Daily Archives: August 26, 2009

What Ted Kennedy’s passing means to me

I’m struck by how very sad I am at the passing of Ted Kennedy. Surely we all saw this coming. Brain cancer at the age of 77 is not exactly something that you bounce back from. It’s cancer. In your brain. It’s just not a smiley prognosis.

Yet I am overwhelmingly sad watching the wall to wall coverage on television.

I looked up the definition of “legacy,” the word that the talking heads on my TV box keep throwing around. Legacy – Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past. I think it is this very word, “legacy,” that makes me so very sad. I fear that I’m not ready to inherit it yet.

To me, the passing of Ted Kennedy means the passing of my parents’ time. Theirs is a world I cannot even begin to understand. My parents watched the Vietnam war on televison, and my mother would quiver with sadness remembering the time she saw a live report in which a young American GI, cradled in the arms of one of his fellow soldiers, cried out, “Mom!” and died. My mother herself was holding a newborn baby girl, my sister Carrie, when President Kennedy was killed. Five years later, my mother cradled another new born, Laura, just two days old, when she was given the news that Robert F. Kennedy had also been assassinated. The Kennedy family could have been classmates of my parents. If Ted Kennedy experienced it, my parents experienced it. The death of his brothers, the war in Vietnam, civil rights, Nixon, Ford, Carter, hostages, arms, Reaganomics, AIDS, the 70’s, the 80’s, the cold war, the Berlin Wall. Their lives and experiences eventualy overlapped with mine, but my parents saw it from a different perspective. My parents, though removed by miles and social status and money and political ambition, KNEW what Ted Kennedy knew. It was their time.

Now, it’s my time.

I am 35 years old. Those of us at this age who have been paying any attention (and by that I mean, the non-Katy Abrams of the world) first got a fire in our belly in 1992. Love him or hate him, Bill Clinton made us think. But it wasn’t until this year, this president, this new administration, when we started to really inherit the country. It is NOW that we identify with the president, because he’s our age. He’s our type. He’s what we know as America. He’s familiar to us on a personal level. For better or worse (and to me, I beleive, for better), Barack Obama is our first glimpse at what it was like for our parents to identify with the Kennedys. And I’m excited. But I’m also sad. Because I don’t want my parents time to be done yet.

Yes, I’m 35. I am married and I own a home and have two children and have been on my own for quite some time. But still, I crave my parents’ counsel. I crave their approval. I hesitate to make big decisions without first thinking, “I wonder what Mom and Dad would think?” And now it’s time for their generation to hand the reigns to mine, and I am afraid to take them. They had ups and downs and made huge mistakes, but I think they did a good job overall. My generation seems capable of pushing forward, yet, I don’t want to mess up all their hard work. They did exactly what they were supposed to do — they prepped the world for us. Now it’s our turn. And I don’t know about anyone else, but that scares the bejeebies out of me.

My parents are happy and healthy, and I don’t necessarily expect them to leave this world any time soon. But with the passing of Ted Kennedy, it’s clear that it’s time for Mom and Dad to enjoy themselves, while me and my fellow Generation X’ers take on their legacy.

I hope we do right by you, Mom and Dad. And thanks for getting us there, Senator Kennedy.


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How far have we come?

Yesterday, I was walking home with my sons after school. It was a typical day, sun shining, warm but not hot, suburbia splattered all over the sidewalk. Frankly, I think, we’re living the dream.

Walking about 50 feet in front of me was a young boy and his mother. The boy was carrying a bag with his name on it: Muhammed. Across the street were a boy a girl, likely brother and sister, both well dressed, handsome and blonde.  I’m guessing 3rd and 4th graders. I walked out of the school yard surrounded by all these children and more. Like I said, it was a typical suburban day.

“Hey Muhammed! Hey Muhammed! Hey! Hey!” the  boy across the way started to yell.

“Muhammed! What’s wrong with you? Muhammed? I hear [inaudible name] likes you! She’s a weirdo!” the girl cries out.

Then the mocking kicks into high gear. A lot of it is hard to make out, but at one point, Muhammed turns and yells something back, and his mother leans in and whispers something to him. My guess, she was telling him to just ignore those kids. And yes, you just read that correctly — the kids were bullying Muhammed from across the road RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS MOTHER. When I was a kid, even the cruelest of bullies wouldn’t pick on someone when an adult was in earshot, let alone the MOTHER of the object of the bully’s contempt, lest his mother call your mother, and man would you ever get it. That used to be the key component of being a bully — they were actually just scared little bastards who lacked the balls to say something when the risk outweighed the reward. But apparently, no more.

I thought about it a little more, and realized that no way would these kids be mocking young Muhammed in front of  a teacher. But somewhere, along the line, someone taught them that while teachers are to be respected, the parents of other children are not. You don’t learn that in school. You learn that at home.

The mocking continues from the little girl, and finally, I’ve had it. At this point, I have no idea if they are bullying Muhammed because of his ethnicity, or if maybe he is just a weird little kid. I mean, they exist. My thought is it’s the former, I hope it’s the latter, and either way, it’s going to stop, and right now.

“Hey,” I holler. They both look. “Watch your mouth.”

The boy looks at me, unsure, but decides he doesn’t need to respect me, either.

“Muhammed, you’re not funny. But your name is!” the boy shouts.

“Oh yeah,” I shout back, “what’s YOUR name?”

The boy and girl both quickly run off in another direction, apparently done with their bullying for the day. Either they sensed that maybe I was the kind of person who would follow them home and tell their mother what they did, or they were just bored. I hope it’s the former, I bet it’s the latter, but either way, it’s over.

Muhammed’s mom glances back at me, smiles, nods, and goes on her way with her son.

Fast forward to this morning. I decide to talk to Hank quickly about what happened. During the entire exchange, he had hurried ahead with his friends, and didn’t see or hear any of it. So I lay it out for him. I tell him what the kids were yelling, what I said, what I think about why they were yelling. I reinforce a lesson I have tried to teach him over and over about how he has the choice to walk away from bullies. I tell him that’s it’s unacceptable to mock someone just because they are different from you, whether it’s their name or the color or their skin or any other reason. I explain to him why I stepped in and what I said to the kids.

And you know what he said? My beautiful 7-year-old, looking as serious as possible, looked at me, shrugged, and said, “Muhammed’s not a funny name. Sounds normal to me.”

It might just be baby steps, but maybe we’ve come a little further than I thought, at least in my own little slice of suburbia.


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