My sister-in-law, the keeper of the flame

SILOB (sister-in-law of blogger) and I don’t have much in common.  I don’t know that much about her, mostly because BOB (brother of blogger) has banned potentially touchy topics, such as sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll, religion, politics and the first-coming-versus-second-coming discussion that can be VERY tricky among Jews and Christians.  So, there isn’t much of interest to talk about, except our kids (my nephews are FABULOUS in case anyone wants to know).  I may have failed to mention that I curse like a sailor which may or may not be offensive to her.  BOB insulates her so well from us that we assume that she really doesn’t like the New York family.

Except for my mother.  When my mother died, SILOB said simply and beautifully that she was the daughter-in-law that my mother never expected (not Jewish, GOP, Texan) and my mother nevertheless threw her arms around her and made her welcome.  POB (partner of blogger) could relate; my mother — having had two girls and one boy — never expected to have TWO daughters-in-law.

Families are complicated.  Love isn’t as complicated.  What is complicated is what you do about the things you don’t like — or don’t know — about the people you love.   My mother seemed to have bridged the divides with her daughters-in-law well before her death.  So much so, that SILOB walked 60 miles in San Diego for the Susan G. Komen organization in my mother’s memory.

So, EIGHT years after my — OUR — mother’s death, SILOB keeps the dream of a cure for breast cancer alive.  She literally walked the walk.  She keeps my mother’s memory alive in a positive way (SOB (sister of blogger) and I try to, but sometimes, we just wallow in self-pity.)

It is a testament to SILOB and my mother and their relationship that eight years on, she fights breast cancer “for Elsie” [our mom].

I haven’t tried very hard to get to know SILOB these past 13 years.  I have allowed every inadvertent or intentional rebuff (mostly from BOB) be an excuse not to try harder.  But there is something very basic we share — the memories of Mom.   And that is one of the strongest ties I have to most people in my life.

To SILOB, the keeper of the flame and the fight for a breast cancer-free world.

Mother to a boy

Our 8 year-old boy is still very cuddly, but we know it won’t last for long.  Sometimes, when we are watching cartoons on a weekend morning, he says, “E-Mom!! Stop smothering me!!”

I believe it is my divine right of motherhood to be the quintessential overbearing Jewish mother.   I realize now that my mother, and her mother before her, were just trying to stuff a lifetime worth of love and concern into the few years they actually had control over their children’s lives.  And because, when I look at my child, all I want to do (when I don’t want to throttle him) is hug him and tell him how adorable he is and how much I love him.

So, today, when he said those awful words (“stop smothering me!!”) during our cartoon marathon, I reminded him of my divine right to smother and added, “you can’t spell smother without M-O-T-H-E-R!!”

With my new-found appreciation for the cartoon, “Phineas and Ferb” (today they went on a boat for a three-hour tour, a three-hour tour . . . .), I started imitating the show’s evil doctor, Heinz Doofenschmirtz, who invents “-inators” to do evil things to the entire tri-state area (no joke), and proclaimed myself, the “SMOTHER-inator”.

Yes, yes, yes, I know.  Any sane person would not admit to this.

When worlds collide

If you live, work and love in New York, sometimes old worlds and old orbits collide. Sometimes, the reunion is comfortable; sometimes, there has been too many years of avoiding contact about issues. Quite frankly, sometimes we are in fact so shaped by our current circumstances, that the overture across worlds would require the universal translator that always saved Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek.

And in life (in contradistinction to movies), epiphanies are few and the hoped-for catharsis even rarer. Mostly, those who were on the peripheries of your prior worlds are only proxies for the unanswered questions and unresolved feelings of something much bigger.

So I declined the opportunity to invade someone’s performance at an outdoor cafe to re-greet a person of the past. She was performing and it would have been selfish at that moment. There are certainly opportunities — I have her number, etc., but I have chosen for 11 years not to reach out.  Why do so in her space during an expression of her art? If I really wanted to bridge the worlds, I would do so on terms acceptable to both of us. And after a decade, what do you say?  “How are you?”.  Sounds so stupid and pedestrian.  Some things are left better unsaid.  And these are not opportunities to reconnect — reconnect with what?  A life and circumstance that no longer exist?

I enjoyed her performance.  She has a beautiful voice.

Our family

Today, my son went on a bird walk led by my brother-in-law.  My son, who has encyclopedic knowledge of all things bird-nerdia, was — how shall we say — an active, vocal participant in the walk.  The non-family “walkers” (Cousins Boss and Gentle were also in attendance) were apparently quite taken with his knowledge and enthusiasm.  One octogenarian asked, after hearing that my son is almost 8 years-old, “how long have you been interested in birds?”  My son responded, “since I met this guy” and pointed to his uncle and my brother-in-law.  About 3.5 years.  “This guy“? The man that takes care of my beloved sister?  Later, I had to make sure that my son showed proper respect for his uncle.  “In the future, Buddy, “this guy” is Uncle Bird-Nerd to you! ” So, we have nuanced levels of respect in our family.  But respect is respect, however, absurdly we define it.

Of course, my son and Cousin Boss (the family name for POB (partner of blogger)) were the ones who got out of the house at 8:30am on a Saturday.  I was a slug and arrived just in time to kiss and congratulate my brother-in-law at the end of the 2.5 hour walk.  SOB (sister of blogger) was impressed even at my effort.  It was, in fact, the least I could do.  We have such low expectations of each other.  Maybe that we like to get together so much because it is nearly impossible for us not to exceed the expectations.  And when that does happen, well it is fodder for family gatherings for years.  So, while we are easy-going, we forget no detail that we can hash and rehash to our delusional delight.

So, how well does my brother-in-law take care of SOB?  He vowed to take good care of her (including making her eat vegetables).  So, here is a picture SOB sent of part of tonight’s dinner:

Clearly, the intense interest in the mundane details of human existence is genetic.  Mutant thought it may be.

Privacy, please

It is funny how people give away private information about their kids without even knowing it.

I was at a meeting and we were talking about kids and dating and a colleague from the midwest said that her early-teens son was very friendly with girls but hadn’t decided on a girlfriend.  Fine so far.  Then she added, “but he is always out with them.  If there are seven girls going to the movies, he’s the only guy.”  Ok, ok, ok.

The difference between a New Yorker and a midwesterner is that we New Yorkers would know the implications of that fact pattern and would leave it to the son — and to time — to unravel the mysteries therein.

Family Weekend

This weekend was family weekend.

Last night, POB made a huge tenderloin which didn’t seem so aggressively carnivore-centric, until her vegetarian sister (SOPOB) called to say she and her son were coming.  POB’s father (FOPOB) also came over, in part, because he liked the menu.  (Not only can you not fool all the people all of the time, but you can’t please them either.)

And to round out the alphabet of “OB”-centric initials, sister of blogger (SOB), husband of SOB (HOSOB) and father of blogger (FOB) also came.  HOSOB got a really short haircut and looked so adorable in that way that little boys do when they get their hair cut (except he is 54 or so, but still sooooooo adorable).  And not the way an older man looks cute and helpless when he puts on a hat with ear flaps (you know, the “look” that cuts one’s IQ in half).

Since having a child, it makes me happy when those whom I love have home-cooked meals. Of course, POB has to do the actual cooking — I just plate everything and set the table, except when I don’t, and then POB is overworked and I don’t deserve her.  But last night I wasn’t a slouch or sloth.  (Of course, I think I deserve a merit badge for good behavior, but I digress.)

My nephew didn’t like dinner and was honest about in that way that kids can be.  Everyone else was polite and HOSOB seemed to enjoy the carnivorous portion of the meal especially.  FOB seemed to enjoy the wine.   SOB seemed to enjoy leaving (she later reported having a really sound sleep — must have been vicarious dose of triptophan from all of the food HOSOB ate).  FOPOB was non-committal.  Our son and nephew enjoyed being together.

Today, another generation descended.  A cousin from the Catskills who studied and lived in China for 5 years came for brunch, along with her half-Dutch, half-Israeli boyfriend who went to school in Switzerland and whom she met in Shang-hai. He is now in the States, in New England. It is too confusing to figure out which of the many pairings of culture shock he is currently experiencing.  He is sweet and gentle notwithstanding his inherent Dutch directness and Israeli hubris.

Also along was a brother of this cousin who traveled the far distance from the Catskills to a suburban hamlet in Massachusetts.  He introduced us to his girlfriend.  This was big. His girlfriend was polite, sweet and quiet — i.e., not Jewish.  Hey, non-Jews have tamed our family, to wit: my sister-in-law and brother-in-law.  So, really, we are scared the non-Jews we love won’t marry into our family because we are so loud, and — hmmm, how shall we say — undiscriminating about our dinner/brunch table discussion topics.

So we were loud, especially my cousin (her boyfriend), and she didn’t seem unnerved by it, even when those cousins started talking about importance of sloping leaching fields in the separation of solid waste from non-solid waste.   Septic tanks and the related issues of sanitation are not approved topics of conversation at my table (even though these were favorite topics of their father z”l who was a wonderful, if controlling, human).  As I was trying to stop the story (we WERE eating), his sister piped in about the variations of “spicy stomach” she and her friends had in China. Ok, ok, ok. All of this after I lectured them (again) about the inappropriateness of pictures they put on Facebook.

My dear cousin (DCOB) — an elder of my generation — also joined us.  He is such a gentle soul.  He is very involved in eastern traditions, medicine and meditation.  He also has a tremendous collection of American folk music.  I know that you are thinking Asian monk living in the splendor of secluded monastery that has access to folk music and occasional WiFi.  Think again.  Think yin-yang.  How yang?  He is a criminal defense attorney living in a large apartment complex.  DCOB’s wide ranging interests and openness to new and different things was evolutionary in our family.  The next generations is more free to focus on their inner muses.

Still, after 3 hours, I called SOB, who prescribed M&M — meditation and medication.

The ties that bind

Humans are bound together by many things (being human, for one).  But there is a litany of things that people say are intrinsic to being human and, therefore, we share.  If you read my blog before, you can imagine my eyes rolling at lofty connections.  But I came upon one tie that caught me quite by accident.

A person’s relationship with his/her hair stylist.  Most people don’t think about that relationship.  It is the only one where if you “step out”, you can’t hide it.  If you are unfaithful, you have to break up because your hair stylist will know you went to someone else.   Don’t even think that skipping a few “trim cycles” will protect your indiscretion.  The very fact that you avoid your hair stylist is evidence of your guilt and your infidelity.  Fooling a spouse or a lover, piece of cake.  Hair stylist?  All I can say is that I am glad that those open razors (a la Sweeney Todd) are not in fashion anymore.

I always thought of my relationship with Miwa as “oy, she will look at how I let her beautiful cut go to hell, like an overgrown garden.”  And always wondered if she would break up with me because I was so unreliable about getting my hair cut.  Yet, ours was a different relationship.  Miwa talked to me as much as I talked to her.  So, I knew about her mother’s death and her difficult and conflict-ridden relationships with her mother and her daughter.  I knew she felt  guilty that her daughter was her surrogate in caring for her dying mother in their native Japan. I knew that she left her family for a career in the US, which was so radical in so many ways, even more so in the decade in which she did it.  In her youth, it seemed, she did what she wanted and then figured out how to pick up the pieces.

I knew that, while Japanese and not Jewish, she knew how to cook for a seder since her male companion was Jewish.  I knew that his mother and his sister and sister’s family never (it seemed to her) showed any respect or appreciation for her efforts.

I also knew that she recently had a bruising fight with cancer and that she won rounds 1 and 2.  I also figured she was anywhere from mid-50s to mid-60s.

Miwa was too tired in round 3 to cut hair.  She wouldn’t schedule appointments.  That was a bad sign because it was her art and her passion.   In a 45-minute flurry of hair flying out of her scissors, she could make me look vital (and less like a graying middle-aged person) and yet I didn’t look like the proverbial 50 year-old trying to pull off a mini-skirt.

Finally, I had to have someone else cut my hair.  I held out as long as I could until I started looking like a hippy. I felt like I was betraying a dying friend but Miwa had said during each of my last two haircuts that, if she were unavailable, I should have Mary cut my hair.  Mary is very good, but Miwa was an artist.

Miwa lost the fight in Round 3.  She was actually in her mid-70s.  And I bet she took the death blow rather than stay alive and be helpless.

Miwa, I toast your life lived on your terms.  I know you had regrets.  I hope you healed as many of them as you could before the end.