Sunday, September 25, 2016

What's the Matter with Kids Today?

Do you remember that song from the musical Bye Bye, Birdie--KIDS?

"Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way?

What's the matter with kids today?"

It's an amusing song. And it expresses the frustration and confusion that older generations feel about the younger generation.

A great deal of the misunderstanding results because of the tribal markings* each generation uses. 

When I first returned to the United States, having been in southern Africa where my parents were missionaries, the ways in which my fellow classmates dressed was very different from what I had just experienced. I had attended boarding school, a necessity when the mission station where we were was a day trip from the nearest school for me. Boarding schools required students to wear uniforms. So everyone clearly belonged to the same "tribe" by virtue of those uniforms. And it was easy to tell when we saw other school uniforms that other "tribes" were close by.

High school in the United States did not require students to wear uniforms. And yet they did. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, I encountered girls who wore blouses with Peter Pan collars, wide skirts decorated with poodles, and crinoline slips. And I so envied that new style uniform. I never did get a poodle skirt**. Of course, now I have to laugh at
myself.

Once the 1960s moved into full swing, I was able to adopt the uniform. I had long hair, and wore long "hippie" style dresses. My husband, who I married in 1967, had shoulder length hair and a mustache. We looked like we belonged in the '60s. And, of course, there were people who shook their heads and said "Kids!"

Fast forward a couple of decades. When our daughter was a young girl, she began to bug me to let her get her ears pierced. All or almost all of her friends had their ears pierced. I resisted. After all, at the time, our daughter was pre-teen. My answer was--yes, you can get your ears pierced when I get mine pierced. NOT FAIR--of course, as I had never had mine pierced.  But I now understand her request was part of wanting to belong to the tribe.

There are many ways today to young people mark themselves as belonging to the tribe. When I taught at the local community college, at the end of my working career, I was amazed at how many students had tattoos. And then I began to note how many students had body piercings. And I am talking about more than pierced ears.  Occasionally, I would note that a student was "playing" with her tongue ball.  OK--a tribal marking, but not one I could appreciate.

Thus it ever was--adults who had their own tribal markings shake their heads and ask--"Kids, what's the matter with kids today?"
-----------------


* As I was preparing to write this, I searched my blog to see what I might have said on this subject before. (I confess, I do find myself repeating some ideas.)  Herewith is an earlier entry on the topic--written about my teaching time.

** Photo of the poodle skirt comes from a website where you can get your own pattern to make one.


What's the Matter with Kids Today?

Do you remember that song from the musical Bye Bye, Birdie--KIDS?

"Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way?

What's the matter with kids today?"

It's an amusing song. And it expresses the frustration and confusion that older generations feel about the younger generation.

A great deal of the misunderstanding results because of the tribal markings* each generation uses. 

When I first returned to the United States, having been in southern Africa where my parents were missionaries, the ways in which my fellow classmates dressed was very different from what I had just experienced. I had attended boarding school, a necessity when the mission station where we were was a day trip from the nearest school for me. Boarding schools required students to wear uniforms. So everyone clearly belonged to the same "tribe" by virtue of those uniforms. And it was easy to tell when we saw other school uniforms that other "tribes" were close by.

High school in the United States did not require students to wear uniforms. And yet they did. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, I encountered girls who wore blouses with Peter Pan collars, wide skirts decorated with poodles, and crinoline slips. And I so envied that new style uniform. I never did get a poodle skirt**. Of course, now I have to laugh at
myself.

Once the 1960s moved into full swing, I was able to adopt the uniform. I had long hair, and wore long "hippie" style dresses. My husband, who I married in 1967, had shoulder length hair and a mustache. We looked like we belonged in the '60s. And, of course, there were people who shook their heads and said "Kids!"

Fast forward a couple of decades. When our daughter was a young girl, she began to bug me to let her get her ears pierced. All or almost all of her friends had their ears pierced. I resisted. After all, at the time, our daughter was pre-teen. My answer was--yes, you can get your ears pierced when I get mine pierced. NOT FAIR--of course, as I had never had mine pierced.  But I now understand her request was part of wanting to belong to the tribe.

There are many ways today to young people mark themselves as belonging to the tribe. When I taught at the local community college, at the end of my working career, I was amazed at how many students had tattoos. And then I began to note how many students had body piercings. And I am talking about more than pierced ears.  Occasionally, I would note that a student was "playing" with her tongue ball.  OK--a tribal marking, but not one I could appreciate.

Thus it ever was--adults who had their own tribal markings shake their heads and ask--"Kids, what's the matter with kids today?"
-----------------


* As I was preparing to write this, I searched my blog to see what I might have said on this subject before. (I confess, I do find myself repeating some ideas.)  Herewith is an earlier entry on the topic--written about my teaching time.

** Photo of the poodle skirt comes from a website where you can get your own pattern to make one.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Thin Skinned

Some people have childhood injuries they recall, or perhaps some trauma from teen years. And me, well, a memorable injury for me occurred just last summer.

In fact, there were two injuries. And they both occurred while we were visiting our daughter and her family.  We were in London for the birth of one of our granddaughters.  Among other things, I was occasionally preparing an evening meal. One evening, as I was heating a casserole in the oven in our daughter's family flat, I  pulled the casserole out to examine how "done" it was. Unfortunately, the whole dish began to slip. Since I envisioned the entire family's dinner going on the floor, I grabbed the metal casserole dish with bare hands.  Standing right next to me was our oldest grandchild--who was 2 and 1/2 years old. I said to her--Anna, grab the hot things.  Thankfully, she was quick thinking and knew I meant the hot pad holders.

The result was that I burned all but three of my fingers on my two hands.

Of course, with time I healed. But for months that memory was seared into my granddaughter's mind. She would retell the event, or ask to see my hands, even when we were talking by Face Time.

That same summer, I sustained one other injury. Thankfully, this one, while it occurred while I was with the same granddaughter, she was unaware of it.  We had gone to a carnival in a nearby neighborhood park. And there was a carousel!  What child can resist a carousel.  So I went to the man operating the carousel, gave him the necessary tickets for my granddaughter to ride it, and proceeded to help her choose a place to ride.  OH NO, said the man--you can't just put her on the carousel; you have to ride with her.  So in a panic (the ride was ready to start) I quickly climbed up. The side of the carousel was much higher than I expected, and I scraped my leg.

I knew instantly I was injured, but I kept the news from my granddaughter. After all, she already had the searing memory of my burning my hands.  As we rode up and down on the carousel horse, the man next to us looked over. He exclaimed--you're bleeding.  I quietly replied--I know.



And, that is how I found out that I am now "thin-skinned." This is one of the less than thrilling side effects of growing older.  I now work very hard to avoid bumping my extremities--arms or legs.  And, yes, in the photo above you could see my injured leg.  But, I won't point it out.

Not very memorable injuries, except of course, I remember. More because I don't want my granddaughter to have such memories of Nana being a klutz, or being hurt.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

So, You Want to be a Doctor?

When I was 12 years old, and at boarding school in Bulawayo (now Zimbabwe, then Rhodesia), my parents came to collect me for one of the regular holiday breaks. One of the school officials took them aside, and suggested that I see a doctor. Apparently, I had been showing signs of occasional uncontrolled spasticity.  My left arm would suddenly flail out, with no warning.

Once we reached the mission station, the missionary doctor was contacted. She came from a nearby mission and examined me. The diagnosis: rheumatic fever.  And the symptom, commonly called St. Vitus Dance, was medically called Sydenham's chorea.

What causes rheumatic fever and Sydenham's chorea is a streptococcal A bacteria. The treatment then was complete bed rest and penicillin.  Thus began my six weeks stay in bed. I have written about this event before and particularly focusing on the doctor who treated me.

I so admired this doctor. She was a very good doctor, and maybe more importantly to me at the time: she was a WOMAN.  No doubt during the time I spent convalescing, I developed an idea--I could be a doctor.

So, that's where my career was headed.  I recall a conversation with my father where I told him I wanted to be a doctor. I also recall his response--he affirmed that he and Mother would help me in whatever way they could.

What they couldn't help me with was Chemistry. Once in college, I took the requisite Chemistry course and promptly began to have doubts about my future career.  I limped through the first semester of Chemistry, getting a C in the course. And then, with the second semester, I realized that my career goal of becoming a doctor was simply not going to happen. I got a D in the second semester, and immediately began to redirect my career goals.

I settled on being an English major, and not only earned my bachelor's degree in English but also a Master's degree.  And then, by a fortuitous interaction with a favorite former professor, I ended returning to my alma mater to teach English.

But this change--from pre-medical to English--was not the only career change I experienced. After I had been teaching for 8 years, I needed to seek other employment. I had been full-time, then part-time when our son was born. When I wanted to return to full-time, the college dean informed me there were no positions for an indefinite time. So I went to work in a professional association representing doctors!  Yes, I was finally working every day with doctors.

Along the way, I picked up much medical knowledge.  From that professional association, I went to work for the State Health Department, and from there to one of the Blue Cross/Blue Shield organizations in the country.

Along the way, as I have interacted with people, I am sometimes asked--are you a doctor? The question makes me smile. But I answer--no--I just work with a lot of them. I don't even bother to say--but I wanted to be a doctor.  Truth is, I am much happier having been an English major.

You see, after my sojourn in medical organizations was over, I returned to college level teaching--English.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The Fall of Icarus

Having come up with a prompt for our group of intrepid bloggers (aka Comeback Bloggers) on the seven deadly sins...I confess to a temporary bit of sloth--not getting to writing my blog. And now the next prompt has been posted.

Oh dear, oh dear.

And NO--sloth is not the sin to which I would confess.

So, here's a quick primer--in early Christian church thought, the church fathers (those jolly guys) came up with seven sins they called deadly, presumably because committing such a sin put one in mortal danger.

As a point of fact, the enumeration of seven deadly sins is extra-biblical. You will not find such a list anywhere. But, certainly there portions of the Bible which highlight some of the seven: lust, envy, greed, sloth, gluttony, anger and pride (or hubris).

While several variations of the list may be found in early church fathers' writings, it was Pope Gregory I who revised and cemented the list into seven. (Thanks, Greg.)


While I could confess to having "committed" most if not all of these, the one against which I personally guard is pride. I like the Greek word "hubris." It is a recurring theme in many of the Greek tragedies, as well as the Shakespearean tragedies. Briefly, hubris is defined as "overweening pride"--pride that goes far beyond being proud of something--your accomplishments, your family...your whatever. The qualifier "overweening" makes this pride something that goes beyond--to be SO proud that you really think you cannot be instructed, that you are far superior to many people, that you are the top, the best, the brightest...add your superlative.

I have been richly blessed in my life--good parents, happy childhood, loving spouse, the world's best children (oops--no, very good children--got to watch that "overweening" thing), and on and on. In addition to this list, I have benefited from a good education, lucky breaks in my career working life, generally good health. It becomes easy to be proud of these things--as though they have come to me because I deserve it.

Ah, ah--caution there for me.  Thankfully for me, there are some literary reminders not to allow one's pride to rise too high.

There is the wonderful Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus.  The "sin" that dominates is the sin of pride. And the myth is an excellent example of hubris. A mere mortal thinking himself god-like rises too high, either in power, or--as with the myth--too high literally.  And the gods, wanting to remind the mere mortal that he IS mere, smack him down. (Or her... of course...though the classics usually feature men.)




Pieter Brueghel "The Fall of Icarus"

Musee des Beaux Arts
by W. H. Auden 

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.


In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. 

--------------------------


Are you wondering why I included the Brueghel painting, and the W. H. Auden poem "Musee des Beaux Art"? Well, they are both about the fall of Icarus. Can you find Icarus in the painting? And can you figure out why Auden says "About suffering they were never wrong/The old masters"?

When I was teaching, I used this poem and the painting. It was fun to ask the students  first what they saw in the painting. The overall scene is a bucolic one--a ploughman, a clear blue sky, a ship sailing somewhere.  But where Icarus was in the painting?

Once they found him, I would ask--why did Brueghel so place him?  

Discuss among yourselves.






Sunday, August 28, 2016

That Time of Year*

Not surprisingly, literature abounds with images and themes of aging. Aging is presented in literature as something to be celebrated, something to be avoided, something unavoidable to be lived.  That about covers it.  

For instance, Shakespeare has multiple sonnets on the theme of aging (a favorite of mine is Sonnet 73).  And one of his most powerful play focuses entirely on the ravages of aging: King Lear.

While I could focus this whole blog on literature as it deal with aging, where my thoughts take me on the subject of growing older is more personal.

Over the past several decades, I have been the primary responsible party for various members of my family.  The first family member who named me the "person to contact" was my step-grandmother. She had married my grandfather and enjoyed a brief marriage, as he died after they had been married 7 years. I visited her in the retirement home where she lived, and when there were special opportunities, she turned to me. For example, when a photographer came to the home, she could have her portrait taken with a family member. So she asked me...and I sat along with my son for a portrait with Grandma Mary.  When she suffered a stroke some years later, she was asked who should be called--and she said "Donna."

So I transitioned into being effectively her "power of attorney" family member. (She had no such document, but had named me.) As I slowly took over some of her affairs, I discovered that she had stopped paying the monthly charge at the nursing facility where she was. And I discovered that she was really "broke."  For a few months, my husband and I paid her monthly charge. But when it became clear she would not be returning to her room where she lived independently, I did all the work which got her on to Medicaid, a program for indigent people.  

When she died, immediately after the funeral the family was gathered to celebrate and remember her life. In addition to her step-family, she also had nephews from her birth family. The subject arose--who would take care of settling Grandma Mary's affairs--and again, someone said "Donna."

Some 20 plus years ago, my mother died. While she and my father had moved to a retirement village and were independent, her death meant that my father needed someone to turn to in every day circumstances.  So, he confided some of his deep grieving, and when he began to think about remarrying, I heard about his hopes. Thankfully, he did remarry.  


But as my father and step-mother have grown older together eventually they have had to live in two different levels of care, in the same facility. And once again, I have been named as power of attorney for each of them.  Given the care that nursing facilities render, that means every time there is some untoward event--a slight fall, an inadvertent nick--I get a call. When it is more serious--a trip to the hospital--I also get a call.

Recently, it has occurred to me that I am now the age that once was seen as old age and I am still being the "responsible party" for people older than me.  It has been a long haul--from the time I was first named by my step-grandmother (I was about 34 years old) until now, when I am 71.
  
--------------------  
*Sonnet 73 
by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou may'st in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day,
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.
   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Yodel-ay-ee-hoo!

Favorite vacation, eh? That's the question this week.

Summertime is, of course, the time for vacations many places in the world. In the U.S., we don't really close down for the month of August...which seems to be the pattern in much of Europe.

Of course, those of us who live in the northern hemisphere tend to think of summer as vacation time...which is, of course, winter in the southern hemisphere.

Anyway, to my favorite vacation memory.  While we have had many vacations as a two-some, then three-some, then four-some, and with our children marrying, six-somes, my favorite vacation memory is when all five of us visited Switzerland.  Why five? Well, as of that year our daughter had yet to meet the man who became her husband.

It was the year 2000. An auspicious year to be sure. Remember the fuss about Y2K?  No? Well, you can look it up.  Understandably, decadal years are significant to we humans who are born time-keepers. One way the decade is marked is that every ten years, the village of Oberammergau performs the Passion Play. The legend has it that in the 1600s when the bubonic plague was raging, the village leaders prayed and promised that, should they be spared, they would forever after tell the story of Jesus and his life. Thus was born the Passion Play.

Now, we didn't go to Switzerland just to see the Passion Play.  No, we went to Switzerland because the family name is WENGER. In fact, one town we visited was Wengen, from whence Wengers wandered. (Sorry, couldn't resist the alliteration.)  So, we were returning to our roots.  

The trip took us to lovely places around parts of Germany and Switzerland--we sailed along the Rhine; we visited a Mennonite community (our family heritage is Anabaptist); we went to the cathedral in Worms where Luther delivered his famous "Here I take my stand" speech; we visited the Black Forest; we hiked to Wasserfalls--a 500 meter water falls;we saw places where Taufers* worshipped; we also saw hidey-holes where persecuted Anabaptists hid; and we went to Wengen which is "up the hill" from Interlaken.

Wengen is at the base of the Jungfrau, a towering mountain of some 4,158 meters (13,642). The mountain is a PRESENCE. It was everywhere--looming over all. One morning we got up at 5:30 a.m. to watch the sunrise which touched the mountain face with gold.  We rode a cog train up the Jungfrau, a one and a half hour ride at a 25 degree angle. All around we could see deep blue sky. The altitude made walking around quite arduous. 

As the tour was planned, the highlight was the visit to Oberammergau. In 2000 the Passion Play was a revised version. Over time, the play had been criticized for being strongly anti-Semitic. So, this version had addressed those content concerns.  As the play was a day long (seriously) and featured lots of singing as well as dramatic scenes, it was something of a tour de force. 

I can't say that our family enjoyed this tour "highlight."  We had a different event as our highlight.  One of the charming things we noticed was the great number of various festivals. One of the little towns we passed through just happened to be having a parade. So we watched as people in local costumes marched by.  On another day, when with a free day we traveled to Lucerne. And once again we encountered a festival parade.

So, our highlight event was the night we went to a Swiss folk festival--musicians playing accordions and a home-made bass with a single string were the first entertainers to come. Singers then entered, singing yodeling duets. Next eight dancers did several Swiss folk dances, followed by one man playing the alpenhorn. Suddenly we heard a clanging sound, unidentified until seven young men came into view, each carrying and clanging a large (make that HUGE) cowbell. They played these cowbells by rocking back and forth rhythmically.  Quite a sight, and most humorous.


Then there was time for audience participation. One of the events was playing, or attempting to play, the alpenhorn. AND our son won! He was the only one who actually got the alpenhorn to sound--after which our daughter yelled out "RICOLA."

The ingredients for this most memorable vacation--the whole family, breathtakingly beautiful scenery, dashes of history about our family origin, local entertainment! 
Yodel-ay-ee-hoo!
---------------------
Taufers--this was the name given to the early Anabaptists, who preached and practiced adult baptism. Taufen is the German word for baptize, so the people who practiced that were known as Taufers. 
Come to think of it, there is enough material here for a separate blog.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Water, Water Everywhere...and not a drop to drink*

Almost three-fourths of the earth's surface is covered with water. Of that, 97% is salt water, rendering it not fit for drinking. We humans are more than half water.

OK, enough with the statistics. Where is this blog post going?

Well, I am working up to my post of a "first world problem."

Several weeks ago, as I was awaking, my husband informed me we had very little water pressure in the house. After contacting the water company, we learned there had been a break in a major pipeline in the next township from ours, but it was affecting water supplies over a large area.

The first thing I did was fill two large soup pots with cold water--I had enough sense to know that I shouldn't run hot water from the water heater if the pressure was too low to refill the heater quickly.

For several hours that day, the water pressure remained low. Then by late afternoon, the pipe had been repaired and water pressure returned. BUT--because of the interruption in the supply, a boil water advisory was in place.

And that's where my first world problem began. Really? Bringing large pots of water to a boil, a full rolling boil for one minute, and then letting the water cool?  Sigh.

OK, I'll do it. But fortunately we had bottled water downstairs--so for our drinking, and even teeth brushing, we could use that. The boiled water? Well, we could use it for the pets and to make coffee.

For the briefest of time, I was scheming and planning--how to get water, how to make sure it was ready for consumption. And all the while, I was feeling...put out. What a problem. All because a water pipe somewhere broke.

Well, that's when the first world problem hit me. What was I thinking? I didn't have to walk any
further than my sink to get water. Even with the low pressure, I still had water. By some estimates more than a billion--that's BILLION--people have to walk miles every day to get water.


And some people drinking the water that is available end up with water acquired infections. Former President Jimmy Carter has made it one of his life's goals to help eradicate guinea worm infections.  (By the way, is Jimmy Carter not the best former president ever?) You can read more about his work at the Jimmy Carter Center.

So, for all of two days, we lived under a boil water advisory. We were never without water. We did not get sick. And even our pets were well watered.

First world problem? You bet.

And the current situation is just the beginning--far too many people without adequate water supplies. There are experts who believe the next big world conflict will be over water rights.

For now, turn on your tap (or faucet) for just a couple of seconds. And then say-thank you. And then go find a project to help other people have access to safe readily available water.