Home on the Range: Parenting Without Borders

The Washington Post, my default paper since I left New York, ran yet another story this week about Free Range Parenting. Until I wrote this blog, I was up for grabs on it. Now, maybe not.

In case you haven’t heard, Free Range Parenting is a term conceived by families who permit  their children to navigate their home neighborhoods without chaperones at their heels, going hither and yon with the intention that they do so freely and fearlessly  While letting children roam a bit was not an issue when I grew up in the Bronx, or when my daughter walked to school on her own by the time she was seven, and my eight year old son took two busses from East 20th Street to Greenwhich Village five days a week, solo, it is now. A big one!  Not just for the families themselves but for those who choose to become self-appointed guardians of other people’s lives by way of reporting these events to police and social services like some suburban SS force — never directly to the parents themselves. Why get involved?.

There’s trouble, and people are taking sides.

When this past week, two children aged ten and six were dropped off by their parents at a neighborhood park behind my building in downtown Silver Spring, an area where kids play all the time, someone saw them walking home and called the police. The police took the bait, convinced the kids to get into the squad car just two blocks from their house, and held them there for three hours without letting the parents know that they had them in tow. Clearly, punishment due (though not labeled thus by the authorities) for the parents having already transgressed in this way once before.

Okay. Enough about police tactics and naive parenting over which we have no say. These parents need to do two things:

1. Find another way to deal. Just being “right” doesnt cut it.

2. Create a different name for their parenting program (this one reeks of idiocy).

Children are not chickens. Best not to set them free to be scared silly by ill trained cops who stuff them in a squad car, refuse to let them go to the bathroom, fail to give them somthing to eat, and neglect to notify their parents, But this is the world we live in. Pretending or wishing it otherwise won’t make it so.

I once asked a friend,from the rural midwest what he did in the summer while we New York kids went to camp. “We got up, ate breakfast, got on our bikes and didnt go home until dinner time,” he said.

Indeed. The world has changed.  A few years back,,police would not have gone looking for these kids unless the family called in a missing child report. But lets not react by sticking our heads in the sand. I hate to say it, but: it is what it is.  And though we can’t reverse time, we can exert a good bit of influence by the way we think, behave, and live our lives.

Form Children-ing Groups

My solution is this: there’s safety in numbers. Instead of “parenting groups” form “Children-ing” groups. Have the kids walk in packs like teenagers. How many of them could they possibly stuff in a squad car then?.

Serial/ Jinx Fever

I’m late. I jumped on board for “Serial,” at the end, listening to all 12 podcasts within a couple of weeks. In case you’re out of the loop, I’m talking about National Public Radio’s breakout show “Serial,” which since last October, has held a million and a half listeners enthralled each week as Sarah Koenig weaves her deft, intelligent recounting of the true crime murder case against then 17 year old, Adnan Syed, who continues to claim his innocence after having been convicted of murdering his ex girlfriend 16 years ago, then burying her body in a shallow grave with the help of a not so close friend, Though many support Adnan’s story, many do not. Yet most who knew him agree that the Adnan Syed they knew would not have committed this crime.

Adnan’s appeal will soon be heard in a Maryland court. Who knows what will happen. The mystifying trajectory of the show itself, with its interviews, and events and stories, plus Koenig’s sympathetic narration, act as a mirror for personal and group belief systems, prejudices, sympathies, interests and experience. Particularly appealing is Koenig’s personal uncertainty about what’s up or down, true or false, and how easy it is to fall under the story-tellers spell, whoever that may be at the moment.

Stranger than fiction

Like attracts like. With “Serial” done, we now have HBO’s true crime/horror story: “The Jinx,” the story of Robert Durst who was born into great wealth and might easily be called the Prince of Darkness with evil laying down a bloody path before him wherever he goes. Quirky, tetchy, bizarrely, sneakily, intelligent, and peculiarly seductive, he abides in his secret world of nervous ticks and mumblings, Durst’s saga concluded yesterday with the last of six episodes, wherein he was accused of offing three people including his beautiful young wife, a close college friend, and a Texas neighbor,

Durst remained free since his wife Kathie’s 1982 disappeaance. The law failed to make anything stick, even the admitted dismemberment of his Texas neighbor, This past Saturday he was arrested in New Orleans. He’ll soon be extradited to Los Angeles where he’ll be tried for the first degree murder of his old friend and confidant, Susan Berman,15 years ago. The timing coincides almost perfectly with the last episode of the series.

Only The Shadow knows

Was it the handwriting evidence the series brought to light that provoked this arrest? Does the fact that when he was ten, his father called him to the window to wave goodbye to his mother just before she jumped off the roof of their Westchester home, and that he was passed over in favor of younger brother, Douglas to head the Durst empire, give him license to kill?  Who knows.

What I do know is that the Durst family is very rich and very powerful. That F. Scott was right.:the rich are different from you and me. That the Dursts closed ranks after Kathie’s disappearance and refused to cooperate. That instead they referred the poilice to their lawyer and never called Kathie’s family when she went missing. That the Dursts raised the bridge, And that Kathie became a “Gone Girl,” — murdered frst by her estranged husband, then  by his family who used a dispassionate silence to  put the extra nail in her coffin  And that That was That!

What fascinates me beyond the unknown details and secret intentions embedded in  the Syed and Durst sagas is how we all hear the same stories and draw different conclusions, conclusions we become attached to, even enamored of, when perhaps we’re best off in most situations, especially in ones like these, to draw none at all.

People are far more complex than we can imagine, including ourselves. “Who knows what evil dwells in the hearts of men. “Only The Shadow Knows.” And possibly not even him.

Tell Me A Story

A good and wise friend recently sent me a piece about the power and presence of stories  in our lives. It reminded me how much  I love them and live by them. How I speak to the characters about their choices, their victories, their foibles. How I chastise and adore them. How I cry at their disappointments, learn from their experiences, am changed and heartened by them. These stories are more than entertainment. They are among my closest companions. They act as advisors. They influence my discussions and behavior with friends and family. They enrich my daily life and my dreams. What I would do without them, I don’t want to know.

 Where do they come from − How do they arrive?

They come in many forms: by word of mouth, in the  morning paper, in books, film, from the Internet, from stage, screen, TV, and as I walk down the street. Some arrive with more value and clout than others.  Even if I don’t consciously remember them, they carve out a place in the cells of my body, that make them a part of me.

Before I could read, I listened to the radio on Saturday mornings and fell in love with Nila Mack’s “Let’s Pretend,” with its fairies, witches, wizards, mystery, and magic, ” The fairies cast spells that, for me, were real. And then there was Lamont Cranston, “The Shadow,” who was scary, yet good, invincible and invisible. Jack Armstrong ate his Wheaties. I ate mine too. “Grand Central Station,”was more exciting than the real thing, and so it went.

Miracle on Broadway

In 1959, a few days after it’s Broadway opening, I saw “The Miracle Worker” starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. Patti was twelve when she played the part of the seven year old, Helen Keller, locked away from the world and herself, unable to hear, see or speak. I had seen Patti in the hallways of  8 West 86th Street, where I lived. She was friends with our super’s daughter. A nice girl. Polite. Pretty. Quiet. I was unprepared for the hurricane force I saw onstage.

I always loved Anne Bancroft who played Annie Sullivan, Helen’s teacher, mentor, and friend. Who didn’t?  She made you a better person just by watching her. And, oh, what a story!  By the time the cast took their curtain calls I was crying so hard, I sat there, head down, embarrassed by my emotion, stunned and changed by what I had witnessed. Bodies and objects flying. Emotions going crazy. Nothing held back. And then, the Miracle, when Helen first speaks. Elizabeth Taylor was there that night. No one paid much attention. She was the side show. This story, not her’s, was the main event.

True Story

The play conveys the pain and wonder of life, of family, of love, disappointment, courage and fear, of victory and  defeat, of resilience, and despite impossible odds, of coming out of the darkness and into the light. It was a story that moved heaven and earth. Helen was real. Her trials were true. Annie Sullivan was an incredible force. a mountain for Helen to climb, and climb her she did. What more could one ask?

Stop for a moment if you will, and remember a  story of your own. One that affected and moved you —and perhaps even changed you, and (or) your life. Remember what you learned and what you felt, no matter what that lesson or feeling may have been.

And as hard as it may be to acknowledge, consider that we’re the co-creators of these stories. .And that although we can’t rewrite the past we can author new stories, direct them in a different way, and see them in a  new light.

Beyond all else, be true to these stories and to yourself. Especially if you’re a celebrity. Poor Brian Williams seems to have missed the boat on that one.

Here’s an image to experiment with. Use it and see what happens:

Story Time

Close your eyes and see your life as an open book. Look at the cover, feel the pages. Flip through these pages. Read the words. See the pictures, and allow them to remind you of what you need to know. Live and sense how this story defines you. If it’s a story you cherish, see it as a golden thread that links you to your true self, and give thanks. If not, take this moment to rewrite it, knowing you can’t change the past, but you can change your beliefs and feelings about it. Then open your eyes, and return, as you remember it in a new and healing way.

Camping in the Garden of Good and Evil

 It’s summer. And I got what I wished for. Peace, quiet, warm days, cool nights, and Silence. Silence. Silence. Hardly even a bird chirping out here in Indianola, Washington, where stimulation comes from the inside out or it doesn’t come at all. The sounds of silence are everywhere. Broken only on occasion by music or memory. Then, out of the blue, I hear from someone with whom I went to summer camp over 50 years ago.

I have no idea who he is, or was, but we were in the same place at about the same time. And that means what? That we remember the same things? We don’t! That we shared the same experience? We didn’t. But it leads me to join a google group of others who also went to this camp. This strange place of good and evil, where I lived for eight weeks each summer from when I was seven to when I was seventeen.

What seemed good, inside and out, existed right alongside something rotten

A discourse evolves. What I discover is doubt and a wrinkly thread of closed mindedness. People don’t want to hear anything negative about a time in life that they recall as idyllic. They don’t like it when the layers are peeled back to reveal worms that ate away at the apple at the same time they were biting into it, discovering that what seemed good, both inside and out, existed right alongside something rotten.Who can blame them?

One person comments on my experience of disciplinary overkill and verbal abuse by saying “Hmmmm. . .”  But Hmmmm smacks of disbelief and questions the validity of someone else’s (in this case my own) experience.

Best to keep an open mind

Think about it and see where that leads. When another’s experience doesn’t jibe with our own, best to keep an open mind. To listen without judgment. To suspend the Hmmms and dispense with the self righteousness. While one person remembers warmth and camaraderie, another recalls getting smacked on the rear with a hairbrush and left alone in the woods. Many recall both good and bad. But it’s the dark and hate-filled words, that burn holes in my consciousness and resist forgetting and forgiving. Though not directed solely at me, I felt every one of them. At thirteen your memory is good and your sense of justice remains uncompromised.

Many years later, I meet up with an old camp friend at a tennis club at Candlewood lake. As we sit at a table by the clubhouse, we recall those troubling days of yore while people gather round and ask if this is fiction or fact. No one knows whether to laugh or cry. This woman and I haven’t seen each other for almost twenty years. We have a lot to say.

English was a second language
My first year at  camp was 1944. War time. Most of the kids came from refugee families. English was a second language. There was a dual allegiance to the country left behind,  and the country they fled to, a split personality. For some, physical discipline was an acceptable child rearing tactic. But not in my home, nor in the homes of my friends. Our parents accused us of having big imaginations. Since they wouldn’t do this  they thought others wouldn’t either. That’s how naive they were.

A real and present danger 

As I read the commentary of “Hmmm’s,” the  disbelief bubbles to the surface, And I realize once again, how discounting other people’s experience is the seed/core of a world in discord. A world out of harmony — tone deaf and in need of re-tuning. A real and present danger for all of us.

For those who would like to open and attune themselves to the wholeness of life’s experience, including the parts with which we’re not familiar, here’s an imagery exercise to serve that intention.

 Tuning In

Close your eyes, breathe out, and See yourself as a radio tuning your antennae to the wisdom of the universe. Know you are receiving vital information directly off the airwaves from a station that’s broadcasting the truth. All of it.
Listen carefully. Then respond without question, or trying to figure it out. See what happens and how you feel. Then open your eyes and return.


Love And Marriage

The brides and grooms in Doug Block’s documentary, march down the aisle, and recite their vows. They laugh, cry, greet guests, kiss each other, their parents, relatives and friends. Their eyes shine. Their hair is perfect. They dance, bask in their joy, look forward to a future of happiness, even bliss. And celebrate love and marriage in an endless barrage of toasts.

Twenty years later: 112 Weddings

Fast forward to seven, ten, fourteen years later. How well have these couples fared? Are they together? Divorced? On the cusp of something new? Block, revisits the beginning, middle and end of some of the 112 Weddings he filmed starting 20 years ago when he needed to make some extra money to support himself and his career.

The result is beyond brilliant. He sought to make wedding videos, and instead found the messy facts of real life, hidden in the spaces between words, cannily revealed by the nods, the eye rolls, the hand gestures, the point and counterpoint of dialogue in distress, and conversation that emerges from between the pores of resentment, laughter and love — that place where life and dreams bounce off each other and leave us wondering: what happened? Where did it go? Where did I go? How do I get it back?

During the interviews the women fare better than the men. They are emotionally smarter, more sensitive, more willing to listen and compromise, while the men get lost in their egos and retreat into soured disappointment with the way things are. Like the husband who loses some weight and goes from being the unsought after chubby boy to the desirable middle aged man with money, departing his 14 year marriage to seek out a more worshipful woman who is grateful for his precious presence. And the one who begins with a wife-rant. Then finally admits it was not his wife who was crazy off the wall and needed to be “committed,” it was him. But there are some who rise to the occasion with grace, compassion and a loving concern that never wavers.

A Man of Grace

The most stunning among these is a man whose wife was, only a few years before, an exceptionally beautiful bride, and now suffers from a depression so dark and deep she seems stuck at the bottom of a well with no desire to climb out. She sits immobile in their living room, ignoring their young child and her husband as he points out her fragile victories. Telling her that each step forward she takes is precious, no matter how small, that he has faith in her, and will be there for her no matter what. But she’s unable to accept his stalwart praise and counters his faith with a blank despair. Yet he refuses to give up. He wills himself to see her healed. He dwells in possibility.

Movies, Film, Art, Truth

There are too many stories that deserve telling for me to share, and it’s clear that the nature of this film is as much a reflection of the man who made it as the couples who agreed to participate. I suggest that you find a way to see it. You will not be sorry.

Some people make movies. Some make films. Others make art. In 112 Weddings, Block has made art. And beyond that he has captured that elusive, forbidden, much discussed but rarely mastered quality we spend our lives and loves seeking, even when we don’t know it.The truth.

Use the following imagery should you want to live and love in truth..

The Mask

Close your eyes, breathe out, and see yourself standing at the foot of a hill.  At the top of this hill is a house. Follow the path that leads up to the door. Go inside and find a trunk. Open this trunk and see that it is filled with masks. Pull out a mask and put it on. Now find a mirror, and look at yourself. What do you see? How do you feel?

Choose whether to take off the mask or leave it on. Breathe out one time, and open your eyes.

* 112 Weddings will be shown on HBO starting June 30th