Just Survived Another Birthday

In the beginning my parents met, married, and had children, of which I am the oldest and the most important as I am the one that broke them. My parents, not the other children. I mean broke them in so the future children wouldn’t have to work as hard to wear them down, especially my mom. This beginning wasn’t the actual beginning of beginnings, just the beginning of my beginning. Everyone has one, and everyone pretty much believes that their beginning was the most important. They are all wrong. Mine is the absolutely most significant occurrence of the 20th century if you have the right perspective. If you doubt that, just ask me.

Along with diapers, safety pins, and plastic pants came other wondrous things. Some hung over my bed, some stayed in the play area and rattled or squeaked or caused tears to come to my eyes every time I hit myself in the face with them. I liked the live furry ones the best. They were as patient as my mom with me… up to a point. I liked to pull appendages and poke eyes. I thought the growling sounds were just loud purrs. The cat, finding itself in a grip like a vise and unable to free itself from torture by walking away, finally expressed itself in a punitive unsheathed swat. I was stunned. I cried and got no sympathy, and to this day only pull the cat’s tail with tongs while wearing a full suit of armor. I wear the armor, not the cat. Still not right. I don’t wear the cat and the cat doesn’t wear the armor.

Another wonderful thing happened right around the time I’d been alive for a year. A party! I liked the cake and the ice cream and the candles and the gift wrap and the ribbons and the boxes. They had been wrapped around some other stuff to show them off to advantage, but just a short time later the fancy stuff was gone and all that was left was the stuffing. I soon figured out the filler was fun, too. Some stayed in my bed, some rattled, some stacked, some clanged, and I hardly ever hit my face with any of them.

I’ve seen the pictures from that hot August in Walla Walla, Washington. No lie. Yes, Virginia and Margarita, there is a Walla Walla, Washington! There are pictures of me with my chunky thighs and round belly sitting on my pregnant mother with her round belly and legs of a model, both of us miserable. There’s one of me looking exceptionally wretched in a blow-up pool. The consensus was I had won the Jonathan Winters look-alike contest hands down. That, by the way, is the kind of picture one would really wish had been burned years before one began dating.

My sister put in an appearance a few months later. I was pretty curious about her, and wanted her to play, but my mother wouldn’t let me get her on the floor, or push her out of mom’s lap, so I had to just study the thing. Soon I noticed that baby was also wearing diapers with pins under plastic pants. Well, if anyone thought I was still a baby they were wrong. My mother tells me potty training went quickly. Blessed woman.

Years went by with frequent moves, hot summer birthdays often with only the family as we didn’t know anyone yet in the new place. By the time November came around, we girls had been in school for a couple of months, my sister had a few friends, and my mother knew other mothers and even imported an extra girl or two for the party. I tried to be pumped for my sister’s good fortune, really I did, but I’m thinking she remembers more about the unkind things I said and did out of, well, spite!

When the children came along I tried to give them memorable times with cake and ice cream always, and frequently had home-made pizza. (Later on it was from a pizza place and wasn’t as good as mine.) With 4 of the 5 having birthdays in November, December and January around Christmas and Thanksgiving, we couldn’t afford to give big parties every year, so they had their parties on alternate years.

The point I am heading toward along circuitous paths is this: for the last 20+ years I have hit the emotional lows on 2 particular days of the year. New Year’s Eve and my birthday are both indicators of another year passing by me at a dizzying rate leaving not much to show for it. But this year was different. This year I looked forward to seeing what might be coming my way.  (It was my children making a party  for me, with chocolate!) The fact that it marked a lost year was shown to be irrelevant. I turned another year older without even blinking. Sweet!

I wrote a poem a few years back. It started out as a rant against birthdays and ended up as a kind of tribute to them. Birthdays, that is. I need to remember that should I ever fall into that particular hole again.

So I have just one more thing to say and it is this:

 Happy Birthdays to all, and to all a good-night!


Remember that time in NYC?

My friend Jessica and I did some kinda sneaky things. For example, I used to put my slacks in my coat pocket when we went to weekly dances at the Firehouse.  When we got there I would take off my skirt and change into the slacks until it was close to time to be picked up. What the reason for this little subterfuge was I really don’t remember unless it was a rebellion against the societal dictate demanding that ladies be ladies? (snort)  I also took my socks off at the bus stop, and brushed out my teased hair on  the way home.

My friend had a bedroom in what was essentially the attic. There we opened her window and smoked our Salems or Newports, blowing the smoke out the window. I forgot to mention there was a door at the bottom of the narrow stairway which helped keep the smoke contained. We had no idea that a smoking parent could smell it on us from 8 feet away, while a non-smoking parent could smell it from the neighbor’s house.

I learned two things during this short period of time. The first thing was how good chocolate kisses could be with menthols. Or how good menthols could be with chocolate kisses. I’m not sure which is more accurate, but I’m thinking it’s the latter statement. The second thing I discovered was just how cat-footed Jessica’s mother could be. She was more than half-way up those creaky steps to the attic when Jessica thought she heard something and got up to check.  We (internally) freaked out, but her mom just stood there laughing at us. “I knew you were smoking up here! Who do you think you are fooling?” She was laughing and wagging her finger at us. “You stupid girls.Go ahead and smoke yourselves to death.” There were a few Yiddish and Polish words thrown in that I am glad I didn’t understand. The posture and context were enough to give me a rough idea.

Now, what does all this have to do with New York? I’m getting there, I’m getting there. Don’t rush me! I don’t do all that well under pressure. Jessie’s mom as a widowed woman in the 60’s worked hard to enough money to supplement what her husband had left the family. She did temp jobs in office positions, and for a time sold jewelry. She made periodic visits to the City to buy jewelry which she brought home to sell. I have no idea how or where she sold it. That didn’t matter to me in those egocentric years. What did matter was going with her on a buying trip. We drove most of the way and then took a train or an el or a subway or all three – yeah, yeah, an el and a subway are both trains – into Manhattan. The mother would take her younger daughter into the shop with her, and Jessica and I hung out on the street doing some mild flirting with almost any young guy on the street. I say ‘mild’ flirting because we were just practicing for when we knew more about what to do when we caught one of those fish. Of course the fishing netted mostly eels and piranhas three times our age. Some were sleek and slimy, some were dirty old predators, all were scary to us.

We rejoined Jessie’s mother and sister for dinner. Afterward, we split up again. They went to see a movie – It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World – while we, having already forgotten how scary it could be out there, went to dance at a place called The Cheetah. Oh, heaven! What a wonderful place to be! Music and dancing, dancing, dancing, a breather and then some more. I remember the cushioned sofas or some kind of seating and small round tables set in front of them. When it was time to leave to meet the rest of the family out front we hurried from the far side toward the front door. The strobe lights chose that moment to expose us to blinding, pulsating light which caused my to lose most of my vision and most of my ability to walk a straight line. The next thing I knew I had run into one of those little tables and gone ass end over teakettle and was on the floor on the other side and trying to be a big girl and not cry. The people around me who had seen this happen in brief flashes, one of whom was Jessica, were looking concerned as they laughed their butts off. I would have done the same thing if I had seen it happen to someone else, but this was ME, MY dignity, MY leg, and after we had hobbled and hopped to the women’s room where we could see, MY blood and MY stockings.

Meanwhile, back on the street, impatience was growing, temper was rising, as we were late meeting the movie-goers. By the time I was able to walk and the bleeding was slowed down, Jessie’s mother was steaming. Even the torn and still bleeding shin were not enough to stop the steam cloud from forming. And so we left to catch a train. Jessie’s sister gloated as she walked beside her mother. After all, she wasn’t the one in trouble, we were, and the stream of vituperative and unknown words flowing from that little woman was down-right embarrassing. Jess and I walked slowly, partly because of my leg, and partly to distance ourselves from the crazy babbling lady with a bag. By the time we got to the train station, the crazy lady had run out of steam so we were able to sit with her on the train. When we reached the car she was even sympathetic about my injury. Soon afterward we were back to as much peace as can be found between mothers and teen-age daughters.

I still have a pitted scar on my from over forty-five years ago, and I still smile when I think of that day.

One day left…

“There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.” Jean-Paul Sartre

One day. Today is what we have to work with, and that’s all the time we have for the truly important things. Tomorrow is only a concept and a hope that there will be another today. Make plans? Set goals? Of course, but that is all secondary to today’s plans and goals.

Work is the great thief. It is essential for survival and possibly personal satisfaction, but the time is stolen from the essential things leaving only a few short hours, if that, to fulfill our plans and affirm our goals. The plan I have today is to love everyone I meet, starting with my family and friends and extending to all who cross my path. A smile is a beautiful gift when added to concern, good wishes or prayers, and a little help where a need is seen. I work to love those who have wronged me or mine, but it is worth it for the peace forgiveness brings into my life.

The day’s goals are to find and maintain that peace, work to change something that needs changing in me, and share a laugh and a hug with someone I know and love. The hug is not for strangers! If tomorrow becomes the new today, I will keep my plan and adjust my goals as I see the need. If I have succeeded in at least attempting to do the right thing, then I will have rest before I sleep and dreams ready to comfort, challenge, and restore.

Live today, and sleep well. 🙂


The morning routine:  I staggered out of bed to take my mother’s coffee to her. Took my 7 morning pills, then took the breakfast tray from my husband and delivered it to my mother. She’s old. Staggered back to my room to give myself a couple of shots. No, not alcohol. Insulin. That done, I semi-staggered to the kitchen for my first cup of coffee, came to my recliner and sat. It is now almost lunchtime. I did get up once to refill the coffee cup, and it’s time to do that again! I must remember to take a few more trips around the house to avoid calluses on my posterior portion, and quad petrification.

My husband will fix lunch, I will take mom’s to her – she’s old – and after lunch I will probably lie down and watch tv and nap a bit. I will get up and wander aimlessly for a few minutes, then let the animals out, making a pit stop before fixing something for my mother’s dinner. She’s old. After taking it in to her, I try to visit with her for a while if I haven’t already done so.

Having let the cat and dog out a few more times, I will head back to the bedroom for more lying down and watching my evening selections on tv.  I’ll take my bedtime ration of medications, (only 6 pills) and enjoy stabbing myself a couple more times, make another bathroom visit, and generally will not fall asleep until I hear my husband pull into the garage. In reality, which I like to avoid, it’s my husband’s Jeep I hear pulling into the garage. I’m usually sleeping when he comes to bed except in the warm weather when I have to run the air conditioner to survive.

When I say I have to run the air conditioner I mean just that. Toward the end of last summer it stopped listening to my needs and wants. Once it started cooling it wouldn’t stop. It doesn’t matter where the temp is set, the darn thing will just run until I change its mode to fan only. I can no longer leave it running untended. Last year was worse as the remote had gone missing and I had to leave my comfortable spot and cross the room to make the appropriate adjustments.  This year the remote crawled out of its hiding place and spends much time in my hand where I confuse it with the (much larger) television remote and try to change channels with it.  Or I attempt to stop the ringing of the telephone by pushing a button and putting the thing to my ear, all the while hearing the continuing ring. Ack. 

My mom has an extension in her room, but moves even more slowly than I do. Once she gets the phone in her hand, she will not answer it until she knows who is calling but cannot read the caller ID. By the time she remembers she can barely see, the caller has hung up. We have a lot of calls go to voice mail just because she’s old.

I digressed. Big surprise. I think I covered the basics. Most of my days are about the same. If it were not for those days that are not the same I would have lost all of my marbles years ago. This week I enjoyed one of the different days. We went to the airport to welcome my son home. I think I hate Afghanistan as much as he does. It was a good day!