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.


Saturday, December 24, 2016


Did I spell it right? Should it be Hanukah? Or Chanucha? Hannukkah? You can't win when you transliterate. 
Western Wall Chanukiah (menorah)

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah, an 8-day Jewish holiday that celebrates a miracle. Oh! It's Xmas Eve, too.

But you know that story, and honestly, I don't, so let's stick with our strong suits and talk a bit about Chanukah, because it is an underdog beats tyrant-who-isn't-religiously-tolerant victory story, and nothing makes us feel better than an underdog walking off with the trophy.

In a nutshell (we've been cracking them all day long):

The Greeks ransacked The Temple in Jerusalem and did not allow the Jews to practice their religion anymore. (No Sabbath, no Torah, no tradition). We got the Temple back, big fight, and wanted to re-light the menorah, the ner tamid,  a lamp that is never supposed to go out, never did when the Jews were in charge. But they were booted for awhile, and it did go out. But after the fight, having recaptured the Temple, and a thorough, frustrating, infuriating search for pure olive oil, squinting into all of the Temple's nooks and crannies, the Jews finally found a tiny cup of oil, one that hadn't been deliberately spilled to the ground by the marauders. Picture a tiny earthenware jar, like the kind you see in the Museum of Natural History, that's what I do. The tiny pitcher of oil shouldn't have lasted more than one night, but it did. It lasted eight days. Let's eat.

No, let's light.

We just lit the first candle (there's a wick that stays lit that lights the night's lights, see upper right, pic above) and the rule is that while the candles are burning a woman should do no work. None. So I asked myself, Does blogging constitute work? No! Not if you don't edit! Then it's not work. It's not good, either, but it's not work! Does making popcorn constitute work? I wondered aloud. No, it is not work, definitely not. Let's eat.

Popcorn popper with crank (crank not shown)
This is a fun holiday. We play games that resemble gambling (dreidle), eat greasy foods like pizza and potato latkas (oil), give gifts or gelt ($). I go to the bank the week before the holiday and get rolls of quarters for the kids. Ten bucks, they feel rich. No lines at the bank.

And we sing! Below is the best relatively new song making the rounds. Just try to get your family to learn it to sing it in a round at the family Chanukah party. They'll resist and you will lose.

This first night of Chanukah is also Xmas Eve, as has been noted, and contrary to the incredible hustle and bustle, the horrendous bottlenecks of traffic this past week (unbearable in Chicago), this town is finally really, really quiet. And the two holidays falling on the same evening nixes Nittle Nacht, the evening Jews celebrate when it isn't Chanukah but it is Xmas Eve. You can read all about that on last year's post about this time, where I bemoaned the loss of reindeer in the windows on the Magnificent Mile.

So, enough. We don't want to make this too much work. . . .
Let's sign off about now and watch YidLife Crisis with Mayim Bialik. This particular episode should offend no one, but the show (other episodes) can be totally irreverent, so if you take your religion very seriously, take a pass on the rest, except maybe the Chinese restaurant one, Season 2, Episode 2, Yingle Belz. That's classic.  Or just subscribe, do as you're told.*

Why Jews Have Shot Glasses in the Home

Happy Holidays, friends. Don't drink too much, or at all, some of you.


*If I remember, that's what he says at the end: If you liked this,  then Subscribe. And if you didn't like it, Subscribe!

Thursday, December 08, 2016

When It's Too Late to Ask

A good friend of mine is leaving the country, going home, and she might never come back. She isn't leaving because she fears deportation, rather, she hasn't seen her mother in many years. The older woman is getting on, is in her nineties. 

The younger begs her friends to understand: "I have to see my Mommy. If not now, when?" 

We know what she means.

The littlest things can make you think about parents when they're no longer with you, when you can't just call or visit anymore.

FD and I used to have a tradition, inspired in part by my mother. In December she would give me money in a birthday card (out of her social security), and I was to take FD to the opera. Mom, a Dancing With the Stars person, knew we loved the Lyric, but in those days it was cost-prohibitive; we didn't go very often. The idea, to get us out of our work-til-you-drop rut, was a good one. The subtext, maybe, think of your mother while you marvel at the theater, the people, the production.

How do you not honor someone's request that you go to the opera?

It is that time of year, the season and we're opera hungry. So I checked Groupon, found a great price for front section, main floor seating. Not trusting the system and worried that in all probability we might not sit together, I called before booking. (Having that symptom of OCD, being a checker, isn't the worst quality). The nice lady at the other end of the line reassured me that our seats would be together. So we're going. In a way, it's a gift from Mom, an honor to her memory. She would have loved that I checked.

Because of my friend's imminent departure, I thought the best gift for her might be a photo album. Looking through stacks of pictures, I found it impossible to stay focused, hard not to linger over the hundreds of pics that my parents had left behind, memories of us, of themselves as children, as young adults, parents. So many photos of themselves as friends. They had these roles, you know, and sitting on the floor in that walk-in closet, snapshots everywhere, I would ask aloud, nobody there, What is the story behind this one? Who is that? This really is us.

Whatever happened to that dress?
Who is in the way back? Where was I? Is this Logan Square?

There are other questions you have when you divest of your parents things, or decide to keep them.

Like: Where did you get this metal retractable100-ft tape measurer, and why have I never seen it before? It looks a century old! It might be.

Or: When you used that pinking sheers, when you sewed that dress you wore for my wedding, that long, cream, lovely dress that enhanced your Jackie Kennedy looks, what did you think about? Did you think of my brother, the one who didn't live to have his own?

Is that guy in the back of the picture a long lost cousin or a photo bomber? Where was it taken? Was I a happy baby? Did I laugh a lot? How did you forgive me when I crashed your first car, that Studebaker Lark, in the parking lot learning to drive? And when I lost that ring?

A person feels so powerless. How could so few people, only two, have this information? Your questions aren't something you can Google. No search engine is as informative as your mother, your father, not when it comes to something about their house, their reactions to things that happened, their lives, the lives of their relatives, friends, and yours.

Most of us have time to ask, time to get information, those extraordinarily important details, the ones that fill in the blanks. But we don't think to ask them because at the time, it isn't important, not then, not while we're middle-aged and our parents seem immortal.

And if we lose a parent young, it has to be worse. That parent isn't around to answer the simplest questions of youth, like, Should I date this guy? Should I marry that one? Can I just fail this class, because I hate my teacher?! A surviving parent might have answers, but might not be as approachable, or might become sad with your questions. Or you, a young person, simply don't know to even ask. What little kid thinks to ask?

When my younger brother and I spoke together for a few delicious hours on the night before Thanksgiving, we relived the last few years of our parents' lives. Thinking back, we had regrets, sure, but considered ourselves so lucky. We could make our own hours as professionals, and when the folks became physically vulnerable and needy, we could rearrange our schedules to help them. We spent some of that time trying to jog their memories on those drives to see doctors, or while checking their meds. The answer, inevitably: "So long ago. Who can remember?"

Those years flew by, the ones that might have been informative. And we, as the middle-to older-middle-aged generation, fall into the trap that our parents set. We talk about us, not them, when they catch us. We do it in short snippets, for that is all the time we have, and they settle for that. They catch us on the phone, between first and second shifting, or as we make lunches for the next day, or  drive an afternoon car pool, maybe run to a basketball or baseball game, varsity basketball. We could be trying to concentrate while filling out the parent portion of a student loan application, and the phone rings. There isn't much time to talk. And when they catch us, in those lucky moments when we are caught, when we're able and willing to give them the time of day in real time, on the phone*, it is about us, and about our children, because they direct the dialogue that way. Most probably, they do.

Not to give advice to anyone, gentle reader. . . but

assume that one day you will want to know how they kept that 100 foot metal tape measurer from you, the one from the Navy, probably. Or that the pinking sheers has some kind of history, and you don't know when or why your mother decided to sew her own clothes, and some of yours, only that they would be beautiful, an improvement over whatever one could buy retail. And your parents won't be there, probably, when these things occur to you, to tell you anything, and all you'll be able to do is assume, that at the time, whatever they did, they did with you in mind. Probably.

And you'll want to know how it felt when they bought their first major appliance, or a building, and how it felt to have to sell that building to make you a wedding. How did they cope with their in-laws, how did they make it work, if everyone seemed to get along, and how did it feel if it didn't work, if nobody got along.

Make it about them, this season, is my thinking. Ask the people who raised you to tell you the story behind the picture, because pictures jar the memory. Ask them about their transitions, how they handled the move, the first job, the first child, or their health crises, deaths of their parents, alcohol-addicted siblings. Ask about any firsts and lasts, because these are what we remember best, and these are also in the photographs in that big plastic Target container. Bring it out sometime before opening the presents this year, so the kids can hear the stories, too.

My friend, the one who is going home, is going to do that, too. And it is likely her mother will say, "I don't remember. It has been so many years."

But maybe, because her family was so far away, and they know how to use the phone, maybe even, she knows.


*The telephone is this amazing appliance. You talk into it, hear someone talk back, no typing required.

P.S.  Below, a copy of the cover of the Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band vinyl album. My oldest brother shared it with me the day it came out; he brought it home. We were 15 and 17, and I was delighted that he wanted to share it. He hadn't been a talkative brother. The questions for that guy, innumerable.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

One Snapshot, then other Bloggers

Here's the snap:

Impatient with Patients: The What Else Is New

It often happens that someone (in therapy) will say, "I’m doing great! So much better!"

And in the very next breath it is: "Actually, then (this happened), and (that happened). But still. . . I handled it so well. . ." 

And you are waiting. 

There is a pause. Maybe even a short one, the response could even be sans pause and pow! 

The patient looks right at you, the mood has changed, the patient narrows his eyes, might even scowl, becomes a different person, his old self, for he remembers. 

"I’m just really, really angry at . . ."

and another story tumbles out, same story, same offender, or some other offender, on a good day there may be multiple offenders, persons who share the responsibility, the blame for the change in mood. Even if the patient attributes a good reason, an empathetic reason for offender behavior, the narcissistic injury stings.  

A narcissistic injury, just to digress, can motivate people to positive action, or negative, depending upon one's point of view. There is a legend about a man, Donald Trump, roasted at the annual National Press Club dinner. This is traditionally a roast, a night of humor, sarcasm, good cheer. But apparently President Barack Obama roasted Mr. Trump, not yet a candidate, and kept it up, went on and on with jokes, all at Mr. Trump's expense, they kept coming, and coming. And at first he tried to take them, pursed his lips in a smile. Then the smile went away, and his face hardened, turned blank, emotionless, flat. Then the brow furrowed, an empty stare, the one we associate with dissociating. And at some moment, it might have been that moment, now President Trump elect consciously made a decision, determined to show President Obama, to show them all, to show everyone sitting at that dinner, all those people from the press cub laughing it up. He would show them exactly who they were messing with, embarrassing. Embarrassing someone is, in some circles, a very dangerous, negative, bad thing, even a huge sin. 

That said, my mother loved it when we made fun of her, thrived on it, embarrassed or not. To her, the most humble person on the planet, the family laughing, uproariously, even at her, especially at her, was a good thing, good fun.  

But back to our story, the What Else is New, story, about the pattern, when people start positive then get off track, have no staying power with a good emotion, also known as the
I can't be happy with just that, just having had a good week, it's not enough
patternJust doing great is not enough. Therapists wonder, will there ever be enough therapy to help this patient? Defining success is the answer, certainly. Will he ever get better? Again, define better. He will, if we are patient, don't impose our values or needs upon our client. All of us resist change, get married to our emotions, and usually lean towards a favorite emotion, the one that suits us best.

This is part of the job, working with difficult marriages, especially marriages to negative emotions. And we all have our pet peeves, our interface. We dislike particular character traits, certain responses in particular. So as a therapist who happens to be a person, too, one grateful for everything good in her life, for every good day, even the bad days, grateful for the people she knows and mostly loves, even her patients, as a person who is grateful when the elevator isn't slow, or when someone opens a door for her, who is happy when the phone call on voicemail isn't spam, or a relative from far away sends an email, one who feels blessed with the opportunity to have one more free day, who is not wrongly imprisoned, immobile from an accident, or dreading the next bout with her health, not that aging is a picnic, such a therapist's feeling, when that patient shoe finally drops, when that man's good day takes a turn to an angry day, evokes, for lack of a better word, impatience.

When the zinger comes, the story about whoever or whatever it was that burst the bubble, the sense of goodness, a therapist is likely to envision the silent cartoon bubble over her head, the one that says "And what else is new?"

The good therapist rarely says that, though, not aloud, and wouldn't repeat it, is embarrassed for thinking it. Because the "what else is new?" is not empathetic, and empathy is what is called for in therapy. Patience, not sarcasm. The job is to let the patient spleen (rant on angrily) until there are no more words, because THAT is what is therapeutic about therapy, 99% of the time. Then the processing, maybe, if the patient allows, if time allows. Otherwise, we're merely to let the patient spleen.

That, so they come back. Once when I was consulting with a very high end group, an academic medical group, the director told me, "Whatever you do, just keep them coming back," and I never forgot it. "Are you serious," I asked. And he said, "Yes." This is a people pleasing job.

The odds are therapists will be empathetic, not mean. We're not going to say, What else is new? The drop of the other shoe is predictable, the same things still bother the same people, which is why the go-to response will be:
"Wow, so inappropriate!"  when it is about what the other person did or didn't say, did or didn't do. Whatever it was that made the patient, who had been doing so well, so angry, cannot be minimized, not ever.  Empathy, not sarcasm, not even a joke.  

That would be enough, that snapshot.  But it is a holiday, and folks do sit around, hunt for things to read, and it seems to me, before life got in the way, that I used to post a blog every so often and link to or recommend other blogs. That was when there was time to read other bloggers, but there's something else. Bloggers, back in the day, were not in it to find business, or maybe they were and I just didn't notice. But there was an innocence, a real creative thing going on. 

And you know, things change. Yet, there's still good reading out there, and it is formatted so well. It wasn't hard to find good blogs. So without endorsing, or even agreeing with the following therapist-writers, for your entertainment and erudition, here you go. 

Being partial to AA and AA bloggers, we have to begin with Drinking Diaries, especially this time of year, when the booze and drugging opportunities play.

And Syd, I'm Just F.I.N.E (hi Syd!)

Anita Sanz, in I've Got Your Back, on boundaries. You could say, life is like a bowl of Halloween candy, without any boundaries. You go girl.

Therese Borchard, an old blogger buddy, writes on the New Science of Exercise (and depression), because who are we kidding? Unless you move around, physically shake the lead out, the symptoms of depression, i.e., vegetating, hyper-hypo eating, lethargy, anomie, thoughts of worthlessness, hopelessness, etc., move in. Friday, do more than shop. Take a real power walk.

And Lindsay Holmes, of the Huffington Post, brilliant. Watch where you seat people at the table this Thanksgiving. But you already knew that. .

A Handy Self-Care Guide For When Politics Come Up At Thanksgiving

Kim Bowen, at The Marriage Place has some thoughts on verbal abuse. My own can't be verbalized (it brings out the warrior female, just saying). MEN WHO RAGE AND THE WOMEN WHO LOVE THEM  Also, just an fyi, all due respect, women who rage aren't exactly rare. But you knew that.

Karen Franklin, a forensic psychologist presents the another side to the crimes that make us cringe, abductions, physical-sexual assault, and a review of the numbing podcasts that chew them up. For those who don't mind taking a walk on the dark side, she's prolific.  

If you're into transitional objects, and object to the latest hysteria about how to properly put your baby to sleep, Claudia Gold, an MD has a terrific post, one that debunks the myths. Old fashioned pediatrics in the New AAP Sleep Guidelines, the Baby Box. . .Child In Mind is her blog. Thanks Doc!

And of course, if you're in the mood for a little education, you should check out SocialWorkSpeaks, where you'll find research snaps and news about mental health professions who get out of the office and do, what I call, real social work.

There are more, for sure, but you have cooking to do, or moping, and you have to love yourself either way. Happy Thanksgiving, and Go Cubs! (smiley face there)


Anarchist Soccer Mom: A modest proposal to VP-elect Mike Pence. (on abortion)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Safety Pin Idea

In my day you used a safety-pin to fasten a diaper. A really good safety-pin had a hard plastic head made of pink or blue, maybe yellow.

  1. A patient asked me, What's up with the safety pin? (The one on my blouse). I answered that it was a solidarity thing with minorities, people who are at risk. Then I remembered the Holocaust and that story. . . 

  1. Martin Niemöller

    In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist; And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist; And then they came for the Jews, And I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew; And then . . . they came for me . . .
    Should we be worried, fearful that the American way of life, liberty and justice for all, will disappear? Could America become more like Germany in the late nineteen-thirties and forties, or Russia, ruled by one leader, one party? 

    Rather than worry, some have taken to wearing safety pins. Those who understand this intervention like it because it is a way to communicate to vulnerable populations, to reach out. It is designed to help people feel safe. There is safety in numbers.

    Therapists like anything that fosters a sense of security and safety, anything that reduces anxiety. These little bits of hardware even have the word safety as a root.  

    It started in the United Kingdom last summer with Brexit. To cope with the Brexit crisis, those who lived in the UK wishing to show solidarity with immigrants, poked them into their clothes. Like the colorful rubber bracelets people wear when they support research for cancer, or back in the days of the Vietnam War, when wearing a black armband meant you wanted the USA out of the Southeast (the black armband a symbol of mourning), the safety pin is more than a just a fashion statement. 

    It is a fastening together of humankind, implies support for the differently-abled, victims of racism, those who have to watch out for their physical and psychological safety due to sexism, homophobia, religious discrimination, ageism, any of those ugly isms

    Historically, Americans, when stressed about social policies (look up Poor Laws) have turned to their British role-models for advice. 

    The best headline during the Brexit safety pin episode had to be Safety-pins Puncturing Post-Brexit Racism. Make it so, here in America.

    Many, many Americans are panicked about Mr. Trump's victory, worry that he will turn back the social progress of the last few decades. It is impossible to ignore the emotional atmosphere in the country, the reaction to the election hasn't let up. The days of American Political Angst started on November 9, 2016, with that big surprise, regime change. 
    Or as people are calling it, eleven-nine.
     A tweet by Bex Tayor-Klaus:   My  shows I will protect those who feel in danger bc of gender, sexuality, race, disability, religion, etc. You are safe with me.
    They lined up in Washington and New York to protest the election, to tell President-Elect Trump that they feared for the lives, the futures of their friends. The protests were loosely organized, under a thousand angry, scared souls. But better organization, better demonstrations, we might imagine, will follow. 

    We have reason to believe that this isn't irrational panic. There have been over 200 incidents of election-related harassment and intimidation recorded by the Southern Poverty Law Center, in the first three days post-election.  They even occurred in the VP-Elect's hometown.  Chants of Build That Wall echoed during lunch at a Michigan school, and a swastika decorated a storefront in South Philadelphia

    This isn't the transition some of us hoped for; it is more like the one we expected and feared.

    Thus Americans, worried that the worst is yet to come, have followed their European cousins with the safety pin intervention. 

    President-Elect Trump and Vice President-Elect Pence should put one on. It can be gold. This would reassure the American public. 

    The President-Elect could tweet about it. Tweeting is addictive, in a good way, because tweeters express their negative emotions, yet 99% of the time, nobody cares. But if he tweets, everyone cares. 

    Twitter's WifeOnTheVerge tells us what it means. This has gone viral. 

    It makes sense. Holding things together is a safety pin's raison d'etre, if only the hems of skirts, and diapers. People vow not to let go of their friends, not to abandon those in fear of being cast-off, sent to another country having committed no crime other than being themselves. So the safety pin is a symbolic coping strategy, works with any wardrobe. See the latest in fashion examples.

    The President-Elect could sell them in different colors, as long as he doesn't make too big a profit. 

    But probably that won't happen; he won't get on board. He might even respond with a negative comment, as opposed to one that reassures. Still, some of us hope he can rise above the pre-election negative verbiage, now that he is the declared winner. 

    He should know, however, that there are likely to be protests, that people might come out in droves, fill the city streets, shut down government buildings, when he puts policies into place that turn back the hands of time. 

    We might see the 
     National Guard again. How strange is that?

    It won't be like the 5 million in Chicago who came out when the Cubs won the World Series. Now that was a rally, but a victory rally, not one communicating anything to anyone except good cheer. The sheer numbers in the picture below show us how, when millions of like-minded people get together, (and wear the same colors) it can be a thing of beauty. The rallies to come are more likely to be demonstrations of civil disobedience, and they might not be so pretty. 

    Even if the President-Elect doesn't wear the safety-pin, that little piece of nearly extinct hardware that saves us from embarrassment when something tears, and once held diapers together on babies,  

    At least one of us will. 
    The safety-pin on a doctor's blouse