 28, 2010 at 9:38 am
WUHAN, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 16:  Workers place an...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Every morning I knock my Mom askew when I open the bedroom curtains.

It’s a blue and green oil painting of her, done by my father, about 5 x 7, a nude done when they were first married. There’s a red and black version of her, also by him, hanging in the dining room — neither are terribly detailed, nothing creepy or embarrassing.

They divorced when I was six, so evidence of their initial love is as comforting to me as loving the beauty of the images as the fact they’re both well-done and of/by people I love.

Our apartment is filled with art and photos: by us, of us, by our parents or friends, alive or dead. My Dad, a former maker of documentaries and news television series, does just about anything creative well, usually with no training: engravings, lithographs, etchings, silver, oils. My sweetie recently took some great photos of Dad, standing at his easel in his bathrobe, working on a still life in his studio.

My mom was a radio and television and film and print journalist. She never attended college, marrying my Canadian Dad at 17 and following him from Manhattan to Vancouver, where I was born. Living there, they started an art gallery, representing terrific painters like David Milne. She modeled for the local newspaper. Creative fearlessless seemed part of their DNA.

I grew up taking all this for granted. Being creative, taking risks, trying stuff without — oh, yeah, training or education or official certification — having an idea and putting it out there for (gulp) mass public judgment and, one hopes, some decent pay, is just what Kellys do.

My partner grew up the son of a Baptist minister and a kindergarten teacher, of Hispanic heritage, born and raised in New Mexico. He’s the guy who told me — almost a deal-breaker when we were dating — that my closets were messy. (Um, they’re closets.) In his own loving/annoying way, he’s very much a PK, a preacher’s kid. They’re said to share fairly universal characteristics: kind, ethical, empathetic, good around adults, obedient to authority. I swear his gravestone will  carry the words, “Be careful.” In his excessively bossy moments, I call him Hall Monitor Boy. I hate rules!

But I love his ferocious work ethic, his joy in teaching and mentoring, his ability to handle any situation with grace and humility and the right degree of gravitas. When he was little, he was routinely sent out to show visiting preachers the local tourist sights, so he’s at ease with strangers and making people feel comfortable.

We don’t have kids, so whatever we are, or do, doesn’t play out within our own offspring.

What skills or beliefs or characteristics do you carry from your Mom or Dad or grandparents?

What of yourself do you see in your kids?

Does it make you cringe, or smile?


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