I am a single mom for a week. Himself, after delayed flights, is outside of Dublin, where due to his friend’s illness, he has been commandeered to babysit two squabbling tots. In his absence the sprats and I are enjoying salads, sweet potatoes, cauliflower, meatloaf and myriad other foods that induce a greenishness in my beloved should they appear on our table. Ironically, the night of our cauliflower fest, Himself reports he was served self same vegetable there across the sea by his hostess and he ate it, to be polite. Based on two decades of experience, I am concerned that his countenance, upon eating the vegetable, which is in the top ten of the phone book length list of foods he will not abide, may have frightened his young charges.
After his conference he will be hosted by an Irish writer that he’s corresponded with but has never met in person. He was graciously asked in advance if he has any dietary preferences and I wince upon learning this. Receiving an enumeration of verboten foodstuffs, before laying eyes on the man might plant the seed that my husband is a complete whack job. This isn’t really a false impression but there are good qualities that mitigate the whackness and I hope his host is able to appreciate these and also find something that he will friggin’ eat without looking like he is on the verge of hurl.
I have been bailed out of many a mess by my pals and particularly now with a partner thousands of miles away, it is nice to know that chances are there will always be someone I can call when I am stranded. I hope my friends feel the same, and while I wish no one adversity, it feels good to be able to swoop down for someone and make it better. My friend calls. She has left her car in a supermarket parking lot, thinking it would only be a moment, to pick her elderly mom up from a medical appointment. Unfortunately, the medical appointment is at the behemoth Kaiser and it takes far longer than expected to locate the old gal and navigate her and her walker back to the car, which they discover has been towed. I go to fetch them at about 3:30. Granny’s appointment was at 10:00 and she is frail, even when not out in the world. She hasn’t eaten, is wan and our windstorm has taken a cruel toll on her hairdo. Her daughter looks pretty thrashed too and having known her as cheerful and mild mannered for a number of years, I am surprised, when for a nanosecond, she expresses irritation at her mother who dithers over helping assemble the cash necessary to bail out the car.
It’s been a while now since I’ve had that flash of exasperation with my own mother. Per devastating hindsight, I realize she had been declining for years before the extent to which her cognition had diminished became obvious. I wrack my brain now trying to separate my frustration at what turned out to be early signs of dementia vs. her just being the way she was. Somehow the forgetfulness, self centeredness and confusion sort of morphed from narcissism into a terminal illness. It is better going to visit her at the little house, where she gazes at herself in the mirror all day than at the steaming cesspool of now that was her first post Fulton Avenue residence. I do not like it though and I avoid going alone, bringing Richard and or the kids. We sit on the couch and watch old movies. I try to hold out for at least forty five minutes once a week but if it’s a bad movie, I may only last thirty. I read an article about the physical deterioration that accompanies dementia. She seems ok physically to me but apparently, given the severity of her dementia, statistics suggest that she probably will not live for very long.
I clean over the weekend and store some old family photographs in the garage and find a case with a few silver serving utensils. There are a couple pieces of furniture in my house and some stuff at the office. She has a closet full of clothes, a purse with make-up and broken sunglasses and the napkins that she hordes. Every physical manifestation of my mother, except me and my children and my niece and grand niece, will fit, with room for the dog, in my Volvo wagon for the trip the thrift store. How this would have broken her heart. How it will break mine.
I have more childhood memories of being humiliated or screamed at than of having fun with my mom. But, I do not trust that this is true to the actual experience. I scream at my kids and the 17 year old goes at me about THAT voice I use and I wither. I wake up in the morning and the living room is filled with their cast off shoes, the lights blaze and the sink is filled with dirty dishes. I have a sense finally of what made my mother so angry so often and maybe it’s my comeuppance. I try to remember what was inside my head when I was fourteen or seventeen. I like to think I am more in touch with my kids than my own parents were with me but perhaps I am just as blindsided as they were. I do not remember my mother ever demonstrating empathy but maybe, this memory too is unfair to her. It terrifies me that my boys may become so beaten down by the weight of my decrepitude that any sense of my character and my love for them will fade and skew. Will I be reduced to harsh words said in exhaustion and a wagonload of clothes and knickknacks?
There will be no celebration of Shabbat a Casamurphy tonight. The 17 year old is off to the theatre and Himself is travelling by public transportation with only a thin raincoat and a single pair of shoes through Ireland, on the verge of a predicted torrential rainstorm. He is attending a conference on Alternative Spirituality in Maynooth and presenting paper on the invention of the concept of “Celtic Buddhism.” Spuds and I are attending a potluck dinner at the school where I anticipate sitting like a lump and pretending to be working on my Blackberry but really playing Brickbreaker because I don’t know another soul.
Spuds is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah and now attends Saturday services at the little temple. We attended regularly for many years. I felt guilty about our diminished attendance for a long time and while I still realize that it’s not the best example for Spuds, I do accept being at a place in the journey where communal prayer is not as resonant as it once was or perhaps will be again. A student asks Himself about his belief in God and he responds that he is uncertain. I am suspicious of anyone who answers this question with unwavering confidence and yet I am wounded a bit to hear his doubt expressed so clearly.
I am weary of all of those who are certain they hold the only reliable understanding of something that by definition defies definition and is unknowable. It frightens me that more and more organized religious groups’ fiscal survival seems dependent on insularity and zealotry. The neo-atheists are just as scary, and just as insular and zealous, as they paint anyone with any degree of faith as a simpleton who buys into the old dude with the long white beard calling the shots from heaven mythology. It’s true that a lot of the faithful are in sort of an arrested development but even way back in the12th century Maimonides noted the folly of ascribing human attributes to God. I guess it’s good to be sure, but maybe not too sure or so sure as to denigrate the sureness, or the uncertainty, of others.
I fully accept the scientific explanation of how the universe came to exist but I believe that there is something vastly beyond my comprehension that caused the science to fall into play and for the sake of convenience I refer to this as God. I believe it is important to live in a way that respects this creation. I pray but perhaps referring to the thing I do as prayer might be lazy shorthand too. I guess many people pray expecting intercession from a force or being or THING outside of themselves. Wittgenstein’s analogy is kissing the picture of a loved one. With the possible exception of my stepmother, who kisses pictures of my dead dad all the time and dances around the house with the urn of his ashes, there is no expectation that the person represented will be effected by this, it is for personal satisfaction. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not read Wittgenstein, although I love to SAY Wittgenstein as Germanicly as I can, but am paraphrasing from an article from the far more accessible to middlebrow moi, New Yorker.
In my heart of hearts I am just a Jewish girl from the valley and no one I ever knew would have been surprised if I’d ended up married to an Encino dermatologist, living for annual plastic surgery and amassing Hadassah pins. Actually, this would not have surprised me, but in a world of karmic hilarity I ended up with a highly neurotic diehard intellectual. I am so good at being shallow and I would be excellent at driving carpool south of Ventura in my Escalade. This God and idea stuff is harder and not what I was bred to cogitate but my beloved has shown me that my ideas are worth nurturing and he loves that I struggle with them. I am his puppy and it makes me sad that tonight when I go home we will not be there and he will not have read these words and pat my furry head. It is also scary because he generally reads what I write here immediately after publication and identifies and corrects any egregious errors, so not only do I lack the immediate gratification of his praise, he is gone and I am writing naked.
We can eat whatever we want. Friends are coming for Halloween. I do not wake in the morning freezing with a snoring lump beside me swaddled in my covers. I hope that next Shabbat there will be Challah and my three men at the table. My next blog entry will be tidied up before you read it and when my beloved returns safely to my arms, perhaps he will believe, maybe just for that moment, with a bit more certainty.