Saturday, September 30, 2006

Balancing act

Sophie started gym class at the local Y. I’ve been attending the sessions, even getting to pick her up from school and delivering her. I’m earning my grandmom stripes.

For a child who sometimes seemed a bit ungainly and slow to participate in physical sports, she has made (pardon the pun) leaps and bounds.

The very first week, when the little ones were wandering around the exercise mat, Sophie was the first to answer the call to attention and the daunting challenge of getting up on the balance beam for the initial try. She moved across, tentatively at first but trusting that she would get to the other side with the trainer ever near. The look of accomplishment when she jumped down was priceless.

I have seen this same daring on the playground since I’ve been up here. Sophie now hoists herself up on the climbing bars and rings and is soon looking at me upside down, a self-satisfied smile on her face. Way to go, Sophie! She has grown not only in height but in confidence. It’s great to see.

I remember her mother as a little girl running up and down the hallway practicing her moves a la Nadia Comenici and then thrusting her body forward and proclaiming “10”. I think we’re in for a repeat performance. I’m sure we’ll be watching to keep it enjoyable and real and not throw her into the ring for a future Olympics. It’s not about perfection and tunnel vision. Sophie lives in her mind so much that it is refreshing to see her running and jumping and tumbling too. What she’s gaining now is a sense of self-control over her body through small victories in a playful environment.

Exercise as fun. A novel idea.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Haiku for Lady Hannah

How lovely you look
As the camera intrudes
On serious play

Captures an instant
Full of Victorian charm
“My dears” you call us

No need for pretense
You are who you seem to be
Childhood knows no bounds

Pretty ladies speak
Walk in unsteady slippers
Sure of who they are

Later they will doubt
As they shift from tot to teen
Trying new attire

Treasure the present
And wear many hats and gowns
Play is work enough

You soon will outgrow
The comfort of make-believe
Oh to keep you here!

Hello young lovers

They met when she was sixteen and he, twenty-one. In three short years they married. She loved to dance; he was not very good at it. Years later, he laughed when his daughter called him on to the dance floor for her wedding. His wedding was a three-day affair. Polish weddings were like that. Ever the prankster, he pretended to fall coming down the church steps. In truth, he had fallen hard for her ... love at first sight according to her girlfriend. She was supposed to date his older brother. She chose him instead. He considered himself a lucky man.

They both were children of immigrants who settled in the same section of town. As first-generation Americans they spoke English but were equally at home speaking Polish. He was a banjo man; making music came naturally to him. He was also an auto-body welder, earning a steady paycheck at one company for 40 years. He was as loyal to the company as he was loyal to his wife.

I think that's what I loved most about my parents - their faithfulness to each other. They were married almost 50 years before my Dad died. When he died suddenly, my best friend remarked: "That was the only irresponsible thing your Dad ever did."

He was a good man, a simple man. He had his values in place. She was the woman he loved from the moment he saw her. He never wavered.

Do you remember the parable in the Bible where the kingdom of heaven is compared to a wedding feast? I picture all my relatives who have passed on at this wedding, dancing in a circle. The aunts, uncles, cousins who may have feuded in life are all dancing together and so, so happy. And my Dad no longer has two left feet. He and my Mom are out there in the middle of the circle in each other's arms, the bridal couple of course.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


It’s been an amazing day. This is only the second week on the new job but today I got to travel to a professional workshop at a university about two hours away. I figured out the map quest directions and set on my way through some of the most scenic territory, a highway known as the Mohawk Trail. Driving up and around hairpin turns and looking at trees soon to burst forth with brilliant fall colors, I had to laugh out loud. Here I was, in my new fall fashions, already shedding my old colors and displaying some brilliance of my own.

This past month has been so filled with things to do and people to meet that I haven’t really had a chance to reflect on all that has happened. It still seems a bit unreal. Did I really pick up and leave my lifelong location? Find an apartment? Change jobs?

When I walked into this conference, I knew instinctively that I had found the right job. Here, in this room, were a group of educators and counselors. Yes, they were working with high-school students and I had been advising college students but I soon realized that there was a definite interface to my past experience and my new responsibilities. I felt so comfortable to be in this room. It felt so good to be with like-minded people and made me think of the professional relationships and organizations I had left behind. This workshop provided the context that I was looking for. I didn’t even know something was missing until everything clicked today. I took notes like crazy, managed to contribute to the discussion, and even did some important networking. The networking included chatting up a guy my age, a retired consultant. I swear these gray-haired men are falling from the sky. Lunch afterwards and a walking tour of the campus with a young student who was a history and military science major. I left with a working plan for my own school regarding serving our new junior class. I even got an official certificate from the state of Massachusetts for continuing education units, totally unexpected. It was a very productive day.

Driving home through the same mountains, I passed once again through my mom’s birthplace, Greenfield. Jenn and I plan to travel there to search out old records and try to figure out the mystery of my grandparents being in this place for a brief period of time in the early 1900s. It's a rugged piece of terrain. What would a young immigrant couple be doing here during the harsh winter months with a little boy and new baby on the way? It’s very unusual as all our family history lies in Philadelphia but that will be another story for another time.

I stopped for gas and another guy my age came over to the car. He was tall and had a baseball cap on and kind of quirky. I must have an accent as a lot of folks are asking me where I’m from. This guy was no different. I told him that I was sorry if I pulled up to the “full service” pump as I’m used to pumping gas myself. He promptly replied that he wasn’t sorry as he was glad to pump gas for “such a pretty woman”. Hot dang! My new clothes and I are having an impact.

I smiled all the way home. Home. Yes, I think I’m going to like this place.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Full circle

She would have been smiling to see me falling asleep on the sofa. She knew the routine.

She lived in an apartment just two blocks away and would often baby sit so that hubby and I could get a much-needed night out. Playing games like Husker Du or Pigs Are Poppin’ and then getting them settled into their beds, she doted on her two little grandchildren. We would return late at night and find her, head nodding, trying hard to stay awake. One of us would drive her back home. She never seemed to mind the late-night imposition.

My mom became a grandmother in her sixties. The role became her. She had grown up as the oldest girl, the responsible one who took care of the rest of the family. She lavished that same care on husband and daughter as the years went by. She was the product of an immigrant culture where the women were expected to be the primary caretakers; the men, the breadwinners. There were sacrifices to be made.

As a child, she loved to draw and the nuns would have her create holiday pictures of Santa Claus and winter landscapes. She thought of becoming a nurse but her formal education was cut short so that she could contribute at home by minding her younger siblings. When she grew older, she nursed her own invalid mother and ailing brother but never realized her original dream. Instead, she used her hands to bake and sew and crochet.

Becoming a grandmother brought out the child in her. She got to draw and play again. She got to sing silly songs and bake appetizing treats for an adoring new generation: a dark-haired little girl with deep, bright eyes and a wispy-haired younger boy who warmed to her attention. To be in her kitchen, to have her look at them as if they were the only two children in the entire world, was a reciprocal gift. They got the promise of unconditional love; she got back all the innocence and joy of her early youth. She laughed at their antics and beamed as they ate her special cakes and cookies. She crocheted dolls and capes and shared secrets in the middle of the night when they would sleep over. She was a good listener. She became a part of the fabric of their everyday lives. They, and she, were richer for it.

I baby sat for the girls last night. We watched Peter Pan and looked at American Girl catalogs and just shared time together. Their mom and dad were out on a special anniversary date. Hannah was so eager to see Peter Pan. When the movie started to play, I realized with a shock that it was the same movie I had watched over fifty years ago, not much older than she. I was suddenly transported to my own childhood and memories of a Peter Pan activity book which I played with for hours. I remembered the weekly visits to my aunt and uncle’s and setting up the Peter Pan play book on their dining-room table. I loved Tinkerbelle as much as Hannah! I looked into her excited face and saw something familiar. For one brief moment, it was like looking into a mirror of myself in another dimension. Little me, playing with delight and moving those Peter Pan cut-out figures all around my aunt’s table. I then looked at Sophie, the wise one, totally immersed in the movie. Her concentration often seems overwhelming but suddenly she reminded me of my own intensity as a child. When I engaged my Peter Pan dolls, I stepped completely into the moment and tuned out the rest of the world. I was like that whenever I played with my dolls and toys.

The movie ended and I marched them up to bed. Hannah tried to wager for another round of playtime but had to settle for “family rules” and a couple bedtime stories read to her and her sister on their parents’ big bed. Sophie settled into her bedroom with the American Girl catalogs while I put Hannah in her crib, gave her the customary tickle and told an accelerated version of Cinderella. She was asleep by the time I got into the hallway. Sophie, on the other hand, was busy printing out a list of dolls that she would love to buy from the catalogs with her allowance. Explaining the need for long-term strategies regarding enough cash flow for such high-end items, I tucked her in.

I came downstairs and sat on the sofa, waiting for Jenn and David to return. I found myself dozing off. Head nodding, I could not help but think of my mom.

A car pulled up and, like many years before, a grown daughter drove her tired mother home to an apartment just two blocks away.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pump you up

Slow leak in back tire: $5
New wardrobe for new life: first paycheck
Having daughter as personal shopper: priceless

We almost didn’t get to the mall today. Daughter managed to call my attention to a somewhat sagging tire just as we were ready to pull out for a day of serious shopping. I needed someone to pick and choose the correct colors and designs which would allow me to present myself in public as a fairly well-dressed style-savvy transplant to the Berkshires. Here the dress code is certainly more relaxed than big-city living but even my jeans are in need of an extreme makeover. I told Jenn that I couldn’t do this without her. I decided to capitulate and let her show me just what was missing. However, the tire was almost as flat as my sense of fashion.

First things first. The locals have a “drive-in tire service” and, yes, there were actually two nails wreaking havoc with my back tire. One fellow checked the air in the other tires while another guy sealed up the problem and I was soon on my way - nice guys and they didn’t seem offended by my attire: high-school sweater, yellow pullover and green corduroy slacks.

Jenn, on the other hand, was stricken and couldn’t wait to get me to the mall and push me into the nearest fitting room as she ran freely through the petites department collecting pants, tops, jackets and sweaters to rejuvenate my muted palette. I was feeling a bit doubtful at the beginning but, damn, the kid is good! She scored almost 100% in finding items that made me look less short, younger and definitely curvy in just the right spots. For years I’ve shopped alone and hated going into the dressing rooms to face the truth in the mirror. This time, facing the truth was tempered by a daughter who kept running out and bringing back surprising combinations of blues and greens and pinks and eggplants, not to mention a few basic blacks and tans to balance it all out. If there was a runway, I would have walked it. Color has come back into my life.

I feel pretty, oh so pretty. Shedding the old isn’t so painful when you have someone who loves you at your side.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bras and boundaries

Well, I did it. Couldn't leave well enough alone. Hauled my load of wash over to daughter's and decided to be helpful and throw some of her dark items into the washer along with mine. How was I to know that a certain expensive undergarment was so delicate that it didn't belong in the maelstrom of a churning agitator? Simply put: brown bra lying in a laundry hamper was off limits. Luckily, I swept that puppy right out in time to revive it with a cold rinse ("by hand ONLY Mom") and assured the daughter that momma will never again assume that objects lying atop her laundry bin are actually ripe for the picking. One would think ...

We're off and running. Up here a month. Getting in each other's hair and laundry bins. Sharing secrets. Telling tales. Pushing kids in strollers. Day dreaming and saving our pennies for outrageous purchases from tony home-furnishing catalogs. Laughing a lot. Crying a bit. Trying to set some boundaries around "her world" and my new world.

Just like a good bra, there's always room for expansion.

Ex libris

I'm up to the multiple boxes of books which have to find their way onto bookshelves in my new place. Yes, I may be a fashion flunkie but I'm a bibliophile and it was very hard to pare back when it came to packing up my book collection. I did give some of the popular fiction away but the rest was salvaged and added to the movers' load. Considering what the movers did to me, I think it was a fair and just reward for their services. There are about 15-20 small but weighty uHaul boxes that I'm working from, in addition to photos and other family memorabilia which will be tackled after the sorting of the books.

I had a friend who once told me that, as she walked through a bookstore or library, she was ever mindful of a "Eureka" moment when a certain book called her name. I do think there is something to this. Once you open a book, there is a great deal of energy being released - new ideas, new challenges which engage the mind and soul and just may change a life. Look at Oprah and her book club. That was a concept that really took off.

As much as we have become a digital and cable population, there is nothing like settling down in your most comfy chair and reading or re-reading a favorite author. As I look through the many topics (big on spirituality and psychology) of the books I'm pulling out of boxes, I am caught between my past and my future. Some of these books brought hope in troubling times; others just made me see the world with a different, less judgmental lens. They were comfort and catalyst. I still have much to learn from their pages.

So, dear books, welcome to my new home and have a seat on the shelf. It's good to have you here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Step away from the clothes

The Fashion Police have raided my closet. Translation: my daughter has decided to review her mother's wardrobe now that MOTHER HAS LANDED A NEW JOB!

Yes, I've been busy these past two weeks interviewing for a position as a college-placement counselor at a local school. Yesterday, I got the good news - they offered me the job. Today, I went to finalize the details.

Jenn, in the meantime, had decided to make sure that I didn't embarrass myself, her and her progeny, and any other living sentient being who may be related to me by showing up in something that would not a) enhance my figure and b) deconstruct style for the Baby-Boomer generation. Before I could go to my final meeting at the school, my daughter stuffed me into an Oprah-bra-of-the-month, black and sexy, all the while reminding me to "lift and tuck". She then led me to eBay to purchase my own version. This was not enough. I could tell by the glint in her eye that she was about to invade my closet. There were shrieks and moans and soon most of what I had considered "casual chic" was lying strewn across my bed begging to be delivered to the nearest thrift store. Nothing else would appease the adult child (who still has nightmares of my dressing her and her brother in multi-colored floral-print play pants when they were toddlers).

What can I say?! I'm a fashion flunkie. I would love to have a certain flair and style of my own but never found time to do the homework. My casual chic is obviously casual shriek to the 30-something generation.

I was reminded that I was too short for straight-legged pants and v-necks were the only way to go to offset my Polish genetic endowment. Handbags? Oh, she had a field day with those ... they're also leaving the premises.

It was hard giving up some of the old jackets and skirts but Jenn was adamant about her mother's image.

"No way. NO. No. Not negotiable. You've got to be kidding me. Gone. Goodbye. This is about starting over, Mom."

The Gucci Gestapo has spoken, even if she's only living high-end on Land's End.

Finding the job was rather easy compared to this next mission. I have a feeling that eBay and I are going to become quite interactive. I wonder if the fashion police are related to the local sheriff?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Come grow old with me

He's 105 years old.

In dog years, he's past 15. His eyes are dim and his pace is slow. Sometimes he stumbles and other times he painfully lifts himself from the chair and carefully lowers himself to the floor. I can tell just by his walk if his arthritis is beating up on him. He tries to eat but it almost seems too difficult to chew and manage his food on certain days. I stay patient and try to give him smaller portions. I stand close to his ears and speak louder when I want to get his attention. He looks at me and stares.

Yet there are moments and hours when he reclaims his former self - a deep bark, a playful toss of the head. He can't go on long walks but he can walk to the playground and he holds his head high and seems to enjoy the wind ruffling his coat. He sniffs into the wind and I see him as he was ... young and frisky and always ready to play ball or frisbee. He used to leap up when he was a pup, so happy to see me. Now he wobbles and lets himself be led.

He is my daughter's dog but we have a lot of history together. He was in my charge while his owner took an assignment in Hungary for a year. I never had a dog growing up but he worked his magic on me and we became friends.

He has the heart of a prince. Not once has he harmed the babies and actually seemed to appoint himself their official guardian. Now he gets so many pills and creams and vitamins per day that it doesn't seem fair: phenobarbitol to relax him, glucosamine to help with the joint pain, other prescriptions to help take the edge off each day's struggle to stay with us, keep watch over the clan.

He's still the "best boy dog in all the world". It was my routine with him when he lived with me for that year of Jenn's absence. I'd put my finger in his warm ear and scratch and tell him so. He knew he was special. Now I administer ear drops for a recurring infection but I still tell him he's the best.

Taking care of him again this past week, I can't help but compare his plight to those of the old old we have in nursing homes. They are wobbly on their feet, their senses are failing, and at times they just seem to be in the way. For those of us who are busy and still blessed with good health, the elderly are clumsy and too too slow. Yet, aren't we catching glimpses of ourselves? How will we handle our "golden years"? Who will take the time to make room for us at the table or in the family circle?

We are all finite creatures.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Branded and broke

It's taken two days of running here and there, but I'm now auto-insured, registered, tagged, licensed and inspected. My sweet Ruby has shed her Pennsylvania license plate for a pair of shiny new Massachusetts tags.

I am now paying $200 more per year to drive in a semi-rural area. Maybe I can blame it on the moose and bear. Cripes. I guess if you hit one of those, you've got a helluva lot of collision damage to pay for. When I express my surprise at the higher rates, the insurance agent shakes her head and sneeringly replies "Welcome to Taxachusetts."

I pick up the local paper while waiting for the car to be inspected. I read of 70-year-old widows who are sculling on the local lakes and 73-year-old bachelors who are doing community service and leading yoga classes. I'm feeling intimidated as I haven't even unpacked all my moving boxes. The auto shop has barbershop chairs installed in their waiting room. Quirky but comfortable. If you want something even more nostalgic, there's an old-fashioned dentist chair complete with drill. Is this going to be a painful experience? Luckily, their bill for inspection is the cheapest outlay of the day. I'm good to go.

Driving around without my former inspection stickers glued to the left side of the car window is a bit disorienting. The Massachusetts sticker goes on the right side of the car. Yes, it's a small change but it still makes me feel like something has, indeed, shifted. I've been coming up here for five years to visit and now suddenly I and my car are a part of the local landscape. I remind Ruby to be on good behavior and not cause any traffic jams nor embarrass me with a moving violation.

I'm tired and a bit low on cash but look for the positive. The mountains loom around me. I drive up through a state reservation, the car climbing the twisting roads higher and higher. I'm feeling quite alone and then pass a mountain biker who is tackling what, to me in the car, seems to be the Mt. Everest of mountain biking. Bikers and scullers. Somewhere in between, I hope to find my calling.

Postscript: I phoned the sheriff to ask for the location of the motor-vehicle registry and he's actually called me back twice since then. He's a golfer. I won't need the bowling ball.