Saturday, August 29, 2009

The comforts of a large Irish Catholic Family

I watched the memorial mass this morning for Senator Ted Kennedy. Although I do not attend Sunday Mass on a regular basis anymore - I made an attempt last spring during Lent - will try again in the Fall - I was moved by the traditions and found myself silently praying along with the numerous celebrants on the altar. The eulogies were moving - especially from Teddy, Jr and President Obama - but it was the numerous shots of the Kennedy family in the pews that really brought home the joys and comfort of belonging to such a large family. You just knew that they had each other to hold each other up and to celebrate a long, well-lived life. I come from a family of five - three children, two parents. My parents - born and rasied in Ireland - came from large families - my mom was the oldest of twelve and my dad was one of five. I still remember the stories my mom told of growing up - one bed for four girls - and the inevitable fight about who would get stuck laying at their sisters feet! My father told us about his youngest brother - who, on a Saturday night before a dance, would stick his finger into the cold ashes of the fire and brush his teeth with the soot to make them white! They never spoke aloud of the poverty and the cold, damp nights - just what they had to do to make it through the day. Walking miles to school, working on the farm or in the tailor shop - you did what you had to do. My parents married in Ireland but soon moved to the States. Some of their siblings came over also so they could retain their bonds - but more stayed "home" - so bonds and connections were weakened. A trip out to the airport was always a joyous occasion to greet an arriving relative - but devastatingly sad on the return trip - for it was always the unspoken truth hanging in the air - is this the last time we will see granny/auntie alive? My parents had a relatively small family in large part because they had already helped raise their own brothers and sisters and for economic reasons - it was a tough go for them to make it here with little education. But they did and got to live the American dream. It is much harder today to have a large family - unless you have a TV show - due to economic reasons and with both parents working outside the home. Today's families - large or small - blood relatives or close friends - are a source of comfort when we need them most - to say goodbye.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Is College for all kids?

It has been a week now since my son has returned to school for his sophomore year of college. He is the youngest of my three children and the one I smothered the most. (hey, I admit it) He was born with some serious health issues, endured four neurosurgeries before the age of six months, and recently had a health scare last April. Helicopter parent? Maybe. But with good reasons. I know we have given him all the advice we can- be safe-not stupid - know your limitations and, of course, remember why you are in college after all - please study! He came home freshmen year with a 2.7 G.P.A. - not the worst but certainly he could have achieved much higher. I watched my oldest daughter treat college more like high school and she also had the GPA to prove it. Now she is at home at 25, recently unemployed but stuck now with $50,000 in student loans. Was it worth it for her to go to college? At this point, no. Will I let my son skate through college so that he can also be saddled with loans? No way. I told him already that if he came home next summer with a similar GPA, I wouldn't allow him back. My daughter would have been better attending a trade or business school and graduate with an AAS and get a head start in the business world. My son claims he wants to be a police officer - I can't see it - but - all he needs is 60 credits to get into the Police Academy - and he will have that after sophomore year. We can reevaluate the situation next spring. My middle daughter did everything you would want a college student to do - embraced every opportunity that came her way, became involved with campus activities, completed an internship and landed a great job in Wash DC. As a middle class parent we just expect our kids to go to college. When I graduated from High School, my Irish immigrant father did not want me to go to college at all - I convinced my mother - who supported me - and I went to our local community college/then on for my BA. At the age of 44 I completed my Masters Degree in Communications. I had the drive and the commitment. Perhaps more thought should be put into who really should go to college - especially with tuition costs climbing higher and higher and the accompanying loans that go hand in hand. My kids will be paying off their loans until they are well in adulthood - is that the way to start a new life?

Monday, August 3, 2009

Street Art

A few years ago when I was commuting by car to NYC on a daily basis for work, I passed this very intriguing and extroverted man who would take the daily cast-offs of his neighbors and create street art from it. One day he would rail about the Pope, posting a hand written sign with the huge letters PRO-CHOICE and place it next to an old rusty baby stroller with a battered doll inside (think Chucky) . The next day would be about the insane policies of the Mayor of New York – whoever he was at the time. He bared his soul every day for all the tired, bored, frustrated commuters to see. I often wondered how many people, idling in their cars, bothered to even look at his "art"? I was on the FDR Drive last week with my son and his art was still happily on display. Even though the whole area is under major construction – with ramps and crossovers all over the place - he still managed to carve out his own personal space and continue to make his own personal statements. He gives the term "recycling" a new meaning.

Things that are left in public bathrooms

One time in the park’s bathroom, I found a used pregnancy test kit. It was sitting on the dirty ledge above the sink – for all the world to see. Being a parent to three children myself, I know that when I took my pregnancy tests, it was always in the privacy of my bathroom and gleefully shared with my husband. The thought of a woman – young? old? taking this test in a public, dirty restroom was very distressing. Why wouldn’t she throw it away? Was she so distraught she just ran out? I looked around to make sure she wasn't still there. Then I glanced at the little window to see if it had turned into a plus or negative sign. Plus. That explains why she ran away.

The Girl in the White Toyota

The girl in the white Toyota. She has long dark hair and always wears big black sunglasses. I do not know how old she is – the car is sporty – spoiler on the back – so I am thinking young-er. She arrives at the park every day at 10am and leaves promptly at 11am. I walk at least five days a week in one of the best-maintained parks in New Jersey. When I walk past her on the outer rim of the park, she is usually on the phone or reading. She doesn’t seem happy. How would I know? I really don’t obviously. I’ve never spoken to her. Never would have the nerve to go up to her car and ask her all the questions that have been brewing all this time. But, I have her seen her so often these last 10? 15 years? that I wish that could speak to her. Why do you come to the park everyday and sit in your car, with the window barely cracked when everyone else is outside walking, running, skating or pushing strollers and communicating? What pulls you in everyday? I can set my watch by your schedule. Now that I am walking outside of the park’s perimeter, I have an idea of where you live – not that I want to stalk you…I am just so curious about your story.