Two Pairs of Keds

"One for dress, one for everyday."


Jeri Preston

POV? Collector. Cook. These combine sometimes, having a vintage cookbook collection, from which I try recipes, updating some, and publishing. Commentarian. Not really a word, but preferred to critic, which seems to imply something's always wrong. There are a great many wonderful things. Current student...after 30 years away from the classroom. These points of view provide a launching pad. "Two Pairs of Keds" is from my childhood, when I would get two brilliantly white pairs of sneakers, one in which to run around the neighborhood, and one in which to attend parties and family reunions. This is a good summation of my life. Enjoy! Write back, if you will.

Black and the Big Toy Box

We’re being held accountable to our biases. To take a look. To think. Years after this experience, I want to sweep it under a rug. Claim it doesn’t inform how I think and how I react. And that would be a lie.

Black and the Big Toy Box at Sears

Jeri Sands [Preston] Sr Pic 1978

Alright, then. When I was in high school in the 1970s, a kid could expect to get a retail job during the holidays to put a bit of ready cash in our bank accounts, allowing us to buy family gifts and to save for college. Actually, it was almost pro forma; every one of my middle class friends were expected to do it.

And so, I happened to apply at the Jackson (MI) Sears store in Paka Plaza, as it was known at the time, for holiday employment. Many department stores converted warehouse and storage spaces into a wonderland of toys for the holidays, filled, at least early in the season, with Stretch Armstrong, and Hot Wheels, and Easy Bake Ovens, and Barbie Dream Houses. I got a job as Santa’s helper at the Big Toy Box at Sears. And on this job, I ran into Bennie.

One of the first nights I worked, he came around the corner of the Big Toy Box warehouse and I nearly jumped out of my white skin. He was the first black man I had ever encountered on my own. I’m sure that revealed my physical reaction to his nearness. I was too culturally insensitive and sheltered to hide it.

From then, on, every time we worked together, Bennie would advance on me. Make a gesture, like quickly twitching his shoulders or slightly moving his arms toward me. He would grimace and his eyes would narrow. And then, in unfeigned disgust, he would walk away. By these motions, I extrapolated that he meant me harm. I dreaded being assigned together on our Toy Box shifts.

Let’s turn back the clock one or two ticks. I had previously lived in Norwalk, OH, where I did not know one black or brown student until seventh grade. For one year, in eighth grade, I moved to Cleveland, OH, but my newly expanded cultural experience was by meeting Poles, learning from food and family gatherings of people with the last names Tomasko, Misechko, and Timko.

Jackson, however, was culturally divided by Francis Street. On my side, unbeknownst to me when I moved in ninth grade (1974), the whites lived. Cross Francis? That was the neighborhood of blacks. I had never lived anywhere like it. I saw life by spending the majority of my years in the sepia tones of rural America, but here, there was Francis Street and Stonewall Road. By my senior year, I knew you could define yourself by your proximity. 

And boy, howdy, did Bennie’s proximity scare me witless.

Bennie Williams Jr Sr Pic 1978

I never saw him there, but Bennie and I went to the same high school. Turns out at graduation, as I came sidling across the folding chairs toward the center aisle, Bennie came out from the opposite side. He caught my eye. He did a chin-up nod and cracked a smile, which made me suddenly realize he had beautiful teeth and was pretty good looking. We were walking partners to the stage.

Today, I look back at the Big Toy Box and wonder. Forty-two years ago, what would’ve happened if I had not been such a racist? What if, instead of jumping, I had smiled? Said hi? Asked about his favorite subjects at Parkside? Can you imagine going to work knowing some lily-white girl was going act like you were going to jump her, each and every time you saw each other, over the holidays? Why wouldn’t some exasperated, frustrated, harassed part of you act like you were the embodiment of her worst, inaccurate fears?

Black Lives Matter: #BLM

Growing up in white, rural Ohio, I was aware of MLK: he had a dream, but he was shot and died. When I was an adolescent in Cleveland, I heard vaguely about the Detroit riots: Black Panthers were armed and dangerous. When I lived in Jackson, MI, I knew that there was a white side of town and a black side of town. As an adult, I’ve moved across the country, from LA, to Philadelphia, to Detroit, and I thought I knew. I liked the phrase “all lives matter” because it made me feel better, more hopeful, less guilty. One day not too long ago, I repeated that phrase to a white friend and colleague. Her face – and she is one of the kindest people I know – said it all and started my education regarding racism.

For years, my kids and I have watched “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus.”* To understand humanity, Claus is taken on a tour of the world to see children far and wide. In one scene, a feudal lord smacks his lips while feeding his family on the beets that were literally beaten from the hands of their serfs. The lord says to his servant, “Teach them to read! Before long, they’ll want what we’ve got. We can’t have that, can we, Jameson?” To which the retainer replies, in long British tones, “Of course not, sir.”

Of course they want what we’ve got: the ability to walk without being feared or threatened. The ability to get better jobs, live in better neighborhoods. Who wouldn’t? But if they rage against the injustice, appear threatening, make a motion, even take a knee, we quiver. Better to shut them down, we reason, for the smallest infringement in order to prevent the heinous. We do this even as we blithely excuse our white neighbors. A white person can rage against cops in a capitol building while carrying a gun. A black person? Shot, because we feel threatened. You’d think I would’ve made a more direct correlation to this Christmas show made not too long after my high school graduation, but I didn’t until I saw the video of Kimberly Jones, where she said, “And you’re lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.”

There was plenty of space in the Big Toy Box at Sears even though, day after day, I jumped and jumped and jumped. There was room to walk toward a diploma together. For years, I had room to educate myself, but I didn’t. Of what was I afraid?

I fear the coronavirus, but you know what? At some point in the not-too-distant future, I believe society, especially our scientists and medical professionals, will master the testing and find a vaccination. This isn’t forever. You know what feels like forever? When people are too stubborn to look a black or brown person in the eye, to smile, to talk, to listen, and to share resources for four hundred years and counting. 400 years! Using the broadest definition of a generation, that’s 12 generations of racism in America, since we brought black people here and sold them into slavery. Not only was the ‘Toy Box’ big enough all four centuries, this country and its people are big enough. It’s time.


*1985 Rankin Bass
[The feature images is actually of a Marshall Fields store at Christmas, but it resembled the Toy Box enough for me to use it.]

A Grey Balloon and a Whole Chicken.

I’m not downplaying what’s going on right now. If you’ve been under a rock, it’s COVID-19, it’s a pandemic, it’s global, it’s in our nation, it’s in my town, and if it hasn’t arrived yet, it’s coming toward you.

No one likes this message. As a country, we were so adverse to it that we forestalled precautions which cost lives. I’m not here to blame any one person. First, China lied. Then, it swept across countries. Our administration thought the US could escape by closing its borders to incoming flights. History will tell the tale.

But there’s a here and now. And that story, which is playing out across our states and our cities, particularly across our metropolitan areas, is that we’re dying. We’re infected. We’ve been asked, by local and state officials, to “Stay in Place.”

There is so much evidence for pandemic spread that it could fill a blog post. I won’t add it here, because anyone who might be persuaded has been, already, and people who don’t want to hear it are willfully ignoring it. “It can’t happen to us. It’s not our problem. We’re small. We’ll escape. It will only impact our old and dying. We refuse to believe.”

Today, a seismic shift took place: people protested at Michigan’s capital against the perceived abuse of their rights. And this is where I cannot let the record stand without pushing back on a group of people who want to “make America great,” harkening back to some illusive period in time no one can really fingerprint.

I’m going to say that most are thinking of the “great wars to end all wars.” Or maybe something less tangible in between. Korea? Vietnam? Whatever. We’ve been “great” for so long, it’s hard to recall when we faltered, missed a stride, failed to represent everything a democracy has to offer.

But I’m going to push history down your throats, you willful deceivers of the truth and distorters of your ever-loving “constitutional rights.” We actually have been here before. It’s not the first time. It’s not the last that we will be asked to act in the best interests of our neighbors and or our nation.

Begin quote:
“In 1942, a rationing system was begun to guarantee minimum amounts of necessities to everyone (especially poor people) and prevent inflation. Tires were the first item to be rationed in January 1942 because supplies of natural rubber were interrupted. Gasoline rationing proved an even better way to allocate scarce rubber. In June 1942 the Combined Food Board was set up to coordinate the worldwide supply of food to the Allies, with special attention to flows from the U.S. and Canada to Britain. By 1943 one needed government-issued ration coupons to purchase coffee, sugar, meat, cheese, butter, lard, margarine, canned foods, dried fruits, jam, gasoline, bicycles, fuel oil, clothing, silk or nylon stockings, shoes, and many other items. Some items, like automobiles and home appliances, were no longer made. The rationing system did not apply to used goods like clothes or cars, but they became more expensive since they were not subject to price controls.

To get a classification and a book of rationing stamps, one had to appear before a local rationing board. Each person in a household received a ration book, including babies and children. When purchasing gasoline, a driver had to present a gas card along with a ration book and cash. Ration stamps were valid only for a set period to forestall hoarding. All forms of automobile racing were banned, including the Indianapolis 500 which was canceled from 1942 to 1945. Sightseeing driving was banned.”*

For my grandfather’s birthday, quite a few years ago, I collected family recollections. One was from my Uncle Roger, who recalled getting a grey balloon for his celebration during WWII. Today’s American citizen has no way to process this disappointment. I can’t think of one child of my acquaintance who would placidly accept this as their due.

Oh, but I’m not immune. Today, it took me three stores to find a whole chicken for a recipe I want to try. And was I frustrated? Yes, indeed.

Don’t look away. This happened in our country. And it is happening today. To you, who wish to live your MAGA lives, entitled and protected against anything that disappoints or diverts you from you willfulness, what are you actually DOING to prevent the spread of this disease? If you are not yet impacted, woe be unto you. This disease has no compassion, no consideration of your income, place in society, or personal feelings about who holds office. If you are in a rural area, I hope when the peak hits, your community hospitals can support you.

There has never been a time when we need to understand and appreciate our history more. And there has never been a time when we have been so overwhelmingly gaslighted against believing it.



Honestly, I don’t have enough time to provide you with the evidence you need, nor would you read it. I realize that the people who are resistant won’t read this blog. My goal of “Two Pairs of Keds” has always been to make a story-record for my children. Peace be with you.









Stolen Tuna: Our Response to the Pandemic

Waiting on the heroes.

The stories we love to tell, the photos we like to see, are those of better heroes.

pandemic sheila sweeting
Photo Courtesy of Sheila Sweeting

Of course we would do the same, given the opportunity. Until then, these modern heroes reflect us, the people we believe ourselves to be. We post away, sharing and sharing, again, on Facebook and Twitter. Humanity, at its kindest. We are benevolent. We are kindred spirits. At some point, they emerge, filtering like sun through a speckled window, dust motes glittering down. Like neighbors in Italy, singing to each other across an alley in Siena. Like makeshift quarantine walls built by hospital staff in Grand Rapids, keeping an aggressive virus at bay one sheet at a time, as we realize that medical units across the country must be doing the same [pictured].  Heartwarming, they allow us to feel…what? Touched? Warmed? A bit sanctimonious?

While we wait for these extraordinary stories, here are a few things you can do to make life easier on yourself, your friends, and your neighbors.

Don’t steal the tuna: regulate your stockpiling.

Multiple times over the last couple of days, I’ve seen paper signs and internet posts about stores realizing a need to limit the number of items customers are stockpiling [pictured]. In the silliest examples, it’s toilet paper. Even though diarrhea is not a symptom of COVID-19, we are, apparently, afraid to do without our Charmin.  In the severest examples, it’s simple cold medications that could help children or the elderly stave off the cold-like congestion and sneezing of the virus.

pandemic emily rambo
Photo Courtest of Emily Rambo

One friend, who is out of town, trying to take care of her dearly departed father’s remains, had cans of tuna taken right from the shopping cart. Cans of tuna? The straw that broke my friend’s back wasn’t her inability to plan her father’s funeral, as churches are closed. It wasn’t her inability to get into his care facility to break up his former home. It was when, as a guest in a community, far from home and trying to pull together supper, someone decided they could take her few cans of tuna.

You may not be cooking your first choice in meals. You may be curtailed from eating out at your favorite restaurant. But nowhere, in global reporting, are we hearing about food supplies being cut off. Don’t steal the tuna.

Wash your hands: recall what you should’ve learned during potty training.

This is not new news. Did you know there’s a Global Handwashing Day? You do, now. No matter the beating drum, we failed to hear and adhere to this one.

Now? We’re engaged in finding 20-second songs to sing while we do a good job cleansing ourselves, particularly after using the restroom (euphemistically speaking): 31% of men and 65% of women fail to do so, according to the CDC. You’d think we would’ve evolved in the wake of indoor plumbing.

Don’t believe this is worse than the flu? Still holding on that the federal administration has this covered? That’s your right, but you can still do us all a favor and spend 20 seconds doing something you should be doing anyways.

Hit “pause”: understand that your wants will be delayed.

I can’t find it now, but there’s a new meme floating around that is counting on the sheer selfishness of people who will treat school closures as a mini-vacation for kids. It shows some little boy at a miniature golf course, preparing to sink a putt, which most parents realize, in reality, is a shot that will ricochet wildly and end up very close to his sister. [If you find it, feel free to post it here.]

Obviously the point of the closures is that we are supposed to stay inside, to put in place social distancing, to forgo those events that are directly in line to spread the virus. This is why athletic games, band concerts, and graduation ceremonies are officially cancelled across the country.

We are not good at this, particularly in an era when just about everything is at our fingertips. Some are harkening back to an earlier time, when cell phones didn’t exist, media viewing wasn’t available 24/7, when kids played primarily outside, and lots of people shared in parlor games and music. I hesitate to point out that this time period was less than ideal for many people, but the elegance of the argument is that we were more self-reliant for our entertainments.

A couple of my favorite answers to this dilemma are the bookstores that are offering shipping at reduced cost (2 Dandelions in Brighton and Literati in Ann Arbor), the museums offering virtual tours, and operas opening up online performance streams.

Slow down. Look at what’s available to you.

A bit on heroism: if you see people who need help, then help, but don’t suffer alone.

Those who have been following the spread of this pandemic closely are watching the economic ramifications. Sure, the feds might pour $1.5 trillion into Wall Street, but there is little or no comfort to be found at the local and small business level. Americans have been ordered to stay home, work remotely, distance themselves, and carry Purell at all times.

If your neighbor owns a diner, do they try to stay open and give their employees a paycheck? What if no one comes and orders? If you own a boutique, do you clean and clean and clean, hoping that shoppers brave edicts to stay home? Service and entertainment industries are the first to feel the impact and likely last to see government assistance, though there is some reassurance that those currently employed can file for unemployment due to the pandemic, but if you’re self-employed? Ouch.

Americans, particularly our recently graduated college students, have been carrying more debt that ever before. (There may be some relief in repaying interest on student loans during this period. Stay tuned.) Though the large business sector may have rebounded from the 2008 recession, many families have not. It’s almost certain that we’ll see a rash of bankruptcies.

What are heroes going to do? You might buy gift cards to those local businesses, holding them for better times ahead.

We also know that closing public institutions, like schools, will eliminate not just the students’ education for the near future, but services including meals and childcare. Already, many districts have coalesced to feed our hungry children. Here’s information on Brighton Area Schools and Detroit Public Schools. Consider donating or reaching out to service providers on how you can contribute. (Apparently, after concerned citizens resolved to feed the hungry, we needed government, tragically slow to respond to any of these needs, to approve the food distribution upon which neighbors had already resolved. No thanks necessary.)

And if you’re that person directly impacted? Reach out. Look for relief. Please don’t feel that stoicism* is required of heroes.

More to come.

Experts agree that the wave, or tsunami, hasn’t crested yet in the United States. You can expect the pandemic to test your character, your belief in your neighbors and your country. At the least, you will be sorely inconvenienced, put out, and shut down for period of time. You will wait. You will do without. You might need to let someone go ahead of you or give them your last can of tuna. Resolve to do so now, dear hero. When the time comes to make the decision, you will already be in motion.

Getting started? Try the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Featured Image: By ​English Wikipedia user Daniel Case, CC BY-SA 3.0,

*Def stoicism (Oxford Dictionary): the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.






Two died

Too close together

A fog rose up 


I held your jewelry

Looked at your furniture

Both in my house

But far from mine


Too few

Places for comfort

The child inside


Unloading memories

Two women strong

Too far away

No after work call


To deal

To lay you down

I sat alone


Immobile, couch gazing

Memory shapes

Your recipes

Your leftovers


Two died

Nine months between

Both mothers 


Weeding through gardens

Of your lives

I would keep

I would lose



I sit with you


By things

Table, platter, earring

You, steadfast

You, enabling

Me, too



The story

Of women

I move

Straightening your lives

I want you

Here with me

You’re gone




A howler.

via A howler.
From “Sometime, I cook.”

A howler.

howl [ houl ]

verb (used without object)
to utter a loud, prolonged, mournful cry, as that of a dog or wolf.
to utter a similar cry in distress, pain, rage, etc.; wail. []

This week is a real howler. No, not like the one delivered to Ron Weasley, although I’ve had those, too. This is just one, long series of intense work-related tasks. There’s an end in sight, but there is also a piece to go. How to alleviate stress? I already ordered myself a cranberry velvet swing jacket – happy birthday, me – for the holidays and a pair of cheetah flats for the fall. So, let’s cook. And bake.

Zucchini & Navy Bean Soup

It’s not quite fall-fall, but it’s in the 70’s, so soup is fair game. This will make you feel like a true home economist, using up quite a few garden items in your kitchen.

1 m zucchini, about 1-1 1/2 c sliced in quarters (I like the skin on)0828192037b
2 T olive oil
2 c clean spinach, stems removed
1/4 c basil chiffonade
2-3 c diced San Marzano tomatoes
1 1/2 c tomato sauce
2 c navy or white beans
1 c water

This could not get any easier. I started with dry beans, but use canned if you’ve got ’em.

In large sauce pan, saute sliced zucchini in olive oil until crunchy tender. Sprinkle w/ salt & pepper. Add tomatoes and sauce, bringing to a bubble. Add spinach and basil. Stir in beans. We like a bit of broth in our soup. You, too? Add the water. Heat through. Serve with a nice bread, sharp dry cheese. Swizzle the top of the ladled soup with EVOO.

Note: You can freeze this beauty for the dark, winter months, when the wind is truly howling.

Nectarine Almond Cobbler

I get excited when I see crates of nectarines and peaches. Then, I get them home and realize it’s just me and Bill. Cake lasts longer, right? Although I’ll admit this reads more like a pudding right out of the oven. No, you’re right. This is not a diet dish. You saved calories with the soup. (Adapted from Grits & Gouda.)

4-5 decently ripe nectarines (peeling optional), stoned, and cut into 1/2″ slices
1/3 c butter
1 c self-rising flour
1 c sugar
3/4 c milk (not skim)
1 T good almond extract
1/4-1/2 c sliced almonds
cinnamon & sugar

Heat oven to 350F. Use a 9×9″ baking dish. Cut butter and place around bottom of dish. Melt in oven.

Make batter, stirring together flour and sugar. Mix with milk and almond extract. Gently fold in nectarines or peaches. Remove melted butter from oven. Spoon batter directly onto butter without stirring. Repeat: do not stir batter into butter. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon & sugar. Bake 40 minutes.

Note: I just bought a beautiful almond extract from Horrocks, so I went with it, rather than vanilla. Following the cited recipe, I did draw off some of the bubbling butter with a baster, when I removed the dish from the oven. This is why I reduced the butter to 1/3 c. A dollop of whipped cream would not go amiss. It’s dense and moist. Eat warm.

This brought the week down to a whimper, at least.

Lost People

via Lost People

Lost People

At some point in my 30s, I was drowning in people. I had so many people to care for, I often couldn’t remember their comings and goings, so I wrote my friends’ itineraries on my calendar: so-and-so goes here, this one has a doctor’s appointment next week (cancer), friend back from trip to (insert location) now.

At the holidays, I kept elaborate lists of gifts, shipping times, and a budget. Throughout the year I would keep my eye out for good deals on great things or small things, but I got earnest in September. If I spread the spending out, it was more a slow bleed than a hemorrhage, but everyone got their share right down to the grandparents who, I’m sure, were never surprised to receive a Christmas towel or framed picture of the kids.

At work, I coordinated over 200 volunteer positions a year. I made it my goal to know personal bits about everyone, if possible. This was a lesson I learned by my mother telling me on my wedding day that one of the guests shared our now anniversary. In the receiving line, I said to Eleanor, “And congratulations to you, too.” You’d think I’d hung a star in her name. Note to self: people need to be seen and known.

I could never make my mother happy with any number of visits. I think she would’ve planned years in advance, if I’d let her. No sooner did we put away the dishes on a family dinner, she would ask about the next moment, holiday, or trip. One year, I was packing up the car from a visit with the kids (and without Bill) where I had struggled over the long weekend with a sinus infection. To this day, the thought of sitting in an aquarium watching dolphins leap for tiny fishes through hoops dangling high in moist, humid air brings the onset of a headache. I digress.

Kids were shouting, restless with energy they would pack into the car on the drive home. I carried last pieces, all the bells and whistles necessary to divert them on the five hour drive or six with potty breaks. My mom had the snacks.

And she said, “So about the holidays…”

The holidays?? I wasn’t even out the door on a sultry Indiana day in August. The anticipation of a return six hour drive made my head pound.

I replied, “Gee. I don’t know. I need to check with Bill and his family,” helplessly shrugging my shoulders, sensing impending doom, ten bags shifting in my hands.

“But, it’s just that with our calendar, we need to plan,” she pressed.

“I don’t know, mom. Can’t it wait until I get home?” I stalled.

“Well, if it’s too hard to make plans with your own mother, I just won’t ask,” she banged the door on our conversation. But I wasn’t done.

“Mom,” I heaved, “Quit making yourself a martyr.”

Her response? She threw a three pound bag of apples at my head.

mom christmas 2012
Mom: Who taught me how to wear the hats and keep plates spinning, at the same time. I owe my calendar to you.

At home, my kids were growing up. Not only did I work with a group of over one hundred preschool through elementary kids, I tried my best to fit in band, PTO, musicals, choir, soccer, a bit of la crosse, tennis, and befriend the good parents and volunteers. There were little gift bags and notes of thanks to make, signed in childish scrawl.

Oh, and the parties. There were Christmas parties for eighty-some people, open houses that I was sure no one would attend, and within the first ten minutes I wanted to cancel, until everyone showed up and the house was rocking. There were kids’ themed birthdays right up through Anne’s junior year (Sesame Street – another story), prom photo parties, Halloween trick-or-treating. One year, I thought my Sweeting side of the family should come and look through all the old photos my grandpa had shared with me. Another, when my dad’s health took a turn, I thought it was important to have his wife’s people over. When those photo booths were popular, I made enough snow man hats and Santa beards for about fourteen people, who all smiled through an open gilded frame.

shirley christmas 2012
MIL: Shirley. The best. 

We’d get phone calls on Christmas day: “What time will you be here?” My eyes would roll. Bill’s eyes would roll. We would say to each other, “It’s like the party can’t start until the grandkids arrive.” What time should we eat? Is it okay that Uncle Jim wants to sit by the TV and watch the Lions while we’re all in the dining room? Who wants a glass of wine? Or two? Or three? Who bought Sam a siren-ringing police car, roaring fire truck, and honking long-hauler, all in one year? Can someone just turn out the lights?

And then, we lost people. A few of those school mate parents stayed around, but my job change divorced me from the life of the church. Family members moved on or passed away, one by one. Within several years, we lost three of our parents, my dad gone years before. Siblings now take care of their own grown up families.

me christmas 2012
Me. Wearing all the hats.

Our last Thanksgiving comprised the five of us and my sweet nephew.

I said to my friend Kathy, over breakfast this summer, “I have to find some people.”

Do I sound like a martyr?

I feel like one. I’m not hard-wired for this. An extroverted introvert, I get myself up for the festival, the family, the finale. I love each and every one. I never, ever, in my wildest dreams, anticipated running out of people, of losing so many loved ones who can’t be replaced.

I don’t think I’m done. I’ve been thinking about it, what it takes to bring people into your heart. To create family. To make spaces where people can reside, rest, have fun. But this summer and last, in somber retrospect, have been about facing the lost people. I miss you all more than words can say.


Photo credit: National Lampoon, “Christmas Vacation,” 1983.

80-10-10 and Adult Kids

There are so many blogs about raising little kids today. There’s an almost tyrannical glee expressed by people who believe they’re doing it perfectly: perfect whole foods, perfect playthings, perfect play dates, perfect parties, perfect vacations, while you maintain the perfect career and perfect date night with your partner, all which culminate to make you perfect parents. And then, there’s the counter-culture: relax, let go, don’t let the primadonnas get to you, you’re doing the best that you can. My favorites in this category are Kristina Kuzmic and Tiffany Jenkins.

Where’s all the help and encouragement for parenting once they’ve grown and left the house? Because it doesn’t end. Am I right? (I see you nodding.)

There’s a conversation with my mom that I often replay in my head. I’m newly married. Bill and I have bought a house. We’re inordinately proud and have my younger brother (by only 18 months) to visit often. This time, he’s at our house because he managed to cut the tip of two fingers off, one to the first knuckle, in a tire changer at work. I’m looking at him, while I’m talking to her on the wall-mounted phone in the kitchen, tethered to a long cord.

“I don’t know, mom. He looks pretty good. A little pale, but he’s got painkillers and he’s here. And he’s okay.”


“Why are you crying?” I ask, clearly having provided her all the comfort she could need.

“It’s just that I worked so hard to keep him intact,” she trembles.

Oh, momma, do I get it now.

Example. This past weekend, we were all together to celebrate a late Father’s Day and birthday. These are great times, filled with good eats, good conversation, laughs, moments treasured. At some point, I walked out to the garage to find my son on his dirt bike (still stored in my garage, but I have dreams) without a helmet. Twenty-nine years old and no helmet.

So, I say, “Don’t forget your helmet.”

And he says, “Ma, it’s not like I’ve never been on a dirt bike before.”

And all of sudden, he’s twelve. I want to ground him from his bike and ask how smart he’ll be when his brains are scrambled, for the love of Mike.*

Later, the three of them and two girlfriends go kayaking. A couple of hours go by. Then, the third. Really? How long does it take to go down the river from Island Lake? I start texting. No response. Could all of them drown together? Aren’t there odds against that? Why can’t anyone respond?

They finally cobble together enough responses for me to get the drift: a wait for enough kayaks for all, a longer paddle than expected, a wait for the livery to get them back to the parking lot. All is well. I breathe.

That night, they drive home, promising to text when they’ve arrived. The baby is particularly on my mind; her roommate is on vacation and she’ll be alone in a mostly decent neighborhood in Madison Heights for a week. Still. Crazy people abound.

You know what happens. Or doesn’t. No text. No reply to mine. The next day, she posts this meme on Facebook:

no text
[All credit to the Simpsons creators and all acknowledgment given to copyrights.]
Hysterical. Of course, her brother “liked” it. He probably fell at some point without a helmet, so anything is funny.

Parents of adult kids, I’m feeling you. I’m feeling me. They warn you that it never ends. They’re right. And these are just little things.

There’s no manual for the biggies – we can only reflect our own, real, lived experiences.  (Yikes.) Parents can’t mend broken hearts when kids are teenagers, much less adults. We can’t fix crappy jobs and worse bosses. We have no magic wand to ward off anxiety and depression. We may see their lives dimly, when they’re away. We’re protected from the worst of it or we’re not. We may see it in full, living color. We can try to advise, but it’s not always welcome. When we do advise, even if we’re on a roll with actual wisdom (some days, it flows more freely than others), we hope we’re not just making it worse. I mean, what do we know? We’re vividly aware we’re not perfect, and we’re not just soothing egos when they haven’t made the high school soccer team anymore.

Way back when, my dad attended a conference, I think through work, that got him really excited. He came home and said, “Studies have shown that 80 percent of the things we worry about never happen. Ten percent of the things we worry about, we have no control over. There’s only about ten percent of our worries that we can change.” This fit my dad’s personality to a T; he was a glass-half-full, simple man and this affirmed his belief that he should just let go. He would frequently toss out to me, “80-10-10,” as a way to say, “Don’t worry. Be happy.”

As an oldest child, ruler of the world, Virgo, Type A, full-stop control freak, this blithe dismissal of worry frustrated me to no end. Thank you, no. I prefer to be in charge of my entire life. (It will come as no surprise that I’ve also had an on-again, off-again relationship with turning my life over in prayer. Heavenly Father, you know me.)

I went looking for the citation on this, but it was so long ago, the studies have changed. Today’s headlines are more like “Yes, 85% of what we worry about never happens.” Here’s one version: Researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that eight-five percent (yes – 85%) of what we worry about never happens. Moreover, the study found that 79% of us handle the 15% that does happen in ways that surprise us with our ability to turn the situation around. 

Does this settle your mind? Your own adult children, whom you love and cherish (most likely) will handle things in surprising and adaptive ways, during the 15% of their lives when their worries manifest in ways they can manage.

Yeah. I thought not. I see you, friends. We’re in this together.


*See photo. He does usually wear a helmet.

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