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Next Avenue
The Power of Sharing Our Stories
Playing a game at an assisted living facility opened up connections

February 28, 2018

My friend runs an assisted living residence not far from where I live. When she
called to say she had a mitzvah (a good deed) for me that was “right up my alley,”
I was wary, to put it mildly. She explained that she was running an event where
the residents would play a game encouraging them to share, open mic style,
stories from their lives. My friend knows I write — essays, memoir pieces, a novel.
I tell stories.

“Will you come?” she asked.

I wanted to say no. As my children will tell you, with the rare exception of a Shabbat round of Scrabble or Bananagrams, I don’t play games. Maybe I’m uptight, or just no fun, but games are not my thing. The idea of helping to facilitate an octogenarian quiz show was not high on my list.

But the truth is, this event was out of my comfort zone for reasons having nothing to do with my game aversion.

Lately, many of my friends have been investigating, planning and cajoling their aging parents into moving out of their homes. Those who are lucky will relocate as intact couples, husbands and wives facing this enormous transition together; many others need to move because they are now alone.

TO READ THE FULL PIECE, CLICK HERE.

Recently Published: How I Became a Halloween Curmudgeon”

October 23, 2017

Growing up in the 1970s and early ’80s in suburban Long Island, I celebrated Halloween just like all the other kids in the neighborhood. My parents, first-generation Americans and the children of Eastern European Jews, viewed Halloween as just another brick in the American home they were building—no different from Thanksgiving or the 4th of July.

We dressed up as witches or vampires, looking decidedly more adorable than frightening, we went door-to-door chaperoned by our parents or older siblings, we remembered to say thank you when we received our candy. My father carefully carved a jack-0-lantern with jagged teeth and arched eyebrows, and he cleverly fit a candle inside to make it glow.

In high school, when I outgrew trick or treating, I transitioned to costume parties in whomever’s house was the least supervised. Dressed up as someone else, you could reinvent yourself for an evening.

As I recall, there was very little about the holiday back then that even approached frightening. The worst that happened in my neighborhood was that some eggs were thrown at a parked car. The only scary thing I remember clearly is when we transitioned to giving out only wrapped candy, because somewhere in the country, someone evil had apparently handed out a home baked treat or an apple with a razor blade inside.

Now as an adult in a similar kind of suburb, Halloween has lost much of its charm for me. Some of this is visceral. I didn’t become a doctor, because I don’t like blood. I don’t watch horror movies. The thrill of being scared is lost on me. It goes deeper than that, too.

TO READ THE FULL PIECE, CLICK HERE.

Recently Published: My Most Intense Relationship Is With… My Hairstylist”

September 8, 2017

“Where are you?” I desperately text, “I need to see you.” I’ve been following this person like a lovesick puppy for years—panicking when he takes off without telling me, bursting into tears of relief when I find him once again. My dependency knows no bounds. Does he feel the same way about me? Not a chance. This is a thoroughly one-sided affair.

“C,” as we’ll call him, holds the key to my youth, if not my heart. Behind a curtain, like the Great and Powerful Oz, he mixes the potion. Every 35 days he spreads the elixir, carefully and (on a day when he hasn’t over-caffeinated) tenderly, bringing me back. Nothing flashy, no highlights or Brazilian smoothing. I don’t aspire to turn myself into a blond bombshell–which, incidentally, would take a hell of a lot more than hair-dye–I’m just trying to shave 15 years off my age.

My own mother went gray in her 20s, and those pesky genes being what they are, I too noticed the first harbingers of inevitable decay on my own head before I hit the big 3-0, before I even had kids to blame. I held off addressing the situation until I could no longer look at myself in the mirror without conjuring Barbara Bush.
My mother colored her hair herself. Like a teenage girl mortified at the thought of being seen in the bra section of the department store, she dispatched me each month to the local pharmacy to buy her box of Preference by L’Oreal, 8a, Ash Blond.

TO READ THE FULL PIECE, CLICK HERE.

“Do’s and Dont’s for the Middle-Aged Retiree”

published in Parent, Co. August 4, 2017

Just shy of three years ago, I quit my job. I quit with a vengeance. I burned bridges. I may have stomped my feet and slammed a door (or two). Don’t judge.

I quit on a Friday afternoon without the foggiest notion of what I, a then-48-year-old woman who had worked for 23 years and whose high school-age children no longer required daily maintenance, would do when Monday rolled around.

What happened, you might ask?

Did I (a) revel in my free time, thanking my lucky stars that I’d finally thrown off the yoke of the working world and wondering why I had ever been so stupid as to have a job, (b) hang around the Scarsdale train station during morning rush hour, stalking the commuters, ruing the day when I marched into my boss’s office and read her the riot act, or (c) implode.

The answer is none of the above.

It took a good long time to figure out my new existence in a way that didn’t threaten my sanity. So I would like to give you my hard-earned guidance: the do’s and don’ts of how to handle it if you too should find yourself in this supposedly-enviable situation.

1 | Don’t drag out annoying errands just to have something to do. Remember how, when you were working, you managed to fit all the necessary tasks of daily living into the tiny pockets of time left over from your job and your commute? For example, I’d rush like a madwoman to the supermarket for the components of some semblance of dinner, dash to the pharmacy for my daughter’s very expensive fluoride toothpaste, and then come home to fix the malfunctioning dishwasher, take my son to get his busted lip stitched, and polish the silver.

To read the full article “Do’s and Dont’s for the Middle-Aged Retiree”, click here.

“My son may be 16 but this is why I am helping him pack”

published in Grown & Flown. July, 2017

I perch on the edge of my son’s bed and survey the chaos. There are clothes strewn over every inch of the floor. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that he’d just dumped out each drawer of his dresser. Actually – judging by the contents and placement of the piles, that’s exactly what he’s done. Is it possible that a child who is genetically related to me could interpret this as compliance with my request that he help me pack for his summer vacation? He’s leaving in 48 hours. I take a deep breath, stifle a scream, and regroup.

My son went to sleep-away camp for the first time when he was nine years old. It seemed a little young, but a bunch of boys from his crew were going, and he very much wanted to be with them. I packed him up with a self-imposed nonchalance. I refused to join the ranks of mothers who made packing their raison d’être for weeks, if not months, before the trunk pick-up. I sent him with t-shirts that were a little the worse for wear, writing his name with a black sharpie and blatantly ignoring that you could read it – backwards — just below his hairline. If he didn’t have something on the camp’s suggested list – what nine year old owns a raincoat? – I sent him without it, hoping for sunshine. I was relaxed to the point of neglectful, assuming that my laid back attitude would pass seamlessly to him.

He lasted 10 days at camp – okay, 9. We drove to Pennsylvania to do an intervention. We coaxed and cajoled and gently ribbed him, but when nothing worked, we threw his stuff back in his trunk and rescued him. Never has a child (of mine) looked so happy to return to the bosom of his family.

To read the full article “My son may be 16 but this is why I am helping him pack”, click here.

“What It’s Like With Half an Empty Nest”

published in Kveller. May 2, 2017

“It won’t be the same,” our son said as we planned a vacation over the President’s Day break.

Very little in life stays the same, I want to tell him. As soon as I get comfortable, with a project, a friendship, a stage of my children’s development, something shifts. I am left to grapple with not knowing how I fit in. But I don’t say anything; this falls into the category of lessons he needs to learn himself.

Despite his concerns, we take the plunge–a family vacation without one of the four members of family. Our older daughter is studying in Israel for the year. When she telephones, she expresses good-natured shock that we are going without her, and I remind her that she has been treated to what amounts to a year-long vacation. But my son’s reaction goes to the heart of the matter. “The dynamic just won’t be right,” he laments. I can’t argue with him.

My children don’t enjoy some fantasy-like harmonious sibling relationship. Two years apart, they are highly interactive with each other—both when things gel, and when they irritate each other. But it has always been “us and them, the parents and the kids.” Not in an antagonistic way, but we have been successful in presenting a united front in our parenting most of the time, and they have been equally successful in staying on the same page in response. We have been evenly matched, even when, as parents, we had the inherent upper hand. And now, as his comrade in arms doing her own thing elsewhere, our son is unsure about the week ahead.

To read the full article “What It’s Like With Half and Empty Nest”, click here.

 

 

“The Moments In the Waiting Room Before a Mammogram”

published in Kveller. April 6, 2017

It’s an annual ritual that is different from all others. We could be at a luxury spa awaiting our massages, the five or six women sitting in white cotton robes tied tightly at the waist. But we don’t touch the coffee or the water cooler, don’t glance at the magazines. We don’t make eye contact and we definitely don’t speak to one another.

In what other sort of doctor’s waiting room are all the people there for the same reason? The annual mammogram is not an invasive procedure, at least not physically. Psychologically, it’s a different story. And of course, although we are all there for the identical diagnostic test, we are not the same. Some will be there to check for a recurrence, others will have a family history, or a genetic predisposition because of the part of Eastern Europe where her grandparents were born. Some of us will have come to get a routine check, diligently showing up every twelve months, feeling a false confidence that our punctual maintenance will protect us. And others will have avoided coming for two, three, four years, maybe more, in the equally false hope that ignorance is bliss.

One by one we are called by the technician, invariably, in my experience, a kind, and gentle woman who, despite a smile, is all business. When I leave my house in the morning for the appointment, anxious, my husband tells me he wishes I didn’t have to go through this pain. I tell him, truthfully, that it isn’t painful – just oddly uncomfortable, like putting a delicate part of your anatomy into a vice for a moment. The physical discomfort is only part of it though. As professional as the tech is, there is something distressing about the way she pulls and pushes at my breasts, turning my torso, positioning my arms and head, before the paddle comes down to flatten me. I have an urge to yell, “Stop! This is insane!” but of course, I turn this way and that, hold my breath when directed to do so, and cooperate to speed the process.

To read the full article “The Moments In the Waiting Room Before a Mammogram”, click here.