Sunday, March 31, 2013

Homeless and Heartless?

So my grandchildren go to school and tell their friends two details about their family’s current circumstances:

They are going to be homeless.

Their younger sister broke her leg, cannot walk and has a cast.

Rumors began spreading like wildfire.

What happened to that kid? How could it have happened? Can the family not pay their mortgage? Are they in financial straits? What is going on?…

I suspect most of the rumors can be traced to something quite innocently expressed by the five-year-old kindergartener. She has an uncanny, inexhaustible ability to talk…and talk…and talk, a continuous fountain of babbling chatter. Adults who love her dearly learn to nod their head and occasionally say things like, yes and OK, but have long before nodded off.

It reminds me of the look Archie got on his face when listening to Edith on that iconic 1970s TV show All in the Family.

I had trouble downloading the video but follow the link and enjoy the two minute clip.

At the tender age of five the art of watching what one says and thinking before speaking is not yet refined. Many people never acquire the skill. 

Mom and Dad were away for a few days checking out their new house and neighborhood in a far-off state while Grandma and Grandpa babysat the two older kids. The second set of grandparents took charge of the youngest child. Two against two is fair; two grandparents managing three youngsters might result in chaos, confusion and the early demise of the elders.

Parents re-enter the picture and normal life resumes once more. Mom drives the two older kids to school. Grandma, still around (but on the way to the airport), remains in the car with the Baby with the Broken Leg.

Mom walks the two kids onto school grounds, greeting mom and dad acquaintances along the way. A few minutes later she returns to the car and declares,

“Everyone wants to see the Baby with the Broken Leg and her cast. And they want to know why we are going to be homeless.”

Leave it to kids and the gossip mill to stir things up.

Here are the facts, not nearly as exciting or intriguing as the gossip:

The family is moving out of town. Their house was sold and the new occupants plan to move in by early May. Mom and Dad want the kids to finish the school year in their current location. The new home, under construction, will not be ready for occupancy until July.

Therefore the family, technically speaking, will be homeless from May until July.

But not really.

They rented a furnished apartment for the one month remaining in the school term.

Most of the family will then fly east and stay at Grandma and Grandpa’s house until their new home is ready.

Meanwhile Grandma and Grandpa fly west. They will drive the family’s minivan, the dog (a golden retriever named Charlie), and their eight-year-old grandson on a cross-country adventure back East.

As for the Baby with the Broken Leg, she is doing fine. FYI -The accident occurred when the child was in the custody of the other grandparents. The leg is improving; 2½ year olds heal very quickly.

And that is the true, straightforward, unmodified story. Until the kids speak once more and rumors fly.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Forgotten Historical Event Resonates Today

Forty years ago today – March 29, 1973 – the last U.S. combat troops left South Vietnam. American prisoners of war remaining in North Vietnam were freed.

The Vietnam War did not end on a happy note. It endures, in historical narratives and the minds of those old enough to remember, a difficult period in American history. Marred by misunderstandings, political troubles, generational upheaval and changes in American life and lifestyles, the era permanently changed the nation.

So come with me, where dreams are born, 
and time is never planned. 
Just think of happy things, 
and your heart will fly on wings, forever, 
in Never Never Land.
 –Peter Pan

The Never Never Land of the 1950s ended. The 1960s ushered in a new, young and dynamic President. Life seemed good, at least to a generation born after the upheaval of World War II and growing up under improving economic circumstances.

But turmoil was brewing underneath the fa├žade of daily life. Too abruptly the country was catapulted into a chaotic world no one understood.

Just about every American old enough to remember knows where they were and what they were doing when initially hearing the news President Kennedy was shot. On Friday, November 22, 1963, America changed forever.

The number of events affecting our lives mushroomed and intensified, although we did not necessarily realize it at the time. The same year Kennedy was killed Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published and Martin Luther King declared  “I Have a Dream.”  A year later the Beatles were an international phenomenon, Cassius Clay (a.k.a. Muhammad Ali) became the world heavyweight champion, and the Civil Rights Act passed.

1965 experienced race riots, miniskirts, and U.S. troops in Vietnam. These were not the first troops sent to the small Southeast Asian country most Americans had never heard of, but were officially the first combat troops.

The war escalated year after year. News from across the Pacific was unreliable and unpredictable. Day after day war splashed across our TV screens, war as portrayed in a few minutes on the evening news. 

The years spun by faster and faster. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. The My Lai massacre and Tet offensive made headlines. The decade ended with several interesting and bizarre events including the first man on the moon, the Manson murders, Woodstock, and the first Sesame Street shows.

The 1970s began and the news from overseas continued. It appeared the conflict was an ongoing, persistent, menacing presence circling our lives. Anti-war sentiment swelled, the political winds changed, Presidents came and went, and on March 29, 1973, the last military troops finally came home.
Sensational footage of helicopters evacuating remaining Americans from Saigon was shown on the news as the city fell to the North Vietnamese in April 1975.

America lost a lot more than a war in a far-flung Southeast Asian country. America lost innocence, economic stability, and thousands of young soldiers.

After all the turmoil we would hope our leaders learned from the past.

But they have not. After over a decade of war in other far-off Asian lands, Americans are finally beginning to come home again.

We can debate whether one or two wars were won or lost. We can debate what would have occurred had we not invaded Iraq, or maintained troops in Afghanistan.

What is indisputable is what America lost. If innocence was already gone, we again lost economic stability and prosperity, world respect, and too many young men and women.

As a postscript to the past, we remember the ending of one of the less glorious wars in American history today.

The last day combat troops leave foreign soil in current twenty-first century wars is unknown. Hopefully that day comes very soon.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Low Score on Mortality Quiz A Good Thing

There is nothing like a shock that forces a realization you are on the downslope of life’s journey. I imagine few of us, and quite likely none of us, are aware when living at the peak, or exactly when we began the descent.

I was jolted into reality recently when reading a mortality survey developed by San Francisco researchers. It calculates the odds an individual will survive ten years. The survey implies various medical and life style indicators can predict the chances of kicking the bucket within the next decade.  

The test is based on a point system. The lower the score, the more likely an individual will be alive ten years down the road.

I decided to take the quiz and discover my probabilities.

I received a bonus on the very first indicator. Men get 2 points just for being men. I earned one point for being a woman between the ages of 60-64; additional points are conveyed for increasing age.

Two points are given for a variety of medical problems, smoking, difficulty bathing, managing money because of health or memory impairment, or trouble walking several blocks.

I thought about the walking indicator, deciding whether or not to give myself two points (a bad thing). As long as the blocks are not uphill, and the weather is not too windy or cold, I can successfully accomplish the task. But I do not always walk in warm, sunny weather on a level path. So to be fair, honest and true to the test, I split the difference and gave myself one point. I do not know if that is allowed, but did it anyway.

Then I thoughtfully considered the money indicator.

Sometimes I forget where all my money goes. I had $50 in my wallet and it is all gone? How could that happen? Where did it go? Did I lose it? Did I spend it? Where? And what about those debit card expenses. No way did I make all those purchases shown on my computer screen. So, to be faithful to the test and candid with myself, I awarded myself another two points for money memory impairment.

Additional points are received for a variety of other tasks, including difficulty pushing large objects, being thin or of normal weight. Both gave me pause.

I am not very good at pushing large, heavy objects. If I succeed there is a good chance my back will go out. Since I do not want to endure back pain, I avoid pushing any heavy objects, large or small. Not that the opportunity occurs often. I rarely reorganize furniture, for instance. If my car dies I am not going to attempt to push it anywhere.

Some things might be large but not heavy, but how many large but not heavy objects are there? I cannot think of anything around my house fitting that description. I might, however, push hub around once in a while. Sorry, honey. But if in a bind, I can push a large object and end up in traction (the questionnaire did not mention the consequences of the action). So zero points (a good thing) for pushing large objects.

I have to give myself one point for not being thin or a normal weight. Unfortunately I carry a few too many pounds.

The highest score, the worst possible outcome, is 26. Only a man 85 or older with a slew of health problems earns this score. The man has a 95% chance of dying within ten years.

A score of zero can only be achieved by a woman under 60 with no medical problems, but who is slightly overweight.

Was that a misprint?

Slightly overweight?

Apparently a few extra pounds on a woman – not a lot, just a few (not defined) – is a favorable attribute. Researchers do not know why, but one guess is thinness in older women may mean the person is ill.

So what did I learn?

I can breathe a sigh of relief because the survey confirms that I should live another ten years.

Unless I am hit by a car or in a plane, bus or another transportation-related accident, fall on ice or anything else and seriously injure myself, develop some dreadful disease, am shot or knifed or wounded by a burglar or passerby…but I will think positively.

Time to write that ten-year bucket list.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Parental Guidance is Kids Stuff Compared to Real Life

The movie Parental Guidance is all about grandparents (played wonderfully by Bette Midler and Billy Crystal) caring for their three grandkids for a few days.  One problem after another develops and havoc ensues.

The movie is fiction and a lot of fun. It does not compare to two sets of grandparents and their real babysitting experiences over the past week.

Mom and Dad looked forward to several kid-less days. One set of grandparents watched the two older children at home, chauffeuring them to school and other activities.

The baby of the family, 2 ½-year-old Sami, flew out of town with her parents. Upon landing the second set of grandparents met the plane and whisked Sami off, leaving the parents alone and happy.

It did not take long before glitches occurred.

I will not bore readers with the trivial ups and downs of watching a 2-½ year old, a five year old and an eight year old. I will only mention two notable episodes.

The first misfortune occurred just a few hours after transferring custody of Sami. The event took place at the grandparents’ house (most accidents happen at home). An adult was holding Sami, walking, and took a tumble. The unnamed adult (nameless to protect the guilty) was unharmed, but the 2½-year-old suffered a broken leg. Most of that first night was spent in the hospital. Sami left the hospital with a cast around her entire cute, short right leg. She cannot walk for 4 weeks.

The second set of grandparents’ had a minor car accident, slightly damaging the house (I mentioned in a previous post the house has been sold) and car. Backing out of the garage on the first full day of babysitting duty, an unnamed adult (again protecting the guilty) slowly backed the family’s not-so-Mini-Van down the driveway, a narrow passage between the house and the fence of the house next door. Neither the house nor the car remained unscathed when the car finally reached the street. A protruding drainpipe was hit and the metal slashed, misshapen and broken. The car also sustained scraping damage.

I guess it is a good thing the worst happened in the beginning. Anything transpiring afterward was minor in comparison.

The parents cut their trip short by one day and flew home with their injured daughter.

Sami’s babysitters are now nursing illnesses probably in large part brought on by stress, little sleep, and the complications of babysitting and nursing an injured toddler.

Grandpa bailed out a day early and flew home yesterday (actually, he had to work). I am flying home today, tired but ready to resume my life and activities until the Grandma role beckons again in June.

After all, what else can happen!?

Babysitting addendum:

Sugar High Guilt-ridden Low

It was not my fault. It was my granddaughter’s fault. She made me do it. I am weak and could not resist.

Hailey and I made brownies. I could not resist. I succumbed. I ate brownies. Two not-so-small pieces.

We added Reese’s peanut butter pieces and M&Ms  to the mix. I do not like Reese’s pieces. But I love M&Ms.

I feel SO guilty.

I know what this means. I have to face the consequences.

I cannot babysit the grandkids in a house full of temptation.

It is not only the brownies. There is ice cream in the freezer. An assortment of snacks and desserts in the pantry. Temptation everywhere.

I must retreat to a snack-free, dessert-free, sweet-free and sugar-free zone.

Until next time…