Why Read To Your Child?

  
As early as I can remember reading and books have always been a part of my life. Growing up on a farm far away from all of my neighbors when I was young provided me time to use my imagination through the stories in the books that I read.  The complete tales of Charles Dickens,  the Bible, and Bible stories that were brought to the farm by the Jehovah’s Witnesses traveling the  backcountry roads delivering their message. Any of the books that I could find on the dusty bookshelves on my grandfather’s farm – I read them all.  Each of these stories within the pages of the books made me feel less lonely and took me on adventures that I could live and gave me friends that I didn’t have. 

I credit those early days of reading with developing  both tools that I’ve used my entire life; the ability to use my imagination and the ability to express myself.   Together these skills have allowed me to live a more creative and successful life. 

I do hope parents won’t be caught up with today’s technology  that makes it too easy to bother to stop and spend quality time with their children  with a real book with words weaving stories that will help them express themselves throughout their lives. Words and how to use them will prove to be one of the strongest platforms in their lives.  Ever.

* Please click on the link attached to ‘Ever.’ To watch a short video that fortifies my thoughts.

Copyright Sandra Hart©. All rights reserved.

  
 

 DANCING AT THE LOTUS

  

She heard the sounds of the piano stridently rising above the restaurant chatter and began to squirm in her seat. Whenever the music started it was hard to sit still. She looked at her parents busy with their menus, then over to her brother who was attempting to make a paper airplane from a cocktail napkin and slowly slid off her seat and ran toward the dance floor. 

 She loved music and the sound always made her want to move and swirl and swing around the floor with her arms open wide. She couldn’t help it. Something inside of her four-year old self just made her do it because it was fun and made her happier than hugging the cat or eating ice cream. Swinging and dancing and moving to the music until she was dizzy was out of her control. It was just what she loved to do on Sunday afternoons at The Lotus.

It was 1943 in Washington, D.C.. The Lotus restaurant was popular among military and government personnel during the war years. The Washington Daily News called it “a sort of a poor man’s Stork Club where the average Joe can put on a dog without pulling more than a five spot out of his billfold.” 

The restaurant occupied the top level of a two-story 1926 building and her little dancing legs looked forward to those stairs each week when her family lunched at The Lotus. It was not the food for which she had visions in her head, it was the music. Most of all it was the music that made her love those stairs.

In movies of the 1930s and 1940s, supper clubs were portrayed as places where big stars and popular bands such as Glenn Miller’s played, but far more common were the sort that hosted local musicians. Still, patrons dressed up and enjoyed a time out, dining and dancing, and maybe a floor show, without spending a fortune.

 Located in the capital, The Lotus got the best bands of the era and she got to dance out on that shiny floor with them all. Twirling in and out between the soldiers and their girls taking that last dance of leave, or when she was held in her daddy’s arms, the thrill was always there. Music was in her heart and she just had to move and be a part of the magic she felt.

This particular Sunday she had the dance floor for a few minutes all by herself and she swirled and dipped to the live music with her curls flying in the air and was just having the best of time before her father interrupted her short solo by leading her back to the table. It was also on this particular Sunday that her life could’ve gone in another direction. A talent scout from Hollywood just happened to be lunching at the Lotus that afternoon and thought that this little dancing girl should go to Hollywood for a screen test. After all Shirley Temple was a big star and he thought he saw something with the same star quality in this little curly haired girl who loved to dance. 

Her parents said politely to the Hollywood gentleman, “Thank you very much, but no.” They didn’t want their daughter to be in the movies. That was the end of that, as far as her parents were concerned, but certainly not the end of her love for music, or dancing, or just being herself. 

The author Virginia Woolf once said, “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.” 

 And so, my friends, that was my life during the war when I was four. And in the end, it turned out, I did it anyway. All by myself. My way. Written large.

Copyright Sandra Hart 2015. All rights reserved. 

  

If I Am Important, You Are Important

If I Am Important Then You Are Important
“I just don’t know …… my grandkids get me, but I can’t understand my son.  He just doesn’t get it.”
And so went the conversation I had about a year ago with a good friend of mine who is about my age and is also a grandmother. She only has one child, a grown man now, a doctor, and somehow he still wants her to be the mother and grandmother of his imagination, even though his mother-in-law, the other grandma, is young enough to to be her daughter. He just can’t accept her flamboyant bangles and bright red lipstick and allow her to be the human being with a kind and giving heart she has always been throughout his life; he evidently never really saw, appreciated, nor thought about his mother as a person until he became successful in his head and had children of his own. 
She told me she feels he sometimes shuts the good things in his life from her, the grandma with the panache and red lipstick his children love. The woman who constantly gave to him, asking little if anything in return now has her nose pressed against the window of his life from the outside while others are welcome to enjoy the good life my friend helped him achieve as a young man.
My final thought to her was that maybe that’s the problem. Maybe  she should have asked for more from her son along the way instead of just always giving.  Perhaps she has perpetuated a relationship of one-sided giving that will be hard to change. I certainly hope not. 
As usual in most of my blogs this conversation has stayed with me and recently started my brain thinking in-depth more about being a mother and grandmother, whether it is a different relationship with daughters than it is with sons, what it means today and what it means to me. Mother’s Day has just passed and it kind of fits in right now. 
I am fortunate to have two daughters and a son, so I have experiences with mother/daughter and with the mother/son relationships.  I can’t speak for other parent/ child relationships, I only know mine.  In my experience each has been different and evolved into opposites in adulthood. 
I’m trying to think that when I was raising my children if I actually demanded as much from my son as I did my daughters. I know they all had to do chores on Saturday. The girls would vacuum, clean their rooms and help with the house chores, but honestly, I don’t ever remember asking my son to do anything around the house. except try to pick up his clothes up off the floor.  (As a matter-of-fact I was reminded recently by one of my daughters about the picture we took of my son sitting on top of a pile of clothes – a mountain – in his room.) 
 So in my friend’s case, I am finally realizing, I, too, am guilty of treating my son differently. Boys go off and leave their mothers, girls stay.
An old proverb states, “A son is a son until he takes a wife. A daughter is a daughter for all of her life.” Knowing this, is that why we sometimes don’t demand for fear of breaking that bond too soon? 
 I always made my daughters accountable and never minced words with advice when I thought necessary. I never questioned it would weaken our bond or make them love me less. But for some reason I never did the same with my son. Is that normal? 
Our best mother’s dream for our sons is to be able to have him find his soulmate that will love him and share his life’s ups and downs long after we are gone, so why did I tiptoe so much until that moment? 
“Mothers who are ‘important’ convey two main messages to their sons: If I am important then you are important; and I am important so I am worthy of your kindness, which I will affirm,” she said.

“This second message, which is often dramatically overlooked in the child development literature, is perhaps the most important ingredient to helping children develop into wonderful adults,” said Dr. Stone Fish.

Mothers can serve as good models of how to treat a woman with respect, according to Dr. Coleman, a psychologist in private practice in San Francisco specializing in family and parenting issues.

“However, mothers who can comfortably learn to set limits with their sons and act in a healthy self-interested way produce sons who are better friends and partners to women,” explained Dr. Coleman, who is also on the training faculty of the San Francisco Psychotherapy Research Group and has served on the clinical faculties of The University of California at San Francisco/Mt. Zion Crisis Clinic and The Wright Institute Graduate School of Psychology.  

I have often said to my children that being a mother is the best job I have ever had in my life and if I had a ‘do over’ In hindsight I could have done better.  I know without a doubt am so privileged that ‘part of the way, you were to walk with me.’**

**To My Children – Sandra Hart

©Sandra Hart 2015. all Rights Reserved

Who Knew?

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Break dancing? Who knew? In 1984 my then almost 15 year old son and I traveled through Egypt and Israel. We were fortunate to have been invited onto to a secret underground air base in the Israeli desert. The pilots and their families gave my son a birthday party while there and he was the hit of the party break dancing for all of them. They had never seen anything like that in person before and were taken with my young sons moves. (Ahhh…the days before everyone was on the internet and social media).

Little did we all know that my son, Emerson Hart, would grow up to be a twice Grammy nominee, Billboard awarded for the most played radio rock song, ASCAP award for the best television theme song, movie theme song writer (including hit film “American Pie” multi platinum artist, lead singer/ songwriter for the band Tonic.

It is against this remarkable backdrop of self-achievements that my son will release his second solo album, “Beauty in Disrepair” on April 15, 2014, “Beauty In Disrepair”, a follow up to his last “Cigarettes and Gasoline” solo effort that garnered two top 20 singles.

emersonhart.com. .

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Through A Child’s Eyes

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The further we get from our past, the kinder and more forgiving we become of our memories. Haven’t you had someone pass from your life, that has either moved on or really moved on from this earthly life? Looking back on that relationship isn’t it easier to see both sides and be more forgiving now that enough time has passed to retain more of the good memories involved in that relationship than the bad?

I loved my mother. I left home when I was eighteen to attend college , and although I never lived at home again, Mother was the constant force that kept me moving forward in my life, no matter how many miles separated us, or how hard my circumstances became. She was always my best cheerleader. In my heart, she was always someone I wanted to emulate.
A perfect woman.

She pushed me to audition for Romper Room when I had little or none of the required background that the other’s seeking the job had. She had a ‘feeling’ about the man I married, yet when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, she was there emotionally, a pillar of support when I thought I would not survive mentally or financially through it all. My mother walked through the fire with me. She was my rock. And it was this super strength and will that allowed her to love me unconditionally. No matter what stresses I brought into her life, she never abandoned me. And never a day goes by, that I don’t think if her and wish I could pick up the phone to hear her assuring voice again.

New Jersey…..1987

Studies reveal that as we get older our personality traits become more pronounced. Because I left home at such an early age, the impressions I had of my mother were established through immature eyes. And until I brought her to live with me after my father died in 1987 that is the unrealistic image I had of her.

But it did not take me long to be able to see my mother within an adult’s perspective. I soon came to realize that Mother’s strength actually was a form of control over everything in her environment. As a child, I welcomed the attention, but in my 50’s I needed to breathe on my own. My childlike view that Mother was a saint and could do wrong would slowly erode throughout our remaining years together.

Little things like hiding candy under her chair so she wouldn’t have to share, I attributed to her life as one of ten children where sharing would have left little for her. That never really bothered me, but her strong will finally became quite problematic when she stubbornly refused to give up driving even after mistaking the gas peddle for the brake causing her to break through my double front gates and land in the middle of my side lawn closest to the ocean cliff. She was late for a ride to a wedding, so she walked away leaving the car with its wheels dug into the dirt of what remained of my torn up lawn. A wonderful present for me when I arrived home from New York two days later. Somehow she ‘forgot’ to tell me before I came home.

Mother had a mild stroke later that year and under doctor ‘s orders, she entered a rehabilitation facility for physical therapy after that stroke. This was only temporary, but one would think we had sent her to Siberia. What was I thinking!

Had I been clairvoyant I would have prepared myself for what followed. Just three days into her stay at the facility, I got a call in New York close to midnight from the center saying my mother was missing. My husband an I jumped into the car and sped through Lincoln Tunnel back to New Jersey. I was a wreck, thinking the worst.

Well, we finally found her. There she was, nestled cozily back at my house, looking so innocent. She had talked a friend into taking her out on the guise that she would be returning.

But, in the end, I really should have known better to think she would stay there, because she pulled that stunt once more a few weeks later. She remained totally defiant until we decided to let her do what she was determined to do, forget rehab, and remain master of her own fate.

I was not strong enough to go against her, but I knew we had to somehow make her life safer. Whether she liked it or not. She had to accept that living alone in my big remote house was not good nor the best lifestyle for her. The only thing we could do to keep her somewhat independent was to move her down the hill into our small borough where she would have neighbors to check on her and walking ability to all of the comforts of her day. That was the only concession she allowed me, but I don’t think she ever forgave me, either. And on top of that, made sure she told the world how her daughter had betrayed her.

Mother died two years later of another stroke, but she left me, the way she wanted. Living on her own terms. She asked her nurse for her lipstick. Then, a force greater than her’s came and she slipped off quickly and quietly.

In the end, Mother was in control as much as she could ever be facing the unknown powers greater than herself. And I was left with an overpowering, overwhelming loss. Loss of her, her touch, of her strength.

My having to let go of my childhood vision of who she was, was a hard revelation. Probably the hardest lesson I had to learn. I was faced with the reality that she was indeed only human after all.

Memories Lost

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I have such vivid memories of my childhood that have remained with me throughout my life. I never thought it was unusual, pondering events of a life lived, and to be honest, as a writer, I have often found a certain degree of comfort reconciling my days here through those memories. Sometimes I think it is as though our lives have been a movie in which we are the spectator.

Washington D.C. 1943…..

The bed was so big my brother and I could stretch out our arms and only our fingertips would touch.  The lights were on, but I was scared. My parents were hurrying to pull down the long dark blinds to cover the high windows in our bedroom because the sirens started to blare outside breaking the silence of evening. The noise was deafening and was coming in waves, over and over again.  

Then, when I wanted the safety of the night lights, my mother shut the switch. We were swallowed up. Darkest of darkness. My brother and I lay there in that black hole, sheets over our heads, with the sirens wailing in waves and I shook. I shook in fear of what it could be.  I had seen those awful scary pictures of war in the movies about the bombs and broken houses like ours.

My brother and I knew this was an air raid because we had been through them before, but each time our fears were real. Maybe this time. Maybe this time real bombs were coming. 

To this day, I remember the fear. I can still hear those sirens. And I still remember my relief when after the sirens stopped nothing happened to us. We weren’t dead.

In conversations I have had with my older brother throughout the years about our childhood, he remembers very little. He, for some reason, has scant recall of our lives as children. Was it so unimportant  that he walked through our past without holding on to it as I did? Or is his mathematical mind wired differently than my creative one?  I have always been highly sensitive and aware of my surroundings. Sherman always seemed absent. So smart. There, but not.

Sherman’s one standout memory of our childhood in Washingon is of when the large cement urn at the top of our outside steps crumbled and fell, pinning his leg, the inner steel stake plunging through his calf. A traumatic incident that left a permanent scar and for some reason his recollections are only made of this one terrible event. Perhaps this is Sherman’s emotional event that allowed his short term childhood memory to transfer to his long term memory.

Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, co-author of Super Brain, tells us that within our hippocampus in our brain our short term memory attaches it to something emotional so that it will transfer to long term memory. But where all of these memories are stored we don’t know. The neuroscientists don’t know either. Not yet anyway.  On the other hand, Deepak Chopra, the author and holistic/New Age guru, takes the Eastern view that they are stored in the soul.

Whichever theory you want to believe, since we really don’t know, one truth we all can agree upon is that we each store memories that are our own. So when the sirens stopped and the war was over, my brother and I got our own beds and I traveled unknowingly alone with my memories.

Sandra Hart Copyright 2014. All rights reserved

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Life’s Pollution

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We all know both genetics and environment play an important part in who we are and what we become. It is not the complete story, of course, but important enough to give us the life tools that we eventually use to live up to our potential or, on the other hand, sabotage, or destroy it.

Genetics we can’t control, not just yet anyway, and the reality is that we and our children have no control over our environment until we are either old enough, or strong, or smart enough to make independent choices to remove ourselves from any negative situation that life has caught us in, or that others in our bag of marbles have created. Even if we lived alone on an island, our environment matters because our mental and physical survival depends on our outlook. Survivor or Victim.

If someone would have given me a book while raising my children and said, “This is how you do it.”, it wouldn’t have mattered. The reality of the adage,”It does take a village”, is so true. But if there is a dysfunctional human force within that unit, the environment becomes polluted and all goes awry.

My children and I were caught in just such a vortex, not of our own doing. As those of you who are familiar with our story, my late husband was diagnosed in his late forties with acute paranoid schizophrenia. As a result, my children and I were caught in his distorted mental web, resulting in extreme dysfunction within our “family village.”

At the time, my mind was always in the torturing present and I had no thought about what it was doing to my children who were innocent bystanders to the chaos. I have often wished I had done things differently, but, unfortunately, I had not the skills to handle what was being thrown at me. Just the genetic strength and faith to get us through it all. I know now, that without that, I could have easily crumbled.

All of this has been on my mind this past year, because the older I get I seem to think of my children a lot, feeling so blessed that they have walked through the fire whole and are giving back to others in a good way. They are great parents, have strong moral values and healthy work ethics. I do feel grateful, because, under the circumstances, it could have gone another way.

This blog post has come about because I have been thinking lately of all of the terrible acts of violence by young people in this country with undiagnosed, untreated mental illness. Schizophrenia shows up in brilliant, achieving youngsters in their late teens or early twenties. Unfortunately, they can go under the radar until it is too late for them to silence the demons in their heads.

If this country can do anything to stop the violence that is happening too often, it is education about and treatment of mental illness. Let us erase the stigma. It is not guns in the hands of responsible citizens, but the mentally ill people who have access to them. The first thing the police did when my husband’s mental illness was diagnosed, was to remove his hunting rifles from our home.

Let us parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, religious leaders and grandparents in our “villages” be educated and aware of mental illness and the reality that, truly, mental illness knows no social level.

Putting our heads in the sand concerning mental illness, and not recognizing that in this country it is a growing threat to our way of life, is inexcusable. With the stresses all around us, it is not going to get any better any time soon unless we act.

Please check out my charity of choice: THE BRAIN AND BEHAVIOR RESEARCH ORGANIZATION.
http://www.bbrfoundation.org
enews@bbrfoundation.org