Finding Beauty in the Body You Have Now

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Virginia went to her grave hating her body.

A lifetime member of  Weight Watchers, I had been attending meetings in Clifton Park since 2013. I had reached a goal weight approved by my doctor, but I continued to find the weekly meetings helpful in keeping myself honest as well as connecting with other people—mostly women—who were fighting their battle against the scale.

When I moved to Florida in June 2015, I immediately joined a local Weight Watchers group, where I met Virginia, another “regular” who I guessed was in her late seventies. With the help of her walker, she was always willing to stand up and share her experiences on her weight loss journey. By the end of 2016, she had reached her one hundred pound loss milestone, and her self-confidence grew. Over the last year, however, she plateaued and then saw the scale inch back up. Hoping to lose at least fifty more pounds, Virginia tried hard to reverse her negativity. “Every day, I say to myself in the mirror, ‘Virginia, you are going to reach your goal!’” But she continued to struggle with her weight and self-image.

On August 24, Virginia was noticeably absent. “I have sad news,” said the leader at the start of the meeting. “Virginia passed away this past week of cancer.”

I was saddened, angry, and afraid. Saddened that we didn’t know she was dying of cancer. Angry that she went to her grave hating herself for being overweight, hating the person in the mirror for that number on the scale. Afraid that I too would be obsessed with the scale, not comfortable with my body, until my dying day.

As a young child, I was so small —sixteen pounds at two years old—my nickname was Peanut. But my family’s diet, heavy on brisket and bread and baked good and bowls and bowls of ice cream, along with genetics, finally won out. By eight years old, I was chubby.

When I hit puberty, I lost weight and gained height The good news was that I inherited my father’s long thin legs and striking blue eyes. The not-so-good-news, at least in my “striking blue eyes,” was that I also inherited my paternal aunts’ broad shoulders, short waists, and tendency to pile on the pounds. While never medically obese ( 20% over one’s ideal weight) my entire adult life, I found myself at times overweight. I joined Weight Watchers for the first time when I was twenty-six, beginning a lifetime of cycling in and out of weight loss programs.

Wherever I am on the scale, I have always been thankful for a healthy, strong body. My health indicators—blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar— are all in the normal range. I bike, hike, walk, take exercise classes, But l still have found myself unhappy with my weight and my body image.

While doing research for this article, I found that I am not alone. A 2012 study of women fifty and older published in International Journal of Eating Disorders found  that 71% were currently trying to lose weight; 79% felt that weight or shape played a “moderate” to “the most important” role in their self-concept; 70% were dissatisfied with their weight and shape compared to when they were younger; and 84% were specifically dissatisfied with their stomachs. In a similar study published in 2013 in the Journal of Women and Aging found that the majority of women aged 50 and older are not satisfied with the way they look, with only 12% of participants sampled reporting body image satisfaction.

The causes of obsession with the scale and our perceived negative self-image are as close as the television in our living rooms, the magazines on our coffee table, the movies playing at our local theater, the advertisements bombarding us daily. In a 2013 article on women’s body image in Slate, Jessica Grose notes that media images of ridiculously thin women surround us.”We live in a culture where thinness and beauty are highly valued for women and wealth and success are often considered to go hand in hand with a slim figure.” She cites the resulting negative effects: a preoccupation with diet, low self-esteem, low self-confidence and/or never feeling that one’s body is adequate.

The damage that such images creates starts in girls as young as nine and ten (over fifty percent feel better about themselves if they are on a diet) continues into middle age and, as in the case of Virginia, persists into old age. In her article Body Image: How It Affects Middle-Aged Women, Crystal Karges captures the continuum.  “The little girl who once felt ashamed of her body or unsure of her place in the world may find that she is still unable to accept or love herself in the later years of her life.”

Maybe society is changing. The Fat Acceptance movement seeks to change anti-fat bias in social attitudes. Companies including JCPenney, Nike, and Unilever have launched campaigns meant to change how gender is portrayed in their advertising. Even Mattel, who has faced criticism that its female dolls promoted unhealthy body ideals,  underwent a revolution.The 2016 line of Barbies introduced three new body types in addition to the stick-thin original—tall, petite, and curvy (or what I like to call zoftig).

My reaction to Virginia’s death and my subsequent research has been a learning experience for me. I now recognize that I can honor Virginia’s memory by being more accepting and appreciative of my own body—strong, curvy, healthy, imperfect—and  of those of others, no matter what their size and shape. I have promised myself to focus less on the number on the scale and more on the benefits I can obtain from maintaining a lifestyle that includes healthy food choices, regular exercise, moderation, and a positive attitude.

In the mold breaking JCPenney ad, one of the “real women” represented states, “You can’t love your body for what you hope it turns into without actively loving it for what it is today.” Virginia and all of us women who battle the scale and, more importantly, our self-image, need to love ourselves where we are right now.

RESEARCH

Cooper, Grace. “5 Empowering Ad Campaigns That Are Breaking the Beauty Mold.” July 6, 2016. https://verilymag.com/2016/07/positive-advertising-womens-body-image-beauty-standards-dove-nike 

Farrar, Tabitha. “Body Image of Women.”  2014 https://www.mirror-mirror.org/body-image-of-women.htm

Grose, Jessica. “Only 12 Percent of Older Women Feel Satisfied With Their Bodies.“ November 4, 2013.  older_women_and_body_image_only_

12_percent_of_women_50_and_older_feel_satisfied.html

Kargas, Crystal. Body Image: How It Affects Middle-Aged Women. July 18, 2017.  https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/body-image/body-image-how-it-affects-middle-aged-women

McConville, Sharon. “Middle Age Women and Body Image.”  June 29, 2017 https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/treatment-for-eating-disorders/special-issues/older-women/body-image

WHO BY WATER, AND WHO BY FIRE?

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Headlines from the Orlando Sentinel

During Yom Kippur, we Jews recite the Unetanneh Tokef, a prayer in which we ask G_d to inscribe us in the Book of Life for the coming year. This prayer will take on special significance for my husband Larry and me as we look back on our experiences with our first Florida hurricane.

The National Hurricane Center had been tracking Hurricane Irma since late August. Reports of its potential destructive path through the Caribbean and Florida were headline news by Labor Day. Despite the warnings, Larry and I decided to go ahead with our planned trip to visit an elderly aunt in Myrtle Beach. On Tuesday, September 5, we drove to St. Augustine, Florida, for a day of touring before driving the rest of the way to South Carolina. We were confident that we had plenty of time to return home by Friday to prepare for Irma’s predicted landfall that weekend. 

That confidence quickly faded. News of the devastation in the Caribbean from Irma was being updated hourly. On the streets, fellow tourists and residents, some who had just recently moved back into homes that had been damaged by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, were on their cell phone making evacuation plans. We filled our car with gas moments before the pumps ran dry. We stopped at the supermarket for some basics, only to find that the bread and water aisles were picked clean. Continuing north was out of the question. We drove back home the next morning.

By that time, Larry and I were being bombarded with phone calls, texts, emails, and Facebook posts from worried family and friends. Were we okay? Were we going to evacuate? We assured them that we were fine, but we were staying put. Our homes were built to withstand hurricane winds and rain, and Central Florida was not subject to storm surges. Furthermore, we were not in the path of the storm. We were more concerned about our family and friends who lived and/or owned homes on the coasts of Florida.  Which coast? As of Saturday, meteorologists were still trying to determine where the monster storm would make landfall.

So we, like the millions of other Floridians, completed all the necessary preparations. We stocked up on water, canned goods, toilet paper and wine-lots of wine. We filled both cars with gas. We brought everything from our lanai and in our  yard into our house and garage. We pulled out our emergency crank radio, candles and matches, flashlights and batteries. We filled our bathtubs and large pots with water and our freezer with bags of ice. We prepared a “safe room” in a walk-in closet in case of extreme winds or tornadoes. We checked in with neighbors to make sure they were ready. And we watched the “spaghetti models” on The Weather Channel for hours. Stupefacente! (Amazing in Italian)

Speaking of amazing, in between all these preparations, Larry and I were still living our lives—the calm before the storm. We went to the movies, celebrated our anniversary with dinner and champagne, took long walks around the neighborhood, and even went to a Pre-Hurricane Irma party on Saturday night. 

On Sunday, we hunkered down and waited for Irma’s expected landfall on—we were told—Florida’s west coast. Winds began to pick up outside our windows in the afternoon, followed by several hours of torrential rains and strong winds. Around midnight, just when we thought the worst was over, The Weather Channel announced that Irma was changing course. She was veering farther east and going over Polk County—sixty miles from our house. The next two hours were terrifying—at least for me. Larry had gone to sleep before the warning was issued. By  two a.m., with wind gusts reaching  between 74 and 100 miles per hour, I woke Larry and begged him to join me in our safe room. Larry refused, so I spent the next hour huddled in the closet with my laptop while Larry snored ten feet away. Once the winds calmed down, I joined Larry in our now safe bed.

By late the next morning, the weather had improved enough for us to venture outside. Yes! Our house was intact. Outside of a few missing shingles and some small downed trees, it appeared that our entire community had made it through the hurricane without serious damage. We never lost power or water. We had survived Irma! We even saved a catfish that was flopping in the gutter at the end of our driveway by tossing it back into the lake. 

Our relief was short-lived. We quickly learned of the extent of destruction outside our community. Millions of people across Florida were without power and water. Homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. In Polk County alone, eighty percent were without power. 

In the week that followed Irma, Larry and I have questioned how such different situations could exist only a few hours or even blocks apart. Disney World and Universal opened for business as usual on Tuesday while people who lived on the Florida Keys could not even get back to their homes to assess the damage until Sunday. Residents of our community were playing mah jongg, watching movies, and doing yoga while friends in Naples and Boca Raton were dealing with gas shortages, mold, extreme heat, and sewage back-up. A member of our neighborhood blog wrote a post complaining about their recyclables not being picked up when less than a mile away residents near our community were waiting in long lines for water and FEMA packages. 

Fortunately, most members of our community, as many others across the state, pitched in to help. Many opened up their homes to friends and family until the victims could return to their homes. A group is collecting food, water, and money to aid people who work in our community but live in affected areas. Many are contributing to organizations such as the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and the Jewish Federation of Florida. 

Who by water, and who by fire? We were spared from serious consequences, but others weren’t. Now it is our responsibility as Jews, as human beings, to help others through tzedakah, through charity—to relieve the burden of the thousands of others who were not so fortunate.

Profile of a mensch that I know

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Harry Lowenstein speaking about his Holocaust experiences.

This year, for the first time in sixty years, Harry Lowenstein will be celebrating Rosh Hashanah without his beloved wife Carol. It will be a bittersweet occasion, only a few short weeks after what would have been their sixtieth anniversary. But Harry is a survivor—as well as a mensch—a person with integrity and honor.

Harry Lowenstein was born in Fuerstrau, Germany, in 1931, the younger of two children. When he was seven years old, Harry was expelled from school for being a Jew. In 1940, he and twenty members of his family were deported to the Riga ghetto in Latvia. The train carrying approximately one thousandJews left Bilefeld, Germany, on the first night of Chanukah. Someone had brought candles on the crowded compartment and started singing Ma’oz Tzur, Rock of Ages. Soon the entire train joined in. That last sweet memory sustained Harry for the next six years.

In the ghetto, his entire family was crowded into a two-room apartment. A year and a half later, the family was sent to the concentration camp of Riga-Kaiserwald, where the men and women were separated. “Return home after this is over to find us,” his mother begged before she said goodbye.

One day, Harry found a piece of bread outside a building and brought it to his father to share. “Where did you find this?” his father asked. When Harry told him, his father said, “You just took that bread away from someone who is as hungry as you were. Give it back and apologize.” When Harry returned, his father slapped him on the face. “I still can feel that slap,” said Harry. “What a lesson in ethics he gave me!”

Soon after, Harry’s father fell ill and was sent back to the ghetto, which was liquidated in November 1943. Harry never saw his father again. While in Riga-Kaiserwald, Harry remembers the constant fear of being chosen for the gas chamber and the ongoing, intentionally cruel actions by Nazi guards. When Harry stole a piece of bread from a kitchen, Nazi prison guards stood him outside in the freezing cold and blasted a water hose down his shirt. “I thought to myself, ‘I will somehow survive,” said Harry. “You learned to live minute to minute—not even hour by hour— to make sure the next day comes.”

In the fall of 1944, as the Russian front drew close, the Nazis tried to avoid the Allied forces. Harry, along with thousands of other Jewish prisoners, were shipped by boat to Danzig and then by barge to the Stuthoff concentration camp in Poland. On March 9, 1945, the camp was liberated by the Red Army. He and other survivors were brought to a makeshift hospital. For six weeks, he and fellow survivors were fed a diet of oatmeal to help them regain their strength. The next day—and freedom—had come.

Remembering his mother’s instructions from years earlier, the 14-year-old returned to Fuerstenau to reunite with his family. His trip was in vain. He was the sole survivor.

As the High Holy Days approached that fall, Harry visited a fellow survivor, and a group of them went to services in a makeshift shul. A Polish Jewish officer serving in the British army asked Harry if he had had his bar mitzvah. When Harry said no, the Polish officer said, “Then you will be bar mitzvah today, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the rest of your life.”

After spending the next four years in children’s homes in Hamburg and Paris, Lowenstein emigrated to the United States in March 1949. He stayed in the Bronx with an aunt and uncle who had emigrated to the United States in 1928. He worked in a butcher shop during the day and attended school at night, trying to build on two years of schooling he had before the war.

In 1952, after serving two years in the army, Harry moved to Florida, where he got a job working in his uncle’s clothing shop. “Selling a pair of pants or some shoes was easier than hauling sixty pounds of frozen ‘trief.’” said Harry. He hung up his butcher’s apron for good.

On February 14, 1957, Harry went on a blind date with Carol Sainker, the daughter of another butcher. After only six weeks of long distance dating (they lived four hours apart), he proposed. They were married on August 18, 1957.

Harry and Carol lived in England during the 1960s, and then moved back to Florida in the 1970s with their three children, Berna, David, and Karen. In 1974, Harry and Carol took over Goolds, clothing store in Kissimmee, that had previously been run by another uncle, Luther Goold. Carol and he ran the business for thirty years, expanding the building from 1600 to 6000 square feet. As the only department store in town, it sold what everyone wore in Central Florida—jeans, cowboy shirts, and boots.

The Lowenstein’s attended Congregation Shalom Aleichem, which had met since its founding in 1981 at the Kissimmee Women’s Club.The Lowensteins began to press for a building of their own. “I saw a synagogue burn,” said Harry, “and I was determined to build another one.” Starting with a $120,000 contributions from Sandor Salmagne, another Holocaust survivor, the  Lowenstein’s—through their own and others’ contributions — raised another $60,000 for building expenses.

Once Congregation Shalom Aleichem opened, the Lowenstein continued to work tirelessly to obtain a Torah, the prayer books for both every day and holy days, the Torah rimonim (filials),  and the Yartzheit (memorial) board, most coming from their own pockets. Carol served as treasurer for over thirty years, and Harry held “every position on the board,” except president. “My language skills were not up to my standards,” explained Harry.

Rabbi Karen Allen, Congregation Shalom Aleichem’s spiritual leader, expressed her admiration for the extraordinary and exemplary hospitality that characterized the Lowensteins at home as well as in their role as congregation leaders  ” It was my privilege to be their guest on many Friday nights after services, and I will always be grateful for the kindness and generosity of their elegant graciousness,” said Rabbi Allen.”It is easy to understand how such caring and sensitive people could have created a successful business that for so many years contributed greatly to the growth of our community.”

Their daughter Karen remembered her parents as “the most loving couple” with an old school work ethic that they instilled in their children:“Be honest, put in 110%, be truthful, and remember that being on time was being late.” Karen has especially fond memories of the High Holy Days. “My mom would spend weeks cooking. On the night of the dinner, the table was set with our best china, silverware, and crystal, with flowers gracing the center.”

Unfortunately, Carol faced major health problems throughout most her life. She experienced her first heart attack at thirty-eight, and that began years of cardiac issues.  “Each time she was hospitalized,” recalled Karen, “we thought it was the end. We were blessed to have her for so long.” Carol died peacefully on February 10, 2017, at the age of eighty-one.

Despite his grief, Harry remains intensely committed to the Congregation Shalom Aleichem, its building and its spiritual aspects. He quietly continues his tzedakah—his charity—to many others.

As he has done for many years, he gives frequent talks about his Holocaust experiences to local synagogues, schools, and other public venues. Video accounts of his first person narrative are on file in both The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida in Orlando and Stephen Spielberg’s the University of Southern California Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.

Harry shows no bitterness about his experiences in World War II. “The Nazis couldn’t take away from me who I am in my heart.” said Harry. “They could not change me. I was and still am a Jew.”

And most importantly, Harry is a mensch. I know many people who share this sentiment: May you live for many more High Holy days in which you make your life—and Carol’s memory—a blessing.

Onto Our Next Adventure

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Now that Larry and I have become summer “residents” of Colorado. I have challenged myself physically more than any other time in my life. It is my Rocky Mountain boot camp. I return home thinner, stronger, healthier—and already thinking of our next adventures in the Colorado Rockies.

Our daughter Julie came out to Eagle County, Colorado, in 2003 for a one year teaching position at an environment school. Fresh out of college, she fell in love with Colorado, the Rockies, and Sam —not necessarily in that order. Fourteen years later, she, Sam, their daughter Sylvie and their dog Neva live in Frisco, Colorado, seventy miles from Denver on the western slope of the Continental Divide.

Until 2015, we would come out to visit them every year for a couple of weeks. Since our granddaughter arrived, we rent a condo close to their home for a couple of months to escape the Florida heat and to enjoy being Zayde and Gammy.

As Frisco is located 9100 feet above sea level, Larry and I take a couple of days to acclimate to the altitude. Once we have our mountain lungs, we take advantage of all the area has to offer.

Larry plays in a  pickle ball league three or four times a week—their motto is “We play with an Altitude.” On those days, I leave our condo, pick up my “granddog,” and Neva and I take the trail up to Rainbow Lake. It’s an easy one mile hike to the lake, only made a little tricky by its popularity. Neva and I have had to share the shoreline with up to twenty people and almost as many dogs. On quieter days, we have the lake to ourselves. We play Neva’s version of fetch: I toss a stick into the freezing water; she fetches it; I chase her down to retrieve it. Then we head around the lake, making our way back along a rushing creek home.

When Sam and Julie took us on hikes the first years we visited, I was intimidated by their longer excursions. Would we get lost? Could I handle the steep climbs? Would I fall off a narrow precipice, my body found by the rescue team a week later? Would we run into a moose or bear? After many years of hiking, my moments of terror are limited only to a few dicey paths that are a little too narrow or steep for my taste. “I’m scared,” I utter under my breath.

One of our favorite hikes, Lilypad Lake, takes us along a moderately steep path to a sturdy wooden bridge that spans a rushing creek. Climbing up the stream, we come to a section that overlooks Frisco and Lake Dillon. Another thirty minute climb through forest paths and wildflowers brings us to a lake on the left and a pond filled with lily pads on the right. As chipmunks beg for crumbs, we enjoy water and a trail bar before heading back down.

The longest, most difficult hike we took this summer was to McCullough Gulch, south of Breckinridge. The entire trip is in the shadow of Quandary Peak, one of Colorado’s fifty-three mountain peaks that have an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. A few miles drive up a dirt road took us to a parking lot and a half-mile hike to the trail head. The path up the trail got steeper, muddier, and—in my wimpy opinion—less passable. At one point, a short section of small boulders required some scrambling. Above us, two mountain goats grazed. About one and a half miles up, we made our way to White Falls, a waterfall that cascaded from the lake above us. The sky, up to that point blue with fluffy clouds, got darker. From the waterfall, we made our way up to the glacial lake above us.

While not difficult to follow, the path got steeper and required more scrambling around slippery rocks. At one point, we got slightly off trail and needed to climb over some boulders. “I’m scared!” I whispered loudly. Although we were never in any imminent danger of falling, I was saying prayers for our safety. I tried not to think of what our children would say if the broken body of their sixty-something mother was found at the bottom of my imagined crevice. Just as we got to the top of the boulders, a young boy bounded past me to meet the rest of his family on the trail. Pretty embarrassing for me to be so afraid when child regarded it as standard playground fare.

After climbing a final steep grade, Larry and I reached the beautiful glacial lake at the top of McCullough Gulch. Beyond the lake was the magnificent site of Pacific Peak, a 13,900 footer. We had made it! We ate our snacks, drank some water, and enjoyed the spectacular view. Although the wind was strong, the sun was shining and the clouds were fluffy when all of that suddenly changed.

Hail! The skies opened up, and we were being pummeled with pea-sized pellets. We put on  our raincoats and slipped our way down the mountain, this time avoiding the “rock climb.” By the time we got to the waterfall, the hail had turned to spitting rain. A mile further down, the sun came out. Four and a half hours after we had started, we had completed the hike, tired but so glad we had done it.

Larry and I completed a number of hikes during our eight weeks in Frisco, each one providing breathtaking views of mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and wildflowers. We experienced heat and rain and thunder and lightening and occasional bug swarms, but only once did we have to cut our hike short.

Our last weekend in Colorado, Sam, Larry, Sylvie, Neva and I hiked Black Powder Trail on Boreas Pass. Our two-year-old granddaughter soon tired of riding in her carrier on Sam’s back and decided to tackle the hike on foot. This worked until Sylvie and Neva found a pile of dirt created by burrowing animals that they regarded as more fun than further climbing. After a half hour of digging and snacks, all twenty-two pounds of her led us the way down the trail.

When I share my pictures on Facebook with friends and family, many comment on how strong and brave and fit we had proven ourselves to be. When I share descriptions of our hikes with native Coloradans, however, they are less impressed. “Oh yes! We did that hike in the winter with our snow shoes,” they comment. Or “If you enjoyed McCullough Gulch, you should try the thirteen mile hike up Meadow Lake Trail.” I can see clearly why GetYourFitTogether.com has named Colorado the most fit state in the country. And I know already that my  granddaughter and I will fit right in.

Sometimes best advocates for those with special needs are the individuals themselves.

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Andrea Pinard

“Andrea will always be in my heart,” said her sister Claudia “Clyde” Lewis.

During our recent stay in Colorado, my husband Larry and I hiked to Adam’s Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. As we were finishing our walk, we saw a group of young adults with intellectual disabilities hiking up the trail. We learned later that they were on a field trip with Adam’s Camp, part of a non-profit organization which offers intensive therapy, family support, and recreation in a camp environment for children and youth with special needs.

Seeing the group brought me much joy. On that beautiful afternoon in Colorado, the campers were happy, glowing, involved. Less than fifty years ago, they would have had a good chance of being marginalized at best, institutionalized at worst. Claudia “Clyde” Lewis’ sister Andrea Gregg almost suffered that fate.

Clyde’s parents met in high school, and Clyde was born soon after graduation. Her father, Robert Pinard, went into the Navy and would never meet her until she was nineteen years old.

Her mother Iola married Arthur Gregg when Clyde  was ten years old. Andrea was born two years later. Clyde, her mother, and step-father were delighted with the newest member of their New Hampshire family.

When Andrea was about six months old, the pediatrician recommended that Iola take Andrea to the Dartmouth Medical Center, citing ‘respiratory problems’ as the reason for the evaluation.  “My mother recalled Andrea getting a great deal of attention,” said Clyde. “She thought it was because there was only one other baby on the medical center’s floor.”

Then the doctors gave Iola the life-changing news. “You realize that your little girl has Down syndrome, don’t you?” Predicting that Andrea would never walk, talk, or function normally, the doctors recommended placing Andrea in an institution and “forgetting about her.”

The devastated parents reached out to the family for help. Iola’s brother insisted that the family move near them in California, one of the few states at the time that offered special programs for children with intellectual disabilities. Iola and Arthur decided to make the move as soon as Clyde finished her school year in June.

Clyde’s parents didn’t share the news of Andrea’s condition  with her until the family on their way to California. “It was the saddest car trip of my life,” said Clyde. “I cried the entire time, not able to accept that my beautiful little sister was different.”

Once the four of them settled in Santa Ana,  however, Clyde didn’t let Andrea’s differences get in the way of loving her. She took her sister under her wing, mothering her and helping her learn to walk and talk. It changed Clyde’s outlook on life. “If you wanted to be my friend,” recalled Clyde,” you had to accept the fact that Andrea would be tagging along. She was my sidekick.”

Clyde also advocated for her sister when Andrea started special education classes. “Andrea was always bugging me when I was doing my homework,” said Clyde. “So I put up a chalkboard and started her on her ABC’s. Soon she was writing her own name and reading. I went to her teachers and showed them what she could do.” Andrea also learned to write in cursive, which she regarded as one of her greatest accomplishments. “She loved telling people she could sign her ‘John Hancock’” said Clyde.

Clyde graduated Santa Ana Valley High School in 1963 (a relatively unknown band, The Beach Boys, played at her senior prom) and enrolled in UC Fullerton. In her junior year, her birth father, Robert Pinard, connected with Clyde and asked her to come to Vermont that summer to meet him, his wife, and her seven half-sisters and brothers. Clyde agreed to go as long as she could also bring Andrea.

Robert owned and operated the ski shop/shoe store at Norwich University, a private military college. He asked Hal Lewis, one of the  Cadres breaking in the incoming cadets to “watch out” for the daughter whom he had never met. “I fell in love with Clyde AND Andrea,” said Hal. After her college graduation, Clyde flew back East to attend Hal’s graduation. The two were married and settled in New Hampshire.

After she graduated from her special education program, Andrea worked different jobs at Wendy’s, McDonald’s, and a local supermarket. When Arthur retired, the three of them moved to Charlestown, New Hampshire to be closer to Clyde, Hal, and their support. Clyde would drive the six hour round trip  from her home in Plainstov at least once a week to  take them shopping and to doctors’ appointments.

Andrea enrolled in a sheltered workshop program. She also became involved in a local Special Olympics track and field program. Although she wasn’t good at the sport, her reading and writing skills made her an ideal “administrator” for the team. Her success in those duties resulted in her appointment to the board of the New Hampshire’s Governor’s Council for the Disabled. Once a month, she went to Concord to participate in the meeting and attend workshops on how to handle themselves and their interactions with others.

Both parents passed away by the time Andrea was forty-eight years, and she came to live with Clyde and Hal. They set her up in the lower level of their home in a area with her own private entrance that contained a bedroom, a room, and a kitchenette. Andrea was thrilled. “I never had my own apartment before!” she exclaimed.

Soon after her suitcases were unpacked, Andrea and Clyde made a trip to Walmart to buy needed items for her new “apartment.” After trips through all the aisles, they headed to the check-out line with a shopping cart filled with kitchen items, towels, and bedding. Suddenly, two women pushed in front of Andrea with their cart.

“Move your fat ass,” one of the women told Andrea.

“What did you say to me?” she demanded.

“You heard her,” the second woman said. “She said, ‘Move your fat ass!’”

Andrea pulled herself up to her full five foot height. “People see my disability when they look at me,” Andrea said loudly. “People can see YOUR disability when you open your mouth!”

As the two women deserted their cart and slunk away, the people waiting in line burst into applause and cheers.

Clyde beamed with pride. “I guess you can take care of yourself.” she said.

“And I guess those advocacy classes are finally paying off!” said Andrea.

Andrea lived with Clyde and Hal until her death at 53 from heart disease, a complication of her Down syndrome. Clyde keeps a picture on her refrigerator of  her beloved sister. They are standing together, with their arms around each other, smiling broadly.  “She will always be with me in my heart,” said Clyde.

Scott Hamilton, the Olympic skater said, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” Thanks to advances in public education, the intellectually challenged have opportunities to reach their full potential. Thanks to programs like Adam’s Camp and Special Olympics, these same individuals have opportunities for recreation and personal fulfillment. And thanks to people like Andrea, Clyde, and her family, we all are made aware that every individual—no matter what their challenges—can offer much to our world.

Loveys “Make It Better!”

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Rerun, like his distant English relative Paddington Bear, has had quite an interesting life.

Two days after my daughter Julie was born, “Big Brother” Adam visited her in the hospital with a brown stuffed bear in tow. He and my husband Larry had picked it out at the toy store that morning. They named him “Rerun,” the moniker—hats off to Charles Schultz— we had given my increasingly growing tummy during the pregnancy. Rerun took his place at the corner of the hospital bassinet, allowing Adam to recognize his sister in the nursery. Julie reciprocated the day she came home from the hospital when Adam found a Spiderman doll waiting on his pillow.

Thus began Rerun’s journey through Julie’s life. He was a permanent resident of her crib, her “big girl” bed, and her college dorm room. Rerun traveled cross country with Julie when she started her new life in Colorado. He even had a place on Julie’s bed stand after she married Sam.

And now my daughter’s daughter has her own lovey. Sylvie latched onto Foxy when Julie brought  the big-eyed Beanie Boo home from an airport gift shop. Sylvie carries him with her everywhere, tucked securely under her arm. When he isn’t being held, Foxy watches over Sylvie when she eats and when she takes her bath. And every night, Foxy accompanies Sylvie to bed, where they are joined by Rerun, who now has a special spot in the crib.

While writing this story, I posted a request on Facebook for people to share their  “lovey” story about a toy or item with which they or someone they knew were totally attached. Over a dozen people responded—with tales as far away as Israel. Anne Rothenberg shared that her grandson Amiad is attached to large stuffed dog named “Clavlavi” (“puppy” in Hebrew).  The dog has been a part of their family for almost a decade. “He is pretty bald from years of stroking and washing,” Anne said, “but the whole family loves him so much that he is included in all family pictures.”

People reached back decades into their own childhood to talk lovingly of their favorite toy or blanket. Lee Ryan, my former student, wrote, “At age sixty, I still  have Teddy.  Of course, I can be without him, but I am grateful he’s still around.”

Susan Lenigan recalled that over sixty years ago, her sister Judy had her “Kitty.” As time went by, the stuffed animal’s eyes fell out and his face became faded. During one of her visits, their grandmother  decided to “fix” Kitty while Judy was in school. She sewed on new button eyes  and painted on a new face.When Judy came home and saw Kitty, she cried and ran away from her precious companion. She gradually—and grudgingly—accepted the imposter.

Linda LaFlure Nelson also learned that loveys often were best untouched. She and her daughter still remember the sad day that Linda washed Sara’s beloved “blanky” “Sara burst into tears sobbing that it no longer smelled like her.”  Linda said. “I felt like a bad mommy.” Blanky ended up as nothing more than a smelly knotted ball of tattered material. Nevertheless, Sara, now in her thirties,  has “Blanky” tucked away in a drawer in her home.

And like Rerun, loveys have traveled the country—and world. Becky Silverstein’s daughter Evey had a crocheted pink blanket with yellow edging that Becky received at her baby shower. Whenever Evey was hurt or fussy, Becky would sing “Mr. Blankey makes it better, yes, he does.”  Evey held it all day, flipping the corners back and forth repeatedly, self-soothing and settling herself down.  It went everywhere: in the car, in the crib, in the high chair, in the playpen, on every family vacation.  Eventually, Mr. Blankey also went with sixteen year old Evey for a two week stay in Scotland and for a three month trip Israel after she graduated from the Jewish Day School in Maryland. Mr. Blankey then went to college in Boston, moved with her and her fiancee to California, and went on their honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean.  Now Mr. Blankey has a place of honor on their bed in San Jose, California, providing a cozy napping spot for their dog, Kiwi. As Becky said, “Mr. Blankey still makes it  all better.”

Losing loveys can become  a major emergency. Sharon McLelland’s daughter’s cow, which still is “alive” with more stitches than body, once was FedEx’d overnight soaking wet as he was so needed. And those emergencies sometimes spill over to adulthood. Lynn Urgenson’s daughter Sue had a hand crocheted  “Blan-key”that she slept with even up into her adult years. When Susie moved to Israel, it was the one item Lynn forwarded to her. Unfortunately, it got lost in the mail. When the package finally was returned to Lynn six months later with “Address Unknown”  stamped on it, Lynn decided to avoid further heartache and deliver the tattered blanket in person next time she saw Sue. “My granddaughter Sarit has a beautiful one I made for her,” said Lynn, “but she doesn’t have same attachment!”

Can one avoid disaster with back-ups? My daughter has two more Foxy’s tucked away in case Sylvie loses her constant companion. Sometimes, however,  even that plan backfires. Judy Lynch’s daughter Katie slept with a stuffed panda. When Katie was twenty months old, Judy went back to work and bought a second Pandy so one bear could stay at home and the other could stay at the sitter’s. Katie became attached to both Pandys and had to have both of them in both places.  Judy recalled,”Who knows how many times we had to drive back to the sitter’s when we realized we’d left a Pandy behind!”

Fortunately, some children accept change. Jackie Betters’ grandson had a blanket named “Meme” that he slept with every night. His mom washed it so much from his dragging it everywhere with him that it got really thin. She folded it in half and sewed it. After several more washings, it got thinner. So she folded it again into a twelve inch square and, eventually into a six inch square. His mom has it tucked away in her dresser just in case he should ever need it again —even though he is a grown man with a newborn son of his own.

Now that children and parents are gearing up for school opening, don’t be surprised to find loveys hidden away to provide needed security. Over thirty years ago, Julie Thompson Berman’s son had a beloved “blankie.” All through kindergarten he carried a tiny piece of it in his pocket. He never took it out, but  he would just put his hand in his pocket, touch it, and be comforted.

Rerun. Foxy. Teddy. Clavlavi. Kitty. Pandy. Assorted pieces of tattered, smelly blankets. Each one treasured, loved, and often still part of their owners’ life.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

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According to the Bipartisanship Policy Center, our country’s history of working across the aisle can be traced back to as early as 1787. Our founding fathers, struggling with congressional representation regarding the populations of the colonies, reached what later was know as the Great Compromise. It was decided that our new government would exist with a proportional House of Representatives and a Senate with equal representation. Once adopted, both sides felt vindicated.

At their best, and despite their differences, presidents and parties have work together to use compromise for the common good of our country. Lincoln created his “team of rivals” because he believed that he had no right to deprive the country of its strongest minds simply because they sometimes disagreed with him. In the last sixty years, the Civil Rights Act (1964); putting man on the moon (1977);  the Endangered Species Act (1973); the American’s with Disabilities Act (1990); welfare reform (1996), and No Child Left Behind (2001) all were put into effect because of compromise.

In the current political climate, compromise appears to be all but impossible. Lines have been drawn in the sand, pitting the Republican majority against the Democratic minority with unprecedented rancor. Nuclear options, closed door sessions, and  a proliferation of  what is regarded as “fake,” exaggerated, and even inflammatory news have torn our country apart in ways that many of us — from gifted historians to concerned citizen—cannot remember.

The battle has spilled over to our personal lives, dividing family and friends. The situation has become so flammable that recommendations on how to get along with family and friends with differing political views have become hot topics on everything from television to newspaper articles to Miss Manners. How do we deal with its aftermath when where one stands—whether to the left, to the right, or in the middle—when politics become personal?

I myself had become caught up in the “us versus them” mentality.  In the months before the election, I had spent hours watching television, listening to podcasts, and reading articles—usually with left leaning perspectives. Sharing all this news became my first priority, either through social media or animated, face to face conversations.

And it hurt me. I had cut off contact with a relative after a  Facebook fight about the election last fall, reconciling only after four months of protracted tension. One of my new neighbors, knowing how I felt about the November 8th outcome, had purposely avoided me with little more than a smile and hello. Friends invited me to their get-togethers  but suggested I leave my politics at the door. As a result, I decided that I could still do what I need to do—stay informed, call my legislators, volunteer to work during the next election cycle. However, as Miss Manners suggested in her June 25, 2017, column, I was no longer going discuss politics in social situations without mutual consent to do so.

While organizing a small dinner party, I realized how difficult the situation had become. One of the guests, whose leanings were unreservedly to the left, called to see if I was inviting a couple known for their strong Republican views. When I asked him the reason for his request, he told me that he recently had had a heated exchange with the couple regarding politics. He and his wife would feel uncomfortable attending if they were going to be there.

Even though the “Republicans” were not on the guest list for that evening, his request troubled me. Since the elections, I had heard similar comments from other friends who had questioned my continued friendship with any of “those people” who didn’t vote the way they had. I also observed many friends drawing lines in the sand. I came to the realization that enough was enough.

I didn’t have a good response for my dinner guests during that phone call, but I do now. When the issue comes up, I tell people, “I will be friends with whom I want. Politics will NOT be a decision in my friendship.”

In his book, “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked,” Chris Matthews, the former Chief of Staff for House Speaker Tip O’Neill and MSNBC journalist, reported that the political battles between the House Speaker and President Ronald Reagan  were “legendary,” but they respected and even liked one another. Reagan often had both Republicans and Democrats—including O’Neill—over for cocktails. “After six,” O’Neill would insist, “we are all friends.”

The only difference with me, the avowed liberal Democrat, and Tip O’Neill is that I won’t limit my friendships to after six o’clock.  As Thomas Jefferson so wisely said over two hundred years ago, “I never considered a difference in opinion on politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause enough in withdrawing from a friend.”

So I will continue to have friends for dinner, no matter our political affiliations. We will break bread. We will drink wine. We will laugh and enjoy each other’s company. And maybe, just maybe, once in a while we will “reach across the aisle.” We will discuss politics, learn what divides and unites us, and, if necessary,  agree to disagree. I only wish the same for our president and the members of our United States Senate and House of Representatives.