Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Beauty in Twilight

I woke at 4:00, snuck downstairs, and showered. I finished packing a few belongings, a pair of shorts, underwear, a few t-shirts, the sci-fi paperback I'm reading, my iPhone charger in a Puma gym bag, and left, walking to the Metro station to catch the train and a 7:00 a.m. flight to Florida. I bought the ticket just a few hours earlier, the night before.

The line to get through security was long. I was glad I got an early start. The flight was without incident, and I soon found myself gliding over immaculately-preened golf courses and lawns and housing developments perfect in their geometry. When I got off the plane at Palm Beach International Airport, I thought I was already at the hospital. Row after row of silver-haired octo- and septuagenarians waited in their wheelchairs to board the next flight. The carpet is a faded teal and the walls were a watered-down magenta, colors that reminded me of illness.

Aunt Jackie picked me up at the airport and immediately took me to the hospital. My mom was going to be discharged today, good news. But all this wouldn't happen until after 7:00, because there wasn't a day nurse available to hook my mom back up to the tube and machine she needs at home, so we would have to wait for a night nurse to meet us at the house.

We visited for a few minutes. Jackie ran downstairs for something to eat and came back with half a ham and cheese sub from the cafeteria downstairs which hit and sat in my stomach like a rock. After awhile, it was agreed we'd let my mom rest in anticipation of what might be a long first night home. Jackie went back to work. I had a paperback and my sunglasses so wandered off into the hot, South Florida morning. I aimed for the water and crossed the nearly-deserted Flagler Drive.

In Florida in May it is already stiflingly hot and humid. The sky is not blue, but white, the heat strangling the blue from the sky, squeezing the life out of it. There can be a warmth on your skin that feels good, that warms bones or wraps you up in something healing, restorative, but the heat in Florida pinches and stings, it conspires against you. I have long hated the heat for it, perhaps with malice unfair to a concept or something elemental.

I met a man with a fishing line in the Intracoastal, his bucket of bait and tackle, a box of lures and filament, in a metal shopping cart. I asked him if he'd caught anything. "Nothing yet." He didn't seem optimistic. I've long thought of fishing as just an excuse to look out on the water.

People are drawn to water, and everyone is searching for something different in it. I didn't know what he was looking for. Or what I hoped to see, for that matter.

I sat on the sea wall and read my book. I lied down, putting my head on my paperback and my eyes in the only shade I could find under one of the random pergolas on the side of the road. I tried to sleep, but couldn't. I listed to the water lap against the concrete sea wall. A fire ant bit my toe. Twice. And I gave up.

I decided to walk to Starbucks on Clematis, almost a mile in Tevas. I arrived twenty minutes later to find it closed, the victim of a global cyber-attack. You can't even get a cup of coffee these days without a computer network.

I called Elise on the walk back and listened as she told me about her cycling instructor. When I got back to the room, my mom was watching the Food Network, no slight irony left on anyone. She searches for small pleasures now, even a sip of grape juice or lemonade is better than just ice chips. No one would argue with that.

I walked to refill her ice from the family kitchen, grabbing a few Saltine crackers and finally getting a much-needed cup of coffee. I passed the door to the adjacent room. It was wide open. Inside, the lights were off, and an old woman was sleeping or dead, her head tilted back, a few fine wisps of ash-colored hair splayed on the tissue-paper pillowcase, her mouth frozen in a soundless 'O' pointed to the ceiling.

When I returned to the room, we passed the last few hours, talking, dozing, watching cooking shows and the news. I talked to the kids. Pete had a field trip to the Natural History Museum and learned about gemstones.

Across the hall, a woman started to wail. There was pain and fear in her cries. It lasted for several minutes, then stopped, though I heard no one come or go or otherwise respond to her cries.

As 7:00 approached, we started to gather our things in anticipation of leaving the hospital and going home. Around 7:30 two burly EMTs appeared at the doorway with a gurney and asked if we were ready. Mom said she was. They grabbed the four corners of the sheet she was on, pulled them tight, making a sort of hammock out of it and lifted her out of bed and to the gurney and with little fanfare, rolled her out.

I had to nearly run-walk to keep up with the gurney. The lead EMT didn't seem to be walking fast; it was almost as if the gurney gave him extra speed, as though it were pulling him along and left me struggling to stay in its wake. We navigated shiny, newly-waxed halls, down an elevator, through mechanical doors, from the chill of constant air conditioning to the warm South Florida dusk, the heat and humidity, again, like walking into a wall.

I won't soon forget the color of the blue of that dusk, the streets, the cars, the trees, even the Burger King across the street all a fishbowl blue, and my mother's face, looking at the clouds and the sky, seeing it all for the first time in more than a week. You could already see she was more tranquil, a relief. And her face didn't look like it was now, but as it had once been, beautiful in repose.

Then, she was wheels up in the gurney and into the back of an ambulance. I sat next to her and she reached and held my hand. I saw my reflection in the back window of the ambulance as 95 northbound sped by. We raced from Palm Beach Lakes to Jupiter at 90 miles per hour; I had never made it that quickly from downtown.

I never will again. 

Wild West Family Night

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


I left work a few minutes early to be home in time to either take Clementine to her soccer practice or stay home with the boys and start dinner. Unlike the boys, Clementine has practice from 6:00 to 7:00 (the boys are 5:00 to 6:00), so there is little time to dawdle after practice if we want the kids in bed on time. It's practice - dinner - baths - and bed. bang - bang - bang.

When I walked in the door at 5:40, Clementine was still downstairs watching TV. Elise was in the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher. "Is Clementine ready to go?" I called as I walked in the door, Leave-It-to-Beaver style.

Elise uttered an expletive from around the corner and said she lost track of time. She chalked it up to a "parenting fail".

"No fail," I told her. Seriously. I'm just happy we are all still breathing and are civil to one another most days with all the craziness going on in her lives. Believe me, there were zero expectations that Clementine would have her shin guards and socks on and waiting for me by the door, bouncing a soccer ball off her knees. Though that would have been nice.

Instead, I attempted to hurriedly wrestle shin guards around her ankles when she finally made it upstairs. I have never played soccer, so had no idea what I was doing. I'm also awful at doing Clementine's hair. I know I should learn at some point, but I never had a sister (that's my excuse, anyway), so never learned to braid hair or make a pony-tail. When Elise goes out of town or isn't around to help get Clem ready, you can tell, because her hair is never done and she walks around looking like Janis Joplin, bedraggled and disheveled.

Clem did make it to soccer, but Elise ended up taking her. I ran to the store to buy penne for dinner, leaving Sam and Peter home alone for five minutes. We recently bought a new iPad after our old iPad jumped off my bedside table on to the hard wood floor, dislodging some visual processor and turning everything pink. You can text from the new iPad, so Sam sent text messages to me while I was at the store.

He asked me to bring in the old iPad from the car, but I explained to him I didn't have the car; Mom did.

"Dang it," he texted.

It's a little jarring the first time you text back and forth with your son as though he suddenly reaches a new level of maturity in recognizing that the person on the other side of this exchange of digital waves has cognitive powers and volition you always knew were there, but somehow became more real, made tangible because he was able to shape his cognition and will into independent electronic messages.

And in that written "Dang it" I could hear Sam in my head, just like you can't read any Morgan Freeman quote without imaging his voice in your head reading it to you.

Elise had made kale pesto. I boiled penne and cut up some cherry tomatoes to put on top, and we sat down and ate. Most families have -- I think -- more or less assigned seats at the dinner table. But evolving feuds have us playing musical chairs most nights. Last night, Peter did not want to sit next to Clementine, but did want to sit next to me, but Sam was not willing to move his chair....really. There are only so many different ways you can sit five people around a four-sided table. We've exhausted pretty much all of them, Last night, I found myself with the rare privilege of sitting at the head of the table, a distinction usually reserved for Elise.

We don't have a lot of real hard and fast rules in our house. That being said, I really wish the kids would ask to be excused before bolting from the table. They never do, and are often on the other side of the room before I notice their flight and ask them, rhetorically, "Have you asked to be excused?" Which is kind of ridiculous to ask, because -- duh -- I know they haven't and more often or not they reply, "No," then just continue doing whatever it was that was so important they had to get up in the middle of dinner to do.

Peter ate three pieces of French bread, then ran for the couch before I could wrangle him back to the table. "I have something important to tell you," I told them.

"What?" Peter asked disgruntled.

"Nanny is sick."

Their three blank faces looked back at me. Elise began to tear up at the other end of the table.

I think it is hard to describe to children an idea that is on a spectrum. There are varying degrees of illness, and the children have been sick before. It almost seems as though it would be easier to tell them something binary. Though I've read differing accounts from parenting websites on that score.

"She's in the hospital."

They were silent. A few moments later, Peter -- seemingly unphased -- moved back to the couch, curled his knees up to his chest and stuck his butt up in the air, and went back to reading.

"Do you have any questions?" Elise prompted.

"What is she sick with?" Sam, sitting next to me, asked.


"Is she going to be okay?"

"I don't know." 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Peter's Mother's Day Book

Peter wrote a book for his mother for Mother's Day.

Busted. Can you tell Elise is the one sitting down? 

Yes, that is Pete barfing all over the floor. 

We joked that the book is also a work of fiction. 

Because Google Maps, of course!

I do, too. 

I think so, too.

Might not be the best mom in the whole Milky Way, but definitely in our solar system. I still think that pretty much takes care of all other moms, though. 

Mother's Day Tea

Photos from the Mother's Day Yea hosted by Clementine's class:

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Wax Museum

For a school project, Sam had to give a presentation on a famous historical figure. He chose Abraham Lincoln. Good choice. Apparently, one of the figures you could choose was Emma Watson, and I was surprised to hear the twenty year-old actress most famous for playing Hermione Granger on the sliver screen was a famous historical persona. Sam was quick to inform me she was an activist, so in that respect, I thought it was kind of cool they had identified a peer as someone worthy of historical mention. I think it is important to remember history is constantly being made and Sam and his classmates are no less likely to be famous historical figures some day than Abraham Lincoln or Harriet Tubman. Maybe Sam will aspire to be an activist, too.

His neighbor and good friend was chose to portray Abraham Lincoln. Elise got a kick out of watching the two Abes goof around together.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Lunch Note

Yesterday, the boys decided they were going to pack their own school lunches instead of leaving it to the fates to see what decides to show up in their lunch (read: me, their dad)

"They can't complain about it, if they pack it themselves," Elise correctly pointed out. 

When Peter got off the bus this afternoon, he opened his lunch box to show Elise the note below...

He's a sweet boy. Not sure where he gets it.