I haven’t written an introspective blog in a long time. I’ve written about things that have happened in my own life and stories about other members of my family. I’ve written a lot about the political situation in America and the social schisms it has created. I’ve written about my dogs and the weather and what I’ve watched on TV.
But I haven’t checked in with myself recently – and there have been some internal resets. Over the past six months, I’ve had some uncomfortable and inconvenient but not serious medical issues. I forgot how closely one’s mental state shadows one’s physical well-being.
Constant physical issues for months at a time can really take a toll, both mentally and physically. I was chronically exhausted. No energy for anything. That translated to demoralization and withdrawal. Doing anything outside of the house became a big deal.
I started believing that my life was seriously lacking in many ways. I fixated on those deficiencies and my glass suddenly became half empty instead of half full.
When I started feeling better physically, I could step back and see where my body had dragged my mind. I realized I had to turn myself off and then back on again. I had to totally reboot my attitude.
I realized that I am, in fact, fine as I am. My life is fine as it is. Is it what I wanted, ideally at this stage of my life? No. Is it where I imagined I’d be at my age? No. Is that bad rather than just different? No.
I wanted to be a grandmother by my age, with a life revolving to a great extent around my nearby adult child and my grandchildren. Many of my friends are ecstatic and devoted grandparents. But I’m not a grandmother. And the most likely child to give me grandchildren in the future lives in LA, 3000 miles away.
As a retired person, I expected to be part of an active and gratifying social life with my large group of local friends. But people moved away. My remaining best friends still work 60 hour weeks and have limited time to socialize. As a result, Tom and I spend a lot of time alone with each other.
But this doesn’t make my life bad or inferior or deficient. Just different than planned or expected. I can’t compare my life to other people’s lives. I can’t measure my life against my past expectations.
Am I actually happy spending most days at home with my husband and my dogs? Yes! Am I fulfilled reading, writing blogs and working on our Audio Theater Group? Yes! Do I love my wonderful friends spread all around the country plus England and Germany? Yes!
So I wake up happy every morning, looking forward to another quiet but satisfying day. I focus on what I have and who I share it all with. I’m good. I’m lucky. And I’m grateful. I just have to try to keep this positive outlook when my body throws me the next curve.
Sunday was the day to stay near the telephone, the computer too for that matter. Robert was not about to go anywhere before receiving his phone call. He always stayed where he could hear the phone. The computer was also a possibility for calls but in truth Robert only received one call on it and that was more in the way of a test. His son, Corey, set him up with Skype and then called him when he got home just so they could test it out. That was the only time Corey called him via Skype in the six months since their brief trial run. Now he either called on the landline or not at all.
Robert tried diligently to be a good father to Corey after his divorce from Corey’s mom. Corey was in his mid teens then and the boy seemed to follow the divorce with making his own plans and avoiding family obligations. Robert could never figure out whether this was a teenage thing or a reaction to the divorce, but either way Robert did his best to be a dad whenever Corey needed him. Corey needed him less and less as time went on.
Now that Corey was in his twenties, Robert and Corey had hatched a plan to keep in touch. This was more Robert’s doing, of course. If they did not get together on the weekend, then they would at least share a call on Sunday afternoon. The problem with this plan was Corey rarely called and he preferred that dear old dad not call him as he was usually “busy.” So Robert waited patiently in his small four room apartment for a call that was not likely to come. Perhaps if Robert had been more outspoken, even demanding, maybe Corey would be more dependable. At least that is what Robert thought. But it was not in Robert’s demeanor to be pushy so he waited patiently every Sunday for the call.
In Robert’s own mind he had convinced himself that waiting on Sunday’s was a good thing. It would keep him at home to take care of the often neglected chores. He did the dishes, made the bed, swept the floor, looked at all that junk mail he tossed aside all week, but he never took out the garbage. That would mean leaving the apartment for a few minutes and Robert certainly did not want to do that. What if the phone should ring and he did not hear it?
Finally in late afternoon on this super cold, super Sunday the phone rang. Robert was on it like a shot. “Hello,” Robert announced in his cheeriest voice.
“Robert, it’s Bill. How about we go somewhere to watch the game? You know, wings and beer!”
“Uh, OK,” Robert said reluctantly.
“Good, I can be there in a half an hour.”
“No,” Robert said quickly, “I am in the middle of something. Give me at least an hour.”
“Fine,” Bill replied. “I will be there in about an hour.”
In truth, Robert was not in the middle of anything. He just wanted to leave extra time for Corey to call. He never gave a thought to the possibility that Corey had already gotten together with his friends to watch the big game. He just figured that if he left too soon, he would miss his Sunday call. So he placed his coat, scarf and hat on a chair near the door and sat down to wait for Corey. Robert worried about missing the call and not having enough time to talk. He thought of the most important things he should say if they only had a short time. He thought of nice questions to ask, without prying too much into Corey’s personal life. After all, Corey was all grown up now and he needed to be treated like an adult. At least, that was the thought running through Robert’s head.
When just over an hour had elapsed, the phone finally rang again. “Hello?” Robert said tentatively, fearing it was not Corey but actually Bill again. “It’s Bill. I’m out front. Are you ready?” “That darn Bill,” Robert thought. “He’s always rushing me.”
“Yes,” Robert said. “I will be out in a minute.” “Poor Corey,” Robert mumbled. “If he calls I won’t be here.” Although he felt a little guilty, Robert threw on his outer wear and headed out the door.
When Robert got in Bill’s car, Bill immediately started talking about the game. “This should be a great game this year. The teams seem evenly matched. Whoever has the hot hand will win. It could be either one. What do you think?”
“Yes,” Robert replied. “I think so too.” He obviously was not listening to Robert, his mind was on Corey.
As they drove away, Robert did not hear the phone ring in his apartment. It rang seven times before it went silent. Robert never even knew there was a call as the caller did not leave a message.
I had a brief shining moment as a parent. I did something right. It felt right then and I still believe that it was right now. I even think that my daughter, Sarah, would agree.
It has to do with Sarah’s Bat Mitzvah, which took place in January of 1998. We started planning it in 1997, when Sarah was twelve. Sarah has always been a very organized, efficient person. She could reorganize her closet, on her own, when she was five. So, my brilliant idea was, why not give Sarah the lead in planning her Bat Mitzvah events! She loved the idea.
I gave her the budget and off we went to the invitation lady, the potential venues, the party planner, the florist, etc. Sarah got the final word on all decisions (after some maternal prodding and advice) as long as she stayed within the budget. That got tricky, which was the point of the exercise.
I remember, at one point, she fell in love with some fancy invitations. But, she realized that if she spent the extra money there, she’d have to cut back on the party favors for her friends. It was a carefully thought out decision. She finally went with the simpler invitations and the better favors.
She had to use a calculator to plan her menu. For table decorations, she decided to save money on flowers. So she used balloons and paper decorations to supplement the very basic floral treatments on each table.
Kids’ table decorations
Bat Mitzvah cake
Adult table decorations
It was an enjoyable as well as an educational process. Sarah took great pride in doing everything herself. She learned about budgeting, time management and other sophisticated organizational skills.
The event was beautiful and lots of fun. I think it also had more meaning for Sarah because the day’s festivities were a result of her own input and effort. She not only had a memorable coming of age party, she actually grew up a lot in the process.
I’m proud of Sarah for handling everything so gracefully, maturely and responsibly. I’m proud of myself for giving the reins to the soon to become Jewish “woman”. We both benefitted from the experience and Sarah blossomed. A+ for the Bat Mitzvah, A+ for parenting.
I didn’t know it growing up, but I have several learning disabilities, including ADD. I was actually diagnosed with ADD in my sixties. The medication works wonderfully but it keeps me from sleeping, so I can only take it once in a while.
I learned of my other learning disabilities when my son was diagnosed in college. I realized that I have been plagued by the same disabilities that he has. When I was young, I was just considered anxious and a slow learner.
From high school on, through college and law school, I had to put in way more time than my peers did to learn class material and do well in school. Here’s what I had to do to master the material I needed to know for exams. I had to underline the reading material when I read it for the first time. Then I had to go back and reread the underlining, highlighting the most important parts. Then I had to reread the highlighting and turn it into an extensive outline. That detailed outline then had to be condensed into a shorter outline that I would read over and over until I had it memorized.
I also had to take copious notes during classes. I filled several notebooks by the end of each semester. It puzzled me that often, when I read over my notes, it was as if I was reading the material for the first time. I often had no memory of parts of the class lectures.
It turns out that this is a symptom of a learning disability. I forget what it’s called. But it basically means that I can’t aurally absorb the content of the lecture while I’m physically taking notes on it. The act of note taking itself cancels out my ability to learn and retain what I am hearing. I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time – and remember what I was doing.
To study for a test, I went through a similar process with my notes than I did with the reading material. I had to read over my notes and highlight the key passages. I then had to go back and reread the highlighting and incorporate the information into my voluminous outline from the reading material. My master outlines were often 20-30 pages long.
It turns out that there’s a physiological reason why I had to go through that laborious process just to learn what I needed to know for a test. Another learning disability involves short term and long term memory. Some people only need to hear or read something once or twice before that piece of information is transferred from the short term memory section of the brain to the long term memory section. For me and for my son, we have to be exposed to that piece of information maybe four or five times before our brains move it from short term to long term memory.
The good news for us, is that people like us are often better able to use the information and integrate it with other information in our brains. But it takes us longer to remember it in the first place.
My first husband, Larry, was at the opposite end of the spectrum learning wise. He had a mind like a sponge. He heard or read something once and he knew it. It was very frustrating for me to watch him study when we were in law school together.
Larry just listened in class. He took minimal notes, usually only jotting down a word or two to remind himself of the subject matter discussed that day. When he studied for a test, he just flipped through the text book, refreshing his memory of the material covered. He used to urge me to stop taking notes – to just listen and absorb in class. He didn’t understand that I couldn’t. I would never remember what had been discussed unless I wrote it all down.
Larry’s quick study abilities got him into trouble with his first year study group. Study groups are an essential part of the first year of law school. Five people get together and study for tests. Each person outlines one of the five first year classes for the other four. One person would have a hard time outlining all five classes. There was just too much material.
Larry was assigned Torts as his subject to outline for his study group. When they met around exam time, everyone brought their ten or so page typed outlines. Everyone except Larry. He brought a single legal sheet of paper with, basically the chapter headings of the text book hand written on it. That was all he needed to study for the exam. He had ‘learned’ the material as he went along during the semester.
His fellow classmates were livid. Larry didn’t understand what their problem was. He didn’t even know how to write a detailed outline. The four other study group members had to divide up the Torts material between them and go home and outline the class themselves. Larry got an A in Torts. None of the others did. They were not happy with Larry!
So I have first hand experience with the wide range of learning styles that people can have. I am, unfortunately, on the slow end of the learning curve. But at least I now understand why. It’s not my ‘fault’. That’s just the way my brain works. I don’t beat myself up about it any more or feel bad because of it. I’m jealous of faster learners, but I accept that this is just who I am.
A lot of my blogs are about the crises and traumas that are scattered through my past life. But my life was so much more. There was love and friendship, fun and joy in the mix as well.
For example, I loved being a mother. I have wonderful memories of happy times spent with my children as they grew up. When they were little, every day had a magical moment that made me smile and think “I want to remember this forever.” I didn’t remember all of those precious moments, but here are some things that have stayed with me through the years.
One involved my ex husband, Larry, my son, David and my daughter, Sarah. It was in the 1990’s and David was eleven or twelve and Sarah was six or seven. We were on a long car ride and we were playing Simon and Garfunkel music. The CD came with a printout of all the lyrics.
Larry and I decided to expose our kids to poetry by analyzing the lyrics to “The Sounds Of Silence.” We asked them what they thought “People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening” meant. That triggered an amazing discussion. The kids were enthusiastic and really got into it. They both ‘got’ what the words meant and had spot on insights into what Paul Simon was trying to say.
I was proud of my kids’ intellectual abilities as well as their emotional sensitivity and maturity. It was a very special afternoon.
Another special afternoon involved just me and the kids, at home. In around 1990, when David was ten and Sarah was five, we watched a cassette of the Disney animated film, “The Little Mermaid”. We had seen it many times and enjoyed singing along. On this day, we got silly. When the song “Under The Sea” came on, we started dancing around the room. Then we went into the kitchen to search for percussion ‘instruments’ to accompany us. We got pots and hit them with metal serving spoons, like drums. We banged pot lids together like cymbals. We tried banging two pots together for a different sound.
We played the song over and over, dancing and banging on our ‘instruments’, singing at the top of our lungs. It was sheer joy for all of us. This is one of Sarah’s cherished memories from childhood.
Then there was the ritual of giving our beloved retriever, Sam, a bath. This involved both kids in bathing suits, washing him in the tub. I had to guard the tub to keep Sam from jumping out. He hated baths and constantly shook himself off, spraying soap and water over everyone and everything. This process involved lots of yelling and laughing.
When we were done with the bath, we’d dry him off and then came the fun part. We’d let him out of the bathroom and he’d tear around the house, rolling on every bed, sofa and rug he could find. We would follow him and watch, roaring with laughter! He was happily crazed and so funny to watch.
Reading to my kids was a big part of both of their childhoods. I read to David at bedtime until he was seven or eight years old and reading on his own. It was something we continued to love to do. We often ended up reading way past David’s bedtime. We would often get totally absorbed in a good plot or we’d be laughing so much at a comedy, that we just couldn’t stop. I still remember some of the books we read – classics like E.B. White and Roald Dahl, “The Indian In The Closet’ series and a comedy about Bunnicula, a vampire pet rabbit and his human family.
I stopped reading with Sarah earlier. Instead we watched TV shows and movies together. Sarah was always obsessed with ‘show business’ in all its forms, television, movies and theater. She read Variety and Entertainment Magazine as a child. I let her watch some ‘grown up’ shows from the time she was around eight or nine, in the 1990’s. Movies like, “Pretty Woman” with Julia Roberts, which she loved, and some of the prime time TV soap operas of the day, like ‘90210’ and ‘The OC.’
I let her watch these show, over my mother’s objections, because we would talk about the issues they raised for her. We got to talk about relationships and how people should treat each other. I helped her form opinions about issues that came up, like abortion, discrimination and sexism. Also, she only got out of the shows what was age appropriate for her. For example, when she was around eight, she knew that Julia Roberts played a ‘hooker’ in ‘Pretty Woman’ but had no idea what that really meant. She thought a hooker was a woman who wore sexy, skimpy clothes.
So Sarah and I had wonderful discussions about the shows we watched, as we still do today. But my favorite things to watch with pre-adolescent Sarah were the musicals that we saw over and over together. I’ve always loved Broadway musicals, so this was right up my alley. My favorite radio channel to listen to today is the Broadway channel.
We could sing every word of “The Sound Of Music” and “Grease” as well as all the Disney animated musicals of the 90’s. These were amazing, bonding experiences that we shared.
My life has been richly filled with deeply gratifying and gleefully fun experiences with both family and friends. It’s funny what I remember and which memories I value above all others. I have such a large trove of happy memories to choose from with my kids when the subject of favorites comes up. Despite the struggles and the down times, I consider myself very lucky.
Every once in a while, I have a dream so weird, I write it down. I write it while I’m basically still asleep and sometimes, when I’m awake and I read what I wrote, it’s … well … almost as weird as the dream itself. For example …
I found 2 baby ducks with wings tinted mauve. I brought them home to live in a lake on the third floor of our condo. They needed food to eat, so I went downstairs where it was now the city of Boston. Apparently we had a pet store right under the house, so I bought them food and went back upstairs to feed the babies.
At which point, I realized that the two little ducks were small children though sometimes, they were also two baby ducks. Both ducks and children seemed surprisingly mature.
Garry and I decided to take the whole crew out for dinner. The restaurant was one of the places where only rich folks usually go, but both ducks and children apparently knew all about the markets and which companies would do well in the coming year. All the brokers were listening to the ducks or children. It was hard to tell.
By now, there were two children, both about 7, maybe older and they were giving advice to the traders in the restaurant. I think that’s when I started to scream. Too many children and ducks and the restaurant served tiny portions. That would make anyone scream.
And here it is, a week later and I haven’t the slightest idea what — if anything — it meant. Especially the baby ducks with the mauve wings.