Dear Mom

Dear Mom:

A lot has happened in these past four weeks.

SOS went to sleep-away.  The camp owners post daily pictures of the campers on a private website.  SOB looks everyday for pictures of SOS. She lives vicariously through SOS’s summer (as do I).

I have learned so much from you, Mom.  Total control without any fingerprint evidence.  My camp “boyfriend” one summer has a son who is a C.I.T. at the camp.  And he was in SOS’s bunk!  Another old time camper sent all her kids and her son is now also a CIT. And SOS knows exactly how to get to Pearl’s house if he was having a really hard time.

Spies in position? Check. 

Camper happy and yet unaware of the mini-cam and walkie-talkies?  Check. 

A mother calmed?  Yeah, no so much.  But better than I would have been.

A dear friend sends her daughter. And funnily enough, guess who SOS was sweet on? I smiled such a big smile when I received a text from my friend about their budding flirtation.

A mother happy?  Hell, yeah. 

Knowing the family of your son’s romantic interest? PRICELESS. 

And a legacy at camp?  Get the wedding planners.

SIDEBAR: SOS’s “intended one” from age 7 and her family are beloved in our family.  I am hopeful they will find their way back to each other or find wonderful partners (like my friend’s young daughter).

And the young girl was staying only half the summer and was leaving that day.  SOS hugged her good-bye and shook hands with her mom.  The most adorable sight ever.

SOS looked happy and connected when we saw him at visiting day.  He was glad to see us, but wanted to make sure we would not kidnap him to New York at half-season!!

SIDEBAR:  I miss him so much, but there was no way that I would bring him back for the shit show that was in full swing in New York City.

In proud Blogger family tradition, I did post a story about a tragedy at a different camp for the camp owners to see.  But, possibly thanks to modern medicine, I watched calmly as SOS went on a sail boat, intentionally tipped it over and then didn’t surface for a few seconds.  I took a series of pictures in real-time so SOB could freak out.  SOS was fine and safe at all times.

Do I hear you say something, Mom?  Could you speak a little louder?  OKOKOKOK, not THAT loud.  Oh, OF COURSE, he had a life preserver around his neck.  In fact he had to expend real effort to stay submerged with that thing on.  Just to test the strength of my heart valves.  Since I didn’t keel over, I guess I have good constitution.

We watched him swim and do other stuff and he seemed comfortable in his skin.  He was so happy to be in the beautiful place where you and Dad sent us for so many summers.

SOS spoke to SOB and Dad.  He was so happy to hear their voices.

And then he wanted us to hug him and kiss and reassure him that his reentry into the real world would be ok.  And then he wanted us to leave.  And I was glad for that because a kid at camp who is having fun should want his parents to leave after a while.

And as a parent, I am grateful for the right choice made.

SOB and I talked shortly after visiting day ended.  ULOB wasn’t doing so well.  We left that night to get back to the City.

Dad wanted to make sure that we did not tell him that ULOB, FOPOB and Dad are failing in different degrees.  He didn’t want SOS’s mind cluttered up with what was happening at home.  See, Mom, through the haze, Dad is still there.

Back to ULOB.  You know the story, Mom.  I made a deathbed promise to Grandpa to take care of ULOB.  And then I made the same deathbed promise to you.  Promises to keep.

But in those hours when his death was imminent, it wasn’t about those promises.  It was about ULOB and easing — in whatever way SOB and I could — his passage from life to death.

We were, in the end, taking care of a hero of our youth, in his less-than-heroic condition.  Giving back to someone who gave us so much, so long ago.  Someone who shaped our lives and senses of humor.

The funeral went as well as possible.  POULOB joined Dad, SOB and me.  ULOB thought of growing old and death as such indignities that we couldn’t let his dance-world friends see his coffin.  Everyone needs to think he is still dancing the Argentine tango someplace else.  ULOB would have wanted it that way.  We are having a memorial service soon for him where he taught dance.

SOB and I led a good service at the graveside.  BOB sent a wonderful remembrance, which we read.

SIDEBAR:  On the way up, from my conversation with POULOB, I got the distinct impression that ULOB didn’t think of SOS as his great-nephew.  It really flipped me out.  But I kept it inside.  I can’t go into it here, when that feeling is raw, but the things he said on our Saturday afternoons together recently suggests that that might be true.  But I need to think more about this and factor in all the times over the last 12 years he was in our home and try to come to peace with this.

After the funeral, I had to go to the office and could not stay for lunch.  SOB produced the money she had from ULOB’s wallet and suggested that ULOB would take everyone out to lunch — to a diner, of course.

SIDEBAR: I made a mental note that that money was in his urine-soaked wallet when SOB found him almost dead.

I asked POULOB if ULOB had listened to my advice and taken her to a nice (non-diner) dinner.  She said he had and swallowed hard before paying.  Well, then, he would certainly want to take his family out for lunch after his funeral.  I agreed with SOB.  ULOB should take everyone to lunch.

SOB had a lovely shiva on Saturday night.  It was hard on POULOB because there were so many pictures of ULOB and AROB together.  I tried to console POULOB but it was a fact of their lives.  AROB is our family.

So, Mom, another end.  All of your kids needed to talk to you about it.  ULOB is the last of those who knew you since childhood.  We took care of ULOB — for you, for him and for us.

A door is closed.  A library is lost.

 

 

Life Inside the Bubble

(I will get to SOS’s visiting day SOON)

My mind has been all over the map.  I visited SOS at an idyllic summer camp, where his best friends are all shapes, sizes, colors, religions, athletes, mathletes, geeks and jocks (ok, quasi jocks).  Yet, the preponderance is white and Jewish, let’s not get carried away.

We drove home that night back to New York City because of ULOB’s condition.  The night has a mournful quality, mused POB.

It was particularly mournful.  On the highway, in the darkening day that gave way to night, I thought about Trayvon Martin and my son.

I don’t know much about the facts (if any) that came out in the case (as opposed to the media) and I didn’t listen very closely to the proceedings.

Why?

Because if the police tell a man who says he is afraid of an “interloper” to stay in his car, and he gets out and goes after the ‘interloper” with a gun, and the “interloper” dies, there is no question that the first man is not only criminally responsible for the death of the “interloper” but, in this case, of felony racism.

It never occurred to me that George Zimmerman would go free.

Not because I don’t have “ist” tendencies — we all do.  But because in my world, I have learned so much from my child and his friends.  Children can teach their parents about life and community, if only parents wouldn’t poison them with prejudice.

Children don’t naturally draw lines; they just want to play with whomever wants to play with them.

But they feel societal “norms” in their bones.  So, when my son was 7, he was having a play date with his best friend, and said to us:  “I just want you to know that he is bi-racial.”  OK, SOS is being raised by two moms. We couldn’t care less. Meanwhile, up in Riverdale, his best friend was telling his parents, “Just want to let you know that [SOS] has two moms.”  And they are a biracial couple and they didn’t care about our sexual orientation.  In fact, we parents are friends, simply because we like each other and we have fun together WITHOUT THE KIDS.

Both sets of parents called each other and immediately giggled and then sighed at our boys who are leading the way.  Our children opened up a way to discuss differences in a way that helped their parents.

“Teach your children well, and their fathers’ hell will slowly go by … “

And sometimes I forget that two generations — including mine — have to die out before our children can make the decisions.

And then Trayvon’s death makes us remember. 

And let’s focus on this young man’s tragic death.  A young man, who died not on the battlefields of Afghanistan with the condolences of a grateful nation, but in a silent and unacknowledged skirmish along race lines.

Did he smoke pot? I don’t know and I don’t care and, hell, I did.  Did he do some bad things? I don’t know and I don’t care and, hell, I did.  But I got a free pass (or six or seven). Why do you think?

Trayvon was a kid.   Did he hit Zimmerman? Hell, I don’t know and I don’t care and, hell, I would, if I got the better of someone after me with a gun.  I would have beat the guy with all my might. I would have kiiled him.

Let’s imagine the worst, and Trayvon was doing something bad.  Trayvon was shot dead. If I were shot dead (and doing something misdemeanor-ish), Zimmerman would be in jail or on death row.

BUT THE PITY OF IT ALL IS THAT WE HAVE TO IMAGINE THE WORST OF TRAYVON.  IF TRAYVON WAS A WHITE , DARTMOUTH FRAT BOY NAMED TREY (OR TRIP), THE ENTIRE POLICE DEPARTMENT WOULD HAVE BEEN FIRED AND THERE WOULD BE A WHOLE CAMPAIGN TO WIPE OUT NON-LICENSED SECURITY SERVICES.

Close your eyes.  And don’t think about the fact that Trayvon is black.  You know the answer.  The same damn answer that has plagued generations.  But, PLEASE, let’s not poison our children who have a real chance not to repeat this travesty.

If George Zimmerman has the right to be judge, jury and executioner, then we all have that right and Zimmerman should be very afraid.  As should we all because then society is irretrievably broken.

Trayvon was a young man — a kid — why did he have to die?

A young man a little older than my son died violently.  And the killer went free.

A killer went free. 

Four words that indict our society.  And the victim was a young person with a life ahead of him, full of hopes, dreams, disappointments, and we hope happiness and success (as he saw it).  Like any of us.

We enabled this to happen.  Look in the damn mirror. 

We should all turn ourselves into local precincts.

Every child is simply too precious to lose to this kind of travesty.

ULOB, Part II

SIDEBAR:  Visiting day at camp with SOS was great.  More about that later.

On Saturday evening, I spoke with SOB about ULOB’s status.  It was critical enough to get in the car at 6pm, after a long (and wonderful) day with SOS at camp, to drive 5 hours home to New York City.

End of life can be harsh, unforgiving and terrifying.

Today, I met SOB at the hospital at 10am-ish.  I had packed my gym clothes, planned to stop by the office, see Dad and get ready for a Sunday late afternoon wedding.

But ULOB didn’t look so good.  I felt a foreboding aura.

Life in the hospital continues to move along, no matter whose heart is still beating.  At 10:30am, in his room, the intercom interrupted my panic.  “Mildred, please call the nurse’s station.  Mildred, please call the nurse’s station.”  

After SOB called POULOB to say that things were looking grim, I decided to walk around the corridors of the hospital, for “fresh” air.  A disturbed woman was walking around and I thought I could help her by pointing her to the other side of the floor — the Addiction Unit.

SIDEBAR:  I later learned that what I surmised was a drug issue was actually the absence-of-psyhotropic-drugs issue.

She found her former girlfriend’s room.  But the putative father of the former girlfriend’s baby was there as well.  Apparently, the disturbed woman had put her former giirlfriend in the hospital.  Upon seeing the boyfriend/ex-boyfriend, the woman grabbed a mop as a weapon.  When that weapon was taken away, she reached for a glass vase and threw it at the former girlfriend.  And then another.  SOB was within range and I could not get to her — there was a battle line between us.  Security, the cops, crazy calls from the jilted woman threatening to kill the ex-girlfriend patient followed.  “She’s coming back.  She ain’t stupid.  She’s psychotic.  Why you think I broke up with her!”

And, in a room in the midst of a war zone, lay my uncle not so gently dying of complications from a fall.  His lungs were full of fluid and no antibiotic was helping.  He was not lucid.

12:00 noon:  “Mildred, please call the nurse’s station.   Mildred, please call the nurse’s station.”  

SIDEBAR:  Who is Mildred and why is she MIA?  And why did her parents name her that?

ULOB’s breathing became increasing labored.  Sometimes he looked like he was in sheer terror and I told him to squeeze my hand, and he squeezed so hard that I felt faint.

Other times, I think he was in a different time and place.  At one point, I said, “Am I Elsie?” referring to my mother, his sister.  He nodded and calmed a bit.  He had happy memories with Mom.

But mostly there was desperation at not being able to catch his breath.  Regardless of the oxygen in his nose and the medicines coursing through his veins, ULOB couldn’t swallow, couldn’t breathe easily and couldn’t shake the pneumonia that developed in his lungs.  He was in a death spiral.

1:00pm:  “Mildred, please call the nurse’s station.   Mildred, please call the nurse’s station.”  

Mildred, for G-d’s sake, please answer the page or quit.  You have been AWOL for hours!!!

POULOB arrived in the time it took for my to drive from the middle of Cape Cod to Stamford, Connecticut.  (3 hours.)

ULOB perked up when POULOB came.  POULOB didn’t want to understand the severity of the situation.  She wanted to know what to tell his friends when she went dancing tonight, as ULOB and POULOB often did.

SOB, POULOB and I took turns holding his hands and reassuring him.

3:30pm: The ex-girlfriend patient was at the nurse’s station retelling the story to anyone who wanted to hear what happened.  Needless to say, many patients in hospital garb with open flaps were in the hallway to hear the story that proves life is a carnival (i.e., a freak show).

5:00pm:  “Mildred, please call the nurse’s station.   Mildred, please call the nurse’s station.”  

Really, Millie?

5:30pm:  ULOB had some chivalry left in him.  He didn’t fall of the cliff, as it were, until POULOB left.

SOB and I held his hands and whispered gently in his ears that we loved him and he was safe as his breathing got shallower, and as he got less agitated, thanks to modern medicine.

6:00pm:  “Shia, wakey, wakey!!”  ULOB’s roommate was asleep for too long and needed some exercise.  Earlier, another inmate had come by, looking to be amused by the man who talks to himself.  But Shia was sleepy, sleepy.

Note to self: if there are no private rooms, go to a different hospital.

In the cacophony of the world, ULOB’s breathing got slower and the blueness of death was in his fingers.

Slowly, gently, quietly, ULOB left this world living life on his terms, except for these last ten days.

Time of death: 7:15pm.

Rest in peace, Uncle Larry.

ULOB

I had a wonderful, relaxing weekend.  No one else in my family did.

I was away and SOB wanted to protect me from the weekly crisis.

On Friday afternoon, ULOB was not answering his phone.  POULOB, panicked, called SOB.  SOB ran to ULOB’s fourth floor walk up in Hell’s Kitchen (where he lives in voluntary squalor).  She found him, half dead.  He had tripped on a cord and probably grabbed for the chair (with piles of stuff on it) and brought everything down on top of him.

SIDEBAR:  We had been begging him to use LifeAlert for so long.  But he is stubborn and independent.  You could buy him every gadget in the work and he won’t crack open the box, let alone wear it.  He doesn’t use an umbrella when it rains.  Why? “My father never did.”

ULOB had been lying there for quite a while (based on the level of dehydration).  Had SOB not gotten there when she did . . . .  Well, let’s just say that she found him in the nick of time.

SIDEBAR:  What a difference a day makes.  His friend Frank spoke to him on Thursday afternoon.  By Friday afternoon, his world had changed.  

SOB “unburied” him, got him water, and called an ambulance. She called BOB (who was in town, taking the Dad call) to meet her.  SOB rode in the ambulance.  BOB and POULOB came later.

Still, SOB did not call me.  She wanted me to have a fun weekend in Boston.  Even if she was left to deal with ULOB while the other adults were kicking back with cold ones.  Even holding back the the gross details of what happened to the urine-soaked pants, and ULOB’s aspiration of gross smoker’s phlegm.

Saturday afternoon, I turned my phone off after seeing my college friends.  I really wanted to disconnect a little.  What could happen in 12 hours?  Hell, I didn’t even know about the last 24 hours.

But during those 12 hours, when I went off the grid, that’s REALLY when SOB needed me.

ULOB worsened significantly as the pneumonia took hold and needed a ventilator.    Thank G-d for HOSOB who anchored SOB and kept ULOB entertained.

Sunday morning, the hotel phone woke me.  POB, who was having her own nightmarish weekend tending to her much-diminished and ornery father, called and said, “Call your sister.  It is not your Dad.”

I called SOB and got the download.  I hopped into my car and drove straight to the hospital.

When I arrived, ULOB was on the ventilator but he was alert, hungry and cranky.  In reasonable shape, all things considered.  We will take the future day by day.

Strong work, SOB.  From now on, I will sleep with my phone beside my ear.  I will never let you go through an episode like this again without me right next to you.

Hairless and Fearless Part II

(For Part I, see:  http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5058)

This weekend, I saw my dear friend who has cancer.

SIDEBAR:  I would say, “had,” but I am too superstitious. There is still radiation, to eradicate any stray cells.

I had arranged to drive up to her house in late April, but I got sick.  And no one who is a friend goes, when sick, to see someone undergoing chemo.  And I knew that to battle my friend’s cancer, the doctors were taking out the big “chemo” guns.  The remedy would eradicate the cancer, but she had to survive the remedy.  I worried every day about that.  (The perils of having a doctor in the family.)

This weekend, the stars aligned.  She finished chemo; I am healthy; and she has a break before radiation therapy to make sure the “big guns” got it all.

I drove to the suburbs of Boston.  I was early, so I parked a street away and let my thoughts run wild — through the fears of what chemo had done to her body; through the fervent belief that my friend would be there, just as she always was, although maybe a little paler, a little weaker, and little less hair; through everything in between.

I waited 30 minutes, and still I was early.  I couldn’t wait anymore.  I pulled up to the house.  Her husband and I hugged.

“She’s upstairs resting.  I’ll get her.”

NOOOoooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!  Let her rest!!”

Very soon afterward, my friend comes down the stairs.  Thinner.  With a head scarf.  But, same smile.  Same beautiful eyes.  My friend.   An indomnitable spirit and with a certain grace that even poison cannot kill.

Letty Pogrebin’s article about her friend’s fight with cancer prepared me for the difference in my friend’s appearance.  I knew to focus on the windows to my friend’s essence — her smile and her eyes.

And then she took off her scarf and showed me that her hair was growing back.  I ran my hands over the short growth.  It was good to feel softness.  The regrowth process started gently.  I was glad to think that recovery might be as gentle and kind from here on out.

And she is beautiful without hair.  And she was relaxed and happy to laugh and recount some of the crazy, Seinfeld-like, stories of various people’s reactions.  And eager to listen about the crazy stuff in my life and in Soeur J’s life. Soeur J lives not too far and rearranged her schedule to match mine (thank you).

We had a fun, funny visit.  But it was too soon time to go.

I told my friend not to wait for me to pull away because I had to input GPS coordinates back to Boston.

In truth, I needed to let the tears stream down.

Tears? Of gratitude that my friend survived chemo.  Of gratitude for her and Soeur J’s friendship.  Of gratitude that I, a healthy person, and my friend could look each other in the eyes and be grateful for the moment, the years of friendship, and an abiding love.

Radiation starts on Wednesday.  Keep my friend in your thoughts and prayers.

Life as it is

In my experience, life is about getting up after you have been smacked down.  Every privilege has an underbelly.  Even a smack-down has an empowering attribute.

Of course, I am speaking from the position of society’s fortunate daughters.

Recently, I have witnessed or heard about profound loss, familial estrangement, financial issues, etc.  The “imperfect” side of our perfect, privileged world.

A world, in which ten years ago, POB was edited out of our class alumni news.

SIDEBAR: Was it an issue of space in our alumni column?  Nah.  Other significant others, who were not alums, made it in print.

A world in which having a hard time raising kids is glossed over with pretty pictures of vacations in exotic places.

A world in which marriage is for keeps, no matter how those bond have disintegrated.

A world in which money woes don’t exist because everyone must be wildly successful.

A world in which one’s children must be the best and the brightest.

A world that doesn’t really exist, except in alumni bulletins.

Because life isn’t easy, except for the very few or the profoundly disconnected. I bet there are people struggling everyday under the weight of issues they never thought they would have — or should have — considering their pedigrees.

Life is hard.  That is real.  The prep school, college and/or graduate school alumni magazines are kicks for a peek into the world of the clueless.

I can’t keep up with our classmates’ glossies. My life is a mish-mash of love and estrangement, life and loss, money and not-so-much-money, health and illness, and a wonderful, yet imperfect kid (who has wonderful, yet wholly imperfect parents). 

Sometimes, it is too damn hard to raise kids.  And let’s be honest about that.  Those who don’t know that haven’t gotten their hands dirty with the details of their children’s lives.  We dip into our savings to give SOS all we can.  We won’t go on vacation this year because it is more important that he go to camp.  Ok, I am not rich in dollars this year.  But, successful?  Depends on how you measure it.

And, what have we — the perfect and imperfect, alike — done with our lives after 50 years?  Have we inspired people to do good? Have we educated the next generation? Have we reached out a hand (and resources) to make a young person’s dream of higher education come true?  Or will we have so many meaningless toys at the end of our lives and have squandered chances to make a real difference?

My mother, as she lie dying, blessed each of her children and said, “I had a good life.  I wish it were longer.  I love your father. And he is such a wonderful man. And I am proud of you [the kids], and I think I helped people and healed the world just a little.  It was a good life.”

I want to be able to repeat my mother’s words about my life, when my time comes.  I promise you I will not be rich in dollars and cents.  I hope I am rich in what matters.

 

The Challenge, Parts 3-5

So, I still stink at the Rings (see http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5188 and
http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5182), but after three more weeks, I am getting better.

And I invested in gear that gymnasts use on the rings. The shipping was more expensive than the equipment.

photo(10)This contraption of torture is supposed to shift the pain and prevent the outer skin layer of one’s hands from being ripped off by the rings.

I have one thing to say, “stick with the hurt you know.”

Still, the day had its small triumphs: I swung and grabbed a third ring and almost grabbed a fourth!!  I need to control my torso better.  I was so concerned about my arms that I forgot to crunch my abdomen and propel with legs.

Here is the distrastrous footage.  This is a blooper and self-respecting people would not post this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9enHreQ01E&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Not graceful — yet — just me.  As you see, as I am, I am.

Watch out for the end of July — I will be awesome.  Now?  Not so much.

 

The Downside of being POB

POB has never really embraced this blog.

She has grown accustomed to it, as one does a dull pain in the neck.  Sometimes, she is afraid of what I will write; I seem to have a more inclusive sense of what is an appropriately bloggable moment.  It is a boundary thing: I have few (for better or for worse) and POB has a few more (for better or for worse).

SIDEBAR:  Even I have boundaries.  Some of the Soeurs were shocked to hear that there is such a thing as an unbloggable moment.  Yes, there are life moments too intimate, too painful, too sad, to share.  And there are moments that can’t be shared yet.

I think what really got to POB this week was that at each event she attended — lunch, coffee, gathering — she started to tell a story and someone would say, “Oh, yeah, I read about that on the blog!!”  She has her own way of telling a story and her own viewpoint.  “Why can’t I tell stories my own way, without worrying that you blogged about it first?!”

Why?  Well, dear POB, for the simple reason that I may not be there to correct you.

If you write it, it is real.