Oh, and Another Thing

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I married at 31 and started having babies when I was 33. By the time I was 38, we had three bouncing boys. I was getting older, tired and cranky, nearing 40 and seriously contemplated closing down the baby factory. Lo and behold, I was pregnant again.

Once we cleared the genetic screening hoops (our second son has a serious genetic disease), we anxiously awaited the arrival of our fourth, and final, child. We opted not to find out the gender of any of our children. We enjoyed the surprise when they were born. Even with the last child, I didn’t find out the gender because 1) I wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret, 2) if it were a boy, people would say, “oh, too bad,” before the poor guy was even born, and 3) while I knew too well how important a healthy baby was, regardless of the sex, I loved the idea of a little girl.

Miracle of miracles, I had a healthy little girl who is 12 now and just one of our crew. She is not the princess or the revered baby. She’s just #4. Okay, she twirls a lot more than her brothers, but you get the point.

Occasionally I feel a little bad that my daughter has an old mother, although I don’t think she thinks of me that way. I’m just her mom. Having lost my own wonderful mother a few years ago when I was 50, I feel a sense of wanting to impart all my wisdom to my daughter since she most likely will not have a mom for as long as I did. I was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, and while I am ostensibly cured, healthy and hoping to live a long life, one never knows what the future holds. I have to bite my tongue and subliminally drop my wisdom bombs. I don’t want her to remember me and think, “My mom was always cramming me with information because she was an old mom who worried about dying.”

I’m older than many of her friends’ moms, but that doesn’t bother me. I may not be as fun as younger moms who have more energy but I was never really that get-on -the floor-and-play-with-your-kids mom anyway.

Here are some things I want her to know:

  1. Read a recipe completely, BEFORE you start cooking.
  2. It’s worth it to pay more for a bra to have a salesperson who knows what they’re doing.
  3. When you order anything online, unless you really need it immediately always pick the regular shipping option – it usually comes just as fast.
  4. Be nice to everyone. If you happen to be popular, you want to be known as the really nice girl, not the mean girl.
  5. Don’t flatter yourself and think people care what you do. They have their own lives to worry about. Even if something happens in your life that makes you the news of the day, you will quickly be knocked down on the news-feed of life.
  6. Love yourself and your body. Everyone has things they wish were different about their body. Play to your strengths. I’m sorry you have bunions already at 12 years old. It’s part of the bad genes I passed on to you. Be thankful it’s your feet that you think are ugly and not your face.
  7. Don’t be a sheep and blindly follow others. Stick to your beliefs and values.
  8. When you have a house, put some lights on timers inside so it looks like people are inside. We were once burgled as a young couple when our house was completely dark, inside and out. Duh.
  9. Don’t be a doormat, to friends or a partner. Have relationships that are authentic and reciprocal.
  10. Don’t talk on your cell phone when in line at a store. It is rude to those around you and especially to the clerk. People don’t like to feel invisible. Smile at everyone.
  11. Have a schedule but be flexible, with yourself and with your children.
  12. Be grateful and express gratitude for what you have. Don’t whine about what you don’t have.
  13. Dress, speak, and act modestly. Be mindful of how you present and carry yourself. It speaks volumes about your character.
  14. Never “reply all” to an email unless it is specifically requested. No need to share the minutiae of replies. If you have to send an email to a large group, use the “bcc” so others can’t “reply all” either.
  15. Honor your father and your mother. Make sure I’m well cared for when I’m old. Two words – chin hairs.

I am aware of the opposite sides of the life cycle that we are on. My daughter is a young, budding teenager with beautiful, taut skin and boundless energy. I, on the other hand, am on the downhill slope which is full of lumps, bumps, wrinkles and if I’m lucky the occasional naps. We learn from each other’s different personalities and experiences, as even this old mom can learn new tricks. I will continue to quietly add to my wisdom list, teaching her with my words and through my actions.

Since my mother died, I often wonder “what would Mom do?” I can usually summon the answer. I hope my daughter will be able to do the same.

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Navigating with Grace

If you’re tired of reading my essays, take a listen to this interview I did with Jana Panarites on her podcast, Agewyz, where she gives voice to the struggles of caregivers. After all, we all are, have been or will be caregivers at some point in our lives. I hope you’ll take the time to listen and share with others. Maybe you would like to share your story with Jana too? Click HERE to listen.

If It’s Not One Thing…

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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.

 

Home Base

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It was so gradual, I wasn’t even aware it was happening.

My sister’s lived out of state for years. My mom died two years ago. My dad moved to Israel. His house just sold, so he came back to close the deal and empty out the final contents of the house. For the first time, he stayed with me instead of his house, which was basically empty. I realized that I had become my family’s home away from home.

I first became aware of the shift over the summer. My kids were away and my sister wanted to come home. Really, I thought? I’ve got no kids home and wasn’t looking for company. She hadn’t been home for awhile and wanted to visit the cemetery where our mother is buried. I couldn’t tell her not to come. Alas, in the new reality, I am “home” for her so I wrapped my mind around this idea, bought her beloved Diet Coke,  and told her to come. We had a great time as usual.

Now it’s my dad’s turn to stay at our house. It’s nice to have him with us – three generations living together for a month. He enjoys my children and we all enjoy having him around. He and I have lunch together most days. My husband and Dad chat over the occasional scotch. Such domestic bliss, you can’t imagine. My father looks the other way when I yell at my kids. We smile sweetly when he repeats himself. We’re practically a scene straight out of the tv show “Modern Family” – my dad being the cantankerous patriarch. I dare say he has even developed a moderate affinity for our dog.

All good things can benefit from a break though, so my Dad went to visit my sister and her family in Indianapolis, taking an early morning flight. My sister called me a few hours after he arrived. Our dad was sacked out on her couch – after all, he had been awake since four a.m.

“From my couch to yours,” I chuckled.

“How long does he usually sleep?” she asked with concern.

I felt like we were discussing a toddler instead of our paterfamilias. Fortunately he’s an active and healthy 79-year-old. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting cleaning out a house you’ve lived in for almost 40 years. He was tired.

I thought I was over the emotional part of saying goodbye to his house but apparently I wasn’t completely. The family homestead was the headquarters for our family for close to forty years. It’s a sad feeling to close that chapter of my life and a weird feeling to have the tables turned and for me to be home base. It’s a subtle shift, but a change none-the-less.

My father will leave the U.S. to return to his life in Israel next week. It’s strange for him to have given up his U.S. residence, but it’s worth it for him to be unburdened by the contents of a large home. He can visit his favorite possessions and my mother’s artwork in any of his children’s homes when he’s feeling nostalgic.

Yup, it’s a new rhythm for our family but one we are all adjusting to. There’s no place like home, wherever it may be.

 

 

Four Beautiful Words

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I just passed through another of life’s parenting milestones. My eldest child went to college, to the University of Maryland. It’s only 30 minutes away but once you’re on campus, you could be 30 hours away. I have no expectation that he will come home on weekends and told him I don’t really expect him to come home until Thanksgiving. We walked around the campus a bit after he was settled in his room, but I could tell he was ready for us to leave.

So we did.

It was strange to come home without him but we’re used to him not being around. He’s been away from home a lot and he has an active social life. He’s been slowly drifting away from us, which, as all the parenting manuals tells us, is what they are supposed to do. We are keenly aware of this being a rite of passage – both for our son and for ourselves. Are we really old enough to have a kid in college? We’re a little sad that this phase of being a parent to this child is over. But as a friend pointed out to us, we still have a deep bench at home with three other tweens and teens around to supervise.

Mostly we feel excited for him. Walking around campus reminded us of how awesome and fun college is. How could we feel anything but excitement? On the flip side, we’re reminded of how awesome and fun college is. How could we feel anything but terrified? It feels a little like tossing him out into the world, with a pat on the rear end, a wave of the hand, and a jolly “good luck to you son.” I know he’s smart enough to fend for himself and I trust the universe will be kind to him, or at least kind enough.

He was a little wistful when his high school friends started leaving to go out of state, thinking they would have a much more geographically diverse population of friends to pick from and more exotic college towns. I assured him that he would meet people from all over the country who come to Maryland, as well as people from places in Maryland that he’s never been to or even heard of.

When he called home after a few days, he said, “You were right Mom.”

Whoa, hold up. Did he just say I was right? I wasn’t prepared. I couldn’t ask him to say it again more slowly, could I? Where’s ESPN when you need it? She shoots she scores!!!

Certainly I will be wrong about lots of things I am asked to consult on in the future. It was such a gift to be right, at least about something, as he ventures out into the adult world. It was a little validation that some of the wisdom I tried to drop on him throughout his life may have occasionally penetrated his consciousness.

My work is done, for now. Yeah, right, until he needs cash. Then I’ll be right on the money.

Man Up

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Before our trip to Israel this past April, my sister told us about an interesting activity they enjoyed. They went to an anti-terrorist training presentation. We thought it would be something different that our kids would like, so we booked a visit. We knew that each participant would have the opportunity to shoot a gun. Cool, right?

We asked some friends if they wanted to join us but they were concerned that their daughters would be freaked out. My daughter caught wind of this.

“What if I’m too scared?” she asked me.

“Come on – girls can do anything,” I told her.

I am not an uber-feminist, but I’m also not a fan of the notion that girls have to be shrinking violets. It’s one thing to be nervous about shooting a gun – that’s understandable, regardless of your sex. But I didn’t want her to think she had a girl card that she could throw anytime she wanted, no questions asked. Was she actually afraid or did she think she was supposed to be scared and she was sticking to the script?

My mother, who was as traditional as they come, gave my sister and I a book when we were young called, “Girls Can Do Anything” –   be soldiers, policewomen, doctors, astronauts, and firefighters. That was 40 years ago – it’s even more true today. Plus, I hate to tell my daughter this, but if she thinks shooting a gun is scary, wait until pregnancy and childbirth – life experiences truly not for the faint of heart. Being a mother is both exhilarating and terrifying. Better to learn early that life is full of daunting things. So dammit, we were going to be tough like the Israeli soldiers who would teach us about anti-terrorist training. And hopefully we’d like it.

It happened to be guys, not girls, who taught our session. They were former soldiers who looked “straight out of Central Casting,” as my sister said. They were swarthy, brawny, passionate and super cool. My daughter clung to me and my husband as the demonstration began, her eyes wide with curiosity and trepidation. I was hopeful she was going to be alright.

Then came the live counter-terrorism demonstration. Three men, playing the part of terrorists, came running through our group as the soldiers shouted for everyone to get down. I could see my daughter across the compound, lying on the floor, lip quivering, fear and misery in her eyes and on her face. My poor baby. I felt bad and was eager to get up and comfort her. But I had other thoughts as well.

“Please don’t let those mothers be right,” I pleaded in my head. What kind of mother was I to put my daughter in a scary situation, just to make her tougher? What was I trying to prove?

I willed my daughter to toughen up, not have a nervous breakdown and dissolve into a pile of tears. She got up, came over to me and said she did not like this at all. I assured her that we were totally safe and that they were just acting – like a performance.

This seemed to mollify her and to my relief, she calmed down. She shot a handgun and a sniper rifle. She wasn’t bad either. I think she felt reluctant pride that she had rallied and faced her fear. Or maybe she just knew that I desperately wanted her to be okay. I asked her about the experience the other day. She seemed ambivalent about the whole thing, so apparently she was not obviously scarred.

I knew she could do it and I couldn’t be prouder. That’s my girl.

 

 

 

Spring Forward

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Spring makes me think of my late mother more than any other season. Everything is in bloom, the world is lush, full of promise and rebirth. She loved nature and beautiful things – spring is the perfect combination of these elements. The pain of grief subsides with time but spring brings my own grief to the forefront. It doesn’t help that this spring we are going through the remainder of my mother’s possessions as my father prepares to sell the house.

When my mother died in 2013, I clung to anything that belonged to her, thinking that if I had her things close by than she would remain close by too. I wrapped myself in her coats and carried her purses. I had a closet full of her clothes that I thought I would wear, which I quickly learned had her smell when I opened the closet door. It was my own, private mini-shrine in a seldom used closet in my home. On the rare occasion when I got out the iron, I could inhale and feel my mother’s presence.

Mother’s Day happens to fall in spring, but that day isn’t harder for me than every other day I miss my mother. Since we went to the cemetery last year, the first Mother’s Day without my mother, my daughter assumed we were going again this year. So we did. My husband, children and I actually had a nice visit with “Bubbe.” We cleaned off her headstone, pulled some crabgrass and told her what was going on in our lives. I shed a few tears.

Now it’s the small things that make me feel happy and think of my mother. Her key-chain, flower pots from her deck, knickknacks. a recipe in her handwriting, a pair of earrings. In her art studio I found her credit card from Garfinkel’s, a now defunct department store that was the height of elegance in its day. My mom was so sad when the store closed – she wasn’t a big shopper but she appreciated fine quality. The credit card was propped on a little metal stand, her tribute to times gone by. Now it makes me smile to think of her whimsy in keeping it.

I recently made a new recipe – a sushi salad. My husband describes it as a “deconstructed California roll.” I feel like my grief has changed into deconstructing Rita. My mother wasn’t a puzzle that needs taking apart, but as we break up her house I remember and experience her many parts and layers, which only further reveals her beautiful essence.

The clocks spring forward and so do I.