Saturday, March 29, 2014

Remember This

It was the day after we heard that Jacob had a recurrence of his cancer. It was the most terrible news. It was much worse than the original diagnosis.

Jacob was two years old. As far as he was concerned, everything was business as usual. I was taking care of him. I was being his mother.

Jacob was on my lap. We were sitting on a glider in his room. I had just finished reading him a story. Just like I did a million times before.

I looked at his hand. It had a very nice, refined, square shape like his Dad's. I'd always loved Jeremy's hands.

Remember this, I told myself. I looked at every detail of his hand and downloaded it into my permanent memory. This was not something to take a picture of. A photograph couldn't capture it.

It's as clear as day. I've lost so much. But I still have that.

I first posted this piece on Facebook during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, 2013.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Facebook Pages

I try hard to be a good Facebook friend. I'm not one of those people who posts a bunch of stuff that people like, but then refuse to like anyone else's posts. That's selfish. I'm not that kind of Facebook friend.

I have a lot of Facebook friends. I've also liked all of my Facebook friends' pages. When my Facebook friend invites me to like their page, I show them I'm a good Facebook friend by liking their Facebook page. It's only right.

I've liked pages of Facebook friends' beautiful art, music and writing. I've liked pages Facebook friends created for their pets, family reunions, adoptions, fundraisers, and vacations. I follow Facebook friends' blogs. That's because Facebook friends follow other Facebook friends' blogs.

My main criticism of some Facebook pages is that there is just not enough action on them. I liked your Facebook page because I'm a good Facebook friend and I want to know what's going on with your bathroom renovation. There's a blogger I like who must be busy because she hasn't posted for a while, and now I'd appreciate an update about her ex-boyfriend.

If you're reading this and noticing I haven't liked your page, it's probably just an oversight. Go ahead and invite me again.

Sometimes I like friends of friends Facebook pages. If a friend of a friend invites me to like their Facebook friend's page, I like it. Sometimes if a page looks interesting and I don't know that person, I will like that page too. Just from it being in my newsfeed.

If I read a really good book, I'll go out of my way to see if that author has a Facebook page or blog. I really want to see what that person has to say when they are not writing a book. I also want to be among the first to know when they have written a new book so I can put it on hold at the library before everyone else.

Some of my Facebook friends get upset when Facebook friends haven't liked their Facebook pages. My Facebook friend has invited their Facebook friends to like their page, and for whatever reason, these other Facebook friends that are not me, have not liked it. Then my Facebook friend becomes so upset that they post about that on Facebook, without mentioning any of the Facebook friends by name.

My first response is that the Facebook friend who is upset needs some new Facebook friends who really know how to be a Facebook friend.

The last time this happened to a Facebook friend, it got me thinking rather deeply about  Facebook pages.

I do not keep a tally about who has liked my Facebook page Non-Fiction Living or Karen is 50! Facebook pages. I just go about my life, doing my writing and collages, and having my 50th birthday party.

Some good friends like my page. Some good friends don't like my page. Some strangers like my page. Some friends secretly like my page, but don't want anyone else to know they like it so they don't like it in a Facebook way. So then they tell me how much they like my Facebook page when they see me in person. All of this is good. Whatever is happening is what's supposed to be happening.

But if you are keeping a tally, and you are upset with some particular people for not liking your Facebook page, then I'm going to ask you to go to a quiet place within yourself. You have some serious thinking to do.

I would like you to do an honest assessment. Have you been a good Facebook friend? When the friends you are mad at have invited you to like their pages, have you done so? Or have you ignored their Facebook page invitations and even some of their regular Facebook posting while focusing exclusively on your own Facebook page?

If you have exhibited some one sided Facebook behaviors, I suggest that you take a few minutes to creep the offending Facebook friend's wall. Go around liking some things. And, for the love of God, like their page. Share some of their good stuff. Issue a new invite. Then wait a few days.

If they ignore your page invite again, then you have a decision to make. You can keep them as a Facebook friend, but every once in a while post something cryptic about them. This will generate some likes and comments from your other Facebook friends and possibly more traffic to your Facebook page.

If your feelings are really hurt, then you can un-friend them. Some of my Facebook friends do this for various reasons. They call it cleaning house, and un-friend a bunch of people while telling the Facebook friends that are still left about the experience.

Whenever a Facebook friend does this, I always say the same thing. Now you have more time to pay attention to me.

The exception to this is when, in spite of being a good Facebook friend, I am the one un-friended. Then the person who did the un-friending will have more time to pay attention to the Facebook friends they did not un-friend. In this case, that person could set up the best Facebook page ever, and I'm never going to follow it. Even if it features DIY storage solutions for small spaces or stuff about Princess Diana.

The other thing you can do is have a conversation with the person who has not liked your Facebook page about them not liking your Facebook page. I added this idea at the end, because to be honest, I almost didn't think of it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


There are important things going on in my life. Chances are, every important thing has a file to represent it, and a place in my filing cabinet.

If something is extremely important to me, I create a binder for it. Once a subject has a dedicated binder, it is in the upper echelon of stuff I am working on. It is a level above the materials I house in the filing cabinet. It is Binder Worthy.

Binder Worthy means that the subject would benefit from an intensive Staples office supply treatment.

I have plastic translucent folders in a fetching palette of spring colors. I have dividers for different categories. I have clear plastic pages for display. I have zippered pouches that fit into the binders for small miscellany. I have labels and Sharpies. The act of creating and maintaining a binder is not only useful, but an exceedingly enjoyable experience for me.

I remember the moment it all started. It was at a middle school fair held at my kids' elementary school. I organized the whole thing.

I arranged for some parents whose children were successfully placed in good middle schools to come and talk to families. One of the parents was a smart and organized dad who managed to handle the placement of boy/girl twins. In NYC. In public middle school.

During his presentation, the savvy dad showed us a middle school binder he made. I'll never forget what he said. He recommended making a binder and carrying it around at all times. The reason, he said, was that one never knows when a middle school related opportunity could spontaneously arise.

I was hanging on his every word, and by the next day, I'd started that binder. That's what kicked this whole thing off. Now I have several active binders.

One of my current favorites is my apartment renovation inspiration binder. The first thing I want to mention is that I love the outside of the binder. It’s black, with a white Apple computer sticker affixed to it. The Apple sticker was lying around our desk for a long time. No one ever stuck it to the computer. One day, I slapped it on the binder. It makes for a visually compelling graphic statement.

At first this binder was for Noah's IEP. If you know Noah at all, a binder with an Apple logo front and center is extremely appropriate. Unfortunately, IEP records and materials soon made a larger binder necessary. I re-purposed it once Jeremy and I started talking about the apartment renovation.

Every time I see something inspiring for my apartment reno, I tear it out and display it in the binder. It is sort of like an analog version of Pinterest. It does not have the same sharing capacity. That said, I showed it to my mother the other day. She said that now that she's looked at my binder, she will send me things to put in there if she sees anything good.

I have another binder devoted to creative inspiration. This is a broad category and can include anything from clippings of art I love, to quotes, to articles. It is important that the act of leafing through the binder be an uplifting and highly aesthetic experience.

The high school binder is very active. It has helped me place both kids in an appropriate medical school program that fits their interests and needs. Did I just say medical school program? Sorry! I meant to say New York City Public High School.

Having a different color-coded section for each school with notes, brochures, and copies of application materials gives me a peaceful feeling. Once I'd completed the process for Hannah, I repurposed the binder for Noah, with all different schools, but the same beautiful colors.

The IEP binder I have for Noah is something I started when he was in 5th grade. This is a serious binder. It functions somewhat differently than the other ones.

For those of you who don't know the parlance, IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. Noah is a very interesting person. Like many interesting people, his skill sets are somewhat uneven. Some of his difficulties were causing learning and other issues in school.

The 5th grade IEP binder contained private evaluations I had done from occupational and speech and language therapists as well as a child psychologist. I had every phone call with the school documented and filed in there. I had examples of Noah's work, handwriting samples and copies of report cards with plummeting grades.

The school psychologist had a hissy fit when our guidance counselor said that I wanted to get Noah an IEP. I'd heard this song and dance before. Noah is very smart. This particular school did not traditionally like giving IEPs to students who were above grade level for reading and math.

I saw where this was headed and I wasn't having it. I'd been called into an impromptu meeting with the school psychologist and guidance counselor. I took my binder and plunked it on the desk with an audible thud. We exchanged pleasantries. I smiled. I never raised my voice.

I've stopped working so I can focus on my son, I said. I have all the time in the world to pursue this IEP. This is my full time job now. This binder is full of private evaluations. This binder goes where I go. I'm available 24/7 to pursue what's right for this child to have the support he needs going into middle school.

I leaned over. My son has ADHD. His mother most certainly does not, I said.

I had that IEP in short order and Noah is now a successful 8th grader at a different school, with a smaller IEP binder and the support he needs.

The recipe binder is my eldest one. It lacks a certain finesse that the newer ones have. I'm thinking of some new ideas to make it more efficient and attractive. I'm in no hurry because it’s functioning well. As binders go, it could be a lot worse.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

We Used To Talk On The Phone

 Jeremy was getting ready to go to a musical event with our friend Jan. An ambiguous situation came up regarding the tickets. Jeremy was unsure as to whether Jan was going to be able to get in for free, as his plus one, or if he would have to pay twenty dollars. The story is actually more complicated than this; I'm giving you the short version.

Because it was almost time to meet Jan and because Jeremy wanted to prepare him for every eventuality, Jeremy decided to phone Jan instead of texting him. They discussed it for a bit. Then Jeremy resumed getting ready.

A few minutes later, Jan called back. Because he wanted to catch Jeremy before he left, he phoned rather than texting.

Jan had learned that there was a complication with the subway they were planning to take to the musical event. They discussed alternative transportation. They talked about the shuttle bus that was being provided.

Once they nailed the subway issues, they talked about the music documentary they would be seeing. They speculated about the other people that might be there. They spoke about the bands that were scheduled to play that evening. They talked about bands they might like to see together in the future. They talked about music that one had heard that the other hadn't, and vice versa.

I was hanging out with my kids. I drew their attention to Jeremy, walking back and forth, deep in conversation, multitasking while on the phone. See that? I said waving my hand in Jeremy's general direction. It used to be like this all the time at our house, I said.

The kids were mystified and mildly interested.

 I like to regale the kids with tales of life in the days of yore. For our purposes today, the days of yore are the early 1990s. Even when they're bored, they’re polite about it. They're nice kids.

Back in the day, Dad and I were always on the phone, I said. I told the kids about how there wasn't any texting, emailing or social media. If you wanted to communicate with someone quickly, you needed to use the phone. If it wasn't as urgent you could send a snail mail. That was it.

In terms of talking to people in real time, there were no smart phones. You had the house phone. It was a big deal when cordless phones came out. Before that, your phones needed to have these really long cords so you could walk about while talking to someone. No matter how long the cord you would not be able to exit the apartment and still talk on the phone.

Sometimes the cords would get tangled up and you'd have to spend a bit of time straightening things out.

Negotiations would happen over who got to use the phone when. When one person was on the phone, the other person was cut off from all communication. These things needed to be worked out.

Dad and I were on the phone constantly, I told the kids. It was like Grand Central Station around here with the phone. We were on the phone with clients. We were on the phone to make plans. We were on the phone to chat with friends.

We talked all the time, I added.

I asked the kids if they remember a time before we had the Internet at home. They couldn't. Hannah is the older of the two. It turns out that she remembers dial up.

It was getting late. Let me go dude, Jeremy said. He hung up the phone. He left to catch the subway, and then the shuttle bus.

In case you're wondering, things went fairly smoothly once they arrived. There was some misadventure with the shuttle bus and some minor confusion at the door. The important thing is that both of them did get in for free and no one had to pay twenty dollars.

Monday, March 10, 2014


It's everywhere. Advertising for a new TV show called Resurrection.

I like to watch TV. The commercials for Resurrection are on high rotation. I see bus advertising and posters for it too. But it's the television commercials that pull me in.

There's carefully orchestrated music, an evocative logo and tasteful production. But I'll cut to the chase: An older couple is reunited with their son Jacob, who died 32 years ago. Our son died 15 years ago. His name is Jacob too.

There's been a bit of discussion with other parents whose kids died. A Facebook friend started it. I think the idea for the show is mean. I say that I wish a nice man could bring back my Jacob. I tell all the other bereaved parents that I won't be watching the show. It wouldn't be the first time I've staged a one-person boycott.

Then a few days before the show's premiere, I changed my mind.

The closest thing to an explanation is this. The show seems manipulative, but it’s not every day that a deceased child makes his way to prime time. The idea proves irresistible.

There was a bit of what I'd describe as internal fanfare as I gather my favorite TV night accompaniments. A nice glass of wine, some freshly baked cookies.

I had two different predictions for Resurrection. Most likely it would be so badly done, so hideously insensitive, so insultingly off base, that I would be seething after watching and then I'd need a corrective experience. In case this happened, I told Jeremy I wanted to watch Girls right after Resurrection.

I considered another possibility. In spite of the build up, I'd end up adoring the show, falling in love with the dead boy Jacob and Sunday night at 9:00 becomes Me Time.

Neither one of these things happen.

What happens is that I watch in awe of Frances Fisher and Kurtwood Smith, the actors who play Jacob's parents. Their acting is superb. The complicated string of emotions they are able to convey feels spot on. I wasn't expecting the subtlety.

I identified with the mom. While everyone else is concerned with the details and struggling with the impossible, the mom moves immediately into nurturing the boy. She's a mother, not a detective. This is the bright spot for me.

The really surprising thing was how otherwise flat the show feels. There's something dull and monochromatic, in spite of the obvious suspense. My mind wandered to other things while watching.

I compared the TV Jacob with my Jacob. The obvious difference was that the TV Jacob was eight when he died and mine was two and a half. TV Jacob seems almost exotic in a way that is probably particular only to me. Except for the fact that he is dead, TV Jacob is classic and all American in ways that do not resemble any of my children.

Soon after my Jacob was born, I brought him with me to see Dr. Panter, my OB/GYN.
That's a very pretty baby, he said, but he's got just enough character to make him interesting. The show stirs up this nice memory. My children and I are an excellent match. They all have character.

It was impossible not to imagine what would happen if Omar Epps showed up at our door with our Jacob. It's heartbreaking to contemplate. For the most part my mind would go there for a moment, but not stay.

An odd thought popped into my head. I imagined calling our medical team soon after Jacob's return. The chemotherapy might have worked after all, I imagine saying.

Resurrection is utterly humorless.

Continuing to imagine Jacob returning would seem like waiting for unicorns or something supernatural. I've become accustomed to what is second best, keeping him with me through my memory and in my heart. In that way, it doesn't require a resurrection. It's not ideal, but it's what I am used to.

In the end, our particular story with my Jacob is so specific, so full of detail, so much more alive, that I found little to identify with in Resurrection. The show isn't great but it isn't terrible either. But seeing as though Sunday is already a big TV night for our family, we probably won't be viewing it again. Mad Men is coming and we'd rather watch that.