Thursday, May 8, 2014

One does want a hint of color

          During an interesting work lunch hour conversation the other day, I got thinking about a couple of things that I'm grateful for having been raised with. This mainly came up because of articles about the desperate and terrible backstabbing in the social spheres of suburban moms . Why is this relevant to my life currently? Well, it's not really, but B and I would love to own a home some day, and if my mother continues to give us so much stuff, we are going to need more square footage than we can afford in an increasingly expensive city. I found myself recently asking my cousins which Boston suburbs their friends live in where they do not want to kill themselves. They actually came up with some ideas, so that is heartening.

          In the article linked here, (and there are more of its ilk, according to my co-workers) the narrator moves from Jamaica Plain, (where I live currently), to the greater Boston suburb of Wayland after her twins are born. She then catalogs the deceit and one-upping that take place on the regular in her new town. Everyone has a distinct persona and caste in her perceived social strata of the suburbs.  She writes about new moms in this generation being away from their families and needing to seek out support systems for themselves and their children, which is fair enough, and there is a big theme here of women feeling judged more than ever before on their child-rearing decisions.  But while I understand that she's doing an exposé on these social groups, it seems she was already clearly fascinated by their intricacies. To me, it seems she was in the mindset of fitting in and/or making a name for herself ahead of her relocation.  This all requires more energy than I could muster for people with hierarchical social agendas.

          In my mind, when you fall victim to shallow and competitive social circles, there's a prerequisite for that: it's called giving a shit. You can only fall prey to people's judgement if you care too much about it. I'm not excusing how these other women behaved, but I suspect that had this woman stayed in Jamaica Plain, she would have felt judged too- it just would have been based on what organic market she chose to shop in for her children, and what yoga studio she went to. Sometimes people are going to judge you anyway, and your only choice is not to care. I have good friends whose hearts I can take with me no matter where I choose to move.  And I believe a community can always be made without the harshness of a Mean Girls mindset.

          And here's where Mother's Day comes in for me this week.  For escaping this particular brand of caring, I can take almost no personal credit. The accolade in this case can mostly go to my mom. I may not have been exactly on board with her fashion or social choices as a child, but I can safely say that my mother, probably partially consciously, but mostly just because of her living example of eccentricity, contributed to self confidence in her progeny. When she showed up at my elementary school to pick me up in vintage fur coat, beret, knee socks, and clogs, she may have only had an inkling about the example she was setting. But while some other moms in my suburban Connecticut hometown wore their matching designer sweatsuits to attend coffee and the gym together, my mom was too busy to give a crap. 

Ice skates swapped out for clogs in this photo

          Aside from the fact that my mom worked fulltime running a business, other contributing factors to her sense of self were that she is 
slightly older than the other moms, and grew up a few minutes away. So in addition to just being busy all the time, she already had a group of friends in neighboring towns and perhaps a more established sense of self. She also came from a generation that dressed up a bit more, and you would be correct in assuming that as a child, I was perpetually overdressed because my mother remembers a time when you wore a hat and gloves for train travel. The other fact is that she is just a bit odd, that one.* She just likes her vintage fur coat collection and you weren't going to stop her from wearing one- even in downtown New Haven with the threat of Yalies pouring red paint on her. She probably didn't often stop to think that her zealous accessorizing habit, for example, was actually teaching her daughter a valuable lesson, but I'm sure she's aware of it on one level. And the idea of playing subtle mind games or dancing around social topics like the women portrayed in the aforementioned article is completely foreign to her.  She has never been one to mince words. If she loves someone, she will do so fiercely and make no bones about it, and if she doesn't understand someone's particular worldview, she will accept that that's just who that person is and that's fine. Her ability to care about others is great, but her ability to care about others' judgement is not. And we'll give my dad some credit for accepting her weirdness and also not giving a flying poo about what the community at large thought of his somewhat colorful wife, (also, he's had his moments himself...) For all of this I am quite grateful.

Last day of school in second grade.  While the other kids wore t-shirts and things they could run around in, can you guess which one I am?

          So as we approach Mother's Day, this is one big shout-out to my mom. Thanks for not giving a shit, in the best of ways.

*I know, I know, some of this oddness is probably hereditary.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

An Actual Ukrainian Picnic

          So, the blog has a new look.  You can thank Ben Guilfoy for his design help and my mom for that classic photo.  She really does seem to be mastering new technology now.  And by that I mean, she went to Staples and had them scan the photo for her...  

          This is a real Ukrainian picnic, not the kind my family and I always joke about that involves cleaning the whole house; dusting, scrubbing the floors, taking down the curtains, and beating the mattresses and rugs.  The woman on the far right is my great-grandmother, Anna.  This is in Ansonia, Connecticut, not actually Ukraine, but it's with people from the "old neighborhood", (all Ukrainians).  My grandmother is not in this picture but she was about 13 years old at this time.  And funny enough, even though my grandma and I didn't grow up in the same town, this field is less than a half a mile from the house I grew up in where my parents still live.  

          My immigrant great-grandparents didn't have a lot of money, and my great-grandfather asked his wife if she would like him to save up and buy her a pearl necklace like the ones her friends were wearing.  In reply, she said she already had her pearl.  He's the baby right there in her arms- my great-uncle.  Sadly, he was killed serving in WWII.

          I have only vague memories of my great-grandmother, who lived to age 93, but I've heard a lot of good stories about both of my great-grandparents.  My great-grandfather worked in a factory and when he came home in the evening, he fed and played with the kids while she did her sewing.  My great-grandma was a talented seamstress and she said the sewing work she did for others in her lifetime could have filled an entire room.  So, they were a relatively modern two-income household out of necessity.  While her work was technically domestic, she still used it to earn money.  It's funny how we pretend that women always were contained to their own domestic spheres, and that men had no hand in the household, but it was really only after the 1940's, when more women had the chance to replace men outside the home, that people started really getting their feathers ruffled about that sort of thing.  Like so many trends in history, people become upset by change and hold on to some imaginary ideal in the wake of it.  Poverty made it a necessity for women and children to work in factories through the nineteenth century after all, but WWII seemed to make people hyper-aware of this homemaker ideal that probably didn't exist so strictly before.

          From everything I've heard, Anna was a pretty tough lady.  I seem to remember a story about her delivering a baby in their apartment building when the local doctor was unable to make his way over there.  She claimed that the women in Ukraine just gave birth right in the middle of their work in the fields, and when they were done, they would take a bale of wheat back into the house with them so they wouldn't waste a trip.  I think that particular anecdote gets more extreme with every generation it goes down though...  

          But really, after her father died, she had no choice at age 16 but to head to America.  She never saw her mother again but she still found a way to make a life for herself here and loved her adopted country.  She lost three children to disease and war and still managed to carry on.  With the help of my grandma, who taught her parents and their friends in a citizenship class, they all became citizens and were very proud to vote in America.  

          From Anna's account as well, the Ukraine had always been a besieged upon place, shifting between whichever country claimed to own it at the time.  This doesn't excuse the mess over there now of course.  In the face of adversity, I wish the Ukrainian people the kind of toughness my family had, although my hope for the future is that they won't need it.