Friday, February 13, 2015

Disservices for the Disabled—Hell to Pay!

Disservices for the Disabled—Hell to Pay!

     What’s next for my daughter, a high functioning young woman on the autistic spectrum?  I’ve been attempting to answer that question ever since Sarah graduated cum laude from Pace University with the Class of 2014.  (See “Miracle Milestone,” 5/25/14).  Ever the savvy Mom of a special needs kid, I’d already sent in voluminous papers regarding Sarah’s disability months before she received her diploma. My plan was to get starting early in helping her secure a job through ACCESS-VR, a government agency that funds providers of job counselors, assessments and coaches. Alas, the Pace staff member responsible for sending Sarah’s papers to ACCES-VR quit academics to go into the hiking business.  Sarah’s paperwork was lost, I discovered, after several months of follow-up. I had to copy and resubmit all her tests and reports AGAIN and (of course) WAIT.  Finally she received approval for ACCES-VR in late December.  As of today, job assessments and training are supposed to start “soon” (fingers crossed).

     Thanks to my persistence and Henry’s collaboration with attorneys who specialize in helping families with disabled young adults, Sarah was approved for Medicaid, SSI and will (eventually, I hope) get a half-fare metro card.  Our daughter was also approved by the OPWDD (Office for People with Developmental Disabilities) and is now eligible for life skill support services and the low income housing wait list.  The good news (and bad news) is that we convinced enough government professionals that Sarah suffers from disabilities sufficiently severe to qualify her for the “safety net” of life skills support. For me (and perhaps for my daughter as well) the testing and evaluation process was a painful crash landing, an anticlimax after the joy of graduating college cum laude.  With Henry holding my hand, I’ve been gritting (and grinding) my teeth, hoping against hope that protecting Sarah as an adult, and navigating the government services available to her, will not be as arduous and frustrating as our yearly fights with the Board of Education during my daughter’s childhood to pay for her special education.
     I should have known better.  Before Sarah could be eligible for home and community-based services, I was required to attend two hours of Family Education and Training (FET) to gather the information “necessary to make informed decisions and to teach parents about service alternatives.”  (UGH!) Dutifully, I trekked from to 26th Street and 12th Avenue for my “training” session at SKIP, a 501©3 non-profit. What does the acronym “SKIP” mean? Sick Kids (Need) Involved People (!?).  Who makes up these annoying acronyms?  If they are supposed to be user-friendly short-cuts, intended to simplify a hellishly painstaking quest, then these acronyms fail miserably.  I don’t know about other parents, but I’m tired of snappy nicknames. Who wants to LEARN and REMEMBER what all these initials actually MEAN?  

     Hello, out there; can you hear me? Parents with special needs kids have enough challenges without memorizing a whole new language of abbreviations before setting off on the complex process of obtaining services for our kids.  No, thank you. We don’t want emojis or sound bites.  Just cut to the chase. Give me a simple step-by-step “to do” list: where to apply, who to call, when and how to follow up and—if possible—a reasonable time-line.

     Speaking of time-lines, I arrived 20 minutes late to SKIP’s Parent training session, and it was a good thing I did. The first half hour of the session was entirely devoted to instructing parents on reports and papers necessary to apply for OPWDD eligibility (BEEN there, DONE that).  Before taking my seat, I picked up a formidable pile of papers that had been handed out to all 5 parents who were present.  Included in the tree-slaughter was a “resource booklet for individuals and families.”  The booklet, 51 pages long (plus a table of contents) was entitled:  Front Door – Access to Services. If that wasn’t enough to overwhelm harried and emotionally drained parents, there were additional separate (but useful) hand outs:  Listing of Nonprofit Providers Offering MSC Services, Non-Medicaid Case Management Programs, NYC Front Door Numbers/OPWDD, NYC Front Door Numbers/OPWDD.”  (Not exactly soothing bed-side reading)!

     “Am I in the right place?” I asked SKIP’S Deputy Director, who was leading the session. “My daughter’s already been approved for services. I thought I was here to learn what to do next.”
      “We’re just about to talk about that.  If you could turn to page 9…”

      I sat down next to one of the four other mothers in the room and flipped to the appropriate page.  There I found what looked like three mini-slides with microscopic print, explaining Medicaid Service Coordination, OPWDD Service categories and “General Supports May Include.”  Next to the slides were empty lines for taking notes on the discussion. I couldn’t help noticing there was a presentation screen on the wall. Was it broken? I wondered.

     Although the SKIP instructor seemed kind and helpful, my mind trailed off.  Three of the other mothers had questions and concerns about seeking services for their under-18 kids.  Only one other mom was there to learn about services for her 26 year old daughter with cerebral palsy, and her needs were also completely different from mine. What we had in common was being married to securities attorneys, and both our daughters were interested in music. Kindly, the other mom wrote down a few quick ideas for Sarah. I tried to pay attention to the SKIP instructor, and even took notes, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was sinking deeper and deeper into verbal quicksand.

     Luckily, this one-size-fits-all info session ended before I drowned in words. (I’d sort through all the papers and decipher their meaning another time.) But I received the necessary “certificate of participation,” confirming my attendance at SKIP. Phew! I could take the next tiny step forward in securing help for my daughter. At the end, I did finally get a chance to ask a few questions privately.

     “Isn’t there a simpler way? This process seems very long and complicated,” I couldn’t resist adding.
     “We’ve been trying to simplify it,” the SKIP Deputy admitted.  “We applied for a grant so parents like you—who are capable and well-informed—could self-register, but we got turned down…”

      Frustrated and bewildered, I headed home in the bitter cold.  Hoping for enlightenment and encouragement, I emailed our attorney who specializes in helping parents of young adults like Sarah navigate this labyrinthine system of securing support services. Did I get the answer I was looking for?

     Here’s what our lawyer wrote: “I’m going to put together a package of the documents everyone is asking for which I will send for your review.” (Oh, goody!)  More trees would have to die in order to convince somebody somewhere that Sarah needed life skills help. I’d have to call my attorney to brainstorm and discuss (alas, more legal fees).  I continued reading the email, which ended as follows:  “There are long waiting lists for many services.  This is the result of cutbacks in funding and the current popular belief that too much money is being spent on people with disabilities already.”  (My italics).

I’m not surprised.   Are you?

 

 




               

Friday, February 6, 2015

Buried Treasures

    
     Despite our annual spring cleaning ritual— dutifully dragging out industrial-sized garbage bags of each year’s detritus— the Elisofon family nest has accumulated way too much, well, stuff.  After over 20 years in the same apartment raising our twins, our nest has become cram-packed and full to the brim. Even though I summoned  the Salvation Army with alarming frequency (to pick up dozens of shopping bags filled with old clothes, books, toys and sports equipment) a tsunami of clutter still covered every flat surface, filling bureau drawers, crowding cabinets and bookcases until every nook and cranny overflowed with objects some family member couldn’t  bear to lose.  


     For many years, cleaning up had seemed like a lost cause.  But last September Max spread his wings and flew out of the family nest to live with his girlfriend in Brooklyn. Would we leave Max’s room as a messy shrine to our son’s childhood? (I have a friend whose mom maintains her brother’s room the way he left it more than 3 decades ago!)  Or would Henry and I reclaim the precious, newly vacated space in our compact apartment and convert it into something new and shiny that we could actually enjoy?  With no debate, Henry and I rolled up our sleeves and began to clean and clean. . . .   

     Finally, the room was ready to become a cozy den (see “Nest Lift,” 11/14/14). We repainted, bought a new rug and a sofa bed, (in case Max needed to stay the night). Then we felt inspired to give the rest of our nest a quick upgrade too. At this point our rehab project took on a life of its own. Replacing our dining table (ruined during one of Max’s high school science projects) was at the top of our list. In addition, our dining chairs were literally on their last legs; one had already collapsed under me— to uproarious laughter—during a family dinner three years ago.  (That chair went to furniture heaven after 22 years of faithful support).   Henry and I found a new (nearly indestructible) granite table and six bright red chairs.  Wow! I could finally sip my coffee in a chair that didn’t wobble, and look up from the newspaper without seeing the razor slashes across my dining room table top. And Henry got to watch the Super Bowl in the den on the new 48” TV that arrived just in time.

     Next our attention turned to the living room and book cases, where we confronted an ugly truth:  MORE cleaning was mandatory. Ugh! Over the years we’d accumulated a gallery of family photos, an impressive book collection, and enough cancelled checks and financial papers to stymie the IRS if they ever DARED to audit us.  Sifting through all of these items, I discovered some of my old writing. Ancient writing, in fact, these stories and notes stretch all the way back through college and high school to the very first poems I wrote at 15 about the long-haired boy I thought I loved.  After a nostalgic read, I threw out most of my adolescent poetry, tear stained diaries, Shakespeare papers, an old Psychology exam, and memos from my first job (in public relations).  What I kept was: my college fiction, old letters from friends, some non-fiction and a few (later and better) poems.  
     Reading through my long-lost words took me on a journey into the mind of the young woman I’d been so long ago, before meeting Henry and creating a family.  I’d forgotten how lonely I’d felt for so many years. I’d forgotten the taste and flavor of coming of age in the 1970s, when “first wave” feminism was transforming women’s roles.  Back then magazine covers proclaimed that women could (and should!) “have it all:” husband, family and career.  What those glossy pages  failed to mention was that women were being paid half men’s salaries for doing the same jobs, while we were  expected to work twice as hard (to prove our worth!) and continue cleaning, cooking, entertaining and networking with our spouse’s clients and – oh yes, having hot “free sex” with our husbands on a regular basis!   

     Am I the only woman who noticed that it was horribly unfair—not to mention exhausting—that we’d been assigned mission impossible? I was smart enough to know my anger was very uncool, so I kept my head down and my chin up. (How is that even possible?) I followed the new and many splendored path American culture had laid out for me. I looked for a job, (a career, even) and dated as much as possible (and palatable).   Even now (more than 35 years after graduating from Vassar), I can’t help noticing that angry women are still perceived far more negatively (think: hysterical, depressed, whining, irrational) than angry men (think: righteous, aggressive, strong, and reasonable). And I was supposed to feel liberated?

     Somewhere in my early 20s—around the current age of my twins, Max and Sarah—I tried to develop a sense of humor about my confusion over finding my place in the world.  Amongst my many unearthed papers and teenage creations, I discovered the beginning of a book—The Career Handbook—a subject about which I knew virtually nothing at the time. 

     “Is there life after college?” I’d written.  “And if so, how do you enter it and where?  What happens after they hand you a diploma and tell you to go out and conquer the world?”

     “If you are one of the ‘lucky’ ones who decided to become a lawyer, doctor, or banker, your career path—if not easy—is at least clear.  But if you’re an artistic type, thinking of film-making, advertising, or writing, the road to success may well turn into a bewildering labyrinth, unless you’re aware of the many monsters that await you.”  (Really, how did I know such things)?

     “Not that monsters don’t attack lawyers, doctors and other business people, (I continued musing like an experienced pro) “but these monsters are a different breed.  As you’ll see in the appropriate chapter, monsters who attack openly are easier to identify, and the means to destroy them are well documented.” (Ah, there’s nothing quite like bravado powered by youthful ignorance.)
     “However, anyone who’s not sure about a career and tries to synthesize their interests with a job that sounds glamorous or lucrative in the spirit of ‘life-is-a-giant-buffet-and-I’d-like-to-taste-different-dishes-before-I-commit-to-lobster-fra-diavolo’ is in for a bad case of indigestion. I know because I’ve been to the buffet table.”  (No doubt, I was referring to my early disappointment with low-paying jobs in publishing and public relations).

     Here comes the hilarious (and, yes, also sad part):  “I’m writing this book for all of you who dare to dream about becoming the next ‘you’re not sure who yet, but you’ll fill in the blank later.’  I want to save you all some time and Maalox.” Go Max, go Sarah! My younger self seems to be lobbying for the twins who will one day be the age I was when writing my career handbook. 
     Ever whimsical and determined, my 20-something self continued: “I also like to write about what I like to write about: this subject of careers for example. Or maybe I should say I write about what I care about.  Of course, in some ways I wish someone else had written this career book about ten years ago.” 

     Probably someone else DID write that career handbook, long before I’d thought of the idea and long after I’d abandoned it.  The truth, according to the psychotherapist I’d seen at age 24, was that Michelin’s guide to my life had been torn up (if, in fact, it had ever existed). Now, all these years later, I’m thinking that there is no Michelin’s guide— not for me and not for anyone.  We all plan our paths, and then life hijacks us in new directions.  Giving birth to pre-mature twins?  Raising a child on the autistic spectrum? These weren’t my choices, and likely they wouldn’t be yours either. But who you become grows out of what you do each time life offers you a fork in the road or an uphill journey. Even in my 20’s, I got that part of The Career Handbook right: moving forward with your life and becoming your best self is up to you.

 

 

 

 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Blizzard Boondoggle

      History was made this week—but NOT the way meteorologists expected.  Record snowfalls were predicted in a seemingly endless (and tedious) loop on every news station all weekend.  In anticipation of an overnight snowfall of two to three feet, Governor Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio shut down New York City at 11 PM Monday night.  No more subways or buses until further notice.  All non-emergency vehicles were forbidden access to roads in preparation for the army of trucks and ploughs necessary to  cart off the soon-to-be perilously mounting piles of snow. For the first time I can remember, schools were closed the night before (instead of early in the morning) to the delight of all city children. But before kids could pull out their sleds—alas—Central Park also closed, for fear of falling tree branches under the weight of all that snow.  In fact, our mayor, ersatz nanny-and-principal, urged everyone  to leave work early, go home, and stay inside. “Duh!” Anyone looking out the window Monday afternoon didn’t need much convincing.

     However, before we plucky and practical New Yorkers decide to batten down our hatches, turn up the heat in our apartments, and hunker down for the duration, we have to prepare for this mother of all storms, right?  Everyone—and I do mean everyone—ran to the supermarket.  Who knew how long the Big Apple would be shut down?  How would our groceries get delivered with two feet of snow on our streets?  At 2 PM on Monday, I hurried to Food Emporium where I found every shopping cart taken and people waiting to pounce on an empty one as soon as it got unloaded.  Even after I succeeded in snagging a precious wagon, navigating the crowded supermarket turned out to be quite a challenge. Is this what it would be like if there were an impending nuclear holocaust?  Or had I wandered into an episode of The Walking Dead? 

     Quick, quick, grab the Bumble Bee tuna packed in water for Sarah’s diet, I silently chanted, willing myself through the human labyrinth.  Oh NO, all that’s left on an almost-empty shelf of tuna is the high calorie Bumble Bee soaked in oil.  Crouching down to the bottom shelf, looking deep into the  back, I managed to spot and grab a lone four-pack of Star-Kist tuna in water.  Phew!

     Time to captain my wobbly-wheeled, metal cart toward the beverage aisle.  I checked my list for the Elisofon preferred sodas and waters.  In shock and chagrin, I discovered that competing shoppers had already scooped up every last small bottle of plain Perrier and Poland Spring.  All that was left were lemon and lime flavors nobody in my family likes. Quickly, I grabbed a few large plain bottles and threw in the last 12-pack of Pellegrino—not my preferred brand—but, hey beggars trapped by Mother Nature can’t be choosers.  At least there was plenty of Fiji water, Henry’s favorite.
     I’d have fled the market at that point, but we still needed eggs, cheese and cold cuts.  In the dairy section, more bad news awaited me.  Forget about jumbo or extra-large eggs.   Only the “large” eggs remained, (by comparison, these tended to be quite small) but scrambled eggs on Saturday are a must, so I carefully perched a carton of scrawny eggs on top of the other necessities in my wagon.  En route to the cold cuts counter, I scooped up a wedge of Jarlsberg, leaving only one more wedge on the counter.  (Normally, there was a pile of 20 or 30 hunks in various sizes.) Next, attempting to approach the cold cuts area, I encountered a seemingly endless line of shoppers waiting to check out. The cold cut counter was completely obliterated by the throbbing, impatient masses wanting to pay and escape the market.   

     “Excuse me.” Gingerly, I slipped into the crowd, reassuring everyone that I wasn’t cutting the line. “I just need some turkey and roast beef,” I promised. “I swear I’ll to go to the end of the line afterwards.”

     The “end” of the line stretched halfway through the store, past the milk and dairy section, snaking through the meats and beyond.  As quickly as possible—without crashing into a baby carriage or knocking over an old lady with her walker—I slid behind a young woman holding a small basket of items and nonchalantly photographing the surrounding chaos with her iPhone.  As I caught my breath, she snapped a selfie.

     The powers-that-be at Food Emporium had obviously mandated all shoppers to stand in one gigantic, serpentine line—instead of the usual EIGHT smaller lines for each cashier. (Maybe they’d  imagined our progress would be more efficient in this new configuration?) We inched along.  Suddenly, I realized I’d better grab some more toilet paper.

     “Don’t worry.”  The woman in front of me graciously offered. “I’ll save your place and pull your wagon behind me.”
     I looked at her dubiously.  My wagon was heaped and overflowing. “Are you sure?”

     She waved me off with a smile, and I sprinted across the aisles toward paper goods. No more Charmin Ultra Soft.  Our fannies would survive on Cottonelle.  Returning to the deli counter, the approximate area where I’d left my cart, I saw that the line had suddenly surged forward in my absence. Luckily, I recognized the kind woman who’d offered to help me still dutifully dragging my cart.  Slipping in behind her, I said “Thanks. I owe you.”
     Approaching the cashier area, chaos truly reigned.  Some shoppers had carts piled high with groceries; others clutched baskets with less than a dozen items.  No one directed traffic.  Small orders did not go into an express line, but mixed with people like me who had huge orders for delivery. I felt sorry for folks with under a dozen items, but there was literally no room to maneuver my cart in order to let them go in front of me.  And even if I had somehow managed to let that person with only bread and milk slide into the line in front of me, well, wouldn’t the next shopper with only a few items want the same favor? And the next?        

     Looking at my watch, I realized it was much later than I’d thought.  My doctor’s appointment (already confirmed) was only fifteen minutes away. I didn’t want to be late because I knew the doctor and his staff would need to leave early.  I also knew that rushing down the sidewalk was a bad idea: I might slip, fall, and need an orthopedist appointment next. I shuddered at the vision of the orthopedist’s crowded waiting room, filled with my compatriots who also fell in the blizzard. . . .

     Uh, wait a minute, you might say. What blizzard? 

     Indeed, what did happen to the bales of snow that were supposed to fall all night Monday and all day on Tuesday?  Looking out the window Tuesday morning, Henry informed me that there was not a single snowflake falling.  Oops, the metereologists at the National Weather Center had made a mistake.  The storm—named Juno—had taken a last minute turn eastward. Long Island had  been pounded with over two feet, and Boston’s suburbs got hit even worse.  But in New York City, only a measly 8 to 10 inches in total had wafted down.

     “Sorry,” the metereologists said (with rather less enthusiasm than when they’d been reporting the oncoming storm).

     “Better safe than sorry,” the politicians chimed in.

     The New York Post called it: “the great snow job of 2015.”  Making fun of our mayor on the front page, the headline read: “De-Railed! Scandal behind subway shutdown.”  Further, the Post calledmeteorologists “forecast flubbers” who “flaked on this one,” and derisively referred to the “historic snowfail.”  Clearly, the editors had fun with their story (as I’m having fun with mine).  Call the storm what you will— I call it a boondoggle best enjoyed  from Florida, on a flat screen TV.

 


 

                               

Friday, January 23, 2015

Acceptance

     In spite of severe writer’s block, this week I was (finally!) inspired to write about “acceptance”—a deceptively bland word with multiple meanings, often accompanied by a broad range of emotions.  Dictionary.com offered three definitions: “the act of taking or receiving something offered, a favorable reception, and the act of assenting or believing.”  According to these definitions, feelings surrounding acceptance can run the gamut from pride and joy to bitterness and disappointment, with ambivalence or a mere shrug in between. Right now I’m experiencing some joy. My essay, “Separate and Together,” has finally been published in Kaleidoscope, an on-line magazine devoted to exploring disability issues. Three cheers for this acceptance!  

     (See www.udsakron.org/kaleidoscope/issues.aspx and click on Issue 70).

     Honestly, I’d almost forgotten to anticipate the happy event, because my essay had been accepted way back in 2013. To be fair, the editor of Kaleidoscope had warned me that “Separate and Together” might not find its way into the magazine’s on-line pages until 2015—when she could “fit it into an issue with the right theme.” (At the time, 2015 seemed impossibly far off.)  So what’s the “right theme” for a story about an unusual b’nai mitzvah, featuring my daughter, Sarah, on the autistic spectrum and her neurotypical twin brother, Max? 

     “Journey to Acceptance” is the title of Issue 70 of the e-zine. Okay, it’s obvious how my essay fits the acceptance theme.  Two extraordinarily different 13 year old twins celebrate a milestone moment: coming of age in the Jewish tradition. Somehow, both the ceremony and the party were a success, despite Sarah’s challenges.  What I was curious about was how the other literary offerings in the acceptance themed issue “fit” with “Separate and Together.” In other words, what company was I keeping? 
    
     As it turned out, there was another essay by a mother whose son was on the spectrum, and had Asperger’s Syndrome. In this essay, the mom finally accepts that her son will always be different from his neurotypical peers, and further, both mother and son are comfortable with that truth.  In fact, it almost seemed like the mom preferred to have a son who was socially isolated, but happy playing video games alone at home, instead of mother and son both struggling for him to change. However, I couldn’t help wondering if a greater effort on her part would have helped him to one day become a happier, more independent adult with friends and a social life.  

     Honestly, I NEVER felt content about Sarah staying home, playing alone. Does this mean I lack acceptance? And if so, is that necessarily a bad reaction? I have always wanted my daughter to make friends and participate in a social life—not just so she could fit into the neurotypical world, but also because that’s what SHE wanted so badly. In some ways, I’m not that different from the mom of the Asperger’s boy in the e-zine (or any other mom, for that matter).  We moms want our kids to be happy. The video-game playing boy may have found comfort and happiness in his own world, but Sarah had longed for friends, feeling lonely and jealous of her twin brother, (who’d always been very popular.)

   
    Now, over a decade since the b’nai mitzvah, Sarah has an active social life with lots of friends.  She’s even had a serious boyfriend for over a year; in that sense she’s “keeping up” with her twin brother Max, whose relationship has also continued beyond a year. Of course, my twins’ lives are every bit as different now as when they were thirteen. Max lives with his girlfriend; both of them work, and they’re (mostly) self-sufficient. On the other hand, neither Sarah nor her boyfriend have managed to find paying jobs; both receive social security payments, and neither one is truly independent, although Sarah’s boyfriend is closer to that goal.
     It’s difficult for me to “accept” that Sarah will never be fully independent; especially since independence is what my daughter yearned for since she was a little girl. Sadly, I must accept the fact I will not live long enough to teach her all the things she needs to learn in order to function entirely on her own. Even more painful—yet appropriate—is that Sarah no longer wants me to teach her, now that she’s “a grown-up.” Standing silently on the sidelines is difficult for me. I have many miles to go on that particular “journey to acceptance.” Right now, my job is to help Sarah find the life skills support she needs from other adults (who are not her mother) and whose help she’s willing to accept.  With each passing year, I must increasingly let go, step back, and admit that I can no longer be the micro-managing mom who keeps Sarah safe in the world. That journey to acceptance is still in progress.

     Nevertheless, as time passes, I have found that acceptance offers joyful and unusual moments.  My twins’ b’nai mitzvah was magical. So was Sarah’s college graduation, and her co-starring role in “Keep the Change,” a short film about young adults on the spectrum, struggling to make a romantic connection. As long as I remember that my daughter and I have both done our best, (exceeding many professionals’ predictions and expectations!), I can be at peace with the limitations on Sarah’s success and independence. Do I really accept the disappointment that goes with those limits?  Not unless I can keep on stretching them just a little. . . .

  


 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Weathering Winter

   
   Now that the holidays are behind us—and the January sales are upon us—how do we cope with all these frigid, dark days?  It’s not like spring is around the corner; we still have to slog through February and March (possibly the cruelest months).  Yes, I know there are plenty of people out there who embrace these cold winter days because they love skiing and snowboarding.  Otherwise the fancy winter resorts in Colorado, Utah, and Idaho would go belly up right along with the more modest mountain inns and time shares on the East coast. And there would be no such thing as artificial snow.

     As for other winter sports, I’m aware that a giant segment of the population (mostly male) adores football and basketball.  Despite losing records for all the New York teams, both Henry and Max love watching these sports on TV. Both father and son are ardent Giants fans (though less enamored of the Knicks these days, with their record 5 wins and 35 losses).  Still, there are plenty of people—women and children included—who flock to football games OUTSIDE, despite snow, ice and sub-freezing temperatures.  I haven’t watched an outdoor football game since Max retired from his flag football league in high school.  These days, when father and/or son flip the TV to football, mom opens a book, or escapes to another room to call a friend.  But I never escape entirely because I can still hear the loud, drunken cheers and groans coming from the bar, Bounce, directly across the street from our apartment.

   
   Of course, weathering winter is easy for the so-called “snow birds” and (usually long-time empty nesters) who migrate south for the winter to Florida: Palm Beach, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale etc.  Ah, the lure of warmth and sunshine….  Not only do these affluent retirees escape the bone-chilling temperatures of New York—currently 20 degrees—but they also skip out on the hefty New York City and state income taxes,  IF they’re willing to stay south for six months and a day. Many snow birds also manage to lure their chicks and grand chicks down to Florida to visit over school vacations and these folks enjoy watching grandbabies build sandcastles and frolic on the beach.  A few of my friends have parents with condos in Florida, and thus the opportunity (and, yes, the obligation!) to visit every winter. While some of my friends don’t look forward to these winter family visits, right about now I’m shivering with envy.
     My mom lives eight blocks away in a ground floor walk-up, and she is hibernating for the winter.  She only ventures out in the frigid weather when absolutely necessary.  Mostly, she stocks up on essentials and books from the library in advance of sub-freezing temperatures, sleet, rain and wind chills. Exceptions to Mom’s hibernation include holidays, birthdays and celebratory occasions with her family. Staying warm is a lot more difficult for her than for a well-fed bear.  My mom, age 87, is frail at only 98 pounds; in addition, she has bad arthritis and takes blood thinners for her heart so she moves slowly and gets cold easily. Her baby bear (me) has taught her to layer up with a down vest under her down coat, along with sweaters, shirts, scarf, gloves and hat.  I shudder to think how long it must take her to bundle up just to go to the drugstore or supermarket.

     I refuse to hibernate even though I hate the cold, dark days of winter.  As I get older, (and I’m far from frail), I find myself needing to wear more clothes to stay warm.  I also have a harder time waiting for buses or racing other shivering New Yorkers for cabs. (Thank God for Uber and apps). On the other hand, my 24 year old twins, Max and Sarah, seem almost oblivious to the cold.  Often they don’t bother with hats and gloves—and neither one EVER carry an umbrella!  Even when the twins were little and Henry and I took them sledding in Central Park, they never complained of being cold.

     Even when their mittens were damp from the snow or their cheeks were red and noses running, they pleaded: “Please, please, let’s go down the hill one more time.”

     Meanwhile I wondered whether my fingers had frostbite inside my gloves.  That was back when we planned winter escapes to the Caribbean with our children over school vacations.  Whether it was Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Barbados or St. Martin, we always flew some place warm. In those days, Sarah (on the autistic spectrum) had been especially explosive and difficult; swimming and frolicking in the ocean for hours on vacation had delighted and finally exhausted her.  And when Sarah was happy, Henry and I could finally relax (while still taking turns watching our daughter to make sure she didn’t float away and drown). While Henry dozed on a beach chair or tossed a football with Max, I alternated reading and glancing up at Sarah, our aspiring mermaid.

     Now that Max has flown the coop and Sarah is rarely home, we haven’t planned any family vacations (winter or summer) for the foreseeable future.  Our (mostly) grown up kids have their own plans.  They hang out with their respective boyfriend and girlfriend (as they should).  Sometimes, when we’re missing our twins, I have to remind Henry that we used to dream of the day Sarah had her own friends and boyfriend, instead of tagging along with us or staying home alone. That dream, at least, has come true. Now we are weathering the winter as a twosome, which means going to the movies, out for dinner with friends, and occasionally to theater or a museum.  Oh yes, we’re also shopping January furniture sales, re-feathering and converting out family roost into a cozy couple’s nest.

 


Friday, January 9, 2015

Inaugural Visits

      No, we didn’t drop in on DeBlasio or Obama this past weekend.  More exciting—to us anyway—was our inaugural visit to our son’s new home in Brooklyn. Despite the relentless rain this past Saturday, Henry and I made our first pilgrimage to Crown Heights to visit our son, Max, and his girlfriend in their (relatively) new studio apartment.  Here’s how the plan unfolded:

     “You can visit us any time,” Max had suggested, mid-way through a phone conversation.

     But popping in clearly was NOT an option. Henry and I live in Manhattan, and Max’s new nest is in Crown Heights—not exactly around the corner. Assuming we don’t get lost, Google says the trip takes 56 minutes by car via the FDR or a little over an hour by subway. 

     “How about Saturday?” I leaped at my son’s invitation. “We’ll take you and Katy to dinner in Brooklyn.  Maybe even Peter Luger’s if we can get a reservation.”

     “Sounds great!” Max replied. 

     I imagined his stomach rumbling on the other end of the phone.  Ever since he was a small boy, Henry and I had been promising to take our son to Peter Luger’s Steakhouse, but somehow we’d never gotten around to it. Now, finally, the opportunity presented itself; a perfect way for Henry and me to make the evening extra special for everyone. 

     The first three times I called Peter Luger’s, the person taking reservations barely smothered a laugh. The restaurant was fully booked “until after 9:30 pm.”  I was advised to make my reservations two weeks in advance—especially on a holiday weekend.  The implication was clear: I obviously had the unmitigated gall to ask for primetime Saturday night seating for four with only three days’ notice. My second choice--another iconic Brooklyn restaurant--The River CafĂ© was also fully booked. Eventually I found a chic restaurant in Brooklyn willing to take us on short notice, but I knew Max would be disappointed.  I resolved to keep calling Peter Luger’s periodically, hoping for a cancellation. Although I wasn’t the early bird, I was the persistent bird. And, like all mamas, I want the best for my chicks.

     Saturday dawned, and— lo and behold—the drenching rains became my friend!  That afternoon I managed to secure a 7:45 pm reservation at Peter Luger’s.  Thanks to terrible weather and a fortuitous cancellation, Max and Katy would be enjoying their inaugural visit to carnivore heaven, the same night Henry and I got our first glimpse of our son’s new living quarters.

     Henry and I arrived at Peter Luger’s 45 minutes early, and waited at the bar for Max and Katy.  Happily we were able to snag seats and sip some wine.  Otherwise we’d have been standing with the rest of the hungry, waiting crowd, clutching our soggy coats and umbrellas because—despite the fame and snobbery—there was no coat room. Finding seats at the bar was a good omen. Later, when we all sat down for dinner, we had a friendly, helpful waiter (not always the case, I’m told) and a bread basket for my famished son and his girlfriend, tiding us over until our feast arrived.  We ordered tomatoes and onions, porterhouse for four, creamed spinach and German fried potatoes.  Believe it or not, we polished off everything, including a second order of potatoes! As my son gnawed the last of the meat from the bone, I wondered: Had we died and gone to carnivore heaven?  (Not quite).  Somehow we even found room for dessert:  three cheesecakes and a chocolate mousse cake.  No doggie bags, and no leftovers!

     Contented and more-than-well-fed, we navigated from the Brooklyn Bridge to Max and Katy’s apartment, miraculously finding a parking spot right across the street.  Max and Katy had warned us that their apartment was small. As we entered their building, I couldn’t help wondering whether Henry and I would be tripping over discarded clothing, soda cans and coffee cups as had been our custom in Max’s room when he lived at home.  Maybe now that he was sharing space and rent with a girlfriend, his housekeeping habits had improved? (I hoped.)  As the front door swung open, I wondered if there would be chairs for us to sit down?  Answer: Yes to both.

     “Wow, your place is adorable…and so clean!” Awe-stricken, I complimented Katy as I looked around.  The bed was neatly made with Marimekko sheets. The white dining table was spotless; and every pen and pencil (sharpened) was methodically stored in cups.  All of the books were lined up like soldiers on a bookshelf they’d built together—not a single tome had gone AWOL onto the floor.

     “You must have been cleaning all day,” I joked appreciatively with Katy.

     “Not really.”  She smiled.  “But we did take a lot of stuff to the laundry.” 

     “You guys did a great job,” I enthused. “I can’t believe you actually BUILT a bookshelf.”

     “Actually Max did most of it,” Katy said proudly.

     “Yup!” My son grinned with the joy of a job well done. Then he plopped down on the bed, flipping on the 40” inch flat screen TV Katy had given him for his birthday.

     “I see you found room to hang the Elisofon photos.” Henry sounded pleased as he examined  the pictures of zebras and African tribesmen snapped by  his Pulitzer-Prize winning Uncle Eliot, suspended below the ceiling.  It was heartwarming that Max had brought something from the family nest to his new home. “Great picture of Sparky on the fridge,” Henry added, nodding toward our soulful-eyed, red terrier who passed away last year. (See “For Sparky With Love,” 1/31/14).

     A little while later, we said our goodbyes.  Max and Katy looked happy and comfortable together. Although we had enjoyed the warm welcome into their home, the moment was bittersweet.  A chapter in our family life had ended forever, and a new one was beginning to unfold.

  
 
 
 


 

 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Hatching the Next Generation

Hatching the Next Generation
    
           Instead of looking back at 2014, I thought it would be more fun to look forward.  What happens to new empty nesters down the road after their offspring have flown the coop?  Some parents may preserve a grown up child’s room like a shrine. Others (like me) will convert the empty room into an office or den, while plenty of suburban parents may decide to downsize and move to the city for the convenience and nightlife.  But sooner or later all of us hope to enjoy grandchildren—the hatching of the next generation.  What will it be like to welcome these chicks back into our nest?  For the answer, I invited Lynne Feldman—author,  lawyer, retired educator and fellow blogger at www.integralhealingbook.com—to share her experience of becoming a grandma.  Although Lynne lives in the suburbs, I’m sure many aspiring city-grandparents will relate.  Here’s her story:


     After Emily turned 32, she announced her pregnancy. I’d been struggling with cancer and chemo for over a year, so the good news couldn’t have been more welcome.  Miracle of miracles, nine months later, I completed chemo on the very day little Andrew Paul Singer was delivered at the hospital where my daughter had been born 33 years earlier. Due to Emily’s husband’s age (49) and children from a prior marriage, Emily explained that this birth would be a onetime event. Thus my husband John and I embraced our blond-haired, blue eyed and dimpled cherub with special delight.
     Although Emily has lived in several houses since leaving for college and law school, she’s never been more than an hour away from Jon and and me. By sheer chance, I found a house in their price range on a street exactly one mile away from ours in the same town. When Emily and her husband Samuel moved into that house, my secret dream had come true: my only child would be living walking distance from me. She would be just far enough away not to trip over me and John whenever she went out, but near enough for us to pay quick visits that were never unannounced. 

     My closest women friends in town had had children the same age as Emily, and we’d raised our kids together in one happy, noisy pod. Now, decades later, joyous coincidence brought grandparenthood to a few of my friends around the same time. There was Dana, with two sets of twin grandchildren, living one mile from her. Meryl had a granddaughter she cared for every Wednesday, and Charlotte’s two little grandchildren were twenty minutes away. Cindy’s son and daughter, along with their respective spouses and little ones, lived around the block from her. We were the lucky Grandmas. No long plane rides twice a year to see how much little Angela and Tyler had grown. We were the fortunate ones who got to see our sprouts growing on a daily or weekly basis.
     But once infancy passed, my small group of friends and I—60-something Grandmas—switched our conversations from the wisdom of saving umbilical cord blood to (re)baby-proofing our homes. The irony! We, who had long ago stopped fearing broken glass and sticky tiny fingers poked into electric outlets, found ourselves retrofitting our nests for the next generation of fledglings. We Grandmas all conducted research on the newest baby proofing methods and discussed the particular hazards of our redecorated homes (the white linen couches, the new Olympic-sized pool). We bought sized gates to install at the top of our staircases; if you looked closely, you could still see holes from the gates that protected these stairs 30 years before when our kids were very young.

     We Grandmas loved bragging to one another about how close we felt to our grand-babies, but we also admitted that it was wonderful to be able to say goodbye, after getting winded from running after a 12 month creeper. However, along with the joy and energy of the arrival of the next generation came those calls at all hours: “Mom, the babysitter bailed on us, and Ted and Amanda are waiting at the restaurant. Could you watch----?” “I ran out of diapers, and Bill is delayed coming home. Could you run out to A&P and grab me some-----?” “Hey, guys, we can’t get a babysitter on New Year’s Eve. You wouldn’t mind watching Spencer-----?” “Hi, sorry to wake you, but my car won’t start, and Isabelle needs to get to pre-school. I know it’s early for you, but could you help us out----?” “I’ve got a fever and I need to sleep. Could you watch Lily for me today?”

     In addition to pinch-hitting during times of stress, making sure our homes were within toddler-safety code, and helping out during holidays and birthdays, we Grandmas also found our own living areas had been infiltrated. My husband John tripped on enough random Lego pieces to win a combat ribbon. Charlotte’s favorite turquoise bowl from Phoenix got bumped onto the floor and achieved maximum destruction after a preview of little Laura’s ballet abilities. Cindy figured out why finger painting is such a hazardous activity on her king-sized bed. And our puppy Chloe discovered that having a tail could be a tempting liability around a lively two year old.
     When grandchildren re-fill your house, you are parents once again in every sense of the word. If grandkids have almost daily use of your home, you have to be realistic and change that regal decor into something from Ikea. And let’s not forget the potty training errors, when your entire house starts to smell like a kennel, and Febreze won’t come close to doing the trick.

     One thing we Grandmas all agreed on was the joy of seeing the world through the innocent eyes of the next generation. Observing the firehouse from my grandson’s perspective, watching him meet a sheep for the first time, and seeing the look on his face as he tasted his first snowflake sent me into paroxysms of ecstasy. We Grandmas realized that when our children had tasted snowflakes, we’d been harried and tense, our attention divided among myriad stresses of daily work and parenting. But now we are either retired or working a less involved schedule. We have the time and space to empathize with those small wonders experienced by the nervous systems of newbie humans. Those previously tedious remarks like “Where does the moon go during the day?” and “The sky is broken. I can’t see the sun,” now amplify my sense of gratitude for being alive. Today my world is restored to mystery and wonder. Instead of running to Google for a scientific explanation of why the sky is blue, I can now confide in my grandson with total sincerity and satisfaction: “Wow, that’s a cool shade of blue, isn’t it?”