squinting in a fog

6 08 2010

12We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!

13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

The Message / Eugene Peterson / 1 Corinthians 13

Squinting in a fog.  I grew up hearing it “peering through a glass, darkly.”

After a Friday night wedding the Dr. and I had attended a few weeks ago, I decided to light the candles that reside in the fireplace during the warmer months and just sit quietly for a bit before pretending to sleep.  At the back of the grouping is a mirror and when I grabbed my camera just for fun, I toyed with capturing some reflections in that dark glass.

Those words quoted above are at the end of one of the most used portions of the Bible spoken at wedding ceremonies and this June and July between the Mrs.’ social calendar and ours – I’ve heard it in a couple of different recitations.  We all know those words so well that even the most casual knowledge of the sacred texts would be able to do a fair job quoting it.  The whole, “Love is this, love is that, love isn’t this and love isn’t that…,” is what  everyone knows.  But the words that come a little further down the page have caught my attention.  “We don’t see things clearly yet…”

Seated with the Mrs. at a banquet table last month, I must have explained a half a dozen times that the little fork nestled at the top of the dinner plate would be used for our cake later that evening.  With each time she asked the same question in a little different way, I felt the others around the circle squirming in their seats.  I know there are those who wonder if I am aware of how she seems to be “slipping”.  Oh, I’m aware that you are NOT aware of the following:

The statistics are sobering:

  • More than 5 million Americans live with Alzheimer’s disease today.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 5th leading cause for those 55 and older.
  • One out of every eight people 65 and older has the disease. And for those over the age of 85, this number jumps to almost one out of every two.
  • One fourth of all home care involves care for an Alzheimer’s patient.
  • Those with Alzheimer’s Disease are three times more likely to face hospitalization and eight times more likely to need skilled nursing care.
  • 75% of care is provided by family caregivers.
  • When baby boomers reach 65 in 2011, these numbers will skyrocket and an epidemic will be upon us.

That’s right…seated at our table of 8, the majority of whom were my age, more than one of us will be in the same boat in the blink of an eye.

Squinting in a fog…is she squinting or am I?  I feel like we need to get a bit of a grip on some of the basics so that we can teach our children how we want to be treated.  Many of us in this present boat are just beginning to enjoy the new role of grandparenting.  Seeing the world through new eyes can be so entertaining – so delightful – and so tiring all at once.

I find infinite stores of patience to wrap my hands around Donny Diva’s as he’s learning to stack blocks, or grasp a spoon, but do I sigh too much when I have to bend over to help her tie her shoes or open that pesky little milk carton so she can have her lunch?  He’s not talking yet – but before I turn around twice we’ll be having conversations about any number of things.  People aren’t generally reserved when talking to pre-schoolers and usually just let the conversation flow where it might.  But I see how easily the elderly, especially those who are known to have “issues” with their memories,  get sidelined from social conversations.

Why can’t that same rule apply?  Just go with the flow.  If she wants to talk about the same thing over and over again – she really doesn’t mind because she’s not remembering it.  If time-machine memory takes her back to her own wedding – let her go there.  If she mixes up the names of the father of the groom with the grandfather of the groom with the groom, just patiently retrace the family tree for her.  It’s just conversation people, it’s not brain surgery.

In the end  – we are all squinting in the fog…thinking we have a handle on life, we have it figured out, we have our course laid out before us and we just have to get down to the business of putting our noses to the grind stone.  Reality is – that we are all squinting to see our own reflections in that dark glass.  To God, Alzheimer’s or not, none of us has a clue as to what we’re talking about.  We do not know what our futures hold.  So while I’m here trying to navigate the pea soup (that’s what Billy used to call fog), I’m going to just do what that sacred text suggests:  while I’m waiting for the completeness, I’m going to trust steadily, hope unswervingly and love extravagantly…even if it means going to more weddings.

Oh, and here’s a great article to help with your next social gathering…and you might want to put a copy on your fridge for your kids to see before you forget!





My apologies to Emil Richter – 50 years after the fact…

14 07 2010

Starting at the South Shore tracks and 2nd Ave (or 3rd Ave. depending on the map you look at) on our side of the street was the Jimenez’ house, then the guy who owned Thunder (the 150 lb. Great Dane), the Ortiz family, our little green aluminum sided abode, (click on the aerial view – then the bird’s eye view to see the ‘hood), the Richter’s, then the Fedorchak’s.  After that, it didn’t matter much because Judy Fedorchak was my best friend and with the exception of the house of the old crazy lady we thought was a witch…we just moved between my yard and hers.  That was unfortunate for Emil Richter.

How did he know that just between the houses on our side of the street there would be over 2 dozen kids?  Granted, most of the Ortiz bunch was older and not playing in the street by that time but with my brother and the youngest 3 boys, there was always a street baseball game going on or some other schnenigans.  All I knew about the heavily German-accented Mr. Richter was it seemed he hated kids and our very “wichious” dog.

Our yards were relatively small patches of green on the far westside of Gary and ours was the smallest house on the block.  But when you’re small, even if the kingdom is small, it swells in your mind’s eye.  My parents worked hard to own a home and keep it up, just like the other blue collar workers that surrounded us in the Steel City.  All Mr. Richter wanted was nice grass and he had to do battle with brats and baseballs and bikes day in and day out, summer after summer.

I got an email from my cousin who runs the service department at a large car dealership near where the Mrs. lives now some 25 miles away from where she and Billy first started out.  “Does the name Emil Richter ring a bell?,” he asked. He and his wife had been in to service their car and recognized my cousin’s last name and made the connection to their old neighborhood.  Oh yeah…I was teleported back 50 years with just the mention of his name.

And I haven’t been able to get him off my mind as I stand, hose in hand – three times a day – nursing a fragile new lawn to life.  It is beginning to show signs of life – sprouting up here and there like whiskers on a 16 year old’s chin.  After the hydromulch was globbed on, we were handed a few sheets of paper instructing us how to baby this thing along.  The responsibility is now 100% ours.

I’ve been feeling very frustrated lately with my left hand all braced up and waiting for surgery a week from Friday.  I never realized how much I use the tendons in my thumb till I wince in pain with the slightest movement of my hand this last six weeks.  So, I feel like I’m biding my time…feeling depressed because I don’t feel like doing anything.  But then maybe all this has a rhyme and reason.  The Zen of Watering has become my daily friend.  Nurturing.  Coaxing something to life.  I need to be available and give it the proper attention.

Reminds me of the times when as a new mom, in a foreign country with two kids 18 months apart, feeling like I wasn’t making much of a difference.  Even today, glancing at Facebook status updates, I can ask myself why I’m not driven enough to be like her…or her…or her…or…

So here I am this summer, 50 years after cutting across Mr. Richter’s lawn one too many times, I just want to apologize to him.  It takes a slow, steady hand to grow a nice lawn.  It’s all you had and you made it really special.  It’s taken us 10 years of neglect and of being too busy to care less – to finally get to the point in our lives when it’s become “important”.  I’d like to stop and go back to that place in time but with these years under my belt and get to know Emil Richter.  What did that house mean to him?  Had he come from Germany after the war?  Was it a piece of heaven on earth to have a home in a “peaceful” neighborhood?

I need to quit.  It’s time to water again and time to watch Donny Diva while Shop Girl goes to the dentist.  If I get nothing else accomplished today, I will call it a good day.  Caring for living things ain’t all that bad even if it’s not worthy of a good status update.





twinklin’

10 06 2010

Last Saturday, I took Donny Diva and Shop Girl down to surprise the Mrs.  I learned a long time ago that it is best not to talk about plans ahead of time so as not to disappoint if things don’t work out.  Besides, if she would have known they were in the car with me she would have gone to Ace Hardware and bought all the baby-proofing gadgets she could find.

While I did my usual duties around the house and running out to get groceries, etc., they just visited.  I don’t know who was more entertained by the whole thing – the Mrs. or Donny Diva.  The giggles and laughs were about equal when it was all said and done.  It reminded me of some of the similarities that Billy and Tractor Baby shared two years ago (you can read about that here).  Before we wrapped up our visit, Shop Girl sat down at the piano with Donny Diva on her lap.  It took him just a minute or two to get the hang of the physics lesson of action-reaction.  Suddenly he was “twinklin’ ” on the piano – that’s what Billy used to call it when Shop Girl would play.

So I guess that alot of what happens in life is that we end up where we started from.  Sometimes our hands don’t work like we want them to.  We need more naps.  Our view of the world as a whole can be limited to what is happening in our house and our most immediate surroundings.  And more often than not, social gatherings can be intimidating.  When we went to a graduation open house the other day, the best Donny Diva could do was to bury his head in a cousin’s shoulder to help him cope with all the people that wanted to kiss on his face.  Eventually he warmed up and all was fine.  It just took a few minutes.

The Mrs. feels like that too – but there was no shoulder to share.   She was at an open house on the same day and told me later that it all made her feel very lonely.  She was very aware of feeling like the “odd man out” as she puts it.  Surrounded by couples, all old friends, feeling like she didn’t belong.  She missed Billy something fierce.

Hearing about how she felt made me defensive.  It gets my ire up when we routinely plow over the elderly but would never treat a toddler that way.  We are impatient with their inability to move like they used to, their lack of desire to do what they used to or just their general state of “winding down”.  A conversation with her can jump from the 1920’s to 2010 mid-sentence and takes all kinds of special abilities to maintain sanity.  I’ll be the first to admit that  I don’t have the stamina it takes to be Donny Diva’s full time caregiver and I get equally tired when I have to deal with the Mrs. for days on end.  But none of that is like  a friend of mine who is being taxed on a moment by moment basis as she is an only child dealing with her mom’s Alzheimer’s.

So all I ask is that when you are out and about running around in your world with all your fingers working just like they are supposed to and mentally juggling a million things at once – if you find yourself in line behind someone with more gray hair than is on your head – be kind.  Be patient.  Be personal.  You may be the only person that speaks to them all day and you’ll turn around twice in life and you will be that old person.  There is no escaping that reality.  There is a new generation stepping on your heels ready to sit down to take their turn twinklin’ on the piano.





“H” is for homophone

25 04 2010

Homophone – words that sound like one another but have different meanings, like flour and flower or mamama and Mom and MoMo and Nana.

I am in an odd vortex these days, trying to multi-task and float between three very different worlds at any given moment.  I will gladly screech to a halt to watch Donny Diva’s daily challenge of learning new skills and discovering the things that he can do.

Then there are those times like a few weeks ago, when the Mrs. wanted to attend the joyous occasion of one of her widowed niece’s finding new love in an old college friend.  The weekend was long.  It started with an extended appointment at the hair dresser’s for a perm and manicure.  The following day, I fetched her so that she could sneak in a quick visit with Donny Diva before spending the night here.  Before 8 a.m. the following morning, we were on our way across the state.  Brunch before the ceremony, the ceremony followed by a cake reception, all topped off by a family dinner at a restaurant another half hour’s drive away, kept us moving through the day.  By 6 p.m., all the fun was over and we were headed back to her place – another three hours away.  Once I got her gladly settled back in her own space, I drove another 2 1/2 hours home to my own bed arriving in time to do nothing more than to fall headlong into its pillowy goodness.  The next day she gladly took my advice and didn’t go to church.  She was pretty much all tuckered out the rest of the week!

I could have easily told her it was all too far away and too far-fetched to attend the wedding.  I could also tell Donny Diva that he’s not up to sitting on his own yet and playing with blocks…he might fall over, he might hit himself in the eye while trying to co-ordinate both hands to clap two blocks together.   It might tire him out.

I had never spent any time thinking about how tricky this space is…trying to be a parent, grandparent, and parent to the grandparent all at once but here I am.  It is a season after all.  Just as quickly as Donny Diva moves on to the next exciting adventure (like crawling!) the Mrs. might not be up to any car rides for some reason.

So for now, “H” is for helping…helping them both find their way and face the challenges that their lives bring them each new day.

And “H” is also for heading out of Dodge.  I need a Best Boy and Mimi fix.  The other day Shop Girl said, “Mom, now I get it.  I get the bond between mother and son.” There was no way of her ever really understanding the things I couldn’t put into words until she started to experience them herself.  I am looking forward to the best “H” I know that will be all the Mother’s Day gift I could want…a Best Boy bear-hug.





Pass me that baby

22 11 2009

Shop Girl, yours is the first hand he grasped.  Yours is the touch that calms. You will turn around twice and another hand, another heart will finish what you started.  Mothers of sons must learn to share.

Mimi will arrive on the red-eye.  Best Boy has been here for three days but isn’t all here without her.  I like that.  This isn’t home for him anymore.  She is.  And when I really see that and celebrate that, it helps me in my current struggle.

I want to gather MY kids and the ones they love, pull closed the shutters and revel in these few short hours we’ll have together in one place.  Stupid me.  Our table, now complete, includes two other people who have mothers – who feel the same pull I do.

Selfishness wells up in me and I am torn at having other responsibilities, other gatherings to attend, other people to include who desire our company.  Shame-shame-shame on me.

Now quit hogging that baby and pass me Donny Diva.

 





lullaby of life

11 11 2009

hnd1It has only been a few days since this new adventure began.  Time is magically suspended when suddenly we look up to see the sky outside is dark and and there is no accounting for how we got there.  Conversations with Shop Girl have a new weight.  Barely a week into this experience called “mothering”, it is as if 1000 doors have opened in her brain and connections to her heart are winding their way through her soul.

She is on the fast track of learning about balance…balancing people’s expectations with what she instinctively feels about what is right, timely…and safe.  Feeling as if she were the only counterweight in a giant tug-o-war, she wanted to know how I ever learned to manage a poker face to the world belieing the storm raging inside my head and my heart in situations that were tearing me in two.

Here is where it starts.  Either you learn quickly or you don’t learn at all.  There is so much we cannot control even when we’ve been wired for nurture.  All I could say to her through the tears was that I’ve learned and continue on a daily basis to wallow in the reality that if I love this kid (in my case Shop Girl and Best Boy) THIS much – and God’s love is infinitely beyond that – I’d better get a handle on the trust thing.

A few years ago when Best Boy lay fighting for his life in the hospital I would have given anything to trade places.  But it wasn’t mine to trade.  There was another journey – not mine to take.  As a parent, the best I can do is to keep my hands open enough to lay them steady on their backs when things get rough.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LraZEoRnkPc

 





cellar door

9 11 2009

clrdr

Cellar door.  Cellar door.  Cellar door.

How apropo that  J.R.R. Tolken was the first to draw our attention to the beauty of those two words and how they sound (phonaesthetics).  If he were still alive today, I’d beg him to invent a new word or two in those wonderful fantasy languages he created that combined good phonaesthetics and functionality.

Cellar door.  Cellar door.  Cellar door.  Grandma.  Granny.  It’s the G-R combo that gets me.  My skin doesn’t even crawl as much hearing abuelita.

I am not reacting to the idea – just the sound.  It grates on me.  I fully embrace and am proud of my gray hair and the age it represents. What’s not to love about having enough experience to handle whatever an 8 lb. wonder can throw at me?  I can easily tuck him under my arm and still make lunch.  Changing diapers, regardless of how frightening they may seem…I’ve seen it ALL.  But the name thing?  In our family all the best ones are already taken…these roll easily off the tongue.  Yaya.  Nana.

Shop Girl and I have deliberated long and hard behind closed doors over this one.  It has to sound right.  It has to feel right.  If the Kid could call me Cellar Door – I’d let him.  Fact is, he can’t call me anything at this point.  But we are going with Momo.

It just so happens that one of Shop Girl’s favorite books by Michael Ende is Momo.  Widely read by school children in Europe (wanna get me started again on another rant??), it seems be scarce in these parts.  Maybe that is all part of it too.  There are hundreds of variations and nicknames for my new role…but how many Momo’s do you know?

p.s.  The photo is as close as I could come today for the theme.  Truth is, it’s the door to a lighthouse in Sagres, Portugal (if I remember correctly)…but we can all imagine that somewhere in the world – there might be a cellar door with such a great looking latch, right?





to nest or not to nest

12 10 2009

brdFour months ago, while in LA working with Shop Girl, I snapped this picture of a beautifully painted four panel screen hidden in a corner of Evan’s loft/studio.  Four months ago.  Lots has happened since then – most notably Best Boy’s own flight to LA two months ago.

Empty nest.  What does that look like?  So far not what I had expected.  I have dreams of purging and organizing and getting my basement to look like Billy’s looks now.  But it’s only been a week or so since I could check THAT task off my list and I’m a little short in the energy department yet.  It will come – I can feel it building steam.  In the time I’ve had to this point, it means that I can occupy the couch whenever I want but rarely have control of the remote.  See, Best Boy got the Dr. a fat daddy plasma for Father’s Day a few years ago but until he left for LA, the Dr. never pushed for control of the remote.  Now he is sole remote control guy.  Trust me – that is OK by me – as long as I have my computer since anything I want to see can be caught on hulu.com.

It got a little dicey during the latter part of last week when something was up with the internet and our connection to the outside world came to a screeching halt.  It wasn’t pretty around here.  Being self-employed and working from home gets nasty when there is no way to use the computers. Gratefully the stars aligned on Saturday afternoon – a repair man worked his magic and we are back on line.

As the Dr. channel surfed between three different college football games and the President’s Cup golf tournament, I caught up with the blogs I usually follow.  One of my favorite’s is Sweet Juniper! -a lawyer who walked away from his profession about three years ago to become a SAHD (stay-at-home-dad).  His post on the 8th was a reflection of something I’ve spent most of my life thinking about.

I get facebook updates, emails and twitters from friends of mine who are busy doing things that I THOUGHT I would be involved in at this point of my life…but I’m not.  There are days when I can’t even follow some of the goings on because my psyche is too fragile and it gets to me.  I stay away until the waves of jealousy pass like a hot flash in the night.  I get a grip and remember who I am and what I’ve been given to do and NOT do in my lifetime.

As we sit here waiting for a phone call that will change our lives yet again with the start of another new generation, it’s good for me to stop and revisit what I would have done differently to get to where I am today.  And truthfully, the answer I come up with is nothing…I’d change nothing.  Shop Girl and I were having a discussion yesterday about all the places we’ve lived – all the rentals – all the begged and borrowed furniture – all the spaces we’ve called “home” and what a challenge it was to pretend to put down roots in each space.

What have I done in the last 25 plus years?  I’ve been a nester.  That’s been my job – my goal – my main purpose.  Keeping this family grounded enough to function when there has been little or no stability in the typical sense of the word.  Ours has been an unlikely adventure…one that I certainly didn’t foresee.

Nesting.  Where it all began was in a little rental down the street from where we presently live that I remember that strong primal urge to clean everything in sight 29 years ago just before giving birth to Best Boy.  That was probably the last time in my life I really cleaned like that. Now, it’s Shop Girl’s turn as she awaits whatever day is going to be the Awaited One’s birthday.

So if the nesting instinct is what rages through a woman’s just before birth, what happens at the other end of that maternal timeline when things slow down?  What’s the opposite of nesting?

For some  it is when they downsize – buy that condo – travel the world…do what they want to do after years of being tethered.  Others just re-invent themselves and grandparenting becomes the new norm.  There are NO retirement plans here – there is no pension in the Dr.’s line of work so we’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing till we drop or get kicked to the curb.  For now, mine looks like a mix of tending to the Mrs.’ nest a while longer, purging mine of years of accumulated journey junk and beginning the new twist of grandparenting.  Best Boy and Mimi give me the excuse of being THAT grandmother who jet-sets to LA whenever she can.  There is already more studio time booked in late January…baby in tow…to finish up Shop Girl’s album.

I won’t be interviewed on the Today’s show any time soon.  There are no book tours planned.  I’ll not be in your neighborhood bookstore doing any readings.  Terry Gross won’t be asking me to sit in for her while she’s away.  Nope – none of that.  My life is extremely rich just as it is.  I am fulfilled being just who I am.  I will just keep my feathers from being ruffled and do what is at hand and see where this portion of the migratory flight plan leads me.





hands down

24 06 2009

hands

We were at a friend’s house the other night, sipping wine and catching up with a couple that has moved to Morocco to started a custom, sustainable furniture business there.  At one point a half a dozen or so of us had landed in the livingroom and the subject of Shop Girl’s bump came up.  “So, how’s it going Grandma?”

I have to admit – I was in the middle of hugging the hostess when I almost continued the motion to put her in a full headlock till she cried “uncle”.  “No, I don’t think so…” I continued – she quickly got my point.  I can’t be Grandma.  Not because I’m not going to technically be that but names are everything.

So the discussion started.  GiGi, MiMi, Nana, Noni, Yaya…the list began and we were trying them on for size.  I like Monkee myself.  Got mixed reviews.  How about Queen Mother of the Universe?  Try as we’d like – sometimes we don’t get to choose.  Out of the mouths of babes come the best choices.

There was always a distinction between the two sides of my family.  There was no maternal grandmother alive so we only had the name for my mom’s dad – which was Grandpa Cummer.  The watchmaker.  Thick glasses, bushy squared off moustache, hearing aids with the little amplifier resting in his shirt pocket, honky-tonk piano player – and the one that would plaster his whole body in front of the TV if while babysitting a beer or cigarette commercial would come on.  Seriously.  Like Superman – arms firmly planted on his hips, inflating his tiny chest to do whatever he could to avert our innocent eyes from the evils of the world.

On the other side – was the Granddad – who died before I was 8 or so.  The black and white squares from a Brownie camera show us frequently gathered – separate shots of the grandkids (I was the youngest of 14), others of the siblings and wives/husbands.  I don’t remember the early years but I do remember after he had his stroke.

My dad would go various times a week to shave him.  He’d been left almost completely paralyzed and bound to a hospital bed that replaced a dining room table.  Having spent time working in a rehab hospital myself – I now wonder about a million more details of his situation and can’t for the life of me figure out how my grandmother and aunts’ hands managed his 24 hour care.

The hands of grandparents…the things they do and the memories they shape.  Soon enough someone will have a new perception of me.  The Mrs.’ hands that once stroked my eyebrows and traced the outlines of my face as I dozed away sleepy Sunday morning sermons…did the same for my kids.  The same hands that labored making my wedding dress made some of my kids’ favorite “dress-up” costumes.  Nothing beats her recipe for the best chocolate cake with cream cheese icing from her mother, Georgia’s hands to the Mrs.’ to mine to Shop Girl’s.

Maybe I’ll get to teach Baba Louie how to blog…

You can re-read some the history of the mix here.