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Mom’s Hip Surgery

            A few weeks ago, Mom went to a new orthopedist and came home with an appointment for hip replacement surgery in May. She’d been experiencing spasms in her left leg and numbness in that foot for a long time, and while she was in physical therapy for that she noticed pain in her right leg as well. But before she could look into the new pain, she had to get carpal tunnel surgery on her left wrist (to match the surgery on her right wrist from last year), and then she needed a few weeks to recover, and then she got distracted. But in the past month or so she’d started to have trouble walking and was experiencing even more pain than usual, so she made an appointment with an orthopedist.

I barely noticed the appointment on the calendar in the living room, because the calendar was filled with so many other doctor visits, board meetings, quilting groups, and outings with friends, but then Mom became nauseous and so exhausted that she couldn’t get to all of her various appointments for a few days. We assumed it was a reaction to her second Covid booster shot (Pfizer this time), but it went on and on, so she called her Cardiologist’s office to see if it might be something more serious than a reaction to the booster. They gave her an appointment on the same day as her orthopedic appointment, so she decided to go to the orthopedist after all, since she had a few hours to kill before going to the Cardiologist.

            I woke up after she’d left for the Orthopedist, though not long after, because as soon as she closed the front door the dogs climbed up on my bed and Cricket decided to stand on my chest and stare at me until I got up. After breakfast, and a long argument with the dogs about whether or not they needed a second breakfast, Mom sent me a text to say that she was sitting in the waiting room at the new doctor’s office and she was bored. I tried to entertain her, unsuccessfully, and then took the dogs out for their second morning walk (I wasn’t up to another argument with them), and then I stared at the computer for way too long.

“Please play with me.”

I got another text from Mom a while later, saying that the nurse at the doctor’s office had had a similar reaction to the Pfizer booster, and it eventually passed (after three weeks!), but at least it was reassuring to know that this really was a reaction to the shot and not something more serious, so she could cancel the appointment with the Cardiologist, at least for now, which she really didn’t have the energy for after all of the sitting and waiting.

            I wrote back asking if the nurse had had any suggestions for how to manage the symptoms and Mom said she’d forgotten to ask, and then I didn’t hear from her and I assumed she was finally getting to see the doctor. I tried to get some work done (probably Duolingo), and read a few chapters about Disability Inclusion in the classroom, and The History of the State of Israel, and Intuitive Eating (three different books), and then I got another text.

On my way home. Will need a new hip.

Wait, what?!!!!

            There was no answer to my text because she was already driving home, but twenty minutes later I met her at the front door to our building and said, again, What?!!!

“What?!”

            Mom was in her own state of shock, so I had to wait until we were sitting on the couch in the living room and Cricket was ensconced on her Grandma’s lap – as God intended – before Mom could tell me more. The doctor had done x-rays, which, for some reason, hadn’t been done in a long time, and it turned out that Mom’s right hip had no cartilage left and was just bone on bone, and the left hip wasn’t much better. If the right hip went well, they would schedule surgery on the left one a few months later. When Mom asked them how this much damage could have come on so suddenly, the Physician’s Assistant said that people experience pain differently, and it’s possible that her body just didn’t register the pain until it was severe. Mom has always had (very) high pain tolerance, but even for her this seemed extreme. She ate some crackers (still nauseous) and drank some water (mixed with grape juice because that’s how she rolls) and then she convinced the dogs that it was time for a room change and an afternoon nap, but I just sat there on the couch, overwhelmed and struggling to take it all in.

“I’m guarding my Grandma. Keep your distance.

            I was angry at the doctors for not seeing this sooner, and for being so invalidating in their doctorliness over the years; and I was jealous that Mom had an actual solution to one of her health issues; and I was worried about the surgery and the anesthesia and any possible unintended consequences; and I was hopeful that this surgery could make a difference in Mom’s health overall, because maybe the more generalized pain she’s been experiencing is actually related to this hip situation and once that’s better she might feel better; and I was annoyed that she would be out of commission just when I needed her help (which I always do); and I was scared overall about her aging and her not being Supermommy forever, and, and, and.

            There was a lot going on in my mind, but within days it became clear that that her doctor – or his office, and the hospital in the city where the surgery would be performed – had it all planned out, with pre-op testing and webinars to explain everything and lists of aftercare devises and plans for a visiting nurse and a visiting physical therapist. All of those preset frameworks were reassuring, to both of us, and made it possible to believe that Mom might just be okay.

            But, all of this reminded me of when I was twenty-two and she (finally) had back surgery for her scoliosis. She was supposed to have it when my brother and I were away at camp one summer years earlier, but she’d had to cancel the whole thing because my father refused to be her support system, and the doctors didn’t have the same kinds of plans in place for outside supports back then. Instead, she waited to have the surgery until I was old enough to take care of her. I’d finished college a few months earlier and looked, from the outside, like a reasonable adult, but we were still living in my childhood home, with my abusive father, and I was still in a deep depression, and I was terrified that Mom would go to the hospital in the city and never come back.

            There were two surgeries, a week apart. After the first surgery, I sat up with her overnight, ready to drive her to the emergency room if necessary, trying to distract her, going out to get her medication, making toast and eggs, and then going to the library for recipe books so I could make her more food-like food when she was ready to eat it. She needed help washing her hair, and getting from one room to another, and I had to set my alarm for every three hours so I could remind her to take her medication overnight before the worst of the pain could kick in.

            My father drove me in to the city to see her after the second surgery, and being alone in a car with him felt like a hostage situation, wherein he pretended he was the best father in the world, but it was the only way for me to see Mom.

            My brother (who was finishing medical school) drove her home from the second surgery, and then we went through all of the same stages of recovery, with the alarm clocks and the toast and the hair-washing, until she could think straight and start to believe that the pain might eventually recede. The rest of the time, I sat alone in my room, shaking.

            But even before she’d fully recovered, Mom was so much stronger and she was ready to ask for the divorce she’d wanted for years. And, despite all of the fear and pain, those surgeries were a turning point, in both of our lives.

            I have been promised that this hip surgery, and the next one, will be nothing like those back surgeries: nowhere near the degree of danger, or pain, because they are so much better at this now, and so much better at the pre and post-operative care. And we have family and friends offering more help than we can even use, and I am so much stronger than I was back then.

            But, it’s hard not to be thrown back in time. And yet, I want to believe that Mom will feel stronger and more energetic and more secure on her feet once both hips are replaced. I want to picture her sitting on her birthday bench while she recovers, with Ellie by her side and Cricket sniffing every blade of grass in the yard, and the birds singing over their heads ignoring them completely. And I want to believe that this will be another good turning point, for both of us, despite the fear we’re feeling in the moment.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

My Morning at the DMV

(note: this post was written before the shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue this morning)

I had to renew my driver’s license and decided to upgrade to the new version that acts as a sort of domestic passport, because Mom said I should. That meant going to the Department of Motor Vehicles in person. My last visit, ten years ago, wasn’t too bad, so I assumed things would be the same this time and didn’t try too hard to get there before the place opened. Bad idea.

Just as I arrived, the doors opened and a long line of people was walking in. I then spent a half an hour circling the parking lot, trying to find an open spot. Some people are good at following random walkers, stalking them to their cars, and intimidating other drivers away. I am not one of those people. I finally lucked into a free spot, seconds before I was ready to give up. Once inside the building I was sent to my first line of the day. This was the concierge line, where we waited to be told which line to wait on.

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“I don’t wait on lines, buster.”

Then I stood on a longer line, and had my paperwork checked and was given a ticket that specified what I was there for and gave me a number. A very high number. Once I left the line, I found a spot on the wooden benches with everyone else, to sit and wait. These benches were clearly chosen by a local chiropractor, hoping to make a lot of money out of people leaving the DMV in pain. I tried to run through all of my neck and shoulder stretches, without banging into people on either side of me, but it didn’t help. I was in an enormous amount of pain, and I’d forgotten to bring a book to read for distraction, so I watched the silent recipe videos on the screen in front of me, and watched the ticket numbers slowly rise. An hour and a half later, or so, I was called to one of the clerk’s windows, to do my vision test, and have my paperwork checked over (there was a scare when the clerk thought my birth certificate might not be valid because there was a scrap missing from the corner of the paper, but he checked with his manager and it was fine). Then there was the identification photo. For some reason they don’t want the pictures taken with glasses on, even though I am close to blind without my glasses. It’s possible that I was looking in the direction of the camera when the picture was taken, but I have no idea.

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“Am I facing the right direction?”

Then I was sent back to the benches to wait to be called again. This wait was more like half an hour, not too bad, and my papers were rechecked, and things were typed into the computer. I asked why my papers had to be checked so many times and the second clerk said, protocol, and shrugged. And then I paid, and was given a temporary license, and I was, finally, able to leave.

The relief of walking out of the building was enormous. I felt like I’d been in there for days instead of just a few hours. As soon as I got to the car, as a reward, I decided to drive around the corner to Trader Joe’s, and bought one of every winter squash they had. That almost made the trip seem worth it. But by the time I got home I was barely able to sit up long enough to eat my lunch. The pain in my neck and back was excruciating and the resulting nap was long.

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Winter Squashapalooza!

Next task, renewing my passport, or actually, getting an entirely new passport, because the one I have is from age fifteen and has never been renewed because I haven’t been out of the country since that long ago trip to Paris and London. But I need more rest before I move on to that task, and I’d also like to see how the first picture came out, and see if there’s anything I can do to look less like a drunk person when I can’t wear my glasses.

I’m doing all of this because I have the time, while I don’t have an internship, and because I feel like I should be prepared, either for the lovely possibility that I might someday go on a vacation again, or for the less lovely possibility that my country is starting to resemble pre-holocaust Germany and I will need to be able to leave in a hurry. I don’t really believe that that’s going to happen, yet, but it’s a fear, and having a fresh passport would reduce some of the underlying anxiety.

The problem, though, is that dogs don’t get passports. Dogs can be put into quarantine before being allowed to enter certain countries, and they are often put in the cargo hold instead of in the airplane itself, where they belong. I can’t imagine going anywhere that won’t treat my dogs like the worthwhile people they are.

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They are refusing to take their passport photos, in protest.

So, more likely than not, I will be staying home. And if the world crashes down around me, I will at least have two forms of I.D., and the dogs, and a huge stash of winter squash to keep me company. The dogs will be thrilled!

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They will be thrilled, when they wake up.

 

My Life as a Jewish Woman

One of my blogging friends suggested that I write about my life as a Jewish woman, and it scared me, because writing about being Jewish always scares me, just like writing about anything else people might judge me for scares me. I worry about anti-Semitism; I worry about people feeling alienated from me for being different; I worry about being rejected, and looked down on most of all. The image of the Jew as vermin has always stuck with me. I was born long after the holocaust, but it has never felt that far away.

“What are you talking about, Mommy?”

I grew up in Jewish environments, getting a Jewish education (or a few different Jewish educations), so being Jewish always felt normal to me. It was only when I went to college that being Jewish became an issue. Most of the higher educational world, no matter how many students at a school are Jewish, is based on a Christian world view. It is assumed that when you mention the bible, and you will, you mean the King James Version, including the New Testament. In a discussion about history or biology, or, god forbid, art history, teachers would reference books of the bible I’d never heard of, and I felt like I needed Google and Wikipedia, before such things existed.

“Ask me, Mommy. I know everything!”

It wasn’t just factual references that I missed and had to look up, there were world view things I couldn’t relate to. So much talk of heaven and hell, and turning the other cheek, had never come up in my childhood. I felt like I’d need a PhD in Christianity before I could understand much of anything. So I did my honors thesis on comparative religions, and read the King James Bible, and the New Testament, and the Koran, and forty other books on various religions around the world. I can’t pinpoint what I did with all of that information, and I didn’t feel like an expert when I was done, but I did feel more grounded. I felt like I knew enough to get by.

Despite the adjustment period, there was something freeing about not being in a Jewish environment anymore. I stopped feeling like someone was looking over my shoulder all the time, giving me demerits for each non-orthodox behavior. No one cared if the sandwich I ate for lunch was kosher. No one cared that I wore pants. If I went to school on a Jewish holiday, no one even noticed. It didn’t matter to anyone how religious I was, or wasn’t. They noticed that I was a good, and maybe compulsive, student. They noticed that I talked back to teachers (sometimes too much, sometimes just the right amount).

Being outside of a Jewish point of view allowed me to see how many different world views there really were. I started to see that even the Jewish world was not as unitary as it had seemed. Not all Jews are orthodox and steeped in the Talmud, not all Jews were red diaper babies raised by union activists, all Jews are not from Eastern European shtetls, all Jews are not “New York liberals,” or Pro-Israel, or Pro-peace, or well educated, or small minded, or wealthy, or clever, etc., etc.

The only really Jewish thing about my life now is the fact that I go to synagogue on Friday nights. I don’t keep kosher (sorry, God), and I don’t take out a prayer book three times a day, and I don’t wear a Star of David necklace. I do have a mezuzah on my door, but I never remember to kiss it.

My life isn’t especially Jewish, but I am. It is a big part of my identity, probably as big as being female, or American, or a writer. Being Jewish is essential to how I view the world around me, how I watch the news, how I meet new people. I am probably more skittish about traveling to, say, Germany than the average American woman. I am probably more sensitive about how Israel is portrayed in the news (though some evangelical Christians have me beat on that one).

The fact is, though, that I felt like just as much of a Jewish woman during the fifteen years when I did not belong to a synagogue as I do now. The rituals, and the belonging, while comforting and satisfying, are not the source of the identity for me. I know people who were raised without much involvement in Jewish community life, and they too feel their Jewishness strongly. There’s a mix of pride in the heritage, and fear of being targeted, and shame at being different, that we all share.

My dogs remind me, though, that my Jewish identity isn’t all of who I am. They are deeply connected to the energy of the universe, and they could care less if I am Jewish or Muslim or Christian or agnostic. The dogs represent the connection I have to everyone, not just to one small group.

“Hi Mommy!”

“If you’re Jewish, are we Dogish?”

I went to the supermarket one day, and some kid with weird hair was standing outside. Normally, I wouldn’t ever think of stopping to talk to a strange teenage boy, but he had a bulldog puppy with him and that changed everything. I met the dog, I got kisses, I talked to the boy on the other end of the leash, and he was friendly and talkative, and grateful that I liked his dog, and we parted as friends, feeling better about the world and the other people in it. Dogs do this!

Who could walk past a bulldog puppy! (not my picture)

Who could walk past a bulldog puppy! (not my picture)

So yes, I am a Jewish woman, and an American, and a writer, but before all of that, I am a dog person. It’s not an identity, it’s just what’s there, under all of the layers of identity, and my dogs think it is the most obvious thing about me.

Me and baby Cricket

Me and baby Cricket