Monday, October 9, 2017

Stunning Biological Events

There were the bowling ball (candlepin not tenpin) sized fibroids that were removed along with a hairy and toothy dermoid, there were two caesarian sections, two vbacs, nine and a half years of nursing, and then there was the time that I was pregnant for two whole years (nearly) straight.

I emerged from these two years of gestation with one live baby and one dead baby. Born 378 days apart. Both girls with full heads of raven hair. Blue eyes, well-formed and voluptuous limbs, clear skin, ten fingers and ten toes. Perfectly defined lips and delicate noses.

They were my fourth and fifth pregnancies.

The fourth was nauseating, I was vomiting through the ninth month. I knew right around 9.11.2001. It all ended 5.3.2002. This was in the South Carolina low country, much of that time was so hot. The AC was broken on both the cars. The room I was teaching in was in an ancient grammar school with high ceilings and massive west facing windows. No blinds. One small window unit. I thought that I was being proactive when, in November, I started asking the principal to put some shades up. It never happened, and by late February, every day at about 10:30 am the AC unit would short out and turn off. At which point I’d climb up on a chair to flip the fuse. Often the custodian would be walking by and react with alarm as nothing freaks people out more than seeing a woman in late pregnancy standing on a chair. Despite these daily events, nothing changed and I sweated through every afternoon ministering to the needs of my students. No blinds.  I was sure though that I would emerge from this torture with the big prize: a healthy baby. Because I was confidently carrying the third child, it would therefore be the last pregnancy. “Enough!” I thought, triumphantly.
Zap. In week 39, I went in for my weekly ob/gyn appointment, and watched with horror as my doctor frantically tried to find a heartbeat, then listened to her as she declared the baby dead.  And then there was labor and delivery; much easier to tolerate with the idea of a live baby as the carrot. The thought of a dead baby was a terrifying stick.
If I hadn’t been scarred by the previous events, the next pregnancy would have been a breeze. Relatively little nausea, high energy, I looked great, we had moved north, it was winter and early spring, I wasn’t hot. During the final two months, I went to the local hospital for bi weekly non stress tests. This in order to make sure everything was fine with the baby’s heart and movement. I was accompanied by my 4 year old daughter Sammy. We’d get a chocolate shake from Burger King in order to get the baby moving. At the hospital, I’d be set up in a room, fetal monitors covering my stomach; Sammy and I would proceed to watch TV and drink shake for an hour. Although the back story was tragic, this was a fun mother/ daughter outing.

Two communications from Sammy framed the gloaming of this interminable era of pregnancy with eloquence:

*At about week 38 of pregnancy 5, Sam said, “I am so sick of going to the bathroom with you.”
* After her sister Lucy was born, Sammy wrote a note, meticulously printed in her preschool handwriting:


Friday, July 14, 2017

Clothing and Accessories

One day my mother, Roberta, asked me what I was going to wear to her funeral.

Midpoint through the long, hot August of my mother’s illness, she hosted an afternoon soiree. Invited were her girlfriends and female relatives. Roberta’s objective: to find appropriate homes for her most treasured clothing and accessories. We gathered in her bedroom, the only air-conditioned room in the house, and an obvious choice anyway as she was bedridden. A tea party with no refreshments: by then she just had a feeding tube in her belly; her inability to swallow also meant she couldn’t speak. And the malignancies in her brain pressed on her auditory nerves. All communication happened in writing. Yellow legal pads. (I’m left with reams of them filled with Roberta’s elegant and sometimes shaky cursive, which is mixed with a variety of answering scripts)
Ma proceeded to have each of us try on various outfits and pieces of jewelry, all the while signaling her approval or lack thereof. The afternoon was very odd, with underlying morbidity, yet having the feel of a teenage
 clothing swap, or a grade school fashion show.

The things of hers that I chose to keep were representative of the parts of Roberta that I most wanted to remember. Items that were emblematic of her adventures, the era in which she came of age, her creativity, and her youth. I shied away from the truly “grownup” items.
After my mother died (I was 20, it was my last year of college), my grandmother, Clara (my mom’s mom), and Herb (my dad) would periodically try to thrust remaining items of her clothing upon me. The white wool suit that she had worn to work once a week, small and tasteful diamond earrings, black low heels…
I felt like I was Judy/ Madeleine in the movie Vertigo, and the pair of them were the bereft Scotty trying to remake me in Roberta’s image. 
Of course I was mourning the loss of my mother, but also it was my time to break free of family and establish my own voice.  I was feeling for the first time the presence of my own identity that was not defined by rage or rebellion against Roberta.  The multitude of yellow legal paper contains evidence of mutual forgiveness!  Thus, with her death I was able to let go of the idea of oppressively binding ties! I could break free of chafing strings was able to view threads of attachment as lovely stitches.
Herb and Clara, they wouldn’t have any of it, it was essential to them that I be dutiful daughter, woven into the fabric of their lives.  To have me in this role was salve for their open wounds.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Red Dress

My parents, Herb and Roberta, had a small wedding in late February. The forsythia was in bloom, and the yellow flowers graced the reception. Roberta wore a red wool dress. It was bought at Hattie Carnegie
My grandmother Clara loved to tell the story of the interaction that her daughter Roberta had had with the sales lady. But I can’t remember the exact details. The gist was that the woman was condescending and assuming, bringing out only the cheapest merchandise for my mother to see; Roberta was insistent and demanding. Finally the uppity woman brought out the finest dress and my mother was satisfied.
After having children, my mother grew too large for the dress, but then, ravaged by disease and chemotherapy, her body shrank. She had the dress altered and began to wear it again.
It’s hanging in my closet now, and I can just zip it up; my shoulders must be a bit wider. The dress is horrid to have on for more than five minutes, it’s like a hair shirt. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Monolithic Mom

I never met her and was not a diligent recorder of family stories; and as this particular tale illustrates, truth is so very subjective. So I am not totally sure of her name.  Lena (or Leah) Bluma Olmer Schmukler.

My grandma, Clara, said that her mother was the perfect mother. 

Clara’s father bought her a beautiful taffeta dress; it was the only present that she had ever received. Great Grandma ranted and raved and screamed. She made him return it. Clara was not deserving of a store bought dress.

Roberta is my mom, her older brother was Alvin.

Another vignette: My grandparents, Clara and Harry Held were out. Eleven year old Al was babysitting five year old Roberta. Al was feeding Chinese food to Roberta in the kitchen of the family’s Bronx apartment. Great Grandmother came into the house, walked into the kitchen, said “Treif!” then threw the food out the window. Without any other words, she walked out the front door.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The mother of all mothers!

This is my great grandmother.
My mother said, “You think your grandmother is hard to deal with? You should have met my grandmother: she was a real ******.”

Grandma always said that her mother was the perfect mother. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Really the BOTH of them were torpedoes!

My mom once turned to me and said “I hate my mother.”
I was surprised. I had thought that it was only me that was driven by the (irrational?) fear of turning into my mother.  That’s when I understood the anxiety as universal.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The lessons I learned (from the aforementioned incident)

Lessons learned?  
The value of scissors: I went out and bought my own pair. And then another, and then another: shears for fabric, a pair for paper, kitchen scissors, embroidery snips, pinking shears, a pair for the car, one for my purse, and etc.

The importance of hair: I save every ponytail that I cut from the head of each of my children.  Although I get my hair dyed professionally, I always cut it myself. And I never cut anyone else’s hair without being asked. 

And finally, I try to stay away from making statements about hair that might imply judgement or criticism.