Monday, April 23, 2012

To all mothers of the bride, just say, "I do!"

There's no question about the stress. It's a party, it's important, you've spent a lot of money and you want your child to be deliriously happy. Having just thrown a party, an important one that cost a tiny fortune and made our child deliriously happy, I wanted to share some hard-found wisdom. The correct answer after every question is, "I do!"

1. Do I really need to wear Spanx? If you're old enough to be the mother of the bride, you're old enough to need some help somewhere. Spanx has become a billion-dollar industry thanks to us. Congratulate yourself on contributing to Sara Blakely’s success as SpanxMeister and buy one. They are not as painful as the old girdles we wore before panty hose and they add a little firmness where some may be lacking.

2. Do I really have to buy wardrobe tape? If you're a clever girl--and we know you are--yes, a thousand times, yes. You'll congratulate yourself. Someone will need it, and in this case, it was me. I neglected to try on my Spanx with my outfit. Fortunately, I did remember the wardrobe tape (search for that in Amazon or Google “fashion tape”) and that took care of it, with the help of one of the bridesmaids. Be sure to remove it post-wedding or you will stick to the sheets when you go to bed.

3. And SuperGlue? Do I need that? You'll thank yourself. I don’t think anyone should go anywhere without it, especially if you’re wearing the strappy little sandals that your shoe store salesman said you should never wear again. You know why he said that? Because you have no arches but you do have bunions. There’s pretty much nothing you can do about the arches if you’re in sandals, but if you find sandals wide enough (and you can, on Zappos or FootSmart, God love them, and they’re festive), you can accommodate the bunion. The problem, ladies, is this: The straps may sit on either side of the bunion thus drawing attention to the ugly little protrusion you sought to disguise. The solution? Wardrobe tape (see above) on the bunion, SuperGlue on the underside of the strap that you want to stay in place squarely over the bunion. Be careful not to spill the glue on your foot or you will be wearing the strappy little sandals for life.

4. Do I need to take a laptop or a tablet? Yes, and you also need to curse yourself for not being a better geometry student. At some point you will turn to YouTube for something like “how to create a trifold pocket square.” If you look at the wedding pictures, you will see that Carl’s pocket square is a puff and here's why: One set of instructions involved six folds and turning the square at a 90-degree angle. I know that Capt. Hyde, my 10th-grade geometry teacher, is nodding somewhere in heaven and saying, “She didn’t understand it in 1970, and she hasn’t improved with age.” OK, Capt. Hyde, you’re right. And it was wrong of me to make my skirt shorter when I knew I needed help to avoid getting that dreaded C in your class because I still cannot figure out how to do the angles that will create the folds. The good news is that there is a very instructive video on how to do a the perfect puff. Final tip: Don’t do this the day of the wedding. This took me two hours, including ironing time.

5. Do I need a minder? You might not think so since your job is to oversee the bride (in our case, it helped that she was a little older and that she knew this was completely the right thing), but someone needs to oversee you and it can’t be your husband. Yes, I know you are strong competent women, but even we have a breaking point. I never got completely to mine, thanks to my sister Vicki. Seven weeks ago, she received a brand new hip. Seven weeks later, she was on a plane to the wedding. Seven weeks and two days later, she was helping me with my hair, telling me how beautiful I looked and dancing in the conga line. I did not ask her to do this. She did it because we are sisters and she knew. If you don’t have a sister, ask a friend.

6. Do I need to stay hydrated the day of the wedding? Definitely. Just not with martinis—not till well into the wedding evening. I switched from water to vodka the minute the vows were over. Fortunately, the bride and groom’s signature drink was fruity and tasty and mixed nicely with quarts and quarts of water that were already sloshing around.

7. Do I need to follow tradition? Of course. But only when it suits you. Defy convention if you want, doing so gracefully. I know it is traditional for the bride’s father to give the toast, but he detests speaking in public and I do it often enough that I no longer vomit before doing it, so why not? Plus I am much funnier than he. And we were able to reinforce the notion that this was our party, done in our own, special, unconventional, California way. But you can still frown when others involved in the wedding refuse to follow convention because you know the rules. After all, you made them up.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Take this old lady and shove her? I think not

Recently, while interviewing someone about a company's labor problems, the interviewee said it was time for the Baby Boomers to step aside and let Gen Y, all bubbly and enthusiastic, take over.


It’s been only recently that the age thing has become a thing for me. I am not 57 year old woman. I just play one on TV.

On second thought, I don’t know many 57-year-old women on TV so my attempt to be lighthearted has merely provided another avenue for my seething resentment.

Because here’s the thing: Gen Y, Gen X, Gens R-Z, you need us.

We are your moms. I don’t care how wicked your mom is, you still need her—or an idealized version of her. If it’s not the woman who raised you, find another one. We’re everywhere, and we will care about you.

We are your voice of experience. The first time you need a root canal, we can coach you through it. Or you get hit with an unexpected tax bill. Or someone decides to steal from you. Been there, and, unfortunately, done that. We learned from our mistakes and, we hope, you can learn from our mistakes. We may not have wealth, but we do have a wealth of experience.

We are your compasses. Most of us, by this age, have found our true north. You may not have found yours. We’ll share. And give you a map--a personalized one, if you want it.

We are your protection. We hate it when our kids are hurt, and most of you are our kids or could be our kids. We’ll fight like tigers to keep you from harm. That might make us a little over protective, but think about overprotection in terms of being on a precipice: Would you rather we almost caught you?

We expect so little. We aren’t expecting you to fall all over us. We expect you, oh, I don't know, to return a phone call or a message. We expect the occasional thank you.

And we don’t ask much. Just don’t be mean. Because someday, someone will tell you to get out of the way, and you can take comfort in knowing that you were kind.

Because it’s one thing to be shoved out of the way, and it's quite another to be ushered to the next stage in life. Which one would you choose? That’s what I thought.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

No longer Hamm I am

After 57 years, I am no longer Catharine Hamm.

It feels strange to write this and felt even stranger to have done it. I was more nervous at the DMV and Social Security than I was on my wedding day, as evidenced by the fact that I screwed up the DMV form twice. It’s such a habit to write “Hamm” under “Name” that I did that. Of course, the DMV thought it was a little odd that I was changing my name from Hamm to Hamm and pointed out that I probably needed to write “Skolnik” under the name.

I did, and, for some reason, promptly ripped up the form. (In my defense, I thought I was ripping up the incorrect version.) Yes, I was rattled. But so was the DMV clerk when I pointed out she had erred by forgetting to put my motorcycle license classification on the form. She looked at me and at my old license and then flounced off. How dare I be an old lady on a motorcycle? But I digress. (You'd be surprised if I didn't, wouldn't you?)

The license and Social Security are just the start. Next will be the passport, the deed to the house, my trust, my mother’s trust, my credit cards—the list is staggering.

Which raises this issue: Why do it at all? It’s such an old-fashioned notion to take a spouse’s name. After all, when I had the chance to change it on my marriage license, I didn’t. Now it’s almost four years after the fact.

One easy but not simple answer is my husband’s daughter’s wedding—my stepdaughter.

The fact that I’m calling her my stepdaughter says something about how far our relationship has come in eight years—from sniping and snotty to solid and caring.

She is getting married in April and is leaving her maiden name behind.

But until that date, we are Carl and Catharine and Jessica Skolnik. We are a united front against all forces that would seek to make this less than the happiest day of her life.

And although Carl has seen repeated demonstrations of this, I wanted him to know with certainty that I also stand with him and by him in all circumstances, except for maybe when he is declaring the Three Stooges the funniest act ever and his absolutely wrong-headed views on the death penalty. (By the way, don't mention this change to him just yet. He doesn't know--won't until the holidays are officially here. It will either be the worst gift ever or a lovely surprise. In either case, I want to see his face as he tries to absorb this.)

I’m not leaving Hamm behind completely. I will still be Hamm professionally—maybe because there’s no form to fill out that says, “I used to be known as this and now I’m this.” I’m still CatHamm on Twitter. Heck, this blog site is still Hamm Party of One. I mean, just because Tide takes on a few new ingredients in its detergent mix, it doesn’t leave its old name behind. And as my digitally savvy friends point out, your name is a brand. (Alas, Hamm happened to be a brand—of really bad beer. Maybe I should rebrand…No, no, too much to think about.)

Leaving Hamm makes me a tad wistful. I was the last one in the family; there are no kids to carry on the name. But other than the novelty of it, there is no particular nobility in being that party of one in a family that included more than its share of scandals and scoundrels and sad stories. Not that the Skolnik side is much better. We are families, after all. It's part of the package.

Besides, what families are without troubles? As I reflect at this time of the year on the Holy Family, I am awed by their unity in times of joy and times of trouble.

So this Irish German Catholic girl has cast her lot with the Russian Hungarian Jews. We are the Skolniks. United we stand.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

RIP Our Blue Byrd of Happiness

Blue Byrd Hamm Skolnik, a Dalmatian, died Friday after a long battle with degenerative arthritis. She was, well, pretty old for a big dog but no one was really sure.
Blue was adopted by Catharine Hamm in February 2004. Her previous owners used her to capitalize on the popularity of Dalmatians after the 1996 remake of "101 Dalmatians." When her mothering purposes were over and her family moved, she was kicked to the curb and ended up with Dalmatian rescue. Catharine Hamm found her online--"we should have called it D-Harmony"--and it was love at first sight. The deal was sealed in Santa Monica, where Catharine took the unimaginatively named Perdita on a walk that would be like many of their walks--very slow because no blade of grass remained usniffed.
As part of the agreement with SavetheDals, the renamed Blue--for her blue eyes--had to participate in obedience training. In a class of 10, she graduated No. 10.
"She was a little conflicted," said her teacher. "She wanted to please, but she wanted to do her own thing. When I told her she couldn't have it both ways, she decided to have it her way. She essentially learned nothing, but she did enjoy the car ride to the park."
Blue soon gained three roommates--Maridith Ramsey, Catharine's niece, and two cats, Golde and Brigitta, in addition to the cats Bella and Beau who were already in residence but who preceded her in death. She showed a genuine statesmanship by largely ignoring all of them except Mari, whom she enjoyed tormenting. Later, she (Blue, not Mari) was adopted by Catharine's new husband, Carl Skolnik.
"She wasn't very bright," said Skolnik, adding, "She couldn't have spelled C-A-T if we had spotted her the C and the T. But she had a good heart."
Besides walks, Blue enjoyed breakfast, dinner, puppy treats and naps. She was especially close to Catharine's mother, Genevieve, because they identified with each other: Both were moms who tried hard to raise their children, although Genevieve, to our knowledge, never sold any of her children. Both suffered the ravages of age, including deafness (selective or otherwise), poor eyesight and mobility issues. And both expected to be treated like princesses because, dammit, they earned it.
Blue is survived by cats Beatriz Cecelia and Barnie Louise, and a host of family and friends who all helped make the last 7 years of her life as wonderful as the first few were awful.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Embracing Your Inner Cruella De Vil

Three years of guilt, frustration and heartbreak. Three years of hating myself for being the bad guy and making her move. Three years of sorrow for loss, for what comes next, for a life grown small.

When I made the decision (with support from my wonderful sisters) to move my mother from her house to a senior living facility closer to me, she was so upset she got shingles, which are nasty and often result from stress. (And, by the way, if you are sending a picture of your mother’s butt to your mother’s doctor so the doc can get a jump on the diagnosis, remember to erase that picture so that the next time you whip out your cell phone to show a new acquaintance pictures of your cat—taken before the butt photos—you don’t accidentally moon your new acquaintance with your mother’s butt.)

After the shingles went away, I found her lying on the floor one day. Urinary tract infection but maybe a small stroke. Then came the broken hip—you know, the one where she told me her knee was bothering her and I drove her to the ER, where they gently suggested an ambulance might have been a better choice. And then surgery to replace that hip, after which she thought I was my father and announced to me, “They tell me you’ve been dead for 19 years.” I resolved to do something about that little facial hair issue and the apparent pallor issue.

Then rehab and then coming home and all the confusion and finding full time help and then the inevitable worsening of her condition—forgetting where she was or big parts of her life story or not knowing where I was born or when, which made it much easier to lie about my age and feel good about it because if your mom doesn’t know, who does?

And always, the guilt. The guilt about ruining the end of her life. My mom gave me a sweater once that had the initials DOM over the left breast—Daughter of the Millennium. It was a gentle joke—I often referred to myself that way, just to tease my sisters—but in some small way, I believed it. But once the new century began, there was no more talk of this, and I knew I was seriously out of the running for any kind of honor, except perhaps the Cruella De Vil "Rhymes With Witch" Award.

Until one recent Sunday when my mom asked me again to explain to her why she was living where she was living. And I told her the story and I said, “You were very angry with me.” And she smiled and said, “Oh, honey, I had no business living by myself anymore. You did the right thing.” Absolution. Finally. From her.

And someday, maybe I’ll even forgive myself for doing what needed to be done. There’s a leadership lesson in there somewhere, but I don’t want to think about it too much because I bet Barack Obama doesn’t cry when he ponders his tough and unpopular decisions.

It is opening day of baseball season. My mother loves baseball, loves the athleticism of it, loves the Dodgers. I’m disgusted with the Dodgers because of the Divorce and how they phoned it in last season, but I agree with her about the grace of the game. She asks me repeatedly during the off-season: How many more days till opening day?

Finally the day is here, and I stop by her place with a new Dodgers jersey and she is delighted. I write down the time of the game and the channel and give it to the caretaker and tell Mom to root for the Dodgers in their home opener against the Giants. She is beaming as I leave and says, “You are the best kid.” I am beaming too.

At 90, my mother has taught me another important lesson: Life, examined as a selected series of moments, can be joyful. I asked her later whether she watched the game, and she didn’t remember. But it didn’t matter—finally—to either of us.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ten Steps to a Hotter Marriage

1. Nag your spouse about taking blood pressure
2. Refuse to speak to your spouse when he says he will not do it
3. After 36 hours of silence, congratulate yourself when he capitulates and says he will do it.
4. Do a little victory dance when he says he wants to go buy the BP cuff
5. Get the BP cuff home, try it out, actually take his BP
6. When he asks where it should be stored, suggest in the oven with the salad bowls.
7. Bask in his praise when he says that’s a great idea
8. Get up early Monday and make porkchops, which require broiling
9. Fail to remove salad bowls and BP machine from top part of oven
10. Remove smoking, melting BP machine from oven after your realize you have melted it. Serve with a nice Bearnaise sauce.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Help Me Sweet Jesus, Especially if You're a Cardiologist

Date: Dec. 9
Receptionist: World's Lamest Medical Center. How can we not help you?
Me: I need to get an appointment with Dr. Cardiologist. My husband is short of breath, apparently is retaining fluid and is exhibiting classic symptoms of congestive heart failure.
Receptionist: What are his symptoms? Please repeat them so I can ignore you again.
Me: Rapid weight gain. Shortness of breath. Extreme edema.
Receptionist: How far is the patient able to walk without assistance?
Me: He can't walk.
Receptionist: So would that be 10 feet?
Me: He can't walk.
Receptionist: Less than 10 feet?
Me: Can't walk means zero feet. No feet can he walk.
Receptionist: So he is having trouble walking?
Me: Um, yes
Receptionist: Is he having trouble breathing?
Me: His breathing is labored.
Receptionist: But is he having trouble breathing?
Me: Yes, his breathing is labored.
Receptionist: So he's having trouble breathing?
Me: Yes.
Receptionist: After he walks?
Me: He can't walk so no.
Receptionist: So he is not having trouble breathing?
Me: Yes, he is but not after walking.
Receptionist: So he is not having trouble breathing after walking?
Me: No because he can't walk.
Receptionist: So he's breathing fine?
Me: No, he's having trouble breathing while he's stitting still.
Receptionist: But is he short of breath after he walks?
Me: Yes.
Receptionist: How far?
Me: Less than 10 feet.
Receptionist: So he can walk 10 feet.
Me: No.
Receptionist: Let me check the schedule for you.
Receptionist: The earliest available appointment is Feb. 15.
Me: But today is Dec. 9.
Receptionist: Yes. The earliest available appointment is Feb. 15.
Me: But today is Dec. 9.
Receptionist: Yes. The earliest available appointment is Feb. 15.
Me: Anything earlier? It's kind of an emergency.
Receptionist: The earliest available appointment is Feb. 15.
Me: It's an emergency.
Receptionist: Then you should take him to the emergency room.
Me: I don't want to go to the emergency room and sit for 37 hours.
Receptionist: Then you are refusing my advice?
Me: Well, I just don't think the ER is the right place for him.
Receptionist: Then you are refusing my advice?
Me: Um, well, yes, I guess I am.
Receptionist: Well, then, I am required by law to tell you that in refusing my advice you may be putting the patient's life in danger and that this could result in harm or death to the patient. Do you understand that?
Me: No.
Receptionist: What part of that don't you understand?
Me: The part where it's my fault.
Receptionist: Refusing my advcie may be putting the patient's life in danger and could result in harm or death. Do you understand that?
Me: I understand that he needs to be seen by a cardiologist and that one is not available until Feb. 15, so I'm not sure that refusing your advice actually does that.
Receptionist: Refusing my advice may be putting the patient's life in danger and could result in harm or death. Do you understand that?
Me: Yes, I do.
Receptionist: Is there anything else we can help you with?
Me: Please, no.
Receptionist: Is that a yes?
Me: No.
Receptionist: So that's a no?
Me: Yes, thank you.
Receptionist: So that's a yes?
Me: No, that's a no.
Receptionist: Thank you for calling the World's Lamest Medical Center. Have a nice day.