Tag Archives: #aging

Love, Marriage, & Singing in the Car

1 Sep

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19 years and one day ago I married my best friend. He was smart and tall and smart and handsome and smart! He was mildly funny and he was smart. He was nice and good at being Jewish and decent. And he was so smart. Just my type.

We moved through our marriage by years, by 3 homes, by 2 births, by 3 children, by many vacations, by some disasters, by 3 separate times I took the car and drove around for hours until I was less angry enough to return, by the loss of 3 grandparents, by several jobs, by 1 fire, by 6 deceased goldfish, and by multitudes of laughter.

Along the way, I wished on many occasions that my husband be something, actually many things, that he is not. I wished him to be more laid back (he is not!). I wished him to be more thoughtful (so so but perhaps making progress). I wished him to be more fun (……). I wished him to be the kind of person that would crank the music up in the car with me and belt out the very best Sirius radio has to offer (sigh).

I am an unabashed, reckless car singer. Maybe you have driven next to me and seen me so you know. Maybe you have just heard about me. Or maybe you have even heard me over state lines. I am a legend in this regard. It’s not pretty and I am seldom able to get through a song without being told to stop singing but it is what it is and I am who I am and that person is an avid, unapologetic car singer.

I have begged my husband, in and out of 19 years, to please sing with me when a good song comes on (and come on, there are so many!). He will not indulge me. He does not think that it will be fun. I continue with “how can it not be fun?! It’s singing! It’s a great song! Pleaseeeee.” No dice. He simply will not sing.

I compare him to past boyfriends and tell him about the wonderful guys before him who would sing in the car with me and the great times we had. They are so much more fun than he was. He waits for me to finish talking and then changes the radio station to 1010 WINS which we listen to on a 22 minute loop until we die.

In the space of all the songs he is not singing with me, he is helping our kids with their homework, sometimes coming home early so he can properly accomplish this task. He is walking my parents’ dog when I am too lazy to do so. He is running out at night after realizing our sons do not have any food to make lunch for the next day of school. He is volunteering at our synagogue and as a basketball coach for our son’s CYO team. He is shoveling my parents’ driveway when there is a snowstorm so that when they return from vacation, they will have one less thing to worry about. He is doing everything except sing in the car with me.

Until finally, one day, he does. He belts out a song with me in the car. I can’t even remember which song it was. But I will tell you this: it was nothing like I thought it would be. It was terrible. In fact, it was so bad, I begged him to stop before the song was even finished. He can’t sing. He can’t car sing. He can’t even sing badly. I don’t know what the word is for the sound that was coming out of his mouth, but I will never be asking him to sing in the car with me again, even if the song that comes on is “Domino” or “Caravan” by Van Morrison. That dream has died.

Sometimes we fantasize about the things we want in our marriages, our lives, ourselves. The patience we wish we had. The parents we wish we were. The fun, breezy, car singers we want to be. Sometimes those fantasies are better left imagined. I am not going to ask him to be who he is not. But that is ok. Because who he is, is for the most part, more than I could ever ask for to begin with.

Happy anniversary to my tone-deaf beloved. For better or for worse. But mostly, for better.

 

The Luxury of Watching Our Kids Dream

27 Aug

 

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My son is curled up beside me. He cannot sleep. This is the second or third night in a row. Always the same. He cannot sleep. He nestles in next to me, his head fitting perfectly in the spot between my neck and my chest, his legs wound around mine so many times I wonder if they are boneless. Within minutes, his breath deepens and slows. He is asleep.

I wonder how much longer it will be that I can provide this instant consolation for him. How much longer that he will let me. How much more time do I have of the luxury of watching him dream.

My friends have children going off to college. They are decorating dorm rooms, setting up proper desks, buying school supplies and filling meal cards, all the while trying to forget that their kids are leaving the nest and learning to fly on their own. It is hopeful and heartbreaking and wondrous and devastating all at the same time. I have watched these kids grow up; they are not even mine and still, I am struggling with the passage of even their time. Because soon, it will be my kids. I know that that is years away for me but I also know the way time works and that I have seemingly months. It is like trying to reverse the mileage on your car but there is no such magical gear and it is inevitably impossible. And at the same time, it is Life. And it is good.

He grabs a lock of my hair and rolls to the right. He is content. And so am I. And again, I watch him dream. Because I still can.

Farewells and Rites of Passage

11 Oct

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It is the eve of the bar mitzvah of the son of one of my oldest, dearest friends. We still talk about our first day of kindergarten together even though we knew each other years before we started elementary school. It is therefore that much more poignant that I learned tonight that our kindergarten teacher just passed away.

Life strikes chords and balances at the most poetic moments sometimes.

On our very first day of school, we were met by a grandmotherly lady who ushered us past wooden trees bearing our names, and new vocabulary we were to learn. She would go on to teach us about the bicentennial, most likely from first-hand experience. It was going to be a great year.

In the strange way that our memory decides to archive information, mine categorized the most pieces of my elementary education from my first year: the three balance beams that formed a small set of risers around the piano our teacher played every morning; the soundtrack of our classroom created by the steady hum of scissors working their way down construction paper; the line we were required to form in height order so we could proceed down the halls in an orderly fashion (I was first); the smell and taste of Stone Soup, a book we studied and brought to life with a recipe; and the kindness and love our teacher managed to show each child day in and day out.

I still recall, with anxiety and relief, my birthday party that almost wasn’t. My mother was so late that the teacher made us all put our heads down on the desk and remain silent.

“If your mother doesn’t come in the next ten minutes, we are canceling the party.”

In my tiny neurotic mind, I envisioned car accidents, crime scenes, literal nightmares. I have not changed much. It never occurred to me that late might mean a traffic jam, a delayed schedule, a mere slip of the mind. It was always a catastrophe. At long last, I spotted my mother through the narrow, rectangular window in the door — keys in her mouth, knocking with some body part because her hands were occupied. She entered bearing boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts and her ukulele (she was a real pro at “Puff the Magic Dragon”). I probably could have used a stiff drink, but I didn’t know about that either.

Kindergarten was also the year that everyone was getting their snacks stolen. It didn’t mean much to me until someone swiped my Funyuns. Enough was enough. Through early deductive logic and sleuthing skills I would continue to hone, I figured out who the thief was with a pretty crafty sting I engineered. That girl fell right into my trap. I confided in our teacher, not knowing whether this kind octogenarian would believe me but she must have had similar suspicions because my Funyuns mysteriously reappeared in my lunch box in time for snack.

Kindergarten was everything it should be, with great thanks to this teacher and her beautiful approach to teaching, to children, and to life.

On that first day of school, my friend and I sat next to each other on one of those balance beams, coincidentally wearing the exact same green polyester Snoopy pantsuit. I mean, what are the odds? Even in the 1970s. That fashion faux pas, however, was just another cornerstone on which a lifelong friendship was formed. This friend went on to light a candle on my own bat mitzvah cake, backpack through Greece with me, stand on the bimah as a bridesmaid at my wedding, attend the brit milahs of my sons, and celebrate with us only a year and a half ago at my own son’s bar mitzvah. She has loved me through some of my bitchiest days as a teenager to the woman I am today. Old friends are gifts that never lose their splendor.

It is six years after my youngest children entered kindergarten. I look at them and their friends sometimes and wonder if they will be as lucky as I have been. I hope so. There is nothing like someone who has traveled down life’s path alongside you– it is the comfort food of friendship, the roomy old sweater you wear on a rainy day, the favorite film you’ve watched over and over and over.

Tomorrow, with my husband and sons, I will celebrate my friend and her family. I will watch as the circles turn, as generations evolve, as tradition endures. I hope she’s not going to be wearing that green polyester Snoopy pantsuit. That would not look good at all.

Thank you, Mrs. Arkus, for the beginning. I hope your ending was just as lovely.

Coasting

1 Jul

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I know I have not written in a while. I am sorry. It’s been a month.

I attended 3 funerals and 3 graduations and spent all of June bouncing up and down on a trampoline of human emotion. I lost one of my very first friends in life and watched my sons leave the schools to which they have grown accustomed. I saw one son through another bump in his road and a couple of weeks later, watched him deliver a speech as president of his class at his graduation. I sat with my parents and brother through 2 funerals of women we all four loved very much and I celebrated my parents’ anniversary, my dad’s birthday, father’s day. I packed 6 trunks and sent my sons off to camp with fingers crossed, hoping that everything will be ok. The older you get, the more it seems this is just the routine unrolling of life.

My son has not had a great year. We’ve all had a not great year. But he is a fucking champ and I think he is probably also from my side of the family. It is, without question, as a parent, more difficult to watch someone you created and love go through something than it is for that person to live through it. My boy, who has depth and intelligence and maturity, must have intuited that because he made everything a little easier for us, which only makes me love him more.

I’m not even going to tell you that I’ve cried an awful lot this month because after a few of these posts, you probably know that already. Fuck it. I’ll tell you. I’ve cried an awful lot this month. I cry all the time. It was terrible and tragic to say goodbye to a woman who just turned 42, knowing she was the youngest person in that overcrowded room of people who came to mourn her. It was beyond sad to watch my mom lose one of her closest friends who only a year ago helped me celebrate my son’s bar mitzvah. It was horrible to see my child miss school and suffer and cry until his face turned red and he didn’t make a sound. And yet all this was counterbalanced by so much good and so much revelry, even though I tend to cry during those moments too. Wouldn’t it be nice, if on a trampoline, there was a way to only bounce upwards without the inevitable downs?

The point is, there will always be lows, but I must remember to focus more on the highs. And then….. coast on them for as long as I can.

I’m so proud of my babies for their inevitable graduations, for their achievements, for the people that they are. I’m gonna coast on that until they give me more reasons to celebrate.

Opening Doors

30 May

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Yesterday, I attended my last-ever Spring Walkthrough for my sons. In just one month, I will no longer have any children in elementary school. Everything feels so wistful and nostalgic and momentous underneath an overwhelmingly heavy blanket of sentiment.

I tried to absorb every moment of Spring Walkthrough, instead of just completing it as in years past. I paid attention to each detail of my sons’ handiwork, spent time on all the bulletin boards decorated with their projects, read everything as if it wouldn’t be sent home next month in a large paper bag. As we moved from classroom to classroom, I became increasingly emotional. My eyes watered, my heart ached, my babies were growing up.

Approximately halfway through the evening, the power failed for the briefest of moments and then the fire alarm sounded. There was talk as to whether someone intentionally pulled it or it was an actual problem. Everyone was told to leave the building. Over 1000 people congregated on the steps of the school as the fire trucks pulled in, and firemen in full gear with axes made their way inside. It was hot and chaotic and it seemed the sky was ready to open up. And then, out of nowhere, someone decided to blast the song “Happy.” Kids began to sing, a group of girls began to dance on the steps, parents began to groove. The infectious beat slowly spread among the people crowded out there waiting for this night to end. As I looked at my kids jumping up and down, at the girls dancing, at my hips rocking, I thought, “this is ridiculous! Life is ridiculous!” And I laughed.

The firemen exited, some kids took pictures with them, and the man with the boombox re-entered the building. I don’t know if there was a genuine issue or whether the fire alarm was a prank. Either way, it was the best Spring Walkthrough I’ve ever been to. Thank goodness for that unexpected minute of chaos and contagious joy and insanity. It was a perfect moment that I sorely needed. And It saved me from myself.

I am not a fan of change. I spend so much time emphasizing the importance of “lasts” that I often forget to recognize the beauty of “firsts.” I need to look at every new door as an opening instead of sadly watching an old door close. I’m going to start celebrating more beginnings instead of solely focusing on endings.

Thank you to that fire alarm. Thank you to that man with the music. Thank you to those girls on the steps. Thank you to unchoreographed moments of absurdity. And thank you to my sons, nonchalant through all my tears and hysteria and reflection.  I wish you the best last month of elementary school and I look forward to seeing you start middle school in the fall.

Happy Birthday to the Boy That Made Me a Mom!

19 May

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I was pregnant forever.

My son had no interest in leaving his comfy womb. And now that I know him, it does not surprise me at all. He may have had a laptop in there with Netflix streaming, or it may have been that he had a test he did not want to study for, or he just may have been enjoying another lazy morning. Regardless, he wasn’t leaving and he was already 10 days late. Apropos.

I knew, instinctively, I was going to have a boy and that he would look just like his dad. I was right on both counts. After a very difficult pregnancy and a genuinely horrific labor, I would finally encounter the baby that was creating all this drama. In an instant, we went from a married couple to a family on this day, 14 years ago, at 12:20 am, in a room that looked like a drive-by birthing occurred, after 23 hours of labor, and 42 weeks of waiting to meet our baby. My son was beautiful and perfect and sweet and calm and miraculous. And thanks to him, I was now a mother. Within hours, I was able to identify my baby’s cry when he would be rolled down the halls of the hospital. I was nursing him, I was studying him, I was loving him. My mom sat next to me on my hospital bed and said “enjoy him. Before you know it, he’ll be off to college.”

At the time I’m sure I thought she was being dramatic. There are moments so redundant they are suspended in time. They are simply palpable. I can tell you the playlist I quietly sang to my son by his crib every night (Sweet Baby James, Moonshadow, The Way You Look Tonight, the 59th Street Bridge Song, You Can Close Your Eyes, The Circle Game). I can tell you the lyrics of all the Wiggles and Laurie Berkner tunes we listened to while we played with blocks and stacking toys. I can tell you the way the sun fell across my son’s window facing 1st Avenue and East 74th Street each evening. I can tell you about all the things I packed in my diaper bag to keep my baby clean, and fed, and warm, and happy. And I can also tell you that my mother was right.

I cannot recall my son’s changing face over the past 14 years. From chubbier cheeks to the beginnings of a tiny pre-pubescent mustache to the emergence of small angles and large brows. The only face I see is the one that is always right before me: soft brown eyes, an honest smile, and the pronounced dimple that melted my heart when I laid eyes on him in that delivery room.  I am constantly trying to recreate those initial feelings of love and motherhood. I linger over witch hazel pads which perfumed the first two months of my son’s infancy. I obsessively smell my hands after washing them at my doctor’s office with the same antibacterial soap I used for the first year after my son was born. I keep many of his baby clothes with rags in my laundry room just so I can unfold them and look at them and imagine his tiny body filling them up all those years ago. My mother was so very right. She always is.

These memories have become part of the fabric out of which the tapestry of our lives is still being made. Days do become years and years seem to become decades. I find myself marking the lives of my children with milestones and events and hourglasses. My son will begin high school in the fall. He will get a learner’s permit in two years. He will take the SATs in three years. He will go to college in four. And I am clinging to those four years so hard that my heart aches. Perhaps they’re called milestones because they’re so devastatingly heavy.

My son’s voice is changing. He is becoming more independent. He is making his own plans and becoming a little man. It’s ok. It is what is supposed to happen. I just don’t know if I’m ready for it. It would be nice to dig my heels in, like a dog that doesn’t want to be walked, and just stop the world. But I want the world for him too and he deserves that much.

After all, he has been a gift every day of his life. From his first steps to his first “mama” to his first hug to his first kiss to his first bike ride to his first “I love you” to his first scraped knee to his first playdate to his first bus to his first day of school to his first year at camp to his first girlfriend to his first drink of Manischewitz to his first day of being 14, I have been there. And it has been an honor and a privilege and again, a gift. He has literally grown up before my eyes like a beautiful time-lapse film I never want to end.

I am fortunate. The people I love are doing all right and we are surrounded by a strong and very wonderful network of family and friends. And although I’m now several inches shorter than my sprouting boy, he nevertheless often manages to fit himself onto my lap and rest his head on my shoulder. He is warm and affectionate and sweet and generous with the hugs and kisses. He has not yet stopped coming into my room every evening to kiss me and say goodnight and I am hoping this is a tradition that will endure. Thankfully, it seems he still needs his mother because I know that I will always need him. Yes, he is growing up. But then again, so am I.

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Thank You For Being a Friend

7 May

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Some time ago, my mother asked me if I would like to watch a taping of “The Chew” and have lunch with Carla Hall at Otto. I didn’t pay much attention to the details or that it was through the “Adult Education” program of our home town. The day for this extravaganza finally approached and my mother was unable to attend. I called on my friend, Amy, to spend the day with me, and let me tell you, she was the perfect substitute.

This friend of mine has been my best friend for nearly 40 years. We literally grew up together. She is the one person (aside from my brother) that I get “the giggles” with. Any situation, at any moment, can send us into fits of laughter and render us unable to make eye contact the rest of the day for fear we will embarrass ourselves due to massive immaturity and poor behavior. Thank Gd for her. For real.

Amy was late, as usual. I got on the bus and lo and behold, it was Cocoon. I looked around, thinking I must be in the wrong place because clearly, they emptied out the local retirement home for the day and I was on a slow bus to nowhere with the Golden Girls’ mothers. I looked out among the sea of short-white-haired women in bifocals and thought “I can’t wait until Amy gets here. This is going to be the best day ever!”

I first checked in with an old woman I kept referring to as Bette Davis, I don’t know why. Bette Davis was very concerned because Amy’s name was not on the list and the list was already given to the folks at ABC. I asked whether we could persuade them to allow her entry but she was not so sure. She insisted we hop off the bus and head to the main office to let the ABC people know ahead of time so they could make sure that Amy was not operating an Al Qaeda cell. I shouldn’t have judged Bette Davis so fast. She turned out to be pretty spry.

Bette and I reboarded the bus and I anxiously awaited Amy’s expression when she saw we were taking a field trip with the Fixodent crew. I stepped over some canes and sat down. Finally, she got on the bus and our eyes met and it was just the moment I knew it would be: giddiness. We took seats in the way back of the bus and did the silent laugh (the best kind), until we collected our maturity and resigned ourselves to a day of fun with the widows of the Bartles and Jaymes dudes.

We arrived at ABC, and a woman with a Jane Fonda-esque hairdo (albeit very strangely bleached in some sort of Ombre fashion gone terribly wrong — maybe she did it at home?), rose right before the bus could fully stop. “Ombre” knew just what she was doing. She pushed aside several old ladies, making sure she was the first one off that bus, but for what? We had Ombre’s number.

We waited for an hour or so in a holding room where granola bars and water were offered. Ombre shoved in front of that line too. Finally, a guy who looked exactly like Shaggy from Scooby Doo (inasmuch as a human being can resemble a cartoon character), started to funnel us into the studio. Ombre cut this line too. She was really starting to get on our nerves.

We taped our applause, we taped our laughter, we taped our surprised expressions. The warm-up comedian asked who was single. Ombre raised her hand. Amy and I exchanged knowing glances. Things were taking a little long to get started and it occurred to me that I made a critical error in not rationing those free granola bars. Maybe there was a loose Tic Tac in my jacket pocket from 2008. No such luck. The Golden Girls theme song played on a loop in my head while I watched the hosts and the guest diners eat all the food they discussed in detail. This was my Guantanamo Bay and I did not like it at all. Rick Springfield was the special guest star. Or was that simply a hunger-induced hallucination?

After a few hours, the taping of the show was finally over and we were ravenous. Amy looked for an Advil to chew on after offering to split her last LifeSaver, as she wondered whether we would have to walk long to find the bus. Who was she kidding? This crowd wasn’t even going to make it  across the street! The bus picked us up right in front of the studio and we headed south to 8th Street.

Knowing we might be hungry, Bette Davis came prepared. She had the foresight to bring 2 boxes of matzoh (matzoh!), which she offered to everyone seated, as she weaved her way down the bus aisle. I refused but Amy ate that matzoh like someone just sprung her from POW camp. Otto came into view like a mirage. We entered the restaurant (Ombre pushed again!) and the old ladies stuffed their purses with anything that was free, which amounted to business cards for all of Mario Batali’s restaurants.

Lunch was delicious. I sat next to Carla Hall (who I loved! Hootie Hoo!) but don’t recall talking to her until I reentered society with my 3rd piece of pizza. Carla offered to autograph books that could be purchased and Ombre made a stink about how she thought the book was supposed to be given to us for free. You’re wrong, Ombre, get over it.

We boarded the bus to head back home. After all, it was almost 5, time for these ladies to hit the hay. Amy and I reconvened in the back of the bus. I looked around at these women and eavesdropped on some of their conversations. Several of them discussed the invention of the television and its emergence in popular culture and more specifically, the homes of the people they knew. They laughed and joked with each other. They discussed old memories they shared. Even Bette Davis, who worked the bus mic with more feedback than clarity (or was that one of these women’s hearing aid batteries going off?), spoke eloquently about the old days and her job at Good Housekeeping.

And then it dawned on me: these ladies were pretty amazing. Here they were, living their life and enjoying it to boot. They weren’t sitting around in a recliner, nursing a prune juice and crocheting booties for their great great grandchild. They were on an adventure, having a beautiful day with their friends. Even Ombre wasn’t so bad. Maybe. So what if they knew Abraham Lincoln personally. These women were storytellers. They were vital, they were important, they were lovely.

I looked at Amy, who napped most of the way home, and I thought, this is going to be us one day. We should only be so lucky.