“The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!” – Navis (Steve Martin) in The Jerk
The sound of the rotary dial, tick tick ticking down the numbers. We only had to dial seven digits back then, but with the exchange being “679”, those numbers could still take a while.
The full body hug offered by the springlike snake of the phone cord—avocado in color, Anaconda in length—wrapping around me while I talked on the phone with my grandparents. Winding, unwinding, winding while I told them about my day.
Conversation location: kitchen or bedroom.
Seeing one of my parents drop to their knees when they learned that one of their own parents had died. Tethered, unable to escape with the tears and wails to another room, uncomfortably imprisoned in the kitchen instead.
When we moved out of that house in New York, my fingers barely fit inside the digit holes of the dial.
I knew the phone numbers of all my friends. By heart.
Calls during reasonable hours only, please. Is 9AM too early on a Sunday?
Eventually we upgraded to a push button, with touch tone. Fancy.
Piecing together the latest neighborhood gossip while my mother talked on the phone. You can figure out a lot with only one side of the information. Who has the chicken pox, how many brownies to bring to the picnic, when the school recital starts.
The yells across the house, “There’s a call for you!”, increasing in volume and irritation when one of us did not answer that we were “Coming!” or “I got it upstairs!”
The daily, if not hourly, ring of the telephone, almost tangible as I imagined the hammer striking the bell inside with each festive “Answer me!”
The awkward moments when a boy called for the first time, and I waited patiently for the receiver while the caller had to wade through the imposing voices of my parents who answered.
Telephone books. Yellow Pages. White Pages. Booster seats on the cheap.
Stealth surveillance from a bedroom phone. Careful not to breathe too heavy, now. They might hear you.
Not knowing ahead of time who was on the other end. Exciting, awkward, anxiety-provoking. Happy surprises, uncomfortable letdowns.
Answering each call because there was no machine to pick it up. Wondering who we missed while we were out. Convincing ourselves that maybe that’s when he called. Must have.
Cauliflower ear from talking too long. Warm earpieces when neither person wants to hang up.
Prank phone calls . . . without any trace of who it was, who you were.*
Connections were obvious and often, audible and affirming. The house felt full of people, even though they weren’t really there.
I’m cooking dinner. Let the machine get it.
Damn. Another telemarketer. Let the machine get it.
I don’t want to talk to her right now. Let the machine get it.
Please don’t be home. Please don’t be home. Please don’t . . . “Oh! Hi! You’re home!”
Please don’t be home. Please don’t be home. Please don’t be . . . “Hi! Guess you’re not home. Just wanted to let you know . . .”
Let me just text . . .
PING! Hold on, I need to read this text . . .
Emoji edging out emotion, emoting.
Conversation location: Can you hear me now?
Children choosing the broken cell phone to play with instead of the retro Fisher Price rainbow rotary dial phone. Always.
House phone: Ten digits to be dialed. Push buttons, touch tone. Beep beep beep, beep beep beep, beep beep beep beep.
Cell phone: Swipe (screen unlock), tap (Contacts), tap (name), tap (number).
I don’t have her telephone number . . . let me just email her.
“Mom? What are these yellow books in the driveway for?”
Numbers by heart are down to only parents, in-laws, and husband. If I ended up in jail, hopefully one of them is home.
Plans made (and broken) with texts and emails. No exchange of voices, mood, or inflection. Is she mad that I ditched? Does he really want to go?
School outbreaks of strep and stomach bug announced on Facebook. New baby news texted across the miles. Working with fellow classroom parents via email to finalize the ice cream social—who’s bringing the whipped cream? Check Survey Monkey to confirm.
Access, 24 hours a day.
The phone hasn’t rung in five days. Except for Rachel from Cardmember Services. She always calls. That’s how I know it’s dinner time.
Many connections, but not much connecting. Silent exchanges of information.
So much conversation that my daughter does not hear.
What about you—do you talk on the phone more or less than you did a few years ago? More or less than your parents? Do you feel more or less connected to others in light of the unlimited access we all have these days?
* I have one very fond memory of making prank phone calls. It was with my friend/next door neighbor (A) while we both lived in upstate New York. We were at her house, her parents’ bedroom I think. We thought it was a good idea to get the phone book, and randomly call people to sing “You Are My Sunshine” to brighten up their day. A few were annoyed (to our surprise), but some were happy. I wonder if they would have answered today. I wonder if I would.
Join me next Friday for the final installment of Me + Her, Then + Now when I wrap it up with a post about Hobbies/Pastimes.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I don’t remember watching a lot of movies when I was a child. That’s probably mostly because a VCR wasn’t even in our household until the early 1980s, and we didn’t go to the movies very often. Suffice it to say, there are plenty more options for all of us today.
I do remember going to the drive-in a few times. Going anywhere in the car while in your PJs was always a fun adventure as a child. The double feature usually played the G/PG movie first, then the R rated one after the kids were (hopefully) asleep in the back seat. Sadly, I forget what the movies were for my brother and me, but I remember seeing parts of the movies my parents were there to see: Arthur (1981) with Dudley Moore, and Tootsie (1982) with Dustin Hoffman. I think they might have also seen An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) with Richard Gere, and possibly Private Benjamin (1980) with Goldie Hawn, but I haven’t verified that yet. My mom used to make a huge brown paper bag of popcorn for us all to share. That was the best part. I hope it’s an experience that I can give to M someday, though it’s becoming harder as drive-ins disappear.
E.T. was the only movie that I can distinctly remember seeing in a theater. Since it was released in 1982, I must have been around eight years old, and I’m pretty certain I saw it at a theater while we were visiting relatives in Ohio. I was utterly wowed and moved to tears by the story. Still am. Oh, how I loved Gertie.
We didn’t see a lot of Disney movies growing up. I used to jokingly give my mom a hard time about that later on. Honestly, I think it’s part of the reason I am not as fired up about Disney as some other folks might be. It just wasn’t a big portion of my childhood, and certainly nothing like it is for today’s children. One Disney movie I do clearly remember is Jungle Book. I remember loving it very much. We bought a copy for M a year ago. She wasn’t impressed. The only other two that come to mind are 101 Dalmatians and The Rescuers, which I recall as being kind of scary.
Once my parents purchased the VCR, it was a game changer. I remember going to the movie rental store quite a bit and that sense of anticipation of what we might walk out with. It just felt so incredibly awesome to say your family had a VCR and talk about movies that you rented. Only a few movies come to mind from that time period (say ages 7-10) though. Annie (1982), Mr. Mom (1983), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), War Games (1983), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and certainly the various Superman and Star Wars movies.
I’m not even sure if all of these were viewed on the VCR, but they certainly standout out as the seminal movies of my childhood. They are, in my mind, the classics. And between you and me, they just don’t make them like they used to.
M has not had a very robust movie watching experience so far, though granted she will only be seven in September. But it’s not for lack of movies or attempts at trying. To be honest, until Frozen came along, she just wasn’t that interested in and/or too afraid of most movies, with one huge exception: Gnomeo and Juliet. That was last summer, when she was about to turn six. We bought the DVD because we had heard it was cute (though I know plenty of people who think it’s lame; I really like it, actually). To say she was obsessed with that movie (as well as the soundtrack) is an understatement. She learned every single song in under a week. Elton John was in heavy rotation last year.
The same thing happened with Frozen this year, times infinity.
Speaking of infinity (and beyond), she didn’t finish Toy Story. She found it creepy. Right at the same part I did: that weird doll head on spider legs/wheels. Yeesh—that thing creeps me out just thinking about it!
Her first movie theater movie was Winnie the Pooh (2011) when she was weeks shy of four years old. The only reason we even went to the movies was because we were on vacation in Rhode Island during an unusual heat wave; being in 103 degrees was not fun and we were desperate to find cool. I remember that she wasn’t even heavy enough to keep the seat down by herself. Her next movie theater experience wasn’t until Frozen came out.
As I mentioned above, she didn’t like Jungle Book either, though now as an adult I can see why it might not be that interesting to a young child who is aware of the more flashier graphics and story lines these days. She only liked Annie, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid. We didn’t get very far into Mary Poppins or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which I chose because she seems to like movies with a lot of singing) before calling it quits. She has no desire to see Despicable Me or Cars, so we’re the last people on the planet to have not seen those. She still hasn’t seen Brave, but she has recently said that she wants to, so we might make that a movie day during summer vacation. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast? Hasn’t watched, could care less.
Like me, she, at least right now, seems to likes shorter and more predictable (read: safe, formulaic) visual stories, like those that are found in television shows rather than movies, or repeat viewings (ad nauseam) of the movies she already knows. Maybe it’s an attention span thing too (for both of us). That’s not to say that I don’t like movies, but just ask my husband how painfully long it takes for me to finally agree to watch a movie with him. Our dusty Netflix pile would also give you an idea. I also, honestly, don’t find a lot of the movies today all that compelling or interesting, save for a very few. Which is why, I suppose, I turn to my “safe” movies, like Legally Blonde. I just can’t seem to let it go.
What movies do you remember first seeing as a child? Have you shown them to your children? Were they totally bored out of their minds?
Next week in Me + Her, Then + Now: Telephones and communication
And, last but certainly not least, HAPPY FATHERS DAY to all those fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and father figures out there. You’re doing a great job. Thank you.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Ah, television. The backbone, it seems, of many homes, at least when it comes to couch-centric entertainment. The boob tube was definitely a part of my childhood in the mid-1970s through early 90s.
It’d be easy to go a number of different ways with this particular post. The technology is certainly improved. I mean, wireless remote controls that have “last channel” option for easy flipping between two shows make the days of “get up off the couch and change the channel manually if you want to watch something different” (but only one of the meager thirteen channels) seem so hard. Ahem.
Or I could talk about the paltry programming (at least when considered against today’s vast array of shows/networks/genre). How about the marked difference, in my opinion, between the relative lack of violence/sexuality/profanity/mean-spiritedness of shows I watched while growing up and what my daughter can possibly be exposed to today.
But instead, because it’s Friday a post, and because The Breakfast Club is on the television right now and I’m flipping between that and some Killa Collabs music videos (don’t judge), I’m keeping it light. I’m just going to talk about the actual shows that were on in my house when I was a child. The fun stuff.
When it comes to child friendly programming, Sesame Street and Mister Rogers were just as much staples in my day as was the cold cereal with milk I ate for breakfast. Oh, how I loved the Neighborhood of Make Believe on Mr. Rogers (note to self: see if this is available for M to watch). I mean, that’s true for all of us 40-something folk, isn’t it? Captain Kangaroo was definitely on occasionally, but I don’t remember that show quite as well. Punky Brewster definitely became a favorite of mine when I was a little older. I idolized her so very much. Didn’t we all? Oh! And what about Silver Spoons? They’re all coming back to me now.
We also loved, as an entire family, The Muppet Show. I think my parents enjoyed it as much as we did, probably because much of it was actually geared toward adults. I have to say, I just don’t think the recent movies are the same and I have a hard time watching them. It makes me long for the original stuff.
There were plenty of other shows that my parents watched when we were around (though probably when we were a bit older than M’s age now, which is a few months shy of seven). Three’s Company, M*A*S*H, Cosby Show, Little House on the Prairie, and All in the Family were in heavy rotation. They were funny shows, and that is something, now looking back, I think my family preferred when it came to television: comedy. I certainly like that above all else too. But they were smart shows too, and, in the case of all of them, touched upon socially or politically “taboo” subjects quite a bit too. I do remember the Carol Burnett Show and Family Feud being on more than once or twice too. I like that my parents let us watch these things and, perhaps subconsciously, learn about delicate subjects like war and racism. But I do also remember there was one show they would not let us watch: Benny Hill. Seems so quaint of a show now, doesn’t it?
Remember how many soap operas there were back then? My mom, being primarily a stay at home mom, watched Days of Our Lives when she needed a much deserved break (I think that was the one—the hourglass is permanently etched in my mind). I distinctly remember when we were living in Toledo, Ohio, that I’d have to pretend to take a nap when it came on so that my brother would take his nap. Once he fell asleep, I got to get up and watch it with her. That felt like such a treat, being the big sister and all. My time with mom.
I remember my dad being really into Sunday Morning on CBS. Oh how I thought that show was so incredibly boring back then. It was only as an adult that I realized its incredible value and depth. I think I was fond of it because of how quiet it was. Hard to find in television today.
We had one television for most of my childhood, and it was the only means to watch shows. It brought us together, in one room, and made us laugh. I really do look fondly back on those times. Those jokes that were recalled at dinner or those times where we said “I love this one!” when a favorite episode came on by chance. It was perhaps the one thing that we shared in common and that transcended our generations.
We have been pretty strict with M and watching television in her short little life. She didn’t watch any until she was two. Even then, she didn’t get much and still doesn’t now. We have a strict no televisions in bedroom rule. (Though my guilty pleasure in hotels is watching TV in bed. So awesome!) The TV is generally off during her waking hours, save for the two shows she gets to watch each day (about an hour total). Thank goodness for On Demand and DVR because I am able to avoid commercials. I think that’s half my problem with television and children.
Without getting into the list of the shows she’s seen over the past few years, suffice it to say it’s been a pretty limited list, all things considered. I get some slack and sideways glances for my rigidness, but I don’t really care. I will say, though, that she never took to Sesame Street. Just wasn’t her thing. I think about all that marketing on diapers/toothpaste/snacks that was wasted on her (and it secretly makes me smile).
At almost seven, the favorites, right now, are Peppa Pig, Berenstain Bears, Strawberry Shortcake (once in a while), and My Little Pony (though that seems to be on a hiatus now that all the new episodes have aired for the season). She did go through a period last year where she watched the Brady Bunch quite a bit, but I think that was during her fascination with wanting siblings.
I am generally not too keen on most of what’s out there for children of her age (or supposedly for her age). I think a lot of it is mean spirited, violent, and/or too mature in content. She doesn’t seem to notice she’s “missing out” and honestly is a girl who, once her two shows for the day have been watched, much prefers to play or read. Some days she skips it altogether because she’d rather play. I’m good with that. But she does have friends who watch a lot more shows or who have older siblings that watch shows that her younger peer friends might not otherwise see if it weren’t for their older siblings. I’m hoping that M stays in the dark about much of that for a while longer. I’m certainly in a parenting sweet spot right now.
As for shows that we, my husband and I, watch while she’s around, the truth is there isn’t much. I don’t want her to see what is coming on at the 6 o’clock news, but to the extent that they (graphically) advertise the latest tragedy all day long, you pretty much have to leave the TV off to avoid it. Also, I am not a huge TV watcher usually, though I will always turn to Seinfeld, Portlandia, or Veep if I need some levity at the end of a long day, or something heavy like Cosmos or The Universe if I want to be reminded of how little I know about anything. Certainly not shows that she’d be into.
Still, there are occasional snow or sick days that need filling (especially back to back ones), and developing interests of hers (like cooking), so we have, very recently started indulging in a show here or there with her. Specifically, Chopped and Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. Although that might be a mistake because she learned the word “badass” from Chopped (rated G, mind you). She hasn’t used it yet, thankfully. We tried showing her a couple of the lighter Rudy-centered episodes of the Cosby Show one winter weekend, but honestly M has about 4,500 questions per episode—she always wants to know what’s going to happen next—that we gave up quick on that one. Too much work for us! I think there has been a PBS Nature show or two, like one about beavers recently. But she’s pretty sensitive to what happens sometimes to animals in the wild, so we’re treading cautiously there.
I’m sure as she gets older, there will be some family shows we all watch together occasionally. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it as a form of entertainment, particularly when it’s watched together and with something that makes you laugh or think. And maybe she will even want to watch Little House on the Prairie with me someday. That would be so badass.
What television shows did your parents watch? Do you watch any with your children now? What’s off limits?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
I hope you’ve been enjoying this May/June miniseries. For those few of you who’ve commented, thank you. I really appreciate knowing that I am not talking aimlessly into the abyss. If nothing else, it’s been fun for me to go back in time and then compare my childhood to my daughter’s, especially when I remember something I hadn’t thought about in a while.
This week I compare how much art appreciation (did not) factor into my childhood versus M’s young life presently so far.
In a nutshell, I do not remember art—meaning the visual arts, like paintings and sculptures— really being discussed or consumed while I was growing up. Growing up in the Catskills, though certainly an artsy hamlet full of artists, did not lend itself to the convenience of being near large art museums where families tend to go. This is my theory anyway of why we didn’t take in much if any art as a family. I think it’s also why, to a degree, I always thought art classes were “fluff” and not serious enough to include among my college studies. I regret that now.
Even after moving to Massachusetts, I don’t think I visited the MFA until well into my 20s, only made it to the DeCordova and Gardner museums when I was in my 30s, and it was just weeks shy of my 40th birthday when I finally ventured to the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (and became a member). Now, I am really enjoying the process of learning about the importance of art in our culture, both as a means of expression, but also as a means to mirror back to us what was/is going on at that particular time.
Maybe as a way to compensate for the lack of art (appreciation and understanding) in my childhood, I signed up to be an “art docent” at my daughter’s school. It’s an endeavor that is entirely out of my comfort zone, which is part of the reason why I challenged myself to do it. This means that, once a month during the school year, I visit her classroom and talk about a particular facet of art, whether it be murals, math in art, music in art, women artists, etc. The PTO purchased the materials which consist of five large, laminated posters of various artworks per module (with “cheat sheets” to explain what’s going on in each) to be presented by the docents (usually one parent signs up per classroom). Depending on the age of the particular classroom, docents are expected to tweak accordingly. Needless to say, we don’t get very deep in Kindergarten, talking about very general things like colors, shapes, when and where the artist lived, how large a particular piece might be, etc. But considering that this is the first exposure to art for many, if not most, of the children in her classroom, I’d say that’s a good start.
So far, this has been M’s only real exposure to art (other than stuff she creates herself in art class or at home). We have not yet been to any local art museums, though some are included on my summer vacation day trip list this year. We do have a few art books in the house, and she and I will occasionally look through those together. She seems to have a general interest in the visual arts—especially photography and Monet—which is why I want to take her to see the real thing this summer. I think that usually offers the most intriguing and memorable experience.
But for now, we look at books and look around us when we’re out and about, seeing what art exists in our midst. It’s there, if you have a keen eye for spotting it. If nothing else, I hope this introduction to art helps her notice and appreciate it more at a younger age than I did.
What kind of art did you learn about and see while growing up? Do you take your children to art museums?
Up next Friday: Television
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
While I was growing up, although I’d say we were moderately active in terms of not being total couch potatoes, sports and fitness were not the be all, end all top priorities in our house either. Somehow, we all managed to stay lean despite it. I don’t recall my dad exercising at all, save for shooting hoops or tossing the football with my brother in the driveway once in a while. For a few years he refereed high school/middle school basketball games, if that counts. The only memories I have of my mom exercising are primarily of her in the living room occasionally aerobicizing with Jane Fonda, or sometimes going for a walk around the block. There was no riding bikes or playing tennis as a family, or any real sense of urgency when it came to exercise and sports together.
They didn’t push participating in sports on us (my brother and me) either. I think he and I both played one, maybe two, years of co-ed soccer during the time we lived in New York (so younger than sixth grade), and that was it. Thank goodness for this one photo I found because I certainly do not have much memory of that team.
Obviously, times were much different back then in that team youth sports were not as ubiquitous as they are today. We all played kickball and tag with the neighborhood kids for hours on end. That was our exercise.
I ended up running cross-country and both winter and spring track all four years of high school, and cross-country for the first two years of college. My brother reminds me that he played basketball while in middle school (traveling team), but I’m drawing a blank on that. Maybe I never went to his games? Could be. And it’s worth noting that I was not particularly any good at running. Mediocre at best. Put it this way: I never got MVP or Most Improved, but instead the “Coaches’ Award” which is loosely translated into “thank you for coming to practice and being nice to everyone”. But it’s all good—some of my best memories of high school were with those teams.
As for watching sports, our family stepped it up a bit there, especially after moving to Massachusetts when my dad and my brother really got into the Celtics in the 80s and early 90s. Being originally from Ohio (all four of us), we were also Cleveland Browns fans by default of my dad’s allegiance to them, but I don’t remember much watching sports other than that. Of course, once the Red Sox and Patriots had their tides turn some decades after we moved here, they too eventually became part of our family’s allegiance.
I think my daughter is slightly more aware of the health benefits of sports and exercise than maybe I was because we (my husband and I) talk about the reasons we run, which are largely to relieve stress, have healthy hearts and minds, and to allow ourselves some “me time” away from the house. My husband runs several times a week. I run/walk to a lesser degree as I slowly build my way back to a consistent, consecutive, non-heart attack inducing 5-miler (I’m still a ways off). I belong to a gym, but I rarely go, though even when I do, she certainly doesn’t observe what I’m doing there.
Other than swimming lessons once a week (which she loves), and a recent start on the city youth drop-in track and field club (which she also seems to love), M does not have any past or present interest in sports. But I can see the difference in her just after coming home from swimming or track: endorphin elation. She’s getting hooked on it, I think.
Still, she’s a homebody who just likes to putter around the yard. To a degree, I think there is some aversion to competition and the “rowdiness” of active, team sports that prevents her from wanting to try anything like soccer or T-ball, and that’s fine. I’m the same way too (it’s why I preferred the solo-ness of running sports) so I get that. Yet it doesn’t mean we will stop suggesting she consider other things as she gets older. Sometimes she just needs to be nudged outside of her comfort zone before she realizes that she actually might really enjoy something, just like it was with swimming and now track.
And I will say this: her relative non-participation seems to sometimes leave her lagging in building friendships with her peers and classmates who seem to have formed, in many cases, some of their friendships on the field rather than in school or playing in the neighborhood. It really does not seem to be like when I was growing up when children were everywhere outside and got their exercise and built their friendships that way. This saddens me quite a bit.
Still, we’re not the most active family at the moment, though we are trying to change that by buying bikes this year (soon!). We do hike a bit with her, but not nearly as much as my husband and I did pre-M. There are a few reasons for that, but as her endurance builds for hikes, I imagine we will increase our miles under the forest canopy eventually. But to be honest, I don’t see things like skiing or kayaking in our future because that would entail learning for us parents too, and I’m just increasingly averse to that kind of time commitment, especially if it creates a level of anxiety for me.
As for watching local sports teams, we aren’t really that into it, other than the Patriots. If the Red Sox, Bruins, or Celtics make it to the playoffs, we’ll keep up on those games here and there, but not overly so. It’s certainly not at the level of enthusiasm that is seemingly rampant around these New England parts. I’m often at a loss when a parent wants to strike up a conversation about “last night’s game” at morning drop-off. Who played? Did they win? I have no clue because more often than not I was reading the night before. I often feel like the wet rag of conversation because of it.
Another case in point: Tuesday was “sports day” for school spirit week at M’s school, and other than a Red Sox hat that she’s willing to wear, she was one of the handful of children who did not wear a jersey or t-shirt with a team logo that day. She just has no interest, even if we do put a game on once in a while. The exception to that seems to be the Olympics.
It’s OK. We all have our “thing”, and for our family, at least right now, big sports is just not one of them. I was and remain pretty much meh about it all. But honestly? I would profoundly love it if M ended up taking to running so that maybe, just maybe, we could have some mother-daughter runs together some day.
Edited at 9:03AM to reflect my mistake that my brother did, in fact, play sports (I originally wrote that I was the only one who had played a sport of some kind in post-elementary school years). I completely forgot, and honestly still cannot remember despite his letting me know. Whoops! Sorry, B!
What about you? Did your parents play or watch sports while you were growing up? How did that get passed down to you, if at all? What about your children now—do they play sports? If so, why?
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Copyright (c) 2010-2014 Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved. Personal theme was created in WordPress by Obox Themes.