Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Snatching Grandchildren -- One at a Time

When my husband and I had young children and were desperate for a break, we could never turn to my parents to babysit.  True, they lived two hours away so it wasn't as if they could just pop on over. But that was about their only excuse.  They had the time and the energy. But babysitting was not their thing.
Much as we yearned for their help from time to time, in one major way,  they made up for it.  When each of their grandchildren turned 10, they took them on a ski trip for a week. The child  would miss a week of school, since their spring break  never landed in  mid march, when the snow was still good and the weather mild.  That's when my parents liked to ski.
More important than the good table manners they learned, more important than the excitement of seeing new places,. More important than nailing ski techniques that would endure a lifetime,  the experience created an indelible bond between each child and Grandma Connie and Grandpa George.
And so, my husband and I decided we would keep the tradition.

We are in the midst  of a ski week with our eldest grandchild, even sharing a hotel room with little privacy. And it is everything we had imagined: a curious, exuberant child, enjoying adventure and happy to be sharing it with us.
Missing is the parental dynamic, one reason George and Connie took the grandchildren -- without us, the parents.
Add in the absence of sibling rivalry -- because there is no sibling there --and you have the makings of a really wonderful vacation.  He wants an extra dessert? Fine with us.  Doesn't want to write in a journal -- his homework --  Oh, well!  We can bend rules in ways that parents can't.
Also, we can foster independence. He's not tied to our umbilical cord. So he's got his own room key.  And if he doesn't eat much breakfast, that will be his problem, not ours.
Such are the joys of grandparenting!  My parents had it all worked out.
A week, of course, will be enough.

Monday, March 17, 2014

On Wings of Worry

I find myself thinking almost constantly about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. How is it that, in this age when every email can be read, we cannot find a plane with some 250 people aboard?
How is it that there are parts of the world with almost no people, not to mention no radar?
I think of the Chinese artists who were aboard, particularly those six who in the last hours got their flight switched so they could travel to Shanghai rather than Beijing. Why did they get to survive? Do they have survivor's guilt?
And what has happened to their colleagues? 
What of the woman, interviewed by the Wall St. Journal, who called her partner to-be in Malaysia and reminded him that his flight was that night and he should rush to catch it. He was flying to Beijing to help her move to Kuala Lumpur to be with him. Her grief and worry and self-questioning is unimaginable. And the belated honeymooners, just getting over the wife's miscarriage and so looking forward to a break?
Was there a struggle aboard, akin to the 2001 United Airlines flight that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania?
Or was everyone sleeping as the plane kept flying, flying. Did someone notice that the sunrise wasn't in the right direction? Or that the plane was taking longer than it should have?
Such questions have tormented those who speculate on the fate of  Amelia Earhart. But she was a solo flyer, responsible for just herself
If a pilot, in this case, was responsible, how could he take so many others with him? What was he thinking?
Most of us have the luxury of time to plan for our departures from this planet and our loved ones -- the time to write wills, label our possessions for this child or grandchild, write the "provenance" so they can be smart when they go on Antiques Roadshow, write our stories, say goodbye,
My mother even Xeroxed all her jewelry, circling each item and noting who should get what. There were no fights. And we appreciated her prescience.
But do most of us do so? Or are we perpetually convinced that the time is not now.
I pray that some crazed email will emerge, announcing a ransom for survivors on a remote island.  
So that I don't have to worry about those close to me. Or about myself.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

'Pleasers' vs 'Doormats': Getting to 'No.'

Recently, I said “no.”
That might sound like a simple thing. Something any two-year-old can do. Indeed, loves to do.
But when asked to take on a project I had done before – and enjoyed doing – I said “no.”
I had rehearsed it. I tried to ease the aggravation, if not pain, I thought I was delivering by offering to find someone else to do the job. And I apologized. Several times.
I am determined to set priorities -- something that is hard to do at this seemingly open-opportunity stage of life.
Even if it lets others down.
This morning I got some insight into why saying 'no' was so difficult  – and some coaching for the future.
A story in the Wall St. Journal looks at research around the issue of saying no. It turns out I’m either a “pleaser” or a “doormat.” Or maybe both.
Pleasers “hate to let others down.” While doormats “are conflict averse.” Two reasons why people end up saying “yes” to things they really don’t want to do.
It’s a social animal thing. “One of our most fundamental needs is for social connection and a feeling that we belong,” says Vanessa Bohns, who teaches management sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. Bohns, in a study, showed that people will agree to deface books –a request requiring them to cross an ethical boundary – rather than violate their social ties. 
Why say no? To protect your priorities; to protect your ethical standards and not cave to peer pressure; and simply because you just don’t want to do it.
One woman asks herself, “Will this bring me joy?...I am aware that I have only so much energy and time, so I treat them like money and invest them wisely.”
How to say no? First, realize that the recipient of the “no” won’t take it as badly as you imagine.
If the request comes as a surprise, have in your arsenal a phrase like, “Let me think it over. I’ll get back to you.” Then contemplate the request when the sense of guilt has stopped washing over you.
If the request is something you’re expecting, rehearse it. Over and over. Then when the request comes, say no politely. And if you must, repeat it again. And again. (Ever hear this? “Some people just won’t take no for an answer.”)
And don’t give them an opening for hope, as I did when I said no.
As in, “Ask me again next year. I might be able to do it.”

Monday, March 3, 2014

Writer Roger Angell: Telling it Like it Is

Roger Angell last month. --Brigitte Lacombe
At age 93, Roger Angell offers a portrait of himself in a recent New Yorker that rivals the poignancy of a Rembrandt but in words.
It is not a destination that many of us, just leaving careers or contemplating doing so, want to think about. With all this longevity we’ve come to expect, the world of Angell would seem decades away. Not anything we want to contemplate as we spin at the gym, travel the world or plunge into new challenges.
Yet Angell remains an extraordinary writer and he charms us into his world, even as we struggle not to know what it will be like.
He’s had heart surgeries, suffers knee and back problems and uses a cane; he forgets names, misses pets and people he has loved; and there’s more he’s lost.  Yet he remains resolutely optimistic and grateful. And he plows ahead with an unremitting sense of humor, even a dark humor. Maybe that’s what we really need to work on more than weight lifting and Lumosity.
“I’m ninety-three, and I’m feeling great. Well, pretty great, unless I’ve forgotten to take a couple Tylenols in the past four or five hours, in which case I’ve begun to feel some jagged little pains…”
“I’ve endured a few knocks but missed worse. I know how lucky I am, and secretly tap wood, greet the day, and grab sneaky pleasure from my survival at long odds.”
“I am a world-class complainer but find palpable joy arriving with my evening Dewar’s.”
On the other hand, as he plies us with quips and smiles, he spoon feeds us the unwanted tastes of our future. For one: How to keep on going on when our loved ones depart this world?
“A few notes about age is my aim here, but a little more about loss is inevitable,” Angell writes.
“We geezers carry about a bulging directory of dead husbands or wives, children parents, lovers, brothers and sisters, dentists and shrinks, office sidekicks, summer neighbors, classmates, and bosses, all once entirely familiar to us and seen as part of the safe landscape of the day. It’s no wonder we’re a bit bent. The surprise, for me, is that the accruing weight of these departures doesn’t bury us, and that even the pain of an almost unbearable loss gives way quite quickly to something more distant but still stubbornly gleaming. The dead have departed, but gestures and glances and tones of voice of theirs, even scraps of clothing… reappear unexpectedly…”
And then there’s the part about a yearning for intimacy.
You owe it to yourself to read his entire essay.
Then pray that you have a few ounces of Angell’s wit and wisdom – and sense of humor – if you get to where he is.
Meanwhile, (if you’re a guy, anyway), Angell reminds us of Walter Cronkite’s “rules for old men which he did not deliver over the air:
 Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never ignore an erection.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Toba's Tale -- Stories Aching to be Told

"Toba" in Budapest, 1946
Legacy. What stories do we leave our children and grandchildren and the generations we will never know? For as much as our genetics may play a role in their future, what about the courage and the spirit they have also inherited? What of battles fought and won by their ancestors? Loves lost or lasting? How do we make sure they know their family’s narrative?  

A book landed in the mail the other day that prodded me, that reminded me, that recording my family’s history, passing on the stories I heard as a child, is on my to-do list. It’s hard. I keep putting it off. Maybe because I don’t want to accept that some day I’ll be too feeble or senile to take on the task. But if not now, when?

The book sent to me last week by a federal judge –the story of her mother – is an emotional reminder of why, some day soon, I must start writing for my children.
Every single person I’ve ever met who survived the Holocaust –including my own parents -- has a miracle story to tell. That’s the only way anyone escaped. It wasn’t like you could just walk out of Europe. You needed luck. And you needed a determination to take action. As my father always said, “Opportunity is everywhere. You just have to grab it.”
The story of Terry Goldstein Herskovits is that kind of story. When opportunity arose, even in the midst of bad luck, she grabbed it.
 Once a flower, Always a Flower will never make the best seller list. It’s a read-in-a-night memoir. A legacy for her family. Importantly, though, it is yet another entry into the indisputable record of this unbelievable period of history. 

In brief: Terry, a 14-year-old Hungarian girl, from an impoverished rural family, makes her way to Budapest in 1939, with no job, no resources. On day two, she overhears a woman – Gizi --  in a market complaining of her need for a seamstress. Terry (then "Toba"), with virtually no sewing experience, convinces Gizi to take her on. By 1944, when the Nazis begin deporting Hungarian Jews, including Terry’s parents and siblings, the two have formed a mother-daughter relationship. They rip off their yellow stars and hide in a tiny farmhouse attic for six months. No bathroom. No activity. Excruciating heat. Food secretly passed up by the Christian farmer.
But then they are discovered and sent to the ghetto that has been built in Budapest, awaiting transport to death camps. And here comes luck: as Terry is herded onto a human cattle car, a Hungarian guard, struck by her beauty, “threw me down from the train, muttering something like ‘it’s a shame.’” Finding her way back to Budapest, she goes to the Swedish Embassy where Raoul Wallenberg is giving Jews the lifeline of papers. The line is long. “I had chutzpah!” Terry writes. “I maneuvered to the front of the line.” She gets papers for herself and Gizi to remain in a safe house.
After the Russians “liberate” Hungary, she miraculously escapes a group of drunken Russian soldiers intent on raping her; marries, has two children and tries, in 1950, to sneak out of Hungary but their transport guide betrays them to the Russians and her husband is shot to death; she is jailed in a cell shared by 28 others while her children are raised by Gizi; after three years, she is finally freed, remarries, and in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 successfully gets across the border with her husband and children. They make a life for themselves in New Jersey.
It’s a movie script. Except it really happened. Telling the story with her mother is Judy Wizmur, the daughter who was only a year old when her mother was jailed and just seven when the family finally escaped Communist rule.
Now a federal bankruptcy judge, Judge Wizmur writes:
By sharing her stories with me from the time I was young, my mother gave me another very special gift. She gave me a unique perspective on life – the gift of understanding that the ups and downs of daily life are relatively inconsequential….I have tried to measure the difficulties I occasionally encounter against the courage, endurance, grit and determination shown by my mother as she experienced the extraordinary events of her life.”
Recently, at a meeting of our Project Renewment group, where women discuss their issues of transition out of careers, Judge Judy talked about her goals when she retires in May. Among them is spending more time with her mother, who turns 90 in December.
I now understand why.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Finding Love When You Least Expect It

Love stories. Yes, a few have appeared on these pages. Especially that of Nancy Lynn and Hal Kessler, whom I interviewed for Valentine’s Day two years ago. Their late love blossomed after a chance encounter at a supermarket – he had been her high school teacher. Fifty years before.

Hal and Nancy's Florida toast, 2013
Of course there was no hanky panky between them way back then. But some latent chemistry eventually brought them together.  Nancy recently wrote me to say that she thinks of me each Valentine’s Day, as I do of them.  They are still together, planning another vacation in Florida.

On Valentine’s Day, it's worthwhile re-reading Sue Carson's story about her relationship with her mother and how, in the end, she learned to love her. "I decided at that moment that I was going to really work at opening up to love,’’ she told me. "I decided I would be a more loving, devoted person, particularly to [my husband] John.  Because I realize he’s my core. He’s who I’m with.  If I can love him more, that’s the place to begin. Some days are easier than others. Some days are hard. But there’s this huge change and shift in my relationship with him." 

Let me end this Valentine’s post with another love story.
In 2012, I reconnected (through my college class reunion) with Becky Burckmyer, who lost the love of her life to death. And then, by trying to heal herself and save her grand old shore home, she opened a Bed and Breakfast that quickly got rave reviews.
And then, doing what she loved, she found love. A longtime friend turned into something more.
“Bobby and I,” she wrote me last week, “are still very much an item: he is living with me in Marblehead now. In March, we rent an apartment in Andover while he coaches crew for three months, then we move to his house in Chatham for the summer and rather than doing B and B, I rent my house, furnished, by the month, for an outrageous price. I just couldn't keep up the work with the B and B--it was doing very well but I was exhausted.
Also a strain on the love affair.”

Thanks to everyone who is reading UnRetiring.  I’ve surpassed 50,000 hits.
 I love having followers who think I have something worthwhile to say.  If you have a love story to  share, please do!!

And to my Larry….I love you!