Sunday, March 05, 2017

Snapshots: Breaking, Mending, Breaking and Bowling

Miami Beach, foggy at times
"Is there a free airport shuttle to the hotel?" I ask the switchboard operator

"The Trump National Doral Hotel is only five miles from Miami International Airport. A cab is about $25.00," she laughs, not exactly laughs, but informs, sounding a little like Siri. "Or you can take an Uber for less."

"Thanks," I mumble, hanging up. Her implication is obvious. If you can afford to stay at the Trump, you can afford the taxi. 

Who stays there? Mostly golfers, just a hunch. And others who are comped by their hosts. 

It did seem like a secure place to be, which always feels good, security at the gate, men in sun glasses on the roof, watching the stunning outdoor wedding. The chupah, or wedding canopy, is homemade, borders the greens; guests are in their finery. Rabbis in beards and long black coats bless the ebullient couple. Uninvited hotel guests and staff watch from a balcony above, no different than at any outdoor-at-the-swimming pool affair at any other hotel. But this feels different. 

You can rent bicycles at the Trump National, tour the grounds, ride the soft-hills on a paved path meant for caddies. There are several species of wild birds grazing, sipping at the fountain. Nearby villas for guests are named for famous golfers, the suites in taupe and white, the accents in gold, naturally, if faux. It is a beautiful place for a wedding, a beautiful sunny day in Florida, with an occasional light sprinkle of rain for good luck. We're grateful. 

But there's this feeling, like we're imposters, have no right to be here. We should talk about that some day.

The fountain at the Trump Doral Golf Course
1. Screen Busters: Breaking Things and Mindfulness

"How do you do it?!" he asks me in a calm, controlled voice. "It has to be a record, three phones, little over three months. One of the phones, need I remind you, mine."

No, he will never let me live that one down. His Nokia Windows phone screen smashed, leaving him, a doctor, with no means to communicate. 

This on a quick trip to Atlanta in November, a blustery, cold, miserable day in Chicago. We're searching for our preflight garage, a reasonably priced, shuttle-operated operation near Ohare. FD takes a wrong turn. He hands me his phone.

"Can you figure out where we are?" 

His phone (establish your excuses early) is a mystery to me, so I put it on my lap, search mine. He finds the garage without me, a valet opens my door. In the hand-off the Nokia falls to the pavement, an ex-phone, except for a hum when a call comes in.  

He’s upset, sees no humor in this (one can only try), and as much as I apologize, it will never be enough. But i
n all fairness, it had to be torture. A solo practitioner, he has chosen his volunteered slavery, as Roland Kirk, the jazz great, would have called it. He chose medicine, primary care. For whatever reason, it was hard to empathize, probably since he blamed me, and most of us check out when we're being blamed. He replaced his phone with another not-an-iPhone, an older Samsung, this time, that even he hated from the start.

But pride would not allow him to for complain.

Soon thereafter, mine broke. It hadn't been handling IOS software updates anyway, but rather than buy new, I had it fixed right away. Nobody saw the fall as the phone brushed off the counter to the floor at the Peggy Norbert Nature Museum

Mind those ceramic tiles at the entrance in the foyer, if you're off to see the butterflies. 

A few weeks later it happens again, but in an odd way. The almost new tempered glass is supposed to protect the screen, but the technician tells me that even tempered glass has a point of vulnerability, a place near the microphone, and a key in my coat pocket must have hit it just so

My empathy for FD kicks in. But as he examines the latest shattered display, he smiles nothing less than a schadenfreude smile, satisfaction with my loss. His stupid Samsung is working just fine. "Get one of these," he suggests.

I don't think so.

It becomes hard to confess to something else, opening a kitchen cabinet door only to face a terrorist Tupperware that resettles, knocking a juice glass to certain death. An accident waiting to happen, it still surprises me. Shards of thin blue glass everywhere. It could happen to anyone, to any glass, and manically sweeping, I consider: What  does one even do with broken glass? Is it recycle-able?

This quality of carelessness becomes a little scary.

Hand off a baby, a child, to a grandmother, and she'll hang onto it for dear life, snatch it before a fall off the sofa, grab a tipping lamp out of nowhere, a chair. The mischief and energy of toddlers is exhausting, but a return to motherhood and total functionality. You're on. When things are the center of attention, off. Not just off, but flip. Who cares? But is that normal? We always say:It's just a thing. But things aren't nothing.

We must take a closer look. 

Theoretically, joking about material loss could be, historically, due to one's early childhood, the cultural environment. Material things are exactly what mattered to a generation now passing, mothers and fathers, immigrants mostly, who took them very seriously. Those of us whose parents covered the sofas with plastic, who couldn't contain their disappointment when a kid broke something expensive, eventually got over it. Their children grew up, and they got over it, too. Once having winced at the criticism, accidental loss became a trifle, not such a big thing. At least to some of us. Grieve it and leave it, nobody's perfect, let it go, whatever it is.

For our parents it was about the value of money, the value of things and they were totally right, for them, in their world. If you have only a few things that are dear to you, you appreciate them, protect them, invest in a curio cabinet, maybe. But even the essentials, clothes and furniture, warranted care, because, let's talk, good stuff doesn't come cheap.

My mother-in-law, quoting her mother:

We're too poor to buy cheap things.
My mother:
We worked hard all our lives to get by. 
as the Beatles used to sing. Amazing song.

So shrugging off a broken phone or three could be about differentiating from parents, reconciling the trauma of parental rejection for not being cautious.

It is hard to think of the quality, the value of caution, however, as something over-played. Behind the wheel, it only takes a moment of carelessness and lives are lost. Caution is a virtue in the professions, too. In mine, if a patient alludes to suicidal thoughts, red flags should wave furiously. We therapists are cautious. Attention can be life-saving. Substitute today's buzz words mindfulnessawareness, being present.  These are qualities to be valued.

How to get there from distracted, hurried, and careless?

For one, break a few things, consecutively, within a few short weeks, like phones, a crystal goblet, or just a juice glass, a cereal bowl. Soon the cabinets are better organized, the new phone will have a bullet proof case, insurance. Because habits change when you hit bottom. People in AA know this all too well.

Otherwise, you're stuck talking about it in therapy for who knows how long.

2. Hating Hate

Desecrated Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia

Bomb threats, swastikas etched on automobiles and subway car windows. Synagogues and cemeteries vandalized, some 90 hate crimes, just against Jews and Jewish institution in over 30 states and in Canada. Hate crimes more than doubled in NYC from January 1 to February 15, in 2017.

FD and I use the Jewish Community Center in Chicago, almost daily, and our grandsons go to nursery school there. Now, because of the bomb threats, we must stop at the front desk to scan in our membership cards before we swim. Staff need to know who is in the building.

You don't ask why.

These things upset me, but at dinner Friday night, a guest, a Holocaust survivor, is clearly moved by the discussion. She shakes her head. She knows hate. "This time," she says, "we will fight back. Never again."

The bomb threats have been baseless so far, hateful harassment. In one case authorities are still sorting out a spurned lover's ridiculous vendetta. Juan Thompson made bomb threats by phone to several Jewish community centers in the US, identifying himself as the woman who rejected him, his creative way of hurting her.

Then there's this:
Headstones are expensive. What wonderful achdut (Hebrew word, rhymes with Bach-shoot, means unity). You have to love this.

FD and I paid special attention to the Missouri cemetery desecration because his father is buried there. His brother, still in St. Louis, explained that their father's grave is fine. Security is stepped up in the area, but investigators are still looking for evidence that the vandalism was a hate crime.

Nearly 200 headstones turned over at last count. Must have been an act of love.  

3. Bowling and Bonding

It is time to go bowling, one of our guilty pleasures

We're that cute older couple that high fives with every strike or spare, occasionally jumps up and down. We have our own shoes, our own bowling balls, but no league, thank you.

Bowling balls

We settle into Lane 37, change shoes and work the video scoreboard above us. I change the boring background to a Disney theme. FD starts us off with a strike, and it is looking like this could be a good night.

It is an after 9 PM crowd, which, unbeknownst to us, is the time that rates go down to $9.00 a person until closing. So kids start filing in, filling up the place, and a large group of teenagers join us at Lane 36.

There's something about getting older. You feel a little vulnerable, as if the energy alone of a group of teenagers could knock you down. It is my turn and I get a spare, catch the eye of a beautiful dark-eyed teen watching me from 36. She is smiling broadly, and this is contagious. I smile back, more for her, to thank her for liking this, liking me, than for silently applauding my spare.

Then I watch as her boyfriend rolls up his sleeves. He is a young man already, tall and muscled, his hair cut very short, a tattoo in Arabic scrolls along his biceps. The writing feels threatening to me, and I know, at this very moment, based upon the Harvard racism test (anyone can take it online), that we are all racists, each and every one of us, that this fear of mine is exactly that, my racism, so I put it to rest, out of my head, the fear, the intimidation. We are so obviously yiddin, they are so obviously our cousins, let someone else play out the politics in the Middle East.

And for the duration of our two game max, the girls and I cheer one another along, and the boys smile at us, too, when we knock all of those pins down, and even when we don't. And we smile at them, because everyone, it seems, can be a good enough bowler with enough practice. At only $9.00 until closing, Lane 36 has a good start.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Man Cold

It's been coming up in therapy that men need to be babied when they are sick. They think they're dying at the first sign of a headache, a cold, weakness, and if they are married, expect their partners to drop everything to take care of them, nurture them. And all their partner wants to say is:
 Man up. It's a cold.

That's pretty funny, no? Is it true? Are most men big babies when they're down for the count? Sometimes, surely not universally. We all know men who refuse to stay home from work when they have a cold, even a fever, or who might stay home but won't call their moms to make them chicken soup. They make it themselves, or order in, or do without.

Are the less needy ones the same men who second shift, who know that there are other things that have to be done, more important things than lying around to wait for the fever to pass? Maybe. But it is more likely they had to take care of themselves as kids, didn't have a mommy hovering over them when they came down with symptoms. They took a couple of Tylenol and went about the work that had to be done, went to school, made their own lunch as kids.

Women want to be nurtured, too, is the subtext, when they're under the weather. But traditionally, carrying the second shift, they haven't the luxury of staying in bed. They still have to make lunches, do the laundry, drive car pool, unless a partner isn't off to work and can do these things for them. If he is expected on the job, then she has no time to go back to bed. Men who never lifted a dish, who never did laundry in their lives, can't relate. They don't see the urgency, and when they feel uncomfortable become, or hope to become, the center of attention, helpless. They really feel helpless.

Why would women tolerate the beached whale, a self-indulgent male partner who keeps ringing a bell for room service? Maybe it is because we saw our mothers doing it for our fathers, women grumbling under their breath, as they brought yet another cup of tea, joking to anyone in earshot, Such a baby, your father. It was cute, Dad being sick, perhaps the only time he let his machismo down.

But if the model was different, and Mom and Dad both toughed out their viruses, daughters would expect their partners to do the same.

Just a theory. But I think it's got to be in there. They're cute when they're sick, but not too sick, and we might be cute, too, under the same circumstances, given the luxury. This isn't death defying stuff, a cold. And really, if someone's late with the tea, just maybe, if it is a he, someone with a man cold, he'll get up and get it himself.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Snapshots: Looking Forward, or Just Looking

Hold that thought, my reflex when a patient mentions a wish, has a dreamy look in his eye, imagines something positive, a new possibility. Hold onto that, even if it might not come to pass, still, hold onto it, the possibility. You never know.

And there's plenty of time to feel badly if it doesn't.

It wasn't just me. Last year, 2016, was a monster, and nobody warned us. So we're not looking back, we're moving on.

(1) Best Laid Plans

I scheduled loosely, two patients in the morning, two in the late afternoon, hoping to get a little quality time with one of the grandkids, still on winter break, a person who makes the most sense to me. It is worth it, driving back from work to take him out, having to drive back again later, just to have that time alone, give the relationship a little more meat, a few solid memories.

Good memories we're hoping for.

The Plan:

We would return to the North Park Village Nature Center, the one promising a really nice, scenic nature trail. There are several places like this in Chicago, but only a few with wildlife and paved paths. My grandson, age 8, is still holding a little grudge from last week, when showing his Southern cousins this wonderland, the adults had to make an executive decision to leave early, not complete the hike. We barely skimmed it. It was a Friday, the sun setting fast, and we needed a few things at the store.

The live box of bees in the museum consumed the children, whet our subject's appetite. Mr. Science just knew there had to be all kinds of things, even better things out thar' in them thar' woods.

So today, New Year's Day observed, we'll make it right, except that the nature center is closed, locked up, the gate to the hiking trails quadruple locked, tied in triple knots. The kid gives me that look, the one that tells you you're in the doghouse, once again, for disappointing him. All I can offer is an aquarium water change. He likes doing that, so why not do that?

No dice. He wants to see deer. In that incomplete mini-adventure with his cousins, he did see a deer, a stag mistakenly trapped in a pen, some type of preserve. He and his cousins see the deer take a running dash, then, to everyone's amazement, the animal leaps over the seven-foot chain link fence. It is like something out of a movie, this enormous animal, caged and furious, running, leaping, flying through the air.

Naturally all the children, average age six, are running after the animal, now free, and my son and I are running after them, way behind. This is a terrifying moment, a snapshot memory for all of us, unquestionably.

And now we're face to face with a dead bolt and a combination lock on a gate, multiple chains, and the kid is digging his heels into the dirt, telling me he isn't leaving until he sees a deer. It is 1:00pm and office hours begin again at 3:30. This is a big town. A person can cover a lot of ground, but I don't want to be late for that 3:30.

Fine, I shrug. Let's go.

Go where?
You'll see.

Forest preserves line the western border of the city, and Chicagoans in contiguous neighborhoods have a suburban life, a forested backdrop, if they take the time to notice. We drive through, find an entrance to the woods, and one of many parking lots. The trails ahead are buzzing with bicycles, joggers, strollers and power walkers. It is cold, make no mistake, about 42 degrees fahrenheit, but still dry and crisp, no wind. Lots of happy people off of work for the holiday observed, exercising, having fun. After all, there is no mail, no bills, the banks are closed.

Me and the little guy are on the move, hunting deer. We're regretting that we forgot binoculars. He stops with an epiphany.

Let's ask someone if they saw any! 

We stop a couple gingerly walking along, holding hands. They look at us like we must not be from these parts. No. No deer. Not in these woods. 

We see ducks. A professional duck swami has gathered them at the river, offering bread crumbs. My grandson isn't impressed. He'd like to see something bigger, a mammal, something with four legs.


But I'm impressed and happy.

We follow what I think is a loop back to the parking lot, take it a long, long way, and it is starting to drizzle, large drops of water fall. The crowd thins, but I'm thinking we're on our way back to the car, so we keep going, and both of us, I think, are a little resigned to the negative thought, there may be no deer, not here. Then I hear him whisper. There's one! There's a deer!

Of course there's a deer. It is Bambi. She is gray, and grazing, senses us and lithely scampers away before I can even get a picture. But he saw her, the biggest doe he has ever seen, he will repeat this to anyone who asks, anyone who listens.

But now we're at the end of the loop, near a parking area that is definitely not our parking area. My car is not among the rest. In fact, there is only one car in this lot, because most people had the sense to get out of the freezing rain. I see an older, petite woman in a jogging suit coming toward the lot and ask her if she knows which way is south. She has no idea. Do you know which way to go to get to Devon Avenue? Again, no. But she offers to drive us to our car, and thinking that I certainly must be very close, in an obvious psychotic state of denial, I say No, it's all right.

My phone has Google Maps, with a walking option, and struggling to keep the phone out of the rain, I tap in the data. The voice behind the app instructs tells me to turn around, go back the way we came, so we do that, but now it is really coming down hard and I can't hear her instructions, and my grandson is really cold and getting tired and lagging behind me. We make it to a street (a street!) but it is not the one we want, which is very disappointing.

I admit defeat, worry aloud that going back to the trail will be a waste of time and energy, fearful he might need carrying, and that I can't lift him. I call my daughter, knowing she's been out running errands, to rescue us. We had planned to meet in the middle of the city anyway to hand off her son.

That hour's walk, to me, feels like something out of Wild. Our down coats, hoods, shoes, and socks, are soaked. It will be 16 minutes before his parents find us, and it is still raining, that cold, wet drip, the kind you're supposed to watch from inside the house, not outside in a forest, not even at a bus stop, no where. A very long 16 minutes. All of the plans, the luster, the mission to make good memories, backfired, trashed.

And I'm thinking, wondering, has he lost faith in me? Have we lost what we had, this special thing, this common interest in simple living, fish, trees, deer? Do I look like a crazy old lady to him now, a person who takes a young boy on an unnecessarily perilous mission? Could he get sick from this? (FD always told me that cold weather doesn't make people sick, but still, what if he's wrong, just this one time?)

Soon we're in the car, warm and dry, it is heaven. His toes are tingling. His father suggests he take off his shoes. The parents are incredulous, curious, surprised, but the story seems ridiculous, lost in the woods, woods with signs and paved paths. And we still have to find my car, a challenge which proves confusing at first, but successful soon enough. My son-in-law tells me he can see how in this neck of the woods a person could get lost, the sky so rainy and gray, the precipitation 100%.

At my car, about to go, I turn to my grandson. Forgive me?

For what?! he replies. I was never even mad at you. We saw a deer! That's what we said we would do. Right?

I guess. That was the plan. Find a deer. Let's move on, not look back.

Happy New Year, friends.