Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Week that Wore

It's been one of those weeks where I don't deserve really to have anything to write about. A refrigerator that has malfunctioned since its purchase three years ago is replaced with a shiny new model. Perry is neutered and when home from the vet, jumps out of his crate, bounds and leaps through the house, showing no sign of having been anesthetized. I leave a message for the principal of the adult school, hoping to find out if I will begin teaching when school begins in three weeks, but my message is not returned.

Pat Smith, whose son was murdered at Benghazi rails against Hillary at the convention. Smith's facts are evaluated by Politifact and determined to be largely inaccurate. The exploitation of this bereft and obviously unhinged mother is sickening. I manage the duck hunter, the underwear model who avers that Obama is a Muslim, and Stepford Tiffany but then can bear no more. Even the fringe elements of the GOP never screamed to imprison or even lynch the opposition. Who'd have thought that Ted Cruz would actually come out looking sane and heroic?

I think the best response to the GOP convention is to steal myself not to think about it. The other thought I am trying to keep at bay is that Number One Son, has, sight unseen, signed a one year lease for an apartment in Chicago. He is resigning from an excellent job and in a few weeks will attach a trailer to his tiny car and set out to make a new life in a city he's never visited. My reservations have been politely listened to and, unsurprisingly, ignored.

To fill the empty basement and satisfy my preternatural maternal instincts I have applied to host a foreign exchange student. I am offered a 13 year old Chinese boy but the supervision of a child this young is more than I want to take on. It is astounding to me that a child of this age is sent by himself to a foreign land. Cultural roots are obviously in play here as I myself am freaked out about my 23 year old heading off to live with a group of friends in the Midwest. The agency is attempting to find an older, less high maintenance student for our home.

Resigned to the inevitable I check out job opportunities in Chicago. There is nothing listed that remotely relates to the boy's interest in film. For young college graduates the options seem to be retail clerk, food service worker or car rental agent. He comes home from work now enthusiastic about projects he's working on and celebrities he sees around the office. But he also returns to the same room he's occupied since childhood, in a city where even with a decent paying job, it's nearly impossible to find an affordable rental.

I point out to him that I accept his decision and despite my skepticism am being supportive, adding too that I am also deeply depressed. He notes that he is sad too, knowing how much he'll miss us. Interestingly enough, having assiduously avoid any Jewish activity beyond our terse Friday Shabbat prayers, he notices that he feels a connection with the Jewish community and suggests that this is something he might pursue in Chicago. His intention, he says, is that his children be raised no less Jewish than he was. He adds too that, like us, as soon as the Bar Mitzvah is over, he'll hightail it from the synagogue. The candles are lit this week and I notice that Girlfriend-in-Law knows the prayers and shyly sings along. Both agree that there will be challah and candles in Chicago.

I think a lot about my mother these days. During college I spent some time in London and some in Mexico but otherwise I stayed nearby. Believing that my own children, for the most part, truly enjoy spending time with me, I'm trying to remember if there was a time that seeing my own mother was anything other than an obligation. My problem is I cannot separate the dementia, that I do not blame her for, from what in hindsight, I see as some sort of untreated personality disorder, for which I find it more difficult to forgive.
Before Spuds leaves I take both kids to the Mercado De Los Angeles in Boyle Heights, the closest thing to a bustling Mexican market that I know of. They eat muletas and drink raspados. Spuds buys a Loteria game board to hang in his room. I mention that I was here years ago with Grandma. They are surprised, as their only memories of visits with their grandmother are that we all dreaded them. I explain that there was a time when my mom was adventurous and that she loved foreign food and travel. She was also jealous and angry and that often eclipses for me that despite it all, there were times of fun.

My sister's life exploded and she ended up back home with my mother again and again. There was screaming and drama and I was looked to constantly to act as referee. At one point I dragged the two of them to a therapist I was seeing. The next time I saw him on my own he was annoyed at me and asked, “What do you think I could possibly do with them?” The implication that there was a possibility that he could do something with me was reassuring. But now, as I approach 60, I relate to the terrors about money and health,. At the time Mom expressed being frightened it seemed overly dramatic, paranoid, and conjured simply to induce my guilt. Now I wake up myself in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, panicked about death and destitution. My mother, wracked with worry, tromped around a big house that she occupied, except for when my sister crashed and burned, by herself for over 50 years. My circumstances are indeed quite different. A partner sleeps beside me and I like to believe that my children are less damaged and resentful than I was. Still, I feel lousy about trivializing my mother's terror and angst.

Mom had beautiful nails which she maintained meticulously. Even towards the end, when she was completely ravaged, I made sure she was taken for a manicure. I'd often arrive at the board and care to visit and find her gazing at her hands. There is a sweet manicurist who has somehow gotten my own brittle nails to grow a bit. For the first time in my life they look decent. I like to admire them and catch myself examining my hands again and again. I am like my mother, I'm sure, In many ways I don't observe and also in ways I clearly see. When I extend my perfectly manicured nails and examine them with satisfaction I feel connected with my mom in a strange and potent way.

Shabbat will soon be different. Perhaps it will be just Him and myself or maybe some befuddled foreign student will join us at the table. This week after dinner the four of us play Clue. I haven't played in years. I realize I could likely win if I had a piece of paper to keep notes on. Number One Son figures out that it's Colonel Mustard, in the conservatory using the wrench. Then we have cherry pie.

I imagine I will continue to wake in the night, afraid. Either a mildly corrupt professional politician or a narcissistic sociopath will be our next president. There will be a foreign student with us, or there won't be. I'll either teach again, or I won't At least until Spuds graduates in May and, maybe even after that and forever, my kids will be far away. Poignant feelings wash over me when I catch myself staring at my hands. I am my mother's daughter. I am my sons' mother. For all the ebb and the flow, the stasis and the change, that will always be.


Media Archivist said...

wow - so poignant and beautiful.

Leigh Jacoby said...

What a beautiful reflection on this moment in your life, Layne.


Rosemary said...

Very beautifully written. I am haunted by this essay. Leo's moving on because his feet say "go" and he has to listen to that inner voice now. It will work out or it won't but he seems to have to have this experience ahead. He is from parents with very solid heads on their shoulders; he will figure out what to do and if not he will have the ability to ask for assistance and input. What you wrote about your Mom is quite powerful and there are similarities to my own Mom's personality too (and to the day she died she was also insistent about manis and pedis; I/we always made sure her hair was dyed and cut and her nails done with the latest polishes.) This is the "many forks in the road" juncture. I did that standard thing, whereby you pick fights and such so's to make the parting easier. You are psychically being pulled in many directions as a good mother. I too recall being yours Sons' age and just not understanding how casual I was being to my Parents about my move to NYC. Leo will miss you both more than he can fathom, I sure know that I did and that hit me like a brick within 1-2 days of arriving to NYC. I have to say being here made me appreciate my Folks more and we because closer after my move.