Trumpet in the Time of Migraine

I heard he played a good song . . . .

Ok, that is from Killing Me Softly.  A classic song that alludes to a song — not actually sung — that speaks of a woman’s (or every woman’s) hopes, desires and yearnings.

My son is learning to play the trumpet.  I was having a migraine.  We live in a NYC apartment.  “Killing me softly” were not the words that came to mind.

Torturing me screeeeeeechingly, but please kill me quickly.

In truth, my son is getting better (even said the curmudgeonly upstairs neighbor).

But if this be the music of love? (asked someone in a Shakespearan play).

Then stick a sock in it.

Love my child?  Of course.  Every tone that come out of his mouth?  Nah.  I have evolved from the true Yiddisha mama.

 

Hello! Yes, it’s been a while Part 2

SOS (my son, source of sanity) was away this summer —  7 weeks at camp.

He came home with some virus, etc., that eventually infected everyone in his wake.  But more on that later.

Shortly after he came back (with clothes so gross that they needed to be burned), he started sneezing and blowing his nose.

“DUDE, get a tissue!!!”

“E-Mom, it was just a powder, not a mucous heaver!”

Ok, not only does my son have huge, smelly feet, and that slouchy style of sitting but he was distinguishing sneezes for me.

“Dude.  Dude. Dude.  Dude.  Every sneeze needs a tissue and I never want to see a mucous heaver.  That requires an exit — post-haste — into the bathroom, ok?”

The “mucous heaver” was a scab waiting to be scratched.  I resisted and inquired after the more dainty powder.

“I get what a mucous heaver might be — and all of the joy of living has left me just visualizing it — but what is a powder?”

“A thin, gentle spray.”

Ugh.  A thin, gentle spray of typhoid.  I renew my demand that all sneezes need a tissue.

A few mornings later, I have a stuffy nose and other symptoms of my son’s “sharing is caring” largesse.

As I am clearing my sinuses in my bathroom, I hear SOS shout from the hallway, “E-Mom, awesome HORNBLOWER!!!”

For a small, embarrassing and base moment, I have fit squarely into my 12 year-old’s world.

Just call me Horatio.  Horatio Hornblower.  My son is elated.

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.

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.

There, but for the grace of G-d, go I

About a week ago, SOS asked me, “why don’t we give to people who ask for money on the street?”

Oh, no, time for a lesson in cynicism.

“Well, buddy, we don’t know if they really need money and, if they do, are they using the money to buy drugs or food?  I used to give to everyone and then I realized the hard lesson that some people are not being truthful.”

My answer did not sit well with me at all.  I kept thinking that children will heal the world unless their parents interfere and fill their minds with cynicism.

We were doing errands yesterday.

“Hey, bud.  Remember the conversation that we had about giving to people on the streets?  Well, I want to talk more about it.  We give to charities that help these people.  We are willing to pay more in taxes for social programs and we go door to door to help get out the vote for people who will institute these programs.  But it doesn’t mean that a particular person will be helped, just that we will make inroads in resolving the problem.”

“Ok,” was SOS’s non-committal answer.

Sometimes, kids ask those questions that make you think about all the juicy rationalizations that make your life livable with a more-or-less clear conscience.

And my easy, arm chair liberal answers didn’t sit well with me either.

I should have said, “I don’t have time to get down and dirty with strangers.  I can’t get involved and take on every person’s broken life.  And Darwin is right.”

There.  I said it. (to you and not to my son)

Last night, I could not sleep.  As crazy as it sounds, I kept thinking about Rabbi Hillel: if I am only for myself, who will be for me?

Being homeless is my number 1 neurotic fear.  And yet I told my son that it was ok to look away when you see the homeless.

During my sleepless night, all the things that I should have done, shouldn’t have done, did, and didn’t do, haunted me.

Tonight, the three of us had an early sushi dinner. We picked the closest Japanese restaurant because it is beyond cold outside.

We were on our way back from eating lots of sushi and dropping a lot of money on dinner.

As we crossed onto our block, I saw a mother with an elementary school-aged child taking recyclables out of the trash cans.  They had a cart like the homeless.  To be honest, I have never seen homeless Asians.  It was 7pm and that child should be home.

I told POB and SOS to go ahead up to the house.  I had to go back.  I needed to make sure the girl had a warm coat, gloves and a hat (she did) and that they weren’t going to spend the night outside.  I went over to the mother, “do you have a place to stay tonight?”  She didn’t understand and was a little afraid.  I must have been very earnest in my question.  “Do you have a place to stay tonight?”  I repeated.  I would have given them money for the night, if only because it would mean strength to fight another day and rest for a child before a school day.

Pause.  She smiled.  “Yes. Yes. Yes.  We have a home.  Thank you.  Happy new year!!”

I smiled and walked away.  And I wondered, was she telling me the truth or protecting her pride?

I won’t ever know.

What I do know is that my child pushed me to be more than I was yesterday.

God bless the child.

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

Daddy’s Angels (but our devils)

Once an elder needs care, it is not so easy as having loving people come into the house and care for him or her.

No, you have given birth to a family unit, with individuals perhaps older than you.  Your elder has new kids.  No, this is not science fiction. This, THIS, is the new normal.

Dad has four aides — two share the 12-hour day shift and two share the night shift.  Everything revolves around his care.  Dad is a lovely man and three out of the four aides have become attached to him, and he to them.  The fourth one does her job.  And that is all we ask.

But in the fight over who is the favorite and who takes the best care of Dad, there is palace intrigue.  They check up on each other and rat out each other.  As if Dad is some power broker, rather than a jovial, yet clueless man.

So, these last 14 months, I have had to intervene, referee and speak with any number of supervisors in order to keep Dad’s routine the same.  Because we, as a family, do not believe that a night aide who is competent, but not warm and fuzzy, should lose her job because she and Dad don’t “connect”.  But there have been “cleanliness” issues and Dad is decidedly uncomfortable with her.  Reasons enough to make changes but we resisted, out of respect for a person’s right to earn a living.

Now, there is a battle royale between the aide of whom Dad is most fond and the one of whom he is least fond.  For those of you who are old enough to remember, think Linda Evans and Joan Collins in Dynasty.

You can imagine how little patience one can have for this when it is playing out in my life.  Sometimes I wonder if I am on Jerry Springer, i.e., Shit Time in the Day Time.  (Is he still around?)

In the end, we set out clearly both our priorities and must-haves with the agency.  And what will make us go to another care provider.

I want everyone to keep their jobs.  But Dad needs to be happy.  And so I was forced to prioritize jobs and positions.  In life, my parents have erred on the side of preserving peoples’ jobs, even if it meant less for our family.  I followed suit in the Great Recession (some called me a schmuck, but I can look in the mirror and only worry about wrinkles).

The problems started almost at the beginning, and I needed to make a decision.  If the internecine battles cannot be resolved, then I voted one off the island.  (Or whatever, the reality TV lingo is; now you know the cerebral punishment that is worst than death.)

I am good with my decision.  But I am sad about having to make it.  But I will stand by it, especially face-to-face with the reassigned aide.  Because I owe the aid that respect.

Maintaining Dad’s world is too important.  But not without unintended consequences arising out of new situations and relationships.

Nothing in this life is easy.  But the saving grace is that Dad doesn’t even have to know.

He can walk blithely on, happy and kibbitzing with his attendants during the day and sleep as well as possible in the night.  And, at long last, after all Mom and he did for us, this is the least we can do for him.

But I didn’t know making this type of decisions in this economy was in the bargain.

Dad is fine; my soul is diminished in the process. This is the reality of caring for the elderly and the infirm. The new world that needs the brave (and the compassionate and the guilty).

Silver Alert (for Dad and Us)

SOB and I had lunch with Dad and his aide on Saturday (and then on Sunday, with SOS).

As is our Saturday custom, we went through the mounds of scam solicitations targeting older people and settled upon two legitimate charities to which Dad could give.  We love that about Dad:  He always wants to share his good fortune with others.

And he feels so fortunate. Dad was still a little foggy from a nasty fall he took earlier in the week getting out of bed. But to him, he makes sense.  So he is happy.  The rest?  It is our problem.

SIDEBAR:  A few days ago, he had gone to bed for the night but needed to use the bathroom and he got dizzy and fell and hit his head against his night table.  An ER visit and seven stitches (right between the eyes) later, we prevailed upon Dad FINALLY to let us move that damned night table, which had been in the same position for 50 years, so that something like this won’t happen again.  Thank G-d for the night attendant.  He was impaled on the the nightstand and helpless.  She helped him, cleaned his wound and called us.  Yes, yes, yes, yes.  I still have nightmares.  And I don’t doubt our decision to spend the money for 24 hour care.

We ambled over to lunch.  Shredding scams gives me an enormous appetite.

SIDEBAR:  Some serious intrigue was unfolding in the COSUD (COffee Shop of the UnDead).  We went over to Sam to say hello and asked after Norma.  Sam was with a couple whom Dad knows from the synagogue, but Dad cannot remember their names and neither can SOB or I.  Sam seemed so consumed with worry that it was heart-breaking.  We offered our help and gave our numbers as we have done any number of times before.

The woman of the couple whose name we can’t remember came over to us and started talking to me.  “I may be out of line here. . . .”  Oh no.  What is she going to say?  “But Sam is carrying an unbelievable burden and I think he can’t handle it.”  Apparently, Norma wants Sam and only Sam to care for her.  And he is older than Dad.

“Thank you for telling me.  If you think of something we can do, please let us know.”  What do I say?  Sam won’t tell us that.  Maybe he doesn’t see it.  We want to help.  Our families have known each other for 50 years.

Sometimes, there are no answer for these intractable issues.  And then you give thanks for having parents who understood when they needed help and accepted help and guidance from each other and their children.

We sat down and Vassily came to take our orders.  “I am saving you for last,” he said to me, “because you are so difficult!”  At least he said it with a smile. COSUD is really growing on me.

Today, we wanted to have an activity more than just lunch.  Dad is less inclined to schlep to museums these days.  Dad needed to keep moving and not give into the weariness and fogginess that resulted from his fall.  So, SOB decided on TJ Maxx which is two blocks away. We were going shopping and Dad loves a good bargain.  SOB wanted Dad to have warmer pajamas for the winter.

Dad was a little confused about why he was there.  Luckily, he was kibbitzing (light-heartedly arguing) with his aide.  Like the Odd Couple.

Dad said, “I need boxers.  I only have one pair.”

“You have a month’s worth in your drawers!” said his aide.

“But I only wear one pair at a time, so I need more.”

Well, all right then.  He has a logic all his own.  They were choosing among the clingy, perfect-gay-man body elastic boxers.  And arguing whether they would be a good fit.  OBVIOUSLY, I couldn’t listen to it, but they were having a good ol’ time. So I went to find SOB.

I found SOB.  And then I looked back at where Dad and his aide were standing.  All of a sudden, Dad and his aide VANISHED.

SOB and I were getting frantic.  “Is it a white alert?  A gray alert? An aged amber alert?” I asked SOB, barely containing my concern.  “Silver Alert,” SOB said in a calm voice that belied her feelings.

“Wait! I will call [the aide’s] cell!” I dialed.

Voice mail.  Turned out we were calling each other at the same time.  They were sitting below sight line.

Phew.  I bought pajamas and 20-something boxer shorts for the perfect body for my 93 year-old father.  Doesn’t matter.  It costs what it costs.  Sand on a beach, as they say.  He is happy and maybe will think he is Adonis.  Ewwww Ewwwwww.  Stop.

SOB and I crawled into a cab after seeing Dad and his aide safely across streets to his block.  Because SOB and I have creepy twin speak, I don’t remember who said what:

“Remember when Mom used to hand the phone to us and say, ‘give your grandparents a thrill’ and we were so resentful of the two minutes out of day it took to call them?”

“I know.  Kids don’t know what it means, our generation finally understands, and the grandparents live for it.  Knowledge and appreciation come with age.  This is the way it is with the young, the middle-aged and the aged.  It will never change.”

The insightful comments must be my sister’s.

Why is the voice of a grandchild better than any medicine?  Because when, as it happened today (Sunday) at lunch, the young and old enjoy each other’s company, it transcends time.

And brings joy to every generation at the table.

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.

Phoning it in

Dear CLSFOB:

On or about August 11, 2013, you came into the City to save me from the ravages of the Rings and promised to come in every few weeks to coach me in a new fitness regimen.  Your torture of choice? Running.  See, further, http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5478.

SIDEBAR: Since you are a lawyer and a litigator, no less, I can indulge that lawyer-istic bull shit that makes non-lawyers sooooo annoyed.

It has been almost 45 days (don’t count, I will not be moved), since you have come in to run with me and save me from the curse of the Rings.

Since then, I have run three miles twice a week and I have completed the Rings.  Ok, not with the finesse that I imagined, but now I can fine tune my skills, having accomplished my goal.

I let you know whenever I am running. Which is a misnomer.  I schlep, I pant, I look like I am heaving my last breath.  But you would not know.  Because you are TEXTING it in, with “go! go! go!” and “you are amazing!”.

Even the family is wondering, “where is CLSFOB?”  No, no, really.  We are good with it.

OKOKOKOK.  Lots of Wingaters are going to read this. And, dear CLSFOB, you are first and foremost, a camp friend.  OMG, you are in serious trouble.  Once a month, could you come in? Also, there is a reunion coming up in November in NYC and be there or be talked about.

And, you are the one who spread the rumor about whether I had face work or a boob job.  Even a camper I NEVER knew at Wingate knew there was a “controversy”.

And it took Janet2OB —  who had never felt another woman’s breasts and didn’t really know what she was feeling for — to announce that mine were real.  And Wingate campers who are now doctors (we are so proud, Sam and Julia, among others) knew there was no ‘face” work.

No, really, I am good with it.  And I am even honest about how much I run. Nah, I am lying.

So you have until the next reunion to make me into a marathoner, or I will master the finesse of the Rings. And it will be discussed and parsed at that reunion.  Worse still, live on in the annal of Wingate alumnae FOREVER.  And Goldie may even be in town for that November reunion.  Your choice.

But this texting it in?  Gotta stop.  I would rather work on SOB’s peach pit ring.

Wingate love,

Blogger