I Hope She Heard Me

I think my Mom would have liked for us to wax on about how wonderful a mother, wife, daughter, sister, grandmother and great grandmother she was.

Which she was.

I think my Mom would like to remind everyone that she had the smallest waist in Brooklyn.

Which she did.

I think she’d like to say one more time that her wrinkles were caused by steroid medication and not age.

We know that, Mom.

While dementia may have stolen her memory, it didn’t diminish her sense of humor. When shown a picture and asked if she knew which one she was,  Mom said, “Yes, the pretty one.”

But here is what I’d like to say to my mother.

Dear Mom:

It brings us great joy to know that right now you are dancing with Dad in heaven.

It brings us great joy to know that you don’t have a single wrinkle on your face.

It brings us great joy to know you can now see your parents and hear Dad sing.

It brings us great joy to remember your delicious cooking.

It brings us great joy to remember the clothes you sewed with the label “Made with love by Mom.”

It brings us great joy to remember our lives on the road camping across this country.

It brings us great joy to know that you did your best for us at the beginning of our lives and we did our best for you at the end of yours.

It brings us great sorrow to know that this is the end of your time with us.

Take with you our unending love.

Do You Believe in Love at First Sight: Great Guy

e&B 1981 croppedI have this burning question I want to ask the universe, so I thought I’d start with the closest thing in my orbit – my husband, Great Guy.

I pick him up at the commuter train and as soon as he buckles-up I ask, “Do you believe in love at first sight?”

“Is this a trick question?”

“No, I’m just wondering – globally – if there is love at first sight.”

“Did I forget our anniversary?” I assure him, no. This is just one of my musings.

“Oh I get it. You’re reading one of those women’s magazines. Why don’t we concentrate on the articles about making your partner happy in bed? I can answer any of those musings you have.”

“Really, is it so hard to answer “do you believe in love at first sight?”

“We’ve been together for, what, 37 years? The answer is yes, it was love at first sight.”

“So you fell in love with me at first sight?”

“Yes, you and all the girls in your dorm.”

I slap him on the arm. “I just want to know if you believe in the concept of love at first sight.”

“No. It’s ridiculous. Any guy who tells a girl it is love at first sight just wants to get laid or impress the girl’s friends. It’s just a storyline. It’s not true. But I do believe in dislike at first sight.  When you met me, was it love at first sight?”

“I’m not even sure I liked you at first sight.”

“Proves my point.”

“And I’m not sure how I feel about you at this very moment.”

“Now we’re talking. What do the women’s magazines say about that?”

“Dump him and find your true happiness.”

He leans in to me. “You can’t. I’ve grown on you.”

My heart softens.

“Like mold. And you can’t get rid of me.”

Be still my heart.


Do You Believe in Love at First Sight: The May-December Romance

cute-old-cuoples-17It was a May-December romance.

I spied them sitting on the bench in the spring garden. Their heads were inclined, touching. One big wavy silver cloud of hair. They were holding hands. Arthritic, liver-spotted, blue veined hands, tightly joined; his second hand on top, softly patting.   Naturally, they don’t hear me approach.

Christina sits upright, startled, when she sees me. They keep holding hands.

“I wasn’t expecting you,” she says. Then quickly, “This is Vincent.”

“Hi Vincent.”


Christina can’t contain herself. “We’re in love.”

I could tell there was something special, but the proclamation of love took me by surprise. I had only heard his name for the first time three days ago. “I’m so happy for you both.”

“Really? Thank you. I didn’t know how you’d take it.”

“If you’re happy, I’m happy.”

Vincent joined the conversation. “I will be very good to your mother. I tell her, I’ll never lie to you; I’ll never treat you wrong. If I’m anything but a gentleman, you can kick me to the curb.”

“He’s such a sweet man,” Christina gushes.

I sit with them, happy in the glow of their new-found love. I ask how they met, although I assume it can’t be a dramatic story, since they both are residents in this assisted living facility.

“I spotted Christina her first morning here on line for breakfast. It was love at first sight.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“ I said hello.”

“Came on strong, didn’t you Vincent,” I teased him.

“She said hello back, and then went in to breakfast. I told myself that I wasn’t going to let her get away the next time. So at lunch, I offered her my seat.” He patted the walker that is also a portable seat. “We’ve been together ever since.”

I do the math and figure out my mother has been keeping this secret for six weeks. Interesting.

“We talk about everything. We talk about our dear departed spouses. Christina prays for my wife, and I pray for your father.”

Vincent tells me all about his life, his beautiful family, his proud service in the Navy, and pulls out his military service card and his driver’s license to show me. I do some more math and see he is 97 years old. Shock can’t begin to describe it. He doesn’t look a day over 80, my own mother’s age. I tease Vincent about robbing the cradle and stepping out with a much younger woman. “I’m the envy of every man here,” he proudly proclaims.

Now that their romance has been discovered, Christina and Vincent are openly inseparable. They are now the cute couple at Sunday family dinners, errands, and holidays. Every day, they meet for breakfast and don’t part until bedtime.

“Vincent and I are going to get married,” my mother tells me one day.

“You can’t, Mom. You’ll lose all your benefits.”

“We can’t live in sin.”

“Whatever you are doing, it isn’t a sin, it’s a miracle.” I add one more cautionary comment, “And don’t do anything that will break any hips.”

Every night at 9pm, Vincent and Christina kiss goodnight. Vincent and his walker head down the hallway, with Christina watching from her doorway. At the turn, Vincent looks back and they blow each other a kiss.

Late in December, Vincent isn’t downstairs at breakfast time. Concerned, Christina goes with an aide to his room. During the night, in a peaceful sleep, Vincent had gone to join all those who went before him.

Theirs was love at first and last sight. They gave each other the best they had to offer and took care of each other when the rest of the world seemed to no longer need them. Dementia has erased him from Christina’s mind, but her heart has not forgotten.

I Took My Mother to See Porn

(published in Newsday on 12/21/14)

After its release, the world was abuzz with the debauchery that was in The Wolf of Wall Street. Actors described the grueling filming of the mass sex scenes, the scanty wardrobes, and the strenuousness of it all.  But I didn’t know that when I went.

With my mother.

On Christmas Day.

First, some background.  I grew up in a house that only saw movies approved by the Diocese’s Tablet.  In the days when television censors wouldn’t let I Dream of Jeannie show her belly button, my parents went one step further and wouldn’t let us watch Batman & Robin because Catwoman’s outfit was too suggestive.  Books were banned.  My parents never uttered a curse word in my presence.  Get the (clean) picture?

So what movie do I take my mother to? The Wolf of Wall Street. On Christmas Day.

It was just Great Guy, my mother and me for Christmas, so the plan was to do a Jewish Christmas – Chinese food and a movie. Just us and hundreds and hundreds of others.  Who said we’d be alone at Christmas?

The miracle of Christmas is that we found three seats together, about five rows from the screen, for an even better high-definition view of every naked inch of every actor’s body.

Have you seen The Wolf of Wall Street? Candles in the butt. Every pose in the Kama Sutra. After the opening sex scene, Great Guy leans over to my mother and says “I just want you to know I had nothing to do with this choice of movie.”

Every week I take my mother to a movie. It is really just expensive naptime. She starts by taking out her hearing aids saying the previews are too loud.  “Is this the movie?” she asks during every advance preview. Then, as soon as the movie starts, she falls asleep. If she is roused, she says “I can’t understand this movie.” And on the way out, “That movie wasn’t good at all. I don’t know why the critics liked it.”  Maybe because they actually saw the movie.

So here I am sitting in a movie that probably would have been X-rated back in her day. Squirming in the seat next to her. Hoping for a story line beyond all the sins that money can buy.

“This is pornography.”

“Take a nap, Mom.”

More sex and drugs.

“The day of our Lord’s birth, this is what I have to watch.”

“Take a nap, Mom.”

More drugs and sex.

“Can’t we leave?”

“We can’t climb over this entire row of people now. Shhh. Just close your eyes.”

“I can’t believe this.”  She uttered so many times that I had to shush her so others could enjoy the pornography. Not that you needed to hear the dialogue anyway.

Over the years I’ve become so desensitized to sex and cursing in movies, but sitting next to my rosary-reciting mother, I felt like I had taken a five year old to see Deep Throat. If I had my wits about me, I would have taken her out of the movie and gone into another auditorium, but I just kept hoping beyond hope that the characters would get tired from all that sex, or hit menopause or something. Or that she would take a nap.

So my mother finally saw an entire movie.

She continues to sleep through every movie, every week.  And finds them all boring. I tell her, Ma, I have to be careful to find movies that don’t have sex, gore, or loud special effects.  “Let’s see the sex,” she tells me.

My mother. A late bloomer.

My Father’s Lesson

My mother calls. The doctor wants to confirm the Do Not Resuscitate order for my father; he is in his final hours. It is time to come and say goodbye. I close the office door, cry my eyes out, and then tell my colleagues that I won’t be in for a few days. In the car, the radio plays “Daddy’s Little Girl.”  It is another ten minutes before I can start the trip to the hospital.

I go to my father’s bedside. I am alone with him. He appears to be in pain, moaning and moving his arms.  I look around for a nurse or some medical person who can tell me what is going on, and to make my Dad better. I am terrified. There are so many things I want to say to him, but I can’t find my voice. I am crying so hard. I am so scared he will die in front of me. I lean down and tell him that I love him. I try to croak out “You are the best dad in the whole world.”  If he hears anything it is simply guttural sounds, matching his own.

I need to apologize to him for making him get out of my car when I was 17 years old, in the rain, a block from the service station where he was picking up his car. I was a brand new driver and it was a busy intersection and I was terrified of making left hand turns in a car that stalled in the rain. I made him get out and walk in the rain. He would never have done that to me. He didn’t refuse to get out, nor scold me, nor make me pull into the service station. He just got out, huddled into his collar and made his way on foot the final block.  I completed a series of right-hand turns that got me home that rainy afternoon, feeling guilty about what I just did to my father.  Yet, I never said anything until my final moments with him.

I am ashamed to say that I leave my father’s bedside. I can’t bear to witness his final breath. On previous hospital visits I often witnessed people sobbing uncontrollably and wondered how they could do that in public. I was now that person, so enclosed in my grief that I am unaware of the world around me. I try so hard to tell the nurse that I will be in the lobby in case anyone from my family arrives.  The sobs are breaking my ribs. My mother finds me in the lobby and I collapse in her arms. While she comforts me, I think: she is losing the love of her life, but she is worried about my grief.  I’m behaving like a child, and being a good mother, she puts all else aside to comfort me.

My sisters, mother and I spend the day gathered around my father’s bed. I have the courage to be there with my family beside me. My father comes around enough to hear our professions of love, and to tell us to go home. He passes away in the middle of the night. The dawn of February 29th. He wants us to mourn appropriately, but to go on with life. We only mark his passing every four years.

After I receive that middle-of the night call with the worst news of my life, I lay in bed staring at the popcorn ceiling, wondering how anyone ever thought that was a good idea. It is going to be a real pain to remove. I’m struck with the knowledge that these are my first moments on earth without my father. Illogically, I feel like an orphan. In their homes across the city, my sisters receive the same phone call, lost in their own thoughts. All four of us, in an unexplained choreographed response, rise from our beds and go to our kitchens to cook.

Twenty-four hours after the Do-Not-Resuscitate call, we all gather in our childhood home with our various dishes, and make our plans. We bury our father in his tuxedo. He looks very dapper and is dressed for the dancing he’ll be doing in heaven.

My mother is now on in years. I am honoring my father and my mother as I handle her declining years with dignity. When it is time for her to dance with my father, I will hold her hand and not need to apologize for anything. I will cry, for sure, but I want the final things she hears to be beautiful. Thanks to my dad, she will not be alone. My father let me work out my fears with him, whether it was making left hand turns or saying a final goodbye, so I could be strong when he wasn’t around.

Survivalist Husband

Click here to see this in Long Island’s Newsday (11/17/12)

Being in a state of emergency makes me reflect on all the reasons I fell in love with my husband. Survival skills are not among them.

My husband, whom we affectionately call Great Guy, is anything but an Eagle Scout. When there are warnings for severe weather, I have the batteries, the candles, the extra cash, the important papers, the cat carrier, all ready to go.

As soon as a hurricane is bearing down, his first concern is: Do we have bagels?

As soon as the storm passes: Can we get more bagels?

He’ll brave 90-mile-an-hour winds for a toasted bagel-all-the way.

I want to Break-Glass-In-Case-Of-Emergency and have super husband jump out.  The guy who can lasso a leaning oak. Who can leap tall sheds and carry lawn furniture.  Who runs out and finds the open gas station, fills the cars and gas containers and picks me up a sweet treat while he’s out. The guy who keeps O+ blood in the fully stocked emergency cooler, just in case. I know they exist. I see their handiwork.  I want to stake out their secret society meetings and see if I can get Great Guy an apprenticeship.

This isn’t to say Great Guy doesn’t plan for emergencies. Back in 1985 after Hurricane Gloria, before we even imagined living on Long Island, Great Guy was already planning on buying a generator for our imaginary Long Island house.  And let me tell you, Great Guy knows how to do it. No extension cords for him. That would mean he’d have to move appliances. Oh no no no. We rewired.  He wanted every single appliance on this gigunda generator. Even the electrician doing the work said “Do you really think your wife will be worrying about laundry in a hurricane?”

The electrician showed me how to use the generator. I showed Great Guy how to use the generator. Great Guy made a big deal of telling everyone in the family that the instruction manual was in this corner of his desk – don’t touch it, don’t cover it, don’t move it.  The minute the lights go out, what does he say? “Where’s the generator manual? Who moved the generator manual? I told everyone not to touch the generator manual. Eileen, find the generator manual.”  Silently, without a flashlight, I walk to his desk and pick up the generator manual and hand it to him. His reply: “That’s not what I was looking for, but it’ll work.”

Now, you can’t run this annoy-your-neighbors generator without gas. He hadn’t anticipated the gas crisis. He’s a quick learner, though. When online delivery orders would take too long, he called a friend in California and had gas cans overnighted to him. I can guarantee you that after this Hurricane Sandy recovery is over, our garage will be lined with gas containers for the next state of emergency. He may not fill them up before the emergency, but then he wouldn’t be Great Guy if he did. (Unless I can get him to those super husband meetings.)

So, in our next state of emergency, I will assemble the batteries, the candles, the extra cash, the important papers, the cat carrier; fill the gas containers, an ice chest with O+ blood, and tie down the house.  When all the lights go out, I’ll find the generator manual, fire up the beast and flip the switch.  You will find Great Guy in front of the big flat-screen TV, enjoying a cold drink from the refrigerator, a toasted bagel-all-the-way, in a room the perfect seasonal temperature.

So planning and execution are two different talents. But as Great Guy says, “Hey, who got us the generator, huh?”

Doting Mothers

There are women out there who are making me look bad.

Not the superwoman with the high-powered job who can accomplish everything. It is that doting mother. If memory serves me correctly I was a doting mother once. This might fall under the category of revisionist history. At least give me “sometimes attentive mother.”  I must have done something right to get them to adulthood without a single emergency room visit or grandmother intervention.

My kids would come home from play dates with these fantastic stories of mothers who doted on the kids around them. I just knew play dates were dangerous. What do you need, honey?  Can I get you a snack, sweetie? Trays of chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven, with the perfect blend of chocolate milk. Heck, I wanted to come spend the afternoon there.

If only my kids had not been allowed to visit other homes when they learned to talk. Then I wouldn’t have heard the stories of mothers who did arts & crafts and made beaded necklaces with them. Or colored fifty dozen Easter eggs. I thought they were over there to play video games.

And the food.  If you listen to my kids, you’d think the only thing I offered came from industrial size boxes from warehouse clubs. In my defense, they are very convenient and have a very long shelf life. In fact, I might still have something if you are hungry. But then I hear other mothers are offering fresh meatballs in homemade sauce, penne ala vodka with shrimp. All this without reservations and gratuity! At my house, all I can offer is a dusty apple. If you come back tomorrow, that banana should be ready.  I have plenty of vegetables that no one seems interested in. Go figure.

My kids come home with these fairy tales of moms warming up full plates of food that contain a deliciously seasoned protein, perfectly steamed vegetables that they would never eat at home, a complex carbohydrate that requires peeling, boiling, mashing, which is way too much trouble for me, finished off with a homemade dessert. The upside is that since my kids were at those houses, I didn’t need to come up with a dish of any sort. I ask: “Will you be home for dinner?” If the majority says No, I am off the hook for meal prep. I’ve even narrowed down the window of opportunity – dinner is from 5:45-6:15pm. I find being specific helps avoid confusion and disappointment or work on my part. I trace my attitude to the minute someone said “I don’t want that for dinner.”

A doting mother follows the philosophy of cook once, feed a small army twice. I’m more like, cook once and rest on that laurel for the week. And jumping up to reheat your food when you come in from a night out? Remember that microwave I got at the baby shower? I’ll show you how to use it. Can this be classified as doting? It is teaching a skill.

Doting doesn’t just take place in the kitchen. The minute kids can dress themselves, there is nothing wrong with introducing them to the hamper. When kids begin to change clothes multiple times a day, they should know how to use the controllers on the washer and dryer.  Doting mothers, rumor has it, not only pick up the clothes, but kids find them back in their rooms hung up, folded, even coordinated in their closets. Please don’t tell my children that. I can’t bear the thought of going in their rooms.

I get a kick out of mothers telling kids to “put a coat on, it’s cold outside.” Well, if my kids haven’t figured out winter coats are seasonal outfits, they need more than a doting mother. If it was cold yesterday and cold the day before, common sense, not your mother, tells you to put on a coat.

You can spot the child of a doting mother from a mile away at Halloween. When the child of a doting mother needs a costume, she presents them with something out of Warner Brothers wardrobe department.  My son wanted to be a blue power ranger and he got matching blue sweat pants and shirt with an aluminum foil lightning bolt stapled to it. (I did make sure he wore an undershirt so the staples didn’t scratch him. Is that doting? Concern for physical well-being.)

Shhh. Did you hear that? The kids are home. I’m going to pretend I’m napping.