Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Good Intentions

I once rescued an injured turkey in the middle of a winter road in upstate New York. Heading into the sleepy snowy town for supplies, I saw her sitting in the middle of the slushy road her head swaying back and forth. I pulled over and went to her, clucking softly all the while. Since she didn’t seem to mind me, I gathered her up and carefully placed her on the passenger seat. She sat calmly, wrapped in a blanket as I frantically drove, searching the area for an open vet’s office.
No such luck. After a while, she blinked at me and slowly lowered her head to her breast. I drove home in the gray dusk stroking her head and assuring her of a fine and noisy heaven, one filled with corn and open fields, with no traffic anywhere nearby.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mom's Last Christmas

It was a Christmas morning like so many others. The pajama-ed pack sat, each in their designated spots surrounded by their particular pile of presents. The mother was the only one not sitting, busying herself in the kitchen with pans of bacon and eggs lending fragrance to an already warm scene.

Five mostly grown kids bantered back and forth while the grandfather, who was blind, sipped his first coffee carefully. The oldest child, now a young man out on his own, was playing his guitar and singing softly by the bay window. His grandmother came and sat beside him.

Suffering the confusion and resulting agitation brought on by Alzheimer's Disease, the grandmother perched on the love seat by the sun-streamed window with her first grandson, who was a wiry ginger-haired young man. He turned slightly toward her, serenading her with his guitar. Her agitation melted and she began singing along, oblivious to the fact that she did not have a clue about the song or its lyrics. No matter. Grandmother and grandson shared a moment -- an unexpected gift.

Mom passed away in her sleep a month later.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sex Ed, According to Mom

I am taking a Human Sexuality class in college this semester. Now, I know what you're thinking. "After giving birth to five babies, doesn't she already KNOW everything about sexuality?"

You'd think, right? But I am learning many new things, not the least of which is how clueless and draconic some of the thinking still is among the 18-23 year old generation who are my classmates.

The professor, a 60-ish woman with a severe military crew cut perched atop an otherwise twinkly countenance, minces no words. She throws words like "vagina, penis, pubis, sperm, ejaculation, urethral orifice, clitoris and labium majorum" around with abandon. The class snickers and shifts in their seats.

She ask about their sexual careers and their opinions of their sexual partners. Some of the answers were shocking. "I likes me a virgin," one boy said (I am not kidding). "Nice and tight." "If a boy behaves badly, I think it is the girl's fault," said one young woman. Oh, my God!

At this point, my hand is waving wildly in the air. The professor, who has heard it all before, smiles and gives me the floor. "I am a mom of both boys and girls," I say, my voice failing to hide my upset. "this is not a game and it is not a contest. You are not counting coup. This is a fellow human, with feelings and emotions. A daughter, sister, friend. Son, brother, comrade. When you see this in the other, you must give them the respect and carefulness they deserve and need from you. Only then with each of you discover the explosive miracle of intimacy. Only then."

Silence, and more shifting. Some boys slide lower in their seats. I can hear their silent words. "Who let my mom into this class?" A couple of girls sitting near me shoot me grateful smiles. The professor pauses for only a second, then proceeds. "Who else wants to share?" she asks.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

When Quiet is Deafening

Life is lonely these days. Four out of five of my kids have grown and flown the nest. I am left here in the family house knocking around from room to room with my last remaining high schooler. I remember visiting my grandparents' big Brooklyn house with the wrap-around porch on Sunday afternoons, wandering up to the third floor and wondering why there were several rooms closed off and unused. It seemed spooky and musty and tomb-like up there, and I remember promising myself I would never close my house off like that.

But these days I do just that. The boys' rooms on the first floor have been long since transformed into guest/TV rooms and I mostly keep those doors closed to avoid having to clean them very often. Two out of three girls' rooms are also vacant, their former occupants off at college elsewhere. My youngest dwells in a room three closed doors away from mine and, although we often find each other at the kitchen table, we each sense the quiet, like an unexpected and unwanted new tenant. Where there were kids, there were always MORE kids, friends of each who I would find everywhere in the house, and especially in my refrigerator, feeling at home enough to raid it at will.

I am a single parent at present, and that lonely state of being amplifies everything else. I long for noise. For mess. For dirty dishes, questionable jokes and raucous laughter. I miss seeing the sleepy faces of all my children as they stumble down to Cheerios and milk in the morning. I miss the around-the-table songfests of my theater girl with all her theater friends. I miss damp towels on the floor and tripping over piles of shoes in the hallway. I miss them all piling on my bed at night, with wet-from-the-shower hair dripping on my sheets, to watch pay-per-view with me. I miss. I miss.

In the film version of The Sound of Music, an eternally cheerful Julie Andrews says at one point, "When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window." I am ready for my window, please.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Summer's Farewell

The clock in my car says 6:50 p.m. I am waiting in the parking lot of the Manorhaven Pool with the windows and the sun-roof open, waiting for my daughter (a rookie lifeguard) to be done with work and come out the front entrance.

Tomorrow is Labor Day -- no more pool, no more lazy mornings. And even with the continuous heat of the afternoons, dark comes earlier now, stealthily debunking my delusion that summer -- my hard-won summer -- would never end.

I sit here in the car, watching the setting seven o'clock sun silhouette the seagulls standing sentry on the pool office roof, feeling awash in the melancholy memory of so many summers gone by, each time, their gentle hands waving breezy farewells.

Families load folded strollers and damp towels into minivans and drive away. An announcement over the P.A. -- "Manorhaven Pool is now closed."

She comes out in her red lifeguard shorts and sweatshirt, whistle still lanyarded around her sunburned neck. I wave, and, seeing me, she flips her hair, lifts her sunglasses to the top of her head, sighs a big sad sigh, and gets in next to me.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Different Planet

My two younger daughters and I recently traveled to Santa Barbara, California to visit their sister -- my oldest daughter, a college senior double majoring in Chemistry and Environmental studies. It was the younger sisters' first time on the west coast, first time dipping their toes into the frigid Pacific. (Fun fact I did not know before: the Pacific is much colder than the Atlantic!) We shopped and dined and hiked the dusty hills surrounding the city.

It's like another planet out there. None of the flora looks familiar, what with all the palm trees, cacti, eucalyptus trees and crazy flowers. We stayed on Isla Vista, a residential colony of mostly college students, including all the frat houses. Needless to say, on garbage day, bins are generally overflowing with red solo cups.

Early one morning, while sitting in the local coffee shop, I wrote a commemorative free verse.:

In a land of sun and palm
Avenues lined with Tri Delta, Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Gamma Chi
I flip flop along
In sleepy dawn.

Far from home
But near in heart for
My girls all are here,
Sleeping warm
Under rumpled blanket
And youthful roof.

Today we will walk the town,
cafe and beach,
Dip our cold toes in that other ocean.

This western sky --
Trimmed in palm and mimosa
Instead of pine and maple --
Seems strangely familiar

A whispering friend
After a long, long journey.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What's In A Name?

When I was a kid, I tended to personify everything in my world. And since everything in my world was a person, with feelings, I gave names to everything as well.

Of course each member of my vast array of stuffed animals had a name. But so did our family car (Betty the green-and-black Chevy Bel Air), the Weeping Willow tree in the backyard (Wendy) and the favorite red chair in the living room that everyone took naps in (Robert).
I even named my hands (Alex and Sally, right and left respectively) and they were great friends who played together, hovering over my head like birds swooping and landing on my blanket (Blankie) as I lay in bed on sleepless nights.

Our house was Sherman (address 39 Sherman Drive, duh!) and I worried about how he felt having to sleep outside every night. And later, when I received a guitar for an eighth grade graduation present (the guitar I still play 44 years later) I named him Vladimir, a name he still goes by.

I cried when my parents sold Betty, replacing her comforting sedan-ish solidness with the sleek champagne-colored Pontiac Grand Prix interloper (Carmine). I even cried a little when my best friend Terri's parents sold their car, a green Rambler named Iris.

These were all friends in my world, companions who kept me warm, let me daydream in their branches, drove me places and made music with me in my moments of teenage loneliness.

Nowadays, I still tend to name things, albeit not every item in my house. My car, a red Rav 4, is Millie, and my lawn mower is Sam. I have two dogs and a cat, who, of course have names, as do my five children. They, in turn have taken to naming their most cherished possessions, a habit I swear I did not pro-actively impart.

This may sound silly, all this naming. A child's game making sense of a child's world. But I find there is comfort, even now, and a sense of connection with my world when I am able to speak directly to it, calling it by name. In the Biblical book of Genesis, God brings all living things to the first humans for naming. This simple event charged them with the care and nurturing of said living things. I like that.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Riot of Yellow (or, Ode to Forsythia)

Misty April morn

Foggy brain and

Condensation conversation.

Pull out, south, the winding way.

Voices tumble out of the radio,

"Threats of war, fires, stabbings"

Approach road, left blinker

. . . And they come into view.

A kickline of yellow dancers waving

shoulder to shoulder all along

The Meadow Brook

A riot of yellow, shouting its "hello!

Good morning! Don't worry! Be happy!"

This unbroken yellow explosion follows

Determined travelers on

Their left and on their right.

Bursting into song, and song,

This misty April morn.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

You'll Never Slog Alone

Going to school full-time is stressful. Ask any kid. Tests, pop quizzes, locker combinations, crabby teachers, lunch table cliques and clanging bells signaling the changing of classes.

All of these stresses seem to spill over, at least to some degree, into college. In my case, Nassau Community College. There are a few differences though. There aren't a lot of lockers and the campus is much, much bigger. I park my car in the eastern lot and must schlep a good fifteen minutes to get to my first class in North Hall on the far side of campus. On cold or nasty weather days, I walk through every tunnel and thoroughfare building I can, to avoid the outside elements. Still, as I head out the other end of Building G, I must turn up my collar and head windward across the goose-poop ladened commons. When I finally arrive at my destination, my cheeks are red and my feet muddy. I head to the bathroom, not to use the toilet, but to let the warm air of the hand dryer de-numb my poor frozen fingers.

But there is a bright spot. I well remember those shrieking sirens and shrill bells that signaled the change of classes in high school, even so many years ago. But here, on this lovely campus replete with Canadian waterfowl honking their greetings and parking lot seagulls laughing riotously at our human folly, there is no such jarring bell.

It seems a wonderful benefactor some years ago donated an electronic carillon to the college. Situated on the top of the highest tower on campus, it plays to us soothingly as we scurry about. Such a serene and lovely interlude! But what makes me smile every single time I hear it is its magnificent playlist. Such an excellent and eclectic mix, and I commend whoever was its compiler!

No hymns here. Yesterday, it was "Memories" from Cats. The day before it was "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel. Some others have been, "Scarborough Fair, Down in the Valley, Go Tell Aunt Rhodie (That the Old Grey Goose is Dead)" and Stephen Foster's "Home on the Range." Just last week, we were treated to excerpts from the opera "Carmen!"

So I tootle along, humming and smiling my wind-whipped smile, even sometimes catching a bit of sing-along from a fellow student walking beside me. Small moments transforming stress and storm into song and serenity.

Oh, and today, it was "Happy Days Are Here Again." Yes, yes they are. Carillon, my wayward son. And, oh, yeah, Happy Spring everyone.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

What's In a Name?

Lisa was not a popular name in 1955. The commonly heard girls names of the time were Susan, Barbara, Linda and Mary-Anything. Mary Anne, Mary Ellen, Mary Beth, Mary Pat. This was especially true in my Roman Catholic universe where the Sisters of Mercy (sometimes known as the Sisters of NO Mercy) insisted upon calling each of us at Saint Edward the Confessor Elementary School by our full Christian names.

One fine day in 1961, when I was a first grader there, the school principal, Sister Mary Sebastian entered our classroom. All 50 (yes fifty!!!) of us stood immediately, intoning in unison, "Good MORNING Sister. God BLESS you Sister." Our teacher, a sweet young nun named Sister Mary Lourdette, had been reading us a story about Jesus telling his disciples to let all the children come to him so he could hug them and play with them. Now she stepped back from her desk with respect and fear.

"Sit down class," Sister Sebastian said sternly, nodding to Sister Mary Lourdette and motioning us down with a red, rough calloused hand (which we all thought was due to frequent smacking of sinful children). "Today we are going to learn about our names, their meanings and the saints for whom we are all named."

We went row by alphabetical row, starting with the twins Janet and John Blake and down through the Thomas's, Timothy's, Martha's and Mary's. Each classmate was told the root meaning of her/his name and a brief synopsis of the life of their wonderful patron saint.

It was my turn. "My name is Lisa, Sister," I said, loud and proud. Sister frowned. Then she brightened. "Lisa is NOT a Christian name," she said, a little too smugly. "It is a nickname for Elizabeth, the blessed cousin of Mary-the-mother-of-God and the saintly mother of John the Baptist. Your real name is Elizabeth."

Triumphant that she had set me straight, Sister moved on to Patricia Nevlin, seated behind me. I was in shock. All these years (I was six) I had been duped. My name was not Lisa, but Elizabeth. I went home that day in angry tears.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I demanded of my mother who was waiting for me with milk and cupcakes. She was silent a moment. Then she said evenly, "Sister is wrong. Your name is Lisa. We gave you the most beautiful name we could think of. I will make sure Sister knows this."

And she did.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


The first thing I noticed was her height -- or lack thereof. Five-foot-nothing, a compact steam engine of quiet energy that tended to spread like warm maple syrup, coating and penetrating everyone lucky enough to enter her sphere.

She had the thickest, spikiest black hair I had ever seen, compliments of her Mexican parents, her black/brown eyes mostly danced, but could flash when Scorpio sensibilities were threatened.

Her babies, they arrived on a parallel track to mine, all looking like tiny versions of their mom. The image in my head that always pushes its way to the front is of this tiny woman, sitting amid an unruly nest of toys and picture books, reading from one of them to whatever flock of children were nearby. "They wanted a story," she said, smiling up into my impatience, apologizing for the forgotten re-organization task she had begun. Who could argue with those eyes, and those small surrounding heads all leaning in to see the pictures?

She had a sense of order that was cloaked in chaos. Toys on the floor, groceries too -- forgotten in front of the refrigerator door, ice cream melting in its carton while she was off tending to one of her, or my little ones. I got annoyed sometimes -- with the mess, the noise. But even as I grumbled and fussed, she made me a nice steaming Bustelo and rubbed my hand -- the one I had injured in the car door.

The upstairs bedroom had a crooked tar-paper balcony, and on hot Queens nights we would take sleeping bags and children and lie out there naming the stars. When we each moved away and after years apart, she was still there, right there in every phone call -- and when we visited, my almost-grown kids fell into a familiar comfortable stride with hers -- and her.

Still short, hair now a steely grey, the smile creases around those dancing eyes seem so very appropriate. These days she relishes her new incarnation as grandma, her daughter, the one I nursed alongside my own son when her mother's breast infection raged, has given her one more baby to love. Her dancing eyes continue to find music in everyday miracles, thought the flash still appears from time to time.

I haven't seen her in a long time. We message each other, but way too much time has escaped our accounts in the being apart. Come. Stop. Sit. Tell me a story, please.