Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union

For the record, I believe in him. I believe he is doing the best he knows how. He's had a tough first year, and his eyes show it. They don't dance as much. They're harder, more weary. The circles under them are more deeply etched. And no wonder. The stony faces on the Republican side of the room said it all. What must he be dealing with behind the scenes? The really ugly stuff that we don't get to see (the stuff we do see is distasteful enough). I am concerned that the system of government is broken, that the way the legislature and political system are set up can produce nothing but grandstanding and deadlock. How frustrating it must be to try to actually do something for the people when your hands are tied by partisan career politicans who care nothing for the people, who care about nothing but making sure you do not succeed. But I do still believe in this man. I don't always agree with him, I don't always understand the decisions he makes. But he is tough and principled. I trust his intelligence. I trust his heart. I trust his intent. And for me, that is enough.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

88 Years Today

Today is my mom's 88th birthday, and in honor of her amazingness, and how blessed we are to have her in our lives, I am posting some pics of her with people who love her absolutely. The photo above is her at age 17. What a beauty!

This one was taken at my cousin's home in Rockland County in the fall of 1986. My dad is being mischievous, tickling my mom with a pen. She, ever the lady, is ignoring him and putting her best face forward for the camera. That's my husband and me as newlyweds on the left (so very young!). I remember we all dissolved into laughter as soon as the camera shutter clicked.

A picture of the Stiebel siblings. These nine brothers and sisters have been, unabashedly, the love of each others' lives. This was was taken on my mom's 80th birthday at her birthday party at yet another cousin's art-filled home in Nassau. (With eight aunts and uncles on my mom's side and five on my dad's side, I have a lot of cousins!) Two of my uncles had passed away by the time this photo was taken. The third uncle, pictured here, died two years later. The girls are all still going strong. Sort of.

My husband, my mom, an aunt and my sister in law were on the front verandah of my aunt's home in Jamaica in December 2005. I love the way my mom's hand rests on my husband's arm, the easy love it conveys.

My mom attends to her oldest sister on her 91st birthday last September 7. This was taken before the party started and that's my cousin, the professor, who's my fellow power of attorney for my aunt. Another cousin called from Jamaica during the festivities, and my aunt, who struggles with getting words out, declared in a clear and steady voice that she was "19 today!"

I snapped this photo of my mom and my son on the afternoon last August that we drove him to college. My boy looks a bit pensive, but my mom was bursting with pride at the fact that her second-oldest grandchild was being launched. The scaffolds were all around our apartment building, as the brick exterior walls were being tested and regrouted, a major undertaking that continues even now. My mom, my daughter and I pretend the scaffolds are elegant porticos. We find them pretty handy when it rains or snows.

My mom and my daughter posed outside my cousin's home in Virginia last October. This was taken on Columbus Day, just before we all piled into the car for the drive back to New York. How I love these people!

Happy birthday, Mom! I thank God daily that you are mine.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In praise of the subconscious

If my friend will forgive me, I would like to set down for posterity the most meaningful Freudian slip ever.

My friend, an anxious, noisy-brained mother as I am, texted me this: "If I fall to my needs and beg God do you think my child will stop getting a 76 on tests?"

"Fall to my needs." It says everything.

I told my friend to make sure her high schooler continues to understand how bright and exceptional she is, and that she doesn't grow to believe in a grade more than she believes in herself. 76 is merely a grade, not a verdict on our children's future nor a comment on our mothering.

Yes, I was talking to myself, too.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Pray for them.

A powerful earthquake, 7.0 on the Richter scale, reduced Port au Prince, Haiti to heaps of sticks and concrete rubble as evening fell on January 12, 2010. It happened in an instant. Some 200,000 people are thought to have perished, a number that I can neither fathom nor bear.

There are sorrowing hearts everywhere. In one photo that I saw, a man holds the head of his brother-in-law, whose wife, three months pregnant, was killed by the collapse of a four-story building during the massive earthquake. The man is sobbing as if grief has literally hollowed him out. I wonder how he will go on.

The National Palace, once a grand two-story structure, sits destroyed, it's top floor pancaked into the ground floor like a crushed wedding cake. Outside its gates, the newly homeless gather. The parliament building collapsed with those who run the country inside. The hospitals collapsed. The cathedral and churches collapsed. The priests and nuns are dead. UN relief workers have died, as have American college students doing humanitarian work in Haiti. Babies awaiting adoption were buried inside their orphanages. Every Haitian person knows someone who died or remains unaccounted for.

I look into the faces of the reporters covering this story, and I see a haunted, shell shocked expression, a soul-weariness that I have never seen before, even on the faces of journalists in war zones with shells exploding behind them. In Haiti, the journalists are witnessing a horror that defies imagination. Anderson Cooper said their camera lenses were too small to capture what had happened there. So great was the need of the Haitians that Dr. Sanjay Gupta quit being a correspondent to practice medicine in the field hospital he was reporting on. He ministered to survivors all through the night, and felt humbled and grateful in the morning to have kept people alive. You can tell the losses are starting to feel personal to the reporters on the ground. You can see it in the light that has gone dim in their eyes.

I asked my husband why people didn't walk into the hills to other villages where there was food and water. He said, "How do you walk when your legs are broken?" And he said, "How do you leave when your child or your mother might be buried but still alive under the concrete?"

I had more photos up on this post before, but I took them down. They were too upsetting to look at every time I logged on to this blog. I know I should make myself see the pictures, that it is a kind of moral cowardice to turn away. But the mental images are vivid enough.

The simplest way to give to the Red Cross is to text the word "Haiti" to 90999. The Red Cross will then charge $10 to your cell phone bill and use the donation to help the survivors. They've raised about $10 million from these $10 donations so far, which is heartening. But they will need more.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Call

I am blindsided sometimes by the sheer awesome power of the love I feel for my children, by my wonder at their evolution as human beings.

My son is majoring in kinesiology and exercise science. He is particularly enamored of anatomy and physiology and the musculoskeletal system. This interest happens to coincide with his mother's knee problem. Last night he dug out his textbook and gave me a mini lesson on the knees, asked me very intent and focused questions, and performed a couple of diagnostic movements to see if he could discern what seemed to be wrong. He mused on the possibilities, the leading one being a PCL tear, and he insisted that I get this checked out as soon as possible, this week, he said, so he could come with me to the orthopedic doctor before he goes back to college.

His concern and manner made me feel so cared about, and of all the people who have urged me to go get my knee looked at, he was the one that managed to get me to the phone. He instructed me to call as soon as I got to work this morning, then called me at noon to ask whether I'd yet made the appointment. I hadn't. "Do it as soon as we put down the phone," he ordered (so bossy! Where could he have learned that?). "I'm going to call you back in half and hour to make sure you did."

So I made the call. The earliest date I could get was next Monday at 2 pm. Monday is a holiday, the observance of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, so there is no possibility of my allowing the demands of my job to keep me from getting to the appointment. My son leaves to go back to school that morning, though, so unfortunately he won't be able to accompany me.

There is a part of me that wonders if this little knee issue that I'm having isn't God's sneaky way of helping my boy to his future profession. He is deeply interested in orthopedics and sports medicine, but thinks medical school takes too many years and I also know that secretly he wonders if he's smart enough. He's never truly understood how bright and capable he is. At the moment, he's saying maybe he'll become a paramedic. I simply make assenting noises when he says that, because I am very sure that whatever path he came to this earth to pursue, he will find it. All I need to do right now is get my knee taken care of and let myself appreciate his expression of concern and love.

Thank you, son. I love you, too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Born to Run

The cab I took to work this morning drove down through Central Park. It was a crystalline cold morning, with sunlight falling like watercolors through the lacy branches of trees, the snow still covering the rolling lawns and fields, ice floes still drifting in the steel gray water of the rowing lake. Along the cleared paths, men and women with toned bodies and furrowed concentrated faces ran with long easy strides. I couldn't help watching them, marveling at the precision with which they moved their bodies, at the way their limbs seemed to follow effortlessly their mental commands.

My body no longer does that. I can no longer run. My right knee joint has now deteriorated to the point that I am limping, in constant jeopardy of falling. It feels like bone against bone, as if the cartilage is all gone, the ligaments like loose elastic, no longer holding the connection firm. I have to set my foot down just so when I walk, so that the knee doesn't buckle under me, so that it doesn't send me sprawling or draw me up short with a flash of pain. I try to disguise it, because even though I know this ruined knee is not the result of my excess weight, but the result of an injury and arthritis and the hyper-extension of my knee joints that I inherited from my mother, I still know that people will silently tsk, if they notice me limping, and think disapprovingly, Well, why doesn't she just lose the weight?

Yes, losing the weight would certainly help. But if it were a matter of "just" losing it, of course I would have done that long ago. My mother has been slender all her life, and still her knees did what my right knee is doing, from her forties on. She eventually had both knees replaced with prosthetics, which I actually consider doing, except I am far too young for prosthetics, and besides, I couldn't afford to take the time off from my job that would be required for such surgery and recovery.

But I have to do something. I can't put off investigating the pain any longer. I wonder if doctors realize that fat people don't make appointments to see them because we are embarrassed, ashamed to take off our clothes, tired of being told to "just" lose the weight. No matter. Tomorrow I will make an appointment with my internist, and go from there.

I'm too young to stop running.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Opera Singers, Subway Revelers, and Cops

Happy new year all my loves. I can't quite believe it's 2010. I remember being a little girl and calculating how old I would be in the year 2000. It seemed like such science fiction then, so far in the future. And now we are a decade past that. It's going to take me a minute to get my arms around that.

New Year's eve was mixed for our family. My husband and I had a lovely time with friends, who were hosting some of the performers from the Concert for Peace held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. There was a rather famous and personally captivating opera singer, her friend the press agent, a sitar and dirigidoo player and her partner who directs a dance troupe, a film producer and her partner who works on women's issues in India, a photographer, another woman who was friendly and lovely, but whose details I don't know, our hosts and us. What a delightful gathering it was! At midnight we hugged and danced and twirled and blew our noisemakers and set off mini firecrackers and wore silly hats and 2010 glasses with little rolling lights, and the opera singer imitated various choreographers' styles to hysterically funny effect, and the dancer twirled scarves and paper streamers and the rest of us clapped and kicked our feet up (literally) and one of the men filmed the proceedings and we drank good champagne and rang in the new year in boisterous style.

Our 16-year-old daughter, meanwhile, was out in the city with four girlfriends. They gathered at one house, then decamped to a second and finally a third. Three parties. We let her do it, praying for an incident-free evening for her, knowing that there were aspects of it that were not within our control. We let her know that we were trusting her to call us if anything gnarly was going down. She stayed in phone contact with us all night, texting us at every move, and she seemed her cheerful, unintoxicated self when we picked her up from her friend's house in a cab at almost 2 a.m. She described how there were two drunk German girls on a subway ride they took earlier in the night. The girls were yelling "Wake up, New York!" and they led a round of happy birthday singing to one of my daughter's friends, with the whole train car joining in. As my daughter tells it, the night was just rambling fun, at least for her and her little group of innocents.

For our son and one of his friends, the night wasn't quite as sanguine as for my daughter and us. They were going to a party in Brooklyn. They came up out of the train station, looked around and found themselves in an unfamiliar and not great neighborhood. Heads down against the light hail, they walked towards the street where the party was being held. On the way, a police car pulled up next to them. The cop inside, a White guy, rolled down the window and said to the two Black boys on the sidewalk, "Where the fuck do you boys think you're going? Do you know where the fuck you are?"

At first, they thought he was being hostile and gave subversively sarcastic answers, but as the cop continued to question them, it began to dawn on both my son and his friend that he might actually be looking out for them. "You two college boys are going to get yourselves shot and killed out here tonight," he told them. "I'd advise you to get to your party and lock the door or turn around and go home." The boys went ahead to the party, noting that the cop car didn't move from the block till they were inside. At the party, they looked around, decided "the party was whack anyway," and headed back out into the night, to the subway station, where they took the train back to the city. They decided to get off in Times Square and watch the ball drop with the rest of the hordes, then they got something to eat and came back to our home. We walked in to our apartment shortly after 2 a.m. to see them sitting there, watching The Matrix.

"You're home early," my husband said, surprised.

"Oh, we have stories," my son's friend said. He nudged our son with an elbow. "Tell them."

My son started recounting what happened, sanitizing the cop's language. "No," his friend said, "Give the tone of voice, use the actual words he used. Tell them the real story." So my son did, with his friend adding details.

"How did that make you feel?" I asked the boys when they were done.

My son shrugged. "Like that cop knew something and didn't want to have to clean our dead bodies off the street," he said.

Considering it now, I choose to think that cop might have been a guardian angel in profane disguise protecting our boys on New Years eve night. We'll never know for sure. For which I am eternally grateful.