Thursday, February 04, 2016

thinking about a rainy day

The skies are a glorious cornflower blue... 

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... and so it's ironic that I begin the day with musings about rainy days. Of a type.

It's different in Poland, I say to Ed.

This phrase comes up repeatedly in my conversations with him and it does again over breakfast this morning (a meal in the sun room!).

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How so?
Well, take the village where my grandparents lived. So there was a neighbor across the road. She took in kids during the summer months. She had a daughter. Well, of course, she's long gone.

Who, the daughter?
No, the woman across the road. We knew her well, because we spent all our summers there.
You knew the daughter?
No, actually the granddaughter, who was from the city of Lodz. 
She wasn't from the village?
No, neither was her mother.

So who lived across the road?
Well, the mother's mother, but that's not the point. The point is that the daughter moved to the village when her mother died.
The one whom you knew? From Lodz?
We didn't know her really, but we knew her daughter, who, by the way, herself has a daughter. Who lives in Sweden.
I'm confused! Who lives in Sweden?
The daughter's daughter and her daughter. Why is this so hard??? 

By now, we're laughing so much that tears stream down the face.
A few sips of coffee, a wipe of an eye, I continue.
Should I use names? Maybe it'll be easier if I use names.
I can't remember Polish names!
Alright, let's start again. The grandma in the village dies, the retired daughter moves to the village house, she has a stroke.
She goes to Sweden, right?
Wrong. She stays in Poland, near the village and is well cared for in the regional facility there. The point is it's still part of the social contract: elder care is not the huge financial drain that it can be in this country.
(At least not at this stage of the game.)

It is, of course, a matter of agreement with those who govern: what do you expect to have at various stages of the life cycle? Here, in the States, I think most would like to believe in opportunity. But as you get older and as your chance at opportunity diminishes, you realize that if you've been prudent, you've spent your life saving for your kids' college and once that's done with (and assuming calamity doesn't strike), you have to start worrying about retirement and, too, about long term care -- should you be so unlucky as to need it.

In other words, I am struck by how financially draining are those stages of life (your kids' college, your long term care) that actually have very little to do with your own daily tasks in the healthier years of your life. In a sense, the prudent person, unless she or he is wealthy, should always save (in a volatile market no less!) for the rain rather than for the sunshine.

By choosing to travel as much as I do, I am, no matter what my other frugalities, only somewhat prudent. Perhaps I am still just a tad used to the old Polish way, where you never expected things to go especially right or especially wrong -- you just took one day at a time and did the best you could with that day. So, as I say to Ed this morning -- it's different here. Americans should never quit worrying about the future.   

Sometimes it's good to be an immigrant -- you leave your old country, but never fully. You buy into the new way of life, but you don't forget your lessons. But though you live under the weight of the past, you also carry the hope and the belief in a good future.

And speaking of future, I should now turn to my day with Snowdrop.

Hi, grandma!

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She plays with oranges while I make tea.

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She doesn't exactly turn quiet just because I want to sit with my cup...

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... still, there are moments when I can just hang back and watch.
(Hmmm, does she need another haircut?)

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You have to wonder -- when does worry start, for the average, healthy kid, coming from a stable home? Not too soon, I hope. Not too soon.

Afternoon. You know you've been housebound too long when you take many minutes to ponder over whether your grandchild has a gene that allows the tongue to roll (I know, I know -- it's genes and the environment, like so many things in life, but the fact is -- I cannot do it, I could never do it and I know I'll go to my grave not being able to do it).

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It's not exactly cornflower blue out there anymore and there is even the occasional flake (it's just below freezing), but it's good enough for us! We walk to the lesser lake.

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(I ask her -- where's the lake, Snowdrop? She laughs and points to me. Do one year olds know how to joke?)

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On the return, I am tempted again by the coffee shop we pass. She is too, I can tell! I buy a macchiato and a cookie. The cookie is really for Ed, but she is given a crumb (unfortunately for Snowdrop, I'm not the grandma who is likely to spoil her with lots of sweet treats).

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Though honestly, she loves the smiling faces around her as much (more?) as the cookie. Not to say that she doesn't like the cookie!

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She lets me know that she had a really good time. She is a girl who does not hide her excitement in life.

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And that's just such a good thing. Excitement about a cookie, about a smile in the cafe. Whoa -- such a very good thing.


  1. Maybe the U.S. will make some adjustments. Sure does seem like such a squeeze to make everything work. I remember a financial guy on WPR used to always advise against saving for kids' college. 'Just start saving for your own retirement,' he'd say. 'The kids will have to figure it out for themselves.' So there you go-- the American way-- even in one's own family.

    I could follow the mother's mother's mother story, but I enjoyed thinking of you both laughing to tears over it!

    And by the way-- I cannot roll my tongue either! And I don't think I've ever met anyone else who can't! Even in my own family!

  2. Replies
    1. Exactly what Ed said! The A&C routine! We fell right into it! For those who don't know it, view the routine here:

    2. The financial guy on WPR was a father? or maybe not. At the age of 30 we had agreed that our sons' education was paramount, and OUR responsibility. It's part of raising them, in our opinion. That's why we stopped at three children, when I would have been happy to have more, I was having such a wonderful time. Like you with Snowdrop, I was fascinated and amused every day.
      We were worried, as young parents, that we weren't able to save for college, with new coats and boots every year, and everything in between. But things work out. By the time college years came around, we were making more money. We could cover it. The little bit not covered, deferred student loans helped, and we helped pay those off - as the young people were just trying to buy their first homes and wanting to start a family. One son's graduate school and even medical school were completely free for him, thank goodness, or we would have tried to help there too. If you're wondering, biomedical engineering and neuroscience are dynamic fields where young professionals are needed, so there was grant money to cover his costs.

      Snowdrop is so delightful! Clearly she gets her expressiveness and humor from interacting with you! Well, of course her parents too maybe :) but it's you I see in her.

    3. JoyD, It is a guy named Kevin McKinley and it looks like (from a link on his website) to a book he wrote (about securing your child's financial future) that he is a parent. I was probably simplifying his message too much from memory, because when I find an article he wrote, he is not saying 'Don't ever save for your children's college education' but rather, 'make sure you have taken necessary steps to save for your own retirement (your own needs) first.'

  3. Yes, a one-year-old can make a joke. I heard an NPR segment recently about a study of babies and jokes. Peek-a-boo is one of their first jokes but then came jokes about pretending things were something they weren't. Usually a parent pretends a cat is a hat or something like that and gives them facial and vocal cues that it is a joke. Soon the child will tell similar jokes, like Grandma is a lake.

  4. Just catching my breathe and loving everything about this post ... The polish story, s's smiles and laughter, and above all, your gifted storytelling. xx


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