Monday, August 25, 2014

Summer's End

        I have just spent a week at the beach with my family – husband, daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. It was a week of sea, sand, sun, and fun but now I'm back. School is about to start and that means Kiley's mom goes back to work as a teacher and Kiley comes back to me nine hours a day five days a week starting Monday. Summer is over.

        Have you noticed how short the summers have become? This one sure went fast. I don't mean the meteorological definition of summer. That varies depending on what part of the earth you are talking about. I'm not talking about solstices and equinoxes, the length of days, or earth's position in relation to the sun and all that. I mean the real definition of summer, the kid definition of summer, the only definition that has any real meaning. When school starts, regardless of the date, the weather, or anything else, summer is over. And here we are about to start school again.

         When I was a kid summer started early in June when school let out and ended when we went back to school after Labor Day. Labor Day always marked the end of summer, the last hurrah before the return to drudgery. And celebrating Labor Day is the most appropriate way to end summer. Let's be honest, Labor Day is not a day to celebrate America's labor movement, for God's sake. It is not a "celebration of the social and economic achievements of workers". Good Lord! What are we communists? Labor Day is a celebration of not working. That's why it's a paid holiday and nobody has to go to work. This is especially true for kids. To kids Labor Day is a celebration of fun, adventure, discovery, irresponsibility, freedom, and everything else that embodies those happy, carefree, golden days that we call "summer". Yes, it is a bittersweet holiday. It marks the end of all those wonderful things. That is exactly why it is such a special holiday. An important holiday. A day for one last picnic, one last barbecue, one last dive into the pool, one last celebration when we can all gather together (in shorts and sandals) and, eat, drink, laugh, and thumb our collective noses at everything that is not summer – responsibility, regimentation, routine, boredom, drudgery, and, yes, labor.

        It's different now. The summer no longer ends with Labor Day. Someone, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the kids would go back to school and summer would end on some random day in the middle of August. Why? Who knows? For whatever reason some idiot on the School Board decided that decades of American tradition and the sense of fellowship and community that go with it weren't worth squat. But that's the way we live our lives now, isn't it? We have lost control (or rather ceded control) of just about everything from what words we can say and what opinions we can hold to what our children learn in school and what holidays are important. That's the general state of affairs in what used to be America. Oh, well. No sense crying over spilled milk. The bottom line is, school starts tomorrow. Summer is over. I just wish they had let us have our party first, to celebrate the golden days that have just past. It would have been nice.


Monday, August 18, 2014

And Baby Makes Three

        One of the most common questions asked of and by new acquaintances is: "Do you have kids?" If the answer is affirmative then the next question is invariably: "How many?" How many, indeed. The number of children we choose to have (if we choose to have them at all) is one of the most personal and important decisions we will make in our lives. The factors involved in that decision are many and varied and range from the economic to the religious. We all have our priorities.

In the past, large families were the norm and often a necessity. The family unit was once much more self-sufficient and essential to survival than it is today. In an age when agriculture was the most common industry, and the family farm the mainstay of that industry, large families were desirable. Farming, even on today's highly mechanized farms, is a labor-intensive occupation. In the past it was often a backbreaking sun-up to sundown deal (at least during the growing season) and the more hands there were available to share the burden the better. During these times the children of the family were a ready-made workforce. Added to this, the child mortality rate in an age without antibiotics, inoculations, and competent, readily available medical care was much higher than it is today. Having a large number of children increased the likelihood of at least some of them surviving to adulthood. Having adult children to take care of you in your dotage was once an absolute must (with increasing life spans that necessity is beginning to assert itself again).

Today most of us don't need our children to help support the family. The kids have evolved from being an economic advantage to an economic liability. They have become a lifestyle choice rather than a necessity and families have become smaller, especially in the past generation or two. When I was a kid large families were much more common even though the economic incentive for having a large family no longer played a part. I was one of ten children (lucky #7), my husband one of five, a couple of families in the neighborhood had eight. Today, five is considered a large family and ten is practically unheard of. Can you imagine what it would take economically to raise ten children today? The cell phone bill alone would break you. And yet my parents were able to raise ten kids with working class jobs and provide them with everything they needed. When my father passed away with eight of us kids still at home (I was fourteen) my mother was able to finish the job on her own (albeit with help from her teenaged children.) Today we have much more and expect much more in the way of consumer goods. This makes it difficult and even undesirable to have a large family. Today, it seems, most people see about three as the top end as far as kids are concerned. Anything more requires too much sacrifice not only for the parents but for the kids as well.

The impact of readily available and inexpensive birth control on the size of today's families can not be overstated. Ah, the miracles of modern science! How many large families of the past would have been much smaller had the birth control options of today been available then? Changes in religious attitudes have also had an effect on the size of families. Up until 1930 all Christian denominations disallowed contraception, adhering to the doctrine that all sexual acts should be both unitive (express love) and procreative (open to the creation of life). In that year the Anglican Communion changed its policy and most Protestant groups soon declared contraception to be a biblically allowed matter of conscience.  The Catholic Church stuck with the old principles. My parents were devout Catholics. Their children remain active in the Catholic Church (some of them anyway) but today's Catholics, influenced by the cultural changes of the last half of the 20th century, are less likely to take the Church's prohibition on birth control seriously, especially in America. Generally speaking, the result of all of this has been smaller Protestant families since the 1930's and smaller Catholic families since the 1960's.

Finally, there is the impact of the past generation of women entering the work force. Women working outside the home have not only made the average family more affluent (the more affluent the family the fewer children they are likely to have) it has also made caring for large numbers of children harder and more expensive. It's hard enough for working mothers to put in a full day on the job then come home and see to the needs of one, two or three children regardless of how much the husband is pitching in. Can you imagine if it were ten kids? Can you imagine the cost of day care?

        In the end, whatever their reasons are, people will have the number of children they want to have and generally speaking they will opt for fewer than in generations past. One of the arguments for increased immigration is that, in the long run, we need immigrants to maintain an adequate work force because population growth has slowed appreciably. That trend will probably accelerate as long as we continue to enhance prosperity. I don't know if that is a good thing or not.


Monday, August 11, 2014


I was watching "Dr. Phil" the other day. With Kiley gone for the summer I have a lot of time on my hands and there is no more relaxing way to pass the time than to eavesdrop in on other peoples' problems. My husband goes to extremes in that regard and by extremes I mean "Maury". He loves Maury Povich. He'll sit there on the sofa yelling at the screen, giving Maury advice like they were old friends, taking sides in whatever ridiculous relationship melodrama is being presented, demanding at the top of his voice that a DNA test be performed, and generally having a grand old time. When I hear the cry of "Hurry up honey the results are in!" I just have to roll my eyes and pretend I didn't hear him. I just can't go down the "Maury" road. I don't want to know if Latasha is sleeping with her fiancĂ©'s stepfather or which of five hopefuls is actually the "baby daddy". "Maury" is bad enough but when my husband turns "Cheaters" on I simply have to leave the room.  He insists that "Cheaters" is the only true reality show on TV and he thinks the fact that Joey Grecco has never "copped" an Emmy speaks volumes about the American psyche. Whatever, Hon.

"Dr. Phil" on the other hand can often be interesting despite the fact that it is highly improbable that any "doctor" could possibly analyze complex personal problems in the course of an hour-long show with twenty minutes worth of commercials. Still, the show can be interesting and often informative. The one I saw the other day was about divorce and highlighted the effects of divorce on children. I don't know anything about divorce or its effects on children. I was never divorced, my parents were not divorced, and none of my children have been divorced so I don't know what it does to children when their family comes apart. I have heard that every marriage is different but every divorce is the same, but I don't believe that. I believe there is such a thing as a good divorce. I believe some people should not stay together and that divorce is the best thing for both them and their children. I think some people can end their relationship in a very amicable, reasonable and selfless way. I believe that, even when there is contention and even bitterness between separating couples, there are wise parents who can overlook their personal feelings enough to ensure that the break-up of their family is as painless as possible for their children. I believe that all divorcing parents want to do whatever is best for their children. I also believe, however, that many times parents are so caught up in what the break-up of their marriage is doing to them that they can't see what it is doing to the kids even when they are consciously trying to put the children first.  

Some thirty years ago my husband wrote about divorce from a child's perspective. He wrote in the form of a children's poem. Our children were children then and he would often write little poems and rhymes to amuse them, teach them about the world, and stimulate their imaginations. What does it feel like to children who are watching their parents as they come apart? What do they think about? What do they dream about? My husband has as little experience with divorce as I do. What he wrote is strictly from imagination.  Millions of people, however, do have such experience. Here's the poem. Is this part of what it feels like? You tell me.


                                              Last night I dreamed of rainbows.
                                              I saw them in the sky.
                                              Don't ask me why I dreamed of them,
                                              I really don't know why.

                                              Maybe it was just the kind
                                              Of dream that crying brings.
                                              Sometimes when I'm sad at night
                                                I dream of happy things.

                                                I dreamed that it was summer time
                                                And we were all outside.
                                                And Daddy never frowned or yelled
                                                And Mommy never cried.

                                                A storm had just passed overhead
                                                And all the rain was through.
                                                And Mom and Dad were holding hands
                                                And everything seemed new.

                                                And they weren't mad or anything,
                                                And Dad was gonna stay.
                                                And then the sun came beaming out,
                                                And chased the clouds away.

                                                Then rainbows came and filled the sky.
                                                Us kids were all so glad
                                                That we just hugged each other tight
                                                As our Mom kissed our Dad.

                                                Just then one rainbow came right down,
                                                It glittered like a gem.
                                                It arched right over Mom and Dad
                                                And shined right down on them.

                                                Then Dad told Mom he loved her
                                                And I began to cry,
                                                And thanked the Lord who watches us
                                                For rainbows in the sky.

                                                But all of that was just a dream,
                                                It wasn't real or true.
                                                And now the dream is gone and I
                                                Just don't know what to do.

                                                The real clouds haven't blown away.
                                                The real rain's falling now.
                                                The real storm's not up in the sky
                                                It's in our hearts somehow.

                                                I've tried but I can't wish away
                                                The clouds our tears fall from.
                                                So I'll just pray that dreams come true
                                                And hope that rainbows come.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Working Girl

       Kiley's mom is a teacher, which means she gets the summer off. She usually finds other work for the summer but this year she is staying home with Kiley. That's great if you can do it. She gets the best of both worlds. She gets to be a working mother for nine months and then a stay at home mom for the rest of the year. ( Let's get one thing straight right from the beginning. When I say working mother I of course mean working outside the home and by that I am certainly not suggesting that being a stay at home mom is not work. Stay at homes; I am one of you, okay? So you can put your claws back in.)  Having the best of both of these worlds is an enviable position to be in because there are pros and cons to both situations.  I imagine it must be nice to be able to sample the positives of being both a stay at home mom and a working mom and to be able to lay down the negatives of both, even if just temporarily. Not every woman is so lucky.

       In today's world many of us (probably most of us) don't have the option to stay home with the kids. For many, working outside the home is an economic imperative. This is especially true for single mothers but even for two parent households the necessity of both parents working is common. I don't know how this situation came about. Is the cost of living that much higher than in generations past that we need two incomes to make ends meet? Or is it that the standard of living is that much higher? Have we become so accustomed to what in generations past would be considered luxuries that those former luxuries are now necessities? I think so. When I was a kid we didn't have more than one car, more than one TV, more than one phone, air conditioning, a dishwasher, a garbage disposal, a garage, GPS, cable, and a hundred other things that are standard today.  But then, that can be said of every generation. When my grandmother was a kid they didn't have any car or any phone. Air conditioning? Dishwasher? I don't think they had even been invented yet. Regardless, the bottom line is it doesn't matter if we actually need two incomes or merely perceive that we do. In the final analysis perception is reality. If we believe we need two incomes then for all practical purposes we do and debating theories about socio-economic evolution isn't going to change that. Many mothers absolutely must work outside the home but more and more mothers are finding that they do not. They are finding that they have an option, a choice, and it seems to me that more and more are choosing to be stay at home mothers and even stay at home fathers though that is still a rarity. It is great if you have choices. Not every woman is so lucky.

       As we all know, deciding whether to work outside the home or stay home with the kids can be a difficult and complex decision. There are so many factors to consider and weigh one against another, most of them economic. But in the end we have to decide what we think is best for the children. Do the benefits of having the security and influence of an ever-present parent outweigh the loss of economic advantage it necessitates? Well, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. Every situation is different depending on the degree of economic disadvantage created and even the relative parenting skills of the individual. I'm sure we all know parents whose children would be better off if they were out making money, the kind that are absent parents (or worse) even when they are home. If we do what we truly believe is best for the kids then we've done the best that we can and we should have the confidence in our decisions and in ourselves to proceed without guilt or self doubt. Easier said than done, I know. There are those who are able to do this easily. They are confident by nature. Not every woman is so lucky.

       When I was a young mother my husband and I decided that it was important for me to stay home with the kids at least until they were all in school. That was a good long time. The time between when my first daughter was born and my last one started school was fifteen years. That's how long I stayed home with the kids. This presented an economic difficulty but I think it was worth it. I supplemented our income during this time by providing daycare for the children of some of my relatives including Kiley's mother and her sisters. This meant that I had a house full of kids most of the time, my children's cousins, and, yes, this subtracted from the amount of time I could devote strictly to my own but it was still well worth it. The time I could devote to my own children was still far more than I would have if I were working outside the home and the bonds created between my daughters and their cousins are strong and precious ones that have lasted into adulthood. The bonds between those cousins, my nieces, and myself are strong and precious as well and have remained so to this day. I have a whole younger generation of relatives who cherish me. Not every woman is so lucky.

       Once my youngest started school I went out into the workforce. That wasn't easy. I was thirty-three by then and starting at the bottom. I bounced around a bit in low paying jobs until I landed a position in a bank – one of those big commercial banks. In ten years I worked my way up from customer service rep. to manager of the security department (by security I don't mean an old man in a uniform standing in the lobby – think fraud investigation). By the time my kids had grown I had had enough of the working world and retired. I had never thought of it as a career but simply a way to make money. Since my husband makes more than enough money to support the two of us comfortably there is no reason for me to work. I admit that I initially felt a little guilty that my husband was still working while I was not but he says that he prefers that I be at home and that the things I do to make a life for us are more important than money. When I told him of my guilty feelings he said, "I go out and work for only one reason. To supply you with the support you need to do all of the things you do that make you the heart and foundation of our family. And it is an honor to do so." Not every woman is so lucky.