Sunday, May 25, 2014

Election Day

If someone were to say to me, “Judy, you will never again work on Election Day,” and no more campaigning at all either, I’m not sure if I’d: 1 – Cry, because it’s in my DNA; 2 – Squeal with joy, since I’ve never liked this kind of thing; or 3 – Laugh, knowing it’s too good to be true. 

This past Tuesday was D-Day for my brother, Mark Cohen, State Representative of the 202nd Legislative District in Philadelphia.  The combination of recent redistricting – thereby creating a 60% new constituency – and a very determined, shameful opponent made this race more difficult than most of his others since the mid-1970s.  Unbelievable as it sounds, he’s been in office since then, having run and won every two years.   

Campaigning on Primary Day (May) and Election Day (November) – as well as in the months leading up to each – is not for wimps.  One must stand tall, prepare for battle, and roll with the punches.  Take this past Tuesday.  I was assigned to a playground in Northeast Philly, where I would ask voters one last time to pull the lever for Mark.  I got there at 7:15 a.m. and within 10 seconds, before I even walked up to my co-workers for the day to introduce myself, I heard one guy talking trash about my bro, calling him names (…how old are we?) and spewing untruths because, I assume, he thought he could get away with it.   

Nothing wrong with good competition, I approached him to say, but do it the right way.  “Sell your candidate and leave my brother out of your sales pitch,” I barked.  “Your brother?” he replied?  “Yes, I said.  “I didn’t mean to offend you,” he replied, which frankly kind of surprised me.  “Well, you did,” I said. 

While he improved some, his voice was weighing on me like fingernails on a chalkboard until he finally left, around 2ish.  Perhaps I was cramping his style, knowing he’d have to answer to Big Bad Judy if he kept up his shenanigans.

I’m happy to say that Mark won, Mona’s able to sleep peacefully once again and 21 year-old Amanda, who worked tirelessly for her dad both before and on Election Day, saw that good can triumph after all.     

When I was 21, I didn’t share my niece’s zeal for politics.  Campaigning was the last thing I ever wanted to do, and I was vocal about it.  I didn’t want to canvas in my or any other neighborhood, make calls urging registered voters to support my candidate or tell anyone on Election Day how to vote.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t do it.  I just didn’t want to.

But back then I wasn’t focused on the big picture of life. I was consumed with my own interests, which mostly meant the exclusion of those of my family’s.  In recent years, I’ve come to realize that blood stands for something.

My sister Sherrie ran for Council-at-Large in Philadelphia in 2011.  Since I’d turned the corner by this time, I thought it’d be nice to join her one day on the campaign trail.  The first stop was a baseball field in Fairmount Park with lots of men and women anxious to play ball.    

When we got there, I assumed she’d make a speech and I’d cheer her on from the stands, but when she handed me a wad of brochures, I realized I was mistaken. Clearly she wanted me to work the crowd and even suggested I say, “Vote for my sister, Sherrie Cohen. She’s the first ‘out-lesbian’ who has ever run for City Council.”

WHOA!!!!   We hadn’t discussed this part.  I didn’t even know what out-lesbian meant.   I remember asking her “What is that?” Once she explained, I wondered why on earth I’d be telling people that she’s come out as a lesbian at a ball game, of all places.  Who would even care?  Then upon second glance, I realized we were at an LGBT event and all the players were gay and lesbian.        

By Primary Day, I was good to go, not in need of extra coaching like I was the month before.  Unfortunately Sherrie didn’t win, but she came in very close. By the time of her next primary election – May 2015 – I’ll be a real pro. And the following year, it’ll be Mark’s turn again. 

So back to the first paragraph.  Let’s add a 4th option. The answer is 4 – All of the above.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Calendar

My husband has made fun of me for years that I keep and often carry around a 7.5 x 9 inch week-at-a-glance calendar, which is slightly smaller than a loose-leaf piece of paper.  He says it’s ridiculous in this day and age to try to keep track of my life on paper when easy and reliable access is just a fingertip away.  Half of me agrees with him.

I do feel somewhat self-conscious when I’m at a doctor’s office, or at the hairdresser’s, and we’re trying to schedule my next appointment.  This is when I start leafing through my calendar, whereas the more technically savvy customer would search for the same date on her smart phone in just half the time.       

If I don’t have my calendar with me because it’s too cumbersome to carry around on that particular day, I go ahead and make the appointment, hoping that I am in fact free to go.  I ask for an appointment card that I place in my wallet but then have to remember to write the information on my calendar.  This works about half the time, if I’m lucky.  Needless to say, I’ve missed appointments due to this inefficient process and I’ve also missed friends’ birthdays and anniversaries, especially when their special occasions are early in the year, before my annual tradition of transferring the information from the old calendar to the new one.  Most of my friends with January birthdays (and February too, it seems) end up with belated wishes.

Another argument in support of retiring the paper calendar is that I could lose it, which I was afraid I'd done a few times over the years.  I’ve never shared this concern with my husband when it’s happened because I knew he’d lecture me about the absence of a back-up plan with my antiquated method vs. the very impressive and high-tech plan he instituted for our computerized devices.

The other half of me is happy I haven’t relinquished my pen and paper in favor of the smart phone. I like opening the calendar and viewing the whole week at once, with all my notes in as big and fun a style as I want, although I am shocked at times just how horrendous my penmanship really is.  Regardless, my semi-illegibility still beats prolonged exposure to the same boring computer font, and it’s far less frustrating than spending excessive amounts of energy searching for my reading glasses or succumbing to squinting, which my eye doctor has strongly suggested I stop doing.     

My collection of calendars has also proved to be an entertaining and valuable reference of my entire adult life.  Have I mentioned that I save all these calendars?  I think I have about 35 of them. If you asked me, for example, When was the first date you had with your first husband? or…your second husband I’m pretty sure I’d find these answers. If one of my kids asked, When did I say my first word? or Who did I play with when I was 3? or When did I take my first step? I think it’s possible that I’d be able to respond with accuracy.  David said all this could go into my phone calendar as well, and then I could print out all the pages to save forever if I was so inclined, but the tiny-weenie spaces I’d have to navigate on the phone template don't exactly lend themselves to sentimentality.   

Sometimes I think about making the change to an electronic calendar while also using my paper calendar so that one day I might be able to make a seamless transition, but this thinking doesn’t progress to action.  If my specific calendar were to be discontinued (Yes, I’ve used the same one since the beginning), that would most likely be a real game changer for me.  I think at that point, I might force myself to go electronic rather than try to cozy up to a new paper configuration; regardless, I can’t see using 2 at once, which would open the door for information to slip through the cracks, more than it does already.  No, I’d have to go cold turkey.         

My husband said I sound like a dinosaur, but I'm fine with that, as long as he doesn’t think I look like one too.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

From one mom to another…isn't it a wonderful moment in time to be surrounded by our kids on Mother’s Day?  It’s a bonus for those of us who like me are lucky enough to simultaneously surround our moms too.  Sharing a special day with three generations is truly three times the fun. 

To devote a day for each other when everyone is normally so preoccupied with their own obligations is truly a blessing, regardless of all the remarks that naysayers make about Mother’s Day and other occasions being a Hallmark windfall.

Motherhood is serious business, and we moms all know this.  I’m not exaggerating to say I’d bet that many of us think about our kids every minute of every single day, with few exceptions.  Sometimes I think the only thing that keeps me from thinking about one of my kid’s issues is when I refocus to think about another one of my kid's issues.        

Do I have OCD?  Perhaps I do.  Or maybe it’s just Motherhood, plain and simple.

When I was in my mid 20s, I visited my sister-in-law Beth, who lived in Florida. She made motherhood look glorious. She was in great shape and laughed all the time about her boys and the funny things they did.  I left her house time and time again thinking that when I’m a mom, I’m going to have a blast, with just a few challenges along the way.     

Back then, I knew I might need some help learning to say NO, or enforce an unwanted curfew.  I assumed I’d find a book out there to help me exert my authority. I was also somewhat nervous that I might pass out if one of two things happened: an injury involving blood or an illness with throwing up.  As you would expect, I had to face both, but luckily I didn’t buckle in the process. 

Most of what my life as a parent has been about was unexpected.  It would never have occurred to me in my 20s that I’d become an expert on Tourette Syndrome when my firstborn was in 2nd grade, that I’d become a divorced mom when all three kids were under age 11, or that I’d need to learn about Celiac Disease in my mid-50s and now have an area of my pantry devoted to gluten-free options for when my older daughter comes home to visit. There have been many surprises, both good and bad, along the way.

Would I do it again?  Without a doubt.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Mom or Dad?

Yesterday morning, my oldest friend (as in years we’ve been buddies) Bonnie informed me that her dad, Marv Ellis, passed away.  At 91 years old, Mr. Ellis enhanced his youngest child’s life for 54 years, a bond made deep by longevity and similarity in personality.  They also shared the same birth date, as did I with her mom.  For much of our childhood, we reveled in telling everyone that not only were we sisters, but that we shared our parent’s birthdays as well.

I’m very glad that a few months ago when I saw her dad last – and was once again struck by just how charismatic he still appeared – that I let him know how much all of Bonnie’s friends thoroughly enjoy her amazingly quick wit. As I would expect, he took complete credit for her natural ability to make others laugh, although rumor has it that Reba Ellis, Bonnie’s mom, had a terrific sense of humor as well.

Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out which personality trait(s) I have, compliments of Florence and David Cohen, which would showcase that genetic connection to someone from the outside looking in.      

The slogan for my dad’s various political campaigns was “Man of Action,” because he not only had strong and progressive ideas, but he had the fortitude to bring them to fruition more often than not.  I remember many times hearing on the radio news station – most likely while waiting for the weather so I’d know what to wear – about the showdown in City Council chambers starring David Cohen.  I think most would agree that his feisty and impassioned speeches and even what appeared to be a bar room brawl once or twice might be a stretch for me to have pulled off.  

He also used to strongly suggest that I massage his feet when I walked by him, and I can’t even imagine asking my kids to do such a thing. 

Maybe I’m more like my mom.  Let’s see…

My mom keeps her opinions to herself unless I pry them out of her.  Even so, she is a woman of few words and, when she does share her thoughts, there is no dancing around:  her message is clear, like it or not. Her seemingly quiet demeanor may stand out to those who have found her to be a formidable adversary in the public arena but, as a mom, she is generally low key unless something really rubs her the wrong way.  I, on the other hand, share my opinions freely and enjoy discussing the many aspects of a particular situation, which I think is just too much dissecting for my momma.         

So upon deep reflection, I’d been hard-pressed to find personality similarities with either of my parents, which I have to admit was rather disappointing.

Last week, however, when I went into town to see my mom, my car loaded with apartment supplies, personal products, food and of course flowers, I was in for a pleasant surprise.

The routine for the past 6 months has been that I drive up to the front door of the apartment building, my mom’s caregiver Torri comes out with a big cart, we fill it up, she goes upstairs with the goods and then I begin my quest for a parking place. The drive around my mom’s building for a spot can be really quick with an immediate sighting (almost never) to a crawl for about 15 or 20 minutes (most often this is the case) around the general vicinity while cab drivers curse at me for not moving fast enough.

This time, I found a space immediately, right across the street from my mom’s apartment, before I even emptied my car.  I grabbed the spot, absolutely delighted that I’d now be able to skip the stressful meander-around-town portion of the trip that irks me the most.  I got my quarters together for the kiosk, put the receipt on my dashboard, walked proudly to the front door of my mom’s building to get the cart…and then I saw her, shaking her head in disapproval.  Yes, there was Torri, immediately reprimanding me for parking across the street and directing me to bring the car over to the front door of the building.

I tried explaining that I was very lucky to get this spot and I’m not going to move it; instead, I suggested that I walk the cart from the building across the street to my car, fill it up, and then one or both of us can walk the cart back into the building.   

Torri was not happy with this plan.  She said I should’ve pulled up to the front door of the building like I usually do, emptied the car contents on to the cart, and then looked for a spot, in that order.  I explained again that this parking place was too good to pass up and it’s really not a big deal to walk the cart across the street twice, which I’ve done on my own a good 25 times or more.

She then told me she’d stand in my spot while I drove my car to the front door to empty it out.  She was clearly trying to reverse my plan to veer from the norm, but I wasn’t budging.  We were at a standstill, she and I, and this isn’t a smart position to be in with the caregiver of one’s mom.  However, with a hot pastrami sandwich in the car for mom’s lunch, which I was afraid was now cold due to this all this silly and time-consuming bickering, I took the cart and started walking it across the street. 

Exasperated with me, she exclaimed, "Judy! You are just like Miss Florence!  You are so stubborn!”     

That’s it!  That’s what I am!  I am stubborn, just like my mom!  I was so happy and proud that Torri recognized it, the way all Bonnie’s friends and I know that she inherited her ability to deliver one-liners par excellence from at least one of her parents.   

That really, really made my day.