Charles and Sally

Charles and Sally
en route to Le Diner en Blanc

Le Diner en Blanc New York

Le Diner en Blanc New York
Lincoln Center 2012

Sunday, April 26, 2009

SUPER GRANNY AND SUPER MOM LANA NOONE

The story I wrote about Lana and her granddaughter Heather in SUPER GRANNY focuses on the singing and hand gestures that Lana, a professional flutist, teaches both her grandchildren, Heather and Jayden. But the story about how they became Lana’s grandchildren could be the stuff of another musical genre, with a plot that could make a powerful opera and that shows why Lana is truly a Super Mom.

I first met Lana Noone on Long Island where we both live when I attended a lecture and film that she presented about Operation Babylift. This program brought more than 2000 Vietnamese orphans to the United States back in April 1975. Over a hectic three weeks, 26 flights left Vietnam with babies and children on board to be adopted by American families. One of these babies was a little girl whom Lana and her husband, Byron, named Heather. Tragically, Heather lived with the Noones for only six days before she died of complications from pneumonia.

While the Noones were still grieving for Heather, they learned of another baby girl who needed a home, and the next month they took 4-month-old Jennifer into their home and their hearts. Four and a half years later the Noones adopted a brother for Jennifer, and today Jennifer and Jason, both in their thirties, are both teaching. Six years ago Jason and his wife named their first baby Heather, in tribute both to Lana and to the baby sister Jason and Jennifer never had a chance to meet.

Lana became a missionary for global adoption, bringing her story to the world through her speaking and also through her book, “Global Mom: Notes from a Pioneer Adoptive Family.” Now Lana, Jennifer, and other panelists with a close connection to Operation Babylift will be speaking on Monday, April 27 in Washington at an event organized by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program. As Lana told a New York Times reporter, “I used to think that being a mother would be my therapy. Instead it became my mission.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

CYBERFRIENDS, GOOGLE ALERTS, AND SKYPE AUDIO INTERVIEW

On her most recent blog post (at www.GrandmaIdeas.com) Nina Lewis wrote, “One of the blessings of the Internet is ‘finding’ new friends,” and she went on to write about how she and I “met” on the Internet. This is a sentiment I share – and I’m a little frustrated now because I left a comment on her post (I think) to this effect, but so far it has not appeared. Navigating in cyberspace is sometimes an adventure.

Nina went on in her post to review SUPER GRANNY, and then she embarked on a new cyber-adventure for both of us – she conducted an audio interview with me on Skype, which you can download and listen to here . The interview runs about 20 minutes, takes a little while to download, and may tell you more than you ever wanted to know about me. But the best thing is that you can also hear about other grandmothers and some of the things they do with their grandchildren.

I have enjoyed “meeting” both grandmother bloggers and grandmother “doers” (not mutually exclusive categories) on the Internet. A number of the grandmothers I interviewed for SUPER GRANNY were strangers to me until I read something online about their activities. I heard of some of them through a terrific service called Google News Alerts. You go to www.Google.com, click on ”More” at the top of the page, click on “even more,” until you reach a menu that includes “Alerts.” A box will appear that will let you type in whatever topic you want to keep up to date on. I have alerts for “grandmother,” “breastfeeding” another topic I write about), and a couple of others, and every day I receive a message from Google with reports on these topics from media around the world.

By following up some of these reports, I have been able to “meet” and get to know grandmothers with whom I’ve continued to stay in touch – and yes, whom I now consider friends.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

MISSING STEFAN

A couple of days after I returned from a visit with my eldest grandchild, now 26, I found these pages, written in 1988:
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He showered me with sweet kisses. He bestowed on me flurries of warm embraces. Over and over again, he said those wonderful words, "I love you." He also told me, "You are my best friend." Knowing he couldn't keep his promise, he told me, "I'll always stay with you. I'm never going away." But -- as I knew from the start that he would -- he left.

And now my house, still full of everything it held before he came into it, feels empty. His leaving exposed a great vacant space. The rack where his toothbrush hung stands stark and bare. My neat rooms, no longer strewn with his books and his clothes and his treasures, look abandoned. The occasional scrap of paper bearing his doodles or his writing bears witness to the mountains of paper he used while he was here.

I come across a shirt he left behind. I wash it, I hold it up, I remember how he looked in it, and I cry into the soft cotton, knowing I won't be seeing -- or feeling -- him in it any more.

I know he had to leave. I know he loves me. But knowing this doesn't stop the pain of missing him. When he was with me, our time together was not unalloyed bliss. Every day we argued, sometimes several times a day. Sometimes he lost his temper, sometimes I lost mine. Sometimes he blurted out, "I hate you!" and his words drew my blood.

I felt devastated after every quarrel. Even though we got along better toward the end of the few weeks we spent together, neither of us could figure out how to stop the bad times altogether. If we had had more time together, I think we would have come to understand each other better. Still, despite the tempestuous outbursts, once each storm ended, we were close again. Our rages and tears never killed our love, and our loving closeness painted the landscape of our days together.

And now I have to pick up my life where it was before Stefan squirmed his way into my heart, into the good life I knew with my husband in this house still filled with Stefan’s presence. My husband loves Stefan, too, this five-year-old grandson of ours of whom I write with such passion.

One day Stefan said to my daughter, “Mama, I want to marry you.” “I’m already married,” Jenny smiled. “I know, but if you weren’t, I would want to marry you.” And then he turned to me and said, “Oma, I wish you could sleep in my bed. I wish I could stay with you for a hundred thousand days.”

So. He wants to marry Mommy, but he wants to sleep with me. Yes. A grandmother is like a lover, a mother like a wife. I am not with him all the time. I am freed of both the responsibility and the routine of everyday life. I can shower love on him when she “doesn’t understand” him. I can indulge him, while she has to socialize him. I am associated with presents rather than punishment. No wonder the bond between grandparents and grandchildren is so strong!

For the five years before Stefan came to live with us for these short three weeks, I was able to accept the distances between us. I was able to accept the fact that his parents had chosen to live a continent away from us. Our visits together were never more than a week – and always where they lived. This time was different.

This time they came into my world. This time Stefan and I, just the two of us, spent hours, days together. This time I fell head over heels in love – always knowing that we would have each other for only a short time, that this time he would be going an ocean away. But I didn’t want to protect myself by keeping my distance. I flung myself into my days with this little boy who enchanted me with his liveliness, charmed me with his affection, delighted me with his humor. And the more I loved him, the more I felt his love for me.

And so I grieve, not only for the absence of this golden child in my life, but for my absence in his. It’s hard to leave a best friend, even when you’re going with loving parents. It’s especially hard now, as Stefan goes to a strange country where he knows neither the people nor the language, into a life soon to be turned upside down by the arrival of a new baby. Yes, Stefan will deal with his losses, but oh, how I would love to help him ease the pain!

Like generations of grandmothers before me who have watched their children and their children’s children follow their own stars as they chart their own courses through life, I stay in my world as Stefan goes off to his. I love him and I miss him – and I know that both our lives are richer for the presence of the other in it. I look forward to the day when we can be reunited, and meanwhile, I bless the telephone and the international mail service. And I am grateful for our whirlwind romance.
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Twenty-one years later:

So yes, it has been hard having Stefan, his mother, and his younger sisters living in Germany all these years while Mark and I and our other children have been here on the east coast of the U.S. I would love to have them close by. But we’re grateful that they’re all healthy and growing up (or grown up) well, and I think about the era when my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Russia, never to see or even speak to their own parents again. We know how lucky we are that we have been able to see all of our geographically distant (but emotionally close) family a couple of times a year, either there or here. Meanwhile, we’ve taken advantage of all the forms of communication that have sprouted over the past twenty years, so we can all stay in close touch. And now here I am savoring the good visit we had with Stefan last month in Florida, and looking forward to this summer’s longer visit from Jenny, Maika, and Lisa.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: “JANE BRODY’S GUIDE TO THE GREAT BEYOND”

As Susan Griffin wrote in “Eye of My Heart,” edited by Barbara Graham (more about this lovely book in a future post), “When you become a grandparent, you cannot escape the fact that you are older, soooo much older … and much closer to death.” You begin to realize that your time is limited.

As travelers in this stage of life, even as relatively young grandparents, we have much to gain from reading Jane Brody’s new book, subtitled “A Practical Primer to Help You and Your Loved Ones Prepare Medically, Legally, and Emotionally for the End of Life,” published by Random House. Brody, a popular New York Times health writer and a grandmother of four, has plunged into a topic most of us don’t want to talk about, read about, or think about – but which is crucially important.

As she writes, “Even the healthiest of lives must come to an end. In this book I hope to help my readers make that end – for themselves and for those they love – as peaceful and, yes, as enjoyable as it can be.”

The book covers virtually everything you could think of to this goal, including the intricacies of preparing an advance directive and the limitations of the living wills most of us think will honor our wishes. It emphasizes the need to talk with family members, including healthy young adults, to state clearly what measures you and they would want in case of debilitating illness or injury. The long-drawn-out court battles over comatose patients like Karen Ann Quinlan and Terri Schiavo prompted some 59 million Americans to fill out living wills, and the recent tragic injury of Natasha Richardson illustrates the necessity for family members of any age to tell each other what they would want in such devastating circumstances.

Some of the other issues covered include dealing with a grim prognosis, taking care of someone with a terminal illness, relieving pain, and making a person near the end of life as comfortable as possible. Brody also faces controversial topics like assisted dying and the all-too-common situation of doctors abandoning terminally ill patients when they feel they can do nothing else. The book is easy to read and down to earth. The list of tactless comments to the recently bereaved verges on the ridiculous, like the person who asked a woman whose husband had committed suicide, “Are you going to get a dog now?” Of course, a following section offers suggestions for helpful things to say and do. Throughout the book, a wide range of books are recommended for further help. In this section my favorite title is “Don’t Ask for the Dead Man’s Golf Clubs: Advice for Friends When Someone Dies.” (Can you believe this is based on a real request??)

Despite the gravity of the issues in the book, there’s humor too, partly through the cartoons sprinkled throughout. My favorite is the one with one woman telling another “I’d like to be buried in this outfit, if I can lose ten pounds.”

Both my husband and I have read through this well researched and practical book, have resolved to act upon some of the recommended measures (like revisiting our own living wills), and will be keeping it handy as a reference for the years ahead.