Paying It Forward

snowy parking lot

After the recent blizzard, parking lots were a mess with piles of snow taking up many parking spaces. After finding my zen in a yoga class I was dreamily strolling toward the parking lot. Scanning the area to find my car, I noticed a young man inspecting a minivan’s bumper, gently wiping off salt and dirt, clearly looking for damage. It wasn’t until he walked away that I realized it was my car he was checking. I tried to run after him but he had crossed a busy street and was gone. It was a frigid day and I didn’t have the energy to leap through traffic to track him down. Instead, I returned to the scene of the crime.

Flustered and irritated, I checked the bumper, which was mildly scuffed. Was it new or old, I wondered? Not being one to take much notice of those things, I had no idea. I grumpily got into my car, resigned to the fact that people are horrible, no one takes responsibility for their actions anymore, and I was just another victim of a faceless crime. Then, I noticed a piece of white paper, fluttering in the wind, stuck underneath the windshield wiper on the passenger side of the car. It couldn’t possibly be what I hoped it was, could it? I hopped out, grabbed the note and read it. The person had left his name and cell phone number and said he didn’t think there was damage to my car but to call him if I needed to have it fixed. I held it up like a trophy, feeling elated that there was goodness in the world. A woman was walking near me, heading to a store and I gleefully told her what happened. “You made my day,” she said.

Is it sad that I sometimes expect so little of humanity that a little scuff would bring me such joy? I told my husband about it and neither of us could get excited about a little scrape on a four-year-old car. It definitely wasn’t anything worth my time and trouble. I was determined to send the guy a text and thank him for his goodness, a little cosmic positive reinforcement for his mensch-like behavior. The weeks flew by and I forgot about it until I discovered the note in one of my household piles. Knowing that it is never too late to act, I sent him a text:

Me: Hello, You left a note on my car last month in a shopping center after scraping my bumper. I’ve been meaning to write you to tell you how happy it made me to know there are still good, honest people in the world. I saw you as you were leaving but couldn’t catch you. I was so frustrated and then I found your note. You really made my day. And no worries about the bumper -it’s not a big deal! Let’s both keep paying the kindness forward!

The Reply: Wow! You made my day too! That was my 17 year old son and he left my cell because I am easier to reach. Thank you for your kindness and understanding and I just shared your note with my son who is driving and really appreciated it. He was backing out slowly and a waiting driver was being impatient and honking and he got flustered. So your kindness was a great antidote! We will indeed pay it forward. Have a great day from both of us!

I wasn’t expecting a mom to mom interaction, but it made the whole thing even sweeter. Clearly, I told her, she was an outstanding mother with award winning parenting skills as she was raising a fine young man. I have an 18-year-old son. Would he have left a note? Would I? I never asked for her name, nor she mine, so it remained a lovely, anonymous interlude that I suspect we will both remember fondly.

I try to take the peace and tranquility that I learn on the yoga mat out into the world. Take a deep breath, clear out the clutter in my mind, be kind to myself and to others. I love that it’s called the “practice” of yoga. Human beings are always practicing too, trying to get things right. This young man gave me a gift. You never know what the universe will send your way.

 

 

A New Direction

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I was at a friend’s house recently on a weekend afternoon and asked where her husband was. She said he had taken her son to a birthday party and gotten lost.

“Who gets lost anymore?” I asked.

Not me. I have wholeheartedly embraced Waze, the world’s largest community-based traffic and navigation app. This somewhat technologically-challenged middle-aged mom is on board. When my husband first told me about the concept, I scoffed. After all, I usually knew where I was going or I could use the GPS in my mini-van. I didn’t need a new-fangled app thing to tell me where I was going.

How wrong I was. I love Waze. I use it, even when I know where I’m going, to check which is the most direct route given traffic, construction, etc. at any given time. Anything I can do to avoid sitting in traffic makes me happy. Sure, I could make use of time in the car listening to books or podcasts but I’d rather be laying comfortably on my couch reading a book or catching an episode of something on Netflix. Sitting in the car for no good reason – not so much.

One may lament the fact that it’s difficult to get lost these days. After all, sometimes the road less traveled takes you to unique, wondrous places. Ah, fear not. The beauty of the crowd-sourcing app is that it takes you down streets and through neighborhoods you’ve never seen without the anxiety of having no idea where you are. You still get the glorious feeling of wandering off the beaten track while feeling confident that you will get where you intended to go. Win-win in my book.

My husband told me that at first he was skeptical of the lovely lady voice telling him where to go, as sometimes it just seemed like an outrageous route she would suggest. It was sort of the equivalent of not wanting to ask for directions. It turned out that he learned to trust her and would get burned if he went against her advice. I too have learned to trust the lovely lady in my phone and have come to think of her as an adventurous, wise friend. My husband went so far as to buy her a stand for my car, a pedestal if you will, where she can easily be perched to safely aid in my following her directions. I hang on her every word.

This app has opened up my world, giving me confidence to drive to places where I may not have ventured by car before. My late mother would argue that public transportation is the way to go – she was a poster child for the subway, but I prefer the comfort of my car with the ability to come and go as I please.

I have a new mission control to help me get around in the form of a handy app. I feel like an explorer. It’s the “Marco” to my “Polo.” Just me and my girl Waze, oh the places we’ll go.

A Fine Line

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My father was in town recently for a family occasion. He is pushing 80 and while he is very independent, I see that he slowing down a bit. He lives in Israel now, so I get only the occasional peek into how he is faring. Most of the time I have to rely on his reports by phone and email. Even when he is out of sight, he is always on my mind.

I received some great wisdom on this subject from my family’s oncologist. He is a thoughtful person who I see routinely for follow up of the breast cancer I had diagnosed and treated in 2010. This doctor had also been treating my mother for metastatic melanoma since 2002, which had recurred shortly after I finished my cancer treatment. My mother had significant pain, caused by disease pressing on nerves in her spine and neck. While my father was a loving and devoted caregiver, I was anticipating how to go about helping them as her cancer slowly destroyed her body.

“You want to navigate them with grace,” he said.

What a lovely way to frame this difficult time in life.

As a middle-age person with a young-ish family, I had been going about the business of raising my children, tending to my marriage, and bustling about in my community. My parents had been healthy and active. They were an important part of my family life, helping me out when needed, and just being involved, loving grandparents.

Then slowly, without fanfare, things shifted. My independent parents seemed to become lost in the mire of medical care, with the medical equivalent of “too-many-cooks-in-the kitchen.” There was the internist, the endocrinologist, pain team, and oncologist to name a few. This, plus their generational inclination to be compliant patients without asking too many questions, not asking questions they didn’t want to know the answer to, or challenging doctors, made for an often chaotic and sometimes ineffective care plan despite the caring and good intentions of the health care professionals.

Fortunately I lived near my parents so I would sometimes take my mother to doctor’s appointments to give my father a break. It also gave me the opportunity to ask questions and take notes. They drifted along in this vein for a while. Their world began to shrink as my mother felt worse. She slept a lot from the pain medicine. Most of their outings were to see doctors.

I finally intervened when my mother’s pain was not controlled adequately. The outpatient model of medical care was no longer working: the patient/family calls the doctor’s office and waits for the nurse to call back, and then has to wait for the nurse to talk to the doctor and call back again with a pain plan. Then the prescription needs to be called in to the pharmacy, which meant my father had to go pick it up. And in the midst of all this waiting, my mother suffered and my father felt helpless.

I knew a lot about home hospice care from when I worked as a social worker in a cancer center at a major university hospital, so I knew it was what my parents needed. I explained the concept to my dad – nurses come to you, assess the situation, speak to the doctors and provide whatever you need. He was on board. My mother took a little convincing, as the word “hospice” felt so scary to her. She wasn’t ready to give up hope.

“Mom, I want you to live as long as you can. But I can’t watch you live in pain. This is no way to live,” I told her.

She reluctantly agreed. My mother lived three more weeks and died comfortably in her home, at the age of 74. It was heart-wrenching and awful but we navigated my parents with grace, the same way they navigated our childhoods.

It is not always obvious when it is time to intervene with aging parents. After a lifetime of being independent, they will not always ask for help. And after a lifetime of being their child, it is difficult to insert yourself into the caregiver role for, doesn’t mother always know best? It is a fine balance of respecting their autonomy and independence while gently giving support and assistance, whether they ask for it or not. Sometimes it takes an event to occur, like a fall or a hospitalization, to present the opportunity for intervention.

I watched my devoted mother care for her mother who had dementia the last 15 years of her life until she died at age 99, just four years before my mother. I learned about quietly and lovingly honoring your parent by caring for them in their old age.

After all, there but for the grace of God go I.

A Surprise from My UPS Guy

Package delivery

With the holiday season upon us, you are probably spending more time than usual with the delivery people in your life. I’ve actually known my UPS delivery guy for years as I get a monthly shipment of formula  for my tube-fed teenager. Although I don’t know his name, I can tell you he has a full head of straight brown hair, is of medium height and has a wide girth. He is pleasant and just the right amount of friendly, without being too chatty.

I know that he has a daughter with autism and that he is a St. Louis Cardinals fan. I learned something new about him recently. It was a warm day and I happened to be home for the delivery. I opened the garage door and my UPS driver offered to put the seven cases of formula in the house, so they wouldn’t spoil in the heat and I wouldn’t have to shlep them inside. He kindly put the boxes in my laundry room and as he went to leave, he reached up, touched the mezuzah on my doorpost, kissed his fingers, and walked out the door.

WTF, I wondered?? How had my what-I-thought-was-my-finely-tuned “Jew-dar” not gone off all these years?

“Whoa,” I sputtered as he walked away, “you’re Jewish?”

Indeed, he was. He lamented that he should have gone further than an undergraduate degree in religion, which I suppose was his way of saying how he ended up as a UPS delivery person. I was surprised but kind of delighted too. How wonderful to have another Member-of-the-Tribe join my inner world. No wonder we had an easy connection and rapport all these years – it felt like I had discovered a distant cousin.

He delivered a large item the other day that had to be signed for, so he brought it into my house and commented that something smelled good. I told him I was cooking for Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath,) which begins Friday evening. It was a Wednesday and he commented, “So early?”

It’s always good to learn the lesson about what happens when we make assumptions. This holiday season, I will not rush to judge any book by its cover, or its brown uniform.

The Sweetest Sound

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As parents, we try to produce well-rounded children. Sports seems to be high on the list of activities to encourage, as is trying to nurture a love of reading and exposure to musical instruments. I am guilty of suggesting my children try different things. They all briefly played a sport but nothing got any of them particularly excited. So, I became one of the masses who signed their kids up for music lessons, hoping they’d become concert pianists or at least raise their IQ a few points.

I’m not sure why so many people force the issue and make their children play, even when they obviously don’t like it. Neither my husband or I play the piano. I played the flute for a few years and he played the trumpet, both while we were younger children. We each have fond memories but neither of us continued as teenagers or adults. For some reason, it seems that many adults regret: a) never having learned how to read music or play an instrument or b) not being forced by their parents to continue playing into adulthood.

We bought a used upright piano several years ago and all four of our children have taken lessons. Numbers 1 and 4 petered out after several months. They have similar temperaments and couldn’t bear the frustration and inability to be immediately perfect.

Numbers 2 and 3 have been playing for about seven years.

Now that I’m on the parent side of this equation, I get why parents don’t force their children to continue. It’s because the constant nagging and negotiating to get them to practice is unpleasant. When the nag/playing ratio becomes too uneven, lessons should stop, in my opinion.

Fortunately my piano players are in a good place and practice willingly, at least most of the time. It is truly music to my ears, both literally and figuratively. My seventeen-year-old has limited capabilities due to his genetic disorder and spends lots of time on various screens so his piano playing gives me an especially great joy.

In the past, he was not always so focused on his music. Maybe I pushed him a little harder because his playing made me happy.

“Are the piano lessons for him or for you?” my husband asked.

“Maybe a little of both,” I confessed. So what?

Then there are the recitals. I find these to be one of the sweeter benefits of being a parent. I love the piano recitals. I love watching all the kids, not just my own. I love seeing the kids dressed up, girls in fancy dresses with bows in their hair and boys often wearing “high-waters” – clearly dragged from the back of the closet from the last time they needed nice clothes. I like hearing the little kids plunking out tunes all the way up to the extremely talented children. Really, an hour is about the length of my attention span for classical music so it suits me perfectly.

My fourteen-year-old had a recital a few weeks ago. He didn’t know the piece as well as he would have liked, but I didn’t care. I was proud to see him get up there and perform. That’s part of the whole package of playing an instrument – working on something to make it better and having the confidence to get up and be vulnerable in a room full of people.

I read that “music is well said to be the speech of angels.” Lucky me – sometimes it feels like I have a little bit of heaven in my own house.

 

If It’s Not One Thing…

carbohydrates

I am the most compliant patient in the world. Since my daughter was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease, her doctors recommended that all first degree relatives get tested too. I hadn’t seen my internist in a few years so I had blood work done and made an appointment for a physical. I feel pretty darn good in my middle age with no physical complaints or concerns.

The good news is that I do not have Celiac Disease or Hashimoto’s, the other autoimmune diseases that two of my children have. The surprising finding from my blood work was that I am told that I am “prediabetic.” Excuse me, what?? I was not expecting that, at all, whatever that is or what it meant for my health.

The doctor calmly explained that I should just limit my carbs and get re-checked in six months to a year. Oh, no big deal I thought as I left the visit although I felt somewhat agitated. I realized it was not the end of the world. It was not a fatal proclamation but merely a wake-up call that I could develop a chronic illness if I don’t change my eating habits. I suppose I should be thankful.

I may well get to that place of gratitude but first I had to have a pity party. I wallowed in sadness that I had one more thing to deal with in my life. One child has a feeding tube, another is gluten-free. I’ve had breast cancer so I’m aware of my diet in terms of trying to avoid a recurrence. How much do I have to bear? I had a good cry, felt completely sorry for myself and even went so far as to wonder if my life will be cut short by diabetes or cancer, which are both accounted for in my family and personal history.

The next day, I went to my “board,” seeking support.

“Do you think I could have Munchhausen Syndrome?” I asked my sister. That’s a mental disorder in which a person repeatedly and deliberately acts as if he or she has a physical or mental illness when he or she is not really sick. My nuclear family has many diseases and disorders, is it possible that they were products of my imagination?

“I don’t think you could manipulate blood work,” she sensibly said. Oh, right.

My friends rallied, trying to find the right words to comfort me. One friend lovingly suggested I focus on what I could eat rather than what I should try to cut out.

“No, no,” I told her, “that’s not what I need right now. I’m sure I’ll get to that place but I just need to hear something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry.'”

“Oh [expletive],” another friend exclaimed when I told her about my diagnosis. Now that was just the kind of love I was looking for.

Even my rabbi, who I happened to see, offered this comforting statistic, “AARP says that there are 29 million people in the U.S.with diabetes and 86 million with prediabetes. So you are in good company.”

You see, my late mother had adult-onset diabetes. She handled it with such grace, discreetly checking her blood with nary a complaint. My sister and I have memories of our mom looking at nutrition labels and announcing how many carbs a product had, as we remained blissfully ignorant and uninterested in all things diabetes. It is a very strange experience to feel like I am channeling my mother as I transition to living my nutritional life a lot like she did. It just makes the whole thing even more emotionally loaded for me.

But I’m nothing if not resilient. I’m sure when I lose 20 pounds I will come to love my prediabetes, embrace the diagnosis and become its poster child. Never half empty, thank God my glass will continue to be half full of wine, which fortunately is low in carbs.