Charles and Sally

Charles and Sally
en route to Le Diner en Blanc

Le Diner en Blanc New York

Le Diner en Blanc New York
Lincoln Center 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

PROTECTING OUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN

As mothers we try to keep our children safe and free from harm, and then when the next generation comes along we try to provide the same kind of protection to our grandchildren. We even want to shield them from some of life’s emotional blows. But at some point we are often made painfully aware that our love and our best efforts are not always enough. They get hurt physically and they get hurt emotionally. When we – and they – are lucky, they recover and use those difficult times to learn from and to grow.

But as was made clear to me anew by the publication of my daughter Dorri’s powerful and heartbreaking essay, “Defriending My Rapist,” published in The New York Times online on January 13 and in print on January 15, I was not only unable to protect her from a horrifying experience when she was only 13 – I never even knew about it until many years later. Sure that it was her fault that she had been attacked, and also sure that if she told her parents we would go to the school and demand that the boys involved be held responsible for their actions, and that she would then be bullied at school for having “told,” Dorri kept this secret for years.

We knew that Dorri was having a troubled adolescence, and we tried to help – by speaking to her guidance counselor in junior high, arranging for her to see therapists, providing positive family experiences. But until Dorri was 26 and had sought out a therapist herself, she never unburdened herself of the long-repressed secret that was causing so many problems in her life.

By going public with her story 37 years after the attack, both with her essay and her appearance on Dr. Drew’s television show, Dorri wants to tell young people (boys as well as girls) that if something like this should happen to them, they shouldn’t blame themselves, and they should go to an adult who can help them. It’s never the victim’s fault, no matter what she wears and what she does – it is always the attacker’s fault.

Dorri has received hundreds of responses to her essay and TV appearance, many of which came from other victims who also never told anyone -- boys and girls who are now adults. So many say that the incidents and shame nearly destroyed their lives, and many said that Dorri had inspired them to finally talk about these traumas.

I hope that my grandchildren never have to undergo anything like this – but that if they do, that they will be able to ask for – and to get – help.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

9TH EDITION OF “BABY AND CHILD CARE” by Benjamin Spock, M.D. JUST PUBLISHED

Like many grandmothers of today, I raised my three daughters with the assistance of my dog-eared copy of “Baby and Child Care.” And then my children raised their children with revised editions of this enormously helpful work, which in its newest incarnation still starts out with those comforting, confidence-building words, “You know more than you think you do.”

Yesterday I was thrilled to be part of the book launch for this new edition of "Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care." The book party was hosted by Mary Morgan, Dr. Spock’s wife for 25 years until his death in 1998 at the age of 94, and was attended by Robert Needlman, M.D., the pediatrician who has carried on Dr. Spock’s legacy by writing the 8th and the 9th editions, and other celebrants who either knew Ben Spock or honored his memory. The event at the venerable Greenwich Village CaffĂ© Vivaldi was an exciting mix of tributes to this outstanding man, songs and music from the beautiful Iranian singer Rana Farhan and her band featuring the poetry of the Persian poet Rumi, good food, and good feelings. I felt honored to be there.

One of the most exciting days of my life was the one back in 1973 when both Dr. Spock and I were interviewed on the TV show Midday New York. After the show, I wrote this great man the following letter:

“Dear Dr. Spock:
“I’m sure that you must be used to reactions such as you got from me last week when I met you at “Midday” – heartfelt gratitude from a mother whose hand you held and whose confidence you raised as I brought up my children. And I’m sure you know how many people admire, respect, and support you for your outspoken and deep involvement in the peace movement. (We didn’t talk about this at all, but I am one of those people.) But I don’t know how often you think of yourself as a sex symbol, so I thought you might enjoy hearing what 16-year-old Nancy said about you.
“As we were sitting at lunch, my friend Sue and I were talking about how excited we were about having actually met you in person after having relied on you in print for so many years, and how wonderful it was to have someone in our lives whom we continued to respect over the years and in such different contexts. Then we talked about your extreme youthfulness at 70 – and here’s where my nubile daughter piped up with: ‘If I were 18, I’d really want to go after him, but since I’m under-age now, I wouldn’t want to get him in trouble.’ All I can say is that I hope she continues to have such good taste!
“All best wishes, Sally”

Then a few weeks later I got another thrill when I received the following letter:

“Dear Sally:
“I rarely get such an appreciative, flattering letter as yours. I’d be a spoiled second childhood child if I did. Your daughter’s remark was particularly exciting.
“Affectionately, Ben”

I went on to interview Ben Spock a couple of times for different writing projects and found him warm and wise and generous with his time. I feel blessed to have these memories.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

WRITERS EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE FUND

Was I surprised to see that my last entry in these pages was almost two months ago, when I was volunteering for the NYC Marathon! Well, let’s see – soon afterwards there was Thanksgiving, when I volunteered for the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund (WEAF), a program administered by the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), the wonderful organization for nonfiction freelance writers which I have been a member of for almost all my writing life.

This volunteer stint was also fun – since for the first time WEAF held a fund-raiser in the Broadway offices of the ASJA, which meant that all of us who were there on Thanksgiving morning (including grandchildren) had a perfect view of the incredible Macy’s parade. And we knew we were helping a good cause. Tax-deductible contributions to WEAF help established freelance writers who, because of advanced age, illness, disability, a natural disaster, or an extraordinary professional crisis are unable to work, and a writer need not be a member of ASJA to qualify for a grant. To contribute, to request help, and to find more information about the program, go to www.asja.org.

And have a happy new year!