Thursday, June 25, 2009

What happened?

I'm 62 years old. No getting around it. Social Security checks will start showing up in late August, gravity is winning, and my oldest grandchild is now into double-digits of age. (Of course, he's the smarty who first called me old, back when I was barely 57!)

I love my birthday. Hell, I love everybody's birthday! I think they're important milestones. Yes, I know age is just a number, but birthdays give us an opportunity to reflect on the year - or years - past. People do that on New Year's Eve, too, of course, but birthdays are more personal I think.

It's been an interesting week around here. Tuesday morning I got up early and met my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson at the hospital where Briana was scheduled to have labor induced. The plan was for me to spend Tuesday, and, if necessary, Tuesday night and Wednesday with Addison, making occasional trips to the hospital to visit mom, dad, and baby sister.

We had a pretty good time. Addison is pretty easy-going and I've spent enough time with him to know his patterns of behavior and he knows when Gran means business, so we seldom have more than the occasional 3-year-old (or 62-year-old) lapse in routine and manners.

After an abbreviated nap on Tuesday, we spent most of the afternoon with his best friend, Jascha, and were planning what to do next when we got the phone call that Drew Alexandria had arrived in the world! So off we went to the hospital to meet her. Addison was pretty excited (you always have to wonder what kinds of images their minds conjure up; I think that mostly they think life will be exactly the same and may even think that the new baby is a passing incident - surely not someone who will take up permanent residence!), and, yes, so was I!

Drew is a cutie, all 5 lbs. 15 oz. and 19" of her! She has lots of black hair and makes sweet cooing sounds nearly all the time. She's my granddaughter!

After dinner, off to home and to bed for Addison and me (and everyone else, I think!). Wednesday, we went to the hospital for a visit and Addison got to hold his baby sister for the first time. He was very gentle and very sweet, but did not want to leave his mom when it was time to go! He clung and cried and had to be carried to the car. It made me feel so bad for him. I knew it would happen, of course, but I still felt bad.

At home, after lunch, he did not want to take a nap and fought it with all that is in him, becoming quite put out with me:

Addison: "It's almost 2 o'clock Gran. Mommy says I only have to sleep till 2 o'clock."

Me: "But you haven't slept, Addison; you need to sleep till at least 3 o'clock. You need to rest for when mommy, daddy, and Drew come home tonight. And tomorrow's my birthday party; you don't want to be tired for that, do you?"

Addison: "I'm going to be sick tomorrow. I can't come to your party."

Me: "What? You're going to miss my birthday? I'm sorry; I don't like it when you're sick."

Addison: "I'll be well again when your party's over. Then when it's over I can have some cake."

He eventually settled down and did actually sleep for about an hour, but not without making me aware that I was just not playing fair!

So, an eventful week in many ways, but especially with the birth of my first and only granddaughter. As I told her on her birth day, I'd been expecting her for 39 years! She and I are going to have a lot of fun, and I look forward to getting to know her in the ways that I know her Big Brother, Addison.


In 1996, my middle son, Jason, called and told me that he and Lisa were planning to get married, and would it be okay if they got married on my birthday. Okay? It was more than okay!

Happy 13th Wedding Anniversary, Jason and Lisa. You two make it look easy! I love you both.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fathers' Day

(The following article appeared in The Miami Herald's "Tropic Magazine" on Sunday, May 23, 1993 as an original and true composition.)

He was a poor choice for a first love, but I was too young and taken with his rugged good looks and the casual way he called me "Girl" to know that. In our early years I would run to meet him at the door on the rare occasions that he came home, and would sit adoringly at his feet, unlacing his shoes, peeling off his socks and rubbing his feet. If he bothered to come home on the weekends, he'd cook a big breakfast on Saturdays and maybe we'd go for a ride to the river, where we'd ride horses, or target shoot, or fish.

I remember Sunday mornings spent lying in bed reading the Sunday papers. I try to forget Sunday mornings when his side of the bed was a big cold emptiness. Oh, there was no shortage of unkept promises, and nights I spent crying, not knowing where he was or when he would come back. But I was young and I loved him, and I was sure that if I were better to him he would want to spend more time with me. So I tried harder to be his "Girl." Sometimes he responded and sometimes he didn't; I never really figured out the right formula. He moved in and out of my life, a dream-like man.

In 1964, when our relationship was unusually stable, I started making plans for a wedding and tried to include him in every detail. But one day he called and said, "Well, girl, I can't stick around for the wedding. I'm moving to Alaska." I was crushed. I cried. I tried to figure out what I did wrong. My mother told me some people just couldn't be figured out.

The years went by; I settled down and had children, moved from Tampa to Miami. One day he called again. "Hey, Girl. I'm back in Florida and I'd like to come see you and your young'uns and meet your husband." Even after all the pain he'd caused me, I basked in his presence, hanging on every word. I knew our relationship was different. My love for him was still strong, but was tempered by the wisdom of age. Besides, he was no longer the No. 1 man in my life.

Then he went back to Alaska as suddenly as he'd arrived. This time he didn't call to say goodbye; I heard from his family that he had left. Once again I searched my mind for clues to where I'd gone wrong, what I'd done to make him leave without a word to me. I really had tried to be better, to be the kind of person I thought he would want me to be. Despite the fact that I was married, I still wanted to know that I meant something to him. After all, he was my first love.

I saw him again in 1985. He was back in Central Florida for his mother's funeral, which I attended. He acted as if he didn't recognize me and avoided me as much as possible. That wasn't difficult since there was a large gathering and we were always surrounded by dozens of others. I confess, too, that after our initial greeting I didn't seek him out.

Two years of therapy helped me put his memory behind me and I vowed not to ever impose myself on him again. It just wasn't worth the pain. When my mother died last year, my sister called to tell him, but I never heard from him. That was hard to take, since he had been close to my mother. But I hadn't really expected him to contact me; it would have been out of character.

This spring, my sister and her children came from Oregon for a visit and we drove up to Central Florida to visit our old haunts, our grandparents' graves, and some of our living family, too. We were
visiting Mary, a long-time friend who had been especially close to our mother, when he came to her door. I had heard he was back in town, but didn't really expect to see him. My heart beat faster when I heard his voice asking after a mutual friend, and heard her responding, "Come on in for a minute. Your daughters are here with their kids."

But my father refused. He turned his back and walked away. As Mary followed him out in the yard trying to persuade him to stay, my sister and I tried to pretend we hadn't heard any of it, making small talk, avoiding our children's eyes. We heard the car door slam, heard him drive away from us.

Mary came back in the house. She looked at us. "I don't understand," she said. "I've never understood him, Mary," I replied. "I used to think it was something I did or didn't do; but it's just him."

A few nights later as we sat on my back porch, Jennifer, my niece, began to cry. "What's wrong, Jenny?" my sister asked.

"Why didn't my grandfather want to see us?" she replied. "Is there something wrong with us? Do you think that maybe someday, if I try harder, if I'm a better person, he'll want to see me?"

I got up and came inside to write.


A happy Fathers' Day to my beloved sons, Jason and Ben. You have embraced fatherhood with grace and love. Your children are blessed by the love you show to them, and I, too, am blessed to know that I am the mother of such wonderful men, husbands, and fathers.

To Ed, my ex-husband, the father of my three sons: Thank you for the gift of these fine children. Thank you for the camping trips, the Boy Scout packs you led, the love you gave and still give to our boys.

To Jim, my partner, a man who loves his children and grandchildren. Who is never too busy or too distracted to show love to all of our children and grandchildren, yours and mine.

To Mike, my son of the heart, who gives of himself as a father and who accepts and loves me, my sons, my grandchildren.

I love all of you. You each have played a part in erasing the bitter memories of my own father and demonstrating what a father should be.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

On being a mother-in-law

I've had two mothers-in-law, neither of whom was particularly happy to have me as part of the family. In fact my first mother-in-law actually threatened to kill me if I "ever hurt her Joey." I did hurt him - badly, I'm afraid - but lived to remarry and have another mother-in-law! Lucky me.

With apologies to my sons, who loved their grandma (my second mother-in-law), we never quite hit it off. I did provide her with her first grandson, and she liked that, but if it could have been done via another method (someone other than me, for example) I think she would have been happier. I'm sure our lack of rapport and our failure to bond was as much my fault as hers. We came from vastly different backgrounds, had diametrically opposed ideas about child-rearing, where her son's loyalties should lie, and whether or not I actually qualified as family.

But bad experiences can have good outcomes if we pay attention. I vowed, when my sons married, that I would be the best mother-in-law I could be. I accepted - mostly gracefully, I think - that I would no longer hold the role of the most important woman in their lives, and that any attempts on my part to hang on to them would only cause bad feelings and could damage their primary relationship: the one each son has with his wife.

I know I haven't been perfect, but for the most part I think I've done pretty well. It helps a lot that I truly love my daughters-in-law, and am thankful for the partnerships they have forged with their husbands, my sons. I think they're both good moms to my grandchildren, and we enjoy a mutual love and respect that I treasure in the deepest parts of my heart.

Both of them - Lisa and Briana - have shown remarkable respect and restraint when I have opened my mouth inappropiately, and both of them have gone out of their way to ensure that I have time to nurture the mother-son relationships that mean so much to me.

So now you're expecting some big revelation, some "uh-oh, I really f****d up this time!" Au contraire, Dear Reader; I am here to tell you that I have waited patiently for ALMOST TEN DAYS to write this blog. Never let it be said that I cannot show restraint. Just because I have nearly chewed my foot off waiting, well please accord me points for keeping my mouth shut until d-i-l, Jr (known in the family as Briana) posted her own blog today, in which she detailed the recent events surrounding the anticipated birth of my first granddaughter!

Drew was originally due around July 4th, but recent events (which I will not repeat here; cruise on over to Briana's place) have conspired to advance her birth date to next Tuesday, June 23rd. Because Briana has been ordered to conserve calories, I have had the pleasure of spending more time with Addison than I ordinarily would. And I've had the pleasure of some unrushed conversations with Briana. Since most of our exchanges revolve around Addison (quite literally sometimes, as he insists, "It's my turn to talk now!"), it's been nice to indulge in girl talk with a young woman I love and admire.

So now you know. In just a few short days I will hold in my arms a little girl, my own flesh and blood. I'm excited and a little afraid. Even today it's not an easy world in which to be a woman, but I know that her parents, her big brother, her aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, will all be for her a source of love, strength and comfort.

I can hardly wait to see her face, this girl-child. Perhaps I hope to see in her a bit of me.

Monday, June 15, 2009


I've written earlier about bigotry, racism, intolerance, and growing up in the segregated South, so you'd think nothing could surprise me any more. And at some level I am not surprised at recent events, but I am angered.

The recent murder of Dr. George Tiller during worship services at his church in Wichita; the murder of 23-year-old soldier William Long outside a recruiting office in Little Rock; and the murder last week of Tyrone Johns as he courteously opened the door for his assassin at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, are all appalling indicators of the intolerance that afflicts this nation in the 21st century.

All three of these men were going about their lives in locations where they had a reasonable expectation of safety. All three have left behind people who loved them, people who needed them, people who admired and respected them. Mr. Johns' 11-year-old son referred to his dad as "my hero." And yet... And yet, three bigoted, small-minded, intolerant, and, yes, ignorant men acted as judge, jury, and executioner.

How have we become a nation of haters? When did we leave the path of respect and decency and veer onto a side road where hatred and ideology became the guiding forces? Why do so many people spew vitriol and intolerance against people who think differently? Why are there blogs and religions and websites dedicated to inciting people to violence? I know that most of these are fringe groups, but why do we allow them to continue? Why haven't we risen up in protest? Why do we read them, post to them, discuss them? Why, when we have a man in the White House who attempts to promote consensus and inclusiveness, do so many of us ridicule these methods? Even if you don't like the President, why does anyone think that partisan bickering and the continuation of "my way or the highway" attitudes is preferable to attempts to find common ground, or even to disagreeing in an agreeable manner?

One of my daughters-in-law and I had a recent exchange on Facebook regarding an issue that we view differently. We both have strong, well-thought-out feelings, and do not agree on several issues. But we don't hate each other! We agree on those things that we can and respectfully disagree on the others. We have mutual love and respect, and we each trust that the other is thoughtful and sincere about her opinions. Why is that so hard?

I'm a female heterosexual Christian. One of my dearest friends is Buddhist, my life's partner is an atheist, and one of my sons is gay. All of these men have taught me tolerance simply because I was willing to listen. I have learned that there is value in respecting all life, all manner of religious or philosophical beliefs, all manner of consensual sexual expression.

I am not so naive that I think intolerance, or even its violent expression, is new. I know that intolerance and violence have been the hallmarks of our nation for much of its existence. You have only to look at our treatment of Native Americans, Blacks, Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese across the years. But as a nation we have learned; why have we not learned as individuals? Why are so afraid of those who are different, who have different beliefs, different politics, different values, different ideas?