Category Archives for "Family"
Six months ago, I sat by my father’s bedside in the ICU for days as he lay unresponsive from a stroke. There was talk about the potential for a chronic vegetative state, permanent brain damage, a DNR and a funeral.
I could not believe what was happening.
Six days ago, I sat by my father’s side at the kitchen table as he (1) advised me on an issue I was having with an advertiser by telling me to tell them to “go pound salt” (2) mapped out the quickest, most efficient route from their house to Myrtle Beach for our day trip; and (3) whipped my ass in Scrabble, using such words as “piss” and “pee” and “dink.”
I could not believe what was happening.
In a totally different and very, very good way.
Remember a few months ago when I attempted to teach my kids a life lesson about the value of good customer service by complaining to a restaurant manager? And my kids decided instead that they’d prefer to avoid the embarrassment and humiliation of being associated with *that* mom? And they remained ignorant heathens by running like bats out of hell to sit in the car so they could pretend they were orphans? Except that they were only half orphans because their heathen of a father sat right beside them, pretending to be a widow?
Last Saturday, life went déjà vu all over us in local restaurant, one that we frequent whenever I start defining marriage as 101 Different Ways to Cook Chicken which is right around the time my family starts reciting grace as Dear God, we thank You for this food. Andy hey, if You could see to it that all chickens are run over by trucks the next time they cross the road, that’d be great. Amen.
The four of us were seated and had our orders taken almost immediately and then we waited so long before we saw our server again that I think Helena might have started puberty by the time we got our breadsticks.
Another eternity passed and I was about to enter full-blown menopause when the following events occurred:
Shortly thereafter, our meals arrived and I discovered my four ounces of garnish were cold. At that point, the following events occurred:
While Nate settled the bill, which included far less than a 20% tip, and my kids walked fifty feet in front of me lest anyone think they were related to the hungry woman with the squinchy face behind them who was about to CALL ATTENTION TO HERSELF IN THE NAME OF A LIFE LESSON, OH MY GOD, WHERE’S THE NEAREST EXIT, I took my squinchy face up to the hostess stand and politely asked to speak to the manager at which time the following events occurred:
My father is recuperating nicely from the stroke he suffered last October. He is almost done with physical and occupational therapy, his left side is steadily growing stronger and he is *this* close to finishing with his walker and throwing it into the nearest sand trap. Pretty good for a man who wasn’t expected to live through the night four months ago. Occasionally he’ll ask Who am I and what am I doing here? But he used to do that before the stroke so no biggie and honestly, I wouldn’t put it past him to ask such a thing just so he can sit back and recline, watch Days of Our Lives at 242 decibels and get out of doing the dishes. In fact, except for the broken rib sustained from the joyride he took around his office on his swivel chair that led to a tumble onto the carpet and a phone call from my mother yelling LET ME TELL YOU WHAT YOUR CRAZY FATHER JUST DID, he’s doing wonderfully and we could not be happier with his progress.
One of the projects my brother and I undertook while down in North Carolina last October was getting Mom up to speed on handling all of their bills since we had no idea how long Dad was going to be whooping it up in the ICU. This was no easy task because, for as long as I can remember, Mom has approached bills and all other financial matters much the same way she approached my taste in boyfriends which is to say, she simply closed her eyes and loudly prayed for them to trip, stumble and fall off the face of the earth straight into the depths of Hell.
We knew that in order to accomplish this task, we were going to have to mess around with our father’s most prized possession, second only to his golf clubs. Oh, and maybe that brown leather satchel/briefcase thing that he has used since he was an embryo and no one can fathom why. Specifically, we were going to have to tackle Dad’s desk, that black metal and faux wood icon that I suspect escaped from Lou Grant’s office on the set of the Mary Tyler Moore show although I can’t prove it except to say that this one doesn’t have bottles of booze tucked away in its file cabinets.
The top of his desk hadn’t changed a bit from how I remembered it in the eighties. Stacks of papers neatly positioned on the edges. Golf figurines against the wall. The same electronic pencil sharpener in the upper left hand corner, the one I used the morning of my SAT exam. His stapler that weighed ten pounds and approximated the size of a french baguette. The desk light that I hurriedly turned off one night so as not to get caught with my high school boyfriend when all four of our feet were not firmly planted on the floor at the same time.
Tino and I always knew our father had been something of an organizing, detail fanatic, having been tipped off at an early age when we pulled into a gas station, watched Dad pump gas and then waited as he reached into the glove compartment, pulled out a notebook, flipped past a few hundred pages and then neatly notated the date, odometer reading, number of gallons, price per gallon and total amount paid, all while we cried from the back seat WE’RE NEVER GOING TO BE THERE YET, ARE WE MOM?
The number one rule when Tino and I became licensed drivers was not, as one might think, to keep our eyes on the road and our hands on the wheel but rather, record all gas consumption. What’s the point of making a fuss about veering off into oncoming traffic if you don’t know how much it cost you in gas to do so?
But the extent to which my father either kept or recorded every minutia of his life was breathtaking and to be perfectly honest, impressive. I kind of wanted to fling the entire desk into my trunk and haul it to the nearest kindergarten for show and tell, maybe swinging by the ICU on my way and dragging Dad and his ventilator with me for some über cool visual aids.
But I didn’t think six year olds could fully appreciate a man who kept his wife’s income tax return from 1950. Twelve full years before they even knew each other.
You never know when the great grandchildren of retired or dead IRS agents are going to get nostalgic and decide to audit you.
He had miscellaneous files for every single year. You can’t see them in this photo but they go all the way back to 300 B.C.
He also had subject specific folders.
Like this one.
That contained receipts …
… like this one.
Mom’s sewing machine from 1973.
I think that might have been the one I broke when I decided to get all homespunny and stitch some of my stuffed animals together because I wanted wall-to-wall shag carpet in my bedroom like all the rest of my friends.
And Dad had to pay $42.30 to repair it.
I hope my junior high Home Ec teacher reads my blog. This post might help explain how the apron I made in eighth grade came to be and then maybe the lambs will stop screaming.
There was an entire binder dedicated to precipitation.
I photocopied the whole thing, just in case one day either one of my kids has to utter the phrase I’ll take Average Rainfall in Upstate New York During the Spring of 1972 for $800, Alex.
There were entire ledgers filled with years and years of credit card tracking. They were in the folder located next to the one containing years and years worth of credit card statements.
Now I know why my father was so tired all those years. Reinventing the wheel must be exhausting.
I have no idea what this spread sheet is for but it’s a work of art, don’t you think? There was an entire binder full of others just like it. With painstakingly handwritten, uniform numbers written in black, felt tip pen. My father’s penmanship is truly a wonder to behold.
There’s something very Ten Minutes to Wapner-ish about this compilation, all 11,479 pages of it.
I know I’m poking a bit of fun at my dad but I think he knows I do so out of affection but just in case he doesn’t, Mom will be there to smack him upside the head and tell him so, right after she calls me to make sure. I had a ball going through this stuff. It was fascinating knowing exactly how much money my mother made a year as a nurse before she married Dad in 1962 ($2,100 a year), the price they paid for a gallon of milk in 1962 ($0.49), their monthly mortgage payment in 1978 ($289), how much rain fell on January 6, 2006 in Southern Pines, North Carolina (1.25 inches) and the total amount they paid for electric in the year 1970 ($194).
I’m not sure why my father kept these records, whether it was a desire born out of some latent OCD tendency or anal-retentive compulsion, but I’d like to think that a small part of him hoped that his children and grandchildren would one day see value in his work and get a glimpse of what life used to be like and be inspired to have a conversation. Not the kind which takes place over a wifi connection as is typical these days but the best kind, the kind that takes place around a dinner table.
Dad, I can’t wait until we come down and see you in a couple of months and find out whether your efforts were as successful as I believe them to be. And if you can find your spread sheet about how much it cost you to keep your set of twins in diapers in 1968, factoring in the countless pairs that were whipped off by chubby little fingers and used to decorate bodies, walls and cribs with feces, I’ll gladly do the dishes.
I survived skiing yesterday and my body is still chilled to the bone and hurts in places that haven’t been discovered yet, either by me or modern science. Story to come later, once my fingers thaw and my fallopian tubes unclench.
In the meantime, yesterday was also my mother’s 80th birthday. So now, instead of senior citizen, I can call her a SENIOR CITIZEN OCTOGENARIAN! Which is probably redundant but my mom is hard of hearing so a little repetition is called for, I think. But just to be sure, I typed it really loud.
I leave you with a post I wrote last year in honor of not only my mom’s birthday but also the birthdays of all the children in the world I conceived when I wasn’t looking.
Happy Sunday, everyone!
I have grown children I never knew about working at Verizon and Best Buy
(originally published February 5, 2010)
My mother turns 79 today. Happy Birthday, Mom!
She’s buying herself a digital camera.
Can I just get a collective OH MY GOD, STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF?
This is the same woman who, thanks to my dad who came up with the idea in the first place, now has all of her mail forwarded to their local Verizon store because she’s there more often than she’s not. Apparently, her cell phone keeps dialing my landline when it’s supposed to dial my cell phone and this has been going on for years and IT’S NOT HER FAULT, SHE WAS NOT BORN STUPID. Dad refuses to use the cell phone on principle because he never wanted the damn thing in the first place as he saw no reason to pay $39.99 a month so that Mom can call AAA if she ever has a flat tire in the dead of night. This is because (1) the last time Mom drove anywhere in the dead of night was never; and (2) signalling SOS with headlights is free. Regardless, he filed a forwarding request with their post office and now he can simply mail her a postcard asking WHERE DO YOU KEEP THE PEANUT BUTTER?
According to my mom, the Verizon employees are elated when she walks in eight days a week and affectionately refer to her as Grandma. I can only assume it’s because HOLY SHIT, YOU TAKE HER, NO YOU TAKE HER, NO I HAD HER LAST TIME, DID NOT, DID TOO, FINE LET’S PUNCH EACH OTHER IN THE GUT AND WHOEVER’S STILL BREATHING TAKES HER is too much of a mouthful.
She called me up the other day to ask me my opinion as to which camera she should buy and because I misread my caller ID, I answered the phone.
Mom: I want a digital camera. I do not want nor do I need any bells and whistles. No bells. No whistles. I want a very simple camera. Simple. I only want to press a bit fat button and nothing more. Now, tell me what to buy.
Me: Well, let’s see. I have the Nikon …
Mom: I don’t want that one.
Me: Wait, what? How do you know what I’m going to say?
Mom: I saw your camera at Christmas. It had too many buttons on it. And it was purple.
Me: Well, for one thing, it’s a dark purple, almost black. It’s not like Prince threw up all over it.
Mom: Prince? Who is Prince? Is that a dog? Did you get a dog and not tell me? Why would you get a dog and not tell me?
Me: Oh my God, nevermind. About the buttons … I don’t use half of them.
Mom: Then why do you have them?
Me: Ummm, because they came with the camera?
Mom: I am not paying for anything that I don’t need.
Me: But you might want to use them. And if you do, they’re there! Who knows, you might want to learn something new!
Me: Or not.
Mom: Another thing … I need a camera that does not lop off anyone’s head. That’s important.
Me: Well, now, c’mon Mom. I think you need to take a little responsibility here.
Mom: And by that, you mean what exactly?
Me: Mom, the camera doesn’t come equipped with a guillotine. You, on the other hand, are a different story altogether.
Mom: Excuse me?
Me: Did I say that out loud?
Mom: So it’s not the camera’s fault? It’s mine? Is that’s what you’re telling me?
Me: Ummmm … yes?
Mom: Says the girl who thinks my cell phone works perfectly too. Why must you blame me for everything? Why must everything be my fault? Is this the thigh thing all over again? When will you stop blaming me for your thighs? They’re robust, Andy. Nothing to be ashamed about.
Me: Let’s not go there today, OK Mom? I’m not up for it and I’m out of Xanax.
Mom: Fine. I’m off to Best Buy. I’ve been there three times this week already. There are several youngsters there who are so helpful. Such nice young men. They call me Grandma, you know.
Me: Can you tell Dad to call me when he gets back from the post office?
Mom: How did you know he was at the post office?
Me: Lucky guess, Mom.
Eleven days have passed since I flew down to North Carolina to stay with my mother after my father suffered a stroke.
My father is in the critical care unit of the hospital in North Carolina, learning how to become stronger.
My mother is at their home, learning how to balance a checkbook and send an email.
My brother is with her, learning how to avoid the dining rooms chairs after having one collapse from under him last night while we were talking on the phone.
And I am back home in New York, learning how the washer and dryer are figments of my husband’s and kids’ imagination.