Relatives Can Be So Interesting

My Grandmother Robinson and myself, way back when

I always knew I had a delightful paternal grandmother. (Not to give short rift to my mother’s mother, who has her own very different and unique story.) As a typically self-absorbed child, then teenager, I would tell her from time to time what was going on in my life. Yet it never occurred to me to ask what was happening or had happened in hers. It was only in my early adulthood that I recall her telling me a couple of stories, which I wish I had asked for earlier. Imagine how much more I could have learned about her history!
Even though she didn’t live far from us, we didn’t see her often enough. But I do remember from those days that she routinely prepared dinners for Thanksgiving, Christmas and our birthdays. The first time I showed up wearing lipstick, she noticed and commented in a flattering way. Since my father was her only child who lived to adulthood, my siblings and I were her only grandchildren.
As a young adult, I heard a few stories about my father’s growing-up years along with learning a little about his younger sister who only lived to the age of ten. She took my then-husband and myself fishing, and I will never forget the sight of this tiny woman, who was usually totally prim and proper, rolling up her pant legs to reel in a fish. In retrospect, I realize I started opening up to her more after her husband died. I guess I thought she was fully occupied with her marriage.
Several years after her death, I came across an autographed program from Arturo Toscanini’s farewell concert at Carnegie Hall, during the Great Depression—a sign of her love for classical music, and her determination to find her way to New York for this event.
For most of my life, I thought of her as a housewife who liked to sing. I knew she would sing, that she had been in the Glee Club during her years at The Ohio State University, but thought of it mostly as a hobby. I had no idea of her passion or her talent, because I never asked.
A recent event opened a whole new set of anecdotes. After preparing a short writeup to accompany a donation of her fur collar to the Worthington Historical Society, I sent a copy to my oldest brother and learned part of what I had missed. My grandmother had seen to it that this brother benefited from piano lessons and—one more thing I hadn’t bothered to learn about anyone outside of myself—she would often take him to those lessons and would warm up for her performances while she was waiting. He recently informed me that he had inherited a music cabinet from her with about 100 pounds of sheet music. Can you imagine? And here I thought of her as this meek, obedient little housewife.
I should add, I had thought of my grandfather as being a bit authoritarian, and it was only after he died that I learned he had been very appreciative of her musical talent. She talked about how on one of her “music days” he used that time to bake her a pie.
About the pie: She told me that none of those pies we had at family dinners were baked by her. She claimed to have baked three pies in her life, the first of which was good, the second mediocre and the third needing to be thrown out. At that point, he said “Don’t worry, I’ll bake the pies.” He never on that he was the one who baked them. Was that to make a macho impression, or was he protecting her image as a perfect housewife and cook? I guess we will never know.

Pandemic Puppies and Side Effects

credit: Lauren Rathbone, Pixabay

Early in the pandemic, a lot of people started getting puppies and dogs, to the point where several humane societies emptied out.  I am sure there are many who are still happily ensconced with their new owners, and some who have unfortunately been surrendered when the owners returned to their regular schedules and found themselves overwhelmed.  That is still better, though, than to keep an animal and neglect it.

Countless articles have been written about this phenomenon.  So many of these sudden pet owners had wanted a dog for years but felt unable to make the time to properly introduce it to their family and provide proper training.  Many, I am sure, made that time when they had a slowdown of their regular work schedules, and have continued to provide the best of homes.

While so many people were being furloughed, veterinarians were working nonstop, not only taking care of new pets but also treating minor conditions that long-time pet owners suddenly noticed once they were spending a lot more time at home with their pets.

I do suspect that a lot of the appeal of adding pets to a household during the pandemic—that will continue.  The pandemic has been such a stressor for so many, and the presence of an animal whose only goal is to love you…well, that will be a stress reducer in the future too.  Once this pandemic is gone (or absorbed into our daily life, if that is the case), we will not suddenly stop having stressors in our lives.

I admit, I lied about animals only wanting to love you.  They want treats too.  And walks.  And attention-seeking behavior at times when you are already preoccupied—well, that is part of the package.  But they do have a habit of worming their way into our lives.  Many is the person who merely tolerated the animal that another family member wanted, only to be sobbing uncontrollably when old age an infirmity catch up with that same animal.  Many is the person who swears to never get another pet and then finds one within weeks.  

Which is not to say life without animals is some vast wasteland.  If you are not inclined to have them around, please stick to your guns about that.  There is a lot of work involved, and good veterinary care is definitely no bargain these days.  Sometimes we find ourselves seeking veterinary care that we never dreamed we would agree to.  Did you know that there are veterinarians who perform acupuncture on pets?  I can tell you from experience that it gave at least one of my former dogs some good relief from back pain.  But acupuncture?  For animals?  Who knew?

This all leads to one conclusion:  The pandemic has made us re-think a lot of things, and it is doubtful that things will return to the way they were before.  The break some of us had in our schedules is likely to leave us more mindful of the directions we choose.  Whether or not to add these critters to your own life is one more thing to be mindful about.  Hopefully, whether you choose to live in a home with pets or without, you have settled on a plan that brings you joy.

Righteous Anger and COVID

polio patient in iron lung, circa 1937, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette archives

I am angry. Furious, even. And no, I will not be taking anger management classes. This is righteous anger, not random fury at someone who might have accidentally cut me off in traffic. It is aimed at those who refuse to take COVID-19 seriously, thereby endangering us all.
Let me go back a few years, quite a few because my husband was two years old at the time. The Salk vaccine for polio was still five years from being released to the public. The man who would later become my husband caught a mild case of polio. He was considered to have fully recovered, didn’t need leg braces, and it is doubtful he spent any time in an iron lung. (No one alive today remembers.) Then his early adult years introduced him to post-polio syndrome, which presents differently among polio survivors. The book “The Polio Paradox” by Richard L. Bruno, H.D., Ph.D. goes into a lot more detail for lay people who are interested. A couple of survivors told me it felt like their polio had come back.
In my husband’s case, it affected his back, has been progressive, and severely limits his physical activity. I don’t tell you this in order to garner sympathy; it is just important for others to realize that the end of an illness is not necessarily the end of its effects.
With polio, the good news is that it does not affect sufferers’ cognitive abilities, either during the actual illness or with post-polio syndrome. We know that the same cannot be said of long COVID, that brain fog is one of many long-term effects present in survivors.
Which leads to the disease we are dealing with today. Yeah, that pesky COVID that we never stop hearing about. Unlike post-polio syndrome, which usually would set in several years after the actual illness, long COVID gives no relief between active illness and the onset of symptoms. Or at least that appears to be the case so far; with COVID being so new, we don’t know yet if there will also be a form of long COVID that sets in several years after people thought they had recovered. We also don’t know if it will be consistent, progressive…if it will have an end point. What we do know is the news so far is not good.
Which leads to my anger. How can anyone justify being in such denial that they feel perfectly okay with refusing to mask, refusing to vaccinate (and I am referring here to people who have no medical justification for this decision), just deciding that it is their right to be stubborn and the heck with anyone who suffers from it? How dare they?
Back in the days of polio, we had a much smaller knowledge base. Since then, science has advanced exponentially, and good websites make so much information available to anyone willing to do the research. We can exercise our common sense in weeding out the bad websites.
It is already well known that many infected with COVID show zero symptoms, so we have no business deciding there is no way we can spread it if we are not ill ourselves.
Hospital Intensive Care Units are having to send people home to make room for more COVID cases, many of whom are children ineligible for vaccines who were carelessly subjected to this disease thanks to some adults who very much are eligible.
I have been fully vaccinated for several months now, yet this is the second year I will be foregoing a visit to my son who lives out of state, due to my wishing to neither contract nor spread this illness. Meantime, around 700,000 people were recently gathered in South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which will undoubtedly spread innumerable cases around the country. How it is reasonable that I am staying home so these people can gallivant all over creation?
It is not about these people’s freedoms. True freedom involves also respecting the freedom of others, and the mindset of COVID deniers does none of that.
Yes, I am angry. Irate. Furious. To feel otherwise seems to me to be just another form of denial.

Silly Diagnostic Labels

As a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, I am expected to assign labels to clients based on their “symptoms.” I put that word in quotes, because the bulk of my counseling hours are spent helping people navigate their way through situations. The “symptoms” are their perfectly normal responses to abnormal circumstances. Did you suffer abuse as a child and now have issues with trust, and/or PostTraumatic Stress? Sounds like a normal reaction to me, though the diagnostic label would likely be PostTraumatic Stress Disorder. Seriously, is it a disorder or a normal reaction you would like to mitigate or overcome?
Of course you want to feel better. I am here to help you process your issues so you can do exactly that. I’m just not sure how helpful a label is in that process. After all, each of you is unique, and though some labels may apply to you, they certainly do not define you.
To be fair, these diagnostic categories do give us a better feel for what we are dealing with, which of course leads to better ideas as to what approach will be most helpful. Just as a reputable medical person would never suggest treating asthma the same way they would a broken bone, I would never advocate that all clients be treated in an identical manner.
As I write this, I am reminded that there is valid overlap. I was about to bring addictions into the previous paragraph, when I was pretty much gobsmacked by the thought that there is almost invariably a link between addictions and previous trauma.
In one of my more rebellious moods, I came up with my own diagnostic system—one which is definitely not validated by any professional research. But in some ways it does cut to the chase. It refers to everyone being on a continuum, between NWC and JFN. NWC is my shorthand for Nothing’s Wrong wit Choo—you are unhappy and want to feel better, but you are mentally stable so there is that. JFN, my shorthand for Just Flippin’ Nuts, is not one I have given anyone; it is just there for comparison. My clients are not crazy, and I don’t say that to be facetious. If someone comes to me with a pervasive problem, such as psychosis of any type, I am likely to refer them to someone with a specialty in that area. This is not to be critical of that client; they simply deserve a therapist who specializes in their specific issue. I do not have enough experience in those areas and attempting to treat those potential clients would be doing them a disservice.
So here is my final word: We are all on the continuum between NWC and JFN, and in any normal lifespan we will move around a bit on the continuum, depending on our current situations and stressors.
Will it pass academic muster? Probably not, but I still like it and I hope you do too.

Righteous Anger

Whenever I hear “That is one angry woman,” I get—you guessed it—angry. It’s as if anger is an aberration, something to be ashamed of. And of course that “one angry woman” expression induces fury in those of us who see it for what it is: an instrument of control.
I certainly agree that misdirected or purely aimless anger is problematic. That does not mean all anger should be suppressed, though. It is just one of our many emotions, which can offer guidance for how we live our lives.
Let’s consider a day in which nothing angers us. We turn on the news, learn of the latest bombings of civilians overseas and yet another mass shooting, and we likely react with a mixture of emotions—which have admittedly been tamped down in order to keep them to tolerable levels. We are sad, heartbroken really, that these things are continuing on such a frequent basis. We are likely incensed for the same reasons. Frustration is likely part of the mix, because wouldn’t we all love to be able to stop this carnage singlehandedly, yet that goal is blocked every single day. There may be several more emotions depending on your own life experience and emotional makeup, and these all deserve our attention.
Suppose you have encountered someone who keeps crossing obvious boundaries—making sexual or threatening comments, touching you despite your constant backing off—if you downplay anger in such a situation, you may reduce your awareness to the point where you fail to recognize the potential danger. Clearly, that is not a great idea.
No, I am not suggesting that you nurture every bit of your anger; it can become so overwhelming that it interferes with your physical and mental well-being, and could even lead you to act out in ways you could later regret. But it does deserve to be noted, attended to.
And of course, how you handle your anger is another matter. If I feel wronged, it does no good to cuss out the offender; in cases where they may not realize what they did, it could be helpful to point out “This is a problem because…” It is a learning opportunity they may or may not take advantage of. If you have a knee-jerk reaction to attack verbally—or worse yet, physically—following every affront, it is far more likely that the offender will feel justified and learn nothing.
So many social movements have taken hold because of anger that was well directed. Not only would we not have benefited from the Civil Rights movement, there would likely still be slaves on plantations south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Martin Luther King was noted for his emphasis on loving “our white brothers and sisters” while continuing the various protests that would bring change. John Lewis, who, on Bloody Sunday, famously suffered a cracked skull on the bridge that may soon be named after him, went on to devote the rest of his life to improving conditions in this country and was a congressional representative for several years.
Following Germaine Greer’s publication of The Feminine Mystique way back in the 1960s, a huge number of women began acknowledging their anger at the lack of opportunities for women, and thus the feminist movement took hold. Again, well directed anger.
There are clearly times when anger is inappropriate, and we would be wise to assess situations to decide when it is time to just let that go. It serves no purpose to just let it fester. But it can be a signal.
Rather than just dismiss anger out of hand, maybe we should all try our best to take a look at each situation and act accordingly.

(Photo credit: Peggy and Marco Lachman-Anke from Pixabay)

Ask Everyone

Ask everyone

You all know I have a Masters Degree, since that is required for me to get my license. What you may not all know is that I was in my 50s before that degree was conferred. I would be a liar if I said I knew from the age of 5 that I wanted to be a counselor. I started my freshman year of college with only very vague goals, and that is surely part of why it took me so long to complete even my Bachelor’s degree. Any excuse to drop out and I took it, until I didn’t.
I was 32 years old when I got my Bachelor of Arts Degree, and a divorce. Once I found a counselor I really liked (to process the divorce), I started thinking how much I would like to go into that same field. Then I quickly started un-thinking that, because I could not see my way clear to how I would ever pay tuition while I raised my child. I didn’t even tell anyone my goal; I just fumbled along the best I could with the generalized degree I had, working at jobs I didn’t much like but that I was pretty good at. There was also the one job I did like, self-employed, performing personalized singing telegrams. It required my creative side, which was what I loved about it.
Even after my son was fully grown, I would take stabs at figuring out how to finance graduate school, but I kept looking in the wrong places. It is especially curious that I never darkened the door of a college Financial Aid office. Now wouldn’t that seem like a logical place to go?
My mistake was simple: I thought I should be able to figure it out for myself, so I did very little asking for advice, even from experts. Blaming myself for not knowing what I had not been told, I just kept fumbling along without that degree. After enough years passed, I decided it just wasn’t in the stars. One favorite excuse? I won’t have enough working years left to justify the investment.
Then an opportunity pretty much smacked me in the face. I took it, started classes, and learned by Week 2 how most of my fellow students were funded: They had jobs in social service fields, with companies that paid for graduate school as an inducement. These were all companies I had been perfectly well qualified to work for; it just had never occurred to me to even try.
The point of this vignette is simple: Don’t follow my example. Had I swallowed my pride just the teensy amount it would take to ask questions, I would have either gotten into graduate school sooner or made an informed and rational decision to be content with the formal education I already had.
I doubt I would have started graduate school the minute the ink on my divorce papers was dry. Working full time while attending classes part time would mean I would miss out on too much of my child’s growing up. The years running the singing telegram company gave me plenty of latitude to be a more involved parent, for which I will always be grateful. But it would have been nice to have a plan for following a new career path when the time was right.
The short version of all this? Ask around. A lot. And read. And brainstorm, accepting even the worst ideas as ideas that may lead to better ones. There is no shame in not knowing, only in not bothering to learn. Whatever your age, you still have all the years ahead of you to change your path or just tweak the one you are on, to evaluate and re-evaluate your direction in life. The embarrassment of asking for advice and information pales next to the frustration of continuously thinking “If only.”

These Times Change Us

Moving Along

This pandemic has changed us all, and some of the changes will be permanent. In my own case, I am obsessively following the news, especially about COVID-19 and the political scene in general. Prior to this—and especially prior to the last administration—I didn’t much bother with following anything beyond the highlights.
Why the difference?
You are probably well aware that children who grow up in abusive homes tend to be hypervigilant. It is a matter of survival; they need to know what is coming their way in order to best protect themselves against it. My household is fine. But my I worry about my broader surroundings. When the Capitol building can become the site of a rioting crowd attempting to overthrow an election, I suspect a lot more of us are going through our days with our eyes wide open for whatever may happen next.
And of course there is the pandemic. I have been less impacted by it than many, and sometimes I think of it as “noise”. It is always lurking in the background, and I am always wondering who it will strike next. A few weeks ago, I had an appointment cancelled because the professional I was scheduled to see had just come down with COVID. I was quickly doing the math in my head to make sure I had not seen that person in over two weeks. (I hadn’t.) And of course I breathed a sigh of relief, because the timing working in my favor was purely a matter of dumb luck.
The disruptions this has created in the lives of so many, likely has led a number of people to re-think their life goals: career, friendships, possibly even spiritual and religious beliefs. Even those who are young enough to feel, under normal conditions, that their time is pretty much unlimited—are suddenly brought face to face with their own mortality. If they are extremely lucky, it is the cases they read or hear about in news reports. If they are not so lucky, it can be their grandfather, their sister, their uncle, their very best friend…And of course some among us have directly suffered from COVID-19, and many survivors report it is the worst thing they have ever experienced. Some even become “long haulers,” suffering aftereffects such as breathing problems and brain fog that may wind up lasting throughout their lives.
We have, all of us, been handed an opportunity—or maybe more like a mandate—to take our own lives seriously and think hard about the direction we want that life to follow. I hope for all of you that the mark you wish to leave in this world doesn’t leave out critical elements like friendships, and laughter, and lots of fun. We all deserve joy.

Grieving During a Pandemic

I was only five days old when my maternal grandfather died, the result of a heart attack he suffered while shoveling snow. During that era, women were presumed to be compromised by normal childbirth for at least a week and a half. Consequently, my father took my brothers to the funeral and left my mother home to take care of me. At that time, he was following standard medical advice. Today, I feel that was a very poor decision, likely making it more difficult for my mother to mourn her own father’s death.
Now that we have COVID getting in the way of standard mourning rituals, my mother’s missing of her father’s funeral seems like a trifle. Services and/or visiting hours, when held, present a major decision. Do you want to physically be there to support the bereaved? Is it more important to ensure you don’t risk exposing them (or yourself) to any possible contagion?
One thing I take comfort from, is a feeling that funerals are for the living, that we do not fail our deceased loved one by not attending. (We may, however, fail our surviving loved ones.). My maternal grandmother suffered a long illness, and when one of my mother’s sisters visited from out of state, she announced “I will not be here for the funeral. I feel it is more important for me to see her now.” Thank you, Aunt Mary; I have held that thought through all these intervening years.
My pandemic life has not managed to proceed without some people dying, though none so far were extremely close to me. Some of the things I have done, in no particular order, include posting to the person’s funeral home memorial page, sending a card—yes, an actual paper card, sending flowers, providing help while the person was failing…I have talked to random people about each death, though that is a far cry from joining the crowd and sharing memories. Were I the person who had just lost a very close loved one, I would certainly prefer those somewhat disjointed responses to the non-response that results when someone declares “I just don’t know what to do.”
When we no longer have to fear this for-now new disease, my hope is we will carry some of these lessons into our future. After all, even in the best of times, it will not always be possible to pay our respects and find out comfort in the most traditional ways. Dealing with others’ deaths, as we deal with our own lives, mostly means we just have to muddle through.

Mask Etiquette

Masks in Waiting

Who ever dreamed a year or so ago, that Mask Etiquette would be a thing? But here we are, and it matters a lot. You are probably already aware that I seldom see clients in my office these days, and when I do—well, the office is set up for maximum safety and minimum contagion. I have arranged seating so the client and I are over six feet apart, windows are open whenever weather permits, there is an air filter, and hand sanitizer is available in the event anyone chooses to utilize it. And I keep extra masks on hand in case a client forgets.
So that covers how things work in my office, where I have control. When I am out in public, though, the control is no longer mine. Not to worry, I am not out in public much these days, having decided that the best way to avoid exposure to COVID-19 is to just stay as isolated as possible. So far, so good.
Of course, no matter how I try to isolate myself, there are those times I wind up at a store or yes, even the occasional restaurant (but only those with plexiglas barriers), or even out walking the dog. Okay, technically I don’t need a mask when I walk the dog—at least provided I am in a location where the nearest person is a couple hundred feet away—but the times we are at OSU/Newark I mask because it is a rule on that campus and I intend to respect that.
Now that I am doing my share, at least to the best of my ability, I hope you can humor me while I crab about the “mask errors” that drive me to distraction.
One of the big ones is restaurants, where the Ohio Department of Health officially requires that people be masked except when they are eating or drinking. Somehow this gets translated to “As long as I am sitting down, I don’t need to mask.” So people will sit for a two-hour meal with no mask and somehow think there is no way they can share any virus. In my opinion, keeping a mask on at least until the server has brought your order is common courtesy. The mask is to protect the other person, after all, and servers need to be protected from an awful lot of people’s germs.
Another is people who pull the mask below their noses. You do know that air you breathe through your nose eventually winds up in the lungs, and vice versa, right? Between my teeth grinding and my eye rolling, it would be pretty nearly impossible for anyone to look my way and not realize I am way beyond annoyed at this total lack of concern about potential contagion.
Then there are the people who work in tiny settings where people come in from time to time, and you see the employees grab their masks when they see a customer enter. Better that than nothing, but…You do realize you breathe when there are no customers, and that those droplets don’t disappear in the mere seconds between your masking up and the customer entering the store.
For those among you who are doing your best to stop the spread of COVID—and I suspect most of us are—do you ever feel like you take precautions so others don’t have to? Yeah, so do I. Once this crisis has passed, I fear there will be friends and acquaintances I feel uneasy around and businesses I will prefer to avoid. When there is a crisis that threatens all our lives, I have a long memory.
On the flip side, I will always remember those who have gone out of their way to minimize any chance of sharing whatever viruses they could possibly be carrying.

COVID-19 and Education

The Pleasure of Reading Alone

COVID-19 has put such a dent in people’s plans for education. If I were currently the parent of a school age child, I would likely spend approximately 97.5 percent of my time being frantic. There are no good answers.
Way back in the winter of 1977, the local schools closed for around a month due to fuel shortages, fearing they would be unable to keep the buildings heated. My recollection is that we didn’t act like the children would fail in life due to this time off. A lot of parents plopped their children in front of educational TV shows, likely in order to keep those brain cells functioning. Granted, it was a month and not the several months and counting that we are dealing with now. We did not have internet available then, so Zoom sessions were not an option. And those Zoom sessions, for all their advantages, contribute to a digital divide that could have lingering effects for those without internet access.
What might be a viable alternative? Worksheets and/or being delivered to the students’ homes? Radio shows? Accessibility for all is so important.
Many children are currently missing out on a lot of services that schools have been providing, including guidance counselors, school nurses, teachers seeing children physically so they can know and report if the child is being abused or neglected…. I didn’t mention food because so many are working so hard to fill that gap. And of course these children get lonely without the same-age friends they would come in contact with during a normal school day.
Then there is college, which is attracting a lot of attention in the media these days. If someone contracts COVID while living on campus, many schools send them home. Worst thing to do, in my opinion, because you are now spreading the virus from campus to the student’s home location. I hope colleges start just quarantining these students.
Many students are taking their courses online, which is of course better than nothing but often feels less than satisfactory. Labs, etc. cannot be conducted online. Plus there is the social experience of being a college student. I cannot fathom what it would have been like had this pandemic occurred when I was headed off for my freshman year.
I do know I would not have been headed off anywhere, and would have spent the next several months arguing with my parents. But they were footing the bill and I was not on scholarship, so they had the power and they would have used it by informing me that there was no way their money was being used to send me into a highly infectious environment. It would have been a challenging “gap year.”
Students paying their own way and/or on scholarship are another matter. What parent is willing to have their child lose a scholarship out of fear of infection? Again, I cannot imagine being in that position: No good answers here. If a student is paying their own way, they have the power to decide what risks to take. My own experience with students who pay their own way is, they are very measured in their decision making process. I would be curious to know how many of the self-payers forestall their education compared to those whose parents have agreed to foot the bill.
Like probably about 110 percent of the population, I look forward to the day this is no longer an issue.

September 16, 2020 | Posted in: Uncategorized | Comments Closed