Compost: Potential

I had enlightened parents. They worked hard at it. My parents were proud of their modern parenting skills, so different from their own parents. Their parents believed in original sin that must be harshly eradicated in children; that children should be seen and not heard; and that to spare the rod was to spoil the child. I have no idea how my parents survived my grandparents, and not only survived, but somehow learned better parenting techniques.

My parents believed in praise, and lots of it. So I should be happy with my parents, right? Well, I am happy, at least sort of. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they didn’t ignore me or beat me, but my parents’ positive attention always took the form of praising my potential. And the shadowy underbelly of potential, which I was fed in lethal doses, is that to be told you have potential is to be told you are not enough right now. Potential is something you never reach.

My parents’ expectations set up impossible platforms that they expected me to attain. I can see their happy smiling expectant faces, encouraging me, secure in their belief that they were going to have the smartest, most successful, maybe even famous, daughter of all time. If I wrote a poem about a cow who mooed too loud, they wondered (aloud) if I was the successor to Shakespeare. If I got an A in math, they speculated (again, in my hearing) that I might become the female Einstein. If I bandaged up my little brother’s scraped knee, they bragged that I had the makings of a brilliant doctor.

Of course I never argued with them — I wanted to be smart and successful too. They believed in me – how could I complain? How dare I complain when some people have parents who neglect and abuse them? As a matter of fact, why am I still complaining?

Because complaining about your parents is a time-honored activity, practiced by all of us at one time or another. I just want to know: where can the fortunate go to complain?

Compost: Nursing Winston Churchill

I want to write about my Great-Great-Aunt Julia, who according to family legend and a somewhat vague reference in a letter she wrote to her mother, nursed Winston Churchill through pneumonia when he was a young man. This must mean that Great-Great-Aunt Julia is one of the saviors of the modern world, for if Winston Churchill had poor nursing he might have died, and then “blood, sweat and tears” might never have been said. Along with a few other things he accomplished.

I would write about Great-Great-Aunt Julia’s steady eyes and stern mouth, and how she pulled her hair into a chignon every morning and kept the part in the middle a perfect straight line. Did Great-Great-Aunt Julia ever mess up her hair, pretending she had a lover whose greatest delight was running his hands through her curls and making her sigh with pleasure? Did Great-Great-Aunt Julia give up the hot-blooded promises of her youth in exchange for the sterility of a London hospital and the powerful title of Sister?

No one knows much about Great-Great-Aunt Julia now; everyone who ever knew her is dead, and so is she. All I have is a studio portrait of a straight-backed woman in a nurses uniform, and that one surviving letter dropping the name of Winston Churchill.

Maybe that’s enough.

History Quiz #1

Do you like quizzes? Here’s a fun multiple choice quiz to test how much you know about recent (1930 through 1990) history, one question per decade. Put your answers in a comment before January 1, 2007, and I’ll email you the answers. (By the way, all the answers can be found in my book Making History.) All 100% correct quizzes will be entered into a drawing to be held January 2, 2007. The winner of the drawing wins a FREE copy of Making History!

1. 1930s: A popular kind of strike in the 1930s was the: a)Stand Up Strike; b)Stretch Out Strike; c)Sit Down Strike; d)Bend Over Strike

2. 1940s: In the slang of the 40s, when you talked about your “hinges,” you were referring to your: a)Elbows; b)Car keys; c)Money; d)Parents

3. 1950s: The Russians were first into Space with the launching in 1957 of: a)Brodsnik; b)Nyetnik; c)Sputnik; d)Plodnik

4. 1960s: The Kennedy years in the White House were often referred to as: a)Atlantis; b)Brigadoon; c)Utopia; d)Camelot

5. 1970s: Louise Brown was born in 1978. Who is she? a)A computer virus that attacked the Pentagon; b)The world’s first test-tube baby; c)The first hurricane to be given a first and last name; d)The first person to die of AIDS

6. 1980s: In 1987 the New York Stock Exchange took what radical step? a)They opened for business on Sundays; b)They allowed traders to smoke on the floor of the exchange; c)They forbade swearing on the floor of the exchange; d)They put in a ladies’ restroom

Have fun!