Queen of All She Surveyed

It was a painful week. We made the agonizing, distressing, heartbreaking decision to euthanize Raffa, our cat. It was the right decision; she was suffering, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t question whether it was the right thing to do, whether it was time to do it, whether there was any hope she could recover. It wasn’t entirely clear what was wrong, despite visits with the vet and testing.

Aside from the difficulty of making that decision, I knew I would just miss her.

Raffa, a black cat, came to me as a Chanukah present from my children 14 years ago. She was a rescue, six months old at the time. She came with her crate-mate, a male gray tabby. We named them Raffa and Roger, after the great tennis players Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. The two kitties were as different as the two tennis players. For those of you who don’t follow tennis, Federer is all grace and precision on the court, while Nadal is brute force and sweat. The kitties’ characteristics didn’t correspond to their namesakes, but they had very different personalities from the time they arrived. Roger is shy and skittish, and not very graceful. He is protective, especially of me. When I go to bed at night, he stands guard. Raffa was friendly with all visitors, leapt up on every surface, climbed in every box and explored every scent. Roger has his charms and I love him dearly, but he is the quintessential cat. Raffa was more like a puppy.

When I ate breakfast at the kitchen island, Raffa jumped up with ease and sat watching me eat. I know some people might be horrified that I allowed a cat to sit on a kitchen counter, but there was no training her otherwise. I took to putting a large cup of water on the counter – she liked drinking from a cup – to dissuade her from sticking her nose in my drink or food. Mostly I kept nudging her away so I could eat in peace. After a bit she would settle and just watch me, keeping me company. Over the last couple of weeks, she still wanted to join me but found it increasingly difficult to leap up, she would use a stool as a steppingstone, until she couldn’t do it without help. She was getting weaker and weaker, sleeping more and more.

Raffa had a magnificent black coat, long haired and soft. One of the clues that she was deteriorating was that I would find clumps of fur where she had been sitting. Her coat and her body were thinning. Gary liked to say that Raffa was a beautiful cat, and she knew it. She did kind of preen as she strutted around the house. She was queen of all she surveyed. But she was playful and sweet at the same time. She wasn’t aloof. I never heard her hiss at anyone. She just knew this house was her domain and she was comfortable in it.

Since I retired, over 7 years ago, I spend a lot of time at home – reading, writing, doing chores. Raffa often followed me from room to room. If I sat in the recliner to read, she climbed on and sat behind my head, positioning herself so she could look out the window. I could hear her purring. If I sat at the kitchen counter doing a crossword puzzle, she sat next to me, and I’d hear her little motor going. In the last week she stopped purring. I did get one final purr when I was scratching her neck and saying my goodbyes – a bittersweet moment to be sure. Gary had to remind me that her purring was a good thing, a good sendoff.

The few days that have passed since she has been gone have felt very strange. The house feels emptier. Sometimes I glimpse something out of the corner of my eye, and I think for a moment that it is Raffa, but I catch myself.

I know for some people their pets are as beloved as children. I didn’t put myself in that category, and I still don’t. But the loss is profound. I am grateful that I had such a loyal companion for 14 years. She was a happy kitty and I’m glad she isn’t suffering. She had such a light, good nature, it wasn’t right for her to be robbed of that.

As Gary said when we were saying goodbye to her, rest in peace, my little friend.

Using our Voice

As is often the case for me, I was sorting through papers (oh, the endless supply of paper!) and found something I wrote early in 1994.  To give some context, Leah was in first grade, Dan was in pre-k (daycare at the Albany Jewish Community Center) and I was working full-time for the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

January 24, 1994

Leah ready for t-ball in 1994

Leah came home from school saying she felt sad. After talking about it for a bit, Leah explains that she feels left out – her teacher isn’t paying that much attention. She gives a concrete example of an oversight by the teacher. She ends by asking, “Would it be okay if I told Mrs. Brennan that I feel left out?”

Sometimes Leah asks really hard questions. On the one hand, I am pleased that she is willing to consider the possibility of speaking to the teacher herself. I couldn’t imagine having the confidence to do that – fearing rejection or humiliation. On the other hand, I am concerned that Leah not come across as whiny and demanding. It is also a reality that children who are capable will not get the close attention that those who fall behind get.

The other issue is that Mrs. Brennan has been teaching the class for only one week – since the original teacher went on maternity leave. I urge Leah to give her a chance to get settled.

Leah doesn’t heed my advice. Good for her. She spoke to Mrs. Brennan the very next day in fact, telling her she felt sad and left out. She tells me she feels much better and has no complaints for the remainder of the time Mrs. Brennan handles the class.

I later learn from Mrs. Brennan that she had been overcompensating with Leah – consciously not attending to her out of concern that she would be showing favoritism. She said her heart sunk when Leah approached her.

So, Leah’s instincts were right. She spoke for herself and resolved the problem. What a great lesson! I hope she always has that ability to speak up for herself – to get her needs met. What a terrific skill – but there are certainly going to be challenges ahead. How will she fare in adolescence when attitudes towards girls change? She will need to be strong to retain the identity she seems to be carving out for herself now. I hope she has the strength. I will try to support her. So much pressure to conform, though, to not be difficult…She is a treasure – a hope for the future. Keep your fingers crossed.

—————————————————————

I read what I wrote and I have to smile, remembering how precocious Leah was. (When is it you stop being precocious, anyway? Safe to say she wouldn’t be described that way now, almost 30 years later). But, she was always attuned to her feelings and could put words to them, even as a two-year old!

I would take issue with at least one of my observations. I’m not sure that children who fall behind get more attention. As I watched my kids go through school, I think it is more accurate to say that children at either ends of the spectrum, those that are most capable and those that are truly behind get more attention, and the ones in the middle most often get overlooked. But, maybe you can’t make generalizations about any of that.

My fear that things would change as Leah got to adolescence were well founded. Things did change. Perhaps as much because Leah, like most girls, became much more focused on her peer group when she got to middle school. The approval and acceptance of friends became more important than the judgment of teachers. She still wanted to do well in school, but negotiating her social interactions absorbed most of her attention. Those relationships were much more fraught and complicated than her communication with Mrs. Brennan. Her self-confidence definitely took a hit in those middle school years. If only things could have remained so straight-forward!

Things may have gotten more complicated, but like her mother, Leah retains her voice. Like me, in settings where opinions are solicited or being shared, she is not shy. Her father and husband, among others, can attest to her strong-mindedness.

I do think some progress has been made for girls, especially compared to my mom’s and my generation. I believe girls have taken incremental steps toward expecting to be heard and respected in different settings – school and the workplace particularly. We haven’t arrived at equality, obviously, and there is work to be done in improving the lot of both men and women, but I believe things are better for my daughter and granddaughters. I hope they will continue to take steps forward.

Baseball and Life Lessons

Baseball is a thread through my family history. Zada, my maternal grandfather, was a fan and as a result my mom grew up going to games, most often at the Polo Grounds. Zada took the opportunity to impart life lessons to his young daughter. One time a player on the New York Giants pitched poorly and as he was coming off the field my mother yelled, “You’re a bum!” Zada was appalled. He told her, “You never kick a man when he’s down.” When they got home, he insisted she write a letter of apology. She did. Another time they went to a game and some ominous clouds threatened. Mom asked, “Daddy, do you think we should leave? Look at the clouds.” Zada pointed to the other part of the sky, the part that was blue and told her to focus on that. Mom took that advice to heart, always preferring to look at the bright side of things.

Baseball also played a part in my parents’ relationship, nearly sinking it. When they met in 1950 at Brooklyn College, Dad helped Mom through their required freshman physics class while they rooted for rival teams. Dad was a die-hard Dodger fan, Mom rooted for the New York Giants. They enjoyed discussing their respective teams, and Dad was tickled by Mom’s knowledge and interest. Their burgeoning romance was tested in 1951, when Bobby Thompson of the Giants hit the shot heard round the world that sunk the Dodgers playoff hopes. Mom was overjoyed, tossing her books in the air as she heard Russ Hodges jubilant call, “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” Dad was crushed. Mom and Dad didn’t speak for a while. Thankfully for me and my brothers, they got past that.

Six years later both the Giants and Dodgers left for the west coast. With that move, my father lost his love of baseball. He hated Walter O’Malley, the owner of the Dodgers; he felt O’Malley betrayed the loyal Brooklyn fans. Dad now saw the sport as a business. He still followed the game but not with a genuine rooting interest. Mom didn’t hold the same animus toward the Giants. The general consensus was that the New York Giants were legitimately losing money and needed to relocate. The Dodgers were not in the same predicament.

Despite those shifts, baseball remained part of our family life, largely thanks to Zada, and his sons, my uncles, Michael and Terry.

Those who have been following this blog know that I grew up in a two-family house in Brooklyn. Me, my parents and my brothers occupied the first floor unit, while my maternal grandparents and my two teenage uncles lived upstairs. In 1962 when the Mets came into being, Uncle Mike adopted them as his team. Uncle Mike was always a fan of the underdog. Like many Met fans, he hated the Yankees.

As a child, and I do mean child, I loved the Yankees, particularly Mickey Mantle. By the time I was four years old I was enamored of the Mick – I think maybe the rhythm of his name first caught my ear. Whatever it was, I was hooked. The Yankees of my childhood were losers, though I was aware of their winning tradition. Mantle was at the end of his career by the time I was old enough to meaningfully follow the games. The Mets were the team in ascendence, much to my distress. I hated Tom Seaver, in particular. Not surprisingly, my brother, Mark, my nemesis, the thorn in my side, loved Seaver and the Mets.

So, as I recall, the rooting interests in the house lined up as follows:

Me – staunch Yankee fan; I didn’t hate the Mets, other than Seaver.

Mark – rooted for both the Mets and Yankees, but more of a Met fan.

Steven – I couldn’t tell which team he preferred; he went to Met games with my uncles, I don’t recall him joining me in my Yankee obsession.

Uncle Terry – Met fan, didn’t hate the Yankees

Uncle Mike – staunch Met fan, don’t even mention the Yankees!

Zada – rooted for both

Mom and Dad – indifferent, but wanted New York teams to win

Looking back, I think in deference to Uncle Mike, it is possible that my brothers and Uncle Terry were more vocal in their support for the Mets in the 1960s and 1970s. As the years went by, and we no longer lived in the same house, other allegiances emerged. Today Steven and Terry are avowed Yankee fans. Mark continues to root for both teams.

Today I am a Met fan. I made the switch in the interest of marital harmony. When I first met Gary, I continued to follow the Yankees. Over the years, though, for reasons I’m not sure I fully understand, though Gary has said something about obnoxious Yankee fans (not me), my husband developed an antipathy for the Bronx Bombers. The truth is my passion for sports in general has waned over the years. I enjoy watching most games – I draw the line at Australian rules football – but I am not emotionally invested in the outcome. I used to be a die-hard Knick fan, but I just can’t summon the energy anymore. It just isn’t that important in the scheme of things. So slowly but surely, my interest in the Yankees fell away. It made it easier for Gary to immerse our children in the history and culture of the Mets if I simply joined forces. Gary says being a Met fan is also a good life lesson – you learn to deal with disappointment. Like the Dodgers before them, we live with the hope that there is always next year.

So, the lessons baseball has to teach continue on to the next generation. We will see if they get passed on to our grandchildren.

A Gift

Today, December 20th, 2022, my Dad, Barry Brody, would be 90 years old. Sadly, he only got to celebrate his 72nd birthday, and he was not well when that milestone arrived. We did not understand at the time that he had an aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). We thought CLL was an indolent blood cancer that would take years to become a problem and that he would likely die of something else. Now we know there are different forms of the disease. Dad died four years after his diagnosis.

I mention this only because his deterioration was a surprise and a mystery, and for years clouded my memories of him. I wondered if there was more I could have done. Today I am not thinking about that – I am thinking instead of the legacy he left and the gift he gave me.

Dad was strong – in every sense. He was broad shouldered and powerfully built. In my mother’s eyes he wasn’t tall, he was 5’11”, but I thought he was. As much as his physical presence, though, was his strength of character.

I pulled out a box I have of memorabilia – letters, notes and mementos from celebrations. Included among the papers were copies of remarks made at Dad’s funeral by various speakers. One of his friends noted that Dad wasn’t capable of being dishonest. He couldn’t mislead you or play games. Actually, he liked games – real ones – particularly cards and tennis (and he was very competitive even when playing Spit with his granddaughter). But he didn’t play mind games, he didn’t play with your emotions. He said what he thought and behaved in a manner consistent with his words.

My brothers and I were lucky to have him as a role model. He gave us a great work ethic and showed us what it meant to be a partner in life. My brothers and I have reaped the benefits in stable family lives and successful careers. I’ll be celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary next summer, while my brothers have already surpassed that milestone.

Dad had his challenges. As his oldest friend said in his eulogy, he and Dad bonded in fighting off bullies in junior high school. Dad was Jewish in an Italian neighborhood where antisemitism was ubiquitous.  Dad was also overweight. The combination made him a target. Interestingly, the friend who reflected on the bullying episode was Italian. Their bond was strong, lasting a lifetime.

Dad found his way through that, but he carried baggage, like we all do from the hurts and insecurities of childhood. As a consequence, he was sensitive to my struggles. Among the letters I found were several written to me while I was in college.

My first two years at SUNY-Binghamton were very difficult. Though I made some good friends, I often felt lonely and lost. It wasn’t that uncommon for me to call home crying. Dad’s letters were encouraging – reminding me of my worth, his belief in me and that he and my mom were there for me.

Dad frequently said or wrote me the thing I most needed to hear. At my sweet sixteen, I had a sign in book. He wrote, “ Dear Linda, I am sure that you will “cultivate” a most rewarding life. Your sensitivity and sense of justice are your blessing and cross to bear. I hope that you enjoy the years to come as much as I have enjoyed your first sixteen years. Love, Dad”

He recognized my essential qualities and the struggles they created. It is kind of a thing these days to say “I feel seen.” My Dad saw me and he let me know he approved in word and deed. There is no better gift a father can give his daughter.

One of my favorite pictures of me and my dad

More Observations

The midterms are over – or almost over. All the races haven’t been called yet. I am relieved that it wasn’t a red wave, and that Kathy Hochul will be our Governor. It certainly was not a complete victory. I am left wondering how Marjorie Taylor Greene was re-elected and why did Herschel Walker get enough votes to force a runoff? These two people are, as Dave Chappelle said about Walker on Saturday Night Live, “observably stupid.” If I think too long about people voting for such incompetent candidates, I get depressed. So I won’t. I will focus on the more reasonable results and breathe a sigh of relief that the Senate will not be led by Mitch McConnell.

I’ve been thinking about some other things related to the election. For example, why are polls reported on as if they are news? Polls aren’t actions and they are subject to misinterpretation, given that few people understand statistics. How do polls further the mission of the New York Times (‘all the news that’s fit to print’) or the Washington Post (‘democracy dies in darkness’)? Polls should not be considered news! And, I could make a strong case that hyping the polls the way that they do, is detrimental to democracy. It certainly doesn’t shed light on it. The actual election is the engine of democracy.

I understand the utility of polling for candidates and their campaigns. The polls can help them target audiences or messages (whether that is a good thing is another subject I would be happy to argue, but I’ll leave that alone). But, what purpose do they serve to the general public? Why are they covered as if something happened, as if there were new developments? They may or may not be accurate and until the actual vote is counted, they mean nothing. All they do is add to the anxiety, they create an artificial energy (whether you are on the ‘losing’ or ‘winning’ side) that fuels more spending. When you look at how much our political races cost, it is mind-blowing. Think of all the good that could be done with that money.

When I mentioned this idea at a family gathering, my niece pointed out that the media report it because people find it interesting – they respond to the horse race aspect of it – and the media is driven by interest/ratings. I believe she is correct. But does it have to be that way? Isn’t it a vicious cycle? What would happen if mainstream media just stopped reporting on it? It is possible that they could make that choice.

My son-in-law commented that he wished we followed the model of some European countries where campaigns are limited to two months. We had a short debate about whether that would lead to more focus on substantive issues, or whether the candidates wouldn’t bother and would just get right to the bullshit allegations and smear campaigns. It is hard to say how it might play out, but either way we wouldn’t be subjected to the onslaught of ads for months – and it would cost far less. After watching a program where each political ad was worse than the one before it, my husband said, “It makes me miss the drug company ads.” I had to laugh. That says something. Gary, the doctor, would rather be inundated by ads that promise relief from eczema.

* * * *

We have had some extraordinary weather. Two weeks ago, I lamented that with November beginning, we were entering the dreary part of fall. I was premature in my proclamation. We were given a lovely reprieve. It was great timing for my family in that we hosted several gatherings over the course of the weekend. Our newest granddaughter, just over 5 months old, came for her first visit to our home and we invited aunts, uncles and cousins to meet her.

As the weekend approached, we kept checking the weather forecast. I was hopeful we could gather outside to minimize the possibility of spreading Covid/flu or even a cold. I couldn’t believe that it was going to be that warm and it promised to be dry, too! The forecast held. We had a brief drizzle that wasn’t enough for anyone to move inside, so we were able to eat, drink and visit in our backyard. What a delight!

Then to top it off, we had the most amazing sunset. The sky was pastel pink – the air itself appeared to be pink. I have never seen light like that before. Though we didn’t have many leaves on our trees, we still had some lingering yellow ones. We also have a carpet of pine needles – in bright light they look brown, but in this sunset they were orange. This phenomenon of the light was brief, and I couldn’t capture it on camera. I hope I can keep the image in my mind’s eye – it was spectacular. What gift!

Another gift – a tree in our backyard

* * * *

Speaking of gifts, we are coming into the holiday season where we do a great deal of gift-giving. We don’t want to overdo it with our grandchildren. If there are items we know they need, we are happy to get them, but the truth is there isn’t much they need. We are very fortunate. With our older granddaughter, we are starting to focus on experiences, getting tickets to a show or performance we think she will enjoy. And we can contribute to their college funds – who knows how crazy expensive tuition, and such will be by the time they enroll.

They have enough stuff. The only problem is that it can be fun to pick out stuff – cute outfits, colorful toys, squishy stuffed animals can be irresistible. They can never have enough books, in my estimation, either. But, I will restrain myself. In the interest of our budget, and not contributing to needless clutter, I won’t overdo it. At least I will try not to. Plus I can channel some of that desire to give to others who are in need.

Old Timers’ Day – Take Two

One of many ballpark rituals: standing for our national anthem

Let’s go Mets! Or, in this age of social media, #LFGM! But, let’s keep it old school for the time being. We did just go to Old Timers’ Day at Citi Field, which took us back to an earlier era.

Months ago, when it was announced that the Mets would host an Old Timers’ Day for the first time in almost 20 years, Gary jumped on it. Contrary to Gary’s take, I believe our son, Daniel, called it to our attention, not me. Anyway, Gary bought a bunch of tickets, not necessarily knowing who exactly would go, but wanting us to be there. Saturday, August 27, 2022 was the big day.

It was our first return to the stadium since the pandemic. It felt both odd and natural. I was excited mostly because I knew it would be special for Gary since he is a lifelong Met fan.

I did not grow up as a Met fan. I loved the Yankees. Bear in mind, that the Yankees of my youth stunk. This was the mid to late 1960s, before George Steinbrenner bought the team(in 1973) and bought success. I loved Mickey Mantle – I am not old enough to have seen him in his prime. I think I loved his name more than anything. My Yankees were the Yankees of Roy White and Horace Clarke. When Ron Blomberg came along in 1971, a Jewish player – a rarity and much beloved in New York City – I had even more to root for.

Another reason for my affinity for the Yankees was likely that two of my main nemeses growing up, my brother Mark and my Uncle Mike who both teased me relentlessly, were Met fans. I hated Tom Seaver. I don’t know if it was because I perceived him as arrogant or because my brother loved him – either way, I preferred my Yankees. I didn’t, however, hate the Mets as a whole and I couldn’t help but get caught up in their underdog 1969 season. As a serious sports fan, I watched the games, knew the team (I could name all the position players and knew the pitching staff even though it wasn’t that common for a 9-year-old girl to follow that stuff) and was delighted when they beat the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series – even if my brother and uncle reveled in the victory, too.

Fast forward a decade and my enthusiasm for sports in general subsided. I still enjoyed watching games, but no longer felt a strong allegiance to the Yankees or any other baseball team. Steinbrenner made it hard to remain a fan. In 1979 when I got together with Gary, it was easy enough to put the Yankees aside. During our long marriage, I have supported his passion. Together we have raised our children to continue the tradition as Met fans.

Eight of us converged on Citi Field this past Saturday. Our son, Dan and our granddaughter; my brother Mark (yes, the one who teased me relentlessly and still does, though not relentlessly but is a loyal and loving brother too) and his wife, Pam, their son, Sam (also a passionate Met fan), and my high school friend, Steven, joined us. We took the subway, along with many other Met fans. The first leg of the trip on the 1 line, the subway car wasn’t air conditioned, but fortunately it was a brief ride and not too crowded. We had more luck with the 7 train, it was air conditioned, so we arrived at our destination in relative comfort. The 7 line travels above ground through Queens. I couldn’t help but notice the changes in the borough – so many high rises! The areas we passed have transformed from small residential and industrial neighborhoods to gleaming skyscrapers. New York City is ever-changing.

We arrived at the stadium with hordes of others but made it through the security checkpoint and entry gate without too much delay.

The turnout of players and fans was impressive. The seats were full. Representatives of the original 1962 Mets were present, as well as members of the Miracle Mets of 1969 including Cleon Jones, Art Shamsky, Ron Swoboda, and Ed Kranepool. There were players from the championship team of 1986, too. Obviously, the guys from the 1960’s teams are ancient, and some were infirm. It was nice to see them though and have them get a warm reception from the crowd. There was quite a range in how fit the players were, even among the more recent retirees. Endy Chavez, who made a spectacular catch for the Mets in the 2006 NCLS, looked like he could still patrol centerfield capably even though he hasn’t played a major league game in 6 years.

The players and fans were having fun. I was having fun, too, especially as I consumed a very large hard seltzer. I am no fan of beer, the usual stadium staple. I am so glad ballparks have expanded their drink options!

Among our group, five are serious Met fans (my sister-in-law, my four-year-old granddaughter and I don’t qualify). We played musical chairs so the five of them had chances to chat with each other. Gary compared Met notes with each of them. I was gratified to see everyone enjoying the conversation, taking in the event, and happily walking down Met memory lane. I engaged our granddaughter – can you spot Mr. and Ms. Met! Can you find six orange things?  – as best I could, hoping to give our son some time with his cousin who lives in the metro D.C. area. Dan and our granddaughter stayed for about 4 hours, deciding to leave before things could go south – a wise choice. Leave while it remained a positive experience.

It was a long afternoon, evening, and night at the stadium – between the Old Timers’ introductions, the ceremonial game, and the actual game, it was about six hours. It was warm, but there was a breeze, and we were never in the sun. Our seats were great – behind third base. The Mets won their game against the Colorado Rockies, too, continuing a successful season.

We were all in high spirits as we exited Citi Field and headed to the subway. Not surprisingly, the trip back into Manhattan was a mixed bag. Once again, the 7 went well, it was an air conditioned express! The trip uptown on the 3 was very unpleasant – slow, crowded and no air conditioning! It stopped for a bit between stations – the worst! We sat sweating, hoping we would start moving again quickly. Thankfully we did after a long few minutes. It was a relief to emerge into the relatively fresh air at 96th Street and Broadway. You know you have been uncomfortable when 80 degrees and 70% humidity at 11:00 at night in Manhattan is a welcome improvement! I knew it would only get better after I showered.

Upon arriving in our apartment, I did just that and then got into bed. It had been a long satisfying day. One from which memories are made.

Seems Like Old Time(r)s

Note: This essay was written by my husband, Gary Bakst. Thank you, Gary!!! I will be sharing my take on this same event tomorrow.

It had been 2 and ½ years since I attended a live sporting event, a concert, a movie in a theater, any sort of in person event.  I surely don’t have to tell any of you why – everybody knows.  We have all made our own decisions about how to deal with the threat of Covid.  Some have been yet more cautious than I have but many more less cautious.  And I accept that there is a range of choices people can make that may fit for them. 

For me, it was time to go to a Mets game.  Linda looked ahead and noticed months ago that Saturday, August 27th, was Old Timers’ Day at Citi Field where my beloved Mets play their home games.  I have been a Mets fan since my father taught me about baseball.  We watched ballgames together, making the occasional pilgrimage to Shea Stadium to see our favorite players win or lose.  I remember one game in which Willie Mays -yes, that Willie Mays – was playing for the Mets.  He was old for a ball player and no longer capable of the elite level of performance that defined his many years with the Giants, but he was still that legend. 

I have fashioned my children into Mets fans, cajoled Linda into supporting them and now my grandchildren are being educated early about the importance of supporting our Mets.  I figure, if I can suffer, so can they.  Most years, being a Met fan does involve quite a bit of suffering.  It makes one tougher,  better able to deal with other disappointments in life. 

This year has been different.  The Mets have had other good years in their history, most notably 1969 and 1986.  But, unlike their crosstown rival Yankees, they are not perennial contenders for a championship.  It is a rare and exciting moment, a meteor streaking through the sky ever so briefly, not an annual expectation.  Perhaps with our new and improved ownership, that could be changing. 

After being away for such a long time, it seemed like the right time to head back to the stadium.  Covid surely remains a risk, but the risk of severe disease has diminished, it is an outdoor event and the special occasion of Old Timers Day combined to convince me to purchase tickets.  I went online and bought 8 tickets for the game.  I was not sure which family members would be able to make it, but the limiting factor was not going to be too few available seats.  

As an aside, the Mets have a policy for getting these online tickets that I found cumbersome and less than straightforward, so I tasked Linda with converting their emails into actual access to the stadium.  She found it easy and quick which did not surprise our children. 

My new-fangled ticket to the Old Timers game

Ultimately, we had a nice group coming to the game.  We had Linda and I, our son Daniel and his wonderful daughter, Linda’s brother Mark, his lovely wife Pam and their very nice son Sam who is also a Mets fan.  And Linda’s good friend Steven who I enjoy talking Mets baseball with over the many years we know each other.  The only person missing was our daughter, Leah, (who I have also successfully indoctrinated into Mets fandom, too) but having just had a baby three months ago, and living in the Boston area, made her attendance impossible.

Linda and I drove down to the city; we took the number 7 subway line to the stadium.  It was filled with orange and blue clad Mets fans.  The vibrations were all positive, the sun was shining and the world was a happy place.  

We all arrived in time for the Old Timers’ game.  They had assembled quite a large number of former Mets from players who were there for the Mets first season in 1962, to the 1969 Mets and the 1986 Mets and more or less every era of their existence.  The introductions themselves were fun and the former players exulted in the attention and adoration which the packed stadium poured out upon them. 

At the end of the introductions, there was a surprise.   The Mets were retiring uniform number 24 which Willie Mays used to wear.  It was a heartwarming moment and surely a signal that current owner Steven A. Cohen was ushering in a different era compared with the Wilpons who are widely despised by Mets fans.  He is doing so many things the right way, and this was just one lovely example of that. 

The Old Timers game itself was so much fun.  Some of those guys can still move pretty well and some really cannot.  Most still retain the amazing hitting and throwing skills that separate them from we ordinary humans.  It was pure joy watching them out on the field again.  We were enjoying the action on the field, the food, the drinks, the opportunity to spend time together chatting.  Baseball is unlike football and basketball.  It is slower.  Many people keep trying to make it faster.  Perhaps that is a good thing but sometimes slower has its merits.  I loved the slowness of the game. 

When the real game with the current crop of Mets began, it was more fun.  They led by 1-0, then 2-0, then 3-0.  It was a low scoring and well-played game.  They made enough good plays to overcome the visiting Colorado Rockies and the crowd exulted as the final out was recorded.

Our granddaughter spent about 4 hours there which is remarkable for a child not yet old enough to have any idea what a ball or strike is.  She was delightful and in great spirits and eventually Daniel left with her and they made it home without issue.  

The rest of us found our way onto the 7 train when the game ended, and we caught an air conditioned express train back to Manhattan.  While on the train, we learned from one of the many Mets fans crowding that subway car that our main opponents, the Atlanta Braves, had lost in the bottom of the ninth inning and the subway car erupted in joy. 

We got back home late and tired and sweaty but very happy.  Getting back out and doing something to divert my attention from my daily concerns was such a pleasure and going to a baseball game and watching my favorite team win was exactly the right salve.  I can enjoy watching any team play but if it is my Mets, then I really want them to win.  If the trip is easy and the weather is great and the food is delicious and they lose, then the bottom line is they lost.  It is unlike a movie or a show where I might say it was very good or pretty good.  This is binary: win/lose.  And they won. 

I wonder how you have made decisions about such entertainment options.  Have you been going all along, have you picked some events as appropriate and others as not a great idea?  And which types of events take you away from your worries?  

#LGM

Post-Vacation Blues

Our granddaughter heading back to our place on our last night of vacation

How do you feel when you come home from vacation?

I just returned from one week away on a beach. It is now late Sunday afternoon, we got back around noon. I feel sad – though, to be fair, I am also happy and relieved and at loose ends and tired….so many competing emotions.

I’m sad that it is over because time away from the routine that I so looked forward to and planned for is done; and, our week with our children and grandchildren is in the rearview mirror.

I am happy that we had the time together – we laughed, we dug holes and built sandcastles on the beach, we relaxed, we had good food and drink, we chatted, we annoyed each other (as family members do) and then moved on to enjoy each other again. I got to snuggle my granddaughters and now I am having physical withdrawal from being deprived of their company.

I miss the beach – the sound and rhythm of the waves, the changing color of the ocean, the people-watching, the snow-white gulls against the deep blue sky, the bright pops of color of umbrellas and towels dotting the sand. The cool breeze off the north Atlantic (the water temperature was 65!) taking the edge off the heat of the sun (and it was extremely hot). I took several walks along the shore and felt my blood pressure was likely measurably lower for having done so. Now I return to reality, the same view out my kitchen window. It is a nice view, but predictable and the one I see while preparing meals and washing dishes.

At the same time, It is a relief to be home – my own bed, with our kitties, the known. It is only the two of us that I need to consider rather than juggling the wants and needs of six others.

I feel a bit lost – not sure what I should do with myself, not very motivated to get to chores. Years ago, when we’d return from vacation and the kids were young, as soon as we got in the door, I got swallowed up by their immediate needs. I might not unpack my own suitcase for days! Hard to imagine that now. I didn’t have time to think. Now I do. I don’t want to return to that hectic time, but there is something to be said for it.

I reflect on the sights and sounds of the past week. We stayed in Salisbury, Massachusetts. I had never heard of the town before but was looking for a shore spot close to Somerville where our daughter, who gave birth ten weeks ago, lives. Salisbury is about an hour north of Boston, just below the border with New Hampshire. It is an interesting place, caught in a time warp. The stores, restaurants and arcades are stuck back in the 1970’s, with a touch of seediness, but charm, too. As the week wore on, I liked it more and more – unpretentious. It had all the essentials. We explored the shops, sampled the food and our granddaughter who is four years old, rode the carousel (she called it, adorably, the carobell) and she loved it. The beach itself was quite beautiful, wide with soft sand. Our unit was beachfront with a balcony facing the ocean. It was hard to leave.

Our visit to the area coincided with Yankee Homecoming, a week of festivities centered in nearby Newburyport. In celebration of that, Saturday night there were two fireworks displays we could see from our unit – one from the front balcony (which were launching from Newburyport) and one from the back that was a good deal closer in Salisbury. In fact we could see the barge that was moored not far offshore from where we were. We watched from our balcony – oohing and aahing. As is par for the course for me, I had mixed feelings as I watched. The sprays of color were beautiful, but I worried that the bursts of loud noises would wake the little ones and frighten them. Never mind the little ones, I am uneasy with loud explosions but I do love the result.  

Now I get reacquainted with the ordinary. How do you do it? Does re-entry feel like a letdown? Or, do you feel energized? Or maybe happy to have left and happy to be home? I’d love to hear.

Sun sets on another vacation – until next time

Surveillance Anyone?

As happens with some frequency, I was listening to a podcast and it got me thinking. It was Stay Tuned with Preet. Preet Bharara interviewed Nita Farahany, someone I had never heard of before but learned that she explores the intersection of law, neuroscience, and technology. She is a law professor at Duke University and has a PhD in philosophy. She has quite an impressive resumé (I looked it up).

They discussed the implications of emerging technologies in brain monitoring, as part of the larger issue of society’s increasing capacity for surveillance. During my first listening (yes, I listened more than once and you’ll understand why in a moment), I was outraged. Why? Because she said the following, “We have cameras in our kids’ bedrooms. Our oldest, who is now seven, she wouldn’t cry, she would look at the camera and wave….”  On first hearing that, I thought she was saying that they had still had a camera in their seven-year old’s bedroom. Most parents these days have baby monitors that include video, but I assumed once the child was able to climb out of bed and come to the parent’s bedroom, the monitoring device would be removed.

Would you find that outrageous, having a camera in a seven-year old’s room? I think children deserve to have some privacy. I don’t think they should be monitored 24/7 unless there are unusual circumstances. I believe we removed the baby monitor, it was limited to audio, from our child’s bedroom once they were out of the crib. Why wouldn’t the same notion apply to monitors that include video?

It is possible that I misunderstood what she said. She was making the point that children growing up today are accustomed to being watched. In the comment above she explained that by the time her daughter was one, she would wave at the camera to get her parents to come get her, she didn’t cry. For her it was normal to be watched in that way and that could have implications about how they felt about it as they got older.

Thinking that she was still surveilling her daughter with a camera, though, my immediate reaction was, “And you are an ethicist?!?” I then thought that I didn’t really want to hear the rest of what she had to say, and I turned it off.

Upon further reflection, I wondered if I heard right, perhaps I misunderstood. And then, as I thought more deeply about it, I wondered if, given the emphasis on security these days, if cameras in children’s bedrooms and throughout the house are common and are simply a given. If that is the case, what does that mean for privacy? Who is watching?

Recently when our daughter was pregnant and putting together her baby registry, she explained something to me that her brother, who’s child is now four, explained to her. When you buy a video monitor you can choose one that is wifi enabled or not. Our son and daughter-in-law selected one that was not, in other words it worked over a certain distance in a house but didn’t utilize the internet. Our daughter and son-in-law made the same choice, believing that it reduced the risk of being hacked or monitored by uninvited individuals. Our children face parenting decisions that we didn’t dream of. I don’t envy them.

Realizing that I may have misunderstood Dr. Farahany, I decided to listen to the entire podcast, and to replay the part that got me so angry. I was calmer and realized I may have leapt to a conclusion. I also realized that perhaps it wasn’t so crazy, though I stand by my belief that children deserve privacy, too.

I’m glad I listened. First, it was not clear that cameras were still in use in her older child’s room. I would love to ask her to clarify and hear her thoughts on the idea. Second, they discussed a lot of important subjects that we need to consider as science and technology evolve.

One area they discussed was use of brain monitoring on long-haul truckers, and this technology may not be limited to that job. We might agree that monitoring truck drivers’ level of alertness, which can be achieved using several different types of surveillance technologies, is a good thing since drowsy driving is the most frequent cause of accidents on our roadways. The issue gets stickier when you think about what other data might be collected along the way, who might have access to the data and how else it might be used. If we can be sure of the narrow use of the information, to inform the driver (and the employer?) that they are sleepy, then the intrusion on privacy is warranted. One can imagine a whole host of possible misuses of the information, though, especially if the monitoring isn’t limited to tracking wakefulness. And even in that limited application, what does it mean for employer/employee relations? Does the trucker get disciplined? Hopefully, these issues have been worked out before the technology was implemented. Sometimes that planning doesn’t happen, and the horse is out of the barn before the implications have been considered.

Privacy is a sensitive subject, especially when balanced against safety. In many areas of our lives, including in our own homes, we make calculations about what is more important to us. We are often willing to sacrifice privacy for security, but we need to be mindful of unintended consequences. And, like many things, we won’t all agree on the proper balance. It is an important conversation to have, especially as parents of young children.

The Threads that Bind Us

Our family gathered in Groton, Connecticut for a wedding this past weekend. We converged on the Mystic Hilton, coming from upstate New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia and California. On Friday as we were each on our way, my brothers and I received a text from our aunt reporting that she and my uncle ‘made a stop to tell our loved ones the good news about our trip,’ meaning they visited the cemetery in Saddle Brook, NJ where my father, uncle and Nana (among other family members) are buried and shared the happy news of the upcoming nuptials. She included several pictures of the graves. I appreciated that they had done that, as irrational as the gesture may be.

I don’t believe that going to my father’s gravesite puts me closer to his spirit, but at the same time visiting is a demonstrable show of respect. In the Jewish tradition, when you visit the grave, you leave a small rock or pebble on the headstone as a tangible sign that someone was there – at least that’s the reason I have in my head and heart when I do it (there is likely some obscure reason for the ritual that dates back to ancient time, but I have no knowledge of it). I was glad that my aunt and uncle did it on our behalf. When we gather for these milestone events, it is bittersweet. We are thankful that we have something so special to celebrate, but also painfully aware of those who are no longer with us.

While chatting with one of my cousins, I mentioned that my aunt and uncle had done this, and she explained that for her going to the cemetery was an empty experience. Her mother died 35 years ago, and she still feels her mom’s spirit with her all the time, she is in regular communication with her (just to be clear, she didn’t mean that literally) but she doesn’t feel anything at her gravesite. I know other people feel the same way and have no need to go. My cousin wasn’t casting judgment on those who find meaning in a visit, but it just doesn’t do anything for her. On the other hand, I have a friend who visits her parents’ graves regularly – she finds it comforting. I’m trying to decide how I feel about it – not just with respect to loved ones who have died, but also in terms of what I want for myself.

This isn’t a subject most people want to talk about – all topics revolving around death tend to make people uncomfortable. I have always found it interesting and, more than that, important. I want to sort out my conflicting emotions, in part to plan for it so my children aren’t left with painful decisions when the time comes.

I have a recollection of an irreverent George Carlin comedy routine where he lamented that cemeteries were a waste of space. He suggested the land could be better used for affordable housing! (He was equally merciless about golf courses). Seriously, it is reasonable to ask whether our burial practices make sense from a use of resources and an ecological point of view. Is it sustainable?

Some of our feelings about this are probably the product of the traditions, either religious or cultural, we observed growing up. In my mother’s family, when she was a child, they went to the cemetery at least annually to pay their respects. She even remembers picnicking there! For her those were warm memories. The departed were still included in their lives. Though that tradition was not continued in my childhood, we never picnicked, I was aware that Mom and her brothers went at least yearly to the cemetery. As an adult, after my dad died, I took Mom to the cemetery a few times. Dad is buried in Mom’s (the Spilkens’) family plot, he lies near his mother-in-law. In life he loved being part of their family, it seems appropriate that he rests there. There is a spot for Mom, when the time comes, next to Dad.

The photo my aunt, Barbara Spilken, sent

Cremation was not considered when Dad died. It is my understanding that cremation was frowned upon among Jews. That attitude seems to be changing, and apparently was not rooted in agreed upon Jewish law. More Jews are choosing that option these days. Then you have to decide what to do with the cremains – scatter, bury/place in a mausoleum or keep in an urn somewhere. For other Jews, like my husband, irrespective of tradition or law, the legacy of the Holocaust makes this an unacceptable option.

On our drive back home from the wedding I asked Gary what he thought about all of this, including whether it was meaningful to visit the cemetery. He finds comfort in the idea of leaving a marker behind. He also expressed a desire to go to visit his dad, who is buried in Liberty, about a 2 hour drive from our home. Regardless of whether we go regularly, or not, Gary believes it is fitting that his dad’s existence has a marker, a place and a stone that memorializes his life that will be there for decades, maybe centuries, to come. He wants that for himself, too. Gary noted that he had not visited deceased family, he was thinking especially of his Bubbe, who are buried on Long Island in many, many years. He would like to, but couldn’t see making a separate trip, it is long and inconvenient, only for that purpose. If we were traveling in the area, then he would make a point of going. The location of the cemetery is obviously a factor in the frequency of visits.

Though I can’t articulate my reasons, it is important to me that I visit Dad’s grave once in a while – I can’t say how often it should be, though annually feels about right. I think of my dad all the time of course, but there is something about the visit to the site that formalizes it. Time and effort are carved out to honor my relationship with him by being there, looking at the inscription on the stone and placing a pebble on it to signify my presence. I am glad I can pay my respects to Nana and Uncle Mike at the same time.

I am of two minds for myself. I like the idea of being scattered in the wind, in a particularly lovely spot. I also see the appeal of leaving a marker, even if my children and grandchildren don’t visit. There would be a place where my existence was noted. I suppose the two are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps that is the answer I’ve been looking for – my cremains strewn about a lovely spot, (could they fertilize a garden?), and a memorial marker somewhere (a bench in Central Park?). Maybe I’m on to something here.

Do you visit loved ones at the cemetery? Does it feel meaningful? What do you want for yourself?

It is ironic that this piece started with the family gathering for a wedding but explored our recognition of death, but that is the nature of life. We gather for these events. The judge who officiated the ceremony, and it was a beautiful one, began with “Dearly beloved….,” just a word away from “Dearly departed…” It is all of a thread.