Jun 6 2020

Bird life

Birdhouse

I was digging a hole in the garden dirt when I heard the terrified screeching. I couldn’t tell what was making the noise but it was coming from almost in front of me, from under the deck. The slatted doors leading there were open. I walked over to them and looked in.

It was dark, with thin streams of light falling on the assorted rubble strewn around. A few feet in front of me, sitting primly with her front paws close together was Coco – her soft brown mottled fur the perfect camouflage. She was watching me. She looked guilty. The gentle sound of fluttering coming from the bicycle parked to my right caused us both to turn our heads at the same time. By this time my eyes had gotten used to the dim light and I could see that a small brown bird had gotten its leg caught in the grid of the wire basket hanging from the handlebars. It was hanging upside down and occasionally tried to release itself by flapping its wings. As I stood watching, Coco walked over to the bird and gave it a gentle push with her paw. The bird started screeching and flapping its wings in her face and she backed off. I shooed Coco away and reached for the bird, gently extracting its leg from the basket. I saw that it was injured, with a superficial wound along its back down near its tail.  It flapped wildly and afraid that I might crush it, I let it fall the 8 inches to the ground. It hopped madly to a protected cubbyhole among a pile of decaying plasterboard. Coco’s eyes remained glued to the little bird. Hunched over and squatting down, I made my way over to the bird and picked it up, making sure this time I had my hand firmly around its body and wings. It screeched and then lay quiet in my hand. I worked my way out from under the deck with Coco close behind.

But what was I going to do with this little bird? It wasn’t anything special. Just a little brown bird with dark speckles along its feathers. It seemed full-grown. And it was wounded. I didn’t have the knowledge to be able to tell if it could survive. I knew that I had already decided I was not going to bring it to a vet. I also knew I didn’t want Coco to kill it.

We have a small wooden birdhouse screwed on to the trunk of a pine tree on our country house property. It isn’t painted or pretty. But it has one very special attribute; it has a video camera inside it that is connected by a very long cable to the TV in our house. Every spring we watch as a pair of small birds, either blåmes or talgoxe, feather their nest inside, lay their eggs and hatch tiny baby birds. We watch as Mr and Mrs bird take turns sitting on the eggs and feeding the gaping mouths that hatch. We can even hear their peeps on the TV as mom and dad feed them. We call it Bird TV and we like to keep the TV on during the day so we can watch the action as we go about our own business. But this year there was a calamity in our bird house. Mom and Dad bird had hatched 9 hungry little babies this year.  We watched as they energetically took turns bringing food to their tiny offspring. Towards the evening one of the parents would settle itself down for the night – first poking all the little bodies deep into the nest then spreading itself over the babies, and with a final flutter tuck its head under its wing to go to sleep. After about a week of daily bird life, we didn’t turn on the TV for a few days – it tends to get a bit repetitive – and just let them get on with their lives. When we finally checked in with our tenants, there seemed to be no movement in the nest. It was still too soon for any of the babies to have grown feathers and flown away. At first we thought the camera feed had crashed and froze. But we could see small bits of grass and feather down moving in the air. The camera was still live but no baby birds were. What had happened? We could just barely make out in the black and white image the shape of a few baby birds’ unmoving open mouths. Had the nest been attached by some predator? We looked out at the bird house and could see no mom and dad trying to get in. Had they died for some reason or been killed by something? There was no way for us to know.

We turned off the TV. We haven’t looked at Bird TV since.

I carried my rescued bird to the back of the house where there are trees and places she might be safer – out of reach of Coco – trying to figure out where to put her. I had decided in my mind that my little brown bird was a her. She was calm in my hand. I could feel her rapid heart beat rock her body through my gardening glove. Coco followed me – silent and slow – but not close. I couldn’t put my bird among the leftover planks of wood piled under this side of the deck – too open and easy for a cat to get at. What about in my son’s abandoned koja, his airy tree house built 4 feet off the ground? The roof was decaying but the half-walls were still sound, the floor strewn deep with undisturbed yellowed leaves from many summers past. It had a door that still closed. Coco couldn’t get in but would the bird be able to fly away when it felt a bit better? I loosened my hand. Where was Coco? I couldn’t see her nearby. My bird flapped her wings and flew 3 feet away, to land near the tumble of old metal supports left over from building our deck. They were piled on top of a half rotted wooden pallet lying close to the ground. She quickly scurried underneath. I saw Coco come out of the shadows and walk over to the pile but there was no way she could get underneath. My bird would be safe there.

But for how long? To live or to die? Like the nestlings in our bird house, I would never know what happened.


May 5 2020

Over social

I woke up Sunday morning with bright sun shining on the blackout shade. My eyes were all gravely, my voice felt hoarse and my body had absolutely no desire to move. I was totally drained. I looked over at the clock on the wall and saw it was already 10 am but I decided to lay there a while longer and put off getting up. I had time…no plans until the evening. I wasn’t hungry for breakfast yet. I picked up my phone and checked Facebook. After 15 minutes of scrolling through miscellaneous posts, I clicked on my email app. 

What!!

At the top of my inbox was an email from my friend containing the link to the meeting she had scheduled for a group of us to meet… today…at 11 am! I remembered helping to plan that meeting but I also thought that we were going to do it in the early evening. The meeting was with 2 girlfriends I used to do GNOs with before one of them left Stockholm. Now I had half an hour to get ready. So I threw on the clothes I had worn yesterday (and maybe the day before and the day before that). I hobbled over to the kitchen, made a cup of instant coffee, buttered a piece of toast and sat down at my computer still only half awake and barely mobile. My terminal glasses weren’t helping much to see the screen as I logged in. 

This pandemic that is sweeping the world right now is going to be the death of me.

While here in Sweden, we aren’t under an enforced lock-down, we are nevertheless expected to practice voluntary self-isolation and to stay-at-home as much as possible. This is not a hardship for me since I like staying at home. I don’t go out to movies. I don’t attend concerts or dance recitals. I have no interest to try out the latest new restaurant in the neighborhood either. Did I say how I like staying at home? I am not a complete hermit though. I do go out. And meet friends. Occasionally.

Before Covid 19, I would meet a group of writer pals every other week at a charming cafe; we would chat for a while, then write for an hour and then chat some more.

Before Covid 19, I would attend board meetings once a month or so, at the home of the chair of a small Jewish organization whose board I am a member of. I can see her apartment from my apartment window and it only takes 10 minutes to walk to the meetings. I have been on this board so long that all the other members have become my friends and the chair makes great soup for us to eat before the meeting. 

And before Covid 19, a friend would sometimes manage to talk me into going out to have dinner with them as long as it wasn’t too far from my home. And sometimes I got tempted into seeing a movie (as long as it was sci-fi) with a group of other like-minded friends.

But now…because of this pandemic, no one is going anywhere or at least not anywhere outside of their house, unless it’s to the grocery store to try to stock up on toilet paper. All my board meetings were cancelled.  My writers group…cancelled. The few organized activities that I had planned on attending have been cancelled. I cancelled both a doctor’s checkup and my dentist appointment. My google calendar which is never really all that filled up anyway is now totally empty. Instead of going to a restaurant for dinner, going on a walk with a friend in the fresh air is the new way to hang out…as long as you keep your distance from everyone. 

In spite of all this anti-socializing, I’ve been meeting old friends and even making new ones more now than I usually did in pre-Corona times. I was never this social before Covid19 arrived and I am not sure how well I am going to survive this sudden social upswing even though I’ve been able to do it without needing to travel further than to my living room. I don’t have to put on my shoes because I can walk barefoot to my computer screen. Most of the time I don’t bother with putting on my face. I do try to remember to put on pants. Once I was wearing my nightgown but from the shoulders up it looks like an ordinary knit shirt with stripes so no big deal. My new frenzied social life is all the fault of this app called Zoom.

My recent stress started on Thursday evening in a zoom meeting with 2 of my writer pals who I haven’t seen for awhile because all our writing evenings were cancelled. We spent over an hour discussing plans for virtual writing workshops and we got to meet a very cute cat. Then a few days later on Saturday afternoon I had a zoom meeting with a couple of old co-workers. We used to get together a couple of times a year for dinner but this time we just sat around in our homes and caught up on how things are Coronating in different parts of the world. Later that same night or rather morning, I attended a Zoom party held by a friend in New York City. It started at 7pm NYC time which is 1am my time. She was a friend to both me and my husband. He dropped into the party long enough to say hello and then goodbye. I stayed for the next 2 and a half hours! There was one other person at the “party” that I knew but all the rest were strangers. When I signed off at 3.30 am, I saw on Facebook that one of them had asked to be my new Facebook friend. It took me a while to finally wind down and fall asleep. After a few hours I woke up to discover the unexpectedly early new Zoom meeting that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. By Sunday afternoon my introvert self had had enough.. This was just too much talking and socializing for me. I found that I couldn’t remember what I had said to who and who had said what to me. I hadn’t had enough time between conversations to process everything. I felt like I had gotten hit in the face with a ping pong racket. Five virtual social events in 4 days – I needed to look for a dark room somewhere.

All this virtual viewing reminded me of a book by Isaac Asimov that I had read way-back-when as a teenager – The Naked Sun.  It was the second in his sci-fi detective trilogy staring Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw, a human-looking robot. While the first book in the trilogy takes place on an overcrowded Earth, most of the action in this book happens on a planet named Solaria that has a small human population and a huge robot one. People live isolated on huge estates that are hundreds of miles from each other and are taught from birth to avoid personal contact. They almost never meet in person. Even married couples who live on the same estate have their own parts of the home so they also rarely meet in person. Face-to-face interaction, referred to as “seeing” is considered dirty and the idea of being in the same room as another and breathing the same air makes them almost physically nauseous. But the inhabitants of Solaria are not hermits.  They socialize by “viewing”, a kind of 3D two-way teleconferencing that was so advanced that you can go out for a walk on your property, contact a friend and view/talk with them as they are walking on their own estate and barely notice the difference in backgrounds. 

We aren’t there yet. The quality of the Zoom app experience depends to a great deal on the quality of your WiFi and the state of your computer or smart phone. Mostly people just sit there in front of their video camera and hopefully you see their whole face and not just the top of their head. One friend did take me on a tour of her new house and neighborhood but as soon as she got out of reach of her WiFi the picture started to break up. 

I have been video Skyping with my best friend Roz, from college, for many years now. Our Skype calls have become as humdrum as a phone call. The fact that it was free made it even better. However the use of Skype just never seemed to catch on with anyone else I knew in the States. Zoom on the other hand, with a kick from Corona, seems to suddenly be everywhere and used by everyone. Timing is everything, I guess. 

I admit that the appeal of being able to sit in my pajamas and meet a friend without leaving my home has its charm. Just being able to see everyone while Zooming with a group of friends who all live scattered around the world is really fantastic. But what happens when all this virtual socializing runs its course? Humans are touchy-feely. We need to breathe each other’s air, pat a back, give a hug. When these Corona times let go of us and we can go out once again a Zoom call will pale in the face of a real face-to face date. And even this introvert will put on her face and some clean clothes and go out into the world again. Occasionally. 


Apr 5 2020

Corona times

We are living in strange times now. Corona times.
For many weeks the Corona virus has been traveling – on a world tour – starting in China, spreading through Asia, running around Europe, and jumping the fish pond over to America. And yes…it’s here in Stockholm too.

We are not yet under lockdown like Italy and Spain. But most of my younger, still-working friends have been ordered by their employers to work from home, my son included. Universities and all high schools have been closed & are trying to do online teaching instead. I have no idea how that’s working but I saw a funny video on YouTube about that. Schools for children who are too young to stay at home alone are still open but if their parents are home, often the kids are kept home too, regardless. The thinking about keeping schools open for younger kids is that the government wants the parents who work in the healthcare field & have young kids who need minding, to be able to continue going to work.

All the activities I had written in my calendar, such as writing workshops, board meetings, plans to meet friends and any other miscellaneous events have been cancelled. I cancelled my doctor’s appointment that had been booked over 6 weeks ago because who wants to go to a place all the sick people go to? All activities in the Jewish community are cancelled except burials, food delivery to old people and some Saturday morning services. All the big Seders are cancelled. My annual J.A.P.S. Seder, gathering my Jewish/American/Swedish gang, is also cancelled due to the fear of passing the virus from hand to mouth along with the chicken soup. I went to Bajit, the big new Jewish Center, on Friday to buy matzah. The place was empty and only 1 person at a time allowed in the shop. Me & the other 2 people on line all waited our turn far from each other. Hand sanitizer was everywhere to use while we waited.

And speaking of hand sanitizer, I can’t find it to buy in any of the stores. And Håkan has looked on-line. Nadda, nothing to buy there either. I can understand that. In these plague days it works better than lamb’s blood. But toilet paper? What’s the big deal about hoarding toilet paper? I can not understand that at all – it’s not a plague of diarrhea.
Dare I say it??? People are idiots.

But key words these days are definitely “social distancing” and “self-quarantine”. Or in other words STAY AT HOME!

But I do get out. My friend Barbara, working from home and living on Kungsholmen, walked over to Reimers last week and we took a long walk together on Långholmen. We foot-bumped first, keeping safety in mind. There were other people also out walking but everyone kept their distances. We stopped at the Långholmen värdshus in need of fika. We had the whole place to ourselves and enjoyed coffee and a bulla. There was lots of hand sanitizer there too.

I still go to my local grocery. I see people from my neighborhood there – but everyone keeps their distance – this is Sweden after all. Nobody hugs or talks to each other anyway, a simple nod is enough if you meet someone you recognize. Even in normal times, people sit as far away from you as a park bench allows. This is not Italy, France or Spain. Swedes are not huggy types, they are good at aloneness and don’t need much encouragement to isolate.

And it seems neither do we – Håkan, Bevin and I. My little family hardly notices the new societal rules operating now. All three of us are introverts and staying cooped up in our home doesn’t seem to be a problem for us – that’s how we usually live. I am mainly the only one who goes out now and its just to the grocery store. Occasionally I will walk the 20 minutes to Hornstull and go to the large Hemköp grocery there or maybe the drugstore. Once I also went to Clas Ohlson because we needed good glue. Hemköp has started special early morning hours for seniors but the way I figure it, I’m retired, I no longer have to (or want to) get up super early in the morning. Especially not to do grocery shopping! I try to go later in the morning or early afternoon when its not too busy and we customers can keep a decent distance from each other.

Bevin, a programmer at Ericsson, has been working from home now for the past 3 weeks and his longest walk is from the kitchen to his bedroom. He spends his evenings and late into the night socializing online with his pals around the world. No worries about catching anything that way except maybe a computer virus.

Håkan spends most of his time sitting in front of his computer screen, commenting on Facebook or watching TV programs there. He is busy devising all kinds of plans for growing sweet corn out at our country house this summer, ordering necessary things online. For weeks now, he has been bugging me about completely moving ourselves out to the countryside, trying to justify the move by saying that we are supposed to self-quarantine. He is so happy to finally have society on his side. But I am resisting. It’s still too early for me and too cold to turn the water on yet. But we have been out there a couple of times already just for day trips to plant potatoes and to get his corn seeds started in his new mini-greenhouse. Easter weekend will be our first overnight stay.

So this Stay at Home directive hasn’t changed much for us personally. My apartment is not a bit cleaner! I haven’t painted new colors on the walls of any room. My freezer is still mainly filled with ice instead of enough food to last months. And my kitchen cupboards are still cluttered, as are my closets. If I am not laying about on the sofa to read, then I am laying on the bed. And I only have enough toilet paper and paper towels to last for the next week. I spend a lot of time looking at Facebook but that is just a distraction from what I should be getting done on my computer. And just for you dog lovers who have been spreading nasty rumors around social media about cats, our cats are exceedingly happy that we are all home. Coco wants to always keep Bevin company by sitting on his keyboard, so during his working hours he has to close his door. She lies patiently outside, waiting for him to open it.

But as I said we are all introverts here – we need others to plan activities that can entice us out of our homes. And I admit, looking at my empty Google Calendar is a bit depressing. Though, secretly, I am happy not to need to put on makeup or get dressed in clothes I haven’t worn for the past 4 days. Putting on my Extrovert Coat in preparation to leave my home and venture out there in the wider world takes energy. So I have started calling people instead of just texting. I have been using Skype to talk to friends and family in the US. And I have participated in two Zoom meetings! I think a lot of self-isolated folks must be doing that now – there is not a web camera to be found, either in stores locally or even online!

So us introverted folks are coping OK but what about all my extroverted friends out there? You know who you are…all those of you who have kept inviting me to do things with you out there in the world even though 60% of the time I say I can’t (because I don’t want to leave my cozy shell) and yet thankfully you keep asking. Life now is probably harder for you guys. So while this is going on, give me a call and let’s talk…either by phone or Zoom or Skype. Drag me out for a walk in nature too – I promise to keep my distance.  I hope you all are also doing OK and I promise to say yes next time you invite me to eat dinner with you, or even just fika, after this is all over.

I know that a lot of people out there are feeling anxiety or fear due to this pandemic sweeping the world. I don’t really know what to say that could make them feel better. But my go-to advice that I like to keep in mind, is taken from one of my favorite books, Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I like what Ford Prefect tells Arthur Dent, when Arthur finds out that the Earth is about to be demolished to make room for a hyper-space bypass.

“Don’t panic,” he says, “and always know where your towel is.”

Stay healthy everyone.


Feb 3 2020

60+

I recently attended the birthday party of a friend who had just turned 60.  After I got the Save-the-Date, I told my friend that I probably wouldn’t be going. Not because I didn’t want to celebrate his birthday but because the party location was a bit out of my comfort zone – after all it was beyond the borders of the Stockholm subway map and everyone knows that I hate traveling. But in leu of my presence I decided to send him the Just Hilarie blog piece which I wrote nine years ago when I turned 60.

He wrote back to tell me that he read my piece but what he really wanted to know was if I had any advice for him about what to expect or consider in the next decade now that he was also turning 60. And then he made me feel guilty for not wanting to come to his party. Guilt I understand. Afterall, I am Jewish. So I told him I would be there. And…that I would give some thought to his question and try to find something pithy and enlightening to say at his party.

First I thought I could just cobble something together from some of the other pieces I had written about aging (you can find them under Aging in the word cloud to the right) but after doing some copy/pasting I felt nothing was working. Instead, I decided to start at the beginning and make a list of what had happened to me in the 9 years since my big 6 0. I figured if I made a list of the life changing, influential events that took place since that summer day nine years ago at our country house, I would be able to come up with some ideas for him.

Here was my list of events, not in order of importance but just as they happened in the timeline:

  • Mom spends a slow month dying as I sit by her bed and watch.
  • Lawsuit for unpaid (and unknown) American property taxes puts my anxiety levels through the roof and I end up taking anti-anxiety meds just to get through my days.
  • The organization I had worked for as a graphic designer, for almost 10 years, closes 6 months before I turn 65 and I am left jobless.
  • Håkan gets sick, spends 2 months in hospital and needs brain surgery.

Yeah, that should do it. That should be enough to fill a decade. No wonder I don’t want to get out of bed sometimes. But what should I tell my friend so he doesn’t end up drinking all his own booze at his party?

My first piece of advice was this:
Stay healthy. I know that everyone gives advice about exercising, taking all your vitamins and not eating a bunch of junk food. But you know what? That’s all a bunch of crap. If it helps to make you feel like you are in control of your life by doing those things, then by all means keep doing them. But if catastrophic illness strikes you, it probably doesn’t really have anything to do with exercise, vitamins or junk food. After all, James Fixx, the guy who started the jogging craze with his best-selling books about running and who preached the gospel that active people live longer, died of a heart attack on a Friday while on a solitary jog in Vermont. He was 52 years old! So, I don’t know…maybe it just means don’t jog by yourself.

Piece of advice two:
Keep on top of all your financial obligations. Know what taxes you need to pay and pay them. Don’t collect more stuff than you can afford, or need. Pay off your credit cards each month. (my mother taught me that one) Make sure you have money saved or a pension. After all who needs to have all that worry about money.
It is the real cause of wrinkles.

Piece of advice three:
Work – Keep working as long as you can (because this also applies to the previous point) but make sure it is work that you love. Or at least like. It should be something that makes you feel good about yourself, competent and appreciated by others. If you don’t get that from your work it’s time to think about retiring and finding something else that makes you feel useful and appreciated and competent. If you have been careful about point two you might be able to do this fun stuff pro-bono.

Piece of advice four:
Make phone calls. We all have that fabulous smart phone in our hands. Texting messages back and forth is great. Showing what you ate for dinner on social media is great. Email is great. But making a phone call is even greater.  A few days ago I called an old friend in New York and by old I mean I have known her a very long time – she’s actually almost 10 years younger than me. The first thing she said after hello was, “Are you OK, is everything alright? Is Håkan OK? What happened?” It took me a while to reassure her that we were all ok and that I was just calling her to say hi. We talked for over an hour. So don’t wait to call friends and family only when you have bad news. Call just to talk. Better yet – have lunch together if you are close enough. But we live in a big world and people are often far away, so call them. Use Skype if you are far away. You can look at each other and see if the other person has more wrinkles. And its cheap. See point two.

And finally, last but not least, point five:
Figure out how to laugh and do it often. Learn how to tell a joke and make other people laugh. Because life is just so crappy sometimes. It hits you when you least expect it and if you can’t laugh then you’re doomed.

So, health, work, money, loved ones and laughter.
That pretty much sums up all the advice I have to give right now. We’ll see what I can come up with in a few more years after I’ve started my big 7 0.

 


Feb 1 2020

Moving on – with a little help

Bevin standing at the entrance to his new home.

It’s been just over eight years now since I put my mother to rest. While I don’t spend a lot of time actively missing her, rarely does a day go by without a thought drifting towards her. I speak obliquely of her when I meet my friends. After all, I too am a mother – with a 28 year old son who still lives at home – and many of my friends are mothers. We often speak together as mothers of our children. 

The topic of my son living at home often comes up when I meet with a friend who I haven’t seen in a while.

“How does he like living in his new place?” is often the question I get asked. This is because its been 9 months since my son got the keys to his own apartment.

I laugh, raising my eyebrows as I do so and shrug, “Well…he hasn’t moved in yet.” 

“What!?!”, they exclaim, laughing. 

And then I explain. Or try to. But I really don’t have an explanation. The conversation moves on, revolving around how all of us just couldn’t wait to move out of our parents’ homes and most of us did so with or without our parents’ help somewhere around the age of 20 or even younger. 

This conversation about my son and his inability to leave home on his own is one of the things that brings my mother to mind. I couldn’t wait to leave the home that she and my dad had created for me. I was 18 when I left. I wasn’t one of those bold and daring types, determined to head off for adventures on a round-the-world trip. My parents drove me to college, an hour and a half drive away from my New Jersey home in their second-hand blue chevy loaded with clothes and other stuff that I was taking with me. I was headed to the safety of a dormitory room on the inner city campus of a Brooklyn art school. I was going to study fashion design.

They stopped the car at the entrance of the building on Willoughby Avenue. My dad unloaded the suitcases and boxes from the trunk on to the curb and then went to find a parking spot further off. I was wearing my coolest un-New Jersey clothes; The pants were dark olive green, made from some weirdly textured drapery fabric I had found in my local fabric store, they were extremly wide bell bottoms and rode low on my skinny almost non-existent hips, flared straight out all the way to the floor. Instead of a front zipper they laced up. The pants were paired with a dark brown “poor boy” top, skinny ribbed knit with short sleeves and a round neck. As Mom and I stood there waiting for Daddy to return I looked around, watching the other students as they walked in or out of the building. Some of them were like me, with their parents, looking around. Others walked more purposefully, self-assured, confident – knowing where they were going. I couldn’t wait to be like them.

We gathered up my stuff and went inside, stopping to wait for the elevator to arrive so we could take it up to the 8th floor. I was going to live in a building with an elevator! Two of my roommates were already there – faces to go with the names that the school computer had paired me up with. I picked one of the two beds in the second room and we dumped my stuff on it. My mother took a quick look around the apartment as I introduced myself to the others. “We better get going,” she said, “We don’t want to get stuck in rush hour traffic.”

I walked them out to the car. My mother turned to me, “Your roommates seem nice,” she said as she searched in her purse for something. She handed me an envelope. “You’ll be just fine, Hilarie. Here’s some money to get you started. On Monday, go to the local bank and open a bank account with it.” As she turned to take the door handle, she said, “Now, I don’t want to see you coming home more than two weekends in a month. Or we’ll change the lock on the door.” She patted me on the shoulder as she smiled. “I’ll talk to you during the week. Call me at the office. Come on Milty, let’s get going.” Then she got in the car and they drove off. 

My mother helped me to fill out all the college application forms. My mother was the one with whom I discussed what to include in my portfolio and write in my essay. My mother drove me to Brooklyn for the college interview. Afterwards, we got lost in Bed-Sty and I wonder now what she must have thought about the horrible slum neighborhood we wandered around in until she found the way back towards New Jersey. Did she worry about where she was about to send me off to live? Later that summer, we talked long into the evening, discussing the names of the girls I was going to share the dorm apartment with. The week before leaving my mother helped me pack. 

When I think back about leaving home, it makes me feel strong and determined to remember that I did it all on my own. But sometimes a nagging thought arises and I wonder if I could have done it without all the help my mother gave me. 

My son will not be moving into a college dormitory with ready-made roommates to share the space with. He will be moving into his own apartment that I helped him paint. It is already filled with IKEA furniture that he picked out and we assembled together. All that is missing are his clothes, his large collection of computer equipment and himself. If he needs a little help from his mother to make that passage then I will be there to help him. Just as my mother helped me. 

Me and my mother on the day of my college graduation.