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Great Grandma Ada turned 95 this past weekend. Friends and family traveled from California, NJ, NC and Florida just to celebrate our Matriarch’s special day. High Tea was served in the Cafe at Thistle Farms, a recovery program for women who have been trafficked, who suffer from addiction and/or are transitioning from the sex trade industry. Started by an Episcopal woman minister, Thistle Farms is a shining light in Nashville; a leader in providing a safe work/therapy model for survivors and selling their hand made home and body care products. #LoveHeals https://thistlefarms.org/

Ms Ada was radiant throughout, sitting between her second husband of nearly 40 years and her grandson, the Rocker. She said later how she looked out at the mosaic of interesting, accomplished, beautiful people and thought how very lucky she is – musicians, therapists, doctors and lawyers, many she had known for most of their lives. Her home in NJ was a safe and accepting way-station during the 1960s. Your family threw you out? She would provide a bedroom. Planning a trip to Woodstock? No problem, she would send you off in style, in a school bus!

A practicing Marriage and Family therapist, Ada is still available as a consultant. Although she broke her hip last year, her spirit and willingness to listen to your problems is intact and always at the ready. She warned Bob when we married that she will always take MY side! And she meant it… Great Grandpa Hudson has coined her “insatiable,” every person she meets wants to open up to her about their troubles. One day, we were in a Talbots dressing room, and the salesgirl sat down on the floor to pour out her heart. Another marriage saved!

But some marriages are not meant to survive, which is why I was intrigued by this WSJ article, “The Math Behind Successful Relationships.” https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-do-i-love-thee-a-mathematician-counts-the-ways-11549627200?mod=e2tw

Turns out, you can almost predict which marriages will stand the test of time by watching the way couples argue. Leave it to a bunch of statisticians to quantify love:

“Marriages, they found, fell into five categories: validating, volatile, conflict–avoiding, hostile and hostile–detached (a significantly more negative pairing). Only three—validating, volatile and conflict–avoiding—are stable, they write in their book, but a volatile marriage, though passionate, risks dissolving into endless bickering.”  

Not sure I agree with the “conflict-avoiding” one, although my foster parents fell into that category and they were happy for 50+ years. So think about the way you treat conflict in your relationship: sometimes, if Bob and I are bickering, I’ll turn to him and say, “But I thought your sole purpose in life is to make me happy?” Then he smiles, and we reach a compromise. Turns out humor is also a great predictor. Who said something like, “Sex slows, beauty fades, but humor always stays?”

But the fun has got to be mutual. Another sure sign of distress is if one person is laughing while the other is NOT. That’s a sure sign of contempt and a true indicator of divorce.

In other news, it’s a good thing I just replaced my driver’s license, if you know what I mean.

Looking for some couple counseling, just give Ms Ada a call. Happiest Birthday to my mentor in Life and Love! Ada had the courage to leave her first husband and the ability to open her heart to a guy, Great Grandpa Hudson, (the only grandfather my children have ever known), a recovering Baptist preacher from NC; another algorithm you’d never find on Match.com. or Bumble. Here is our beautiful Ada on an Army base in the 1950s. I’ll have to ask her what she thinks of math and marriage.

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  1. Nobody has to win! Honestly, marriage is not a game, it’s more like an endless marathon. Whenever you come across a problem, don’t just ignore it, it will become infected. 99% of conflict happens when one person is feeling ignored, so listen. Really listen, and think about your own contribution to the problem. Put down your defense mechanism, and pick up your empathy.
  2. Change it Up! An endless marathon can get boring, but not if you take some long, windy roads along the way. Sure there’s something to be said for consistency, but people change, and so will your relationship. Once you were a young mom, writing for a newspaper, and now you’re an old nana writing a blog. In between, you raised two kids, tried your hand at medical coding, helped a friend open a knitting store, went to grad school, and sat on a school board seat. Keep growing and your relationship will keep blooming.
  3. Stay True to Yourself! Okay so you’re married, that doesn’t mean you must do everything together. Two fully formed adults can’t really become one living, breathing personality. I love to dance, and play games, like tennis or cards. Bob has two left feet and has absolutely no interest in anything remotely competitive. He is a pilot and loves to fly, I have a white-knuckle fear of flying. Hey, if we went on Match.com there’s NO way this algorithm would work! Yet, here we are.
  4. Be Supportive! It’s the little things that count. A friend once told me her husband always keeps her favorite drink in the garage refrigerator, and refills the kitchen fridge without being asked… imagine not having to ask your husband to do something around the house! For me, it’s the Keurig. When I stumble into the kitchen in the morning and the coffee reservoir is filled with water, I know Bob loves me.
  5. Conduct a Performance Review! We used to have 5 year plans that we’d discuss on our anniversary. Where do we see ourselves in 5 years? But now that Bob has retired and we’ve had a few medical scares, we’ve decided every year on our anniversary to have a critical conversation. We’ll discuss what we’ve done right in the past year, what we’ve managed to bungle, and what we want to do better in the coming year. After all, time is flying – this life is short.

After 40 years as husband and wife, we decided to see where this next year will take us. I’m finally feeling at home in Nashville, and Bob’s thinking about joining a flying club. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always 50 – 50. Sometimes I’m giving 80% and sometimes I’m giving 20%, but the trick is to not give up on one another. As Sally Field once said, “Go into the heart of the Dragon.”

Here is Bob at 70, making me my very first Chai Tea smoothie!

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It’s another semi-sunny, semi-rainy day in Nashville and I was going to semi-write this morning, but Bob wanted to “talk,” and the Bride wanted to stop by on her way to the garden store. She had one of those hard ER shifts last night, the kind you don’t get over easily. So, off we went in the drizzle to roam among living green things – I needed some pots and I bought her a fig tree. In her city garden, this tree will be safe from marauding deer.

…the fig tree symbolizes life, prosperity, peace and righteousness throughout the Bible. Micah 4:4 reads: “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and no one shall make them afraid.”       http://biblicalanthropology.blogspot.com/2012/05/fig-tree-in-biblical-symbolism.html

My city garden is nearly complete. Our neighbor, Ms Berdelle, has gifted us friends from her garden – artemisia and trumpet plants, but we are running out of room. Our little plot is mostly pebbles, mulch and a fantastic fire pit, so I’ve been planting flowers and herbs in pots. I love to cook and walk out my kitchen door to pick fresh rosemary for a lamb stew. This year I’m planting leeks for the first time, because what Irish stew is finished without leeks?

While browsing all the colorful, beautiful ceramic pots this morning, I thought of my first husband for some strange reason. The story of the cache pot came to mind, pronounced “cash poh,” it is an entirely decorative container for plants. I bought a gorgeous, expensive, Italian pot as a new house gift for one of the partners in his law firm. We were supposed to go to the housewarming party and as a 20 year old new wife, I thought it was a thoughtful gift, just elegant enough, but earthy! After all, he was the new associate.

I remember it cost $50, which in 1970 was alot of money.

Well, we never went to that party. It was the longest, drag-down fight I ever had with him. Don’t misunderstand. He would never hit me, but his words could wound in other ways. I spent too much on the gift, which was followed by how utterly worthless I was as a wife/woman/person. I locked myself in the bathroom for the whole night. I wonder now how I could have ever been so impossibly young and immature, but I guess it’s the nature of things.

To learn and grow from those lessons.

I must finish planting by Sunday because we’re having the official installation of the fairy house on our tree stump. Tinker Bell has been buzzing by, waiting patiently.

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…and counsel in private.” I’ve heard Bob say this any number of times, it’s a management strategy. You just don’t dress down your colleagues in a committee meeting. I’ve heard this wise advice as a young soccer coach to my son’s team. Don’t humiliate a child in front of his team, goes without saying, no? I’ve heard it while studying for an education degree; ask to see the student after class, or walk out into the hall with a disruptive or disaffected student. Never, ever lash out verbally in the classroom.

Not like the old days, when Sister Mary Claire felt just fine swatting the back of my knees in front of everyone. Which served its purpose well, I still hate chewing gum.

Well Bob has been trying to get this point – you compliment publicly, and counsel privately – across to Mr T, every time we heard some scathing news item about his first trip abroad, in particular his public critique of NATO… I could hear Bob grumbling in the background. Thank God Bob is not on Twitter, he’d probably blow a gasket like that angry cartoon character in Inside Out!

Let’s just admit it, we have a buffoon for a President. He rides on a golf cart in the streets of Taormina, Sicily, behind all the other G7 leaders as they walk together. He needs his own Pope-mobile cause he’s so tired. How many remember the outcry when Hillary stumbled to her car while working with the flu. The silence on the Right is deafening.

They walked the 700 yards from the traditional G7 group photo, taken at a Greek amphitheatre, to a piazza in the hilltop town, but Mr Trump stayed behind until he could take a seat in the electric vehicle,” The Times reported. It also noted that Trump arrived last for the photo as the 6 other leaders stood waiting for him.

And then, Mr T pushes the newest member of NATO out of the way for his photo op?! Forget about the French handshake (actually the French kiss hello but we all know that wasn’t happening), the flapping of Melania’s hand at his (“Stay away from me you crass, crass man”), we now know that Saint Angela can see the writing on the wall.

To think that he has managed so much destruction of foreign alliances in so little time is mind boggling. I believe Mr T is tired, and I think he wants to rule like Mr Putin, he knows that whatever he says or does will be forgiven by his adoring fans. No matter that his most triumphant feat of travel was getting “triumphant” arms deals with Saudi Arabia, a Sunni country with a history of civil rights abuses who sent their terrorists over here to learn to fly planes without landing them…to attack Mr T’s own emerald city and our Pentagon.

Trump enthusiastically participated in a symbolic funeral for the Arab uprisings by embracing repressive leaders such as Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. No activists, civil society leaders or intellectuals were present, and Trump explicitly disavowed any pressure to alleviate their suffering at the hands of abusive regimes. Arab regimes will have ample opportunity to continue their long practice of manipulating the discourse of terrorism to justify the wide-scale repression of civil society, independent media, and political dissent.   https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/05/22/what-kind-of-deal-is-trump-making-with-saudi-arabia/?utm_term=.fa7cef71dc03

Let’s not forget that Mr T made a deal, a 110 Billion dollar deal, for weapons/arms/defense so that our proxy war with Iran can continue unabated. Hawks can rejoice on the Hill, our leverage in parts of the Mideast is secure . But what about the Putin/Trump bromance? And what about Iran’s election of a moderate leader? Oh and that nasty story about Russia influencing our election. #whataboutheremails??!!

There was little fanfare this Memorial Day weekend when a judge dismissed the suit against Hillary over Benghazi deaths and her emails. Nor were there many pictures of her walking in the Memorial Day parade in Chappaqua, NY. Walking in the rain, not riding in a golf cart.

I have no doubt that Hillary’s experience as Madame Secretary, combined with her law degree and experience as a mother and FLOTUS, would have taught her eons ago that little golden rule about complimenting publicly, and counseling or criticizing privately. I also doubt that the current President can be taught anything about diplomacy, foreign or otherwise.

Meanwhile, on a happier note, the Bride and Groom stopped by on their way to a Cville wedding this weekend. The visit was too short, but the force in this marriage is strong!

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Insisting I get back to “normal,” I found myself on a bike at the gym reading the New Yorker. It’s the latest issue and the extremely long, entangled article titled, “Are You My Mother?” (a gay couple, an adoption plan, and a brutal custody battle) by Ian Parker held my interest; so much so that I would have never have left the bike if not for my aching back! New York family law was in the midst of defining what makes a parent for same sex couples – biology, adoption, support, intent? After all, it is a bit tricky.

Still I had two mothers long before it was even possible with open adoptions, LGBT rights, and the latest in reproductive wizardry. My mothers had made an arrangement in 1949; Nell would care for me while the Flapper was recuperating from her injuries. My biological mother couldn’t afford to pay her and she didn’t offer. I found out later the Flapper was receiving a small stipend from the state of PA as a widow with children, but my foster parents never asked for money. No papers had been signed, only an oral contract asking Nell NOT to adopt me.

In this Brooklyn case of two mothers (Hamilton v Gunn) there was also no contract signed. Two women were a couple who had planned to adopt, it was an international adoption and so one had to “pretend” to be a single heterosexual woman, only before the adoption became final these women broke up. Pure and simple – they were no longer a couple, yet the one woman, Hamilton, who had begun the process of adoption still wanted a child. And so she continued and brought home a boy from Ethiopia. They had never married, though one claimed they’d been engaged.

For years the previously romantic couple continued their friendship, naming the other woman, Gunn, the boy’s Godmother, To complicate matters, this other woman continued to help financially and also to babysit at times. It wasn’t until Hamilton decided to return to Great Britain where she would be able to find work and be close to her family that Gunn sought out a lawyer, thereby striking new territory in parent equality cases – many times while reading this article I thought to myself, if this had been between a man and a woman what would have happened? Why is a same sex couple treated differently by the courts?

In most family law cases it comes down to this: what is the best decision for the child! This best-interests rule is dubious at best. Hillary Clinton wrote in 1973 that the rule is used as “…a rationalization by decision-makers justifying their judgements about a child’s future, like an empty vessel into which adult perceptions and prejudices are poured.”   http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/22/what-makes-a-parent

Who will be able to afford the best schools, the better vacations, etc and most commonly it was the marginalized parent without resources who would inevitably lose. The women’s movement gave us some freedom, but made mothers who traditionally hadn’t developed a career outside the home, more vulnerable in family custody hearings by granting more rights to fathers. Remember the movie Kramer vs Kramer? That scenario scarred me for life.

In the end, Gunn lost her case because the judge said that their plan to adopt had terminated – that it had not “continued unabated.” The little boy would get his passport back, but since Gunn has appealed the ruling, there will be no flying away to England in the foreseeable future. So the lawyers get richer and the child is stuck in limbo.

In cases like these, I am always drawn to the Biblical story involving two mothers and the sound Judgement of Solomon. I want to believe the real mother would naturally give up her child in the end, would never allow a sword to be used, even in the metaphorical sense. Maybe that’s because I was always going back and forth, between two mothers, two states, two very different temperaments. With Nell and Daddy Jim I had the unconditional love of two parents, and for that reason the Flapper never insisted I return to her. She worked hard, she moved to NJ, and she waited, until it was my decision.

And in my opinion, love, like the definition of family, is expanding all the time.

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“Do we have any plans?”

A simple question yes, but I’ve been hearing it alot lately. At the end of this month my husband Bob will retire. You heard me correctly, he will hang up his stethoscope for maybe the last time. And like most American housewives of the newly retired, I am beginning to wonder what the rest of my life will be like.

Our cousin Anita tells me that men who golf do much better in retirement. Her friends are not complaining so much. They don’t require lunch, they make dates with their friends and get their manly fix swinging sword-like putters on the golf course, returning home from their natural habitat conquering (or quivering) heroes.

Bob doesn’t golf. But he does fly.

Unfortunately, someone is flying up from Florida this weekend (we shall see how Hurricane Matthew affects this plan) to buy his little Arrow four-seater. It’s been on the market since his surgery last year; so hanging in the hangar so to speak will be off the table.

Our friend MJ tells me that when her husband retired, at about the same time her daughter’s family moved out of her second floor and into their new newly built home, she was trepidatious. After all, her husband was a businessman who travelled the world frequently. But men in the business world can remain as consultants, and that is exactly what her husband has done. Plus, he can drop in on his grand daughter anytime he wants.

Bob’s always been the leader of his pack, the director, the owner.

Bob’s grandkids are in Nashville with my grandkids and doctors rarely consult after retirement. When we visited his UVA doctor this past year for a check-up – a man about the same age who is cutting back on patients and teaching more – he swiveled away from his computer and looked Bob right in the eye, saying bluntly.

“What are you going to do? You’re not the kind of guy who goes to Lowe’s every day.”

True. And do doctors ever really retire? I’ve known some to work right up into their 80s, but these are usually Internists, GPs who sit and swivel mostly. Not ER docs who run around the clock moving all sorts of serious and semi-serious emergencies in and out the doors like a Roadrunner…24/7 every day of the year…

It’s hard to imagine my husband doing nothing, literally. And to be honest, there are a few new things he can dabble with in medicine. After all, he’s been doing telemedicine his whole life with our family and friends. Rashes are sent via text, foreign objects in the eye are discussed. But the cord to a hospital will be cut for good.

He doesn’t do laundry, even though he likes folding. He is an excellent sous chef in the kitchen, when asked. And strangely enough, I didn’t think this whole retirement phase would bother me. After all, he never worked a 9 to 5 job and often works weekends and holidays; I am used to him puttering around the house, mowing the lawn on good ole John Deere, editing medical journals in his office and catching up with charts. Once upon a time he would cut down trees for firewood and tend a garden…

Long ago I put my foot down – I don’t do lunch. So when Bob’s home during the day, we often go out to lunch, or just “pick.” That’s one of those generational things, like Ada makes lunch for the world should they stop by. That greatest generation would leave a cooked dinner covered in the fridge for the hubby if they happened to be out one night. Millennials order food online and cook it together.

My generation was stuck in the middle, fledgling feminists feeling the need to hunt and supply a “home-cooked” meal every night. Last night I made bangers and mash. WHY? Because sausages were on sale at Whole Foods, and I was thinking about those beer gardens in Eastern Europe since a friend is posting her travel pix on Facebook! Thank God I didn’t Instagram it.

Last night I politely asked Bob to stop asking me about plans. He said he thinks maybe he should get another job! Will we travel more? Take long walks on the beach? Talk? Make more vegetable soup? To quote Disney’s Chef Gusteau:   793759230-f6b3178ce351ee8f3901fe91febe95fb

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Do you believe in fate? Bashert is the Yiddish word for destiny, and since I was just visiting Great Grandma Ada and Hudson, I was the happy recipient of a certain cultural recap (or comeuppance). Acceptance of our fate, our place in this world is the touchstone of religious thought and certain ideologies. Why suffer and struggle? Remember that famous theologian’s prayer; “God grant us the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….”

Well Ada is reading “Fates and Furies,” by Lauren Groff – her book club assigned this book to her. She must report on it at their next meeting and believe me, it’s a long and complicated piece of fiction. Full of sub-plots and interesting characters. The protagonist, Mathilde’s husband Lancelot (Lotto), grows up in Florida – a place someone on our Viking ship said is for “Golfers and Alcoholics” to retire, and he said this lovingly since he was from FL!  I read the book many months ago and suggested she watch this video – https://charlierose.com/videos/23139

The author is writing about love, friendship and marriage. Since Ada has been a marriage counselor most of her adult life, I get why the group picked her! But she hasn’t finished the book yet and I remember how it ends. The long denouement of Mathilde, her tragic backstory, her isolation and abandonment. Should I tell Ada? I kept this to myself, and just told her that Groff is a feminist. An author who is taking us deep inside a woman’s rage. An author who writes in longhand from 5 am to 3 pm every day when she picks up her children from school. What a good husband!

The novel tells the story of Lotto and Mathilde Satterwhite. He is the darling of a prosperous Florida family – “Lotto was special. Golden”. She, an apparent “ice princess”, is the survivor of a past about which her husband has only the fuzziest idea beyond it being “sad and dark”, and above all “blank behind her”. The first half of the book offers Lotto’s view of their life together as he rises from charming but failed actor to celebrated playwright, thanks in no small part to Mathilde’s editorial finesse. The second half reveals that Mathilde has, through implacable willpower, transcended circumstances that read like a hotchpotch of Greek tragedy, fable and detective novel. Much of what Lotto takes for granted in his good fortune, it turns out, is due to Mathilde’s ruthless machination, right down to their marriage itself. She genuinely loves him, but she initially set out to win him for mercenary reasons.  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/24/why-the-fates-and-furies-this-years-most-talked-about-novel

Groff tells us that any good marriage must retain an air of mystery. I love that idea, but I could see that Ada wasn’t quite buying it. After all, therapy is about laying your heart out on the rug and trampling all over it, right?

Spending a few days back in NJ, to attend cousin Harriet’s funeral and the shiva calls that are part of this world, I learned more about her life. Harriet, like Mathilde, was slightly mysterious. She once sang on the radio, and she went para-sailing with a grandson at the age of 80! I loved learning new things about her; she and Perry once owned a condo in Boca. Who knew?

But navigating the maddening crowds at Shop Rite and Bob’s family has taught me one thing. You really can’t go home again. My old Queen Anne house on Orchard Street is now a duplex, and the Jewish Center across the street is a Baptist Church. Was it really fate that led Bob to meet me there, in front of my old house, one summer day in 1962?

I’m not a great believer in destiny.

We make our own luck, and if we don’t like where we are, we have the freedom in this country to change it. There is a semi-opaque membrane between our young selves and our future. Some people get stuck along the way. They define themselves as a certain type of person, and they settle into that role. I would not want to look back on my life, and wonder how I got there. IMG_4698

 

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