Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Way We Were

My friend, Cathi, flew down from Sacramento to Orange County the other day to take her grandchildren, all four of them, aged two and under, to the Santa Train for their annual Christmas picture. She visits frequently, at least once a month, running from Tustin to Ladera Ranch to San Diego, enduring the expense and inconvenience of plane tickets, rental cars and hotel rooms just to be in the same breathing space as the four little people who occupy her thoughts and her heart.

I don’t miss grandchildren. It could be because I don’t have any yet.  It could be that my caring pheromones have been used up by my own two children. It could also be that the very idea of once again climbing up that cliff of worry over fevers, late nights, homework, hurt feelings, is beyond anything I care to imagine.

Cathi and I became close friends during a common period of transition in our lives. We were the same age, both single, we worked together and we remarried at about the same time. Then she moved to Northern California and our lives changed dramatically. We’re still friends but our visits and our communication are less frequent.  Many of the tangibles my generation has grown up with are gone, bookstores, for example and public phone booths. Three years ago Kodak produced its last roll of film. The company, once the largest single employer in Rochester, New York, has enough money to continue operations for another year. Video stores are gone and doughnut shops in my neck of the woods have been replaced by Starbucks. Newspapers, my favorite indulgence, are fighting to stay alive. Phones, when I was a child, were the product of the Bell Telephone Co and the bill for local service was $5.00 a month. Now, phones are information devices unimagined ten years ago and the cost of service is multiples more than it was. Last year, on a train in Ireland, I overheard two elderly ladies dressed in tweed suits and laces blouses discussing telephones. “All I want,” one said, “is a phone that I can push buttons and reach someone on the other end.” The other lady laughed. “I don’t think they have those anymore.”

Life isn’t easier now, nor is it more organized, particularly for the technologically challenged. It certainly isn’t less expensive. People seem to “need” more than they did a generation ago. My classroom has a Smart board and my students have Ipods, courtesy of the Saddleback Valley Unified School District. My head is reeling as I try to keep up with new applications. I have to admit the immediate gratification is fun and my students are far more engaged than they were when I was their only focus.

I’ve come to realize that everything changes. It’s our only constant. My father died 16 years ago and yet he was buying and selling commodities on his computer. After his death, one of the first things my mother did was give away the computer. She had no interest. Technology terrified her. Very soon after she was unable to manage her VCR or her stereo, a sign of the Alzheimer’s that would eventually take her life.

Personally, I’m not comfortable with change. I love old things, antique furniture, jewelry, first editions, old buildings and cities that boast a thousand years of history. But change is a constant and, for me, it’s more frightening to reject it. As long as I embrace change, as long as it’s a challenge, I know my mind is strong. 2012 will come whether I want it to or not, with all its changes. I may as well look forward to them, and to the next few decades. I very much want to be around to see it all.

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