The real eulogy that I never gave

It was written eight years ago and it is the oldest file on my computer. I found it cleaning out a folder called “other writing” looking for any forgotten gems that I might want to roll into the book I’ve just started. It isn’t the oldest thing I’ve written of course, I’ve been doing this stuff since junior high. But most of that is all gone now. This isn’t.

I hear my own voice, from the year my mother died. I’ve changed in the passing years, and I’m not sure I agree with all of this now. But I think it is a perspective worth sharing. It’s called “Teach your children.”

You teach your children every day.  Not by what you say but by how you live your life. It is so easy to find yourself teaching them that life is drudgery, that marriage sucks, that work is to be avoided, and that you never get a fair deal.

I will never get to deliver the eulogy for my parents which I would like.  But if I could – it would go something like this.

Dalai 9The most offensive and ridiculous thing my parents ever said to me was “don’t do as I do, do as I tell you.”  They thought it was terribly funny, which made it all the worse.  And they quoted it often.  You see, my parents basically liked to drink, gamble and have sex.  And overeat. They  avoided cigarettes and drugs, although my father smoked for awhile and tried pot in his youth.  I don’t think stopping either had much to do with self restraint – rather the first was more of an aesthetes choice and the second had more to do with what vices were readily available within their social circle.

And while my parents were busy enjoying life and telling us not to, they were also, in a way they never suspected, busy teaching me and my sister.

And what were we learning?

  1. If you want to have a good marriage, have all the sex you want but only have it with your partner. Nothing else will result in love after 40 plus years and having someone love you when you are 60 is about as good as it gets.
  2. If you are going to drink alcohol, only drink after five o’ clock except on holidays and special occasions. Only get drunk on weekends and not on all of them. This works a lot better if you can manage to be a happy, or at least not a belligerent, drunk.
  3. Gamble all you want, but never ever what you cannot afford to lose.
  4. Keep you weight to within 40 pounds of your ideal.  There are a lot of ways to die and frankly odds are yours will have nothing to do with your weight if you keep it somewhere under obese. Meanwhile, you will enjoy your life a lot more.

So today – I am slightly chubby and happily married for 26 plus years.  I drink less than my parents did, which is good, but I do drink only on nights and weekends. I hate most forms of gambling but play the stock market as hobby, but of course only with what we can afford to lose. I pretty much have a great life.

It is a shame I will never get to deliver this tribute, because it brings two things to mind which should be said.

  1. I hope my husband and I have taught our children as well.
  2. Thanks Mom and Dad. I am doing what you did, not what you said, and it’s working out just fine.

A good choice

Some readers of y1 have praised the story’s criticisms of the zealous marketing of prescriptions drugs in American, particularly mental health drugs to children and young adults. A couple of readers have taken issue with it.  For me as a writer, the subject was representative of the larger issue of putting profit ahead of the well-being of our children. It was a vehicle to make a bigger point.

tearsBut as a mother, the idea of routinely prescribing drugs with serious side-effects and unknown long term consequences to children as young as two years old hits home with an emotional wallop of its own. Every once in awhile I come across an article that reminds me why I thought that  pharmaceutical marketing targeting children would provide a good villain for my story.

Gwen Olsen, who worked for fifteen years as a drug rep for Johnson & Johnson and Bristol-Myers Squibb, was recently quoted on Alternet as saying: “Children are known to be compliant patients and that makes them a highly desirable market for drugs, especially when it pertains to large profit-margin psychiatric drugs, which can be wrought with noncompliance because of their horrendous side-effect profiles.”

Great. Adults are allowed to follow their best instincts and listen to their own bodies, and therefore frequently stop taking drugs they find more harmful than helpful. Children can be ordered to take their medicine, and their parents can be scared into making them do so.

It is enough to make a healthy adult want to cry.

Celebrating my family values

weddingThirty-two years ago today I got married.  In retrospect, I wasn’t a particularly great candidate for a good marriage.  I liked being alone, liked making my own decisions and wasn’t terribly motivated to be a wife. However, the planets aligned.

The groom, who was no more likely than I to achieve happily ever after, grew into a better friend with each year. We gave each other space, we tried to fight fair when we had our many fights, and we tried to forgive each other when we forgot to fight fair.

Along came three beautiful children who turned to us for love and stability and who provided us with incentive to work harder at our relationship. The next thing we knew they were leaving home and this whole marriage thing had worked out considerably better than it could have and in fact much better than it usually does. Lo and behold, a couple who had started out as kids in tattered jeans had achieved the ideal of the family values crowd. So, does that mean that we have family values?

Good question. I am happy and healthy and I like my particular life. I also like red wine and raisins. Do I think everyone should have to like red wine and raisins? Even if both are good for  you? Don’t be ridiculous.

Just because I am a woman attracted sexually to men, this is no reason to decide that other women need to be like me. Just because I decided to create a monogamous relationship with one other human, why would I think that this means that everyone should? I wanted to raise children. That’s nice. It doesn’t mean that you should. My choices are mine and they worked out well for me.  Your choices should be yours and if they lead to your happiness and better yet they also lead to the happiness of others, then that’s great too.

pouring wineDon’t get me wrong, I don’t wish anyone well for being hurtful to themselves or others. I just think that living your life differently than mine is not, by definition, the wrong way to live it. Has anyone ever been made less, or their own personal joy diminished, by acknowledging that there are a lot of fine ways to go through life? There is a Buddhist saying that there are many paths to the top of the mountain, and that the view from the top is the same no matter which one you choose. Clear message: take your own path.

Do I have family values? You bet I do. Tolerance. Patience. Empathy. Respect for others. All others.  I don’t always live up to my ideals, I never have. But I keep trying.

Care for some red wine? I’d love to pour you a glass. Just as happy, of course, to share some lemonade with you. Happy also to make you a vodka martini, even if I don’t care for one myself. Don’t worry, I’ll leave out the raisins. Unless of course you insist that I don’t.

Celebrate!

cakeToday is a special day for me because it is the birthday of one of my children.  I really like this being a mother thing, and among other things I love all the extra celebrations it has brought into my life.

Beyond all the usual hugs and laughs and triumphs, my kids and husband have given me an extra helping of joy by agreeing to let me use each of them to inspire a book in my collection 46 Ascending. There are probably dozens of reasons why this was a bad idea, fraught with potential problems from the very beginning. The characters are fictitious after all. Bad things happen to them and they even all behave a little poorly on occasion. They curse, they think about and even have sex and they aren’t always happy with each other. The make-believe characters have some faults that are exaggerations of my own family’s less desirable traits, and then they have faults that are purely my own or absolutely made up.

Against all odds, these four people I share a nuclear family with have been mature and reasonable about this. In fact they complained a little about their character’s relatively minor roles in x0, the first book in the collection that centers on the mom in the family. My son acknowledged a bit of trepidation when he learned that the second book, y1, would feature the character inspired by him. As my writing went on, however, he confessed that it was a bit of high knowing that somewhere somehow parts of his personality were being spun into that of a superhero.

My husband refers to the third book in the collection, z2, as “his” book. Indeed, he almost wrote it with me, building replicas of my Maya boxes, reading civil war history as I wrote and even heading off to a re-enactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek in order to better research “his book”. The collaboration turned out well I think, producing something richer than I could ever have done alone.

I recently handed c3, the fourth book in the collection, off to my youngest daughter who is learning to be a social worker. Her studies and interests shaped much of this particular story. By tradition each family member gets to read “their” book first, and they know from the beginning that they have veto power over anything in the novel. This is my agreement with them; I do love each of them more than I love my stories. I was particularly concerned about c3, because my main character has some  horrific things happen to her early on in the book that later inspire her to become such a hero. My youngest child responded with the same grace that the rest of my family has shown. No one has vetoed anything yet, or even complained  once about anything I have written. Are these people cool or what?

celebrateToday, as c3 sits in the hands of my beta readers, I am starting the fifth book in the collection. This novel will tell the tale of a fiery hero inspired by my feisty middle child. The story has been growing in my head for years, and it’s time to get the basic building blocks down into the hundred or so bullet points that constituent a working outline for me. In real life, this daughter is probably the least patient person in my family (except for me), and it is unfortunate that her tale was destined to be the last to be told. That is just how the collection unfolded. I tell her that I saved the best story for last.

Next year on her birthday, I plan to publish the story she has inspired. The timing is entirely reasonable given my own pace, and if it happens as hoped for it will be a heartfelt way to celebrate her next birthday.  I do love celebrations. They make me want to dance for joy!

Depressed Toddlers? Really?

One of the villains in y1 is the zealous CFO of a pharmaceutical company who is anxious to reap the profits from over-medicating his new target demographic, children.  I did a fair amount of research on this subject because I wanted to make sure his tactics were believable, and also because I wanted to be careful not to malign the use of medicine when it was genuinely needed and beneficial.

It is true that by the time I finished writing y1, I personally found the vastly increased use of medication to control behavior and emotional issues in children to be disturbing. Every once in awhile, I still run across an article that makes me shudder. A friend recently sent me this article from Science Daily published in 2010. In a nutshell it discusses the idea that even toddlers can be depressed and it talks about the difficulty of the diagnosis because depressed preschoolers often act normal and may not even appear particularly sad.  However, researchers assure us, methods are being developed to ferret out those difficult to locate symptoms. Are you shuddering yet?