Gifting on Memorial Day

 

There’s no way to know if she was an oldest daughter, but that’s beside the point.  The face above her uniform indicated she was probably in  her sixties.  Her job at the crowded security area in the major metropolitan airport through which I was traveling, required her to repeatedly walk up and down the lanes to make sure the suction-bottomed lane markers  remained in place.  As she robotically performed her task, her face remained expressionless.   I noticed her as I was inching through the lanes on my way to board a plane that would take me to a visit with friends and family.

The night before I had happened to read a story about Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her command to the Missionaries of Charity sisters who vow to give wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor:   “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.”  

I caught the lane-marker’s eye and smiled.  She returned my smile and then,surprisingly, beckoned to me.  When I reached her, she guided me around the people in my lane and outside all the lanes to a point where passengers were entering the individual TSA agent desks. In other words, she moved me to the front of the line!  With a quiet  instruction to “Go to the next open desk,” she left me.  With my happy face in place.

The simple power of a smile? Apparently.  But perhaps it was more that someone among the hundreds of people who pass by her every hour had acknowledged her presence among them.

This Memorial Day weekend, we will be appropriately encouraged to honor the memory of “the fallen,” those who have given their lives in mortal combat for us.  I suggest we also take a moment to recognize those whose “standing” may cause them to be overlooked or discounted because the jobs — unheralded, tedious, necessary—that they perform for us don’t rank high in social status.

If you see someone performing a job who happens to be without a smile, I propose giving them one of yours.

Happy Memorial Day.

Oldest Daughter’s Last Day in Class

 

The last day of class in late May is the last place most students and teachers want to be, including this oldest daughter.

But that was the situation I faced as a first-year teacher, looking out onto 36 restless, energy-filled adolescent bodies in 6th period English.

Forty-give countable minutes stood between us and our mutual goal of freedom. I was accountable for getting us there.

I asked my students to take out three sheets of paper and put their names on the top of each.  Squawks and mutters followed.

“Huh? What happened to the final we took yesterday? This isn’t fair!”

I explained it wasn’t a test.  It was an experiment for an article I planned to write.  I didn’t tell them I was counting on the old adage that music soothes the savage beast to get us through this last class.

Their instructions were to listen carefully to three different recordings and write a paragraph about something each different piece of music made them think about.   Example — if the music was the Star Spangled Banner, they might write about July 4.

Most of the students were probably not familiar with the three pieces of music they’d be listening to— Offenbach’s “Gaiete Parisienne,” Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and Ravel’s “Bolero.”  They’d have to concentrate.

I set the timer.  Begin.  Listen. Write whatever the music makes you think about.   When the timer goes off,  turn that page face down on the corner of the desk and pick up the next sheet.

They signaled to each other and to me with their looks that they thought the idea was crazy.  But they followed the instructions. Their silent concentration was music to my ears.  The ringing of the class bell ended the experiment.  “Pick up all your pages,  hand them to me on your way out, and have a nice summer!”

I wish I could tell you the results of the experiment, about the ways the different music had affected the thoughts and writing of those young minds.

 However after they left, I stuffed all 108 sheets of paper in my brief case, turned my semester grades in at the office, and headed for my own vacation.  I don’t recall what happened to those pages that summer or in the years since.

But the memory of my experiment has stayed with me.    When I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to write a blog,  revise an article or simply send a thank you note — even if I’m not consciously listening to what’s playing in the background —

What effect does the music station –or CNN, FOX, MSNBC or talk radio– have on what I’m thinking and writing? On the message I’m conveying? On any recommendations I may suggest or on personal decisions I may make?

My former students might think it’s only fair that the experiment I conducted on them  has now become an experiment on my own mind, thinking and actions.

 

 

This Oldest Daughter. Bookmaker.

The odds are that over the past ten years some of you might never have thought my book,  “Oldest Daughters—What to know if you are one or have ever been bossed around by one would ever be completed.  But that day has arrived!  The book

is available on amazon.com and

as  an ebook on kindle.com.

The book tells personal stories taken from in-depth interviews with more than 100 first-born daughters, siblings, and spouses of various ethnicities.   Asked why they had agreed to be interviewed, a common response was

“I want to know that I’m not the only one out there feeling this way.

Another response  (from a sibling) offered a different point of view:

“I can’t believe I’m the only person wanting to know how to survive an oldest daughter.” 

First-born daughter revelations 

The book’s stories reveal the impact of the first-born daughters role on her adult life, her siblings and family relationships.

Results are also included  from an online survey of several hundred adult family members about their experiences and feelings.   They provide additional insights into the pride and pain, resentments and hopes of oldest daughters and those who share their lives.

At the end of each of the ten easy-to-read chapters, a contributing clinical psychologist (who is my own oldest daughter) adds self-help Insights and Reflections for restoring or improving sibling and family relationships.

Birth order is a fact; It does not have to be a fate.

 Oldest Daughters —What to Know… (available on amazon.com and as an ebook on kindle.com) affirms that changes are possible, potentially transforming and rewarding.

“Tong” and the Oldest Daughter

 

As an oldest daughter, it’s hard for me to ignore a need for help.

Five years ago it was impossible to overlook “Tong.” He stood more than six feet tall. Lean muscle, covered in mahogany-colored skin.  Now it is difficult to get him out of my mind.

He had walked up to my tutor’s desk and introduced himself.  His official college status was freshman.  He was enrolled in English Composition and Western Civilization and needed help with both.  That’s how I came to know his story.

Tong was born in the African country of Sudan.  He arrived in the United States and the Midwest where I was a college tutor by fleeing on foot when his country was torn apart by war.

Often by night, other times in daylight,he crossed field, deserts

“Moonshine”
“What lies ahead”

and political boundaries.  He managed to elude any and all military and make his way into Egypt.  There he eventually met up with members of his tribe who had connections that helped him get to the United States.

One of his tribe, with whom Tong shared many physical similarities, had already achieved fame in the Midwest  as a basketball player.  His experiences made it possible for Tong to follow and enroll in college.  Their people had no written language.  So Tong had first been challenged in his new life with learning alphabet symbols and then words  in order to take regular college courses. That happened in introductory English as Second Language  (ESL) courses.

Webster’s dictionary

His next big challenges — understanding meaning of the vocabulary words in the context in which they appeared and also gaining skills to express himself in writing.  All of which led to my desk.

In the middle of that first full college semester,  Tong learned he needed to get critical information about his family’s health history.  He had no written history about himself. It   didn’t exist. The only person who would have the necessary info was his mother.  Back home in Sudan, she was unreachable by phone.   So Tong  returned to the country he had left and found her.  (I can scarcely imagine her feelings upon seeing him, knowing that he was alive, and then having him leave again.)

On his way back to the United States, visa in hand, he was stopped in the airport by members of the military who demanded to know why he was not fighting for his country.   He later described the feeling of terror he felt when he was detained and interrogated.  But he managed to stay cool enough to convince the soldiers who were attempting to conscript him that he should be permitted to leave. He made it back safely.

I continued to see Tong over the next several months.  However at the start of the next school year, I learned that he was no longer enrolled. I do not know why.  I do not know if he remained in the United States.

This past weekend I read that Sudan, which started out as one country, then divided into two (North and South), is once again roiled in a power struggle resulting in violent bloodshed, terror, widespread famine and fleeing refugees.

 

Today I learned that under the President’s new executive orders, Sudan is one of those countries from which travel is banned for the next ninety days.  The new order is said not to exclude those holding valid visas.

I wonder where Tong is.  I wonder if he went back to Sudan to be with his mother.  I wonder if either is now a refugee.  For me, the news stories have become personal.

In my role in the family as oldest daughter, it’s always been normal to try to help when a crisis occurs.   Tong became one of my “family” five years ago.  My challenge now seems as great as those he once faced trying to pass college courses.   How to help in the midst of anything-but-normal circumstances.   Tutor needed.

Five words to end an argument

 

Sunrise to sunset, they’re all around us.

So much so that lately I’ve felt like pretending to be Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, and singing “Words. Words. Words.  I’m so sick of words.”  In particular, the arguing ones.

Being a fan of vintage musicals, it’s not surprising that another line then comes to mind, this one from The Music Man—“You can talk, you can bicker…”

Bicker is a good word.              And too often the bickering is downright thorny.

The outcome of such discussions or disagreements can have significant impact on my life and yours. So I need to clarify.  It’s not the words that I’m frustrated with, that shut me down.  It’s the tone of hostility in which they’re spoken.  A tone that doesn’t have to be.

I recall a conversation I overheard while vacationing last summer.  Two women (no idea if either one was an oldest daughter) at a nearby table were having a conversation about just exactly when a mutual friend had called to announce that she was getting married. Their discussion was becoming more spirited.

“It was a week ago last Friday,” said the one woman.

“No, it wasn’t.  It was on a  Saturday.”

“Huh uh,  It was a Friday.…”

Their back and forth could have gone on pointlessly except that the friend with the Friday opinion said, “Don’t you remember?  When we talked after she called, I said the weekend traffic was going to be horrific because of the music festival.”

Saturday didn’t say anything. Friday continued.

“I’m right.  You’re less right.”

Those five words put a stop to the discussion.  But not to the relationship.  Spoken with a smile, they didn’t have a winner-take-all attitude. Instead, they made the friend with the differing standpoint smile.  (And me, too).  “Saturday” wasn’t exactly wrong, just less right.

It works.  I’ve tried it out.   A couple of times when the situation has been reversed.

You’re right.  I’m less right.

 

s

Why send a heart-ening message?

 

The card has hung where I can see it for at least ten years.  The bends and wrinkles on the front are evidence of the many times I’ve opened and re-read the words that encourage me to keep on dreaming, reaching…

 

 

The words were written for that Hallmark Card by Renee Duvall. They were sent by my sister when I was in the midst of making a major career change.

 

 

Now two colleagues are facing serious health problems.  Friends have told me that they need words of encouragement.

Encouragement.   What does that word mean?  

To give courage.

It came originally from the Vulgar Latin (common speech) cor, which means heart.

With all the dis-courage-ing news, commentaries and tweets out there today, it seems more important than ever to show some heart when we communicate with each other.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, there may be no better time to do that.

In a box of my mother’s keepsakes,  I found a Valentine I’d made for her back in the day when I was a Brownie Scout, doing crafts in after-school

meetings. She’d kept the simple message, just as I keep the card from my sister whose birthday—truthfully—is on Valentine’s Day.

Show some heart.  Send messages of encouragement. 

 

 

Very. Almost.

 

The response to her husband surprised me.   He had called from the downstairs great room where we were sitting to his wife who was upstairs in their bedroom.

“We’re supposed to be there in 15 minutes.  Think we’ll make it?”“I’m very almost ready,” she called back.

He chuckled. So did I.

It was an answer I immediately committed to memory. I loved the wording.   Much better than what’s been said so often that no spouse believes it —  “Just a few minutes more.” A vast improvement over the honest, but negative,  “Not quite.”

Filled with hope. 

I have begun to use this combination of of words in a variety of situations. Sometimes to describe actual progress.  Other times to describe feelings.

I’m very almost finished writing my book.
I’m very almost finished with Christmas shopping.

Or I’m very almost in love with you.”  (That might not have been what my future husband wanted to hear when our dating became serious.)

Now I’m wanting to say, I’m very almost done with all the political talk on television, requests to write to my congressman, or (most often) send a contribution.  Very almost.

I believe it’s still important to stay tuned in, to become/remain informed.But am I willing to do more than that?

copyright 2012 Pat Schudy

 

 

To be out front or take a stand with others? To weather a storm of possible personal reactions?

Those who study such things say that oldest daughters are leaders, influencers.  In our families and often beyond.

I’m very almost ready to decide what, if anything, the oldest-daughter side of me will do.

She could take a nothing day…

How is it possible to feel so sad about losing someone who wasn’t a long-time personal friend?

Actually, that’s not accurate.  She just didn’t know she was my long-time personal friend. And I didn’t know for years that she was also an oldest daughter.

For over a decade I watched her television shows, admired her spunk, made wardrobe decisions based on what I saw her wear, and hopefully took on some of her characters’ grace, integrity and humor — especially as a young woman in the workforce. I even believed I could make it someday, too.

I felt a real sense of loss when her television series ended.  Then I realized that in the world of reruns, I could still catch, enjoy and take lessons from her interacting with a cast of characters that we knew someplace in our own worlds.   The irascible but tender-hearted Mr. Grant, the bumbling Ted Baxter and the oh-so-different Rhoda, Georgette, Su Ann and Phyllis.

But today’s news isn’t fake news.  The Emmy-winning actor and my television friend is  actually gone.  I mourn, until I smile, remembering that freeze-frame of her tam-tossing jubilance in the face of life’s challenges.

Bravo, Mary Tyler Moore.  Thank you.

Moving On

As I recently explained in a last post to another blog, it’s taken me an unplanned year to realize it’s time to move on.  I hadn’t posted anything on that blog for several months.

The truth is, I haven’t had the stomach to join the talking heads—especially as a blogger simply adding her two cents worth.  (Wise decision — the value of the penny is now so low, they’re talking about doing away with it.)

The message for me?  Time for “change” of a different kind. Maybe even to turn things upside down occasionally.

So I’ve moved to the current address, oldestdaughter.com  It’s a space with a new view—on what makes our lives as oldest daughters worth living, enjoying and sharing.

Please come and bring your friends —there’s lots of room for new viewpoints.

How a tennis trip turned into tips for an oldest daughter

Last weekend I went to a tennis tournament at the awe-inspiring 18,500-acre Air Force Academy in the Rocky Mountains.  Liz, a friend I’ve known since we shared an apartment after college, went with me. Trying to find our way to the courts,  we took the wrong road.  We ended up at a guard station in a restricted area where we were promptly and firmly turned around.  Once back on the correct road,  we looked at each other and laughed out loud.  “What would our 22-year-old selves think if they could see us now?”

That  led to something we’d heard about on national TV: writing a note of advice to a younger version of ourself.  The project had gained a lot of attention when Vice-president Joe Biden made public the letter he had written to his 12-year-old self.  Liz and I wondered what we have learned that might have helped our 22-year-old selves avoid taking the wrong road in the future.

letter to self

Back home, I found a picture of myself at about that age and sat down to write.  

 

Dear Patty:

I’m writing from an age you can’t imagine you’ll ever be.  Patty is the name everyone in our family and friends from school continue to call you.  Pretty soon new friends and colleagues will call you Pat.

This note is about the relationships you will have going forward with those who call you either Patty or Pat.  And with yourself.  And about how all these relationships are affected by the words, “oldest daughter.” 

Tip #1. “Oldest daughter” describes where you fit in the family lineup. Don’t let those words define you.

That can be a little hard, because it’s the way everyone in the family continues to think of you.   Mom and Dad have brought you up with expectations — to set the example, to lead, be responsible and caring. Our three younger sisters and brother expect those same things from you. They’ve watched and learned from what you do and the choices you’ve made.  They’ve grown to trust and often rely on you. 

Tip # 2.  Studies show that leadership and nurturing are characteristics that  go along with being an oldest daughter.  You’ve already experienced both.  You can choose, or not, to continue developing them.

In the future, you will be surprised at the expectations our family and others, without even thinking about it, will continue to have of and for you.   Sometimes you’ll feel frustrated when others don’t seem to  see what needs to be done or to take charge of a situation in need of “fixing.”  So you’ll end up doing it.    You’ll set yourself up to be overwhelmed if you continue to take on others’ expectations while also responding to the needs of your husband, your children, your job.  And I haven’t even mentioned taking care of yourself.

Tip #3.  It will be up to you to set boundaries that respect your own time and energies.

 

Tip #4.  Re-read Tip #1.  Then understand that what will define you is up to you and your choices going forward.  You have the right to decide what role you will play in contributing to this great, wide world we’re each part of.

That’s it for now.  

Till next time, with love from 

Your Older Self