Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Hope Springs Eternal

I love daffodils, forsythia and the budding magnolia trees, but April is the cruelest month, which is another way of saying that no new season arrives without major challenges.

When our landscaper reminded me that we still owed him money from the fall, I knew this year would be no different but still, we were determined to end the winter with a suntan. Yes, the economy is in a tailspin but two of my husband's first cousins had recently had babies in Miami, so we decided the tail end of March was an excellent time to take the kids to South Beach.

There is nothing like a baby to cheer you right up, and after three days of kissing and cuddling with babies Steven and Chloe, slathering suntan lotion on our faces and ordering food from the bar at the pool, we were all in very good moods. So we took our good moods with us and drove three and a half hours to Key West. I love Key West. It's a long, slow drive over zillions of bridges to get there, but once you're there, you've got rocky beaches, delicious food, life-affirming sunsets, Judy Blume, Shel Silverstein, the ghost of Ernest Hemingway (who spent his most productive years writing there) and drag queens laughing and hollering out their convertibles that we should come see their show---what's not to love? Well, maybe not the vast assortment of seriously inappropriate T-shirts (I neatly steered my almost 13-year old son away from buying a T-shirt that said, "NPA-National Pimping Association" by telling him he wouldn't be allowed to wear it out of his bedroom.) Apart from that diversion, we had a wonderful time eating conch fritters and watching our kids look for conch shells on the beach. I ran along the ocean, drank Virgin Mary's and laughed as our sons gleefully push each other off the rafts in the hotel pool. The sun shone. The wind blew. No one fought. It was glorious. And because my husband is convinced that everything is negotiable these days, we managed to get a better rate on our hotel room and a dramatically lower rate on our rental car.

We saved so much money that I blithely put some of the savings towards a massage. The masseuse was a good-looking former New Yorker who told me that my spleen was in overdrive---I was thinking too much. "The spleen doesn't like a lot of thought," he explained.

I resigned myself to fewer thoughts as I glided down to the pool to tell my husband how thoughtless I was determined to be. As I went to give him a kiss, his cell phone rang. It was our alarm company, alerting us to the fact that the motion detector in our basement had gone off. I didn't even know we had a motion detector in the basement. But my husband had the presence of mind to call our neighbor, who was at a goodbye party for our other neighbor who was moving to Ohio. They went to check out our basement, and reported back that the tile ceiling was collapsing and water was pouring through. The toilet in the bathroom above the basement was flooding.

It was time to come home.

We came home to basement carpet that was soaked and smelled like mildew, and a bathroom that smelled like I don't-know-what-but-it-sure-aint-good. We called the insurance company. The nice man who answered the phone reminded me of the size of the size of our deductible. I prayed for strength. Several men, many industrial size dryers and a few humidifiers later, the smell in the basemement is gone. The vague smell of I-don't-know-what in the powder room lingers. Our housekeeper cut up oranges and mixed them up with cinnamon sticks. She left them in the bathroom and said that if I decided to make a third trip to the supermarket this week to buy some lemons, the citrus combination would surely chase the smell away.

Trouble comes in three's. A couple days after the flood, my stepfather turned 85. He had an enormous birthday party at a hotel, and five days later needed emergency gall bladder surgery. A few days after that, I took my younger son to see "Hair." My sister-in-law's close friend from college had directed it, and Nancy had been singing its praises since she saw the show in Central Park last summer. As we were driving in, my brother Mike called. His youngest son, a little six-year old red-head, who looks like a cherub and acts like a delicious devil, had just been diagnosed with diabetes. He was peeing and drinking a lot and Nancy had recognized the symptoms and brought him to the doctor. My nephew was in the hospital, Nancy and Mike were spending the night with him. Our conversation turned to Passover. Mike and Nancy had been planning to host the first Seder---Nancy's two sisters, their kids and husbands were coming, as were Nancy's parents and my mother. My husband and I were having a Seder the second night and since I'd already been cooking for three days, I offered to have everyone over the first night too.

Because we are who we are (food obsessed), my brother and I spent as much time discussing his son's situation as we did discussing who was bringing what sidedishes.

On that bittersweet first night of Passover, we ate delicious smoked brisket, prepared by my brother's brother-in-law (a psychoanalyst and a spectacular cook), gefilte fish that had been doctored up with paprika and salt, mixed greens with cranberries and pumpkins seeds, bowls of charoset, sweet potato casserole, potato and onion kugel, chocolate-coated maccaroons, matzo-meal muffins and an enormous bowl of fruit salad. My sister-in-law and brother took shifts at the hospital and my sister-in-law burst into tears several times during the Seder. She said that her deepest fear---a sick child---had been realized. When she said that, we all stopped eating and talking. We knew this was a disease that was managable, but still, all our lives had changed, especially theirs. I started to wish my stepfather was there. He is Irish Catholic and a good sport about alll things Jewish, and he particularly likes the combination of brisket and horseradish he gets at Seders. He is also deft at making cheerful conversation. I had bought an Easter lily and a bag of jellybeans for him and wished I could break out the jellybeans and pass them around, get everyone going on a sugar high.

Today, I went to see my nephew. My stomach sank as I walked into the hospital. I have been to too many hospitals in the past few years, and sometimes when I've gone--for my father's chemotherapy, my grandmother's pneumonia---I knew we were at the beginning of the end. With my nephew, I didn't know what to expect; I just knew we were at the beginning of something long and hard. When I got to the pediatric award, he looked adorable---freckled and flushed and so delighted as he and my brother set out to build a race car out of Legos. When my sister-in-law went to find out how many carbohydrates were in the crackers he had just eaten, my nephew and my brother started to throw around the football that my younger son insisted I bring with me. I looked at the two of them passing the ball back and forth and thought, This is way it's going to be and thank God for it.

We have so many blessings, so many challenges. What else is new? All we can do is celebrate the holidays and hope. Happy Passover, Happy Easter, happy everything this spring.

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