Party of One

Lunch with Dad today.  As he declines, he looks so forward to an activity with family on each weekend day.

I decided that I would run to Dad’s house through in Central Park, and then all the way east to Dad’s house.

As I was running, things seemed a bit off.  I didn’t know why.  There were people all around doing usual Park things — running, skateboarding, picnicking — and East Side things —  shopping and arguing and looking at maps to figure out their bearings.

All the usual sights and sounds . . .

EXCEPT

I was surrounded by straight people — couples, singles or with their families.  Ok, maybe not all straight.  Just not embracing their inner gay.

Where were the other gay people?  WHERE WAS EVERYONE?

Did I not get the flyer?

Wait, ah . . . 

They were downtown at the biggest NYC outdoor party of the year!!!  Celebrating the revolution and evolution of gay rights, which feels a little like this photo:

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In truth, I haven’t marched in a Gay Pride parade in many, many years.  Because, to riff on the old ACT UP chant:

I am here, I am queer and I am soooo used to it.

I hope it was a fun party.

And don’t worry, I kept things integrated uptown.

 

Father’s Day 2014

Hallmark holidays suck.  At least on Father’s Day.  At least for this mother of a father-less son.

I block it every year.  I can’t ever remember that it is Father’s Day until we trip over it.  And then I think,

“Oh shit, will SOS be ok?”

Ok, I am not a good planner when it comes to this “holiday.”  I block it because I cannot conjure up a facsimile dad.  There is no vegan turkey for this thanksgiving holiday.

And then I fixate on our aging Dads.  Because it is easier.

SOS was not in a great mood today.  But, thank G-d, he spent some special time with Cousin Gentle.

The clan gathered for dinner.  Still, SOS was in a whiny mood.  I assumed it was the Father’s Day thing, but interestingly, he was very cuddly with me. I could not read the signals because usually when he is feeling different about having two moms, he is mean to me. I was bracing for that treatment all day.

At dinner, we toasted our fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, sons and grandsons.  Dad was disconnected and confused.  FOPOB was surprisingly present and engaged.  The world was upside down.

After the ganza mispocheh (the big family) left, I went into SOS’s room to talk.

“Dude, I want to talk about Father’s Day.”

“Why?”

“Because this is one of those days when I regret that you don’t have a dad, because it feels like everyone is celebrating having a dad and, so today, but really only today, I hate that you don’t.”

“Really, E-Mom?  It is ok.  It is like being Jewish at Christmas.  Is that what you wanted to talk about?”

Ahhhhh. I made special note of the “OMG-you’re-so-lame-how-do-survive-a-day-in-the-world” tone.

I smiled to myself.  (I couldn’t give SOS the satisfaction.)  And I thought of Crosby, Still, Nash & Young:

And you, of the tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
they seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they fix, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

SOS, my best and toughest teacher, in the subject of life.  I learn these lessons because my happiness depends on it.

Happy father’s day to all, whether or not it applies.

Life with Father, episode 16

At the Passover Seder, brisket is served, because:

  1. the majority of the attendees are, well, carnivor-tarians;
  2. we have delicious things for the vegetarians, vegans and those gluten-free; and
  3. G-d did not deliver us from Egypt to eat turkey.

Dad likes a thinly sliced and lean brisket.  I like thick slices of the marbled cut, so it is moist but not fatty.

SIDEBAR: Also? I cannot cut brisket in thin slices.  I suck at it.

Dad is quite forgetful nowadays; yet, he is capable of moments of startling clarity.   Especially concerning the cut and the slicing of the brisket.

In the run up to the Seder, Dad instructed me any number of times about how my slicing is too thick (dare he say, in-elegant? (yes, yes, he dared)) and that the meat was not lean enough.

SIDEBAR:  Tell it to the poor grass fed cow who guest-starred at dinner.

When it came to the stressful moment when I had to cut the brisket, my hands were shaking.  And, as the meat crumbled under my slicing, I was almost in tears that Dad would notice the disastrous cutting of the brisket more than anything else about Seder.

Seder seemed to go well.  Dad ate his fill and was in a good, if disconnected, mood.

I spoke to him this afternoon.  As he complimented me on my leading of the discussion about the Exodus from Egypt, he also mentioned the “crazy style of food” at Seder.

My heart sank.  I couldn’t hold it in.

“Daddy, I am so sorry about the crumbly brisket and the thick slices.  I just can’t cut it the way you do!”

“Well, darling, why didn’t you ask me to cut the brisket?  I would have been happy to.”

UH OH. It is a delicate balance: elegant brisket AND a deranged old man with a knife or safety and not so pretty brisket.  I know, it is a toss up.  

“Dad, let’s discuss this next year, ok?”

“Ok, darling, but it will look and taste a lot better . . . .”

And so we add another prayer to our Seder:

Baruch atah Adonai, eloheinu melech ha’alom, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitsivanu al slicing of the brisket.

Blessed is G-d, Sovereign of the Universe, Who hallows our lives through commandments and Who has commanded us regarding the slicing of the brisket.

Happy holidays.

 

Christmas

Tonight is a night of tradition.  In years past, we assembled, young and old, religious and not, to observe the Jewish rituals of Christmas.

First, we ordered in Chinese food.  And it wasn’t kosher in the least.

Sidebar:  Many years ago, there was only over-cooked Cantonese available. Then, we were blessed with Hunan and Szechuan.  And now, “Chinese food” is a term that includes the foods of all of the Asian continent.

Second, over dinner, we discussed which movie (at the local theater) we should see on Christmas day.

Sidebar: Until recently, there were no lines at the movie theaters, unless you lived in a particularly Jewish area, in which case you had to go to the movie theater in another neighborhood.  Also, no computers, internet or streaming movies.

Third, we searched the TV for something other than midnight mass from Vatican City or the Yule log.

Sidebar:  Remember, this was pre-cable/internet/Apple TV.  Channel 9 always had a marathon of the Joe Franklin talk show — it was low-budget and he wore polyester suits and had a comb-over.

Fourth, we felt bloated and restless because, even though we didn’t need to go to a store, just the knowledge that the store might be closed caused claustrophobic reactions among those assembled.

Sidebar:  It is like the anxiety-induced hunger pangs a day before the Yom Kippur fast.

Fifth, we discussed each Anti-Semite we ever knew and practiced our usual Easter refrain, “It was the Romans!”.

Sidebar:  It is amazing what happens when Jews feel bloated and unable to shop.  And it is never too early to sway public opinion and why wait until Lent?

There was a spring in my step as I came home — for ’twas the night before Christmas and we had tradition to uphold.  Imagine my reaction to the smell of cooking — COOKING — emanating from the kitchen. Oy. Tradition unravels.

First: we ate quinoa, tofu and chicken soup.  (These were options; not one concoction.)

Second: we discussed what we would watch on Netflix.

Third: we couldn’t agree on anything, so we channel-surfed THOUSANDS of channels and found nothing to watch except something about antelopes, pronghorns, and bears.

Fourth: Amazon.com.  Enough said.

Fifth: Mere anti-semitism is so, well, quaint.  There are crazy people with nukes out there who hate lots and lots of people, all for the same stupid reasons.

But we still practice, “It was the Romans!

Merry Christmas to all.

 

The Garden Gnome

I work in Rockefeller Center.  You know, the place in Midtown with the humongous Christmas tree. That august, old, and beautiful tree that was alive before someone decided to kill it to decorate Rockefeller Center.  Soon it will be mulch.  But I digress (of course).

Being a New Yorker with some compassion for tourists, I try to walk around (as opposed to through) a snapshot taken by one tourist of others.  Sometimes, I even offer to take a picture of the whole brood.  And I don’t cut off the one with the biggest hair, just for spite.  (Who says I have been naughty this year?)

But being in Rockefeller Center in December is like living your life on a rush-hour subway car.

As quickly as I dodge one photo op of tourists, I am captured in another.  My face appears in so many photos of treasured memories of strangers.  I am part of their New York experience.  So close to them; just sooooo not a part of their family or experience.

I was just trying to steamroll them so I could get to the subway faster.

But now I am a part of their photo albums.  Short and with a beard (ok, the beard is fake.)

That’s Aunt Garden Gnome to you, thank you very much.

images

Whoa, I need a shave and a wardrobe consult.

The Blessings of Underachievement

This Thanksgiving, I was grateful for a very odd blessing.  Here is the back story:

Recently, I heard many people say variations of:

“I can’t do that anymore.”

“When I was young, I could do cartwheels!”

“I don’t have the stamina anymore . . . .”

“When I was young, I could speak Yiddish.  Now I can’t remember.”

I understand.  Actually, no, I don’t understand.

I never was exceptional at anything.  I never did cartwheels, run marathons or speak more than one language.

I was certainly good at things but no thing that was ever so a part of my identity that time so that age robbed me of the ability to enjoy it. (Or, at least, I have forgotten about it/them, as happens with age.)

Underachievement was not well tolerated in my family, but my parents didn’t really think there was much else to achievement other than academic achievement.  And, well, that was redundant in my family, much like “free gift”.

And while BOB and I are certainly no academic slouches, thank G-d, SOB’s resume sparkled enough to blind Mom and Dad to BOB’s and my more checkered academic pedigrees.

I was never a Olympian, rock star, virtuoso of any kind.  I have never had big ideas.  I have never been famous or a household name (other than in my own).

But then, again, I have never had to go on a B-list celebrity reality show to regain prior glory, go on Oprah to confess and seek redemption from America’s daytime TV viewers.  I have never had to hang up my cleats or have people whisper about whether my best days are behind me (they probably are, but no one really cares enough to discuss it).  No one expects a near-fifty year-old woman to do a cartwheel, although I guess many do run marathons.

If you don’t climb up so far on the ladder, your fall is not as bad.  My new mantra of underachievement.

Words to age by.

Hope and Change

Yom Kippur ended just two hours ago.  Jews fast on Yom Kippur as a part of penance and as a sign of the solemnity of the Holy Day.  And as part of our petition to G-d to save our lives and inscribe us in the Book of Life for the coming year.

The fast is from sundown to sundown.  Actually, it is longer.  It starts when you last eat before you rush to synagogue to get good seats (our egalitarian synagogue does not have assigned seating) until you eat again the next night — at least 25 hours later, when there are three stars in the sky.  But really, this is New York.  You can’t see stars and you can’t immediately break the fast. First you have to push people into the street to steal the cab and make your way to your break-fast meal.  Because no time like the present to start sinning again and, if you are going to start, you need to do it in a spectacular way, like stealing that cab from people who, only minutes ago, you hugged and kissed and wished a happy and healthy Jewish New Year.

But, I digress.

SOS wanted to fast this year.  He is only 11 years-old and I was not a fan of his fasting so young.  He was determined, and at points during the day, miserable to be around.  But he was steadfast and resisted my entreaties to eat.  He spent the whole day in synagogue with us, until the Shofar (ram’s horn) blew at 8pm, ending the Holy Day and the fast.  We didn’t start eating until after 9pm.

As we walked to the restaurant for our break-fast meal, SOS said, “I won’t survive another minute!!”

“Sweetie, I promise you will.  You are hungry but you won’t expire.  Some people live like this.”

“E-Mom, do you know that there are so many kids like me who live in the City  and go to sleep hungry?  I have never felt this hungry before.  This is horrible.”

“Can you imagine being this hungry and going to sleep at night or having to go to school?”

SILENCE.

SOS gripped my hand tighter.

“We have to do something about this.”

HOPE AND DREAMS OF THE NEXT GENERATION.

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

Seder Part 2

Seder, Part 2:  Subtitled “Kol B’Seder?” (all ok?  literally in good order?)

Meanwhile, Uncle L looked slovenly despite his well-heeled paramour and family.  Just take a look at his coat:  No wonder his paramour thought we were wolves.  A generation from the ghettos of Europe, born in the country, and still.  But he is a Yankees fan, so some things are forgiven.

photo(12)

Ok, so we started the Seder.  As commanded, we go through our “emblems of festive rejoicing” which are the symbols of Passover:  rebirth, renewal, bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom, and the remembrance of the night of death in Egypt that led to the Exodus.  But wait, there’s more.

In our family, we have our own symbols of festive rejoicing, requiring a second Seder plate.  First, G-d didn’t deliver us from Egypt, then the pogroms of Europe, then the Holocaust, then to two generations of prosperity in the United States for us to drink that gross Manischevitz wine.  So, we have a “Manischevitz Free Zone” in our house, where there is (reasonably) good Kosher wine and some good other wine.  Second, courtesy of HOSOB (we love him so), we have a Moses action figure (which was a bonus with any Nintendo purchase) that has detachable staff and Ten Commandments for the requisite slamming at the sight of the Golden Calf.  Third, have a watch to symbolize the ONE hour that SOB allows for the ceremony before she takes away the Haggadot and announces the first course will be served. In a nod to the modern age, SOB flashes her iPhone timer, so I know exactly, to the nanosecond, how much time I have left.

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Finally (not pictured here), we have a brisket and not a turkey, because G-d didn’t work miracles and deliver us from five millennia of trials and tribulations so that we would have to eat dry turkey.  No, G-d delivered us so that we could enjoy a nice, juicy, marbled brisket with just the right amount of fat to make it tasty and moist.  (Unless you are vegan or vegetarian, in which case we had a delicious Mediterranean bean dish.)  That is my interpretation of the wisdom of the ages.  You can have yours, just not in my house.

We tried a different approach to Seder this year — we would go quickly through the retelling of the story (see the cheat sheet on the chalk board)

photo(12) And then we proceeded to discuss who was the most righteous in the story.  I emailed everyone with the assignment to determine the most righteous person, and people really read up on it.

Sidebar:  GDJOB, who had never cracked the spine of the Bible, was at a loss until her spouse GDKOB showed up.  GDKOB was in charge of preparing for Seder.  Unfortunately, she was a little late for the debate but her righteous person was discussed.  They brought dessert, so all was forgiven.

There was a catch:  what is the definition of righteous?  Depending on our definitions, we had different answers.  There was a second catch:  there is no right answer, except that we can agree that among the wrong answers are: (i) Pharaoh and (ii) the Edward G. Robinson’s character in Cecil B. DeMille’s, “The Ten Commandments” (did he chew on a cigar or is that just my imagination?).

We came up with four righteous people (with our varying definitions of righteousness):

  • Moses (trite);
  • Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law who advises Moses;
  • Tzipporah, Moses’ wife who saves him when G-d tried to kill him; and
  • Pharaoh’s daughter, who, knowing Moses was an Israelite, nevertheless saves the baby from the Nile.

My choice? Pharaoh’s daughter.  Who has no name, except in Chronicles, the Koran and the writings of Josephus.  In the Hebrew Bible, she is known only by her relationship to a man, Seti I, who decreed that male babies of the Israelites must die.  She defied her father’s decree and saved a life and raised Moses as her son.  She stepped outside her rarefied, privileged world and extended her hand to a slave child.  Because a child is a child.  Because a life is a life.  And she risked everything, maybe for the knowledge that she was doing the right thing and her heart and soul would not be sullied by the death of a child.

And she was exiled when later it was found out that Moses, her son, was an Israelite.

Her name was Bithia.

Bithia.  A person to be remembered as a human who saved a life of a baby who would grow up to liberate a people.

Bithia was her name.  And at Passover, I remember Bithia.  Because she is the person I most admire in this story.

Chag sameach.  (Happy holidays.)

Seder

One month ago, when I invited the “family” to Seder, there was some trepidation.

Why trepidation at just another annual ritual?  Well, here is a partial list of the invitees:

  • Dad (who is not the man he was prior to his brain injury), accompanied by his Guyanese home attendant who had never been to a Seder;
  • Shelly who is not romantically involved with Dad, regardless of what Uncle L thinks (we will get to THAT later);
  • Our g-ddaughters, who are not Jewish and one of whom has never cracked open the Bible (but she makes amazing Kosher for Passover desserts, so go figure);
  • My Uncle L, who having recently lost Aunt R just a few months ago, wanted bring his paramour of 25 years (will someone PLEASE shoot me);
  • My Aunt R’s blood nephew and his wife, who may not be so psyched to know that Uncle L had a side gig (a shonda — embarrassment — for the neighbors);
  • FOPOB who is not always emotionally or mentally “present” and SOPOB who is not always physically present;
  • Cousin Gentle, CB, SOB and HOSOB — thank G-d; and
  • my personal trainer who gave me good arms for my wedding dress.

So, bottom line:  lesbians, their baker g-ddaughter, an uncle, his lover, a Greek Chorus and a brisket.  La follie. Madness.

Ok, by the grace of G-d, my aunt’s nephew and his wife couldn’t come so we didn’t have to create even more lies about the state of affairs (pardon the pun) of the family.

Because Uncle L keeps white wine in his refrigerator for his paramour, I bought very good bottles of various white grapes. Only to find out that she likes red wine, but Uncle L won’t buy red because he thinks it doesn’t keep for long.

Sidebar:  Really, Uncle?  Dirt has thrived in your home since 1954.  New life forms and strains of antibiotics could be discovered in your slums-of-Calcutta-apartment and you are worried about whether red wine will go bad?  I know people draw lines in the sand but, but, whoa, that is really strange.

A second sidebar:  I asked S, Uncle Larry’s paramour (and our new relative), whether she had been to a Seder before, and she said she had been to four, to which SOS exclaimed, “wow, she has more Jewish connections than we thought!!”  Oy. Oy. Oy. Out of the mouths of babes, indeed, but, sometimes, a muzzle would work just fine.

Even another sidebar:  When will I stop calling her, “the paramour”?  Check back with me in 25 years.  A generation is a biblical time period and quite possibly after 25 years we will not remember that there was an “overlap” when Uncle L was with Aunt R.

I told S she was welcome in our home as long as she could handle loving references to Aunt R.  Wow, now that was a tense moment.

And I haven’t even talked about the preparation for the Seder or the Seder itself.  More anon.  Stay tuned (with pictures from SOB).