Wherefore art thou, Yugoslavia?

Our world changes as fast as weather in the South. It's gorgeous, warm and sunny today; rain and snow are forecast for tomorrow. (By the way: in a twist on my "pre" blog post, one TV forecaster is now calling it the "futurecast." Hmmm.

Our world changes as fast as weather in the South. It’s gorgeous, warm and sunny today; rain and snow are forecast for tomorrow. (By the way: in a twist on my “pre” blog post, one TV forecaster is now calling his forecasts “futurecasts.” Hmmm.)

Miles run today: 10

Age I was when I read about Anne Frank: 8

Year the Berlin Wall came down: 1989

When I was 13 and Sting was singing about whether the Russians loved their children too, I wondered: Did they really? How could they love their children so much if they were spending all of their time standing in long lines for toilet paper? Seemed like that would be distracting from the whole parenting thing.

And I was pretty sure both sets of leaders, American and Russian, would screw the whole thing up. I’d seen the boys in my classes, and they always had a hard time keeping their fingers off of buttons; presidents were only grown-up little boys.

Ergo: We were in big trouble.

I spent a lot of time listening to the “Dream of the Blue Turtles” album that year; “Fortress Around Your Heart” remains one of those pivotal songs in my life.

The English fortress thing spoke to me: I was way deep into King Arthur and longed for the days when men killed each other more elegantly, man-to-man, instead of obliterating whole states from across an ocean.

My daughter’s class is reading a novel based on a true story called, “A Long Walk to Water,” about children in Sudan who became “lost boys” when war broke out. The horrifying but gripping story has captured her imagination. I mentioned that she might want to read about Anne Frank, a young girl whose family hid from the Nazis but eventually died in the concentration camps.

She wanted to. So we went to the library and got the book.

There was a picture book of Anne’s life, too. We got the picture book.

There were heaps of dead bodies in the picture book.


Add it to the list of subjects she will need to discuss in therapy. We talked about how a lot of people died; dead bodies were the horrific reality.

She decided not to read about Anne Frank.

Now my son is concerned about North Korea. And nuclear bombs.

Around the dinner table, my husband and I talked with the kids about the Cold War, and the Berlin Wall, and guards who shot at people who tried to escape, and nuclear arms.

And then we YouTubed video from 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down.

“Will it be scary?” my daughter asked, putting her hands halfway over her eyes. “Will there be dead bodies?”

“No. It was like a huge street party with drinking and laughing and cheering. And sledgehammers,” I said.

Which now that I think about it sounds like a pretty scary idea.

The kids watched the video. It all happened a long time ago, way back in the 1900s, a century my children did not experience. The hair was… unfortunate.

But when I saw footage this morning from the Today show, with Matt and Savannah in Boston, men dressed up in redcoats and those representing the colonists, I realized: things change so fast.

To go from hating the British to being BFFs (and me marrying one), to go from a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union to calling it Russia and a bunch of smaller states, to go from a huge cement wall to a time when tiny fragments of the wall are all that remain…

When I was young I used to wonder why adults would say that they were horrible with geography. It was so easy. You learned the names and memorized where they were. How hard could that be?

Now I know: a third of the country names have changed since I learned them all back in high school. Wherefore art thou, Yugoslavia?

So when my son asked the other night, “Do you think we’ll ever be friends with North Korea?”

I had to say: “I think anything is possible.”

Also, I hope the North Koreans love their children, too.


Note to My Younger Self

You're welcome.

Years I spent in middle school: 3

Years it seemed like I spent in middle school: 14

Months until my son starts middle school: 5

Note to my sister: You are welcome. I removed all evidence of your bad outfits and side ponytails and left the horrific facts about my own childhood in. Although, to be honest, you were pretty much always cute anyway.

Dear Middle School-Aged Self,

I know it seems like you will never finish the worst years of your life. But you will, I promise. Until then, enjoy your fantasies about either moving to a different town far, far away or escaping to medieval England where things were much easier.

I thought I would help you by sending a letter back in time so you can see that things worked out fine; kind of a reverse of the time capsules teachers keep making you do. I mean, look at that cute kid in the picture frame up there. You marry him. Yes, you’re welcome. Now that we’ve settled that, here are a few things that will help you see that this too, shall pass.

1. You never get cool. I know. You were hoping for good news. But it’s okay, really. You meet some truly amazing people, make lots of friends over the years and have memories you wouldn’t trade for a winning lottery ticket. And the greatest part is, the people who really matter don’t care that you’re not cool.

2. You are now the ugliest you will ever be for the rest of your life. That horrible haircut and questionable color combinations you’re wearing now? Gone. You have survived them, and since Mom and Dad have recorded them for posterity, you are providing all of us middle-aged people with lots to laugh about.

Also, a big plus about being ugly as a pre-teen is that a.) you get it over with, and b.) you still have friends. Look around you: there are people who are willing to be friends with you now who can look past the braces and bad skin and horrible haircut. I guess Mom was right about it building character.

Oh, wait. She said that about driving an ugly car–I forgot to tell you that part. You will get a huge, ugly car when you’re 16. Just look out the window in the driveway–it’s the one Dad got when you were four. Yep. That’s the one. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that plaid interior is yours, baby. And whether it’s a car or your face, having an ugly one can be a weird, cosmic character builder.

3. You really will remember your locker combination. Don’t stress.

4. The things you admire now may not be the same things you covet later on. The ankles on that girl in your homeroom? The ones you think bunchy, outfit-matching socks look so cool on? Future people actually come up with a name for those: cankles. When you grow up, you’ll be glad you have skinny ankles. Get over it and move on.

5. No one will ever proposition you to take drugs in the way you’re expecting. I am so proud of you for listening to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” advice. And I know the words are right there, ready to be spoken just in case someone tries to push some cocaine or heroin on you in between second and third period at your locker. But you can relax. Your un-cool vibe communicates your “no” message just fine in a non-verbal way. And you know what? Good job.

6. Mom was right about the popular kids. You’re not a popular kid, and shoot, you never will be. But all those times when Mom said that they had weird s*&$ going on in their lives that I couldn’t imagine, she was right. Everyone has to fight his or her own battles.

Even when you get into high school, and you see the cute cheerleader with the awesome car with painted, matching wheels, try to keep in mind that her life is not the bowl of cherries you seem to think it is. You have a mom and dad who love you, a sister you can laugh about your mom and dad with, and good friends around you. You are about 20 steps ahead of the pack, girlfriend.

7. Free time: cherish it and stop worshipping that cute boy. Yes, silly, I know he’s cute. And those boys who make you laugh in science and math class are funny. Start concentrating on yourself.

Geez. Learn some binary code and programming skills.

Keep reading as many books as you can get your hands on. Never again will you have so much time to read, play at the pool and jump around to your favorite music.

Stop thinking that you’re bored. One day, when you’re almost 40, you will wonder how you can fit everything you want to do into a 24-hour time frame. But now, time is yours. Wrap it around you, and give yourself a big hug. You’re going to need it.

Wait. I forgot to caution you: don’t select Eastern Europe as your newspaper project when you get to high school. You think that not much happens there, and it will be an easy A. But lots of stuff goes down, my friend. Truly. You know the Berlin Wall? Oh. I guess I can’t tell you. But just trust me on this one.