I am happy because my home is solid and my kids… well, they’re here and kinda solid too. I am happy to have learned from my many mistakes and hope that this hard-earned knowledge will spare others pain. I am happy that I have Parkinson’s Disease instead of Multiple Sclerosis which I admit seems like a backhanded version of happy.
But of late, I’m more fearful than happy. I read the news and fear that our lesser selves will prevail. That the world will divide again and again into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and repeat the genocidal madness that such thinking devolves into.
I fear that I will never figure out how to follow my daughter on Snap Chat and that social media will ruin her, regardless of whether I can monitor her virtual life or not. I fear that if one more person tells me that Snap Chat is intuitive, I may do them great bodily harm.
I fear that my children will be too comfortable and never reach their potential. That the privilege I’ve enabled has extinguished the fire in their bellies. I fear that my children will never be comfortable in their own skin and so won’t even know what they might be capable of achieving. I would be happy if they attempted “a moonshot” – something ground-breakingly ambitious – even if they landed flat on their asses.
I am delighted that my eldest, a personal trainer whose industry sets absurd standards for physical beauty and then charges a fortune to work people into proximity to this ideal (whether they’re comfortable in their own skin or not)— I am delighted he will start work at a high-end gym next week. But I am terrified he’ll screw up this gig and regress to his unsustainable freelance life.
I am a mix of emotions. Constantly. I knew this would be my fate when I was 14. I was seated on a stage, about to be confirmed in my reform synagogue when I looked out at the audience to see my mother, her friend and her boyfriend smiling. I smiled back.
But there was one smile that was missing. My father’s. Sitting there that day, looking out over the congregation, it hit me: there would always be a smile or a tear or a hug that would be missing from every one of my life’s markers.
As I sat on the stage of the temple nicknamed “the Jew’s Church” — so ornate were its glass windows, so laissez-faire its integration of the Old and New Testament (no wonder I’m comfortable as a Jew-Epilian) — I knew that purity of joy, and maybe even of sorrow would never be mine. That even the happiest of milestones and celebrations would have a hole in them.
I was right. Some 40ish years later I feel the empty spot of my father’s absence. The hole softens as each year deposits filler into the fissure my father’s death left in my life, but the divot is still there. Noticeably so.
I knew then what I continue to feel; that no celebration, milestone or achievement would be pure. As we age, we accumulate losses, more holes punched into purely joyous moments until eventually all celebrations are like a well-loved blanket. Hopefully, if we pick up any wisdom along the way, we learn that the true value and beauty of the blanket is in the intricacy of its holes; that pattern demonstrates that we’ve dared love again and again despite the cost.
I knew then as I know now that I’d have to make judgement calls – active, conscious, hopefully logical choices – about what I imagine my father’s perspectives on every circumstance would be. I make decisions for a ghost.
I choose to believe that my father would be proud of my academic and professional achievements. Both of us – his memory and my own core – drive me to do more. I choose to believe that he’d forgive me for Round One, and that he and my second husband (aka Round Two) would enjoy talking about the arcane aspects of American History and Italian Opera, details of which are known only to them. I know in my core that he’d adore the force of nature that is my daughter and see himself in the earnest soul that is my 11-year-old.
I am happy that my children don’t have to make these choices. That they have two parents. I hope that this will remain the case for decades.
I fear that it may not.
No one in the history of humanity has declared Parkinson’s Disease a life enhancer or lengthener. And, while medical professionals assure me that I’ll live with PD not die from it… well, doctors don’t throw around terms like neurodegenerative lightly. So, yes, sometimes I do go there… but only for a moment. There are a lot of big brains working to cure this ill. It makes me happy – never scared – when I read about their research. Even their failures are instructive.
I choose to believe that I will shake, rattle and roll until a ripe old age.
But I do find great comfort in thinking my children are solid enough to grow into functional human beings regardless of how long I remain above ground.
It would make me unequivocally happy if my children manifest their biggest dreams for themselves (provided that they comport with my hopes for them, naturally.)
And I’m around to enjoy it with them.