Mother’s Day Weekend

Dear Mom:

I miss you and, just between us, Mother’s Day is really all about you.

But CLSFOB (camp/law school FOB) helped me reach an epiphany.  We were talking before the weekend (she, too, is a mom) and she wished me a happy Mother’s Day.

I, of course, responded:

“It is about my mom and she is gone.”

“Wow, so [SOS] doesn’t celebrate you or anything?  It is just a sad day?”

“Well, I didn’t mean it that way…”

SIDEBAR:  Ok, yes, yes, I did.

“But he should be able to celebrate!! Does he feel the heaviness?”

SIDEBAR: OK, CLSFOB, I get it.  Sheeeesh.  I should introduce you to SNOBFOB. 

“Move on, Counselor, you’ve made your point.”

I was getting testy because CLSFOB hit a chord.  But she was right.  

So, this weekend, I have tried to be more open to taking my position as MOM on Mother’s Day. And it feels good.  Ok, not so good, but better than I thought.  But I am not going to say that CLSFOB is right again.  Nope.  Not gonna do that.

To tell you the truth, I feel a little like a mom with Dad.  And I think SOB does, too.

I had the “Dad call” this weekend.  SOB was in the ICU and saving lives (just not ours).  So, I had lunch with Dad on Saturday and we all went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art today.

I chronicle the days so BOB and SOB feel like they were there.  The emails are entitled “This Day in Dad”:

“Dear [SOB] and [BOB]:

I had lunch with Dad today. Dad tried to hide those scam solicitations [that target the elderly] from me when I picked him up. But I commenced a search and rescue mission with critical help from [home aide]. I rescued Dad from an entire shopping bag’s worth of scams and shams. In the midst of the junk, there were important papers. Aaargh.

We may need new night people. They do nothing apparently and Dad cleans up after them. They don’t help him with personal hygiene. That’s a big part of the job.  But, I don’t know if I can deal with trying out new people.  I am tired just thinking about that process.

Worked up an appetite by the time we got to the Coffee Shop of the Undead. I ordered a large Greek salad and a hamburger deluxe and the waiter asked if we expecting another person. I replied that I am quite hungry and quite capable of finishing both before my companions finished their meals. I didn’t disappoint.

Dad wondered why Sam wasn’t at the coffee shop.  I had a moment:  was Sam no longer UNdead?  But, phew, it turns out that he is still alive, but failing unfortunately.

We had a perfectly lovely lunch. After I left, he handed [home aide] a sweepstakes envelope with a check in it to mail. He didn’t want me to see it. So he is not as clueless as everyone thinks. She called me and I told her not to mail it.

Then, because I am a glutton for punishment, I went to ULOB’s bank branch to get more information for AROB’s nephew so he can have a proper paper trail of what was transferred to ULOB when AROB died.  I get why he is stressed out but I really want to introduce him to some “chill” meds.  Now I feel bad thinking that because it turns out he was spending the day with AROB’s newly discovered UNdead sister in the psychiatric facility.  He is a good and kind man. I am not as good and kind.

End of Report.

Love, [Blogger]”

Of course, these emails engender discussion:  BOB wants me to take away his checks (I did that once before and he just went to the bank and got more) because he can’t discern good charities from bad ones and he likes to enter sweepstakes. BOB worries that Dad is well intentioned but vulnerable and impaired.  SOB observes (correctly) that he likes to feel generous with charities but maybe he will accept some oversight (not so confident about this part of the assessment).  I think that he really needs to conserve resources but I cannot take away his checks but I don’t want him to think he is running out of money.  Too emasculating.  With no more emails flying, the debated ends.  Because I have the final say (for now), I render a reasoned decision (for now).

Decision for the day (mine):  We continue to run a loose ship, with BOB dissenting.  I have no extra time to be the enforcer.  It will not be perfect.  It just has to work.  Most of the time.  We will review the status quo weekly and re-calibrate as necessary. Signed, [Blogger], President of Dad, Inc.


Today, we had a great time at the Met.  SOS walked a lot with Dad.  They are quite bonded.  I can imagine how happy you would be seeing them together.

After the Met, we went to a coffee shop that just doesn’t cater to the Undead.  What a nice change in scenery, but the turn-over in big tables was not as fast.  At this coffee shop, the patrons probably buy green bananas.


So, after almost 11 years, this was my first Mother’s Day where I accept wearing that mantle.  I will never forget you on Mother’s Day or on any other day, ever.  It is just that being mom to SOS and in loco parentis to Dad may entitle me to an honorable mention today and a little celebration.  Then, again, SOS didn’t make cards, so I tortured him and now I am not such a good mom.

I love you,


When Life Alert Calls

As I walk upstairs to The COB’s office to consult about a deal, my cell phone rings. It is a California number.  I am suspicious; I assume that it is a spam call.  At the same time, I get an email that I have voicemail on my office phone. 

After some confusion, I ascertain that the “dispatch center” calling from California is Life Alert.  Oh, no.  Dad has Life Alert and Life Alert is on the phone.  My heart is now in my throat.

The dispatcher advised that the fire alarm went off in Dad’s house and he did not answer the Life Alert intercom, his house phone and his cell phone. The dispatcher already called the fire department. I get off the phone with Life Alert and retrieve my voice mail from SOB. Cool as a cucumber, she says, “hey, [Blogger], it’s [SOB]. Hope all is good with you and the family. [Pause] Listen, Life Alert called me and told me [and she recounted the above].  Anyway, call when you can. Bye.”

Wow, SOB could describe the horrors of war and make it sound like a bedtime story. But even before I could call her back, she called again. Because SOB panics gracefully. Even from across the Pond in London.

Dad’s cell is useless; he can’t hear it and, if he does, has no idea what the beeping is for. His attendant doesn’t answer her cell. So, I keep hitting redial until she answers.

I reached the attendant just as Dad and she were rounding the corner and seeing the firetrucks.

SIDEBAR They were at the library. Before they left, the attendant put fabric softener in water and heated it on the stove, to freshen the air. Then Dad wanted to leave and she forgot.

The pot was burning on the stove and made a lot of smoke and a noxious smell.  The firemen opened the windows and all was good.  While I was talking to the fireman, I hear Dad’s attendant in the background, repeating: “He didn’t do it.  It is MY fault.”  I love her for making sure that everyone knew that it wasn’t Dad’s fault.

So, I spoke with the fireman who was lovely, with Dad’s attendant who was so upset, and with Dad who had no clue.

Since we love Dad’s attendants, I told her that I would be happy to get an attendant for her as well so the attendant could watch her minding Dad, but we just can’t afford it right now.  For now, she, like Dad, is not allowed to operate any electrical equipment until further notice. 

SOB spoke to the attendant and reassured her as she was feeling so badly about it all.  I called later and she was feeling better.  Dad?  Still confused.  A typical day.

So, everyone was safe at all times, except for SOB and me. Both of us were out on the ledge.

At least I have blog material.



Minding the Elderly Can Age a Person

Today, the paternal side of the Blogger family buried one of our own.  My cousin was not even 37.  Family members spanning nearly a century — 4 generations — were present, as if to beam a harsh light on the tragedy that my cousin would never grow old.

BOB, who flew in from Texas for the funeral, thought that we should visit Mom’s brother, Uncle L., the last surviving uncle of blogger (ULOB), and that he should meet ULOB’s paramour (POULOB).

SIDEBAR:  Why not make it the day a total beat-down?  In for a little hearbreak, in for a trifecta.   Like that penny and pound thing.

This was so last minute.  And I didn’t want ULOB to think that BOB would come to town and not see him (even though that does happen from time to time).  So, I call ULOB from the car on our way back from the funeral and tried to frame the narrative:

“Hi, Uncle, it’s [Blogger].  [BOB] just came into town at the last minute for a [paternal Blogger] family funeral.  We didn’t want to call to early to wake you [ULOB sleeps until noon].  We would like to stop by and visit this afternoon.”

“Can I invite [POULOB]?”

“Of course.  Does 4pm work?”

“See you then.”

Great.  Death. Destruction. Tears. Lamentations. And a visit to the apartment that is gross by the slums-of-Calcutta standards.  I guess I am not getting a nap today.

BOB and I walked [3 miles] to ULOB’s apartment.  It was good to talk to BOB.  I don’t think we have an hour to talk just the two of us in three decades.

But, we were running late.  So I called ULOB’s apartment.  No answer.  Hmmmm.  Odd.

We arrive at his building.  He lives on the fourth floor of a five story walk-up in what is formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen.  We buzz his intercom.  No answer.

I call again his phone again.  No answer.  BOB leans his palm on ULOB’s buzzer.  I go inside the first door (which is never locked) and start buzzing every apartment in the building until someone lets us in.

We walk up four flights to his apartment.  There is a radio blasting.  We go inside his apartment (don’t you mind the details), expecting to find a body.  BOB says helpfully, “you know, bad things happen in threes, so this would be event no. 2.”

SIDEBAR: BOB needs a refresher in the Blogger family protocol, as in “unhelpful comments in scary, potentially life and death situations are punishable by a different kind of scary, life and death situation.”  Rule No. 3, for those of you following in the handbook.

The place looks like it has been ransacked.  BOB is a little rattled, but I remind him that that is usually what the place looks like.  I am still calm.  I start to look around for a body.  The stench of 54 years of filter-less cigarettes would cover any smell of a decomposing body.

No body here.  Thank G-d.  But nobody here either, so he must be dead in the street.

BOB and I decide not to panic.  Instead, we sit at an outdoor cafe doing our version a TV crime drama stake-out, only with cocktails.  I watch his building while BOB looks for him along the street.

We leave countless more messages on ULOB’s message machine in case he shuffled in while traffic was stopped and a bus obscured my view.

ULOB doesn’t have a cell phone.  We don’t have any contact information on POULOB except her address and her phone number is unlisted.  (I tried.)  This is the time when I wish I didn’t avoid information about her and just embraced her, regardless of their relationship’s beginnings.  Sometimes, principles just bite you in the ass.

SOB knows POULOB’s phone number.  Except, SOB is in London. My phone is running out of juice. And I am rattling off phone numbers to BOB as my phone dies.

BOB calls SOB, “Hey, [SOB], [ULOB] is a no-show at his house.  But he isn’t dead IN his house.  We need POULOB’s number.  Oh, I love you, [BOB]by.”

We abandon our stake-out after 1.5 hours.  Police work is not for me, unless lubricated with a nice cabernet.  BOB goes to Dad’s to have dinner with him.  I go home, preparing myself to call hospitals or go to POULOB’s house and knock on the door.

I get home. The doorman hands me a message from ULOB and POULOB. They were here, thinking the gathering was here. The message says they are at a nearby restaurant. I RUN there.  We clear up the miscommunication.  POULOB says ULOB told her we were having a gathering either at 2, 3 or 4.  They opted for 4:15. Ok, I am not so devastated about missing them.

I say, “we were at a funeral, although I could understand the mix-up”.  Wow, cabernet is the opposite of a truth serum.  Because, who, in the world invites guests, who don’t know the deceased, to a post-funeral gathering?

We resolve the following things:

  • ULOB needs a cell phone.
  • POULOB needs all of our contact information and we, hers, because she is here to stay.  And she does take really good care of ULOB.
  • Nobody dies on my watch.  And when I say nobody, I also mean no body on my watch.

I did remember to text SOB that we were really sorry we gave her a heart attack, especially when she would get care in the UK hospital system.  I called Dad to tell him to tell BOB that all is well, but Dad already started cocktail hour, so at some point I ask him to pass the phone to his attendant, because I could not live another moment in loopy land.

This Abbott and Costello afternoon happened on the heels of the real tragedy — my young cousin’s untimely death.  Today I experienced universal grief, elderly confusion and existential anxiety, some at both ends of the spectrum of life.

For now, I am grateful to be in the middle.


When the Past, Present and Future Collide

Some people say time is not linear.  I guess then, in terms I can understand, Star Trek’s space/time continuum conundrum is more than a plot enabler.  Or life with and without George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” are just two realities that co-exist in different time dimensions.

And so the space-time continuum has been crashing around me recently.  Recently, I have been getting information overload about my aunt that make me wonder, “did I ever know you?”

When I was young, my aunt was gorgeous, avant grade and in the art scene. She was our idol. She knew how to talk to us kids and we felt in our bones that she loved and adored us.

Even as I got older, I knew very little about her family of origin.  She cut off any discussions about it.  I knew she had a sister who was married, with two boys, and the boys and their father were jazz musicians.

I didn’t realize how thick that wall was until, when Mom was sick, my aunt mentioned that she missed her sister and that she had died of cancer a few years before.  I was dumbfounded.  I was in my late 30s.  How come she didn’t tell us?  Why didn’t we ask?  Were we not as close as I always thought?

Now, as I clean out her pack rat apartment little by little on Saturdays, I guess I should not be surprised at the person who is my aunt and what I find out about her.

Let’s review the non-traumatic facts I have learned since she died:

  • she was decidedly older than she admitted (no biggie).
  • she had an “emotionally and mentally disabled” sister as well (no one really knows what that would mean today) who lived in their parents’ apartment until the building was torn down and died some years later (sad, but, again, not a biggie).
  • but her birth date wasn’t even the date she told us (ok, getting, odd), let alone the year.
  • she had an artist’s eye for the human body complete with Polaroids of people we know (a little ooky, but it would be really cool if it were someone ELSE’s aunt and uncle in the pictures).
  • her other sister, whom she told me she missed, died ten years before she told us and they had not really spoken in 30 years (getting odder).
  • her mother died young, but did NOT die in childbirth as we were told (ok, but suggests a trauma anyway).
  • They all led a hard life of immigrants in New York from the turn of the 20th century onward.

So, I guess the theme here is that the “facts” of my aunt’s life are more accurately, rebuttable presumptions.  Maybe, if we live to 91, the “facts” of our lives will be similarly suspect.

But here is the fact that I can’t let go of:

It turns out, in a twist a la Mark Twain, my aunt’s disabled younger sister’s demise was exaggerated.  She is decidedly undead, though aged and in decline.  And all her life, this sister lived close by but still far from sight.  There is no evidence that my aunt helped her.

What happened?  There is a story behind this.  Maybe there is something in their upbringing.  Maybe it was the hardscrabble immigrant experience.  There is no one left to say (the surviving sister has dementia).

It makes me think about the trajectory of people’s lives and how, maybe, whatever happened in that tenement on Third Avenue in Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s, may have set a course for three sisters, all estranged and one essentially left behind.



A Night at the Gym

So, I went to the gym last night.

The gym was crowded.

I was relegated to one corner where the only thing on TV in front of me was Khloe and Kim taking Miami. (Why are these girls famous, again? They are so gross.)

So, there is a scene where the one who just gave birth is talking to her sister and her sister, in a deep and soulful moment, points to an imperfection on her leg. Unclear whether she nicked herself shaving or what. So the sister who gave birth expresses milk on the blemish to help it heal.

OMG I wanted to vomit.

I turned to my right to see if the person next to me was similarly grossed-out. He was a man in his early 70s wearing 1970s short shorts and head band with a short muscle shirt that would have shown off his abs, if he had any. Ok, I don’t want to start a conversation with him.

Only 12 minutes had passed but I needed to get off the bike for safer ground.

I bumped into my trainer, who was talking to another trainer (someone I don’t really like). He had on headphones that somehow disconnected from his smart phone. The connector piece went inside his shirt and he announced, “wow, I just got a nipple shock! Wanna try?”

At that point I went downstairs and got dressed and took a cab home.

All the retching sensations must have worked about my abs from the inside out.

Blessings of a Snow Ball Fight

SOB and I went over to Dad’s house to pick him up for lunch.  Our destination? The Coffee Shop of the Un-Dead.

SIDEBAR:  SOB and I, in or nearing our 50s, bring down the average age of the patrons by at least twenty years.

After the usual scavenger hunt for important papers that Dad has hidden among the solicitations for fraudulent charities, we worked up an appetite.  His home attendant, Heather (who is fabulous) joined us for lunch.  (Dad’s and her rapport is terrific.  We are soooo lucky.  And I hope she feels the same way.)

The snow made getting to the Coffee Shop of the Un-Dead a little treacherous.  SOB took Dad’s left arm, Heather took his right and I walked behind, with my arms out and my stomach tight, ready to catch him under his arms if he fell.  All was fine and Blogger Family Protocol, while ready, did not have to be engaged.

After lunch, when we cleared the treacherous parts, and having survived the meal without any of the Un-Dead patrons actually becoming Dead, we all got a little giddy.

SOB was walking behind, and I was holding Dad’s right arm.  When I came upon some snow that had settled on shrubbery, I whipped my hand around and —


Direct hit on SOB.  Heather, holding Dad’s left arm, not to be outdone, slammed me with snow with an impressive hook shot behind Dad.  I made SOB substitute for me on Dad’s right, so I could take the offense and pummel Heather.  Then SOB and Heather ganged up on me.  All the while, two people are making sure Dad didn’t fall.

It was a winter ballet performed by people in their 50s with the precision and grace of children (ok, maybe not, but this is my blog).  Then, as we are about to walk into his lobby, we needed to pelt Dad a little and very gently, so he didn’t feel left out.  So add a 92 year-old to our folly and frolic.

When the doorman saw us all, he said to Dad, “Doc, looks like you won!!”

He did.  We did.  A snow ball fight (after a fashion) in New York City with my Dad and our new extended family that includes Heather.  In life, things never turn out the way you imagine.  But not everything has to be tossed out just because life has its own trajectory and its own timeline, separate from our hopes and expectations.  Nope, not everything we know needs to be tossed out, even in the despair of reality.  Except for snow balls.  They need to be tossed every time there is snow.

My morning with Bessie and other things in a random day

I am sick (with the flu) and have been home almost all week.  The problem with being home (besides cabin fever) is that you notice every imperfection in your house, every age spot on your legs and those barely perceptible (to the naked eye) and asymmetrical droops in your breasts.

I was feeling pretty ok this morning.  And I needed to get out of the house.  And I was despondent over missing a Soeur reunion in Cancun.  And my bras didn’t provide the necessary level of support.  So, off I schlepped to the local mecca for women’s undergarments.  This is the place where, for decades (until her death), the Dowager Countess of Ladies’ Undergarments would cup your breasts in her hands and yell out a size and style and point you to one of the dressing rooms.  And if she determined that your current bra was ill-fitting, she would pitch a loud fit.  You had to have self-esteem or you needed to be high to deal with her.  I never went while the Dowager was alive.

POB and I went to here to get our undergarments of steel for our wedding dresses.  Bessie, an older Southern woman, helped us.  She noted that day that I was wearing “some kinda ratty bra.”

Today, I walked in and saw Bessie and strode straight for her and said, “you helped me with my wedding undergarments and I promised I would be back and here I am.”

“I remember you.  You was with a friend and you was both gettin’ married.”

“To each other,” I  responded, gently.

“You had a ratty bra that day, I’ll tell yoooooo.”

Sidebar:  OKOKOKOKOKOKOKOKOK, really?  She remembered?  And I was here to rectify that.  I was thinking that I wasn’t feeling better; I was just delirious.  And why do you think I don’t go bra (other than sports bra) shopping often, huh?  A little humiliation every other decade or so lasts a looooooong time.

I spent 90 minutes topless in a dressing room that others had no problem entering at will.  I must have tried on 30 bras.

Bessie commented on each:  “Now that one make you almost look perky!” “You don’t fill that up anymaw.  Betcha you did once!”  “Now, that is a beautiful cup on you!!

“But, Bessie, it is electric blue!!!”

“It don’t matter what color it is.  A good fittin’ bra is a good fittin’ bra.  You don’t turn your nose at a good fittin’ bra.  Not when we’s our age!!”

Pause.  We are NOT the same age.  I may be going on 50 but she is 70.  Wow, I really was delirious.

“I’ll jest put this in the buy pile.”  She walked away.  Ten bras (of varying colors; some electrically so, some not) later, she went to find matching bottoms.  I prevailed on nixing the dull blue and brown striped one that was almost like a bikini top.

“You a full-cut or a thong type?” She yelled for everyone to hear.  Of course, the entire conversation was for everyone to hear.

“How about we look at the matching bottoms and then I will decide.”

Bessie packed up all the things she decided I needed, less the bra that I would not, could not, buy.  “Now, send your friend on in here, hear?”

Wow, I needed a long snooze.

POB and SOS were doing G-d’s work, by having lunch with my Dad, so I could rest.  Or be delirious, whatever.

We arrived home at the same time and had a little rest hour.  And then POB and SOS set about making a cheesecake for SOS’s friend who is recovering from serious back surgery.  Our hearts were on standby to be broken if anything went wrong.  An 11 year-old’s undergoing serious back surgery is a parent’s every nightmare.  He came through like the champion he is.   And he wanted cheesecake.  “Then, give the boy a cheesecake,” said (and did) POB and SOS.

So we all hovered in the kitchen while POB did most of the heavy-lifting, SOS helped a little and I helped not at all.

SIDERBAR:  Hey, there needs to be a slacker in every family.  I proudly claim that mantel.  In fact, I “gold-medal” in it, without the need for performance enhancement drugs.  (It is a non-performing sport.)

Then SOS remembered that Cousin Gentle and he are going to visit a Sikh enclave in Queens tomorrow and he needed to learn, “hello”, “good bye” and “thank you” in Punjabi by tomorrow.  Cousin Gentle sent a link to a primer on Punjabi.

So, now, I sit in a warm kitchen with wonderful smells wafting through the air, blogging about my day and over-hearing my son practice words in Punjabi.

Yes, yes, I must be delirious.


Uh, oh, another “Dear Mom” blog

Dear Mom:

I know you are watching the events as they unfold down here on Earth.  Dad is remarkable in the ability of his body to heal so quickly — and just days shy of his 92nd birthday.  Ok, the mind is another thing.  That is a bit of a mixed bag.

Dad’s week has been packed with life and all of its emotions, from heart-breaking to uplifting, from triumph to quiet desperation, from funny to painful indignity.  And we, the kids, whether in person or on the telephone, have been on the ride along with him.

We went from feelings of sheer terror in taking Dad for a walk around the block (would he fall?) to POB’s dancing with Dad in the house to the sublime — a soft shoe routine in the supermarket, he with his cane (and his home aide ready to catch him) and I with a new mop that we desperately needed.  But later he couldn’t get up from the table without help and was dizzy, so he needed a long recuperative nap.  So, we will do soft shoe when we can, but we aren’t ready to go on the road. We do what he can do and no more.

We spent days going through pictures, reminding him of the family.  He is getting really good at this.  He remembers you, without any sort of coaxing.  One of his home aides told me that Dad talks about you and how he is still married to you and still in love with you, no matter that you died 10 years ago.  He told her the secret — that you appear somewhere in all his paintings.  He knows your spirit lives in the house.  And, of course, your portrait remains as evidence that this is your home.

In a weird way, I think that the home aides are a blessing.  Dad can talk to them all day.  Now I realize what life has been like for Dad these last few years.  If Dad can’t go to the studio to sculpt (he hasn’t been able to for a few months) and he isn’t with us on the weekends, the days between are deafening silent and slow.  I wanted to cry for his loneliness.  But now he sings for his home aides, offers them a cocktail (which they refuse) and the house has noise.

But there are hard moments.  Moments filled with the indignity of aging and a child having to care for a parent as if he were a baby.  And, when he is discombobulated, the air seems to fill with a toxin that hurts my lungs.  There are also less profound crises, like the day there were no bananas for breakfast and Dad was not strong enough to go to the store or be left alone.  Imagine, a reasonably successful New York lawyer unable to answer client emails because she has to bring bananas for breakfast.  Still, he asked, “how much a pound did you pay?”  “Before or after I add in the cost of the cab to hand deliver these to you, Dad?”

At least today, there was levity amidst the crazy talk.  Aunt Glue and Cousins J and K came to visit.  Aunt Glue and Dad were both a little off, but they enjoyed their conversation.  The rest of us didn’t quite understand the conversation, but I tried to let go of reality and roll with it.  Cousin J tried to correct Aunt Glue’s somewhat vague statement, and I asked her, “at this table, what does it matter?”

Aunt Glue and Dad, the remnants of our greatest generation, stronger in body than in mind, gained fortitude and joy from each other’s presence.  Aunt Glue is the only one alive who knows to call Dad by his original, Yiddish, name, Nachum.  “So, Nachy”, she said, “tell me all.”  I wanted to live in that moment because she has said that in the same way for as long as I have been alive (and longer), when they were strong and infallible and blazing the frontier.  When Dad was Dad and you were alive.

At least Dad has you, always.  As do we, your children.  But, in these moments, I wonder why I had to grow up.  I love you, Mom.  And I love Dad, come what may.

Love, Blogger




Another Gut Check Moment in New York City

I don’t take cabs as much any more — economical and environmental reasons — but so often when I do take cabs, I learn life lessons from the drivers.

Thursday night was no different.  The driver had a French African accent I found hard to understand and identify. After we both understood our destination, I asked, “Where are you from?


Where in Africa?

Burkina Faso.”  This was the first time I had ever met anyone from there.  And now that I am used to the cadence of his English, he is very well-spoken.

I have heard of it. It used to be called Upper Volta.” I said more for my benefit as if telepathically showing to my parents — one dead, one alive — that there was something to my liberal arts education after all, even amid the four years of debauchery.

Is your family there?” I continue.


That must be hard. Do you see them?” (Of course, I make that inappropriate assumption that others have families like mine, whom I would dearly miss.)

Ten years.

How long have you been here?

Ten years.

Do you have a family here?

I come with my friend.

My friend. Ahhhhhhhh.

I am a lesbian; is your friend a man?

Yes.” He says with openness but no relief.  We weren’t navigating the great divides between our lives.  We were just able to be less vague and more truthful.  I was still a white, well-heeled American sitting in the back of his cab and he was the refugee driving me around and trying to make a life in a strange and, at times, harsh city.

And you can’t go home?

I would be killed.  Even by my family.

We reached our destination.

I am glad you are here and I am sorry that you had to leave your home.”  Not a brilliant sentence but heartfelt, even if for a stranger.

It is the punishment.

“It is the punishment.”  As much as this man traveled to be free, he carries the homophobia inside.  Two people in the same car, worlds apart.

The wonder years

POB recounted this vignette to me after SOS was asleep.  It makes me realize that while being at home is harder work, it is also a lot more fun and challenging.  (The COB can take credit for this insight.)

POB picked up SOS at the bus stop after day camp. They amiably walked the few blocks to our apartment building.  When the elevator came, a skinny teenage boy with acne and long hair emerged.  [I never described boys like this until I was a mother of one.]

The elevator had a smell that SOS could not identify.  It was, however, immediately obvious to POB.  And I am not talking body odor.

“Mommy, what is that smell?”  A teachable moment arrives.

“Sweetie, that is the smell of pot.”

“Pot?”  No name recognition.

POB tried again.  “Dope? Weed?”  [Hell, this kid is growing up in New York City.]

“Huh?”  [Ok, this parenting thing is getting harder.]  “It smells awful.”  The elevator opened to our floor.

“Sweetie, it is the smell of drugs.  That boy was smoking marijuana, a type of which is commonly known as skunk weed.”  [I taught POB that.]

“Eeewwwww.  I was inhaling drugs?????” he asked in horror.

“Don’t worry, Sweetie, nothing bad is going to happen on that short elevator ride.”

Worry over.  Moment forgotten. Back to play and carefree late afternoons after camp.

A missed teachable moment about that urban legend, “contact high,” to keep our son even farther away from smoking dope.  I hope he reads this blog entry when he is 15 years old and using cheesy aftershave and chewing gum to try to cover his tracks as he squeaks in just under curfew while I am pacing in the foyer.

[Note to SOS at 15:  Just remember, dude, once you thought it was disgusting.  Love, E-Mom.]