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life worth living

treesToday was the kind of day that makes life worth living — and I took a photo of what I mean by that just so I’d never forget. Gorgeous day in early spring, a walk across my beloved Central Park just north of Sheep Meadow, cherry trees in bloom, and an ice coffee and chocolate chip cookie in hand.

I was thinking about what small pleasures, exactly, MIGHT actually make life worth living because I was on my way to New York Hospital, where Ur-Momma has been since Thursday. After 30 hours in the ER she was finally given a room, and it’s a surprisingly nice one; she’s been at this hospital a couple of times in the past 4 or 5 years, and never before has she had a bed with a window, and a window that looked straight onto the East River. On a sunny Saturday, that’s pretty great.

cookieIt would be more great, of course, if Ur-Momma could remember why she was there (GI bleeding and severe anemia), or could remember that she was in a hospital at all. But she was alert enough during my visit this afternoon — she even had gotten dressed and was sitting up in a chair, eating her cherry jello and clear chicken broth and reading the New York Times — to tell me that the days at home have been passing very very slowly for her, and she feels very very lonely. Can a person be truly demented if she’s able to describe her own isolation as “feeling de trop“?

She did come up with one thing that might entertain her — being brought to the Met and pushed around in a wheelchair to look at the paintings. I think this is something I’m going to see about having her aide do one day soon. Not yet, though. First we have to figure out how to make her bleeding stop (it doesn’t seem to be doing it on its own, so there might be a colonoscopy and cauterization on the horizon for Monday), fix her anemia (after 4 transfusions, her blood count is now pretty much normal, but we have to see if it holds), and let her get used to being home for a while. In the meantime, many people who love her — her sister, THREE of her grandchildren, her daughter-in-law — called during my 4-hour visit. So clearly, her feeling of being de trop is mostly a mind set. And, I guess, a reflection of the fact that when you’re 90 years old, no one needs you anymore, so the definition of happiness can’t be the sense of being needed. When you’re 90, frail, widowed, not especially mobile and relatively alone, you have to come up with a new definition of what makes your particular life worth living now.

sister’s kids

images-1The Word of the Day today on the Word Spy web site is niephlings, a new portmanteau that means one’s collective nieces and nephews. It seems like a good idea for there to be one word to mean all those kids, no matter what their gender — though an earlier version of that word, niblings, is a lot more appealing to me. (Word Spy explains that niblings comes from niece/nephew plus sibling, which is something you probably know without having it explained to you.)

This all puts me in mind of how lovely Meta has been about Nutmeg’s baby, Meta’s own little nibling. It’s been wonderful to watch her excitement at her impending aunt-hood — something made possible partly, I think, because Meta so sincerely likes Southpaw (and has always loved Nutmeg). And it’s made possible, too, by something I suspect is true about Meta but have never felt it was my place to ask: that she doesn’t really want kids of her own. This little niece/nibling/niephling/sofralia — or, as we like to refer to her in our mostly-journalist family, TK — will be Meta’s chance for a baby to love and nurture at close range. I’m delighted to see how much pleasure she’s getting from it in prospect.

big beautiful giraffe

c26-B00009YEGL-5-lI had coffee with Nutmeg before work yesterday, and she walked into the cafe wearing a beautiful new maternity dress in an animal print. It was tight and sexy and showed off her fast-growing belly. She looked gorgeous.

“Wow, the world’s largest giraffe,” I said.

Luckily, Nutmeg heard the admiration and love in my voice, and not only didn’t take offense at my comment, but repeated it to Southpaw when she got home that night. And Southpaw, who’s a world-class son-in-law, promptly sent me an email thanking me for giving him the best laugh of the day.

Nutmeg laughed, too, he wrote; “she fortunately has an excellent sense of humor about growing bigger at a strikingly rapid pace.” And then he added a sentence that melted my heart, and made me know that Nutmeg had made exactly the right decision when she waited for a man like Southpaw to come along (ignoring all the “case for settling” messages she was getting from the media – and even, I’m ashamed to admit, from her own mother): “Also that giraffe is the most beautiful pregnant woman, ever, as I’m sure you would agree!”

family tree

history-clipart-aTqzgkLTMThe great thing about my mother-in-law is that she never imposes. But it’s the tough thing, too, since sometimes you have to kind of intuit what she might really want. Usually we just speak to her and my father-in-law once a week, on Sunday afternoons about about 5 — by then it’s about an hour into cocktail hour, and they’re sitting out on the lanai of their house in Florida. But recently — ever since Nutmeg’s pregnancy, really — she’s been calling every couple of days, just to say hi.

We only see my in-laws a couple of times a year, including about a week at the beach when Nutmeg and Meta, their menfolk, and iDaddy’s sister and her husband also are there. It’s a lovely family time. And this year, there will be a new addition: a new baby, still unnamed, who will be the first bud on a whole new branch of the family tree.

But summer seems so far away. Hence, I believe, the new frequency of my mother-in-law’s calls. I could tell she missed everyone with more intensity than usual, and I could also tell she was resisting asking for an invitation to come up and visit us. So I issued one. Would you like to come up to New York in a couple of weeks, we asked, to attend Nutmeg and Southpaw’s co-ed baby shower with us? The invitation made her cry — which is just what I had hoped.

stranger chat

7Growing up, I was always embarrassed by my mother’s ability to chat up strangers everywhere. But I seem possibly to have become That Woman. Not a lot, but in service to a greater good: information for Nutmeg about baby gear.

An adorable baby and his mother came into the coffee shop where I was working yesterday afternoon, and right away I noticed the brand name of the stroller. It looked nice. I found myself smiling at the baby, because he was so adorable, and I said something about his adorable-ness to his mother as she pulled him out of the stroller and sat down at the table next to me. We got chatting a bit about babies — I told her I was expecting my first grandchild, and she told me that this baby was his grandmother’s THIRTEENTH — and I figured I had to extend the conversation just a tad longer, to find out whether she liked her stroller.

Of course she did. People always like whatever equipment they’re carting around when you ask them about it. (I found the same thing happened when I stopped a guy in the supermarket parking lot to ask if he liked his Toyota Rav 4, the car we were thinking of buying.) I dutifully passed along that info to Nutmeg, and then listened for a while longer as this young mother chatted about returning to her job as a school therapist, hating the job and hating missing James, finding another work arrangement, and on and on. It reminded me how boring and lonely it can be to be a new mother; you glom on to anyone who seems interesed in what you have to say. And then of course, if you’re a certain kind of mother, you find that all you have to talk about is the mothering itself.

grammar, gamma, grand

techmeme-tagsWhen Nutmeg and Southpaw announced that they were having a baby — something I was surprised by, since I hadn’t allowed myself even to hope that they’d start trying to get pregnant so soon — just about the first thing they asked was what iDaddy and I wanted to be called. Not having thought much about imminent grandparenting, neither of us had much to say.

On the subway ride home, though, iDaddy came up with a name he liked: Grumpy. It’s funny mostly because he’s such a thoroughly un-grumpy man, even-tempered and kind-hearted and so glass-half-full in his perspective that I often make fun of him and call him Polllyanna. (You might not believe it, but it can be very annoying to be a pessimist living with a perennially sunny guy.) If anyone in our pair should be Grumpy, I told him, it should be me.

But Nutmeg and Southpaw loved it, and Grumpy it will be.

I had some thoughts of my own for what I’d like to be called. If it were to be a name true to something in my nature or my interests, yet also a kind of “grandma” name, how about Grammar? I’m a writer, I love grammar; I can go kind of nuts over a misplaced apostrophe. Or how about Gamma, the kids countered, since the thing I write about is science.

Both of those names sound okay, I guess. But what I really want is a variation of a Grandma word that the baby herself invents, when the time comes. If I managed to avoid getting ahead of things when it came to wondering when Nutmeg and Southpaw might start trying to have a baby, I should be able to avoid getting ahead of things now, when I try to aniticipate what I’m going to be called when that baby finally arrives.

a new plan

judy quiltMy dear friend Duvet, a newly-retired graphic designer who’s now spending her time making spectacular art quilts, was talking to me the other day about what retirement might be like for me. I have no hobbies, so I’m not sure I’ll do retirement as well as Duvet seems to be doing it. She had a thought for me, though — and she knows me pretty well, so I took it seriously. She said she follows an artist who pledges each year to produce one particular work of art every day. She changes the subject matter or medium each year — one year, for instance, she wrapped up some objects in an interesting way and posted a photo of it every day — and Duvet said maybe I could think about doing something along those lines, focused and artsy and public.

I’m at least 5 or 10 years away from retirement (which doesn’t stop me from actively dreading it), but I could use a project like this even now, when my writing life occasionally seems a bit unfocused and lost. While I generally still manage to keep busy with journalism and essay-writing, well-paying outlets are drying up, and I don’t want my skills to calcify just because I’m constantly looking for new clients and struggling to keep up the assignment flow. So this morning, April 7, 2015, I make this commitment: Every day for the rest of the year, I will write something short (at least 100 words) on the topic of being a new grandma.

The next question is how to implement this pledge. That’s what brings me here, to momma loshen.

Duvet’s artist friend made her project semi-public, which is part of the point, I guess; anyone can start a journal or put together a bunch of daily photos, but if she misses a day or a week or, eventually, a month or two or four, nobody really notices unless she’s been doing it in public. (Of course, even in public, if she misses her deadline, really, who cares? It might be a little embarrassing — or, if you’re a certain kind of personality, VERY embarrassing — but no actual reasponsibilities have been shirked; even if you’re posting your art work or essays online, it’s still just pretend.) If I want to be public, this blog — which I began years ago for the chance to post anonymously about the ups and downs of mothering grown-ups — seems like as good a place as any to post my 100 words a day. It’s public without being too public. Public-ish.

At the moment, the topic is really grandmothering in prospect: I’m not a new grandma just yet. Our daughter Nutmeg is pregnant, and her baby is due in June.

First 100 words start tomorrow.

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