Tag Archives: jane roberts

Coop’s Childhood Part 2 – Play, Play School & Other Explorations

Me & Molly age 5

Me & Molly age 5

Though I was born in the 1950s with all its conventionally stark division of gender roles, my mom and dad were a pretty unorthodox couple, with a much more egalitarian relationship than the norm. They had been acquaintances and friends for a number of years before their relationship became a romantic one. They were both intellectual and athletic, and both comfortable with parenting tasks ranging from changing diapers to throwing a ball.

I believe theirs was a natural inclination to parent in the most progressive way, but it was certainly aided by the new parenting wisdom championed by the most popular pediatrician of the day, Dr. Benjamin Spock. His bestselling book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, challenged the rigid childrearing practices that had been prevalent since the beginning of the century that included warnings against excessive affection to prevent children from becoming spoiled or fussy. Instead, Spock advised parents to be flexible in order to treat each child as an individual. He also educated parents about the stages of child development and how to create an appropriately safe but nurturing environment for each of those stages. And perhaps most importantly for my mom and dad and how they raised me, Spock urged them to trust their own common sense, instincts, and judgment.

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Coop’s Childhood Part I – As I Was Told

Eric & Jane

Eric & Jane

I was born on April 2, 1955 in the maternity ward of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor Michigan. My mother, Jane Roberts Zale, was 32 years old, older than many first time mothers in those days. My father, Eric Michael Zale, was six years older than Jane. Theirs, I would later learn, would be a very unorthodox style of parenting, much more egalitarian than conventional practice, giving me a greater amount of freedom than most kids were blessed with. But given particularly my mom’s childhood story (I know little about my dad’s) that gift of an independent childhood had been passed through the generations.

As I get older, I am more and more amazed about the story of how my mom decided to go to Ann Arbor. An unlikely odyssey in 1947 for a single young woman of 23, but one consistent with her independent spirit, well nourished in her own childhood, that started a chain of events that led to my birth. Another thirty-two years later in 1978, I would embark on my own comparable odyssey to Los Angeles, coincidentally at age 23 as well.

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Uncle Joe’s Unveiling: Thoughts on a Good Lay-Led Worship Service

Brothers Aaron, Joe & Reuben

Brothers Aaron, Joe & Reuben

I like to call out and celebrate instances in our various institutions and practices where we take a step in that direction. Religion and education tend to be two of the “lagging” institutions in terms of adapting partnership practice, so that made the “unveiling” ceremony I attended Sunday, a breath of fresh air and a joy to participate in.

This was a service for the “unveiling” of the marker on my partner Sally’s Uncle Joe’s crypt at the Culver City, CA cemetery where he is interred. In the Jewish tradition, this event usually happens no later than one year after the death and funeral, the previous event that I wrote about in my June 26, 2009 post “On the Occasion of the Passing of Uncle Joe”.

There was no rabbi present or other “memorial service professional” to create and lead the service. Instead, Joe’s daughter Judy put the service together, consulting with a rabbi to get some ideas and recommendations. It was short but powerful, and at times provoking tears and sobs, which I always feel is a key indicator that a worship service has been effective in its intent. In this case it was memorializing a person who had lived 82 years, been a husband and parent of five kids (all in attendance) for six of decades, served in World War II and Korea, and adored his seven grandchildren as well. Continue reading →

The Last of Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts' college graduation picture

Jane Roberts' college graduation picture

After years of dementia, with barely anything left of who she was except a glint in her eyes of recognition when she saw me, and the ability to somehow still swing a tennis racket, my mom ended this incarnation, to relief and sadness on my part. Reflecting on the entirety of her 83 years of life, particularly the first half of it, I am struck by how she managed to use her imagination to make up for a lack of resources and “be effective” challenging conventional wisdom, including aspects of the liberal progressivism of the university town where she spent the best years of her adulthood.

My partner Sally and I were in a hotel in Denver where Sally was attending a conference and I was just enjoying a long weekend away from Los Angeles. I was woken up by a call after midnight from the emergency room at Presbyterian Memorial Hospital in Van Nuys. The nurse on the phone said that my mom had been admitted, in a coma, after collapsing at her assisted-living residence, and that the doctor needed instructions on whether to try and take the measures to keep her alive. Continue reading →

Life as an Adventure

My dad as a young sports writer in Binghamton, New York

My dad as a young sports writer in Binghamton, New York

Life, at its best, is an adventure – not always successful, not always happy, but a compelling narrative worth living and sharing with others. Though he never said it in so many words, that was one of the most compelling lessons I learned from my dad, exemplified in how he lived his life, and how he inspired others to do the same. I try to frame my own life as an adventure (or maybe better, a series of them), exemplify that in how I live day to day, and inspire my kids to do the same.

Maybe the greatest adventure my dad ever inspired was in the late 1940s when he convinced my mom (at the time just a friend, they were not engaged or even a couple) to accompany him to Ann Arbor (some 600 miles west of where they both lived in Binghamton, New York), promising her that after a year of establishing residency, he could get her into the University of Michigan. They lived separately for several years and continued their relationship as friends while he got his bachelor’s degree in English and my mom hers in Sociology. Eventually they did become a couple, married and my brother and I were born. It was certainly a very unorthodox adventure, particularly for a single young woman during that period. Continue reading →

Profound Kitchen Conversations

Illustration by Arthur Sarnoff

Illustration by Arthur Sarnoff

After my parents divorced in 1965 (when I was ten years old), my mother became quite a party-giver. She had already plunged into local Ann Arbor politics as a precinct chair for the Democratic Party and a campaign manager for several men who ran for local offices. Our house was regularly filled by a sampling of some of Ann Arbor’s most interesting university professors, well-educated wives of university professors, and other political animals. Usually the food and drink was very simple, almost minimalist. Her favorite menu was spaghetti, with her special recipe of sauce, salad, and Bloody Maries to drink, served out of a big crock.

Jane was the maestro of all her parties, carefully designing the guest list so that everyone coming would find several other people they would be interested in meeting or be stimulated by encountering again. Then as the guests arrived and the party got underway, she would move about and make sure that everyone encountered their counterparts as per her plan. With the booze and the tasty food, it made for an energetic swirl of conversation, debate and argument, much of it political. Continue reading →

Jane (and Eric) Go to Ann Arbor

Jane Roberts as a young adult

Jane Roberts as a young adult

As I get older, I am more and more amazed about the story of how my mother, Jane Roberts, decided to go to Ann Arbor. An unlikely odyssey in 1946 for a single young woman of 23, but one that started a chain of events that led to my birth. Thirty-two years later in 1978, I would embark on my own odyssey to Los Angeles, coincidentally at age 23 as well.

Based on her telling, Jane had had a childhood mixing idyllic joys and adventures with some difficult family relationships, particularly with her mother Caroline. Jane was the first of three children, her brother John just two years younger and her sister Pat born to an entirely different generation 14 years later. Continue reading →