Dear Daughter

Another birthday, already?  How many times have I told you to stop these foolish shenanigans? Do I need to get a lawyer to make you cease and desist from throwing it in my face—the fact that you’re getting older? Think of all the times I begged you to be my little girl again. I don’t think that was too much to ask. Unrealistic, maybe, but miracles have been known to happen.

So yes, I know, this weekend is your birthday.  How can I forget, what with all I went through? Nine months of back pain, swollen ankles, heartburn, and elevated blood pressure. I suffered it all, and what do I have to show for it?

There you are, happily romping in the snow with your friend.

A 20-year old who’s off gallivanting somewhere far from home. Ok, so you’re in college. Dean’s List, too.  But did I ask you to go 2,000 miles away? Ok, so I did encourage you, but that was in the excitement of the moment when you were first notified that you’d been accepted at your dream school. We hugged and did a joyful dance. And yes, I did say, “Go, send in your acceptance!” But the next thing I knew, there you were, packing your bags and saying, ”So long, Mom” without batting an eye.

Twenty years old. The years have skipped by in a blur. One minute I’m cradling you in my arms and the next, you’re four, dancing in a ballet recital. Then, you’re 8 and going on your first Girl Scout camping trip. You’re 13 and preparing for your Bat Mitzvah. And now here you are, a sophomore in college, leaving me with only one thought:

When it comes to daughters, I couldn’t have done better than you.

So, Birthday Girl, I want to thank you for sparing me the grief other mothers of teenage girls so often go through. For regularly texting to let me know how you’re doing in school. For calling me when your work shift ends late at night, so I can keep you company on your walk back to your dorm. For all the love you’ve given me throughout these years. For enjoying my company as much as I enjoy yours. For being the caring, thoughtful daughter you’ve turned out to be. I know what you mean to me, and what I mean to you.

You left me verklempt recently, when you commented for the first time on this blog. It was regarding a post I wrote titled, If I Could Do it All Again. In it, I said I would have hugged my children more often when they were young, when they still loved hugging back.  You responded in a way that left me speechless:

“You got one thing wrong though, Mom…I STILL love hugging you back. In fact, I wish I could fly home right now just to get one of those amazing hugs that only you can give me.”

Well, Spring Break is already on the horizon and I’ll be seeing you soon, ready to hug you once more. Until then, when I think of you, I’ll be remembering the Martina McBride song that poignantly touches on how you make me feel:

In my daughter’s eyes I am a hero
I am strong and wise and I know no fear
But the truth is plain to see
She was sent to rescue me
I see who I want to be
In my daughter’s eyes…”

Happy Birthday, B.B.!

If I Could Do it All Again

If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t have believed I’d stay young forever and that time would never get the better of me. And I would have never sized up my parents, when they were in their 50’s, and thought, “Now that’s old.”

I’d have gone into marriage with my eyes wide open and made sure to keep the channels of communication going. I would have sought counseling long before any problems emerged.

I would have kept separate bank accounts. And I would have never given up my last name for his. While I’m at it, I’d have given my daughter my last name as her middle one.

I would have spent the $400 it cost to travel to Russia with my high school classmates.

I’d have spoken to my kids in Spanish right from the start, so that they could have grown up bilingual.

I wouldn’t have let vanity overtake me and dump my high school sweetheart just because he was a year younger, forever relegating him to, “The one that got away.”

I would never have let my mother’s broken English embarrass me. Ditto for her heavy accent.

I would have appreciated my college education more, studied hard and not skipped out on class. Ever.

I would have invested in Apple when they first came out with the iMac.

I would have gone to Europe in my youth.

I would have practiced piano daily and stuck with it. I also would’ve mastered ice skating and had a flair for figure eights.

I would have gone to Russia with my high school classmates on a two-week trip that only cost $400 per student.

I would have learned how to repair things around the house and change a tire. I would never have fallen for the old axiom that a husband would one day take care of me.

I would not have been irrationally terrified by Patty Duke, for her portrayal of Helen Keller, in “The Miracle Worker,” and I would not have convinced my seven-year-old self that she was lurking in the shadows of my childhood home.

I would have regularly eaten broccoli and acquired a taste for the nutrient-rich veggie.

I would have taken singing lessons just for fun, learn a third language like French or Italian, and started tap classes at age four. I would have joined a Girl Scouts troop, too.

I would have devoted myself to writing and be working on my sixth novel by now. Better yet, I would have come up with the idea for the Harry Potter saga first, leaving J.K. Rowling in the dust. And maybe I would have even written an eighth Harry Potter novel.

I would have called my parents daily and visited them every summer. Even holidays.

I would not have voted for the 2003 California Governor Recall simply because said governor had tripled the vehicle license fee.  I’m pretty sure the repeal of that fee increase is what led to the downfall of the state’s economy and helped put California in the dire straights it’s in today.

If I could do it all again, I would have hugged my kids more often when they were little and when they still loved hugging back. I would have held them tightly and treasured their childhood years, knowing that all too soon they’d be all grown up.

If I could to it all again, I’d memorize each joyful moment of my life, to relive over and over in my golden years.

If I could do it all again, there would be no regrets. No fuss, no muss. I would recognize the frailty of life and savor, while I can, the company of those who matter most to me. If I could do it all again, could I? Would I? Would you?

Farewell, So Long, It’s Been Swell

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room:  I am getting old. I have an expiration date.  Which is why I’ve launched my Farewell Tour.  Which really means I’m trying to do all the things I didn’t get to during the first half century of my life. It also means I’m returning to some of my old stomping grounds to recapture life as I remember it.

Some people would say, “Monica, that’s not a Farewell Tour you’re on, that’s your Bucket List.”  But “bucket list” sounds so provincial, so bargain basement. Call it what you will, but I’m on my Farewell Tour, which started in Europe.  I  had never been to Europe, not even during college when it was all the rage to “find” yourself by backpacking across the continent while smoking pot.  Which probably explains why I didn’t find myself until sometime in the last decade.

Our European tour would not have been complete without a visit to Florence, Italy.

So facing 50, I booked my European tour with my daughter. And there was no way we were going to do this trip backpacking.  It would be hotels all the way, and I was leaving this trip up to the experts. We signed up for a posh tour that took us from London to Rome and I’m so glad we did. It was truly a wonderful trip!

During the 16-day journey, we got to know and spend time with our fellow travelers, who hailed from all parts of the world (Canada, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and of course, the U.S.) and who were just as nice as can be. We were like goodwill ambassadors from the U.N. enjoying a pleasant romp through Europe. Each day, we’d rotate our seats on the bus so that everyone had a chance to get a nice view and we all smiled and said polite things about the scenery and the weather. The Saudi family pretty much kept to themselves, but when the day of departure arrived, we all huddled for a big group hug and bid each other a tearful goodbye.

Other items on my Farewell Tour:

Taking my daughter twice to New York, including once during the holidays, which is the time to see the city, if you ask me.  We saw six Broadway shows during the first trip, but only got to see one on the second, due to an untimely strike by the union representing the theater production crew. This forced the cancellation of most of the shows. I blubbered like a colicky baby when we took a behind-the-scenes tour of Radio City Music Hall, recalling all the shows I’d seen there, as a kid from Queens. I also got a thrill seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live and in person, from a very prime locale (thanks to my friend, Mandy).

I sobbed during my Farewell Tour of Radio City Music Hall. Such memories!

I attended my college reunion. Though I didn’t remember anyone, I got all misty-eyed while walking through the hallowed halls of my old alma mater.  I also fell into a heap, climbing the steep hills of the campus. If you ask me, they really need to provide golf-carts to help us decrepit alumni get around campus.

We took a trip back to the Northwest–Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, where I spent the early years of my adulthood, under the cover of rain clouds. It was absolutely divine to reconnect with old friends—and visit the Pike Place Market again.

My high school reunion. This was the first and perhaps the only high school reunion I’ve attended. Very eye opening, too. First of all, as it turns out, everyone has aged, including moi. Bottom line, I probably should have made a point to go to my reunion earlier, as, at this age fewer and fewer go, and our class size was small from the start. But thanks to Facebook, I’m in touch with quite a few of my high school classmates. So in some ways, everyday is a reunion!

Perhaps, best of all, was making two trips back to Venezuela, with my children who’d never been there before. It gave them a chance to meet their relatives and discover a bit of the Latin side of their heritage.

I still have many more stops to make on my Farewell Tour, but I think I’m off to a good start. I hope to return to Europe, perhaps to Vienna and Prague. Madrid and Barcelona, too. I’d also like to see my family in Caracas again, and, perhaps, take a cruise to Alaska.

Not all on my Farewell Tour is about travel. I’d like to one day write a book, and spend time with my grandchildren, assuming my kids settle down (though they should know, I’m in no rush for this one). I figure my Farewell Tour is going to last a long time. At least, another 30 to 40 years. So I can wait. In the meantime, I’ll just keep adding to my tour. After all, I believe in long goodbyes.

Father Knew Best, Sometimes

My world in Queens, circa 1960, revolved around my mother. To me, she was the end all. The bee’s knees. The most beautiful mother who was always there for me. My father, on the other hand, was of a different ilk. He wasn’t around much and didn’t go with us on family outings to the city. But that’s probably because he was spending his time downtown, getting an education.

My father, Enrique

It seems that when he came to the United States, my father decided that if he was going to make a decent life for himself and for his family, he first needed to get a degree.  He enrolled at New York University and he must have been there day and night, attending classes and studying late in the library, because his presence in our lives was minuscule at best.

And when he was around, he would yell and throw fits about anything and everything which absolutely terrified me.  He also enjoyed a good scare.  Like when he crept up on me when I was by myself in the basement, sent there to fetch the laundry basket for my mother.  Pouncing, he began to make strangling motions around my neck.  I cried in horror, which made him keel over with crazed laughter. I was only five.

Yet, despite this, my father had his “Father Knows Best” moments. At least when he wasn’t in his hyper Latin machismo mode. Like when I was 18 and about to go on an interview for a summer job. I had applied to be a live-in nanny for the Pellicane family’s four children (three boys and a girl).  My father insisted that he come along for the interview so that he could meet the family with whom I might be spending the summer.  He poured on his Latin charm for Mrs. Pellicane, taking her hand gently in his, admiring her well appointed Manhasset home. A regular Desi Arnaz meets Ricardo Montalban. During the interview, he asked questions and offered anecdotal information about his daughter (“She’s shy,” “A picky eater,” “Very impatient.”). I sat meekly beside him, silently mortified, and willed myself to disappear into the furnishings of the Pellicane home. I wanted to forget this interview ever happened. But the next day, when Mrs. Pellicane offered me the job, she cited as the key reason the fact that my father cared enough about me to take part in the interview.

Over the years, my first inclination would be to seek out my mother when I needed advice. Not my father. I considered him bull-headed and demanding. Yet, he was always there in the background, trying to be as invaluable to me as my mother.  I resisted. That is, until my marriage began to fall apart.

My mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Confiding in her was out of the question. I needed to talk, to get her insight, but since that wasn’t going to happen, I found myself turning to my father. He was 81 years old now and didn’t seem so macho anymore. During this time, my parents had moved to Florida and my father was receiving regular kidney dialysis. His legs were swollen, his body drained and he was just plumb tired of living. But his mind was intact.

The first time I called to tell him the news about my marriage, as a reflex, I braced myself for a scolding. I expected angry outbursts. I expected accusations that it was my fault, that I could have done more.  I anticipated unequivocal fury.  In its place, I got empathy and love. He listened as I cried and poured out my story. He quietly listened and when I could cry no more, he told me what I needed to hear. That he loved me with all his heart and that I would be ok.

Suddenly, with my mother in her own world, my father was there for me in a way I’d never seen before. It was as if my mother’s pre-Alzheimer’s spirit had taken over his body and, in a surprising twist of fate, it was now my father listening to me and sharing his wisdom.  I knew he was in pain from the dialysis, but during our conversations, he never let on.  It was the closest we’d ever been.  My mother now in la-la land and my father a beacon of hope and compassion.  The world was upside down and the impossible had come true.

Within the year, we buried my mother.  A few months after that, my father.  Hot headed and super macho, my father transcended all that he was, in order to give me what was there all along: his love. And maybe he didn’t always know best, but in the moments I needed him, he came through.

Over 90 and Loving it!

I finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be happy. Full of cheer and joie de vivre. In fact, I’m going to let my smile be my umbrella! And between you and me, I’m feeling the joyful bug at this very moment. Anyone up for tap dancing?

Now, let me make it clear, I’m no Pollyanna. You won’t find me playing the Glad Game after my brand new car’s been hit at a four-way stop or while being anesthetized for oral surgery. Still, there’s something to be said for looking on the bright side of things and having a positive outlook. It’s what got me through my divorce and the loss of both my parents. Just one of these misfortunes would be grounds for a depression registering an 8.1 on the Richter Scale, but for me they happened all at once. It was enough to drive me off the deep end into utter devastation. But in the end, optimism and joy prevailed. That and the fact that time really does heal all wounds.

 

American Folk Hero, Pete Seeger, finds bliss in his music.

 

Turns out being happy can lead to a long and productive life. I know this because I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of filmmaker Susan Polis Schutz’ latest documentary, “Over 90 and Loving It!” This is Susan’s fourth film for public television. Her first, the acclaimed “Anyone and Everyone,” poignantly conveys the story of parents from diverse walks of life as they learn of their children’s sexual orientations.

As you can deduce from the title of Susan’s upcoming documentary, it’s all about some amazing people who’ve reached their nineties and how they’re living their life to the max. It is indeed, as someone else who watched it said, “a celebration of life and hope.”

Certainly made me feel a whole lot better about the aging process. I mean, you should see what this 90-plus set is up to. They’re still working—whether driving a taxicab in New York, or waking up at the crack of dawn to bake cinnamon rolls for Cinnabon. They’re performing, playing duets on the piano—magnificently I might add—or writing songs and strumming their guitar with their grandson, a la Pete Seeger (yes, that is famed folk singer and songwriter, Pete Seeger, in one of the segments). They’re also busy heading back to college for their Master’s and giving back to their community in a big way—by organizing massive donation parties for neighbors in need.

They’re passionate about life, and smart and funny to boot. They are definitely not thinking of retirement. At least not anytime soon. They’re not even looking to move into a senior living home or waiting around for their golden years to begin. Why should they? They’re having the time of their lives!

Now I can spend hours and hours reading thousands of self-help books to learn all about happiness and why it’s important to my well-being and to leading a long, fulfilling life. But why bother? Susan’s new documentary says it all in one hour. Joyfully and succinctly. Ah, sweet bliss.

Yes, these young whippersnappers are embracing their age. And all I can say is, if this is what being 90 looks like, then sign me up. So how about it? How do you feel about growing up to be 90 plus?