Why do women of a certain age need to walk softly and carry a big tote?

 

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When an article I recently read mentioned that older women should never carry a tote because it makes  them look frumpy, I wondered if the author had any insight into a real day in the life of an aging population.  

It seems every week there is an article published telling women over 50 how they should be dressing.  One article states that the official older woman’s “uniform” is crop pants, a long loose blouse and soft, comfortable shoes that will lessen the chance of taking a flop. A lot of women may say, “It works for me!”

There are also articles instructing older women to never wear their hair beyond a certain length, explanations of why they should color their hair, what shade they should go with and even what makeup they should wear or ditch.  Really!

I once had a manicurist who told me the shade of nail polish I picked was meant for a much younger woman.  The anticipated percentage of her tip was in jeopardy at that moment , but I knew she was just going along with those unwritten rules many of us ascribed to back in the day.   I decided on a full tip, but I was mad at myself for not going with the color I wanted.

Baby boomers are a generation of women who were encouraged in the 1960s to wear makeup every single day, wear stiletto heals, tease their hair and wear underwire bras and tummy tucking underwear even if they were as skinny as Twiggy.  Even though some women burned their bras in protest during the women’s movement back in the day, they are still being told how they should look and dress.

For many of us, trying to look like a Barbie doll at this stage of our lives just isn’t on our agenda.  That doesn’t mean we don’t care about our appearance or have given up and no longer care if we are perceived as attractive.  It just means we have more realistic expectations.   More likely, the reason may be we are at peace with ourselves.

Finally.

So, being the guilty owner of several totes in lovely colors, I asked myself, is it really necessary for older women to have a bag that big?  

Well, that depends, no pun intended. We really do have a lot of stuff we need to carry around because life changes.

We’ve got stuff, and we need it with us!  

Our senses change.  We may have mobility issues, a need to carry medicine, medical devices or even slip a sweater in our tote in case the weather cools down while we are out.

Here is what this tote-carrying mama carries every day:

A wallet with all the usual stuff that goes into it

Glasses with transition lens and an extra pair of reading glasses

An extra set of cochlear implant battery holders, packs of implant batteries, a remote control for my cochlear implants, a bluetooth phone clip, a small one-on-one amplifying device

A five-pound keychain with assorted keys, FOBS and keychain reward cards

A comb, lipstick, tissues, antibacterial gel, a nail file and an eyebrow pencil to ensure my brows don’t “fade away” while I’m out

A small mirror that doesn’t magnify

Coupons, just in case I come across a really good sale

A small supply of Pepto Bismol tablets and Tylenol for those unexpected moments

Business cards 

A pen and pad to remind myself of all the things I would normally forget

A big cell phone with large print

Breath mints to offer to those who may need a “hint mint”

A small purse of quarters

Bottled water

On a rainy day, an umbrella

The real question should be, how do men manage without carrying around so much stuff everyday?  When asked this, some women will say men ask their wives and girlfriends to slip a few things in their tote bag so they don’t have to carry them.

Tell me though, do you really know any women who can get away with one of those tiny purses after 50?

Maybe this is a second coming of age for a generation that made their own rules. Walk softly in those comfy shoes girl, and carry your big tote proudly!

 

 

 

 

 

35 Days of Glory

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A year ago Glory came into my life.  

I am profoundly deaf, but I can hear when I wear my two cochlear implant processors.  Like many people who have a profound hearing loss, my life experiences are divided between two worlds.  When I wear my cochlear processors I am part of the hearing world.  When the processors are off, I am deaf again.  

This is where Glory comes in.  Finally after a wait of about a year, there was a place for me in a hearing dog program.   The day I was accepted was a jubilant day for me.  I was going to be a puppy mom! 

I trained to work with Glory for two weeks last summer.  I trained alongside three amazing women with different levels of hearing loss. During that time, we shared many laughs, tears and stories about our lives.  I have wonderful memories of my first weeks with Glory and all the wonderful people I met during training.  As students, we quickly bonded.  The dogs captured our hearts.  We were in love!

Glory is a beautiful and petite black lab with deep and soulful eyes.  She is quick, bright and extremely insightful. When she first came home with me, she followed me around with those beautiful soulful eyes, never leaving me.  I felt like a rock star.  She established a special place on the couch that was hers, and she loved to rest by my feet under the table at dinnertime. 

Of course, I was flattered. I was humbled. Most of all I was touched by her unconditional love.  Everywhere I went, she was with me.  Out for my morning walk, doing errands, or snuggled by my feet at the dining room table, she was always nearby.  

First thing in the morning that sweet little face would be staring at me.  It was a remembrance of a time when I had babies, a time any mother will never forget.

Somewhere along the way, Glory developed a fear of transportation. Living in the greater New York area, this was a problem as I rely on some public transportation and drive to visit family and to do errands.  It was hard to watch her suffer, but I had to put her suffering before my special needs.  

On October 5, 2018 she needed to be removed from the program.  Both the organization and I were in agreement that it wasn’t good or safe for her and it wasn’t good or safe for me. This was a necessary but  very painful loss.  I would not be able to keep her as a pet as dogs are not allowed in my cooperative community unless they are a service dog.

I cried so much after she was gone. I didn’t know I had so many tears left inside of me.  It was yet another loss to grieve at this time of life.  So many triumphs and losses seem to occur in my life when autumn leaves fall.  

Yes, it is grief even though it isn’t death.  I didn’t even know I was numb for so long after my husband and my parents passed away.  Like hearing loss, losing Glory was a perfect example of experiencing “disenfranchised grief” coined by Dr. Kenneth J. Doka.  That is, losses that are not necessarily death or losses recognized by our society.  

Glory taught me so much.  Her presence was a reminder to never forgot to connect with all living things.  Glory made me realize I needed to feel life again.  

I could smell her scent on the couch for a long time after she was gone.  It was hard to give away all the sweet remembrances  of her days with me.  The house seemed empty.  I realized how much I needed to reconnect with the universe again after all these years.  I didn’t even know I was numb.  

She came to me for a reason.  It may be debatable what that reason was.  Her mission was accomplished, and she was entitled to her own brand of happiness.  I had to let go.

When we were in training,  we were asked to pick a song that reflected our experience with the dogs we were matched with.  I picked the song The Glory of Love. Coincidentally, when I was given Glory, her puppy raiser gave me a beautiful video of her early years that was entitled The Glory of Love.

I was told by a classmate, “Dogs get things that humans don’t get.” So very true.  How ironic is it that she recognized something in me beyond words spoken. That little girl reached a place in my soul that has been inaccessible for a long time.  

She is back with her puppy raiser who has kept in touch with me. She tells me “We will always be family that is bound by Glory.”  I was so lucky to have peace of mind in knowing that someone who loves her will be caring for her. She was so kind during the process, and has always recognized and respected my role as someone who loves Glory and my part as a “puppy mama” in her journey. 

Glory is in a good place now, and is loved by all of us. But I will never forget those 35 days of Glory.

 

Today only, August 8, free ebook promotion via Amazon– and free coloring book offer which does not expire

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Today only, for kids of all ages, the Kindle version of my book The Legend of Eddie the Whale is completely free on Amazon.  No strings attached! If you feel so inclined, reviews are always welcome.  Either way, enjoy the book!

Just follow the attached link:

https://www.amazon.com/Legend-Eddie-Whale-Grace-Whalen-ebook-dp-B07TBYB8DZ/dp/B07TBYB8DZ/ref=mt_kindle?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=1565285209

Want a free coloring book to take along on vacation?  Follow the attached link and you can download coloring pages from The Legend of Eddie the Whale. You will be given an opportunity to join my mailing list and receive occasional updates on blog articles and new books.

Follow this link for the free coloring book:

https://eddiethewhale.wixsite.com/website-1/sunrise

For those of you who are Deaf/deaf, I am proud to show examples of persons who are culturally deaf or enjoy the benefits of a cochlear implant in my book.  I have also included an example of a person in a wheelchair on the beach and other diverse populations that have made our experience as Americans so rich.

Bala, mala, whala!  You’ll understand after you read the book! 🙂

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#balamalawhala

 

Whales and Tales

 

 

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Illustrations by Chris E. Hammond
On a sunny August day, a young boy gets a chance to ride through the ocean on the back of a wise old whale. As told by a local, Louie assumes his journey from his home in New York City to a beach community is just part of an ordinary day. It is only when he learns the secret of bala, mala, whala that he realizes how important it is for us to join hands and celebrate the diversity and richness of our human existence with compassion and love.

I am pleased to announce that my very first children’s book, The Legend of Eddie the Whale has now launched!  This has been a very exciting week for me with my very first school visit to my grandson’s kindergarten class on lauch day.

While my book is not specifically about any group, it is important for me to show positive examples of diversity in my books. Examples that allow the reader to SEE that we are ALL part of the mainstream and not invisible in literature. It’s about the story, not the difference. We are here. The person first before the identifying factors.

My book includes an example of a man who is homeless.A man with a cochlear implant. A woman in a beach wheelchair. Culturally Deaf individuals using ASL. People of color sharing in a common experience. Positive examples of an aging population. Pictures of diverse populations. Just showing that we all exist rather than making any population invisible—that is what inclusion is all about. Kids need to see themselves and the people they love in books.

The Legend of Eddie the Whale, now available on Amazon by using the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/Legend-Eddie-Whale-Grace-Whalen/dp/0578526298/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=the+legend+of+eddie+the+whale&qid=1562285672&s=gateway&sr=8-2

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Mary Grace Whalen is a freelance writer, former adjunct professor and a happy grandma. Her favorite things are family, the ocean, painting, Asian cuisine, being around nature, chocolate, warm puppies and of course whale watching. She was a contributing author for the book, Journeys With Grief, A Collection of Articles about Love, Life and Loss published by the Hospice Foundation of America. Her memoir, Living in the Color Magenta, is expected to be available in late 2019. In the meantime, she is working on another children’s book.

 

 

 

 

How can children’s literature help kids understand the challenges of their classmates with disabilities?

Growing up in the 1950s, there were a lot of topics people just didn’t talk about. One such topic was disabilities. Often, we were told not to stare at individuals with differences because it was impolite. People just didn’t talk about being differently abled back then. Today, there are more open discussions, and there are some books on the market for school-aged children on a variety of topics involving disabilities. Why did it take so long?

Beverly Cleary is quoted as having said, “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelves, write it.” (ibtimes.com) A celebrated author with many awards including a Newbery, Ms. Cleary grew up on a farm in a town that didn’t even have a library. Yet, she was determined to tell the stories she felt worthy of sharing. This 103 year old author’s books have sold over 91 million copies.

Toni Morrison once tweeted the following, ” “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” She won a Pulitzer prize for her book Beloved, and she and her now deceased son Slade wrote several children’s books. She is a recipient of the President’s Medal of Freedom along with many other honors. Having grown up in a steel town, her family didn’t even own a televison until she was grown. She knew she had stories that must be told.

Children need to see themselves in stories.

Also, these stories need to be told to help children in the mainstream understand the world of a child with special needs.

Here are some ways these stories in children’s literature can help both the child with the disability and his or her classmates:

  1. Show examples of specific disabilities for classmates to observe
  2. Show examples of specific disabilities so children with special needs feel represented
  3. Foster a better understanding of differences
  4. Open discussions after reading these stories to help classmates understand how they can communicate and interact optimally with a child with a disability
  5. Initiate discussions about bullying
  6. Help classmates become more sensitive to challenges

When I taught college-level English and MLA Research, I always used diversity as a theme for my classes. So it would seem natural that when I decided to write a children’s book it would include include persons with disabilities.

I am happy to announce that my book entitled The Legend of Eddie the Whale is expected to go live on www.amazon.com later this month. I will keep you posted.

My book includes examples of a sax player with a cochlear implant, a mother and daughter telling each other “I Love You” in American Sign Language, a homeless man as well as other examples of diversity.

So the connection to these quotes by Beverly Cleary and Toni Morrison is that I am hoping to continue the trend and to write stories about disabilities and other forms of diversity because there are many stories that still need to be told.

Let’s keep moving forward. These stories are long overdue.

(Illustration by Chris Hammond)

From the Desk of Mary Grace Whalen

Art work by the amazing Tina Wijesiri

First and foremost, I want to thank all my loyal subscribers for continuing to subscribe to my blog! There are are a lot of good things in the works, and I’d like to share them with you.

As you can see, I’ve enlisted the help of the talented Tina Wijesiri to do a little artwork for my social media pages, and I feel her input gives my blog a look that pops. Her artwork adds a bit of humor to my title. I couldn’t resist asking her to include those pizzas!

My blog will continue to tell stories related to hearing loss. But since we are multi-faceted creatures, there are many sides to our identity. In addition to addressing hearing loss, my future blogs will include topics of interest to baby boomers and an aging population. There will be more articles on diversity as well. Speaking of diversity, my books are really taking form!

My children’s book The Legend of Eddie the Whale will be ready for summer 2019! I have been busy working with a very talented artist who is skillful in capturing images that portray the characters and the story. My book is about diversity, kindness and life’s lessons in a simple format. It will be available on www.amazon.com around the end of June or early July. I will keep you posted on this.

Also in the works is my book Living in the Color Magenta. This book is a memoir styled with individual stories about my hearing loss journey, growing older, growing up Italian overcoming obstacles and celebrating our later years. My purpose is to hopefully inspire and perhaps offer the reader a little humor along the way.

My website has been updated to reflect changes. If you care to visit my website, it is www.marygracewhalen.com.

Once again, thank you for continuing to support my work.

Adults with Hearing Loss and Quality of Life: Does it matter where we live?

Andrew Neel

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated, “Change is the only constant in life.”  According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, Americans move about eleven times in his or her lifetime.  That means we must brace ourselves to adapt to a new environment over and over again in a typical lifespan.  Before considering a move, a person with hearing loss might want to consider how the change will affect his or her life. 

Here are some things to consider:

Medical Resources:  If you live in or near a major city, chances are you will have a lot of medical resources.  This one is particularly important to me because I like to select, not settle.  When you do choose a hearing health provider, you also want to be sure they are part of your medical coverage and have the experience and qualities you seek.   

How far must you travel to get to your preferred audiologist or cochlear implant center?  Is public transportation easily accessible if your car breaks down?  Need new tubing for your hearing aid?  Your hearing device is malfunctioning?  We have all been there.  While strides have been made in remote patient/clinic solutions for newer devices, at least for now, we must visit our hearing center from time to time, and if we can’t hear, we want to fix it fast!

Mobility:  Some individuals with hearing loss also have mobility issues.  If you have mobility issues, have you considered the multiple steps in your path to get to your new clinic?  This goes beyond required accommodations.  If a person in a wheelchair has just one hurdle, it can add time to their trip and maybe even make it a tremendous challenge. Persons with balance issues, canes or wheelchairs don’t want to worry about their path being inaccessible.

Connections:  Are there hearing loss support groups within a reasonable distance to your new home?  Are there clubs or volunteer groups close by?  Persons with hearing loss have to be mindful of not becoming isolated.  The consequences can be depression and even cognitive decline.  The connections and wealth of information are worth your time.

Entertainment:  Have the members of your community ensured hearing accessibility through their efforts?  I attend art classes at our local library, and thanks to the Westchester Chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America (www.hearingloss.org), the room is looped.  I can hear announcements and participate like everyone else.  Likewise, the New York City Chapter of this organization has done tremendous advocacy work in ensuring theatres, museums, subway stations, and even taxis are looped or provide captions.  Organizations such as (TDF.org) have captioned performances and there is also the gala pro app for captioned Broadway shows.  Living so close to a major city is a real plus.  

Deaf Culture: Even if you may not be culturally Deaf, it is always fun to explore another culture.  I find diversity fascinating, and we learn a lot about ourselves and others in coming together in this way.  I attend American Sign Language chats even though my skills are limited. It’s a beautiful language with a rich history. Performances by the New York Deaf Theatre (www.newyorkdeaftheatre.com) is truly a treat.  

What are some things you look for in a hearing-friendly community?

Would it be beneficial to all for everyone to have a basic knowledge of American Sign Language?

 

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According to the National Institue on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (nidcd.nih.gov), the definition of American Sign Language is as follows:

American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete, complex language that employs signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body. It is the primary language of many North Americans who are deaf and is one of several communication options used by people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Okay, but can we extend the benefits of ASL beyond that definition?

The other day while lunching with a friend, we were discussing the content of my blog articles.  Both of us are bilateral cochlear implant recipients.  During the discussion, she told me that she felt I often tell the positive stories about cochlear implantation, but I don’t mention the struggles.  I appreciated her comments and perspective.

When we take our cochlear implants off, we are still deaf.  That means for at least part of the day or night, we live in the world of the deaf.  Our lives still go on during these times of silence.  Is it a good idea to have an alternate form of communication for us to rely on during these times to communicate with family or even a first responder? Is it logical to consider this would improve the quality of our lives?

Among the top three brands, Cochlear Corporation (www.cochlear.com), MED-EL (medel.com) and Advanced Bionics (www.advancedbionics.com), there is a very high success rate.  Each company offers state-of-the-art solutions for their recipients. For many, it is a life-changing solution.

Yet, there are often circumstances where some of us struggle.  For me it is in noise.  My lunch friend mentioned she often needs to face people.  For some others, it is hearing on the telephone,  or even enjoying music.  The biggest plus of a cochlear implant is hearing spoken language.  It is what connects us to the human race.   It allows us to attend performances, receive directions and vital updates on what is happening at home and around the world.  Those of us who choose to get a cochlear implant do so because we want to hear voices and sounds that alert us.

Perhaps three decades ago, many hearing-aid users were resistant to learning American Sign Language.  There was a much deeper divide between the late-deafened community and the Deaf, often referred to as the Deaf/deaf.  Today, that has changed.  More late-deafened individual are actively seeking resources and sites that will help them attain a decent competency in American Sign Language (ASL) which can be a tool in achieving successful communication strategies.

There are also benefits to everyone in our society knowing at least some basic signs.  Here are just a few:

  • Communicating with stroke victims who cannot speak
  • Babies who cannot yet speak use baby signs communicate with a parent
  • Health professionals would be able to communicate with persons who are deaf
  • Emergency personnel would recognize and respond to a person in distress who cannot speak
  • ASL would help young children to understand about differences and living in another mode in our society– and the need for inclusion
  • It would offer people a way to communicate in a “quiet” zone

There are many free online sites that have free ASL lessons and courses.  One great site I have visted is www.lifeprint.com.  There is also a wealth of information and videos on www.youtube.  If you visit Gallaudet’s ASL Connect site (www.gallaudet.edu), there is information on free introductory videos.  Gallaudet also has a summer residency program.

American Sign Language is a beautiful and expressive language.  With companies like Starbuck’s (www.starbucks) offering ASL as a mode of communication available for persons who are deaf and hard of hearing at some sites,  they are setting an example for all of us.  The message is, persons who are deaf are consumers.  We need more of this type of thinking in our society, and among Deaf/deaf advocates.

Do you think a knowledge of ASL would improve the quality of life for many Americans?

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The Manual Alphabet

 

 

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www.nidcd.nih.gov

 

 

 

 

 

Things People With Hearing Loss Can Do To Optimize Their Hearing Experience

 

 

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I’ve always been lucky to have family and friends that are supportive of my hearing loss, but I’ve never taken that for granted.  As a matter of fact, every time they show sensitivity to my hearing loss in ways that ensure I am included in an activity or celebration, I remind myself that not everyone is so fortunate.

For instance, on Thanksgiving Day like most people, we gathered around a huge table catching up and enjoying one another’s company.  Seated next to my five-year-old grandson, we chatted while he played word games.   We eagerly awaited for our all the delectables to be served in an eatery on the scenic Hudson River.  My grandson has always been keenly aware of my hearing loss, and often he eagerly looks for the tiny wireless microphone I carry that helps provide hearing assistance during family gatherings.

I always bring a wireless microphone with me on these occasions, and it lay on the table next to me.  Then a family member raised his glass in a gesture signaling he wished to make a Thanksgiving toast.  My grandson quickly dropped his pencil and reached across the table, handing my microphone to the speaker, ensuring I wouldn’t miss a word.  Then, the microphone was passed around the large table as everyone expressed words of gratitude and love.  How lucky am I to have family that is so acutely aware of my presence at these times?

So I asked myself, what is my part in all this?  How can I ensure I can communicate optimally in every possible way whether it’s time with family, speaking to a clerk in a store or ordering food in a restaurant?

  1. CHANGE YOUR FILTERS  When was the last time you had your hearing aid or cochlear implant filters changed?  This can make a huge difference.
  2. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU VISITED YOUR AUDIOLOGIST?  For cochlear implant users, frequent mappings are a must.  For hearing aid users,  it’s essential to keep up with any changes in your hearing.  Many people experience a progressive loss, and often eventually have a bilateral loss.
  3. LEARN THE PROGRAMS ON YOUR HEARING DEVICE – Today more than ever, persons with hearing loss have multiple programs custom-tailored for individual conversations, music or entertainment, conferences, and noisy situations.  Using a remote control, the user can quickly change programs as he or she transitions from one setting to another.
  4. KEEP UP WITH CHANGES IN HEARING TECHNOLOGY- I am amazed when I look back at how much hearing aids, and cochlear implants have changed and improved over the last 15 or so years.  For instance, assistive devices coupled with hearing instruments have allowed me to listen to TV shows, hear on my cell phone and music is beyond amazing.
  5. SPEAK UP- If you are struggling to hear, tell the speaker precisely what you need for them to do to help you.  Do they need to speak more slowly?  Raise their voice to a certain level?  If possible, can you move the conversation to a more quiet spot?  Do you need written instructions in a healthcare or other setting?
  6. EDUCATE PEOPLE – When I am struggling to hear in a situation, I often tell people I am deaf but hear with cochlear implants.  Many people do not even know what they are.  Often, when I am carrying a microphone, people will ask me if I am taping their conversation or if I am a reporter.  These situations often give us an opportunity to educate people about this often very invisible disability.
  7. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN – Almost every person I’ve ever asked tells me they take out their hearing instruments when they return home.  True, hearing is exhausting, but it seems maybe after taking a “break” for a bit, put them back in.  Not only is it not fair to the family, but studies indicate using the ear/brain connection keeps the ear and brain stimulated.
  8. ACCEPT THE NEW YOU – For most of us, hearing loss is progressive.  Over my lifetime, the hearing loss I had 40 years ago was so different from my experience at this moment, being totally deaf when my cochlear implants are off.  There is a point when we admit to ourselves we have crossed a threshold.  It took me a long time to come to terms with how my life changed.
  9. IT’S OKAY TO GRIEVE THIS PROFOUND LOSS – Yes, we grieve the loss of one of our senses that connects us to the universe.  When we mourn, we acknowledge the reality of it all.  But we are so fortunate to be living in a time that offers so many solutions. Embrace those solutions.
  10. DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS WITH HEARING LOSS – Some people have a mild loss, others have a profound one.  Some hear great in crowds, others avoid these situations because they are a struggle.  Some can listen to music, others cannot.  Due to the nature of my hearing loss, doctors weren’t even sure a cochlear implant would work for me.  So I’m gratefully for whatever sounds I hear.
  11. BE SENSITIVE TO OTHERS WITH HEARING LOSS – It’s not a contest.  Be compassionate.  Sometimes our friends with hearing loss need for us to repeat or rephrase.  Sometimes friends with hearing loss struggle with speech.  There can be frustrations unless friends with hearing loss stop to remember they are not the only one in the room struggling or feeling frustrated.
  12. KEEP TRYING – You may feel a new situation may be a struggle but is it your own way of thinking that is keeping you back?  For instance, for a long time, I avoided joining a writer’s group.  My thought was that I would have trouble around the conference table with back and forth conversation and when writers read their work for critique.  All I had to do was ask, and the entire group happily passed around my microphone.  It would have been a big mistake not to give this a chance.

It can take many years of hard work to assert one’s needs.   It can take many more to realize all the ways we can be part of the equation and be proactive.  But when we do, the world becomes a more vibrant and colorful place.

Invisible Woman: A page in the diary of a late-deafened woman

 

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Many years ago, when I was a student at The College of New Rochelle’s School of New Resources, I had the opportunity to read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.  The book deals with issues such as race, society and identity.  I was deeply moved while reading the book, and it made me think about how the issues described in the book could be applied to persons with disabilities or any other group struggling for their right to dignity.  That, along with an experience described in the next paragraph inspired me to write the poem Invisible Woman.

 

One day while paying for groceries, there was a woman ahead of me in line with her husband.  She appeared to be afflicted by some type of palsy, and after checking out, she had a seizure.  Her husband did his best to comfort her and escort her out of the store, but the clerk snapped, “People like that should be kept at home.”  I was mortified to think anyone would think they have the right to determine if another individual is a valid member of society, and if their presence should be allowed.

That sparked me to write this poem based on my own observations as a late-deafened woman and the sometimes insensitive treatment of persons with disabilities:

Invisible Woman

Your eyes shift downward, or you look away,

I understand your predicament, you don’t know what to say.

You say it’s scary,…to think it could happen to you.

And if it did, you wouldn’t know what to do.

It’s okay, –glance at the evidence of my deficiency, when I look away.

It’s part of the experience, a natural part of my day.

On no! It’s not catchy! You can shake my hand.

I’m just like anyone you’ve met, across our great land.

We’re really more alike,than you can perceive.

I pray there’s a God.  I for one still believe.

If I ask you a question, you reply to my spouse,

What’s someone like me,doing out of the house?

I don’t mean to frighten, but yes, it could happen to you.

And if it did, do you know what you would do?

You would still marvel at sunsets,and bathe in dewy rain.

You would develop compassion,and learn to sustain

the unexpected changes that would come your way,

–to appreciate life, day after day.

And you know what else might be of interest to all?

We laugh and we love. We learn to stand tall.

We realize life is full, even after the fall.

Because you don’t see me,doesn’t mean I don’t exist.

The more that you think this, the more that I will persist,

to marvel at sunsets, and bathe in dewy rain,

and develop compassion and learn to sustain

To visit the orcas at Stellwagon Bay,

to blow out birthday candles, –what a thrill, I’m just that way.

To visit covered bridges and lighthouses too,

and yes, there’s still a curious child in me who loves the zoo!

But one more thing, before you walk away.

Did you know Milton was blinded with pen in hand?

His work was pure genius, beyond what many can understand.

And Beethoven’s world was silent when he wrote his best songs.

FDR led the country in a wheelchair for three terms,

no one’s ever been president that long.

And Edison deaf, yes you heard right.

Over 1,000 inventions! God that man was bright.

The irony of this verse is simple as can be.

The next time you see me, please, please just see ME.

 

Copyright © Mary Grace Whalen 1999.  All Rights Reserved.

Thanksgiving Italian Style: Early Lessons In Diversity and Sharing in West New Rochelle, NY

 

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Near the Third Avenue Bridge in Harlem – Mary Grace Whalen

 

“Lasagna?” replied my daughter’s second-grade teacher.  This was in response to hearing her answer to the question, “What do we eat on Thanksgiving Day?”  Well, this is partly true, at least in my family.  We ate lasagna AND turkey.  But lasagna was always the superstar of the day.  As it might first appear, food is a huge part of Thanksgiving for all of us.  But it has taken me decades to decipher and realize what the day was really about and the lessons my parents taught us.

The day before Thanksgiving, my father would journey out from our home in West New Rochelle, NY to go to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to hand pick huge tins brimming with fresh ricotta cheese, mozzarella, soppressata, anchovies, pecorino cheese, kalamata olives, stuffed green olives, chestnuts, figs, hazelnuts, filberts, loaves of warm Italian bread and other delectable yummies for the upcoming festivities.

It was the 1950s, and Santa Claus would arrive via helicopter shortly before Thanksgiving, landing in the parking lot of Arnold Constable, a local department store in my hometown.  The night before Thanksgiving, our mothers would take a break from their baking, ditch their aprons, and prepare to stand out in the freezing cold in their house dresses bundled up with their families to watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Children would be lifted above their parents’ shoulders to watch the marching bands and floats.  Finally, the man in the red suit himself would ride his “sleigh” on a float down Main Street, past the Mayflower Dress Shop, F.W. Woolworth’s, Bloomingdale’s and the thriving downtown amid waving and cheering children.

Thanksgiving morning, the aroma of all my mother’s baked goods would permeate the house.  The dining room table would display her labor of love, –mincemeat, pumpkin and apple pies, Italian ricotta cheesecake, strufoli (honey balls) and Italian cookies.  The local football game between New Rochelle High School and Iona Prep would be televised in the living room, family members switching channels intermittently to catch a bit of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Miracle on 34th Street.

For this was the official beginning of the Christmas season in my family.  My mother would pull out her poinsettia or “Christmas Bells” tablecloth.  Candy dishes would be filled with ribbon candy, candy canes, and foil-wrapped red and green chocolates.  What I didn’t get until years later was that it wasn’t about the food at all.

My mother was orphaned at 12 years old.  My father was raised by a single parent in Francavilla, Italy.  They understood about bringing everyone to their table, celebrating life every chance they could and sharing.  Often we would have so many people at our table, my mother would need to extend the table by rolling the kitchen table into the dining room to accommodate everyone.  We were a family of seven children, but there was always room for more neighbors, friends, and family.

Otto, a jovial German-born man with a Humpty-Dumpty frame and a penchant for astrology and numerology would often celebrate with us.  He was a co-worker of my father’s.  My father’s boss, Ernie, a Hungarian Jew, and his wife were often invited.  In the 1950s we had many Italian relatives who arrived from Italy knowing few people.  They were often guests at our table.  My father knew a few German phrases he learned from his long-time friendship with Otto.  He also knew a little Yiddish learned from working with Ernie.  It was interesting to hear the dialogue being exchanged in four languages in simple phrases or a native tongue across the table on Thanksgiving.

We always knew when the festivities were about to begin.  We would hear our mother say, “Scram! Everyone out of my kitchen now!”  Amid pots bubbling with vegetables preserved from my father’s garden, stuffing perfectly timed, a lasagna to die for, a turkey so huge it would put your back out for a week to lift and every inch of the oven occupied, you had better clear the pathway from the oven to the table because my mother meant business when she was ready to serve.  She would trek back and forth on the maroon and gray paisley linoleum from the oven to the table proudly displaying each of her own personal creations.

As we gathered, the simple unadorned chandelier would be lit.  My father uncorked a bottle of his homemade wine.  My mother’s “good” china with etchings of colonial women in long dresses promenading with men in powdered wigs was set.  We had glasses and silverware from S&H Green Stamps.  The feast was about to begin.  I thought we were rich. Maybe we were.

Plates would be filled, and if a guest cleaned their plate without asking for seconds, my father would ask, “What, you gave up?”  Before the guest could even respond, my mother would be scooping more food on their plate.  That’s Italian!  If my sisters and brothers or I left anything on our plates, my father would quickly remind us that there is someone in the world who was starving.  My sister Lucille always wanted the wishbone and loved to challenge someone to split it.  She always seemed to know how to win the challenge.

So, you might ask, how about an attitude of gratitude and giving thanks?  Our faith was the core of our values.  Sure, we gave cans of food at Thanksgiving.  We went to church and prayed.  We offered thanks for all we had, but my parents always had a soft spot for someone alone or who may have fallen on hard times ANY day of the year.

I remember in grade school, an African-American family that lived around the corner from us lost everything in a house fire.  The children in the family were approximately the same ages as my siblings and I.  When my mother heard of the fire, she woke us up early and instructed us to look through our clothes and give her anything that didn’t fit us anymore.  The clothes were quickly placed in boxes for the family.  So she got a message to the family, and they quickly accepted the offer.  My mother grew up during the depression era.  She often spoke of not owning a winter coat in her adolescent years.  I remember seeing one of the children that were a victim of the house fire on the playground wearing a gray and turquoise tweed dress coat that had been mine.  It never hit me until years later how that act of kindness must have impacted that family.

So when my father retired from his factory job, after 35 years and their children were grown and out of the house, my parents would go to the supermarket once a week and shop for groceries.  They would do one round of shopping for themselves and another round of dry and canned goods for a local soup kitchen.

This is what I remember about Thanksgiving, and I am grateful for these early lessons.  Happy Thanksgiving to you as you gather with your circle of family and friends who are family.

Copyright © Mary Grace Whalen 2014. All Rights Reserved.