a son not going to prom brings back icky high school memories

Prom is this weekend, but my son isn’t going. prom

He’ll be the first of my four kids to not go to the annual senior dance that is somewhat of a rite of passage. He’s never been to a high school dance either, so it’s not like he’s had his fill of them, and I think he wants to go, but none of his friends is going and thinks it would be awkward if he went. His not going is bringing up feelings I had thirtysomething years ago when I too didn’t go to prom. And it’s unsettling.

I had wanted to go to prom. I grew up back East and moved out West with my family before the start of my junior year. It took me quite some time to get accustomed to the differences on the left coast, but by the end of senior year, I had made some friends, not many, but a few, including two guys I hung out with in Honors English. I was hoping at least one of them would ask me to the senior prom. But no, the invitation never came. In those days, only couples could go to the prom, no singles and no groups of friends. It was a male and a female couple. I’m guessing the rules do not hold up today, nor should they.

My other kids all went. My first daughter was asked by a handsome, popular young man. My second daughter went with a male friend who was actually a grade behind but was taking extra classes to finish out his senior year as a junior. My older son, the athlete, went with the cute cheerleading captain, and they then started dating. But my youngest, whom I’d always pictured as going, being that he’s well-liked and, having sisters, is pretty comfortable aroundthe opposite sex, is not. My husband and I as well as his brother and sisters have encouraged him to go, but here it is, four days away, and it’s become pretty evident that he’s not going.

I hope it’s not something he regrets, as I do. Difference is, as a senior, going was out of my control. I had to be asked. He, however, could have asked a girl or just gone with friends, but I guess it doesn’t mean that much to him. Fortunately, my kids aren’t ones to need to be with a member of the opposite sex to feel validated. Of the four kids, three of whom are adults,, only one is dating someone right now.

Come next week, I’m sure seniors will be buzzing and Ben will hear stories of how great prom was. I would guess he’ll feel a little let down that he didn’t go. And I know I will be. In fact, I started talking about prom to him and my friend’s daughter way back when they were in the second grade, joking that they would be going together one day. Trouble is, by senior year she had had a boyfriend, and it wasn’t my Ben. But he is OK with the way things are. He will find something fun to do, and I will reward him with some sort of treat, considering the great amount of money he’s saved me by not going. For a seventeen-year-old, he’s pretty mature. I wish I could say the same for myself.

“i am my father’s daughter”: whether we like it or not, our parents’ behaviors are reflected in our own

Today I can officially declare, “I am my father’s daughter.” No matter how much we try to separate ourselves from our parents’ behaviors (the quirky, weird, or negative ones, anyway), sooner or later we start repeating them.

My dad was a blue-collar man who worked hard to keep a roof over the heads of his wife and five kids on a meager salary. My mom worked too, part-time and usually around our schedules, but my dad was the chief breadwinner. To scrimp and save, and because he was a child of the Great Depression, my dad would find ways to make due with what we had, fix it to make it work better, and only when there was no hope, buy something to replace it–and more likely than not, that “something” would come second-hand.

Have a rusted fender on your ’63 Fairlane? Duct tape will do the trick. Need fertilizer for the plants? Pee on them–the high nitrogen levels in human urine can provide the necessary nutrients. Too much forced-air gas-heat escaping down the hallway to the unoccupied rooms? Open the door to the heater and tape thick corrugated cardboard to its edges to concentrate the warm air.

Today I borrowed a page from my dad’s playbook. We are having a series of heavy rainstorms in Southern California that we are never prepared for here. For example, no one bothered to check the grading of the lawns when building our under-insulated tract homes forty- or fifty-odd years ago, so some of us have accumulated rain water sloping toward the houses’ foundations. Remember the homes in Malibu a few years ago that slid off their foundations? Similar thinking. But, hey, “it never rains in California.” It may just be a line from a song, but it’s often the gospel truth. In fact, since we’ve had so little rain to speak of over the past few years, we could get by with those sloping-toward-the-foundation yards and roofs that may have leaked during the last heavy rain six years ago but were forgotten about in the dry drought years. It’s easy to block out unpleasant thoughts.

A case in point, something that my husband and I put off fixing is now a problem for us. We have a door that leads from the garage to the side yard. It appears to me to be an indoor door, not a heavy-duty outdoor door. It’s hollow, for one, and looks as though it was inserted into the frame with a few nails and a couple screws in a hurry when it was time to sell the house years and years ago. It sufficed for a while, but with the door being in the hot sun, the cheap, thin door’s paint has peeled and with it came the top layer of the door. The outer portion is now hanging on for dear life. My husband and I planned to replace it, but, as is often the case, time got away from us, and now the door is not only getting hit by the sun, it’s being pelted by the rain too. A hollow door with an outer portion of thin plywood is not going to keep the elements out.

To the rescue came I. Well, I and my dad in my head. For a quick fix, yesterday, before the rains came, I grabbed three black trash bags and a roll of packing tape and taped the bags to the door. I figured it would do the trick in a pinch until I could find a more permanent solution, shy of getting a new door. Then I came in the house, got online, and tried to find something I could find that would be more sturdy than a Hefty bag. Guess what? There is nothing on earth at any of the big-box stores or even the neighborhood True Value that I could find to use in a pinch. Sure, I could have bought plywood, got it home, cut it, painted it for protection, and screwed it into the door, but I was pretty sure I didn’t have the time or the skill or the tools necessary before the rains hit, which did indeed show up a few hours later.

So I had to think fast and find something flexible that I, personally, could put up over the door and that would arrive asap. Searching Amazon, I found a thick clear-vinyl tablecloth and a four-pack of duct tape that were part of the next-day delivery program. Perfect. (No, I didn’t need four rolls of tape, but I couldn’t find a single roll in the house or garage and that’s why I used packing tape yesterday.)

When the box arrived an hour ago, and the rain had halted for a bit, I got to work draping the thick vinyl over and under the trash-bag-covered door and taped away. The lowest of the three bags had come a bit loose and let some rain hit the door, so I was happy that this tablecloth would now cover all of that and not have separations.

Ta da: 0119171320

All right. So it won’t win any design awards and the prototype needs a little tweaking before I apply for a U.S. patent, but I’ll bet there are a few people who are right now scrambling to post it on their Pinterest boards!

Well, maybe not. The only thing I know for sure is it will make do…oh, and that my dad is likely smiling down on me from the heavens knowing that one of us five inherited his skills.

——————

This week’s three things I’m thankful for:

  1. A brain and two working hands and a healthy body to come up with a plan and implement it no matter how crappy the end result looks.
  2. A break in the rain so I could walk the dog and “fix” the door.
  3. A house with a roof that will probably not leak until at least day 2 of this storm.

 

taking a walk down memory lane can trip you up

pic-of-letters-in-mailI have been trying to discard some of my old things I have no use for. While looking through a box of old letters (I used to be a prolific letter-writer, and hung on to those written to me in return by family and friends), I was taken way back in time. Funny how we call them “the good ol’ days,” but in actuality they weren’t so good at all.

Although I had a college degree and had started (just barely) working in my career, I married young, especially by today’s standards. When my husband decided his history degree wouldn’t put bread on the table, we moved a year and a half after getting married so he could go to graduate school. By then, however, we already had had our first child. A second was born when we were away in a new city, with no friends or family and no one to help with the kids. We went an entire year, when our firstborn was a baby, without any income. We lived off of student loans and the savings we had accumulated, which of course wasn’t much. We had no help from our parents–nor should we have, really. After all, we were adults, making big-boy and big-girl decisions.

When my husband was away at class all day (he took a train into San Francisco, while I stayed in our apartment on the Peninsula) or working at the school library to make a few bucks during his second and third years, I was raising two babies by myself basically. That included taking the girls and myself to doctor’s visits (since I had no one at all to watch them, they came with me everywhere I went); handling all the feedings; doing all the housework, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the bill paying, the banking, the car repair visits;  and working at a job from home, at which I called subscribers of the two big daily newspapers to ask about their service. A lot of that job was performed while feeding, rocking, and holding my infant or during her naptime (no, I never could take the wise advice given to new moms about resting when the baby naps–and that may be why I cannot, for the love of God, force myself to nap to this day). I was beaten down, exhausted, stressed out, and, above all, lonely. Good ol’ days? Hah!

We were stone-cold broke and I recorded each and every expense so as not to go over our budget. We had only so much in student loans to live on until the next year’s allotment. So every month’s rent, every power bill, every newspaper we purchased, and every McDonald’s cheeseburger we bought on the handful of days we treated ourselves to a meal out over the three years was written down in a notebook. I never was able to afford cute little clothes or toys for the girls or anything I wished I could give them. My older daughter’s favorite item of clothing was a skirt I’d found for two dollars on the clearance rack at Target (it was a splurge, believe me). But it was too chilly where we lived and she was back to her KMart pull-on corduroy pants until she outgrew them, reserving the skirt for our drives back home to Southern California.

We made weekly trips to the public library, and I’d stock up on books for them and for me. This was a big part of our lives. I taught the older one her letters, numbers, and colors and eventually how to read. We had the most basic cable service imaginable because we couldn’t pick up TV reception from San Francisco. We were, however, able to get two fuzzy San Jose stations that were almost impossible to watch when the fog rolled in. The basic cable only allowed us the local stations, including PBS, and a few cable stations, like CNN, MTV, and VH-1. Nickelodeon and other children’s programming networks were additional, so the only show my daughter could watch was Sesame Street, first on an old color TV that had been a wedding gift from my brother and then a 12-inch black-and-white when the color one gave out.

We didn’t socialize at all, being that most of my husband’s classmates were single city dwellers and we were a married couple with kids living on the tightest budget possible. And we resided outside the city in a more affordable suburb. Our entertainment, if you can call it that, was watching the occasional NFL game on TV or direct-to-TV movies and series, and reading all those library books. I felt really cut off from the rest of the world–the world I had barely gotten a foot into before having kids. Since we couldn’t afford long-distance phone calls, our friends and family would call us, and only between certain hours on Sundays, when rates were lower. So getting a letter from a friend of mine or maybe my mom or sister was a big deal to me. A letter was often my only connection to that other world and it made me feel as though people cared.

Finding and reading those letters today didn’t quite give me the morale boost I would get when I opened them for the first time. Instead, I became melancholy and sad for the young woman I was and the woman I never got to become. I don’t know if I felt trapped, because it was a life I willingly walked into. Maybe enmeshed is a better word. I was enmeshed in a world I had wanted but was too naïve to understand all the ramifications of. I was mature enough to realize, though, that it was a temporary life and it would improve.

And yes, my life has changed for the better since then, but some things remain the same. I still work from home and I’ve been a stay-at-home mom my entire thirty-plus years of parenting (now with four kids, the youngest of whom is in high school). Life has gotten so much better, though. To all the struggling young moms out there, I am living proof it turns out OK, but it was rough in the eighties and nineties. At least the moms of today have online forums in which to share feelings and Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to keep them in touch with long-distance friends. I didn’t have that, but I did have all those letters to keep me sane. They represent a tough time in my life, but also, they were my lifeline. I think I’ll hang on to them.

 

 

you can go home again . . . using google maps

It’s been thirty-eight years since I moved from my childhood home and I haven’t been back since. Well, I haven’t physically been back, but by the virtue of this amazing item called a PC that’s connected to something called the Internet on which I can view Google maps, I can go home again.

Last Saturday night, I Googled my childhood home’s address and was surprised to see that the Google car had been in my old neighborhood recently. A couple years ago, when I last checked on the place, all I got was an aerial view, so I had to really use my imagination to make out what I was seeing because it wasn’t the tightest of shots. I could see the roof and some of the trees, but it wasn’t a close enough view to give me quite the perspective I was looking for. But now Google’s street view has brought me straight to my front door.

A wave of nostalgia washed over me when I laid eyes on that little Cape Cod in a neighborhood of Capes, all small one-and-a-half-story houses on adequately sized yards, with no sidewalks (just the way I remember it). Some of the foliage was different. Gone was my favorite plant in the front yard, a big hydrangea filled with gigantic, to my little self, snowbally flowers in the late spring and summer. Also gone was the maple tree I can recall being on the opposite side of the driveway. And the paint colors were different too. My house used to be white with dark-green retractable awnings. Now it’s a light gray with a dark-blue trim. I usually don’t like blue on houses, but this looks rather nice.

The neighborhood, for the most part, looks the same, give or take a missing tree or two and the big “boat” American cars that were common back then, having since been replaced by Subarus and Hondas. But another thing is missing too: the children. Any time of day throughout the year when kids weren’t in school they’d be out in the streets, playing ice hockey or baseball or even tennis, with the net drawn onto the tarvia with chalk. They’d be gliding on bikes or skateboards or roller skates. They’d be hanging out on the front lawns playing Barbies on blankets or running around dodging each other in a game of tag or hide-and-go-seek. Even the adults would venture out to work on cars or chat with the neighbors. But on my old street 2015, not a soul was in sight, child or adult.

But it’s like that where I live now too. Everyone stays inside. No one knows their neighbors. We have beautiful weather here, not upstate New York weather, but kids are indoors watching TV (because cartoons and other shows are on all day long at the click of a few buttons) or they’re playing video games, (and I don’t mean Pong by Atari) or they’re on these wacky space-agey devices called computers and smartphones, taking pictures of themselves and posting them to their virtual friends and a whole bunch of strangers. Who’da thunk kids’ lives would have changed so much back when I was a short little girl with dark-brown hair and just a hope and a prayer for the future?

My old home looks good, thanks to the new owners and the entire neighborhood, actually. I thought the house, which is 65 years old, would look timeworn and depressing, but it doesn’t. Seeing my house makes me nostalgic for the “good ol’ days” and the person I was then. It also makes me miss the people who were a central part of my life, my parents, whom I no longer have. I miss mini me too, that child who loved Charlie Brown and drawing and reading and all the innocent things kids were into back then.

I used my mouse and traced around the block, following a path I used to take when riding my bike, feeling the breeze in my hair, and the freedom being on two wheels brought back then on those humid summer evenings or bright, sunny mornings. It was fun retracing the steps down to the bus stop, over to my friend’s house, back to another world.

I may not have visited my little old home in person, but, thanks to Google, I was there in spirit. And that’s virtually the same thing.