A Year and A Day

One year and one day ago, I got married to this wonderful person.

And now that I sit and have a think about the last year, I realize that Year One of our marriage has been kind of bananas. Here’s the highlight reel:

  • Got married!!
  • Went on a Costa Rican adventure for a month
  • Started a new job the next day
  • Dislocated my shoulder! Sling, physical therapy, the whole shebang
  • My grandma fell and broke her hip and ended up in ICU for a few nights, then a nursing home
  • Visited grandma in nursing home every other day, and tried not to go crazy from how depressing it was
  • Suffered from some fairly debilitating and terrifying attacks of vertigo
  • Husband lost his job
  • After months of trying, we finally sold our house in the ghetto (in the ghett-toooo)
  • Got a promotion at work and went to Brazil to start new project
  • While I was gone, lost my sweet grandma
  • Came back, cleaned out her apartment, and tried not to be too sad because she had a pretty great and long life full of love and laughter (but was still pretty sad)
  • Husband found a new, better job
  • Moved to new place, and while moving sucks, apartment is perfect.

Soooo yeah … Year One of our marriage has been EVENTFUL AS HELL. It’s also been extra validation that I was 1000% right to throw my lot in with my guy. Because no matter what craziness goes on, we seem to make a pretty righteous team, like the time that we built this Snotoro (OK, he mostly built it).

Anyway, I know that life will be back to smack us upside the head sooner or later … but for now we are relishing the boring. Reading, puttering, staring out the window, and every so often grinning at each other for no reason, and all the reasons, at the same time.

Happy anniversary, my love. Thanks for always helping me be less crazy. <3



What's Going On

Life has once again done that thing where it changes everything on you all at once, and I find myself in the strange peace that descends after a storm. My grandma passed away about a month ago, while I was thousands of miles away on business, and I haven’t quite known how to write about it.

Ever since I was little, I was crazy about my grandma. “My Ma, nobody else’s!” I used to say when I was little, and hug her hard around the neck. Then I’d run off to play in her amazing closet, piling on the jewelry and dresses and furs. We had an easy and lovely relationship my whole life, until she got old and needed me, and it got a lot more complicated.

Don’t get me wrong -- the rational part of my brain and the loving part were both so happy that I could be there for her these last ten years, and especially the last two, since she got really sick. But there was another part of me, too, that resented the encroachment on my freedom. And this conflict meant that I generally was trying to manage about ten different emotions, from fear to empathy to exasperation, all at the same time.

I’m not a person who’s drawn to caretaking, or who particularly enjoys it even. But there my sweet grandma was, older and more helpless with each passing day. She really did need someone to take responsibility for her, so I made the choice that I would. I’d help as best I could. I would not leave her to face the end of her life alone.

Of course, she was alone at the very end ... but she always hated being fussed after. So, maybe some part of her wanted to slip out while we weren’t looking. There’s no way of knowing, but either way, I have no regrets. My grandma knew I loved the heck out of her, even with all my teeth-gnashing and eye-rolling, just as I knew she loved the heck out of me even when she was cranky and short-tempered.

None of us are perfect ... But we try our best to do what’s right, to do what we said we’d do. And somehow that ends up being enough, I think.

When I think things like I’ll never wake up on my birthday morning and hear Ma sing to me ever again, I feel sad. But I’m also feeling … how to say it … complete? Like I had a job to do, and I did it decently well, and now it’s done.

What I don’t feel is despondent or depressed, because Ma had an excellent life, and living until age 90 and having a family that adores you is no tragedy.

And she was ready to go. She talked about death all the time, anticipating it, even getting annoyed that it was taking so long to arrive. The last few years were brutal for her. She was stuck in bed, in constant pain, and pissed off about it, as any of us would be. She didn’t see the point to it. She wanted some rest. I get that.

And then there’s the fact that I’ve already been grieving her, for a long time -- every little loss of mobility, of memory, of independence. I was with her for every bump down the mountain, and if you add up the hours I’ve spent crying, it must be weeks by now. Honestly? I’m all cried out. There may be more yet to come, but right now, I feel peaceful and calm. Ready for what’s next.

It’s going to take some time to sink in, I think, that our family's slow-motion emergency of the last two years is over. And it’s funny how it had sort of driven out a lot of my other memories about my grandma, from before she got so frail.

But as I was going through her apartment, I found the blue dress with gold medallions that she wore to my First Communion … the glow-in-the-dark rosary that she used to let me pray on when I came to visit … her enormous collection of trashy books with prayer cards and recipes stuck in the covers.

And with every artifact, memories flooded back. Like how she loved to cook for us, barbecue brisket and chicken cacciatore and buttery Yorkshire puddings that puffed up like magic … and how she loved going to the race track and drinking a couple beers and yelling for her favorites … and how she watched Oprah every single day and always called her “Ofrah.”

She was a real dame, my grandma -- tall and classy and down-to-earth and glamorous and hilarious and unbelievably warm. I can’t imagine I’ll ever meet anyone as sincerely sweet, and I’ll always miss her. But most of all, I’m glad she’s now at peace.

How To Stop Raging Against Reality

My grandma is hurting again. Last Sunday, she leaned over in her recliner to rearrange some books and she slid out of the chair onto the floor. And her hip broke.

This is the latest and maybe the gravest incident in a string that started about a year and a half ago, and I gotta be real about it -- it's been a tough time. Ma has had a heart attack, a MRSA infection, dizzy spells, multiple skin tears, limited mobility, and varying levels of lucidity. There have been dozens of visits to the doctor and to the ER, dozens of nights in the hospital, and two nursing home stays totalling up to more than seven months. There have also been countless hours on the phone and mountains of paperwork to fill out so that she can have medical benefits and at-home care and prescription coverage and everything else she needs. It's a real project management situation.

On top of all that is the way she feels about what's happening to her. My grandma has always been a quick and bubbly and memorably warm person, and she still is. She is a little forgetful, sure, and sometimes confused and anxious, but essentially, she is still herself. Unlike a lot of old folks.

And that is an enormous blessing, but also somewhat of a curse, because she understands what’s happening to her. She clearly sees that her capabilities are diminishing, and it sometimes brings her way, way down. So, on top of all the logistical and bureaucratic and medical stuff, my brother and I have also been trying to keep her spirits up, too. We know it could be a lot worse, but it still has not been easy.

Part of the difficulty is that the situation just fucking sucks. People say taking care of an old person is like taking care of a child, and I guess there are some similarities, but I think the comparison breaks down for one simple reason: children grow. They develop and change and great new things keep happening with them all the time. But with an aging person, it’s the exact opposite. With every incident, new levels of horror are revealed, and even the strongest souls can falter a bit in the face of it, I think.

But the other part of the difficulty is on me, because I have to admit that I am kind of selfish prick. I don’t want to get into my whole life story -- at least not right now -- but suffice it to say that my childhood was bananas, and I spent most of it trying to grow up quickly so that I would no longer be subject to the weakness and poor decision-making ability of the adults around me. That is way harsh, I know, but it’s the way I grew up thinking about things.

So, now, yay, I am a grown-up, and all I want is freedom, and I can’t have it. I can’t spend my day doing what I’d like to do because I have five phone calls to make, and I have to stop at my grandma’s apartment and pick up some clothes for her to wear when they transfer her from the hospital to the rehab place, and I need to take them to the hospital and talk to her and try to explain what’s going on and see the wildness in her eyes that means she is terrified. And I have to go to work and try not to lose it even though my heart is breaking. And then I have to drive out to rehab to bring her suitcase and make sure she’s settled in and comfortable. And by the time all that is over, I will be exhausted and it will be time to go to bed.

Sometimes I feel like Louis CK in this bit of stand-up -- “Now I have an old lady.”

And sometimes I rage against it. Sometimes I cry my eyes out and drive around screaming at a God I don’t really even believe in that this isn’t fair, and what has she ever done to deserve such misery besides be a beautiful loving person? And what have I ever done? I’m a freaking orphan, shouldn't I somehow be excused?

In short, I turn into the worst person ever -- resentful towards everyone, entitled and selfish, full of anger and despair.

This is a pattern I found myself playing out a lot last year. I can’t call it a rabbit-hole, because it’s bigger and more menacing than that. I guess it feels more like a road with well-worn ruts that I sometimes just find myself on without even realizing it. Something goes wrong with my grandma’s health, or someone drops the ball on her care, or I hit my daily limit on dealing with bureaucratic bullshit, and suddenly I am the freaking Hulk. Impatient and surly and, eventually, ashamed.

I know there’s no point to it. It brings me no relief, no catharsis. It’s just an emotional reflex, a pattern of adolescent rage against reality itself, and it does nothing but sap me of my strength. I’m not, like, satisfyingly cried out after one of these rages. I’m red and raw. I’m spoiling for a fight.

Going away for a month gave me a lot of perspective on the situation, and since then, the raging hasn’t been as much of a problem. And I guess I was foolish enough to think I had magically conquered it through the power of, I dunno, travel-related attitude change or something.

But the other night, after a long day of work and a long emotional visit with Ma, I found myself driving home from the hospital scream-crying at no one. Knee deep in craziness, before I even knew what was happening. Again.

When I got home I sat on the edge of the bed in the dark and cried and ranted and felt wretched for a while. But then something new happened … a wisp of a thought drifted through my brain. What are you doing, honey? Haven’t you spent enough time playing this terrible loop? Isn’t there something else you’d rather do? Something useful, or at least not destructive?

And suddenly I was looking at myself. I was looking at the tornado of emotions rising up out of my chest, and I was breathing. And that gave me the blessed grace of space -- space I needed to stop, to step back, to pop myself out of the swirling part of my mind.

From there, I was able to talk myself down, to be as reasonable and reassuring to my own self as I try to be to the people I love. I was able to say very accurate, rational, and kind things like Oh, my sweet Madge, anyone in this position would feel awful. But do you want your whole life to be about this? Isn’t there another way you can go about it? Can you acknowledge that this blows and let yourself feel sad without allowing it to turn into a fiery rage that burns up the rest of your life?

And then, having received a perfect dose of logic and sweetness courtesy of my brain’s sanest part, I felt myself open up. I felt the knots inside me untwist, and I felt the emotions flowing through me. And I remembered that taking good care of my grandma is not a burden that’s been thrust upon poor put-upon me -- it’s a choice I have made. It’s something I can and should feel good about. It’s an important commitment, and I am fulfilling it the best I can.

But as much as I want to help, I simply don’t have the power to set my grandma's world right. All I can do is take care of the logistics, love on her as much as possible, and let the rest of it go.

Because the reality is that she is almost 90. Shit is probably going to suck from now until the end of her life. But there will be moments of grace, too, as long as I can accept what is instead of raging against it.

You’ve heard me talk about the process of side-stepping craziness before -- notice what’s going on, breathe, reason with yourself in a kind way, and turn your attention elsewhere. It ain’t easy, but the cool thing is that it seems to work the same for all kinds of irrational, unpleasant, hard-to-corral feelings, even existential rage at the impersonal cruelty of aging. Once you get good at noticing what’s going on in your brain, you almost can’t help but get a little saner.

It’s not magic … you have to keep trying as hard as you can and sometimes even harder than that … but it does work.

And as it turns out, I don’t have to look very far to find a role model -- Ma herself is a master. (I don’t think a person can make it to 89 otherwise.) Time and time again I have witnessed the way she gets through hard stuff. She holds tight to her friends and family. She appreciates how good she's got it and focuses on what’s possible rather than what’s not.

Most of all, she never gives up. Even when she's worn out from surgery and can't keep her eyes open, she keeps trying to connect, to soothe, to give and receive love. She has the heart of a warrior, my sweet ancient grandma. And I do, too, as long as I keep my craziness in check. Thankfully, I am learning how.

Wedding Photos! Finally!

It has taken me a godawful long time to do this -- I've been married for three months already! But better late than never, right? So here are some pictures from one of my favorite days ever, the day my brilliant handsome fiancé Rich became my brilliant handsome husband Rich.









The weather was great, everyone was in a wonderful mood, the dresses and crafts turned out pretty much just like I wanted them to, and at the end Rich and I were all hitched up! Couldn't have been more perfect. We sure lucked out. :)

And thanks so much to our dear friend Dan Buczynski for taking these amazing photos!

Planning A Wedding, Sanely

As some of you might know, I am getting married in two months! And while I have zero ambivalence toward my beloved, I have to admit that I have been very ambivalent about "planning a wedding."

Because although a wedding can be a lovely outpouring of affection and support for the newlyweds, it can also be a uniquely fraught situation where lots of tricky and deeply-felt things come together -- family relationships, gender roles, religion or lack thereof, budgetary concerns, even food allergies. It is a lot to hold in your head, and a lot of different people have strong expectations which they can't help but project on you.

And there is a fuckload of minutae to deal with. Where will it be? Who will be invited? What kind of food? What kind of flowers? Assigned seats or no? What's the ceremony going to look like? What kind of music? What kind of favors? Should we have a gift registry and if so what do we register for? What are we going to wear? How can we do this within our budget?

It goes on and on and on, like a fractal, and you can zoom in on infinitely tiny levels of detail if you want to.

And you are supposed to want to! There is this weird pressure -- magnified in the internet age -- to make your wedding day perfect, to personalize every little detail, to make it special and unique to your particular brand of love.

Which is sort of sweet, I guess, but can also lead to getting obsessed with tiny tiny things in a way that excludes the BIG thing. Which is, at the end of the day, you're going to be married to this awesome person you love.

All this intimidated me. I feared that, as soon as I started planning our wedding, I would grow both scales and a veil and take down all of the Eastern seaboard in my search for the perfect tablescape. So for more than a year, I put it off.

Luckily, I am hooked up with a guy who is good at taking big problems and breaking them down into smaller ones. "Let's just think about a place," he said. Then, once we had a place, we could choose a date, and were able to make other decisions more easily, too.

So, thus far in the planning process, with my beloved's help, I have successfully avoided most wedding-related crazypantsness (touch wood). Here are a few things that have helped:

* Big stuff, then small stuff.

Don't start by thinking about napkins or rings or how your invites will be worded because starting with the minute level will definitely make you want to jump off the tallest building in your town.

Instead, start by deciding how you want your wedding to feel in broad strokes. Do you want a big raucous party? Something quieter and more contemplative? We knew we wanted a small wedding where we could get married outside in a beautiful setting, then walk inside and eat. This feeling led us to a venue and date, which then helped guide our further decisions.

* Think about what's important to you, and focus on that. Let everything else go.

For us, good food is important, as is having a casual-yet-elegant-feeling party where we can all just hang out and enjoy each other's company. We don't care at all about fancy place settings or gobs of decorations so we're sticking to simple options for those.

* Keep it small, or keep it simple. Or both.

Take the number of people invited to your wedding, and multiply it by how fancy it's going to be on a scale of 1 to 10. This figure is your projected craziness level. If you want to reduce your craziness, you'll need to either invite fewer people, or make the day simpler. We invited only fifty people, the wedding and the reception are in the same place, and we're not having showers, favors, assigned seating, or "Here Comes The Bride." Small + simple = sane.

* When you start to feel overwhelmed, just stop.

There have been a few times when I've started to get manic about the wedding -- when I've got fifteen browser tabs open and find myself thinking about rings and vows and cake and fascinators and photography all in the same breath. When I notice this happening, I stop. I let the wedding go for now and get stuck into another project. This way I can avoid setting sail on the SS Obsessive Bridezilla.

* DIY if you want, but don't bite off too much.

I really enjoy being crafty, so I'm doing a few projects for our wedding -- paper flowers, hand-printed invitations, custom bridesmaids dresses. But I'm not trying to do much more than that. And the things I'm doing can all be done long before the day itself, so that on the morning of the wedding I can focus on more important things, like my hair.

* Work hard at being less crazy about your body in the lead up.

How much weight can I lose before the wedding? Ugh, why am I thinking so much about that question? Deep breath. Step back. Be less crazy. (This may warrant another post at some point!)

Have you ever been impacted by wedding-related craziness? How did you keep your head together? Enquiring minds (mine!) want to know!

Thanks for this awesome photo, SebastianDooris!

Nora Ephron Is Gone But Her Sanity Lives On

Like everyone else, today I'm thinking about the wonderful writer Nora Ephron, who passed away last night. She did many great things, but I think her greatest might be Julie and Julia, which I'm going to go ahead and call one of the best, most feminist mainstream films ever.

I'm watching it right now and, maybe it's the PMS talking, but I swear every other scene is making me cry:

  • Like when Julie describes the time her mom made Julia's boeuf bourginon and it felt like everything was going to be okay because Julia was there, like a big good fairy watching over everything.
  • Or when, just after meeting Simka in the ladies' sitting room, Julia stands up to her full height and declares in her brash-yet-twinkly voice, "I am VERY conventional."
  • Or when Julia and her sister are looking in the mirror after getting dolled up for a party, and Julia goes, "Pretty good ..... But not great."
  • Or, you know, basically any scene with Stanley Tucci. Agh so good!!

The acting is perfect, the characters are super-compelling, and the writing is funny and sweet and honest. But the most amazing thing about this movie is that, unlike basically all other lady-comedies, it's about women who have already found love and still long for more in their lives.

Crazy, right? Cause what woman in her right mind could ever want anything more than A HUSBAND?!

I love Julie and Julia (especially the Julia part) because shows us what it looks like when a woman has a great relationship AND ALSO a bigger ambition, a goal that she is willing to toil and suffer for, something new that she desperately wants to bring into reality. Julia's marriage is wonderful, but it's not enough to fulfill her. She wants to make her dent in the universe, and she perseveres FOR DECADES to make it happen. Which is so inspiring it actually makes my own ambitious feminist heart OVERFLOW.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that love is frivolous or unimportant or that it's something we shouldn't desire. I myself am in a beautiful relationship with a wonderful man that I will be marrying very soon, and I count myself among the luckiest bitches ever in that department.

But you know what I am talking about. The cultural imprint put on us from a very young age is A Romantic Relationship Is By Far The Most Important Thing For Girls. BY FAR. And when we let that imprint direct the course of our lives, it can make us crazy.

Like ... maybe we spend lots of time feeling sad that we are single, or we put up with extreme amounts of BS from our men because we don't want to be alone, or we habitually forget about our friends when we hook up with someone new, or or or ... it's all a variation on a theme that woman is made for man. That loving a man should be our ultimate goal, and after we're coupled, our movies may as well end.

Obviously, that is bullshit. And I love Julie and Julia for showing that. This film, like all Nora Ephron films really, shows a great respect for love, and it also sanely places it in the context of the rest of an intelligent and ambitious woman's life.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” That's what Ephron said in her 1996 commencement address to Wellesley, and her films show what happens when we follow her advice. Thank you for that, Nora.