Saturday, September 21, 2013

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT A NEW DAY WILL BRING

I was just finishing my morning coffee today when I heard a child crying in the corridor. So far as I knew, there were no children on my floor, and I was just about to look out to see what was happening when I heard a light tap on the door. I opened it to find a young woman, a big dog, and a little boy about 3 or 4 years old. The only one I recognized was the dog. The young woman, Alyssa, was walking him for her relative who lives down the hall. The little boy had been wandering the halls and seemed to want to come into my apartment. He was barefoot, wearing only a shirt and underpants, and apparently lost. I live in an apartment building with three towers comprising some 800 apartments, and I had never seen him before.

Alyssa and I both asked his name, but he wasn’t answering, and when he did speak, we couldn’t understand him. Since many of my neighbors come from other countries, I thought maybe he wasn’t speaking English. What to do? How to reunite him with his family? I phoned the front desk down in the lobby, and when Tony, our concierge on duty this morning, heard that he was in my apartment, he said he would find his mother, who had been going up and down all 24 floors of our tower, looking for him. A couple of the building’s porters were also going up and down the stairs. Tony said he would call the mother and tell her to come pick him up.

Meanwhile, he was an unhappy little guy who didn’t express any interest in the cookie I gave him in the time-honored grandmother therapy for unhappy children. And it was taking what seemed like a long time for his mother to come. She had run out of her apartment without her cell phone when she heard the elevator going, didn’t know where her son had gone in it, and had frantically gone searching.

He was one overjoyed child when she came in and took him in her arms. She told us that he was autistic, which explained his inability to communicate with us. Fortunately, though, he did relate to his mother and folded himself into her loving arms, feeling rescued.

So that was this morning.

Yesterday morning I went to my computer about 7 o’clock and found a message from my youngest daughter, asking me to call her when I woke up. Since it was my birthday, I thought she wanted to sing to me. But no, it turned out quite differently -- she had slipped and fallen and hit her head against the metal drawer pulls of her dresser when she went to get out of bed in the middle of the night, now had a huge bump on her head with an accompanying headache, and thought she might have a concussion.

Several phone calls later, after she went to a neighborhood urgent care center (which I had recommended since I had had a good experience with one after my granddaughter had been in a taxi accident and cut her chin), she emailed to tell me she had been checked out, all her vital signs were normal, the doctor had told her she could go back to sleep and just to be watchful for any troubling symptoms.

So that was yesterday.

I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Friday, May 3, 2013

ANN RICHARDS – GOVERNOR, SPEAKER – AND ADORING GRANDMOTHER

Ann Richards, who died at age 73 in 2006, lives again in all her outspoken, tough, compassionate self as channeled by Holland Taylor, who wrote and acts in the play “Ann” now on Broadway. If you can, run to get your ticket – I have seen the show twice and am raring to go again. If you can’t see it here in New York, find out where it will be going next – first to Texas, of course.

The play is full of Richards’s aphorisms and jokes, the salty comments she was known for, but more importantly her strong feelings about justice and morality. “Life is not fair,” she said. “But government should be.” Those of us who remember this memorable woman with her pouf of bright white hair know her as the person who against all odds became the Governor of Texas in 1991. She was a liberal Democrat in a conservative Republican state, the first woman to achieve the post without coming in on her husband’s coattails. She had acknowledged her battle with alcoholism that sent her to rehab (before that was fashionable, she pointed out in a throwaway line).

The play has Richards telling us the story of her life – her marriage, her four children, the dissolution of her marriage; her first career as a junior high school teacher, which she said inured her to tough challenges; her rise in politics, from County Commissioner, to State Treasurer; the keynote address she gave at the 1988 Democratic convention, which catapulted her into nationwide notice; and then her governorship. As governor she reformed the Texas prison system, brought about economic reforms, fought (unsuccessfully) for ratification of the ERA, and did so much more. Her daughter, Cecile Richards, now president of Planned Parenthood, carried on Ann’s pro-choice efforts; in the play Ann says that the same people who complain about welfare payments to families say “Tsk, tsk, tsk, we're going to make you have more children you can't afford."

The part that won my heart as well as my admiration was the phone call that came in during a particularly hectic day in the Governor’s office. She was frantically busy fielding calls, signing papers, preparing for a speech – but not too busy to take a call from her darling Lily, the grandchild she adored. You could feel her pleasure as she spoke to her and sense the love oozing out of her very being for this child. The play also shows that at her busiest, she was still juggling plans for a fishing trip with her four children – and busily soothing the hurt feelings of one of them. During the talk-back after the play the day I saw it, a single mom said how inspiring it was to see this governor of a major state doing her job – both as political leader and as Mom.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

ONLY IN NEW YORK?

If you read my last post, about the “sidewalk hit-and-run,” I need to counter that experience with a couple more, showing that in New York you never know who you'll meet and what will happen.

After a big snowfall, I alighted from the bus in front of a three-foot crusted snow bank. Along the edge of the snow hill was a river of melted ice. Wearing pricey "waterproof" boots, my feet were already sopping. I hesitated, trying to decide which path to negotiate. A tap on my shoulder made me turn to see a burly 50-ish man who had emerged from the bus behind me. "Shall I lift you from the back?" he asked, and to my nod, gracefully bore me over the snow bank. I thanked him, he winked, then we both disappeared into the crowd and anonymity on Madison Avenue.

Then there was the time that I was staring at a Degas in the Met when a woman near me wearing a shapeless housedress-y garment looked down at me. I thought she was going to ask about the bulky knee brace I have been wearing since I tore ligaments in a lurching New Jersey Transit train But no. "You're wearing the wrong shoes," she said. I looked down at my comfortable red flats. "What's wrong with them?" I asked. They're the wrong color — everything else is dark red." "Everything else" was the purple Guatemalan poncho I was wearing. She looked appraisingly: "You could have worn black shoes."
"Don't they match my hair?" I asked with an amused smile, referring to the red highlights in my gray hair. "That's darker too," she pronounced. "But they do match your lipstick." My color lesson over, I stepped out onto busy Fifth Avenue where I was free from the fashion police.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A SIDEWALK HIT-AND-RUN WITH A SUITCASE



When I told my daughter Dorri about the following experience, she said, "Mom, that's a perfect story for The New York Times column 'Metropolitan Diary.'" So I sent it in, and it was published today. Here's the story:

Walking along the crowded lunch-hour sidewalk on Madison Avenue in January, I felt something unexpected on the top of my right foot. I looked down at a "wheelie" rolling off my shoe, being pulled along briskly by a well-dressed woman, eyes straight ahead, oblivious of where her suitcase had just been.

Like hit-and-run drivers who don't notice the bump of the person they ran over, she hadn't noticed the interference in her bag's progress.

She rushed along. I walked at a slower pace, limping a little, but a block later we were next to each other at the traffic light. I turned and said pleasantly, "You might want to keep closer track of your suitcase. It ran over my foot."

I expected, as she saw my gray hair and the evidence that I had about 30 years on her, "Oh, I'm so sorry, were you hurt?" Silly me.

What I got was this stern reproof: "You need to watch where you're walking!" Barely taking a breath, she asked, "Were you behind me or in front of me?" "Behind." (I had been next to her until she elbowed her way in front.) "Well," she said, clinching her case, "You need to be more careful. I don't have eyes in the back of my head!"

"You're very good at not taking responsibility," I said, and was amused when, taking this as a compliment, she said, "Thank you." And the light changed.

When the young man next to us raised an eyebrow in her direction, then rolled his eyes and grinned at me, I enjoyed sharing this moment with a stranger and was reminded why I love New York.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

“WONDER,” THE NOVEL BY R. J. PALACIO, REALLY IS A WONDER

This #1 best-selling book for middle-schoolers, which has held its top place on the New York Times list for four months, is a wondrous novel that deserves its popularity. One reason for its prime place is the fact that so many adults are reading it. It was recommended to me by one adult - my daughter, who works with the Little Baby Face Foundation, a remarkable charity that provides free corrective surgery for children with disfiguring birth defects. She'd learned of it from another adult. I couldn't put the book down, and I cried, laughed, and rejoiced in its message of the importance of kindness and the triumph of a boy faced with so many obstacles.

The novel's central character, August Pullman, was born with a severe facial deformity that, despite 27 operations, still produces horrified reactions from almost everyone he encounters. Previously home-schooled because of his surgeries, his other medical problems, and his appearance, now Auggie is starting fifth grade at Beecher Prep, a mainstream private school. Auggie wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid, but his new classmates can't get past Auggie's extraordinary face. The book is reminiscent of the movie "Mask" and the play "The Elephant Man," and is even more moving since it is a story of a child.

WONDER begins from Auggie's point of view and then, Rashomon-like, expands to speak in the voices of his older sister and her friends, his classmates, and then comes back to Auggie. The only person we don't hear from is the class bully - it would have been illuminating to hear how he justified his meanness to Auggie and those who befriend him - but this is a minor cavil in a wonderful portrait of a community's struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

One of Auggie's teacher's precepts, "When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind," is the overarching theme of the book, and even if you don't know anyone like Auggie, you will be moved to lead your life with a greater awareness of the need to be kind. The book is also a good, fast, and suspenseful read.

Monday, March 4, 2013

REVIEW OF "SUDDENLY SOLO," A NEW BOOK FOR MEN

I posted this review as a guest poster on my daughter's blog. You might want to pass this review on to a single male friend of a certain age -- although Amazon.com reports that more women are buying the book than men.

This is a banquet of a book, which any newly single man should be able to get nourishment from — and although women are not the target audience, I found that we can benefit from many of its suggestions too. Co-authored by a widowed market researcher and a married writer, the book draws on extensive research. The writing is accessible and easy to run through, and the headings are prominent enough so you can easily find topics of interest. There are also lots of stories and even a joke for a man to share with his buddies. The authors come across as nice, decent men with a sense of humor, who show compassion for their male readers and respect for the women these men want to meet.

The book recognizes that many men emerge from a married state not knowing how to take care of their most elemental needs. Since 50 percent of the men over 55 surveyed for this book have never prepared a meal, the authors teach readers how to feed themselves, from making a shopping list, going to the store (where they can meet new people), using kitchen appliances, and so forth. I learned about a website to find owner’s manuals for appliances. Like helpful big brothers, Spielman and Silbert tell men to wear clean, unwrinkled clothes, keep their fingernails and toenails short and clean, make their beds every day, and do their laundry once a week — the laundromat is another good place to meet new people. Since women are often the money-person in the marriage — as one widower told me, “I never saw the mail, she took care of everything” — the authors give advice on handling financial and legal affairs.

The bulk of the book offers guidance for meeting, dating, having sex with, and developing relationships with women. There’s a little bit about strengthening male friendships and going to bereavement or divorce groups, but since two-thirds of surveyed men say they want to find a woman to be with, most of the advice is toward this goal.

How to meet a woman? The Internet is the #1 way now, closely followed by women known in the past, and then through family or friends, chance encounters, and at gatherings and religious facilities. Specific advice for Internet dating includes advice on your profile photo and information, staying honest (anyone can find your age on the Internet, and height and weight are evident when you meet in person, so what’s the point of lying?), Googling potential dates, and yourself to find out what other people can learn about you.

There’s advice on keeping a conversation going, good places to go on dates, and always being prepared with condoms and with a packed overnight bag in your car in case you get really lucky. If you get invited to spend the night at a woman’s home, check out how to get to her bathroom from her bed, so you won’t bump into anything on those middle-of-the-night trips to the john. If you want her to come to your home, clean up your medicine cabinet ahead of time. If a woman offers to pay on a first date, don’t assume this means she doesn’t want to see you again – it probably means she’s an independent woman; the authors offer graceful ways of handling the situation. Men are encouraged to keep a Dating Dossier to keep track of the women they meet – names, dates, where they went, how many children she has.

I liked the authors telling guys that if a first date doesn’t work out, the man should not say he’ll call. Women have complained about this since I was a teenager, so don’t say it if you don’t mean it. The authors suggest kinder ways to move on.

There’s some discussion about sex: most mature men and women want it, it’s most likely to occur after five or more dates, more than one-third of people use vibrators or other sex toys, medications can help with erectile difficulties, and men and women should tell each other what they like. Moving on in the relationship, there are suggestions for introducing your special woman friend to your family, advice to take a two-week trip together before planning to live together, and ways to kindly end a relationship that hasn’t worked out.

This book packs a lot of useful information into 177 pages but some areas were neglected. I hope that successive editions will include more about oral and manual means of sexual pleasure, about the need for foreplay, about the physical needs of “re-virgins” (women who have not been sexually active for some time), about couples getting tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and sharing results with each other. I would also like to see some acknowledgment that gay men coming out of a marriage or a relationship may have some of the same concerns as heterosexual men.

But what the book already has is really helpful. So is its website, SuddenlySolo.org, where Hal gives sensible, caring answers to questions in his “Ask Hal” column.

The book can be purchased on Amazon.

Friday, February 8, 2013

WHAT WE GRANNIES DIDN’T HAVE WHEN OUR OWN KIDS WERE BABIES

When I see the young moms in my neighborhood walking their babies in double strollers, I think how I would have loved one of those to go out with my two-year-old and infant. When I see the clear plastic rain covers on strollers I think how great that would have been when I had to take my baby along when I walked my older daughter to nursery school. And this just skims the mommy surface. Here are a few other things we didn’t have:

Disposable diapers. Disposables had just come on the scene for my youngest baby and I saved them for special occasions, like traveling to visit her grandparents.

Convertible seats. I love those seats that go seamlessly from stroller to car to home, and how they save all that buckling and unbuckling, squshing little arms and legs in those straps, every time you need to change the baby’s venue.

The Internet. And all the services it can offer – from online ordering of groceries, diapers, pet food, and other necessities we didn’t have time to go out and buy (but somehow we found the time -- usually).

E-readers. And how much easier it can be with them to read while breastfeeding, so you don’t have to use both hands to hold the book and turn pages.

Workout videos. So in the privacy of your own home you can snatch a few minutes at a time to shed those post-partum pounds.

Instagram and Picasa. So you can share photos of your DBB or DBG with the grandparents without having to shlep to the store to get prints made.

Skype and FaceTime. So you can let your parents meet your babies – and "babysit" virtually with your bigger kids while you tend to the baby.

Cell phones, of course, with all their convenience as described in The New York Times

But what we did have, which modern moms have too, were breasts – so we could give our babies the best start in life by breastfeeding them, as the most modern moms can still do today, thanks to help from lactation consultants and, of course, books!