Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Satchel Paige asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” For my friend Veda and others born on Leap Year Day, they get to count birthdays in base 4.

Because I work in a university with young people for whom Desert Storm is history as removed as World War II, it is difficult to escape the consciousness of the generational divide. Somehow we do not get older; it’s the undergraduates who are just getting younger.

And yet others senior to me have seemed everlastingly young. Today’s mail brought a card in memory of Bing’s great-aunt, Yettie Chew, who passed away on February 10th at the age of 89. Somehow she will always be a spry 60-something in my mind, chatting with me at Kathy’s big San Francisco Chinatown wedding reception. Every Christmas since Bing died, Auntie Yettie has written to me, the wife of the deceased grandson of her sister-in-law. I could count on her card warming my heart, telling me that she missed seeing me at the annual Chew family holiday party, how glad she is to hear what Akemi and I are doing, what a good job I was doing in raising Akemi. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped being surprised at how inclusive his extended family has been to me.

The card her daughters crafted in her honor included this quote from e.e. cummings, something of a favorite of mine:

you shall above all things be glad and young

For if you’re young, whatever life you wear

It will become you;and if you are glad

Whatever’s living will yourself become.

In what base will you count your birthdays?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The robocall from the medical center went into my voicemail today, reminding me of my “upcoming appointment.” As if I needed reminding. It’s been 11 weeks since my last treatment, the longest I have gone without chemo, steroids, and needles since August 2010. My hair seems even curlier, my taste buds are still MIA, and my “poop-out horizon” is still far too short to be much of any fun, but this additional month in between treatments is alright by me.

When I’m tired, which is more often than I care to admit, Figaro keeps me good company, curling up next to me, tucking his head under my elbow holding up a book, laying his paw on my arm. For those of you who haven’t heard the story, this large orange tabby appeared around Thanksgiving about 7 years ago. For a month, he tracked our whereabouts as we moved throughout the house, darting in our yard from window to window and vantage point to vantage point, successfully engaging eye contact with us to the point that Akemi said, “Mom! The cat is watching me practice and is staring at me again!”

Right before Christmas, as he was looking pitifully thin and forlorn in the cold rain, we told Pam about him. We knew that Pam, a cat lover, would say, “Why don’t you keep him?” and she did when she came over, bringing with her a starter supply of cat food and litter. When we let him in, he went right to his make-shift box with a towel in it, curled up, and stayed there all night. Akemi and I had never had a cat before, so what did we know, but we thought that was an auspiciously well-behaved start.

The second night, he stood in the doorway between the bathroom and my bedroom, watching Akemi and me talk as we were stretched out on my bed. We looked at each other and I said, “If we let him up here, it’s all over.” We both looked at him, sitting perfectly still, and we both felt, “What the heck.” We both tapped the space between us and said simultaneously, “Okay, come on.” In a flash, he bounded up and snuggled his way in. His purring was so loud and his look so content that we got the biggest kick out of how he was obviously thinking, “Ahhh! I made it! Mission accomplished!” His persistence, patience, and good behavior had been rewarded.

So we feel he adopted us, not the other way around. We’ve been amazed at how loveable, clever, and protective he is. He has his battle scars, and never will answer to the name Akemi gave him (from “Pinocchio,” not the operas), but we honestly didn’t ever think we’d have such good company from a cat.

When Akemi is home, he sits over her shoulder in her arm chair. When I’m playing the piano, he often jumps into my lap and puts his paws on my hands or the keys. Occasionally his snoring in the middle of the night startles me awake. He seems to know when I’m not feeling the greatest and stays close by my side.

Time for Fig and me to turn in, saving up strength for the next “hit,” and making the most of the next several days until then.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

To my friends in need today,

you are encircled about by love,

and grace shall be, as your day.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday, February 17, 2012

“No estate in united America is more pleasantly situated than this,” said George Washington about his Mount Vernon home.

I have stood on the grounds sloping away from Mount Vernon’s eastern fa├žade to gaze at the Potomac a handful of times now, and each time have felt the magnetic power of that place. Little wonder that his desire to return to Mount Vernon and to behold again that very view kept Washington persevering through the travails of war and public service.

Washington as the Revolutionary War leader and Founding Father has fascinated me over the years, but through Ron Chernow’s excellent biography, I have a greater appreciation of Washington as the self-invented autodidact, the reluctant Cincinnatus, the gentleman farmer, and the childless family man. I plowed through most of the 800+page book as my December Rituxan reading.

In just the first few pages, I learned something about which I had been curious: how Washington had come to own such incredible real estate. In the mid-1600s, his great-grandfather acquired some 5,000 acres in colonial Virginia, the bulk of which was along the Potomac River at Little Hunting Creek. His father later built a home which Washington expanded to become what we know today as Mount Vernon. Washington’s older half-brother renamed the Little Hunting Creek estate after his commander in the British navy, Admiral Edward Vernon. That the place so identified with the man who took on the British would have taken its name from a British military figure was, I thought, a great tidbit of historic irony.

As Chernow described Washington’s struggles to grow profitable crops and wrestles with the economic and moral issues of slavery, I recalled the beauty of that land and some fun memories with the geography. One ambitious Saturday my third year in law school, some friends and I rode our bikes on the path from Arlington National Cemetery all the way down to Mount Vernon. That was a great outing – until we had to bike all the back. And then right before my Georgetown graduation, Bing took me sailing south down the Potomac. We discovered, though, that the current down by Mount Vernon is very strong, and it was a slow slog upstream. We were two hours late for the graduation party being thrown for me by none other than then-Congressman Mineta, “Uncle Norm,” and his family at their home. Fortunately, my parents, who were in town for my graduation, and their friends were having a great reunion without me. Since Norm was actually the Leungs’ congressman, Bing was mortified, but everyone seemed to think it was romantically cute that our excuse for being late was that we were stuck on a sailboat. One ULI trustee event was held on that back lawn and we got to climb around some usually-off-limits cellar passageways. The sun setting over the Potomac with dinner by candlelight on the Mount Vernon lawn – now that was impressive.

Bing’s favorite photo of his paternal grandparents, Peter Hin and Lillie Leung, was this one, which he took of them standing at the entrance to the Mount Vernon carriage path. He loved this one of them. You wouldn’t be able to see it, but Po Po Lillie is wearing the jade ring which I now have as a necklace.

These days it seems that we are removed from the reasons why we have holidays. A colleague commented to me as we were wrapping up today, “Holiday? What holiday?,” meaning that Monday is just the third day of a three-day weekend. I am admit to being glad we have the holiday weekend. But at least this Presidents’ holiday, I can look at this photo of Gung Gung Hin and Po Po Lillie at Mount Vernon, remember my other connections to that beautiful location, and relate in a small way the pull which it had for our first president. And then give thanks for the remarkable life which he led for our country’s benefit.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday, February 10, 2012

Akemi’s early December e-mail started with “Yay.” When I read that she made the first violin section of NEC’s top orchestra for its February 8th concert with the renowned conductor Hugh Wolff, I made my decision at that very moment. No matter how I felt, I was going to that concert.

One of my cardinal parenting rules has been “show up.” Even with only one child, a few times that has been easier said than done. Her second grade year, my flight home from a ULI meeting in Atlanta was delayed by lightening. The longer we sat on the runway, the more anxious I got that I would miss my Denver connection, meaning I would miss Akemi’s school open house that night. In heart-warming solidarity from another working mom, the flight attendant called ahead to the gate of my connecting flight, had me stand by the cabin door as soon as it was safe to do so, and said, “They’re trying to hold the flight for you, so as soon as we can open this door, RUN.” I did, and it seemed I had just sunk breathlessly into my seat as that plane started to taxi. When I caught up with Bing and Akemi at her school, she pressed my hand to her cheek and said with relief I will never forget, “Oh, Mommy, I knew you would make it.”

Open house was important to that second-grader, and making the best orchestra concert of her life was important to the hard-working young violinist. Fortunately, the change in my treatment schedule meant I did not have chemo as was originally on the calendar for this week. Even the weather gods were extraordinarily kind to me – no snow in Boston for early February.

Listening to the first half of the concert in NEC’s historically beautiful Jordan Hall, I realized that she had worked her entire life to be able to play in an orchestra such as this. She corrected me: she has worked her entire life to be able to play in an orchestra with a conductor of Hugh Wolff’s caliber. Moments in their Mozart “Haffner” symphony and Beethoven fourth piano concerto were breath-taking, and their Shostakovich first symphony was simply dazzling. The concert was over all too quickly. It was great of Sarah, Jonny, and Kismet – a wonderful subset of her best friends – to make it, as well.

All too soon I was leaving her apartment to return to LA early yesterday morning. In her sleepy dawn, she thanked me again for coming. Truthfully, I went as much for myself as for her. We shared this achievement, her and I, as we have shared, what, 17 years of lessons, rehearsals, performances, decisions, a few disappointments, and many exhilarations. And having her know that she can count on me to be there for the events important to her, be it the second grade open house or an NEC Philharmonia concert, is a gratifying parental accomplishment unto itself.

Folks were roundly concerned that wouldn’t this trip be too tiring, but all the more, I wouldn’t have missed this concert. This was most definitely a memorable “yay,” and Waldenstrom’s be-you-can-guess, I am counting on making more concerts and recitals before she is done at NEC.