Archives for category: grandparents

GRANDPARENTHOOD

 

My next job description in life’s journey appears to be that of “grandparent.” In a matter of months I expect the title along with the attendant salary. Oh, there is none? Well, I’m not surprised. In order to succeed, I will rely upon my experience as a parent and also as a sort of grandparent to three dogs. I’m reasonably confident I would get good references from my three children, and I’m absolutely confident in the canine corps.

 

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I’ve not reflected upon being a grandparent prior to learning “it’s happening.” This approach is consistent with my attitude towards parenthood, to marriage and to my former career. Some say this is “not normal.” Apparently, I have a natural tendency to conserve brain cells. Yet, when the bell has rung, I’m proud to say each endeavor has been successful. The kids are healthy, happy and “off the payroll;” the marriage is nearly thirty years old; and, the career didn’t need to extend past my 40’s.

How did I do it? I cite adherence to three basic tenets, namely: the best action is often inaction; if at first you do not succeed, quit; and, no good deed goes unpunished.

My wife, Katie, an ultra-diligent sort of person, has often taken issue with all three pillars of my philosophy.   Probably in conjunction with her admirable example, we raised successful kids. In addition, as I’ve always admitted with regard to my career path, I had a lot of LUCK.

 

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Grandparenthood looms with a tinge of bittersweet. When I became a parent, in my thirties, mortality never crossed my mind. Cinematically speaking, if I’d considered my expected view of my children’s lives, (which I did not) I would have realized I might not make it to the final credits, but most of the good parts would be seen. To become a grandparent in one’s sixties is different. Realistically, I hope to be functioning well enough to enjoy some high school graduations and, perhaps, see a college graduation or two. Weddings? If I’m there, I may be wielding a walker and brandishing a bib.

How to process this? Clearly, I will have to focus on enjoying the time I do have with the grandchildren. Some grandparents emphasize their favorite aspect to be: “At the end of the visit or activity, you give them back.” But there must be more to it than that – a second opportunity, perhaps, to enjoy youth sports with less heart-pounding seriousness; or a chance to see new sites and activities that didn’t appeal to my own children.

Another mental hurdle is my sense that grandchildren cannot possibly be as enjoyable as grand-dogs.   My mortality is not in play with regard to the dogs, due to their shorter life spans and presumed obliviousness to mine, and they always seem thrilled to see me. The dogs are unfailingly cheerful and undemanding in circumstances that human offspring are not. True, they need to be taken outside in any weather to relieve themselves, but changing a soiled baby diaper is not exactly a pleasure.

 

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If I accept that I have aptitude to be a successful grandparent, I must also wonder how much of that aptitude will be tapped. When it came to parenthood Katie and I operated on the basis of “all hands on deck.” If assistance was available, we availed. Grandparents’ involvement, however, is measured by a critical intermediary layer. Will our input be valued by our children and/or their spouses?

We have experience and they do not. Yet, there is a tendency for every young parent to believe they know what’s best in every situation. A lot has changed since Katie and I felt certain we made all the right choices. Now there are movie screens in cars, I-pads and computers everywhere, smart-phones. My interests will skew more analog — a walk in the woods, a simple game of catch. Delicate negotiations with the parents may be necessary. A bitten tongue may be essential.

 

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Katie and our daughter, Sarah, were recently slated to enjoy a mother-daughter day at a Disney musical production of Beauty and the Beast. The animated version was a staple of Sarah’s childhood circa 1993-1996, ages four-seven. Sarah didn’t feel well so I filled in and found myself nearly the only male in attendance not describable as a father, grandfather, or supremely unhappy little brother.

Pouring into the theatre were excited little girls in gowns and tiaras. Several sported gossamer wings. The production was splendid and, I must admit, I enjoyed seeing the inevitable happy ending. It didn’t hurt that the Beast’s ultimate triumph was to throw the bad guy, Gaston, over the wall of the castle. Gaston reminded me of someone much in the news, preening in front of his mirror, flexing his muscles and abusing even his own sycophantic henchmen.

Most important for me, I had a chance to savor the show as seen through the eyes of hundreds of enthralled little girls. When Sarah watched the tape three or four times a week back in the day, I doubt I was enthused. I hope she never noticed me roll my eyes when she asked to see the tape again. From a young parent’s busy perspective, those hours and years seem like they will never end.

Unexpectedly seeing the show offered me the opportunity for a healthy perspective to approaching grandparenthood. Embrace the moments you NOW know are not forever.

 

 

 

 

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TO THE BEACH!
Although healthy and involved in various athletic activities, try as I might, it’s delusional to think of myself as still in my thirties. That ship sailed several decades ago. My thoughts are wistful as I stand like a statue in the surf at Carolina Beach watching my friend Mike, a decade older than I, frolicking amidst the crashing waves like a porpoise.  He whoops with joy. He leaps. He splashes.

“Why can’t I enjoy the beach like that?” I wonder, as I inch in up to my knees.

“Oh yeah,” I remind myself, “I didn’t even like going ‘down the shore’ (what Philadelphians call ‘to the beach’) when I was little.”

 

 

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In large part I blame the ancient wooden building where we stayed. Mrs. Bernstein’s rooming house in Atlantic City could not have been scarier to me if it were haunted. My grandparents started going there well before my birth and, for reasons incomprehensible to me, my parents continued to visit there as late as the early 1960’s. One of my earliest recollections took place in front of Mrs. Bernstein’s, a struggle, from my perspective, as significant as Gandhi’s. I sat outside on the sidewalk and refused to go in.

“It’s going to fall down,” I said (or words to that effect). “I’m not staying in that dump.”

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My protests were in vain. Once inside the bastion of faded wallpaper and threadbare, musty carpets, an additional early childhood memory involved lying on my stomach on a lumpy bed, groaning because of a sunburned back. Finally, I recall the kitchen or common area on the ground floor populated exclusively by large-bodied, loud-mouthed, chain-smoking Quebecois, shouting, cursing and singing in their strange language. There may only have been four or five men but, in my recollection, I perceived there to be a hundred.

Travel between Mrs. Bernstein’s and the beach also spawned doleful memories. (Disclaimer: I wasn’t the easiest-going little kid). My parents and I lugged mismatched beach chairs, towels and an umbrella. Though only two or three blocks long, the trudge seemed endless to my five-year-old self. The air hung hot and humid. Little planes buzzed above advertising local restaurants or shows, none of which were relevant to me. Once we arrived at the boardwalk, constructed like a wall in front of the beach, I remember splinters sticking up from the planks, litter everywhere and hordes of clamoring people. Then, as now, there were stores selling junk, tee shirts and more junk.

My mother purchased my cooperation in the schlepping operation with the promise of a visit to the one redeeming aspect of Atlantic City: the fudge shop. No dummy, she held this inducement over my head as something we would obtain on the walk home, after the beach, “so long as everything went well.”

 

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Related to the development of my poor attitude about the beach was the subject of swimming. When I was about eight, I recall attending Sesame Day Camp. Many people recall their summer camps as special places of growth, discovery and the development of lifelong friends. I hated every minute.   I ONLY wanted to play baseball with other kids who also ONLY wanted to play baseball. I didn’t want to shoot arrows, row boats, sing songs, look at someone holding a frog, or make ashtrays.

 

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At the end of each day, after the typical regimen above, my fellow campers and I arrived at the pool, where I experienced abject failure for the first time. Though the sixteen-year-old counselors offered their finest tips, for reasons unclear to me, nothing stuck. Easily the best ballplayer in my group (a skill neither prized nor acknowledged by the others) my swimming aptitude predicted a career as an anchor.

I couldn’t master breathing, and I couldn’t master kicking. I disliked water in my mouth, nose, ears or any other orifice. It didn’t take long before they moved me from general instruction to remedial work in the shallow end with the other losers, the kids who could barely walk on land, let alone swim in water. By summer’s end, I could splash around and tread water with my head held as far above the water as possible. If my stroke had a name, it was the “reverse ostrich.”

 

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Mike asks if I like to swim in the ocean.

“Do you mean, like with my head and eyes under salt water?” I ask.

“Well, yes,” he says, kind enough not to add: “Is there another way to do it?”

“No, I’m really happy about up to here,” I respond, indicating my mid-section. “I’m barely competent swimming in a pool, so the ocean….”

I’m relieved that Mike’s already leapt into the next wave before I can complete my explanation. After he emerges from another session of body surfing, Mike is exultant. But he’s a gracious host and understands I’m out of my element. He gestures with his arms: “Well, at least you can enjoy the beautiful beach.”

He’s right about that. Carolina Beach is broad and clean, the sand fine and white. A few other visitors walk along holding hands, relaxing or picking up pretty shells. Every few hundred feet, an individual or family has set up a colorful umbrella and chairs. Sand plovers skitter delicately back and forth with the tide. Even the seagulls are relaxed, in stark contrast to the ones in my New Jersey memories.

In my recollection the beach in Atlantic City resembled Normandy on D-Day.  Large shells with jagged edges threatened my feet.   Families placed chairs, blankets and umbrellas practically on top of each other. Massive seagulls dive-bombed for food, screeching maniacally, like pterodactyls.

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Once my family settled into our spot in the sand, I didn’t lack ambition. With my plastic shovel and bucket in hand, I aimed to dig to China. Discarded popsicle sticks shored up the hole as I dug. My parents offered to accompany me into the surf, but I had little interest in anything but digging. Alas, I never reached China. Though frustrated, I didn’t ask to leave the beach. Perhaps, that was the value of Mrs. Bernstein’s; once I got out I wanted to stay away as long as possible.

 

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A storm approaches to cut our visit several hours short. We’d enjoyed two nights at Mike and Sue’s. We’d had terrific food and conversation and a mediocre four-way game of Scrabble. (Mike won). I’m happy to have happy beach memories to overlay my old ones. Who knows? If I can find goggles large enough to cover my entire head and more secure than Fort Knox against leakage, maybe next time I’ll brave one wave. It’s never too late to start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


CLOTHING CONNECTION

Gifted at soccer, trained as an educator and filled with sociable energy, my oldest child has chosen to become a fashion designer. It’s ironic on a number of levels not least of which is that Kelly was not exactly, shall we say, rigorous in her fashion choices as a youngster. During her teenage years, in fact, she wore the same corduroy jacket, jeans and wool cap for weeks on end. By high school, whenever she needed to dress nicely, she relied upon her nine-year-old sister for guidance.

Now just over thirty, with her wife, Laura, Kelly is consumed with the establishment of their firm, “Kirrin Finch,” which will offer clothing to women with tomboyish tastes. Together, they are selecting fabrics, buttons and cuts with meticulous care. No detail is too small for them to debate, in a constructive way, in a heartfelt drive to “get it right.”

What would Lou Sanders have thought about this?

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My father didn’t set out to spend a fifty-year career in the clothing business. When he finally arrived in Philadelphia from Kiev, via Cuba, he took the first job that was offered, behind the counter at a delicatessen. Immediately, he found the smell of fish on his hands to be repulsive and, after several months, quit to become a clothing salesman.  Shortly thereafter, in the late 1920’s, he rented a space to house his own shop. By the early 1940’s, he’d bought a neighboring building and moved his business, Lou Sanders’ Men’s Shop, into it. There it continued until 1981.

Unlike Kelly, my father didn’t aspire to the creative aspects of the business. He also had no interest in manufacturing. He was a salesman. I’m not even sure it would have mattered to him if his product were clothing or hardware or tires, so long as it wasn’t fish.

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Kelly also didn’t come to fashion as a foregone conclusion. As recently as a year ago, she and Laura considered opening a restaurant as their enterprise. Their consideration of businesses so unrelated to their professions raised eyebrows.

“Why not just keep teaching and pharmaceutical marketing?” someone asked Kelly and Laura, respectively.

“We want to do something together,” said Kelly.

“Fair enough,” concluded the Greek chorus. “But what makes you think you can just parachute into a business or career without any preparation?”

“You’ll see,” they said, to the skeptics.

And we have. On their honeymoon, Kelly and Laura clearly spent countless hours churning through the possibilities. They identified the lack of female-proportioned clothing available to tomboys as a need to be addressed; they concluded they were the perfect team to solve the problem. Not content merely to spend money and hire professionals, Kelly and Laura have set themselves on a vigorous course of education to become experts in the field.

Utilizing their existing skills in marketing (Laura) and networking (Kelly) they have created a business plan, social media buzz and gained acceptance to Pratt Institute’s prestigious incubator for new fashion entrepreneurs. a major accomplishment. To our alarm, Kelly even asked to borrow our sewing machine; that might be taking the “do-it-yourself” mentality a step too far.

“How do you turn it on?” she asked.

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My father loved his time at the Store. It was where he was most comfortable. But I don’t believe he cared about the product. He wasn’t solving a problem or addressing a need, except for his need to make a living. Not given to reflective communications, he never expressed anything about the subject of men’s clothing, even while devoting half a century to the cause. Sure, he preferred dressy clothing to denim. And he certainly wouldn’t have approved of ripped jeans under any circumstances. But these preferences could just as well have been expressed if he’d become an insurance agent or a lawyer.

He held many beliefs deep within a well of silence. We weren’t always sure about the inner workings of his mind. But the preferences he did feel sharply, such as that his sons marry within their faith, were communicated with an extreme clarity, spoken or not. When he first met my wife, Katie, who is not Jewish, he closed his eyes, leaned back his head against the couch and proceeded not to speak for the rest of the afternoon.

Several months later, when it appeared Katie and I might stay together, to my great relief, he refrained from an angry display. Certainly already chastened by my mother, he broached the subject of his disapproval with subtlety, even graciousness.

“She’s pretty. She’s smart,” he conceded, then continued, with his coup d’ grace: “But she’s a little older.” This from a man who had married a woman fifteen years younger and made known he felt that was a good idea.

He left out the major facts that she was also Unitarian, divorced and the mother of a two-year-old daughter.

“How will he be with Kelly?” Katie and I fretted.

“Will he accept her?” we wondered.

If he rejected her, Kelly would sense it, to say nothing of the resentment Katie would feel.   To say we were concerned with their introduction to each other is a vast understatement. Yet, when the time came, Lou Sanders instantly abandoned all his inhibitions about religion, about divorce, and about step-grandchildren, a relationship he would have scoffed at as tenuous, at best, in any other family.

He loved Kelly like his own grandchild immediately, indistinguishable from his other six. Katie, too, was accepted as a beloved daughter-in-law from the moment it became clear she would not be going away. Did Lou reach this accommodation easily? Probably not. But once he got there, Lou Sanders didn’t look back.

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Perhaps that is the closest connection he has to Kelly and Laura’s new enterprise. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. It’s just coincidence Kelly is entering the field of clothing where my father “played” for so long. In the important ways, when push comes to shove, Kelly is going about it the right way, all in. And as a grandfather to Kelly, when he could have fallen so much shorter, Lou went all the way. If Lou Sanders’ Men’s Shop existed today, doubtless he’d feature a new line on display the moment it becomes available: Kirrin Finch: menswear apparel for women.