Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Missing Grammy

The grief, it takes you by surprise sometimes.

Like when your kids have some friends sleep over and you go to pull a couple extra warm blankets out of the trunk in your room, and you see the quilt she made. It stares back at you, waiting to be touched. And so you do, and the tears start to flow instantly at the feel of the soft cotton in your hands, knowing that your grandmother made this. For you.

I miss my grandmother.

She had a long life! they exclaim, a consolation condolence offered – insincere – like a coarse tissue. My grandmother died too, they lament.

But my grandmother was my Grammy. More than just my dad’s mom, she was a walking hug, a gentle but snarky spirit, and she loved me. She didn’t just love me, but she loved me a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck. Whatever your grandmother was, mine was more and whatever she was to herself she was more than that to me. So there.

It’s been a couple years and therefore, according to the American system of moving on with your life, I am supposed to have forgotten that she ever existed in the first place, not to mention stop crying about it already.

But she is everywhere. She is hidden under the small white table that my plants rest upon, because that is really her sewing machine table under there. It flips out like a secret, and I talk to her while I bring old clothes back to life or make little dresses for little girls.

She is in the yarn that I will never use because she gave it to me and once I make it into something else, I feel like she will have slipped away like a stitch. So it will always be just that, a skein of yarn that was hers.

She is the plant on my desk. I stole it after her funeral and she can scold me for that later. For now, I would steal a thousand more plants from a thousand more funerals just to feel some life left over, something to continue to grow in front of my very eyes.

She is perched atop armoires, small glass treasures handed to me over the years. She is in the Tupperware that she unloaded on me fifteen years ago, sure of her imminent demise. She is in my children, my middle child her namesake, a carefully chosen name to honor the fact that she hated not only her name but all of the names ever given to any baby ever over the course of her life. Finicky, that Grammy of mine. But mine.

She is somewhere in the air, they say, in our hearts, our memories, maybe even heaven. But I, the agnostic and potentially atheist among us, choose to believe she is right here.

In quilts, in plants, in sewing machines, skeins of yarn. A part of my home, now, though she never was before. And it makes me miss ever so slightly less.

But it will never make the missing her stop.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Goodbye, Facebook. It's been real.

I have been without Facebook for 5 entire days. Detox complete: I am now a recovering addict.

And by addict I mean I was living in a false reality, not that I was spending 4 bajillion hours a day on Facebook, which some moms I know do – they really, honestly do. More like, I was feeling connected to the world without leaving my house. I knew what was up in my local friends’ lives and therefore did not need to actually converse with them. More like, I was being invited to parties simply because acquaintances could go down their friend listing and click my name. Only to get to the party and realize that these people – given my limited actual posting on Facebook – had no idea that I am a loud-mouthed introvert, a rare combination indeed and not a particularly likeable one.

So there I was, at parties I had no business being at with people who liked the notion of me much better than the in-your-face reality of my potty-mouth and obnoxious jokes. Feeling much the center of my own universe, feeling surrounded by people, feeling at the top of my game.

The not so proud moment came after a sit-down dinner with my 3 daughters. My friend had been texting me about some business between us and we bantered back and forth via my Blackberry, the vehicle for my constant connection. I looked up at my kids as they finished their dinner, realizing only then that I had been on my phone, texting, for the entire meal. At this point, blog readers, I will admit to you that even making this confession causes me a wave of shame so deep I could cry at the memory.

I knew it was time to cut myself off, cold turkey, from any relationship that was sustained via the internet, Facebook, and my phone. I couldn’t believe I had fallen so far. I was even late to the game -- I didn't join Facebook until about February of 2010, which I believe makes me one of the longest hold-outs in recorded history. But it's a vortex and an aggressive one at that.

There were a number of events leading me to that place, to this place – the one where I now sit. Back to basics. A simple life? Yes, though significantly less entertaining than the alternative and most certainly one where I feel like an alien.

The turning point was the one at which I learned – via her Facebook status update – that my very best friend had been in the emergency room that same morning, having lost feeling in the left side of her body from stress. She didn’t call me? And then putting the pieces together that perhaps her stress was actually exacerbated by Facebook – that her pleas for support for some issues in her life were answered in replies, virtual hugs and comments. But in doing so, did she shortchange herself a bit? Did she sidestep the true support she needed – eye contact, a hand held, a heartfelt hug – in order to grab the immediate gratification of 27 responses from friends in the course of a mere 5 minutes?

It’s a kooky world we live in, friends. And I have been sitting here, for 5 days, doing my job, loving my family, cleaning my home, taking in the sounds of my backyard. All without the disruption of technology except for this patter of the keystrokes, a most familiar and comforting sound.

It’s a difficult realization, that in order to be the best writer I can be I need to let go of social media, of Internet connectedness, of technological dependence. In order to write from the heart, I need to be in touch with it. And to be in touch with my heart, I need to have my eyes and ears open to its message.

And this – all of this – requires being a little bit connected and a whole lot of unplugged.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I like him

I just like him.
He's not perfect and I have flaws, this being one more thing we have in common.
But I just like him.

He hasn't brought me flowers in forever and a day, he hasn't lit a candle or made me a romantic dinner...not even a love note.
But for some reason, I like him more than I ever did...even when he did those things.

My daughter has his chin, and when I look at her I remember just how very much I like him.

Of course I love him and I made promises to him that I would do so forever. But I didn't promise to like him.
I just do.

He isn't really my best friend, I have one of those and I like her too. I have lots of friends who I tell lots of private things, things he doesn't know about me and he probably doesn't care.
He just tells me I'm beautiful and that I make him laugh more than any woman ever has.
And that is one thing...just one thing...I like about him.

Sometimes when I look at him I can see right through the years and remember the boy I used to do kegstands with at college parties. Back when he drank and wasn't riddled with acid reflux disease, anxiety, heartburn and other symptoms of older age.
I think I might even like him better now than I did then.

We have problems like everyone else. The spark doesn't ingite as easily and passion is a stranger in our home more often than not. We pace the floors at night with sick children, me more often than him. He forgets to take the garbage out and he forgets to ask me how my day is going. Sometimes, more often than not, he is selfish.
So you tell me why exactly it is that I like him so much. I can't tell you, I just do.

He plays dollhouse with the girls. He hugs my mother hello even though I haven't spoken to his in years. He comes home every night and is happy to do so. He rubs my back absentmindedly when another man glances in my direction, as if to say, sorry...this lovely woman right here is in love with me. Don't waste your time.

Complaints about him, especially in the company of my girlfriends, roll easily off the tongue. So today I thought I would share something a little harder to admit.

That I really like him.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

the truth about...what jeff would do

Written in October of 2010

Today marks two occasions for me: my 11th wedding anniversary and the final day of my husband’s 10-day business trip to Europe. So I am crawling out of my own skin with loneliness and boredom, of missing him and of fatigue from the responsibility of being the sole parent of 3 daughters. From the build-up of everything, including not having had a proper hug for over a week, which I think would wear on anyone.

I asked my girls last night as I tucked them in after a long day visiting old friends in Rhode Island – another distraction from our house that is missing its papa – to please let me sleep in. “Daddy and I have been married for 11 years!” I congratulated myself as the clock neared midnight, explaining to them that if they would please just let me sleep until 8 a.m., all would be well. After 10 days of bagels in the mornings, tuck-ins and books at night, and everything else that fell in between, it seemed the least they could do.

The morning, quite predictably, began at 6:15 with two out of three climbing into bed with me and proceeding to tap, kick, poke and whisper. I yelled, I begged. I even cried a little. I made deals with the devil, to no avail. I threw myself into my Sunday, my 11th wedding anniversary, a day that is much like any other except I was beginning it with anger.

My husband called, fresh from a shopping trip to the open market in Amsterdam and it was hard to connect. My world – my home, filled with fighting kids and a distinct lack of Zen – was too far removed.

But once I got off the phone and quietly explained to the kids that mommy was reaching her breaking point, I asked myself: WWJD? (What Would Jeff Do?)

One of the legacies of my husband’s love for his daughters involves cranking the iPod from its docking station in the kitchen, music blaring across the whole house. Me? I hate this ritual, one that repeats itself every Sunday morning, sending me out onto the pavement with my running shoes just to avoid the chaos. But the girls love their daddy and their daddy loves loud music and therefore there’s always a lot of love going on when I return, sweaty and cringing from the run and the subsequent noise.

So this morning, when the fighting became too much to bear – the missing him, the empty place in our kitchen where he usually stands, singing at the top of his lungs and dancing with at least one giggling girl – I knew what Jeff would do.

As I sit here, the music is blaring. Within moments of pressing the “On” button, the girls were laughing and working on art projects, sharing the scissors and admiring each others’ work. It was a little bit of daddy magic on a potentially hopeless day.

I love my husband. Every day, every year, and now every decade, I choose him. Over and over again, I choose him to be the one I love, and of all the gifts he’s given me over the years, two stand out to me today: Our daughters, and this reminder of how to bring out the best in them with loud music.

There are two of the reasons I will always choose him.

Monday, April 25, 2011

the truth...about family drama

See, here's the thing about the human ego. It interferes with empathy.

All this time I have been loud-mouthing my way through my feelings for my brother-in-law, letting the world know how he made me feel during our interaction-that-shall-no-longer-be-named. My ego was bruised, wounded and dejected. I was angry, righteous, and defensive. And I was wrong.

It's not, it's never been, about me.

This morning, I laced up my new sneakers and ran like the wind through a curvy maze of Maryland suburban brick homes, their manicured lawns and perfectly trimmed hedges, watchful homeowners hiding behind fenced patios. I reflected on a conversation I'd had with my mother-in-law the night before, about her own father's battle with depression -- a bout of mental illness so severe that the end of his life was perhaps invitede forth by that mindset -- calling his daughter (then grown, the mother of my then-teenaged husband) to cry, ask advice, apologize. The cancer that took Jack Hirsch, in the end, was merciful and swift. And now, said my aging mother-in-law -- a woman who simultaneously drives me batshit crazy and loves me as fiercely as a woman can love a daughter that she did not ask for nor give birth to, which is to say not fiercely at all but instead resignedly -- she has to watch her son, her middle child, go through the same mental illness.

I have a middle child, and so do you. Empathy.

Well, Christ. I hadn't thought of his behavior as anything but a piss-poor temper tantrum. His absence at family functions, his mood swings, his lack of response. My ego had dragged me into the depths of a world where I -- virtuous and full of humility -- had been victimized by his shitty temperament. I hadn't thought of him as sick.

To those of you on the receiving end of this message, it will surprise you to hear me process this experience in terms of my relationship with God, because as far as I know, you all consider me if not an atheist than at least an agnostic woman. But I will admit right now that I go to church almost every single day -- it's a congregation with a membership of one. Having only one member makes it easy to accomplish a lot of things larger churches can't -- I can change tact on certain moral issues with a quick vote. I can accept Communion with loved ones and deliver psalms and sing praise at my own leisure. Most importantly, I can lead my people in Worship on a street corner, in a bar, at the beach. And on a run.

So I had myself a small chat with God this morning as I paced through the sunshine, genuinely sorry, asking forgiveness, giving thanks. I have been wrong to judge, as we always are when we judge others in whose shoes we've When the ego jumps over the kinder, more empathetic side of me in the internal game of leapfrog, the side that remains is ugly and I feel a sense of embarrassment that I allowed it to thrive for so long.

So that's where I am at with my brother and sister and law, who are no longer coming to Passover because their daughter has strep. I'd been planning to welcome them with open arms.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

the truth about...having a sad best friend

(written in February of 2010)

I won't be able to put it into complete sentences. I can barely sort it out in my brain. Leukemia. My friend's 4 year old. I love my friend, I love this child too.

A 9 p.m. trip to the ER...dangerously high white blood cell count. Phone conversations, tears. Helplessness, then empowerment. Money donated, almost too much to sort through. No, you know what? Never too much. Grateful beyond words.

Then last night: my trip to the hospital, parking garage, outrageous parking fees. They pay this every day that thy spend here, waiting by their child's bedside? Good thing I have already raised enough money to park their car here for a thousand years, but I would rather they park it at home and put that boy in his own bed.

Winding through the maze of the city hospital, seeing her shoes, legs crossed, as I round the corner to MRI in the oncology wing. Knowing, when I see his 4 year old sneakers on her lap that I have found the right waiting room. There are so many.

A crib gets wheeled by with a baby in it, tubed. I cry, she comforts me, tells me lives are saved here every day and it is uplifting. I am amazed by her.

We laugh about other things, I glance sideways at her and tell her I brought her favorite dinner, I smile. She bursts into tears, unexpectedly for all of us, because my smile reminded her of when her life used to be normal.

I rub her back. I'm right here, I whisper -- a mama to her child. I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere.

I tell her our hometown is like a Wii game you are kicking ass at -- as you win and win, the crowds gather and cheer. We are cheering for her. For him.

Time to go, Elmo doll in her lap. Woman in a full burka looking out the window at the end of the hall. I stare too long. I am small here.

Child in a wheelchair finally going home, cold in the outside...which she hasn't felt long?

Friday, February 18, 2011

the truth about...having a 7 year old daughter

Sometimes, when we are walking down the street, I feel my daughter start walking right exactly precisely next to me. And in that very moment I push my hand out of the edge of my sweater only to find hers rising to meet mine. Wordlessly, we are walking hand in hand, me and my daughter, my first baby, the one whose life from the minute she was born has been an absolute push and pull, against me and toward me. And over again.

Within a few minutes, she will have pulled her hand away and back into her pocket. And I will have held my breath the entire time, cherishing the intimacy of it and knowing it is she who will pull away.

It will always be her leaving me, for I am desperate to be close to her. And the minute I reveal that to her, she will be gone for good.

So I stay quiet, waiting patiently for the next time she lets me hold her hand.