Tuesday, October 20, 2020

43

It's my birthday, and I often feel compelled to mark it here on ye old blog. I remember writing for my 33rd birthday so clearly, actually sitting right where I'm sitting right now. I'm glad to know that some things don't change.

Because this year has been so, so much change. Losing my mother and ending my marriage in a six month period during a global pandemic. I mean, that has to be a sub-definition of "A LOT."

But today I feel so, so lucky. I've gotten lovely flowers and a lawn sign from my friends. Hannah draw a picture of the two of us on a happy evening, and Max gave me a lovely cookbook to probably not ever make anything from, but I'll enjoy reading it. 

Forty-three (gratefully, thankfully) feels like so much time left. I've been waiting to feel the peace I've heard about from my friends, and honestly, I'm not sure I'm there yet, but I think I'm closer. I know I'm closer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

So I Had Surgery, Again

About three weeks ago, I had surgery to remove a large lipoma from the back of my neck. As I've detailed the first surgery I had, to treat herniated disks in 2010, and the second, LASIK in 2015, here on the blog, I thought I'd write about this experience once again.

The journey to this third surgical experience was a long one. I can't remember for certain, but I think I first noticed the lump forming in 2016, but it may have been earlier. I know that when I saw the photos from Hannah's bat mitzvah in 2017 that I felt like I was holding my head in a funny way. I'd kept bringing it up to my doctor, but she said it wasn't anything to be concerned about. In the summer of 2018, I met with a plastic surgeon about it, and he agreed, just leave it be. I asked my doctor again in 2019, and she scheduled an ultrasound that fall to get a look at it. The results were what she expected, just a blob of fat. But by then I was having more and more trouble with pain in my shoulders, arms and hands. I saw a dermatologist last December, who I hoped might be able to help me out (as I had seen many helped by Dr. Pimple Popper by then - and I won't post a link - you can Google that yourself if you'd like). But she took one look at me and quickly sent me on my way, saying I needed a plastic surgeon for sure, as the lump was now quite large. I found someone to do the surgery, who didn't second guess me one bit, saw him in February, and was scheduled for May 1.

I'd chosen the date carefully, trying to make sure the surgery and the healing process wouldn't conflict with any important work or family things that I wanted to be sure to attend, like a work trip to Minneapolis (the last trip I took) and show tickets Hannah and I had for April in NYC (which of course didn't happen). So much for planning. But one Monday in June they called and asked if I could come in that Friday. I was a bit shocked, and said no, but rescheduled for June 29.

And then the anxiety really escalated. While I wanted the surgery, and knew how happy I was with the results of my two prior surgeries, I was FREAKED OUT. Reading back on it now, the experience I had in recovery after my back surgery was really downplayed on the blog, and I was terrified to have a similar experience. Plus, now it was surgery in a pandemic. I had to get a COVID test, and I was really worried about that too. I didn't think I'd get the virus while in the hospital for such a short time, but it was an extra layer of stress. I spent a lot of time crying. I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing, because I could have just left it all alone too.

The morning of surgery was a fretful one for me. My emotions were right at the surface. When we walked into Beth Israel, I was suddenly overcome with memories of when I'd last been there, December 2007, when I was told I was miscarrying. I cried in the lobby remembering that day.

I met with the surgical team in pre-op, and I told them all of my fears regarding the procedure and recovery. They were great about talking me through everything (one anesthesiologist gave me a little too much detail, which I assured her I did NOT need to know), and they even took my iPhone with them so they could easily check my blood sugar through my continuous glucose monitor. They walked me in to the operating room, and I was given a tube to suck on to start the anesthesia, and then I woke up in recovery. Or at least, that's how I remember it.

I came to and kept tugging at my surgical mask. I couldn't understand at first what was on my face, and I wanted it off. But I quickly calmed down and realized I was alive and okay. I was scared, but not in that much pain. I had to have a surgical drain left in place to prevent excess fluid from building up, and it was gross but manageable. I didn't see anyone from my surgical team again, and Marc hadn't been permitted to stay in the building, so he was called and then picked me up at the curb. That afternoon, in my anesthesia haze, I told the kids I felt like I'd been hit by a bus and then somehow robbed a bank, and Marc was driving the getaway car. I think they liked the version of mom on heavy meds.

The rest of the week was basically lost. I was fortunate to not have to work, and we were closed on Friday for the fourth of July. The pain wasn't too bad after 48 hours or so, but it was hard to hold my head up the whole day. I was just exhausted, and I'm sure a lot of it was mental as well.

I had the drain removed at my follow up appointment a week and a half later. The doctor told me they removed almost 20 centimeters of tissue from my neck and shoulders. It was a lot.

I'm healing well and can definitely feel a difference, but it will take time for some parts of my shoulders to settle down after being pushed around for so long. It's hard for me to see it because I can't really see my own back, but Hannah says it looks a lot better. I've usually hidden it from the world by keeping my hair down in public almost all the time, but seeing as the pandemic has basically obliterated the need for blow drying, maybe now I'll feel better about putting my hair up when in the outside world. We'll see.

The one continuing downside to this is that it could happen again. If it does, hopefully now I know more and can speak to better doctors and not go through a years-long process again.

I'm glad I did it. I'm glad it's over. And I'm wondering what surgery I'll be having in five years time, assuming the pattern holds.

Oh, and wear a mask.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Saturday Mornings with Susan

It began during my freshman year of college. With long distance calls still being relatively expensive during the week, and my mom being, well, who she was, my mom and I had weekly 8 am Saturday morning phone calls. The rates were cheaper, and my mom wasn't particularly busy then, but most importantly, what trouble could I possibly get in on a Friday night when I had to call her so early the next morning?

My roommate, Carol, was not a fan of these calls. I eventually purchased an extra long phone cord, and had to do these calls sitting just outside the door of our room, in the hallway, while she continued to sleep. I didn't blame her at all.

The ritual of these calls continued long past college. My mom started sleeping a bit later over time, and many Saturday mornings I would go to synagogue with my family. But the need to call my mom each weekend always hung over me. She was very particular about when she would want to talk to me: not too late, not when my Dad was available to watch TV, not when she was eating. Her timing often didn't mesh well with mine. The kids had a birthday party or a play date, or I had some errands to run, or some actual plans of my own. I'd try to call on Sunday instead, but that was clearly not what she wanted either. Sometimes, more often than I wanted, she wasn't happy when I called her. But I stuck with it all these years, and spoke to her the Saturday afternoon before she unexpectedly died the next morning.

During these last few weeks, I will admit that for many reasons it's been a relief to be free from these conversations. I'm not a great sleeper, and with nowhere to go now, I don't have the motivation to get up early, definitely not 8 am on a Saturday morning anymore. This past weekend was the Saturday before Mother's Day. Lots of kind people reached out to see how I was holding up that Sunday, but they didn't know that my mom had already made herself known the day before.

Still not wanting to get out of bed, I decided to treat myself to the Shahs of Sunset reunion episode on Bravo, but for some reason, I guess it didn't air. Most of the things I watch these days involve Hannah, so my remaining options on my DVR were limited. I put on an episode of NBC's "Indebted," a show starring Fran Drescher (of "The Nanny" fame) who moves in with her adult son and his family after going broke. It's not one of my favorites, but funny enough, a fine way to pass half an hour. I had four episodes left to watch, the first of which had aired four days after my mom died. Shortly after this episode began, while setting up the plot, Fran's character is telling her family an anecdote about someone that is tangentially related to whatever is happening. It's a familiar part of the routine of this show, and Fran often mentions some Jewish-sounding so and so. Only this time, it was my mom. Watch this (volume up, it's hard to hear).


Fran's talking all about her friend, "Susie Pollock." Now my mom was Susan, but lots of people called her Susie. She didn't like it, but they did, and now, three minutes in to my Saturday morning distraction from life, and they're talking about her on TV. Or she's talking to me. (And for the record, this daughter of Susie Pollock is not pursuing any form of procreation.)

Unlike past episodes, or at least not that I'd ever noticed before, they went on to mention the same Jewish so and so, my mother (!), three more times during that episode. I know that they'd never mentioned that character before, because surely I would have heard it, even if I wasn't paying the utmost attention as I watched. Honestly, I was a bit freaked out. The coincidence is uncanny. Her name was somewhat common, but even in the Jewish world, there are a lot of other names that could have come up before Pollock. If she had been alive to see it, I think even she would have been shocked, but now that she's not, and it was my first time watching this show since she'd died, and it was when we normally would have been talking, and, and, and...it was a lot to take in.

It was my first Mother's Day without my mom, but kind of not really.

Two days later, I watched another episode without incident. I was feeling emboldened, and I put on one more. And then right from the start, this.


Now, this time, I really couldn't believe it. I paused the show just after "Susie Pollock is ...dead" and ran into Hannah's room to get her. We then watched the rest of the scene, and were relieved to know that *this* Susie Pollock is resting comfortably in Florida.

But COME ON. I've literally never talked to anyone about this show. I know it's on a major network, but I don't know anyone else who watches it. These episodes aired weeks ago. It's a lot, right?

I finished the remaining episodes without further incident. The season wrapped up neatly; I have no idea if Fran and her friends will be picked up for another season. But if they are? I'll be watching for another hello from my mom.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

In With the New

Despite the gorgeous weather this weekend, I spent many hours helping Max clean out his bedroom. It was one of those things that’s been on my mental to do list for far too long, even though it wasn’t really that long ago that we last did it. I’m pretty sure the last time was when he was away at camp, so I didn’t get rid of everything I wanted to then. But the other day he couldn’t find his phone, thinking it was among the clutter (it wasn’t), but I promised him I’d help this weekend, and so we did. 

We went through everything on his bookcase, and took a trunk load of books to a More Than Words donation site. We cleaned off and emptied his dresser and emptied his set of plastic drawers for camp. We cleaned out a plastic bin completely, and another bin containing costume pieces and a lot of assorted trash. We pulled up the rug he’s had in that room since he was a baby. We did a lot of sweeping. I recycled three bags of loose papers, and have two big bags of clothes to donate and five bags of trash. A few treasured board books went to my bookshelves for safe keeping. 

It was a big job. I went to bed sore last night, and probably will again. But it’s good to have it done, and we even found his video camera charger, which had been missing for some time. 

I look back at photos of when the kids were little, and see all of the clutter and shudder. I’ve never done well with clutter. I’m not sure I could be a minimalist, but I do love getting rid of things. And yet, I’ve still got a stream of packages arriving all the time. I finally ordered a mouse for my laptop, now that I’m using it every day. I ordered a fancy towel to dry my hair, since blow drying every day isn’t worth the effort. I ordered an exercise bike I’m hoping to convince myself to use, and a hammock for the backyard, which I may have to fight off the kids for a chance to use. 

All things to make this time a little easier, or a little more fun. All things that probably never would have happened otherwise. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Give Us More to See

One of the silver linings to all of this is that the Broadway performers I've grown to love, but who I've only been able to see in person is less than a handful, have made themselves very accessible in order to raise funds for a variety of causes. This past weekend was a tribute concert for Stephen Sondheim's 90th birthday, an event that I might have known of in passing, maybe seen a couple of clips in the haze of normal life. Instead I've had time to watch it in its entirety and to revisit several portions of it in the last 48 hours.

My favorite Sondheim show is "Sunday in the Park with George," based on Seurat's painting, and his imagined legacy. Somewhere during high school, the 1984 production was shown on PBS, and I remember watching it on the little TV we had next to our kitchen table. I'd recorded it on our VCR, watching it on (low) volume setting 12, because others were around and I couldn't bother them (probably my father working at the dining room table one room away). I knew "Putting it Together" from Streisand and my mother, a song I think I sang for some audition that I probably didn't get. But the rest of the show was new to me, and I remember feeling like it was some precious gift to have all for myself. No one else I knew would have cared to watch it with me. Which was fine. I was fine treasuring it on my own.

And so I was extremely moved by Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford's rendition of "Move On" during the tribute concert (around 2:03:00). As I've experienced seeing RENT some twenty-odd years later too, I see it now from an adult's point of view. The character is struggling with what to say, how to stay relevant, and it's something I've struggled with in this space for a long time now, letting it lie dormant for the most part. He is urged by his partner that even though things may have already been said, they have not been said by him, and not to worry if they're new. She suggests that he move on.
"Anything you do
Let it come from you
Then it will be new
Give us more to see"
Give us more to see. It's been ringing in my ears. How lucky to have that kind of encouragement, and precise insight into what needed to be said and heard (how lucky to have the benefit of scripted words in such a moment).

Something about this moment we're in has made a crack in me, and it's made me want to write again. I could analyze the reasons why, but I think there are many. Instead, I will just try to keep moving on, and give you more to see.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

What We Have Lost

On March 7, one of the last days before everything here in Massachusetts shut down, Hannah and I attended the funeral of a recent graduate from her high school, a part of her theater community. She didn't know him well, and I've only met the mother a handful of times, but her choir was asked to sing and we both thought it was important to be there. I was already concerned about the virus, being packed in to a small chapel in what would surely be an overwhelming crowd. But going was the absolute right thing to do. Being part of that community, showing up. That's what you do, even when it's hard.

And then my own mother died unexpectedly, on March 22. A Sunday. We'd been home a little more than a week. I'd had a board meeting that morning. The four of us rushed to Ohio for what would be an eight person graveside service. My dad didn't want to hug us when we arrived. My aunt, who I hadn't seen in 15 years, wouldn't hug us either. My brother and his family watched over FaceTime, unable to travel across the country. We were lucky; I heard a few days after our ceremony that a friend had to bring her own shovel to help bury her father-in-law (a Jewish custom). At least we could all use the same shovel. My friends and family, my community, showed up in texts and emails and phone calls and food deliveries. That's what you do, even when it's hard.

Which brings me to today. Today, Hannah and I were supposed to be seeing back-to-back Broadway shows, even sitting in front row seats that I splurged in buying for tonight. This would have been our fourth annual trip to do our favorite thing. Instead, we will be at home, and *logging on* to a memorial service for an 18 year old that our community has lost, one of Hannah's friend's brothers, a frequent sight for us at temple. Heart-breaking. We showed up to pray for him. We will show up to honor him, to support his family and friends. That's what you do.

But, damn it, this is hard. So much loss, from plans to people. Just a hard, hard season. I know that we're not alone in all of this. And that even though it is hard, we will keep showing up where we can. But I am tired. Losses accrue. I am tired.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Interesting Times

Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of my first blog post, titled "It's About Time." Today's post title didn't elude me at all, which they often do, but trying to keep a more positive spin, I, along with many others, are referring to these days as "interesting times." And yet, it's really not a positive statement at all. But here we are.

I *am* trying to remain positive. As I said on Facebook, my life is normally so super scheduled that I'm enjoying the flexibility to take naps and sleep a bit later, to not rush around as I do most evenings to this meeting or that one, to have a break from scheduling carpools. But when I think about all that we've lost and may still lose, it's heartbreaking. Of course I'd rather follow all of the protocols (and as one of the more vulnerable in the population, I really have to), but long-awaited and worked for plans just going poof like this is something no one is really accustomed to coping with. I feel traumatized by not getting to see The Lion King 10 years ago when I had trouble with my back, which is such a ridiculous statement when I type it out, but it's still how I feel. And I'm afraid I'm not very good at helping others I love through their complex feelings on all this either.

There's no easy way to end a post like this. You don't (shouldn't?) need me to tell you what to do to be decent human beings, so I won't make you read what you've already read elsewhere. Good luck, and be well.