Friday, September 21, 2012

World Alzheimer's Day

Today is World Alzheimer's Day, and once again I'm celebrating the special person in my life who is afflicted with this devastating disease, my beloved father, Stanley Darer.

Since I wrote about Dad last year on World Alzheimer's Day, his condition has deteriorated somewhat, both physically and mentally. He can't walk as well as he used to, and sometimes has to use a walker, although he doesn't like to. When I visit, I hold his hand. His confusion has definitely increased. It seems to go down in steps, plateau for a while, then deteriorate a bit more. The Awesome Boyfriend asked me if I thought Dad still knew I was his daughter. I said, "No, I don't think so. But his face still lights up when he sees me, and he definitely knows I'm someone who loves him and who he loves."

And deep inside, he still worries about me. I've often told my kids about how difficult it was for me growing up because my dad had the double standard common to his generation between his male and female offspring. It was a source of tremendous resentment and frustration as a teenager.

I still remember exactly where I standing as a young woman in my 20's, working on Wall St and putting myself through business school at night for my MBA in Finance, when my dad told me: "I won't relax till you're married and have a man looking after you."

I was speechless for a moment, thinking of how I'd always worked so hard to prove myself, how I had to work twice as hard as a guy to get credit, deal with sexism constantly, and went ballistic. "Who's looking after me now?!" I shouted.

The other day when I visited Dad, we were sitting on a bench holding hands and he asked me a question he quite often does when I visit: "So are you married?"

These days, the question doesn't make me ballistic. I smile, and explain that I was married, I got divorced, but I have a mensch of a boyfriend that I've been with for six years. Dad smiles, and I know that somewhere, deep inside, it makes him feel better to think I have "a man looking after me."

And I smile, instead of going ballistic, because I know that thought makes him relaxed and happy.

On Rosh Hashanah, I asked The Awesome Boyfriend to come with me to visit, so Dad could see living proof of my "man". Because we'd gone to services, we went in the afternoon, and Dad tends to be more confused then. AB and I think Dad thought the AB was my son, because he kept commenting on how much taller AB was than the last time he'd visited.

We decided to take Dad for a walk in the garden because he seemed really confused and we thought the fresh air and exercise might do him good. On the way outside, we passed some of his friends who were gathered round the TV watching The Sound of Music. And he introduced me to one of the other seniors as HIS CHILD. I almost started crying - because he REMEMBERED. He doesn't remember my name, but he remembered that I was his daughter, at least for that moment, and it meant the world to me.

Here's Dad discussing New Year's Resolutions with Benny

On September 30th, my mother and I are participating in the Walk to End Alzheimers. If you are able to donate to help us reach our fundraising goal, to help find a cure for this horrible disease.



Sunday, September 16, 2012

Gardens, Harry Potter, Politics and how I got my start writing

It’s a beautiful day here in CT, and I finally got around to tending my plants, which like my health, I’ve been neglecting this year. If you ever want to judge my state of stress, look at my house plants. If they are thriving, I’m in a good place. If they are drooping and/or dead, chances are I’m going through a very stressful period.

This morning I finally planted chrysanthemums in my outside planters, replanted the geraniums in them into pots to overwinter inside, took cuttings from the houseplants that hat gotten old and stringy from neglect and planted them into new plots. It made me feel hopeful and reinvigorated. I know not all of the cuttings will survive, but some of them will. It’s like writing a first draft.

Of course after potting there was a huge mess of soil on the front step, so I grabbed a broom out of the garage to sweep it up. And that brought back of memories.

Yes, I was sweeping up with a Firebolt. I don't just have a Firebolt, my friends. I also have a Nimbus 2000.

Way back when being published was just a dream, I started reading the Harry Potter books with my son, who didn't just look like Harry, but, having moved here from the UK, sounded like him, too. Kids at his elementary school thought he WAS Harry. I was a frustrated creative masquerading as a housewife, and when my son was in second grade, I threw that creativity into throwing him the most awesome Harry Potter party ever.

What did that involve?

Here are a few of the highlights:

Potions class: We did experiments with Borax and made Goop

Quidditch Game: Each of the kids at the party got a Nimbus 2000 of their own. I bought all the brooms at Costco - some guy thought I owned a cleaning company and asked me for a job - and almost asphyxiated myself spray painting them. I got a bunch of ping pong balls, wrote point scores on them, and hid them round the garden. Then I spray painted one gold for the Golden Snitch. I hid that one in my pocket for when I wanted the game to end.

The kids "flew" around the garden on their brooms, hunting for the ping pong balls. The best part was that we, the grown ups, got to pelt them with wet sponges (the Bludgers). It was a warm, sunny day, so the kids would come within bludger range with astonishing frequency : ) When they'd expending lots of wonderful energy, I surreptitiously dropped the Golden Snitch and waited for someone to find it to end the game. The guys were very excited to be able to take their brooms home with them.

Sweets: Had local sweet shop, Darlene's Heavenly Desires make me some chocolate frogs. My sister created labels for them. We also had Bertie Botts Every Flavored Beans.

The whole family got in on the creative hijinks. My brother in law Mark played Professor Snape and led the potions class. I was Minerva McGonagall. Lindsay, our then nanny, aka "Mary Poppins, made the most awesome Kings Cross Station sign, which hangs in my garage right where I park my car:

My mother, who had always been artistic and now is finally pursuing it with her pet portrait business, created a portrait of The Fat Lady for the entrance for our Griffyndor Common Room (aka, the dining room where we were going to serve the cake).

Unfortunately, she's a little worse for wear due to the damp in the garage, but she still looks pretty good after 11 years!

I can thank my enthusiasm for Harry Potter for my first ever byline, for my start in both publishing and as a political columnist. It all began with this column, published in the Greenwich Time on April 29th, 2001. Unfortunately, the only copy I could find is the one I had framed (because it was the first thing I'd ever had published) so please bear with me.

"I'm glad my son identifies with Harry. And I don't think that in ten years time he will be out in a wood somewhere performing satanic rituals because we spent many happy hours together, sharing, with great excitement and anticipation, the next chapter of Harry Potter."

Well, it's now ELEVEN years later and I'm pleased to report I was right.

My son is a smart, engaged, kid who likes to read, makes good choices and cares about what goes on in the world. He's a Harry, and I couldn't be more proud. Meanwhile, since then, I've published four books, more political opinion columns than I can count, and at risk of sounding like Annie Wilkes, I can't help but have this feeling that if Jo Rowling and I met over a cuppa one day, we'd have plenty to talk about and become fast friends.

In the meantime, it's time to get back to work and try to look after both my plants and myself better.