Monthly Archives: March 2013

Not my usual fare, but I think this is important enough that everyone needs to read it. EVERYONE.

Rethink the Rant

TRIGGER WARNING:

The following includes descriptions, photos, and video that may serve as a trigger for victims of sexual violence.
Please be advised. 

Someone asked me today, “What is ‘rape culture’ anyway? I’m tired of hearing about it.”

Yeah, I hear ya. I’m tired of talking about it. But I’m going to keep talking about it because people like you keep asking that question.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, no one says, “Stop.”

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and though there are dozens of witnesses, they can’t get anyone to come forward.

Rape culture is when a group of athletes rape a young girl, and adults are informed of it, but no consequences are doled out because the boys “said nothing happened.”

Rape culture is when a group…

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Goodbye, Gramma

My grandmother died this weekend. Last summer, I wrote a post about her on the occasion of her 99th birthday. I’ve revised and updated it for publication now, but if you want to see the original, here’s the link.

Modern invention has banished the spinning wheel, and the same law of progress makes the woman of today a different woman from her grandmother. ~ Susan B. Anthony

My grandmother died last weekend.

She was 99 years old, born on July 28th, 1913.

Here’s a fashion plate from the winter of 1913, when my Gramma was a bitty baby celebrating her very first Christmas:

Fashion plate illustrating a dress by Jacques Doucet Title: "Le Soir Tombe" (from Wikipedia Commons)

Fashion plate illustrating a dress by Jacques Doucet Title: “Le Soir Tombe” (from Wikipedia Commons)

The youngest of five, she was a second-generation German American who grew up in a New York City tenement with her mother and step-father, surrounded by other Germans and some Irish, and she retained the accent of that time and place to her death.  She talked (too-ahkt) a little like this fella:

She always told us that she dropped out of high school at sixteen because of the Great Depression, but we suspect that it just provided an excuse. She wasn’t an academic — sharp as a tack, but not much for the book-learning.

She worked as a receptionist in various places, including the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. If she earned $10 per week, she always sent $5 home to her mother, who sold crocheted neckties to make ends meet. The rest of her pay provided lunch at automats, subway fare, and the occasional new dress.

Gramma always told us that she met my grandfather when he was working in a basement office, and she would walk by his window every day. She said that he fell in love with her legs, and that one day he went up to meet the rest of her. Later, she revealed that their meeting was much more prosaic — they worked together in an office, and they would argue about the petty cash. Either way, it was true love.

New York City Midtown from Rockefeller Center, 1936. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

New York City Midtown from Rockefeller Center, 1936. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

They couldn’t get married right away, because for some mysterious reason his family thought she wasn’t good enough for their youngest son. Eventually they just went to City Hall and got married anyway, my Mehrmama and Mehrpapa be damned. My grandfather’s oldest sister, my Tante Dina, never forgave them and made a point of making my grandmother’s life a misery whenever possible. But Gramma never regretted marrying my grandfather — she never said it in so many words, but he was her one great love.

My grandfather was a successful entrepreneur, back when that really meant something — he had a coffee business that he’d built from scratch, and he made a whole lot of money selling coffee to big brands like Chock full o’Nuts. They went to swanky parties and rubbed elbows with swanky people. Gramma told me a story of going to a reception for General MacArthur, in which the ice sculpture of the Big Chief’s head was melting and dripped water from his formidable schnoz.

(From Wikimedia Commons)

(From Wikimedia Commons)

The parties they threw for New Year’s Eve are the stuff of legend, and somewhere there are pictures of drunken middle-aged people making some exceedingly crude hand gestures in their 1950’s-legit rib-high slacks and shirtwaist dresses.

Eventually they moved to a then-rural part of New Jersey, to live the American dream in a big house in the country. They had two daughters, nine years apart. Why the gap? I don’t know. I suspect that there may have been some miscarriages, but some things just don’t get talked about.

When my mother was ten, my aunt was nineteen, and my Gramma was fifty, my grandfather died, his smoking habit having caught up with him. It was 1963, and it was the year that Gramma’s hair turned white.

She never for one minute stopped missing him.

He left her enough money that she never had to work, and she was able to send their two daughters to college. She wasn’t much for book-learning, except when it came to her daughters.

She complicated our family tree considerably when, after fifteen years as a widow, she married my grandfather’s nephew, Tante Dina’s son, who was actually a few years older than him. (Old Tante Dina must have been rolling in her grave.) He and my grandfather had been like brothers, and my mother and aunt always called him Uncle Frankie. Gramma said that Grandpa Ernie was her Husband Numero Uno, and Uncle Frankie was her Husband Numero Two-oh. I was at the wedding, sort of — I provide a rather significantly noticeable baby bump under my mother’s late 1970’s party dress.

By the time I came along, Gramma was already old, or at least I thought she was — she was sixty-six. My earliest memories of her are of a woman in her seventies, who looked fifteen years younger, with snowy white hair which was kept meticulously coiffed. She was more than a little bit vain: she wore contact lenses, and before she left the house she would touch up her blush and lipstick, because otherwise she looked “like death warmed over”. She took great pride in not looking her age.

The universal old-lady haircut, as worn by the beautiful Betty White. (Photo by Alan Light)

The universal old-lady haircut, as worn by the beautiful Betty White. (Photo by Alan Light)

After my parents split up, when I was four, Gramma took care of me and my brother several days a week. She would drive us in her horrible tan Oldsmobile with the nausea-inducing swaying shocks to doctor appointments, dance classes, Tae Kwon Do lessons. When I had an ear infection in first grade, she stayed home with me, put my head in her lap and petted me until I had cried myself to sleep. When I was older, and missed school because of my terrible teenage menstrual cramps, she would arrive with a bottle of blackberry brandy and give it to me by the tablespoonful. It always helped.

Like many older people, she had her own language. If I was getting ahead of myself, she’d tell me to “keep your shirt on”. If I was taking too long, I was “as slow as molasses”. If I didn’t want to eat something that she put in front of me, I “just don’t know what’s good”. She always said, “If it wasn’t for me, you kids would shrivel up and blow away.” And she was probably right.

Her language got crazier than that, though, in the form of adulterated German words and phrases that have been passed down, almost unrecognizable if you actually speak German. I didn’t have earlobes, they were “ear loffels”. The little bits of meat that fall to the plate when you carve a pot roast? They were “gribbas-grabbas”. Tiny bits of paper were “schnipples”. Babies in our family are regaled with rhymes that start, “Gehbten tallah, geh auf deh Mart” and “Hop so lang kein mush mir gesse”. You can be certain that I will pass on these gems to my little son, exactly as she sang them to me.

(From Wikimedia Commons)

If I was messy, she’d call me a stribblepadder. (Page from Der Struwwelpeter, by Heinrich Hoffmann. From Wikimedia Commons)

Her second husband, my mother’s ‘Uncle’ and my Poppop, died when I was twelve. Gramma never married again.

She was vibrant and active for a long time, but eventually age and illness caught up with her. By age 99, she had difficulty walking and hearing, and she required full-time, live-in care. She became cranky in her old age, and I believe that she also succumbed to the family curse of depression. But on her face you could still see her hard-won smile lines, the apple cheeks, and the soft skin that comforted me so much as a child. Up until her final weeks, her hair was still carefully coiffed. Her old, familiar smile still lit up her face, especially when she looked at my son, her great-grandson. Even bedridden and in pain, on our last visit to her only a few weeks before her death, the twinkle returned to her eye as she looked on the tiny person who she had been a part of making.

Gramma with all five grandkids, circa 1982. I'm the little one in front who can't be bothered with looking at the camera. (Thanks to my cousin Chris for providing the photo.)

Gramma with all five grandkids, circa Easter of 1982. I’m the little one in front who can’t be bothered with looking at the camera. (Thanks to my cousin Chrissy, second from the right, for providing the photo.)

This is a love letter to her. To my Gramma. Who saw the events of a century, with all its wondrous and sometimes terrifying changes, and lived through it all with a smile, a Manhattan in her hand and a dirty joke on her lips.

Goodbye, Gramma. I love you.

My Mind Is My Battlefield

This is as true in everyday life as it is in battle: we are given one life and the decision is ours whether to wait for circumstances to make up our mind, or whether to act, and in acting, to live. ~ Omar N. Bradley

Depression is an issue that has been getting a great deal of press lately, particularly in the parenting community. The Parenting Magazine article Xanax Makes Me A Better Mom shows just how pervasive and controversial this issue is: according to the article, parents are more than twice as likely as non-parents to experience depression, and the comments section illustrates just exactly how harsh and judgmental people can be about it — whether you’re taking pills or not, whether you’re in therapy or not, as soon as you use the word ‘depression’ someone stands ready to condemn you for something.

I’ve been depressed for my entire life. When I was 24, I first heard the word dysthymia: chronic, mild depression that lasts for years. It was a diagnosis which has made me view my entire dry, pessimistic personality as suspect. I’ve suffered repeated bouts of double depression as well — dysthymia paired with an episode of major depression. It makes for a thick psychiatric folder and a lifelong struggle to feel even the most basic joys.

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu

I took medications (many, many medications) for five years. I’ve been in therapy with psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers, and counselors for eleven. I’ve used all the conventional methods to treat depression, from SSRIs to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I know what works for me and what doesn’t.

Last summer, I went once more into a deep depression. Years of therapy had given me tools that helped me to deal with my dysthymia, and I had been functioning quite well without drugs for years. The scary thing about this depression, beyond the fact that my own mind was once more threatening my life and happiness, is that this time I’m a mom.

I have a son. I have to raise this child. I have to get up early every morning, put his needs before my own, and provide him with a safe, healthy environment. More than that, I have to teach him how to live in the world. How can I do that, if I’m mired in pain? How can I teach him to love life if I’m thinking of taking my own?

Baby face_edited-1

My son, just by existing, has raised the stakes on my healing process. I MUST GET BETTER. For his sake, for my sake, for the sakes of all the people with whom I come into contact. I cannot refuse to do the things that I have to do to get better, not out of fear or shame or any other emotion that may weigh me down.

A recent article by The Bearded Iris was titled “We Are Only As Sick As Our Secrets”. It’s a saying which is common theme in therapy. Being open about our pain, about the reasons behind our pain, alleviates that pain. It allows us to live more fully in our skins and to have more honest relationships with people. Though it may be hard and frightening, talking about our inner fears, hurts, and suppressed angers is a necessary part of healing.

Though it’s hard, I’ve been working to come to grips with my past — to expose my pain to fresh air and sunlight. Therapy has taught me a great deal about myself, about the things that made me the way I am, and about what I need to do to become the kind of person that I want to be.

When it becomes too hard, when it hurts too much and I face too much judgment and condemnation from my loved ones (who would be very happy to see me medicate the pain away, in spite of the fact that I know that drugs are only a superficial panacea for me), I think of my little son.

I think of him at seventy, or eighty, or ninety. I think of him telling his grandchildren about his life, and that of his parents. I think of him telling them about me.

If I give up, if I choose not to do the hard work of grappling with my pain, his story will be one of his own pain. It will be a story of feeling disconnected from his mother, of watching her shrivel into herself until she was completely unable to function. It may be a story of losing her altogether, and the terrible toll that had on the rest of his young life. I can’t bear to think of that.

If I don’t give up, if I do what needs to be done to face my demons and stand up for my own mental health, I can hope that his story will be one of pride and admiration. It will be a story of a strong, courageous woman who did not let life, stigma, condemnation, or her own mind keep her down. A woman who fought for what she loved and who raised him with the courage to do the same.

That’s the story I want to leave my son with. That’s the woman, the mother, that I want to be.

So the fight continues.

Battle_of_barnet

If you find yourself relating to me a little too closely, or you know someone who would, there’s lots of help available. Please don’t suffer in silence. Seek help. A basic Google search for “depression help” turns up an unbelievable 240,000,000 results. You owe it to yourself, and even more importantly to your children, to get treatment.

Let’s make sure that all our children have truly inspiring stories to tell of us.