Thursday, May 24, 2012

I Want To Hold Your Hand

Today was special. We had a visit from Flip's first girlfriend ever, when he was 14 and she was 13. They hadn't seen each other since they were in their mid-teens, but she found me on Facebook and we began a correspondence. She wanted to thank Flip for showing her in her first relationship that boys could be kind and caring, gentle, respectful and funny. He is still all those things, and more. Lori said that he introduced her to music, which would become a very important part of her life, and to photography as he always had a camera with him and chronicled their young teen life, mostly in pictures of an adorable smiling Lori, who is now a professional photographer.

I warned her that I didn't know how he'd react to her visit as his behavior can be unpredictable, but it couldn't have been better. He was sleeping when she arrived so we went to eat, and when we returned his lunch had been delivered. I woke him up to feed him, and told him who she was. She showed him snapshots he had taken of her at age 13 and remarked that she is much older and larger now, but it didn't matter. He recognized her and smiled. She told him about her life, and that she never forgot him even though they went different ways because they didn't live in the same town and neither was old enough to drive.

She reminisced about strolling in Los Angeles parks and on beaches, hand in hand, singing Beatles songs - it didn't hurt that Flip looked a lot like George Harrison -  and talking on the phone for hours as soon as they got to their own homes. It sounds like the most perfect teen romance. She gave me a stack of photographs, all of them precious. I especially love that he wrote on the back of one:

I have pictures of you plastered all over the darkroom walls, so it's almost impossible for me to forget what you look like - (which is fairly hard to do anyway.)
Truly yours, sincerely, love, forever, cordially, Phil.

It charms me that he sneaked "love" in there, surrounded by several less serious words, because he wanted her to know and also shyly hoped she wouldn't notice. Children are so brave but life doesn't often encourage them to stay that way. I feel honored to have glimpsed an important part of my husband's life long before I knew him. His taste in girls was impeccable as Lori is now a wonderful, kind, sensitive and giving woman who must have been an absolute delight then. There was magic in having his first love and his last together at his bedside, and I think Flip was aware of the symmetry. After she left, I asked him if he remembered her although it seemed obvious that he did. He said, "Oh yeah." I believe her visit helped him to reconnect with who he was then and still is now, despite the fogginess of dementia, and I am grateful to Lori for giving him back a piece of himself. Some days God smiles.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

They Can't Take That Away From me

Today I had to take a driver's test - written and vision - to renew my license before my birthday in late June. Of the seven states in which I have been licensed to drive, California has the toughest test so I was nervous. (Vermont's had only three questions, as I recall.) When we moved here 14 years ago Flip, a native Californian, was able to get his license reinstated but I had to take the exam. Since I had been driving since age 16, I didn't bother to read the driver's manual and failed. There are a lot of rules which are specific to California. So I read the entire book which includes such gems as "Do not shoot firearms on a highway or at traffic signs," returned the next day and passed, despite a lack of experience with firearms.

Today's test was required because of an accident I had in 2009. I was especially anxious because Flip is now in a nursing home across San Francisco Bay and I drive to see him every day. Public transportation from here to there is extremely inconvenient, but at some point everyone should stop driving and I hope I will be aware and responsible enough to recognize when that time comes, before anyone gets hurt. Thankfully, I won't have to deal with that particular disaster just yet.

Traffic within the vast DMV building was directed by a large, pleasant Philippine gentleman with dyed orange hair who missed his calling as a circus ringmaster. I began to think things might go well when I was first directed to window 6, my favorite number and birth month, and then to window 24, my birthday. The woman who took my picture was so slow I was sure I had actually broken the camera, but unfortunately it was her printer that jammed. She directed me and the people behind me to another window at the other end of the building and did not show me the picture until it was too late to object. If I am ever stopped for anything, they will be sure I did it and also that I am a particularly muttly extraterrestrial. Cameras do that to me. I was finger printed at each counter. They weren't taking any chances.

 I was glad I had read the handbook again last night. The two people ahead of me failed, and the woman at the checking station didn't bother to tell me I had passed (100%.) Apparently she was unaware that I was holding my breath, fervently wishing I were a rosary bead kind of person. Finally, she handed me the temporary paperwork and said my license would be mailed in 4-6 weeks, about when my present one expires. I would have liked a formal statement and maybe a 21-gun salute since they probably have all those confiscated firearms around, but still, it was a day well spent. And the piece of celebratory chocolate cake was, well, the icing on the cake. Priceless.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

When My Name Was Mommy

My son has always had a great capacity for assimilating data and putting it to use quickly. When he was two and my older daughter was three and a half, it dawned on me that I could bathe them together as they were both out of diapers and not yet adolescent. I placed them in a tub of bubbles and lathered them while they played with their bath toys.

Suddenly, J stood up and began to circle E, a look of deep concentration on his face.

“Mommy!" he exclaimed. "E has a different kind of penis.”

E snapped, “Stupid! Don’t you know a vagina when you see one?” She held J's rubber ducky under water until it drowned.

I explained that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, and they went back to splashing each other and racing their plastic boats.

The next day, I was at the grocer's with J perched in the kiddie seat, swinging his legs and grabbing whatever he could off the shelves.

A sweet little old lady shuffled up to us with her walker and cooed, “Ohhh, you are the most beeeyootiful widdle boy!”

He looked her dead in the eye, and then beamed radiantly as he made the connection.

“You have a bagina, don’t you? “ he crowed.

She clutched her breast and gasped, and I thought she would have a heart attack and fall down right in the cereal aisle of Stop & Shop.

When she didn’t die, I pushed my shopping cart away and said, “Honey, it’s vagina with a va, not a ba.”

But J's attention had already moved on to Fruit Loops, which had a very nice picture on the box.

The only thing I ever knew J to fear was haircuts. When he was 2 1/2, his father decreed that “MY SON will not have long hair anymore.” So we took the children to Mr. Gay, a fashionable children’s barber on Madison Avenue in New York.

E went first. She adored the attention, the swivel chair that went up and down, the praise for being such a good girl, her new look, and the red lollipop at the end.

It turned out that J had a Sampson thing going. He accelerated to full hysteria as soon as he was placed in the chair. He could not be reasoned with, he could not be bribed. He was uncontrollable, a small whirlwind, squirming, leaping, thrashing and full-bore pedal to the metal screaming.

E stood by his chair, watching with scientific detachment as she licked her lollipop. The parents of other children put down their magazines and stared in horror. I was ready to pay the barber to stop, but MY SON had to have short hair.

Mr. Gay said, “I can’t do this,” threw off his smock and headed for the door. He was about 90 years old, had given thousands of children haircuts, but he had met defeat in the form of a small but determined blond cherub with exceptional vocal chords.

As the barber disappeared down the street, the other barber (I think he was Mr. Gay’s father) came over and began to cut J’s hair, trying to establish a rhythm between wild leaps and flailing arms. We had to tip him double.

You would think this torture would not be repeated, but a few months later, MY SON had hair hanging in his eyes and over his ears again, so off we went.

E got a lollipop but no haircut, which clearly disappointed her, and J was hoisted, screaming, into The Bad Chair. This time both barbers joined forces to perform the operation, one holding him down while the other attempted to cut his golden fleece on the downswing.

J’s ear got nicked, and I said, “That’s it. Let him go.”

He got two lollipops, and we left.

For the next few years, I cut his hair at night, while he slept, like a stealth bomber with scissors. I would drape a towel over his pillow and turn him like a chicken on a spit, this way and that, until the deed was done, collect all four corners of the hairy towel in one hand while propping J’s head with the other. He never once woke up, and I don’t think he ever noticed the difference because he had no interest in mirrors.

Years later, when he began to notice girls, he suddenly became GQ-worthy and brushed his teeth voluntarily, showered without being reminded, and even took himself for haircuts. I don’t know if they gave him lollipops.

When my younger daughter, C, was 6, she got the part of Lucy in her school play, "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." Her father took her to a costume shop near an area of Boston known as the Combat Zone, which is the red light district. He must have looked like a pedophile with a mini-skirted little girl in pink Miss Piggy sneakers. She noticed that the "lamppost ladies" were swinging their pocketbooks, so she swung her Snoopy umbrella.

A very old man was walking slowly ahead of C and her father.

A scantily-clad woman in a doorway said, "Wanna fuck?"

The old man said, "What?"

She repeated herself, louder. "Wanna fuck?"


She sighed impatiently and said it again, louder than before.

He cupped his ear and said, "I'm sorry, miss, but you'll have to speak up. I can't hear you."

The hooker put her hands around her mouth and yelled, "DO.YOU.WANT.TO.FUCK!"

My daughter said to the woman, "Whatever it is, he doesn't want to. His ears don't work anymore."