Big Birthday Report – Better than Great

Birthday card 1 birthday care 2Brithday card glitter

It’s pretty damn weird that after all the build up I haven’t written a thing about my 70th birthday itself! It was so lovely that I just didn’t want to let go of it even enough to tell its stories.  I just kind of hung onto it for a day.  So here it is:

We all went to Santa Cruz, to the beach: sons, daughters-in-law, grandsons and Rick and me. The boys found a great house with a big open plan, perfect for people whose ages run from 70 to 19 months with an almost-five-year-old Nate in the middle.

It was just what I wanted. Toddlers Jake and Eli eating blueberries and flirting with their grandparents, grown-ups talking about everything from politics to child rearing to just-executed beach walks (of which there were many.) Goofing around.  Reading stories.  Cuddling on the deck.  Coloring. Being gifted with three home-made birthday cards covered in crayon and glitter-glue.  And with an urgently required lemon zester.

Staying up late talking – and listening to the boys talk with each other.  Catching up while the kids slept.  Hanging around in the early morning with the mommies and the little guys.  Walking from our house to the far end of the promenade, a windy point, and then back past the house to the other end, where there’s a lighthouse. We did it in different combinations, a couple of times in the daylight and one gorgeous time in the dark, watching the lighthouse lazily send out its signal and wondering at the full moon and its bright path of light on the sea.

It was, in short, our family at its best.  They gave me what I wanted most: to wake up and wander out in my PJs and find the little ones sitting on the floor giggling; to watch the sunset bundled up on the deck with Nate in my lap, and to enjoy our sons and their wives.  To all be together in the same place for more than dinner.

From each of them came hugs, and humor and generosity of spirit – and lots of love. Times like these are why we celebrate being born at all.

Saint Joy: the Agony of a Good Girl

Jennifer face
The commercials for JOY, created by and starring the spectacular crew from Silver Linings Playbook make the film look like a comedy, but that’s not what it is.  It’s a glum story about a much put-upon young woman with a good idea and a family almost as selfish as the siblings in Transparent.

Nobody in her overflowing household can take care of herself, or anyone else. She, along with her divorced parents, ex-husband, grandmother and two children share a tiny house with a big mortgage.   Each of them depends upon Joy for everything,  not just financial support but also plumbing repairs, accounting for the family business — and dinner.

She’s sacrificed what we have learned are her great engineering and creative potential as well as her crack at going to college to stay home and help her ridiculously self-occupied and soap opera-obsessed mother deal with her divorce.  Everything sucks.

She’s always there – to pull up a couple of boards and stop a leak in the pipes, pack lunches, cook dinners, make money, raise the children, act as her mother’s therapist, her ex-husband’s landlord (for free) and her father’s refuge (also for free) when his second wife throws him out.

At the same time, she manages to invent “the Miracle Mop” – a truly ingenious product that she knows other women will want because she could sure use it at home when she’s cleaning the bathroom floors.  (Did I mention that she also does all the cleaning?)

The film is the story of her victory over these enormous odds, even when her father sells her out to please his rich girlfriend.

When we walked out of the theater, I was angry — trembling.  It took a while to figure out why.  The film closes with a description of all that happened to Joy after we left: big house, great business, loyal friends, generosity with aspiring entrepreneurs she meets.  It then goes on the tell us how this virtuous, long-suffering woman, as she always had, continued to love and support her family — faithless father, feckless sister and hangers-on despite the fact that they even tried to sue her to steal her company.  As far as we know, except for her ever-loyal ex-husband, her best friend and supporter and her kids no one related to her in biology or spirit was worthy of her kindness.

Forgiveness and love are important – and the fact that she “continued to love” this grotesque crew is understandable.  What the narrator describes, though, is the classic “good girl” doing everything she is supposed to do no matter what.  She may have had the strength to build her dream and fight for her vision, but she couldn’t ever say “‘Enough’ – go take care of yourselves you blood suckers” to those who betrayed her.



Aunts and Cousins: Great Memories and an Uncertain Future

Nonny & 3 sisters

Sunday night both boys, their wives and kids came for dinner.  We won’t all be together for Thanksgiving; one son and his two kids will be with his wife and her family; we’ll be with our other daughter-in-law’s family.  So Sunday was special, and it was a lovely evening.

Afterward, for some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Thanksgivings when we were kids.  It was always at our house: my parents, my mom’s sisters and their husbands, my grandmother and “the cousins.”  There were 9 of us, six girls (I was the oldest) and three boys.  My Aunt Bettie, her husband, two sons and a daughter lived in Cleveland; the rest of us were all local, so when the Cleveland Cousins showed up, it was a big deal.

There was a kids table of course.  Nobody, not even bossy me, was in a hurry to move to the old folks’ territory.  We were having too much fun.  In addition to everything else (including games of “Murder” and “Sardines” and lots of running around outside) we planned and performed little dramas every year.  I doubt they were very good, but everyone clapped and we had fun.

I wonder about so much now, though: the covert sisterly conversations in my parents’ bedroom, my grandmother (that’s her in the picture), whom I thought had gotten mean but was apparently losing her sight and trying to hide it, the lovely uncle and the wild one, and the impact of the Depression on the sisters and their men.  There’s so much of that time that I’d love to see with my grown up eyes: about raising kids and being a grandparent of course, but even more, about what WWII and the Depression had done to them.   After all, as I watch events unfold, it’s scary to think how close we are to leaving our kids and theirs to face similar harshness.

I wrote this about them back in 2007, when the last sister died:

In some ways, they were the lucky ones; all three sisters and my father and uncles — were able, on scholarships, to go to college. All three marriages, despite tensions and tough times, survived with a real friendship between spouses for most of their lives. Each had three children who were smart, interesting, and self-sufficient. Even so, the bounty of choices they gave to us was so much more than they had had themselves. The young women in this photograph, and their husbands, never had the luxury of dropping out of school to campaign for Eugene McCarthy or majoring in music or theater or spending years doing trauma medicine a couple of months a year to pay for a life of mountain climbing and exploration. There was no give, no leeway, in the lives of those whom the Depression and the war that ended it – had stamped forever.

I’d give anything to hear it all now.  All of it.

I hope we, and our kids, have the guts to be as courageous — and tenacious, as they were.

Happy Thanksgiving.

A Gift from Grown Sons

On the Danube, 1985
On the Danube, 1985

My sons are gifted givers of love.  To their wives.  To their sons. To us.  The richness of this awareness is indescribable.

To watch a man, a son of yours, arrive home from work, lift his infant son and greet him with such easy confidence and comfort and tenderness, help his toddler handle his anger, joke with his wife, ask with deep concern “how is Dad feeling?” well – you can’t imagine.  If you’re lucky, maybe you can.

To watch his brother conduct serious conversations with his one year old, read to him, laugh with him, unabashedly speak of his love for his wife and child and offer small acts of kindness to us – and to so many others – well – you can’t imagine.  If you’re lucky, maybe you can.

I know many families share in these blessings.  But I’m writing it now because I woke up this morning thinking this, feeling so full of gratitude you can’t imagine.  If you’re lucky, maybe you can.

The War on Science? Anti-Vaxxers Trump the Right

Vaccine chart lat
We’ve all been ranting about “The Republican War on Science: anti-climate change, anti-evolution, anti-God-knows-what-else: all those conservatives refusing to see what’s in front of them.

Well, my friend Erin Kotecki Vest, whose immune system is seriously compromised, posted on Facebook yesterday from a pharmacy where she’d gone to pick up a prescription.  Next to her was a man who had brought with him his son, who has whooping cough!  That’s kind of the equivalent of waving a gun at her.

Whooping cough (Pertussis) can usually be prevented through a DPT injection; although this kid’s vaccination status is unclear, the more people who  refuse to vaccinate their kids, the less safe the rest of us are.  This is not an observation, it’s an epidemiological fact.

Meanwhile, measles is haunting California, from Disneyland to affluent Marin County and other Northern California communities*.  And the folks fighting the science?  We have met the enemy and they are us:  Whole Food progressives who refuse to accept hard evidence that the “vaccines cause autism” research was a fraud.

Imagine how scary this is for those of us in California (which always leads the way for the rest of the country by the way, so don’t write this off as California crazy.) I have three grandsons under four; two of them are under 6 months old. They can’t have MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) immunizations under 12 months. So here we are: Daycare at the gym? Children’s concerts? Family restaurant dinners?  Story time at the library?  Would you go?

What I want to know is, if it’s wrong to deny the theory of man-made climate change and wrong to deny the theory of evolution – both of which have been repeatedly found to be true by researchers, why is OK to risk the lives of entire communities of kids when the decades of research have proven these vaccines to be safe and reliable?  What’s the difference?  And which side’s “war on science” is doing the most damage to us and our families — and threatening our children and grandchildren —  right now, today?

*The  chart above is from the Council on Foreign Relations via the LATimes.

This Just In: The Longer You Live, the Older You Are!

Banksy seniors
Banksy’s view of older folk


They look like big insects with wheels, those people with walkers and canes.  I pass so many of them on the streets.  Every time, it gets scarier.

“That’s OK” I tell myself, “Lots of them are really obese, many are clearly far far older or looking it and some are obviously dealing with life-long disabilities.  They need all those appliances.  I don’t.”  Even so, each time they pass I see, for the first time, not another species but a possible (perhaps inevitable) future.

We all age.  Our grandsons are growing so fast; miss a week and they seem transformed.  Our kids have somehow become men of 35 and almost 40!   Younger people are more willing to reveal their resentment of those of us from the 60’s and 70’s. (“We’re just bitter because the media spent our formative years (well, the teen and college ones) calling us slackers and then our entire generation got known as a waste of space. It’s still mean about us! I think we are the hardest workers who will work until we drop dead.”)

I understand what that means, even though I disagree with much of it.  I don’t mind the idea of aging; so far I’m pretty lucky in how I feel and what I can do and think and be.  Even so, I know it all turns on an illness, or a fall, or a loss of strength or hearing or sight.  I continue to see myself apart from those old people, but somewhere inside I know the truth.  I can’t hide from it forever.

We all get old.  We all change, sometimes decline and sometimes gain wisdom.  Boomer or Millennial, Gen X or Y – all of us move along the continuum no matter how much we fight it.   And no matter how long I sit here trying to finish this, I can’t find a way to make it any better.






Being a Grandmother, a Mother, a Daughter, and Sad


These two are both dads now.
These two are both dads now.

Once a year I pay special honor to my parents.  In a  service on Yom Kippur called Yizkor, I say a prayer to their memory and pledge to do something to remember them:  to donate charity for their sake.

This year, even more than usual, I wept as I prayed, and afterward. I have three grandsons now, one of whom shares my father’s name, and my parents don’t know it.  They aren’t here to enjoy these lovely boys, or to help me handle the issues that emerge when one’s children have children.

Our boys and their wives are stunning parents (and wonderful to us) and our grandsons are, of course, perfect; that’s not the issue.  It is, rather, that I know now some of what they must have felt and I would be so grateful if I could tell them what I have learned about their own grace as grandparents, and ask them for advice on the moments that grab the heart, or maybe even, as in every family, for a moment, break it.