Friday, June 22, 2012

Cavemen, Manners and Court Etiquette

Recently, an interaction between of a group of middle-school boys and their school bus monitor, a 68 year old widow made the news. 
 She may have been a working elder, perhaps trying to make her way through the now elusive golden years in arguably the worst-ever decade of America History.  Sadder, she may have volunteered for the job to just keep other people’s children safe.  Instead she was subjected to a vicious verbal assault by a group of pre-teen boys.  

It is heartwarming that the public came to her aid and admirable that the thoughtless youngsters actually made their sincere apologies.  I give kudos to the boys for manning up and rectifying such a heartbreaking moment in their young lives.

I will call the boys’ behavior “Mob Mind”.  It is something I experienced twice in my young years of the early 1960s.  I’m first to admit that the good old days theory is a nice idea, however, they aren’t all that they were cracked up to be.

Mob Mind is a crazed condition, and happens most often at sporting events.  It might be related to delayed development of the frontal lobe in young people.  Current research indicates people may be lucky to make it to their 26th year when actual judiciousness finally sets in.  

I believe has a lot to do with not having  "manners", a word used for respecting and caring for fellow beings, and it needs done long before a child enters school.

1)  All children need tools in order to successfully navigate their lives.  A household agenda of civility and manners; respect and caring needs to be instilled by the time they are walking.   This would be those “yes please, thank you, pardon me, may I” phrases with which children are received with approval from the rest of the world.  Pre-school children are known for being amiable and cooperative, and professional mimics!  They are fixated on mirroring what they see and hear.  Parents, please do walk the walk;  and talk the talk.    What your child sees, our world gets.

2)  Encourage the older child to develop and respect an inner sense of responsibility.  Teach them as they move into elementary school that they need to rely on their sense of respect, of honor, "as Our Family always does."  Let them take pride in moving positively through their world.  Teach them it is their responsibility to sound the alarm, their duty to alert the school, church, or call 911 when they see certain acts, like bullying, and physical or sexual violence. 

I find it amusing that although I was reared in a welfare family, my brother and I learned all the above as toddlers.  And by the time we were ready for kindergarten we knew to stand up when a lady enters the room; if you are a gentlemen you remove hat on entering a room; you give up your chair as a seat for a lady or an elder; the gentleman opens the car door for the lady, and seats her in the restaurant, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.    

Mother took things a little further, though, and taught us how to curtsy and bow.  I assume she fancied us being presented to royalty one day.

She may not have been able to provide a lot of real necessities as we grew up, but she was able to give us the most priceless tools for navigating society and the workforce:  how to comfortably give respect, and employ some very Victorian manners!  Well, it worked for us both, and I have passed along most of what she taught to my own children (sans bow and curtsy) and to my grandchildren.

All my life I wondered about the ways man civilized himself.  I once hoped to get a degree in archaeology after taking Physical and Cultural Anthropology.  I envisioned myself landing a job in the Olduvai Gorge with Doctors Louis and Mary Leaky, sifting sand in my khaki shorts and pith helmet; finding shards of bones, brushing dirt from ancient footprints. 

Cultural Anthropology particularly fascinated me.  How did they civilize themselves?  There must have been lots of death.

I envision the cave man coming out of his cave early in the morning to go hunting with his club or his rocks.  He has a mate, and maybe a couple of children still sleeping in their cave, trusting Papa will not be an idiot and get himself killed by annoying other hunters.  

I am certain that on meeting another human, Papa adopted a submissive, or at minimum a respectful posture, hoping to establish some mutually beneficial relationship based on marrying off his female offspring, trading, or just staying alive. 

Inspired by that thought, I searched online for the "origins of etiquette" and found Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette.  I learned that Miss Emily’s Great-Grandson, Peter Post has written 5 books on etiquette, so obviously much of the world still acknowledges this social requirement. 

I searched further and found some support for my caveman theory:

1) 2,600 years ago the first “book of etiquette” was written by Ptahhotep, who was a city administrator under Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi.

2) 3,300 years ago mankind’s first written form of communication, Cuneiform, was developed, probably in Persia and it represents the origin of all written languages.

3) 5,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia, records of stores of grain and other agricultural products were kept by using forms of clay tokens or coins.

It took my imaginary caveman a very long time to get from just trying to feed his family without getting killed, to honing the social posturing that would keep him alive, and eons later keep him out of prisons.

I think it is time to go back to respectful interactions between people, not the short hand, short changing quick hits of “social” interactions.  

And, it is especially important to our youngest ones, who hold our future in their hands.  We adults are either somewhere on track, or nearing the end of the track of our own lives.  

Our youngest ones desperately need the tools to do as we have done and are doing.  Or, in far too many cases, to undo the worst of what we have done.


Friday, June 15, 2012

My Little Ratty Cat

Good-bye, Bootie

Boutros Boutros Kitty came to me one day at the tennis courts, a tiny handful of long black fur with a white blaze on her chest and four matching boots.  I felt her watching me from the shrubs near my car, peeking between the branches as I unloaded my tennis bag.   She was so tiny, so beautiful, and so friendly that I just knew she was somebody’s much loved pet.  I filled a little pet with water and put it near her shrub in case she was thirsty.  I felt certain she would go home before my match was over.

The little cat was still in the shrubs though, water was gone, so I refilled it then drove home and swiped some cat food from my other three cat’s supply, drove back to the courts, and put it in the bushes with her water.  This went on twice daily for over a week when finally my son Steven brought me to my senses.

“Mom, let’s just bring the Court Cat home.  We have two cats; one more won’t make much difference.”

We named her after the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and brought her home, where we lived with a Rottweiler named Andy and a little Australian Cattle Dog, Mary. Andi had reared Mary since puppyhood and they ruled our house. 

Jack, our elder cat, was a feisty, opinionated calico.  She and her silver-haired offspring Smokey were there to greet this tiny kitten.  Jack, the matriarch, demanded the same respect from this youngster as she got from her offspring and from our two dogs.

Smokey, with his long silver hair and his laid-back-hippie ways, eyeballed the kitten from a distance, and went back to sleep.  He was nobody’s boss.

In the end, Jack got little respect from Boutros.  Each time she chastised Boutros and turned her back to make a regal exit, the kitten swatted Jack on the rear end.  Her Regal Self would stop, turn and hiss at the kid and that was the end of the confrontation.  This ritual was repeated until Jack made her transition.

Jack and Smokey were content with sheltering in the garage or sunning themselves on the cement of the rather large and fenced side yard.  At night though, all cats slept in the garage safe from raccoons or skunks.  They never dreamed of coming into the house where dogs resided with people.

Boutros immediately established her Superior Catness over our canines by leaping onto their haunches as they squatted to take a wee.  The dogs lived their lives on the look out for the little black and white that terrorized them from behind the flower pots, and the little cat shared the backyard with them.

In time, young Boutros decided the front yard was her personal territory, taking on any dog who dared to walk down our street.  She was as beautiful as she was a tough: this tiny cat challenged all dogs, stalking them if they came too close to our property.  She once shredded an unsuspecting pit-bull’s nose. 

She remained a dainty eight pounds, and knowing she was gorgeous, seemed to pose in front of the vibrant flowers we had in our front gardens.  A visiting artist painted a picture she took of Bootie and our flowers.  The painting was hung in a gallery in San Francisco.  I wish I knew where, it means so much to me now.

1996 was the year when my son moved out to live with his father, leaving me a note in the mail box and a decade and half of grief.  It was also the year my daughter presented me with an unexpected grandson, a sweet and loving little boy who never knew a day without Boutros.

It was also the year that I finally agreed to step out onto the tennis courts “to just hit a little” with my future husband, and the world of competitive sports revealed itself to me.

In retrospect 1996 was a year that brought on some of the very best and worst times of my life. Perhaps we just have to reach a certain age before the real and unpredictable heartbreakers happen; have to reach a certain age to realize you are never too old to give new challenges (like tennis) a go.

Time rolled on. I remarried; and Andy, Jack and Smokey all lived nearly sixteen years before making their transitions.   My daughter and grandson moved out and began to make their ways in the world; my son remained trapped somewhere where I couldn’t seem reach him.   I continued nudging him with cards, notes and phone messages.  Let him know that he remained in my heart and that I would always love him.

When Rottweiler Andy passed, my long time neighbor demanded get a new partner dog for little Mary.  You see, my neighbor had been coming into our backyard to sit with our little cattle dog while we worked.   “Mel! Mary’s wasting away in grief!  It’s not good for her, she gonna die if you don’t get her a partner!”

So, my husband and I loaded Mary into the car and took her with us to various shelters and “tried on” possible partners.  At a shelter in Berkeley we found a tall black and white goofball with the impossible name of Mysticka.  We brought her out to see how Mary reacted, and to the shock of the shelter workers and us, the two dogs immediately sat down butt to butt and leaned into each other.  They looked at us as if to say “Well, let’s go already!”

Mystica, now dubbed Bisbee came home with us, and the two dogs doted on each other.
Bisbee gave all the garage cats respect, and life settled in with everyone understanding boundaries. 

Boutros claimed the entire front yard as her realm, and policed it as any good black and white should.  She chased away offending dogs, including the before mentioned pit bull with the shredded nose.  Our home was well guarded by our pets.  

Little Boutros “Bootie” outlived Jack, Smokey, Andy, Mary and Bisbee.  They all made their transitions in their sixteenth year.  So it seems fitting that she too went at the end of her sixteenth year.

But in her last six years she found her own personal dog, a shelter dog named Lulu.  Lulu is a Border Collie, a black and white longhair just like Boutros, with the same blaze and feet. No doubt Bootie took to Lulu because they were kin, wore the same tartan.  Or, was it because Lulu had been raised with cats and respected them?  They became partners, running shoulder to shoulder and chasing neighborhood cats from our back garden.  

Bootie began using Lulu’s doggie door, with great effort for a cat who never weighed more than eight pounds. I sometimes found the two snoozing on my bed.  They sunned themselves in the back yard every day, but at night, Bootie always wanted to go back to the garage, to the cave where cats slept.

She passed yesterday.  We just weren't prepared, were not expecting a trauma.  It was a sorrowful accident involving my grandson’s loveable dog Roscoe.  Nobody knows how or why he picked Bootie up, we only saw him walking with her held gently in his mouth.  She was still alive, but had three punctures in her chest.  We made the decision to let her pass on, be euthanized.  So, a few hours later she was let go. 

In 1970 I lived and worked in San Francisco.  Our flat was in the Outer Mission and my husband, Larry, was in the Navy, based out of Alameda across the bay.  We had a couple of cats, Angie and Barfie, and when Larry was stationed on the east coast I stayed behind, kept my job so he would process out and return to San Francisco, college and our future.  

But someone knew I was alone in that flat.  And they knew we had an expensive collection of records, recording system, turntable, speakers and such.  Thre times they broke our doors down, cleaned our flat out.  When I moved out I could not bring our two kitties.  I took them to a pet store and the owner promised would try to keep them together and find a home for them.  I made the mistake of turning around as I walked out the door. I saw their big eyes pleading with me not to abandon them.  

I left, hoping for the best because I didn’t know what else to do.  

Their eyes have haunted me ever since, still bring grief to me. I am crying now recalling something that occurred  nearly a half century ago.  I see and feel their terror, my grief, my pain.  They taught me a huge lesson.  Animals are creatures of emotion as much as any human.  When they are disregarded like a pair of dirty old socks they are wounded as deeply as any human child would be.

Since then, my much loved pets never leave their lives in the company of strangers, alone, in fear and harsh surroundings.  I will be the last thing they see.  They will feel my familiar arms and my lap; hear my voice saying I love them.  And their last breath will catch the scent of me.  

This is the least I can do for all creatures that bring such joy.  In the end, grief is all about love.  We are fortunate to grieve.  It is clear evidence that we have known, created, and experienced Love.

Bootie, my little baby ratty cat, you are the cat of my heart.  Thank you for all your devotion, your affection, and your trust. 

And, little cat, show some respect to Jack, okay?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Three Year Old You and Three Year Old Me

June 2, 2012, by golly:  twenty days from my son’s 33rd birthday; forty-five days from my daughter’s 36th birthday.  Aw, it seems like just yesterday that they were scrubbing around annoying each other.  We have been through a trial, me and my kids, but in the end everyone is doing good things.  Miracles will happen if one lets them.

Divorce is a nasty deal to drag children through, but dishonesty is simply cruel.  Children always detect parental dishonesty: because it gnaws at their self-esteem.  A parent’s dishonesty, particularly against the “other” parent mostly handicaps the child:  

“How can I love that parent when this parent says he/she is bad?  Does this make me bad, too?”

They can absorb it, and if it is negative they can  retain a  sense of unease regarding the person judged as well as The Judge.  Sometimes adulthood gives them  perspective; other times the adult child never comes to terms with the misguidance.

Children haven’t the acumen to make sense of untruthfulness. I might add that untruthfulness eventually vet's itself to the detriment of the originater.

A good friend of mine, upon reaching the ripe old age of 70 was saddened when she realized that for the better part of a century she harbored ill feelings about both father and mother.  Dad  was demanding, critical and controlling; Mom was a spineless, yet opinionated, wuss.  She and her sibllings never knew who was "right".

“Mom simply refused to stand up for herself, or for us!” was the way Ingrid put it.  She decided a good way out would be to marry at fourteen and produce a number of her own children.  Through her marriages, I think she did very well:  all her offspring made it through the ups and downs of living in good spirits, and their extended family remains strongly intact.  More importantly, her youngest generations are making solid choices, not reactive choices. 

According to Ingrid, she spent decades in what I now call “judgmental bitterness”.  Then one day the bitterness evaporated as a new thought occurred to Ingrid: 

“Hey! I have allowed Three-Year-Old Me to make opinions that guided me through my entire life!”  

With that thought she changed her attitude toward her deceased parents, herself, family and the world at large.  Old dogs learning new tricks, indeed!  And when she shared this insight with me, I began to examine my own life, which brought me to a very happy place: the balance of the difficulties and gratitude for same.

Is Your Three Year Old You still ruling your roost?