Community

Never Should We Ever…Again….

A long-time friend of mine recently celebrated a milestone birthday. Many of her friends flooded her Facebook page and group texts with well wishes, reminiscing about birthdays long gone, recalling how we celebrated her birthdays past, all of the decadent, carefree fun in which we once engaged. As I perused these memories, all of which gave me reasons to smile, I realized that I would never again engage in several of these activities.

Now, of course, many of these activities fall under the “I’m too old for this stuff” category. But, regardless of our decrepit state, and as a long-term germaphobe, the current pandemic has put a damper on a wide variety of activities for me and other revelers of any age.

So, I have created my pandemic “never should we ever again” list. A list of activities that we might consider living without….

Blowing out birthday candles. This is something that even the oldest and least adventurous of us never hesitated to do before Covid-19. We never considered that people were spitting on, spreading germs all over, the cake that we were about to eat. We never feared the particles. Now, the person blowing out the candles could be Typhoid Mary. The simple tradition is just not worth the risk.

Ball Pits and Sandboxes. Imagine jumping into a pit of balls filled with snot, saliva, and various other excrements. Or sitting in a box of sand that has been the home to animals, bugs, and diaper leaks. The original home of stomach and coxsackie viruses impose a greater threat with the emergence of Covid-19. Luckily all of my children (and I) have aged out of this germ-infested activity, but I can’t imagine that people won’t think twice about jumping in after contending with the pandemic.

Beer bongs. Remember going to a party and drinking from a beer bong? This is most definitely a pandemically unacceptable activity. I no longer want to share a beer, little yet have beer funneled into my mouth using a contraption from which a stranger just drank. A contraption that was probably never cleaned. Ever.

Buffets. Another once-non-threatening activity in which I will no longer partake is buffet-style meals. Walking about a room, picking at food items that total strangers picked at seconds before I arrived. What if they sneezed on the food? Or wiped their nose or mouth on their hands before handling the serving utensils? And what if they touched more than one utensil when they went to pick their plates, forks, and knives. It makes all of the pretty tables of food look completely unappealing and inedible.

Scorpion bowling. Way back in the 1990’s, when I attended college right outside of Boston, my friends and I used to go to a great Chinese restaurant in Harvard Square. Our favorite item on the menu, the only item that we actually remember, were the scorpion bowls, large, tasty bowls of an alcoholic punch that were placed in the middle of each table. Yet, we didn’t pour the punch into individual glasses. We each stuck a straw in the bowl and started sipping, providing a meal filled with entertainment and pre-Instagram pictures for our nothing books and photo albums. Over the decades, friends have mentioned returning to that fateful restaurant to “go bowling.” Now, I think I’ll have to pass.

If Delta can be demolished, and if the pandemic ever truly ends, we can all return to the activities many of us have put on pause. While I can’t wait to celebrate friends again, I think we should all consider skipping the buffet and the scorpion bowl.

family · growing up

Missing People

Growing up, I always felt as if people were missing.

My grandparents’ Mill Basin cape cod was always noisy, filled with ongoing card games, opening and closing doors, inappropriate jokes, tears, laughter, and screams. Neighbors, business associates, friends, and distant relatives would pop in on a regular basis, invited in by the traveling aromas of cakes and soups and sweet and sour chicken meatballs which permeated the house. It was not a quiet or lonely place, and every passerby was welcome.

Yet, I always felt as if people were missing.

Maybe they felt it too.

Maybe I was yearning to know the people who were never able to be there; the great grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who had been shot in the back and thrown in a hole or gassed until they could no longer breathe, dying without a shred of dignity on top of hundreds of other bodies.

Maybe it was that, other than my brother, there were no other children my age in our family. My father’s only sister, my parents’ only close sibling, was a wonderfully eccentric former ballet dancer turned chain smoker and professor who moved to England and had not yet met her perfect mate. The first cousins thing was not happening.

Suffice to say, while my brother and I were doted on by all of the adults in our lives, I went through my childhood feeling that there was an undefinable void.

As I got older, I filled that void with friends and activities and jobs. I filled that void with the noise that permeated my grandparents’ house. I was, for a time, less aware that anyone was missing, as I didn’t have time to notice.

When I started my family, with each child, the void seemed a little less apparent. The emptiness was slowly dissipating. With the birth of my fourth child, for the first time in my life, I felt as if no one else was missing. This child, a child who looks nothing like me or my side of the family, has a strange familiarity about him Something innate. Something intangible. Something that made me feel as if no one was missing any longer.

For a while, I felt at peace. I felt pure joy.

Until my father died.

Once again, I woke up every morning feeling as if someone was missing. Yet, this time, that person was not a concept. I knew exactly whom I was missing. Every day, I miss his voice, his smile, his irreverent sense of humor, his laugh, his brilliance, and his kindness. It is a feeling that I cannot shake.

That complete sense of inner peace, that joy, that I felt after the birth of my fourth child, was gone again.

As I continue to try to accept this loss, I will take a page out of my grandparents’ book. I will fill my home with noise. I will fill my home with card games and laughter and screaming and the smells of cakes and soups. I will embrace all that I have, still knowing that I am missing people.

family · growing up

A Legendary Memory

At times, when I see a name or a picture, a memory vividly pops into my head. I can recall what it felt like to be somewhere, I can hear myself having a conversation with a person that took place decades earlier. It is more than a memory and less than a vision.

A few weeks ago, as a familiar name popped up on the television, informing me that someone with whom I had a fleeting, rather trivial encounter was gone. The memory of that brief moment, standing on the stage beside this legend, came rushing back into my conscious. 

My father was a handball and racquetball champion. Growing up in Brooklyn, these were the low cost, low stake games he played after school, on weekends, and eventually after work. They were street games, pick-up games he played regularly with friends from his neighborhood. He claimed that playing kept his mind focused and helped him to stay physically fit. I think he appreciated the physics and math involved in the game’s strategy.

Throughout my life, he regularly participated in game after game, tournament after tournament. He played ball all over the tri-state area, near our home in Poughkeepsie, at West Point Military Academy with many decorated officers, and back in his old Brooklyn neighborhood.

Many of these tournaments took over our weekends when I was young. Despite the hours spent watching my father hit a small ball against a wall or three, I never developed a particular love for handball or racquetball.

I was a die-hard baseball fan. I yearned to be spending my weekends in the South Bronx, in the house that Ruth built, watching Bucky Dent, Thurmon Munson, and Lou Pinella slam one over right field and into the stands. I liked the fanfare, the nationally televised games, the teamwork, and the baseball cards that went along with the game.

My father preferred to be the action rather than watch the action.

Despite my pleas, my whining, my nagging, my childhood weekends were not spent in the Yankee stadium’s stands.

So, I maintained my front seat to infinite handball and racquetball tournaments. My mom referred to us as the “pit crew” for the games. We supplied water, snacks, towels, and a change of clothing. Plus, occasional cheers and moral support, depending on how cranky we were and how much we would have preferred to be doing something else that weekend.

Four times a year, various award ceremonies were held for these tournaments. My father joked that these dinners were his apology to my mother for making her sit through countless hours of handball and racquetball. My mother grudgingly admitted that she enjoyed these ceremonial dinners, as they provided an opportunity to meet new people, and the celebrity guests were entertaining.

I regularly complained that this did not excuse our lack of Yankee’s tickets, as I was not sufficiently entertained by my parents’ stories about the journalists, football players, politicians, and actors who told a funny joke or made a noteworthy gaff.

Still, I received no seats at the stadium.

In the fall of 1978, when a baseball legend was the scheduled keynote speaker for the IBM Country Club awards ceremony, I was offered my mother’s coveted seat at the dinner. It wasn’t an afternoon in the South Bronx, but it did involve baseball. 

The player wasn’t a Yankee, and I was not a Braves or Brewers fan. I had several of his baseball cards in my “not a Yankee” pile. Yet, this player’s contributions to the game were monumental, as he broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record only four years earlier and held the record for the most – 2,297 – runs batted in. My eight-year-old self wanted to know if he secretly dreamed of being a Yankee. Because, who wouldn’t want to be a Yankee?

While I wanted to wear a Yankees cap to the dinner, to show my allegiance to my team, my mother insisted that I wear a flowy purple dress with my hair partially pulled back in a pretty floral barrette. As a compromise, my mother gave me a Yankees sticker to wear, rather than a pin.

I would be the youngest person attending this adult event. Meeting the baseball legend, Mr. Hank Aaron.

I don’t recall much about Mr. Aaron’s speech, other than that he spoke affectionately about his father, who first introduced him to baseball, and the need for athletes to build endurance. My most vivid memory of the soft-spoken baseball legend was shaking his hand as my father took me up to the stage with him to accept his award. I suggested that my father could beat him in a game of racquetball. He chuckled heartily. His laugh echoed through the room as he kindly responded, “Well, young lady, I bet he’d be a solid competitor.”

For years, when I lamented that I never sat in the stadium that Guidry, Dent, and Munson ruled, my parents would remind me of my evening with Mr. Aaron. And my father would repeat the story of my brief conversation with Mr. Aaron. 

When I heard that Mr. Aaron passed away in January, about a year after we lost my father, I suddenly heard Mr. Aaron’s deep laugh and saw his welcoming smile. I could see myself standing on the stage. And I could see my father smiling, proud that I was confident enough to ask a question.

In a perfect universe, if there really is a heaven, Mr. Aaron is playing a pick-up game of racquetball with my father right now.

family · growing up

A Closet Full of Stories

My grandmother had the most incredible collection of size six and a half shoes. While she was no Imelda Marcos, her closet housed at least 80 pairs of shoes. She collected them over the 50 plus years she lived in this country, never discarding a pair, whether they were worn out or out of style. Because, as she often reminded me, there was a time that she didn’t have a single pair of shoes.

She came to this country with nothing. She had no money and could not speak the language. Everything, right down to the shoes on her feet, was stolen by the Nazis. As she and her second husband built a new life, a business, and a home, every pair of shoes that she purchased was proof of her grit, her perseverance, her ability to survive.

Her shoes were lined up on shelves on the left side of her small bedroom closet. Most of them were out of their boxes, there to be seen, to be admired. She had an eye for the most elegant designs, clearly choosing each pair carefully. Her diverse collection included black patten leather kitten heels from the 1950’s, vintage, grass green velvet boudoir heels with a ruffled trim and three-inch black go-go boots from the 1960’s, platform boots, clogs, and wedges from the 1970’s, loafers, ballet slippers, the classic, black Stuart Weitzman pump, and even a few pairs of Manolo Blahnik sling-back sandals. Those are the pairs that I remember.

As a young child, I would sneak into her closet and try on her shoes. I would stare at myself in the mirror, putting my hair in different types of pony tails, making “fancy faces,” imagining myself to be dancing at Studio 54, a guest at a fancy wedding, or on my way to tea at the Russian Tea Room or The Plaza. Simply putting on these shoes, I changed my life, I became glamorous, I became exciting. All my seven-year-old self-wanted was the miniskirt or leather pants to complement the outfits.  

I grew up and, as a solid size seven and a half, grew out of her shoes. While her shoes no longer fit me, I still found myself walking into her closet. My fantasy world, my time machine was long gone, but now each pair of shoes told me a different story. She acquired a few new pairs every year, but the older pairs, the shoes I recalled from my dress up days, still resided there as well.

Each pair of shoes had its own history. I remembered the pair of shoes that she wore to my sweet sixteen, the shoes that she purchased on our trip to Italy, the shoes that she wore to her husband’s funeral. I remembered shopping for shoes with her at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, where she would let me try on silver shoes donned with plastic gemstones.  

When she died in 2009, her closet filled with shoes remained. Not one pair was out of place. My mother asked me what to do with all of them, as they did not fit on our oversized feet. Should we donate them? But I could not bear to part with them, as they represented her journey and my childhood. Unfortunately, my mother was not the sole executor of my grandmother’s estate. Her half-brother was the co-executor. His second wife, the one to whom my grandmother referred unaffectionately as “Botched Boob Job,” the one who did not show up to my grandmother’s funeral, decided that the shoes would be hers. She would sell any pairs of value and throw away the rest of them. My mother asked that she consider donating the shoes that she didn’t want for herself, but she did not respond to her requests.

My house full of boys will tell you that I have a collection that rivals my grandmother’s closet. I do not. But, in her memory, I try to keep all of my shoes, regardless of their condition. And when I purchase a new pair of shoes, I do so in her memory, hoping that each pair will have a purpose and a story to tell.

I often wonder what happened to those grass green velvet heels and the three-inch black go-go boots. I hope that they are still part of someone’s story, being worn by someone who needs them, or at least sitting on someone’s shelf being admired by an imaginative little girl.   

growing up

The Circumstances of a Friendship

Sex breeds.  Causing unsolvable problems.  Creating unexpected, often unwieldy alliances.  And we weren’t the ones having the sex.

We weren’t even flirting.  But, we started dating the Sunday night that my roommate, Fish, did her freshman boyfriend.  Feigning ignorance about the status of the freshman’s relationship with our neighbor, Fish lured him into our room and jumped him.

Despite my over-tired state, I was obviously not welcome in that room.  And, she, our neighbor, could hear the action through the paper-thin walls of our luxurious Brandeis accommodations.  She too had to escape.  So we took a walk.

A good hard drink always makes a first date more palatable.  A few shots of warm Absolut for the underage coeds from the bottle once-stored in Fish’s closet made the conversation flow even faster.

Sitting on the steps to the student center, we told each other our stories.  She meticulously detailed every guy she ever kissed, the way that they kissed, and why she kissed them.  All seven of them.  She relayed the saga of her excruciatingly painful senior prom extravaganza with Pennsylvania Bob.  Mental images of Bob and the disastrous prom would run through my dreams that night.

I, in turn, told her the convoluted stories of my two Jakes.  How we met, how we dated, how we cheated, and how we broke up.  Four years of convoluted love stories sufficiently summarized in half an hour.  For years to come, she’d be asking if I was referring to Jake “A” or “B” as she eventually categorized them.

From that moment on, we had our own inside jokes, a special rapport, and a close friend comfort level that typically took years to develop.  And, as it turns out, we cliqued better than Fish and her cheating boyfriend.  That was their one and only night together.

growing up

A Friendship

Do you remember?

The days of whining over wine coolers

About the boys we tossed

And those we lost

Do you remember?

When driving a car was not about getting somewhere

But about being someone

About our freedom

Do you remember?

Laughing at the gym

When we were supposed to be working on our bodies

Rather than our psyches

Do you remember?

When nothing meant everything

And the story of our lives could be found in the lyrics to a song

That could relay all that was right and all that was wrong

Do you remember?

When we were friends….

growing up

Regarding Physical Education in The Time of COVID-19

Dear Physical Education Teacher,

I am writing to you today because I received a warning that my child is failing middle school online quarantine gym class. And by failing, I mean that he has an 11 percent in your class. I respectfully acknowledge that my child is not doing his work. No excuses. He has refused to do his gym class assignments.

That said, I want to assure you that while he has absolutely refused to spend another 45 minutes of isolated online learning to complete gym class, he is getting plenty of offline exercise. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, his three older brothers have made sure that they wrestled and boxed with him on a daily basis. Yes, he is sometimes the punching bag, but it doesn’t mean that he isn’t moving around. He has also mastered the art of running about the house with his dirty clothes and throwing them all over the place. I know that it’s not baseball or football, but he has developed quite an arm when he throws his dirty underwear across the room. He is also playing a lot of tug of war as he pulls Xbox and Wii controllers out of his brothers’ hands. Trust me, he is burning calories.

I do not want to diminish the importance of your class. Nor do I want to minimize the challenge of instructing a bunch of 13 year olds in online physical education. But it seems contrary to the general purpose of physical education to fight with your child to spend more time on an app and expect that app to motivate your child to work out.

With all of the challenges associated with online learning, with all of the sacrifices that our teachers and children have had to make, I fully understand the challenge of engaging children in online physical activities. Especially alone. Gym class feeds on camaraderie. There is no camaraderie in quarantine.

As we struggle, daily, to reduce our child’s screen time, I have a hard time stressing the importance of spending additional time online for physical education when he could be…throwing his clothes across a crowded room instead.

In the end, I understand that my child cannot fail middle school online quarantine gym class. It is more about being responsible and fulfilling your commitments than it is about gym class. So, while I understand his frustration with online quarantine gym class, I will make sure that he fulfills his physical education obligations.

Of course, I would greatly appreciate if he could get at least a little bit of credit for his daily wrestling….

Community

Genuine Generosity

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Crisis shows a person’s – a country’s – true character. We better learn how people prioritize. We better understand the empirical, internal value systems that motivates all of us.

I live in a generous community. Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, our community raised well over a hundred thousand dollars to feed first responders. This was not the work of one large donation, but rather impressively, a community that came together, with many people giving a little bit here and there. An incredible accomplishment.

And as these first responders are grateful for the meals, they continue to implore us to stay at home. To consider how your personal actions can impact other people. As this is just as generous as donating to feed first responders.

During a time of crisis, our generosity should personally extend to our everyday actions. World-wide, we must be more cognizant of others’ sensitive predicaments under these crazy, unpredictable circumstances. This virus doesn’t discriminate, but there are groups of people – the elderly, the immunocompromised – who are at greatest risk of dying from Coronavirus.

Ironically, some of the same people who will donate to help first responders will also suggest that “people at risk should stay home” and not walk around their neighborhood. Because those people who naively feel that they are immune to this virus deserve “a little happiness” in the form of mask-less parties or crowding the streets.

This type of behavior is trapping everyone; most significantly, older, immunocompromised people are forced to run for cover.

Can we all forgo a fleeting moment of entertainment to make sure the most at-risk people have safe spaces? To keep them alive?

If Coronavirus has taught us anything, we have learned that people are fragile. Important. Irreplaceable. No matter the age of the person. We have watched as nursing homes are overrun with virus-related deaths. We have heard stories of people talking to their elderly parents and grandparents through windows. These are the most vulnerable people, and we should be taking better care of them.

Yet, we exist in a Trumpian society, predicated on the survival of the fittest. The rest be damned. And, let’s face it. When someone suggests that “at risk people” should stay trapped in their homes so that they can congregate, you start to feel as if there is a clear disregard for others’ lives.

For many years, my mother has shouted the word “ageism” to me. And she was right. To make a general statement, as a country, we don’t prioritize our elderly. We force them into retirement before they want to leave. We talk around them rather than to them, because we have decided they won’t understand. We make decisions for them, sometimes without their input, claiming it is for the best. When it isn’t life threatening, it is merely socially unacceptable.

Maybe this crisis is the moment that we, as a nation, re-consider the way we treat older people. We can reflect and re-prioritize. Let us show the world that every living person is of the utmost importance to us. Their lives matter, and we will sacrifice for them. Let’s let our humanity, our personal generosity, shine through. In the end, that will be another incredible achievement.

 

Community

They Closed the Playgrounds

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They closed the playgrounds.

With a deadly, highly contagious pandemic looming over us, schools have been officially closed. People are out of work. People are starving. People are trapped in their homes, trying to stay healthy. People are working everyday to save lives and help others. But people are dying. At alarming rates. Despite these hardships, many people still refuse to social isolate.

They closed the playgrounds.

I know, what other people do is not my business. I would like to mind my own business. Except, under these circumstances, every person’s behavior impacts every other person.

They closed the playgrounds.

Over the past 16 years, I’ve lived on an anti-social dead end. It is quiet, peaceful, and although we have the occasional walker, runner, or bike rider, no one congregates on our block. Which would typically make it the best place in the world to socially isolate.

They closed the playgrounds.

Suddenly, my anti-social dead end has found a new purpose. It is the playground for the playground-less. Families, from far and wide, have decided to congregate, ride bikes with other families, hang out, and chat.

Some of these people live in our neighborhood and park themselves on the edges of our lawns and talk while their kids ride around, leaving their water bottles behind. Others travel here from unknown destinations to make this street their place to party.

Yes, I understand that the street is public. But we have been asked to socially isolate. To stay at least six feet apart from those with whom we don’t live. These people are not complying.

Which means that we will all be inside for much longer.

They closed the playgrounds.

Surely people feel trapped in their homes. My older mother certainly does. And those with little kids need a place to let their little ones run free with other children.

I get it. I have four boys who do not like to sit and do art projects. They have spent many of these days throwing large items to and at each other. They would love to be outside riding bikes with friends. Hey, if their street wasn’t saturated with visitors, they might even ride bikes with each other.

They closed the playgrounds for a reason.

Can’t we all just keep our distance for a while so that the playgrounds can open up again? Sooner rather than later….Please stay six feet apart. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Family, News, Children, Cars, New York City

Getting Out Alive

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Photo by Arthur Brognoli on Pexels.com

On September 11th 2001, I lived across the street from the World Trade Center. Right next door to the World Financial Center. When the buildings fell, they fell on my home. For many, the impact was one really awful day. For our family, it was life-altering.

We were fortunate to get out alive. My husband was buying a book in the Trade Center, and I was strolling my two babies over there when the first plane hit. We could not go home. Ever again.

We were fortunate to get out alive. We hopped on the first train up to my parents’ home in Westchester County. We were fortunate as we had someplace to go, someplace we were welcomed, and someplace that we could hopefully keep our family safe. At the time, we did not know what to expect next.

We were fortunate to get out alive. But for us, it was not business as usual. Our lives were upended. We left with the clothes on our back, two extra diapers, one sippy cup, and three bottles filled with baby formula for our six-month-old. We ran to the Gap and ShopRite to get essentials like underwear, diapers, and formula as soon as we arrived in Westchester. Our car and belongings were trapped in our Battery Park City apartment complex, in an area taken over by the National Guard as they tried to mitigate an impossible, open-ended situation.

We were fortunate to get out alive. But the only thing on television, in those ancient days before Netflix, Hulu, and Apple TV, was news. The news was on 24/7. As I desperately needed the season premiere of Friends to distract me from the reality of fires, falling buildings, and hijackings, I could only watch the news.

So many things were challenging, far from easy, and not comfortable. Not to mention the added emotional stress of watching an airplane ram through a building and bodies fall out of windows to their death. But we were fortunate. And despite the permanent changes in our lives, we moved on.

Now, with a new national, global, crisis, we are once again challenged, inconvenienced, financially impacted, and, most importantly, scared for our lives. But this time, we can make the conscious choice to stop the progress of this global health pandemic. We can learn online, communicate with friends and loved ones online, and stream movies, sitcoms, and tours of museums. We must temporarily give up our events, our parties, our get-togethers, our outings. We can stay self-contained, in the comfort of our own homes, for about a month, for the good of mankind.

After it is all over, after we return to our normal activities, we will hopefully be able to say that we were fortunate to get out alive.