Tuesday, February 26, 2008


It is hard to imagine the brainstorming session at Fisher-Price that gave birth to Bacos and his compatriots, a line of infant “grabber” toys shaped like animal heads. Just the heads. Odd indeed. A lamb, a bear and a pig were available in 1980, and of all the adorable, cuddly bunnies, unicorns and teddies lining Tucker’s crib, it was the pink terry cloth pig’s head with ears of softest satin that became my son’s favorite. One may discern my husband Dave’s perverse humor in dubbing the toy “Bacos” after McCormack’s Bacon Bits.

Dave and I treasured Bacos almost as much as Tucker did, for the calm that he brought and for the forever-image of my little boy sucking his thumb while holding Bacos close to his body, index finger stroking those satiny pink ears. Car rides were peaceful and overnight visits to friends or relatives went without a hitch as long as Bacos was with us, bearing all the security of home.

The downside to this relationship was that his presence became a MUST. Roughly the size of my hand, Bacos was easy to overlook, and many hours of my late twenties were spent in search of the pig’s head. I think that sometimes Tucker hid him deliberately. What power for a three-year-old to so thoroughly control his parents, sending them on a wild goose chase, knowing full well that the goose, in this case, the pig, was in the copper pitcher next to the fireplace in the kitchen.

Bacos’ most memorable adventure followed a shopping excursion to purchase a couch for our new house in Clinton. After giving every sofa the comfy-butt test, we made our selection and headed back to our apartment in Greenwich, an hour and fifteen minutes away. Why we didn’t miss Bacos sooner escapes me, but we were home before the wailing began.

Resourceful young mother that I was (and greatly indebted to the Fisher-Price Company for mass production), we had two Back-Up Bacos. They staved off total panic, but there was no mistaking them for the real thing. Firm and portly, freshly pink, they had not been snuggled and loved, imbued with Tucker’s own taste and baby scent.

When the Most Beloved did not turn up despite an exhaustive hunt, a call to the furniture store reaped a casual, “Why yes, we did find the...uh...pig’s head. We just threw it in the dumpster.”


A week later, boy and pig were reunited. Oh happy day.

The years of blissful companionship ended when some mean kid at nursery school teased Tucker about being a baby. At the age of five, he decided to put away “baby things.” He stopped sucking his thumb (all at once, just like that) and tossed Bacos into a wastebasket, then turned and walked away. Wait Tuck! It’s your Bacos! Don’t leave him behind!

Of course Bacos did not remain in the trash. I’ve saved him as well as his back-ups. They are precious to me. Tucker went cold turkey that day. He never sucked his thumb or asked for Bacos again. There were some hard, tight days when he clearly could have used a thumb and a satiny ear, but he never gave in.

Every now and then while cleaning drawers, I come across that old love-squished pig and the memory flash of little Tucker is instantaneous - they had been one! The baby is gone, but I can hold Bacos close, my nose buried in those satin ears. I inhale deeply in hopes that he still holds the scent of my little boy, but too many years have passed. I replace him wistfully in the drawer. At least I know where to find him.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oh That I Might Sleep!

My gynecologist’s voice sounded petulantly condescending as she conceded, “I’ll fill the prescription for you this time, but you must discuss your sleep disorder with your primary care physician.”

“Sleep disorder” sounds positively schizophrenic. How can my condition rate the “disorder” classification when nigh on 95% of my similarly menopause-challenged friends suffer from the same malady? Oh sleep! Who would have thought that I’d view this undervalued cycle as the Holy Grail?

As I wept and worried my way through what should have been a smooth and happy summer, I realized after months of wide-awake nights that sleep deprivation played a significant role in my fragility. I gained new respect for forced sleeplessness as a torture device where before I’d thought, “Well, at least it doesn’t hurt.” And of course, it doesn’t, but fears and burdens grow and glower in the absence of a good night’s rest.

This was yet another zinger launched by diminishing estrogen. It seems unfair that wrapping up my biological usefulness as a reproductive organism carries so many residual penalties. Goodbye to babies, juicy sexiness and supple skin. Hello anxiety, low self-esteem and perennial fatigue. While I know that some of these losses are beyond salvage, there are means to tackle others.

I started with the gynecologist in my search for answers. Her suggestions - routine bedtimes, bedtime routines, no TV at bedtime - made sense, but simply weren’t going to happen. I accepted the wisdom of her offerings, but countered with one of my own - Ambien.

I’d heard raves about the sleep-inducing properties of this tiny miracle and hoped it would work for me. With a supercilious raising of eyebrows and steepling of fingertips, the doctor agreed to submit the prescription, but cautioned, “Take it only twice a week to avoid addiction.” Rats! What to do about the other days?

I have always been a Nyquil fan, even before the onset of menopause. What a divine giving-over - to lie cozy beneath the blankets, cocooned deaf and snuffly in my sneezy world, awaiting the comforting tingle in my fingers that presaged Nyquil’s transport to peaceful sleep. I saw the dangers in my appreciation of the licorice elixir, however, and never allowed myself a swig unless a scratchy throat or mild congestion heralded a dawning cold. “Yes! I’m getting sick! Bring on the Nyquil!” Friends and coworkers laughed, but my enthusiasm did not go unheeded. I’ve noticed a new anticipation in those around me upon experiencing the onset of sniffles. I know I’ve played a role in boosting Nyquil sales.

So I’m covered two nights a week and on sick days, but this is far from sufficient. As an experienced nurse practitioner, my sister-in-law Deb was able to extend yet another avenue - Valerian, an herbal remedy as old as witches. An odd reference perhaps, but Dave and I saw samples of the plant itself in an exhibit at the Salem Witch Museum. It’s a medicinal herb used by ancient healers.

I had high hopes for Valerian and it does seem to work when my mind is at rest, if I go to bed at a decent hour, and if I allow for a little peaceful reading time - thus, only on rare occasions. Dave, on the other hand, who will never experience menopause and has no idea what long-term sleeplessness is, takes one Valerian and is gone. How I envy his peaceful snores.

There is no tidy resolution to this tirade. I sit at night, propped against my pillows, eyeing that alluring green bottle. Does tomorrow appear demanding enough to warrant the ease of Ambien? I am reminded of “Seinfeld’s” Elaine, evaluating potential sex partners as “sponge-worthy” or not. Sooooo, Wednesday, are you Ambien-able?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Chocolate, Chapstick and Final Requests

Chapstick and chocolate are my two addictions. Obviously they are not as treacherous as the other options to which people fall prey. Chapstick will not interfere with my relationships and I doubt I’ll wind up in rehab or standing before a group of sympathetic fellow sufferers saying, “Hi. My name is Lea and I’m a chocoholic.” Having said that, should I ever need a support group, I know it would be easy to drum up a sizable membership. How often does the sprightly conversation at a well-attended party patter away to numb silence as near desperate diners eye each other in disbelief as a fruit torte is served. It’s not dessert if it’s not chocolate.

There is always chocolate in some form at my house. It does not have to be anything as official as a cake, although Trader Joe’s mini lava cakes, “Coeur Fondants,” helped me through some bleak moments. When that line was discontinued, I couldn’t stop myself from verbally falling to my knees and clawing in supplication at the stock boy’s cheery Hawaiian shirt, saying “Surely there are a few boxes left out back?”

“Sorry Lady. You should have bought more of them. Not enough customer interest.”

Omigod. It was my fault. I could have done something to prevent this. I should have bought more. Maybe my sister can scrounge up a few boxes at the Trader Joe’s in Wayne. Maybe they’ve not yet received word of the stop-sale. Maybe there is still a freezer chock-full of them down there. I bet there is. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’ve got three more boxes left. I’ll find a substitute before they run out as long as I parcel them out carefully.

Really. It’s not a problem. *Sigh*

I don’t consider myself an addictive personality, and with chocolate, I’ve never had to experience deprivation because it is a penchant shared by so many. Chocolate is always available. At worst, I know I can always find a few spilled chocolate chips in the back of a cupboard or drawer.

Chapstick is more underground. No one would consider it an addiction, but I guarantee there is a tube of Chapstick in far more pockets than one would think. America is a country of soft supple lips largely because of Chapstick. Revlon might seek credit and Blistex has tried to gain a toehold, but Chapstick is king.

Chapstick is not a commodity one would readily share, although my father and I will companionably pass a tube now and then. Dad favors “Plain,” and it will do when my lips send their plaintive dry-cry brainward, but the addition of cherry and strawberry flavors to the original waxy blend was pure genius and I commend the manufacturers.

When my father-in-law, Colombo, had his stroke, I witnessed the hardship of dependence on others for Chapstick application. His expressive skills were significantly impaired and collecting his thoughts enough to know what he wanted was as challenging as stating them. His desire for Chapstick was foremost enough, however, that several comforting red tubes were among the first round of provisions delivered to his room at the nursing home. I’d inquire during each visit, “Chapstick Colombo?” and invariably his response was a hearty, “Oh yeah!”

The painful Terri Schiavo case set the entire nation pondering what we habitually skirt as studiously as the skeleton in the family closet – the manner of our dying. I am among the lucky few who do not fear that step. I know that my grandmother will be there waiting at the heavenly gates, that all burdens will be lifted and that new journeys lie beyond. The means to that ethereal reunion is a matter of concern however. I felt a little better about this, at least temporarily, once I made up my living will.

As I read over the paragraph regarding “No extraordinary means of resuscitation,” my resolve wavered at the words, “No hydration.” “Um, I’d like some water please,” I said feebly.

“Pardon?” said the lawyer, eyebrow arched

“I’m uncomfortable with the phrase, ‘no hydration.’”

“Ah. Well,” the lawyer began briskly. “You get into tricky waters if you start enumerating conditions.”

I didn’t care if the waters were tricky, I just wanted them to be available. To her, this was simply about ink on paper and a document completed. She was supervising routine verbiage while I was seeing my sheet-shrouded husk of a body lusting for a glass of water. Was that too much to ask?

Like the pathetically well-behaved girl that I am, I bowed to her legal authority and signed.

With each day’s report on Terri’s tenacious hold on life, I mentally urged water and Chapstick her way. My discomfort led me to call my kids to tell them about the lie I had signed at the lawyer’s insistence. “I do want hydration and I do want Chapstick.” I made it very clear. Both kids responded predictably. My daughter, Casey, rolled her eyes and said, “You’re not going to die Mom, but I’ll remember the water and Chapstick.”

My son Tucker snorted, via email, at my having bent to legal manipulation. “I don’t care about ‘standard procedure’ Mom. You get that will changed to reflect your true wishes.”

Does that mean I’m screwed unless it is written in a legally binding document?

I know my kids. I am confident that they will see to my comfort. But I call on all readers as my witnesses: I want water and I want Chapstick. And if Chapstick manufacturers thirty years hence have the wisdom to add some new flavors, make my little tube chocolate.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Saved Messages

The robot-guy on our message machine warns that we have three minutes, forty-five seconds left for taping. He sounds stern. I know the time is short, but what am I supposed to erase? Friends complain, “Your machine is filled up. I couldn’t leave a message. Is there a problem?”

There is no problem. But there are too many messages I can’t bear to delete - cherished voices sending love, cheering me on, reporting good news. I have listened to the entries that have made the cut despite numerous screenings in an effort to pare back… and still I cannot push “erase.”

I won’t delete Casey’s slurred message from January 2004, “Happy New Year, Mom and Dad!” She was in college and, bless her, had thought to call her aging parents in the midst of her drunken revelry.

I suppose the robot-guy thinks our son’s Father’s Day greeting from 2005 is expendable, but in Tucker’s, “Hey Dad! I thought I might catch you before work,” I hear my boy smiling; I can see him smiling as he speaks to the machine.

Would the callous automaton have me delete my parents’ gleeful voices, giggling as they warble, “Happy Anniversary to You,” in 2006? I think not. In fact, when Mom and Dad called on my birthday in April, launching into such a robust “Happy Birthday” song that I cried and grinned all the way through, I begged them to call back so I could record it.

I will not sacrifice Dad’s message - made “Wednesday, 5:39 PM,” according to the robot-guy - thanking us for his Father’s Day card last June. My father’s obsessed with turning out lights; heaven forbid I should leave the den for a quick snack or a trip to the bathroom. I know I will return to a dark room. The protest, “Dad! I was only gone for a minute!” has been lodged more times than I can count.

So, when I found a card at CVS that depicted Thomas Edison’s son admiring a light bulb and quipping, “Cool invention Dad. I can’t wait to leave the room and forget to turn it off…” I laughed aloud. It was perfect.

Dad loved the joke and chuckled through his message: “Dearest Lea-Mice, this is your tired old Dad. It has given your mother and me great amusement that you would send a Father’s Day card of such extraordinary insight and perception.”

I saved Elvita’s triumphant call announcing that she passed her citizenship test. For over a year, we worked together at Mercy Learning Center in Bridgeport preparing for the examination. Through Elvita’s appreciation of our rights and freedoms and her study of American history, I re-learned much I’d forgotten. How many Americans, so fortunate to have been born here, would say, as Elvita did in her message, “I am so happy, so excited! I am an American citizen!”

A solid ten minutes of saved tape-time are devoted to my sister-in-law Deb, Aunty Cam and my parents, calling to compliment my writing. When I despair, thinking, “Who would read this crap?” I turn to the machine to bask in their accolades. I push “skip,” “skip,” “skip,” to message number eight (Deb) or number fourteen (Cam) in search of loving cheerleaders to shout down my inner critic.

The robot–guy probably smirked at one message from Casey. She had called, she said, because she missed us so much, and I prized the opening endearments. I hadn’t listened to the full message since first she phoned, but while writing this piece, I let it play through. I had to laugh as it unfolded – or rather, unraveled. After all the “I love you’s” and “Miss you tons,” she seemed to be wrapping up, when, “oh, oh, oh, I almost forgot. I’m running out of grocery money. Could you send some?”

Despite the dismay of the robot-guy, I’ve preserved two of my husband’s calls, left as he headed home from work. One says, “Hello my dear! I’m on my way! Love you to bits and pizzas!” The other is a nice example of Dave’s impression of Triumph, the comic rottweiler puppet, belting, “Yo Baby! How you doin’!?”

Having said all that, I acknowledge the problem of tape running out. This machine has a job to do. There are friends, relatives and tele-marketers dialing in to record current events. This black plastic box, so modern and efficient with its buttons and red light, is not a memory-collector.

But it is a voice-collector. Where a photograph freezes a moment, a face, a forced-for-the-camera smile, in a voice the whole person springs, living, to mind; the heart behind the taped message apparent. I have plenty of pictures of my grandmother, Byeo, but they are as flat and dead as she is. I sense her presence more fully in letters where she wrote, “Best luck and bestest love.” I run my finger over the words and can feel the impression where the pen left her mark….but I can’t remember her voice.

Dave and my kids are indulgent of my wish to save messages, but they ask, “How long do you plan to keep them?”

“Forever,” I would say, if I were to answer truthfully, but I shrug and respond, “I don’t know.”

Dave thinks that my hording of voices is morbid - that I am thinking too much about loss. I tell him it’s a thin line – imperceptible - between treasuring loved ones and worrying about losing them. Aunty Cam is ninety-one. How much longer will the robot-guy capture her voice? Mom and Dad are in their seventies and, for me, their voices are an audible hug. When the real thing is gone, I’ll be able to hear them with the help of my message machine.