January 18, 2007

Welcome to the world, Kayanna Rosalie

At long last, Alice has become an aunt, an honest blood-relative aunt. She is, granted, the age of her niece's grandmother (not Alice's mother, who is a generation older than Alice), but an aunt nonetheless. Looking forward to the fun parts of parenting while not having to get her hands dirty. (If there's one adjective that doesn't describe Alice, it would be domestic. Thumb splints aside, she has not and does not plan ever to change a diaper.)

On the morning of the 16th, Alice's brother's wife's 22nd birthday, the phone calls started at 8 am, and continued through to the birth announcement at 6 pm -- she got the obstetric blow-by-blow from her 42-year-old (and only) brother. It started with "we're" in labor, a notion she finds rather odd. After all, he wasn't; she was. Big difference in the pain factor. But Alice will grant that if it's a harbinger, it's a good one. Next up, full dilation. Two hours later, Kayanna emerged.

Wednesday evening my brother emailed me a photo from his cell phone. (Love that modern technology. Don't have a clue how it works.) I know all babies are beautiful, but this one really is adorable. Did I mention Kayanna shares Alice's gene pool? In what she prays is a good way? Alice did have a happy babyhood, or so she has been told.

Alice's mother is happy the baby is healthy, but not exactly bubbling over. She said, several times: "I'll go [to visit] in April, when the baby is less of a blob." I wouldn't have expected her to say anything different to me -- but apparently she repeated herself verbatim to my brother, tact-be-damned. Her lack of enthusiasm is underwhelming. I suppose it's fear mostly: my brother has had three marriages fail, but none of them involved progeny of his own.

Still, it would be nice if my mother could at least be happy for Kayanna, for the genetic legacy she would not otherwise have seen. I used to say I wanted to be a grandmother, but I could skip the hands-on, character-shaping mother part. As an aunt, it seems I have my wish.

Physically, reproduction was not an option for me: this is a fact that I have acknowledged since I was about 18. First, there was the smoking. Not much later on came the antidepressants, and I wasn't willing to risk my sanity to continue to replicate a gene pool of depressions and migraines, one about which I was ambivalent at best. I gather my brother didn't let that influence his sudden desire, at 42, to be a father.

Truth be told, my brother and I watched the same movie that was my parents' marriage, and we reached different conclusions about whether to enter the theater again. I haven't crossed that threshold, and he can't seem to stop.

I am hopeful that he has walked across it carrying a bride for the last time. He has a child now, my niece, Kayanna Rosalie. This time, the stakes are higher. This time, he's in the game for good.

I've known my niece's name for as long as I've known her gender (i.e., since September or so, two weeks after my brother called to announce his girlfriend was four months pregnant).

Kayanna, per the web, is a variation of Kaye, an English name with no discernible meaning. Rosalie was my grandmother, whom my brother and I loved very much. She died in 1985, a year that major family upheaval was the norm. (Matriarch dies, her son goes to rehab, her daughter gets breast cancer, and those are only the headlines from June to November.) I used to go visit the cemetery on the date of her death.

Once, as I was getting back on the subway, I saw a rainbow (unusual for NYC, even for Brooklyn), which made me think she knew I'd visited. Since my dad died, however, I haven't made that trip more than once or twice. Next week will mark the 16th anniversary of his death, a date that never gets easier for me.

Rosalie, his mother, was a very strong, determined woman, who urged me to go "to business," not to stay at home being a housewife. My grandfather was a traveling salesman who didn't drive -- grandma did all the driving. She worked as an editor and proofreader in an attorney's office prior to marriage, and they wanted her to read for the bar (this was circa 1920, before law school was mandatory), but her parents wouldn't let her because they didn't want her to scare off potential mates with her education.

She also waited until she was 29 to have her first child, my aunt, and was 33 when my dad was born. She was the kind of grandmother who, into her 80s, could close down a bar at 4 am. She was good at a few things domestic -- baking, for example -- but better at delegating the details. (My father had a German nanny who took him to Bund meetings pre-WWII, until she was deported for being a Nazi sympathizer.)

Grandma Rosalie was also terrified of infants, and I was the first -- not my aunt, not my father, not my two older cousins -- to whom she gave a bath. So I'm glad her name carries on. Kayanna, well, it's unusual, and I know my brother's wife selected it, but I don't know why, or where she'd heard it. I'm not asking.

I'm about to search eBay for a sterling silver baby cup, then start finding airline schedules so I can see Kayanna sooner, rather than later. It is a singular occasion, I believe, that I will meet a child who will call me Aunt Alice. I'm looking forward to it.

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January 14, 2007

Follow the money

This is a notion that the government has apparently taken to heart, per today's New York Times:

"The Pentagon has been using a little-known power to obtain banking and credit records of hundreds of Americans and others suspected of terrorism or espionage inside the United States, part of an aggressive expansion by the military into domestic intelligence gathering."

Here is my question: if the military and the F.B.I. have the right to leaf through my checking account statements, shouldn't they have the responsibility to balance the damn checkbook? It only seems fair. If someone governmental has taken it upon him/herself to peruse my American Express statements, shouldn't he/she at least post a credit to my account?

I don't like to balance my own checkbook, and perusing my AmEx statements is best left for shock value. My general response to those statements is, I spend how much on what? What with all the online shopping options available at the touch of a keyboard, not to mention the temptations of eBay for the insomniac, I am frequently amazed by the monthly total.

From experience as a financial planner, where it is my job to follow the money my clients spend, I can tell you that regardless of what anyone says about where their money goes, the checkbook and the credit card statements tell the unvarnished truth: I learn more about people's material priorities in life by what they spend than by what they say about what they think they spend.

So now the government wants my job -- I am trying to imagine a government employee of a given civil service grade (which determines the employee's salary) dissecting bank and credit card statements. I'm also wondering if the IRS is releasing our tax returns on a subpoena by subpoena basis, or if there is more legalese than that involved in obtaining those records.

Big Brother is on steroids these days, and what we have in the way of blood tests to deny him access to competition is pretty damn limited. Ask any Olympic athlete, or almost any professional one. They will tell you about blood and urine tests to certify their drug-free status, and I don't think they tend to be happy with the results. If Big Brother were a person, he certainly wouldn't make the team.

It is ironic that every year, financial institutions are required to send customers a privacy policy notice. I am required to send clients letters regarding privacy and confidentiality, per a 2001 federal law. It is unclear whether I am to tell clients that if the Feds come knocking, their privacy rights -- and mine -- go into the toilet.

Those financial policy notices apparently hold about as much water as the so-called privacy notices doctors are required to have patients sign. That "privacy" notice essentially says, any interested party has the right to read your medical records whenever the party wants, for whatever reason (or lack thereof) the party has.

The Constitution is big on free speech. Unfortunately it lacks specificity regarding the recording of and manipulation of information given out as a part of it. Or at the very least, Big Brother's tentacles trump freedom of speech in almost every instance where one might wish to hold on to it. Not being a Constitutional scholar, I don't know where or if privacy is a right granted under the founding fathers.

All I know is that should Big Brother come knocking, I might as well open the door stark naked. Can anyone toss me a robe?

An addendum: They know what you've been sending... This is from the UPS "Customer Technology Guide: 8.1 By Customer. You represent and warrant that (1) Customer is not headquartered in the Restricted Territory; (2) You will not use the UPS Technology in the Restricted Territory; and (3) You are not, nor is Customer under the control of any Person on the U.S. Treasury Department's list of Specially Designated Nationals, or the U.S. Department of Commerce Denied Persons List or Entity List,... or incorporated in, a national resident of or government of the Restricted Territory."

Next question: if being a Specially Designated National would get UPS over here to pack and unpack my bags, would they hire out for work around the house? Obviously their organizational abilities would top mine, and I need a lot of filing and shredding done this week. Any domestic help would be appreciated.

But perhaps I should just stick with the robe, and see what Big Brother's response would be. I must admit, though, I am very tempted, when next my travels involve airports, to simply wear lingerie under my raincoat, and see whose bells I would set off going through the metal detector.

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January 08, 2007

Put a little more mascara on....

Yesterday the synapses went completely askew, a combination of PMS and the impending anniversary of my father's death, a death that still remains a mystery: for public consumption, a heart attack; within the family, other theories (with evidence) have been advanced. The upshot is, we'll never know. Sixteen years ago, and it feels like yesterday.

No one in my family has brought up the questions, barely have they mentioned losing my dad, in years. To me it's hard, when you miss someone from your life so much, to look at anything from a pragmatic point of view. Particularly given how soon my brother will be a father, and how much I know how excited my dad would have been to be a grandpa, a title I would never have afforded him.

This morning I woke up with tunes from La Cage aux Folle in my head. I suspect at a loud enough volume, they could see my through the day without tears. At first I was particularly struck by the drag queen's view:

When my little road has a few bumps again,
And I need something level to lean upon,
I put on my sling pumps again,
And wham! This ugly duckling is a swan!
So when my spirit starts to sag,
I hustle out my highest drag,
And put a little more mascara on.

Perhaps that is the true purpose of the cosmetics industry: just to add a little cheer, to make us all think we can be, as it were, Queen for a Day, or a reasonable fascimile thereof.

Farther into Jerry Herman's lyrics comes the bittersweet "The Best of Times is Now":

The best of times is now.
What's left of Summer
But a faded rose?
The best of times is now.
As for tomorrow,
Well, who knows? Who knows? Who knows?
So hold this moment fast,
And live and love
As hard as you know how.
And make this moment last
Because the best of times is now,
Is now, is now.

Lyrics to live by. Or at least give me a different perspective to look through my solopsistic, drug-added lenses.

As Anne Sexton wrote:

"I say Live, Live because of the sun, the dream, the excitable gift."

I don't know if these quotations will stop my tears completely, but it can't hurt to try to focus on their meaning.

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