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Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

The Good News channel

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

My daughter, who will be 23 in February, frequently says that she hates the evening news and the 24 hour news channels because the stories are always so negative. She asks why there isn’t a “good news channel.” As the traditional news, particularly the economic news, gets worse and worse, I keep thinking about my daughter’s question.

So, in an effort to follow Ghandi’s advice to “be the change I want to see in the world,” I’ve decided to launch my own good news channel of sorts. It occurs to me that, all around me, I see people doing extraordinary things in an effort to make a difference in the world, or at least to the people around them. And I know that these efforts are being repeated, day after day, all over the world. It’s just that the shocking stories grab the headlines, and we’re all guilty of head-turning when we see the “Breaking News” banner on the screen, knowing full well it will not be positive.

None of the people I’m about to introduce to you consider their good works heroic or extraordinary. Most just started out wanting to help, to give back in some way, and somewhere along the way they became passionate about their causes. They’re humble, grateful people whose stories are inspiring to me and, I hope, to you. When you read about their efforts, you may feel compelled to contribute. Or you might feel that you’re not doing enough, compared to them. But my purpose is not to solicit on their behalf or to shame you. We all contribute something, in our own way, and on our own time, and most of us do more than we realize. My aim is simply to shine a light on some positive stories, to try to balance our negative worldview, which is sadly skewed because of our overexposure to one side of the story.

I thought this holiday season would be a good time to expose the warmth and compassion of some ordinary people I know who consistently act out of love for others. The good news starts tomorrow. Join me.

Getting to Know Dad

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Here is my tribute to the Greatest Generation, in honor of all those who were killed and injured at Pearl Harbor 70 years ago today. First published in The News & Observer in 2007, it feels like an appropriate offering for today:

I was born in 1957, just twelve years after WWII ended. Like most Baby Boomers, as a youngster I was interested only in things that were new and hip. Bell bottoms, Levi jeans, Carole King records. I’m the youngest of eight children, so my parents were older when I was born. Middle-age parents with old-fashioned ideas were sometimes hard to bear.

By the time I was old enough to be aware of world events, the cultural revolution of the late sixties was going on. One brother had served in the Air Force in Korea; another was in the Army in Vietnam. To me, WWII was ancient history.

My father was a brilliant, but quiet man. He was a good dad. Like most men in his generation, he spent the majority of his time working hard in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. He wasn’t much on talking and, like a typical teenager, I wasn’t that interested in his life anyway.

Until it was too late.

We found his love letters several years ago while helping my mother pack to move to an independent living residence. Over fifty of them, by the time we were finished. Romantic, engaging, and inspiring, they revealed a side of him we had not known. They were filled with words of encouragement for my mother, telling her to keep her chin up during the troubled times. Perhaps they were also the words he needed to hear?

Embedded in the letters were also bits of history, details about his naval officers’ training and the progression of the war. Reading them, I felt such a mixture of emotions. Grief, for the opportunity, now lost, to know the real man. To hear his stories in person. To ask questions. Yet profound joy in the physical permanence of the letters. His beautiful handwriting, his struggles, his undying love for my mother.

Why didn’t he tell us that he’d been a “Ninety-day wonder” who trained almost every waking moment for months in order to join the war as soon as possible? That, as a young ensign, his best buddy was Wellington T. Mara, later the long-time owner of the New York Giants. He never mentioned Key West or Miami, where he was stationed, or blackouts, or rationing, or war bonds.

We never heard about “The Sylph,” the Navy yacht on which he trained for a few days despite seasickness fears. I wonder if he knew that the antics on the TV series McHale’s Navy were derived from Earnest Borgnine’s real-life experience as a first-class gunner’s mate aboard “The Sylph?” Dad didn’t tell us anything about the gyroscopes he studied at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for four months, training he never got to use because of an apparent Navy SNAFU. And although we’d watched the movie PT-109 together, he never once mentioned that he headed the section base that repaired the PT boats.

I guess to him none of it seemed worth the telling. It was just his life. All that had been long ago, when he was a much younger man, doing his duty during wartime. I’m sure he didn’t consider himself to be extraordinary, or to have lived through extraordinary times.

I’ve spent the last two years transcribing the letters and reconstructing the story of my parents’ early life together. My mother is 88 now, but she has an amazing memory, especially for that time period. Unlike him, she’s a born storyteller. I was able to verify much of what she told me via the Internet. I even located a copy of a Collier’s magazine from March 28, 1942, which featured the men of the Prairie State, the ship he trained on.

Together Mom and I went through bins of mementos, newspaper clippings, and photos. We found Dad’s Navy yearbook, The Sideboy, and a dance card from the ship’s farewell ball the night before his graduation and their engagement luncheon. No longer ancient history to me, this was living history, my history.

My dad was never awarded any medals, but I know he was a hero. They all were. The men who died, the men who lived, the women who went to work, the ones who waited at home and rolled bandages for the Red Cross, the WACs and the Doughnut Dollies.

Suddenly we’re the middle-agers, and many would argue that we’re still self-involved. But I think we know that the Greatest Generation is leaving us, and before long it will be too late to thank them for their sacrifice and tell them how fortunate we are to have known them.

Viva Las Vegas!

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

As promised, here are some of the highlights of our recent Las Vegas vacation. Just for fun, I decided to use the categories from my last vacation article Bringing you the North Hollywood news, which was published in the News & Observer in April of 2006:

MOST AMAZING: The Fountains of Bellagio, a choreographed water, music, and light show. Every fifteen minutes, a new show begins with fog rolling out over the lake in front of the building. The fountains undulate with the music, and the spires of water rise to impressive heights, with the water coming out of the jets so hard at times that it creates its own percussion. I could have stood there forever, listening to the music and enjoying the show.

MOST FUN: For Gary, Doug, and Doug’s girlfriend, Carrie, it was seeing The Police (with Sting) and Elvis Costello at the 17,000-seat Garden Arena in the MGM Grand. Next were the roller coasters, especially the one at New York, New York. Not liking speed, heights, and especially the combination of the two, the most fun for me was the gondola ride in the Venetian with Jenny, and the Godiva chocolate-covered fruit basket we ate while waiting for it.

MOST SCARY: Jaywalking on Las Vegas Blvd. Don’t ask me why, but there is no crosswalk to help travelers cross the street from the Hilton Grand Vacations Club on the Las Vegas Strip, where we stayed, to the Sahara Casino and Hotel, which is the closest place to hop on the monorail. We stayed at the Hilton because of the deal we got for listening to a timeshare pitch. We’ve never done this before and it was scary how good their pitch was. But we stood strong and resisted all of their best sales efforts.

MOST DELICIOUS: Our meal at the Tao Asian Bistro. After spending an hour online looking up places to eat which we could get to from the monorail, we gave up and decided to take our chances in one of the casinos. Tao was the first place we saw as we entered the Venetian and, since we all love Asian food, we went for it. Not only did we get seated right away and have a really good waiter who said he regularly waits on Tom Cruise, the “small plates” and sushi were outstanding.

MOST FREQUENTLY HEARD SAYING: While we were there, it was,“How long are you staying?” Everyone there is either coming or going. When we got back, it was, “How much did you lose?” We only gambled the $40 in free chips we got from the time share deal, and we broke even. We also got a $25 gift card for food, which we spent on asian noodles in the 888 Noodle Bar.

MOST SAD/MOST FUNNY: An older woman in a motorized chair who was trying to exit the monorail by driving out backwards. She kept turning the wheel the wrong way and, the harder she tried, the worse off she got, until finally several guys simply hoisted up her chair and deposited it and her outside of the monorail, seconds before the doors closed.

MOST WEIRD: The fact that nothing in Vegas is true. Locals told us that you have to add seven degrees to the temperature given on the weather report because it is under-reported so that it sounds more appealing to tourists. The road signs sometimes send you the wrong way. Even the $9 coupons in the Spirit magazine (Southwest’s excellent airline publication), which we so diligently collected on our flights on the way out, were unnecessary, because the normal daily rate IS only $9. (The sign on the monorail actually says $15, but it is crossed through and marked $9, as if it were recently discounted. Doug has been to Vegas before and he said it’s always that way.)

MOST GREEN: The one million dollars in cash in a glass case in the Paris Hotel. $5,000 stacks were made up of $100 bills. The thing is, it didn’t look like that much money. You could have fit it all in a large duffel bag. We didn’t see any big security guards around, so the case must be made of some special kind of glass

MOST WASTED: Our new friend Chad who we met at the hotel pool. He had a bottle of Jack Daniels with him which he was mixing with Coke in a cup. He offered us some, although he confessed he didn’t have any more cups. Chad is one of those guys who knows everything, has been everywhere, and you wouldn’t let near your daughter. His family owns a hookah bar in L.A. If we’d only known when we were there…

MOST BEAUTIFUL: The 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers by Dale Chihuly, hung from the ceiling of the Bellagio. Which we almost missed, because we saw one large hand-blown bouquet at the floor level and assumed that was the whole deal. We had seen some Dale Chihuly work before, but the size and scope of this celing display was mind-boggling, and the flowers themselves were breathtaking.

MOST AMAZING VIEW: The one from our hotel room on the 15th floor of the Hilton at twilight. We could see the lights of the strip, and the spectacular Spring Mountains to the west in the background. If you go, you should know that there are three Hiltons in Vegas, and their names are ridiculously similar: 1) The Las Vegas Hilton, 2) The Hilton Grand Vacations Club at the Las Vegas Hilton, and their newest hotel 3) The Hilton Grand Vacations Club on the Las Vegas Strip. Go figure. 

MOST THRILLING: Seeing Robin Williams in the lobby of the MGM Grand. We saw the crowd with their cameras flashing before we actually saw him. While we were still star-struck, Jenny threw her digital camera at her dad and ran over and wrapped her arm around Robin for a pic. Here it is:

Jenny and Robin Williams at the MGM Grand

I guess our “Sin City” adventure was pretty tame compared to most. But for us it wasn’t about the gambling or the glitz. It was just a chance to be together as a family. Until you’re parents with kids who have moved away, especially to the opposite coast, you don’t realize the joy of having everyone together again.

Gary, myself, Jenny, and Doug at the Luxor



Everything upside down

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

“Aging seems to be the only available way to live a long life.”
                                                                                         Daniel Francoiseprit Auber


My mother said a funny thing the other day. She was frustrated that her sewing machine was acting up, and she said, “I know I threaded it right. I’ve been doing it for centuries.” She’s nearly 90, and it probably does feel to her like she’s been doing some things for centuries.
Her machine has been giving her trouble since she had it serviced a month ago, but she sounded defensive, as if I would question her skills. The thought hadn’t occurred to me, and I wondered at first why she felt the need to explain herself.

It made me think about what it must truly be like to be her age, to have people question what she is doing and how she is doing it. Even without Alzheimers, older people become aware that, over time, they are losing the ability to do things they once knew how to do.

As we watch our parents age, it’s easy to get impatient. We experience the changes in terms of how they affect us. They start to repeat themselves. They lose things. They don’t pay their bills. They forget to take their medications. They become, for us, like another one of our children, and we begin to speak to them in the same hassled tone.

We truly forget that it will happen to us one day too. And it will, if we live long enough. There’s no getting around it. Imagine for one minute what it must actually feel like to have your child treat you as if you were the child. To have them remind you of things, explain things to you, drive you places, speak to people on your behalf.

I’m going to try to hold that picture in my head the next time I visit my mom.


The agony and the ecstasy

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I was having a tough day today, mostly due to the torture I received from the substitute dental hygienist at my dentist’s office, until I saw a blog post by Scott Francis. Scott writes a new book marketing blog for Writer’s Digest magazine called Living With the M-Word: Marketing Your Writing Without Selling Out Your Muse. I had commented on his blog yesterday for the first time, and today he mentioned me in his post. Check it out.

Commenting on other people’s blogs is supposed to help bring traffic to your website. I figured I might as well start at the top. Writer’s Digest is the number-one rated writers’ magazine. I suscribe to the print version, which arrives in my mailbox six times a year, and also read the online newsletter, which is where I heard about Scott’s blog. As he says, it’s all about community, and sharing information.

My day got even better late this afternoon when our daughter Jenny arrived home from college. She just finished her freshman year, and is relieved to have her final tests and papers over with. Earlier in the week, her dad and I helped her edit her paper on the reputation of the Monguls. Jenny struggles with writing, but she’s making progress. She and her brother think I’m unbelievably weird because I’m a writer. They like to tease me about writing what they call “term papers” for a living.

I can’t help it–I love to write. The marketing I could do without. But, like Jenny, I’m getting there, and maybe I’ll get there quicker by reading Scott’s blog regularly.

For now, I’m going to go do some other M-word (Mommy) stuff and nurse Jenny through the M-word (Mono) she brought home from college. Wish me luck.


Cathartic writing

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

This week I’ve been consoling a friend who is having trouble with his teenager. Normally an optimistic guy, his recent late-night emails reveal the depth of his sadness and frustration. I have been there, with both of my kids, and I wrote a lot of desperate emails to friends, too. The writing helps, and the supportive responses help more.

When my daughter was in the hormone-filled middle school years, she sometimes wrote me notes when she was too upset to speak to me. Sometimes they were scribbled on paper and left on my pillow, and sometimes they were emails. It sounds crazy—there we were in the same house—but you know how it is when the emotion runs so high that you can’t stand to be in the same room with each other.

She is the one who always initiated the notes. To be honest, I never thought about writing to her. But it worked. She explained things I didn’t know about the stress she was under at school or about issues with her friends that were spilling over onto her. And, no matter what, she always signed them, “I love you Mama.”

In turn, I was able to write back and tell her how stressed I was as well, and how scared I was for her, but only because of how precious she was to me.

Once we were able to take it down a notch, we often went to a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant near us to talk the rest out. It started one day after her dance class when she was still mad at me, but also hungry. So we went to the KFC across the parking lot from her dance studio, and ate and talked for a long time. The conversation went so well that we decided it would be “our place.” We went there often that year and the next, to talk through the hurts and frustrations.

Eventually, we didn’t need to go as often, and later, we actually made up “fights” just so we could go and be together and treat ourselves. We still tease about it.

If you’re in a tug-of-war with your teens, try writing to them for a change, and see how quickly the tone can change from one of blaming each other, to that of understanding. And I promise you, no matter how frustrated or sad or scared you are right now, one day soon you will be so proud of your emerging adults, you’ll be bursting.


About Elaine

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Elaine Luddy Klonicki is a freelance writer who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her column “Box of Chocolates” appeared in The News & Observer. Elaine has written three books: All on Account of You: A True WWII Love Story, Thinking About Therapy? What to Expect From “The Talking Cure” and Captured Words: A Sentimental Journey. She is one of the co-editors of A Taste of Taffy: Samplings From the Triangle Area Freelancers. Through her writing, she shares with others the skills she has learned for living a joyful, purposeful, and inspired life.