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5 Reasons to Be Like Elaine Stritch

July 21st, 2014 by Melinda Blau

Credit: Walter McBride, WireImage

Last week, Elaine Stritch died at 89. The New York Times obituary called her a “living emblem of show business durability.” Her anthem was Sondeim’s song of survival, “I’m Still Here.” In many ways, Stritch led a life worth imitating–and one you’d want to model for your children:

She wasn’t afraid to be who she was. Charles Isherwood called her “nakedly honest.” Stritch certainly had her demons and her self-doubt but never tried to hid them. She knew her own mind, spoke her truth, and wasn’t easily swayed by what others believed. In short, she was was “authentic“– a quality researchers linked to overall well-being.

She lived in the present. She left the past and tried not to worry about the future. “I’ll tell you one thing that I’ve accomplished,” Stritch explained to a reporter, “and it’s tough – but I suddenly one day got it: the idea of what it is to live in the moment. Psychologists and spiritual teachers call it “mindfulness“–a practice that’s also associated with well being and good health.

She had passion. Sadly, not many of us can say that. A recent Gallup Poll about job satisfaction found that unhappy workers outnumber happy ones by two to one. It’s not just about the job. You need passion to push through hard days and bounce back after missed opportunities, just as Stritch did.

She was independent.- She called herself “a do-it-yourself kind of broad.” While we all need support, it’s also important to feel that you can go it alone. Even with a beloved partner, you’re never “in the same boat.” You’ve just decided to travel down the same river, each in your separate boats.

She loved a good time. Stritch played as hard as she worked. She could joke with the best of them and had impeccable timing. Humor helps us keep going. When the excesses (late nights, booze, and cigarettes) and age eventually caught up with her, she continued to embrace adventure and welcome change with wisdom and grace. Of her move from her beloved New York City to Birmingham, Michigan at 88, she told a reporter:

I think the change of lifestyle can hit you as boring unless you give it a fair shot. It means putting your best outfit on, hit the streets, go to dinner..meet all the famous people that live in this town. And that’s exciting…I’m going to be happy here. And the common folk are even better than the famous folk. I’m gonna get along fine.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn

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4 Mother’s Day Resolutions for “Designing” a Shareable Family

May 11th, 2014 by Melinda Blau

This piece was written for Shareable.net.  As the site’s “About” page puts it, “Millions of people are already winning in life by working together.”  The ”sharing transformation” starts in your family.

Image: rifqi dahlgren / Foter / CC BY-NC 2.0.

It’s no secret that the owners of card stores, florists, restaurants, and phone companies benefit most from Mother’s Day. For the economy, it’s the third biggest spending period of the year (after Christmas and back-to-school). But, for many mothers, it’s a mixed blessing.

Even in 2014, the woman – by choice or by default – often assumes the thankless role of “Designated Doer.” On Mother’s Day, she gets a 24-hour break from the normal routine. Dad does dishes without reminding, and the kids give her cards that bring tears to her eyes. But what about the other 364 days? Where is everyone when it comes to errands, chores, remembering, and reminding?

It doesn’t have to be that way…. [Read more at Shareable] Read the rest of this entry »

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4 Surprising Ways to Mother Yourself

May 10th, 2014 by Melinda Blau

My mother, one of her five sisters, and "Bebe" (their mother)

Your mother/ yourself.
Whether she gave birth to you, adopted you, or married into your family…

Whether she is a distant memory or a frequent visitor…

Your mom–or any woman who “mothered” you–is in you, for better and worse.

Mothers, Grandmothers:  Do yourself a favor this Mother’s Day:

See your mother through adult eyes. She is more than the woman who took care of you as a child.  Be a detective. Find out what she’s like as a person–what she cares about, what holds her interest, what music she loves, her favorite foods, stories about her childhood and past loves.  Interview her as if she’s someone you just met.  If she’s no longer alive, ask family members about her.

Right-size her role in your imagination. If you’ve got her on a pedestal, see her vulnerabilities as well as her strengths.  If you’re still holding grudges, let them go. Give up the power struggle. It’s not doing you any good.  Instead of being reactive–blindly imitating her or trying to be her polar opposite–make conscious choices about what works for you in the here and now.

Appreciate your common struggles. View her choices as a mother through the lens of your own motherhood.  Can you understand better–given the circumstances of her life–why she was strict or lenient; why she was a stay-at-home mom or spent time out of the house; why she was interested in everything you did as a child or seemed more interested in herself?  Can you appreciate that although you “mothered” in a different time, you are affected by many of the same social forces that constrained her life?

“Bank” memories of your mother. Gather photos:  the two of you, you as a child and teenager, her as a girl, her with her mother.  Sit with them.  Let yourself remember the stories–the good, the bad, and the sad.  Let your feelings, especially mixed feelings, flow.  Savor the experience. Save the photos in a scrapbook or scan them into a computer folder. Jot down notes and remembrances. Then, share the result.  If your mom is still alive, make two copies–one for each of you–and view them together.  If she’s not, sit down with your children (or a close female friend) and tell them what you learned about your own mother.  Understanding her will help you understand yourself.

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Hey, Women of My Generation: Some of our Daughters “Get” It!

March 25th, 2014 by Melinda Blau

Melissa (daughter) - Jessie (mother)

Our latest addition to the Buzz  “My Mother at 80: The Lessons She Whispered in My Ear” by Melissa T. Shultz, was originally published on the Huffington Post.  It’s funny how one randomly stumbles into little corners of the Internet and finds common ground.  I happened to be on Facebook when Melissa posted it for her fellow Better After 50 Writers–a group I’d discovered only a few days earlier.  Many of the posters are mothers themselves and, I suspect, have a lot to say about their mothers and mothers-in-law.

I loved Melissa’s piece because it’s about a transformative (and for some, healing) mother/daughter passage–a collection of moments in which mothers and daughters see beyond their roles.  It doesn’t necessarily happen at the same time–sadly, for some it never happens at all–but as we age and change seats at the generational table, our daughters come to see us as women, not just as their mothers–and we respect them as women, too, not just as our daughters.

Daughters, mothers, how does this piece speak to you?   As time passes, do you feel yourselves looking at each other different eyes?  Does you see each other as women?   Do stories like this give you hope?

The Buzz is MotherU’s growing repository of ideas about this particular generation of mothers and daughters. I welcome your submissions.

Leave you comments here, or tweet me: @melindablau.

And if you’d like to read more about and from Melissa, here’s where to find her on Huffington Post, on Twitter, and here.

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Dear Family Whisperer, Weekly, on Huffington Post: It’s Built. Now, Who Will Come?

March 14th, 2014 by Melinda Blau

Will both generations, parents and grandparents, become involved in discussions of family?

This question occurred to me as I was enjoying yesterday’s debut of Dear Family Whisperer, now a weekly column on the Huffington Post.  The first three installments were “published” on this site. I had asked Tracy’s fans (members of the online forum she launched a decade ago) if they would help me launch a Dear-Abby-type column about family issues, and they came up with great questions.  Mothers in the thick of hands-on parenting–in their 30s, 40s, and 50s–they want answers about sibling rivalry, what to do when a parent is physically or mentally ill, how to resolve couple differences about parenting practices, how to tame a mother-in-law.

Now that Dear Family Whisperer is visible to a larger audience, I wonder who will metaphorically raise their hands and what will they ask about?   I hope that older parents will join the conversation.  One might ask about a daughter-in-law who restricts access to the grandchildren. Another might question how to approach an adult son who doesn’t seem as worried about his child’s–her grandchild’s–stutter as she is.

But if these “elders”–my generation–show up with their questions, how will the younger generation of parents–my children’s peers–feel?  Is Facebook a cautionary tale? The moment parents and grandparents began to poke them and comment on their photos, teens and twentysomethings declared Facebook over.  Born into digital technology, the “natives” didn’t want to hang out at the water cooler with newcomers.  Will young parents on the front line also resent their parents’ perspective about family?

Then again, family whispering is not a place–it’s an idea, a practice, a set of beliefs and principals.  And today’s parents and grandparents, especially the women, have more in common than generations past. My daughter and I dubbed the phenomenon generation overlap.  We share books, workouts, and gynecologists.  We like the same music–or at least are open to the other’s tastes. We buy at the same stores, like the same restaurants, give each other workout and diet tips.  And I know if we let ourselves, we’ll also find common ground in family whispering, which, after all, includes multiple generations and a complicated mix of relationships.

When we’re curious and we keep asking questions, we learn from each other. And when it comes to family, we all have a lot to learn.

Have a family question for Melinda Blau? Tweet #DearFamilyWhisperer or email us at DearFamilyWhisperer@gmail.com. Check back next week to see if your question is featured! Real names will not be used, no topics off limits. For more info go to FamilyWhispering.com and follow @MelindaBlau.

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FAMILY WHISPERING is here!

February 19th, 2014 by Melinda Blau

Published yesterday!  Find out more on the new websiteListen to one of my first radio interviews here

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My Mother’s Blessing

May 12th, 2013 by Melinda Blau

I intend to add this moving piece by Katy Butler to “The Buzz,” but in the interest of getting it up on Mother’s Day, I’m posting it here first.  Katy and I have covered similar subjects over the years, and I’ve always admired her writing. A former San Francisco Chronicle reporter, she is the author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death, forthcoming from Scribner.  This essay ran in the Insight section of the San Francisco Chronicle on Mother’s Day, 2013.

Katy lost her mother four years ago; mine has been gone almost forty years.  It’s an ache that never ends.

Mother’s Day, my mother would often say when I phoned her in Connecticut, was a sentimental holiday cooked up to sell greeting cards. Yet I called anyway, and I think she was secretly pleased by the loving notes I sent her. Ours was not a greeting card relationship.

When she was young, she’d wanted to be an artist. But middle-class women just after World War II mostly got married and stayed home. Her frustrated ambitions, artistry and anger were poured instead into making that home as perfect as she could. She reminded me of the Balinese saying, “We have no art: We do everything as well as we can.”

I was nothing like that. As a teenager, I felt like another woman’s daughter, incapable of meeting her high standards and frequent criticism. She wore her blonde-streaked hair swept up in an elegant French twist. I was awkward, with long dark hair, and lost in books.

She’d been raised in South Africa and served tea at 4 every afternoon — a family ritual I was prone to mar by knocking over the milk or burning the toast. She sewed her own clothes. I gave up on sewing forever after trying to make a simple shift one summer, only to have her rip out my wobbly seams and re-sew them perfectly herself.

When I graduated from college at the height of the feminist revolution, I fled west, free to pursue my dreams in a way she hadn’t, desperate to escape her critical eye and become a writer.

I made sure not to get trapped in a life that looked anything like hers. I worked as a reporter, bought a house, dated, married, divorced, dated some more, and paid the dry cleaner to hem my pants. When she visited, she could barely conceal her disgust at my messy house and refrigerator full of expensive goat cheese and wilting vegetables. And I, in turned, harbored secret contempt for what the poet Adrienne Rich? called “the victim in ourselves, the unfree woman, the martyr?.”

When my mother was 77, my father had a major stroke, and my view of my mother — and hers of me — turned upside down. My father could no longer take a shower alone, and struggled to finish a sentence. The housewifery she’d honed over a lifetime — skills mostly lost to my generation — served her well. And she, in turn, was grateful for my reporterly skills when I used them to research medical alternatives and helped her hire caregivers.

“With my practical skills and your brains, we make a great team,” she said.

She kept my father at home, and out of a nursing home, for seven years, providing support that few Baby Boomers, given our history of divorce, will be able to rely on. When she was impatient, she got up two hours early to meditate and do yoga.

As a teenager, I’d had contempt for her rigid schedules. Now they formed the underpinnings of an increasingly difficult life. They carried her through my father’s death and the first months of her lonely and increasingly fragile widowhood. She developed congestive heart failure, and with my support, declined open-heart surgery because of the risks of stroke and dementia.

A year after my father’s death, I went to Book Passage, the bookstore in Corte Madera, to hear one of my former writing students read from his book about tea, and the rituals that surround it.

Throughout the reading, I couldn’t stop thinking of my mother. I remembered how she’d swirl boiling water in her beloved Japanese iron teapot, gracefully set out her thin china cups, and gather our family each day at the kitchen table. But I had been too defensive and clumsy, too afraid of her criticism, and too much of a feminist bookworm, to learn from her.

In an outpouring of love, I told her all this.

“Katy,” she said. Her voice was weak. “You’re good at other things. You are yourself.”

It was her final blessing to me. She died two days later, with my brother at her side. This is the fourth Mother’s Day since her death, and every year I admire her more deeply, accept myself more, and fear her less.

Note: If you live in the San Francisco area, mark your calendar. Katy will appear at Berkeley Arts and Lectures to talk about Knocking on Heaven’s Door, at the Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., Berkeley, at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 12, 2013.

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What’s a Hippee, Grandma?

November 11th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

The title of this post, “What’s a Hippie, Grandma?” is a purposeful distortion of  our latest addition to The Buzz by Sara Davidson, “What’s a Hippie Grandma?”    To the punctuationally-challenged, the two might look the same.  They’re not  (I never actually read Eats Shoots and Leaves, but like the author, Lynne Truss, I take my punctuation seriously.)

What’s a Hippee, Grandma?” is a question, I suspect, that one  (if not all) of my three grandsons might ask someday, perhaps when the Sixties come up in history class.  Being a hippie grandma myself–late of the generation that didn’t trust anyone over thirty–I prefer not to be called “Grandma,” though.   So they will have to ask, “What’s a hippie, Minna?” if they want to get my attention.

Like Davidson, I wouldn’t have dreamed of actually moving to a commune in those days–I wasn’t that kind of hippee.  But when I was an editor at Random House in the late sixties, I remember stringing “love beads” in my office.  I used guitar-strap material to lengthen my sons pants (he’s finally forgiven me!).  And I was all about altered consciousness.  Once the boys learn about the Seventies,  maybe they will also ask whether I went to Studio 54.  (I did.)  Hopefully, it will be a long time before they ask about that picture on my desk of me in all black leather and dog collar–attached to a leash, no less.   I’ll try to explain that their grandmother, once a hippie, segued to disco queen and then to ace reporter, covering S & M for New York magazine in 1994.

In contrast, “What’s a Hippie Grandma?”  (without the comma) is the question Sara Davidson ponders as her daughter gets closer to the altar and Sara inches toward grandmotherhood.  What, she wonders, qualifies her to become the “hippie grandmother” her daughter claims she will be?   My answer would be:  drugs, sex, and rock and roll–adjectives not formerly (normally?) associated with grandmothers.  But there’s a lot of us out there who fit the bill (Davidson offers other “credentials” in her piece).   “I’m in touch with my inner Mick Jagger,” one such grandma confided.

Not surprisingly, I also think hippie grandmothers have a lot to offer their grandchildren: an expansive, imaginative view about life and, as long as they’re out of earshot of their adult children, some damn good stories.

One of the (few) “gifts” of aging,  contemporary grandmothers know, is that it’s easier to sort out what’s really important.  No big deal about being a hippie grandma — or a hippy one, for that matter.   Nora Ephron said it best when a television reporter asked her to sum up what she learned from writing, I Feel Bad About My Neck, her musings about getting older.  Looking right into the camera, she said, “Eat more bread.”

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Remembering Grandma

September 16th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

An email from Haydée Souffrant, Media and Press Intern for StoryCorps alerted me to this recording about “meeting matriarchs and returning home.”  Neglectful blogger that I have become (with good reason: I’m writing a new Baby Whisperer book about family!), I thought I’d at least share this with you.  Haydée explained in her email…

Each StoryCorps interview is recorded on a free CD for participants to take home and share with their loved one and archived for generations to come at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

StoryCorps currently has one of the country’s largest oral history archives—with more than 30,000 interviews recorded in all 50 states. Please let me know if you have any questions about StoryCorps or today’s broadcast. I hope you’ll take the time to listen to our stories and to share them with your readers and families, especially your grandmothers!!!

Enjoy!

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The Grandma Reunion

July 24th, 2011 by Melinda Blau

It started off-handedly.  It was an intriguing idea, and it was easy to do, so I created a Facebook page for my sorority sisters.  I built it, and I wondered if they’d come. Before I knew it, I was Social Chairman again, organizing what I thought of as a “pilot” reunion.   If it went well, we’d do others.

It went well.  It was a lot of things: a trip down memory lane, a chance to re-view our housemates–and to see them with fresh eyes.  It also forced us to remember–and cringe at–the not-so-nice byproduct of being in a close-knit, almost inbred community.  Legend had it that during rush-week, we made a grand gesture of folding the coats in, so as not to see the label.  It was untrue (I think), but no matter what others thought of us, we knew we were “the Iotas.”

Some have “joined” the page; others aren’t into social networking.  No matter, reconnection can happen on Facebook or in emails.  We go back and forth, sharing the Roman numerals of our lives: partnership status, children/grandchildren, careers.  It’s like time-lapse photography.

So what is it that’s so compelling about reunions–and reconnecting after so many years?  Ironically, I’m  coming up on my 50th high school reunion, and have been involved in a similar process with those classmates.  The woman–and former co-valedictorian–who’s organizing that event asked us to answer a few key questions for the reunion booklet, including your best and worst memories of high school.  (My worst was being spat on and called a “dirty Jew.”) I read the various blurbs, and then turn to my Class of ‘61 yearbook, juxtaposing this new information with each person’s 17- or 18-year-old self.  I read an inscription scribbled over his or her face and get glimpses of who that person was to me. It’s oddly satisfying.

The fact is, these people knew me when: when I went to sock hops and wore circle pins; when I acted in the senior play, when we ate French fries and cokes after school at my father’s diner.

And my sorority sisters know an even more significant “when.”  They knew the old boy friends, the ones I didn’t marry, the one I did.  They remember my favorite songs.  They remember spring formals.  One old friend still talks about the time she ate dinner with my parents and promptly splattered grease on my mother’s white collar.  It’s not just that our lives were intertwined or that they were privy to the details of my life.  It’s also that we can now piece together our young lives, the group experience, and see how we’ve been affected by it.   I sense that they know things about me I don’t even know.

Most of my high school friends and sorority sisters are now grandmothers, and we wonder how we got here. As one of my new-found sorors marveled, “Just yesterday we were putting on our dinner dresses and hoping not to sit with [our “housemother”] Aunt Edna.”

And what does this do for–or have to do with–our daughters?  For one thing, they see how important it is to acknowledge and keep up with one’s past.  Mine already gets this;  she has an annual girls’ weekend with her college chums, and is in contact with many characters from high school as well.  Thanks to the Internet, she doesn’t ever have to lose touch.

But there’s another important message here for our daughters: Despite the obviously  different frames of reference, we’re really not that different, are we?  I suspect my daughter and many of  her peers could relate to this statement, posted recently by one of my sorority sisters:

I loved the women! I loved being part of something, that quite frankly, I still think of as so very special. It was, and continues to be a memory of which I am so very fond.

And someday–just as we’re now doing–our daughter will be asking themselves. “How did we get to be grandmothers?”

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