Monday, November 12, 2012
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
I haven't had a television in over two years - but before you think I'm a total bookworm, the truth is that watching TV on the computer is a perfect replacement. There are tons of websites that host full series of television programming, so I really can watch anything I want to. For some reason the series that caught and held my attention the MOST over the past few months was "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew."
Though this show may seem like an exploitative way to showcase celebrities at their very worst, I have to say that most of the time it's completely irrelevant that the people involved are celebs of greater or lesser fame. You might have an American Idol runner-up next to someone huge like Dennis Rodman; or a country western singer you never heard of in the same group as Rodney King. Yes, Rodney King -- who, by the way, is a charming and handsome man with lifelong alcohol issues. Rodney took his sobriety very seriously and Dr. Drew was so moved by his hard work that the show rewarded him by completely renovating his home so he could enter sober living in a much better setting.
Dr. Drew Pinski - for however you may remember him on that call-in sex show with Adam Carolla-- is in fact an excellent doctor and addiction specialist. His calm presence and empathetic demeanor ground everyone to reality and gives the show an authentic, clinical edge. The patients adore him and open-up candidly about their past: trauma, abuse, rampant sex and excessive drug use. Sometimes he brings the celebrity's mother or adult child in to help the healing process--as so many addicts have destroyed relationships with family.
In any case, all this makes for extremely compelling television; and on my computer I can watch show after show within a given series (there are 4 total.) After patients finish their 28 days in the Pasadena Recovery Center they often sign up for "Sober House" which is run the same exact way, but the patients, no longer de-toxing, are eased back into the real world with all its imminent temptations.
Mike Starr was the former bass player for Alice in Chains. Not a band I ever followed nor a “celebrity” I would have ever recognized in a million years. In fact, he was kicked out of the band while it was still at its height of fame and harbored intense guilt and remorse over lead singer Layne Staley's overdose and death.
Mike was originally filmed doing drugs with his father, which had become a regular ritual for him. He entered rehab trying to kick methadone, which I understand is a long and arduous process--far harder than kicking heroin itself. He suffered intensely--often behaving badly like an ornery teenager---getting on people's nerves frequently, yet always redeeming himself by being so sweet and likeable. In one episode he went toe-to-toe with Tom Sizemore who nearly punched his lights out. The whole time he was getting spewed in the face by Sizemore's ranting, Mike just looked at him and quietly said, "I love you, man...don't fight with me." VH-1 staff tried to help him in recovery by setting him up with an all-sober band and a teen mentoring program and for a little while it looked like he was going to be okay.
When he returned for a follow-up show he looked like a new person with brighter eyes, healthier demeanor, and a lilt in his step. As a viewer you really get swept up in the drama and recovery of some of these patients; not all as some are bratty or uninteresting, yet the few that get under your skin stay there and illicit an unexpected empathy from you. You watch them at their very worst: detoxing, vomiting, convulsing and often crying despondently. And then you get to see them repair...to recognize the demons that drove them to self-punishment and drug abuse and when the healing begins you are right there with them - sharing their victory and rejoicing in their recovery.
So when I returned home last night and opened my computer to a VH-1 update email - I saw the image of Mike Starr with a 1966-2011 after his name. He was not someone I would have ever expected to have compassion for or be affected by, but I felt so stunned and saddened. This poor guy - shot to fame in his early 20s and spending the rest of his life immersed in a drug haze so that he could dampen the pain of NOT being a rockstar anymore, the pain of watching his best friend die of drugs, the pain of not knowing what the hell to do with his life---and then ultimately losing his battle with drugs in some random apartment in Salt Lake City. It’s a tragic story that unfortunately unfolds every single day for millions of people and I can only hope that Mike Starr has finally found his peace.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Many years ago a friend told me he saw this guy in New York dressed in a top hat and tails, head-to-toe in the color red; even his walking stick was red. My friend assumed the man was a pimp and invited him to have a burger with him at French Roast. And the man did just that.
Not long ago, when I first started living in downtown Jersey City I began to see a man who just had to be this same character. He was an older African-American gentleman, always dressed in one color, head-to-toe. Once I was walking up the stairs from the PATH train behind him and saw that even his socks were the same azure shade as everything else on his body.
"What a dandy!" I thought. I wanted to know more about him and remembered that my friend had assumed he was a pimp. But there was something very sweet and friendly about this man that didn't fit at all with a "pimpish" attitude.
His color sense was extraordinary. He was resplendent in yellow, vibrant in tangerine, breathtaking in sky blue - and never did he omit the hat nor the walking stick.
One afternoon I was walking down Grove Street with my kids, when I spied the Dandy again. I said hello to him, as I had begun to do, but this time I thought, "I've got to talk to this guy once and for all."
I mustered up the courage, because he is a teeny bit daunting in his splendor, and said, "Excuse me, sir....but I've seen you around and always admired your excellent sense of style. I was wondering...what is it that you do? Are you rock star? A jazz musician? Or just a fanciful fellow?"
He looked at me, eyes twinkling, and replied: "Ahhhh, I am the last one, I think..."
I took this opportunity to praise his color sense and pointed out that I too, am not shy with colors (I happened to be wearing my own technicolor dreamcoat). Then he continued the conversation - but completely in metaphor. Nothing he said had any relevance to the subject I had broached and I was suddenly held rapt trying to decipher his meaning. The metaphorical speech was all about babies, but more specifically about birthing babies. Given my interest in childbirth education I stood listening attentively.
"It's like the baby being born....it's gotta get OUT...its head is pointing down and the water BREAKS and then that baby gotta come out...but FAST!"
"Well," I said, trying to absorb his vision, "that happens to be very appropriate for me at this point in my life." I reacted to him as though he had just accurately read my tarot cards. Then, almost as an afterthought, I asked, "But what does this story have to do with you?"
"I," he said, with a flourish of his cane, "AM the baby!"
I beamed back at him as though I had just been given an audience with a revered guru and went on my way. Not before learning that he was in fact named Elijah the prophet.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
This made me laugh even harder. I managed to side-step the question but I did explain that not everyone has sex in order to make a baby. That answer prompted this question: "So, how long do you have to DO sex for? Like just a few minutes? How do you know when its done?"
Oh brother. I really backed myself into a corner here. Sex-ed and The Bible. I'll get to that in a moment. I tried to describe to them - without getting too graphic - that it's not a painful chore to "do sex" and that it needn't be over-with in a matter of minutes either. This mystified them. The questions came up because we were reading our "Isn't It Amazing" book which explains how babies are made and covers the mechanics of sex in the process. I want my girls to know what happens on a clinical level but discussing the emotional components to sex is definitely trickier. My friend said to me later, "Why didn't you say - it hurts a LOT - like getting stabbed with a knife - until you're 21." He thought I ought to be lying to them in order not to foster a premature curiosity.
But my whole agenda is 'knowledge is power' and sex-ed, along with menstruation, goes in that category. But where does The Bible come in?? you may wonder.
Recently, I took an idea from a respected home-schooler. Her feeling was that it was important to read The Bible in a secular and educational way. After all, there are countless stories and references in The Bible that have spilled forth into world culture for centuries. When you don't KNOW where these references originate it creates a gap in your education and certainly your literary knowledge. I prefaced our reading (an age-appropriate illustrated Old Testament hard cover) by saying - these stories are very, very old; but you'll see as we read them there are all sorts of references in today's stories, our language and even movies. No sooner had we zipped through Creation when we were upon the case of Cain and Abel. I didn't remember this part (as though I even cracked a bible open other than in a motel room night table) but after Cain slays Abel, God marked Cain with a scar or stain on his forehead. I looked at the girls who were wide-eyed at the violence of that tale. "Who ELSE has a permanent mark on his forehead that we know of?"
"Harry Potter," they gasped.
"That's right; so you see, J.K. Rowling did her homework and knew what stories she could allude to from The Bible itself."
The following day Bebe was reading about the Tower of Babel by herself - before we even got to our nightly ritual. "Oh, I get it," she said, "When people say, 'Stop babbling and speak English' it goes back to this story about Babel and everyone speaking in different languages!"
Doing nightly bible reading makes me feel a bit evangelical or Mormon-y. So to balance out the religious side of things I spice it up with the sex-ed for 7 - 10-year-olds book. That somehow makes the whole thing line up with MY particular belief system - as oddly subversive as it sounds.
Monday, August 10, 2009
For months I’ve been attending workshops at Babeland, the women-friendly, sex-positive shop in New York City. In addition to the very popular workshop “Art of the Blow-Job” the store has an on-going “Sexy Moms Series” which I recommend to all parents.
Wednesday night’s free workshop was about “Raising Sex-Positive Kids”. Personally, I could hardly wait for this one and with good reason. Though I’ve put a great deal of effort into teaching my children about the mechanics of menstruation and birth, I still falter on the topic of sex in general. Part of me wants to keep my girls innocent and unaware of such realities and perhaps another part does not want them to experience that hideous moment when you realize your very own parents had to perform this task in order to create YOU.
But I have to brush those reservations aside, as that is my repressed upbringing instilling such prudishness. The cold fact is that if you do not speak to your children about sex they WILL learn about it in other ways outside of your control or approval.
Last week’s workshop was led by Amy Levine, a certified sexuality educator and sexologist (I love that title) who counsels adults on all matters of sexuality. For this workshop Amy, an articulate and adorably petite powerhouse, commanded the room, asking us to define what it is that we hoped to impart to OUR children about sex and to consider what we would have liked someone to have told US about sexuality.
This got the wheels turning and many adults confessed to having issues on both sides of the spectrum. Some came from households where sex was perhaps too openly encouraged and many came from families where the topic was verboten.
One of the points Amy made clear was that discussing sexual issues should be an on-going positive dialogue with our kids; not “the talk” kind of monologue. She pointed out that there are plenty of “teachable moments” in our lives that give opportunity for meaningful discussions. For example, what children see on TV, in movies or at school in addition to their questions about commitment, relationships, and body-image are all moments for exploration. All of those topics tie into the concept of “sexuality” in a broad and encompassing way. If you hear your child using the word “gay” as a derogatory adjective you can take that moment to discuss what the word means in our vernacular and how you feel about using demeaning terms. I remember the day my daughter asked, “Why does Hannah have TWO moms??” which caused me to launch into an explanation about gender roles and the notion of same-sex relationships being a part of our society.
This leads to another important point Amy made which is identifying your own values and beliefs then practicing the messages you want to share. This takes some time and thought to consider what you feel needs to be explained and what tone you will take. How will you actually address the definition of a “blow-job” when it’s posed to you by a curious sixth-grader who heard it at recess? What message do you want to deliver about homosexuality? Are you prepared to explain not only the mechanics of sex or masturbation but the notion that those activities evoke pleasurable feelings?
You can’t expect to have all the answers and it is perfectly acceptable to say to your child: “You know, I’m not sure how to answer that,” or “That topic is kind of uncomfortable for me; let me think about and we’ll talk later.” There are plenty of great age-appropriate books available to help guide you and your child through many of these topics. Certainly what a six-year-old should know is far different from a twelve-year-old. However, that a six-year-old should even know anything about sexuality was a bit of a revelation for me. I realized that keeping open communication, on ALL topics, is absolutely necessary for fostering a healthy relationship with my girls; and that communication has to include sex.
When I tested the waters the following day, my older daughter took the invitation to discuss questions about sex with a solemn nod. My seven-year-old child, however, looked at me with a curled lip and simply said, “Ewww.” She found it somewhat distasteful to discuss the topic with her own mother; however cool and fun she may find me (by her own admission). “Though”, she reasoned, “My friends' parents don’t know anything about sex and relationships because they’re all MARRIED.” Eureka! A teaching opportunity right there in front of me. And in the cozy comfort of their loft bed I stepped into the realm of imparting sexuality wisdom and acceptance one small moment at a time.
The Sexy Mom Series is jointly sponsored by New Space for Women’s Health and Park Slope Parents.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
One summer day, when I was about twelve, I woke up and realized that nothing felt right. The day went on and the feeling of unnamed dread persisted, but I had no worry to pin it on. That night, my beloved cat was hit by a car and killed.
I thought about that day yesterday as I lay in bed staring at my gauzy mosquito netting. What does the day look like when you know your dad is going to die? It looked sunny and clear with no indication of anything out of the ordinary. Why was I so certain it was today?
Just like that summer day when I was an almost-teen, the predetermined knowledge seemed to be set in stone. I called my brother to confirm my hunch and he reported that dad had had a very bad night. I suggested visiting and he agreed, adding, “Check in every hour or so first.”
I had one major errand to do first and once that was completed I could head over to my family’s house and visit with my dad. I imagined that while there he’d die peacefully, perhaps while holding my hand; just like you see in the movies. But I quickly put the discomforting thought out of my head and drove into Manhattan to meet “Allan the ticket guy”. I was about to purchase two tickets to All Points West via a stranger from Craig’s list. Any doubts about his credibility were dashed as I deemed him honest and authentic through our emails and phone calls.
We were to meet in Union Square at noon; then I would drive over to the next task of the day. To Do List: 1. Pick up All Points tickets 2. Visit dying father 3. Get girls to swim practice. It all seemed rather perfunctory and unemotional – but that was how I could best process the impending event.
However, a major kink in the plan came in the form of Allan-the-ticket-guy carelessly leaving his cell phone at home. Arriving in Union Square and scanning the mob of folks reveling in the perfect summer day, he knew there was no chance of finding me. Meanwhile, waiting patiently for Allan’s call, I had parked my car then wandered around the neighborhood awash with memories of my dad.
When Bebe was small I worked just off of Union Square at a perfect little slacker software company. They let me bring my baby to work, and when she got older I recruited my dad in the form of free childcare. For my retired father this was a great way to hang out in New York and to spend time with his daughter and granddaughter. My dad was never much of a New Yorker – affecting more of a “tourists” viewpoint and agenda. But now he was a fixture in the local playgrounds, chatting with the Barbadian nannies; he was a regular in the children’s department of Barnes & Noble and he knew all the local bathrooms equipped with changing tables. Sometimes while Bebe dozed in her stroller my dad would just people-watch in the park; which amounted to girl-watching mostly.
I’d join him for lunch and he’d say things like, “Look-it all these broads! Don’t they ever wear bras??” He’d actually mimic the noise of what bouncing breasts might sound like, “Buh-loomp-a-loomp”. I’d roll my eyes in annoyance, just like I did in the Vatican.
Once he noticed the Virgin MegaStore on the south end of Union Square and cried out, “The VAGINA MEGA STORE? What kind of a name is THAT?”
“Dad, it’s VIRGIN, not vagina,” I explained peevishly. He’d also marvel at the giant billboards and their ambiguous photographs. “Is that a naked boy up there? Or a flat-chested lady?”
Despite these sexist and occasionally questionable remarks it was great to give my dad something productive to do and to give my daughter additional time with her grandpa. Each day, worn out from a day out on the town, the two would stroll into my office. My colleagues tolerated them both despite complaining once, “Do you think you can keep your dad from wandering into our meetings?” My dad could not imagine that guys in shorts and flip-flops could possibly be doing any legitimate work.
Back in the present, Allan took the train back home, grabbed his phone and explained his tardiness, apologizing for the blunder. “Just stay there,” he said, “I’ll be right back in fifteen minutes.”
How could I explain that my dad’s life hung in the balance and I sort of had more pressing demands ahead of me? But I said nothing and agreed to wait for him.
I paused at the door of my dad’s favorite diner and recalled all the breakfasts he enjoyed there as part of his babysitting routine. All in all, that was a really great time for my father and for us in adapting to my role as a mother. I was no longer that smart-allecky teenager traipsing through Italy on her dad’s dime. I was an adult with a small child and my own responsibilities and achievements.
Eventually Allan showed up and we exchanged cash for tickets. We chatted for just a few minutes but the nagging feeling that I needed to get somewhere quickly pulled me to my car and up Third Ave.
At this point I phoned my brother. “I’m running behind schedule,” I explained. “My noon appointment was an hour late.”
“Well…he might not make it till you get here,” my brother said.
The shock of those words hit me like a brick. “Please don’t say that,” I cried. “I’m driving there as fast as I can!” I hung up and panicked at each stoplight, at every slow truck and lazily strolling pedestrian. I called my friends saying, “Oh my God! I ran an errand before going to see my dad die and now I’m going to MISS IT!??? Can this be happening!?? Why did I do it in that order!???”
Everyone calmed me down and said, “Come on; your brother can’t predict the time of his death…just hang in there and for god sakes slow down.”
At some point on the highway I felt a sense of calm. I had a thought that seemed to come out of nowhere which basically said, “It’s okay that you’re not there…best to remember him the way you did; vibrant and ridiculous in New York City. Maybe it’s harder for him to depart if you’re hovering close and tethering him to this material world.”
I heard the message loud and clear, then watched the red speedometer needle drop slowly down to safer territory.
Fifteen minutes later I burst through the door of my family’s house. A hospital aide sat in the living room with her hands folded. My brother emerged from his anti-chamber (the den). “Well??” I said, a little too loudly, “Anything new??”
“He died, Jayne,” my brother half-laughed. “He died about five minutes after you called.”
The shock of that statement was a punch to the gut. I ran up the stairs half-expecting my brother to have been joking. I wish I hadn’t seen my dad, withered and white; mouth open wide like a broken hinge.
I stomped outside and sat in my hot car. I called my boyfriend and left an anguished message: ”How the fuck?? Why did I go to New York first?? Why was Allan so late?? If he wasn’t late; if he had BEEN there at NOON I would have been here on time!”
On time for what, I wondered. I walked back in the house and my brother, seeing my distress, said, “He was asleep from the morphine; besides, you said good-bye the other day when he was way more coherent.”
And that was true. Just two days before this, I brought my girls over and we all took turns saying good-bye and holding his papery-skinned hands. For some reason I asked Bebe to sing “Moonriver” with me; and thankfully she put up no resistance. We sang together, quietly but clearly, the song I have sung to my girls for years; the song that always puts them right to sleep.
I should feel grateful that this particular good-bye was a genuine and poignant one. That I wasn’t there for the “moment of passing” is really immaterial. It was pointed out to me that many, many people have experienced the bedside vigil only to step out for a much-needed shower or cup of coffee and have missed the actual death by moments.
As I spoke in turn to my friends that day, I was made aware of how many of us have lost our fathers - and lost them FIRST, as women nearly always outlast the men folk.
So my farewell was not played out in the script of my mind as I might have written it. But, death like birth, is beyond our control and we have a difficult time comprehending its will. In the end I came to peace with the frazzled day and had to believe that somehow the end came just as it was meant to be.
* * *
John Falconieri, trumpeter for Louis Prima, dies at 87
John Falconieri, a second-generation Sicilian musician and World War II veteran from Paterson, New Jersey who managed and played for the legendary bandleader Louis Prima, died Wednesday in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. He was 87 years old and died at home after complications from numerous strokes and related heart problems.
When Mr. Falconieri was forty years old he obtained a masters degree from Manhattan School of Music. He taught music to students in both the Ho-Ho-Kus and Old Tappan school districts. “Mr. F”, as he was known to his students, was also praised for giving students individual music lessons resulting in award-winning “big-band” ensembles. In addition to public school education, he was a manager at Victor’s House of Music in Ridgewood, NJ, where he ran the lesson department for over thirty years. Mr. Falconieri continued to give private lessons on many different instruments from piano to trumpet and guitar. His students and their parents enjoyed his lively stories of the big-band era and his heyday with Louis Prima.
Though Louis Prima passed away many decades ago, “Johnny Falcon” (his stage name from that time) remained close friends with Keely Smith, Mr. Prima’s wife and singing partner. When Ms. Smith would come to New York City and play the Rainbow Room, Mr. Falconieri would often attend her performances. If she caught sight of “Johnny” in the audience Ms. Smith would introduce him as, “The nicest guy in show-biz”. In the late 90s Mr. and Mrs. Falconieri attended Keely Smith’s daughter’s wedding in Palm Springs, CA.
John Falconieri will also be remembered for his bravery during the Battle of the Bulge, toward the end of World War II. He did not visit Europe again until the early 1990s when he reconnected with family on the island of Sicily.
Mr. Falconieri is survived by wife Jennie, son Frank, daughter Jayne Freeman, and two granddaughters, Bebe and Evelyn.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Menarche, pronounced "men-ar-kee" is the technical word for a girl's first period.
Though my daughters are only six and eight I have never kept the issue of "menstruation" out of their sight or minds. Maybe it's because we're an all-girl house - or perhaps it's just me and my "no holds barred" attitude. In fact, I'm often surprised when my friends' girls don't know anything about periods. "How come your daughter doesn't know what this is," I asked, holding up a tampon that clearly confused the heck out of my friend's eight-year-old daughter. “YOU know why," she said, looking at me expectantly. "Remember…I don't get my period."
Ahhh, the amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) that sometimes occurs with low body fat and prolonged breast-feeding. Yes, this friend in fact did not have her period for the two years she nursed her baby, and then again for another two years with the second one. However, the other day I said something to a mom like, "Well, doesn't your daughter see you take out a tampon once in a while? Or see bloody underwear? I mean, what do you say about that?" She looked a little confused, “Um...no. She's never seen any of that." I detected a note of concern in her answer that seemed to say, "I'm not sure your girls should know that either."
All of which made me wonder: Do I have no boundaries with my girls? Or is this one boundary for which I find the line indistinct? I like that my girls will say to me, "Mommy, did you get your moon yet?" They have heard me talk about the fluctuating moods and effects of my cycle. They understand that you "bleed" because there is no baby there and that if egg met with seed a baby would grow in the womb. So, it's all rather poetic and sometimes clinical; and that seems to suit our style.
Hormonal effects and subsequent moods have a huge impact on me. Recently, I had a rather difficult task ahead of me as I was called to be a character witness in a lengthy trial. As a witness I knew that MY character was bound to be attacked, as that is a defense tactic. So each time I was called for this task (there were two false alarms) I was truly concerned about where this obligation would fall within my lunar cycle. It didn't occur to me that this was even remotely "kooky" or strange and I spoke of it openly with friends. For a moment, it reminded me of a friend who would not sign a contract while "mercury was in retrograde". And while I had patience for her astrological observance I felt my concern was far more concrete and plausible.
I know my psyche and my cycle very well; and I knew that if I had to testify just before my period began I would be in a more vulnerable state than if it occurred at the turn of the cycle. Sure enough, the fateful day approached and it was to be exactly three days before my period started. Then somehow, rather miraculously, my clockwork cycle interrupted itself so that I bled three days early. I took the stand the morning after my moon commenced and I went up there with a raging self-confidence; I was eloquent and brave and shot down every single opposing mud-slinger the other attorney threw at me. And I did so with the power of being at the start of my cycle; when the inner voice of doubt had taken a backseat for a few weeks.
So, the other day I received a package from my new friend, Madeleine Shaw, founder of LunaPads. Her company is dedicated to creating environmentally-safe alternatives to disposable period accessories. Let’s face it, we get quite up-in-arms about millions of diapers clogging our landfills, but did you ever think about the used pads and tampons doing the same? And if you consider that one woman gets her period about 400 times in her life…well, that’s a lot of buried “biohazard” (anything with blood is considered biohazard). In this care-package was a whole bunch of reusable cloth menstrual pads, an insertible cup to catch menses, and a pair of cute black undies to hold the reusable pads. But most interesting was a beautiful booklet geared toward girls who were about to have their first periods, "menarche".
Sure having your period can sometimes be inconvenient, but we encourage you to keep a positive attitude about it. Better yet, learn to honor and understand your monthly cycle now, as it can have a big effect on how you feel about yourself now as well as later in life. Use language that reflects respect for your body. When you talk about your period consider phrases like "moon time" and avoid negative phrases like "I'm on the rag". In many cultures menarche is cause for a big celebration - a way to mark and celebrate our "official" transition from being a girl to being a woman. It's something that a lot of us wish that we had done!
I love this approach. And though the words in this booklet are directed at the girls themselves it's really the mother's job to initiate such a celebration. I thought about how I might do that for my girls when the time is right. We frequently worry about what's called "precocious puberty" as girls are experiencing menarche earlier and earlier. What used to be average has moved down a year and what used to be the normal range has gone down to 7 & 8-year-olds depending on culture (African-American and Latina girls leading the curve). My daughter, at eight-and-a-half, is probably just a few years, at minimum, away from moving into this realm. And I want her experience to be full of wonder, respect and knowledge...unlike the one most women from our generation had.