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My Report Card for Eight Vows I Made to Parent Differently by
100
(109 Stories)

Prompted By I Swore I'd Never

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Me and my role model, 1982

When I had my first child, I promised myself I would do things differently from my parents. For the purposes of this story, since I am a mother and grandmother, I will focus on my mother, who we called The Hawk because nothing escaped her notice. Looking back, there were many things she did that were wonderful. We had a very loving relationship. And yet, I had a list of eight things I swore I would never do as a parent.

Mom before baby #3

Looking back, there were many things my mother did that were wonderful. And yet, I had a list of eight things I swore I would never do as a parent.

Here’s my report card of how well avoided the things my mother did as a parent:

Yell at my kids – Grade F

As soon as I had more than one child, I turned into my mother. Although she claimed she came from a household with no screaming whatsoever, she learned this skill quickly, perhaps from my father’s side of the family. At any rate, she was a yeller and I promised myself I would keep my temper in check when I had children. But having three bickering young kids often pushed me over the edge.

Nag – Grade F

Here, I am definitely my mother’s daughter. I just can’t help myself. I like to think of myself as giving gentle reminders, but I’m sure my husband and kids think I am a major nag. I see it as being helpful by telling them early and often to take care of something or do what I want them to do. The worst thing possible is to ignore me, as I will just come back at you again and again. So, as Nike says, just do it.

Give unsolicited advice – Grade C-

This one is closely linked with nagging. I know my kids won’t believe me, but I really try to hold back. There have been times when I should have given advice but didn’t because I remembered the sting of my mother’s unsolicited advice, from not buying our house because it was too old to always keeping a bag of potatoes on hand. My family would probably think I deserve an F for this one, but they have no idea how many times I bit my tongue and decided to keep my opinions to myself.

Be ignorant of finances – Grade B+

My mother had no concept of the family financial situation. She never paid a bill, balanced the checking account, or understood anything about my father’s investments for their future. After my father died, I actually had to show her how to pay a bill, and my brothers and I struggled to understand my parents’ financial situation. In the early years of our marriage, I wasn’t much better than my mother. I was saved from my ignorance/lack of interest by becoming a preschool director and learning about finances on the job. Why not apply these lessons to home? Once I put everything on Quicken, I was now in charge of managing our day-to-day finances. In recent years, I have insisted on understanding everything, or at the very least, where to find everything.

Avoid helping my kids with homework – Grade A

Perhaps because my parents never helped me with homework, I vowed I would help my kids when they needed it. I was raised to phone-a-friend if I had a question about any aspect of an assignment. No one proof read my papers or helped me understand what was wanted for a college essay. As a parent, I tried to be a teacher rather than actually doing the work for my kids, but I couldn’t resist helping them learn to write a five-paragraph essay when the school neglected to teach this skill. I was always happy to look over their work (except for math), but they had to do it themselves first.

Respect all authority figures, especially teachers – Grade A

I was raised never to question any authority figure. Especially in school, teachers were always right. So, I never shared that my third-grade teacher paddled children. My mother probably attended parent-teacher conferences, but she never would have dared to ask a question. Having been a teacher, I respected most of them when my kids started school, but knew that not all of them would be great. I joined the PTA, eventually becoming President, and made it my responsibility to know what was happening and respectfully ask questions when appropriate. My kids were open with me about what was happening at school, and honest, two-way communication with their teachers was very important to me.

Be focused on my appearance – Grade C

My mother was perfectly groomed. She made weekly trips to the beauty shop and slept with a hair net between visits. Her clothing was always stylish – no jeans or flat shoes – and she had a purse to match every outfit. Her make-up routine was impressive. No way was I going to care that much about how I looked… until I got older. Then, maintenance took over. I could take care of my own hair and usually wore jeans, but at some point, the nail salon became the beauty shop of my generation. I colored my hair, threaded my eyebrows, and applied make-up to look “natural” (translation younger). It is only in recent pandemic months that I’ve had to let go of my maintenance routine.

Stereotype my grandchildren – Grade A

My mother was very loving with her eight grandchildren. I remember her sitting on the floor reading to my son and having tea parties with my daughters. And yet, she assigned a character trait to each one and believed the stereotype to be correct. This tendency became even more exaggerated with my grandkids, her great grandchildren. Because she didn’t get to spend that much time with them, she decided what type of child each one was, and she was often totally inaccurate. Labels like stubborn, shy, or athletic, and comparative descriptors like prettiest, smartest, or friendliest really upset me. So, I strove to be different and try to see each of my grandkids as a unique person with no label applied whatsoever. And I think I have done this, even with the ones I don’t get to see as often as I’d like because they live out of town.

Me and my gang, 1986

We are all a product of our upbringing, and I feel lucky that, on the whole, mine was mostly positive. When people tell me that I remind them of my mother, I take that as a complement. As an aside, my kids called me Ming. Could they have been thinking of Ming the Merciless? And is that really an improvement over The Hawk?

I’m sure that my children, who are now the parents, have their own lists of things I did raising them that they swear they will never do to their own children. That’s how we improve upon our childhood experiences. And that’s as it should be.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

We Could Use Some Middle Children These Days by
100
(109 Stories)

Prompted By Birth Order

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Middle child on the left. My apologies for the matching Polly Flinders dresses.

Today, August 12, is middle child day, a time to recognize those children sandwiched between the stereotype of the adored but pressured first child and the spoiled baby of the family. According to the myth I grew up with, middle children suffered from a syndrome in which they were neglected, lacked drive or ambition, and were envious, negative, and resentful. To overcome middle child syndrome, parents were advised to give their middle child extra attention. Just ask my middle brother, who probably would have preferred a bit of neglect growing up.

As we mark Middle Child Day, I think we are missing folks who embody the stereotypical qualities of middle children.

More modern research turns that stereotype on its head. According to Katrin Schumann, co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children, in an article in Psychology Today, the middle child is the family peace-maker, sociable, cooperative, a team player, independent, and empathic. She is driven by principles and social causes rather than earning power or prestige. Being in the middle position among siblings teaches children to be good negotiators and compromisers, open to new ideas, and seekers of justice and fairness. That’s a pretty accurate description of my middle child.

Stealing ( or giving love to) her baby sister’s birthday present

Growing up, my middle child was particularly fond of a children’s book The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo by Judy Blume. I read this book with her so often that I still remember the plot about Freddy, who describes himself as the peanut butter squished between two slices of bread. Rejected by his older brother and blamed for making his baby sister cry, Freddy needs to find a way to stand out. When he plays the green kangaroo in a school play, he steals the show. My daughter loved that book and was my performing child as well.

The interesting thing about Middle Child Day is that there are far fewer middle children these days. The birth rate has been declining in the America. Right now, it is the lowest it has been in 30 years. Currently, it averages 1.71 children per woman, which is below the replacement rate, and there is no indication it will ever go back to its peak of 3.77 children per woman in 1957. This means babies born now will struggle to support an aging population. It also means there are far fewer middle children.

Those of us born in the baby boom years remember families of three or more children being the norm. I came from a family of three and my husband a family of four. Even though the rate had dipped to 2.48 kids by 1970, I wanted three, or even four, kids. After we had our third child in 1977, my husband suggested getting a dog next time I had the urge to nurture something small.

Today, families with one or two children are the norm. There are plenty of couples who have decided against having any kids. So middle children are less common these days. If you believe birth order contributes in part to a person’s character, this development is too bad. I can attest from my experience as first born that my middle sibling is the most sociable of the three of us. My own middle child has great empathy and is inclined to be a peace-maker and compromiser. Perhaps having fewer Americans who grew up having to negotiate domineering older sibs and irresponsible baby sibs accounts for some of our country’s inability to compromise? That’s probably a silly theory, but there must be something in the water these days as we can’t seem to find middle ground.

She finally gets to be on top

I’m by no means advocating larger families. The way things are going with our environment, climate, and resources, it’s probably better to be below the replacement rate. Yet, having fewer middle children is a significant change. As we mark Middle Child Day, I think we are missing folks who embody the stereotypical qualities of middle children.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

First Born Daughter by
100
(109 Stories)

Prompted By Birth Order

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Conscientious. Cautious. Bossy. Achievement oriented. Structured. Driven. Responsible. Type A. Nurturing. Check to all of these traits. Ask my younger brothers if you don’t believe me. Being the first-born child in my family, and the first-born grandchild on my father’s side of the family, definitely shaped who I am.

With my paternal grandfather, pre-siblings

I’m pretty sure my younger brothers would agree that, even at our ages and retired persons status, I can still be pretty bossy.

I’m sure I benefitted from two-and-a-half years of being an only child. My parents, and especially my paternal grandparents, lavished attention on me. Unfortunately, I don’t remember these golden first 30 months of my life. What I do remember is being punished for a toileting accident shortly after the birth of my brother. My mother claims I was trained (or she was) starting right after my first birthday. Even though the book had just come out, my mother did not rely on Dr. Spock to tell her that regression after the birth of a sibling was normal. Thus, I have a vague memory of having done something shameful and deeply disappointing. And like all first-borns, pleasing those adults who doted on me before my brothers came along was extremely important.

My second younger brother was born when I was six. I was definitely nurturing with him when he was very young. Mother’s little helper, of course. Responsible and conscientious, I loved taking care of him and even broke my ankle giving him piggy back rides. But once I became old enough to babysit my brothers, the nurturing big sister became quite bossy. I took my job seriously and meted out punishments for non-compliance. My older little brother was a typical middle child. He ignored me and went about being his rebellious and adventurous self, doing whatever he wanted to do. My baby brother just poured on the charm characteristic of last-borns and made me laugh, thus escaping all of the rules I thought I was supposed to enforce in my mother’s absence. My father didn’t make or enforce rules. Rather, he lectured us to death, which was far worse than the discipline my mother meted out.

School was made for first-borns like me. As an adult-pleaser, I wanted to impress my teachers. As a conscientious rule follower, I did my work, raised my hand, and completed all of my homework on time. Being achievement oriented meant striving for an all-A report card. Although I resisted my mother’s push to get a teaching certificate “to fall back on,” I reluctantly complied, and fall back on it I did. Teaching high school English returned me to an environment in which I had succeeded. It was the cautious move, and I was not a huge risk-taker. After a brief time of cutting loose at college, I was back on terra firma. But this time, as an added bonus, I got to be the boss as well.

After taking a ten-year break to have three kids and satisfy my love of nurturing children, the predictable path for women of my generation, I cautiously started to substitute teach and then accepted a part time teaching position at the preschool my children had attended. This was a perfect environment for my need to care for young children now that mine were getting older, as well as a return to somewhat familiar and comfortable territory. After returning to school to earn a Masters in early childhood education (because I had to keep my dance card full, learn more about what I was doing, and earn a few more A’s), I became the director of the preschool. That would have been where I stayed if fate hadn’t forced my staff, families, and me out of our safe haven. I described how a new minister at the church housed, non-sectarian preschool cast us out in Betrayed by a Church.

Starting a new preschool played into all of those first-born daughter traits. Like many eldest children, I tended to take charge (what my brothers saw as bossy). Like the majority of US presidents, I was ready to lead. After all, “out of the first 44 presidents of the United States, 24 were first-born children or first-born sons.” As an aside, does the fact the Trump was not a first-born son mean anything? I was driven to accomplish this task, and the work appealed to my Type A personality. Creating a place in which children would be nurtured was extremely important to me. Finally, I found the perfect fit for all of my first-born daughter characteristics.

Yes, this saga relies heavily on stereotypes, and many other factors beyond birth order play into a person’s character. But I’m pretty sure my younger brothers would agree that, even at our ages and retired persons status, I can still be pretty bossy.

With Mom in 2013

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Can Friendship and Forgiveness Coexist? by
100
(109 Stories)

Prompted By Forgiveness

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July 30 was International Friendship Day and tomorrow is International Forgiveness Day, so it seems very appropriate to address both of them today. Actually, putting them together poses an interesting question: Can you forgive a friend?

Can you forgive a friend? My answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it goes beyond something you can do to something you must do.

My answer is a resounding “yes.” In fact, it goes beyond something you can do to something you must do now, as August is also Happiness Happens Month. Of course, we don’t really celebrate any of these obscure holidays, but maybe we should.

The notion of forgiveness between friends is pretty complicated. For almost 46 years, my husband and I have belonged to a group of six families called a Chavurah (Hebrew for friends or comrades). We came together in the fall of 1974 and had no more in common than being 12 adults with 12 kids who happened to live near one another and were disillusioned with formal religion. Later we added 3 more kids and eventually joined a synagogue en mass. But my favorite memories stem from our early attempts to figure out our own brand of Judaism. And one of our most interesting moments happened when we tackled the issue of forgiveness.

Well, maybe we didn’t exactly tackle it. In fact, with most of us just having crossed into the mature age of 30-something, we had a five-minute talk that devolved into a resounding, “Let’s not go there.”

I guess forgiving friends is not something that happens until you reach a certain age, if ever. I know plenty of folks in their forties and fifties and beyond who are still nursing hurt feelings and something close to hatred for former friends. I have had friends declare they will never forgive people for what they considered deep betrayals.

One theory I have is rather obvious. It’s the old, you always hurt the one you love thing. So I get how it is hardest to forgive a BFF for saying or doing something hurtful. It’s shocking to discover the “B” and the second “F” weren’t really true. So, the closer the relationship, the greater the pain, and the lesser the chance of forgiveness.

But as I age, I have come to believe the power to forgive is always mine. Exercising that power makes me stronger, not weaker. It definitely makes me happier. Why on earth would I want to hold onto the pain of hating a friend for something that happened 30 years ago? Like Elsa from Frozen, my mantra is “Let it go.”

There’s a lot of power in forgiveness. Letting go of the hurt has opened me to the possibility of rebuilt relationships in some cases. In other cases, it showed someone who had bullied me that I was not going to carry that baggage with me, so their words or deeds didn’t have much weight.

Over many years as a preschool director, working with countless parents and teachers, I learned another truth about forgiveness. Much of the time, it turns out the hurtful behavior really had little to do with the target of the behavior. When co-workers or parents or teachers were attacked in various permutations, it was typically a projection of unhappiness elsewhere in the attacker’s life. It’s hard to look at it through that lens in the heat of the moment, but considering the possibility can help soften the blow. It can give the recipient the power to choose, if not forgiveness, at least not anger and hurt.

I guess entering the final month of summer, when the living used to be easy in our pre-pandemic lives, it is a pretty good time time to declare friendship days, forgiveness days, and a whole month devoted to letting happiness happen (if the latter is even possible now). Our Chavurah grew to 69 official members. Many of the 27 children and 30 grandchildren live out of town. Only one of our parents remains, basically making us the older generation. We recently lost one of our founding members, a very sad and deeply sobering experience as well as a reminder that we may be running out of time to extend forgiveness to others. So much has changed, but we are still the kind of friends who step up to the plate for one another.

And yet, as our group celebrates 46 years of friendship this fall, I wonder if we are finally ready to have that talk about forgiveness. Are you?

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Pandemic Generations Struggle Through Summer by
100
(109 Stories)

Prompted By Pandemic Summer

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My grandsons, ages 10 and 6, masked and worried

My 14-year-old granddaughter proclaimed the other day, “I will give COVID one year of my life. By March of 2021, I go back to my normal things – school, dance, friends, doing everything I used to do.” Who can blame her? She never got a chance to graduate middle school, perform in the dance recital for which she had been preparing all year, or have any semblance of a normal summer. The high school she is slated to begin in late August will consist of remote learning, not even close to the experience she expected. None of the fun aspects of high school will take place. No orchestra, no plays, no sports, no school dances, nothing but online learning alone at home. Not anything that a typical teen would remotely (pardon the pun) enjoy.

Zoom ballet class, alone in the basement

Zoom prom and middle school graduation

Our country has failed this generation of children whose lives will be forever defined by their experiences during the pandemic.

My heart breaks for my grandkids and their peers, socially distanced from everything that makes life enjoyable. Masked and anxious, they worry about their health and the health of their parents and grandparents. Separated from the hugs of relatives who love them and outings with friends, they lead a lonely existence. Stuck in front of screens, either for remote learning, “summer camp,” or entertainment, they become surly and scared. Yet, they are the lucky kids. They have screens, food security, and adults who are able to be with them. When I think about all of the children who don’t have these things, I cry. Our country has failed this generation of children whose lives will be forever defined by their experiences during the pandemic.

Zoom 10th birthday

And what about the next generation, their parents and my children? I am saddened by the huge burden they bear and the impossible choices they make every day. If they are called in to work, how do they provide care for their children? What can they do to protect themselves and their families from becoming sick? Even if they do everything by the book, wear their masks, wash their hands until they are raw, try to socially distance themselves – even then, they are likely to encounter people who don’t believe they have to do these things. I see it on Facebook: Gatherings of too many unrelated, unmasked people partying. People much too close in bars or indoor restaurants. I see it when I try to venture out for a walk: Groups of unmasked people crowding the sidewalk or walking toward the beaches. People who think wearing a mask means only over the mouth. How can my kids be sure that their work environments are free of people who think the rules are for other people, until they get sick?

Working from home and supervising her kids

If they are lucky enough to be able to work remotely from home for now, how can they balance their job responsibilities with caring for their children and supervising their online lives? They can’t, so everything is always short changed and their stress levels are at the breaking point. The misery and anxiety of their children eventually gets on their nerves. They want to be empathic and patient, but it becomes almost impossible. Tempers flare and tears are shed as everyone tries to make it through the day, only to rinse and repeat the next day.

Mom and daughters dancing at virtual prom

Then there is my generation, those who are officially in the danger zone for this virus. We mostly stay home, visiting only outdoors and distanced from local family and friends. We sleep poorly and worry about the safety of shopping masked in drug or grocery stores with one-way aisles at odd hours when they will be uncrowded. We are anxious when we have to allow workers into our homes to fix something. Increasingly, we shop for essentials online. We find it difficult to concentrate on all of the books we dreamed we would read if we had the time. We have endless time now.

Masked piano lesson

What will happen to us in November when the leaves fall, the weather turns cold, and we can no longer see people outdoors? What will happen when the seasonal flu mixes with COVID? The time we are losing is precious, as we realize there is not an infinite amount of time left to us. Zoom sessions and FaceTime are poor substitutes for not being able to be with our grandkids or hold the newborn grandchild several of my peers have yet to meet in person.

My husband and I try to stay positive as we muddle through endless days that are all the same. It is hard to remember the day of the week. We watch too much Netflix in an effort to distract ourselves from our isolation and fear. It’s getting harder to concentrate enough to get though the Sunday New York Times and increasingly depressing to follow each day’s news. Storm troopers in unmarked vans in Oregon snatching protestors from the streets and tear gassing mothers and the mayor. Continued discrimination and violence against people of color. Not enough help for essential workers’ families. A rogue president who admits he may not leave office if he loses. Schools in a state of chaos. As I write this, coronavirus positive cases have crossed the four million mark, with over 145,000 deaths and counting.  I can’t even.

My look for the unforeseeable future

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

My Grandkids Can’t Read my Recipe Cards by
100
(109 Stories)

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My mother-in-law’s recipe

This is an adapted version of a story in my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

So why couldn't they read the neatly transcribed directions? Well, because they were written in cursive.

During the pandemic stay-at-home phase, someone posted on Facebook about having to help her daughters read a recipe card. Her daughters are excellent readers who are in grades three and six. So why couldn’t they read the neatly transcribed directions? Well, because they were written in cursive.

Can my grandkids read my handwriting?

When my oldest granddaughter was in third grade, I remember a handwriting book that was part of her homework. At least she learned to sign her name that year and she can read things that are hand-written. Her little sister finished third grade without the handwriting homework. She tried to write in cursive by studying the alphabet chart decorating her classroom, but I couldn’t read many of her words.

I asked a friend who is a third-grade teacher about this. She was not surprised the handwriting book was no longer sent home. She explained that there is no time to teach cursive writing anymore. It is not part of the State Standards. There is no test to see if a child can write her name. And teaching cursive will do nothing to improve the school’s or teacher’s year-end rating, but higher test scores will.

Mom’s handwriting on Dad’s stationary

When I suggested not even being able to sign your name to a letter, document, greeting card, or check was sad, she set me straight. You can print your name, and no one writes checks or sends hand-written letters or snail-mail cards anymore. And most documents permit e-signatures. Beautiful handwriting takes a lot of time to learn, is not easy for kids with motor challenges, and is a dying art.

She had me there. Perhaps because my hands are a bit arthritic or perhaps because I am too much in love with my computer, I don’t write too many things by hand these days. I’m more likely to compose a personal letter on Word and print it out than write it by hand. But I still like to sign my name at the bottom.

It saddens me, however, that if my grandchildren never learn to write in cursive, they will also be unable to read it. They will never be able to decipher things I wrote by hand and saved to show them. My old recipe cards will also need to be translated for them. They will never be able to read the stash of WWII letters my parents wrote to each other. If they do original research that involves pre-21st century documents, will they need an interpreter for the handwritten ones?

My father’s WWII letter to my mother

All of this makes me rather depressed. Someone has decided that our schools shouldn’t waste much time teaching things that don’t matter like cursive writing or art appreciation or literary classics. There won’t be a test on these things and they won’t get kids the jobs of the future. Ours is a disposable society and we are fine with tossing aside the things that are not practical for the college or career.

Maybe I should start transcribing my parents’ letters so they are not lost to their great grandchildren. There is probably no point in saving those hand-written family recipes or the things I wrote in cursive in the pre-computer era. Either type them into the computer or toss them. But I know this is not the same as looking at the originals. It’s not just the content that matters. When I look at something in my parents’ handwriting, I feel their presence. Their signatures reflect who they were. My grandkids will never experience this if they come across my hand-written documents, or even their parents’ for that matter. I just hope they will learn to sign their names.

Mom’s letters to Dad

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

 

Embracing Sarah Bernhardt by
100
(109 Stories)

Prompted By Protests

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Sarah Bernhardt — quite the drama queen

My parents believed my emotional outbursts and strong statements of opinion, not even at the meltdown level, were unacceptable. As a child, whenever I became upset or protested anything, my parents told me, “You’re a real Sarah Bernhardt.” I had no idea who she was but the message was clear. I was to keep the drama to a minimum and comply with whatever was expected of me.

As I grew older, I learned to embrace the Sarah Bernhardt in me. I came to see it as having the courage of my convictions and the ability to stand up for what I believed.

My friends who also grew up in the fifties have shared that they were told the same thing whenever they expressed strong feelings. We knew as children in our parents’ homes that any expression of emotion or opinion that contradicted our parents would result in the label, which I hated. If I protested drying the dishes because I needed to study for a test or became upset about anything said at the dinner table, one of my parents would play the Sarah Bernhardt card. My reaction was to flee in tears, slam my bedroom door, and cry. No one came to console me. The rules of the game required me to emerge, apologize, and comply with whatever it was that set off the storm in the first place.

It wasn’t until college that I dared to be overtly rebellious and participate in an actual protest. During my years at the University of Michigan, I attended rallies for civil rights and argued with my parents about my protesting the war in Vietnam. Teach-ins were popular and I attended several of these in which professors railed against the war. I even snuck away from campus for a long bus ride to attend a war protest rally in D.C. in 1965. I never told my parents I did this and was back in time for my usual Sunday evening call.

The university was always buzzing with new left ideas that appealed to me. Tom Hayden had graduated Michigan just before I arrived, and his political imprint could be felt. The Port Huron Statement and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) were his legacy. We were finished with the Eisenhower years and energized by the new, youthful President Kennedy. I was young, idealistic, pro-civil rights, and anti-war. So, I protested, marched, and demonstrated, but never did enough to call attention to myself, fearing my parents’ reaction to this Sarah Bernhardt-like behavior.

I graduated in 1967, which was quite a year to be launched from college into the world. Protests against the war in Vietnam were erupting all over the country. Parts of my hometown of Detroit would soon be destroyed in race riots, precipitated by a police raid of an unlicensed, after-hours bar. This incident exploded into five days of one of the worst riots in American history, and the destruction included the block that once housed my grandfather’s tailor shop. 43 people were killed, 342 were injured and 1,400 buildings burned.

Hell No, We Won’t Go. This was one of many chants I remember from protesting the war in Vietnam and the draft. And the truth was, most of the guys I knew didn’t go. I don’t blame them. Some received deferments for teaching. Some stayed in college and then went to graduate school to delay the draft, hoping the war would end before they ran out of education. Attorneys, doctors, dentists, nurses, and veterinarians could put off serving until they finished their training. You could also join the Peace Corps or use a connection who knew someone on your local draft board. The point is, if your family had money and privilege, you were far less likely to be drafted.

Still, the prospect of being drafted and sent to Vietnam had a huge impact on the lives of my generation. My husband was in medical school from 1967 to 1971. He rolled the dice despite receiving a frighteningly low number in the 1970 draft lottery. He gambled that the war would be over before he was drafted as a trained physician. Luckily, he guessed correctly. I was all set to pack up our infant son and flee to Canada if he was wrong. My younger brother spent a year “studying” in Canada and would have stayed there. But for him, 218 was a pretty safe number in the draft lottery, and he came back to the states the following year.

So, who did go to Vietnam aside from the fictional Jack Pearson on This is Us? Many of the boys I was teaching in my Basic English class back in 1967-68 ended up there because they lacked the grades to get into college. It wasn’t the best time to be teaching high school English in that era. My students, both those on the track to be drafted into the war and those who were college-bound and able to avoid it, questioned the relevance to reading A Tale of Two Cities or learning about figures of speech. I understood. The war hung over their lives, and it was a war that made no sense to them or to me. It definitely felt like the worst of times, so I protested whenever I could.

The Vietnam years were a bad time for our country, leading to a generational divide, as fathers who had served in World War II debated with their sons who didn’t want to serve in Vietnam. The Greatest Generation rejected their long haired, protesting, unpatriotic, draft-dodging kids. It was clearly a time of inequity in terms of who fought and who had the means to avoid service.

When the war ended, I naively thought my protesting days were behind me. It was during my years as a stay-at-home mom of three children that some of my rebellious tendencies resurfaced. Maybe it was the inequity of being responsible for every aspect of my kids’ lives while my husband worked long hours to bring home the bacon. Maybe it was having two daughters and wondering how life would treat them. Maybe it was the struggle to raise my children to feel “free to be you and me.” I felt compelled to be own agent capable of making my own choices. This was the era of my feminist protests.

I joined a task force to effect changes in children’s literature to make it less sexist. I boycotted books and toys that perpetuated stereotypes. My kids all wore Oshkosh overalls and played with non-gendered toys. This feminist movement had to be a girls-only club, as past experience had taught us that even men with the best intentions dominated discussions and saw women’s liberation in terms of how it related to them.

Despite the feminism of the time, the prevailing attitude was that men were more important and valuable than women in terms of supporting the family, and therefore they were entitled to more promotions and greater pay. We could get jobs outside of the home, as I did when my youngest went to kindergarten. But mine was as a poorly paid preschool teacher so I could be home to attend to all of the children’s needs. My earnings were extra but not needed. Even going back to school in the evening to earn a Master’s in early childhood education and becoming a preschool director had to fit around my family’s schedule. So, I threw in the towel on feminism and refocused my protests on issues related to education.

There was never a shortage of things to protest. Teachers were underpaid and yet held to educational standards created by people who had never taught and had no clue how young children learned best. Children were subjected to an excessive amount of standardized testing that was culturally unfair and generally meaningless. Students in special education were short changed, treated poorly, sometimes even abused, and did not learn. The list of things I protested through serving on committees, writing reports, and eventually blogging seemed endless.

With my pussy hat at the Women’s March

After I retired, I still cared deeply about educational injustices. But as the years went by, I did less protesting. I was too far from the front lines. I had crossed the threshold into my seventies. Time to chill out, read good books, enjoy my grandkids, and write memoirs about how life was “when I was a kid…” And then came the election of 2016. Was it possible that enough of my children’s and my generation and would elect @realdonaldtrump to be President? Yes, they did. I tried my best to prevent this outcome, but here I was in January, 2017, holding a sign in the Chicago Women’s March. I had protested against President Johnson for his Vietnam policy and Nixon for just about everything he said and did. I never thought anything could be worse than that era or that I would despise a leader more than Richard Nixon. But, yes I did.

This brings my story to today. It’s 2020 and I have spent the last four year protesting Trump’s policies: trying to end Obamacare with no alternative, disbanding environmental regulations and withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, mistreating immigrants and asylum seekers, separating children from their parents at our southern border, getting rid of regulations meant to protect us, appointing Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, ignoring and actually encouraging racism, making himself above the law, giving tax breaks to the rich, bungling the coronavirus response… the list is endless. We have endured a cruel, unemphatic, unengaged, divisive, uninformed, sexist, bullying, colluding, cheating, lying… I can’t even think of all of the adjectives that apply to this man.

As I grew older, I learned to embrace the Sarah Bernhardt in me. Rather than seeing it as being undesirable, a drama queen, I came to see it as having the courage of my convictions and the ability to stand up for what I believed. I’m glad that my daughters feel they can speak freely and emotionally. And I love that my granddaughters will never have to hear this label and lock themselves in their rooms to cry.

And once again, I protest.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

A Life Devoted to Protesting for Justice: Marcy Wiersch Johnson by
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(109 Stories)

Prompted By Protests

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Marcy’s twin granddaughters at the 2017 Chicago Women’s March

It was my favorite photo from the Chicago Women’s March on January 21, 2017. Two sweet young girls were holding up signs they had clearly made themselves. One said “Treat Everybody Nice” and the other “Everybody Should be Treated =” – such a powerful message from such young messengers.

They were marching partly as a tribute to Marcy, a woman whose life embodied so much of what protests and activism had accomplished to advance the cause of social justice.

Tons of people were taking their picture. Their message clearly touched a nerve in folks who came out to march. Turns out they are the then seven-year-old twin daughters of Andi Peinovich and Maria de la Calle and the granddaughters of the late Marcy Wiersch Johnson. They were marching partly as a tribute to Marcy, a woman whose life embodied so much of what protests and activism have accomplished to advance the cause of social justice. After seeing my blog post Nevertheless, She Persisted that featured the photo I took of Marcy’s granddaughters, I received emails from several women in Marcy’s family who recognized the children. Through these emails, I identified with and grew to admire Marcy.

Marcy as a young nurse

Born on April 4, 1945, like me Marcy was on the cutting edge of what came to be known as the Baby Boomer generation. Her daughter Andi described her mother as “pretty amazing, definitely an original and not afraid to break the rules to stand up for what she felt was right.” Andi’s wife, Maria, emailed me on behalf of what she called “the passionate Wiersch Clan,” describing Grandma Marcy as “a great woman and activist. I was always able to relate to her on this level and admired her passion for social justice. Andi and I are so very lucky to come from supportive families and also to have the help of powerful women to raise our girls.”

In an email I received from Marcy’s sister, Linda Segebrecht, I learned, “Marcy would have been so proud of her girls. Active parenting and activism were values she passed on.” Linda went on to share that Marcy was a women’s and civil rights advocate in the 1960s. Her life story embodies the journey of many of us from that era.

Another sister, Jodie Costello, wrote that Marcy came from a family of strong women who were a treasure trove of inspiring stories. Her paternal grandmother was the first female principal in the state of Minnesota when women in positions of authority in education were rare. President Ford honored her for her outstanding work in education. Her mother, who was 96 at the time of the 2017 Women’s March, was a medical records administrator, having earned her degree back in the early 1940’s, when far fewer women than now were as well educated as she was. The women in Marcy’s family are fiercely devoted to one another and to women’s rights.

One of the stories her sisters, Linda and Jodie, shared was that in 1964, Marcy was expelled from the nursing program at Talmadge Memorial Hospital, part of the Medical College of Georgia School of Nursing. Her crime? She ate dinner with a fellow male nurses’ aide who happened to be black. Named for Eugene Talmadge, an avowed racist, the hospital was segregated and the simple act of sharing hamburgers and fries together was grounds for dismissal on trumped up charges. Marcy finished her training by enrolled in nursing school at her mother’s alma mater, College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. She earned a Bachelor of Science in nursing degree in 1967. As Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Women are like tea bags – they never know how strong they are until they get in hot water.”

The 1970s found Marcy living in the Haight Asbury section of San Francisco and protesting against the war in Vietnam and for civil rights. In 1982, Marcy began her almost 30-year career as a neonatal intensive care nurse at Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, retiring in 2012. Already the divorced single mother of Andi (mother of the children in the photo), Marcy went on to remarry, have bi-racial twins, and become a single parent again after divorcing their father.

By the 1980s, she was marching in Gay Pride parades, not knowing at that point that she was advocating on behalf of her daughter as well as all of the LBGTQ community. Marcy’s daughter and her partner were married as soon as it was legal to do so in New York City. They were all lucky to be in Washington, DC when the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage was legal everywhere. When Marcy’s family took pictures on the steps of the Supreme Court, no one dreamed they would have to be fighting this battle again in 2020.

Marcy with her daughter Andi, and her twin granddaughters

Marcy was proud of her three children. Like her mother, Andi became a pediatric intensive care nurse in Chicago. Her other daughter, Amber, manages a restaurant in San Francisco. Her son Casey is an officer with the Oakland, California police department and participated the march there to honor his mother’s memory.

Marcy died of a brain aneurysm on May 5, 2015, just a month after her 70th birthday. Since that tragic loss, members of her family remark on a daily basis how upset she would have been to see the election of Donald Trump and its aftermath. Her daughter, Andi, described her mother as a sweet, compassionate woman and a “bright light who affected so many people in such a rich way.” In over 40 years of nursing, she touched the lives of countless babies and their families.

Marcy was an amazing woman and a perfect example of someone whose life should be celebrated. Sadly, many will never have the good fortune to experience her passion for justice, but she leaves behind a remarkable legacy. She raised three incredible children as a single parent and experienced the joy of having beautiful twin granddaughters. Her spirit was present at the 2017 Women’s March, and her granddaughters’ posters were a fitting tribute to Marcy Wiersch Johnson and the causes to which she devoted her life.

Marcy’s legacy

Like so many women, Marcy’s life had many twists and turns, but nevertheless, she persisted.

Thanks to Jodie Wiersch Costello for sharing her wonderful memoir about her sister entitled Winter Break, and to all of the members of Marcy’s family who emailed me, sent me photos, and so graciously shared their memories.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

From Motown to E-town by
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(109 Stories)

Prompted By My Hometown

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Aerial view of Evanston, Illinois

I was raised to revere the Motor City. Even after my family moved to Oak Park, a suburb of Detroit, my parents continued to worship everything Detroit represented. My father bought a new GM car every two to three years, working his way up from Chevy to Buick to Cadillac. The Tigers game played in the background at dinner most nights. Detroit bagels were the best, along with restaurants like Coney Island, Buddy’s Pizza (square cut pieces), Joe Muer Seafood, and Lelli’s. Nothing was finer than the shops on Woodward, the Fox Theater, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. But growing up, I wondered why, if Detroit was such a mecca, people I knew kept moving to suburbs father and farther away.

Still, this is my hometown. I love it for the amazing people I have met here and its overall caring heart and beauty.

The things I loved about my original hometown were quite different from my parents’ list. When my cousin and I took the bus downtown to see the orthodontist, we rewarded ourselves with Sander’s hot fudge sundaes. Downtown Hudson’s Department store was fun for looking. Dates in high school included trips to see the Motown Revue, featuring Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, The Four Tops, The Supremes, The Temptations, and Little Stevie Wonder. How I loved that music.

Little Stevie Wonder, 1962

I lived in Detroit until I was 18, and then in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan for four years, coming home for three of those summers. After that, I left my first hometown and moved to Chicago before settling in Evanston, the closest suburb north of the city, in 1974. Considering I have lived in Evanston for 46 years, I guess it qualifies as my chosen hometown. I raised my family here. I was a community volunteer here. I returned to college for my Masters in early childhood education here. I started Cherry Preschool here. And most recently, I moved to a condo here, just five minutes away from the home I lived in for 45 years.

This girl is going to the same high school as her mother

Evanston is my true community, warts and all. I first discovered the importance of community in Ann Arbor and had hoped to live there. When my husband’s career post medical school was based in Chicago, I was looking for a college town with a similar atmosphere. Evanston, home to Northwestern University, fit the bill. While some folks here called it “Heavenston,” I saw it as a community that was striving to be welcoming and equitable and often falling short. I had no illusions that it was perfect, as my parents saw Detroit. But I met many good people working to make it better, and I tried to do my small part in that effort.

Two of my grandkids at the beach

When we first moved here, Evanston was still shedding its reputation for being a sleepy, waspish town. Home to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Evanston was a dry city with a few stodgy department stores, mom and pop businesses, family restaurants, and a pretty good folk music scene. I loved taking my kids to The Main Cafe for lunch, where the owner made them balloon animals and the milk shakes were real. In those days, they had an hour lunch break and we could easily walk there and back and have lunch in that time frame.

Over time, things changed and Northwestern dominated more of the city. The old-fashioned stores gave way to businesses that appealed to college students. Ethnic restaurants bloomed where liquor was served, and mid to high rise buildings like the one I currently occupy proliferated in the downtown area. Aside from Northwestern, Evanston has much more to offer. It is a tree-filled city near Lake Michigan with beautiful parks, an abundance of bike paths, and a lake front dotted with beaches and recreation facilities. Evanston was named one of the wealthiest towns in the Midwest, but that is only true of some parts of the city.

It’s fine to dance in the rain on your block

While Evanston’s population is diverse, its housing is often segregated. This has sadly been true for all of the years we have lived here. The community works on issues of equity, inclusion, and closing the achievement gap in the schools with mixed results. Over the years, I have tried to help with this effort by serving on school task forces and through my work with the preschool. I wish I could say things are better, but there is still a long way to go.

My granddaughter (back row, second from left) after a dance performance at a local theater

Still, this is my hometown. I love it for the amazing people I have met here and its overall caring heart and beauty. One of my kids still lives here with her family. I know the other two still refer to it affectionately as E-town. I will leave you with photos of Evanston taken by my granddaughter Daniella. She captures the feel of this city better than my words.

Rose Garden, Evanston

 

Penny Park, built by volunteers

 

Penny Park

 

Looking out of Dave’s Rock Shop at Trattoria DOC

 

Street scene near her house

 

The photographer with her preschool teachers

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Lost a Friend, Gained a Spouse by
100
(109 Stories)

Prompted By Chance Encounters

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Two years after that chance encounter

At the beginning of my senior year at the University of Michigan, I made a pact with Paula. We were done with frivolous dating and vowed to spend the year working on our minds. In that spirit, we went to see The Shop on Main Street. This Czech art movie had won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, so it fit in well with our plan to be intellectually challenged. It was also the night I committed the most anti-feminist act ever. I came with Paula but left with Fred.

That chance meeting ended up being the longest date of my life. It has lasted 54 years.

My vow of female solidarity and avoiding dating didn’t even last a week. We happened to sit next to a group of guys, and I knew the one seated next to me. Fred had been in one of my classes and was also the fraternity brother of someone I had dated. Turns out, going out with someone in the same fraternity as a previous boyfriend was another taboo I broke that night in September of 1966.

I knew who Fred was because of the fraternity connection. When he took Sociology 101 with me the year before, he borrowed my notes because he rarely attended the class. Fred had the audacity to criticize my notes for being too long, written in turquoise ink, and filled with too many doodles. All of this made them difficult and expensive to copy. But they were good enough to earn him a “B” for a class he almost never attended. While I earned an “A” for this rather useless class, I realized he was pretty smart to do so well with just my notes, as he didn’t read the text either.

Sitting next to him at the movies was totally random and life changing. The Shop on Main Street was a very moving film. The main character takes the job of “Aryan comptroller” for a rundown button shop managed by an elderly, mostly deaf Jewish woman. She has no idea why he is there or that there is a war. They become close, but when the Jews are being rounded up, he turns her in, only to change his mind after it is too late. The dream sequence at the end left me in tears. And then, emotionally wrought, I left with Fred instead of my girlfriends.

When he asked if I would like to take a walk with him to discuss the movie’s deeper meaning, I was all in. I’m not sure why I ditched my friends and betrayed my plan for sisterhood and studies other than the fact that I thought he was cute and I knew he was smart and funny. He claimed to share my emotional upheaval and earnestly agreed with my assessment that the protagonist in the film reminded me of my grandmothers. He felt the same way. Only later did I learn that he had never known any of his grandparents.

Nevertheless, our romance bloomed from that chance encounter at the movies. We dated throughout our final year of college and eventually married in August, 1968. I doubt that I would have agreed to date him if he had called to ask me out. Instead of spending the year pursuing intellectual activities with Paula, I was riding around on the back of a motorcycle and attending crazy fraternity barn, toga, and trip-to-Miami parties again. It was probably the last carefree year of my life, and I have no regrets about the 180 degree turn I made after sitting next to a guy I barely knew at an art movie.

Graduation pictures

I have no recollection of what happened to Paula. I think there was a third girl with us that night, so I didn’t totally dump her. Still, for someone who had decided she was finished with casual dating, that evening ended up being my shortest resolution ever, but it was also the longest date of my life. It has lasted 54 years.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

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