Friday, December 28, 2007

93.

That's how old my Bubbie, my mother's mother, was when she died this past Sunday, December 23rd. She had been on a ventilator, laboring, since about nine o'clock the night before and at 9:20 am, as her children gathered around her hospital bed, trying to decide whether to take her off the ventilator as her body failed her more and more by the minute, my Bubbie, as always, made the executive decision: her heart just simply stopped. Stopped completely. Decision made.

The common refrain the days following, upon hearing of her advanced age, was: "93? Well, she lived a nice long life" or something along those lines. The idea was that 93 was a perfectly understandable age to die. More than understandable. Something to be grateful for. And I want to say, no. No, this is not something to be grateful for. I want more. I don't care that she was 93. I don't care if she was 103. I want my Bubbie. I want to know that I can walk through the heaviest wooden door in the world and straight into her strong arms. I want to smell her sweet aqua-net-baby powder-flannel-pajama self as she holds me tightly to her, grabbing my face in her hands and planting big wet ones on both my cheeks. I want to hear the clap, clap, shuffle, shuffle of her bedroom slippers making their way though the house, back when making her way through the house was possible, was effortless. I want to watch her get ready for bed, wrapping toilet paper around her bright red coif, sealing it for the night. I want to hear her laugh, the laugh that made other people better, happier people just for having heard it.

When I saw her for the last time, at Thanksgiving, we were sitting together at her breakfast table, the spot of many of our finer moments together. I was leaving and I told her I'd be back soon. She had spent much of our visit a bit dazed and out of it, but suddenly, as I said those words, she was as alert as a twenty-year old. She grabbed my hand with the strenth of a longshoreman and said, "When?" her blue eyes boring into me. I said "Soon, Bubbie. Soon." She clutched my hand even tighter, blue eyes like laser beams on mine, and said, again, "When?" Without thinking, I said and meant, "January." She released me, satisfied. We hugged and kissed and loved and pressed cheeks to cheeks and said goodbye.

At 9:20 am this past Sunday, I was sitting on the tarmac in Sacramento, my plane on it's way to her. By the time I arrived in Los Angeles, my family had already left the hospital and were together at a diner, struggling to recover from the nightlong ordeal. They had all gotten the chance to say goodbye to her one last time, as she took her last breath. Her heart beating it's last beat. What if I had gotten on a plane the night before? Earlier in the morning? I would have been able to be in that hospital, holding her hand in mine, one last time. But I hadn't. I didn't. I couldn't. So for us, for Bubbie and I, goodbye was that morning at the breakfast table. Cheek to cheek. And that will have to be enough.

Friday, December 14, 2007

When four feels a lot more like 14.

So the actual day, the day that's been anticipated by my daughter since she turned three, her fourth birthday, has come and gone. All the fanfare, the bouncy houses, the overflow of gifts and noise and sugar and attention have moved on, thankfully, to other homes. Here at the Murrays, we are quiet. Save for the newly initiated, and quite snotty at times, four-year old that's moved in.

I have to say, this first week of Reese being four has thrown me for a loop. All of a sudden, seemingly overnight, my chubby, pot-bellied little baby has leaned out into a stringbean. All her softness seems to be disappearing right before my eyes. Everything's too short for her ever-lengthening legs and too big for her shrinking waistline. She is so rarely out of her dress-up shoes and lip "glass" and play jewelry around the house, I'm starting to feel as though I'm living with an extremely petite - for lack of a better word - streetwalker. And she's got the lip to go with the lip gloss - sassy and broody, I had no idea that my introspective, sensitive toddler was capable of such a dead-on imitation of Molly Ringwald in any John Hughes' movie.

Still, just when she is at her sassiest, with a good dose of whining and crying thrown in for good measure, she has the nerve to still slay me.

Her: I want to live here with you and Dad and Brother forever.
Me: OK.
Her: No really, forever.
Me: OK.
Her: And I'm going to be a Mommy and a writer just like you.
Me: Well, where are you and your husband and your kids going to sleep?
Her: In your bed. You and Daddy can sleep in my bed and Brother will sleep in his bed.
Me: Well, it sounds like you've got it all figured out.
Her: Yep.

Her confidence and sureness about the world astounds me and just when I get comfortable with it, she reverts to infantile behavior that rivals her one-year old brother's. For a person who is fond of consistency, let's just say that this is not my favorite phase.

One thing that is my favorite, however, is the nighttime routine that has been our constant for maybe a year or more. I rock her in the rocking chair my mother rocked me in and we sing two songs. Something I pick and then always, always "The Brady Bunch" theme, for reasons too long to explain here. Then I carry her over to her bed and we say:

Her: Someday, maybe you and me and brother can _________________, just the four of us. (Characters and destination subject to change.)
Me: That would be great.
Her: Know how you get there? You go right, then left, then circle. (Directions subject to change). Then you get there.
Me: I love you.
Her: I love you.
Me: See you in the morning.
Her: See you in the morning.
Me: Sleep tight.
Her: Don't let the bed bugs bite.

We hug, a good fierce one, my face lost in her curls and pillows and a million small stuffed animals.

We wave a small, special, secret wave.

On the long days, on the days where four feels like it's on the cusp of puberty, this moment, and every other good moment I can strain out from my day with her, are the ones I hold onto. Then an hour later, on my way down the hallway, I look in on her, lying sidewise in her bed, a mess of arms and legs and sheets and dolls. She snores softly, her face lit with the glow of the nightlight and I think: how else could this be? Who else could rattle me endlessly, whittle me down to my last iota of patience and then, with one unconcious, sleepy snore boomerang me right back to the exact place where I feel in love with her almost exactly four years ago, a tiny, perfect newborn in my arms. A small, perfect, life-changing wonder.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

1230 S. Cadillac

That's the address of my grandmother's house. My Bubbe. It's the house that four kids in the fifties and sixties grew up in. It's the house my grandfather bought for $24,000 and is now worth, depending on who you ask, over a million. It's the house where my Mom unknowingly said goodbye to her father for the last time, as she slammed the door behind her in a teenage snit. It's the house my Mom came home to a few years after her divorce, me in tow. It's the house where every Thanksgiving, every Passover, every Rosh Hasshanah was celebrated with much chaos and even more food, by my eclectic, loving, crazy collection of aunts and uncles and cousins. It's where my Aunt laid out in the backyard every Saturday in the 1970's, coated up with oil, basting herself continuously, not unlike a rotisserie chicken. It's the house with curving red front steps so steep, you have to keep moving outward as you go upward, just so as not to fall completely off. It's the house that hosted a dozen baby showers and wedding showers, even an actual wedding. It's the house where our whole lives revolved, where they started, where they were celebrated. And now, where one is ending.

When I was in college away from home for the first time, but not more than thirty miles or so from my Bubbe's house, I would find myself homesick. I would get in the car and the car would maneuver itself, without my consent, onto the 405 freeway South, then to the 10 East, off at Fairfax and then, before I knew it I would be sitting at Bubbe's breakfast table, a forkful of homemade potato salad (specially made for me, no onions) in one hand and a chocolate chip roll from the Jewish bakery in the other. All the while my Bubbe moving around me like a satellite, "You're too skinny, you need to eat something. Geeerrree, c'mon eat something." She was never happier than when she was sustaining her brood. And I was one of her favorite chicks, a role I relished and now realize, took for granted.

Sadie Kandel, my sweet Bubbe is 93 now, and though she has moments of incredible, piercing clarity, often she is removed from the here and now, dozing off in her chair at that same breakfast table. Not wanting to eat. Smiling almost mechanically, because she knows she's supposed to, I think. Because we're expecting it. It is time for her to get more care than 1230 S. Cadillac can give. It's time to move on. To move from the only house she has known for the last fifty-five years. On to wherever it is she's going. Without us.

I'm worried. I'm worried about her and the care she will get at a "home." I'm worried about the future new owners of this house that has meant everything to my family and whether there is any way a new family can live there, what with all the memories and love from ours filling every closet, bulging out from every cabinet and built-in drawer. How can someone else's child learn to potty staring at the pink tile I know so well? How can someone else lie on the couch looking out the big bay window I've been looking out of all of my life and see anything at all like what I've seen?

How will I explain to my four-year old and my one-year old what this place has meant to me? To have a place that no matter how far you roam, is always, always your home. Your north star. Your safe haven. In a life that had it's roots only with other people, never in my own residence for long, 1230 S. Cadillac was everything to me. The place where I was always OK. Better than OK. The best. The brightest. In a world where you find out all too fast how absoulutely ordinary and average you are, having a place, a person, that believed you weren't was, well, special.

1230 S. Cadillac, as my Bubbe always says to me before I leave her side to go wherever it is I am going: You lay in my heart. You lay in my heart.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I love you Finn Pa-twick.

This is what Reese says to her one-year-old brother often. Usually it's as she's got him in a headlock slash hug with or without his consent. He seems to accept this as par for the course, which, for him, it is. These siblings of ours are more than I imagined. I didn't grow up with a sibling, so this intense love - and the opposite of it - is new to me. Hearing screaming and walking in on the two of them, both dissolved in tears. Turning around in a clothes store, hearing Finn's chortles of laughter that only his sister can generate, finding her feeding him Cheerios off of her nose, one by one. Bending him to her for a goodnight kiss and seeing on his face unmatched, lottery-winning joy. She is most definitely his favorite person. And while she loves him wildly, she has divided loyalties, knowing he's still new on the scene and she'd best spread out her affections until he proves he's not a passing fad. But still, on a special Father-Daughter date to see Bee Movie, she finishes her M&M's even before the previews are over and then announces that it's time to go home. That she misses "Brother." That she doesn't want to be without him.

I can't blame her. Neither do I. Finn is a cherub of a baby. A strong, vocal cherub. So busy and sort of a Pig Pen meets Dash Incredible. A big sweet potato angel pie. Thighs like Thanksgiving drumsticks, but even juicier.

As much as we planned for him, he surprised me by appearing. By being a "he." And now, he floors me with what he's done to my heart - reconstructing it, remodeling a special section reserved for him and him alone. So, for all the wondering and worrying about how you can possibly love another child like you love your first, the answer reveals itself: you don't. You love them different. Differently and completely. But with the same wild abandon.

So Finn Patrick, even though I'm just one of your many devoted fans, you should know: Mama loves you so.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Not the one you'd want to be in the lifeboat with.

I'm a panicker. I also am not keen on tight spaces. I'm not claustrophobic exactly, but I'm big on freedom, personal space and kicking off the day with a Starbucks yogurt parfait, which, by the way is starting to be about as addicting for me as a vanilla latte is for some. Anyway, last night I went to pick up Reese from school and she was sitting in the teacher's lap and I could tell from ten paces that she was sick. Once she saw me, she began to smile and walk toward me and then instantly burst into tears. That's what my people do. In my family, crying is a sure sign of sickness. When we're hurt, we yell and when we're sick, we cry. When we're angry, we smile and mutter things under our breath. Go figure. Anyway, there's Reese, a puddle in my arms and I'm carrying her to the car and envisioning the next few days of my life: lots of throw up, little sleep, trying to figure out who is going to take care of the kids and who is going to work, doing lots of laundry and lots of caretaking. Being housebound. For some reason, this last one is what truly freaks me out. It's not like I'm the big carouser, out till all hours. In fact, I'm pretty much in bed by ten every night; having a Blockbuster night would be a barn burner compared to our normal pattern of dinner, put the kids to bed, talk for a few and then lights out. It's just the knowing that I can't leave - that I have a sick, miserable little one who needs, more than Tylenol, tea or Ritz crackers, her mommy right now. RIGHT NOW. And for every single moment until she is feeling better and then will, in an instant, be off to play "Circle Time" or "Tea Party" or go ride her bike, leaving me in an exhausted, crusty heap, as though we hadn't just spent the last three days stitched at the hip. For sure, it's as reliable as the seasons: just as soon as you don't know how you will make through another round of sheet changing and washing and soothing, they're better. Just like that.

For now it's about being present and making toast and showing up. In a few days or years it will all be a distant memory and one day she will be throwing up in the bathroom and I won't even know it except I happen to pass by and I will ask if she needs anything and she will say, "No, thanks Mom." and I will know that I have my freedom and my space and that it is maybe a bit more space than I bargained for.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Giving Thanks.

We had been gone for the Thanksgiving holiday and I took Finn, my one-year old, to pick up our dog Rose at “Dog Camp” which I’d never actually seen because my husband is a love and normally drives out to the middle of nowhere to drop off and pick up our sweet, purebred, reject show dog who is possibly the most sensitive soul in our family.

Nevertheless, today it was me. And Finn, who of course was no help at all in navigating the way to the middle of nowhere. But after a few wrong turns we made it. With Finn straddled on my hip and a leash in my hand, I waited while a woman with about four teeth retrieved my non-retriever. As I stood there taking inventory, I observed a few dog show awards from 1998, a Dream catcher, a small black and white television and a woman, possibly the mother of Four Teeth, who was busy watching Finn and I, but not speaking at all.

Rose bounded out of the kenneling area at rocket speed, as if there were something hot stuck to her tail, her eyes bulging out of their sockets. Once corralled in the back of my Volvo station wagon, she spun in circles, repeatedly catching her leash on her paws, not knowing what to do with her newfound happiness and semi-freedom.

At home, Finn sleeps and I eat and Rose pouts. I don’t notice it at first. She’s parked herself in our room, big black and white body on the carpet, sad muzzle on the cold bathroom floor, like a hairy teenager with a bad hangover. Hours pass, the rest of the family comes home and she remains unmoved. Maybe she’s sick? Depressed? Reese, my four-year-old strolls in while I’m assessing the situation; I tell her Rose was probably sad at Dog Camp. Without a word to me, Reese lays down on the floor next to Rose, her head inches from Rose’s, her feet aligned next to her paws. She takes one of Rose’s paws in her hand and starts talking in a low, kind voice, like the one I use when Reese is sad or sick or otherwise not herself. I hear her say, “you’re OK, Rosie, you didn’t like Dog Camp, but you’re OK, you’re home now, I love you, sweet Rose.” She makes these little sounds, these little comforting sounds to Rose, while stroking her snout with her stubby little four-year old fingers, fingers which, just months ago couldn’t find their way around a pen or a toothbrush. Her kindness overwhelms me; my heart is in my throat, savoring this victory, this evidence that no matter what failures we have in store for us as parents, no matter what fights, what cigarettes, sex, rock and roll and “you don’t understand me’s” lay before us, for this single moment a goal has been met; the kindness chip is in place and it’s functioning on all four cylinders.