Sunday Scribblings: Toys

In a Twitter conversation with my son last weekend,  I learned he had taken some time off from a horrendously busy and frustrating work week to drive to the mall and buy himself a new toy – an iPhone 3g.   His actions recalled similar jaunts to Toys R Us, back in the day when he was a fidgety toddler, and would become whiny and restless about 4:oo in the afternoon.  Some days, when I simply couldn’t bear to read the Scruffy the Tugboat one more time, or play another round of Candyland, we’d pile into the car and go shopping for a new toy.   Often, something as simple as a new Hot Wheels car would do the trick, and provide him with the impetus to come home and play happily on his own until dinner.

Of course, the older he got, the more sophisticated  expensive the toys became.  But thinking about the kinds of toys which drew his interest, even as far back as infancy, I can see the linear development of his later interests in life.  For as long as I can remember, he loved anything electronic, from the tv remote to the VCR (which he could program perfectly at age 2), or anything with wheels.  So it really came as no surprise that his lifelong passions are computers and automobiles. 

Reading Anne’s lovely meditation for this week’s Scribbleset me thinking about the toys I most loved, and the way they reflect my current interests.  Certainly one of my earliest favorites would not surprise anyone who knows me…a tiny toy piano, which I could sit and bang away at for hours. It was that little piano (which remains in my mother’s basement to this day) that convinced my parents I might really be serious about learning to play someday, and led them to invest in a Wurlizter console for my 6th birthday.  

I never cared much for dolls, particularly baby dolls, and I admit that infancy is not my favorite stage of child rearing. But I had the largest collection of stuffed animals among any of my friends.  I relished buying fashionable outfits for my many Barbie dolls (and I continue to like clothes shopping for myself as well), and spent hours making up complex family dramas for Barbie, Ken, Skipper, Midge…a real potboiler of a novelist at work there.

Easily the most disappointing toy I ever owned was the Easy Bake Oven my aunt purchased for me one Christmas.  I’m sure you can draw your own conclusions about my culinary proclivities.

As a child, my husband loved building models and taking things apart  to see how they worked (he’s an engineer).

My friend P. often talks about her son’s passion for building things with Lego’s and Lincoln Logs (he’s now Vice President of a huge construction company).   Her daughter, on the other hand, was prone to playing dress up and was known for her emotional and dramatic outbursts (she’s an actress). 

“The Child is father of the Man,” wrote William Wordsworth, and so our childhood toys may be more than simple playthings, but the precursors of lifelong interests and passions.

How about you?  What did you play with as a child?  What vestiges of your favorite toys are part of your life today?

for more Sunday Scribblings, go here

Nothing But Ghosts

NothingButGhosts_HC_cA real perk of blogging about all things bookish has been the opportunity to meet new writers, to learn more about their writing process, and share in the joys of their success. One of my favorite authors/bloggers,Beth Kephart, has a new book, Nothing But Ghosts, being ushered into the world this week.

Luminous- that’s the word which always comes to mind when I read Beth’s writing, whether it’s in her books or her daily blog posts. It’s like a Debussy prelude on the piano, or a Monet watercolor ~ imbued with delicate, intricate passion. She encourages me to look at the world more closely, to see past the surface of people and things into the deepest part of their existence. To look for the beauty, even when it’s sometimes hidden so deeply.

If you don’t know Beth, now would be a good time to meet her. As Nothing But Ghosts makes it’s debut, there are numerous virtual events to celebrate it’s release. Visit her blog, read her interview at Presenting Lenore, attend the book party on June 30, hosted by My Friend Amy. Get hold of a copy of Nothing But Ghosts and lose yourself in her beautiful writing.

cross posted at Bookstack

Allright Then…

Rumbles of thunder and gentle rain drops wakened me this morning, and since there was nothing on my calendar calling my name I was able to pull the sheet over my head and hibernate for an extra little while.  It’s been a helluva week, and my emotions have been billowed about like a kite in a windstorm.  I feel desperately in need of time to calm down.

So I took the morning for myself.  It was raining so the dogs didn’t expect a walk, no telephones rang with news (good or bad), and I sat on the couch for a long while with a book and coffee, enjoying the silence and solitude.  How lucky I am, I thought to myself, to have this bit of time to recover. 

One of the best parts of my exercise routine is the “recovery period,” when the aerobic portion is over and the pace slows down to allow the heart rate to return to normal.  I feel so energized at that point, physically and emotionally, because I’ve put in the effort to do something good for me, taken the time to make my body healthier and more fit.  The tough part is over, and I can enjoy reveling in this cooling down period.

Today begins that recovery process in the wake of my uncle’s death.  The worst is over, and now those of us left behind have to take a few cleansing breaths and go on with life.  For me, recovery always involves quiet time, solitude, being at home with my familiy, my dogs, books, music.  I hope to take lots of walks, to fill out my flower garden with pink and white impatiens, to finish reading Prayers for Sale.  If I feel particularly brave, I might venture out for coffee, ride my bike to First Cup, where I noticed that Amy has put out the wrought iron tables with their cheery red canvas umbrellas.  Most of all, I want to give my heart and soul some space to heal, for this loss was unexpectedly hurtful.  Come Monday, perhaps I will have become more settled into this process we call grieving.

Allright then, let the recovery begin…

How about you?  How do you recover from trauma and sadness? What’s the recovery process like for you?

Dying of the Light

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

~Dylan Thomas

What a roller coaster ride this week has been, ending yesterday morning with an early morning telephone call announcing my uncle’s death.  It was no surprise, certainly, for the night before was spent as witness to this battleground between living and dying.  I have become all too familiar with death, have seen it often enough to recognize all the signs and symptoms.  It isn’t an attribute to admire, nor a skill I ever wanted to have, but there it is…and I have been further schooled this week, watching someone go into that everlasting night, raging against the dying of the light.

All the familiar platitudes apply – it was a blessing, he’s in a better place, he’s finally at peace.  True enough, I suppose, for a frail, elderly man with Alzheimer’s Disease, a man who no longer recognized his family, his home, or I suspect, even himself when he looked into the mirror. 

And while I’ve become all too familiar with the roadsigns pointing to the final exit, I’ve also become familiar with the journey we survivors take, the road we travel along with our dying companion, and the things we learn along the way.

Unlike any of my other more recent experiences with death, I was able to share this journey with others.  And what a difference that makes!  You see, though my aunt and uncle had no children of their own, he has two other nieces in addition to myself, women I have known since my childhood, but who I have rarely seen since we became adults and went our separate ways into family and work lives of our own.  This past week we became like three sisters, joined in a common cause to support our uncle on this last journey.  How amazing to reconnect with such intelligent, caring, loving, women -strong and faithful, yet full of fun and light.  Their mother and my mother are friends as well, and they joined us in the cause.  I realized how much I’ve missed in not having a sister, and how my way will always  be darker because of my oneness in the world.  I’d like to think the three of us will remain friends, and greedily wish they could adopt me into their large family, but realistically I know we’ll return to our corners of the universe and likely not cross paths again unless  until death comes calling once more.

But there were huge disappointments, which no amount of camaraderie could restore.  The lack of caring and attention by hospital staff continues to amaze me, the way the medical profession has no idea how to respectfully or humanely deal with end of life situations.  I know that doctors and nurses are trained to preserve life -  but when they become aware there is no hope of doing so they beat a hasty and terrified retreat.  I had hoped that things were changing – sadly, they are not.  One of the biggest challenges facing the medical profession within the next generation is learning to provide humane, compassionate care to elderly people in the end stages of their life. 

At the end of it all, we come to the end of this particular road, the life of this man, a man most of us remember as one who gave unselfishly of all he had to those he cared about.  A man who embodied the American dream, born the child of  Mexican immigrants and becoming an educated, professional man. A man extremely proud of his service to the nation, filled with stories of his exploits in the “big war, WW2.”    A man who liked the “better things”…suits from Brooks Brothers, automobiles from Cadillac.  A man who lived in the same house in Michigan for almost 60 years, but never lost his longing for the hills of Texas, which he probably always considered his true home. 

And though I know he wouldn’t want me to be sad, I can’t help but mourn the loss of a man who was like a second father to me, a man who cared about me without reservation, who thought I was perfect no matter what I did, who somehow always saw the little girl I once was, even after I was grown and had a child of my own.  It’s hard to lose those kinds of people, because it forces you one step closer to the point when no one will recall you in that special way, when you too will be old and facing the dying of the light.

But I’m not ready to go there just yet, and will not go quietly…no indeed, you will find me raging against the dying of the light.  

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

Inevitable

We all knew it was coming.  Every time we visited my aunt and uncle – she nearly immobile with arthritis, he virtually incompetent as a result of Alzheimer’s Disease,  both muddling along in the home they built back in 1955 – we realized it was only a matter of time until something bad happened to one or the other of them.

And this week it did.

Wednesday night I was out in my yard, happily pottering about in the flowers when the call came in.  My uncle had fallen in the living room, was in horrible pain, and couldn’t get up.   The ambulance was on its way, but my aunt would need a ride to the hospital.

So off I went, and what started out as a pleasant summer evening turned into a long vigil in the hospital, while we waited for x-rays and orthopedic surgeons (surely this boy in front of me couldn’t be a surgeon- he looked not more than 15!), and finally received confirmation of what we had feared all along -my uncle’s right hip was fractured.

Yesterday after yet another interminable day the fracture was surgically repaired, but we now face the task of finding a rehab facility where he might stand a chance of getting back on his feet, and one that can provide continued care from now on for the rest of his life.   So today, less than a year after my mother in law’s death, I found myself touring nursing homes and Alzheimer’s Care facilities once again.   

I’m finding myself all too familiar with these places – the ubiqutous “activity rooms,”  the wheelchair seated residents, their gray heads slumped over onto food stained bibs, the ever present television or CD player.  Someone is invariably perserverating in a loud voice…the refrain today was “Where is my mother? Where is my mother? Where is my mother?”  The directors and aides are sweet  and well meaning when they talk about “socialization” and “structure in the day,” and “doing things for the residents.”

But ultimately, it’s just ridiculously sad.

Recently HBO aired a documentary  entitled The Alzheimer’s Project, a four part series which provided an in-depth look at individuals who have the disease, the effect on their families and caregivers, and finally, the latest research into future treatments.  After watching the final episode in which one bold scientist stated that within the next 10 years there will be real treatments for this disease, treatments which can entirely halt  its devastating progress, I felt a tiny glimmer of hope.   But it was hard to hold onto that hope today, hard to be optimistic when I think about my uncle, and know that he’ll never return to the place he’s called home for the past 54 years.

Last night I shuffled through some pictures I recently brought home from my aunt’s house.  One of my cousins is doing a geneology project, and was searching for some family photos to complete her collection.  My aunt, never the least bit sentimental, urged me to take whatever I wanted.  “It’ll save somebody throwing these old things out someday when I’m gone,”  she said dismissively.

So I brought home several pictures of she and my uncle back in the day – the two of them standing side by side in the driveway of their house, leaning against the side of their new 1959 Buick Electra…he pedaling a bike with her perched precariously on the handlebars, laughing.  Shuffling through these photos last night I couldn’t stop the tears.   The loss in Alzheimer’s is so great – for all these memories are gone for him, all the days and times of their lives together.   When I think of my life, of all the things I’ve done and have yet to do, the thought of losing every one of those memories is simply terrifying. 

When I was three years old, my uncle bought me a box of candy for Valentine’s Day.  I can still see the heart shaped box, and the pieces of chocolate inside.  Every year after that, he brought me candy for Valentine’s Day.  Without fail, I knew that box of candy would arrive on my doorstep, usually hand delivered, with a card he bought and signed himself.  Every single year from 1959  until 2005…that was the first year he forgot. 

And that was the year I knew for sure he was gone.

So looking for a place for him to spend his last days is not an easy task.  I thought I was going to be pragmatic about it – after all, I’ve been saying it needed to happen for months now.  But walking through those doors was pretty heart-wrenching, knowing I was about to start this final process in the ” long goodbye.”

My Uncle Tex was not a perfect man – he could be demanding and hard to get along with.  But he was a rock of strength for our family many times over the years, going way beyond the call of duty for an “uncle by marriage.”    When my grandmother (his sister in law) was in a nursing home, he visited her every day for years, taking her dinner, encouraging her to eat,  making sure she was properly cared for.  He was always available for rides to school or the library, or for shopping trips to the mall.  He paid college tuition for more than one of his nieces and nephews.

 If he cared about you, there was no better, more loyal friend in the world.

And I will never forget it.

 

Value Added

I took a road trip today, a ride to the western side of the state – over to Kalamazoo, to be exact, or K-Zoo as the natives call it.  My friend P.’s granddaughter was performing in her last elementary school program…she’ll be “graduating” and moving up to middle school next year.  And so P., excited and proud of this wildly intelligent little girl - a 10 year old who can deliver campaign speeches for Barack Obama and gay rights the way most 5th graders would recite the lyrics of Miley Cyrus or Jonas Brothers songs – was eager to show off her accomplishments. 

Because it’s a long drive for just one afternoon, P. asked me to ride along and keep her company.  One part of me balked a little – I always have a long “to do list” for my days off.   But I like Kalamazoo – it’s a great town with some beautiful, old homes – and I also like P.’s granddaughter, so I decided to tag along despite the nagging voice in my head saying “you really shouldn’t.” 

The Woodward School for Science and Technological Research  is a magnet program which operates on a huge grant from the government.  It’s housed in an historic, two story brick building, with large white pillars fronting the entrance.  The school grounds are surrounded by iron gates, and behind the large playscape is a beautiful kitchen garden the children planted, as part of their year long study of sustainable living.

But this is no effete educational program – this is very much a city public school, and the children come from every race, creed, and background imagainable.  Many of them are being raised by single parents, grandparents, or even older siblings.  Most of them come from families where college was only a distant dream.

But the auditorium was completely packed for this afternoon concert.  Somehow parents had made it a priority to get away from work and spend 30 minutes supporting their kids in this musical homage to “The Wide World.”   It was literally standing room only as 100 kids, ranging in age from 8-12, took their various places on stage, on choral risers, behind xylophones, electric keyboards, guitars, and African drums.   There was drumming, and dancing, some rap and hip hop while the orchestra played “We Will Rock You.”   Through it all, parents broke out in spontaneous cheers and applause when their kids took the stage or stepped forward for a solo.  There were tears aplenty at the amazing lyric vocals of young Prescott, and delighted smiles and laughter at Ahwatta, performing his original rap dressed quite nattily in blue suit, white shirt and tie.  Their teacher, a young woman who spent a year living in Guinea, had absorbed the spirit and rhythm of African music, which she has enthusiastically passed on to these young musicians.

Naturally I was struck by the differences between this program and the elementary school programs I’ve done in the past few weeks, programs with talented children and dedicated teachers, but programs which definitely lacked the spark of enthusiasm so evident today, the obvious joy and pride in performance which filled these children (and their families).

My suburban friends would likely find fault with teaching music this way.  They might say the children weren’t learning enough about the fundamentals of music, or practicing good vocal tone or breathing.  They might criticize the keyboard players for playing by rote, or the string players for faulty intonation.

But who could argue with the natural, totally uncoerced smiles and sparkle on all of those faces?   Who can find fault with the pure, unadultered joy oozing from those little musicians and their audience?   Isn’t that what music is really all about, especially when you’re 8 years old?  Or 18? Or even 80?  

Today’s concert reminded me that, as a musician, that’s the feeling I should be striving to achieve every time I sit down to play.   I came home with a renewed spirit and sense of purpose about the power of music, making this road trip a very valuable one indeed.

Flux-uating

It’s no secret that my state (Michigan) is in the doldrums, and yesterday’s announcement from General Motors did nothing to help revive our spirits.  We  knew it was coming, for every newspaper and magazine in the land has been heralding the demise of this corporate behemoth.  Perhaps being forewarned was indeed being forearmed for the shock wasn’t quite so – well, shocking.   But because I come from a long line of automotive workers…the livelihood of practically everyone in our family was (or is) involved in the automotive industry in some capacity… there is grief over this event, and confusion about what is to come, and fear about the future. 

Atop this news we hear that a  giant airbus has fallen from the sky, simply disappeared into the waters below, and those of us who love to travel, and have travelers that we love, shudder with fear.

We are in a state of flux. 

But today, there were  new neighbors moving onto my street.  There have been four empty houses on our road, homes vacated due to the death of their elderly owners.  Most of them have been sitting empty for at least a year, one of them for more than two years.  But within the last six weeks, all four of them have sold.  There is bustling about  in long neglected yards, old rolls of carpet and ragged furniture appear at curbs to be hauled away, and the sounds of new dogs, barking with great excitement, resounds through the air on long summer evenings. 

And then there is word  that a former General Motors office building in Pontiac (“I sat through lots of meetings in there,” Jim sighed) will be converted into seven brand new sound stages, the  home of Motown Movie Productions.  By the end of the year, there will be 3000 new jobs there with up to 10,000 more in the offing.  Rumor has it that Steven Spielberg has his eye on the studio for his next film.

Flux.

Once again, as it goes with life in general, so it goes with mine in particular.  I’ve been in the doldrums myself, suffering with a bad cold which played havoc with my time in Florida last week.  Today, it was chilly and dreary, nothing like the first of June should be.  My work has been less than satisfying, and this afternoon I nearly fell asleep at my desk from sheer and utter boredom. 

But after dinner the sun appeared, and I decided it was time to get some of  my new plants in the ground.  I’m in the midst of making a flower bed in my backyard,  a big English style mixture of everything from ferns and ivy to iris and lilies.  I’ve been moving the pots around for days, trying to get things “just so.”  Finally, I realized that making a garden is a lot like writing a story,  learning a piece of music -or raising a child.   You finally have to set all the fear aside, say, “enough – I’ve done all I can do” and simply put it out there for the world to see.

So I did.  After a couple of hours of digging, and planting, I suddenly felt so much better, excited even, about my own personal state.

As I often do when I’m particularly pleased with myself, I sat at the piano and launched into Debussy’s Arabesque, those triplets rippling perfectly from my fingers.  And though it doesn’t matter  to anyone but me how well I play Debussy, playing it well gave me a tiny moment of pefect pleasure, a moment when I didn’t feel the pangs of being 53 years old with weak eyes and a creaking back. 

Flux.

How about you? What’s flux-uating in your world these days?