Monsters in the Closet and Other Scary Stuff

“I can’t sleep with the closet door open.”

I made this statement on one of the rare occasions when the entire Kramer family was gathered together. My mother looked at me as if I was completely insane and said, “Really? You’re kidding!”

“No, I’m not. I’m afraid of monsters in the closet. I know they aren’t really there, but I can’t help being afraid.”

My mother continued to scoff.

Much to my surprise my older sister (Deb) who you haven’t met often, and my older brother (Steve) who you have, jumped to my defense.

“I know exactly why she’s afraid,” Deb said. “It was because of Grandma’s house.”

“Yeah,” Steve agreed. “The door with the glass doorknob.”

My mom looked at us all strangely. “What are you talking about?”

So we explained.

When my grandparents were alive we would go visit them in Belmar, New Jersey. My grandparents passed away within a few months of each other when I was about 6 years old, so my memories of them are limited. My sister is 5 years older than me, so she probably has clearer memories, but we rarely talk about them. Perhaps we should.

When we visited my grandparents the kids all stayed in one room. A small double bed filled one side of the room, and a cot lay opposite for the third little body. We alternated who would sleep in the double and who would sleep in the cot. You might think we all wanted the cot, but you would be wrong. Why?

Because the cot was right next to the scariest door in the world. The one with the glittery, diamond-shaped door knob.

 

I’m not sure where the door led. I always thought it led to the attic (shudder) but someone told me it was just a closet. When it was my turn, I would lie in that cot, the door knob inches from my non-sleeping eyes convinced that at any moment the door knob would turn from unseen hands and open to suck me into a terrifying nightmare.

We were all afraid of the door knob.

“Why didn’t you say something?” Mom asked. “Grandma would have done something.”

“We were kids, Mom,” My sister answered.

But I think it was deeper than that, I think we didn’t say anything because nobody would have believed us anyway. We would have received the same reaction then as we did on this day, nearly 40 years later.

I am convinced that my grandparent’s house had its ghosts, even if they were simply the ghosts of our imagination. I am also convinced that, if I have ever really been visited by ghosts, the visitations have come from my grandparents, my nana (Dad’s mother) and possibly a man we called Cousin Lou who may or may not actually be my relative. All I remember about him is the giant red teddy bear with the flowered belly that he gave me after winning it from the fair.

When did they visit? I will try to remember some of the occasions that add to my belief in the power of spirit, as I discussed yesterday.

  • When Nana passed away, a bird got into my brother’s tiny bedroom somehow. My mom claims the window was open, but I remember it being closed. Even if it was open, this had never happened before. Birds, in Jewish folklore, can represent a “winged soul.” This particular bird was extremely important as it got into the room a few minutes before we got the phone call saying Nana had just passed away. I will always believe Nana came to say good-bye.
  • I used to have a recurring dream that took place at my grandparents house. Sometimes we would go down into the basement of the house (a basement that I really don’t have a memory of). Usually my grandparents aren’t there, at least not visibly, but I hear their voices talking to me and telling me something. I might just pass these off as dreams except for something I learned much later in life, Deb and Steve both used to have similar dreams.
  • In a similar way, Cousin Lou often visited me in dreams of my Nana’s house, although not as often.
  • There is one day that I know all my ancestors were with me in spirit; the day I became a Bat Mitzvah. I remember the day starting out cloudy, threatening rain. This upset me, as I wanted a beautiful day. But, by the time the Friday evening ceremony rolled around, the sun shone in glorious April beauty. A gift from my loved ones. When I stood on the Bima to read my haftorah, my stomach jiggled with a million butterflies. There was a certain part of the complex Hebrew text that always sounded like something else to me. I can’t remember exactly what, but it was something like “we love you” or another comforting phrase like that. It was early on in my chanting, and as soon as I hit the phrase my heart filled with warmth and I knew that the people who would have most celebrated that day (my grandparents were Orthodox Jews) were there with me, with glowing golden smiles on their faces. My Mom said she saw me smile then. I continued with a strong voice, and was even invited back to repeat the haftorah the following year.

Of course, this could all have been the workings of a very imaginative child, but who knows? Most bumps and creaks in the night can be easily explained away, but once in a while you experience a mystery that adds to the awesome complexities of life.

So forgive me if I close my closet door before I go to sleep. You never know when something unexpected might come out.

Mother Daughter Swap

Like millions of Americans, I called my Mother yesterday.

Having tea a few years ago.

“I just called to say Happy Mother’s Day.”

“Thank you. And you too.”

I always find Mother’s Day awkward. Partially because, despite the fact that I am a Mom, I think my mother still sees me as the daughter who needed her all the time. Or the daughter that she wanted to need her all the time.

I’m no longer the daughter my mother knew.

I don’t often write about my family for a number of reasons.  Guilt. Frustration. Anger. Sadness. They all filter my relationship with my family.

Please understand that I am not blaming them, I blame myself. For a long  time I tried to perceive my family differently and to keep my connection with them in the ideal family sense. But I failed.

We all failed.

Yesterday Mom sounded pretty good. She had a positive lilt to her voice which she doesn’t always have. Of course, she was disappointed that my older sister decided to celebrate a friend’s birthday instead of Mother’s Day. But that’s not surprising to anyone, really. My sister’s role in the family is one of the reasons I don’t write very much about the family. It hurts too much. (And don’t worry, she very rarely reads this blog I’m sure. My brother does–you know him from The Odd Ramblings . . ., but I’m sure he understands what I mean.)

Then the conversation took a surprising turn.

“I think I’m retiring in July,” she tells me. “But now everyone’s telling me I shouldn’t retire. First everyone told me I should, now everyone’s telling me I shouldn’t.”

“Who is telling you not to retire?”

“Auntie Sis and one of your Dad’s home care people.” (My Dad has Alzheimer’s and I feel awful that I cannot spend more time with him or help. Another reason I don’t write about them often.)

I hesitated before I responded. I have been encouraging her to retire for a while now, because she complains about being tired all the time and about how she cannot get anything done. But, I know my mother. She’s not the most social being. She is no longer likely to pursue a project or a hobby simply because it interests her. She always has an excuse as to why she cannot do something.

So while a part of me thinks she should retire, another part knows that retirement might lead to fading away.

So this is what I said:

“Mom, I understand what they are saying. If you retire and do nothing, simply fade away, then that’s not a good choice. I know you, and that could happen. But you are the only one who can make the choice. If you can promise yourself to DO SOMETHING when you retire, then you should retire. But I can’t make you do anything, and you have to choose.”

“I know. That’s what I’m afraid of. I have a lot of thinking to do.”

Just like that our relationship changed. For a brief moment, she heard and accepted what I have to say.

It hurts to be so far away from my family, because I cannot help them deal with the changes that come from age and life. But, it also hurts to be near them because I cannot stop the changes anyway.

Each of us have chosen paths in our lives. Now all we can do is live them to the best of our abilities.

I leave you with a video my brother made. Watch closely and you will understand why. His original post of the video is called “Time Passes (a visual poem)“.

Home . . . Sick

Mom, Dad and Sarah before it all changed.

I’ve been struggling about what to write this morning.

Usually the first thing I do in the morning is start my daily post.  But, this morning was different for a few reasons.:

  • I had to drag my carcass out of bed in order to drive my husband in to get a school van at 6am–why then? I don’t know.
  • The inevitable post-show blues hit, right in the middle of the show yesterday. Causing me to miss my curtain call! I didn’t know they were going to give me flowers at the end of the show. I thought they hated me by this point. Anyway, the post-show blues are often followed by some kind of physical thing, and this was no exception. I think it works something like this:

Germ 1: “Ooh, we haven’t been able to get to this one in a long time! She’s been so stressed, that we couldn’t even squeeze in. I want to get her bad!

Germ 2: I know. She is like a crazy person. And whenever she’s crazy those white dudes never let us in. It stinks.

Brain Chemicals: She finished. Now let’s make her feel sad because its fun.

Germ 1: Oh! The brain chemicals are out and she’s loosening up! Now is our chance! Let’s get her!

Germ 2: ATTACK!!!

And so, I am home sick, today.

But I still was stuck for anything to write about, so I visited some of my favorite blogs instead, in the hopes that I might get inspired. I read this sad and beautiful post by CM Smith called “Why?” CM and I are going through some similar experiences right now as we lose our fathers to the silences of Alzheimer’s. I haven’t written much about it, because I feel guilty in many ways. Living so far away from my family, I’m not there to witness the daily struggles or to offer help and support. I rarely talk to Dad on the phone, and Mom doesn’t really like to talk on the phone either. In many ways, this disease has widened the communication gap between my family and myself, and I don’t know how to bridge that gap. So, I simply avoid thinking about it–but it is always there. And my sadness about my dad seeps into my thoughts often.

So now, I’m home sick and I’m homesick.

But, reading CM’s post lead me this post about aging by NR Hatch, called “An Age Old Question . . . Old Age”.  She writes this post with a touch of humor, because all of us face the dreaded factor of joints creaking, gravity taking over, vision worsening, hearing fading. Face it, even the little babies are doomed to become decrepit old folks. NR’s humorous take on the battle with her parents to try to get them to move into a smaller and more functional situation reflects recent discussions with my own mother who refuses to even consider moving out of her home. I guess I understand, homes signify freedom and memories, but at what point do we say, okay, its time to let go? I wish both my parents could find freedom in old age, by holding onto memory rather than things. But memory is being slowly stripped from my dad, so my mother clings more to the things.

So, I guess I’m lucky in a way. Yes, I’m home sick, and I can be homesick, but reflecting on age and emotion and illness has led me to an important conclusion. I’ve moved a lot. I’ve said hello and goodbye to many wonderful people throughout my life. I’ve lived many incredible experiences. I’ve had to leave many homes behind. But, I carry them with me wherever I go, and have begun to share them in the words of this blog.

NR Hatch  wrote: “I am not going to worry about the passage of time until my feet no longer look good in flip flops.  If my eyesight fails quickly enough, that day will never come.” Nobody can win the battle against time, so I am not going to try. But, I am going to try to preserve memories in a way that they can never truly be lost–not by collecting possessions, but through a collection of words and images. I know that there is a possibility that I will follow my father down the dark path of oblivion, but I intend to leave a lot of stories behind.

So now, I’m simply home.

Learning to Forgive

When the world comes crashing down around you, it seems natural to want to put the blame on someone or something. On the system that let you down. On co-workers who manipulated the system. On your partner. On the universe, or G-d, or some greater power. And, often the hardest to overcome, on yourself.

It is so easy to blame.

It is not so easy to forgive. I have been trying very hard lately to let go of the anger and the blame.  I’ve sent messages out to the universe trying to forgive. But it doesn’s seem to work, because there is one person I cannot seem to forgive. You guessed it, I cannot forgive myself. I feel like I am responsible for the chaos around me (no ego there). I know that, realistically, that is not true, but I blame myself for all my perceived failures. And yet, I know that’s not true. I feel like there are multiple people inside of me battling for supremacy: the talented person who knows that she can and will succeed, the wicked person who seeks revenge, the insecure person who wants to stay in bed and hide, the loving person who does not understand, the hurt child, the strong mom , etc.

How do I learn to forgive all of those selves? How do I learn to forgive others in an honest and true way?  I want to learn to forgive. I really do.