Monday, March 30, 2009


My mom was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Greenfield is less than an hour away from where I, my daughter and granddaughters now live. I find this quite amazing considering that all our family stories are set in Philadelphia.

Just why Mom was born in New England remains a family mystery. Philadelphia was where she and her folks set down roots, where I was to grow up. Perhaps my granddad (who became a steel worker) was cheap immigrant labor on a railroad project. Driving from western Massachusetts to Philadelphia is an effort even now, six hours by car. How the heck did my grandparents make the trip up here in the middle of winter, a century ago?

They are all gone, long gone. The mystery will not be solved unless Jenn and I do some serious genealogical research in the state archives. We plan to one day.

One hundred candles would have adorned her birthday cake today. Many live to that age now. She was not destined to do so. We lost her too soon, too fast. A doctor would tell me, after emergency open-heart surgery, that she was "in God's hands". We had her with us ten more heroic days but her damaged heart could not recover. In the end, she squeezed my hand and whispered, "Be good. I want to go to sleep now." She had earned her rest.

The family caregiver. The big sister. The loyal wife. The loving mother. Serious child (Sophie again). A flapper, a flirt. Funny (I hear her now in my daughter's laugh). An immigrant's child who scrubbed the marble steps of wealthy families. A laundress. Beautiful, in many ways. Her smile was radiant. Her patience and kindness, steady and admirable.

She was born just over those nearby mountains. I'd like to think she's found her way back just to be close to us. I'd like to think that smile is still shining down on the great-granddaughters she never got to know and on that one granddaughter whom she adored.

Happy Birthday, Mom. We miss you.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Love notes

Yes, today's the day. My Medicare card is on its way. I am turning the big "65" and have very mixed feelings about this whole getting older thing. At 60, I felt much more svelte, alive and adventurous. A lot has changed these past swift five years. Some good. Some not so good. Life happens, eh? I am working again, full time. Retirement seems farther away than ever now that the Ponzi schemers on Wall Street and greedy bankers have vaporized my one 401K plan which was modest to begin with. It's not like me to wake up with depressing thoughts, especially on my birthday.

A phone call from Jenn just now had me smiling and provided a much needed mood correction. If I jettison the self-pity and look at the adult kids and grandchildren, I can sit back and say, "Wow, did these amazing creatures come from me?" Nature versus nurture. It has to be both.

My mom would be 100 years old at the end of this month if she were still with us. I think she provided a true holding environment for me and I hope I carried on that tradition of love, laughter, common sense and goodness. "Be good." Those were her last words to me. I hope that's become a family legacy.

My daughter got me to sign up on Facebook a few months back. Recently, I challenged her to write a response to a list of questions that were being asked of small children. I felt that adult kids should have the opportunity to reflect on their parents too. Here are Jenn's answers:

1. What is something Mom always says to you?
a) It's going to get better, Sweetpea.
b) Did you take your meds?
c) I love you.
d) Want to go get a bite to eat?

2. What makes Mom happy?
Let me count the ways. Mom has a terrible psychiatric condition called euthymia...which means happiness finds her, everywhere.

3. What makes Mom sad?
Seeing me sad.
The past.
The things she never found out from her mom.

4. How does your Mom make you laugh?
Again: let me count the ways. We are so divinely different and so the same, it's a perfect setup for comic material. Her ethnic chameleon ways: "HOLA! I AM MARIA ELENA!" Rear-ending parked cars: "That wasn't so bad. I don't know why you had to act like that was so bad. Was that bad? Don't look. Was that bad? Get out and look but don't look like you're looking." Her posting Auschwitz pictures ON FACEBOOK.

5. What was your Mom like as a child?
Strapped to an accordion. Fearful of nuns, chubby until high school, where she was a laugher and adored.

6.How old is Mom?
I am answering this one - the big "65" today!!

7. How tall is your Mom?
5'3 to 5'4ish.

8. What is Mom's favorite thing to do?
Sunday drives, like her father used to do. Shopping with me. Writing fan fiction. Travel to London, Krakow, anywhere. Playing with her grandkids, on both coasts. Posting pictures of my brother and me on Facebook while we beg her to stop.

9. What does your Mom do when you're not around?
Write naughtier fan fiction than usual. Pray to the shrine of Amanda Tapping.

10. If your Mom becomes famous, what will it be for?
Writing a fabulous book about blogging with her crazy, but lovable, daughter.

11. What is your Mom really good at?
Again, let me count the ways: She taught me how to write. She is the least defensive person I've ever known. She is a GENIUS BRILLIANT MUSICIAN. She is wonderful at caring for me...still. She tries so hard to understand my brain, even though it is a foreign country, no map.

12. What is your Mom not very good at?
Parking at the movie theatre. Watching a movie without talking. Subtleties, nuance. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

13. What does your Mom do for her job?
Helps kids find internships and get into college. HARD work.

14. What is Mom's favorite food?
Those little cucumber and fish circles drizzled in vinegar at the Thai restaurant. Pierogies, the real deal. Carbohydrates, baby.

15. What makes you proud of your Mom?
Her ability to roll with the punches, and to keep an open, hopeful heart and fabulous good humor, no matter how bad things get.

16. If your Mom were a cartoon character, who would she be?
Maria Elena, the Ethnic Chameleon.

17. What do you and your Mom do together?
What DON'T we do together? Eat at every Bennigan's on the East Coast. Reminisce about family, old photographs. Take day trips together. Laugh together. Cry together. Get coffee together. Do laundry together. Watch 'Zack and Miri Make a Porno' together.

Wait, here's what we don't do together -- I can answer my own question: fight. We don't fight. We got that all out of the way a long time ago and now we're just crazy about each other.

18. How are you and your Mom the same?
Loving. Compassionate. Full of humor. Freak out at veins and IVs.

19. How are you and your Mom different?
It changes. Right now: She is white chocolate, sunshine, resilience, unencumbered, hopeful, outgoing. I am dark chocolate, a cloudy day, shaky, burdened, fearful, exhausted by social events. For now. And I don't mind the dog poo and Eli's enormous Shetland pony ways. Or 'Zack and Miri.'

20. How do you know your Mom loves you?
I know it with every fiber of my being. She says it in every phone call. She radiates it. It is the one thing I have never doubted, and that sure is saying something in a lifetime. She gives her all for me, no matter how exhausted she is.

21. Where is your Mom's favorite place to go?
London! And the Red Carpet (restaurant where she picks up hot dudes).

Thanks, Jenn, for this birthday gift! And thanks, Mom, for planting the seed.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Birthday Girl

You turn six today
Sweet sunny child of my son
Pisces just like me

Your blonde hair, shy smile
Make me smile back in return
Even if alone

Looking at your face
In a picture in my hand
Wishing you were near

Liv, my golden girl
So far away, so special
Six and then, sixteen

I want to stop time
Hold your childhood days in check
But you bounce ahead

Golden curls, giggles
Music, dolls, pretty dresses
Such a fair lady

Happy Birthday, Olivia!

Love, Babci xoxo