Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Daughter Marries; Long Live the Queen

Transitions… I feel as if I'm moving through a new one I hadn't considered before.
Last week, my "baby" --the youngest of my three daughters -- got married, following in her sisters' footsteps. It was a moment we had long anticipated, encouraged, hoped for, and-- finally-- celebrated.

Yay!  And yet….

While I might have been kidding myself to think that I was her confidante and adviser-in-all-things-about-life, I now suddenly realize that she has moved on to someone who can do it better and longer. If, God willing, the course of life proceeds as it should, he will be there for her when I am not.

It is a joyful, yet sobering passage. It's one thing to "retire" from a longtime career and plunge into the "next great thing," with expectations of many years of fulfillment ahead. It's another to warily eye the future and know that those years are becoming fewer. 

As my mother used to say, “You laugh with one eye and cry with the other.”

There’s a tradition, I’m told, of crowning the mother when her last child is married. Does it celebrate the ascendance, finally, to a place of governance and wisdom? Or does it mark some brilliance in the accomplishment of marrying off all the daughters?  Or is it more like that old TV show, “Queen for a Day,” where typically the woman who was crowned and showered with prizes was living a hard-luck life. (Now, realize, that I love my daughters, but raising them has not come totally free of angst and worry.) Here’s another old saying: “You’re only as happy as your saddest child.” I’ve had a few(fortunately, very few) sad days.

At the moment, though, with the newlyweds on their honeymoon, and the other daughters deep into their marriages, careers and  children of their own, I am free to walk my kingdom – or queendom – in whatever direction I wish to go, for as long as I am able.  The umbilical cord is cut.

Well, knowing me, I should qualify that.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Polio: A Journalist's Frustration; The World's Failure

Polio leaves victims as beggars. Photo by Peter Tobia
As a journalism student, I once heard a former newspaper editor talk about his frustration that after many years of exposes, hammering at corruption and social ills, the same problems continued. And so, when that "been there, done that" feeling swept over me.  I knew it was time for me to leave daily journalism as well.
The issue of eradicating polio is one of those that I helped to champion. The world thought it was near the brink of success back in 1999.  That didn't happen but -- good news -- as I reported recently in writing about former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's crusade to do the right thing -- the United Nations declared polio vanquished in India just in March.
Now, though, we are back to the past. Today, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency around polio. Fifteen years after India was thought to be the last holdout of the virus, polio  is now found in 10 countries. Pakistan, where health workers doing rural vaccinations have been murdered, is a particular hotspot. Of the 74 cases of polio reported globally so far this year, 59 have been in Pakistan. Syria and Cameroon are also high on the list. A total of 417 cases were reported overall last year.
Lest we forget what polio looks like and the horrendous toll it takes, here are photos taken by Peter Tobia, when he worked with Huntly Collins on a series I edited for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The project took them to India to document efforts to finally wipe the scourge from the planet. Maybe some day….

By the way, Huntly reflected on her own transition on leaving the Inquirer here.

And you can read the polio series she wrote here: 


Sunday, May 4, 2014

It's About Creating Memories

Would it be worth driving 4 1/2 hours for "Grandparents Day" at our granddaughter's school?  Last year, our daughter told us not to make the journey, thinking that the event would be no big deal. But Talia, then a first grader, was disappointed when we didn't show up. So last Friday, we made the trek, getting up at dawn to arrive in time.
The day underscored the impact that a "special elder" or grandparent can have on a child. Something I hadn't thought much about. (Perhaps selfishly, I'd thought about it the other way around-- the joy I got out of a grandchild.)
The kids had all written essays and drawn pictures, reflecting on why their grandparents were important to them. The school's principal summarized for us the themes that had emerged:
Memories are etched in the the children's minds of plaees and activities spent with 'special elders' -- "being in the kitchen with grandma when we bake cookies;" "the stream where I go fishing with grandpa;" "playing cards with Poppop in the dining room." And then there are the trips -- whether to exotic locations or just to the city.
Things like that.
But most important, the principal said, were  the stories that grandparents tell -- the family narrative. Coming to America. Surviving hard times. Giving children the sense of where they came from and the challenges that their ancestors faced and surmounted.
"Research shows," he said, that children who have a family narrative do better than children who don't."
A former student at this school was so touched by Grandparents Day, that when she grew up, she gave the school a sizable gift to support the day, with lunch, refreshments, but most importantly, an artist in residence, who works with the children on poetry and dance for a performance.
The theme last Friday was "migration." Butterflies may have been what the children depicted in clever choreography and costumes. But the "special elders" knew that a migration of generations was in progress.
While each of us grandparents had received the gift of an enduring memory of this day, we are creating for our grandchildren memories that will endure long after us.