Life with Father

On Friday night, at 11:35pm, the phone rang for the third time in 30 minutes. Everyone else in the house was asleep (or trying to sleep anyway).

The first two times were wrong numbers.  On the second call, I said to the guy, “I am sorry to tell you, but you wrote it down wrong or the woman just gave you the wrong number.”  I felt bad for him and angry at Denise — the woman he was calling.

The third time, I was steamed at the spurned would-be lover.  And I answered the phone with a serious attitude.

Hello!!”  I answered gruffly and angrily.

[Blogger], it’s Dad.”

Uh oh.  This was late for Dad and there was a worried sound in his voice.

I don’t know where Mom is.  She isn’t home yet and I have been waiting for her.  And I don’t know how to reach her.

My heart leapt into my throat.  I knew I could not tell him the truth in stark terms — that Mom is dead almost 11 years, so I opted for:  “Um, Dad, Mom isn’t around anymore.

SIDEBAR:  If I were a member of my grandparents’ generation, I would clear my throat (“achem”) and say in a thick East European accent:  “Vhat-vhat? [Mom] is dead.  Years ago.  Go to sleep alrrrready.  Staying up won’t bring her back.”  So much for the warm and fuzzies.

I don’t understand!” Dad continued.  “No one told me!  What kype [“type” and “kind” mashed together — a Dad signature mashable] of an operation are we running around here?

Ok, so no gentle reminder of Mom’s death was going to snap him back into today’s reality.  I swallowed hard and close my eyes.  The last thing Dad needed at 11:40pm was to relive Mom’s death.

Dad, I meant that Mom isn’t around at home tonight.  Mom and [SOB] are having a mother-daughter sleep-over.  They spent the day together and now Mom is staying over.  But don’t call because [SOB] has to get up early for work and they are already asleep, ok?

Why didn’t anyone tell me?  I have been worried for hours!

Dad, I am sure that you were told.  It is that sometimes, people forget.  And maybe you did, too, at least this time.

I heard the sound of Dad’s displeasure.  A little muttering that he does when he is unhappy or feels he has to worry needlessly.

This is good news to me.

Phew.  That meant he was willing to accept this explanation.  Because this explanation preserved Mom’s existence.

Everyone will call you in the morning, Dad.  I promise everything is ok.  Will you go to sleep now?

I wish someone would let me know what is going on around here.

Daddy, I know.  Please go to sleep and you will see everyone tomorrow.  Good night.  I love you.

I love you, too, darling.  But we have to change things around here so I am included in the plans.

You are so right, Dad.  Good night.

Good night, darling.

Next call is to SOB who was asleep.  I dialed, she answered, and I cut to the important stuff:  “Dad called me looking for Mom.  I told him that she was sleeping over at your house but you had all gone to bed already.  Just in case he calls.  Go back to sleep.

SIDEBAR:  I am closer to my grandparents’ generation than I thought.

This episode is not uncommon for older people at night or in the early morning, after they wake up.  On Saturday morning, he was confused but in a different way.  By Saturday lunch, he was generally ok.  Lunch today (Sunday), SOB reported that, with gentle prodding, he was able to remember that Mom died.  But he repeated something he always says: Mom surrounds him in the apartment and he is happy there [a true love story].  And he is comforted and reassured by talking to his kids.

So, he needs to remain shrouded in his happy memories, in that apartment, until he is reunited with Mom.  And his children must keep him grounded in the present.  Or lie to him, if necessary, until we can be face-to-face until we can gently guide him back.

Next week:  Mom goes on a week-long synagogue retreat for the Sisterhood organization.  And she is rooming with Judy Zimmerman, our former rabbi’s wife.  [Just like she used to.]  Are you listening, SOB and BOB?

Wu Fu

Yesterday, we had lunch with Dad and his attendant and then all decamped to the Asia Society.  SOS was interested in the exhibit on symbols of power and prestige in dynastic China and Dad was, as always, game for any excursion (whether or not he remembers the event).

SIDEBAR:  Do I know SOS is not even 11 years old?  Yes, yes, I do.  Do I know where the crazy smart genes come from?  Yes, yes, I do.  And I can tell you the donor’s ID number if that helps in your family planning.

So, we saw some examples of magnificent craftsmanship and artistry in 3000 year-old pottery, and paper scrolls.  Except for my amazement at the intricacy of the designs, this type of exhibition makes my eyes roll back into my head.  SNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOZE.

SIDEBAR:  And you all thought I was being modest about referring you to the donor for whence comes SOS’s brains and interests.  Clearly, I am ready to go to the gym and increase my muscle-to-gray matter ratio, rather than look at pottery that is uingapiatchka’d (Yiddish for rococo style on steroids).

SOS was fascinated.  “E-Mom, remind me again about the difference between the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas?”  I obliged, because I am a reasonably well educated, if meat-headed philistine.


I saw it.  The plate with five bats hovering over peaches (not so awesome) and the description of its symbolism (totally awesome).  And the wisdom of the ages and the commonality of human hopes, dreams and desires hit me in a Eureka!! moment.

And then I saw the symbolism everywhere in the pottery in the exhibition.  Wu Fu.

WU FU.  The word for bats and happiness are the same.  Five bats; five elements of happiness:



health and peace,


a natural (good) death.

Happiness is retrospective.  Happiness is a life in balance; happiness is a life, viewed on balance.

So, Wu Fu cannot be measured in a moment.  Even if that moment is hanging out with some of the most precious people on earth to you on the porch of the Camp Wingate dining hall or on the Mayan riviera (even if you are photo-shopped into the pictures because the flu kept you away).

I looked over at Dad, who was leaning in to hear what SOS thinks about the treasure from the Khmers, and, I thought, whoa, Dad has four out of five.  Please, G-d, let him (and us) have his fifth happiness.

And I thought of my dear friend, who is fighting for longevity in the face of cancer.  Please, please, G-d, remember her with all five Wu Fu.  Because if she has Wu Fu, then her college friends’ Wu Fu meters will increase exponentially.

Because Wu Fu is a boomerang.  When you have it, share it. 

And then we will Wu Fu the world.

It can happen.  It begins with us.



Good Medicine

I have been sick this week.  I stayed home one full day (Tuesday) and, by this afternoon (Friday), it was clear I was not recovered.  My colleagues even told me to go home.  The COB even cheerfully took over responsibility for some thankless and unglamorous tasks so that I could just go home and climb into bed.  A true colleague.  Our assistant, who usually tortures me in that negative affection type of way, was actually kind and looked worried.  I must have looked bad.

I came home and collapsed into bed.  I was almost immediately overcome with the need to sleep.  As I was dozing, I half-dreamed of being sick as a kid.

Mom would hug me and say, “my poor tsatskele [Yiddish endearment], if I could have this for you, I would!”  Then she would kiss my forehead to check for fever.  Then she would direct me to my bed.  And to be doubly sure that I didn’t have a fever, Mom would get one of those mercury thermometers (on the list of pre-1980 household hazards) doused in rubbing alcohol (for sterilization) and tucked under the tongue.

“Tea and toast and rest” was the basic remedy.  If needed, I could have aspirin and, at night, cough suppressant. Mom would set up the vaporizer — that contraption that made steam heat and bred bacteria — to clear my clogged sinuses.  Ok, maybe a little Vaseline on my chapped nose and lips, but Mom was very cautious about its use. When she was young, there were instances when sick babies who suffocated because mothers applied Vaseline too liberally in their babies’ noses.

Throughout the course of my cold, she administered loving hugs and kisses liberally and got up every few hours during the night to touch my cheek and make sure all was ok.

There weren’t many over-the-counter products then to relieve cold symptoms.  But my mother would have had none of that.   If it was just a head cold to suffer through, a little extra tender loving care (and tea and toast) was medicine enough.

Mom was a working professional, so if any of us was sick during the week, Leta, our nanny, would be in charge.  But Mom lingered in the mornings, and came home early. Dad also canceled his last patient so he could be on hand for the evening love-not-drugs fest.

Leta was no slouch when it came to smothering us with love, under any circumstance.  And when one of us was sick, she outdid herself.  Leta would pour half a cup of sugar in the tea because she thought it was heartless of Mom and Dad to ration sugar (my Dad was a dentist, after all).  And she prescribed sucking candy (a banned substance in our house) as throat lozenges.

Sidebar:  I don’t think I told my parents about the candy and sugar and the other broken rules until after Leta died in the 1990s.  That was our secret with Leta.  Mom and Dad would have certain rules, and Leta would ignore those rules, much to our delight.

And, of course, my grandmother, Mom’s mother, couldn’t bear that any of her little darling grandchildren was sick.  So, she would come laden down with food like stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes, and a whole host of time-honored Jewish-Ashkenazic comfort food.   Grandma and Leta had a grudging respect for each other which over the years turned into real affection, but when one of us was sick, it was all-out turf warfare.  No wonder Mom went to her office.

Even with today’s magic potions, Nyquil or Dayquil or the equivalent, there is no better medicine than Mom’s hugs, Leta’s smother and Grandma’s food.  Just thinking about it makes me feel better already.

Like a Hurricane

Our newly re-acronymed child, SOS (source of sanity) needs to go back to TLP (the little prince), at least for a little while.

On Saturday night, we hunkered down after checking in on all local relatives who might need help.  TLP wondered why we couldn’t camp out at the beach like his cousin, his aunt and his other grandfather (not my dad).  (In fact, to add insult to injury, we made him come home from visiting them at the beach in anticipation of the hurricane.)

They aren’t camping actually.

In fact, they didn’t intend to “camp”, since they live in a perfectly lovely house in East Hampton.  We tried to explain that Hurricane Irene could cause downed power lines and flooding, which would then lead to “indoor camping” by necessity and not by choice.

TLP thought it would an important manly experience, except he forgot that he is a (little) man who likes his amenities, let alone “essentials” like TV, computer access, running water, flushing toilets, etc.

You get the picture. He knows what he wants until he realizes that it is not at all what he wants.  Until that eureka moment, he has the determination of . . . of . . . well, POB (partner of blogger).  Genes are a boomerang.

It is ok that he is not so self-aware of his lack of earthiness.  He is only 9 years old.

Sunday dragged on and on.  TLP couldn’t really focus on the usual mind-numbing TV because he wanted to go back out to the beach.   The hurricane washed out our week at the beach, at least initially.  When the owners of our rental called to say that the power was out and there was flooding on the property, TLP became inconsolable.  Ok, ok, ok, ok, his entire life up to this point has been a vacation.  It is I, I, I, I, I, I, who needs a vacation. Me, me, me, me, me. (It may be important to note that I am ranting here and not TLP.  I can see how you might be confused.)

POB needs some time away, too, but she has had the summer off so, this year at least, a week at the beach is more tradition and less a sanity-saving device.

I had already started looking at other options.  Of course, anything west required a plane and airports were backlogged.  Going south was clearly a non-starter since that was the trajectory of the storm.

Northwest, maybe. Lake George.  Aaah, the Sagamore.  I loved the Sagamore years ago, even though tennis whites were required on the courts and I had to buy clothes in the gift shop.  What does a New York Jew know about tennis whites?  Oh, yeah, Wimbledon.  But that is in England.  Oh, wait!  These people descend from those who came from England.  Ahhhh.

I called the hotel and they had available condos, etc.  So, maybe they allow lavender on the tennis courts?  After all, these are trying economic times.

I took down the information and said I would call back, because I needed to confirm with POB that she was ok with all goyim all the time at a WASPy retreat. POB has some of that blood line in her so I figured her first question would be ask what would there be for us to eat, because clearly she understands the differences in the traditions.  We don’t drink martinis and we don’t eat honey-roasted bar nuts (we eat healthy, raw nuts).  Clearly, we would starve.  In fact, she did ask, and I looked at her with the “after all these years, you think I can’t read your mind” look.  In a calm, but slightly hurt voice (intending to get some martyr points), I told her about the condos with full kitchens that we could stock up in case we couldn’t recognize any of the food.

I guarantee you the first thing anyone at the Sagamore would think upon seeing our family is not, “oh, Jews”.  Especially when they see my accidentally too-severe Janet Napolitano (US secretary of something) style of haircut (thank you, IFOB (Italian friend of blogger) for drawing that parallel).  In fact, I was betting on an upgrade to the furthest and possibly nicest available condo on the property.  We would get the privacy we want and, if they were particularly freaked out, I planned to ask about Shabbat services.  Hell, they would offer in-condo dining, absolutely free.  Grand slam homer for a patched-together vacation, if you ask me.

My delusions of vacation were interrupted when I called back to book the reservation.  In the 6 hours between my calls, Hurricane Irene had hit them hard.  That area was not supposed to be really affected.  I felt bad for my gloating over the dyke-Jew plague I was going to bring on them.  So, we’ll go there sometime soon, when my hair grows out and we will pay full price.  It is the least we can do.

Ok, no vacation plans.  And the boy who earns the acronym TLP is inconsolable.  So, today, Day 3 of When Havoc Struck The Blogger Family, we set out to the train museum in Danbury, Connecticut.  POB and I decided we needed a road trip and we needed to ease TLP into the staycation reality.  He was happy and POB and I were relieved to have him immersed in something.  And the trains were pretty cool, I have to say.

Tonight, we got word that our rented house will be in reasonable shape on Wednesday.  TLP is over the moon.  We are all relieved as well because it is good to get away.  Still, we have tomorrow.

Using some of my martyr points, I have cleared a Blogger mental health and physical wellness morning tomorrow, which means I get to run and look at the river for a while before we all have lunch.  Then, on to preparations for the delayed vacation.

I am thinking of showing TLP pictures of the damage caused by the hurricane and some pictures from Tripoli so he understands that life is not always a vacation.  I just don’t know when is the right time to introduce reality into a happy (and privileged) childhood.  I don’t want to scar him, but I want him to be grateful that we and none of our family was irreparably harmed in a natural disaster that claimed lives and livelihoods of so many.  I want him to have empathy, but I don’t want him to be afraid of what life throws in our path.  I want him to learn to “roll with it”.  I want him to understand his good fortune.  Maybe these are not 9 year-old thoughts and ideas.  Maybe that is too much to put on someone so young.

Parents out there:  HELP!!!



do over

I just got back from a family trip to Rhinebeck for a barbeque hosted by my first cousin and his wife.  I drove Aunt Betty, DOB (dad of blogger), SOB (sister of blogger), HOSOB (husband of SOB), POB (partner of blogger) and our son, TLP (the little prince).  Cousin Gentle arrived by train.

I need to have a do-over because the journey was not epic — nothing grotesque and peculiar happened.   No blog material.

First, I picked up the rental car and it had GPS and EZ Pass.  And, I got an extra 10 percent discount because, well, I just looked like I deserved it.  I found a parking spot on my street.  I was able to come upstairs, read the Style section of the Times and watch a pre-recorded Phineas and Ferb episode (I must admit that I was watching for my own pleasure; TLP was doing something else).

We got on the road within 10 minutes of our planned departure.  I had three copies of the directions (one for each row, so everyone could follow along).  We didn’t even put on the GPS.  We didn’t even make a rest area stop.  2 hours door-to-door and no traffic.  DOB didn’t do anything terribly outlandish and he didn’t even mind staying more than 20 minutes after arrival.  So, SOB’s and my $1,000,000.00 bet about the time that DOB would say, “well, all you lovely people. . . .[it is time to go]” was for naught.

It was like taking the Stepford family out for a drive.  I kept glancing in the rear-view mirror to make sure I recognized the passengers.  Yep.  They belong to me.

Also, Aunt Betty flew in for a week of seeing people and family (no family are not people) and we all wanted her to have her full of the ganza mishpocheh (the extended family).  DOB did start singing his usual set of 5 of the most annoying songs ever sung (if they are sung all the time), but SOB and I could just walk away.  HOSOB had to endure it.

Of course, I learned some things of note about the ganza mishpocheh.  First, Cousin GS does not hold back.  Not one thing.  Not one thought.  If he has something to say, he will say it, good, bad, ugly, inappropriate, whatever.  That is why I love Cousin GS, he speaks his truth, which can never be reconciled with the events as anyone else sees them, and he makes me seem like a diplomat.

We had time to visit with our cousin who is living with brain cancer and his wife and kids.  He is a different man than I remember.  Of course, he is.  His speech is labored, he is partially paralyzed, but his eyes sparkled, especially when he played with his kids.  He is more interested and interesting now.  My last in-depth conversation was about how he was going to conquer the world financially.  In truth, I was a bit put-off, but he was young and cocky.  Now he seems happy just in the world and views treatments as a necessary evil.  I have to say, though, I wish he were still that cocky 30-something year-old and not the 36 year-old living with brain cancer.  No one should learn about life this way.

It was a great occasion, where people were happy to be together and comfortable being their truly imitable (not inimitable) selves.  (I think at POB’s and my wedding, we are going to have an extended Blogger family imitation extravaganza.)

TLP played with cousins he only just met (the grandchildren of my first cousins).  They were fast friends.  It was sheer joy to see.

The barbeque was one of those occasions that we will all remember years from now and be forever grateful we made the schlep.

But, still, what is there to blog about?