Sunday, August 11, 2019

Better Not to Know

Last week my normally predictable husband made an unexpected U-Turn by Whole Foods, where we were headed for lunch at their salad bar, like many other days. When David first turned the car around, I thought uh oh, his mind is going…but then I realized – g a s p – he’s taking us to Friendly’s!     

This was too good to be true!  I had suggested this a few times before, that we stop in for an after-dinner treat. He is right that I can be a bad influence, as I have no shame in getting down and dirty with a sugary delight.     

He wouldn’t have made an about-face had I not mentioned it again that moment, so I was glad I did.  I know he likes making me happy, and this act of spontaneity certainly did, which I told him.  Our afternoon change of plans was off to a fun start. 

As we approached the parking lot, we focused on what we’d have:  for David, a lunch of fried clams, fries and maybe a fribble; for me, either that or a burger. There was no doubt that my meal would include some kind of sundae at the end.    

After David opened the menu, he asked if I noticed the top of it where Friendly’s posted the recommended daily calories for the average person per day:  2,000.  I hadn’t seen it, and I didn’t care about it either. I just wanted to proceed with our indulgence, without too much thinking. 

A few seconds later, I felt myself sliding into a downward spiral.  As I looked around the menu, I noticed that each item had a calorie count.

This was not something I wanted to deal with at Friendly’s.  It’s one thing at Honey Grow or Salad Works or Whole Foods, where the goal is to eat a healthy lunch. It’s altogether different when we want to pig out and chose Friendly’s for that exact reason.

I searched for the fried clam platter and noticed it has a calorie count of 1,720.  WOA.  This was dangerously close to the daily Friendly’s recommended limit of 2,000 calories per day.  It was about 1 p.m. at the time. Did this mean I was done eating until tomorrow, given I had already consumed a few hundred calories for breakfast?  That wasn’t going to happen.

Then I looked for my other option, a cheeseburger, again in a platter format:  the burger is 860 calories, fries 330 or onion rings 270, and the cheese another hundred or two, depending upon the selection. I’d be digesting at least 1,300 calories for this lunch – if I devoured all of it – but better than 1,720.   

A small sundae for dessert would be some 300 calories, so I could have both and end up about where David would be with his fried clam platter alone.  But, if I went for a regular-size hot fudge sundae, that would give me a total lunch count of a couple thousand calories.  At that point, I’d be eating into the next day’s calories, literally.

Before long, all of my happiness in diving into a Friendly’s lunch went out the window.  I would have considered walking out had I not lured David there in the first place, because frankly I had lost my appetite.  The thrill was gone.

What we didn’t get at the time was why on earth would a place like Friendly’s list the calories for each item?  It canceled out the potential fun of going there, and isn’t that the point of it? 
On a side note, during the meal we laughed a lot about the dichotomy. 

When I got home, I googled calorie count on restaurant menus and learned that in recent years it’s become a federal requirement for food establishments to list calories for every item.

The thinking behind this is to create a healthier society by making information readily available for those who would therefore make better decisions.  It comes on the heels of publicizing other ingredients such as trans fats, saturated fats, sodium and so on.  Clearly, the intention is good.

But, I’m still craving that sundae I didn’t have last week…another U-Turn may be in order.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

For Many, the Path is Unclear

“I’m going through an identity crisis,” I recall telling my mom when I was about 14 or 15 years old, some 45 years ago.  

Maybe she wondered what the heck I was talking about but chalked it up to teenage psychobabble that didn’t really mean much although, by that time, my older sister had come out as a lesbian.   

In retrospect, I’m not sure what I was referring to with my “identity crisis” comment. My best guess at this time is that I wanted to find meaning in my life – I was consumed with trying to understand my role in the world – and was expressing these feelings in person or in writing, whenever the opportunity presented itself.

I struggled with all kinds of things as a teen, much the same as many of us I suppose – relationships primarily – but I have always felt free to be me.  I didn’t question my gender or my sexuality and can’t remember anyone else other than my sister choosing his/her own path as a lesbian or gay man, although I remember hearing about a drag show here and there…and not getting it.

Had a child of mine said to me he/she’s having an identity crisis – granted, many years after I said it – I wonder where my thoughts would have gone:  my guess is somewhere along the gender spectrum, which is not only represented with LGBTQ but also non-binary, gender fluid and so on.

I’m not embarrassed to admit I truly don’t get it all, but I’m starting to feel that I should indeed have a better understanding.  The world might be a much more humane place if we could be open to comprehending the struggles so many of us have and extend some compassion to them as well. 

David and I are forever surfing for what we can stream on TV and came across a Netflix mini-series called “Tales of the City,” based on the book series by Armistead Maupin, which first aired on public television in the late 1990s.  It earned a Peabody award for its groundbreaking depiction of the complex lives of the LGBTQ community.     

The current remake, from a show by the same name in the 1990s, centers on the diverse set of inhabitants who live in an apartment / boarding house complex in San Francisco.  There are also heterosexual divorced men and women in the mix, along with multi-cultural couples and basically any scenario you can imagine.     

The roles of the trans landlady is played by Olympia Dukakis; Laura Linney plays a straight woman who returned to the area after abandoning her adopted daughter – played by Ellen Page – decades before.  Linney also reconnects with her ex-husband, played by Paul Gross, who wants to be involved with his neighbor, a woman of color who is half his age.

I can relate to a couple aspects of the characters’ lives, specifically when it comes to divorce, but that’s about it.  The emotions for those transitioning are mind-boggling.  There is a lesbian – in a relationship with a woman – who is transitioning to being a man and, in that process, he finds he’s become attracted to men, no longer to the woman with whom he had been in a relationship when he was a woman.  

Another show we watched several years ago is called “Transparent,” which portrays the story of the family patriarch, played by Jeffrey Tambour, who transitioned from Mort to Maura in the loving but complicated setting of his family – his ex-wife Judith Light and his three grown children.  He spent most of his life confronting his unhappiness of being a man and wanting to be a woman and then began the transitioning process, which changed his friendships and relationships across the board.

Since watching Tales of the City, I have been trying to educate myself more and found what I consider an eye-opening story that addresses the impact of transitioning on mental health:

In this story, 35 people shared their feelings.  The first person interviewed, Ianna Drew Urquhart, stated that coming out and transitioning was like “removing the biggest weight in the world.”  Another interviewee named Sophia said that “before transitioning she felt numb and dead inside; after, even feeling sad was amazing because it meant I was alive.” Each story is heartfelt, compelling and gives me hope.

I am so happy that many individuals, while still facing discrimination unfortunately, have access to information, resources and support online and/or in person.  In addition, I am optimistic that the kids of today will feel comfortable to talk with their parents and that the parents will be open to these wide-ranging and potentially difficult discussions, as well as knowledgeable. 

I am also grateful for programing like Tales of the City and Transparent, and others too, that offer an education for those of us who may not have had first-hand exposure to people dealing with such complicated matters.

Trying to understand all these complexities reminds me how simple life can be for people without gender identity and sexual orientation issues and, honestly, how many worlds I know nothing about.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Every time I go to Rastelli’s, a specialty market nearby, I check out their pre-sliced deli to see if there is anything enticing I can grab and go, without waiting for my turn at the counter.  They have terrific London Broil that I would get in a second if it’s already packaged, but that’s a rare occurrence.  It wasn’t in the bin yesterday either, but I got a treat nonetheless:  a walk down memory lane.   

There it was – almost too exciting to be true:  hard salami.  Any coincidence that I saw it front and center for the first time on the eve of Mother’s Day?   This was one of my mom’s favorite foods.  She didn’t care that chewing and then biting this hard stuff wreaked havoc on her dentures.  She was determined to have it – and enjoy it - regardless.

I assume she liked the flavor, and even the consistency, but I also wonder if it made her feel closer to my dad, because he loved it so much that she’d send hard salamis to him when he was in World War II.  We also had salamis hanging from the ceiling in our basement for months at a time.  I am certain this now sounds gross – as it was 50 years ago too – because when she’d direct me to go downstairs and bring up the hardest salami we had, I had to climb on a ladder to feel each one, and they were very, very greasy.  I’m sure this violated many, if not all, health codes.

Thinking about the hard salami reminded me of the time my mom slapped my hand because I ate a piece of salami – before dinner.  I remember being shocked that she did that, and it seemed totally uncharacteristic given her normal level of tolerance. I must’ve really pissed her off, or maybe I just pushed her over the edge at that time.  After all, I was child number 4. 

I often think about what motherhood was like for my mom, especially given her childhood.

Her mother passed when she was a baby (1917), and she was raised by her grandmother, a single woman who became a bootlegger to take care of her family.  As a teen, my mom was one of her delivery people, traveling around New York City on the subway with hidden bottles of wine that her grandmother made in their basement.   

My mom told me that one day after her subway ride near the customer’s home, she fell, and the bottle broke.  My mom didn’t know what to do; she felt she had failed and sat and cried, with wine having spilled all around her.  She was afraid that the woman would be angry and was even more concerned that she’d come home empty-handed – void of the payment her grandmom was expecting – and the family wouldn’t have the money needed for food.

I don’t know of anyone else who can brag about the fact that his/her great grandparent was a bootlegger (other than my siblings), so I’ll assume my mom had an atypical upbringing.  In turn, I had a different kind of life growing up as compared with my friends whose moms were stay-at-home caregivers.  I wore a red key around my neck, often coming home to an empty house, while my mom worked full-time and dedicated her life to making the world a more just, compassionate and peaceful place for everyone around us.  

Weekends were spent accompanying her on picket lines, watching her run city-wide campaigns from our house for my dad, seeing her stay up all night to write legislation for him to introduce in City Council, etc. etc...but also sharing special time together:  watching Elvis movies, talking about friends and giving people the benefit of the doubt, passing on advice to me such as being sure to dance whenever the opportunity presented itself and so on.      

It's been just over 4 years since my mom passed, and I have recently come to realize that it's the little things – everyday happenings, stories shared, all that I have seen, heard and digested throughout my life - not the big things, that have shaped me. Every one of them has added a piece to my puzzle.

I love that, for me, so many of those pieces involve my mom.