Tag Archives: children

Young, middle, old

I have a theory – which is almost certainly not original in that while I did think it up, it’s likely well-documented or at least considered in social psychology tomes – that as we move through life we pay the most attention to our own peer group. So, when you’re a kid, you notice other kids. When you’re middle-aged, you notice other middle-aged people. And when you’re elderly, you notice other elderly.

I remember how much I zeroed in on other children when I was a child. Anecdotally, I was so excited when we got new neighbors and I saw little bikes being unloaded off the moving truck. Children! They have children!! Children to play with! As I type those words now, they seem bizarre as I consider what my reaction would likely be if I saw the same scene today.

Then, however, everywhere I went, I was pleased when I saw other children at hand. Which is not to say encounters with other kids always went off so swimmingly. Still, despite unpleasantries I remained optimistic about them as a group.

As I got older, my focus stayed generally with my peer group. I know I’m not alone in this. I watch people all the time and like tends to stay with like. When people cross generations (aside from relatives) in their friendships and relationships it stands out. Others notice.

(I think the internet has facilitated crossing generational – and other – divides between adults because it places the focus on what people have to say over how they look.)

Interacting with children one is not related to has become so fraught, I almost entirely pay little mind to children as a group. Since I don’t have children of my own, I don’t often find myself around kids. I almost never speak to a child beyond a brief hello unless their parent or guardian is there and then I am casting looks at the adult to signal my benign intentions and make sure everything is copacetic. Aside from these rare times, I mostly notice kids when they’re being obnoxious.

When I was younger, I really didn’t pay much attention to elderly people, except if they were related to me. As I think about this now in middle-age, though, it occurs to me that there weren’t as many elderly when I was a child. Not like now. Plus I just didn’t see them out and about, unless it was at church or something.

It’s been recently, I don’t know, the last decade or so, that I became more aware of my inattention to elderly as a group. Maybe I was sort of afraid of them when I was younger. I didn’t “get” them. And believed, from how I was raised, that I had to be wildly deferential toward them. That they were beyond reproach. Realizing that idea was nonsense and that elderly people weren’t special or entitled (independent of how they acted) changed my thinking.

I’m always good about helping older people when they need or want it but that’s no different than my approach to everybody. When I see an elderly person, especially one with a cane or other aid, approach a door, I’m quick to hold it open. My height makes me useful in stores for reaching up to nab an item off a shelf for what is usually an elderly lady. What a pain the ass that must be; when you can’t reach up to get the stuff on the top shelves or bend down to fetch the ones on the bottom shelves. Resigned to a diet of eye-level foods.

Most elderly people I see in public are in the background, not doing anything to draw attention to themselves. They are focused on their task. Do they lack the energy for anything else? Did just getting out take up their reserves? Or is it a defense, hoping that going unnoticed will keep them from harm? Does everybody look like a potential enemy when you can’t physically defend yourself? (Hmm, I guess you could say the same about kids, except that mostly I suspect that generally kids don’t know how the world can hurt them. And/or they count on being able to run away.)

There have been times I’ve engaged in conversations with elderly people and regretted it for one reason or another. To be fair, I could again say the same of people generally. And while I’ve never been openly rude to an elderly person, I don’t feel any obligation to hang around to listen to monologues, diatribes or ugly talk.

I’ll tell you what specifically started me on this thread now. Yesterday I was in a drugstore and an elderly man walked through, his hands tidily grasped together behind his lower back, the body language of someone feeling casual and at-ease. You don’t often see people walking around like that any more, have you noticed? It’s more the gesture of a man than a woman – a woman in public is more likely to have her arms at her sides or in front of her. And or clutching a purse or bag.

Anyway, I also considered that the man might not be quite okay either. See, I caught myself ignoring him initially, as if he didn’t warrant a look. And I thought how shitty is that? So I made a point to look up and make eye contact when our paths crossed a second time in the store. His expression was a bit blank, possibly confused, i.e., not engaged and friendly. Nonetheless, I thought, does it kill me to make eye contact? To acknowledge a person, even if there’s no reason to do anything more?

I don’t like being so wedded to my “group,” to the point I barely acknowledge those significantly younger or older. I’m not certain there’s a whole lot to be done about it, other than staying alert and not limiting my attention when possible.

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What’s size got to do with it?

The world of a little girl is a scary one, whether she knows it or not. Too often young girls are (the ones) preyed on inside their homes and out. I am glad that, no matter how un-delightful my childhood was, I was for the most part, left physically unscathed. Given the odds of a girl being physically or sexually abused, that is saying something.

I was raised to believe the world was a dangerous place, but it was all very vague; shadow monsters, not much I could hang my hat on. Even so, no one taught me how to defend myself, physically or with my wits. The minimal advice my parents gave me, when I spoke of being bullied or otherwise having problems with other kids, had little to do with my life. (Oh geez, I wish I could remember who said – Margaret Atwood? – that children look little and unthreatening to adults but to other children, they are life-size. Or words to that effect.)

There was one time when I was in grade school that my mother took us aside and rather seriously said if we ever saw anyone watching us playing in our large back yard, we should come tell her. Much later I learned that a man had exposed himself to a female classmate in the woods behind our house, hence the obscure warning. Imagining that incident bothered me for years. It still does. Had I been the child victim, I would not have known what to do or how to react.

Not too surprisingly, big men scared me. It was their sheer size, the booming voices, the brash manner. That’s all it took. A tiny thing before adolescence, I shrank easily. I’m told I was frightened of the captain on a ferry boat ride we took as a family when I was probably 3 or 4. I don’t remember this at all. The uniform – there must have been a uniform – probably was a factor. (I’m not saying I was afraid of uniforms, just that a uniform likely added to the intimidation factor. Like fire men, police men, soldiers.)

Although there were myriad unpleasant incidents, I never was beat up by other kids. I do remember a particular time at the local swimming pool, a girl and her friend said they were going to beat me up when I left the pool. I was so scared. I didn’t even know what it meant. Thankfully, they didn’t follow through. In separate incidents, a boy punched me in the stomach once and another snipped off a piece of my hair, both inexplicably and with no context. A pack of older girls once dragged me around the school yard. (Aren’t children swell?)

My sister (closest in age) and I tussled occasionally, but nothing all that serious. We would have caught holy hell if we bruised or bloodied each other. And neither one of us knew squat about how to fight. (My sister would tell you we fought each other with wooden ping pong paddles but I will tell you that once and only once, we aimlessly swatted the things at each other, not even making bodily contact.) It would never have even occurred to me to pull someone’s hair (which apparently is a quite popular pastime for females of all ages).


 
When I was older, I observed retrospectively that most of the men I’d dated or had relationships with were typically just a bit larger than I was in size, i.e., not big men. However, that turned. I think it had something to do with me and the surety I felt within myself. I’d become a (fairly) decent judge of character and size alone wasn’t going to be an intimidation factor (consciously or not). As a grown woman, I had a relationship with a man who was 6’6″ and pushing 300 pounds. He had dark hair and a beard and struck a very imposing figure. (Naturally he rode a motorcycle too.) However, I never felt physically threatened by this man. Whatever my issues were with him (why I stopped seeing him), they were utterly unrelated to his size.

What’s very interesting to me is that the men who have physically threatened me or tried to or intimated they might, were smaller men, again men a bit larger than me (and one smaller). I can think of three specific people, none of which cut an imposing figure. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it’s given me something to think about over the years. It does seem there is little correlation between size and threat, which is not to say there aren’t lots of men who use their superior size to intimidate the women in their lives. Rather, my larger point is that there isn’t a direct cause and effect between a man’s physical size and what goes on in his psyche in terms of women.

Short Thought 59 (childhood bullying)

When I was a child, living my versions of Lord of the Flies and Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, there were any number of traits that targeted someone for bullying and abuse. There was the kid with leg braces. The darker-hued Puerto Rican kid who got treated to racial slurs. The messy kid. The geeky boy. The slightly effeminate one. The unathletic kid. The girl with thick glasses. And so on. I had several: bookish, artsy, bespectacled, and tall-skinny. But no kid got it worse than the fat one.

I wonder, with so many U.S. children being overweight, how, if at all, that has changed.

Thrift store gold (oh ok, actually wood)

I like thrift stores and second-hand shops. And things from the past that have character. I don’t mean broken, lead-paint ridden, cracked, grungy, splintery, rusty, moth-ball scented stuff. Like when you go into a place that’s supposedly decorated with antiques and everything smells weird and you wouldn’t dream of sitting on the uncomfortable, festering furniture or walking on the decaying carpets that probably haven’t been cleaned in 60 years, and the bureau drawers can’t be pulled out by mere mortals, and the mirrors are so discolored they can only reflect suggestions of images and dust. No. Not what I had in mind.

I walked into a local thrift store and saw this.
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It’s small, under 8″ high. Not only is it very cute with the whimsical painted touches, but it still functions as a stepping stool. It easily takes my weight (I don’t hear any bad crunching sounds when I step onto it). The construction is sound and this stool has obviously seen years of good use. (How long do you suppose those plastic stepping stools sold now last?) When not in use, it can stay in a corner where I see it unlike an ugly, pedestrian step stool that is best stowed out of sight.

But here’s the part that sold me.
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I have no idea who Bethany Lynn was or is. Considering the spacing, there may have been an initial lost to a sticker between Bethany and Lynn. I love that somebody, likely a parent, either bought or made this stool for their little girl and then stenciled on her name. If I had a little step stool with my name on it when I was a kid, I would have been delighted. I think most kids – even today’s kids – would. (After all, no matter how many toys or other privileges they have, children are still out of luck if they can’t reach stuff. Like the sink.)

There are faded clues to its history on the underside of the stool. One looks like a typed label with possibly an address. A store name? Can’t make it out. The other is better. Handwritten in pencil by an adult: December something, and what looks like “1959.” The “195” is clear. So the stepping stool is certainly at least 55 years old. I don’t know where you are or what’s become of you, Bethany Lynn, but thanks. I’ll take good care of your bunny stepping stool.
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Things Men Have Said To Me (#4)

When I was in my early twenties (and had plans to go back to college) the older man I was in a relationship with essentially said this to me: “If you aren’t going to do anything else with your life, you might as well be the mother of my (future) children.”