Thursday, February 28, 2013

February '13 Round-Up: What I Loved on OTHER People's Blogs

Birds by Neil Kramer

Welcome to the February, 2013 edition of my monthly "What I Loved on OTHER People's Blogs" feature. The place where I share what has caught my eye (and brain, and heart) on the internet over the past month.

Also, as usual, I am featuring photos from my friend and amazing intstagram photographer Neil Kramer - of the blog Citizen of the Month - who for some reason decided to leave sunny LA to visit cold, gray NYC this month.

I have been so busy mourning and dealing with the aftermath of losing my mother last month, I barely posted in February. But thankfully, so many other folks wrote wonderful things, and I am happy to now share these with you...

Wall, New York City streets by Neil Kramer

Early Spring by Deb of Deb on the Rocks

On Feeling Lonely by (The Empress) Alexandra of Good Day Regular People 

We Are More Than the Stories of Our Fears by Elan/Schmutzie of Schmutzie

Mailboxes, Queens by Neil Kramer

fierce and weak – on fighting like a girl by Heather of The Extraordinary Ordinary

Drinking From the Well of Confidence by Ciaran of Momfluential

Girl on Fire by Alysia of Try Defying Gravity

Red Ball on Fire Escape #2, Queens  by Neil Kramer

Bully: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means by Jennifer of Anybody Want a Peanut?

Autistic People Should Be Free to Flap by Jo of A Sweet Dose of Truth

Winter Coat by Neil Kramer

I'm not much of a planner by Maxabella of Maxabella Loves 

Life is beautiful by Stacey of Is There Any Mommy Out There?

This Old House by Lisa of Smacksy

 Recycle, Queens by Neil Kramer

What you don’t know about me by Jessica of Four plus an angel

How We Do It: Part XXIII in a series by Elizabeth of a moon, worn as if it had been a shell

LAX by Neil Kramer

Be well, and let's hope for an early spring.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The view from here

In the dark of a too early morning, I crack open the door of the boys' bedroom to wake Jacob, still deeply under, in the top bunk.

I entreat him to rise with whispers, remind him to stay quiet himself, so as not to awaken his brother, asleep below, as he sits up uttering his usual first word of the day “Stupid.”

“Jacob…” I whisper-scold.

“Don’t say the bad word” he repeats in a singsong voice.

“Shhhhhhh.” I remind, again. And in a louder, more urgent whisper “Come down now, Baby, the bus will be here in a half hour and it won’t wait, you have to get ready for school.”

“Stupid” says Jacob, one more time, as he lumbers down the ladder, his ancient blue bear firmly clutched in one hand.

Then, at the bottom: “Can I have a hug, Mommy?”

And thus begins our day.

By the time Ethan is up - after three visits to his bedroom, progressing from a cheerful “good morning” through a gentle shoulder shake, the flashing on and off of lights, the radio blasting an obnoxious rock station and the (idle) threat of a cold water dousing – Jacob is long gone, sent off with a kiss onto his long bus ride to his wonderful Special-Ed school on the far, other (lower, East) side of town.

(I try not to think about it too much, because it makes me sad when I do, but, yes, my boys, my twins - due to luck, genetics, a whim of the gods of autism & neurodiversity, and probably something I ate or didn’t eat when I was seventeen - lead very separate lives.)

Ethan and I talk, always; words his currency, as they are mine.

We talk a lot or a little, depending in the day. Did the Knicks win last night? How about the Nets? Chatting away through breakfast eaten, lunch made, bags packed.

Some days I take Ethan to school, yet others I send him walking with the neighbors, two boisterous boys whose testosterone-filled company he favors lately.

Already he has begin to resist my goodbye kisses when others are present. "Mooooooom" he protests as I hand him over in the lobby, though I know tonight he will still curl up into my lap as we watch the game together, after homework has been done (please God, let the homework get done without torture tonight).

<*> <*> <*>

And then I am alone, with too much to do, but no heart for any of it.

I am supposed to be writing my mother's eulogy right now. With the snow delaying her memorial service, I have had a long time to accomplish this seeming simple task, even longer to contemplate it, as I knew, bone deep, that the end was coming soon.

And yet I just... cannot. Words are failing me.

I wrote a beautiful eulogy for my father. Poured all my love and crystal knowledge of who he was into it.

But my mother... my mother.. my mother...

All I want to do is keen and cry.

In spite of so many words spilling out of me immediately after her death, I am now experiencing my grief in a visceral, animal way.

I am angry, bereft, pained; and in no space to make pretty words of it. For even at the very end, drifting away from her memories, from the shaped, sharpened form of herself, my mother was still filled with light and love.

And when we held hands the bond between us thrummed, strong as the day that I was born and we became mother and daughter.

My mother was unwavering in her love, and the space it took up in me is now dark, hollow, memory's embers being a paltry substitute for the heat of a living presence.

And there has been, yet, barely time to mourn, so filled are my days with the minutia of things that must be done; mountains of laundry and paperwork; all the threads that I dropped when constantly dashing off to my mother's bedside must now be gathered and stitched back in, the fabric of my life holey, like tattered lace.

<*> <*> <*>

The boys mourn my mother, each in their own way.

"I see Grandma, in my brain" says Jake. And I am never sure if that means to him what it does to me. He still asks to go see her sometimes, the concept of death as a permanent state being perhaps too abstract for him to fully grasp.

Ethan and I bake blueberry muffins, Mom's perennial favorite. No matter how low her spirits or appetite, I could always entice her to eat a blueberry muffin and a cup of hot cocoa.

Come to think of it, we're drinking a lot of cocoa, too.


I raise my mug to you.

Mom, enjoying cocoa & a muffin with me, December, 2011

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

To know her was to love her

Mom and her brother, Walter, November 2012

My mother was one of those special people, beloved by nearly everyone she met.

She had a warmth, a natural curiosity about people. Spend five minutes with her and she'd know your life story, the names of your children and where your ancestors came from.

She was also genuinely gracious, sincerely grateful to everyone for everything done for her.

In the hospital, in her very last days, she even whispered a "Thank you" to the nurse giving her a shot of vitamin K. The nurse turned to me, her face alight, and told me she had never been thanked before for giving a patient an injection.

That was Mom.

Mom & me, Mothers Day 2012

The staff at the nursing home were shocked when I called to give them the news. "Oh, no! Not our DDF!" they all cried.

That was her particular nomenclature: I have been her D.D.D. for years - Dear, Darling Daughter  - (and she my D.D.M.). And the women who looked after her at the home had become her D.D.F. -  Dear, Darling Friends.

My father, as much as he loved his family, was defined by his life's work: his photography.

My mother, like so many women (especially of her generation), was defined by her relationships, the people she loved and who loved her. And at this she excelled, oh so well.

Mom and her Grandson, Simon, November 2012
Granddaughter Rachel visiting with Mom, February, 2012

Mom found so much joy in parenthood, and found that joy doubled as a grandmother, seeing her feelings replicated in me. She loved watching me revel in my own children, yet another bond between us: we were both mothers.

Mom and Jake, August 2012
Mom & Ethan, on her 89th birthday, September, 2011

Mom made friends everywhere she went. At Carnegie East House, the assisted living community she had moved into with my father, and where she continued to live as a widow until her disastrous, hip-breaking fall last May, she had two close friends of a similar temperament: smart, funny, artistic, literate, left-leaning and bohemian. Not your typical "little old ladies" by any stretch of the imagination.

They called themselves "The 3 Musketeers" and took every opportunity to laugh at the foibles of old age and their situation, vowing not to become like some of the farbissinas* at the joint.

Mom and her friends at Carnegie East, 2011

The reason I chose the specific facility I did for mom's rehab stint (which then became her permanent nursing home) was that at the time, my Aunt Eva, her sister-in-law, was herself rehabbing there, as it was less than a mile from her Port Washington home.

Mom & Eva at the nursing home, June 2012

Even after Eva returned home, being so close to mom's brother Walter meant that he visited often, allowing them to spend much time in the last few months of her life. Also my cousins and their kids got to stop by and visit with my mom - their dear Aunt Sylvia - whenever they came to town.
Mom & niece Annette, July 2012
Mom & grand-niece Greta, July, 2012
Mom & Walter, October 2012
Mom so appreciated Walter's visits, always showing off the flowers he had brought (as he always did), marveling at how nice it was to have fresh flowers in her room.

Mom & niece Jessie, November 2011
Mom & grand-niece Ilana, November 2011

My mom: making friends everywhere she went...

Mom & Santa, December 2010 know her was to love her.

I certainly did.

* Yiddish for embittered sourpusses.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Each mourning is different

Me & my parents, 1962

Second time around and I'm realizing... each mourning is different. A mother is not a father, and the missing manifests in different places in my body, in my life.

And then there's the fact that it's both of them gone now, and as an only child I am thusly the sole surviving member of my nuclear family. The only one who knows, who remembers our own particular family's micro-culture... what we ate; what we sang; what we said to each other to greet the day, to bid goodnight; what we liked to do on long summer days, on starry winter nights.

The people that brought me into this world are gone. Elvis has left the building. And while it's ridiculous to think of myself as an orphan at 52, with all the attendant images of storm-tossed waifs and wide eyed boys in desperate need of mothering, there it is - that term - popping into my brain at odd intervals.

"You're a member of the orphans club now... so sorry." says my friend, softly. My dear friend, Rachel, who I do not think I could have gotten through these three weeks without, is herself a long-time member, the edges of her pain blunted, but never quite extinguished.

And I don't know how this would feel if I'd had a conflicted, difficult relationship with my parents. My guess is both easier and harder. More relief, more longing, less simple loss and keen missing. But it's all conjecture.

I had these parents: a pair of interesting people who loved me much and well. They were kind and generous and never withholding in their love. It was unconditional and freely given. I always knew I was both loved and accepted.

And now, of course, that spigot is shut off. Gone.

As much as my children and husband may love me - and they do, as much comfort as that brings me - and it does, it is not the same as the way my mother's eyes lit up as I entered the room, thrilled by my mere existence, my simple proximity to her.

And I know how lucky I am to have had that. I know far too many who have never known this kind of love. And I know that at times in my younger life I have felt burdened, smothered by this love, for yes there was some neediness on her part in there, too. But that has all washed out, years ago now, water long passed under all the bridges.

And what I am left with is a wistful aching, memories that are both fond and painful because the wound of losing her is still so fresh and new. Everywhere I go, everything I light upon, I find traces of her.  And I find so much evidence that so much of who I am has come down from her.

I am in the dentist's chair and the radio is tuned to the classical music station.  Beethoven's 6th symphony comes on (the "Pastorale") and I find myself conducting with my idle hands. "Oh, you know this one?" he asks, surprised, explaining that he usually has the radio tuned to classic rock but his previous patient expressed a strong preference for WQXR.

"Yes," I tell him, after I have spat blood and grit into the tiny sink, "it was my mother's favorite symphony, she played it often in my childhood."

"Sorry," he says, knowing my news, "that must be painful." But somehow it isn't. It instead fills my heart to the brim with gratefulness that my mother passed on her love of music, that she shared with me, her child, the things that brought her joy, and that their beauty lives on in me now.

My mother always liked the springtime best. Whenever I spot the first yellowing blooms bursting from the branches of the forsythia bushes that line Central Park's transverse passages, I am possessed by the urge to share this vision with my mother. Golden harbinger of spring, forsythia made my mother deliriously, unreasonably happy.

I am prepared for the mix of heartbreak and bittersweet pleasure this spring will bring, as each fresh round of blossoming unfolds.

And now Mom has managed to derail her winter's memorial service, which had been due to be held this past Sunday. She has somehow summoned an icy February Frankenstorm to come upon us, necessitating the postponement of her ceremony; kicking it down the calendar into late winter or early spring.

Forsythia season for sure.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's my blog's birthday and I'll cry if I want to.

Three years ago today...

My father was still alive, but busy dying...

My mother was still alive, but wearing herself out taking care of my father...

My twin boys were seven years old, and a handful and a half...

And on February 6th, 2010, I sat down and wrote this post:

The Squashed Bologna: a slice of life in the sandwich generation

And thus, this blog was born.

I was hoping I'd get to write a happy "Happy 3rd Blogaversary to me" post this year, but that is clearly not to be, my mother passed just these three weeks on.

I hadn't been able to do it last year either, as Susan Niebur left this world on February 6th, 2012.

I did, at least, get to write a reflective first blogaversary post in 2011 - A Full Year of Bologna. Read again, it seems like so much more than two years ago I wrote all that, three years ago I entered this, the blogging life.

For in these three years I have found an amazing, supportive community, of which I had not even a glimmer of a hint of its existence before I fell headlong into it. Within this, of course, many sub-groups make up my community... the special-needs-parent-bloggers, my fellow LTYM-ers, my former SV Mom's Blog group, my "3rd wave" blogging cohort who began around the same time I did - Alexandra, I'm talking YOU here, baby! - to name just a few.

And this "village" (as well as my incredible circle of "real life" friends & family) has buoyed and sustained me through so much that I have gone through in these three years since.

Right now I'm in the middle of the muddle of my grief, and having a hard time pulling anything from it. In the first few days the words tumbled out of me. I was writing my way through the sorrow, as rough and as raw as ground meat.

I even wrote that "This is the only way I know how to do it."

But then I stopped knowing that, caught up in the paperwork of it all and the thousand stinging nettles of the minutia of my daily life that continued on apace, in spite of the beast howling in my chest, mother-lost.

I am struggling to find my voice again.


I am bewildered.

Who am I now that I am no longer sandwiched? I have lost a full generation.

I suppose... I suppose I will need to change the name of my blog soon, "Sandwich Generation" no longer properly defining me. (Putting that on the back-burner, not ready to think about it yet.)

But for now here I am, an open-faced sandwich (though still rather squashed), entering my fourth year of doing this, living my life out loud in the inter-web-verse.

Writing my way through the grief, through the sorrow, through the pain and the healing.

Because it's the only way I know how to do it.