Archive for the 'childhood' Category

The wisdom of Peaches

August 16, 2015

“Peaches” is capitalized in the title to this post because it refers to the nickname of a person who lived next door to me while we were growing up.  I referred to her in a news comment I made on the PBS NewsHour website, regarding the announced arrangements between HBO and Sesame Street.  She’s the person who told me that my family’s TV didn’t [receive the signal for] the Flintstones.  She wanted to discuss an episode she had recently seen, I hadn’t seen it, and my explanation that I just didn’t watch the show was not accepted.

I want to note that we were little kids at the time, I want to say 4 or 5 years old, we were washing our hands in my family’s upstairs bathroom sink at the time.  Part of why, I think, I remember the conversation so clearly was that I really puzzled over what she had said, because I considered that maybe she knew something I didn’t know, because her father worked for NBC.

This was in the 1960s, so Peaches’ explanation was factually incorrect.  My point in my news comment was what was then charmingly wrong might now actually be unfortunately true.

This post isn’t about Peaches’ remark being somehow prescient, though.

Thinking about the Flintstones remark reminded me of something else Peaches had once corrected me about.

We had been coloring, and I think we were using something other than our usual, and inexpensive, crayons.  It could have been cray-pas — I want to say it was magic markers, but I’m not sure they were common yet for kids to have.  As Peaches was using one of the colors to fill in the background to her picture, I mentioned something about not wasting the stick or marker, and Peaches replied, “It’s not wasting it unless you throw the picture out.”

I don’t think anyone in my family ever would have said that, and I really liked not only the specific idea but also the revelation that there were different points of view and that different families might subscribe to different perspectives.

(This sense of different family traditions was reinforced by the fact that her dad had a different method for teaching kids to tie shoes from what my family was using to try to teach me.  I had a terrible time trying to learn how to tie my shoes.  Mr. N. was so kindly, with his twinkly eyes.  He told me to make two rabbit ears out of the laces and then tie them together.  I didn’t know before that that was method for tying shoes, let alone a legitimate one.  I did know that my dad always tucked his shoelace bows into the side of his shoes and that my mother didn’t, so I was aware of some differences in technique, but both my parents used the loop, wrap around, and pull through method, which required some dexterity I apparently didn’t yet have.)

I liked the idea that one might actually use resources in the present and not just practice frugality, so long as one actually used them and did not just remove them from circulation without some sort of return on the use.  Having the right to enjoy something I think was an issue in our house, on account of the Holocaust, and frugality was also an issue, probably also on account of the Holocaust, as well as on account of having had to start over in this country as a result of it, and probably also on account of the general effect on my parents’ generation of the Depression.

I think Peaches’ remark also indicated to me that I as an individual might have a right to use a resource and not save it for someone else, which, again, I don’t think was an idea circulating in the air in my family’s home as I took it in.  And yet Peaches’ sense of the rules did not dispense with the idea of waste entirely, it just changed how it was conceptualized.  So I didn’t have to feel obliged to toss out her idea on the grounds it was a product of completely undisciplined thinking.

There used to be a popular book about how we learn all we need to know in kindergarten.  I’m not sure I’d go that far, but we do learn a lot as young children.  I grew up with my family of origin, was exposed to the customs of other people’s families, and I suspect that being presented with differences between the two was helpful, not just because it gave me more resources from which to draw in life but because it showed me how contingent our ideas may be.  I think as a result I see it as a goal to try not to be too doctrinaire in general.  That may explain, in part, my eclectic approach to religion and spiritual matters, as well as to other more mundane matters.


Camp Gulliver, Pine Hill, NY

July 19, 2014

Well, who knew Gulliver was known for an SDS convention?  I don’t think I did when I went there.  I think I was 9 at the time, summer of 1967, when I went.  I was in the youngest girls’ bunk, I had an older sister, 2 older cousins, and a number of family friends’ children (also older than I) who were also there that summer.

I wonder if my father knew about the convention.  It had been held a couple of years before.  I vaguely remember that the camp had a new owner when we went, and perhaps I had a sense that the camp had been more controversial in the past.  Maybe the new ownership was part of the explanation for why we were allowed to go.  The camp song still talked about the original owner, though.

In any event, I only found out about this SDS convention business because I googled Camp Gulliver after thinking about it after I got an invitation the other day to help crowd-fund a CD project called The Pine Hill Project, which is being recorded near Pine Hill, NY, but is not named for it.

Maybe my family knew about the SDS convention — Camp Gulliver connection and I was just too young to take it in.

Here’s a picture of the main house at Gulliver:


The CD project can be found on  It sounds like it will be a great record.  Having been induced to help other people with projects under much murkier terms, I kind of enjoyed that the terms of participation are so clearly spelled out in this case.  That was part of what got me over the hump of hesitancy to engage with the technology and contribute.


Where I was

November 22, 2013

I was standing on my front lawn.  I had half-day kindergarten, so it was after I had gotten home.  I was five.

The Dugan man was delivering bread and such to each of our abutting neighbors.  When he got to Mrs. Rosenfeld’s house, she came to the door and I heard the man tell her that President Kennedy had been shot.  I went inside and told my mother.  She didn’t believe me.  She put on the radio and called Mrs. Nelle.  Eventually everyone knew.

Part of why I had President Kennedy on my radar screen as a five year old was because I had heard about the birth and then death of his infant son Patrick a few months before.  Those reports on the radio news had caught my attention.  I remember not understanding what they were saying about the equipment that was being used to care for him, and asking my parents to explain the words.  For some reason, I ended up thinking they were carrying the baby around with them, everywhere they went, in a basket.

Anyway, babies I knew about.  The Nelles had had one when I was three and I hoped we would have one, too.  The Kennedys’ experience of having a new baby was so different from the Nelles’ experience.  That gave me something to try to make sense of.

I knew that famous people died because I had heard about Pope John XXIII’s death earlier in 1963.  Something I was watching on television was interrupted by an announcement of his death.  I’ll never forget the gravity of the voice making the announcement.  I knew from the sound alone that something important had happened.

So that was my context for processing President Kennedy’s death, that was the angle from which as a child it seemed important to me, as I tried to relate to and understand news as I heard it.

Hawk feather in NJ?

August 9, 2013

A few days before I traveled down here to visit my mother, she told me, over the phone, that she had noticed a feather on the lawn next to the driveway, as she was taking in the garbage can, I think.  She had left it there.  I suggested she pick it up and take it in.  So she did.  She said it was small, white, and with black stripes.  I wondered if it could have been from a woodpecker.

She decided to put it in a little alabaster bowl in the living room.

When I got here yesterday to visit, I saw it when I took off my glasses and put them where I usually do (I belong to the put-glasses-down-only-in-one-of-two-places-or-you-may-never-find-them-again school of thought), which is on the occasional table on which the bowl sits.

The feather is short but it is wide, much too wide for a small bird.  It reminds me much more of a short hawk feather, although the bulk of the feather is whiter than I associate with hawk feathers.  The layout and outline of the horizontal stripes remind me of hawk feathers.

There’s an old family story about my mother sort of talking out loud to herself, but also to my sister, when mysister was about two years old, about a bird it the backyard.  My mother apparently said, “Yes, I think that’s a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, what do you think, Phyllis?”  And my sister apparently precociously remarked, “I think it’s a penguin.”  It was at that point that my startled mother realized she was in effect trying to have an adult conversation with a toddler.

I’ll do a less winsome version of that here:  I think it’s a hawk feather.

Sixth grade seating

February 28, 2013

When I was in sixth grade, my teacher kept seating me with a particular boy.  The boy had been held back from the year before, but he didn’t seem to have obvious difficulty learning.  I thought he might have been out sick or something.

Well, we all used to look forward to having the seating plan changed every month.  There was some excitement to all the moving around and getting to know other kids and having new people to chat with or pass notes to easily.

So the third time in a row Miss Robbins sat me next to this same boy, I kind of noticed.  He was shy.  We chatted a bit.  He had a heart-shaped face, straight brown hair, he dressed a little more formally than most kids, as I recall.

Then one day he showed me the scars on his wrists and told me he had walked through a glass porch door.  I accepted what he said, even if it didn’t make much sense to me even then.

Eventually at some point during the school year I got a different seat mate, although I think the boy and I got paired up again later in the year.

It reminded me of how my piano teacher used to open up to me about her problems when I was seven, write me letters even over the summer when I didn’t have lessons.

I am not sure what I did for these people as a child.  I was not aware of doing anything in particular other than just being me.  My mother sometimes thought people were crossing lines with me, and I quit taking piano lessons from a different teacher when I was fourteen because the man held my hand too long after he cut my finger nails or showed me some approach to attacking the keys.  I was never sure what that was about, but he, a single, middle-aged gentlemanly man at the time, got married the next year.  I missed seeing his father’s huge paintings in his house, and he had some lovely pianos, too.

Anyway, as I child I was aware of being taken as some sort of trusted confidant, some sort of emotional bulwark.  Gita has tried to explain to me what it is I am doing, or how I present, that people are responding to, but I can’t say I get what it is even when she explains it.

When I try to see my life as a unified whole, and to find a common thread running back to childhood from what I do now, I guess that would have to be it — this way people respond to me, and the way my experience of whatever it is I am doing is quite different from theirs.

Shutting down

January 26, 2013

I’m a little familiar with how a person approaching death may stop eating and drinking as the body goes through a process of shutting down.  My dad is going through that now, and home hospice nursing is supposed to begin for him this weekend, now that he’s agreed to it.

For him I saw the shutting down process begin earlier.  I had sent him a couple of books for his (88th) birthday, including one about Senator Mitch McConnell.  (He’s a fan, he thinks the senator is smart and clever and he agrees with at least some of his positions.)  He didn’t have time to read it between hospitalizations.  I had thought I was saving him a trip to his local library, because he’s been a regular there to check out books, but he had too many things to do to read the book.  And by the time I got there last week and he came home again from the hospital, he wasn’t up to it.

But he did read the newspapers on Saturday and Sunday.  By Monday or Tuesday he wasn’t even able to do that, and I knew he was reaching a point of fairly rapid decline.

He didn’t want me to leave and I wished I had some other way of handling all my responsibilities.  I had lobbied my parents to move closer after Willy’s death, but we were no competition for the New York Metropolitan Opera.

To be fair, I think my father gets out of opera performances what others get out of religious services.  So he would have been leaving his source of sustenance.

But I couldn’t, and can’t, pick up that slack, eliminate that 210 mile distance.

I’ll go back soon, I don’t know whether he will still be alive.  He wanted to know when I’d be back and I told him I wasn’t sure, that I would play it by ear.

For now I’m trying to listen, and to do what I need to do here before I can leave again.

In some ways I found listening while I was down there easier.  Things fell into place more easily than they had any right to.  Except for the day we spent obtaining a pain medication prescription for my dad.  But another day I knew somehow to bring with me the papers that needed a notarized signature when I took my mom to register with a pharmacy that makes home deliveries, even though it was the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and so many places (like banks) were closed.  And there on the pharmacy door it said “notary public.”  Stuff like that.

So now I’m here, he’s shutting down there.

Right before I left, I asked him if I could kiss him on the head, and he said, “No,”  with his usual dismissiveness.  So I stroked his nose, which was something I did as a child when I sat in his lap.  (He had thought it was because I thought he had a big nose, but it wasn’t — I just liked his nose.)  So he put up with the intimacy of my stroking his nose this time, too — I think he knew there was an element of teasing but also love in the gesture.

I ended up sleeping on the floor the last night I was there.  (The live-in help I had helped arrange for was in the guest room I had been using previously.)  It felt like what I call “old karma.”  I just play it out, like reading a music score and singing it at sight.  This not being there now feels like old karma, too.  At least there’s nursing and household help at this point.

For me there is clearly a challenge in figuring out what to do, what I can do, what I can’t do even though I would like to.  It’s a lesson to learn that I can’t always mitigate the consequences of other people’s decisions.



Flying leaves

September 25, 2012

Shortly after I wrote the post “Against the grain” this morning, in which I mention aeronautics, lift, and leaps, I was staring out my window while brushing out my hair, and I saw two yellow leaves swirling upwards above the telephone and electrical wires outside.  For a moment I wondered if they were butterflies, because they were definitely and firmly going UP, but no, I think they were leaves from the tree next door.  Bright golden yellow.

In addition to the synchronicity of sorts, I had to laugh, because when I was quite young, a preschooler, I had what my family seemed to think was an imaginary friend, and I referred to him as “The Man on the Flying Leaf.”  I said he spoke to me in “Milk-bottle Language.”  My family derided the whole thing, and at some point it stopped.  So I liked the leaves swirling upwards this morning, as a symbol of faith, and also because I like the idea that it would be wrapped up with my Man on the Flying Leaf imagery.

Teddy bear picnic

September 15, 2012

At some point some years ago I sewed a teddy bear from a kit.  It felt as if I was sewing it for someone who had always wanted one, maybe even been promised one, and I did it despite my discomfort — my sewing skills don’t always meet my standards and I struggle not to become a perfectionist about it and to try to relax into the process.

Today I saw an ad that included a view of small low table set with a tea set and a statue of the Buddha.  There were cushions on the floor, one on each of the four sides of the table.  The Buddha was seated, and the way the photo was taken, it looked as if the Buddha were seated at the table as a guest, as if it was a tea party such as a child might have with her teddy bears but with the Buddha instead.

Yesterday I came across a teddy bear kit in the 5 & 10 while I was shopping there for something else.

I think maybe we’re like children in our efforts to relate to the divine within us.  We stitch a teddy bear form to embody our notion of the divine, in order to relate more easily to it, and then we make a tea party for it.  We could put real tea in the pot, water, or just imagine the cups as full.  But inviting in the divine to join us and being a hostess to it, that emotional process I think is key.

I think such a tea party on our part is a reflection of how the divine has invited us to a tea party itself.

People who don’t share well with others

September 12, 2012

My current working hypothesis is that people who don’t share well with others are overrepresented in the Republican Party and among conservatives.  (I see it reflected in both their domestic and foreign policies, for example, in their antipathy towards pooling through Medicare or in their insistence on US global hegemony.)  I think people with this tendency flock together, seek out one another’s company, and reinforce one another’s desire to believe this is acceptable, helpful, normal, not something that they need to work on and change.

It wasn’t a trait that was okay in nursery school, why then do some people think it’s okay for adults?

Shattering falls

August 14, 2012

I was reading a Richard Rohr Daily Meditation, and I was struck by something he said about needing to let our children fall in order to allow them to find their balance.

In large measure I agree, but I think the universe is a little more complicated than that.  I think just as we realize that young children will be harmed by having sex before they are ready, some falls will wreak havoc on a person of whatever age if they are not sufficiently developed spiritually for the challenge.

It happens, people occasionally do experience falls that not only open up their ego structures but go much further and shatter their souls.  Shamans and others who engage in soul retrieval can testify that while it’s not the end of the world and healing is always possible, redressing this kind of situation is not easy or a matter of the person just getting back up on their own.