Monday, October 29, 2012

The Reassuring Chuckle

My mother is dying.

In checking my blog stories, I realized I’ve written about mom and the state of her health, which recently has taken a serious decline, a few times now. Here are a couple -

Right now she is in a Palliative Care unit of a local hospital. Her dementia has progressed to the point that she doesn’t know she is in a hospital, which is the beautiful thing about palliative care; it doesn’t look like a hospital room. No medical equipment, no meds in view. Far as mom knows, she’s on a nice vacation in a nice room.

Which is exactly where we want her mind to be.

Her mind is now at a point where people long dead have visited her. She’s perplexed that Kenny, my brother, is not sitting on the couch talking to her when a few minutes ago she swore was there. Which would be kind of tough since Kenny is here in Florida and my mom is in Ohio. But at least she is now in a place where she can just relax and let her mind go wherever it wants.

Being the youngest, mom likes to sound brave when I talk to her. And, thank goodness, whenever I call she knows it’s me. I consciously test this each time I call. When she answers, I just say “Hello there,” without giving my name, and she always replies “Well hello, son.”

And then she gives me that reassuring chuckle.

It’s a delightful little sound which gives off the message of, ‘I’m doing just fine; it’s just a thang. Don’t worry about me.’

Oh, but I do. Or I should say, I did. She’s now in a place where she is safe and she’s comfortable. I don’t have to worry about her lighting a cigarette on the gas stove anymore, her grey hair hanging precariously close to the open flame. Going back home is not going to happen – she can no longer take care of herself.

She also has stopped taking her meds. Which is fine, as the palliative care staff does not make patients take them. They are there to manage pain, and if mom is in pain she will take something to ease it. But blood pressure meds, heart meds, meds for the sake of taking meds? She’s done with that.

Cue the reassuring chuckle.

Aside from the obvious emotional trauma of watching a loved one slowly die, and dementia is way too long of a death, it has almost been, and I hesitate to use this word but I will – fascinating – to watch. To watch a woman who was the smartest person I have ever known, who could balance million-dollar corporate budgets to the penny while raising four fantastic kids, to watch her mind atrophy to the point where she does not know where she is and is imagining people that aren’t there is, well, fascinating.

Cue the reassuring chuckle. I inherited it.

Sometimes the reassuring chuckle is akin to whistling past the graveyard. Mom knows how bad it has gotten. But she will never level with me on that. Being the baby she has to appear strong to me. I, of course, know how bad it has gotten, so when she gives me the reassuring chuckle it comes across differently now – it comes across as a mother being motherly. Parents do not let their kids worry about them – it’s their job to worry about us.

Which, until the day she dies, is what she will do. Unfortunately (or maybe thankfully), that day will be very soon for mom. She is in a comfortable place now, and old dead friends are visiting her. She is happy.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

My God, What Is Going On?

Remember that horrible song from the 1980s, The Politics of Dancing? Here, let me make you hate me –

Ah, the eighties. Those banal toe-tapping synth-tinged ditties that combined words like ‘politics’ and ‘dancing’ into the same sentence. Fun.

Those days are long gone. Now we have – are you ready –

The politics of rape.

Somehow, this presidential election, the one that was supposed to be about jobs, has been (not surprisingly) hijacked by tinheaded Neanderthal men on the far right who can’t seem to help themselves but to wade into the swamp of what constitutes rape.

You have Todd Akin talking about what is ‘legitimate’ rape. You have Richard Mourdock talking about how, if a woman is raped and gets pregnant, that it’s God’s will.

And what both these knuckleheads have in common is, one, they’re Republicans. And two, they’re men.

Here’s my view. To begin with, if you are running for political office, I don’t want to hear what you think about rape. It redefines the term irrelevant. Ah, but it is relevant, because these guys also want to make abortion illegal. And if you want to make abortion illegal, you have to wade into inanity (and into women’s uteri) and state what abortions you would let stand. And that’s where rape comes in, since some want to allow abortion in the instances of incest, health of the mother…or rape.

So they now have to discuss what is, ahem, ‘legitimate’ rape or what God intended.

It bears repeating at this point – these men are running for public office. An office that, should they be elected to, should be used for representing their constituents. And my guess is, about half of their constituents are women.

But they are men. Which brings me to my second point. Men should be disqualified from even chiming in on this issue. Unless they’ve been raped. Chances are they weren’t.

Now, I am not naïve. This is all about a party platform that is chained like an anchor to making abortion illegal. Anchor is a good analogy. Because it will sink them.

Why? Because we are talking about governing, not morality. What a woman decides to do with her body is her business and whomever she wants to bring into the discussion. People like her pastor or parents.

Not a fucking politician.

There are a couple of tangential issues here that really grate me. The first of which is invoking ‘God’ into any political discussion. I don’t give a damn what a politician’s religious beliefs are – they are irrelevant to performing the job. You don’t need strong faith to pass a budget or shepherd a bill through committees. I am beyond sick of hearing about how strong a politician’s faith is. What I want to know is, how good of a politician he or she is, because that is what they are being elected to do. Pray on your own time.

The other issue is this unquenchable thirst that male politicians have in wanting to tell women what they can or cannot do. Which brings us back to abortion. I have a real simple question to any politician that wants to make abortion illegal, and it’s this –

How much time in jail should the woman get for having an illegal abortion?

Because, Mr. Akin (and Ryan and Romney), you can try to make abortion illegal, but you will never eliminate abortions. They will happen, legal or not.

So again – how much time in prison for the women?

And don’t give me ‘We will only put the doctors that perform them in jail, not the women.’ Uh huh. And we only incarcerate drug dealers and not drug users, right?

Republicans have painted themselves into an ideological corner by doggedly holding onto an issue that our Supreme Court decided almost forty years ago. The highest court in the land had its say on the matter. And not to mention that you are pissing off half the electorate by inserting your views into their private parts.

It has been decided. So move on to something that is actually relevant.

That is, if they can actually be relevant.

I doubt they can.

Secure Our Borders!

This country has a real problem. A 2,000-mile unsecured border, where the inhabitants of the neighboring country can just waltz in unchecked. They can then assimilate into communities where they are absorbed and invisible. They are stealing our jobs.
Damn Canadians.
Oh, you forgot about that border? Then look at a map – I am shocked that the residents of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho & Washington aren’t outraged. The God-forsaken Canadians wither their ‘eh’ accents are milling ‘aboot’ with us born-here Americans. They can’t even speak English correctly!
Something has to be done about this.
I propose an electrified fence reinforced with a moat. In the winter the moat will freeze, so it has to be artificially heated. We have to keep these people out to uphold the integrity of our sovereignty. I also propose a ban on Canadian bacon and hockey. And Molson beer. Cost is no object – who cares what the fence and moat will cost? There are things far more important that money. National security, for example.
Wait, what? You’re telling it’s only the Mexican border you want fortified? You’re good with Ice Farmers infiltrating our country but not those dirty Beaners?
Is it because they don’t look like us? Is it because they speak a different language? Oh yeah, I forgot – it's because they’re taking our jobs. Good thing no Canadians are doing that. Right, Detroit? I'm sure no Canucks are coming over the bridge from Windsor to work in your factories.
Most likely the reason Mexicans are coming to the U.S. is because their country is such a shithole that they want to come to a better place? That’s probably it. Seems I recall that was the rationale of the Germans, Irish, and Italians who came here around the beginning of the twentieth century, and later, the Cubans and Haitians - the want for a better life.
“Ah, but those people came here legally! Mexicans didn’t!”
Well no shit. I don’t think anyone swam across the Atlantic. European immigrants had to come over on boats. Boats that just so happen delivered them to a processing center on Eliis Island or Key West. In contrast, Mexicans have to wade thru a waist-deep 100-foot wide river to get here.
My point in all this is, one, we are a nation of immigrants. The only “Native” Americans we forced onto reservations after we stole their land. And two, a Mexican wading across the Rio Grande is no less noble in his cause than an Italian taking a steamer to Ellis Island. Both left their homeland for a sight-unseen land and a tacit promise of a better life. Look at it this way – were those Italians all documented when they hit our shore? Uh, no. They crammed into the steerage compartments of whatever boat was sailing west - without papers. Which, by the way, is where the derogatory term "Wops" came from to refer to Italian immigrants. They were undocumented - With Out Papers. They were 'illegally' entering the country.
I know the next argument – “That was a different time! America needed that labor as part of the Industrial Revolution. Mexicans aren’t needed now.”
Tell that to the residents of Brownsville, El Paso and San Diego. And while we’re at it, I bet if you went to El Paso you would find fifth-generation Mexican-Americans whose great-great-great grandfathers, uh, swam across the Rio Grande. They are descendants of illegal immigrants.
So where am I going with all this? Couple of things. One, our history cannot be denied, and two, our country shouldn’t be denied to those who want to come here. While it would be nice to have an orderly, documented, ‘legal’ flow of immigrants to our country, geography simply does not make that possible. We got those two unsecured borders, ya know.
So for anyone who decries what is happening at our southern border while ignoring the northern one is either a racist or a hypocrite. You can’t ‘selectively’ secure only one border, which just happens to be the border with the country with people who don’t look like us or talk like us.
Unless you’re a xenophobe.
Which you are.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Holy Crap I’m Getting Old

I just finished a very interesting weekend. I drove two hours south of Orlando to meet with my 18-year old son and his mom to discuss college. College!

It wasn’t that long ago that I mastered how to change his diaper on a dresser top by holding him in place with my foot as I grabbed a Pampers with my right hand & a body wipe with the left.

And there’s the first slap of reality. It was that long ago. Seventeen years ago in fact. Somewhere in between I went from a wide-eyed new dad trying to understand the world of child-rearing to a mid-fifties aging geezer more concerned about how in the fuck I am going to retire in eleven years than which college my son is going to attend.

Yeah, I know, that last sentence seemed rather self-centered. More concerned about myself than my son? What kind of dad am I for thinking that way?

Well, a pretty good one, if you ask me. Elaboration – Nick is talented. He is at a magnet art school where 87 percent of the graduates receive scholarships. Nick is intelligent. He knows what he likes and what he doesn’t. He doesn’t need to be told what to do anymore…he just needs informed.

And that’s what my role as father has morphed to. I’m an informant.

And I’m good with that. That’s what I should be. I have to, and I do, respect that Nick is now an adult (legally at least), and we are now at a point where he has to make his own decisions. His choice of college is his decision. Of course, there are limitations; he’s not going to Harvard, and that’s where his mom and me enter the picture – a sobering dose of fiscal reality. But it is still his decision. And as he moves on from here, I look forward to a role of taking his phone calls, slipping him a twenty when he needs it, buying him a beer when he wants one, and imparting whatever the hell I have learned on him when he requests it…or even when he doesn’t.

His mom and I had long chats about Nick’s nature and whether he would be able to handle life at a college where he may not be near either one of us. She worries about that. I don’t. Because if that happens; if Nick goes to a school hundreds of miles from either of us, he will be handed daily doses of reality – his clothes won’t clean themselves. Nobody will cook his meals. He will have to do those himself.

And he should. Dude needs to learn – just like I did – that they ain’t shitting when they say to wash white separately. Wearing pink underwear that was white before washing teaches a better lesson than anything him mom or I could impart on him. In short, he has to grow up on his own. I will always love him. I will always be there for him.

But he has to do his own laundry.

On Sunday I met up with some old friends in West Palm Beach to watch the Cleveland Browns lose a football game. The President of the fan club just got married with a baby on the way. The vice president of the club showed up with his wife and two toddlers in tow. They are thirtysomethings with that wide-eyed look of ‘OMG I hope I know what I’m doing here’ on their faces.

That makes me smile. Been there, done that, got the Diaper Merit Badge.

Just don’t blink, guys. They grow up fast.

And the undeniable fact of life is, they grow up exactly when they need to.