Sheryl and Sons

Sheryl and Sons
I told you they were big.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Grown Man

Part I
     We are late for an important doctor's appointment. It should have only taken thirty minutes to get to downtown from our house, but the expressway was a parking lot. We've been in the car twice that long and we aren't there yet.
     Rob is home for winter break after his first semester of college.  When he first came home it seemed he had matured a lot, but a couple of weeks in his childhood bedroom has somehow rendered him helpless to make a sandwich or his bed.
     As we approach the hospital, I tell him to get ready to jump out of the car.  "Go to the reception desk," I say, "And tell them you are seeing Dr. P.  They'll tell you where to go.  I'll park the car."
     My husband is meeting us at the hospital, so Rob calls his cell phone to tell him we're almost there.  He says, "Dad, come down to the lobby and show me where to go."
     As he hangs up, I scold him.  "Rob, you can ask the receptionist where to go.  For goodness sake, you're a grown man!"
     He looks at me, startled, and says, "I am?"

Part II
     My sons are home from college.  Rob has graduated; Jesse has finished his first year.  Yesterday, we had excellent news: Rob was offered the job he most wanted.  He begins working next week.  He has already begun making plans to move out of the house into his own apartment.
     Today my two sons are out for a run.  They circle around the field at Highcrest Middle School, where both of them attended fifth and sixth grade.  (The field, for regular readers of this space, where I carried home the tuba. )The ten and eleven-year-olds are outside for gym class, and one boy yells to my sons, "Hey, do you guys go to New Trier?"
     Rob yells back, "No, I'm a grown man!"
     Another fifth grader hears the question and asks his friend, "Are those guys in high school?"  The first boy says, "No! Didn't you hear him?  He's a grown man!"

Monday, May 21, 2012

Happy Birthday Sweet Boy

     A few hours after Jesse was born, nineteen years ago this week, we found out that he had pulmonary stenosis and his heart valve was stuck closed.  When he was five days old, five doctors at Children's Memorial Hospital spent six hours fixing it.
     My husband and I had to wear gowns and masks in the Infant ICU to protect Jesse from our germs.  We put booties over our shoes, and shower caps on our heads.  A hospital volunteer took a set of Polaroid pictures to remind us.  Jesse was still connected to a breathing tube--not exactly the baby picture that makes the family album.  I remember telling the volunteer that I really didn't want a photo to remember.   She insisted, and my husband agreed, and I only learned later that she'd mentioned to him that when babies don't survive, parents are grateful for the only pictures they have of their child.
     Going to the hospital every day to visit your baby in intensive care is perhaps one of the most depleting experiences for the human spirit.  Those days were hands down the worst I've ever had, and yet, in hindsight I see that I was the luckiest woman in the ward.  My baby had something that had been fixed.
     We spent our days and nights, week after week, in the large open intensive care ward with the same families and came to know their stories, although we did not ask each other many questions.  We were each breaking from the weight of our own worries, and I think the nurses knew from experience that we could not have endured any more.  They lied to us about the babies who had vanished in the night, telling us they had been transferred to hospitals closer to the family's home.  Hospital volunteers came in every day to hold a child who, we learned later, had been abandoned.
     We kept vigil with our beautiful son every day, waiting for the breathing tube to come out, waiting to see if he could breath on this own, waiting to see if his other systems were working, waiting to see if he gained weight.  It seemed that it would go on like that forever, and then one day the doctor came by and told us we could go home.
     My mother and I were at the hospital together, and although thrilled, I was startled by the news.  I didn't have Jesse's brand new car seat with me, only Robby's old seat that was sticky with apple juice and Cheerios. I wanted to get the special outfit I'd bought to bring Jesse home from the hospital, and I wanted to find out what time my husband could meet us.  I hadn't given up the idea that somehow we'd have a perfect homecoming, with my husband and I driving up to the house with our new son wearing a powder blue sleeper with a bunny rabbit on the tummy.
     My mother is usually the one who likes everything just so. But nineteen year ago, she was just about the age that I am now.  She looked me in the eye and said, "Sheryl, wrap the baby in a blanket and let's get the hell out of here."
     We left the hospital that day with the good wishes of the parents we'd come to know.  And although we promised to come visit, and to call and get together, we never saw any of them again.
     I think about the other families every year at the end of May, and I wonder how many of them ever celebrated even one birthday.  I wonder if anyone else--even one other child---is celebrating nineteen.

Monday, May 14, 2012

For Your Eyes Only

Everyone has an indiscretion or two that they hope to take with them to the grave.  The problem with being a writer is that all of mine are written down.  If I were to meet with an untimely death, eventually my husband or my children would open the file drawers in my office and find dozens of notebooks and bright colored folders filled with my secrets.

Perhaps "secrets" is overstating it.  While I haven't written anything I think of as private, there is plenty in this room I'd classify as personal.  Nothing I've written would amaze my family and change their long held ideas of me, but there are a few things that might hurt their feelings.

If I could help it, I guess I'd prefer not to.  Let my husband remember me as the wife who loved every gift he bought me.  Let my boys remember me as the mother who never doubted them.  I have spent 25 years reinforcing a certain reliable persona; I'd prefer not to ruin it with a snarky quip or an insensitive dig that I might have only used for narrative effect.

I have a friend who is also a writer and I've asked her if she has the same worry.  She thinks that her family will not be even slightly interested in her writing and will toss it in the trash.  But I've asked her, if I should die unexpectedly, to come into my office and grab it all.  She has my blessing to go through it and return a sanitized version.

She is concerned that someone will look at it before she can make off with it, and suggests I label my writing drawer with a name to deter interest.  She suggested "Old Tax Information," but the idea that I would be keeping track of tax information, old or new, is so far fetched as to guarantee some interest.

I suggested "Charitable Files," thinking I could fool my family into thinking the files contained the fundraising work I've done for ORT.

"That might work," my friend says, "but what if your husband gives them to the ORT office?" That might turn out very badly.

Then I have a brilliant idea.  I know what my guys will NEVER touch.

In case I drop dead, my girlfriend has been instructed to come into my office and grab all the files out of the top drawer on the far right.  The drawer has a file card taped to the front with the words Feminine Hygiene.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Her Gift

     When my mother answers the phone, she is so joyful that it seems she has been waiting all her life for you to call.  Her “Hello,” is a song more than a greeting.  Just her “Hello” can cheer up your day.  My parents used to spend the winter in Florida before they moved there full time, and when they left Chicago I would spend the first few days mixing up their two phone numbers.  One day I dialed, and a woman answered with a pretty depressing, low energy “Hello?” and I immediately said, “You’re not my mother!”  She sighed, and then replied, “No, my children never call.”  Well, no wonder.
            My mother makes a point of showing everyone her very best self.  She is beautiful, and charming and kind.  I’ve seen her walk right up to a famous celebrity to chat, and after a few sentences, reach right up and adjust the woman’s blouse so her bra strap did not show. She treats everyone as if they were her childhood friends.
My mother is the woman who sees you trying on a dress in a department store and tells you how beautiful you look, and although you never have said this out loud, you wind up telling her that you think your neck looks too long.  But she says no, your neck is lovely, and she lends you her earrings so you can see that only someone with a long, lovely neck like yours could wear such large gold hoops.  And then she tells you that she just got the earrings on sale at Saks, and she still has the coupon for an extra ten percent off which she stuffs into your purse.  And so you buy the dress and walk over to Saks and your only regret is that you didn’t get her advice about shoes.
My mother has charisma.  Not the fake charisma of high school cheerleaders or car salesmen—but real charisma, the kind I imagine JFK had, or Marilyn Monroe.  She has the kind of charisma that not only gets her what she wants, but makes everyone adore her in the process. She is beloved by the restaurant hostesses she hugs and kisses upon her arrival, and who always find her a table even on the busiest Saturday nights.  She is the one you ask to return the mascara you bought three months ago but just used last week and discovered makes your eyes itch, because she can charm even the nastiest salesperson.  She is a revered fundraiser for her favorite charities, because no one can ever say no.
            At lunch with my friends, someone will often make a disparaging remark about her mother, and the rest of us will nod in agreement.  I once complained about my mother’s cooking and I was practically stoned.  “We love your mother!” they said like a Greek chorus.  And I learned that no one was interested in any of her faults.
            My girlfriends tell me how their mothers gossip about their sisters-in-laws, or how they criticize their children.  On the contrary, my mother thinks that everything we do is wonderful.  When I toilet trained my son and he finally made a “poop in the potty,” my mother paraded him around the house and cheered him like he was the King of England.  I had to remind her that is was in fact, poop, although I used a different word.
            I grew up surrounded by this kind of encouragement.  Of course as a teenager I knew that there were times my mother hated how I dressed, but she never said so.  If I asked her opinion she would say, “Oh, you look great, you look great!”  But I had decoded her secret language and knew that when she said it twice, she was trying to convince herself.  I would usually go upstairs to change.
            Being raised by such a mother makes a person shockingly well adjusted.  I have the self-esteem of someone who was loved early and often.  I do not spend much time worrying whether I am smart enough or pretty enough—I have always known that I am just right, thank you.  All I have to do is look in the mirror and see her face on my face, and I know.