This piece was was published in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on June13, 2002.
“I did it, Mom, I’m married,” my normally reticent son was uncharacteristically buoyant.
He called me on his new bride’s cell phone from the courthouse in Manhattan, minutes
after the ceremony, on August 28, 2001. It was sudden, it was unexpected, it was a
As I spoke to him I recalled many moments from my son’s childhood – times we were linked by understanding, not by words. I remembered the time he got lost, at age six,
just three days after we moved to Los Angeles. I had not yet taught him his new address and phone number. The Missing Children Unit of the LAPD went looking for him. I was scared out of my mind, but on an intuitive level knew he was okay.
He didn’t learn to walk, he ran. The trips to the emergency room grew less frequent
as I learned to cope. I didn’t flinch as I watched him jump gracefully from trees and walls. He always landed on his feet. He fought forest fires with the National Forest Service,
departed for Australia with the California Conservation Corps and then moved to New
I watched with fascination and anticipation, not worry and regret. The lesson I learned
early on has served me well; it doesn’t pay to be a worry-wart mom.
Maybe it’s because I married on short notice at the courthouse thirty six years ago, or
maybe it’s because we are a very independent family, but I felt nothing but happiness
for my son and his bride. His sister, who stood up for him at the ceremony, got on the
phone and described the joyous day in her inimitable style.
“Mom, the bride threw the bouquet at me and it bounced off my chest like a boomerang,
so she tied it to my wrist with a ribbon.” Everyone was having fun, everyone was happy.
No one caused a scene, made a pass at the maid-of-honor, or otherwise spoiled a
Our daughter served as best man and sister all in one. The best man idea was
tongue-in-cheek, perfectly in keeping with a wedding free from convention, planning and
Having children of marriageable age, I see how families handle marrying off their kids.
I’m glad my son opted for the impromptu approach. I’ve attended weddings that cost as
much as a down-payment on a house. Invariably, tension permeated the proceedings.
The celebration of love and the age-old words of promise belong in the mouths of the
young lovers who speak them and shouldn’t be controlled by the old folks, hovering
around and complicating matters.
Invariably at the big extravaganzas, orchestrated and financed by the parents, there
are tales of mothers threatening to boycott the wedding the night before, drunken
revelers who wreak havoc, brides and grooms lost in the shuffle and stretched to the breaking point.
As I spread the happy news to my relatives and friends, most of them asked why I was
not distraught because I wasn’t there for the ceremony. They may think I am a mother
who doesn’t care about weddings and tradition and all that jazz. Perhaps they are right.
I accept my eccentric son, with his sudden decisions and his stress seeking nature.
This decision, I strongly suspect, was the best of the best. His sister sent photos galore
of the happy occasion via e-mail later that day.
She had shots of the bride and groom heading for the courthouse on the subway. At the
courthouse, the wedding party posed outside the chapel, all of them under the age of
thirty. The bride and groom posed on a bright summer morning outside the courthouse,
beginning their married life with an abundance of youthful optimism.
My son has run headlong into what life has to offer for all of his twenty-five years.
This new adventure holds the promise of commitment and growth, fun and adventure.
I wish my son and his new wife well on their mutual journey. His father and I stand well in the wings, cheering them on.
This piece was published in the Los Angeles Daily News on September 9, 1995.
(my very first published op/ed!)
In an extremely self-conscious age, when we measure our words with careful precision, there is a group of people who are slandered, put down and treated with disrespect by a disturbing number of Americans.
People who have never uttered the “n-word,” who are respectful of all women and have never made a disparaging remark about Latinos, Asians and Native Americans will very casually treat this group of people with callousness and disregard.
Ageism is the last prejudice we allow to be expressed unchallenged in public, and no one seems to care. I have heard outrageous and downright mean things said about senior citizens that my contemporaries chuckle at. I feel dread when I hear some of the awful things that are said about older Americans.
As Manager of the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), a program administered by the California Department of Aging, I worked very closely with elderly people for six years. My job was to train volunteers, all of whom were past the age of 65, in complex Medicare and related health insurance issues. The twenty-four hour training was followed by a ten-page written exam and an oral exam.
Even thought the volunteers were not being paid, they were very serious students who often surprised me with their ability to absorb information that left twenty-something staff trainees at a loss.
The longer I worked with seniors, the more perplexing I found the attitude held by my fellow baby boomers, and younger people, toward their elders.
Is the generation who trusted no one over the age of 30 in the ’60’s now ridiculing anyone over the age of 60 in the ’90’s? Is this the legacy of disrespect of an ungrateful generation?
I feel embarrassed when I think of my fellow boomers, in the throes of aging themselves, tossing aside the men and women who survived the Great Depression, fought in World War II, and raised the best fed, best educated, and most spoiled generation in the history of the United States.
I find the issues of aging to be of vital interest to all Americans. Yet when I told people what I did for a living, I was invariably greeted by a yawn. No one wants to think about the issues of aging and, in a youth-worshiping society, people ignore them.
As I recall the thousands of hours I spent in the company of elderly Americans, I am left with a feeling of pride, respect and even reverence. Their wisdom, their compassion and, yes, their grouchiness taught me a great deal about survival.
They should be our role models. Yet we put ourselves on a weight-loss program, color our hair, buy bifocals without lines and chase after an unattainable youthful ideal based solely on physical characteristics.
On a recent rip to a bookstore to pick up some summer reading I surveyed the autobiography section. I was disheartened to see books written by people in their thirties. I shudder to think of the loss this generation will eventually feel when they realize the great treasure they tossed aside in favor of reading about how a television actress dealt with the terrible dilemma of her series being cancelled.
I know there was a time when our nation’s elders were treated with respect and were allowed to live in dignity. That time has passed. We now live in a culture that disposes of things as well as people. The values held by a hard-working generation of people who worked together to raise their families, paid their taxes, and then retired, are now held in low regard.
The next time you hear someone joke about an old geezer, stop and consider the source of the humor. If you find yourself listening to an old person who is repeating himself, try to hear what new thing he is saying. When you feel impatient at the slowness of an elderly person who is ahead of you in line, think of the miles he has traveled.
Although conversing with an elderly person is not as entertaining as television, it may be ultimately more rewarding, for both of you.
This piece was published in the San Gabriel Tribune on May 4, 2003.
My 16-year-old daughter sat crumpled on the floor and my heart broke. She had applied to two summer art programs and just received a letter informing her that she was not accepted to the one she thought she would be accepted into.
The statewide program accepted one thousand applicants. The other one (all expenses paid) private program accepted fifty. As she read the “reject” letter, in her adolescent imagination, all hope was lost.
Parents begin to help children learn about disappointment when their offspring take their first wobbly steps into the world.
A great training ground is the checkout line at the grocery store. As harried parents load milk and bread on the conveyer belt, their children beg for bags of chips and candy bars that are conveniently placed at kids’ eye level.
When I see a mom say “no” in a tone that does not welcome debate, I see a parent who is teaching her children that they can’t always get what they want. I also see parents toss a bag of chips in the cart just to get their howling toddler to shut up. Both parent and child will pay a high price for that moment of peace in the future.
When children are small, it is the parent who pretty much controls their disappointment. If parents take care to ensure that their children will accept (without a temper tantrum) that they won’t get a computer app, or won’t be able to stay up to see a television show, they will be able to help them when bigger challenges arise.
By the time my daughter sustained the blow of the rejection letter, she had put back many bags of chips and tearfully returned countless candy bars to the display case. On that sad day, I pulled my daughter up from the floor and took her to her favorite restaurant for dinner.
As I watched her eat, I remembered a moment when she was three-years-old and returned home from pre-school in a huff. “Mommy, why didn’t you tell me it was going to rain?” she demanded. At that young age she believed I was omnipotent and controlled the world. I gently explained that, although I did my best to look out for her, I didn’t control the weather.
During dinner, her father and I talked about the disappointments we suffered. I told her my sister didn’t ask me to be her bridesmaid (even though I had asked her to be mine). I was asked by my roommates in the dorm at college to move out so they could have the girl they wanted, who was from their hometown, move in.
Her father felt bad that he was never accepted to a sports team. The girl he was going to ask to the prom went with his best friend instead.
“I was disappointed when I was born and found out you were my sister,” said my son. “That goes double for me,” my daughter shot back. Her attack on the brotherly dig seemed to cheer her up.
A couple of weeks later, another letter arrived. “I’m in!” my daughter screamed. “I’m going to Colorado!” I hollered with my own delight, grateful that the admissions committee recognized my daughter’s potential.
Many parents and their children anxiously await admission letters. Parents stand by and hope their children will achieve their dreams. Happy celebrations and hearty congratulations are desired, of course, but disappointment must be carefully navigated – with parents at the helm. Stay close and share you wisdom and your pain, and assurance that victory (just not this time) is at hand.
Kathleen Vallee Stein