alien contacts

early spring in the VOE:

OMG there’s a leaf on my [neighbor’s] barely re-emergent lawn! must get the landscape contractor crew out there now with Extreme Machinery to rider-mow the nonexistent grass and loudly blow every microscopic bit of debris into the road! now it’s an even shorter manicured carpet of sod. repeat for every neighbor up and down the street; it sounds like a deafening factory, here in the Garden State. talk about overkill.

i sometimes wonder what goes through the minds of the (mostly) hispanic day-laborers who must do this for a living just to make ends meet. they can never expect to own a spread like that in a predominantly white high-class town like this in their wildest dreams. but hey, it’s a living, just barely. it pays for beer, at least. i know: i used to have some as colleagues.

then there’s our yard. my brother fired our contractors, who charged a lot to destroy all of our herbs and wildflowers. (must be weeds, they don’t look like what everyone else has. in fact, some of the ‘rare, obscure’ wildflowers do look an awful lot like familiar weeds, but it’s a fine line.) my brother is of the ultra-natural school of landscaping: just leave all the debris in place to eventually break down (or blow into the neighbors’ yards, whichever comes first). fill in the dead patches of weedy lawn with a mix of agricultural over-wintering cover crops. not your average VOE approach to outdoor living room design. but we were never like others. (maybe it’s the saturnese background.)

but i actually didn’t set out to talk gardening. that was just a preamble to this. i ran into my first old friend from my graduating class, after managing to avoid any for almost two years. she happened to be in my ESL class, and recognized my name. obviously, neither of us looks anything like we once did. it was weird. one had to look deep behind the aging façade to recognize the original. i’m sure neither of us is who we used to be anyway (let’s hope not, in my case), so it’s like re-meeting someone for the first time. i’ve been incognito for so long, i felt exposed. i’m curious, in a way. this was a girl who used to come over my house and spend time together. i’m sure we’ll talk and catch up. i’m not sure how to feel about this.

inevitably, i ended up on a FB search, and a long trail of other old classmates who also don’t look like themselves and went on to be This and That. i realized it’s like a black hole, starting down that road. no, don’t think i want to go there. it’s depressing enough to come full circle to this ghost town and haunted house, with nothing to show for all that time out there (aside from a very cool son). all i need is Dr. This and Esquire That looking down at me from their lovely mcmansions in their exclusive neighborhoods.

on the other hand, i met some very interesting ESL fellow-tutors from diverse backgrounds, and i look forward to more stimulating dialogue with them online. one was an arabic speaker from jordan, another was a spanish speaker. i am fascinated by the moment in a person’s life when they suddenly ‘get’ the new language and start thinking in it. especially for an older student who didn’t grow up immersed in the second language. my colombian student and i often talk about how it was for her. i’m hoping it’s not too late for me to reach that point with spanish, which she is teaching me on the side. [note: official ESL policy says not to get too involved in becoming familiar with your student’s culture and language, but to concentrate on their grasp of english. but my student and i laugh at that! and the spanish-speaking tutor agreed with me.]

there’s no logical way to wrap up this little ramble down memory lane. maybe it’s about different kinds of aliens. who really is the ‘alien’, after all?

children as day laborers or cheap insurance policies

> Being There, and Far Away
> When my parents were in their 50s — the age I am now — my father > told me not to do for them what they had done for their parents: > become their caregiver when they were old.
> Years of responding to the needs of four elderly parents had taken > a toll, especially on my mother. To protect me from a similar fate, > my father told me that if the time came that he and my mother could > no longer live alone, I should find a retirement community or > nursing home for them far enough away to keep family visits to a > minimum. Caring for an aging parent, my father insisted, is a duty > best discharged from afar.
> What my father didn’t understand is that whether one lives next > door or across the country, the responsibility for elderly parents > never goes away. Caring from afar is no easier than being there. It > is simply different. On-site hands-on caregivers are like day > laborers who do the actual physical work. Distant caregivers are > like off-site managers who coordinate services and delegate > responsibilities. Both have their roles and points of high stress.

> Aging Without Children

> “Children are a good insurance policy,” said Merril Silverstein, a > prominent gerontologist at the University of Southern California. > “In some other countries, that’s why people have children. Here, > though it’s less certain, it’s still a pretty good bet.”
> For Ms. Logan and others in her situation, the research on > childlessness should bring both angst and comfort. For starters, > seniors without children do have higher rates of > institutionalization. Historically, childlessness “has been a > consistent predictor of whether you end up in a nursing home,” Dr. > Silverstein said.
> It shouldn’t be that way, argued Debra Umberson, a sociologist at > the University of Texas at Austin, who has written about > childlessness and parenthood: “We shouldn’t have to have kids who > work for us for free so we don’t have to go to a nursing home.”

> Is Home Always So Sweet?

> “People who see nobody from day to day, or see only their > caretakers, can become incredibly isolated,” Ms. Modigliani pointed > out. “We know that can lead to depression. Seniors’ cognitive > skills decline if they have less interaction with people.”

these are recent excerpts from a NYT series, ‘the new old age’. they are describing two sides of the same coin, the phenomenon of people living longer, and requiring either expensive nursing care, or cheap caregiving by their families, typically an older daughter who has to give up everything, or juggle multiple responsibilities. this is a topic most people avoid, until it suddenly hits them in the gut. not to harsh anyone’s buzz, but this is real. millions of us deal with it every day, and probably you will, too. does anyone else see anything wrong with this picture?