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Archive for August, 2013

Miley Cyrus is all over the news this week, poor girl. I’m not a celebrity follower, but I teach young girls; some of them are fans of hers. That’s probably why watching her implode on a public stage has really been on my mind lately.

I was never much of a Miley Cyrus fan. It wasn’t that I hated her show, Hannah Montana, but I have three boys and we were knee-deep in Star Wars and the Wiggles when it was popular. Hannah Montana was barely on our radar. My niece watched the show and loved it, but other than buying her a blonde wig for Christmas, I really didn’t follow it. I knew who Miley’s dad was. Billy Ray Cyrus was hugely popular when I was in high school. Our family went to Tennessee the summer that “Achy Breaky Heart” was at its peak. Every pick-up truck with a dog in the back was blaring it down the crowded streets of Pigeon Forge. Not my style, but you would have had to have been dead to not know who he was. When his daughter burst in on the Disney scene, she was all over the news. The media all talked about what a well-adjusted girl she was and how great of a role model she was to the tween set and younger who watched her show. Then something happened.

I didn’t watch the VMAs the other night. I haven’t ever. MTV turns me off with its shock-culture and low-grade shows that do nothing except show younger people how to behave badly. I don’t allow the boys to watch it, either. I’m under no illusions that they could probably see it somewhere else, but it’s not a part of our family. Garbage in, garbage out, right? Anyway, I didn’t even know they had been on until the next morning when Facebook erupted with Miley Cyrus postings. I watched it online then and no matter how much I try, I won’t be able to un-see that.

Now, even before the fiasco of the other night, Miley had been in the news for some other Lindsay Lohan-esque behavior: proudly twerking on camera (basically shaking one’s hindquarters/cellulite in the faces of others. Ew.), radically changing her look, and praising the drug “Molly”, a type of ecstasy that is popular in concert venues. Even I, someone who doesn’t follow tabloids, was a bit shocked by how quickly she was trying to shed her good-girl image. It’s not as if others haven’t struggled with that transition before. Going from a teen star to hopefully being taken seriously has derailed a lot of Hollywood’s babies on a path of self-destruction. All of the kids from Diff’rent Strokes, some of the Brady Bunch crew, Britney Spears, and, of course, the aforementioned Lindsay Lohan, have made some bad choices about how to be seen as valid once they’ve turned 18. Others have done well, but it seems as if the majority have a tendency to self-destruct.

Now, I don’t know any of these people personally. Probably no one reading this blog does, but this I do know. I don’t have daughters, but I have beautiful, wonderful nieces and cousins. The oldest of them is going to be eleven pretty soon and heading for that age where choices about being a girl become more difficult. Boys have difficult choices, too, but since I was a teenage girl many years ago, I know a bit more about that. Girls walk a tricky line between wanting to be admired by boys (or other girls) and being independent. It makes it really difficult when celebrity women have so little respect for themselves that they are masturbating with foam fingers in front of both a live and a television audience. That’s NOT what our young, impressionable girls need to be seeing! Hell, I don’t want to see it! That kind of thing goes back to Madonna, but it doesn’t make it right.

I’ve seen the rebuttal that her performance was “art”. Bull. One hundred percent bull. Art is not cheap. Art does not degrade oneself or others. On the Today Show, I watched Robin Thicke’s wife call his uncensored video for his song “Blurred Lines” “art”. I’m not a prude, but having beautiful naked women dancing around and hang all over you while you sing about them “wanting it” not only disgusts me, it creeps me out. Isn’t that what a lot of rapists and abusers say? “She wanted it”?  It’s not art; it’s the same thing that it’s always been: the old boys’ club that exploits women.

If I ever saw one of my beautiful nieces or students doing what Miley Cyrus did the other night, my heart would break, not that I’m worried about that happening. Their parents would kill them if it did and they’re not being raised like that anyway. But it does make me wonder. What part of her upbringing makes that behavior okay? Why did dancing like that ever seem like a good idea? Why does she feel the need to leave nothing to the imagination? It makes me very sad for her. It really does. I feel like she was failed by people in her life and, as a result, these are the kinds of choices that she makes. I see those same choices in some of the girls at the high school and even the middle school. They’re allowed to leave the house wearing booty shorts and sheer tops with lacy bras showing through. These are 12- and 13-year-old girls. Why don’t their parents say, “NO!”? That’s something I don’t understand. Parents are afraid to tell their children, especially teenage children, no and it shows. Not all of them turn out to  be hot messes, but why risk that? I want my kids to be aware that their actions have consequences, that how they portray themselves creates their reputation, boys or girls. I want my boys to not take women for granted, to respect them and to be respected in turn. It’s kind of hard to respect someone who calls herself an adult yet runs around like she’s high with giant teddy bears, stroking a married man between his legs with a foam finger. You might be able to see the same thing in the clubs down on Michigan Avenue.

I really don’t even know where I was going with this, just that I was really  upset about seeing that whole thing. I wish the best for young Miley and for the girls who are now confused about what happened to her. I pray for the parents who have to find some way to explain this to their kids, including me, and that Miley somehow understands that what she’s done didn’t help her career any. The End.

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My Grandma

I went to visit my grandma yesterday. That in itself doesn’t seem newsworthy, but I hadn’t seen her in quite a long time, way too long. She’s in a nursing home and lives about an hour away, not an excuse for letting all of that time go by, but I’ll save the guilt for my therapist’s visit. This blog is to celebrate her.

My grandma has dementia. For those that don’t know, dementia is not a fun disease. It’s taken my grandma from a lively, spunky, vivacious lady to someone who sleeps much of the day and who has forgotten many of the members of her family, in addition to what happened in the past five minutes. What’s really frustrating is that there’s nothing  anyone can do about it, especially her.

Let me paint you a picture of the grandma that I grew up with.

When I was small, my grandma was a huge part of my world. Grandma was a housewife and she was able to watch me a few times a week when my mother worked. Life at her house, in the eyes of a two-year-old was So. Much. Fun. Yes, I do have snippets of memory from those long ago days. For one thing, Grandma had cats! I adored cats, I always have and we didn’t have any pets where my mom and I lived with my other grandparents, who were also wonderful, by the way. I don’t mean to shortchange them on being amazing grandparents because they really were, but they didn’t have cats. It didn’t matter how often I was rebuffed by their unwillingness to let a little girl squeeze them or that I occasionally got scratched for my efforts, they were amazing and beautiful to me even then. Grandma also had a park, right across the street. Paradise. I remember going there a lot, and sitting on Grandma’s lap on the swing while she sang in my ear, “Rock, rock, rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye my Julie.” She encouraged me to finally climb to the top of the slide by myself after climbing up with me and the two of us sliding down together as many times as I could want. Thinking of it now, me being able to get up there by myself was probably as much of a triumph for her as it was for me! There were finger paintings, trips to the mall, and breakfast pancakes from McDonald’s. Life does not get any better for a preschooler.

As I got older, my life changed. My mother got married and Grandma didn’t watch me anymore. Brothers and cousins came along and still, with all of that competition, Grandma always made me feel like I was special. I don’t ever remember being yelled at or in trouble when I was over there. Grandpa, who worked long hours as a salesman, wasn’t always as patient with our noise as Grandma was, but their house was the place where all of the cousins could get together and cut loose a little bit, especially if we cut loose outside, away from the 6:00 news. My grandpa was a car buff and for a few years, Grandma had a bright red, Corvette that she would take us for rides in. I’ll never forget the pride I felt when she picked me up at school one day, the red Corvette standing out among the parade of dull sedans and station wagons waiting for other students. The principal was most impressed, being a car buff himself. My grandma was cool.

Grandma taught me to cook French toast and pancakes, how to dance the box-step, and how to sew on a sewing machine. To my adult self, I was probably a needy child, but Grandma never made me feel that way. She read Cinderella to me as many times as I asked her to, sat by my bed rubbing my back until I fell asleep when I spent the night, and taught me to swim at the family cottage on Devil’s Lake. I discussed crushes and boys with her, family history, and learned details about my father, her son, who died before I was born.

As I grew up and got busier with life, I didn’t see her as much as I did when I was younger, but she never dropped the ball when it came to keeping in touch. She would call to make sure I was eating properly, came to every one of my plays and concerts, and all of my friends envied me for having such a young, active grandma. 

She loved on my own children the same way she had on me. Some of my most precious possessions are the video where I see her interacting with them and pictures with her cuddling them, the same way she did with my cousins, brothers, and me. She has always loved children and it showed throughout her entire life.

She had a stroke almost seven years ago. Her body recovered, but that signaled the beginning of the change in her. Grandpa passed away two months after they had a car accident on the way to their Florida home for the winter and Grandma continued to decline. She forgot things easily and sometimes began talking as if she were in the past. She became obsessed with imaginary details, like insisting that the family’s dogs were terribly thirsty and she would become very upset when we tried to reassure her that they were fine. (The dogs were always well taken care of.)

I won’t go into more details of her illness because I don’t think she would want that, except that we knew that she couldn’t live by herself anymore. After attempting to have her live with each of my two aunts, it was determined that she needed to be somewhere that she could be taken care of 24 hours a day. Again, I won’t go into detail about the difficulties that my aunts and uncle-dad (a story for another time) went through to find her a suitable, safe place for her. I’ll only say that there is a lot that goes on in nursing homes that should be fixed and monitored.

Thankfully, she is now in a place that seems to be treating her very well.  Yesterday was my first visit with her in her new home. Unlike a lot of nursing homes, it doesn’t smell bad.She was lying quietly on her bed in a neat, cheerful room with family pictures all over the walls and in frames on her dresser and nightstand. Children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren are smiling at her all the time. There was a lot of sunshine coming through the window and the view outside her window was full of beautiful flowers. There are small gardens to walk in and the staff seems to care about their patients.

Grandma was wrapped in a bright yellow blanket with her eyes closed. For a moment, I was afraid that I had disturbed a nap, but after I whispered, “Grandma”, softly, her eyes immediately opened. I went over to her and told her, “It’s Julie”, and she answered, “I know!” I was so happy that she knew me. That was one thing that I was afraid of, that my grandma would forget me, but from the way she talked to me, I knew she hadn’t. When I mentioned my husband to her, she tried to pretend that she knew who I was talking about, but I could tell that she had no idea who Marty was, or our kids, for that matter. That made me sad because she had always loved Marty. They would tease each other mercilessly, always ending with her telling him that she loved him and even the last time I saw her, she called him a name that she would have back before all of this started. This time, it was clear that she was just trying to play along. She assured me that she wasn’t being a complete angel to the staff, that she wouldn’t be herself if she behaved well all the time. That made me laugh, because it’s something that she had always said.

I didn’t stay long. It was lunchtime, so I walked her from her room to her table and helped her to sit down. I scooted up her chair and gently put the large bib around her neck that all of the patients wear, complete role reversal. She didn’t seem to mind. I hugged and kissed her again and told her that I would be back on Friday to see her, this time with my two older boys who were out that way for band camp.

“You won’t recognize them, Grandma. They’re bigger than me, now”, I told her. She said something along the lines of, “That’s how it goes, I guess.” I told her that I loved her and all of a sudden she gripped my hands tightly and said, “I love you, too. I always have and I always will.”

It was all I could do to hold back my tears right then, thankful that she knew who I was and so very happy than she could still say that to me. All of a sudden, I was Grandma’s little girl again, secure in the knowledge that no matter what else happened, my grandma loves me. It’s one of the few things that has always been constant and unshakeable in my life and for her to still be able to say that means the world to me.

She probably doesn’t remember that I visited yesterday, but I’m determined to not let a large chunk of time pass by before I see her again. Two of the boys and I will be back on Friday and then we’ll be back to see her as often as possible. I’m ashamed that I let as much time go by as I did, knowing that had she been her slightly younger self, she wouldn’t have let more than a week go by before she would have called me to see how I was. It hurts to see what is happening to her and my only prayer is that she is happy and comfortable. We don’t know how much time we have left to spend with her, but we can make it happy for her.

It terrifies me that I could be in the same situation many years from now. My other grandmother had Alzheimer’s disease and also spent the last years of her life in assisted living, so it’s entirely possible that what I see is me in another forty years or so. I hope that my children are as zealous as my grandma’s children were in finding a place that would treat her with dignity and respect.

In the meantime, my children are getting older and it is feasible that one day, I too, will be a grandmother. (Although not until after college, a job, and marriage, boys!) My grandma will probably not be here to see her great, great-grandchildren, but I plan to keep her alive by being the same kind of grandma to my future grandchildren that she was to me. We’ll slide down the slide 500 times a day, make French toast, and read Cinderella until my voice is hoarse. I’ll make each of my grandchildren feel special, like they’re my favorite, and tell them all about their fathers when they were small. I’ll shoo them away from their grandfather when he’s watching the 6:00 news and teach them the box-step. And most of all, when they’re very small, they’ll sit on my lap while we swing at the park and I’ll sing my grandma’s lullaby to them, just as she sang it to me and as I sang it to my boys. “Rock, rock, rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye my baby.”

 

 

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