What a Difference a Hat Makes

These past few days I have been cloaked in grief.  I didn’t expect my grandmother’s death to hit me quite so hard.  I thought I had such a good grip on the very logical, very healthy, very Irish perspective of “Death is just a part of Life” that it wouldn’t be long until my heavy heart could catch up with my clever head.  Maybe it hasn’t been that long, really, but I am still rather reeling from the loss.  It gets easier every day until the day comes when it isn’t easy at all.  But the sun always, always sets on the hard days, and always, always rises again on a day that has the potential for being better.  In that way, Life is just a part of Death.

Yeah, some days I’ve got it all figured out.  And other days, I need a little help.  Yesterday, my bright and beautiful boy was my rising sun.  It was something so simple, as day-brighteners often are.  It was just a trip to the grocery store.

I justify not always dressing my drooly/slobbery/barfy little stain magnet when we’re at home by drawing a heavy line at his always being dressed when we go out among the English.  Yesterday, I put him in a simple short sleeved, red and blue striped, grey accented onesie.  On a whim I grabbed his little grey newsboy cap.  I, of course, thought he looked absolutely adorable, but guess what?  I think he’s cute when all he’s wearing are carrots and peas.  I was unprepared for the red carpet that appeared beneath our grocery cart.

This kid was a massive hit!  It took us five mintues just to get in the opening-closing-opening-closing doors because every single grandma and grandpa in the front entry stopped to admire him. The Deli Dames damn near lost their minds.  It took me fifteen minutes to get my cold cuts for the week because the gal who was helping us literally kept calling the other ladies over to look at Boyo.  Then she stopped the customers who were walking by with a “Don’t walk by that baby!  Get your share of the cute!” One call over begat another and pretty soon, we had a Nana and PopPoparazzi surrounding us!

As we walked through produce, we encountered a grouch.  She was clearly agitated by the fact that her path to the zucchini was blocked by other shoppers.  The “harumph” never left her face or her voice when she spotted us and said, “Cute. It’s the hat.”

I was picking out a ham steak in the meat section when I heard the microphoned voice of the cooking demonstration lady calling, “Oh my goodness, look at that baby!  With the hat!  Oh, look!” I would have guessed that taco seasoning really can’t hold a candle to my boy’s incandescence, but it sure was pretty awesome to have announced proof.

I swear I am not making it up when I say that on every single aisle, someone, usually an older gal, but also men, young women, store employees, and even a teenager stopped to remark on how adorable my hastily and serendipitously dressed little man was.  We were the celebrities in the cereal aisle, the stars of the seafood department, and the famous faces in Frozen Foods.  We were showered with attention and praise at literally every turn.  My cheeks hurt from grinning like a fool.  It felt fantastic!

I missed introducing my son to my grandmother by three weeks.  That fact is a heavy stone in my pocket.  I take great comfort in knowing (thanks to my mother and my aunt) that even toward the end when my grandmother couldn’t remember anything, she always asked about my boy by name.  If I were a more mystical being, I would have said that maybe my beloved grandmother had a hand in enveloping us in grandparental admiration and attention yesterday.  Maybe it was her way of telling me, “I see him.  I see you.  And I am proud of you both.”

Of course, for that to be true, it would mean that dying completely changes your personality.  My grandmother was a lot of things, but maudlin and sentimental she most certainly was not.  That’s what the living do, though.  They hold on to their dead, seeing and hearing and feeling them until they are ready to let them go.  I guess I’m not ready yet.  Because yesterday, I swear, she went grocery shopping with us.

Yesterday, I unknowingly exchanged my cloak of grief for a little boy’s newsboy cap.

What a difference a hat makes!

I mean, is it any wonder, really?  Look at this effing kid!

I mean, is it any wonder, really? Look at this effing kid!

 

The Truth About Oldie

Before my grandfather died thirty-ish years ago, he told my grandmother that when she died, he would meet her in the nebula of Orion and would take her the rest of the way to Heaven from there.  Two nights ago, he did just that.  Surrounded by four of her children, with the fifth on the phone, my Oldie died and flew to the stars.

I know it was coming.  I know it was time.  I know she was so curious to “see what was on the other side.”  I know she was tired.  Tired of living, tired of dying, tired of missing her husband.  I know it’s a blessing for her, for all of us, especially for my mother, who took such brilliant, loving, quotidian care of her.  I just wish the steadfast logic of my beloved grandmother’s death being a good thing had any effect at all at on the wellspring of sadness that has dampened my heart and my cheeks.

Grief is a harsh task masker.  It will not be ignored.  You try to turn your back on grief and it will rise up, gather strength, and knock you on your ass whenever it goddamn feels like it.  The only tool we have against grief is to surrender to it, feel it in its entirety, deflate it from the inside.  And so, as I mourn my heavy loss, I am taking out my memories, thumbing their well worn, dog-eared pages, and remembering some of the lessons my Oldie taught me.

You don’t have to deal with something you hate.  Get rid of it.   Oldie was staying with me while my folks were out of town the day I brought home my 4th grade school pictures.  I was terribly upset. I had a mouth full of metal, a face full of pimples and (O! The horror!) my hair was parted down the middle!  She tried to console me, told me it wasn’t that bad, that braces were fixing my teeth, that my skin wouldn’t always be turbulent, who the hell cared where my hair was parted.  None of it worked.  So she pulled out a pot, filled it with water, took out all the spices and said, “Boil ’em up.”  We spent a half hour, the two of us, adding a pinch of oregano, a soupçon of gravy master until the offending image was gone and all that was left was a blank page.

She taught me that when faced with something abhorrent, try a different perspective.  But if that didn’t work, then get rid of the damn thing.

They’re just boobies.  When I was about twelve years old, Oldie was again filling in for my folks.  I had a nasty chest cold.  Oldie tucked me into bed, grabbed the Vicks Vapo-Rub and sat down beside me, waiting for me to lift my nightie so she could apply it.  I hesitated, embarrassed to expose myself to my grandmother.  She said, “Come on, they’re just boobies.  I’ve seen ’em.”  Somehow, her brusqueness broke through to me in a way that sympathetic understanding might not have.

She taught me that sometimes we must make ourselves vulnerable in order to receive the comfort we crave.

The magic words.  I was in my early twenties when my grandmother called me over to her house to help her unstick a drawer.  I thought it was cute that my “poor old widowed grandmother” (as she like to call herself when she wanted me to do something for her) couldn’t get a drawer open and I felt kinda puffed up that I would be able to come to her rescue with little effort.  Well, forty-five minutes later, you think I had made any progress?  Yeah, no.

Me:  Oldie, I can’t get the thing open, either!

Oldie:  Did you say the magic words?  You can’t give up until you’ve tried the magic words.

Me:  What, abracadabra?  Open sesame?

Oldie:  No. [Smirk.]  Shit, shit, SHIT!

She taught me that I really do come from a long line of potty mouths, and that spicy language is sometimes the best way to get your point across.

You have to have a sense of humor about aging.  I used to call my grandmother “Grandma.”  All of my younger cousins do.  But on her 75th birthday, I teased that she looked fantastic for two hundred years old.  She stuck out her tongue, thumbed her nose at me and said, “Smart ass.” The spark in her eye and the wink in her tone told me we had just found a game that was gonna last for the rest of her life.  I started calling her “Oldie.”  She started signing cards and letters that way, too.  But just to me.  When my younger cousin once snidely called her Oldie, she snapped, “Don’t you dare.  Only your cousin can call me that.” I think she trusted that there was not an ounce of disrespect in my nickname for her.  Just the teasing love of a granddaughter who adored her.

Every Thanksgiving was the Old Folks’ Home test.  As long as she could make the gravy, she didn’t have to go in the home.  She always muttered about smart-mouth kids, but every single year, she called me to the stove for the taste test.  When she got the thumbs up she’d declare, “Stick that in your Old Folks’ Home!”

As she got older, her standard answer for “How you doin’, Oldie?” was “Not bad for an old dame.”  And she often said even when the chips are down, “You gotta keep on living.  Otherwise, they stick you in a hole a throw dirt in your face.”  She even had a sense of humor about her memory loss.  Toward the end, many a conversation happened like this:

Me: “I told you yesterday, remember?”

Oldie: “Oh, well, I have a very fine Forgettery, you know.  I must have put it there.”

She taught me that to fear or even lament aging is ridiculous.  It’s gonna happen, there’s no way around it.  Embrace it.  Surrender to it.  Laugh at it.  That’s the thing about life:  Nobody makes it out alive.  Life is better when you don’t rage against the inevitable.

There’s nothing like a dirty joke.  Oh, how my Oldie loved a dirty joke.  Not filthy, but dirty.  There’s a fine line, but I knew where it was and I could tickle her funny bone with any one of a hundred I had collected over the years, knowing she would love them.  As she started to get dotty, I would just stick to the four or five that made her laugh the hardest, because every time I saw her, they’d be new to her. (Thanks, Forgettery!)

Her favorite:

For the longest time, I never wore no underwear.  Drove my boyfriend Ernie nuts!  One day I got a cold and headed to the doctor.  Unbeknownst to me, Ernie called the doctor and told him, “Doc!  Tell Soph that the reason she’s sick is because she don’t wear no underwear.”  So I get to the doctor’s office.  He looks down my throat and says, “Soph!  You ain’t wearin’ no underwear!”  I says to him, “Doc! You can look down my throat and see I ain’t wearin’ no underwear??  Do me a favor.  Look up my ass and tell me if my hat’s on straight!”

She taught me that old people are just old young people.  And they love to laugh.

In the end, it’s just going home.  After many years, Oldie started wearing her wedding rings again.  She’d taken them off when Grandpa died declaring, in her classic unsentimental way,  “I’m not married anymore.  I promised til death do us part.”  When I asked her why the about-face, she said that Grandpa had visited her in a dream and said, “What’s the matter, Dearie?  You don’t want to be married to me anymore?”  She was excited to see him again, to be with him and with her God.  Her strong Catholic faith and a sixty-five year old love for her husband, whom she knew was waiting for her, alleviated any fear about dying.  She knew where she was going and was eager to get there.

I am honored to have known her, to have loved and been loved by her, to have teased and been teased by her.  She will live on in my heart, in my memory, and in the scintilla of my favorite constellation.    

Here’s to you, Oldie!  Orion shines brighter for having known you.  And so do I.

May the road rise up to meet you, Oldie.  I love you very much.

May the road rise up to meet you, Oldie. I love you very much.

 

 

AMKO  March 18, 1921 - September 29, 2013

AMKO
March 18, 1921 – September 29, 2013

 

This post is dedicated to the staff of St. Dominc’s Village in Houston, TX.   They treated my grandmother with the kindness, dignity, and respect she deserved.  They gave my mother endless comfort and worked tirelessly to help her maintain my grandmother’s finances and care.

For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’  Matthew 25: 35-40

 

Parenting in Action: Night Weaning

A week after our boy was born, my husband and I took him for his first appointment with his pediatrician.  The doc walked into the room, took one look at our faces and even before he said “Hello,” he said, “Four months.  He’ll be sleeping through the night in four months.”  At the time, it was all I could do to keep from weeping with gratitude (and, let’s face it, total annihilating exhaustion.) He knew exactly what we needed to hear and he wasted no time reassuring us.  He was our hero.

He was also a liar-liar-pants-on-fire.

Boyo is fast approaching seven months old and he is nowhere near sleeping through the night.  He’s like a Swiss train:  always exactly on time.  Every three hours, on the nose, he wakes for a feeding.   After his bottle, he settles immediately back to sleep, which is very thoughtful of him, but, frankly, I’m over it.   I’m ready to get a good night’s sleep.  Or at least to have a crack at one.  I had read a little about night weaning, but I wanted to consult with a doctor first.  It took some time to find a new doc after our cross country move and then we had to wait for new insurance benefits to begin, so I had resolved to wait it out and hope that in the meantime, nature took a quick course.  (It didn’t.)

When the day of our first appointment finally arrived, the doctor, a lovely woman, asked if Boyo was sleeping through the night.  When I told her about our little Swiss train making all local stops all night long, she not only suggested that it was time to try night weaning, but she also gave me some definitive advice.

This is why I love doctors.  By reading books and researching online, you can find a hundred thousand suggestions for every minute parenting decision.  For every single one of those suggestions, however, there will be an argument against it.  It can be paralyzing.  So when a trained medical professional who has examined my particular baby suggests something, I am thrilled to have a place to start.

So, my husband and I set a goal and made a Night Weaning Plan of Action.  (Parenting decisions obviously differ from family to family.  All of our parenting plans of action are based on a combination of three things:  the advice of our pediatrician, our own parental instincts, and what works for our family as a whole.)

The Goal:

Make it from 10:00pm to 7:00am without a feeding.

The Plan:

-Acknowledge that we are in for some sleepless nights, but that we are committing to a challenging present in order to bring about a better, more restful future for all of us.

-Remember that we are changing a fundamental part of the baby’s routine and therefore to be extra patient with him if he’s a little assholian.

-Three meals of solid food a day.  Bottles in between.

-Last solid food meal at 6:45pm.

-Then bath time followed by naked time (he spent his first three weeks with diaper rash so severe, it scarred his bum. So on the recommendation of the doc, Boyo gets a period of “airing out” every day)

-Strict 7:30 bed time.

-One last bottle when he wakes around 10:00pm.

-All other wakings get a three-pronged approach:

1) A binky and a bump. (Boyo weirdly finds a series of solid thumps on the back or bum quite soothing.  He always has.)

2) If that doesn’t work, 2 ounces of water in a bottle. (In case the suckling is the soothing he wants.)

3) If neither of those will do the trick, 2 ounces of formula.  (This is the last ditch “Hail Mary” as it rather negates the point.  Plus, with the advent of teeth, we’re trying to establish good preventative oral care and that means no milk in bed.)

How It Worked

Night 1:  He Swiss-trained all night.  He woke at 1:00 (binky and a bump), 3:30 (2 ounces of water) 5:00 (2 ounces of formula.)  Slept til 7:30am.  Decided to make 5:00am the goal and give him a full bottle at that time.  A seven hour stretch seemed a more realistic goal than nine.

Night 2:   He woke every 30-45 minutes.  All.  Night. Long.  Great gobs of goose shit.  It’s like he just couldn’t settle.  Or that he was giving us the finger for messing with his routine.  Even after his 10:00pm bottle, which usually buys at least 3-4 hours, he was up just 1.5 hours later.  From 3:45-4:30am, I snuggle-slept with him on the couch when I just couldn’t get him down.  I put him down in his crib at 4:30.  He got a bottle at 5:00am and then slept until 7:30 when I heard his happy babble over the baby monitor, but was so soundly asleep, I dreamt I was listening to A Prairie Home Companion and that Garrison Keillor was having a stroke.

So, a decidedly rough night, but still, we hit the goal!!  Go us! Celebrating the small victories is part of what makes us feel successful, right?

I think I’ll celebrate with a little unconsciousness.  Wake me for his wedding.

We have a whiteboard on the fridge that helps us keep track of Boyo's feedings.  This is especially helpful in the mind numbing middle of night when my husband and I take turns.

We have a whiteboard on the fridge that helps us keep track of Boyo’s feedings. This helps my husband and me stay on the same page especially in the mind-numbing middle of night when we take turns tending to the babe.

Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face

When I was in sixth grade, my English teacher assigned a poetry project.  We had to type out and illustrate six poems by an author of our choice.  Then we had to write and illustrate six originals poems of our own.  I chose Jack Prelutsky, because even though Shel Silverstein showed us Where the Sidewalk Ends, Jack Prelutsky gave us The New Kid on the Block and with it, the National Anthem for the United Kidhood of Students: Homework! Oh Homework!  My hero.  Anyhow, Jack Prelutsky wrote a poem called Be Glad Your Nose is on Your Face.  The first two stanzas (are they stanzas? Been a long time since sixth grade) go like this:

Be glad your nose is on your face,
not pasted on some other place,
for if it were where it is not,
you might dislike your nose a lot.

Imagine if your precious nose
were sandwiched in between your toes,
that clearly would not be a treat,
for you’d be forced to smell your feet.

When, for whatever reason, it takes effort to turn away from what’s got me down and be grateful for all my many blessings, these words still run through my head.  So it’s no surprise that I had Mr. Prelutsky whispering in my ear yesterday because yesterday was a “Sandwiched in between your toes” kind of day.  It started out wonky and just slowly unraveled all day until I was cleaning up a poop-bomb diaper and my boy kicked me in the tits.  Both heels, both tits.  I came undone.  I dove face first into Ugly Cry.  No, dove is too graceful a description.  I belly-flopped into Ugly Cry.  I mean U-G-L-Y, you ain’t go no alibi, you ugly.

But today is a new day.  I slept pretty well and my boy woke up in a grand mood.  Today, I am glad my nose is on my face.  And to counteract all the “woe is me”ing I did yesterday, I’ve been reciting, out loud, a list of things I am grateful for today.  Here are a few:

1. My husband.  I am grateful for my husband for many, many reasons, but today, I am grateful that when he came to learn of my day, he poured me a giant glass of wine and when I finished it he said, “Now go have a cry in the shower.”  He so totally gets me.

2.  My mother.  I am also very grateful for my mother for many reasons, but today I am grateful for her because there has never been a better “in the shit” listener than my mother.  I can call her at the nadir of an emotional tailspin and rail, I mean holler my guts out, and she just lets me.  She never takes anything I say in those moments personally and she knows that I just need to lance the boil of frustration.  She so totally gets me.

3.  Facebook.  Say what you will about the dark side of FB, but I will forever be grateful for Facebook firstly because it reconnected me with the childhood friend who is now my husband and secondly because it keeps me connected to a network of friends in varying degrees of closeness, most of whom who love me, support me, are interested in me and in knowing about my life.  Facebook helped me reach out to MPU, LRH, and KDU, girlfriends I haven’t seen since high school, but who answered my S.O.S. when my boy was first born and have been rooting for me ever since.  I am especially grateful for FB these days because I have yet to build or join a community since we moved to Florida.  My entire support system is long distance.  Facebook helps make that work.

4.  Amazon certified frustration-free packaging.  As I’ve mentioned before, I get wrapper-rage something fierce and I just love that Amazon understands that and helps me not throw away the thing I just bought because I can’t get it open.

5.  Southern hospitality.  Friendly strangers help ease the sting of loneliness.  I may not have local friends yet, but the ladies who work the deli counter at the grocery store (I call them the Deli Dames) always seem so happy to see me.  It helps.  Maybe it’s weird that it helps, but it does!

6. That my boy has turned a corner.  At five months, Boyo was a different baby.  At six months, he’s a peach.  Enjoying spending time with my son is an answered prayer six months in the making.  As my girlfriend KUD says, “God made seven to nine month old babies as a reward for making it that far.”

7. That my nose is on my face.  I have a wonderful life, really.  I have love, friendship, health, a beautiful home that I am proud of, a family that understands me, a sharp mind and a clever tongue, and a sun that always rises on a new, better day.

Thanks for the reminder, Mr. Prelutsky.  And for Homework! Oh, Homework!  It’s my favorite.

 

 

Somedays are like that.  Even in Australia.