Thursday, April 18, 2013

Love You Forever

April 17, 1977 was a lovely, warm, early spring day in New York City.  On that day, in St. Vincent’sHospital in Greenwich Village, at the age of 22, I became a mother for the first time.

I had been very excited about having this little person.  It was uncommon in those days to find out the gender ahead of time, so we did not know if we would be welcoming Anna or Ryan.  Even as recently as 1977, in a supposedly modern hospital, we had to jump through hoops for my husband to be with me through labor and in the delivery room.  Not only did we have to attend classes, we had to get special signed permission from our obstetrician.  (I also had to get special dispensation to not have my arms strapped to the side of the delivery table in leather straps, something I was horrified to see on the L & D tour with the Lamaze class).  My doctor’s name was Hardart and he was indeed the son of the Horn and Hardart automat fortune.  A legendary devout Roman Catholic, he was the go-to GYN for nuns.  There were always at least two in the waiting room.  He also refused to dispense birth control.  I took care of that myself, so that was not an issue for me, I went to him because he had a good reputation in our family.

The baby was due April 1 but made no appearance.  The ensuing 17 days were incredibly long.  My grandmother, mother and aunt called me every single day, as if I would not have let them know if I had had the baby.  My aunt, a nurse, worked at St. Vincent’s at the time.  If she did not get me at home, she would call the L & D floor looking for me.  By the time I actually did get there the reaction was “Mrs. Cooper!!  We’ve been waiting for you!”

Ever the obedient pupil, I followed to the letter the instructions to eat lightly as my due date approached, so I would “avoid going into labor with a full stomach.”  It was promised whatever I ate would reappear if I over did it.  So for three weeks I ate nothing but broth, crackers and jello.  By April 16 I looked at Dennis and said “F this, I am starving!!”  We went to our local Italian place where I had ravioli, garlic bread and stuffed clams.  I went into labor at one in the morning.  (And for future reference I noted it all stayed put, thank you very much.)

Giddy with excitement and relief, we raced to the hospital at practically the first contraction.  Way, way too early.  Labor and delivery units operated under strict and Draconian protocols.  Once you got to the hospital, you were confined to bed and not allowed to walk or do anything to keep your labor manageable, except the Lamaze breathing.  Patterned breathing can be effective, but it does have its limits if you have no other tools to use.  We got there around three a.m., having no clue it would be 13 more very long hours of labor.

Around noon I did opt for one shot of Demerol, the only medication I ever took in any of my four labors.  It did nothing but put me to sleep in between contractions.  I would wake up in extraordinary pain and then conk out again.  At one point I gazed over, half asleep, to see Dennis sitting in the bedside chair, engrossed in the Daily News (the Son of Sam killer had struck again during the night). I could have cheerfully choked him at that moment.  It still makes me laugh to vividly remember thinking I would give anything to be sitting in that chair reading the paper.

Once the baby was close to birth, there was a mad flurry of (pointless) activity as I was whisked to the delivery room.  I won’t even comment on the medieval absurdity of this treatment.  But for me, the bottom line at that moment was, I was about to have my baby.

He was actually held up by his feet in the stereotyped way you see in the movies. His little body was sort of flat, all soft angles, and his skin was a translucent pale greenish color.  Then, as I watched, all the angles puffed out and he pinked up from head to toe as he took his first breath and let out a cry.

He was simply lovely.

One of my favorite pictures of us, his first day of kindergarten.
And he stayed lovely.  He rarely cried and had a sweet, solemn demeanor that took in everything.  You could practically see the wheels turning as he observed things.  He had an adorable chuckle when something tickled his fancy.  It was such fun to watch him develop and grow into a little person.

Trust me, he was not perfect.  But he grew into a boy and then a man I was so proud of in so many ways.  We had some very rough times after his dad died.  But as adults, we seemed to have found a common ground.  He was completely independent and self-sufficient, but as I became more financially comfortable, I was thrilled to able to help him a little more.   He traveled a lot and always sent a postcard or brought back a thoughtful token, like wool from New Zealand where he and his wife went on their honeymoon.  And little resin tea bag rest with a kiwi on it.  When I first got sick he said to me that if I got worse, I would never have to worry about where I would live, I would always have a place with him and his wife.

We went to museum exhibitions together and talked about movies and books and politics.  He asked me to hold the Bible for him as he was sworn in as an attorney.  He and his wife, who I love dearly, bought a charming home and we had a fun family Easter brunch there the first year they were in the house.  They welcomed me to their lake house, where her family has vacationed for a century.  I was thrilled for them as they began their life together.

In May of 2010 he had some time off for the first time in probably a decade.  He had worked his way through college and law school and then went straight to work, with no break.  He invited me up to the house to have lunch with him.  He made a fantastic salad.  I gave him his birthday presents and belated wedding presents, two little oil paintings that reminded me of their place in the Adirondacks.  We had such a nice afternoon.

He has never voluntarily spoken to me since that day.

I do not know what happened.  I do not know what I did to upset him or hurt him.  I have agonized over that day, and others, trying to remember what we talked about, what I might have done, but I cannot think of anything.  I have teased him, tried to cajole him, and finally wept and begged him to tell me what I had done and how could I fix it.  But he has only said it is about him and this is something he needed to do.

I have cried more, prayed more, tortured myself more over this than any bad thing that has happened to me in my entire life.  When he had his own little boy last year I thought, now he will know, now he will understand, and he will come back.  But he didn’t.

When he was born, my family descended on St. Vincent’s like a joyful cloud.  My grandparents, my parents, my aunts.  Time has taken a painful toll.  My beloved grandparents are gone now, as are Dennis and my mother.  Even the hospital doesn’t exist anymore, it went bankrupt and closed in 2010 after serving New York City  for 161 years.  The aunt I was so close to, my mother’s youngest sister, the one who called me every day those last three weeks, no longer speaks to me, as we vehemently disagreed over the care my mother received in her last months.  My own nuclear family is fractured by sadness and reproach.  And I don’t even know how it happened. 

Another of my mother’s sisters used to send my grandmother flowers on her own birthday, to say thank you for having given birth to her.  I want to send Ryan virtual flowers, a virtual botanic garden, to thank him for making me a mother.  Despite everything, being a mother is the best thing I have ever been, it is the job I have been happiest at, ever. 

As multiple sclerosis progresses, I recognize how numbered my days are.  I do not have decades left.  I will hope against hope that whatever occurred that caused him such distress can be reconciled  and resolved.  We are missing so much.  As hard as it is for me, it is equally hard to think of him suffering.  He will always be my precious boy, no matter what.

In My Life, the song he picked for us to dance to at his wedding.


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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Member of the Club

My mother has told me that I adored the original Mickey Mouse Club, which came on around supper time in the New York City area in the late 1950’s.  I was a real Disney kid, weaned on all the fairy tales, and I can tell you they did not serve me well.  Even though I perpetuated the game with my own daughters, anthropomorphizing animals and advising someday a prince would come.  Why should my therapist have all the fun?

I watched so much television as a child it is a wonder I ever learned how to read.  Before the Mickey Mouse Club was other children’s programming, such as cartoons, and horror shows like Queen for a Day, which my mother would make me turn off if she found me watching it.   But I would be glued to the set for the Mouseketeers.  I especially liked the serials, such as Spin and Marty and The Hardy Boys. 

But Annette?  I was not a fan.

Even at that age, four to about six, I was unimpressed by her 'talent’.  To be honest, I really thought she was a wimp.

I never was into the beach blanket movies, I hated the giggly, girly-girl, manipulative behavior they promoted.  I never wanted to be that sort of girl.  If I couldn’t get a boy with my brains I didn’t want him.

Needless to say, I didn’t get many.

But that was ok.  I didn’t want to be Annette.  By the sixties I was heavily into the counterculture.  (wait a minute, I need to give anyone who knew me then time to laugh).  Let me amend that.  I was heavily into a suburban, white, Irish Catholic, unbelievably naïve, adolescent girl’s version of the counterculture.  I hung out in New York City.  But not too late.  I went to demonstrations.  But only with a friend.  I watched depressing movies (Panic in Needle Park was a fav), but I still read Sixteen magazine.  I dressed in jeans and cotton peasant blouses.  Unless my aunt was treating me to a dress from an exclusive boutique.

My friends and I did actually hang out with drug addicts.  Our CYO project was dancing with them at the local mental hospital, like some kind of deranged USO Canteen.  I still can’t believe my parents let me do that.  Although it did put me off serious drugs forever.  When I learned that heroin addiction could cause you to lose your teeth, it was like taking the WCTU Pledge. 

So, I had no interest in Annette, except as a vague nostalgic memory.  She was a boring goody two shoes. 

When she revealed her diagnosis of MS, I had other things on my mind then as well, she still barely registered on my radar.  That year, 1993, was the year my husband died.  I hadn’t worked in 15 years, I had four children to support and no life insurance.  Annette was the least of my worries.

Even when I found out I had MS as well, I did not feel any kinship.  I was in the club alright, but the one no one wanted to belong to.    MS is funny.  Many people assume that just because you have the same illness, you automatically have a bond.  People with and without MS assume this.  I still felt I had as much in common with Annette as the man in the moon.

But, ironically, her death has linked us.  She died of the infamous "Complications of MS".  MS does not kill you by itself, it allows one of it's many henchmen to do the dirty work.  It could be a systemic bladder infection, paralytic illeus, pneumonia, infected bed sores or any of a slew of other miserable, painful, things that induce gratuitous suffering.   

Annette was only 70, twelve years older than I am.  Her grandchildren will not know her, she will not see them grow up, graduate from college, start families, all things my kids benefited from, as my grandparents lived till their nineties.  With MS, we do not have that gift.  We have pain, weakness, disability, limits.  I know that may sound like I have a bad attitude, but that is the reality.  I do enjoy my life and I am grateful for what I still am able to do.  But I hate being the Sick Grandma, the one who can’t run around and play.  Sheppy, 6, hugs me gently and pats me like I am breakable.  Maddy, 2, is always sticking bits of tape on me to fix my boo-boos.  I don’t know my other precious, year old grandson at all, my son declines to include me in their lives.  While it is like having my heart wrenched out, I miss them so much, maybe it is better that way.

Now that Annette has died, I finally feel a connection with her and I am so, so sorry for all she lost and all she will miss, for all who loved and will miss her.  I am counting on God’s promise that we will all be healed with Him and I like to keep an image of her shaking her cheerful, perky little head and saying, “Oh, no honey, it’s fine!!  All better now!”   Oh, Annette, I so hope so.  That’s the club I want to join.  See ‘ya real soon.


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