Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Emergency Medical Services

My son won't let me take any pics of him in his EMS gear until he completes the fire department recertification course in October. But the department did post this Instagram pic of some of the new recruits during Hazmat training yesterday. That's my boy, standing on the far right. He called this "a good day at the office."


In other news my cousin had her post op follow up yesterday morning. Her diagnosis was slightly more complicated than her doctor hoped, as the pathology report identified some "highly unusual cell structure." She and her sister are being asked to undergo genetic testing so as to help the doctors zero in on the absolute best treatment. These cousins are the children of my dad's sister, and we were discussing yesterday that four of the five siblings in our parents' family died of cancer. My aunt had also been told that her cancer cells had an unusual structure and behaved unpredictably, so the doctor's assessment yesterday was like hearing an echo down through the years. Except now, the medicine is more advanced, and my cousin is in good hands.

Still, she's going to be doing the treatment rounds for a while, which is complicated by the fact that she and her family have just moved from the Washington DC area to Orlando. She was diagnosed a week before their scheduled move, which might be a good thing, because she really likes the doctors she landed with at Johns Hopkins. But that means that while her family is now in Orlando, her daughter starting school yesterday, her husband in a new job, she has had to travel back to the DC area for surgery and follow up, and will stay for weeks, perhaps months, in the homes of relatives.

It's good she has the kind of extended family that rallies at such times, and besides, my cousin is always a delight to have around. She is very quick to laugh, and this whole unscheduled proceeding hasn't dampened that at all. Life can sometimes be a cluster fuck of unscheduled proceedings, however. Proving this, my other cousin, the one in whose home she's staying, had to rush to meet her husband at the emergency room last night because his heart "wasn't feeling right" and they thought his Pacemaker might be malfunctioning. The Pacemaker's working fine, but his heart was doing its own wild ride, regardless. They admitted him overnight so they could stabilize him.

When my cousin's best friend from childhood heard that my cousin's husband was back in the hospital for his heart, the friend admonished, "You know, you really need to stop pole dancing in your thong in front of that man." If you knew this woman, an always beautifully coiffed born again Christian with a straightfaced delivery, you'd know how hard we laughed.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

We four

I've been in Fairfax, Virginia since last week, spending time with one of my cousins as she recovers from major surgery. She is recuperating in another cousin's home, and her sister arrives tonight, so the four people in that photo above will be together. That's me on the floor in front, with my three cousins. The interesting thing is, the one sitting on the chair at the center, and the other two are not related by blood. The one on the chair is my cousin on my mom's side, and the other two (who are sisters) are my cousins on my dad's side. Yet we all grew up so much together we are as close as four sisters. We joke that we shall have to recreate the photo above, which was taken in my little railroad apartment in New York City before I was married, when we were all in our early twenties, and when I was still in braces, which I wore from age 23 to 25, and removed mere months before I met my husband to be. That photo is more than thirty years old now, but the feeling it captures is much the same. I am abundantly rich in cousins. May our children find that they are rich in this way, too.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

30 years ago today, I married my love

Thank you for being the man you are.
And for sharing this adventure with me. 
I will love you always.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Running Dreams

I woke early and went into the living room to turn off the TV. Both my children were out there asleep, one to a couch, each covered by a fluffy comforter dragged out of a closet, the TV blaring over them all night. I watched How Its Made for a minute, mesmerized as usual by the precision of industrial machines, and the idea that someone had to design them so they function just so. But it was barely daybreak, so I clicked off the set, gazed a minute at my children, and went back to my room. My husband was still sleeping softly, so I climbed back into bed. And then I dreamed. I was running along a street, flying past my daughter, looking over my shoulder to make sure she was keeping up. I ran effortlessly, and my girl waved me on. I had more running dreams, not the anxious sort where you're trying to escape from something, but the exhilarating kind, where the wind rushes by you, and your head's thrown back, your throat's exposed, and you're laughing. I woke up, marveling. I don't think, even when my body was at its optimum, running ever felt quite like that. What did it mean? Perhaps nothing more than that I've been watching the Olympics.

Yesterday, our whole family joined my son's gf's whole family in New Jersey for the day. Her brother and sister-in-law's brand new baby was there, such a good-natured peaceful little Buddha, and we all held him, and when at one point he started to fuss, my husband took him, and he quieted right down, perhaps never having seen the world from such a height, and he rested his head on my man's shoulder and my husband patted his back gently, the way he did with his own children when they were babies, and the little one went right to sleep. "You still have the touch, Dad," my daughter said, because that shoulder of my husband's is widely known to put babies right to sleep. And that sweet little boy just slept on that big man's shoulder until his mother arrived a half hour later. As soon as she walked through the door, her baby's head popped up, even before he heard her voice. We all went to dinner together then, ten of us, and it was lovely.

Today we're heading back over to New Jersey, this time to my elderly aunt's house, where there is a birthday party for my cousin who is turning 50. The relatives from all over are driving in to be there, and it will be a mini reunion as my aunt, who is ailing, was not able to make it to Jamaica this summer, though my cousins Facetimed her in several times that week.

My son got 96 percent on his final exam this week. He said, "I wish I had done this in college." And then he added, "But to be real, no one has ever asked me for my college grades since graduating. So who cares." I know he's doing so well now because he's truly interested. I read once in a book about raising boys that our job as parents is to get our sons through school with their self-esteem intact, no matter how hard they struggle academically, because then they will grow up and find the thing they are passionate about, and at that, they will excel. But only if they have not been made to feel like failures in a school system that asks them to be experts in everything. My boy has found the work he loves, and he's thriving. The book was called Raising Cain, and I hung on to that particular promise for dear life some years. And now look.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Rebecca in the East Village

I met the extraordinary Rebecca Loudon last night. It was as if I already knew her, which I suppose in a virtual way I did, but looking into her eyes, her warm, loving, laughing eyes, it felt as we'd known each other for aeons, and the entire feeling of it was there you are, at last. Did you guess Rebecca has laughing eyes? With mischief in them, her intelligence and wit out to play. She so whip smart, that woman, funny and generous and beautiful, her heart on her sleeve, her arms enfolding you. She is just a sublime human, not to mention a fantastic poet with a devoted following in New York's arty hipster underground. So many poets have been hugely inspired by her, and a lot of them were in the room last night as she read from her Henry Darger poems at KGB Bar, a "literary watering hole" in the East Village. Rebecca was brilliant, absolutely mesmerizing. At different points in her reading she sang, barked, rumbled, inhabiting the poems, bringing us with her inside them. I was in awe, my mouth hung open, and yet I felt none of the agita I often feel when meeting new people. I was immediately at ease in her arms, because that's how we greeted each other, arms thrown around each other, laughing. It was the strangest thing: I wanted to just sink into her, rest my head on the curve of her shoulder and stay there. She said, "My family is here now." She meant me, but more so her son Page, who had traveled with her. He's a gentle artistic soul, his camera slung around his neck, his whole demeanor quietly accepting of the world. I loved him, too. He took our picture. And even though Rebecca and I could only talk in snatches, because she was the star of the evening, and everyone wanted her, still, it was a moment, like finding family, as she said. I confess I thought from Rebecca's blog that she'd have more sharp edges, and I'm sure on some days she does, don't we all, but last night, there was only cushiony joy in her company, there was art and humanity and love.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Red Door

I went to the doctor today. As I left her office, I just wanted to curl into a ball and cry. I felt sorry for myself, so hopeless. There is so much wrong with me. I have a long road ahead, and I wish there were someone who could just inspire me to set my feet upon it, but in fact, I must inspire myself. I'm exhausted already.

I saw that red door on the way home. I liked the shade of red. I felt a strange desire to go inside, to explore what lay behind those stone walls. What I was really feeling was a desire to escape myself, escape into an entirely new body, but not to escape my life, I love the people who are around me in this life. But I am so impaired. Some things might not be fixable. But I have to try.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Summer night with women

That's where we sat, four women friends up on the roof at twilight, sipping sparkling water and wine on a sweltering summer evening, our faces held up to catch the whisper of a breeze, the evening sky putting on a lightening show. There was thunder in the distance but no rain came, and so we sat, one of us recently returned from South Africa, London and Berlin, sharing her stories, and the four of us talking about our lives, about changing jobs after fifty, how complicated that is, about marriage and aging and glorious misspent youth, and about our children, who are newly employed, or traveling the world, or contemplating getting engaged, and all of us just exhaling, cares set down for the moment, free to be.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Funky shoo

My darling girl got the job. It happened as soon as she finished clearing out her room, which had been overrun with four years of college paraphernalia ever since she got home in June. When I fussed, her brother told me, "Mom, it's not a mess in there. It's a work in progress. She is trying to curate 22 years of her life." So I tried to back off and let her chaos be. And then, one night she just packed up everything she didn't want to keep and took it to the basement. "This is good funky shoo," I told her when she was done (funky shoo is what my husband calls fung shui). "Everything's going to start flowing to you now." I was joking, but maybe I was on to something. The next day she got a call to come in and meet "the rest of the team" and a day after that she was offered the job. She's happy as can be.

All-around gold!

Simone Biles has won the last four consecutive US national titles, the last three consecutive World titles, and has more World medals than any woman gymnast in history, fourteen in all, ten of them gold. In fact, since winning Nationals in 2013, she has never lost a meet. And now, at 19, after thirteen years of intensive practice, she's earned what has been called the jewel in the crown, the coveted all around Olympic gold. NBC commentator Nastia Liukin, the 2008 all around gold medalist, called her "the greatest gymnast of all time." And there's more to come next week as she has qualified to compete in the event finals for vault, uneven bars and floor. Exciting stuff! I'm also enamored of the rest of the team, who together took team gold last weekend. USA women's gymnastics coordinator, the legendary Martha Karolyi, has built a fierce dynasty indeed.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Grace at 90

Aunt Grace turned 90 on Sunday, and there was a big party for her at her daughter's home in Kingston. Even though I couldn't be there, I was grateful to have been with her just two weeks before at our family reunion. Aunt Grace posted pictures on Facebook, because she is a Facebook whiz these days. She'll call you on messenger early on Sunday mornings and then tell you to turn on video so she can see your face. When you say, "I just woke up, I'm not decent," she'll say, "You think I care?" She is my mother's sister, the one closest to her in temperament, their voices so similar even their children couldn't tell them apart. At 90, she's as vibrant as ever, the only one of the three remaining sisters still able to travel, which is good because her three children live in Kingston, Nassau and Vancouver and she is based in Toronto. And three of her granddaughters are pregnant so she has three new great grandchildren on the way to join the six she already has. The pregnant granddaughters didn't make the celebration. They're all are staying close to home so as not to risk exposure to Zika. For them, as for the rest of us, these pictures are the next best thing to being there.

Aunt Grace with her daughters, my cousins Maureen and Sharon, both glamorous, charismatic women whom I idolized in childhood when I was the chubby, awkward, younger cousin. In our family, we call these two The Generals, because they don't know how to not run the show—and they always do it brilliantly.

The party was under a tent set up on Maureen's front lawn.

Aunt Grace's granddaughter, Arianne, oohed at Aunt Mavis's stylish heels. Aunt Mavis, who is also 90 years old, is a close family friend and was the doctor who delivered me into this world. At my mom's 93rd birthday in January of last year, she told me the story of how my mom saved her marriage. She and her husband had argued, and she left him and came to my mother's house, vowing never to go back. She said my mother said to her, "Mavis, you are not welcome here. You need to go home and talk to your husband." She has always been grateful for that night, she told me. 

All these friends of Aunt Grace have passed the 90-year mark. They still play bridge together.

Aunt Grace's grandchildren, Arrianne and Matthew, were teaching their beloved Gaga the basics of taking selfies. 

The table centerpieces were beautiful orchids.

Aunt Grace at 90 years young. I love her so.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Gold Squad

USA women's artistic gymnastics Olympics team, from left: Aly Raisman, 22, Simone Biles, 19, Gabby Douglas, 20, Madison Kocian, 19, Laurie Hernandez, 16. I'm rooting hard for these athletes. Gymnastics is hard. They say the only sport more dangerous is football. But Team USA is talented. They're likely to bring home gold. Plus, I just like the picture. The camaraderie. The fun.

Doing the work

If only I could pray as hard for myself as I do for my children.

My son is entering week three of his refresher course with the firefighter EMT academy, apparently the best EMT training program in the country. He's also already applied for the next step, the year-long course to become a paramedic, and they will train him while still paying him a salary. Much better than the ten or twelve thou it would have cost to get this certification otherwise. He's exhausted most of the time; he has to do written and clinical tests every day, as well as an hour and half of physical conditioning, starting at six in the morning, two sessions a day. It's a quasi military boot camp; they have to be properly uniformed, boots shined, shirts tucked, faces clean shaven. He wakes at four each morning to fix himself a protein breakfast, make and pack his lunch, and study whatever material he will be tested on that day. He's doing very well in the tests so far; he knows that medical stuff; he's a natural at it. He does worry about the part of the course where he will have to drive the ambulance rig, swerving through a series of cones at 40 miles per hour, forward and then in reverse, using no brakes. I expect they will train him beforehand.

My daughter is still enjoying working part time as a chef instructor at the eating disorder treatment center, while looking for a full time job. I pray it's the one that called her back for round three next week. I'm praying that it has her name on it, because it's one she'd love to do. In the meantime, her life is pretty good. She and several college friends crashed at her boyfriend's brand new apartment in the city last night. He had a housewarming, a mini post graduation reunion, but the party didn't start till after midnight, as apparently everyone had other events beforehand. I can imagine the scene from my own twenty something years—definitely memories worth making.

As for me, for the next seventeen days, I'll be parked right in front of the TV watching the Olympics, especially track and field and gymnastics. Do you know this American athlete? Simone Biles, who's being called the best gymnast in the history of her sport. She has quite a story and a laugh that sounds like a trill of music. She takes a lot of joy in what she does. If you haven't heard of her, you will very soon.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Why I'm With Her

I was out of the country during the Republican and Democratic conventions, and even though the place where we were staying had a TV in every room, no one in our villa turned one on. Not once. Not even me. That didn't mean I wasn't on my phone every morning, obsessively checking what had happened the night before. I didn't hear Trump's speech at the RNC though I did see all the stories calling it "dark and frightening" and the tweets suggesting that someone should check whether he'd plagiarized from Mein Kampf.

I did call my son in New York and ask him to tape the Democratic convention on the night that Obama spoke, and on the night that Clinton spoke, which meant I not only got to watch my president's transcendent address, but also gutsy Joe Biden, fed-up Mike Bloomberg, schulmpy but sincere Tim Kaine (who I very much like for Clinton's VP), inspiring Rev. William Barber, and yes, the Khans, the heartbroken parents who gave a quietly elegant speech about the sacrifice of their son, a fallen Muslim American solider who died saving the lives of his fellow combatants in Iraq in 2004.

Our return flights to New York delayed, we got back home at 4 a.m. on Thursday morning. Everyone else went to bed, but I sat up till daybreak watching the speeches, tears flowing down my cheeks as I listened to Obama, so proud I was of him, and so moved anew by his sheer human decency.

A day later, the opposite of human decency was on full display in Trump's response to the grieving parents, the way he disrespected them for days after, going so far as to try to link them to radical Islamic terrorism. His lack of compassion should have been astonishing, except it wasn't. What flummoxed me was the degree to which he couldn't understand that his response was so absolutely wrong in tone, so politically stupid, and worse, it seemed no one around him could hold him back from his hissy fit that the Khans had dared to call him out.

Someone wrote that his lack of emotional discipline was staggering. Many others questioned his sanity (to be fair, many have questioned his sanity from the start). Warren Buffet asked, "Donald Trump, have you no sense of decency, sir?" Rhetorical question. (Buffet went on to point out that Trump's eponymous business interests have operated at deeper and deeper losses every year—so much for his vaunted business instincts). "One wonders if Republican leaders have begun to realize that they may have hitched their fate and the fate of their party to a man with a disordered personality," the Washington Post mused. The evidence is just too voluminous to bother citing here.

And yet, people intend to vote for this demagogue, of whom Hillary Clinton said, "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with the nuclear codes."

Honestly, whatever you may feel about Hillary Clinton, she is far more prepared to be president than the Republican alternative. She's been in the political spotlight for 40 years, and she hasn't done everything right, but she knows what she's about, she's whip smart, and she's far more likely to stand up for my children and yours than any other candidate in the race. And while we're at it, let's just get real about the fact that independents Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have absolutely no chance of winning the presidency, therefore a vote for either of them is effectively a vote for Trump. All the idealism in the world won't negate that fact, so to my mind, if you're planning to vote for anyone other than Clinton-Kaine, I'm seriously questioning your grasp of the situation in which we find ourselves.

Besides, do you really think Trump wants to run this country? And one last thing: Paul Ryan and all the other Republican politicos who have endorsed Trump will forever be marked by history as having supported the forces of bigotry, despotism and hate.

As you've probably figured out, #I'mWithHer