Monthly Archives: August 2011

Intermission

I typically publish new posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but today I’m taking a hiatus. It’s an exciting hiatus for me because The Infinity Game is getting a makeover – not to mention a new name: My Infinity Game.

The site goes live tomorrow!

In addition to a new look and feel, I wanted to make the site easier to navigate so you can search by category to find posts of interest. I’ve also added a discussion forum. Over the past three months I’ve “met” some amazing people with inspiring, astonishing, relatable and sometimes downright crazy stories. I started My Infinity Game not only to find these people but also to create a community in which everyone is talking to each other, not just to me. That’s the purpose of the forum.

There are other little enhancements here and there, but most importantly the content will remain the same. I love writing about this stuff, and I hope you continue to read.

A few final things:

1. If you’d like new posts emailed to you directly so you don’t have to check the site for new content, please sign up on the homepage.

2. Like My Infinity Game on Facebook for updates, news and other fun things.

3. Drop me a note or leave a comment if there’s a topic you’d like to see covered. Nothing is off limits. Challenge me, or share something that irks or interests you. I’d love to hear. I’m all ears.

Thanks for reading,

Lauren

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F-U-N-E-R-A-L

I vividly remember the first time I emailed two of my mother’s closest friends to start planning her funeral. It felt surreal – like I had temporarily floated above myself and was looking on as Lauren made decisions about pallbearers, service prayers and other funeral details. And it felt especially surreal because my mother was still alive.

At first, planning my mother’s funeral before her death felt unnatural and wrong. It signified the loss of hope. Defecting from Team Linda. Daughter disloyalty. The most depressing type of guilt out there.

But, the moment I realized asking Mom to have another sip of water or encouraging her to take a short walk was futile, my pragmatism took over. I couldn’t ignore what was just around the corner, even if I wasn’t ready to say the word yet.

In fact, the first email I sent didn’t even have the f-word in it. I believe I called it, “you-know-what”. And several days later, when I finally got up the nerve to type f-u-n-e-r-a-l in an email, a word I hadn’t ever given much thought to before, I shuddered, starring at my computer screen, completely unprepared for what I saw:

F + the letters in my first name = F-U-N-E-R-A-L.

As if planning your mother’s funeral isn’t bad enough, right? Had this been some sort of evil destiny from the beginning?

I immediately called a friend for support, and she reminded me of a letter jumble, using my first name and last name, that our college friends discovered during a boring economics class: T-H-E A-N-A-L R-U-L-E-R.

I burst out laughing and had no problem writing f-u-n-e-r-a-l after that.

I continued to struggle with small bouts of guilt at times, however, I found ways to incorporate my mother in the planning process and felt less like a defector or deserter as a result. For one, I sat in a rocking chair, that she used to rock me in, by her bedside while I wrote her eulogy. I held her hand as she fell asleep while I selected family members and friends who would travel with me to the funeral.

And in the end, I felt stronger for it. If I could plan my own mother’s funeral when she was alive, I was going to be okay after she died. Besides, finding my name in the word “funeral” clearly meant nothing after I uncovered another letter jumble:

R-E-A-L F-U-N.

Who’s Gonna Stop Me?

The other day I was talking to a colleague at work. Turns out this coworker is dating a new guy, and her parents don’t approve of the relationship. In fact, her mother says she’s losing sleep over it. The reason for her parents’ disapproval is immaterial. What’s important is how much mind space this issue is occupying for her, and rightfully so: New relationship, Parental Approval, The Future – Yikes.

When we said our goodbyes and vowed to talk again soon, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of serenity. My parents will never be up in arms. In fact, they’ll always rest quite peacefully too.

What I mean is this: I can get a tattoo, dye my hair blue and elope to Timbuktu. Who’s going to stop me? As a parentless young adult, there are absolutely no obstacles of parental pressure or guilt in my way. I have a shiny, paved yellow brick road ahead free of familial strife that comes from parents wanting what’s best for you – or what’s best for themselves for you.

(To be fair, I do have Rutenberg parental pressure and feel compelled to state this because if I do not, I predict a phone call to come shortly after publication of this post reminding me to watch myself because Rutenberg parental pressure is very much alive. For more information about my Rutenberg family unit, please see The Gang’s All Here.)

Nevertheless, parental pressure in the form of my parents vanished forever the day my mother died. And I think that’s partially why, 48 hours after her death, I adopted a puppy. It was a rash, purely emotional decision that brought me great joy. I remember my heart pounding with excitement as I carried the still unnamed puppy into my mom’s apartment, creating an area for him in the kitchen where he could eat, sleep and poop to his heart’s content.

Not only was my mom not particularly a dog lover (she liked the idea of dogs), but the apartment building had a strict “no dogs allowed” policy. This was the first dog in that apartment EVER. It was elicit. I was breaking the rules. My mom would have totally freaked.

But a couple hours later, as I sat on the kitchen floor, a sleeping puppy in my arms with my two best friends from business school beside me, I burst into tears. How was I going to do this? I knew exactly how much work this was going to be; I raised a puppy several years prior with an ex-boyfriend. It required around-the-clock supervision, not to mention a lot of carpet cleaner. (For the puppy that is, not the ex-boyfriend.)

I gave it the good ol’ college try and with the dog-sitting support of family and friends, I lasted 8 weeks. Ultimately, I made the wise and responsible decision to give the puppy to my friend’s parents. I happen to know that Jasper is summering in Maine right now, and I am more than happy with my decision to give him up.

I think my point is that even without the presence of real parental stress, I somehow end up struggling with the same sort of issues, pressures and challenges that my friends with parents face. I know that I’m lucky that my mom died when she did and not any earlier. Her wisdom was absorbed. Her lessons taught, and her hopes for me heard.

So, I’ll conclude by admitting that I’ll probably never get a tattoo, dye my hair blue or elope to Timbuktu. And I know enough about my mom to smile and realize that she would be most relieved to hear that first confession.

The Full Excavation, Paper Scraps Continued

After sharing a couple paper scraps with you last week in A Paper Scraps Confession, I felt compelled to reopen the manila folder of my mother’s notes last night. This time, I sat in the middle of my bed and went through each and every note – each scribble – rediscovering vignettes and stories from my early childhood.

I ended up with three piles.

1. My Firsts

Included in this pile are the following: my first sleepover, my first dentist appointment, when I learned to blow my nose, when I learned to snap my fingers, and when I became officially toilet trained. (Although it appears I may have relapsed back into diapers for 4 months since there are two scraps with different dates declaring my accomplishments in this category.) More importantly, however, I can now pinpoint the date my love for party shoes was born:

2. Making Sense of Dad’s Death

This pile includes dialogue between my mom and me as I discussed last week. In one note, my mom wrote that she took advantage of a pet fish’s death to teach me about dying when I was 2 years old. The fish can’t swim anymore, she pointed out, because he is dead. Then, the following:

3. Spectator 

This is a catch-all pile for things my mom overheard. One day, she jotted down a conversation I had with myself as I tried to remember where my uncle lived. “Cownafawnya! Cownafawnya!” I proudly screamed when I remembered, the note says. On another day, she listened as I tried to count carrot sticks on my plate. My favorite example from this pile is below:

*** For those having trouble reading the above: June 22, 1985 – Michael to Lauren when heat lamp went out as they were taking a bath: “We’re lonely, right?” Lauren to Michael: “I have you – special friend.” ***

I love this scrap not only for its visible age and weathered, faded appearance but because my mom did not insert herself in the story. She listened. I like to imagine that she was right around the corner in the hallway, within earshot, giving us time to learn and lean on each other for support when the lights went off. (For those who don’t know, Michael and I are childhood friends, born 10 weeks apart and we grew up attached at the hip. Today, I consider him my brother tried and true.)

While most of my quintessential firsts are behind me, and I’ve had over 25 years to adjust to fatherlessness, this last paper scraps pile is most applicable today. Last week, I got into a painful squabble with a friend. The second things started to escalate, I longed to call my mom for her advice and support. Although I hated not having her around to lean on, I was forced to navigate the dynamics of the squabble, confront my discomfort with conflict and just deal.

There is some reassurance and comfort in knowing — thanks to this third pile — that she was not by my side every second of my childhood, helping me do everything. Sometimes she let me figure out stuff on my own. Sometimes Spectator superseded Mother. And that was just fine, because that her choice.

So, today, although she doesn’t have a choice, I do: I can choose to miss her and long for her to solve my problems or I can take on new challenges like the ones my mom let me figure out on my own back then. And if I’m feeling lonely, I have a couple special friends to call on when the heat lamp turns off.

A Paper Scraps Confession

As I discussed in my previous post, keeping vs. tossing an identifiable “mom-ism” is a common theme in my life since my mom’s death.

Things that fall into the “TOSS” pile:

1.     Compulsive record keeping

2.     Tax filing procrastination

3.     Defying the Internet (paying bills vis-à-vis snail mail, etc.)

4.     Late night feasting on Entenmann’s chocolate glazed donuts

Things that fall into the “KEEP” pile:

1.     Triple-checking that the front door is locked before leaving home

2.     Negotiating for discounts

3.     Thoroughly washing fruit before consumption

4.     A “waste not, want not” mentality of using every last drop of shampoo/hand soap/face wash/dish detergent/etc. – even if it means cutting off the end of a plastic container.

Despite the lists above, I white-lied about something. (Forgive me.) I haven’t completely tossed my mother’s compulsive record keeping tendency. Let me rewind a bit….

When I was cleaning out her apartment, I did in fact come upon receipts, records and notes older than my high school age cousins. These I tossed.

But here’s what I also found: Dialogue between my mom and me when I was very young that she transcribed, relating to my father’s death. These notes are scribbled on newspaper scraps, backs of envelopes, notebook pages, a magazine cover, anything she could find – almost as if she was worried that our words would disappear or she would forget our exchange if she didn’t immediately jot it down.

See the first example below:

And here’s another, the date (not pictured) says this exchange occurred a couple days later:

When I first came upon the faded manila folder, opened it and the confetti of newspaper scraps and other pieces of paper cascaded over the edges to the floor, I was dumbfounded. I was dumbfounded because my mom told me everything. She loved telling me stories about my toddler years. She pretty much chronicled every moment of my childhood with either a VHS camcorder or Canon A-1 camera, and on the rare occasion when there wasn’t a picture to show for it, Mom pressed replay on her stories over and over again. So I was dumbfounded that there were so many stories and moments documented on these scraps that I had never heard before.

Then, an acute feeling of sorrow took over, causing my knees to buckle. The pain of reading the notes pertaining to my mother’s mission to help me make sense of my father’s death was heart wrenching. I imagined how alone she was and how strong she was trying to be while she mourned for her husband, with only a toddler at home for company. And then, as if evil irony had come to wreck havoc on me, I had discovered this material shortly after her own death. I cried my eyes out.

Did I throw out the manila folder? Absolutely not. After I resurfaced from the trenches of astonishment and grief, I realized that these records offer me something that my mother can no longer give me: History. Oral tradition. Lessons from a mother to a mother-to-be one day. Stories from a grandmother my children will never know.

The contents of the manila folder are almost 30 years old, but these scraps I’m keeping. And perhaps, subconsciously, I’ve become somewhat of a compulsive record keeper myself. For one, I’m blogging about my life in the aftermath of my mother’s death, right?

And one day, I hope my children will read my posts. I’ve certainly made it pretty easy for them; they’ll only need a web address as opposed to navigating a confetti storm of paper scraps. (At least I tossed my mother’s “Defy the Internet” mom-ism.)

Keep or Toss That Mom-ism?

My mom was a compulsive record keeper. Receipts, bills, lists, post-it notes, you name it – she kept. While I was cleaning out her closets and files in preparation for the sale of her apartment, I found handwritten documentation of a stock portfolio that she owned before I learned to walk and talk.

After the clean-out process was complete, I had collected half a dozen oversized trash bags of paper, dating back to the early 1980’s, that required shredding. At first, it seemed wrong or in some way disrespectful to toss away my mom’s well-organized records, but what was I going to do with a receipt for a sweater purchased at Lord & Taylor in December of 1988?

When she was alive, certain tendencies, like her habitual record keeping, rubbed off on me. I saved all my receipts until my wallet looked like it was about to explode – all the while worrying that I’d lose them and putting off the process of cross-checking the receipts against my credit card statements – the point of saving them in the first place, my mom taught. (Why then, Mom, I’d like to ask her today, did you keep the receipts for so many years afterward? But I suppose that’s a moot point.)

When I finally did empty my wallet, I gave the receipts and my statements a couple quick, cursory looks and then into the garage they went. It was more of a rubberstamp ritual than anything else. When friends asked me why I saved my receipts I would say, “my mom does it,” and shrug my shoulders.

Since her death, I’ve shaken off this practice. I review my credit card statements monthly to catch dubious charges (I admit this process could be slightly more comprehensive), and it feels great to have a reasonably sized wallet that isn’t bursting at the seams. Freeing myself of this “mom-ism” is liberating. I am my own person, and I’m excited to see what type of adult I turn into since, in some ways, her death has made space for my own practices and habits to grow.

That said, there are plenty of rituals and little eccentricities of hers that I hold on to – like the way she used to drive, fold clothes and triple-check that the front door is locked before leaving – and when I find myself mimicking my mom’s behavior, I can’t help but smile to myself. Because without my mom around, it sometimes feels good to think, “Wow, I’m becoming my mother after all.”

****

Does this sound familiar? Were certain practices imparted by your parents that you’ve since shed, or are you still holding on to them?