Sunday, July 27, 2014

My Mom

Tomorrow (Monday, July 28th) is my mom's 97th birthday.

She just taught me a HUGE lesson, which I will never forget.

First off, she can relay a very powerful message very simply.  Perhaps she'll lay the groundwork with a few words, may repeat them from time to time, and then once we're clued in and start watching her facial expressions, all the prompts become clear. 

What I had been seeing with Mom over the past six months, just to give some background, was a rather lackluster demeanor after what I'd always believed was a spirited approach to life.  I didn't know whether to be alarmed as in DO SOMETHING FOR HER or to understand that she's feeling rather disenchanted with her lifestyle. The question Is it a funk Mom's in or is there more to it? began haunting me.

I also knew that she'd been experiencing sadness and loneliness as friends she'd made in recent years had either passed or moved away.  I was kind of waiting for the prolonged mourning period for them to lift at some point - enough to return to her relatively "normal" self - but I wasn't sure that was even possible.

Mom lives at the Watermark, a retirement community at 17th and Vine in the Logan Square section of Philadelphia.  She and my dad moved in a decade ago, he passed a year later, 2.5 years ago she began to need 24/7 care and about 1.5 years ago, she became wheelchair-bound. 

In recent years, what had become the most important aspect of Mom's life in my eyes and most likely that of my siblings was that we knew she was well cared for and safe with her loving caregivers.  I have to admit I didn't think about much else. 

A few months back, however, that changed.  Mom in her wheelchair and I took a walk to the local park that she and I had frequented many times.  She seemed enthused at the suggestion to go but didn't say much other than "Look at the verandas" when we got there. 

As I sat there watching her appear so happy to be outside - as well as gazing up at the verandas of a local apartment building - I began to recall Mom's enjoyment of the outdoors, feeling the air on her face and the wind in her hair.  Unfortunately, she doesn't get outside much these days.  The combination of living on the 14th floor of the high rise, waiting for elevators and having to walk a few minutes to get to some greenery aren't factors that work together to easily satisfy her longing to be out in the open.  Consequently, she's often cooped up inside.       

While she was probably daydreaming about verandas, I was recalling her morning routine at home when we all lived together.  The first thing she used to do when she got out of bed was to look out the window to the park across the street, as well as at our own lawn and garden which she spent many hours cultivating.  She loved and still loves the beauty and fragrance of flowers and watching the birds fly and hearing them sing.  For years she gave me glass birds and bird books and all sorts of other bird items that honestly I didn't care for at the time but knew I would at a later date. 

So this "veranda" comment gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach. It's not like she says so much that I can tune out half of it.  She says far too little to disregard anything.   Her comment also fed right into my concern that her children need to sit up and take notice.  Why was she so focused on the verandas?

Loving someone elderly can be challenging.  They are physically and emotionally fragile, and it's really difficult to figure out the complexities of their thinking and comments at times.  All we can do is try. 

With that in mind, I asked Mom..."Should we be looking for a new place for you to live?"  She paused for a minute and then said, "I'd like that."  And so her message was delivered, in just a few words, and following her prompts.

The search began, first in Philly.  It became clear that wheelchair-friendly apartments don't come with verandas - at least the ones I explored.  What they do come with is a plethora of generously-sized door openings and wonderful access to everything in the bathroom and the kitchen, for starters.  But still, no verandas.

Skip ahead to today.

Mom is now scheduled - she still has time to change her mind - to move in to Spring Hills - an Assisted Living Community - in Cherry Hill. No verandas, but easy entry to the outdoors, to their lovely garden and fountains, and hopefully the birdies will stop by and say hello.

True to form, Mom is going for the gusto.  She's excited about her opportunities for a fresh start, to make new friends, to re-invent herself, and to make the most out of her life.  Right now, she's talking about trying to walk again.    

Her message is clear:  It's never too late to want more out of life, and to go for it, too. 

Is there any better lesson a mom could teach her kid? 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Don't "Ma'am" Me

All the waiter has to do is call me "Miss" instead of "Ma'am" and I'm good to go.

Yes, even if the service he provides stinks.  

Likewise, call me “Ma’am” and nothing’s getting past me.  Slow service will be reflected in his tip, no doubt. 

“Miss" tickles me pink; “Ma’am,” needless to say, doesn't.     

Perhaps “Ma’am” was at one time a term of respect, to show deference for older folk, in which case I could decide I've earned it and even appreciate it.

But I don't; instead, I cringe when I hear it.  I want to say, "So I look like your mom, do I, young man?" but since I realize his mom could look far younger than I do, I bite my tongue.         

I'd rather be "Miss" to feel like I’m 14 again, or 24, or 34. Heck, even 44 sounds good. 

"Ma’am" makes me feel, well, the opposite, like I’m closer to 84 than I am 24. Yikes, I am.

It should be reserved for our moms, no exceptions.

Card me too and I’d double the tip.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

When You're Hooked, You're Hooked

Craft shows are so much fun, and yesterday's Haddonfield Craft Show was no exception.  I find the imagination and talents of the artists incredibly inspiring.  There's always something cool to watch in the making, like a silk scarf or hanging lamp from recycled plastic pieces. There's often an item that makes me ask Is this for real?  and this time it was an expandable hat made from heavy-duty paper.  There was also something so beautiful that it stopped me in my tracks...a most amazing quilt caught my eye, and then once I entered the kiosk, the one to its right was just as fabulous. 

But what I was drawn to the most was what I've always been drawn to the most...from 14 to 54 and all the decades in-between...all that tie-dyed and batik stuff.  It doesn't even matter what it is. Tie-dyed? I want it.  Batik? I want it.  I was in my glory to see 5 or 6 kiosks with an exciting inventory of these shirts, socks, dresses, sweaters, scarves, hats, bags and a whole bunch of other items in far more vibrant combinations than what I used to make in my basement with RIT dye packaged in small cardboard boxes the size of instant pudding.

So it may come as no surprise to you that once again, I couldn't resist...I bought myself a tie-dyed infinity scarf and even went this route for a baby gift with onesies and socks (why not start them out early).  I'm not sure if I'll enjoy wearing my scarf more or draping it over something in my home office so I can glance at it throughout the day.  Had I been to the show alone, I probably would've purchased the very large tie-dyed T-shirt that I could've worn to the beach or to bed, but my husband shook his head "no," probably afraid - with good reason - that I'd start living in it.

So what is it about these designs that I find so appealing?  A "tie" to my past?  The hippie in me?  Freedom of expression?  Bursts of color?  Somewhat simpler times?  I have no idea.

For years - maybe between my 30s and 40s, when I'd be out shopping and would see a tie-dyed shirt, I'd tell myself, You've outgrown this, and I'd keep walking, most likely looking back longingly.  But then the greatest thing happened.  My kids went to day camp at the JCC and, for a couple of years, the camp shirts they were given were tie-dyed.  Sometimes they even made tie-dyed shirts during the art period.  My younger daughter loved them and would tell me all about how she made them with rubber bands, etc.  She started to want other t-shirts and long-sleeved shirts and sweatshirts with the tie-dyed motif. She was hooked.

She commented to me last year, when she was going into her third year of college, that she thinks she's outgrown the tie-dyed look. I was sad but understood where she was coming from (been there, done that).  

But guess what? On the Ocean City boardwalk this summer, I caught her looking at them again.  

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July 4th

Nothing like the sweet taste of freedom.

July 4th is a time to party under fireworks and at BBQs and to celebrate how far we've come as a nation. I'm happy to do that, as long as we can also footnote some of those segments in the Declaration of Independence where we need to improve as free thinkers and as a civilization and not simply to point to political party dogma, for example, as an excuse for our unjust behavior.

Heavy duty stuff aside, these public displays of patriotism always take me back to my own rendezvous with freedom at distinct periods of my life - in far less consequential ways - but monumental for me as a young adult, nonetheless. 

The first time I recall squealing over my newly-earned independence occurred when I was 16 years old got my driver's license, which meant I was free to go anywhere and, essentially, do anything.  I was - in a word - e l a t e d.  A few years later a friend and I wanted to spend the summer in Atlantic City and we got jobs as tram drivers on the boardwalk.   I can still feel the thrill of looking forward to this adventure.  My next emancipating milestone took place as a result of my first "real" job that provided my first "real" paycheck, which sent me flying, as I was able to make move out of my parents' home.  These days, I feel incredibly liberated to walk out of my office around 5 pm on Friday, knowing I don't have to return until 8 am on Monday. 

I know that the various freedoms I've reveled in over the years have been possible because others before me have fought battles that have paved the way for me and my loved ones, my coworkers, my neighbors and my peers to have choices and dreams which wouldn't have been possible in another age.  I try to tell this to my children, as I'm sure my parents tried to teach me:  It wasn't always like this.   

Had I been born just 75 or 100 years ago, my life as a woman would've been very different.  Take voting, or lack thereof, for women.  There are times I vote in today's elections - when honestly I have no idea who is on the ballot and for what position - simply because I am free to do so.  I was afforded this right because of the grit and determination of the Women's Suffrage Movement and the brave women (and men) in earlier times.  That is reason enough for me to vote.

Had my sister been born in 1900, perhaps she wouldn't have announced her lesbianism in high school as she did some 40 years ago and she may never have seen the day when lesbians and gays could marry.

At night on the holiday itself, in lieu of seeing fireworks, my husband and I watched the gut-wrenching "12 Years a Slave."  I'm still reeling in the horror of it.  I don't know what is more shocking:  the fact that people could treat others so poorly, that people viewed blacks as inferior simply because of the color of their skin, that so many slave owners got away with such atrocious, criminal behavior or that they'd be able to live with themselves for behaving that way.

That's the thing when dissecting the freedoms we as a nation have acquired.  None of them came for free.  Each advancement was achieved through blood, sweat and tears.  Too many are tied to events that have been so incredibly damaging, making me feel as ashamed as I am proud. 

So as the weekend dies down and I transition back into the work week, I will no doubt find myself daydreaming about the opportunities I relished as a free young woman in a relatively free society, that aren't tied to anything disturbing other than, say, growing pains.