Divided We Fall

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Aretha L. Franklin, President George W. BushThe news that Aretha Franklin died this week created an outpouring of tribute on social media. Everyone posted articles, photos, videos of performances – all honoring the Queen of Soul. It was heartening to me to see, for one brief moment, a meeting of hearts and minds on a subject.

In our divided country, you can’t even talk about the weather without potentially getting into a fraught argument over climate change. Everything from the Robert Mueller investigation of Russian collusion to the prospect of NFL players taking to their knees in protest this fall is cause for anger and vitriol.

It’s not that thoughtful people can’t disagree on a subject. With a two party political system, free speech, and a free press, it’s inevitable that individuals will have differences and the urge to express those differences. What’s new about the current state of discourse is that one needn’t confront someone face to face. With social media, we can sling insults at each other from a safe distance.

A case in point is Donald Trump’s use of Twitter. The president usually tweets in the wee hours of the morning, a time when most people’s discernment and judgment are not at their highest. These pronouncements are often filled with vitriol, as Trump attacks anyone he perceives as an enemy. And even though said “enemy” can take to Twitter to send a counterpunch, there is something not quite real in the exchange. If Trump were forced to confront these people face to face, I doubt whether he would act in such a hateful and spiteful manner.

This is true for all of us, and it is making America an inhospitable place. “Comments” sections on social media are minefields we should approach on tenterhooks. Feelings get hurt, friends get “blocked,” and our images of people we’ve known and liked, or even loved, are tainted.

The divisiveness prevalent in today’s society should worry us. It feels as if the very social fabric that makes up civilization is being irreparably torn. And once it is in tatters, it may be impossible to put back together.

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The Little Things

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healthy-family-dinner-keeps-the-weight-offThe little things in life are the big things. That’s what age and wisdom have taught me as I meander into my sixties.

The other night, I lingered with my husband and two of my children over the remnants of a steak dinner, a homecoming dinner of sorts for my college-age son, who had just returned from a summer internship across the country. Our conversation would never make it as scintillating movie scene dialogue. But just being there with my family sharing a meal at the kitchen table constitutes one of the great joys of my life.

So too with my morning cup of coffee, enjoyed on my front porch in the morning while the summer air is still comfortable and not muggy. I’m able to sit out there in my pajamas, concealed from the street by bushes and trees. Today I read the paper and completed the Tuesday crossword (another little thing that gives me outsized pleasure) outside before going in to start my day of errands and chores.

A walk through the neighborhood, a good book, a glass of wine. A kiss, a hug, the warmth of my husband’s hand in mine. Sharing a laugh with my sister or a good friend. Watching a great movie or television series. Listening to a Chopin nocturne. Even the peaceful and methodical act of folding clean laundry. All these little things add up in a life.

My daughter and I have taken to playing card games lately. As summer wanes and the schedules of school and sports loom ahead, we are having fun whiling away the time with such games as gin rummy and crazy eights. To my daughter’s dismay, I am seriously kicking her ass at gin rummy. Sometimes the old lady seasoned veteran holds all the cards (pun intended).

It’s wonderful occasionally to plan a huge celebration or take a once-in-a-lifetime trip. An evening of live music or theater, a trip downtown to see the fireworks, dinner at that gourmet restaurant you’ve read about: these are all fine diversions to spice up our everyday lives. But for me, the accumulation of small pleasures day by day is what makes me truly content. I hope to amass memories of thousands more little things in the course of my life.

They really are the big things.

 

Gift Horse

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A friend and I were bemoaning the state of gift giving in modern society the other day. She complained that when she tried to purchase a baby gift in a store, she was told that it had to be ordered online. This has become a trend in recent years with the ubiquity of online shopping platforms.

Of course, there’s nothing new about gift registries. It’s great to be able to get a couple just what they need or want for their new home or their new baby. But my friend and I agree that we enjoy going to the store and actually seeing the items we might purchase for an occasion. We want to take the item with us and present it in person at the shower or wedding or birthday party.

My friend also said that she was disappointed once at her niece’s baby shower when the event came and went without her niece ever opening the gift she had brought. My friend had gone to some effort to give her niece a lovely gift and wanted to see her open it. This is also a pet peeve of mine. Particularly with showers, where the whole purpose of the party is to give the lucky couple gifts, it’s incumbent upon the receivers to open the gifts in the presence of the givers.

Even with children’s birthday parties, I think it’s important for the child to open the gifts his or her friends bring. I remember attending parties in L.A. in which the gifts were whisked off into another room and never seen again at the party. My kids were terribly disappointed not to see their friend open the gift they had picked out. I realize that there are all kinds of pitfalls in the gift-giving ritual when it comes to kids. But with a little prepping of the birthday boy or girl in advance as to how to receive gifts graciously – and a healthy dose of humor at the inevitable faux pas kids will commit anyway – the opening of gifts at a birthday party is usually a highlight of the festivities for children.

As “Manners Mentor” Maralee McKee says, “Gift givers are kind enough to search for, buy, wrap, and bring you gifts. At a party, or one-on-one, it’s gracious to open presents in front of them so they are there for the “unveiling” and so you can thank them in the moment.”

Obviously, there are occasions at which it is impractical to open gifts, such as during a wedding. A wedding is such an orchestrated event, usually with hundreds of guests, and it would be impractical to spend time opening each and every gift. at the actual event. That is what post-wedding thank you notes are for.

Gift-giving rituals evolve over time. But I think some traditions are worth holding onto, as gift giving is an important part of every culture the world over. It’s worth taking the time to consider the needs of both giver and receiver when taking part in them.

Put HPV on Kids’ Vaccine Roster

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originalWhile the anti-vaxxer movement has mostly targeted childhood immunization such as MMR and TdaP, there is another recommended vaccine regimen that tends to make parents uncomfortable: the vaccine to prevent human papilloma virus, or HPV. The reason for our discomfort is that HPV is contracted through sexual activity, and we just don’t want to think about our precious 12-year-old having sex (11-12 being the target age at which to give the vaccine series).

But if you think your child will ever have sex in his or her life, it’s a really good idea to have them immunized for HPV since the virus is incredibly common. In fact, without vaccination, most sexually active adults will contract HPV at one time or other in their lives.

The reason for vaccinating against HPV is that certain strains of the virus are known to cause cancers of the reproductive organs and the throat. HPV can also cause genital warts, which is uncomfortable and painful to treat. So while the HPV vaccine is mostly touted for girls, boys should also be vaccinated.

Naysayers will argue that giving children a vaccine against a sexually transmitted infection will encourage promiscuity. But given how widespread the virus is, even if your child remains a virgin until marriage, his or her partner may still be infected and pass along that infection to a spouse. I have also heard parents argue that the vaccine has not been proven to be safe. But millions of children have received the HPV vaccine with no serious adverse effects.

Physicians who treat common gynecological cancers such as of the cervix see great promise in the HPV vaccine. While the vaccine won’t prevent all such cancers, it will greatly reduce the number of people who develop them.

Getting our kids through childhood in one piece is only part of our responsibility as parents. We owe it to them to provide as much protection for their future as we possibly can. The two-dose HPV vaccine regimen is a relatively painless way to help them stay healthy as they mature into young men and women.

Yes, there are plenty of shots to be gotten through in childhood. But with a dose of humor and a Sponge Bob bandage, we can make the HPV double shot part of the “going to the doctor” routine.

Goodness: Pass It On

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16351925_GMost Americans would agree that race relations in 2018 are fraught. Stories about police brutality towards minorities, the Black Lives Matter movement, the rise of white nationalism: all point to the fact that inequity and tension still define relations between the races. Yet just this week, I read some news articles that tell a different story.

One of those stories was about an elderly white woman in Phoenix who discovered that an African-American man had no place to stay while he waited for his newborn daughter to be old enough to fly home with him. The man had been given custody of his child but had no funds to stay at a hotel for the 7 days required by the airlines for the baby to be allowed on a plane. The woman, a volunteer in the NICU at the hospital, simply told the man, “I’m coming to get you and take you home.” She welcomed this stranger into her home with his tiny infant. The two have promised to keep in touch.

This week I also saw a video wherein a black man sitting in his car encounters a homeless white veteran walking down the road with no shoes. So the black man gets out of his car and chats with the man, asking about his welfare, where he’s going to stay etc., all the while removing his brand new sneakers and giving them to the homeless man. What struck me about the encounter was not just the selfless gesture of literally giving someone the shoes off of his feet. It was the respect and caring in his conversation with a man clearly down on his luck. I’m sure the personal encounter meant as much to the homeless vet as did the new shoes.

And again, the other day I read that after discovering his new employee had walked 20 miles to his new job in Alabama, the CEO of the company offered the new employee his car. Here too the lines of race were crossed with sympathy and understanding, the CEO being white and the new employee black.

These stories give me a bit of hope. While there are many who live with fear and distrust of those who are different from themselves, there are also those whose innate kindness motivates them to reach out and take a chance on someone who has walked a different path in life. I hope our mass media continues to find and celebrate ordinary people working to make the world a better place. And I hope these stories will motivate all of us to pass on goodness wherever and whenever we can.

No Hurry

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It is a pleasure and a luxury not to be in a hurry.

So often in our frantic lives, we find ourselves hurtling from A to B on our To Do lists, scarcely stopping to take a breath. Our blood pressure rises as we wait in traffic or long lines, knowing that precious minutes are ticking by and the day will all too soon be in our rearview mirror.

Time to take a breath.

This past weekend I was on my own. I could sleep in and stay in pajamas as long as I wanted in the morning. I could while away the hours reading, doing crossword puzzles and binge-watching The Chi (That show deserves a blog post of its own!). I took long walks without the nagging sense that someone or something at home needed my attention soon. And even though I had made myself a fairly impressive To Do list, I was relaxed and in no hurry to complete it.

It’s nice to drop something off at the local dry cleaner and say, “No rush” when asked when I need the item back. It’s lovely to drive when a little bit of traffic or a road closure (We’ve been having many in my small town this summer.) needn’t faze me. It’s wonderful to give my attention to small chores and errands that have been nagging at the edge of my consciousness for weeks.

On Saturday morning, I went to an 8 am yoga class. The theme of the class that day was balance, and most of our poses were designed to help us achieve that balance of body and mind. On my way home from the class, in the spirit of calm it induced, I decided that all prisons should offer yoga classes to their inmates. I can’t help but believe that a regular yoga practice would help diminish anger and aggression in those incarcerated.

Tomorrow life will return to a busier pace for me. My family and household responsibilities will keep me on a more pressing schedule. But I hope to hold onto the peace and calm I am feeling right now when there is no hurry.

Gen X Comic Gets the Laughs

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My stomach still hurts. Last night I watched two stand-up comedy specials on Netflix featuring the up and comer John Mulaney. Full disclosure here: I know John’s parents. So it was with a certain knowing glee that I listened to his loving but biting anecdotes about being raised by his stern, devoutly Catholic parents.

John Mulaney has some serious comedy cred. He was a writer for Saturday Night Live for many years and had a short-lived TV series cleverly named Mulaney. And nowadays, he can fill the Chicago Theatre and Radio City Music Hall for his hilarious observations about modern life as well as his reminiscences from the distant Eighties.

I think the secret to Mulaney’s success, besides some clever voice impersonations and a certain controlled mania, is his ability to straddle the generations in appeal. Mulaney, 35, is still young, and he is clearly immersed in the present. For instance, he makes an off-hand joke about how in college, everything is just your own opinion, a knowing mockery of today’s coddled university student. And he even wades into politics in his Radio City Music Hall special “Kid Gorgeous” with a hilarious and extended comparison of Donald Trump in the White House to a horse in a hospital.

But for my money, his funniest and most endearing stories involve his childhood, which seem to echo my own years as a young Baby Boomer with Depression-era, hard-line parents. He describes sitting on a sofa with his mother and eating Triscuits in dead silence. And he horrifies the youngsters in the audience by describing how his cold-hearted dad could go through a McDonalds drive-thru and pick up only a coffee for himself. (The irony in his jabs at his father are that, physically, John is a Chip off the old block.)

The helpless and trapped nature of childhood are a theme in Mulaney’s comedy, including the description of a “stranger danger” assembly that served to scar a generation of young kids for life. Or the adult size XXL t-shirt he was forced to wear as a nightshirt.

Many of Mulaney’s references speak directly to the generation known as Gen X. He riffs on the plots of such movies as  The Fugitive and Back to the Future. He references his Aladdin wallet. And most memorably, he reminisces about meeting the future president Bill Clinton in 1992.

I’m sure the Yale-educated lawyers who raised John Mulaney are bemused by his choice of careers. But I would say that those of us seeking some comic relief in these troubled times are lucky to have Mulaney’s irreverent, witty, and hilarious take on life to make us laugh.

My stomach still hurts.