Saturday, July 14, 2012

Friendship: it's a human thing (naming names)

A female friend of mine shared the link below with me recently.

It is a well-written tribute to the power of friendships between women. While I am not the one to denigrate female friendships (I went to a woman's college, for crying out loud, and that has changed my life profoundly), I don't think women are the only gender capable of stepping up and being there when a friend is in need.

I think all the time about the year of Joe D's illness and how indebted I am to the people who helped me navigate my way through. And that group of friends, which included the inimitable alumna of my college, of course, also included many men. So thank you to the women who helped me find an apartment when we needed a place to live that could accommodate my newly wheelchair-bound husband (thank you Andrea and Ilene), the moms from JR's school who organized a playdate schedule and cooked meal after meal for our family (thank you Victoria and the then-second grade moms and the church ladies), the moms who organized the packing party when we needed to move (thank you Suzanne and the second grade moms and the baseball moms), the women who arranged for my laundry to be done (thank you alumna and Anne) and the women who helped me pack the old house and unpack the apartment and then, a year later, pack and unpack again. Thank you to Melanie who used her days off to come give extra physical therapy sessions to Joe D. Thank you to Liz, who was always there to help me negotiate the medical world. Thank you to Joan, who made sure the apartment had a case of beer in it after Joe finally left us.

But while my women friends were right there with me, so were my men friends. There were also dad's from JR's school helping with the packing; other dads taking Joseph to baseball games and soccer games; Steve coming down from NYC once a week to sit with Joe D. in the hospital, in the rehab, in the nursing home, in the hospice; Ric finding tenants for our house and negotiating the lease and dealing with the things that went wrong in the night while the tenants were there; and Lyle bringing Joe that last bottle of cream soda he was craving in hospice. It was our friend Jim who sat with me in the surgical waiting room until 5:00 a.m. not knowing whether the doctors would be able to remove the tumor, not knowing whether Joe D. would ever walk again; it was Billy who took us to Boston for the second opinion and who was there to help negotiate every step of the way with Joe D's family.

And the co-workers who plastered the windows of the City's office building with "GET WELL JOE D." so it could be seen from his room in the rehab hospital? I don't know if they were men or women. I do know that they were friends.

As a mother raising a son, it is important to me that he grow up seeing not only the power of friendships between women, but also the way that men can be friends - to each other and to women. Luckily for me, I know that he will.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Denial is a not River in Africa

What better way to procrastinate than to write a blog entry for a blog that I have not kept updated? From what am I procrastinating? Christmas.

Well, not Christmas, but Christmas shopping. Leaving the house to buy gifts that I can ill -afford for people who don't really need anything.

JR is off for the evening - sleeping over a friend's house. Friend's mom e-mailed me "Enjoy your evening." How do I say that I never really enjoy my evenings without JR? Even when being with him means we are procrastinating by hanging out on the couch watching yet another Disney comedy on TV instead of ... shopping, paying bills, cleaning, unpacking, whatever chore I could be doing that arguably is more necessary than spending time on the couch with my son. I still prefer being with him and I never prefer these nights when he is out of the house (no matter how many DVR'ed episodes of Top Chef or Project Runway I can watch uninterrupted).

So I have a free evening and Christmas is no longer weeks or days away but hours. Yet for more than half the folks on my list I have no present. The presents I do have are unwrapped.
Still I procrastinate.

I think I spent the first year or so after Joe's death in denial. Denial about the state of the family finances. Denial about the depth of my grief. I really thought that I was an "expert" in grief, having lost so many family members (nana, grandmother, mother, father, youngest brother). So I never expected that this loss, the loss of my husband, of JR's father, would be so outrageously difficult.

I work so hard at keeping up appearances. Everything is fine. We're doing great. Look at JR. He's happy. He has tons of friends. You would never know there is a hole in our family.

And mostly, I am great at this deception. I have so many friends and such a great social life and yet, tonight, my evening without JR when I should be off shopping for gifts, I am sitting here in tears, with no idea who I could even call.

Tomorrow morning I will go to the office. I will leave early and head off to the stores and somehow finish the list. I will meet up with JR and his babysitter. I will argue with JR about appropriate clothes for the evening. We will go to see the Nutcracker with Joe D's cousins, who care for us and take care of us. We will watch the daughter of one of Joe D's best friends dance in two of the dances. Then I will come home and frantically wrap presents. Christmas Eve will be filled with Joe D's family and with church. There will be lots of food. We will eat many, many dishes of fish. Presents will be exchanged. I will beg off early because we need to go home and get ready for Santa. JR will go to sleep. My co-worker and her son will come and help me set up JR's big present.

Christmas morning will arrive. Santa will have arrived. There will be magic, then disappointment. No dog, no signed Babe Ruth baseball, no hot tub. None of those big ticket items on the list that never did get sent to Santa. Maybe the in-laws will come to see the tree. Then dinner at my co-workers. Then on Monday, lunch at my cousins' house - where JR can play with her little ones and my aging aunt, a religious sister, will have a chance to see everyone.

And everyone I see will think that I am fine. And that this is a Merry Christmas.

But it is not.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

National Poetry Month

4:30 a.m.
My growing boy takes up more
room in the bed than me.

Two days to spring break
Laundry, packing, getting set
No time to relax.

Clearwater Phillies
Baseball, baseball, more baseball
What could be better?

April is Nation-
al Poetry Month, not March.
I have jumped the gun.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Breathing a sigh of relief

I need to slow my breathing and get my heart to stop racing. Late afternoon, at work, I received a frantic phone call from the mom of JR's best friend. Z, who transferred to the local public school this year, did not come home from school. Usually, he walks home with his older brother (5th grade) but the older brother decided to stay for Homework Club. Since they live a mere 4 blocks from school, Z is allowed to walk home and has a key for his front door. Z's mom is home within 20-30 minutes of the boys' arrival home. This has worked well since September.

When she called me, the police had already been summoned and the parents were working their network of friends. I knew he couldn't be with JR because JR is at his school today until 6 (Drama Club and tutoring). She had called JR's babysitter, because she does sometimes do afternoon playdates with the 2 boys (but never without arranging it with the parents in advance). One of the problems is that because this is a new school for Z, the mom does not have the same contacts she had at our old school. It also doubled the number of possible places that Z could be, since he has friends from both schools.

So I started calling the folks I know whose kids go to the public school with Z (there's lots of overlap in our social networks because of sports and church and preschool). My second phone call led to a lead. The mom had seen Z and another public school 3rd grader in the drug store across the street from school. This other kid is unsupervised quite a bit, so my friend wasn't surprised to see him, but did think it unusual to see Z with him. She also knew that this other kid often goes to a local playground after school. So I called the lead into Z's mom, who told the police, who immediately sent an officer to the playground - and there was Z!

I was terrified and ultimately relieved for Z's parents.

It's odd. We live in the middle of a large city, but our own little neighborhood seems so tight and safe that we must project that feeling of security to our kids - so that it never occurs to them that just leaving school and not letting a responsible adult know where they are going and what they are doing.

You can bet I had a long talk with JR tonight.

I'm really glad Z is okay. His mom and I have already started brainstorming other supervised after school options for the days when his big brother has homework club. I am thankful for the prompt, caring response of our big city police officers. I am thankful for the seriousness with which Z's school also addressed the situation (the vice principal returned to school and started calling 3rd grade families). But I'm also very sad for Z's afternoon companion - because no one was looking for him, no one was worried about him. I know that to the extent it is within our power, we will always keep JR and Z safe. But who is watching out for the other little boy?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Joe D Memorial Tribute Celebration

We're almost 6 months out and Joe D's friends have not forgotten him
or us. Saturday I went to a remarkable event - the "Joe D. Memorial
Tribute Celebration". Several of Joe's buddies are musicians, some
more talented than others. :) Music was a huge part of Joe's life
(although being a pianist, his tastes did not always extend to the
raucous rock and roll that some of his friends liked to play).
Anyway, about 10 years ago, Joe's friends Tom and Jim Z, Lyle and
Allen put together a band called Crevice Tool that made up for their
musical ability in their willingness to be loud and raunchy. Joe D
told them "Most guys like us just sit around and talk about it
(forming a rock band). You guys actually went out and did it. You
should have just sat around and talked about it." They played in
friends' apartments and other spaces where the band was allowed to pay
the owner for the privilege of playing. The band struggled to stay
together when Tom left Philadelphia to go get his MBA and subsequently
settled in NYC. They broke up forever when one of the 4 decided to
vote for GWB and one of the others refused to be in a band with
someone whom he felt was so clueless regarding politics.

After Joe died, Tom and Jim Z decided they wanted to do something
special to honor him. So they convinced Crevice Tool to reunite for a
one-night only gig and thus the "Joe D Memorial Tribute Celebration"
idea was born. Tom came down from NYC almost weekly since July to
rehearse. They recruited another friend, Craig, who is a classically
trained guitarist, to sit in with them. They recruited our friends
Denis and Cammy who have a rock band called The Knife and
Fork Band
that has been successfully playing small local gigs for
about 15 years to be the opening act. One of our neighbors, also
formerly an attorney for the City, had a connection to a local club
called Connie's RicRac Room (a very dark, funky dive bar / performance
space that Joe D particularly liked). He managed to book the club for
a Saturday night. Crevice Tool (well, Tom) started writing songs
about Joe. They gathered up old photos and made a PowerPoint. We
publicized the event to our friends and neighbors. Crevice Tool also
decided they wanted to donate any profits. I convinced them that the
money should go to the Joseph DiGiuseppe Memorial Fund at the Friends
of The Free Library
, which is where donations went at the time of the

Saturday night, we had the event. We had somewhere between 80-100
people there. Joe's best friend from high school came up from
Maryland. Folks from Joe's office were there. Lots and lots of
neighbors. All of the friends Joe hung out with when we first started
dating. Many of the parents from Joseph's preschool (Denis and Cammy
and Jim also sent their kids there). We raised about $600 for the
library fund.

There were the usual last minute problems. Jim's viola broke so he
had to borrow Cammy's violin. The owners of the RicRac Room didn't
show up to open the place until 8:00 (show was supposed to start at
8), so there wasn't much of a sound check. Denis' sister Meg, who is
the lead vocalist for Knife and Fork, almost didn't make it because
her son had an appendicitis scare (he's okay). Jim's "dancers" bailed
out on him (don't ask me).

The show was a blast. Knife and Fork opened and played a great set.
Then Crevice Tool came out to much hooting and hollering. They played
some of their old standbys from 10 years ago - tweaked to reference
Joe (they have a song called "40 Ounces" but they changed the
reference from beer to Diet Coke). They got me up on stage to sing
background lyrics to a Husker Du song called "The Girl Who Lives on
Heaven Hill"
(some of you may know that in my pre-Joe D., pre-law
school youth, I was a bit of a punk rocker and used to house members
of Husker Du and a few other punk bands when they had gigs in Phila).
They played a song entitled the "Ballad of Joe D and Theresa" which
progressed from Joe living with his parents to meeting me on the
subway to our traveling to Kazakhstan and adopting Joseph. Jim Z. did
his best Ice-T imitation and did a rap about Joe. The absolute
highlight of the night, though, was Tom's song "Fanny Pack" which was
a litany of most of Joe D's opinionated rants about life in South
Philadelphia (if you ever met Joe D on a non-work day, he could be
found wearing a t-shirt, zippered hoodie, grey or black sweatpants,
with a fanny pack (he called it his "black thing") around his waist -
he made quite the fashion statement). I laughed so hard I was in

The obituary, funeral and the outpouring of love we were shown in May
was one thing - but this, this was a send-off! We are so lucky.
Everyone should have such friends.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Best Friends

JR has a buddy Z. They started at the same preschool when they were
18 months old (Z is 2 months older, so he was at the preschool when
JR arrived). JR used to come home and tell me "Mommy, Z loves me
and I love Z." Z left the year before kindergarten to do a pre-K
year at the private school where his mom worked. Kindergarten arrived,
and JR rejoined Z at that private school. Being a progressive
school, they are attuned to things like friendships and so JR and Z
were placed together in kindergarten. The teachers opted to keep them
together when they moved into first and second grade. They were on the
same soccer team this fall. They play in the same baseball league (not
on the same team). Although JR has gained many new friends at his
school, Z is always the #1 friend.

We learned this weekend that Z's mom's contract was not renewed at
the school for the fall, so she and her 2 boys will be leaving. The
boys will be going to their neighborhood public school - which is an
excellent school. People lie about their addresses to get their kids
into this school. They live in the neighborhood adjoining our old
neighborhood. Of course, JR and Z will still see each other.

Z's parents broke the news to their boys today and Z's response
was "I need to tell JR." They spoke on the phone this evening.
JR took it very hard. The call was cut short because both families
were on the road at the time. Z called JR when they both got home
and JR was too upset to talk to him. He cried like his heart was
broken. He cried until I was in tears. He cried himself to sleep.

I feel so bad for my little guy.