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I don’t know how long I sat there. My hands were clasped in sweaty-palmed desperation. My eyes were shut and my jaw clenched. The office bustled around me and phones rang. I ignored the morning commotion of the sales office and concentrated. I was praying. Bargaining, really. I was cutting deals left and right with God.

I was praying so hard I was sweating. I was praying with my whole body, physically willing God to listen to me. I laid everything I had in me on the table.

I was praying for my brother to have cancer. To have a specific type of cancer. We already knew that he was sick. We already knew that is was malignant and that it had spread. We had been told that it was cancer. We just didn’t know what type. We were given two probabilities. One awful, the other devastating. I was praying for my brother to have the awful kind of cancer. The one that had a slightly better chance of survival.

And even though every muscle in my body was tense with fear, I had to resist the urge to laugh. The absurdity of my feverish praying. Please God, please. Let my brother have Rhabdomyosarcoma. Please. We will fight it and we will make something good come out of it. Just please, if you can’t make this all go away, please let him have this kind of cancer. 

I don’t know how long I sat in my cubicle going round for round in the deal making. At some point, I unclenched my hands and loosened the lock in my jaw. It was time to leave for the hospital. I took a moment to assess. I decided I felt good. Optimistic. Strong. I was sure in that moment that we were not going to hear fantastic news, but it would be something we could deal with. I relied on this gut instinct to get me out of my chair and out the door.

I stood up and steadied my shaking legs. I had to pull myself together. I ignored the stilted air escaping from my lungs, and walked to my car.

Driving to the hospital I almost felt a sense of peace. It’s going to be ok. With deliberate casualness, I made my way through the sterile halls to my brother’s room. I must have been late, or the doctor was early, but when I opened the door the heaviness in the air spilled out the doorway and almost took my breath away. I took in the scene. Everyone was expressionless, listening to the doctor speak. I looked over at my brother, leaning against the propped up pillows in the bed. When I saw him I went weak with fear. His face said everything and nothing. Stone faced, eyes dark. He didn’t move. He stared at the wall and I felt terror at what he might be seeing. I felt any bit of hope drown in the heaviness of his empty gaze. I swallowed hard and turned my attention back to the doctor as he finished his sentence…

“We have seen some cases of survival.”

Some. Some cases of survival. What does that mean? But I knew what it meant. He had deliberately and carefully emphasized the word “some.” He was going to great pains to not give us false hope. I heard a blur of words as my head started spinning, “Stage four.” “Aggressive treatment.” My brother didn’t have the awful kind of Cancer. He had the devastating kind.

The nightmare we’d all been denying was playing out.

I wanted to scream and rip out the blinds and throw stuff. I wanted to run out of the room and escape. I wanted to run to the doctor and shake him and beg him to make it go away, to take back the words he’d just said. I wanted to run to my brother’s bed and hold him. To tell him that it would be ok. That it was all a mistake. Please don’t be scared. Please don’t give up. Please tell me you’ll fight this and win. I didn’t do any of that. I couldn’t move. He was my baby brother, the annoying kid that teased me and played pranks on me. The brother that I was supposed to protect and look out for. And I felt like I was letting him down, just standing there doing nothing. I didn’t know what to do, how to make this better. I was lost. Completely, fully lost.

We all were trying to process what we’d just heard. We were all doing our best to keep it together and be strong. My brother didn’t move. Didn’t acknowledge that he’d heard a thing. He just stared at the blank wall with a dullness I had never seen in his eyes. The look on his face broke me.

I think I may have let out a whimper. I ran out of the room, disgusted with myself even as I was doing it. Fleeing. Avoiding. I exploded into violent sobs on the floor.  My mind was racing while my body was revolting to the news. I tried to imagine what was going through his mind. Was he thinking about dying? Was he scared? Was he pissed? He just stared. I couldn’t stop seeing his face.

I worried that they could hear me, but I couldn’t control any of it. I was helpless. My body was reacting physically and bearing witness to my lack of control. I couldn’t control the manic sobs any more than I could control my brother’s cancer. It was the first time in my life I had no idea how to proceed. I had never not known what to do next. I had never not been able to find some sliver of hope. I had nothing. I was empty.

My brother began chemo and radiation immediately. Our lives became littered with new language. Words we’d had the luxury of never learning the meaning of before. We learned about the limited options of being diagnosed with a rare pediatric cancer. We learned about the lack of treatments tailored to my brother’s disease. We learned that Oncologists had to get creative when it came to treating diseases like Ewing’s Sarcoma. Our roles changed. My mom had to become a nurse to her 16 year old son. My sister and I took to researching and reading and digging to find any treatment or obscure therapy that could help. We all fought.

My brother fought. He fought with an easy grace. The stone face with the dark eyes I saw in the hospital that day- they were replaced with the laughter and mischief that always played on his features. He joked his way through treatments, he kept us all laughing and strong. He did stuff that teenage boys are supposed to do- hang out with their friends, cut up and get into trouble. I don’t have time for cancer he would say as he would head out the door and brush off my mom’s concerns about him over-doing it. He gave us all a little hope while he did the heavy lifting. We occasionally even felt joy that wasn’t laced with fear.

Eventually, the cancer had it’s way. Cancer took his life from us a few months after he turned 18. The shock of loosing him wasn’t dulled by knowing it would happen. I still have trouble comprehending the fact that he won’t be walking through the door.

I still feel my heart stop when I think about that look on his face that day in the hospital. It’s a memory I don’t visit often, but when I do I’m right back in that room. All of my fears live in that room still. When someone in my family gets sick repeatedly. When my four year old son had an unexplained illness that wouldn’t go away. When the doctors were running test after test. There are many times I’m right there, standing on the edge of panic and despair. The reality of a devastating diagnosis too real, too fresh in my mind.

I have had to learn to fight those fears. I have learned to walk out of that room calmly now. I think about my brother. His fighting attitude. Every time my thoughts and fears threaten to take me back to that place, I remember his words.

I don’t have time for cancer.

 

Today is Rare Disease Awareness Day. Please consider, when you decide where your charitable dollars are going, that some diseases don’t get much attention or research. That parents are spending hours raising money for treatments and clinical trials when they should be able to focus on spending time with their child. That approximately 50% of the people afflicted with rare diseases are children and of those roughly 30% will not survive. That 95% of rare diseases don’t have even one FDA approved drug treatment. 

 

 

 

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“You feelin’ alright

I’m not feelin’ too good myself”

-Joe Cocker, Feelin’ Alright

I don’t want to be an alarmist. And there’s already enough hysteria floating around like airborne microbes through a misting fan. But you guys- it was bad. Fever. Puking. Other stuff that polite southern women don’t talk about.

Four out of five Kelly’s were sick. No, it wasn’t Ebola. But I feel like I kind of understand it, from both ends. And no, I’m not being coy, I mean I was both patient and nurse. Because I’m a mom.

Patient # 1: It all started with the little one. So innocent and cute. She didn’t understand what was happening. She peppered me with questions in between yakking. She didn’t understand that correct protocol does not involve breathing directly into my face after emptying the contents of her stomach all over the bed.

Patient # 2: My son. Thirteen years old. Vibrant, strong boy. Which means that he gives new meaning to the word “projectile” as the contents of that night’s dinner make a second appearance. The victim: his bedroom rug. This is when things get really ugly. This is when you realize you failed at containing the virus. This is when it’s time to get serious. Luckily for you, I’ve been through it and I’ve come out on the other side to help you. Hopefully you won’t be affected or infected, but in case you are, take heed.

  • First, you must maintain composure. As you turn for help and see your husband’s retreating back, you realize you’re in this alone. You’ll want to panic. But you can’t. This is it. This is no time to lose your shizzm. The faster you act the better. Don’t allow time to think or smell. Paper towels and trash bags are your friend. Do the best you can with these tools. You will likely realize that you have held your breath and squealed and sympathy-vomited through this stage of cleanup only to realize you’ve barely scratched the barf covered surface. Time to improvise. Grab the oldest towels you can and cover that rank. If you can’t see it it’s not there. Truth.
  • Second, employ those killers of the environment, the plastic grocery bag. Yes, you feel guilty that you have an entire closet in your laundry room stuffed with them. You tried reusable grocery bags and you really liked them, but your husband “accidentally” threw them out and you’ve been too lazy to buy more. Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah. Dealing with children who’ve suddenly turned into Linda Blair from The Exorcist. So yeah, those pesky little bags you’ve been hoarding can now be “recycled.” Line the trash can that you put by your kid’s bed with a triple layer of these. Just like lining a roasting pan with foil. Clean up will be easy.

Except it’s not. Your methods are necessary but clean up will be treacherous at best. The worst part is the nausea you feel just from seeing and smelling things that can’t be unseen or un.. er… not smelled. But you must forge ahead. The rest of the family is counting on you to keep them safe. Especially your husband who’s snoring from the bedroom. It’s time to disinfect.

  • Before this step you must protect yourself. You have to keep yourself well or things will really fall apart. You know, take oxygen before you assist fellow passengers. I don’t make these things up. You’ll want a face mask. Surely you have these on hand for the impending pandemics that crop up yearly, right? Good. You’ll need rubber or latex gloves. And an old shirt – or your husband’s favorite t shirt – whatever’s handy. If wretching is still in progress (how much did those kids eat today?) you may want a hat or scarf to cover your hair.
  • Now you will need a bucket and bleach. You will need to coat all door handles, light switches, faucets, toilet handles. All of it. Don’t listen to that crap about 2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water. You want to show this virus who’s boss, right? We ain’t playin’ around. So you go halfsies. Your eyes will burn and your house will smell like  an indoor kiddie pool with poor ventilation, but that’s ok. The bonus here is that your nose will be incapable of smelling the foul smells that emanate from those towels on your son’s carpet.
  • The next step is laundry. While still suited up in your homemade hazmat suit, grab the comforter your son managed to soil as well as any washcloths and towels that may have been contaminated. But NOT the towels on the floor! DO NOT move those! You will want to shove as many of the offending linens into your washer as humanly possible. Put in extra soap. Lots of it. Wash on highest heat, sanitary setting. Side note: anything that needs rinsing before putting in the washer needs to be thrown out. I don’t care if it’s wasteful. There’s nothing that is so special that can’t be replaced. Seriously, I don’t care if your grandmother’s wedding dress got caught in the cross fire, there are limits to what one should be expected to do. Throw that shizzle away.
  • Sometimes your methods are met with a little hiccup. A little stumble if you will. In my case it was water seeping from under the washing machine. It’s ok. Freaking out about what curse has been placed upon your pure heart is not going to help. Take a deep breath. Backup plans are in place for such breaches. Take all remaining contaminated laundry that has not been stuffed into your washing machine like a Paula Deen pork chop and dump it on to the floor of your garage. It is out of the house, technically, which is the important thing. Until the washing machine gets fixed, your family can practice holding their breath as they dash through the garage to the car. This is a healthy exercise that will only save them from possible drowning one day.

Congratulate yourself on a sanitized and clean environment in which your family can safely ride out this harrowing ordeal. Rest easy as you drift off to sleep with the comfort that you’ve protected the people you love with your knowledge and fortitude in the face of utter grossness. Drift off to sleep with the last few precious hours left before daylight.

Except you can’t. Because you realize that the nausea you’d been feeling wasn’t imaginary. You’ve been infected. As you race to the bathroom to take your turn at the hurling olympics, grab a towel. That tile’s cold and you’ll be laying on it until this passes.

Eventually the fever wears off and the nausea calms to a quiet roar. You emerge from your oddly comforting enclave curled up next to the toilet, to realize that no one realized you were gone. As your son recovers from the worst of it upstairs, your five year old seems remarkably well and full of all kinds of fun energy. The family went about their business in the few hours since you cleaned and painstakingly disinfected. You try not to be irritated that it looks like John Belushi just hosted a toga party in your kitchen. Because look at them. Healthy. Blissfully unaware. This is why you do it. Then you see your husband. He’s looking a little green…

Just turn around and go back to bed. You’ve done your part. It’s every man and child for himself now.

Do stomach bugs freak you out? Have you been traumatized by cleaning up your kid’s puke? What are your tips for surviving an outbreak?

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“You were fighting every day

So hard to hide the pain.

I know you never said goodbye,

I had so much left to say.

One last song,

given to an Angel’s son.”

-Sevendust, Angel’s Son

I never said goodbye. It’s taken me 14 years to realize it. I remember so much and so little about that night. Certain memories stand out like a bad dream on a loop that I can’t pause. I remember sounds. The shrill ringing of a phone. The sound of my breath. Raspy. Shallow. The inexplicable calm in my mother’s voice. “You need to come.” I stayed calm until I hung up the phone. Then I lost it. I didn’t want to go. I can’t do it. My hands trembled uncontrollably as I pulled on my pants. I was frantic and stalling at the same time. I want him to save me. Tell me I don’t have to go. Tell me it’s all some sick cruel joke. He took my hands and steadied them. “You have to go. You have to do this.” I nod quickly, more times than necessary. I manage to find the keys. “Are you ok?” he calls out. I nod one more time and shut the door behind me. If I talk, if I hesitate, I’ll break. I must move forward or I’ll crumble. I remember the sound of the keys. Clanging like a frantic jester in my trembling hand.  My teeth chattering. Nerves had taken over my body and I was shaking. I remember the audacity of a beautiful night. Warm. Breezy. In defiant contrast with everything I was feeling. I don’t remember driving there. Mom met me on the sidewalk to the house. She’d come out to give me the details. To let me know what I was going to see. Dear god, I just saw him two days ago, what could have changed in 48 hours? I tried to follow her into the house, but collapsed into her arms overcome with fear and anguish. I collapsed. I knew I was supposed to be strong for her, but I couldn’t help myself. I was ashamed, but I succumbed. I let her guide my limp body into the house. She sat me on a chair and comforted me. She comforted me. I knew this wasn’t the way it was supposed to go, but I felt more out of control than I’d ever felt in my life. When I finally calmed down and the sobbing subsided I went into the living room to see my brother. He was asleep, but not asleep. I realized quickly that the last time I saw him, only 2 days ago, was the last time I would have a coherent conversation with him. And what did we talk about? I don’t even know. Probably some bullshit. Probably me trying to be stupid and make him laugh. Did he know? While I was rattling off stupid one-liners, did he know that it would be the last time we would really talk? Was he annoyed with my oblivious idiocy? Did he want to scream at me or shake me and tell me to shut the fuck up? To be real? Did he want me to say goodbye? I’ll never know. I’ll never know if my self preservation robbed him of a real moment, of getting to say goodbye to me. He was always so protective, he wouldn’t want to upset me. He would have put my needs ahead of his. He would have hidden his disappointment. And now I’ll never know. That night passed like a dream. I remember some things so clearly. I remember feeling the most desperate panic I’ve ever felt in my life. I wanted to leave, to escape. My mind was screaming inside my head while the world moved in slow motion. I remember disbelief. I had been so hopeful. So optimistic. And still we were here. I remember worrying that he was suffering. I was so intensely scared that he was suffering and couldn’t tell us. I remember feeling guilt. Guilt because I laid on the floor and closed my eyes and drifted in and out of a tortured sleep. Guilt because my sister sat by his side the entire night. Not budging. Guilt because she was having to be the strong one and I reverted to a scared little girl who just wanted to shove her thumb in her mouth and rock back and forth. The details of that night and the next morning are sacred. We were all there. My parents. My sister. Her husband. Me. Joe. We all were there for a moment that is indescribable. It was beautiful and wrenching and I’ll never be able to put into words watching someone precious die. I think we all knew it – that moment. And I still didn’t say goodbye. I held up  afterwards. We all did. The house felt obscenely quiet. We were all in shock. I went through the motions. We all did. I still had wedding stuff to attend to. I still had to plan for the happiest day of my life that was to follow, only ten short days, after the worst day of my life. Planning seemed so superficial. So stupid. I didn’t care. I didn’t want a wedding anymore. I would have been happy with a signature on a piece of paper to make it legal. But my family wouldn’t have it. They convinced me that the wedding had to happen. I had to do it because it’s what he would have wanted. He knew, even before I really knew. He knew that Joe was the one. He told my parents, after I’d brought Joe home the first time,”That’s the guy she’s going to marry” So of course I had to keep on keeping on with the wedding. He would have been pissed if I’d canceled the biggest party of my life. But now, all these years later, I realize I never said goodbye. All these years later, when that realization hit me, it was like someone had cut my legs off. How did I sit by his side for hours upon hours, knowing it was goodbye, yet never saying goodbye? Was it selfishness? Was it denial? I have been told I should write a goodbye letter. The mere mention of that left me open and seething. A wound, this particular wound, that I didn’t even know was there for fourteen years, was now bleeding. I operate between two worlds. In one world I go about my business and tell myself that I’ll see him soon. He’s traveling. He’s busy. That’s why I miss him. This is feasible. The other world is on a more spiritual level. I know he’s gone, but I know he’s here. He’s with me. I know he was with me when I walked down the aisle on my wedding day. I can tell you the exact moment he showed up during the births of my three children. There have been times, random times, when I hear his favorite song and I know he’s with me. I feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I have felt him here with me when I’m writing about him. I still don’t want to say goodbye. But maybe I’m still being scared and selfish. Maybe saying goodbye is the right thing to do. So here goes… How do you say goodbye to someone when you don’t want to let them go? I don’t want you to go. I know I can’t put a cap on this, I can’t fold this up and put it in a box. But I do want you to know some things. Your life was a gift to us all. You brought laughter. You brought art. You brought joy. You made us, this hodgepodge family a real family. You gave each of us a part of you. Your smile that could light up a room. Your laughter that could soften the hardest of souls. Your humor that could cut through any moment and bring sweet relief of laughter. You could make me laugh when I didn’t want to laugh. And is there really anything better than that? Is there any greater gift? I want to hold on so tight, my jaw clenched in tight determination, but I also need to release. I am not going to tell you goodbye. I just don’t believe in it. But I will tell you all the things I wanted to say so badly. All the things I kept to myself because you weren’t giving up and I didn’t want you to think I was too. I want to tell you that I love you. I want to tell you how much better you made my life, everyone’s life. I can’t imagine a world without you, so I just imagine you’re still in it. I miss you. I miss you so bad I feel it in every bone. I hope you’re good. I hope you are happy. But I’m not saying goodbye. I’ll never say goodbye.

“Tell me how…

‘n show me now..

To understand…

What makes a good man?

Tell me now…

Hey walk the line…

Hey understand…

What makes a good man?”

-The Heavy, What Makes A Good Man

It’s different every year. I never know what to expect. Some years it’s a day of celebrating. Some years it’s a day of wiping away the tears. Some years it’s both. This year it feels like a kick in the gut. Today is my brother’s birthday.

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My brother would have been 33 years old today. That’s the number that makes my insides quiver and my throat tighten with emotion. Thirty three years old. That’s an adult. That’s someone quite different from the 18 year old who we lost 14 years ago. Fourteen years that seems like a blink of an eye. I can’t wrap my brain around that. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. I honestly feel like I saw him just last week. I always wonder if that’s my way of coping with the unthinkable. My mind’s way of protecting me from the pain of not seeing him. There is a part of me that operates in a comforting denial. I kind of pretend that I just saw him. I tell myself that I’ll be seeing him again soon.

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Thirty three years old. That is a man. A man who maybe would be married. Maybe with children. A career. Those are things we can only imagine now. But I got glimpses of who he would have been. Getting diagnosed with cancer at the age of 16 makes you mature real quick. My brother went from being a red-blooded good-natured mischevious teenager to being a strong, wise man. In a matter of a few months he evolved. He was still mischievous. He was still hilariously funny. He still had a zest for living and soaked up every bit of life in those 18 months. But he was rudely and abruptly thrust into a harsh reality.

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I saw my brother handle things that would break the strongest person. I saw him handle them with grace and humor. I saw a strength that I think few people possess. I saw the little brother, 8 years younger than me, become protective of me. Protective of my sister. Protective of my parents. He went from being the youngest child who had been adored and doted on by all of us to turning the tables without any of us even realizing it. He took on a role of a man who was looking out for his family. He was concerned about the nurses and the hours they had to work. He advocated for them and wanted to help them get real dinner breaks and reasonable hours. He was concerned and protective of his girlfriend and his friends. He didn’t want them to worry about him. He didn’t want them to see how sick he really was. He didn’t want to shake their carefree teenage world. He was becoming not just a man, but a great man.

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My little brother, who I had joked with, teased and harassed became my trusted friend. He became a sounding board. He became a confidant. I saw the best of both of my parents in him. He had always been sensitive and sweet, but I saw how that would translate to the man he was to become. Like my mom, he would listen, he would offer wise advice. He had learned from her how to be a supportive and tender friend. He and I spent many hours at the hospital talking. He wanted to talk about me, my job, my engagement and upcoming wedding. Just like my mom, he put me and my concerns and my life before whatever he was going through. Just like her, he wanted to be there for me, for others. He was becoming so much like her.

Like my stepfather, he became the care-taker and the protector. He had learned from his father how to take care of the ones he loved. During this time, I called my parents house looking for my step father. I was having car trouble and he was my go-to person for these kind of things. My brother answered the phone and before I could finish explaining what was wrong, he was in his car on his way to help me. He showed up at my apartment with ramps and tools so he could take a look under my car. I protested. I told him I could wait for my step father to get home. He shooed me away and got to work under my car. I stood there and watched with a lump in my throat. My little brother had just changed before my eyes. He was so much like my step father.

This is the most bitter of the most sweet of gifts of the most difficult 18 months. Eighteen months that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But 18 months of the most precious moments.  A time that gave us a glimpse of the man. A time to see the amazing grace of an amazing person. A time to get to know a remarkable man.

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So, these numbers are the numbers that cut right through me. The numbers that snap me out of the foggy denial I willingly and happily operate in. 33… the age my brother would be today.16… the age he was when everything changed. 18… the age he was when we had to say good bye. 14… the years that have somehow passed since. 2… sisters who adore their baby brother.  2…  parents that I know he is looking upon now with pride and joy because they are still living and loving and thriving after so much grief and pain. 1… niece who remembers how he made her laugh and who he loved so much. 1… nephew who looked up to him and who he loved so much. 4… nieces and nephews that he never met but who seem to know their Uncle Todd somehow. 1… sweet boy, caring friend, loving son and brother, doting uncle… one amazing man. Happy Birthday little brother. I love you.

Today I have the honor of being featured on one of my favorite blogs.  This is the very first blog I “followed” on WordPress and it’s always a must-read for me.  Endearing, funny, real, human.  If those are qualities you appreciate, you’ll enjoy Must Be This Tall To Ride as much as I do.  My post, “I Got Your Back”, delves into the trials of a 12 year old girl (me, circa 1985) who goes through some physical challenges that include a large turtle shell, a spinning bed, and a quietly courageous man.  Read my post (of course!) but then poke around a little and explore and see why people connect with Matt, the man behind the keyboard, of Must Be This Tall To Ride….

Check out my first ever guest post here:  “I Got Your Back” by Drifting Though My Open Mind

“Hello Operator, can you give me number nine? Can I see you later?

Will you give me back my dime?  Turn the oscillator, twist it with a dollar bill,

Mailman bring the paper, leave it on my window sill.”

-The White Stripes, Hello Operator

My husband likes Barry Manilow.  I know.  I married him anyways.  Last Christmas my sister and her husband gave him a Barry Manilow album.  No, they don’t have bad taste in music too, they were building on our annual Christmas gag gift tradition.  This is a relatively new tradition, it started a few years ago when Joe (said husband) stuck a 2 pound weight in a gift bag and presented it to my Brother in Law.  Joe had been teasing him relentlessly after my brother in law injured his shoulder doing a kettle bell workout with relatively light weights, guffawing “I didn’t know they even made kettle balls that small!”  My niece shot back, “I didn’t know they still made sweaters with zippers”.  She was referring to this awful burgundy sweater with a zipper from the chest to the top of the folded over collar.  A sweater that Joe and been wearing every Christmas Day for years.  We all howled with laughter and Joe nodded and admitted that she had out-done him in the smart ass banter that accompanies every family get together.  The next Christmas there was a gift wrapped beautifully for Joe from my niece. Joe opened it to find a hideous Christmas sweater that had obviously been well worn.  In another decade.  It reeked of mothballs.  He was caught by surprise but looked at my niece with a touch of admiration.  He loved her and was proud, and to be a good sport he put it on right away.  He retired the ugly zippered sweater after that year.

So, my sister was eager to have him open his album.  She was watching with anticipation, waiting to pounce with glee when he would surely blush with embarrassment.  Unfortunately my sister was to be sorely disappointed.  He loved the album.  He was touched that they thought of him.  He slowly and gingerly turned the album over, looking from the front to the back cover.  There was a look of nostalgia and wonderment on his face.  My sister’s triumphant smile slowly melted into disappointment.  This wasn’t the reaction she’d been expecting of course.  As Joe looked over the album he exclaimed over different songs, singing some of the verses.  I groaned.  You can take the Utica out of the boy…  well you know.

My stepdad, Tommy, excused himself quietly and left the room.  I’m thinking that he’s sick that his daughter has married someone with such musical taste.  I picture him in the next room shaking his head silently.  I didn’t raise her like this….  My stepdad shaped my musical taste.  I grew up listening to the Beatles, the Stones, Clapton, Hendrix…  he is a walking rock and roll encyclopedia.  He spends hours reading dense volumes of albums and their stats.  You could name some obscure sixties album or B-side and he’d be able to tell you all about the artist, the record and what the monetary value would be if you ran across it at a flea market.  I guess you could say he was like a walking Wikipedia page on the subject, but we are talking about vinyl here, so I’ll stick with the encyclopedia metaphor.

Tommy returns a few minutes later carrying a plastic box.  He ignores our stares and questioning looks as he sets it down carefully on the kitchen table.  We all sit patiently and wait to see what he has unearthed from the room we all refer to as “TommyLand”.  We know better than to ask what it is, he will show us in his slow, methodical way with very little explanation.  His lack of grandstanding actually comes off as quite dramatic somehow.  He unlatches the metal clips on either side of the box and meticulously lifts the lid.  It’s an old turn table.  Joe immediately pulls the Barry Manilow album from it’s protective sleeve and hands it to Tommy.  He is so excited to hear it and he feels validated that my stepdad is offering to play it.  Tommy’s accommodation had nothing to do with Barry Manilow, it’s an opportunity to play with one of his “toys’ and to share it with all of us.

The record starts spinning and we hear a few crackles before the first strains of music emanate from the record player.  After I tear my eyes away from the spectacle of my husband grooving to Barry Manilow, I turn my attention to my son and daughter and nephew (ages 12, 11 and 9).  They are completely engrossed, mouths open, eyes wide in amazement.  They are stupefied and can’t even form sentences to ask the questions…  “What is…  How does it…”

We all try to explain through our laughter how it works, that the needle follows the grooves on the vinyl and …  some how plays the music?  I don’t know, it’s not something we really questioned growing up.  You just tried really hard to not scratch the album and to not jump or dance too close to the turntable and make it skip.  I can’t believe my kids have never seen a record player before.   Something that was so integral to my childhood and in the blink of a few decades it’s gone.  I don’t know why I’m surprised.  When my son was born I had just retired all my cassettes (bye bye awesome mixed tapes I labored over for endless hours..  sniff sniff) and transitioned to cd’s.  Now cd’s are on their way to joining their brethren in the vast wasteland of bygone electronics.  They will be in good company with the 8 track tapes, the VHS tapes, the rotary phone, the black and white t.v. with dials and rabbit ears, the transistor radios, the word processors…. I could go on but this list is starting to make me feel really old.

While I’m getting a kick out of watching their confusion and bewilderment, I’m kind of pissed.  These spoiled little twerps growing up in the digital era have no idea how good they have it.  They want a new song?  Download it instantly.  Listen to it on Spotify.  Want a book?  Order one for your Kindle and you have it within seconds.  Want to watch a music video?  Gone are the days of hoping to catch a glimpse of it on Mtv, you can go on YouTube and see it whenever you want.  They don’t even have to deal with dial up internet access anymore.  Mom forgets to pick you up from practice?  Well just get your smart phone out you little monster and call her and see where she’s at!  Forget the entitlement generation, now we are raising the instant gratification generation…

I tried to explain some of this to my son recently when I had him as a captive audience in the car.  I explained that if I wanted a copy of my favorite song, I would have to try to record it off the radio station onto a cassette tape and hope the radio DJ wasn’t in a chatty mood while my song was playing.  I tried to illicit some sympathy from him when I pointed out that I would sit in my room for an ENTIRE day, listening to my radio, just waiting for that one song to play.   And inevitably it would come on the second you leave the room for an urgent bathroom break.  This is my version of the “When I was your age I had to walk 2 miles in the snow to school” story.  I got no sympathy from my boy.  He looked at me like I was crazy, as in Why would you waste a whole day to do that?

He had no concept of having to wait.  And let me just say, my kids are not spoiled.  Well, no more spoiled than other kids of their generation.  They don’t get everything they want, they aren’t the first to get the new hot thing.  They have to wait/earn/save for some things they’ve really wanted.  But what all this made me realize is that there are so many things that used to be really big deals, things you had to wait for, go to the store for, stand in line for.  Now most of these things can be bought on line faster than you can say “Complete My Purchase”.

This almost makes me feel sorry for these kids.  There’s something to be said for anticipation.  The waiting, the build up makes things so much sweeter.  I remember counting down the days until a record was released.  Or waiting in line at record stores for concert tickets.  Or spending hours in a book store looking through dozens of books trying to decide which one to get, because this purchase was precious.  You didn’t get to go buy books every day so you wanted to make sure you go the right one.  Don’t get me wrong, I love that we have such easy access to music and books and I love to get on YouTube and watch live performances of my favorite bands.  I sometimes feel like I got the Golden Ticket to the Chocolate Factory, so I’m not saying I don’t love the digital age and all it’s perks.   I just wonder what it is our kids will have to hunger for, what will have them antsy with impatience, what will make them mark a date on the calendar with a red Sharpie and wish the days away?

There was another conversation I had with my son soon after.  He asked me what I did for a living before he was born.  I started to tell him that I sold pagers…  and almost instantly wished that I had just made something up.  Now I had to explain the concept of pagers and why someone would need such a device.  You see, if someone wanted to get in touch with you, they called your pager and punched in their phone number, you would see the number on your pager and you would go find a phone or a phone booth and call them back. Again, I get the “You’re crazy” look.  As I’m trying to explain this to him, I realize that it sounds so cumbersome and ridiculous.  I try to make it sound a little better by pointing out that I sold them to corporate accounts, Fortune 500 companies.  He didn’t care.  I’d lost him already.  He was too busy posing his next question to listen as I trailed off about the limited options we had before cell phones were widely available.  He interrupted my reverie, “But Mom, what’s a phone booth?”    Done. Can’t answer another question.  I’m exhausted by all the explaining.  I sighed with resignation, admitting defeat.  I turned to him, “Google it.”      

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