Sunday, January 28, 2007

The path to righteousness

I have always believed that you can learn everything you need to know about a person's true character by their instanteous decisions. The things that a person will say and do when they have a split second, if that, to plan, to premeditate.

It's easy to be a good person in generically tough times. In mourning, in job loss, in illness. There are cards and visits and flowers and milkshakes and the salve we all utilize to do the right thing. And sometimes, behind these generic gestures, the sentiment is clear and true. But in an instant, when we have no time to think or breathe, the answers are tough and that require us to make a difference in a life by inconveniencing our own, to engineer a whole new kind of comfort, to say nothing at all...this is what separates the everybodys to the tight circles of somebodys. At least for me. These are the people who drop you off at the door when it's out of their way. The ones who call six months after the funeral to see how you are doing when the chaos has lifted. The ones who answer "yes" before you have even asked the questions. They may forget birthdays and holidays -- these are rarely Hallmark people. And they are few and far between.

These are the same people who do for others with no regard for their own gain. I have never seen this as personified as in the case of my husband, A, and my grandmother.

I have one living grandparent, my paternal grandmother. She is called Flo, as many grandmothers seem to be. After 40+ years of widowhood spent immersed in intense social activities like bridge and singles clubs and choirs, we received a call from the AARP telling us that her membership dues were late. Flo was never late. This lead to some belated digging, which brought forth a snowstorm of chaos - of unwashed dishes, uncleaned house, unpaid bills and near-miss driving accidents. It took serious negotiations to get Flo out of her house and into an assisted living facility. The cruel nature of early onset dementia is the fact that the victim rarely senses a problem. So a family swoops in, with poorly concealed tears and concern, but nothing feels wrong to the person it is happening to.

But there was something very wrong with Flo - who was hallucinating and creating stories. She was hysterical in her assertions, such as the time she believed that my husband stole her car. Now she wasn't totally off, since we were considering using her car, but she believed that A had come to her house, taken her keys, and driven away. He was my husband of barely a year. I was surprised that HE did not drive away.

In the years since, Flo has declined and plateaued. She made some peace with her new home, after agreeing that it was the "best place for her". But the uphill battles have changed. Her short term memory is gone, which means that she is easily offended by forgetting information that she wants to know and was just told to her. She still creates things that do not exist, which can send her reeling and leave us scrambling for excuses as to why she ever thought this or that. It is not unlike the movie "50 First Dates", because we are constantly starting over, even in the same conversation, over and over. She refuses to change her skirt, because it seems new to her every day, despite the filth and the wear and tear. She had always dressed to the nines, and one of the most obvious effects of themental illness is her attachment to the same clothes, which leave her so uncharacteristically unkempt.

Phone calls and visits to my grandmother are immediately forgotten by her. So many of us make the call, pay the visit, because it is "the right thing to do", and it will somehow buy us points with another person. But in this case, the gesture occurs in a vacuum with limited lasting effect. It is a great undertaking. The calls can be maddening, the repetions, the false assertions. The visits are even more difficult. They require a great deal of physical strain to lift my now obese grandmother into a car to get to the diner. Her hygiene issues are unsettling. She often complains about having to go. But it remains important, to us, and on some level, we need to believe that it is still important to her.

My husband, A, is the one who limitless patience for Flo. He initiates many phone calls. Her handles every part of our trips with her to Friendly's. He holds her frail hand, tightens her seatbelt over her expanse. He jokes and flirts. She is crazy about him and he lavishes her with attention. "How's my boyfriend?" she asks me about him. "If I were a little bit younger, you'd have a run for your money."

After our outings, he walks her to the door after the trip. He hugs her despite the dirty shirt and unwashed hair. As if he was her own. There are few moments when I believe I am in the presence of righteousness, but when I am with A and my grandmother, I am reminded of the righteous man I married. For these visits, these calls, these gestures are vapor in an instant to Flo. But the intent to me is everlasting.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

These dreams go on when I close my eyes....

In life, I like to believe that I am a creative person. Always trying to mix it up a little, keep 'em guessing.

Have I mentioned that in life, I am also always generally happy?

My dreams are a whole 'nother story.

I have been plagued by recurring, stressful dreams since childhood. My childhood dreams were one of two: my mother was a villain who was trying to kill me, or, I exit a day care establishment to find everyone gone. These are two of the worst scenarios imaginable for a little kid, I would imagine.

The recurring dreams of my adult years include the following: I have a final in a class that my graduation is dependent upon, but I have never attended the class; the toilet is overflowing; I have somewhere to get to and no clothes tha fit (my friend Gail is often in these, trying to help); husband is cheating on me and we are divorcing and he is nonplussed, and all of my teeth are loose or falling out (this last one is accompanies by clenching and grinding).

As a parent, sleep is golden. However, the fact that mine is riddled with anxiety is a cruel twist. It's akin to living a whole other life that is not really yours, and it aint a good one.

Does anyone have good dreams that they don't want to wake up from?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Things that Make Us Happy

16 years ago, a bunch of 16 year old campers sat around a bunk into the wee hours of the night, making a list that was called "Things That Make Us Happy". I am not sure how it started, since I was asleep at the time. (Not sure if my friend LB reads this blog from Grahamads, but if she does, she will likely explain the origins of this list).

I did weigh in the next morning, after the list was already miles long. I am not sure what it is about 16 year old girls that make us desperate to record everything -- in diaries, in mix tapes, in letters (and probably now in emails). Nonetheless, it was an addictive exercise.

I remember some of the items on list -- most of them revolved around boys. Things like "Being told you smell good by a guy that you like" and "arm tickles" and "having your hair played with" and "The St. Elmo's Fire Soundtrack". The point was to combine the mundane with the offbeat/creative - which I guess is every teenager's hope in general.

16 years later, it's amazing how things change, and how they stay the same. I still like the arm tickles, but the hair playing I leave to my kid when my curls get caught in her chubby folds. I do still love that St. Elmos Soundtrack, but these days it's all about Raffi and Annie.

So it got me thinking about Things That Make Me Happy. Here are just a few - and would love to hear some more from you!
*Sunkist. Despite the color and the calories, I am enjoying this beverage again.

*Opaque tights. I have been wearing them for my whole life and they only seem to make me happier. And warmer.

*When my daughter wears my heels and a purse and pretend lipstick, hobbles to the door and shouts "buh-bye" over her shoulder.

*The joy of meeting the children of my friends.


*Blog Love from Weboy and Grahamad (see blogroll)

*PB and J sandwiches, with JIF not Skippy. Made by my husband who won't divulge his secrets.

*Old family photos. Even when I look like a freak, I love resucitating the memories.

*Text messaging.

*Blog comments.

* The Modern Love section of the Times' Sunday Styles.

* A head on my shoulder.

*Knowing my limitations.

* Johnson and John's Baby Powder in Jasmine and Vanilla (hard to find - but worth it!)



*Fancy Bathrooms.


*Online photograph sharing.

*Letting go.

*Hanging on.

*The words: "Everything looks great!"

Thursday, January 18, 2007

In sickness, and in health

I have always been a nurterer. My mother tells the story that as an infant, I hated the playpen and refused to sit inside of it, even for a moment (my daughter has inherited this same hatred of mesh walls). Except for the time that my mom was desperately sick with the flu and she put me down in the aptly named pen, and I sat quietly, staring at her as she writhed in the bed. She claims I just "knew".

I know how to help when loved ones are sick. I am good at the head petting, the water with lemon, the hot compresses or cold compresses. Vomit does not scare me (though it is not my favorite). I can read a mercury thermometer. I understand the importance of fresh sheets, new toothbrushes, dry toast and backrubs.

In moments of more dire illness, I am able to escape my generally terrified personality and buck up for what needs to happen. I have scheduled MRIs, pestered doctors for test results, demanded second opinions and abused Google. When my grandmother was slowly dying from a massive stroke, I chatted with her at her bedside as if nothing was wrong. I smoothed her blankets and hair. My doctor brother regarded me incredulously. "You should have been a nurse", he said, in a moment of uncharacteristic compliment. I took my sister and her two day old son to the emergency room when he needed bloodwork and held my hands over his little body while he was poked with needles and screamed. My sister, who was barely vertical after giving birth mere days before, still laughs at the way that I scooped him up and held him to my chest when it was all over, forgetting to hand him to her.

This is just the way that I am.

Much of this comes from my own mother, who, while terrified of illness, is an amazing caregiver. Being a sick kid in my house meant fruit punch and coloring books and the little television dragged into your room. When she told me she would check on me at night, I believed her and always felt her hand on my head. I have known a few pretty serious illness in my own life, and she has always been the one to manage my care.

My husband, who is the most loving and caring man on the planet, is not the best at the sick thing. I do not think he had good role models. His intentions are good, but he tends to miss the fact that a sick person wants attention and sympathy and bowls of ice cream. Instead he tends to look at me worriedly, pat me awkwardly and ask what I want instead of just knowing. I want company and bad TV and lots of indulgence. But he is great with Chloe, when she is vomiting in his lap, so the Daddy part is fully functional. I should add that he is also a difficult patient, who has little to no appreciation for my overtures and would rather moan about his impending death and be left alone to suffer.

Maybe its a guy thing.

In college, I was at my sickest one week of Sophomore year. It came over my dorm like a plague, instantaneous and merciless. My salvation was the double bed in my friend J's room, where we both languished for days. When I mustered the strength to to go to the bathroom, she would count backwards from 100, telling me that she would come and find me if I had not returned when she reached number one. We lay beneath sweaty sheets, wasting away from malnutrition and fever, but still finding time to laugh (largely at J who insisted on smoking a cigarette and nearly stopped breathing).

It was then that I realized that misery -- above all else, above chicken soup and Vicks Vapo Rub -- loves company.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Mall Scrawl

Redstar and Weboy have both commented on THE MALL, where we often find ourselves this time of year either shopping for crap on sale or returning crap that you won at the office grab bag.

For me, the mall is not seasonal. I spent my whole childhood in a city that is considered the mall capital of the world, and I now find myself living in a city without any real malls. I miss them desperately. When vacationing recently, we had our choice of upscale waterside shops, home to lighted fountains, Prada, Chanel and Escada, or the mall filled with Cinnabon, Sunglass Hut, Macy's and massage table kiosks. We chose the latter.

There is something about the smell of the mall - the combination of shoe leather, perfume and grease. The crowds bustling with limitless enthusiasm. The children (especially mine) running amok. You eat things that you rarely do anywhere else. You fight with strangers over who was first on the always too long fitting room line. You get makeovers without having to buy a thing (but you do anyway), free gifts with purchase, fried chicken samples and impromptu teen fashion shows. What's not to love?

But the mall makes me miss my mother. She is the best shopping partner I have ever had. Hours melt away, sale racks are turned upside down, and unnecessary items are always purchased. She likes the chicken salad at Nordstrom, and I can always convince her into a frozen yogurt. These days, both of our husbands call when we are shopping together, wondering where the hell we are.

The mall also makes me miss my friend T. We did the mall run in Jersey on a regular basis as teenagers. One of our mothers would drop us off and we would circle aimlessly in search of a new skirt or shade of Clinique lip gloss. One of our last teenage trips was prom shopping, when a less mall - experienced friend who came along literally lay down on the ground in submission, declaring that she could not go on after the hours that T and I dragged her around.

My husband tries to be a good mall buddy, but he hates shopping with a passion and has limited patience for the art of the browse. So I have already cultivated a shopper in Chloe, who makes a bee line for the closets of friends and tears through their hangers, shouting "Ooooh, Ooooh!" She loves to try on shoes and knows to hand over a credit card and accept a receipt. It may not be the most important skill I will cultivate in her, but I'll need someone to wheel me around for the mall's senior specials.

Monday, January 08, 2007

It's anything you can smear

When people would complain about the TSA's annoying guidelines, I always rolled my eyes. "It's such a small inconvenience" I would think about removing shoes and longer lines. "What's the big deal?" Sure it was somewhat ridiculous that the TSA would adjust the guidelines based on the specificities of the latest threat, but really, aren't the worse things than being barefoot on the slimy floor at Newark Airport? (aren't there??)

But that was before they started screwing with my makeup.

On the way back from a recent trip, at the security check, things were already chaotic. We were loaded down with all of the ridiculous crap that you haul when you are airborne with baby -- the books, the snacks, the change of clothes for the inevitable puke. My husband was irritated because my license is expired (and I would rather be set on fire than renew it at the DMV) which meant I was in for the pat down. And then I remembered.

"My whole makeup bag is still with me!"

I had meant to put it in the checked luggage. I started to sweat. "I have over $500 of makeup in here!"

It's not exactly true. More like $200. But I had just gone to Sephora and replaced the last makeup bag that I lost somewhere. And this bag had everything, minus the tweezers. The overpriced Stila foundation. The perfect blush my friend J bought me for my birthday whose brand had rubbed off rendering it irreplacable. Brand new Lancome mascara, not yet clumpy. Need I go on?

"Let's go back!" my husband said. "It's not too late to get it in to our bags". He knew what he had on his hands.

But it was way too late. Chloe was already careening towards the empty shoe bins and we were virtually miles from the curb where we had checked our overpacked bags.

The security agent solved our quandary. "If you remove the liquid based things and put them in the dish, you'll be fine".

But what constitutes a liquid? Cream eyeshadow? Eyebrow gel? Lip gloss? I must have been wondering aloud because the agent said "It's anything you can smear".

I purged it all, relieved (until Chloe had to be separated from her stuffed dog, and we were both given the once over with a beeping wand.)

When my attention turned back to my husband, I realized he was amidst his own shakedown. Finally he walked over to me, eyes flashing.

"You are very lucky", he said, pushing my makeup bag at me. "They wanted to take this away."

"Why?" I asked, irritated. There was nary a liquid to be seen. Just powders.

"They said you should have removed all of the contents," he said smugly. "You came this close" he said, creating an inch space between his fingers and scooping up Chloe who was chewing on the Boarding Pass.

Look, I can handle the lines. The fact that my underwire always sets off the alarm. That my husband's foreign sounding name always makes us get double checked.

But when you start messing with my beauty stash -- you have gone way too far.

Oh and also, what are they doing with all of these confiscated beauty products? Surely there are women in need with unconcealed undereye circles and unemphasized cheekbones?

My Love

I love you for things that you don't even know. The way you always charge my cell phone. Sometimes you slips twenty dollar bills inside because you can deduce that I am out of cash. I love it when you buy me chocolate from all your trips, hiding it under my pillow even though I forget to look each time. I love that now you let me wear your expensive T shirts to sleep, even though you are relegated to crappy ones on the weekend because that's all that is left. I love when you rub your hands together in childlike delight, and I immediately get excited too. I love that we don't have any really bad stories from our past, that you have always treated me with respect and awe and nothing bad that you have said ever sticks. I love that you allow me to be hypocritical, to bitch about things that I tend to do myself. I love your nerdiness, the way you love politics and detest crime and like to talk about both at parties. I love that you love to work. I love your moral compass, the way you stick to your beliefs with conviction and without apology. I love it when you rub my feet even though they are not cute nor polished. I love the way that you parent, the fact that you are a natural even though I rehearsed for years. I love that I have never seen anyone as handsome as you. I love that you learn from our mistakes, that we will definitely get a baby nurse next time. I love that when you proposed we had never talked about it first, I never became unsure or hostile waiting for a ring. I love that I know that you have powers that you don't let on, that you would whip out in an instant if we were in danger. I love that you allow me to be judgemental because you know that I am secretly accepting of most flaws in others. I love that you have made me believe in miracles, and in 401Ks. I love how you look in a tie, it makes me want to buy 100 ties. I love that you barely notice what I wear -- unless it is particularly slutty -- because you see me on the inside. I love your huge and resilient heart that continues to grow healthy despite its scars.

And I love that there is so much more I could say, if this was not for public consumption. I love a new thing about you every day. I hope you know.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Some are gold, some are not

I was in the park today with my friend T, enjoying an indian summer in New York City of which cynical New Yorkers are fearful. We were discussing friendships. T has a friend who has become increasingly distant and difficult. "I think I have to let her go," T said. I was surprised. T does not let anyone go without a fight. But she was a newer friend, and it was getting exhausting. "I totally understand", I said, nodding as I watched my toddler take off with a bucket of dirt. And I did understand. But it wasn't easy getting there.

T is my oldest friend from the age of ten, when she transferred to my elementary school. That year, my best friend had moved away, so the timing was good to find a new one. T sat directly behind me, and my first words to her were "Can I borrow your White Out?" The first day of school was the first and last day I was ever fastidious about my schoolwork. She produced the little bottle from what I am sure was a clear plastic sleeve inside her looseleaf notebook. Upon my third request her eyes rolled slightly. Still, we became fast friends, bonded in bad hair and a love for Chinese jump rope.

T is still the funniest person I have ever known. We laughed our way through highschool, through the six hour bus rides to visit each others colleges. We lived together briefly in Manhattan in our early twenties until she met the man she would later marry and I discovered I was much better off living alone at that age. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding, she at mine. At her wedding, she handed me her jewelry mid ceremony, a tradition for a bride to hand to a woman struggling to have a baby. She was the first friend to meet my daughter at home, for a good half hour before I had my first of many post partum breakdowns and kicked her out.

It has not always been idyllic. I retreated in dark moments, disappearing for weeks or months. We drifted apart at times. Still, T never let me go. She knew me inside and out, and how to handle me. When I finally came to see why she hated my boyfriend and cut off contact with him, she fielded his calls. "If you know Amy at all," she told him, "you know she will talk to you when she is ready". I never was, thanks mainly thanks to her.

As T talked abut her friend who she was on the verge of severing ties with, my wisdom came from an experience with a shared friend of ours, named E. E came into our lives in high school. She was unlike anyone I had ever met. Petite, artsy, cerebral but also an intense romantic. She was T's friend first, and my own friendship with E developed organically, like the best ones do, when you don't remember how it started.

E and I were more alike than T and I in the way that were were both extremely intense. If T was my favorite pair of shoes, the ones that always fit and looked good, E was a strappy stiletto that sometimes pinched but made me feel sexy and alive and unlike myself. We wrote pages and pages to each other during class, quoting songs from The Indigo Girls and Survivor. We made sappy mix tapes. We talked on the phone even before leaving for school. "What are you wearing?" she'd ask in a mock suggestive tone. When we got older, we'd get drunk on bad wine and sleep in her single bed together, staring at the ceiling that she had painted herself and adorned with stars. My relationship with E was exhausting and heady and addictive. We exchanged "I love you" readily, in a way that, combined with her free spirit and my obsessive and sometimes impressionable personality, worried my mother. E was fiercly independant, with older parents who were absent for months at a time, leaving us space to indulge in our friendship at all hours. Rumors swirled that she was bisexual, and she embraced them, never confirming or denying. I was smitten.

Our arrival at separate colleges created the first schism we had ever encountered. The separation was painful. I fell into a new group of friends, and immediately began dealing with a set of unnatural tragedies that threw me for a two year tailspin. E was roommates with several women who were as freespirited and intense as she was, more beautiful and readily accessible than I. I came home from college, eager to reconnect and was greeted with an E who seemed colder, more distant, less alluring.

I sank into a depression my second year of college, which took me away from every long distance friend. I became an irritating type of after school special character, complete with overalls, a sour expression and penchant for extreme dieting. I never returned phone calls and shunned attempts to save me. When I got over my morose phase, I had to repair my relationships. T was easy. E was not so. I visited her in Israel, and tried to explain that which I myself did not understand. The wall she had built was thicker and seemingly impenetrable. To quote one of our favorite songs, it was as if she had "built a fortress around (her) heart." It was not until another friend let me off the hook, saying I had no need to apologize, that I grew to resent what E was putting me through to recapture a smidgen of our past.

In the years that followed I watched E replace me with another girl whose hair she played with while she lay in her lap. My photos disappeared from her bookshelves. We forgot birthdays and phone calls ceased. Still, I clung to threads. I married first, and asked her to create the artwork for my ketubah. At her wedding years later, I signed her ketubah, and strained to see her from my seat in the ceremony. I handed her a card that was filled with my good wishes and loopy expressions of pain from the current state of our relationship. "It is one of my greatest regrets in life" I wrote, with the melodrama that always seems to rear its head when a loved one is getting married. It was a pathetic ploy to leverage the importance of the day and regain my position in her life. It failed.

I still see E, because T is friends with her. But about two years ago I had the same conversation with T that she was having with me. About wanting to sever ties with E instead of the sporadic emails and dinners. "I have made my peace with it", I declared, despite the fact that there are photos of me, E and T all over T's apartment. And I believed it. Until E called me the week after Chloe was born. It had been years since we spoke on the phone. "I'm so sorry it took me this long!" she apologized breathlessly. "I have been thinking about you". And just like that, she sucked me back in, with promises to visit and earnestly inquiring about my well being. And just as quickly, she disappeared again. And as I reflect on the fact that I have mentioned her more than once on my blog, and devoted more space to her than my dear and deserved friend T, and I wonder why we always give chase to the ones who flee us.

I have been gifted in this life with many friends. Very few know me now, the good and the ugly. Even fewer have stood the test of time. It's hard to walk away, to avoid romanticizing relationships in hindsight merely because they are no longer present. But it's even harder to be disappointed over and over again. Now the stakes are higher. I need someone to watch my daughter, to hold my hand during a sonogram, to talk me down from a ledge when I find a lump in my breast. It's more than a good mix tape can offer. It means being a good friend too, when you are tired and can't bear the thought of the phone or a date. And it means letting go, and making peace with the people who look good flanking you in a photograph ten years ago, but no longer come to life.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


There are two types of people. Those of us who blush, and those who don't. And I am not talking about a once yearly face flaming in response to a public spill at a restaurant, or down the subway steps.

I am talking about those of us who, like me, spend a large part of their lives with their faces aflame. My friend K coined this phenomenon "hot face" as in "I am getting hot face" or "I totally had hot face". It's when you literally feel your cheeks redden and heat up, your fingertips tingle, and the pink hue work its way down to your upper chest.

I have a big blushing problem. Mainly because it happens most often at work. My blushing kicks in when I am caught off guard, when I speak to a small group in public, when I am called out unexpectedly. This also happens when someone surprises me in my office (which often leads them to say "are you tan?" because I darken so quickly.) If it is a male colleague, I know he is getting the wrong idea.

Don't be fooled - it's not charming or endearing. I don't blush in response to a compliment or from praise. Those are cute and rare moments. It is not adorable when you are at a large conference table and asked to explain this or that relating to your work. Sweat usually accompanies, and I am not a sweaty gal usually. It's bad overall. It's a giveaway that you are uncomfortable.

I also blush when talking to authority figures. I once had minor surgery with a doctor is known for huge ego and icy bedside manner. When he came to talk to me pre surgery he remarked that I was the first girl to ever blush in his presence. Who wants to hear this while naked and wearing a gown that opens in the back??

I think that my fellow blushers were probably also shy children. There is an inherent insecurity to blushing, as if our bodies are proactively requesting forgiveness or indulgence.

An ex boyfriend was a worse blusher that I. He hated it about himself. His skin was very fair and his hair quite auburn, so you can imagine but the combination was not great. I should have guessed that our relationship would have been doomed to fail -- two pale kids trying our best to play it cool while burning up on a regular basis. It sounds like it could have been "hot", in a good way. But much like the blush, it was steamy for a moment, then uncomfortable, and finally over.