Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Happy Birthday...

Today is my baby’s 13th birthday. I now have two teenagers in the house and the countdown towards the empty nest is officially on.  Once upon a time, I had babies. They were cuddly, and smelled so sweet (at least they did right after their baths) and they never wanted to sit still. No longer do I have little boys cuddling up to me, or giggling as they chase the doggie or throwing something up so high in the house that my short self is forced to grab the stepladder and try to get it down, all the while preaching the mantra, “You know you are not supposed to throw in the house”. The fun trips to parks and playgrounds are long over and the thrill of watching the doughnuts being made at Krispy Kreme has been replaced by the request to hit the drive through and can they have some gulp, coffee?
Now I have sons who are tall enough that I ask them, “Can you reach that for me?” instead of getting the stepladder and there are these huge shoes thrown around. In fact the fairy tale I keep thinking of is “Jack and the Beanstalk”. They are the beanstalks and perhaps a little Jack might help me with all these transitions. I learned to drive at 14 and I look at my older son and think, “No way! You’re still my baby.” They are perfectly content to sit still, if an Xbox is involved. They grab pizza, laugh and share jokes with me, and want to discuss world events and tragedies with a seriousness that startles me at times. We share music and I catch them rolling their eyes at me, luckily not as often as I did at my own parents, and I remember so well the arrogance of youth. I want to caution them, hold them tight, and yet I want to let them go and watch them glory in their independence.
At various times of their lives, I’ve heard “oh, that’s my favorite age” from other moms. I can honestly say that every age has been my favorite. I find the changes, the thrills, the agonies constantly make me feel more alive, and the love for my children is this ever expanding entity I never completely comprehended. And one day, I hope to take their children to Krispy Kreme to watch the doughnuts being made, and I think I’ll let my grandchildren throw things in my house, just for the joy of it.
How do you handle your children growing up? Is it fun? Bittersweet? Exciting or exhausting? Maybe it's all of the above?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Keep on Shining Through……

What makes a woman emotionally strong?

Here at 4gaby this question is one that has been asked many times. Usually our
answers include character or will power--don’t know we are right, but you only
have to look at the depth of the essays written on the website to know there is
strength in all of us. It is well known that the stereotypical woman is supposed
to be weak physically compared to a man but emotionally, I feel, they are by
far the stronger sex.

My final confirmation of this came this week. I came to learn the true strength
that a woman can display in the face of adversity. After tracing my family tree
for the past three years, I discovered that my late maternal grandmother,
Alice, had endured terrible circumstances during her early married life. Somehow, she managed to keep the people she loved free from the pain of this and she carried these tragedies with her silently to her death in 1980. They sat buried and I uncovered them. I am not sure how I feel. Am I betraying her by making them known, or would she have wanted me to tell, maybe finally allowing the truth to be heard? I chose the latter option, feeling that such a strong woman’s plight should be heard by those who loved her and those who could be inspired by her.

My grandmother was married at the tender age of 22, in 1922, to a man who was suffering from TB after the trenches of the First World War. Two years later on January 9,1924, with one baby girl aged 1 year old, her husband died and her baby, Joyce, died just 3 days later on January 12. There were both victims of TB. She was 6 months pregnant at the time, and alone. She had just lost the love of her life and her darling baby. It happens, you might say, but in 1924 the world was different, especially in post-war England. She gave birth three months later in a London Lying-In hospital to Winifred Mary on April 16, 1924. After this, she went to live with her cousin, a blind veteran, and became his care
giver until his death.

No trace of Winifred could be found in the public records after her birth, she
just seemed to disappear. I searched and searched but could not find her. I assumed, due to the extreme circumstances, that she was given up for adoption, or even worse, had suffered the same fate as her sister. This was not so, as I found out this week. Winifred appeared again on a 1980 death certificate of my grandmother’s sister, Lydia. She was the person who registered the death naming herself as her niece. She had not only lived but was obviously close to her family roots. So the questions are; why did she not live with my grandmother? And who brought her up? I wonder, was the pain of losing her family too much to bear, or had Winifred settled somewhere and it was better for her to stay where she was? We don’t know that yet, and we are hoping to find Winifred alive today, although she will be 87 years old, to give us answers. 
My grandmother went on to raise six more children (one of whom was mentally impaired), alone, their father lost to the war once again. My mother was child number six and never knew her father as he died just after her birth. The pain Alice must have endured is inconceivable. She never uttered a word of her story to any of her children, let alone tell them they had an older living sister from a first marriage. I was the one who broke the news to my mother, and now, with her permission, I have a task to do. I have to find Winifred and finish my grandmother’s brave, sad story. I hope that I can for her sake. She was strong enough to carry on with life, being that kind, quiet, genteel woman I loved, and now I need to honor her and show her family not only how strong but how amazing she actually was.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

For the Love

I had planned that my blog would be all about the happiness and love of pets to go along with my essay, "Elvis Lives, and He Faithfully Uses His Litter Box", but then life intruded as it so often does. If you read Sheilah’s latest essay, “Conversations With Mom”, then between the tears, you’ve glimpsed the sadness of watching someone you love so very much slip away, and it probably stirred memories of your own losses. Sheilah and I are at different stages of a shared loss. My daddy is still early while her mom is in the late stages. Last weekend, I was blessed to have my parents actually make it all the way here from their home. Momma really wanted to see where we live, and she had never been able to come. She knew leaving him for any stretch of time wouldn’t work either so my older brother was patient enough to bring them, stopping for Daddy as needed. And just as in Sheilah’s essay, he also wondered why they were here, and kept repeating that it was “time to be going”. Time starts to lose all relevance when you remember so little of it.
As in Mary’s essay, “Virtual Reality”, I’ve reconnected with so many dear friends and part of that reconnection has been grieving their losses along with them, and those friends have helped me in celebrations and in grief. Some of our losses have been recent, some less recent, but no less painful, and I am always reminded of the resilience of humanity and the importance of love, and kindness. There is a reason that Dawn wrote, “Grown-up High School Wannabes”. It’s hard to be interested in pettiness and gossip when life consists too much of true reality.  
When tragedy strikes, as we’ve all watched occur in Japan, there is often the image or story of some beloved family pet being rescued or sadly the tales of how many have perished, and that can sometimes get more media coverage than the tales of people. Pets are a reminder of how constant love can be, and they somehow know how to sit with us in silence while we grieve. Pets are an innocence that life sometimes seems to no longer possess for us. When my hubby reminds me that after our current crop of two pass away, he doesn’t want another one (usually only mentioned when we want to get away for a weekend, and first I need to make arrangements – note the “I” - he’s not making the arrangements, nor is it hard to find someone), I just nod my head and walk away. Because I also know that he adores both of them. So we’ll have another pet, because the world always needs more love…even in grief.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Diary of an Angry Stay-At-Home-Mom

By Mary Alford-Carman

When I wrote Virtual Reality, I touted the pros of Facebook. During our family's last two months of illness, colds, flu, pneumonia and C-diff, Facebook kept my friends and family informed and people came to our rescue. They dropped off food, offered to run errands and kept us in good cheer. My husband was a wonder. He remained healthy during all but the last week of illness and he helped out tremendously, taking off five total days of work to help out including the one day to recoup from his illness. Through the majority of it, I stayed home sick and caring for my family, but guess who got the praise?

 In our last blog Sheilah wrote about women not getting the same pay for the same duties, and honestly, it works the same at home. As a stay-at-home-mom, taking care of sick kids comes with the territory, and yes, it comes with the territory that you take care of your children even when you are sick. I don't expect praise for doing my job, but acknowledgement would be nice. That's why I sort of blew up when praise was given to my husband for taking off work to take care of his family. He deserved the praise, but dang it, what was he supposed to do? He's a good man, and a good man always comes through, but don't think I was eating bon-bons and schlepping around for the duration of my family's illness.
I've come to the conclusion that it's just the way of our society. Things really haven't changed all that much. Stay at home and you equate to less than when you try to get back in the workforce. Stay at home and you're expected to somehow be less than others who work outside the home. You know what I'm saying. Go to a party and you get the standard, "What do you do?" When you answer homemaker, mommy, chef, etc., watch their eyes glaze over. Well, I'm angry as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. 
Why are the SAHM's dismissed so? I'm not trying to start a mommy war, pitting the SAHM's against the Moms who work outside of the home. We all have a full plate. But when a man gets more credit for doing what a SAHM does day in and day out, it chaps my buttocks.

It's bad enough that we don't get what we deserve in the workforce, but to be put down or ignored at home is simply unacceptable. A study on http://swz.salary.com/momsalarywizard showed the dollar value of a SAHM would be over $117,000. The mom who works outside the home can add up to $71,000. onto her take-home pay. I think it's time society ponied up and gave the SAHMs and all MOMS the credit they deserve. I might just have to start a movement on Facebook. In the meantime, I'm waiting for my paycheck.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Which Part is Worth 25% More?

By Sheilah Zimpel

In my March column, "Job Alert--Uncle Sam Wants Little Ole Me for Homeland Security", I discussed the ridiculous e-mails I receive way too frequently from job-seeking sites. Do you use online sites like indeed.com, monster.com and careerbuilder.com? How in the world do you use them? What criteria should I enter to find some results that actually resemble reality? Should I attack from the flank, as they appear to, and search on “circus clowns” instead of “editors” to find jobs that match my skills? Or should I apply for the Dentist, the Homeland Security, and the Realtor job openings to see what happens? I love collecting rejection letters anyway, so I just might have to do that. Join me in applying for jobs that you are less than zero qualified for. Let’s see what happens—at least we’ll make some HR person’s day…

And speaking of jobs, unfunnily now, the federal government issued its first report since 1963 on the welfare of women in the U.S. (I guess no one gave a hoot for the 48 years in between.)

I’m sure the results will confound and amaze you (I’m thinking Sarah MacLachlan’s “Building a Mystery” for some reason):

  • More women than men have college degrees, but we still earn only 29% of the total household incomes in the U.S. (So only a third of us are considered primary breadwinners, I’m guessing, which is uncannily related to the latter point that we don’t earn as much as men do for the same job. We can’t earn more of the household income if you don’t pay us as much. Duh.)

  • Women are having children later: In 1970, only 4% of women gave birth for the first time at 30 or later. In 2007, 22% of us did. That’s part of our zine’s demographic, so I’m glad to hear it. More choice, more maturity, more freedom for women.

  • Women (and men) marry later: In 1970, the average age at first marriage was 20.8. In 2010, the average age is 26.1. For men, 23.2 in 1970 and 28.2 in 2010. (Now if we were the only ones who married later, then we’d have some nice May-December romances going on in our favor this time.)

  • 2008 college enrollment stats show that 57% of those enrolled are women, 43% men. We know whereof ‘credentialism’ we speak...(if you don’t have the right body parts, you’d better have more papers)

  • And women are less likely to be unemployed. In December 2007, about 4%; in December 2010, about 8% versus men’s 10% or so. (Butofcourse, because we work for less pay. Who wouldn’t hire us? We’ve always known how to do more on less.)

BUT A PAY GAP PERSISTS: Women earned only 75% of the percentage of men’s salaries in 2009.

Ugh. I just hit my head on that damn invisible glass ceiling that’s not supposed to be there anymore. (They call it a skylight now so we’ll think it’s an added amenity.) Hold the phone: We’re marrying later, starting families later, we have more college degree holders, more college enrollees, are more employable, and thus naturally earn…less? I see. We’re mature, free, independent, well educated, and employed, but still dumb suckers. They can see us coming. This royally chaps my arse. Now what am I gonna do about it? I might have to ask my (female) boss for a raise.

Now I know what job criteria to search for on those sites...

Source: White House Council on Women and Girls stats as quoted in Time magazine

Friday, March 11, 2011


By Dawn Tolson

I sit here writing this blog, I have CNN blasting out of the TV. The message is dark. A tsunami is about to hit Hawaii, after the devastating off-shore earthquake that hit Japan last night. This knock-on effect is about to destroy, possibly, so many lives let alone the ones it already has. It seems inappropriate to convey the message that I had planned for today. After all, how deeply shallow it would be to talk about fashion and how it defines you as an individual when there are thousands of people who would now be grateful for any item of clothing to wear, as long as it is clean. They won’t care about how they look; their focus will be on surviving the fierce elements of nature. Life is defining them at this very moment and I am sure that it will be in their memory forever. Their whole livelihood could be gone in seconds, everything they worked for just washed away like bubbles in bath water. It makes my issues seem like drops in an ocean. So for today I would like to propose that all 4Gaby followers say a prayer for these people and find ways to help, no matter how small, when it is needed. After all, in times of disaster we should all stick together – don’t you agree?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes, and in Other News...Taxes

Who said the following?
A - “When there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust man less on the same amount of income.”
B - “If you get up early, work late, and pay your taxes you will get ahead – if you strike oil.”
C – “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.”
Sort of unfair to start a blog entry about taxes with a pop quiz, isn’t it? After all you already have enough work to do.
So this year we all have until April 18 to file our federal taxes. Many states fell in line with that though you should really check whether that is the case for your state. I wrote about taxes in my Goodness Gracious column this month (The Tax Man Cometh) because I have been doing tax returns in some form since I was a little girl. Seriously. My Daddy worked for the Department of Revenue and he did tax returns for several friends from our home. My brothers and I love to discuss how we would have to line up the return just so in the typewriter with carbon paper (that dates us, doesn’t it?) and type up the returns so he could present them to his client. He would be at the other end of the table furiously working the adding machine while Momma complained over the use of her beautiful dining room table. When I hit college I took over a few of his clients for the extra money (any way to earn a buck, well, except for stripping). So in our household, hubby just asks me when they are done and what the outcome is (I should point out the man has an MBA in Finance so he could do them…if he wanted to…which he does not.) I’ve included a few more favorite quotes about taxes and I think the authors will surprise you and maybe some will make you laugh. So share any stories about taxes and the frustration about the system. Who does them in your household? Are they done early or late? Do you use a tax software program? Any helpful hints?
Oh, and the answers are:
A – Plato (No kidding! The Parthenon must have been built with tax money.)
B – J. Paul Getty (of Standard Oil fame)
C – Albert Einstein (Doesn’t this quote and the one in my column make you feel better about the whole thing? I mean really – Einstein had issues!)

Friday, March 4, 2011

The House of Germs

By Mary Alford-Carman

It seems we can’t escape it no matter how we try. February saw our household down with the flu and I foolishly breathed a sigh of relief that the month was over. No germs would dare strike us again. Well, we’ve been hit by a stomach bug, and all of us are wishing for a break from reality.

When I wrote ‘Unmommyish,’  a short essay about recharging the MOM battery, I didn’t realize I’d need a recharge as bad as I feel I do now, but you know I’m not going anywhere. It’s part of the fine print in being a MOM, and this is where the stay-at-home-mom gig becomes a bonus. After being up more than half the night with sick children, who wants to wake up long enough to call into work and ask permission to take care of your family and cart them to the doctor?
I’ve been there, done that, and no one knows better than a Mom when her children need her at home.

As much as I’d like to hop a plane to Rio (okay, I’d settle for a hotel down the street with room service), I’ll hang out with the kids, the soiled sheets, and the Gatorade, content that I don’t have to ask “permission” to take care of my own child. Have you ever experienced adverse reactions to your staying out of work to care for a child? What did you do? How did you handle it, and tell me honestly, did you ever get a break?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Interviews with yourself

In my March essay, “Interview with the Subconscious,” I discussed a recent job interview and what a mess it was. It wasn’t a complete mess, just felt that way. The curious thing, the epiphany that resulted, was what I heard myself answer in response to an interview question. That answer, bubbling up from my subconscious without any filter, was what was most important to me. And once I heard myself say it, I realized I was right. I think we can all provide the best therapy to ourselves without costly intervention. Go on a job interview, think fast, respond honestly, outwit the savvy filter that sugarcoats and spins and blocks the truth. It’s akin to automatic writing, another healthy and helpful writing tool I’ve found. Look up Julia Cameron’s underground cult hit, “The Artist’s Way,” and try to follow her exercises. It will change your life, if you can handle the truth. If not, we’re doomed to living dishonestly while pretending that we’re not. I double-dog dare you.