Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Lovely Day at the Pool (Originally Written 6/22/2010)

Eleanor sat on the deck sipping her iced tea keenly observing the antics in the pool; another summer Saturday family pool/cook-out at Toby’s. She would have preferred a pre-dinner glass of red wine but she had been having those funny spells every day for the past five days – not today, thank God – and she wasn’t taking any chances til she figured out what caused them. They had occurred like clockwork 30 minutes after rising and lasted about 30 minutes with residual "tiredness" for the rest of the day. Since it was now early afternoon and she hadn’t felt that way today, maybe whatever it was, was over. Because she didn’t know the cause, she was taking no chances sipping wine.

She had never had any tolerance for hard liquor; two or three youthful attempts to "see what it feels like to get drunk" resulted in violent upheavals from her stomach after two drinks so she learned her limitations early-on. "Feeling like her head was spinning when she closed her eyes" followed by chunking "chunks" was not her idea of fun. Rightly determining that her system did not tolerate alcohol well, she had crossed it off her list of fun/relaxing things to do.

As a young teenager she had developed allergies to grasses and molds, especially dry leaves in the fall. A doctor once explained her strong dislike for the taste of beer – she would shudder with just one sip – was likely a reaction to the hops (aging) in the beer. Wine contained the preservative sulfite; rightly or wrongly, she thought there might be a connection. So til she figured out what was causing these recent morning spells, she crossed her usual one and a half glasses of wine before-during-after dinner off her list.

So here she sat on the awning-covered deck watching her children (four) and THEIR children (eight–three were elsewhere) cavorting in her son’s above-ground pool sitting in the backyard of his house on seven acres in the country, 20 miles from where she and her three other grown children lived.

These family gatherings had been occurring more and more frequently over the past few years, as, one by one, each of her four children had migrated to Tennessee from Michigan where she and they had been raised. Once Toby arrived and purchased this house with the pool, it tended to be the "gathering spot"; at least in summer. For obvious reasons.

This was one of the first times all four kids and their kids had actually shown up. In this day and age, one or another of them frequently had some place to be; a meeting, a lesson, another commitment. So getting four families plus mom together all at the same time was quite an accomplishment.

"Besides," she was thinking, "Cassie and Toby have always had this funny kind of distance between them as adults and, for once, they seem to be having a good conversation." Several times in the last 2-3 years Eleanor had suggested to Cassie that she get together alone with her brother sometime and "talk it all out".

"Talking it out" was germaine to Eleanor’s nature; she could not stand conflict. Especially in the family. Talking, even arguing, if necessary, to resolve the conflict was how she managed her relationships. Sometimes it took awhile for her to assemble her thoughts, but her desire for peace and harmony helped strengthen her resolve. Unlike her ex-husband (father of the four children), who presented a calm, mature demeanor, hiding his feelings til they exploded, or quietly sulking for two weeks and then acting as if nothing had happened. Likely one of the reasons for the final parting after more than 22 years.

But that was then. More than 22 years ago. And this is now. Now also included the sad reality of their father’s passing almost two years ago.

"I think this is actually the first time everyone has managed to get here," she thought, sipping her now luke-warm tea, and looking at the activity in the pool. Toby and Cassie in the pool, leaning against the sides, engaged in some serious conversation; Toby smoking a cigar, Cassie sipping her wine.

She suppressed a smile as she thought about the similarities and differences in her children. Toby’s and Cassie’s personalities changed the most when they consumed alcohol. This was not a judgment; just an observation. Justin and Laura seemed the same, regardless of drinking or not. If anything, just getting calmer and quieter. Cassie, on the other hand, talked louder, laughed harder. Toby just talked longer.

Cassie had often confided her concerns and discomforts about her relationship with her older brother, going back to their childhood and Eleanor had been a sympathetic listener, inevitably saying, "the only way to resolve all this is to talk it out." But Cassie never wanted to open up "that old can of worms" again. "We get along, I love my brother; I just can’t talk to him the way I can talk to Justin. It’s just the way people are. It’s okay."

Justin was 18 months older than Cassie and when they were small they looked so much alike people sometimes asked if they were twins. Justin soon grew bigger and the differences were more apparent. For themselves, the two were close all through their childhood. That had never changed. As adults, they were sounding boards for each other for many adult issues; marriage and religion, especially. They thought alike.

Sitting here today, watching Cassie and Toby communicating so seriously – and well – Eleanor found herself smiling and thinking, "I am delighted they have found common ground. Even if the alcohol prompted it. Of course it would be politics – or the state of the country/world – that is their source of comraderie. I wonder if they realize how much like their dad they are. Determined and sure their opinions are the right ones."

Even as she privately applauds and delights in this infrequent shared companionship, nonetheless she feels this sense of isolation from her outspoken very Right-Wing children. She considers herself a moderate leaning slightly Left, a "liberal"; not always a "Liberal". So her sense of justice bristles whenever she hears someone – even if it’s one of her own children – condemning ‘them,’ the ‘others’ for the ills of society, the world. The words of her dear little mom were embedded forever in Eleanor’s psyche – "there are no ‘others’; be specific. Who exactly do you mean?" "Put yourself in their shoes before you criticize."

In the case of her children the "others" are "The Liberals". They listen to too much Hate Radio. And ANY is too much as far as Eleanor is concerned..

A few round yards away, against another side of the pool, Eleanor’s daughter, Laura, and Toby’s wife, Jennie, and Justin’s wife, Bonnie, are quietly discussing another painful subject – the latest drama from Toby and Jennie’s oldest daughter, Carol, who lives in S.C. with her current boyfriend while Toby and Jennie raise Carol’s son – their grandson – Eleanor’s great-grandson. Laura frequently looks over at Eleanor with a questioning look which Eleanor correctly discerns as concern. Laura finally comes and sits down next to her. "Are you okay?", she asks. "I’m fine," Eleanor replies. Laura senses Eleanor’s isolation. Even though that is partly true, Eleanor is nevertheless delighted as she watches her children and their spouses interacting and sharing mutual ideas and concerns. She is content to be an observer. She could join in either adult group but it would change the tone and dynamics and she doesn’t want that to happen.

She understands and respects that Jennie appreciates the opportunity of talking quietly and confidentially by sharing her concerns with her sisters-in-law, her contemporaries. All three are living the stage of parenting teenage and young adults. As grandma, Eleanor doesn’t need – or want – to know everything. She knows sometimes they don’t tell her things because they know there’s nothing she can do and they don’t want her to worry. Eleanor is not a worrier per se, but even moms who aren’t worriers feel empathy and a certain amount of concern when they know too much about their kids and their kids’ kids. (Women will understand this.)

The isolation she feels as she watches Cassie and Toby interacting is different. She is delighted they have found common ground.

Of course, as the sole "liberal/Liberal" in the family, she is also perceived as the W.O.W. Wacky Old Woman – or, . . . Wise Old Woman – depending on your perspective. With regard to politics and the state of the world, ALL her children consider her the former.

Politics and religion were always a source of contention in her marriage to their father. Subjects that finally, they just did not, could not, discuss. Even though she had been raised in a conservative Republican home, her adult leanings and understandings always came from the left of middle.

Eleanor considers herself reasonably conservative; a moderate, slightly left of Middle, believing in personal responsibility and working hard to achieve your goals, liberal on certain social issues, and even libertarian on others. A combination, which, she suspects, is common to most folks. Her experience has been that labels are often counter-productive and usually serve only to separate and divide. For sure, she’s agin that!.

When she first came out to the pool in her bathing suit and tea and saw Cassie and Toby so enthusiastically talking and agreeing about America’s sad state of affairs and felt that initial sense of separation as she looked out and saw them all in the pool; the kids splashing and laughing, the two adult groups talking and sharing their concerns, still she realized she could just walk over, enter the pool and join either group. No one was excluding her; the isolation was self-imposed.

"I’m the odd man out; I shouldn’t be here," she thought. But seeing her children sharing their thoughts and feelings this way – especially Cassie and Toby – warmed her heart beyond words. She was so grateful for this day and what it was providing. All her kids were together – and they were enjoying being together SO MUCH! OhYea, OhYea!!

She could have jumped in the pool and joined either group. But it would have broken the spell. Instead of two people discussing the problems and agreeing on the results or suggesting solutions, Wacky Old Woman’s contributions would result in disagreement/arguing/harranging. The harranging would NOT be coming from W.O.W. She does not do well in combative discussions She does not LIKE combative discussions. Unlike her News Junkie best friend, she does not (cannot?) keep facts and figures logically logged in her brain for instant regurgitation when the need arises.

Eleanor is not overly political; she wants to be informed but is totally turned off by TV Media Talking Heads and Radio Talk Show Hosts (she calls it Hate Radio).

She doesn’t know if there is such a thing as unbiased News anymore and thinks the Media is helping destroy her beloved America.

She has tried on previous occasions to explain her position to her family; generally without much success.
If she had ten minutes and a bully pulpit with them as listeners, this is what she would tell them.

"I believe the American people are fed up with the same things. But whoever it is that we are listening to are the dividers of the Nation. And the Destroyers.

"I believe in love, not hate. Whatever the differences we have as a nation, the solution does not come from a source that projects hate.

"I agree with the late George Carlin: "if you don’t like the Boobs in Washington, take a look in the mirror at the Boob who helped put them there."

We have been pursing the American Dream too hard and too fast and neglecting our children, our communities. We should have been paying more attention. "Follow the money." What movie was that from?

Blame the government . . . Blame the corporations . . .

Neither, or both. But not one more than the other.

Liberals . . . Conservatives . . . Democrats . . .Republicans . . . Which/who is worse???

Name calling solves nothing. It does cause division. Who said, "A nation divided against itself shall fall." Oh, yeah; Jesus and Abraham Lincoln.

Well, they should know.

I would LOVE to have a respectful adult conversation with my grown children about what is happening in our world today. I do not express it well; I am out-talked and out-insulted.

Thus my attempt to put it in writing.

When Sam, my second husband, and I finally split up and divorced it was because I no longer respected him and so I couldn’t love him. Many factors go into being attracted to someone and lots of things cause the opposite. Initially, I was impressed with Sam’s logical thinking. Eventually I learned this logic only worked in certain situations; with certain subjects. As in:

"There is no such thing as a good Republican". Democrats = Good; Republicans = bad. That is the World According to Sam.

"Liberals are ruining this country; Obama is a Socialist". That is the World According to my children.

How do otherwise intelligent people say/believe such things?

This country/the world is in trouble – big trouble – because government (Left and Right) and Corporations/Lobbyists (Left and Right) are IN BED TOGETHER.

There are good folks on both sides of any issue who have suggestions and ideas for solving problems. Demonizing "the other" has never accomplished anything. Except war.

Disagreeing is not bad. How we disagree and what we do to resolve the disagreement is they key. Anger Management – that’s the current buzz word, is it not?

I’d say America/Americans are not doing too well with that concept.

All I know is this. It isn’t necessary for everybody to agree about everything all the time. It IS necessary that we learn how to resolve or live with the differences.

God put us here to learn how to love. Whatever/whoever God is, He is Ultimate Love, Ultimate Good, Ultimate Mercy. And Ultimate Logic.

Love and Mercy are the key. The Bible says "Love your enemies", for God’s Sake. LOVE your ENEMIES????  We can’t even love our neighbors, our fellow countrymen, our leaders. Somehow, some way, we have to find out "how" to do this.

"Love your neighbor as yourself."


MY next door neighbor is a Muslim, and a Black man who sits on the porch drinking beer every day lives across the street, and that woman at the end of the block – she has different men coming to her house every night . . . and . . .