Let Go and Let Live

June 1982

It had been an extremely hot summer day.  Because the windows were open, I could hear the noisy sounds of taxis and cars racing by. I was with my family in my grandmother’s apartment on 54th street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan.  Although her name was Dorothy, we called my dad’s mother “little grandma.” After all, on a good day, she barely cleared 5 feet.  My dad turned to us. “Meg, Peter, Ted, we’re leaving soon.”   We were headed to Bloomingdales.  My brothers and I had been sitting on my grandmother’s fancy gold-colored sofa. As usual, the plastic that encased the couch remained attached to my legs. As I attempted to stand up, a peeling sensation gripped me as I slowly separated my now marked and sweaty legs from the sofa.  Cursing myself for not wearing pants despite the heat, I hoisted myself fully up. While I knew the plastic was put there to protect the couch from dust and spills, I didn’t understand why the little grandma believed that the protective casing was worth it—how could anyone’s fear of a little stain possibly result in their guests having to sit this uncomfortably on their furniture?   Although I was now across the room, the imprint of the plastic on the back of my thighs still lingered.  Before leaving the apartment, my little grandma grabbed me by my one finger and led me to her room.  “Meg, I want to give you money for some underwear.”  To her, there was no better expenditure.  Forever worried about my being robbed during the five-block excursion to Bloomies, she proceeded to roll a ten-dollar bill into her handkerchief, fastening the cloth with a safety pin.  “Here, now put this inside your bra so if you are mugged, no one can steal this money.”

Fear.  It rears its ugly head in so many ways.  Some fears are harmless yet neurotic, like my little grandma’s.  Some fears are innocuous, but personal like constantly looking in a mirror to confirm nothing yellow is hanging out of your nose.  Some fears are more substantive but self-contained, like when I am at a beach and I fear people’s reactions when showing my oddly-shaped feet.  But then there is the ugliest version of fear: when your anxiety is transferred to another.  I find it intriguing that as a mother, my biggest accomplishment will be not helping my children overcome any visible difference or physical challenge. Rather, it will be resisting the temptation to transfer my fears to my offspring.

Although growing up I never fully appreciated it, when it came to raising me, my parents were in a word, fearless.  Let’s face it, having the unexpected surprise of having a daughter with only one finger on each hand and one toe on each foot, must have been alarming.  Once my mom and dad got past the shock of having me, in raising me they had a choice. Overprotect me or let go and let live.

For example, when she was growing up, my mother was a graceful and talented ballerina.  Knowing that dance had given her confidence, she strongly desired that I similarly experience this form of art and expression.  But it is easy to imagine any natural reluctance on her part. I didn’t have a chance of fitting into a pair of ballet slippers, and the thought of deliberately putting me on stage meant drawing public attention to my condition.

However, rather than holding me back, my mom not only included me in her 2nd grade dance class, but she also found a way to have a local Pakistani shoe peddler make me special slippers.  I loved the class so much that she found small dance bells to wrap around my ankles, and then encouraged me to try bell dancing lessons.  By her acts she and my father were setting the tone for my life:  Assume you can do anything, despite your fears or anxieties.

And so, I continue to apply these lessons while parenting my own children.  Last year, Ethan came home informing me that all the third graders could sign up to play a musical instrument.  “Mom, I get to tell the school my top three instrument choices, and then the music teacher will help me choose the best for me.” I like to say that the reason I played trombone was family tradition: my grandfather (“Pappy”) and older brother played it.  The reality is that it was the only instrument suited for a one-fingered kid.  I began to open my mouth to express my doubts about what Ethan could play other than trombone, but then refrained.  Instead, I asked him his choices and he said, “I have already figured it out:  Violin, trumpet, and of course trombone, since you, Uncle Peter and Pappy used to play that too!”  “Perfect,” I responded.  It suddenly occurred to me that it was important I let him explore what might be possible, without my interference.

The following week, Ethan came home practically jumping with excitement.  “Mom, guess what? I chose the trombone!  Although it was fun trying out the other two instruments, I liked playing the trombone the best, and the music teacher agreed it seemed best suited for me!”  There was no discussion between us of any finger-related challenges.  “Congratulations honey!  If Pappy was still alive, he would be so proud!”  We embraced.

Postscript (1982)

Before heading to Bloomies, I snuck into my little grandma’s bathroom, removed the wad of money, and shoved the bills into my pocket.  After all, the thought of reaching inside my shirt and bra to pay for my new underwear in public outweighed my little grandma’s fear of my getting robbed.  Nevertheless, I looked forward to growing up and hoped to not carry my grandmother’s fears with me. 

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6 Responses to “Let Go and Let Live”

  1. Anna PineraApril 4, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Thank you for such a beautiful written story.

  2. AnnaApril 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    Beautiful writing as always…

    I think you look a lot like your dad with your mom\’s coloring. One thing is for sure… you have your dad\’s smile. : )

    Interesting that I read your post about fear today since just last night my twelve year old had to write an essay about why fear can hold you back from accomplishing something or even living up to your full potential. As she read her essay to me she asked expectedly, \"mom, do you like it?\", I really did not know how to respond. While her essay was descent enough in style, what occurred to me was that she did not fully understand why fear can truly hold one back.

    My mother\’s fear of anything which happens in life held me back from enjoying most things. Wether it was my first plane flight or riding a bike or anything that had to do with the every day. I always wanted to try out for dance but didn\’t because I was just like my mom and feared I would not be good enough. The same went for auditioning for a play or trying out for soccer. We have this one life and I truly believe it is a gift to be able to explore all that is possible in it.

    As a note my mother did NOT however cover our sofa with plastic (like some of her friends) and I was eternally grateful! : )

  3. AnnaApril 3, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    Beautiful writing as always…

    I think you look a lot like your dad with your mom’s coloring. One thing is for sure… you have your dad’s smile. : )

    Interesting that I read your post about fear today since just last night my twelve year old had to write an essay about why fear can hold you back from accomplishing something or even living up to your full potential. As she read her essay to me she asked expectedly, “mom, do you like it?”, I really did not know how to respond. While her essay was descent enough in style, what occurred to me was that she did not fully understand why fear can truly hold one back.

    My mother’s fear of anything which happens in life held me back from enjoying most things. Wether it was my first plane flight or riding a bike or anything that had to do with the every day. I always wanted to try out for dance but didn’t because I was just like my mom and feared I would not be good enough. The same went for auditioning for a play or trying out for soccer. We have this one life and I truly believe it is a gift to be able to explore all that is possible in it.

    As a note my mother did NOT however cover our sofa with plastic (like some of her friends) and I was eternally grateful! : )

  4. JessicaApril 2, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    Borrowing from Tolstoy – all little ethnic grandmas are alike – plastic seat covers and fear (ok the plastic seat covers are not part of the opening line of Anna Karenina!). Quoting from Esther 4:13: “if I perish, I perish” in other words – “let go and let live!” Thanks for an encouraging post!

  5. KathleenMarch 31, 2012 at 1:07 am #

    Your post is very timely for me today. This afternoon I was soliciting signatures for a petition to put my name on the ballot for a seat on my local Board of Ed.I had gone up to the local Catholic school during dismissal as I knew many residences would be waiting for their kids. I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen in a while. She was standing next to another woman waiting for her children. The woman I knew asked after Amélie and her schooling. The other woman asked me what was wrong with my daughter. I said she had Down syndrome, but nothing was wrong with her. The woman quickly apologized and laughed at herself and her word choice because it turned out she has a daughter with Down syndrome, a daughter with Autism and two typical children. She knew there was nothing wrong with my daughter, just poor word choice.
    Anyway, she went on to talk about all of the choices we have to make for our kids (her daughter w/ Ds is 22). How we never really know how those choices will turn out- how scarey it can be, yet we do it, hoping for the best and adjusting as necessary.
    Parenting certainly isn’t for the weak of heart- no matter how typical or atypical your kid is. 🙂

    • MegZuckerMarch 31, 2012 at 4:38 am #

      Love the comment–thanks for sharing. xo