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Category Archives: Mothers and Sons

Nowhere Boy: Film Review

movie posterNow I know why I’ve always disliked the song “Julia”—the only Beatles song, other than the misogynist “Run For Your Life”—that I’ve ever said that about. It’s so dirge-like and mournful, so different from their usual upbeat fare, including their ballads. Having just seen Nowhere Boy, the story of John Lennon and his two mothers (Mother Julia and Aunt Mimi), I know why the song is such a downer: it is in fact a dirge, a kind of epitaph for the woman who gave birth to John and cared for him until he was five, when Mimi took and raised him.  Nowhere Boy brilliantly takes a slice of John’s life, short in duration but deeply significant, to create a film that encapsulates almost everything we  need to know about Lennon to understand the man and his music.

–MILD SPOILERS AHEAD–

The movie opens with John as a 16-year-old madly in love with American rock ‘n’ roll, but with no musical knowledge or training.  Through a series of events he comes in contact with his mother, Julia, who he hasn’t seen since he was five. At that time his father tried to take him from her, planning to drag him off to New Zealand. Julia passively let him go, but her sister Mimi grabbed him from his father and, with her husband, raised him.

Mum is now remarried with two daughters, and thrilled to see her long-lost son—who lived right around the block from her! Julia’s a lively gal, and behaves more like John’s girlfriend than his mum in every gesture and act, but this is never commented upon in any way by anyone. Julia’s husband doesn’t want John hanging around so much; apparently Julia’s prone to breakdowns, and he thinks she can’t handle it. And Mimi–well! It’s the age-old story of the sensible devoted woman who fed, washed and looked after John all these years being shoved aside for the flighty beauty who abandoned him.

Unfortunately, the story went a little differently, according to Julia Lennon’s bio in Wikipedia, than this cinematic portrayal; actually, not a little but quite a lot: “After complaints to Liverpool’s Social Services by her eldest sister, Mimi Smith (née Stanley), she handed over the care of her son to her sister. ” Additionally,  Julia saw John almost every day, and by the time he was eleven (and not, as the film tells us, 17) he was frequently staying overnight at her house. Having read the story after seeing the movie, I can’t help but question its point-of-view entirely.

One place where history and art agree, however, is that Julia influenced John’s development as a musician. In the movie she hands John a mandolin and teaches him to strum (“think Bo Diddley, she says”) and she’s always singing and dancing with him. “Why can’t I be Elvis?” he moans, and Julia replies, “Because the world is waiting for you to be John Lennon.” That quote is just too beautiful to complain about, even if the screenwriters made it up.

AaronTaylorJohnsonWhile John and Julia are getting to know each other John forms a band, begins performing, and meets Paul McCartney.  Thomas SangsterPossibly the best thing about Nowhere Boy, at least to my pure delight, is the casting for John and Paul: respectively, Aaron Johnson and Thomas Brodie Sangster. Each of them slips into his persona so effectively that after awhile they begin to look like the originals—and it couldn’t have been easy, psychologically, to play a pair of beloved icons for an audience mostly familiar with them. Their relationship is portrayed from the start as a rivalry, but I don’t know if the filmmakers were being faithful to reality or merely to legend.

The end of the movie is a matter of historical record, but if you don’t know it and don’t want to, stop reading. I didn’t know it, and was stunned when Julia got hit by a car and died.  When the movie was over, the song “Julia” kept slogging relentlessly around in my head on its endless loop of grief, and I had to play it—only to find that, knowing what I do now, I no longer hate it at all.Paul

JohnLennon-NYC

Great Guilt Trip With Babs

GuiltTrip

It’s not that there’s anything astounding or remarkable about Guilt Trip, the new comedy with Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen, mother and son on a road trip through hell. What’s so good about this movie is how utterly REAL Barbra is in the role of Joyce Brewster, a 60-something widowed mother. Most women of our generation will recognize themselves and their friends in the character–but when I say Streisand is real in Guilt Trip, I’m referring to more than characterization. Her acting is real in Guilt Trip; it’s possible she’s never done so well in any previous film. Anne Fletcher, who directed Guilt Trip, seems to have known exactly what to do with her.

I’m assuming direction makes the difference: in so many of Barbra’s movies–from Funny Girl to Prince of Tides right on up through Meet the Fockers–she has a tendency to overact, but in Guilt Trip I didn’t see a single instance of her usual emoting. Every smile, tear, conversation, and subtle reactions are conveyed in a way that is seamlessly real, and if I’m overusing that word, it’s because nothing else can better describe Streisand’s performance and persona here. Maybe it’s just, as Mick LaSalle says in The SF Chronicle, “Maturity has released something in Streisand, who, having gone beyond trying to sell herself as a babe (as in “The Mirror Has Two Faces”), has a new warmth.”

Seth Rogen is Streisand’s son, Andy Brewster, an inventor hawking his organic cleaning fluid on their road trip. Andy’s humorless presentations doom his product before it can get off the ground. He rejects Mom’s advice to zip up his performance, and who can blame him when it’s thrown at him amid  600 other pieces of advice to drink more water, visit his high school sweetheart, see a shrink, yada yada yada. Sounds like a stereotypical Jewish mother, but it doesn’t come off clichéd. I saw the picture with my son, and we both related to the mother-son dynamics. Besides, Mom is vindicated in the end, when Andy finally takes her advice and it pays off. In between rejection and triumph, of course, they have to travel a long long road. It’s great fun for the audience if not the riders.

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(Above: Barbra as Joyce Brewster eats a humongous steak dinner in an hour, thereby getting it free.)

As an old Barbra Streisand fanatic who’s been watching her since 1963, hasseen every one of her movies, most of them multiple times, owns most of her recorded work and had a personal Streisand adventure of sorts (see my post on meeting her in a New York HoJo), I have the right and the credentials to criticize or praise her (though so does everyone else, come to think of it!). I say this because when I checked out  Rotten Tomatoes to see what film critics and ordinary viewers are saying about the movie, I was disappointed–even kind of hurt, since so many of them dismiss GT as crappy drivel for little old ladies. You know, us old fuddy duds who don’t know a thing about le cinema but adore false sentiment. Oh, boo hoo and a big boo to you too! I laughed my way through most of Guilt Trip, was emotionally moved, and saw a two-hour sliver of truth and beauty. I don’t expect every movie to transform my life. A lot of them don’t even transform my two hours of watching! This one had side-splitting laughs and the whole thing was fun. Which is enough for any piece of entertainment to deliver.

 

For John Lennon at 70, Wherever He May Be

Lennon signing Chapman's Double Fantasy album

Image via Wikipedia

A year or two after John Lennon was killed I started writing a novel about a group of seven interconnected people — three sets of siblings and the mother of the youngest two. The book opens with each one’s reactions to John’s murder — instant emotional characterization I was thinking at the time (cheap shot!). I never finished the book, though I return to it from time to time. As a tribute to John on his 70th birthday, here’s the first chapter.


All The Lonely People

Chapter One

Loretta sat in front of the TV, immobilized.  Her churning gut cried out for something stronger than the bourbon she’d been drinking: she wanted to poke needles of sweet soothing syrup into her veins.  From time to time she wiped the tears from beneath her eyes.

Naturally, every station had pre-empted its regular schedule of late-night talk shows.  Talking heads were outdoing each other with emotion and verbiage: it was the hottest story since the Iranian hostages.

Over and over flashed Yoko’s big-boned face, the huge sunglasses hiding any emotion; when she wasn’t on screen, John’s eyes peered out over the famous Granny glasses.  It was a face Loretta knew as well as those in her own family. She picked up the phone to call Pasha, started dialing, imagined Pasha in a deep sleep, and her possible response: “You woke me at two a.m. for that?” she might holler.  Or might not.  Loretta didn’t know Pasha well enough to have a sense of how she’d react–but she was sufficiently cowed by Pasha’s unpredictable rages to not take the chance.

Still.  There must have been a reason she’d thought of Pasha, even before thinking of her brother Jack, who was of course the person she called.

His number was busy.  Probably talking to every musician he’d jammed with in college.  Loretta felt a stab of envy: she had no college friends to call, she’d had no college.  Had no friends from the 60s, the way everyone else seemed to.  Had no 60s heritage, unless you counted shooting up in the swamps of Florida with a bunch of derelicts, or the halfway houses where they’d woken her in the middle of the night to scrub floors.  Nothing in Loretta’s past connected her to the present — certainly not to Pasha with her faded hippie wardrobe, sprawling house bursting with plants and paintings, and her two raised-on-politics children.  No, nothing connected Loretta to her past, except for that face flashing on the TV screen.  That, and the music.


Jack was startled when the phone rang: it was almost two. He was sitting by the window staring blankly at a snow-covered meadow, a cigarette in one hand, the other lying across the sound hole of his guitar.

It must be Loretta. Shit. He hoped she wasn’t in some bar, drunk and in trouble again. He didn’t relish the thought of putting on his boots and jacket and rescuing her, making amends with the bartender or owner–who were, for all practical purposes, his employers, as he occasionally performed in their clubs.

On the fifth ring it occurred to him that it might be Pasha. It had been weeks since he’d seen her, longer than she normally stayed away after one of their fights.

Nah.  Pasha never stayed up this late. Gotta rest up so that come morning she could buzz around her drawing table, whip out a cartoon or two before breakfast. He looked down at his idle fingers resting on his idle guitar and wondered for the zillionth time what made Pasha run.

On the ninth ring Jack faced the fact that the caller wasn’t going to quit. Slowly he rose and dragged himself across the room, tripping over a pile of sheet music on the way.

“Hullo?”

“Jack? Is that you?”

“Yeah?” The voice was vaguely familiar.

“It’s me, buddy,Ace.”

“Ace Balodino?” What had it been–12, no, 14, years?

“Yeah, it’s me. Say, Jack, haven’t you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“Oh boy. I hate to be the one to tell you, of all people. Turn on your television.”

Jack leaned forward and hit the power switch. Some old footage of John Lennon and Yoko Ono leaving a courthouse appeared.

“What’s goin’ on?” Jack asked, half to the TV, half to the phone.

“Some nut shot him,” Ace said. “He’s dead.”

“Oh Jesus.” Jack felt his body slowly sag. His belly pooched out over his belt; his shoulders slumped; his jaw dropped; the lines in his 36-year-old face turned down. This was his customary response to emotional pain; it had aged him prematurely.

“You still there? Jack? You okay?”

“Yeah. I’m okay.” Jack’s naturally somber voice became even more so. He shook a Camel out of the pack and lit it, his eyes on the TV, his ear tuned to his old college buddy.

“I can’t believe it,” said Ace. “Remember when they were our idols?”

“Yep.”

“D’you remember the night we played only Beatles songs?”

“Yep.”

“And Marty at the club asked us to come back the next night to do it again?”

“And we told him it was a one-shot deal, a spontaneous artistic decision that could never be repeated. God, were we that pretentious?” Ace laughed.

The TV commentator reported that Lennon’s assassin was someone named Mark David Chapman. John had been giving him an autograph.

“So who’s this Chapman guy?”

“A fan, they say.”

“Right. Ten years from now they’ll tell us it was the fucking CIA.”

“Yeah,” Ace said with little enthusiasm for Jack’s conspiracy theories. “Remember that kid who used to dress up like Ringo, what was his name, it started with a D I think?”

“Doug. Doug the Bug he called himself. Tried to join the band, even though he couldn’t play an instrument. Wanted us to call ourselves Raid, and kill Beatles.” Jack shuddered at what had once been a joke.

He lit another cigarette, poured some vodka into a glass, flipped the TV dial to another channel: the same news. All the while he and Ace kept talking, laughing, resurrecting memories. The pain of the images on the screen was in contradiction to the nostalgia of their conversation, yet the mix of emotions created an intensity Jack rarely experienced anymore; he missed it. That razor edge of feeling, whether of pain, sorrow, or joy, had dulled these last few years; as he entered middle age, nothing seemed as important as it used to, nothing was crucial.  Most of his days were flat, routine. Except for periodic rescues of Loretta, his relationships were uneventful. Pasha’s mood swings made for erratic dips and climbs–most likely that’s what attracted him to her. Still, she could walk out of his life tomorrow and he would barely notice her absence.

“Man,” Ace was saying, “I remember how swift you used to be on those strings. Especially if we dropped some Black Beauties.”

Jack laughed, but it curdled in his throat, came out almost a sob. If it hadn’t been for the Beatles, for John Lennon, he, like most of his friends, would never have known that an ordinary kid could pick up a guitar. This death pierced him to the core; at the same time, he felt weirdly, intensely, alive.

Remember, an inner voice urged. Don’t forget this night. Hold onto these feelings.

“Shit,” Pasha yelled as her fist collided with the thin wall next to her bed.  Shocked, she stared at her hand: it had reflexively sprung out in response to her son Jesse’s early morning shout. “They shot John Lennon!”

She heard Ellie and Joe downstairs, turning on the TV, murmuring to each other with that sibling intimacy that Pasha envied.  She flipped the switch on her radio.  Hearing the mournful overtones in her favorite DJ’s velvet voice, she buried her head in the pillows.

“ I won’t get up.” she muttered. “  I refuse to deal with this.”

She felt a hand feebly stroking her leg through the blanket.  She peeked out from beneath the pillow to see l5-year-old Jesse gazing down at her, his dark brown eyes clouded with concern.  Behind him stood his sister Sara, looking as if she couldn’t decide whether to suck her thumb or admonish her mother for punching the wall.

Pasha pulled the blanket over her head and groaned, trying unsuccessfully to expel the guilt that washed over her when she realized that, once again, her children were being called upon to comfort her, rather than the other way around.

Ellie’s clock radio went off at precisely seven a.m., just as it did every weekday morning. She kept meaning to change the setting to 7:05 so that she’d be awakened by music rather than the news, but somehow she never got around to it.

The truth was, letting go of a lifelong obsession with world events was proving to be a losing battle, despite her yoga teacher’s advice to detach and surround herself with peaceful vibrations. He’d be positively aghast if he knew that Ellie practiced shoulder stands and cobras to the backdrop of All Things Considered.

So it was not unusual for her sleep to be broken by the sound of tragedy. Yesterday it had been 400 dead in some natural disaster, the day before it was a child buried in a coal mine. War. Famine. Terrorists. To all these Ellie would roll over and groan, sometimes falling back to sleep. But when the newscaster announced that John Lennon had been murdered, Ellie jolted upright, pulled on her bathrobe, and ran downstairs to turn on the television. She stared, disbelieving, at a crowd of people gathered in front of the Dakota. Some were weeping.

She heard her brother’s footsteps on the stairs.

“Did you hear this?” she asked when he came into the room.

“What now?” Joe squinted at the TV, which had cut to a mug shot of the alleged assassin.

“Oh Jeez,” he said, running a hand over his blonde hair, still messy from sleep. “Who got killed this time?”

“John Lennon.” Ellie stifled a sob.

“John Lennon? Boy, that’s weird. What’d he ever do to anyone?”

Suddenly they heard Jesse yelling upstairs, then Pasha, then a loud bang that shook the ceiling. Ellie bit her lip. Joe chuckled. “I guess the lady of the house just got the news.”

“For godsakes, Joe! It isn’t funny!” Ellie stormed out of the room, the sound of Joe’s “Well, excuuuuuuse me!” trailing after her.

She sat on the edge of her bed, staring at nothing.  She wished she was alone in the three-story house so she could focus on herself, impossible for her when other people were around. Having grown up as the eldest child in a motherless household with four younger brothers, she’d developed the habit of anticipating demands on her time and energy, and knew how to make herself scarce. Still, every sound seemed a deliberate attempt to distract her from her own thoughts and feelings. That was the trouble with this damn collective, or communal living–she hardly ever got to be alone.  Here it was, l980, she was 38 years old, living as if it were l968 and she in her 20s.

Before she’d even had half a second to absorb the news of John Lennon’s death, she’d been assaulted by Jesse screaming and Pasha banging on the walls. Joe, of course, was useless: all her life he’d made her feel like a basket case for being “too emotional.”  She almost preferred Pasha’s histrionics–at least they generated an atmosphere of permissiveness.

What did she feel about John Lennon’s death — he whose music had helped sweep her out of the confines of her New England family and into the teeming streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side?  She turned her attention to her breath and heartbeat, as she’d been taught in her yoga class.  Still, she was bombarded with the sounds of other people, other lives. If she heard anything inside herself at all it was a thundering roar of rage, directed at them.

Joe stood in front of the TV set, stunned–not by the news, but by Ellie’s outburst. What had he done wrong? They always joked about Pasha’s excessive displays of emotion. What made today any different?

Oh hell, Ellie’d baffled him all his life, even more so lately. Ever since they’d become roommates, it seemed like she was always mad at him. Maypbe it was Pasha’s influence. He shrugged and turned his attention to the television just as Jesse and Sara came down the stairs.

“Did you hear?” Jesse asked. His face was flushed with excitement.

“Yup.”

Sara didn’t say a word, just went into the kitchen and made herself a bowl of cereal.

“Good morning, Sara,” Joe said, sauntering into the kitchen.

“Hi,” she replied, not looking at him. Her long brown hair partially curtained her face, but he could see that her lips were turned downward, and almost trembling.

“Isn’t it something?” he asked. “I mean, John Lennon.”

She looked at him, pinning him to the spot with her nutmeg eyes; they glistened with unshed tears. At 13 she was already a stunning girl, with her dark olive skin and faint air of tragedy.  “Yeah, well,” she said, her voice pitched high with false apathy, “the world sucks.” She clamped her lips together. Everything about her, from her staring eyes to her half clenched fists, challenged him to respond. It was as if the world sucks was the opening salvo for a debate. He frequently felt that Sara looked to him for guidance, something that was sorely missing from her life.

He pondered his reply. Should he say, no, this is just a fluke, in which case she’d laugh and call him a dork? Should he agree with her, and further contaminate youthful innocence? If he told her the truth–that he’d seen far worse assassinations in his lifetime–he might be seriously screwing with her head. He no longer felt like Joe Forster, he felt like a symbol:  Grown-Up personified, standing in for the rest of his generation, expected to say the precise words that would move the human species in a positive direction. Christ, what a responsibility! Living with these kids had made Joe simultaneously want and not want children of his own.

“Yeah,” he finally sighed. “Things like this sure do make it seem that way.”

Sara’s lips curved upward, smirking with contempt. Joe shriveled inwardly.

Jesse came into the room, excitedly delivering an updated bulletin: Chapman called himself “The Catcher in the Rye,” he’d been reading Salinger’s book just before shooting John. “I read that book last year!” Jesse exclaimed. It was, Joe knew, one of the few novels the kid had ever read, much less enjoyed.  Suddenly Jesse lowered his voice. “I’m worried about Mom,” he confided.

“Oh, hey, she’ll be okay,” said Joe.

“I don’t know. She’s acting the way she did when her father died. She says she’s not getting out of bed.

“Tuh!” Sara spat. “I guess we’ll hafta do all the shopping and cooking again.” She got up and took her bowl to the sink, washed it, dried it and put it away. She was the only one in the household who consistently cleaned up after herself.

There was a scratching on the front door. Joe opened it and his fat tortoise shell cat, Chichi, slunk in. Joe lifted the animal onto his head, letting  the cat’s body hang draped around his neck and shoulders.  Holding the paws securely around his face, Joe jogged around the kitchen chanting “Catskin cap, catskin cap.” Sara did her best not to laugh, but finally gave in, calling him a dork. Jesse began wandering around the hall and living room.

“Look, Jess, it’s a catskin cap,” Joe called, jogging after him.

“Yeah,” Jesse said with a small smile. He was roaming around the room in that confused way of his, like an old man who’d forgotten what he’d been looking for. Was he having one of his brief petit mal seizures? About to go into a grand mal? Or just worried about his mother?

Suddenly it was all too much for Joe: Lennon’s death, Sara’s confusion, Jesse’s epilepsy, Ellie’s anger, Pasha’s breakdowns. He let Chichi jump to the floor and turned his thoughts to the much simpler area of work: he had a grant to get out today, and a meeting with the Town Supervisor. He’d better get going.

“See ya later, pal,” he said as he went upstairs to shower. Jesse didn’t answer.

The Beauty of Love/Book Review

The Beauty of Love: A Memoir of Miracles, Hope, and Healing
By Laura Posada and Jorge Posada

I’ve heard it said that the “walking wounded” recognize each other. Long before I knew that Yankee catcher Jorge Posada had a child with craniosynostosis, a complicated, little-known neurological disorder, he was my favorite ball player. Not as gorgeous as Captain Jeter, not as awesome as Sandman Rivera, Posada drew my attention like a magnet. I thought it was because he was a catcher, a position I respect and admire above all the rest. But there was also something indefinable about Jorge that touched me: I felt we were in some way simpatico. Now I know what it was. As parents of children with neurological disorders, we’ve been through the same war, and lived to tell the tale.

In The Beauty of Love: A Memoir of Miracles, Hope, and Healing, Posada and wife Laura tell the gut-wrenching story of their son’s first years of life. Born with craniosynostosis, he had visible deformations of the skull, which, if untreated, can cause severe damage such as seizures, visual impairment, misalignment of the spine, and developmental delays. Jorge Luis was operated on at nine months old, and again at two, and at three, racking up eight complicated, 12-hour surgeries in his first six years of life.

As many readers of this blog know, my son Daryl, now 45, was born with a neurological condition called hydrocephalus, which is complicated to explain and requires surgery — sometimes multiple surgeries. I thought hydro topped the list of terrible neurological conditions that could befall a newborn, but I’ve been humbled: the vicissitudes of hydro almost pale in comparison to craniosynostosis, which I won’t even attempt to explain, not to mention its treatment — restructuring the skull by means of a craniotomy. Craniotomy: a surgical opening of the skull, grafting new bones where necessary, re-shaping and re-forming…the idea of this being performed on an infant is almost beyond imagining.

“He seemed like an old soul who instinctively knew
that life came with pain…”

But if Jorge Luis’s operations were more complicated than Daryl’s, the Posadas and I shared almost identical feelings and experiences at the various stages of our children’s early lives. In alternating chapters, the Posadas write with complete honesty of their shock and grief, of feeling sorry for themselves (the Why me? stage) and their evolution to become leaders helping others cope with craniosynostosis. Realizing that Jorge’s baseball celebrity would draw needed attention that this disease had never gotten, they set up a foundation to raise money for research, and to educate, support, and advocate for parents and their children. In their own words, they evolved “from victims to warriors.”

“What I remember from that time are scenes from all the different medical procedures Jorge Luis had to endure, seeing my little son all rigged up, hooked up to a million tubes.”

Before they could reach that stage, though, they had to first travel the rough road of denial, isolation, fear, shame, and guilt that comes with this territory. For a long time they didn’t tell people about their son’s condition, lest pictures of his misshapen head end up splashed all over the New York tabloids. Laura, like every mother of a child with a disability, wondered what she might have done to cause it. Both parents suffered the agony of seeing their baby in pain, of handing him over to medical professionals in sterile rooms with cold metal instruments, knowing these strangers were about to split their baby’s skull wide open.  My son’s surgical procedures lasted five hours in the early years; less than an hour later on. I cannot imagine how the Posadas endured 12-hour marathons; surely those hours were filled with thoughts and feelings similar to what I remember  – one of the top ten being the very real possibility of my baby dying on the operating table. Laura writes that she could not, before Jorge Jr.’s first operation, fathom how an infant was going to survive the procedure as it was described by the surgeon.

“The possibility of losing him was always in the room.”

 

One thing The Posadas had going for them was that each has the inner resources that come from having been raised by large, loving, supportive families. They describe almost idyllic childhoods in Puerto Rico; each had the kind of family that every one of us ought to have but few of us do. Laura makes comparisons between then and now, of herself pre-craniosynostosis as a self-involved girl whose chief concerns were her own physical fitness and worldly achievements. As is the case for so many parents of children with disabilities, her son has shown her, she says, a whole other way of being.

Although my childhood was very different from theirs, disability is the great equalizer: the Posadas and I share the same parental reactions to our situation, beginning with the first: denial. Jorge Luis’s head looked the way it did “from the forceps”  used during childbirth. And Daryl would simply “have an operation and be fine.” Once you move through the denial stage, you can’t turn back, even when you wish you could.

“I waged my internal emotional battle in total solitude…I would spend the day with a rehearsed smile pretending that everything was fine.”

Babies who cried all night, who would not be comforted, even when we stayed up all night rocking and walking, thinking they were in pain – and maybe they were – feeling inadequate as parents. Protecting our babies from the eyes of others, friends and strangers alike, not wanting them to pass judgment on him. Seeing other parents with babies, feeling robbed of a joyful experience. Hardly talking about our son’s condition, not even to each other. Numbed by medical terminology, going through the motions of life, doing what you have to do, hoping for the best. For the first six years of Daryl’s life that’s how I lived. As Laura says, nothing in life prepares you for this “…category 5 hurricane of questions, shock and guilt—and we did not have even one umbrella between the two of us.” And then the second child: convinced she too must have some anomaly, unable to fully believe she was healthy and “normal.”

The book’s foreword was written by Joe Torre, who uses the metaphor of Jorge as a switch-hitter to describe his ability to adapt to whatever gets thrown his way. Derek Jeter, Tino Martinez, and other Yankees contributed commentary throughout, as did Jorge’s and Laura’s relatives, writing their own observations of the Posadas during difficult times. When a group of Yankees visit the hospital after one of Jorge Jr.’s surgeries, someone describes Jorge Sr. as seemingly “stunned.” He probably was. And yet, Posada continued to play baseball, having one of his best seasons the year of Jorge Jr.’s birth, contributing to a Yankee World Series championship.

As the fans shout when Posada comes up to bat, Hip hip Jorge! And hip hip Laura! as well. These are two genuine, strong, wonderful, and caring human beings, weathering one of life’s most difficult experiences. I’m grateful they told their story, and hope the rest of Jorge Jr.’s life, and theirs, gets easier as it goes along.

My own book, Perfectly Normal: A Mother’s Memoir, is available at Amazon and at iUniverse.com.

Still Mommy Revisited

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Nearly a year ago I wrote a three-part blog, Still Mommy After All these Years, an as-it-happens report about one of my son’s health crises. Recently I revised this piece, combining all three parts into one. This is the new version.

“Oh, Mommmmmm-y!”

My hand clutches, hard, on the telephone receiver: I know immediately that Daryl’s just had a seizure—or seizureS. Yet I enact the needless charade of asking what’s wrong/were you sleeping/did you have a seizure? I know his answers before he gives them: No/ I was just sleeping/ you woke me up/ I don’t feel good, followed by another “Oh, Mommy!” Daryl is 42 years old; he doesn’t normally address me this way. It’s a signal.

I hang up the phone, grab my jacket and keys, and head for his apartment, a five-minute walk away—I have no car anymore—my mind spinning: see, you can’t move away from him/good thing you got his keys/are we going to have to go to the hospital/where and how did it happen? And: is it more than seizures/is it the shunt/ will he need a revision?

In some ways Daryl’s been lucky: he’s never had a seizure in the shower, my biggest fear: I’ve heard about people who died that way. He’s never fallen from a high place or onto anything potentially harmful. I try to think of more ways he’s been lucky, but come up empty.

He and his apartment look like an earthquake hit: on the carpet just inside the entryway lies a big dark circle of wet mud; where’d that come from? Mud-spattered blankets and pillows are heaped in a pile next to the bed. Some of his baseball tchachkas have fallen off the bookshelves. He staggers from the couch holding his hand to his head: his face and his clothes are muddy, his jeans wet with pee, his hair flattened on one side, his eyes unfocussed. I question him but he remembers nothing. After I tell him it’s obvious he had a seizure he agrees, but he doesn’t remember where or when or how many. He repeatedly apologizes to me; I repeatedly tell him it’s not his fault.

I give Daryl one of the Atavans the doctor prescribed for emergencies and walk around the apartment, investigating. The mud is baffling: it means at least one seizure happened outside—but the circle is so wide and dense, I can’t figure out how so much mud would get into the house. It looks like a recently watered plant fell over—but Daryl has no plants. It’s 10:00 on Sunday morning: did he go out earlier today, or last night? He’s still wearing the clothes I saw on him yesterday afternoon. I know his habits: it doesn’t look like he made coffee or showered this morning, and by now he would have. Did he perhaps have a seizure outside, last night, then stagger home and have more seizures on the floor? That’s what the clues add up to.

I concentrate on these details to keep my mind from the scariest question: if he’s been seizing intermittently all night, did he suffer more brain damage? For 33 years, since his first seizure at age 8, doctors have been telling me they’re ultimately harmless. Right. I think now, as I always do at these times, of Christine and her son Billy, now confined to bed, fed intravenously, communicating in angry grunts and joyful yells that Christine claims to understand. I think of Christine and a rush of strength surges through me. My self-pity drifts away.

I go and sit with Daryl, rubbing his head and shoulders, while he repeatedly tells me everything hurts and he doesn’t feel good, and asks the same questions over and over: what day is this/what time/when did you get here? Soon he’s out cold from the Atavan. I go out and buy a pack of cigarettes for me and orange juice for him, then call my daughter in L.A. I don’t want to go to the ER but I know we probably should, so I let her convince me we have to.

While the paramedics are strapping Daryl onto a gurney and putting in an IV, I run around grabbing things he’s bound to need: shoes, a clean pair of jeans, insurance card, wallet…what else? Oh, yes, his meds: they always want to see what he’s taking. I go into the bathroom. There, on its customary shelf, is the bottle of Depakote. Empty. Nothing but air inside.

Déjà vu: during Daryl’s adolescence my biggest problem as a parent was my kid NOT taking drugs. Now he’s pulled this stunt as an adult; rebellion can’t be used as an excuse; he should know better. Flash of rage…but it’s a barely sustainable rage. I know why he doesn’t want to take these toxins. I see him every day, sluggish more often than not, falling asleep at all hours. Motherguilt kicks in: he has to take pills because he has seizures/he has seizures because he has scar tissue on his brain/he has scar tissue because he had surgery/he had surgery because he has hydrocephalus/he was born with hydrocephalus/I gave birth to him/I am guilty. That’s a lot more linear and coherent than my actual thought process, which is circular, as dense and baffling as the mud on his carpet.

In the hospital Daryl is transferred from the gurney to a bed, which is then pushed up against a wall. I’m told they’re keeping him in the hall so they can watch in case he has more seizures. We’ve been through this enough for me to know it’s a lie, that there’s no room anywhere else in the ER. Daryl conks out for the duration.

A nurse stops by and asks me the same questions the paradmedics asked and presumably wrote down on a chart, and I sign permission to treat him. This strikes me as ironic, since these days with all the medical “privacy policies” I can’t get medical information about Daryl without his consent, which has at times been problematic. Soon another medical person comes by and repeats the same questions, diligently writing down my answers. I go to the cafeteria and get iced tea, then come back, pull a chair up next to the bed and take the New Yorker out of my purse. Like Emma Goldman, who never went anywhere without a book in case she landed in jail, I always carry reading material in case I get stuck in an ER.

Almost two hours pass before a doctor comes by and asks me the same questions that were presumably written down three times already. She says they’re checking his blood level (of Depakote), and she ordered a CT Scan. This is all routine, as is her sudden departure, promising to return in a few minutes. I go back to my magazine.

Another hour passes. I’m getting antsy. I’m tired of sitting in the hall, surrounded by the hullabaloo of the ER, with Daryl still asleep. They haven’t given him any Depakote, and I wonder about his blood level. If they don’t get cracking soon, he’ll be here overnight—it’s after 3:00 now. I’d be glad if they kept him overnight, so he could do most of his recovering under medical supervision. I stand up: time to start prodding the medical staff.

At the nurse’s station the doctor shows me the results of the blood level test: the amount of Depakote in Daryl’s system is so low as to be negligible. This means he stopped taking it days ago. Another flash of anger: good! I am justified if I go home, if I leave him to fend for himself. I ask the doctor if he’ll be here overnight, and she says not unless something’s seriously wrong; but she assures me that I can go home, that she’ll call me with news after the CT Scan.

I’m mentally juggling logistics: I’ll have to pay for a cab when I take Daryl home, so if I leave now I’ll have to walk, then walk back again later to get him. He could as easily go home in a cab without me, I think. Thus begins the internal war: to go or not to go, to return or not return.

This war has been raging for 42 years: though the particulars change, the underlying gestalt does not: how much to take care of him versus how much independence to allow. How much can he, should he, deal with his situation on his own? How much help does he actually need? How much do I want to give him, and how much must I? Do I need to take care of myself right now? What do I owe him? What’s the “right” thing to do? Whatever my decision, no matter what the issue, it turns out to be wrong. Most of the time my decision is selfish–that is, I take care of myself first—or so my mind has tricked me into believing: in reality, when the result of my decision escalates the crisis for Daryl, and therefore for me, it turns out I’ve only screwed myself. I’ve learned this lesson a million times, and yet once again I make the wrong decision. I leave money for a cab in Daryl’s shoe, tell the doctor it’s there, give her my phone number, and walk home.

I might as well have stayed at the hospital, because at home I’m so anxious I can’t do anything. I take two ibuprofen for my aching back and turn on the ball game, but I keep falling asleep: I’m feeling heavy, as if I’m swimming underwater; soon I figure out that I erroneously took Tylenol PM instead of ibuprofen. It doesn’t bode well for walking back to the hospital tonight.

By 7:00 the doctor still hasn’t called, which isn’t unusual. I call the ER and, miraculously, she’s available. She says the CT scan doesn’t show any problems with the shunt, that Daryl’s awake and the nurses are walking him around, and soon he’ll be able to go home. She’s giving him a depakote prescription, but he’s got enough in his system now to hold him till tomorrow. I ask if she thinks he can go home in a cab alone, and she says of course. I tell her to make sure the driver knows exactly where to go. She is completely reassuring.

An hour later Daryl calls me. He sounds like he’s almost reached his normal level of confusion, an improvement since this morning. He’s found the money in his shoe, and says he’s fine to go home in a cab.

I’m not too sure of the sequence or timing of the events that follow, but they go something like this: I wait half an hour, then call Daryl’s home phone and get his answering machine. After another half hour I call the ER to find out when he left, and they say he’s just getting into a cab as we speak. I wait ten minutes, then call his number again; again I get the machine. Time passes. I call his number. I call the ER. The nurse, adopting her bureaucratic voice, tells me that since they’ve discharged Daryl they have no further responsibility for him, and I must stop calling them. I ask her to let me speak to the security guard, who says he sent Daryl outside to wait for the cab a long time ago. He gives me the cab company’s number. I call them. After checking with his driver, the dispatcher tells me Daryl was never picked up, that when the cab arrived “nobody was out there.” I call the ER and literally beg the nurse to go outside and see if he’s there; again she says they are no longer responsible for him.

Beside myself, I call 911. All this time I’m imagining possible scenarios, beating myself up for not going to the hospital to accompany him home. I am losing the internal war. A new element has been added to my fears: I think of Amber Alerts and milk container pictures, and experience a sudden kinship with all the parents crying on the local news.

A cop who looks about fourteen arrives at my apartment: surely he joined the force yesterday. Within two minutes he proves me correct: he doesn’t know how to fill out the forms, can’t decide where to sit, and asks me the same questions twice, without writing down my answers. Fortunately, his more experienced partner arrives to take over. Rookie, visibly relieved, announces he’s going out to scout the area around Daryl’s apartment building. Veteran cop takes the missing persons form from Rookie, leans on the kitchen counter, asks me questions, and fills it out. I give him a picture of Daryl. He asks if he’s retarded, if he’s bipolar, if he’s violent. He tells me he’s issuing an All Points Bulletin.

It suddenly occurs to me that Daryl might have slept through the ringing telephone when I called, that he might actually be safe in his bed, so when the cop leaves, I walk to his house and let myself in, my heart racing. He’s not there. I return home; as I’m unlocking my door the phone rings, and I race inside to pick up. It’s the hospital. Daryl has been brought back by ambulance, after being picked up by a cop just a few blocks from his apartment. The cop issued a “51/50”, a medical directive under which a person must be held for 24 hours. The hospital immediately lifted the directive: they’re going to send Daryl home, this time by ambulance.

It is now some time between midnight and two a.m. I lay down and doze. Around four a.m. the hospital wakes me up to tell me that since Daryl is unable to say which hospital he’s in and what day of the week it is, the ambulance won’t leave him at his empty apartment. “That’s ironic,” I say, unable to stop myself, “since a few hours ago you threw him out.” She doesn’t get the irony, but continues explaining why Daryl can’t go to his apartment. Why, I ask, can’t they keep him another two hours, until it’s light outside, and I’ll come pick him up. She says there’s no reason for him to stay in the hospital “overnight” and offers to take him to “George Roberts” or somesuch place that sounds suspiciously like an insane asylum. “Drive him to my house!” I yell, exasperated. I would’ve suggested this hours ago if I’d understood what was going on. She agrees with this plan, and apologizes for the “inconvenience.”

I am not “inconvenienced.” I want to tell her this, but it’s difficult to determine, much less explain, what exactly I am. I’m glad he’s coming home, glad this will be over soon, angry and baffled by bureaucratic procedures, emotionally drained, and exhausted. I make a pot of coffee, and soon hear the ambulance outside; I put on my robe and go down. Two paramedics are kidding around with Daryl, and he’s kidding back, as they help him up the front steps. I take him upstairs, set him up in the big armchair with a blanket, and he falls asleep. I drink coffee and watch Democracy Now.

Later I make us French toast and walk Daryl home. While he sleeps I do his laundry and call the drug store for his meds. Of course, he came home without the prescription promised by the ER doc. His regular neurologist hasn’t yet called in to refill the bottle I dropped off at the drug store yesterday. Fortunately, the pharmacist knows Daryl and will advance enough Depakote for a few days. I call the neuro’s office, at UCSF, and attempt to get the refill taken care of, but the buraucracy there is ten times the size of the one over here, and though someone takes down the information, I have little faith. (As of Thursday the scrip hadn’t been refilled; Daryl will be out of meds tomorrow.)

I tackle the circle of mud on Daryl’s carpet, which is so dense it’s nowhere near dry. I got instructions for removing mud from carpets from ehow.com, but these probably apply to small stains, not a deep well. Gamely I squirt dish soap over it and blot it up with a clean white cloth, then do the same with white vinegar, then water. I repeat the process several times. Daryl wakes up and, seeing me on my knees feebly battling the mud, becomes hysterical. Encouraged by his laughter, I exaggerate the process. Soon I’m on a roll. I tell him about the night’s events, none of which he remembers—wandering the streets, the cops, the missing persons report, the all-points bulletin. I’ve got him laughing like a maniac the way he used to laugh as a baby when I squeezed his rubber duck or performed skits from Broadway musicals. Every comic lives for the sound of laughter, and Daryl’s always been my best audience. During the next few days, whenever he asks me questions, I describe the scenario I’ve concocted to explain where he had seizures and how mud got into his apartment, and his post-hospital wanderings through Oakland. He collapses in paroxysms of laughter as I embellish and elaborate on his misadventures.

Coughs are mixed in with the laughter. I speculate that if he really did have seizures outdoors, and spent part or all of Saturday night outside without a jacket, then wandered around in the cold night air again Sunday, he might very well have pneumonia. I had it several years ago, so I’m acutely aware of pneumonia and its ramifications. I call my pulmonologist and ask if perhaps he’ll see Daryl. Silly me—I still remember the days when a person could see a doctor without going through the equivalent of arranging a trip to Europe; nowadays one can’t see a specialist without a recommendation from a family doctor, or insurance won’t pay for the visit. Daryl no longer has a family doctor: he simply stopped going in for checkups. I resign myself to another trip to the ER.

Octopus

Mid-week the ER is almost empty, nothing like the weekend, so the visit is uneventful…though it still takes three hours. It turns out that Daryl does have mild pneumonia and is given antibiotics, which in a day or two work their magic. The crisis appears to be over. This could, of course, turn on a dime—anything might happen. From past experience, though, I’m fairly certain his health, and his mood, will improve daily, and he won’t have more seizures any time soon; he’s not likely to try stopping his meds again for at least a few years. Things return to our version of normal. It’s not everyone’s version, but it’s one I’ve come to accept.

Daryl’s sister, on the other hand, has not yet accepted it, so this episode spurs her into action: she’s been talking to Daryl’s therapist and they’re hatching plans to change/ improve/fix/cure him. They think I’m negative/skeptical/obstructive because I have little faith in their ideas. That I have tried many courses of action over the years, all of which have failed, doesn’t impress them or stop them from calling me “negative.”

If they set up appointments I’ll take Daryl to them. If they recommend vitamins I’ll see that he takes them. Things will putter along as usual, and when the next crisis occurs they’ll spin into action once more. New remedies will be tried, and the cycle will repeat. That’s how it is. Daryl’s life. My life. That’s how it is.