This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on December 26, 2020.
There were two things I didn’t give up when I converted to Judaism 35 years ago – making gingerbread houses and sending an annual Christmas letter. I cranked out a letter every year, filled with news of the family and, of course, humble bragging about our many accomplishments.
We are not a Nobel prize-winning family and neither of the kids graduated from Harvard, but I still recounted the highlights of our year and sent it to family and friends near and far.
Late in 2000, we were hit with a double whammy of loss. My father passed away in his sleep early in the morning of September 26, 2000 in his home under hospice care. Shortly thereafter my father-in-law began a rapid decline and passed from this life on November 8.
We cancelled Thanksgiving that year and, breaking with tradition, my Christmas letter was a tribute to both our dads, two men I loved and admired, with no other family news. Many friends told me my letter made them cry.
The following year our son Ben got married to a lovely young woman, Claire. They are the parents of our amazing grandchildren. A few years later, my daughter blessed us with another grandchild. I don’t humble brag about them, I boldly brag about them. Life got better.
And then came 2020 and COVID-19. Under the leadership, or lack thereof, of Donald Trump and his enablers, the danger was downplayed, mitigation measures were ridiculed, and all 50 states were left hanging. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died alone in hospitals, cared for by exhausted doctors and nurses, because of the worst failure of our government to protect its citizens in the history of the country. You don’t need a history degree to make that statement.
All families have been deeply harmed by the pandemic, but none more than the people who lost a loved one. My husband and I are retired and have our own he-and she-caves in our home. But I remember when we had small children and money was tight and wonder how young families are getting by while our so-called leaders bicker back and forth and then congratulate themselves for working so hard while accomplishing nothing.
We worried about our son, an emergency room nurse, caring for COVID patients in a hospital on Long Island. In late May we held our beloved little dog Shadow, as she passed from our lives after 15 years. The vet’s prognosis was bleak and we were forced to make the heart-rending decision people face when their dog has nothing but suffering ahead.
A few months later, we Monrovians were on evacuation alert for ten long days as the mountains behind our home burned. The smoke was so thick we could see it in the house. We packed both cars with our irreplaceable belongings and hoped for the best. The efforts of 1,100 firefighters saved our home and we are abundantly grateful.
I retooled my gingerbread baking and, instead of having a decorating party with friends, I made gingerbread men for Foothills Kitchen to go in the lunch that they provide to Monrovia residents who need one. As I carefully decorated all 92 of them, I thought about skipping the letter. Finally, I sat down and wrote it.
I was surprised and delighted when several people thanked me for writing my cheesy Christmas letter this year. Maintaining traditions is a hopeful thing to do. Still no Nobel, but we are healthy, grateful for our many blessings, and look forward to better a New Year for us all.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on November 15, 2020.
Every generation has defining moments that live in their collective memory forever. I was in history class in junior high on November 22, 1963, when a teacher came to the classroom door and said President Kennedy was shot. Six years later, in 1969, the entire nation watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. More recently, the twin towers fell in Manhattan on September 11, 2001.
My three grandchildren, all under age ten, will remember the day Joseph R. Biden became the 46thpresident of the United States and they danced in the street along with their parents, and millions of others. They will remember watching Kamala Harris become the first female Vice President. They don’t understand quite yet that a shattered glass ceiling is a good thing, but for their parents and me, it was glorious. That Harris powered through that ceiling during the centennial year of women’s suffrage was an added delight.
My grandchildren’s childhood will be marked by the pandemic the same way the Depression impacted my parents, who were born in 1920. They don’t understand it now, but they are living through a time when our democracy was at risk of being destroyed if Trump had won. They don’t know why the grownups were glued to their television sets, staring at maps, and looking very worried. But when the celebrations started they knew everything was OK.
They will remember not being able to go to school, to play sports, or to be in the school play. They will remember the stress in their families while they were cooped up in the house. When they get older and study history, they will learn that the pandemic that upended their childhood could have been stopped much sooner if there had been a competent president.
This generation of young people is taking to the streets quite frequently. My six-year-old grandson attended the Women’s March on January 21, 2016, along with his mother and me. We represented three generations of Americans who were part of the largest protest in American history.
My two grandchildren in Brooklyn will remember standing outside their apartment building, clapping and cheering for their daddy, who is an RN, and all the other essential workers who bravely fought COVID-19 month after month while the president said it would just go away and did nothing.
After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, the students organized the largest single day of protest against gun violence in history, according to the United Nations Association of the United States of America. That summer the students organized a tour of the country called on the “Road to Change” and registered over 50,000 voters along the way. This year they are old enough to vote for the first time.
For my young grandchildren, the joyous street party was a victory dance for democracy.
Joe Biden will restore dignity to the office of the President.
Kamala Harris will break new ground at the highest level of government.
My granddaughter will see that women in government stand shoulder to shoulder with men.
My two grandsons will see that men and women can work together as equals with mutual respect.
These are times of biblical proportions. From 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
We chose love.
There is a new, even better world ahead for them in a democracy that they will have to continue to fight for. They have learned from a tender age that change happens when they make their voices heard and when they vote. And then . . . they party.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on October 4, 2020.
Donald Trump started our civil war just as surely as if he had fired on Fort Sumpter himself. He kicked off his campaign with the infamous attack on immigrants from Mexico by calling them “rapists” and criminals. From the very beginning, his pitch to be president was full of hatred towards people from Mexico, millions of whom are part of the American fabric. This hateful speech resonated with the wrong kind of people right from the start.
At first, it was funny to see him pick off all his challengers for the Republican nomination for President, not by debating issues but by hurling personal attacks and ridicule. He was a proxy for everyone who ever wanted to tell someone off but refrained from doing so because they didn’t want to be a jackass. The Republican party failed to eliminate Trump as a candidate and now the Grand Old Party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Trump organization. The party is basically in a shambles and it will take decades for them to repair the damage.
People reveled in Trump’s anti-political correctness. They say he tells it like it is. Try “telling it like it is” to your boss or your wife. The boss will fire you and your wife will tell you to stop being obnoxious, or worse. When Trump proudly proclaims that he is “telling it like it is,” he is most often lying, praising himself, or demeaning one of his enemies.
One sharp contrast between the hate Donald Trump thrives on and the love of country that we usually see in our presidents is the way he denigrates John McCain. McCain suffered from deprivation and torture for 5 ½ years in a prisoner of war camp. He was offered an early release but refused because he would not leave his fellow soldiers. His sacrifice was for both his men and his country. It is a kind of love that Trump is incapable of and can’t comprehend, but he knows that when he slams McCain he gets a lot of attention.
One of the most despicable things a government can do is separate children from their parents. Trump did that, in the cruelest way possible, to punish people who wanted to become Americans. There are better, more humane, ways to secure our borders. Trump remained fixated on building a wall that was never finished while thousands of families were destroyed. A hatred that breaks the bond of mother/father love is unforgivable.
Bob Woodward’s book confirmed that Trump knew how bad COVID was and lied to Americans about it. Trump often deflects the seriousness of an issue if he doesn’t want to work hard to figure out a solution. He openly hates Democrats, strong women, minorities, and immigrants. He doesn’t care about his base but manages to convince them that he does while exposing them – and, as we found out late Thursday, himself - to COVID in packed auditoriums as he gleefully ridicules people who wear masks.
This presidential election is not about which candidate is the best qualified for the job. Voters will choose between love or hate. A vote for Trump is a vote for gutting Medicare and Social Security, for more destruction of our democracy, for COVID deaths rising while simple measures that save lives (masks and social distancing) are ignored. The list goes on.
Joe Biden exemplifies love of country. He has not uttered one slur, one insult, one childish outburst, or schoolyard bully tweet. His plan to fight COVID is one to save lives, not sacrifice them to attain herd immunity. His historic choice of Kamala Harris for Vice President shows his willingness to work side-by-side with a strong, accomplished woman. Voters will choose to restore the love of our country and our fellow Americans as something to nourish and to strive for, or they will vote for more hate.
These are times of Biblical proportion. From 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Choose love.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on May 24, 2020.
The United States Postal Service is in trouble and the Trump administration looks like it wants to deliver the final blow to an institution that was created in our Constitution by none other than Benjamin Franklin, our first Postmaster General. People who voted for Trump say they wanted to disrupt the status quo but what we are getting instead is the destruction of the foundations of our democracy.
A mail carrier once told me that the Postal Service could be saved if they let them advertise. I thought it was a great idea. Mail trucks have lots of room for ads and they go up and down the streets in every town and city in the United States. It is a golden opportunity for advertisers.
Postage rates would go down, the pre-funding requirement for the pension would be covered, and delivery would stay at six days a week. Cities have advertising on their buses, inside and out, as well as their bus stops. Light rail and subways do the same. Schools, playgrounds and other city recreation sites have advertising all over the place: on the fences, the refreshment stands, in the parking lot, basically everywhere.
Using advertisements to supplement government income is as American as apple pie. So why not the U. S. Postal Service?
When I asked the mail carrier why this solution wasn’t adopted years ago, his answer didn’t surprise me. “Congress won’t let us,” he said. The Republican controlled Senate, the party of free enterprise, should get on board with this idea and let the Postal Service use advertising to help them stay in business. What is wrong with a can of Pepsi on a postage stamp? If it saves an American institution, so be it.
Imagine what United Parcel and Fed Ex will do when they see mail trucks driving down the street sporting a Nike icon or an ad for an upcoming movie. They will compete, as businesses do, and generate more advertising. Competition and capitalism, hand in hand.
The mail carrier recalled his frustration with good ideas that no one explored in his 42 years on the job. Every American who has stood in a long line at the Post Office with one window open, and the other four or five stations closed, have been annoyed. The Postal Service has a reputation of being staffed with “lifers” who seem apathetic. Maybe that attitude comes from government oversight that squashes innovation and change. I don’t know if that is true, but it is another way of looking at it.
Email has cut into the Postal Service’s business for many years and social media will someday make practically all communication electronically transmitted. But having a local Post Office is still important. Not everyone pays their bills online or want to send sensitive financial documents electronically, and many don’t consider an email thank you-note sufficient.
People complain about junk mail and I get my share, but I also have a spam folder in my email account and it is routinely full of some very shady junk. More importantly, Americans need the Postal Service to deliver packages that are purchased from online companies. Practically all of us have ordered an item or ten to be delivered to our door, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is no logical reason why Congress can’t allow the U. S. Postal Service to start advertising. Perhaps the Post Office will open a few more of those windows that seem to be perpetually closed, staffed by a cheerful clerk who will sell you a roll of stamps with a tiny ad on them.
Congress – do your job and save the U. S. Postal Service.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star News on March 22, 2020.
When I hear Bernie Sanders say we need “Medicare for all,” I don’t understand his reasoning. Medicare wasn’t designed for “all.” It was designed for a particular group of Americans who paid into the system first, and then collected benefits later. Loading the system with millions more Americans who have not paid into the system distorts the model.
Medicare has worked as it was designed to work for fifty-four years. It is an earned benefit, meaning that the people who paid into it during their working years were able to get a return on their investment after they retired and began receiving benefits. From the beginning, it had cost-sharing: a first day deductible for the hospital insurance (Part A) and a 20% co-pay for Medical insurance (Part B). There is a monthly premium for Part B that is deducted from beneficiaries’ Social Security check.
From my first job at the Ohio Bell telephone company in Findlay, Ohio as a telephone operator in 1968, money was withheld from my paycheck to pay for Social Security and Medicare. It was called a payroll tax. Money was taken from my paycheck for the next 49 years until I retired and started receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits.
In 1996 I became Manager of the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), a program of the California Department of Aging, and worked for the next six years with Medicare. I helped people figure out their medical bills, helped them determine how much Medicare paid, explained how HMO’s worked with Medicare, and educated beneficiaries on the constant changes and adjustments in Medicare law. Overall, the system worked.
Politicians who imply that government bureaucrats sit in the basement of the White House and deny claims are wrong. Medicare claims are processed by insurance companies who contract with Medicare to pay claims. Coverage issues are decided by Congress. Fellow HICAP advocates and I met with now-retired Congressman Henry Waxman to discuss doctors who charged Medicare beneficiaries to process claims. We didn’t think that was right and neither did the Congressman. About eighteen months later, it was prohibited by law.
When Bernie says: “No copays, no deductibles, no premiums!” I cringe. That’s not Medicare! He wants to take an idea with a proven track record, a strong foundation and clear goals and squeeze it into a one-size-fits-all. It won’t work.
What he doesn’t say is that taxes will go up to pay for all this largess. President Obama proposed and Congress passed a health insurance bill that was designed for people who are working but don’t have insurance from their employer. The Republicans have been trying to repeal it and attack it in any way they can since it passed.
If you think Bernie can put together Medicare for All, I have a bridge to sell you.
During the Democratic debates I got very frustrated and bored with the extended discussions of the candidates about their respective Medicare for All or Medicare for Those Who Want It or Medicare on a Post-It Note. Joe Biden was the only one who stood up for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Nobody else came to the defense of a law that has been defending itself from the onslaught of Republicans who want it gone, and Trump, who wants it gone out of spite.
The ACA has insured millions of working Americans who do not have insurance through their employers. Despite continuing efforts by the Republicans to kill it, the ACA has survived. Let’s elect politicians who will build on that and leave Medicare to do what it does best.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on March 29, 2020.
What do you say when your dad tells you he doesn’t want to live like this anymore? It’s a moment I clearly recall even though it was almost twenty years ago. I can still see exhausted, emaciated Dad sitting in a plaid cotton robe in his Medicare lift chair. He wore big block sunglasses due to an eye condition that made his eyes jiggle like jumping beans.
Though his eyes were concealed, I heard the vulnerability and anguish in his voice. He was asking for help. I froze. Dad had been constantly sick for the past two years. He was almost blind and couldn’t see the television or his computer screen. He couldn’t do fix-it jobs around the house or work in the yard, activities that had kept him busy since he had retired. My parents had reluctantly sold their home and moved into a retirement community.
Then Dad got the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with a terrible prognosis: four weeks to live, without treatment. The oncologist recommended radiation therapy. After the third week, Dad was too weak to take more radiation and was sent from the oncology clinic to the hospital in an ambulance.
When I think of the three grueling weeks of radiation that my father went through, I deeply regret that I didn’t have the courage to help him when he told me he didn’t want to live like this anymore. I had been Manager of the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) and knew the Medicare Hospice benefit well.
I should have told Dad how hospice provides comfort care for terminally ill people. I should have told him he could go home and live in peace for the time he had remaining. He might have chosen to have the radiation anyway, but at least he would have known the alternative. But he had always been an authority figure and I simply couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.
When I was growing up Dad was the boss of Mom and all the kids and no one questioned his authority. Family patterns are deeply entrenched and topics like death are pretty near impossible to discuss. How could I, his daughter, talk to him about the fact that he was dying and was headed for a painful death, probably in the ICU?
I called his physician, Dr. Archer, and asked him to help us talk to Dad. I told him my father was a straight talker and not to sugar coat it. He told my dad, in the most compassionate way, that he considered guys like him terminal. When Dr. Archer spoke those words, it felt like the world stopped revolving.
Dad was quiet. Dr. Archer waited for him to speak. Then Dad said that he’d had a good long life and was grateful. From that moment on, with the help of the hospice team, my sister and I took our father home and cared for him until he passed peacefully in his sleep, twenty-nine days later. We made the best of those last days of his life and they were some of the most richly lived of his 80 years on earth.
As COVID19 spreads in California there are frail elderly people in nursing homes, or still living in their own homes, who have one or more chronic diseases, and perhaps painful injuries that are still healing. They may feel like my dad did, but they can’t bring themselves to say it to their adult children.
Most people don’t know anything about hospice care and if they do, they dismiss it as “giving up.” If an honest, loving conversation doesn’t take place, thousands of people will contract the virus and end up on a ventilator, more miserable than ever and unlikely to survive.
Go to medicare.gov and put “hospice” in the search box. And most people are aware of Advance Directives but haven’t gotten around to filling one out. You can download a form at the Attorney General’s website oag.ca.gov. There is another type written in less legal, more narrative language called Five Wishes. You can download a form at fivewishes.org. They are the same legally binding documents; they just use different styles. Do it today.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on January 5, 2020.
Like most people, I like the concept of reading poetry but don’t have the patience to read it like it should be read – slowly, thoughtfully, seeking meaning, blah, blah blah.
That attitude doesn’t reflect well on me, especially as a writer, but we are now living in a world of sound bites, tweets (God help us) and texts. I’m even less likely to read poetry now that my attention span has been corroded by the culture in which I live.
In spite of all that, I have had a poem by Robert Frost on my bulletin board for thirty years. The title is “Reluctance” and I’ve memorized the last stanza, which is six beautifully crafted sentences that bring comfort to me in times of loss, especially during this season of celebration that can be as melancholy as it is joyous.
I had a holiday tradition that came to an end suddenly and the loss bears down on me this holiday season. When I was about ten years old, my uncle sent us a gingerbread house for Christmas. We hardly knew this uncle and it was the only time he gave our family a gift, so it was quite a surprise. Mom wouldn’t let us eat it until after Christmas.
Finally, December 26 arrived and all five of us kids dove into the house. Much to our dismay the gingerbread was as hard as a rock and was so stale that none of us could eat it. The next year Mom and I decided to make our own gingerbread house and failed miserably. We used a sugar cookie recipe, and the cookie crumbled. We had no idea what kind of frosting to use to glue the house together. We gave up.
After I grew up and started a family of my own I tried again to make gingerbread houses. I used gingerbread dough, which didn’t crumble, and discovered meringue that dries powdered sugar as hard as a rock. My tradition was born.
I became known for my gingerbread houses. I always took one to work and my coworkers waited for the day when I walked through the door with the gingerbread house. They followed me to the break room and dug right in.
One year one of my coworkers asked if I would teach her how to make a gingerbread house. I knew she had been born to a fourteen-year-old mother who didn’t teach her how to bake as my mom had. The next year I invited her and her six-year-old daughter, along with other staff members and their young daughters, to a decorating party at my
Many years later most of us had moved on to other jobs and my friends’ daughters were in college, but we still gathered on the second Saturday in December to decorate gingerbread houses together. My tradition had become their tradition.
Two years ago, one friend moved to Arkansas and another to Oklahoma. Last year on October 30 I had a big surgery, an anterior cervical discectomy, and had to cancel my gingerbread decorating day. At this point, there were only a few people left in the group, moms and daughters that I had added a few years ago.
When I sent my save-the-date notice to my gingerbread friends this year, one confirmed and the other two had scheduling conflicts. A few days before decorating day the remaining girl let me know that her team got into the soccer playoffs and she had a game scheduled for the second Saturday in December. My golden group of dear friends, whose daughters I had watched grow into beautiful young women, were gone.
Back to Robert Frost. The fourth stanza of “Reluctance” goes like this: “Ah, when to the heart of man/Was it ever less than a treason/To go with the drift of things,/To yield with a grace to reason,/And bow and accept the end/Of a love or a season?”
Frost put the last stanza in the form of a question. He is asking why the heart of man can’t accept change to the extent that it feels like treason. When something I love ends, it is monumentally hard to accept. My friends moved on, and their daughters grew up. I search for the grace to yield to the passage of time. If I bow as I accept the end of a love or a season, I honor the cherished memories that will always remain. None of this is easy but Frost’s words bring comfort.
This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on October 27, 2019.
The collision was inevitable, considering where we were. Two fleet-footed children were running fast and hard and smacked together, head-on.
“Damn,” I said to myself. I walked quickly over to my eight-year-old granddaughter and the little boy she collided with. He was crying. My granddaughter was shocked but unhurt. The boy looked to be about four-years-old. He wasn’t bleeding so I relaxed a little.
We were in one of those kiddie-climbing gyms that are very popular these days. They are childhood fantasyland – a place to climb, slide, jump, and scream in delight. It is a shock to the senses for adults, but the payoff is that parents can bring their laptop and work while their children play - if they can tolerate the noise level.
The screams of joy and abandon rise up to the three-story ceiling where the kids climb up stairways covered in padding in bright primary colors that have netting on both sides. Then they then slide down on one of a variety of slides. Or they can stay up top and pummel the kids below with multi-colored soft foam balls. It is perfectly safe fun but no one can prevent collisions of the kind my granddaughter and the other child got into.
Both of us comforted the boy, but he continued to cry. He directed us to his daddy and we both expressed regret to him and my granddaughter apologized profusely. It wasn’t all her fault, but she felt bad because she was so much bigger than the boy.
I was greatly relieved when the boy’s father remained calm, listened to both of us and understood that no harm was meant to his son. My granddaughter still felt terrible so we sat together for a while until she was ready to get up and run around again.
About ten minutes later the boy and his father approached my granddaughter and I joined them. The father said the boy was sorry too and the look on his little face told me that he and his dad had had a talk. The boy accepted responsibility for his part in the collision and apologized too, thus relieving my granddaughter of some guilt.
But the drama was not over. My granddaughter had a piece of costume jewelry, a pendant about the size of a quarter with a greenish stone. It was very special to her and I suggested that she take it off when playing but she insisted on wearing it and I didn’t argue.
She came up to me with tears in her eyes and said the pendant was missing. “Damn,” I said to myself. We looked and looked and asked the attendants if it had been turned in. One told me that a lot of children just keep items like that.
My granddaughter had made a friend, who helped look, as did her grandpa and me. But there was no way either my husband or I could climb up those padded steps that were designed for little feet and supple bodies, not the creaky bodies of grandparents who are approaching age seventy.
Then I saw the father of the boy who had collided with my granddaughter, entering the climbing cage, looking for the pendant. He was at least forty years younger than us and I was so grateful that he could see our predicament and was moved to help.
Someone actually turned in the pendant and my granddaughter was delighted. It seems practically everyone in the place was looking for it and someone found it in the bouncy house. We had found the proverbial needle in a haystack.
The boy’s father and I guided two children through a mishap with mutual acceptance of responsibility and civility. I was grateful to a man who could have been unpleasant about my granddaughter’s collision with his son, but taught him to be kind instead. Then he went above and beyond to help us out when he saw we needed it.
So why is this story appearing on the OP/ED page of this newspaper? In this time of deep dissension, raging insensitivity and incivility, it is worth mentioning. We Americans must remind ourselves that these encounters happen a million times a day throughout our country. This story is a pleasant reminder of what a great country we live in, filled with people of good will and warm hearts, who teach their children well.
This piece was published in the San Gabriel Tribune on May 1, 2005.
I belong to a generation of women who broke new ground. We entered law school and medical school in large numbers. We ran for office and won. We got jobs in male-dominated professions. We achieved goals our mothers dared not dream. We were proud and we were strong.
We demanded to be judged by our intellect, not our looks. We took our daughters to work and taught our sons to cook. In just one generation, many of us head corporations, serve at the highest levels of government and are well represented in the legal and medical professions. We have achieved what we set out to do.
Most often when I talk to women my age (50-somethings), we don’t talk about our achievements but about how old we look. I listen to long and loud laments about what the aging process has done to our bodies. We talk about wrinkle creams, exercises for “problem” areas and our terror at being seen in a bathing suit. It seems that as we aged, we took the focus off our brains and placed it back on our bodies – the ones we took for granted in our youth that now seem to be the centerpiece of our self-esteem.
Are we just “girls” at heart – focused first and foremost on our looks as we watch them fade and change in unflattering (we think) ways?
A woman whose son said she “looked like Grandma” was horrified. Why would she not look like her mother as she got older? And even if she did, what’s wrong with that? Had her son told his dad he “looked like Grandpa,” I suspect her husband wouldn’t have given it a second thought.
Growing older gracefully in a youth-obsessed culture could be as big a challenge for my generation of women as competing in a male-dominated world was forty years ago. In this case, we have met the enemy, and it is us. We are the ones who obsess over every pound, stare at the wrinkles, consider a facelift (or maybe just an eye tuck) and try to find clothes that will conceal the inevitable forces of gravity.
It is hard for me to believe that women who had the guts to enter a profession in which they were the only female cannot face an aging body with dignity and style.
My generation showed our daughters that they can do anything they want with their life – except grow old. That, we are teaching them, they must face with dread and shame. What a sad footnote to a brave generation of women.
We claimed the right to use our brains and to be judged by our abilities, and we succeeded. We grew in wisdom and experience as our bodies grew softer and shorter – a natural function of aging. Men are not the ones withholding from us the right to age gracefully and gratefully. The resistance comes from within, not without.
A woman I know recently received a gorgeous bouquet of red roses from her husband for her birthday. Several of us gathered to admire the beautiful bouquet. One woman asked the birthday girl how old she was. She lowered her head and whispered, “fifty-five.” Our group response: “Hey, you don’t look that old.” We quickly reassured her that she didn’t look a day over forty-five.
Never mind that she had a devoted husband, a great job, a beautiful home and three successful and happy kids. Oh, no, we all implied by our tone and our comments – you are old and that fact outweighs all the great things you have accomplished in your fifty-five years.
We have to get over this.
Let’s claim this right to grow old without apologies and regret. Let’s share the wisdom the wrinkles reveal. Let’s look as good as we can, not as young as we can. Let’s cross this self-imposed barrier with our own moxie and style.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on February 6, 2000.
I work in a family-friendly office. My fellow employees and I will stop what we are doing to admire a newborn baby, a three-year-old niece or a child home from college. We can show off our progeny with immunity.
Lucky for us, our boss knows that spending a few minutes gushing over a child is time well spent. We don’t have to hide our pride in our families because it doesn’t diminish our dedication to our work.
One day last week, a coworker walked through the office, introducing her long-lost daughter to her fellow staffers. Most of us knew the story. Our coworker had become pregnant when she was in her late teens, brought the baby to term and surrendered her daughter to an adoptive couple who raised her with love and care.
The long-lost daughter was born after Roe v Wade became the law of the land. My coworker had a choice in the matter and chose to give the crisis pregnancy an opportunity to live.
When she introduced her daughter to me, I felt pride and the mother-daughter connection, with a difference. I was well acquainted with her other daughter, born five years later within the bonds of marriage. The love was there for both girls; the connection was different.
I felt free enough to ask the mother and long-lost daughter to stand together as I observed the family resemblance. They willingly agreed and locked arms, hamming it up. There was a physical resemblance. There was a tiny link between the two but not much. After all, they were strangers.
As I watched the two women strike a pose, I tried to understand the pain my coworker must have felt as she made the decision to bear the difficult months of pregnancy, the physical agony of childbirth and the lifelong pain of separation from her child.
The two were smiling broadly as they posed for me while I looked for a family resemblance. I saw it loud and clear. The mother gave life and the daughter lived it. The mother was too young and unprepared to raise her baby, but she didn’t shy away. She did the right thing.
I’ve always known about adoption and heard numerous stories about biological parent reunions with their biological children. Until that moment I had never really stood face to face with the miracle of adoption.
Adoption takes a loss and makes it a gain. Adoption solves problems for people at opposite ends of a terrible spectrum, who may never meet, but meet each other’s needs.
A very young woman gambled and lost in her search for love. A sad and frustrated couple gambled and lost in the search for fertility. The birth mother did not let her child lose the opportunity to have a family.
That is what biological mothers and adoptive parents know when they make the precious exchange. Both have traded disillusionment for hope, despair for joy and a solution to a mutual problem.
As the long-lost daughter left the office and things returned to normal, I was left with warm and wonderful thoughts about adoption. How rare in life it is when a wrong can become a right. In the case of adoption, it can truly happen.
The birth mother can place her baby in the loving hands of a family and continue on her journey to adulthood. The adoptive parents can fill the hole in their hearts with a tiny bundle in need of love.
I cannot know the thoughts of my coworker as she went back to work after her long-lost daughter left. Surely here feelings of pride are tempered by regret, her feelings of love diminished by distance and surrender.
At the heart of it, she must know she did the right thing for her daughter’s family. She gave the most precious thing a mother can give her child, a family of her own.
Kathleen Vallee Stein