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Archive for November, 2009

vigil

My mother, who is still totally and completely herself (though a little more easily fatigued) at age 85, always has told me that the greatest gift she has given my brother and me is her own good health.  It annoys me when she repeats this phrase every time I tell her about the ailing or dying parent of a friend — but I know she’s right.  I haven’t really had to struggle with chronic illness in my parents.  My father needed dialysis for 5 years before his sudden death from a heart attack, but he always got himself to the dialysis center, 3 times a week rain or shine, and whatever else he needed my mother was there to provide.  And now my mother, despite a deteriorating heart valve, still lives on her own, makes new friends and even a new beau, and travels through the city on buses and trains like a much-younger woman.

I know that this is a gift she’s given us.  And I believe that my own good health (knock wood!!) (knock it again!!!) is a gift to Meta and Nutmeg.  I feel this especially strongly today, when Meta’s best friend and I have just g-chatted.  Meta’s friend is at her mother’s house now, waiting for her to come back from the hospital, where she went after a stroke that did irreparable damage, so she can die at home.  This young woman, whom I’ve known since she was 14 and  jokingly refer to as my surrogate daughter, is now starting a deathbed vigil with her stepfather and her mentally challenged brother; another brother had to go back to work after a weekend vigil, as did her boyfriend, and she feels their absence.  Her mother has been deteriorating with neurological disease for several years, so in a way the imminence of death is a relief.  But it’s never a true relief.  It will leave a hole in this young woman’s life, an ache at every Thanksgiving season from now on, and it will leave a gaping emptiness in the life of this young woman’s stepfather, who has cared for her mother with tenderness and love for many years.  This is what death does, no matter how much it is anticipated or even hoped for.  It wounds the living.

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Nutmeg was laid off on Monday, and by today, Friday, she’s already had about 3 or 4 interviews for possible new jobs.  She’s in the same business I’m in, journalism (as is Meta — very gratifying to have both my daughters do me the honor of entering the same profession as me), and 2009 isn’t such a great year for journalism.  But I think that Nutmeg will land on her feet, probably even in a better job than the one she left.

For the past few years, as I’ve felt the waning of my own powers in the field, I’ve had to deal with possible feelings of jealousy as I watch my kids come up behind me and then pass me by.  Journalism is a young person’s field these days — I don’t know much about the online world, and the long-form magazine writing and book writing I specialize in is positively antique.  So DO I feel jealous of Meta and Nutmeg?  Even in my harshest moments of brutal honesty, I think I’d still have to say no.  Mostly what I feel is delight when I watch my daughters do great things.

I remember reacting with some small bit of horror when a singer-songwriter I like, Loudon Wainwright III, complained in print when he felt that his son, the singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, had eclipsed him.  Loudon himself had been working hard to outdo his own father, Loudon Wainwright, Jr., who was a pretty famous writer for Life magazine.  The whole thing was so unseemly — and, I thought, maybe something unique to WASPs.  Jewish mothers like me — even if we feel twinges of envy when our young and beautiful daughters turn out to be not only younger and more beautiful than we are, but also smarter and more successful — don’t allow ourselves even to acknowledge these feelings, much less to articulate them.

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online fretting

There’s a new way to keep up with, and fret about, adult children these days: I can see whether my kids are online and available for chatting through our respective gmail accounts.  It’s a consolation to log on and to see the little green dots beside Meta and Nutmeg’s names.  I know that they’re at least safe and at home or work.  But what agony it is to not see those dots, especially if I know, as I do today, that they’re en route somewhere (Meta is off to Minneapolis to accompany Wilco to a science conference, and to see a good friend while she’s there).   I noticed a wire story (also online) about the FAA managing to screw up air traffic controlling because of some sort of computer glitch, and I forwarded it (online again!) to Meta, but she must already be en route.  But Wilco’s gchat status is flashing green — isn’t he supposed to be with her?  And what’s that airline’s web site address again?

This is the stuff of worry that my own mother never had available to her.  For her, it was the telephone ringing unanswered, which to her always seemed to mean that I must be dead in a ditch somewhere (judging from the tone of the “Where WERE you?” that greeted me when I finally picked up).  For me, it’s gchat status, and wondering why Meta isn’t twittering from the airport.  Wait, maybe she is.   Let me go check.

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There was a line in an article by Dave Itzkoff in today’s New York Times about a mother and daughter appearing onstage together — Rhea Perlman and her 26-year-old daughter Lucy DeVito, about to join the cast of “Love, Loss, and What I Wore” — that gave me pause. It’s about boundaries, something I’m always careful of trying to maintain with my own two daughters, who will henceforth be known by the pseudonyms Meta (age 29) and Nutmeg (age 25).

Using pseudonyms for them in this blog, which for now they don’t even know about, is one way I’m trying to impose my own boundaries. Boundaries between me and my girls is something I’ve never been that good at.

The line that struck me was this, referring to how Rhea Perlman was only offered the role in the play after the director asked Lucy, who was already acting in it, if it would be OK. “Sometimes you love to do things with your mother,” the director explained, “and sometimes not.”

It doesn’t work that way for the mother, at least not this mother.  I ALWAYS love to do things with my daughters.  Ask me to do something, Meta or Nutmeg, and I’ll drop everything to say yes.  It’s the same with my own mother, who is 85; she will always turn her schedule upside down if there’s something I suggest we do together, but as for me — well, sometimes not.  So I have to keep reminding myself of the fact that this mother-adult child thing is often a one-way street. I might love to do stuff with the girls just about all the time, but they don’t always love to do stuff with me.

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