Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Mother-Child Dance Lasts Forever

Back and forth.  Side to Side. Push and Pull. Around and Around. The mother-child dance can last forever. I'm starting to see it in my own daughter. "Don't touch me mom!" when I attempt one of the impromptu hugs we've shared for her fourteen years.  "Wait mom, don't leave!" she runs to hug me before I walk out the door. Every time.

I understand. At her age I couldn't stand my mom. I also couldn't  stand myself when I would go to her with problems, concerns or just to share a laugh; all the while, telling myself I did not want her in my life.

The distance between us, emotionally and physically, grew longer as I got older.  However, even when I lived 3000 miles away, I do not think I ever went more than a few weeks without talking to my mother.

If you want to make a woman mad, tell her she is like her mother.

I've gone to great lengths to distance myself from her traits and opinions....but many linger in me. I see them when I "straighten out" (her term) my own children.

The biggest difference between us is she is dependent and clingy and I am independent and okay on my own. It took me many years to realize, I am like I am, because she is who she is.

The love-hate dance does indeed last a lifetime. Even friends who have lost their mother still struggle with unresolved  'issues' as though they are still with their moms.

It is said that forgiving our parents is the beginning of mental health.  Well then, loving our parents for who they are, or were, must be the beginning of inner peace.

My mom is eighty now and we continue the dance. Some days she doesn't want to be bothered with me, and some days I don't want to be around her.

However, there is something I can admit now. Finally.

I love my mother for who she is.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Old Skool Los Angeles: When Everybody Did the Hustle

The Hustle was a line dance popular in Los Angeles (and across the country) in the mid-seventies. Music producer, Van McCoy came up with a song to go with the dance, and "The Hustle" made it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week of July 26, 1975.
However, 'hustling' or 'doing the hustle' was more than just a song and dance in L.A.'s working class neighborhoods in those days. It was also a way of life, and hustling was a term commonly used to describe doing whatever it took to bring in additional income. Today, we would call it being entrepreneurial.

Now I cannot deny there was an illegal side of hustling used to describe gamblers, pimps, and those who carried on a black market trade in the community. And for some, their hustle was their main source of income.

However, for most families hustling meant doing side jobs, or bartering for goods and services.

My dad, my uncles, family friends -- it seemed like all the men in the community I grew up in had a side hustle. Their hustle was a supplement to their day job at one of the manufacturing or aerospace plants. (Which offered numerous decent-paying jobs for low-skilled workers in those days). Some worked at government jobs, mostly the post office. I think all of them just expected to have more than one job whether they really needed it or not.

I remember some of the side businesses my uncles and family friends had and realize now that many were ongoing small businesses -- gas stations, burger joints, trucks for hauling, and a neighborhood tax firm. Again, all of these were in addition to 9 to 5 day jobs (although some worked at night, or what was called the graveyard shift (midnight to 8am).

Side hustles for women included cooking or baking items to sale, fixing hair, sewing, and the staple -- keeping kids.

For a long-time my dad had a TV repair business which was his side job. By day he worked at a Sears Service Center (where appliances and electronics were repaired) at the corner of Slauson and Central. Eventually, he became the manager of the center... but by then he had another side hustle which lasted the remainder of his life -- photography.

My dad's side gig was taking pictures. He never really referred to what he did as photography, although he got to be quite good at it and invested a lot of money in top-rate cameras.

It started at my graduation from Bret Harte Jr. High in south L.A. in the early seventies. This was during the Polaroid era when instant pictures were the rage. My dad was the family picture taker. Mostly because he enjoyed it so much and was the best picture taker in the family. (As a result, he is missing from many of our photos taken back then.)

Anyway, my dad noticed this guy taking pictures after the graduation while families were lingering outside the auditorium with their graduates. The guy offered instant Polaroids, and he even put them in a paper frame that he had stamped 'Graduation.' He charged $5.00 per picture or five for $20.00.

He set up near the school sign and had a long line of eager family members waiting to purchase a framed photo. Now mind you, many of the families had their own Polaroids that they brought... but this guy was considered a 'pro,' so they wanted at least one shot from him.

My dad, who had taken about 40 pictures of us by then, said, "I can do this." He calculated how much this guy made just from the one graduation, and his side hustle was born.

Over the next few years, Dad started taking pictures all over south L.A. at entertainment and club events on weekends. Eventually, he started working weddings and receptions. He hit the jackpot when he was allowed to set up at a club in Inglewood which also had banquet facilities and hosted events every weekend. He became their in-house photographer, although he would still go to outside venues just to see if he could get more business.

Dad's photo of a young Mohammed Ali and Marvin Gaye
Sometimes, if he saw celebrities he would sneak in a couple of shots for his own enjoyment. That was how he got the picture of Marvin Gaye and Muhammed Ali at a nightclub.

By the time I was in college, I would often run into my dad at events, although being a typical young adult I tried to avoid places I knew he would be.

The extra money dad made became significant to our family coffers and helped raise us from working class to a comfortable middle-class and helped get me through U.C.L.A.

These days of high unemployment, I think about my dad and the neighbors of long ago who didn't have the luxury of sitting around bemoaning the economy or waiting for opportunities to come to them. I also realize that for some Angelenos hustling has been a way of life for 30, 40, or 50 years.

I have fond memories of the 'Monkey Bread' guy in the Crenshaw / Leimert Park / Baldwin Hills area. It's been about 15 years since I last saw him so I don't know if he is still around. All he had were business cards with a phone number and the words 'Monkey Bread.' You could call him, order your monkey bread loaves and he would deliver.

Needless to say, this was the best monkey bread ever! Buttery, with just the right amount of sweetness. I don't know where he made the monkey bread... or even if he made it, but I can tell you his business was booming for years... just from the churches, hair salons, and barbers alone he had lots of orders each day. He is probably retired on a tropical island now.

My mechanic, who grew up in East L.A. during the time I grew up in South L.A., says it was the same in his neighborhood. "Everybody had a side 'hustle' back in the day, he says. "selling tamales, doing yard work, doing day labor."

"We've been here before!" he tells me as we discuss today's hard times and he relates how two of his unemployed grown children have moved back home with their own spouses and children. He is working more hours at his garage and trying to expand into fleet service because he has more mouths to feed. Again.

We laugh and decide you aren't a real worker these days unless you have at least two jobs. I tell him about all the "Professionals" I know of who have three or more business cards for different jobs.

"Yeah... we've been here before," he reminds me. "We got through it then and we'll get through it now. We just have to hustle."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Watching the Ice Melt in the Kool-Aid: Or, How I Learned to Eat My Vegetables

Sometimes I wish I could talk to the parents I had as a kid and ask them to explain their rationale for some of their parenting decisions back then. Dad is gone. Mom is still around, but today she's just a sweet little old lady who dotes on her grandchildren. Definitely not the 'she-wolf' I grew up with. (Sorry mom, but you were pretty intense in those days.)

One question I would ask them is this: what was the point of making a thirsty child eat their vegetables before drinking that watery Kool-Aid you served with dinner every night?

First, let me explain... Kool-Aid was the drink of choice among the families in my neighborhood years ago. Soda on a daily basis was too expensive. Thinking about it, we really did not have a choice. Parents just put the drink on the table with dinner. It was either Kool-aid or tap water. (And if too much water was added to the Kool-Aid, there was little difference between the two drinks.)

At the time, Kool-Aid came in small rectangular packages in various colors to denote their flavor. My favorites were orange, lemon-lime, and grape. I think the packets only cost a nickel or a dime, and when mixed with water and sugar they made a pitcher of liquid.

Every evening neighborhood kids were called into their respective houses for dinner. (A very different time... we actually played outside after our homework was done, then came in for dinner. If we got thirsty outside, we didn't have bottled water -- we had outdoor faucets!)

After coming in, we would wash up and head to the table for dinner. We didn't dare open the pots and pans to see what was cooking. And going in the refrigerator without asking was something we did not do (at least not until our teen years.) My husband, who has six siblings, says they were never allowed to go in the refrigerator as kids. (I can understand this when I cook enough for two days and open the refrigerator the next day and see all the food was eaten overnight. I have a friend who used to yell at the top of her lungs at 7:00 p.m. "The kitchen is now closed until tomorrow!")

So 'back in the day' at dinner time, I would get a glass of ice-laden Kool-Aid with my dinner. The problem was, I couldn't drink any of it until I had finished most of my dinner... especially the vegetables. Like all kids, I hated vegetables and would sit there playing with my string beans or peas instead of just eating them and getting it over with.

There were two vegetables that I absolutely could not eat -- okra and lima beans. Today, I can tolerate okra in gumbo, but I hate the taste, smell, look, texture, color -- EVERYTHING about lima beans. Let me say it again... I HATE lima beans. Yet there they were on my plate at least a couple of times a month. Eventually, my parents caught on that I really could not eat lima beans and stopped giving them to me. (But this took a while. Way too long. I love you Mom and Dad, but you were really dense when it came to this.)

For a long time I'd sit at the dinner table watching the glass sweat and the ice melt in the Kool-aid until I finally gave in and ate my vegetables (guess I was a little dense too). I learned to eat the vegetables first, because then I was assured of getting the Kool-aid before the ice melted and it became even more watery. However, whenever lima beans were served, I knew I would not be drinking Kool-aid on that night.

Things are different at my house. My kids go in and out of the refrigerator at will and I don't force them to eat food they don't like. This sometimes requires me to cook different versions of dinner and I am quick to remind them, "When I was a kid we ate what was put before us... no choices!"

Thinking about it... they've probably had more french fries than green vegetables (please don't tell Michelle Obama). I try to give them the vegetables they will eat on a regular basis. Nevertheless, there is one vegetable they will NEVER have in my house -- lima beans!

First appeared in Huffington Post  8-17-2011

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Parenting Old-School: Did Yesteryear's Parents Get it Right?

By the time I reached sixteen, I came to the conclusion that my mother knew precious little about anything of importance. It seemed to me at the time that her sole purpose in life was to make mine a living nightmare by endlessly displaying to me her total lack of knowledge. She had opinions on everything and felt compelled to share them with me. At sixteen, I decided it was my duty to let this woman know that I was tired of hearing her voice.

I picked my time.  While she was driving down Western Avenue.   I waited until she started on one of her endless tirades one day when we were returning home from my piano lesson.  My time had come and I let her have it. "Mom, let me tell you something," I said with all of the authority of a sixteen-year-old who considered herself a grown-up, "You don't know what the hell you're talking about and you need to just shut up!" There.  It was out.  I figured I was safe because after all she was driving.  I miscalculated.

I remember seeing the back of her right hand as it left the steering wheel, but I couldn't move fast enough to prevent it from hitting me dead in my mouth.  "You hit me!" I screamed, as she calmly returned to driving without uttering a word.  Her eyes focused straight ahead.  The matter was over.  I had no choice but to sit there and endure the indignity.  With one swift move she had put an end to all the righteousness my sixteen-year-old self could muster. She had never done that before, and she never did it again.

Would we call her action child abuse today?  Maybe.  Did it give me a clearer understanding of where I stood in relation to her?  You betcha.

I have to give credit where credit is due. My mom never let me get "bigger" than herself.  She let me be a kid. Maybe I should say she made me be a kid.  Of course, back then I resented her for it.  "She's too overprotective!"  "She doesn't trust me!"  "She doesn't want me to have any fun!"  This is what I told my friends when explaining why I wouldn't be joining them at some event I really wanted to go to.  "I hate my mother!" was a common refrain from me and I'm sure she overheard it on occasion.  (I wouldn't dare say it to her face!)  However, she was more than willing to let me hate her. I see now that, as a parent, she knew she had to make unpopular decisions on my behalf.

Today the lines seemed to be blurred as to who's the parent and who's the child.  And, while today's parents tend to shy away from the heavy-handed (no pun intended) discipline of yesteryear, we do wonder just how many time-outs it's going to take to make our child behave.  And, if we are truthful, many times we wonder just who does have control - the children or the parents?  Is parental authority a thing of the past?

Today in many homes it is the youngsters who dictate everything from what time dinner is served to the family buying habits.  The kids decide which TV programs are watched and what time they'll go to bed.   They eat and drink what they want, decide which clothes they'll wear, and, talk to adults as if they are the lowest forms of life on earth.

All the while, we overwhelmed, harried parents struggle with raising independent, freethinking kids who have some moral fiber.

We patiently listen while our kids come up with ridiculous explanations for their behavior: "I left the milk out last night Mom because I knew we'd use it in the morning."

We support them as they try new activities doomed to failure. "Hey Dad, I've got some new audio tapes and will be fluent in Spanish by next week." 

And, we represent them to teachers, coaches, and other authority figures: "I know he hasn't turned in any homework...but really, he did do it...that must count for something?"

At the same time, we try to teach our children the right things: "Remember to say please and thank-you, always do your best, listen to your teacher, and, by the way, please don't plan a terrorist attack on your school!"  

We strive to be better than our parents at child rearing.  We don't ever want to be accused of acting like our Moms or sounding like our Dads.  Yet in the back of our minds we sometimes wonder: "Did they actually know what they were doing back then?  And, heaven forbid, were they better at parenting than we are?"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"The Look" – A Mother's Weapon

Like many adult children, I sometimes look back at my mother and lament over all of her child-rearing 'mistakes.' (Not as much now that I have children of my own.) Nevertheless, I must give her credit for making my brother and I respect her -- particularly her time.

She is much shorter than I am, but I have never felt 'bigger than my mother.' Not in height or anything else. Sure, I've probably had more opportunities and experiences, but I pale in comparison to her in many ways. Today, the world probably sees her as a little old lady, but I still feel she could 'take me out' in a second. And, she wouldn't have to resort to violence. You see, my mother's weapon of choice is The Look.

My mother was (and still is) an expert at giving The Look. It seems that as a child, any time I'd even think about acting up in her presence, her eyes were on me with The Look. Especially in church. I'd sit there fidgeting or, heaven forbid, talking to friends, and slowly she would turn her head toward me and give it to me.... that stern glare that said, "One more move and I'll kill you!" (At least that's how I interpreted it.) I've tried The Look on my kids but it doesn't seem to work. "Mom, why are you making that funny face?" is usually the response I get.

Years ago, there were times when I would linger a little too long with friends after school in front of Dorsey High, knowing that my mom was waiting. On the days she would pick me up, she would get there early and park right in front of the school so I could see her as soon as I walked out. She knew I could see her and she'd give me about a minute to say my goodbyes before I'd get The Look, which said, "Don't make me have to get out of this car and come get you."

Again... I've tried this with my kids as I wait in the hot sun for them outside of their schools and watch them slowly stroll to the car. You would think my daughter is a celebrity the way she exits the school... acknowledging each and every friend...stopping to chat with a slight wave to those far away..... friends she will see the next day!! In the meantime, I am seething in the car and trying to give her The Look because I know she sees me! Finally, she makes it to the car and the little brat has the nerve to say, "Have you been waiting long?"

Guess I need some lessons from my mom!

First published by Huffington Post on May 6, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Perfect Mate

Recent revelations of another 'Husband Gone Wild' have many wondering if there is indeed a perfect union anywhere. I don't know about others, but I can tell you that many years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the perfect mate! 

I was twelve-years-old at the time and new to Bret Harte Junior High School on Hoover Street in South L.A. Today, they call it middle or intermediate school, but in those days (1968-1970) it was junior high, and encompassed seventh, eighth, and ninth grades.  It was a different world for me in many ways, not the least of which was the increased interest in romance and dating.  It seemed many girls, including my friends, were intent on claiming some unsuspecting boy as their boyfriend.

I guess I was a late bloomer, because at the time I still found boys disgusting.  I'd much rather spend time with my Barbie dolls (although I could never tell my friends this).  Nevertheless, it soon became apparent that -- according to the junior high code -- not having a romantic interest was considered abnormal.  There was only one thing I could do to fit in -- I decided to invent a boyfriend!

'Stanley' was the perfect guy.  He was older and lived in a different neighborhood, which explained why no one at school ever saw him. (It's not hard to pull the wool over the eyes of Jr. high girls.)  Stanley was understanding, kind, patient, handsome and smart. And while the other girls struggled to get the attention of the guys they liked, my Stanley adored me!  I regaled my friends with stories of all the nice things he did for me.  Pure fiction, but it worked! 

I 'went with' Stanley all through seventh grade, but by eighth grade I had to have his family move out of town. The ruse became too hard to pull off by then. Of course, we stayed loyal to each other.  It was the perfect arrangement for me.  I had a 'boyfriend' and could still play with my Barbies!

As I got older, I discovered there were certain benefits to dating a real-life guy, not the least of which was that I could take him out in public.  However, I also learned that no guy could measure up to Stanley.  Fortunately, I learned this at an early age.  Some people go a lifetime without learning it.

I would not advise young girls to make up boyfriends, but I would tell them to try to stay away from schmucks when it comes to relationships. Also, I would hope they have a line in the sand that keeps out mates who abuse or humiliate them, or have no qualms about subjecting them to outside kids, or worse yet... HIV/AIDS!

Nevertheless, perfection -- as desirable as it may be -- is unrealistic and unattainable. At least in the real world.

Bret Harte friends with their 'boyfriends.'  1969

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lessons from Dad -- Learned, and Not Learned!

My dad was not my biological father.

As a matter of fact, I didn't meet my dad until I was 9 years old, although he knew me as an infant and was my godfather (another story, another time).  My parents divorced when I was small, and I only saw my real father occasionally. I was happy when my mom married this nice man who moved us from Oakland to Los Angeles, where he had a TV repair shop off LaBrea.

He was my dad from day one and never treated me as anything but his child. I appreciate everything he did for me...the time he invested in me, and the things he tried to teach me.  Some I listened to...some I didn't, but I can now admit...he was right about everything!  Read on....

10 Things Dad Taught Me (that I listened to)
  1. Always keep your car in working order.
  2. Take the time to set the table before you eat.
  3. 2 or 3 good friends are better than 20 phony ones.
  4. Never date a guy who won't meet your family.
  5. If you invite someone to your house, have food.
  6. Show up at family get-togethers, even if it's for a little while.
  7. Your mom may not always make sense to you, but respect her anyway--she's still your mom.
  8. Always have your OWN money.
  9. Let your children know they are loved.
  10. Marry a guy who respects and adores you.

10 Things Dad Taught Me (that I WISH I had listened to)

Dad circa 1968.
  1. You don't need more than 1 or 2 credit cards.
  2. A phone call should never take over 20 minutes.
  3. Always have carfare (or airfare) to get home.
  4. Don't change jobs just for more money.
  5. Check the expiration dates on your food items.
  6. You can't do everything at once, prioritize.
  7. You will wear yourself out if you burn the candle at both ends.
  8. Worry never solves anything.
  9. When you cook, fix enough for more than 1 day.
  10. Take the time to read directions.

Thanks Dad.  Miss you.