Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Happy Ending to March in May

This entry is coming pretty close to the previous one because so many people expressed concern that I felt it imperative to bring readers up to date. 

After a 7-hour surgery at the end of March and a few appointments later, my dear ‘heart-mom’ has been declared cancer free and in no need of either chemotherapy or radiation at this time.  She does, however, need to be followed on a regular basis, and I hope that she will heed that directive. To say she is lucky is an understatement of massive proportion.  
I am filled with joy and relief.

Friday, April 28, 2017

March's Challenge

Although content in February for the most part, there was something brewing that month – about which I was aware –  that would threaten to upend me in March.    The woman I call my ‘heart mother’ (see blog entry Feb 3, 2013), who has been a significant part of my life for 32 years,  was diagnosed with cancer. My emotional world imploded.   

For the first time since I left NYC in September, I did not want to be in Batavia.  I wanted to be back in NYC. With her.  For her.  I experienced something similar when my mom was sick. In fact, I had sat with my ‘heart mother’ at the time and lamented – I just want to be there (Batavia) with her (my mom). Being at work all week was an interference.  I wanted the weekend to come and I wanted to go to mom.  Nothing else in my life would get accomplished. It didn’t matter. I felt I was in the right place when I was with her. Shopping, doing laundry, or cleaning, helping with my brother, fixing what she felt like eating, sitting for long hours in silence or being an amicable companion when she felt like talking….that was what I wanted to do, where I found my purpose, and what helped keep my anxiety at bay.   

My ‘heart mother’ was having her own struggles. I called her daily to see how she was doing. Terrified of doctors and surgery, she was at times, vague. Without body language or close physical proximity, I felt panicked and frantic. She didn’t really want to know what was going on inside her body. But I did. Our opposing “needs” clashed and many times,  I would hang up gripped with fear and confusion.  It carried over to my daily life. I started finding it very hard to concentrate, very challenging to “be where I was”. My stomach churned much of the time and I lost my appetite. My heart did double flips. I was often close to tears for no good reason.  

I knew I had to get a grip. I struggled to not make what was happening to her all about me while trying to remain conscious of what I was feeling.  I was scared at the prospect of possibly losing her, angry with her for not taking care of herself, and filled with dread and sadness about the choices that she might have to make and the pain or suffering that she might have to endure. But I didn’t want her to have to deal with any of what was going on in my head while I was working it out.  She had enough on her plate and did not need to be taking care of me.  Still, she had always been the person I turned to in difficult times, and now I didn’t have that option. I felt very alone.

She allowed me to accompany her when she met with the surgical oncologist and for that, I was grateful.  I made my first trip back to NYC since the new year began.  Going gave me a direct pipeline to solid and complete information, which I craved. Leaving afterwards, she asked me if it was “too much information.” I assured her that it was not – I was feeling a little bit of ‘been there, done that’ because of my experience with my mom. I was internally adamant that I wanted to be there for her whatever it took. She had been there for me and now she would need support. I was up for it.  It was a very long three weeks between that visit and the scheduled surgery at the end of the month. 

She was subjected to further testing during that time, and although in hindsight, I realize she did the best she could at keeping me in the information loop, I just felt stone-walled and dismissed. I struggled to stay home, to continue living my life, and not run to her in NYC. There really wasn’t anything I could “do” and it was just a waiting game.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Stay at Home February

I vowed to stay in one place for the month of February…. I know, it’s a short month… but that’s just how it worked out. February, typically, has always been the month where if I was going to be depressed, it was statistically more likely to occur then.  So I tried to keep that conscious every single day. I bought lights that were balanced for daylight to boost my mood.  I had a reasonable to-do list that I vowed to complete most of each day. I did not always accomplish everything but was ok with relocating some items to another day. 

I practiced piano – a lot. Every day. Twice, sometimes three times a day.  I thanked my mother every time I sat down for the few years of piano lessons I had. The ability to read piano music, to know where the notes were, to know something about scales and arpeggios, and to actually remember how to play some early memorized songs went a long way in keeping me interested and encouraged. That – and a conviction that practice WILL make perfect (or close to it) helped me to practice consistently.

I made plans for my meals…. decided not to purchase anything that qualified as junk food… got out my crockpot (a vestige of the seventies with its avocado green exterior) and made chili and other homemade soups…. I experimented making chia puddings to satisfy my “need” for dessert.

I renewed listing things that I wanted to sell on ebay. I’ve been an ebayer ever since my mom passed away and my sister and I determined that selling old stuff on ebay was more profitable than selling at auction or garage sale. But in the chaos of the last six months of 2016 – retiring and moving, I had gotten away from it. However, the stillness of February gave me space to reorganize and start photographing items and listing them again.  

I wrestled with whether I was going to be an early riser or a late go-to-bed person. This was a real conflict. Left to my own devices, i.e. no alarm clock, my tendency is to awaken on my own around 7 a.m. This was much better than the 5:30 or 6 a.m. awakening that I did for much of my work life. I like to get up and watch the Today Show with a cup of coffee in the stillness of the early morning before I start the day. Trouble is, I also like to watch The Tonight Show – and if I get a second wind around 11 p.m., I can easily still be active at 2 a.m.  Five hours of sleep between 2 and 7 was not going to be enough. I had vowed that my life would no longer be lived sleep deprived.  But sleeping late is not in my DNA. Why sleep away a perfectly good day?  

Eventually I decided to force myself to bed before midnight, thus ensuring a reasonable rising time in the morning. And there is always the DVR so I could theoretically watch anything I might miss. So far, I have just reinforced a growing conviction:  I can live without television.

I watched and photographed birds at my feeders, spent a long time pouring over pictures in books and on the internet trying to identify the ones I didn’t recognize. I fought the battle of the squirrels (more or less winning), the deer (conquered), and a lot of crows or grackles (still losing). 

I started reading again, for pleasure, not for education or career. I knit a little every day.  I did actually do some real work. I was teaching a research class online for Fordham all during January and February, so most days I had to attend to student questions or work on grading assignments, at least a little.  I read applications for the Admissions office– again, not a huge time suck, but something that had a deadline.

I did not go shopping – at least not recreational shopping.  I did not exercise. I did not clean, despite that being on my list of to-do’s every single day.  Except for taking my brother to a concert in Buffalo, I stayed within a seven-mile radius of my home the entire month.

I did not long to go to New York City – or even to plan a more exotic vacation. For the most part, I was content with listening to my internal clock and letting my retired rhythm begin to emerge.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Busy, Busy, Busy

I am still working at finding my new rhythm in retirement.  The end of work was pure craziness – but that was expected, given that it was the beginning of a new academic year, which is always a race to the finish line. My last day was exactly as I wanted it to be, with a wonderful party attended by most of my favorite people at Fordham.  I didn’t have time to fully process that, given that the following morning I was headed south to the Outer Banks for a week of vacation – a wonderful retirement gift from my sister and brother-in-law. A week later, I was racing back to Long Island to my daughter’s to gather my “stuff” before heading west to my new life in Batavia.

There was so much to do. Although we had moved my furniture and dozens of boxes in during August, I hadn’t had time to unpack. So every day was filled, unpacking, arranging and rearranging, getting my art on the walls, doing homeowner activities like having the furnace serviced, the house exterior painted, having my front patio repointed, some dead trees cut down in the back yard…. I was on a mission to get things done before winter, but more importantly, to get the house ready for a housewarming party before the weather turned too cold to allow guests access to the outside.

I had dozens of thank you notes to write in the aftermath of my farewell party at work.  I wanted to spend time during the week with David to “prove” that having me here was a value added for him. I had the housewarming party to plan. We also organized a Halloween party at my brother’s house. I was very, very busy. And that’s kind of very, very me.  I fail miserably at doing nothing.

I did make some strides in creating a new life. My friends here had formed a knitting group a year before, and were patiently awaiting my arrival to join.  So within a week or so of my arrival, I was initiated into the Knit Wits. I went to yoga every week with my friend, Mary. I bought a piano and found a teacher with the help of my friend, Margy. 

But, I also made the trip to New York City in September, October, November,  and twice in December.  Even though I was retired, and ever so much more rested and relaxed, I still didn’t feel like I had reclaimed my life.  My friend Anthony would send me texts on the 2nd of each month – You’ve been retired for one month. For two months. For three months.  I began to feel a little panicked. I wasn’t reading. I wasn’t exercising or dancing. Wasn’t making jewelry.  I wasn’t even thinking about writing a dissertation. I wasn’t blogging. My time was filled. I was not bored or discontent or unhappy in any way. But I didn’t exactly feel in control either.  I was carried along by my life, just as I always had been. 

I totally enjoyed the holiday season.  I decorated inside completely and outside too. I baked a zillion cookies and gave them away. I shopped and wrapped. Had my girlfriends from high school over. Participated in a progressive wine/appetizer party with my knitting friends. Went back to Fordham for their holiday party. Virginia for Christmas. NYC for the New Year. And then it was January.

A year ago, I had made plans with my sister and brother-in-law to rent a condo for January in Cape Coral, FL. A year ago, it had seemed like a really good idea. I would have the freedom to disappear for the whole month. No work obligations. Escape the northern cold. Why not? Well, when it was time to go, what I really wanted to do was just stay home. Stay put. Figure out what the rhythm of my days was without goals like housewarming parties and holidays. But since it was already planned and paid for, I headed south that first week in January, not to return until the end of the month.

On some levels, it was a very nice interlude. The weather was terrific. I was teaching a course at Fordham that started the second week of the month, so I had students to attend to. I was reading applications for the Admissions Department. I had taken a keyboard with me so I could practice piano every day. We did some sightseeing and enjoyed a couple of lunches with cousins who live and/or winter there. I knitted, planned another party at my brother's house, took him down for the final week of our stay. But it felt very temporary and I was eager to pick up my new life and find a routine that fit.... that wasn't frenetic....but kept me interested and content.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Stupid House!

My offer on my new home had been accepted before I told very many people about my plans to retire and relocate back to Batavia.  As I brought more and more people in my life up to date, almost everyone got around to saying something along the lines of, “I bet David is so excited.” 

Ya think? Well, David was definitely not excited. I wasn’t particularly surprised by this, considering how well I know my little brother. Since our mom passed away 10 years ago, David had gotten used to the practice of going to NYC for his birthday at Thanksgiving and at Christmas, and sometimes around our summer vacation. This was a big deal. Driving across the Tappan Zee Bridge. Pulling onto the ramp into my garage. Taking Metro North to the city. The subway. Eating spinach pie at The Flame diner. Going to my office and being greeted warmly by my friends and colleagues there. Radio City and the Rockettes. The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and all the decorations in midtown. Seeing Broadway plays. Walking around Time Square and taking photos.   Meeting my daughter, Julie, who often took him out and about if I had to teach a class. This was great fun and something he looked very much forward to. I knew that he would see my leaving NYC as a negative because he would think it would mean the end of that fun. So I was prepared for his denial when I told him that the house on River Street was mine.

It didn’t really compute at first. It wasn’t real for him because I was still living and working in New York City. But he “got” enough for me to broach the subject that my moving didn’t mean that he wouldn’t ever get to go to NY again. “Of course, we’ll go to New York City,” I told him more than once. I reminded him that  Julie, still lived there and we could still go visit her. I explained that I wouldn’t be moving until September. 

He adopted an attitude not unlike a teenager when you tell him/her to clean their room. Every time I took him to River St or talked about the house, he would smile like he was humoring me and say, “Maybe soon,” but in a way that conveyed, “In your dreams,”  or “Not now, not ever.” 

The months ticked by.  Pretty soon it was a matter of a few weeks before my life would change completely. My apartment went on the market, was sold very quickly, and closing set for mid-August. I hired a truck and a couple of movers on the NYC end. My sister and brother-in-law were on board to go to NYC to help. I lined up a few friends on the Batavia end for the unload. My brother’s jaw would harden as I kept him in the loop, reminding him that pretty soon, I would be there all the time. “You work!” he told me one day. “I am retiring from my job, David,” I patiently said. “I told you before that I won’t be working at school any more.” He sputtered, “You make money!” Translate: How are you going to take me on trips and out to eat and bowling and to the movies if you aren’t making money??

I explained that I had saved my money, and maybe I would work a little but I was very tired and I was old enough to not work all the time. Again, as I had so many times, I told him that we would have more time to have fun together. We could go do something on a Tuesday. We could still go to New York City. 

He wasn’t having it. My sister told me that when she called him a few days before they were coming to move me, he had vehemently told her, “Stupid house.” 

I had been very patient with his denial. Gently reminding him that it was going to happen. Bringing him over to the house during the renovations which went on all spring/summer. But now that my moving was imminent and he was being so negative, I had to admit that his attitude was starting to get to me. For 10 years I had risked life and limb driving 700+ miles at minimum twice a month to see him. Dodging deer, driving in all kinds of weather, sleep deprived.  Putting my life on hold. Had made sure he had what he needed and wanted in terms of clothes, food, fun, magazines, sewed his buttons back on, changed his blown light bulbs, helped him decorate his room every holiday, made sure he had gifts to give to family and friends at Christmas and birthdays – the list was endless, and I wasn’t one to ponder it ever. But his pushing back on this hurt. A lot. 

Despite his feelings about the matter, I moved in. I brought him over for meals. Had picnics on the back patio. Picked him up on Tuesdays for lunch. Took him to concerts. Got him back into ceramics. Made cookies together.  DVR’d his wrestling shows so he could catch what he missed when he fell asleep during them at home. I kept my promise and took him to  New York City for his birthday in November that included a visit to Fordham, lunch at the Flame, spending time with Julie, and going to the train show at the Bronx Botanical Garden.  

Now, six months into it, when people comment that “David must be happy about your move,” I can finally say, “Yes, I think he is.” I missed a call from him tonight when I didn’t hear my cell phone in time. He left a message. “Um, Dee,” (that’s what he calls me, don’t ask), “I call you. You pick me up Friday night. 5:30 fish fry. I out of yogurt and snacks for my workshop. You buy for me? That stuff for my foot? You have more for me? Please. You call me. 345-xxxx.”  My heart melts.  I'm crazy about this dude. I think he’s adjusted.