If you think you can determine your level of sanity based on interactions with key family members, you are delusional. That said, please click on the humor essays below and decide how seriously to take my prior statement.
Beware of senior citizens wielding anything loaded. Read the tale of how I took my life and my potential souvenirs in my hands when, for a brief moment, I asked Mom to dabble in 20th century technology.
When my sister turned into a grandmother, my latest self-image crisis was triggered. (This essay is dedicated to four generations of Davis/Klein/Gottlieb women.)
Say What?!? Again?
I have a family member who makes a perfect subject for an article. Fortunately, she'll never read it because she's computer-phobic and thinks the Internet is a new contraption for women with thinning hair.
We're talking about Mom.
She's an amazing woman in many ways, and although she is going strong in her late seventies, her hearing is going, period. Everyone knows it's not uncommon for people to develop a hearing loss across certain frequencies as they age. Likewise, it's not uncommon to resist acknowledging this condition. I've tried telling her it is nothing to be ashamed of, but my words are falling on questionably-functioning ears.
As a variation on the juvenile argument that "all the kids have them, so why can't I?" I offered, "Lots of important people wear hearing aids."
"Like who?" she asked.
I said I couldn't name names, except I thought I had read somewhere that Monica Lewinsky wore one that coordinated with her famous blue dress. (It's now in Ken Starr's protective custody, being checked for telltale genetic material.) This information didn't sway my mother. She insisted that her hearing was fine because she passed a hearing screening conducted at the village hall in 1987. In fact, the report is attractively framed on the wall in her bedroom.
Mom exhibits many of the classic signs of hearing loss. When we talk to her, she often asks us to repeat things. At a recent family barbecue, someone asked her to pass the hotdogs. She obliged and sent the hot sauce down to the person making the request. And I was flustered when her neighbor from across the street approached me as I was getting out of my car at her house. He said that Mom's television had kept him awake several nights that week, and he didn't care for Letterman's jokes either.
You know things are bad when you have to apologize to perfect strangers for something your mother has done. It was time to take action.
I suggested that she have her hearing tested and she agreed. Great, I thought. First hurdle cleared. Then she expressed concern over how hearing aids look. I had done a little Internet research and told her that some of the newer assistive communication devices were barely noticeable. "What did you say about the community drive-in? I thought they tore that thing down years ago."
She checked the village newsletter and marked her calendar with the date of the next hearing screening. I told her to give me a call and I'd meet her over there, since the village hall is three minutes from where I work. She agreed.
Several weeks later, when we were at her house for dinner, I asked about the screening. She said she had gone but didn't want to bother me at work.
"It wouldn't have been a bother, but okay. So, did you pass?"
"He didn't tell me I didn't."
I wanted to say, you mean you didn't HEAR him tell you that you failed. I took a deep breath. "Mom, can I see the written report he gave you?"
She left the kitchen and a few minutes later, returned with a yellow paper. There was a graph showing a line for "normal" hearing in her age range, and dotted and dashed lines denoting results for her left and right ears. I started with the good news first, just as I do when reviewing my son's report card. "Look at this! Your hearing is in the normal range here, and here and here. That's great."
She smiled and started to take the paper from me.
"Hold on a minute. See this? Where the line drops below the normal range? That indicates a possible hearing loss in these frequencies."
"Really?" She looked doubtful. "As I said, the guy didn't say anything to me, but he wasn't a very friendly type to begin with."
I perused the entire report. "Mom, look at this part near the bottom under the chart--where there are boxes for referrals. There's an X in the box beside the sentence, 'Referred for further hearing test.'"
"Mar, he never said a thing to me."
"I believe you, Mom. You know how government employees are. And look up at the top, where it says, 'Results of screening.' There are two boxes: Pass and Fail." I didn't have the heart to tell my mother she was a failure, so I just pointed to the F.
It is now one week later. She had promised to check with a friend who wears a hearing aid about a possible place to get an examination. When I spoke with Mom a few minutes ago, she said she's been very busy and hasn't had time, but she would definitely make the call next week. Did she hear herself say that, or was it just me?
Name That Kid
I thought I was just in the hospital for a delivery. No big deal. Take a Lamaze class, breathe deeply, and BINGO. Baby. Wrap him up in a little blue blanket, toss him into the car seat and we're outta there.
We bought a three-inch thick baby-naming book immediately after we discovered we were having a boy. Ruling out all the girls' names was a cinch. Then we eliminated those of notorious mass murderers, serial killers, and impeached presidents. That left the field fairly wide open. Or so I thought.
But the kid arrived ten days early, before my husband and I had come to a final agreement. At the hospital, a diligent staff member stopped in every hour, on the hour, to complete the birth certificate. We kept sending her away, frustrated and name-deprived. Here we were, one day after the miracle of childbirth, already being forced to make a decision that would impact the kid's life forever. We couldn't mess this up.
My husband flipped through the book to the pages we had earmarked and recited each name as a question. With every utterance, I scrutinized the face of our little bundle of joy.
-- "Forget it!"
-- "Are you kidding?"
"What's the problem, Marilyn?" my husband finally asked in frustration.
"Well, as I might have once told you, Fred was this jerk who dated my best friend in college, dumped her, hit on me, I fell for him, then she and I were messed up for the better part of a year--"
"Okay, okay. So what's wrong with Larry?"
"Everything! He asked me to go steady with him in seventh grade and the next day, pretended he didn't even know me!" Tears filled my eyes. As if I hadn't already been through enough in that hospital, now I was having to re-live junior high school rejections.
Mitch? (A villain on a soap opera I followed for several years.)
Joel? (When we met at a social function, he presented himself as a medical student, but after two great dates, I found out he was a mortician, practicing without a license. He was also wanted for fraud in the state of Nevada, having allegedly masterminded an unsavory scheme involving spoiled Cabbage Patch dolls.)
It amazed me to discover just how many men I had known in my thirty-three years. Long-forgotten creeps who I was fixed up with in high school all of a sudden reared their pimply faces in our hospital room. Guys who I spent countless dollars on in therapy to erase their memory from my life, came back at me with a vengeance.
I ruled out name after name and my husband started to get annoyed. Since I had only lived--and dated--in the U.S., he wondered if he should run to the store for a different book that might include names with a more international flavor. I told him not to bother. While I have nothing personal against these names, given my cultural background, I couldn't see calling my adorable little muffin-cake Sergerami or Drewhaha or Jugnet.
He kept reading and I kept shaking my head. What I didn't dismiss because of past history, I rejected for other reasons: it was a great uncle who smelled bad; a crusty old piano teacher who sat too close to me on the bench; or a baseball player who caused the Cubs to lose yet another pennant. In the absence of all else, I nixed the name on the grounds that the baby simply didn't look like a "Neal" or "Jeffrey" or "Satchmo."
I handed the baby to my husband and began searching the book in earnest for what was eluding us. Perhaps, I thought, I should check the name along with its derivation. We found one we both liked, but it was from the Hebrew, meaning "sensitive waffle." Another intriguing possibility came from the Latin, meaning "creator of dot com empires." Unfortunately this produced a sing-songy first/last name combination that I was sure he'd get teased about. I weakened when I saw a name from the old English, meaning "successful neurosurgeon; also an Olympic medalist in swimming and dwarf hurling," but in old high German, it meant "a sad, trickling knot." NOT.
Finally we set a deadline for ourselves, assisted by overzealous hospital administrators breathing down our necks because the infant couldn't be released nameless. Even under this pressure, we managed to pick a name that has worked out well for everyone concerned. It only matches two men I dated, and neither relationship ended in calamity. One guy is a rocket scientist in the Denver area; the other, I think, plays a swami in the fortune-telling booth at the traveling circus that swings through town every summer.
The next time my son tests my sanity with his teenage tactics, I'll look at him smugly and tell him how close he came to being named "Dung."