Wednesday, March 30, 2011


In the early seventies I started a collection of campaign pins. I called it my button collection. It started small and began to snowball over time. Eventually I had two large bulletin boards crammed with slogans, clever sayings and suspect political opinions. About twenty years ago I stopped actively collecting and haven't thought too much about it since then. Recently Allie opted for a cleaner decorating look and ejected the buttons from her room. For the first time in many years I actually read them.

It is rather shocking to see how little times have changed. And why did I have such passionate ideas back then? The politicians are different, but the politics are the same. On the other side of the world, people are fighting for democracy. It seems that another dictator is ousted every week. Earthquakes and tsunamis are wreaking havoc and we fear nuclear meltdowns. We're more worried than ever about the environment. Gay rights and women's rights are still a struggle. And what do my buttons say about me? I was at the end of the baby boom, in the middle of the sexual revolution and at the forefront of the green movement.

Recycling was different back them. One Saturday morning a month you could deliver your newspapers to a local shopping center to be recycled. A couple times I volunteered on the collection truck. Even at age thirteen, it felt important. By that time I had a well developed social consciousness. I'd been deeply influenced by my parents who were liberal Democrats. Even though they divorced when I was six, their social views were perfectly aligned. Anti-war, pro-civil rights. We marched on Washington several times in massive demonstrations against the Vietnam War. We listened to protest music. We recycled and composted. We were like some of the young families in my community today, but forty- five years ago we were on the cutting edge.

We lived near the Hudson River which was polluted. Pete Seeger got involved and toured around on his sloop, "The Clearwater", to raise money and awareness. This early activism was before it became trendy for musicians to support causes. Before Bono and Willie Nelson and Farm Aid and Africa Aid and AIDS aid. It was the sixties and the seventies.

It took me a while to understand that our family was not like most of my friends' families and I was not like most of my friends. I was more like a worried adult in a child's body. Now I'm like a worried child in an adult body. I look forward to the day all the parts will match, but really, what's the chance? My mother used to say that she didn't care what we did when we grew up as long as we were good people. I took the mantra to heart, but wasn't sure I knew what it meant.

I had a few good friends who were Catholic and I'd sometimes go to Mass with them. Confession made no sense to me. It seemed you could do whatever you wanted and then be absolved by a few " Our Fathers" and "Hail Marys". That just didn't seem right. And what really bothered me was that these kids littered! I thought that was absolutely terrible. Didn't they know it was wrong to litter? I must have been a ton of fun.

One of the strongest values I learned then has helped me with my own parenting. Moral development is an internal process. We need to teach the value of right from wrong, not fear of consequences. Being afraid of consequences isn't enough to produce proper behavior. It just makes you really careful about getting caught. Doing the right thing because it IS the right thing is what makes good behavior. Rewarding grades or athletic goals with cash or presents doesn't ultimately work. The motivation has to come from within. Ironically, we seem so quick to dole out positive consequences in the form of rewards, but are reluctant to make our kids live with negative consequences. We hasten to rescue them instead of letting them learn the lessons they need to learn.

It was easier for me because my kids didn't have cellphones when they were young and couldn't call or text me about every, little thing they'd forgotten to do or bring. It would have to be important enough to go to the school office to use the phone. If I did rescue them I'd be so grumpy about it they were probably sorry they'd asked. In Middle School the girls had flour sack babies. They were responsible for these babies and could NOT screw it up. The "babies" had to be in their custody at all times. I'll never forget the near hysterical call I got from Lana who'd forgotten her "baby" at home. She obviously wasn't ready to be a mother and my idea of being a grandmother didn't involve a five pound sack of flour. It still doesn't. I'm thinking squirmy and cuddly with a sweeter smell.

I digress. Back to the buttons. I collected a lot of them when I worked in nightclubs in San Francisco. It seemed every band used buttons for promo. The good, the bad and the ugly, here is a sampling of the collection.

War is not Healthy for Children and other Living Things
Levitate the Pentagon
300 More Today
No War
POW's never have a nice day
Draft Beer not Boys
People's Peace Treaty

San Francisco:
I Survived the Rainbow Grocery Check-Out Line
Twinkie Terrorist
Biafra for Mayor
Free Angela
I was serviced by Suzi Skates
I didn't jump - Golden Gate Bridge

Trust in God - she will understand
Religion is the problem - not the answer
We are all Zionists
Free Soviet Jewry

Human Rights:
Poor People's Campaign - 1968
A woman's place is in the House and the Senate
We Shall Overcome
Boycott non-UFW grapes

Gay Rights:
Better Blatant than Latent
Ray for Mr. Gay SF '76
Don't feed or tease the straight people
Preserve Freedom - Stop Briggs

Nuclear Power:
Better active today than radioactive tomorrow
No more Harrisburgs
Stop nuclear power
Hard Rock Cafe - No drugs or nuclear weapons allowed inside

So Not PC:
Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke
Smile if you're a Streaker
Under 35 Unite
Rich punks on coke
Nuke the Whales
Disco Sucks
After two...Cork the Stork
I Sag
Don't Hold Your Breath
Save Time - See it my Way

Sexual Liberation:
Just another one night stand
Young blondes turn on fast
Deep, considerate, sensitive and horny

Feel far removed
Think Summer
It's getting deep in here

SF Bands:
The Invasions
Tommy Tutone
Nu Models
The Kids
Roc Mono
The Hoovers
Fun Addicts
Strap D'Etro
Cha Cha Billy
Kid Courage
The Tigers

Youth for Kennedy
I like Ike
Impeachment with Honor
McGovern '72
Goldwater - Miller
LBJ for the USA
Woodrow Wilson - Man of the Hour
Supervisor Harry Britt
I Want Roosevelt Again
I'm for Nixon
Johnson- Humphrey 1964

Ah. The more things change, the less they seem to change. In 1790 Abigail Adams was complaining about partisanship in government. We've got newly elected Republicans wanting to reverse reproductive rights. Wisconsin. A possible budget shut down. We're still fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and don't even mention Libya. I'll have to put my fingers in my ears and then go pick out a button to wear.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tam Man

I'm not sure how my life became such a sports metaphor. When I was a child my family was outdoorsy in a seasonal, recreational way. Like the Kennedys' on a teacher's salary, but not as good looking. Water sports in summer and ice skating in winter. We couldn't afford family skiing, but my brother was on ski team at school. I don't think camping qualifies as a sport, but we got very good at it. I never went to any sort of summer camp and most certainly did not attend sports camp. Being part of a big family provided all the built- in competition we could handle and that was just at the dinner table.

There was a tennis phase, more like a craze, that my father and step-mother went through. We were dragged along to the public courts very early on summer mornings, before it got too hot. I can't recall perfectly, but there may have been a small bit of attitude on my part. One hot summer evening, when we were playing family tennis, I got hit hard in the face with a tennis ball. Then I really started to hate it. I was not going to be the next Chris Evert, although I did buy myself an adorable tennis dress that I wore with white knee socks. That was it for me and tennis until I was forty-three.

For a while I was a professional figure skater - at least in my own mind. I loved to hurry home from school in winter and skate on the lake for a while before dark. It was the most peaceful activity I have ever known. Many times I was the only person on the ice, the only soul around. The community was mostly summer homes - very few year-rounders. It was probably a bit dangerous to be out there by myself, but I loved it so. One time I literally did skate on thin ice -and broke through. Fortunately, it was near the shore and even more fortunately, my grandfather was with me and pulled me out. That was one cold trek home.

Despite a serious aversion to running, I tried out for the track team in seventh grade. In order to make the team we had to run three miles. I could run a mile, maybe two, but three miles? Half way through I was gasping for air. I slowed down to a fast walk. A guy friend grabbed my hand and pulled me the rest of the way. Woo hoo. I made the team. Apparently James A. Farley Middle School didn't need me in any of the running sports. They assigned me to pole vaulting. In seventh grade I was the same height as I am now, otherwise known as short. As one might imagine, I wasn't a very good pole vaulter. A couple times I came in third when there were only three competing. In those days parents didn't fuss over kids the way they do now. I don't think I was damaged by the fact nobody in my family ever saw me pole vault.

Eighth grade was soccer team which is just running in disguise. Running in the fall in New York, when the air is cold, can really hurt the lungs. It was social and we got to leave school early for the away games. In ninth grade I joined swim team. My accomplishments were less than stellar. We were in a new school with a brand new, indoor pool. My most vivid memory of swim team was when one of the divers hit his head on the board and blood filled the pool. That and having my hair freeze while I waited in the cold for my mother, late again, to pick me up.

From tenth grade on I was more interested in music and avant-garde art than playing for teams. When I moved to LA we played a little racquetball at Hollywood High and I took beginning ballet classes in San Francisco. When the children came along I didn't have a sport. Being Mommy was my job and I was lucky to squeeze in a trip to the gym or a walk with the dog. I loved to see their tumbling and ballet classes. Watching my kids take swim lessons made me incredibly happy. They dabbled in soccer but didn't really care about it. If there was a game, I was there. Wild horses couldn't drag me away.

Sports seemed to stay in proper perspective until Lucy joined swim team. When Lana was old enough, she also enlisted. Allie had no choice. It was compulsory. We were always at the pool and she learned to swim when she was four. For years our Saturdays, our dinner hour and our summer vacations were all obliterated by meets or practices. Swim team took so much from the family, but it gave at least as much, or so it seemed. I loved that it was an individual sport and each child could improve their own time, but still be part of a team. It's the only sport where five year olds are on the same level as eighteen year olds and boys and girls participate equally.

The three girls each had a different practice time, so I drove back and forth to the pool on at least a hundred thousand separate occasions. We had hooks in our downstairs bathroom with dozens of swim suits hanging up to dry. The chlorine would eat through the fabric so the girls would just keep layering the practice suits. Guests would use the bathroom and come out shaking their heads. How could one family have so many bathing suits? It was a small fortune to keep them in goggles and caps, not to mention parkas. The cars reeked of chlorine, but those were wonderful times when the windows were steamed up and they were on a high from practice. Kids who are swimmers and water polo players are not just athletes, they're part of a cult. They're water people.

As they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Soon I accepted that swim Mom was my fate and I stopped resisting. It was futile, anyway. I liked the idea of family dinners, but it became virtually impossible because of evening practices. Eventually, I caved completely, became president of the team and the Strawberry Seals swallowed up what was left of my life. In the process I learned something about myself. I was much more competitive than my children.

One exception was the year Lana was trying to qualify for All-Stars and was intensely motivated. She was invited to a friend's Bat Mitzvah, but couldn't miss the swim meet. We went early and she competed in backstroke with a qualifying time. We quickly changed, drove to the synagogue and attended the services. When they were finished we rushed back to the pool where Lana swam in her butterfly and individual medley, getting best times and qualifying in each event. Getting her out of the sun, the heat and the chaos of the meet really seemed to help, but maybe it was the prayers.

Eventually my daughters flat out told me that I cared more about them winning than they did. It was time for me to find my own sport. Ouch. I can take a hint. By this time I'd started to learn tennis and had an outlet for my own competitiveness. Now it's just what I do. It's what our friends do. They play sports, sometimes multiple sports in one day. Three sports in one day is called a "Tam Man." It might be a mountain bike ride, then tennis and a swim in the pool. It could be any combination - golf, hiking, even yoga.

Recently we had a rare appearance of snow on Mount Tamalpais. Six inches of February snow. At an elevation of 2,200 feet there can be a dusting on the peaks every couple years, but nothing that accumulates. Not this time. About eight a.m I happened to look up at the mountain and see the snow. Within thirty minutes we were in the car, Eric with skis, boots and poles, me with the camera. Skiing on Mt. Tam has been one of his dreams for thirty-five years. The item on the bucket list. In another thirty minutes we were walking up the fire road. We finally reached Rock Springs and he climbed to the top of a hill and skied down. Six inches of fresh on a layer of grass. It was slow going, but it was real. When he got back to the parking lot there were two mountain bikers and a woman walking her dog. Hiking, cycling, skiing in one day. Now that's a Tam Man.

Mt. Tam

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Backwards Walking

Several of my friends have been doing the East Coast college tour gauntlet. Even though it's been over ten years since Lucy and I crisscrossed the Atlantic seaboard, I still have occasional traumatic flashbacks. We actually took two trips before she settled on her school which, happily, wanted her. On the first jaunt we borrowed Sally's car and put a thousand miles on it. There was a lot of rejection on that trip. Lucy rejected every school we saw, one after another. Vassar was too quiet, although it had the loveliest tree I've ever seen. Stately and over three hundred years old, it was majestic. I was sold on the tree alone, but Lucy had other criteria. Tufts was too urban. NYU was so urban it didn't even have a campus. Step out of a class and you could be hit by a cab. Wesleyan was too politically correct. Middlebury and Colgate - too remote. Dartmouth was too preppy and Skidmore had ugly architecture.

Lucy is a typical, high-achieving oldest child. She has lots of motivation and drive, but it comes with a very dark side. An agenda. I didn't fully experience this until we took a trip to Disneyland when she was about ten. Lana and Allie were happy to ride "It's a Small World" over and over. Once they met Mickey and Goofy they were completely satisfied. Lucy had her agenda and God help you if you got between her and her goals. Being like that myself, it's something I understand. Understanding doesn't make me fear it any less. When the little darling announced that she had crossed off all the rides she'd had on her list, I was so relieved I was ready to kiss the ground Snow White walked on. To steal from an old joke, I was practically f**king Goofy.

Disneyland helped me to prepare for college tours, as much as is possible. The agenda was huge -so much riding on it. Even though I tried not to be a crazy, overly involved Mom, I got sucked into the frenzy and probably got too into it. I read a couple books on college admissions which helped sort things out. No, you don't need to go to a private high school in order to be accepted into an excellent college. Yes, being well-rounded matters and yes the odds increase if you apply early decision because it helps the school increase their yield. It's all a numbers game. The right college is out there for you, if you look correctly.

All of this was new to me because I never went to sleep-away college. I graduated from high school a year early and moved to Hollywood with my boyfriend, the drummer. At seventeen, I went to sleep-away life. I knew about a lot of things, but dorms and meal plans were not among them. I studied architecture for two years in Los Angeles but didn't have the discipline to finish my program, which was a shame. I was extremely proud to finally get my BA, after two kids. By then, I was thirty. I graduated the same year Lucy graduated from pre-school. We both graduated with honors. When I finally got my diploma from San Francisco State on a rainy day in May, she was with me.

Lucy and I had such different starts in life and I always wanted hers to be better, easier. She had worked so hard at school and sports and after- school jobs. With her all-consuming social life I'm not sure how she found the time to study at all. She put so much effort into her life, I wanted to support her as much as possible, but it wasn't always easy. Shopping for colleges stretched me to the limit. It's hard to trust someone with huge life choices when they are incapable of unloading a dishwasher without complaining. And where did she get all these opinions? No, I don't want to go to college in California. No, I don't even want to look at any colleges in California. No, I don't want to look at Oberlin even though your entire family went there and I'd be a multiple legacy applicant. It's still a Fly Over school. Sigh.

I don't know whether it was before or after Boston, but we were in Vermont so we could tour Middlebury College. Lucy had a friend who attended the school and she would spend the night with them. I had booked myself into a local bed and breakfast. By this time I was on my last nerve, and mind you I only had three to begin with. I was beyond frazzled when I dropped her off. On to the B & B, stopping at a convenience store on the way to pick up some essentials No, not one bourbon, one scotch and one beer. One banana, one yogurt and one beer.

When I arrived at my destination the owners were out and had left me a note. My room was upstairs and I was welcome to anything in the kitchen. All I needed to do was get past the dogs who were in there barking. As I was standing there trying to muster up the gumption to face the dogs, the hall phone rang. Not sure what else to do, I answered it. The caller asked for Lucy! It was a friend of hers from California. Even in the middle of nowhere, there was no escape.

I was too afraid of the dogs to venture into the kitchen for a bottle opener so I went up to my room. I drew a bath and looked around. No way to open a beer. I finally used the drawer pull on an antique dresser. I'm sure Lucy had no such issues that night visiting her friend on the college campus even though she was just seventeen. Beer and beer openers were no doubt plentiful. It was kind of like the time I realized that, because of the teenagers, the adults in the house had to sneak around to have sex. The kids were definitely drinking more beer and probably having more sex, too. Isn't it ironic?

The next day we took yet another interesting, exhausting tour of an incredibly beautiful campus in an idyllic location. I had to laugh about how good the guides were at walking backwards while also smiling, talking and pointing out critical features of the college. Looking at schools is a LOT like looking at property. You concentrate so hard, trying to catch every, little nuance, processing, filtering, judging. You compare and contrast, store mental images and small impressions. At least that's what the parents do. The kids just wake up from yet another nap about when you arrive and make snap judgments based on factors invisible to adults. While researching our second tour I found a website that really helped. I put in Lucy's specific criteria. She had narrowed the search to a small, liberal arts school, with a great art department and no Greek life where she could play Division III water polo. The first school that popped up was Connecticut College. And guess what? It's not just for women, anymore.

I loved that it had an arboretum and a tree to rival Vassar's. It was halfway between New York and Boston. We pulled up the drive, took one look at the beautiful, old limestone buildings and Lucy was sold. She applied Early Decision, but the process was not without its drama. Despite endless nagging, the applications were mailed (so old school) on the final day and hour of the deadline. The printer at home ran out of ink and we went to my office before rushing to the post office. There were fears. Conn College was highly ranked and very competitive. Even though Lucy had an academic 4.0, she graduated thirty- third in her class. Being from California helped. Geopraphic diversity matters. Tamalpais High School had fantastic art classes and she sent wonderful slides of her work. They wanted her on the water polo team, but, still, you wait and wonder. The acceptance package (the much anticipated large envelope) arrived on February 18th, Allie's tenth birthday.

My dreams for Lucy came true. Her hard work and single-mindedness paid off. She got a bachelor's degree in fine art and graduated with distinction. She started working in graphic design and leased a beautiful apartment in San Francisco where she still lives. Lucy is now working at a great design firm. She's been able to take some incredible trips to the other side of the world. On the eve of her twenty-ninth birthday, she's in a relationship with someone who also went to Connecticut College. Who knows? Maybe we were on the campus tour with him.