Tag: family

Consigning the Past

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In the 1880s, my great-grandmother packed a steamer trunk and left her Alsatian village for the port of Le Havre, France.  Anna had a glass eye — the result of a snowball fight when she was a girl — little knowledge of English, and the promise of work in San Francisco. She docked in New York and, having eaten her first orange, boarded a train to the West Coast. There, she met my great-grandfather, Albert, an immigrant from Germany.  They opened a bakery that collapsed during the earthquake of 1906.  My great-grandparents and their children survived that catastrophe, but not long after, their seven-year old son was run over by a carriage while playing in the street.  A black wreath hung on their door for a decade. By the time I was a child, Anna and Albert had been reduced to these anecdotes, passed on by my father, and, more concretely, to their two steamer trunks.

The sides and top of Anna’s trunk are oak, seamed with metal.  An A with a sharp peak is pounded into one side.  A W on the other. The trunk can’t be opened without creaking, or moved without scraping the floor; the feet have claws. When I was a child, it sat near the front door to our house, filled with photographs and school essays by my brother and me. Albert’s trunk remained in the garage, containing only the nests of black widows. On the loading dock at Ellis Island, his camelback with its leather handles and stamped tin siding had marked him as a wealthier immigrant than did Anna’s flattop.  But by the 1970s, the metal was chalky with rust, the leather handles had frayed to fur, and the inside smelled like rot.

After college, I moved to France with two suitcases and a mountain bike.  Four years later, I returned to the US with my husband and our mutual possessions. In Grenoble, we loaded a shipping container with his great aunt’s bed frame, his grandmother’s canning jars and coffee mill, skis we still haven’t used, bookshelves, chairs, and scores of cardboard boxes. Meanwhile, from California, my mother sent us our stored wedding gifts and, among other heirlooms, my great-grandparents’ trunks. The container from France would take a month.  Our flight to Baltimore took eight hours.  The ocean that had heaved under Anna’s and Albert’s berths and rattled the hatchways, was flat and innocuous 35,000 feet below our plane. The shipment from California arrived on time, but the container from France entered the harbor just before Hurricane Floyd and was marooned by the ensuing floods. For weeks, we slept on the floor and ate off china, Anna’s trunk our table.  Then the water receded and the rooms began to fill. 

You can tell by looking at them — heavy, unyielding, ready to scratch — steamer trunks were made for definitive departures. Albert and Anna never saw their families again, whereas my children see their French grandparents every year.  Once a manufacturer in the Vaucluse had invented cardboard boxes to ship silkworm eggs from Japan to Europe, it wasn’t a far leap to the recyclable closet that carried my coats across the Atlantic. Metal and wood have succumbed to paper and plastic, and oceans to skies. Goodbyes, too, have become lighter.

Not long after our second child was born, my husband and I made another move, this time over the border dividing city from county. Goodbye to our three-story row house with its brass sconces and slate roof. Hello to a split foyer without attic or basement.  We’d left an embarrassment of space and didn’t know where to put the stroller and playpen, the dollhouse, the boxes on boxes of toys. Anna’s trunk survived the shedding of objects.  Not so for Albert’s. The woman at the consignment shop thought it would work well as an outdoor planter. I wish I could say I looked back. Now the dollhouse is wedged in a crawlspace, and the highchair no longer clutters the table, or the stroller the foyer. This winter, our youngest gave her building blocks to a cousin who lives in Quebec and her tea set to a cousin who lives in Korea. The tiny people and their things have deserted this house, and sitting in a corner of my office, Anna’s trunk looks like one bird wing, a sock without its mate.  If I were to do it over, I’d make room for Albert’s.

Jane Delury’s stories have appeared in The PEN/O.Henry Prize StoriesThe Southern ReviewNarrative, and other publications.  She teaches in the University of Baltimore’s MFA in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts program.

Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh: We Weren’t Kidding about the Hype

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Last night, the stories on the Harbaugh Bowl, or the Har-Bowl as the San Jose Mercury News calls it, started appearing all over the internet. Just in case you haven’t heard about the historic match-up (have you been in a coma?) between the two brothers, we thought we’d share our findings. As the Baltimore Sun points out, every radio show and website seems to be touching on the game between Ravens head coach, John Harbaugh, 49, and San Francisco 49ers head coach, Jim Harbaugh, 48. But as the San Francisco Chronicle explains, this isn’t the first time the two brothers have competed against each other. There was a baseball game back when they were teenagers (John’s team won). Our favorite detail comes from the Atlanta Constitution, which had this quote from Jim: “It’s very considerate of the NFL to fly us out there,” the devilish younger brother said, “I haven’t seen him on Thanksgiving in I don’t know how many years.”

You know who we’re rooting for.

Not So Empty Nests

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In Maryland and across the US, would-be empty nesters are opening their guestrooms up to their adult children. The number of households across the country with an “extra adult” jumped up by two million from 2007 to 2011. High unemployment rates among young people seem to be the main culprit.

Many of us broke twenty- and thirty-somethings can be thankful our parents didn’t share our life trajectories. For example, my father got a job and moved into an apartment at eighteen, bought a house at nineteen, got married at twenty-two, became a father at twenty-three, and started a coin shop at twenty-four. Me, I’m twenty-eight with $57,000 of college loan debt, and I don’t own anything more valuable than a guitar. (I guess you could say I was actually well-prepared for the downturn — I had been living in my own personal recession since college.)

Certainly, not everyone from my father’s generation took his path, and thankfully not everyone in my generation chose mine, but I see the underlying pattern of later starts and more debt in many of my peers. If my son has to mooch off me in thirty years, I wonder what I will have to offer him.

Learning to Cope with Autism

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The video “Fixing Autism” on our video landing was sent to us by Mark Kodenski, a partner at Brown Advisory who has a child with autism. It was sent to him by autism awareness activist Adrienne Gleason who got it from former WMAR anchor Mary Beth Marsden’s website RealLookAutism.com, which chronicles her life with her autistic child.

The video features Lou, a father of three whose eldest, Bianca, has Autism Spectrum Disorder. Through a series of index cards, he shares his struggles raising a child with ASD. The Indiana dad writes about his challenges on his blog “Lou’s Land.” 

“My life consists of fighting chaos at every turn and trying to develop routines that will help Bianca to thrive and feel comfortable while trying to ensure that my other kids do not resent their sister for the restraints her condition put on our daily lives.” 

Whether you have a child with autism or not, any parent can identify with Lou’s desire to do well by his child. Take a minute to check out the powerful and moving video. 

Video Spotlight is a new feature on Baltimore Fishbowl that highlights videos of particular interest.  

Free Movie Night at AVAM (Bring Your Own Popcorn)

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The American Visionary Art Museum is one of the most fun and interesting attractions in Baltimore, but the admission price ($16 for an adult, $10 for children over six) tends to keep this writer away. But on late summer Thursday nights the AVAM transforms into one of the most economical (and family-friendly) outings in town.

AVAM’s free “Flicks from the Hill” series runs every Thursday in July and August. Moviegoers park themselves on Federal Hill for a 9 o’clock outdoor screening. The film schedule is all popcorn fare, featuring proletarian comedies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Airplane!

The outdoor picnic atmosphere adds novelty to even timeworn classics. You may have seen Some Like It Hot more times than you can remember, when was the last time you saw it projected outside on “a 30-foot wide screen held from above by a Giant Golden Hand?”

On movie nights, the museum is free from 5PM to 9PM, so show up early and check out the current exhibition, “What Makes Us Smile?,” co-curated by Simpsons creator Matt Groening.

Tonight’s film is Viva Las Vegas.

Celebrating the International Roots of Family

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The Refugee Youth Project and Education Based Latino Outreach do a lot of important, hard work. The RYP helps Baltimore’s under-21 refugee population adjust to life in the U.S., helping with homework, and providing a sense of community; the EBLO aims to improve the lives of  Hispanic children and families through education and cultural activities. But we’re not here to talk about work — we’re here to talk about a party.

Yes, it’s almost time for International Family Day, and if you don’t already celebrate it, this year might be a good time to start. The RYP and EBLO’s annual party celebrating the global roots of our community is at the Walters this year, and if it’s as fun as previous years’ parties, we recommend that you stop by. Highlights include a screening of On One Field, a documentary about how pickup soccer games helped bridge cultural gaps between refugees and immigrants in Baltimore; and a RYP-sponsored talent show featuring local all-star Shodekeh as well as the Student Immigrant Storytellers from Patterson High School, in partnership with the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Not to mention the globally inspired art activities and a show of students’ artwork.

Do you consider your family international?

Yelling is Her Calling

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This is as quiet as my house ever gets: the whir of traffic, often punctuated by the boom of bass; sirens and copters; yelping, yipping, barking dogs—from blocks away to the pair at my feet; wind chimes, lawnmowers, and the chirping of a dozen species of birds, including one who sounds like the laugh at the beginning of the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out.”

It’s only ever this quiet during the school day, when my husband and daughter leave me to my own devices.  Even then, I’m compelled to fill their sonic void with sounds—court TV shows, music, a random video shared on Facebook.  I screech Heart’s “Barracuda” in the shower, play guitar, shout at the dogs.  I’m shouting at them right now, as they have just knocked over the zero gravity recliner, where I sit.

When my family is home, it’s clear we are loud.  It’s partly because I am a yeller.  I come from a short line of yellers and loud talkers, a detail I was cautious about sharing with my infant, but you can’t hide noise in your diaper bag.  It’s hard to whisper “You ASSHOLE” to the pokey driver in front of you.  It’s tough to hide your parents’ arguments, telephone fights with your sister, a public loathing of litterbugs and Express Lane abusers, and general abrupt disgruntle when that’s the person you are, whether by nurture or nature.

Even though I yell, I don’t need anger management.  I need control.  I once wrote that I yell to get people—my family, mostly—to listen to me, to respond to my THIRD REQUEST, DAMN IT, since the two nice ones went unheeded. DINNER IS READY!  YOUR SHOES DON’T BELONG IN THE KITCHEN!  CLEAN YOUR ROOM!  I yell to insist I really did tell them the seder is Monday night.  I TOLD YOU LAST WEEK THAT THE SEDER IS MONDAY NIGHT! 

I yell at the dogs when they bang into me. WATCH IT, DOGS!  I yell at the TV news. THAT’S NOT NEWS, YOU IDIOT, IT’S A MCDONALD’S PRESS RELEASE!  I yell at Serena’s band when they are anywhere besides the basement or outside.  DOWNSTAIRS OR OUTSIDE!  I yell at my daughter’s friend to go home so I can yell at my daughter.  I yell to get my husband to stop interrupting me mid-sentence to nag me about why the spray paint is sitting quietly on the deck, to get my family to PUT MY CAPOS BACK ON MY GUITAR WHERE THEY BELONG, to get my puppy to SIT!

The baton, with attached foghorn and vuvuzela, has been passed.  Serena Joy (a garlic necklace of a name chosen to counter that of her mother, Neurotic Misery) yells, too—at her mom and dad, her friends, the dogs, her band.  And my husband, Marty?  Let’s call him a passionate discusser.  He comes from a long line of boisterous talkers, grumpy West Virginians—Hatfields, in fact (the real McCoy!)—people like his Uncle John, who drank beer at lunchtime in the diner and bragged loudly of his sexploits; people like his brother, the builder/rock climber/ballerina, whose answering machine messages are spoken as if we’ll be playing them back from a neighbor’s house. His mom, who has lost much of her hearing, can still hear us. 

Our family is overheard in restaurants.  Marty’s cheer of appreciation (YEA!) can be heard on every family’s School of Rock video.   But our volume is about more than our voices.  (Our hair might as well be an ad for volumizing products.)  At any given moment in the Miller household, in any room, you are likely to hear a movie, a song, saxophone, drums, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, drum machine—many of them at the same time, often one turned way up to hear over another.  Doors slam.  Dogs tussle.  The refrigerator groans like a ghoul.  Serena can’t calmly tell her dad that his timing is wrong on Led Zeppelin’s “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”; she has to shriek the correction.  I yell from the living room to the attic, hoping to be heard over the Wii; Serena yells her reply.  Our dog, Chance, yells at our new puppy, Jett .  And Marty passionately discusses the mess I’ve made in the house, the unwalked dogs, the spray paint can left on the deck.   He chews his food passionately, too.  I turn on the TV at dinner time to drown it out, and Serena turns the volume even higher. 

Shortly after I gave birth, I developed a sleep disorder and became so sensitive to the pesky sounds heard above the quietude that I had to muffle them with a white noise machine and foam earplugs.   The last straw, the thing that bled through my barriers to a soundless sleep and led to my isolation was Marty’s nocturnal inhalations and exhalations.  (Marty snore?  Never!)  I eventually moved to the guest room because the volume of his “nighttime breathing” was the only thing standing in the way of a good night’s sleep.  Serena, who already sleeps with her door closed, often gets out of bed in the middle of the night to close his door—because, as she puts it: “he [nighttime breathes] like a frickin’ tractor.”  If he didn’t, the four battery-operated clocks—one on the wall, one on the dresser, and two next to the bed, all set for a different time and a different alarm, all with a second hand—would have done me in.   I have a clock on the wall of the guest room, where I sleep, but its batteries are on the dresser.

These days, if I manage to sleep through the alarms, the excited morning dog whimpers, the banging screen door, the whistling coffee pot, and the social studies documentaries (who am I kidding? Social Studies documentaries? Zzzzzz.), then I am awakened at 6:30 a.m. by the siren of ended lesson planning: a rousing version of Muse’s “Hysteria” on electric bass or one of Billy Bragg’s anti-government ditties, sung with Cockney accent and passion, if not perfect pitch, accompanied by zealous guitar strumming in the echoic kitchen, a favorite playing place for its acoustics.

I suppose I should be embarrassed, especially that the clean clothes are in the closet, but our dirty laundry is often wafting out the window for three seasons.   That my overnight guest, visiting from Hawaii, was awakened by the loud charms jingling from Jett’s collar every time the dog moved and the 4:30 a.m. alarm that went off in the bedroom, despite my husband’s being out of town.  That when my daughter told me on Facebook that I should yell less, the next-door-neighbor’s daughter, away at college, “liked” it.

I sometimes worry about how loud we are (the neighbors always tell us they enjoy our harmonies; they neglect to mention the discord), but the truth is that I don’t know of any other way to live. I apologize for the sounds of us, but, at the same time, I can’t stifle them. I love our cacophony, our laughter, our play, and our music, even if it comes bundled with the yelling, snoring, and loud-chewing package.  I feel guilty that I’m entering Excedrin’s “What’s Your Headache” contest with a video of my daughter playing every instrument in the universe, with the volume up as high as it goes, because it’s a downright lie.  The music in my house never gives me anything but delight.  She is a thirteen-year-old girl who rocks.  So does her fifty-something dad.

The time has come to wholly embrace the loudness that is the Millers. Songs and movies should be rewritten about us: Turn it Up. Pump Up Our Volume. It WILL Get Loud…er. WHO LET THE DOGS IN? 

Yeah, that’s right. We are the Millers, and we go to eleven. (That’s one louder.)

Different Values

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This is the first in our series inviting writers to anonymously share family struggles. If you would like to submit your story, please contact [email protected]

What do you do when your values clash with those of your son and his wife?

Our son, Jim, and his wife, Cathy, are ultra-conservative Christians, while my husband and I are cafeteria Catholics.

Jim met Cathy at work. He’d never been interested in our Catholic faith, but a few weeks after their first date, Jim started going to Cathy’s church. He didn’t tell us he was going to church with her until after they’d been dating for a couple of months. Their wedding ceremony was performed by a minister Cathy had known since childhood.   Clearly, our son was committed to his new wife, his in-laws and his new religion. He never discussed any of this with us. Perhaps he thought we’d feel wounded or disappointed. We took consolation in the fact that he wanted to live a faith-filled life.

After Jim and Cathy had their first baby, my husband and I noticed we were not asked to babysit, and the baby was not brought to our home to visit. Though we had never dropped in on Jim and Cathy unexpectedly, we had been instructed by our son to call before coming over to see the baby. At the time, I thought it was a reasonable, understandable request, but when we found out that Cathy’s parents were doing all the babysitting and allowed to visit anytime with no call-ahead reservation necessary, we felt like outsiders and it hurt!  

At first I tried to convince myself that it was because we were the parents of the Dad, and maybe that’s how it goes: The parents of the dad have to wait until the mom (our daughter-in-law) is ready to allow us full access. I told myself I could live with that; it’s always been my goal to be a good mother-in-law. It seemed clear Jim felt closer to Cathy’s parents, but I consoled myself with the old fridge-magnet adage, “Your son is your son until he takes a wife, but your daughter’s your daughter all of her life.”

The first time we were asked to babysit, the baby was four months old. The other grandparents weren’t available. Last choice caregivers or not, we jumped at the chance to prove we could be the greatest of babysitters.  When we arrived we were given instructions about sleeping and feedings. We were also given specific instructions about what we could and could not say in front of the baby. No “Oh my God” or any taking of the Lord’s name in vain. No four-letter words.  I reminded our son that we don’t use that kind of language, and if we did, a four month old wouldn’t understand us anyway. He said the baby would pick up on our attitude. Really? Okay. 

I could see my husband’s face. The vertical vein in the middle of his forehead – the one that’s not noticeable when he’s content – was bright red and throbbing. But we said nothing; we were afraid if we raised a fuss, we’d not be asked to babysit again. So we smiled and assured our son we would follow his instructions.   

That’s how it goes most of the time. No screaming, no yelling, just subtle reminders that they have rejected our values and found something else. We fall in line because we don’t want to be any more excluded from their lives than we already are. 

I don’t try to lure them into religious debates. But if they say something I don’t agree with, I’ll tell them calmly without anger. One day they were telling me I should live by the bible, word for word. When I said I didn’t agree and thought the bible was a good guide for living one’s life, but not to be taken literally, my daughter-in-law said, “I’ll pray for you to change.” Boiling inside, I didn’t show my anger. Instead, I said that I completely respected their right to believe as they wish and to raise their children as they think best; that I would always respect their wishes regarding their children; that I don’t believe in trying to one-up them with religion and that I can see what may be right for me may not be right for them. A couple of hours after I left their home, Cathy called to apologize.

Recently, Jim said his daughters won’t be allowed to date – ever.  He and his wife believe that God will send the right man to marry them. Uh, good luck with that. People need the practice of dating and romantic relationships to make a good decision about whom to marry. When the opportunity arises, I will try to discuss this in a non-confrontational way. I’ll try! Due to the rules my son wants to impose, I’m concerned some of my grandchildren will rebel.  How will they handle it?  Will they reject them? I just don’t know.

Once in a while I’m encouraged.  The other day, Jim said to me, “Mom, it makes me angry to see Christians carrying signs putting down gay people. Don’t they know Jesus would invite gay people to dinner?” Hearing this made me happy and proud. He has a loving, accepting heart buried in his fundamentalist chest. 

I will not allow my family to be torn apart by religion.  There is too much of that in the world.  So I will continue to try to live and let live; to love my children for the virtues I see in them and to hope and pray that they’ll practice acceptance and tolerance too.

I felt rewarded by the Mother’s Day card Jim and Cathy gave me.  In it they wrote that I am a helpful gift to their family.  I hope they mean it because knowing that I am helpful to them would make my day, my year, and maybe, just maybe I might be a good mother-in-law after all, if not the absolute best.

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