Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Home renovations and life lessons from a 107-year-old

Yesterday was a little bit of a tough day for me. We are doing a necessary electrical upgrade in our 121-year-old house. We have to replace the old fashioned “knob and tube” wiring which was installed in 1900 and which is still in a good part of the house. It works fine! But apparently it’s not “up to code” according to whoever decides these things. Someday, when we want to sell our house, we will have to replace it, or no one will buy it, say all the realtors and basically everyone. Since I wanted to paint some rooms, my husband insisted that now is the time to deal with this disruptive work. I am so annoyed, because in my mind, nothing put in today will last as long as the wiring that was installed 117 years ago and still works! But what do I know?

A team of electricians is all up in my space, sporadically turning off the power and internet when I need it most. And the work they do is loud. Super distracting. The cats are scared. The electricians took out my beautiful antique brass switch plates, original to the house, and put in some gross plastic ones. Sometimes, one of them will say “uh oh” and they will all gather around, which is rather disconcerting. Today one of them got their arm stuck in a hole in the ceiling and I was very stressed out! I am a mom. And they keep going to the bathroom and talking about how much they are going to the bathroom.

So yeah, I am super cranky about my first world problems. I was grumbling about the dust until bedtime, when I read this lovely article in The New York Times about Anthony Mancinelli, a 107-year-old man who still works full time as a barber! 107! He is almost as old as my wiring. When he became a barber, barbers still did medical procedures, like treat high blood pressure with leeches and burn off warts. He drives himself to work, does his own shopping and cooking and works on his feet all day. He doesn’t take any daily medicines, and he says he feels great. He still misses his wife of 70 years,who died 14 years ago, and he visits her grave daily.

I love this man! He reminds me of Max Fisher’s barber father in Rushmore, my favorite movie of all time. I showed my daughter the article this morning, and she agrees with me that Mr. Mancinelli has discovered the secret of life. He found something he loves, and he does it every day. Today, when I was driving her to school, Violet mentioned a crossing guard who worked at her middle school and greeted her every day with a giant smile and kind words. The crossing guard not only got her safely across the street, she brightened Violet’s day and that of every other person that she saw each morning and afternoon. That’s another person, who, in my opinion, has found the secret of life. She loves her job and she spreads good will.

Thinking of her and Mr. Mancinelli, I smiled to myself all the way back from the high school drop off. I shouldn’t complain about the work being done in my house. I am lucky to have the house and the means to fix things that need to be fixed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

graduation blues

“Yesterday, a child came out to wonder/caught a dragonfly inside a jar/fearful when the sky was full of thunder/and tearful at the falling of a star.”

I decided to torture myself and listen to Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game.” That song--which has always, always made me cry--is pure utter fuel for the mess I am today.

Yesterday, my little boy had his senior prom. He attended with his lovely girlfriend of a year. Tomorrow he graduates high school.


Seriously, yesterday?

Yesterday, I was a 35-year-old divorcee not that interested in children. Yesterday I met a man named Dalton Ross, nine years my junior, and like magic, we fell in love. He was full of enthusiasm, and he wanted children, and soon, we married. Quickly and easily I was pregnant, and after much morning sickness, a goodly amount of Mr. Softee, and a long labor, some of it spent walking around Washington Square Park, some of it spent watching Rushmore, my baby boy was born on July 13, 2000 at St. Luke’s Roosevelt in Manhattan.

He weighed 8 pounds 9 ounces. We named him Dale Kelly Ross. He took to the breast like a champ with his jaws of steel. He would not sleep in the crib, so I slept with him snuggled by my side. The exhaustion was epic. But that was the job, and I was committed to it.  

When Dale was 18 months old, he began running up and down the hallways and we grew out of our one-bedroom apartment on Washington Square Park. My days as a hip youngish editor about town were over. We moved out to Montclair, New Jersey so the little boy had room to grow. I never looked back.

At pre-school, he did not like to draw. He would peel the paper off the crayons. He would hand us sidewalk chalk. “Can you draw?” he’d ask. Blond curls and big brown eyes. He loved the block corner. He favored large structures. “I built the Serious Tower,” he would say. The biggest building in the world, at one time. The pre-school preferred to use recycled materials, in the tradition of Reggio-Emilia, Italy. At one point, the teacher decided the children would build sculptures from styrofoam, and she put together a museum of their creations. I took off from work that day. I knelt on the floor so we would be eye to eye, and hugged him. “It was so special to be here today, and see the sculpture museum,” I told him. “You are my little boy. You are my pride and my joy.” He nodded solemnly.

Yesterday. That was yesterday.

He sobbed into the skirt of the white suit I wore to my first day on the job at ELLEgirl. “Don’t get me dirty,” I said. “I have to go.” A month later he started kindergarten. He sat at a desk with a big lunch box looming before him, terrified. But elementary school, it was good. I lost my job and became a stay-at-home mom. I learned to drive. I tried out that whole class mom thing.  Dale made friends and he learned to play French horn and he discovered Harry Potter and chess. He won the prize for most books read; he played soccer; he learned to swim. We joined a pool club and he was on the swim team and the tennis team and I was his biggest fan.

And then, it was middle school. The boy who had spent a decade loving us unconditionally began to find us embarrassing. That’s how it goes. That’s life, right? Yesterday,  they are sobbing into your white skirt; today, they don’t want you near them.

During this period I read a post about parenting kids this age. The author used the metaphor of the wall in the swimming pool. The child swims away from the wall; that’s the natural order of things. But then, inevitably, they need the wall. Your job is to be that wall.

So, yesterday, when he was in middle school, I tried to be the wall, when I remembered what kind of parent I wanted to be. Sometimes, though, I fell down on the job. He would try my patience, as teenagers do, and I didn’t always handle it perfectly. I could have been better, yesterday. I could have been the wall. The wall is the vessel for the water that makes the pool. The wall does not complain when the swimmer moves away. The wall is silent, strong.

Yesterday, he started high school. I drove to the school to pick up his schedule before freshman year, got out of the car, and realized that my legs were shaking. Why? I was not starting high school. I was nervous for him? But it was fine. He dropped soccer and discovered a talent for running. One glorious freshman season of basketball, and then he stopped playing tennis too, and ran year round.

As the months and year moved on, he pushed us away even more. He told us almost nothing. They must separate. You raise your children to leave you. It’s the natural order of life. My husband and I left our parents. But they didn’t tell us how much it hurt.

Yesterday, it was the senior prom. That was really yesterday, not a metaphorical yesterday, but actually, yesterday, June 19, 2018. And tomorrow, that’s graduation.

Wish me luck.