Life Cycle

sc0003369c - Version 2This is a picture of my parents at Jamie’s Bar Mitzvah.  Jamie is my second cousin once removed.  I have seen him three times in my life.  But he and his father, my mother’s first cousin, had special relationships with Mom.  I get that. That Bar Mitzvah was probably a little over 30 years ago.  Don’t Mom and Dad look great?

My son will be called to Torah as a Bar Mitzvah in June.  My mother won’t be there in body.  My dad will be there mostly in body only.

The only child of our Mom’s and Dad’s grandchildren to be called to Torah. And they should be kvelling (filled with pride), standing next to him, making the blessings before he reads from Torah.

I robbed my mother of this moment by having him so late in my life.  Fate robbed me by taking Mom to her grave too early and by taking Dad’s mind from him.

My son’s Bar Mitzvah will be a joyous day but it will be incomplete. Because Mom and Dad will not be there — in the ways I imagined they would be — and I will miss what I imagine as their inevitable tears of joy and pride.

But I know that Dad will labor up the steps to the Bimah, with help.  And he will say the blessings, from memory instilled long ago.  And he will be present, infused by Mom’s spirit hovering over him, as he stands next to his grandson as his grandson reads from Torah.

And, in my mind’s eye, I will see Mom and Dad as they are in the picture.  Vibrant and proud.

And I will cry tears of joy and loss.

That Moment

That moment when you are bare, when you have nothing else to give, when the walls are closing around you.  When everything you believe in, every milestone you marked, means nothing.  When you are about to lose your foundation and you lie bare in all your awful and selfish thoughts and all that you would never were, but could have been.

All that you are, with all the lumps, with all of the triumphs and with all of the shortcomings.  And it is not your time to answer for your life.  But, almost. It is your mother’s reckoning, which is also in that weird mother-daughter/sister-woman way, a referendum on you.  It is titled, “Mom’s day with G-d’ but it is the start of your days piecing together her legacy, to you, to your children and to the world.  And, oh, yeah, to your siblings and your father.

But a mother’s death is principally a demarcation in the relationship with her mother and her daughters.  And the dialogue doesn’t end with death.  Not even the heated ones.

The joke that your arms are too short to box with G-d is all about how you can’t land a left hook, but your mother has arms so long she can reach your most tender places at will.  Yes, Heaven (or Hell) has a huge advantage over us mortals.  Take the punches, but wear boxing gear.

The judgments don’t end.  They just have this $1.99 halo attached to it.  Don’t be fooled.

But be humbled. A life, perhaps unfulfilled, has ended.

And it is not your job to fulfill that life.  Each life must be lived by the owner. 

But it is your job to pick up the part of the legacy that you can advance.  Not fulfil.  Don’t think about fulfilling.  Just embody it forward.

It may be achieved in your child’s extended hand to a friend that evolved into her changing the world.

But every moment is not a success or failure.  In fact, only with the passage of time, and the graying of your life, will you know whether you advanced your mother’s mission or, in fact, healed the world a little, in spite of your mother.

Life is a journey and death a destination and, if we are lucky enough, we leave a legacy of love, grace and healing.

And today, it is time to redouble our efforts, for our own mothers and for the mothers of our friends who have fallen recently.

May they rest in peace and their memories be blessings for us all.

The Years Spin By and Now the Girl is 50

Dear Mom:

So I have moved 50 times ’round the seasons.

And my dreams have lost some grandeur coming true.

There were new dreams along the way.  Some of them still matter; some were fantasies of youthful exuberance and abject cluelessness.

I am not scared of growing older.  (Ok, I am not happy with droopy eyelids you gave me.)

And now I drag my feet to slow down time (or the circles, to keep the Joni Mitchell motif).  Really, to hold onto to the stories and memories of you, Dad and the older generation.  I look at the old pictures to remind me of the people who made me (for better or worse) the person I am today.  Those fallible, lovable and wildly eccentric (ok, our family once was poor, so I think we only qualify as “crazy”) people.

I am starting to forget some of the stories. Dad has forgotten almost everything. I can’t lose you any more than I already have.  And I need room to experience and remember the joys of your grandchildren, all three wonderful boys, and especially my little guy, SOS.

Years ago, when I imagined turning 50, I thought I would have security, maturity and direction in life.  And I fully expected that you would be telling me the story about my birth, as you always did.  Life doesn’t conform to expectations; they are really hopes and desires locked into a time and place.

Even though life at 50 is nothing as I expected, I feel lucky looking in my rear-view mirror and I am (cautiously) hopeful about the road ahead.

Ok, maybe I am scared a little about the road ahead.  I have to remember that I am strong and the road these past years hasn’t been a cake walk and I am still standing.  And I have to draw on the memories of those who made me strong without wallowing in the past.

But it is hard when you, my biggest cheerleader, are gone.  And sometimes, late at night, when the world is too much with me, I need a guiding hand, a loving voice, and my Mom who had lived through so much, quieting my fears.  I try to imagine you.  It doesn’t always work.

Tonight, we had a pre-birthday dinner.  SOB and I fought over the check.  (Could you tell her to let me win just a few times?)  SOB and I told the stories you would have told about SOB’s birth, BOB’s birth and my birth on our birthdays.  The same stories, over and over again.  And they get better with each telling.

One of the best stories concerns SOB’s birth.  Aunt Gertie, who had three sons, waited until you opened your eyes to storm into your hospital room and screeched at Uncle Leon [Dad’s brother], “See, Natie could give Elsie a girl!!”  Mom, you always said that was the most painful part of childbirth.

Have I mentioned recently how much you would have loved and adored HOSOB?  Such a pity you never met.  And I know you would be so happy that Cousin Gentle rounds out the crew.  I know, I know, why can’t Dallas be closer to New York?  You tell me, Mom.  You are as close as they get to the Big Guy.  Ask Him to work on plate tectonics or something.   See what you can do.

Mom, you are the missing person at every gathering, every simcha and every sad time.  And I miss your warm hand always reaching out to hold SOB’s or BOB’s or mine.  Even at the end, you always reached for us.

And we still reach back, hoping you feel us across the great divide.

I love you forever, Mom.

~ Blogger

Big Game

Yesterday was game day.  The big one.  The game that unites more Americans in a single activity at the same time than any other event at any other time:

THE SUPER BOWL.

SOS was very excited.  I found this odd because SOS is not so much a player as he is a (more-than-slightly reserved) spectator.  Let’s be honest, his favorite sport is rigorous reading of incredibly sophisticated tomes.

On Saturday, I asked SOS why he was so interested in the Super Bowl.

“I am interested in all cultural phenomena, [Blogger]!”

Well, all right, then.  While I loved to play sports, I am a pop-culture moron.  He will be far better equipped for the real world.

As late as Saturday, we were non-committal as to which team to support.  The Sea Hawks are from Seattle and we have family in the Northwest Territories.  But, Peyton Manning is Eli’s brother and Eli is our home town-ish QB.

Two things tipped the balance in favor of the Sea Hawks: our Washington and Oregon family were in town and we saw the first play of the game which was a disaster.

By 6:35pm on Sunday, we were firmly in the Sea Hawks’ camp.

SOS brought out a football to hold during the game.  And, I thought, there are things that all boys do.  It is on the Y chromosome, along with smelly feet and spank magazines.

We started to throw the ball around the living room and we “ran the ball in” and tackled each other during some commercials and some play time.  All the time, I was scared that his brains will spill out of his head in a bad fall.  Nothing more than a few scratches and bruises — on me.

(That boy can tackle.  OUCH.)

I had to throw a red penalty schmatah [Yiddish for rag] on our field.  And I stood up and declared:

“TOTALLY offensive and painful jab to a mother’s breast.  10 yard penalty.  3rd down.  Time-out, [Blogger].”

Then we giggled.

“[Blogger], you are the dad I will never had. But you are also my mom which is a bonus.”

I got misty-eyed and proud.  And that is probably politically incorrect, but I don’t really give a damn.

In a split-second, as if to remind me that we are not the family in a Lifetime made-for-TV movie, he announced:

“The Sea Hawks are winning by so much that it is boring.  I am going to catch some Downton Abbey until bed.  Tell me if anything exciting happens.”

He scurried off into another room to watch a drawing room soap opera already in progress.

But he left the football with me.  Thanks, bud.

Oh, no!! Another “Dear Mom”

Ok, snuggle in for some navel gazing.  If you hold your iPad low enough you can gaze at yours while you read about mine.

Dear Mom:

Tomorrow at 4:23pm, it will be 11 years since you died.

I have learned so much since then.

I have learned that your life was cut too short for your family, but it was long enough when compared to younger lives lost.  Your mission was unfinished but close enough; others never got to start theirs or, if started, they may only receive posthumous accolades.

You had a good life; you said so before you died.  You had more life in those years than many who outlived you.  And as Cousin Ricky said, life is not linear.

Still, I need you even more now than when you died.

Because life is so complicated.

And no one can replace you.

Still, I do have some perspective, I guess.

POB says I should be a type of doula — you know the person who is like a baby nurse but doesn’t let you get sleep or really do anything other than coach you through it.

She says I should be a death/illness doula.

Because I have life experience.  I know how to make it in and out of a funeral home in less than two hours, including buying the coffin and burial plot(s).  I know when to tell a mourner to stop eating during shiva because she/he will forever associate the dearly departed with weight gain.  I know when someone is making a stupid decision and I won’t hold back. I have called a bad situation “toxic” and started decontamination procedures.  And I have kept the scary relatives at bay while the mourners are composing themselves.

So, your death, and Cousin Ricky’s and Aunt Betty’s and AROB’s and ULOB’s and Dad’s brain injury, gave me strength to handle bad situations.  Not all of them.  I still turn away sometimes.

In 11 years, so much has changed.   Your grandsons are young men.  Your children are middle-aged.  Your husband is, well, less than he was.

And yet so much is still the same:  Part of me still wonders why my mother was taken away.  And parts of SOB and BOB wonder the same.

I love you, Mom.

~ Blogger

Vestiges of a past cast off

ULOB was not a religious man.  During his adult life, he went into synagogues only for family rites of passage.  And only if my mother told him he had to be there.

When he was a boy, his mother wanted him to have a Bar Mitzvah.  His father — my grandfather — renounced religion and didn’t care.  But it was so important to Grandma.  She wanted ULOB to be a man — a Jewish man –before G-d.  Even though she was persecuted for being a Jew.

ULOB often talked of sitting with the foul-smelling rabbi learning to read Hebrew and practicing his Torah portion while the rebbetzin (the rabbi’s wife) washed the floor and did any number of back-breaking jobs.

I think his Bar Mitzvah was on a Thursday.  I got the sense that it was mid-morning.  My grandmother was possibly upstairs but definitely behind a curtain (michitza) and at least 10 old men were in the main room of the shtebl.

Grandma brought whiskey and some cake for the celebration afterward.  She had to save to put out that meager spread. ULOB said the rabbi and the other men scarfed down the food and drink so fast that there were barely crumbs left.  No one said a word to Grandma.  She was invisible.  But Grandma was proud.

ULOB never wanted to go back after that.  Even more, almost every touch of Yiddishkeit and every tradition that a Jew learns by osmosis in a Jewish home seemed to drain out of his body over the years.  The transition was so complete that he worked on Yom Kippur, ate ham and cheese on rye during Passover, and AROB and he celebrated Christmas.

Imagine my surprise when, as SOB and I were cleaning out ULOB’s apartment after his death, I found his tallis (prayer shawl) in a bag.  He had kept that tallis for 73 years.

The one vestige.  I bet he couldn’t let go of it because of what that day meant to his mother.

Family Camp

Like any other family road trip, this had to start with an invasive procedure because SOB needed to make sure that I was healthy enough to drive 8 hours to Cape Cod for family orientation weekend at camp.  (SOS is going this summer; I am not, although in my mind, I am at Wingate, 1972-81.)

Of course, SOB had to take a picture of the ENT doctor’s putting the scope up my nose and down my throat.  The doctor waited about a second after he injected a numbing agent to start the scope.  Needless to say, I felt everything.

photo

After the scope, SOB declared me fit for travel.

“I feel so much better now that we had this procedure done.”

“Who ‘we’, [SOB]? I was the one with that camera up my nose and down my throat!!”

“Details,” concluded SOB in a most satisfied manner.

*******************************************************************************************

It was an epic schlep to cold and rainy Yarmouth.  I forgot that camp is outdoors.  Even when we were in the bunks, we were not that much removed from nature and all those creepy, crawly things.  And, certainly, not the cold and wet weather.

SIDEBAR:  I was (must have been) far more rugged as a child.  Now, I merely whimper in the drizzle.

There was no heat in the bunk where we stayed.  ACTUALLY, the camp owners FORGOT to tell us about the heat, so we just froze unnecessarily.  Well, at least SOS was comfy in his super-duper-good-for-the-tundra sleeping bag.  POB and I were not so fortunate. Will (you know who you are), I am deducting from camp tuition any co-pays on any cold meds POB and I need to purchase this week.  And we are expensive patients.  Just sayin’.

I tried to give SOS a wide berth so he could feel independent and get to know the camp and its lay-out on his own.  But, there were some activities that I had to watch.  It was Mom who made me watch when my little baby was in harm’s way with only one life preserver (not discernible in the photo).  photo

Mom wanted me to feel her anxiety, and more importantly, continue her tradition of writing psychotic letters about real and imagined horrors of sleep-away camp.  To channel Mom, I need a mental (and actual) picture on which to concentrate all my anxiety while he spends SEVEN weeks away from his loving (read:  over-protective) mother, doing any number of life-ending activities.

And I didn’t even show the picture of archery WITH REAL ARROWS.

SIDEBAR:  Ok, Will (you know who you are), I am deducting sedatives from the camp tuition.

SECOND SIDEBAR:  Pearl (you know who you are), you are so lucky that Mom didn’t do the same.  Just sayin’.

Put one of those arrows in my heart and get it over.  Mom, if you are listening from Heaven, WALK AWAY FROM THE PHONE.  No grandchild of yours is playing with bows and arrows.  Did I mention that each arrow is doused with curare?  OOOOOooops, but Heaven is not listening, thank G-d.

Because of the rain, campfire was indoors.  (no, Mom, they have sense enough not to start a REAL fire indoors.)  The current owners invited those of us who had been campers in decades past to light the fire (figuratively).  It was moving.

It was also a passing of the torch from one generation to another.

The place had echos of the camp of my youth, but it is a different camp.  A camp that SOB, BOB, and POB can share with SOS, but different enough that it will be his special experience alone.  And that, for all my nostalgia, is what matters.

SOS had a great time, in the rain.  Which means, he will have an extraordinary time in the sunshine this summer.

The question is: will I survive his summer away?

 

 

 

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,

Blogger

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

 

 

 

Our Camper

After a summer of day camp, SOS’s last week at camp was sleep-away.

He was adorable in his red baseball hat and red shirt (that was his color-war team) and his blue shorts.  Our little boy sleeping away from us.  We kissed him good-bye on Monday morning, in the house, because we simply couldn’t in front of his friends.

Sidebar:  I learned the “no-kissing” rule on the prior Tuesday, when I walked him to the bus pick-up and SOS turned to me as we were in the middle of 110th Street, “E-Mom, you can leave me here.”  “DUDE, I am not leaving you in the middle of a busy two-way street!!!” As he was harrruumphing, I walked him to the sidewalk, said hi to his counselor and waved to him as he was off with the other campers.

Our hearts’ heaviness at his being away was, however, immediately lifted by the sheer elation of being untethered to a child’s schedule and needs.  Recall that when you have children under 12, parents can’t spontaneously go for a romantic walk (ok, not so romantic in the sweltering heat of New York City) without having planned for a babysitter.  Which then defeats the spontaneity.

The camp has a website where parents can email children and see pictures of the days’ activities.  We saw SOS in that same cute outfit day after day after day.  While we later learned that he showered and changed his underwear, he still thought it was ok to put on the same muddy clothes each morning.

He is a boy and this is camp.  There is hope:  he changed his clothes for the Thursday night dance with the girls.

Gee, I cannot wait for adolescence.