Monday, December 7, 2009


“I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink

I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink”

- McCartney, Paul; Lennon, John. Song “So Tired” The Beatles

Saturday may have been the worst night sleep I’d ever endured in Cambridge – even worse than the late-night blackout during a heat wave one summer, which drove my neighbors to their stoops and porches well after bedtime (At least my bedtime). And this bad night couldn’t have come at a worse time. My father was visiting to celebrate Hanukkah a week early. This helped him because he didn’t want to travel two weekends in a row, since he had his girlfriend’s granddaughter's Bat Mitzvah in two weeks. This also helped me because my husband’s holiday party for work was the following weekend. I don't think this helped my sister, but after finishing work late Saturday morning in Manhattan she took the bus up to Cambridge.

When anyone comes over, especially to stay the night, I do what I assume everyone else does, I clean. But when my father visits, (as Emeril would say) I kick it up a notch. Suddenly I spy the cobwebs on the ceiling and the grit in the fridge. No matter how old I get, I want to impress him. My children are in charge of helping me clean the house, but when I try to explain that it’s my dad, so we need to do an extra thorough job, I can hear the crickets in their heads. They only clean because they have to – not to impress me, so why would they understand that I need to impress my father? I know this because of my constant nagging and double-checking their work. I remember trying to shirk my chores as a kid, so what goes around comes around. And when the doorbell rings, I see the place through my father’s eyes – all of the areas undone.

Perhaps other adult children aren’t as fastidious* as me when their parents visit, but when it comes to keeping a neat and clean house, I have a perfectionist for a father. How he survived in the disorganized environment my mother, sister, and I perpetuated while I was growing up, I have no idea. I’d noticed that my dad's area of the bedroom was always immaculate, and he’d take care to tidy areas I never would’ve noticed were in disarray. Once he had his own place, the extent of his tidiness was brought to light.

Although I’m better about cleaning than I was as a child and teenager, I’m clearly not my father (Ask my husband). When my children were younger, visiting my dad left me fraught with anxiety. Whatever shade you want to call it; eggshell, bone, cream, champagne, vanilla – his rugs have always been white. In his current house, even the carpet under the dining table is white. Never have my children been so nagged by me to eat over their plates than at his house. In all fairness, my father is a lot more relaxed about it in recent years than I am. I’m trying to please my him more than he’s looking to be pleased.

Now my father has a girlfriend, which has changed him immensely, in a good way. He was wound up in knots in the years before retirement – so much so that I feared he wouldn’t make it. But he did, moving to Maine, volunteering, kayaking and hiking, and creating the life for himself that he always wanted. Because he had more free time, I saw him more than I had since I lived with him. My dad visited us more than we visited him, since traveling was more complicated for us with jobs and kids. It was wonderful for my young children to have him that present in their lives. Now they’re older and he’s busier, which I'm grateful for after watching him languish in a bad marriage and toil in a job he didn’t like for too many years. The downside is now my father is pulled in another direction, so I don’t see him for as many holidays.

My husband, the kids, and I go to New York for some of the major holidays, where the majority of our families are located. We always spend Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s house and Thanksgiving at my mother and father-in-law’s home. Before my father dated, he used to join us, but in the last couple of years he hasn’t. Because Christmas doesn’t mean much to me and because we always make a point to see each other on another weekend in December, I don’t mind that much. But I do miss the Thanksgiving tradition. Still, I understand that the trip from Maine to New York is long, especially for a man who detests traffic and driving long distances. If it means that much to me, I’ll have to give up going to New York to go to Maine for Christmas instead, and at some point, I may have to do just that. But for now, I planted a seed that my sister especially misses spending Christmas and Thanksgiving as a family, so he’s thinking of coming to New York for one of the holidays next year.

I think my sister is affected by the change more than me. The physical distance between my father and sister is greater than between my father and me, but her relationship with my father was also different than mine, so she’s lost something more from the changes. My interactions with him as a child and teenager were more contentious. And I think in me he saw more of himself (introverted), and in my sister he saw more of who he’d rather be (Extroverted). I made peace with our different relationships long ago, but some part of me always reverts back to the young me when he comes to visit (Not the contentious part, just seeking approval).

So when I lay in bed, hearing the noisy people pass by from the newly opened bar down the street, and loathing the students having a loud party that spilled onto the street in the middle of the night, I couldn’t help but cringe, knowing that my light-sleeping father wasn’t sleeping, though hopefully since his hearing isn’t as sharp, the sounds were a little muffled. He always lets me know when something interferes with his slumber. I’m sure his girlfriend was having a tough time of it too – my father’s snoring was the least of her problems that night. Then the plows drove by to remove the dusting of snow from the road, scraping the street, sounding like low-flying military planes. To top it off, the phone rang at 6:08AM because a refrigerator was acting up at my husband’s lab. In my tired state, I thought it was a sub call. Through it all, I couldn’t help but think how much my dad accommodates to spend time with my family and me.

And isn’t that what we do as family - accommodate one another?



  1. As I grow older, I realize how much you have become
    the the backbone of our family; creating new traditions, cooking hundreds of delicious meals, always coordinating everyone's schedules so that we can be together as a family, organizing thoughtful gifts for mom & dad, and always accomodating everyone's needs. My sadness over all of us not being together anymore as a family during the holidays is somewhat abated by knowing we can always meet at your place! I wish more than anything that Cambridge was next to NYC, but I'm grateful to know that your home is
    my home because your door is always open. I love you

  2. Time and place doesn't matter as much as effort, which I think we all make, to see one another.

  3. Can't help but smile reading this...
    Thanks reminding me to water the roots.
    I think I'll write my sister an email.

  4. Alesa, sometimes I realize how long it's been since I've talked to a relative. It's good to reconnect.