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You’re doing your best

Vegan Creamed Chick Pea Vegetable Soup with roasted veggie garnish and chopped parsley

When in doubt, cook something.

That’s been my week.

Not writing. Barely researching. Angsting about everything and nothing.

And really. What does “you’re doing your best,” even mean?

This in an email note from a doctor as I reported out the latest of Jed’s symptoms. How he described himself as feeling “whoozy” again and needed to get back to bed. His heart rate hovering around 50 and even dipping a bit below. My doubts on full display, “showing my ass,” so to speak. How helpless I feel. Yes. He’s fine. Nothing we can do until the data from the Zio patch heart monitor he is wearing is accumulated and sent off next week.  Then we can tell whether he really does have issues with his sinus rhythm.

All of this as I baked Jed’s “no knead bread” recipe. Starting it the morning before. Measuring the three cups of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of yeast, 1-1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1-1/2 cups of water to get it started. Mixing it first with a spoon, and then with my hands. Enfolding it, feeling it coalesce, become a coherent bonded whole threading through my fingers, before carefully placing it to rest in a large bowl coated in extra virgin Kalamata olive oil. I think, “only the best for my Jed.”

Tear up thinking about it.

How hard this is.

How with the dough in place and rising across the day into night, Jed, had woken up at around 1:00 AM, unsure of how to go to the bathroom. I had a moment of cognitive dissonance, and then rose up and showed him the way as lovingly as I could with out a hint of judgement or despair or anything really. Knowing how he was entrusting me just in asking the question. Not wanting to appear “bossy,” his favorite term for me of late. Only to get the engine started a bit. Like cranking up an old Model T Ford car. Once the motor’s on it’s good to go, just needing the bit of a start.

Greek Fassoulakia with potatoes and kalamata olives

Lunch that day had been Greek fassoulakia: Green beans, potatoes, and kalamata olives in a tomato sauce with onions, garlic, basil, lemon juice, and a touch of cinnamon.

Comfort food for me. Shades of my 18-year-old self practically inhaling it off the plate whenever Nick’s mother Kalliope made if for us on the island of Rhodes in 1972.

Something yummy for Jed, as I’d taken him to Rhodes a couple of times, once in 1998, and once with Izzi in 2000–and where she started walking at 10-1/2 months. Ordered the dish practically every time we had lunch at a Taverna. Would mash it up a bit for her as we watched her smiling in delight with tomato sauce dripping down her mouth.

Later in the day, Jed was more of himself: Playful, funny, unworried about not having a clue. Enjoying the fresh soup I’d made in the morning to go along with the bread. Me dissecting the spicing (too much of the cloves) — him feasting.

“Hmmm,” he says, “the best I ever ate.”

And so it goes.

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Bradycardia (low heart rate) can cause confusion, dizziness and other symptoms, which can otherwise be challenging for a caregiver to interpret. This was only picked up on an ER visit as an incidental finding–and we still do not know if it, in fact, is the cause of Jed’s added confusion in the morning.

In researching the subject, I found a paper noting that bradycardia seems to have more frequency for frontotemporal dementia (FTD) patients with the behavioral variant, and thus something, FTD caregivers should be cognizant of.

For further information on bradycardia here are some resources (click on the item to open the link in a new tab):

Bradycardia in Frontomemporal Dementia

Strong evidence to links irregular heart rhythms to dementia

Bradycardia: Slow Heart Rate

 

 

Cat dancing through the week …

Sugar Ray, the pugilist Georgia street kitty by the window on a Brooklyn morning

Some weeks I just feel so whipsawed.

Apropos of a lot it turns out! Elections, being less than on target writing my new book (yes, yes, I will make it up, but oy!), circumnavigating the rise in hate speech everywhere it seems, my daughter’s great week starting a new job, so yes, lots of joy for her, installing safety rails (bed worked, toilet, no), housekeeping (don’t ask, had Jed and his companion vacuum yesterday as a “therapy” exercise!), lots of healthcare discussions re: upcoming appointments for Jed (success and a big thank you to Lenox Hospital Cardiac Electrophysiology for their kindness and attention) … and then me.

Yes. It is okay to ask, “what about me”!

Starting with the inventory, ’cause hey, can’t take the project manager out of me:

  • A few months in with a therapist … check.
  • Boxing training … nope.
  • Self care … hmmm …. no where near enough.
  • Being centered in my emotions … no where near enough.
  • Time for myself … no where near enough.
  • Sleep … haphazard at best

In the tradition of the don’t mourn, organize school of action, the best way I have found to move forward is to put the mechanisms for self care success into place.

Yes, an inventory helps, but one needs to really ensure the full picture is captured along with some thoughts on how to mitigate those areas that are clearly putting one’s mental health and well being in jeopardy.

Sugar Ray sleeping, Brooklyn window

Starting with sleep and knowing I must practice what I preach: it’s all about routine and creating an environment of calm and serenity along with ensuring one is adequately hydrated and not logy from having had a huge meal right before bed. One should also put away the smart phone, iPad, or whatever other electronic devices are overstimulating the mind with crazy short bursts of sound and light. No, one does not need to check Twitter at one in the morning or watch crazy YouTube videos or TikTok. Just turn it off–and if one must engage with something, go old school and read a book until the eyes go all swimmy and one drifts into restful sleep.

Another big one is time for oneself–and not only time, but meaningful time. Laying sprawled on the couch mindlessly streaming baking shows for hours at a time is not the answer. I can surely attest that the practice is just as addicting and mind-numbing as any narcotic and other than a lousy alternative to sleep, it does nothing for one’s state of mind. I am a huge offender of this one–not only seemingly watching, but simultaneously playing ridiculous games on my smart phone. It is the opposite of mindfulness or appreciation for the little bits of time I can have to myself, and decidedly not restful, in fact, quite the opposite. And no, that doesn’t mean I can’t watch the next episode of Andor (or equivalent show) when it comes on, but it does mean I shouldn’t obsessively and mindlessly watch three more hours of nonsense I cannot recall because my mind escaped into a video induced haze. The solution I am striving for is to actually schedule the time on a calendar. From writing time to sleep routines and so on. Given that the stratagem has had splendid results during my work life, why not use it as a tool to better organize my life into spaces that can provide me with solace and meaning?

As for living in the moment while actually experiencing the accompanying emotions — that’s a huge one. If one lives an “awake” sort of life, it is much easier to find, touch and be in those experiences, but again, that means taking a turn at mindfulness in a way that can difficult to do if one has been out of touch for a while. I’ve graded myself a letter grade of C in that regard, but I’ll actually tweak it to a C+/B- given that I do hit the mark from time to time and can recognize when I’m letting myself off the hook. The emotions around Jed’s fall swirled for days before I really landed in them, but as I write this, I know that the work of being in the moment had been at play in the background.

Just doing this bit of writing, and trying to reach out to readers whose lives are circumscribed lets me know that I am on a more positive path. And for those caregivers among you, I can only say that mindfulness, even in tiny spurts, does bring a kind of solace and peace that allows the smiles to come back, both inside and out.

I can’t say when I’ll get work out with my beloved Lennox Blackmoore at Gleason’s Gym or feel that I’ve got the self-care fully in place, but I can say it is a work in progress. And as with most things in life, that’s a positive in the scheme of things.

 

 

 

 

On Women’s Boxing-what an October!

I had the honor of introducing the 16 inductees to the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022. Held at the Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on October 22nd, the 9th class of inductees celebrated women’s boxing’s past and present in high style.

The brainchild of founder Sue TL Fox, herself an American pioneer from the 1970s when the denizens of women’s boxing went to court to win the right to box professionally, her insistence that women give themselves the accolades they deserve reverberates through the community.

Yes, we love that since 2020, women have been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. And that in Hall of Fames across the United States and beyond, women are taking their place for the brilliance of their achievements.

There is something; however, to that wonderful notion put forth by Virginia Wolfe, of having a room of one’s own. And whether actual or metaphorical, the sisterhood of brilliant athletes swapping stories is irreplaceable. This year’s class included Tori Nelson and Suzi Kentikian, boxers you may well have heard of, but it also contained Cora Webber who not only boxed in the 1970s, but in the 1990s to great effect. And men too, including Irish promoter Jimmy Finn, who along with 2014 Inductee Barbara Buttrick promoted the actual first all-female card in the UK in 1994; and Tom Gerbasi, who has led the way as a boxing journalist giving space to the stories of women in the ring since the late 1990s.

This year’s event was also held amid women’s boxing’s dazzling October.

The all-female Shields-Marshall card at London’s O2 Arena on October 15th was held in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,000 cheering fans, not to mention the 2,000,000 eyes that caught the broadcast of the card on Sky and ESPN+. The card delivered not only in terms of the number of fans tuning in, but the brilliance of the performances from one end of the card to the other. The Shields-Marshall fight itself, produced a fight of the year contender to rival the Taylor-Serrano bout on April 30th whose main-event battle was held in front of a similarly sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden.

What was notable, is that while Taylor-Serrano had 1.5 million views on DAZN, a full .5 million more viewed Shields-Marshall—to my mind, showing the strength of the Taylor-Serrano card to the women’s boxing “brand.” Afterall, it is highly unlikely that Bob Arum and Top Rank would have pushed to have their fighter Mikaela Mayer contest for the unified Super Featherweight title against Alycia Baumgardner, without the precedent of a sold-out Madison Square Garden.

Nor does it stop there.

Katie Taylor after her win over Karen Elizabeth Carabajal. Photo by James Chance/Getty Images

Consider Katie Taylor’s seemingly effortless retention of her undisputed lightweight crown and undefeated record against the mandatory Argentinian contender Karen Carabajal. Taylor led the card at the Wembley Arena—the very place where she had her pro debut. At that event, a mere six years ago, she walked out to nearly empty stands. At her homecoming of sorts, the cheering crowds floated her to the ring on a wave of love and admiration.

The two female fights on the undercard were also great action bouts showing off the prowess of Ellie Scotney as she pressured Mary Romero to a loss. And then there was the impressive professional debut of Maisey Rose Courtney, frankly one of the best I’ve seen, female or male. But think about that for a minute. She had her debut at Wembley Arena on a Katie Taylor card positioned as the swing bout leading into the main event.

Thinking about it more, Maisey’s entire boxing career has been informed by Katie Taylor.

Taylor’s amateur prowess and trailblazing amateur career provided Maisey with a goal to strive for. While her pro debut was on the undercard of a major fight by an undisputed champion in one of boxing’s more venerable arenas in the United Kingdom. This is Maisey’s world with the likes of Adam Smith stating Sky Sports commitment to putting on good cards as demonstrating “a move towards total parity and total equality in pay.”

The latter in particular remains to be seen. The boxing efforts on Saturday, October 29th across the globe; however, gave truth to the idea that parity and equity are long overdue. Consider Arley Muciño who wrested the IBF World Fly title from the Argentinian champion, Leonela Yudica, in a non-stop action fight at San Diego, CA’s Pechanga Arena and shown on DAZN. It should be noted it was Yudica’s 10th defense of the belt since she first captured it in 2014—a momentous upset by Muciño who had at one time held the WBO World Fly title. Announcing for the Golden Boy Promotions card was none other than current unified champion WBA and WBC World Fly champion Marlen Esparza, who immediately called out Muciño for a unification battle.

Let us also not forget that Yamileth Mercado successfully defended her WBC World Super Bantamweight title against the venerable Mariana “La Barbie” Juarez in her fourth defense of her title, her loss to Amanda Serrano in 2021, notwithstanding.

Those showings, the Taylor card bouts, and the women boxing at venues large and small establishes the sport has the potential for an even more magnificent future.

Let us all hope that actually comes to pass.

 

Falls, health, and moving forward

Caregiving for a person with any sort of cognitive degeneration is never for the faint of heart.

What’s breathtaking are the decision making processes one goes through for issues large and small. The hardest have to do with health and contending with making choices on behalf of another. At times it feels as if one is skidding across a slippery floor; stepping carefully but with uncertain footing–an apt analogy for the feelings of inadequacy that surface in the throes of working through the decision tree.

Meanwhile, I woke up at about 5:30 in the morning on Monday to the sound of a loud thud. The last thing I could have imagined was hearing Jed’s voice calling out, “help me, get an ambulance, call an ambulance,” in the saddest, softest tones possible.

I quickly surmised that he had either fallen out of bed or fell as he was stepping on to the floor. I’ll frankly never know, but on his way down, he sustained a small laceration on his ear, which bled profusely, along with a mixture of confusion and fear as he struggled to get up.

Helping him to the bed, my next task was to soothe him, while taking his vitals, dressing his wound, and eventually assisting him to the bathroom. Quite surprisingly, he was able to walk there and back on his own with a determined assurance. He was also able to communicate readily by that time, and with no obvious injuries other than his ear, I made the judgment call to forgo an ER run just then, in favor of letting him rest and get back to sleep for a while. I on the other hand, watched, fretted, listened to his breathing, and worriedly scoured the internet for all things falls and traumatic brain injuries.

About nine in the morning I left a message with his neurologist. I spoke with the nurse from the practice around one or so, and at that point, agreed to go to the ER to ensure there were no internal brain bleeds, et al. I had already been giving him a concussion protocol for a mild traumatic brain injury, (thanks to Izzi), but as he tends to be confused in the morning, following it was a bit tricky. He also noted feeling “fuzzier,” so going to the ER made sense at that point–especially since it was the same hospital chain as his neurology team.

A car service ride later, we were fairly immediately brought to a room in the facility, where he was promptly poked and prodded for a couple of hours including vitals, EKG, CT scans, and a full blood work up looking for signs of head and neck trauma, and potential causes for the fall.

Luckily, his brain did not sustain any injuries, but he did have a couple of anomalies in his bloodwork that I’ll be following up on over the coming days–reminding me how much I forget he is also a man in his 70s and prone to the vicissitudes of aging.

I should add a word about ER visits with a dementia patient. Impatience does not begin to describe what happens when the tests are completed. I also didn’t bring water with me (tip for the future)–so the grumps were exacerbated by a bit of dehydration until I grabbed some from a nurse. My challenge was engaging him in things to do while we waited for test results, so out came the iPhone with varying Spotify lists and YouTube videos. He found his favorite; however, on his own–folding his bed sheets, which gave him something to do for a good 15 minutes or so.

Once home, I’m not certain who was more tired, but we managed a quiet few hours. Izzi had joined us by then which gave Jed a wonderful boost, and afforded me a few minutes to collapse in bed.

I’m still assessing what happened and its meaning moving forward–aside from the knowledge that I need to figure out how to make the bed area safer, and really start to think through a better “to go” plan for any future emergency situations. I also always tend to think more about the effects of his cognitive decline and less so about the other things that might effect his health. And yes, I do have my work cut out for me to fortify those aspects of his care as even with once yearly visits to the internist, things happen.

Right now, I’m just taking some deep breaths and reminding myself that looking forward is always an unknowable set of possibilities that one must be open to. That, and a decent night’s sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

Damages

Damages reappear as unbidden apparitions

Big rivulets of unsealed fissures

Felt as a dull ache

A knowing sense of debilitation

Laced with unnamable remembrances.

 

I wonder about it

About how pain returns

How it comes due

The recompense

That and the vigorish

The payments on account

The little bits of soul separated in the rush to move forward

Hurriedly refusing the calls to look back

The map points

The cavalcade

How intransigence is the loss of everything.

 

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Unprepared for the New Year – 5783

Apples and honey…

I’ve been fairly mindful of Rosh Hashanah ever since the year my mother died in 2010.

In that first year, I considered attending services a duty to her. My intent was to say Kaddish (the prayer for the dead) on the event of the new year, while taking a bow to the religious experiences that had been so vital to her life.

In searching for a place to go, I came upon Congregation Beit Simchat Torah’s free services at Town Hall. I sat up in the balcony, unsure of what to expect, reading and rereading the order of the service to make certain I wouldn’t miss the Kaddish portion. When services finally began, I was awed by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum’s exuberant “Happy birthday to the world,” before she launched into her heartfelt welcome, making special mention of those, like me, who had not been to services at CBST before … and for those who might be uncertain of their Jewishness.

Talk about on target! I felt I was surely home and as the service unfolded and the by turns glorious and somber high holiday music feasted my ears, I felt the safety to grieve my mother in a much more spiritual way than I had intended or even considered.

Tonight will mark my 13th year attending services.

This year, as the last two, I shall do so through a zoom connection, but nonetheless am certain I will feel the same connectedness. Still, with yet another year of deep angst over the state of the world, and my own busyness, I feel woefully unprepared for the self examination to come.

I’ve also just watched the first two episodes of Ken Burns new documentary, The U.S. and the Holocaust. This is not new territory for me, per se, having been conscious of the Holocaust or Shoah since I was a young girl of nine sneaking my mother’s copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer.  I’ve also read widely on the subject and have seen most of the major documentary and feature films since the 1970s.

Even so, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw; with images and interviews so intimate as to crawl inside of my being. Nor was I prepared for how the historical references and stories would tease out the profound anti-immigrant and anti-semitic fervor in America. No less so than the reminder that Germany’s 1934 Nuremberg laws received their impetus from the Jim Crow laws of the American South.

It also brought to mind the stories my mother used to tell about her childhood during the Second World War. My grandfather had gotten a job as an engraver working on the Liberty ships being built in Providence, Rhode Island. Having moved from their decidedly Jewish enclave in the South Bronx, Providence felt like an alien place, its buildings smaller yet less intimate, with none of the rich street life of their former home.

Enrolled in the local public school, my mother and aunt were very soon subject to the anti-semitic vitriol of their classmates. They were also physically threatened, to the point where my grandmother sought out and found a tiny Yeshiva school, which they attended until they moved back to New York City at the end of the war.

In thinking of that now and of how very lucky my fairly extended family was to have immigrated to America prior to the imposition of its closed door policies in the early 1920s, I am forever profoundly grateful. None the less, I cannot help but feel unnerved by the current climate of rhetoric that seems borne of the self-same hatred and vitriol of that era.

Tonight I will say “Happy Birthday” to the world and sing God Bless America, by Irving Berlin when prompted, to acknowledge that safe harbor the Jews were able to have for a time.

I will also begin, in these ten days of awe, to think about the atonements I must make for all the wrongdoing that I have incurred. And I will pray for a peace the collective we that is the world cannot seem to find, even as I atone for the negatively of the sentiment.

Wishing you all a Shanah Tovah!

 

 

 

Twenty-one years … 9-11

My skyline remains empty.

My New York a place adrift in new sorrows.

And yet in this time our 21-year-olds have come of age. Have toasted their newness and sense of unencumbered power to take their place among us. To be with their friends. To work. To live lives of hopes and dreams. To fete with laughter and joy under shadows that may not enshroud their light, but exist in our imaginations.

The silhouettes of grace of an early morning sky on a lovely September day live in us as a before time. Shattering our ease and our comfort and our very sense of ourselves. Our grief remaining as a silent wound. Sometimes stirring our hearts. Sometimes our anger. Sometimes the foundations of our faith in the meaning of our past and our future as we rage and cry out and long for the relief of something greater than ourselves.

I miss my sky and its grittiness, emblazoning a sense of future in the form of two towering buildings that thrust into the sky to light up the night and the mist. To symbolize something crazy and unique in its time and place.

And perhaps that’s the real lesson for us all.

That in its failure to endure we have had to reinvent ourselves. Toasting along with our newly minted generation of adults a redemption of sorts, one that assures us that life goes on.

 

Of caregiving and caregivers

I will admit the notion of bringing in a companion / caregiver had been and still is daunting. As seemingly social as I may be, the die-hard New Yorker in me is loathe with a capital “L” to expose myself. After all, generations of New Yorkers have lived in tiny overstuffed apartments with doors that never open more than a few inches when someone knocks on the door. Why else constantly live life in cafes, bars, and restaurants? Right? We can just as easily have “at-home” dinner parties, but seem to prefer keeping our real selves, messy desks, unmade beds, and all, to our selves. It’s how we roll, and how we live, and our preferred state with out prying eyes and the “tsk, tsk, tsk” of disapproval. Of course, once one has kids, the calculus changes a bit. The living room, kitchen and bathroom do become public as well as any rooms where kids sleep and play. But one’s own bedroom remains a sanctum free of intrusion.

But really, I am indulging in a tangent, when it’s something closer to my own sense of failure at not being the end-all of caregivers. Admittedly I am much better at it than my housekeeping, but the nagging sense that I am not doing enough does punch through. And yes. It’s ridiculous, but who ever said that being human is anything other than a silly state of affairs.

The real truth is, at this stage of unrelenting progression, having a companion caregiver to augment care is absolutely the right call. One cannot be all things and the stimulation provided by another is extremely helpful. Sure, routine is good and important, but so is changing things up a bit. Forcing conversation. Another view of the world. And a new paradigm of routine that includes the companionship of others on a regular basis.

Having crossed that divide some months ago, I’ve come to depend upon the twice-weekly time Jed spends with his companion caregiver. As much for him as for myself, it gives me some relief and the chance to hang the “gone fishing” sign for a few hours.

What I hadn’t prepared for is what happens when that is disrupted whether through illness or other changes. In our case, our caregiver became ill with COVID. She is okay, but was out for three weeks. That change, aside from worrying about her health, also meant that Jed’s world became confused — and truthfully, it set him back a bit.

After my day or two of self-recrimination (hey, see the human thing above), I started reaching out to find some alternates. That in itself has been daunting, but I have been been meeting some fascinating people along this new journey of discovery: the remarkable world of New Yorkers interested in providing friendship to a challenged person.

I’m still talking to folks and setting up meetings to see if things will work out, but what it’s shown me is that in opening up one’s self and yep, even one’s home, bits of magic can form.

Jed’s illness will continue to progress as will his need for care, but what I am finding is that in trusting myself enough to trust others, the caregiving I provide is all the better for it.

 

 

The thing about a good night’s rest

I admit it. More to myself than anyone else. It’s been a long haul lately.

I came back from a week’s writing retreat and boom, whatever demons that had been lurking, engulfed me as so many microbes of infection. Seeping in everywhere at once, I’ve spent days that have morphed into weeks swatting away the no-see-ums of depression, hopelessness, and the nagging sense that I have no where to go. And in between, the daily stuff. Writing. Aiming for vulnerability. Spending time with Jed so that he feels loved, and wanted, and needed, and relevant.

And we’ve been through Jed’s rounds of medical appointments. His latest MRI showing progression, but only a small amount from last year to this year. Of course, adding them up, one year, plus one year, plus one year, and so on means more than a little when counted together. But it only confirmed what I already touch. The new realms of confusion. My own sadness at facing this new normal masked by a determined bravado, but in truth, as palpable as Jed’s “I do not understand” expressions.

Back in my late-30s, I experienced a major depression. Each day was a buzz of activity from my early morning runs on through my exhaustion as I rolled off to sleep having worked till 7:30 or 8:00 at night, and socialized or something else till late in the evening.

In the spaces in between, my eyes would leak tears as I tried to suppress the misery I felt. The aloneness. The despair. All wrapped in the package of not knowing what it meant to be. And how ridiculous I felt at being so late century. So post-modern. So wrapped up in the throws of my existential crisis. Not for a minute allowing myself the truth of it all.

In moments where my guard was down, I could hear my own ironic inner core whispering that the payment was due for an adulthood spent existing without making certain I’d examined all the nooks and crannies of hurt and trauma. For not living the truth of my own existence.

“Not those, again,” I’d decry, while also knowing that my life was as precarious as my sense of being. That I really was tipping over the line a bit, so much so that friends talked and queried, and offered me sanctuary.

So, here now, 30 years later. So much of a brilliant life later, I feel the edges of it. Not that tears leak, or that I despair, but that it is easy to lose sight of one’s reason and place in the world if one remains cut off from living it. From the touchstones that are the little bits of the jigsaw puzzle that is life and has just as much meaning as the larger corner pieces that anchor one’s self to the reality of one’s life.

Yesterday, I woke up having had a brilliant night’s sleep. I was so well rested and in turn felt so refreshed and happy. It’s not necessarily that the no-see-ums had spent their annoying course till next time, but I was reminded that life is this wonderful panoply of joy and fun intermixed with the range of stuff that can sometimes feel like quicksand and at other times like the sweetest of clouds scented by the privet flowers that have permeated the air in this part of Brooklyn.In other words, it’s just life. A moment’s blip in the scheme of things. And truly, nothing like a good, restful night’s sleep to bring on the brilliance again.

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A reminder that caregivers can face special challenges–and that you are never alone. Here are a few resources:

Alzheimer support for caregivers

AFTD caregiver support

Caregiver.org caregiving and depression

 

 

Katie, Amanda, Lady Tyger, and Me

Author, Malissa Smith with Hall of Fame, women’s boxing trailblazer, Marian “Lady Tyger” Trimiar, Madison Square Garden, Taylor/Serrano Main Event, April 30, 2022.

It’s already May. The boxing ring dismantled, the people who filled the Madison Square Garden arena already home or having taken a few extra days in New York City readying to go.

And yet, the enormity of being surrounded by and among a sold-out crowd of nearly 20,000 people; on their feet, cheering, crying, and cheering some more for Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano both, reverberates. A crowd so loud the veteran Canadian referee, Michael Griffin, couldn’t hear the bell at the end of a couple of the rounds, and a few days later said he’d “never felt that kind of electricity.”

Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano fought the fight of their lives.

They fought for themselves, for boxing, for women, for little girls and little boys, for their families, for history, for the record setting, 1.5 million eyes who viewed it on the DAZN streaming platform, and all of us who could make it to that arena.

And we felt it.

I felt it.

Jolted through with the special juice that is an event that transcends its time and place. Becomes already immortal. Engrained in our consciousness. Where we view over and over the special magic of the tender smile that passed between Katie and Amanda just before they fought. Taking in the enormity of what they were about to achieve. A history making main event prize fight between two of the best boxers in the world–who because they happened to be girls meant the special sauce of a well-matched contest, was also infused with all the opportunities that had been denied in the past. With fights relegated to the unstreamed portions of fight cards, for little money, and far, far less than equal treatment.

In a world where gender defines and sets rules for how we live and what our agency is as women, boxing has proved itself to be the perfect medium for amplifying those inequities.

Sitting in the stands with the great trailblazing, International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, Marian “Lady Tyger” Trimiar, it was not lost on me that her achievements and fights for equity were not unlike those of the fictional character, Don Quixote, jousting with windmills.

Her hunger strike in 1987 to protest the inequities towards women in boxing, a grand and beautiful stand for something, caused a ripple or two, but was largely forgotten.

A life time later, sitting in a majestic box above the Madison Square arena festooned with green light, she smiled, and with a wistful tone to her voice, said, “One million dollars for each fighter. I never earned much more than a thousand dollars, and that was for a title fight.”

If we measure equity in dollars and cents, women essentially earn the equivalent of a nightly bar bill of the Mayweather’s of the world.

Even the Taylor/Serrano fight, which passed the crucible of a minimum of a million for each fighter, an absolute first, still seems paltry in the scheme of things. Think about it. Two top-three pound-for-pound fighters duking it out in the ring together, what should that be worth?

Having had the honor to write about the women who’ve donned the gloves to contest in a sport that breaks their heart, watching Katie and Amanda fight with every ounce of their beings was among the most compelling evenings of my life. Here were two warriors of heart and spirit, meeting their moment of greatness, with power, with fortitude, and with grace.

Would that each of us could achieve an equivalent transcendent magnificence.

[Note: a version of this article was published in the Women’s Fight News eZine, April 2022 edition]

Girl Alone

Girl on the block alone.

One friend.

One brother.

I want to be a superhero. Really, ever since I was seven.

Share it with Milton Spivey. Trade stories.

He is cool because his letter to the editor is published in an issue of Spiderman.

Girl alone on 12th Street.

I love to read. To understand the world at large.

I sneak passages in my mother’s paperback copy of William L. Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” The pages thin, already starting to yellow, with that old paperback smell even though it is fairly new.

Love that I know his full name. The importance the author places on it.

I read about concentration camps and the number of Jews murdered from this and that European country. Some in the hundreds of thousands. Some in the millions. Going back to the table listing the number of deaths over and over again.

She keeps hiding the book and I keep finding it.

She needn’t worry. I already know the world is mad. Have known since I was five and learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I am forever scorched.

Trying to imagine my superhero self, going back in time to smash the crematoria. To get the Jews out from behind the German lines. To make the shadows of the disappeared in the ruins of Japan come back to life again.

Girl alone.

I listen to Mom’s Coltrane, and my Chopin, and my Songs of the Negev on the portable record player Grandma gave me.

“I could be a soldier there,” I think, “the equal to everyone.”

Know that of anyone I know in the world, it is Grandma who would understand.

Girl alone. Springtime.

I like the silence of my thoughts. The feel of my hair in a plait down my back.

My beige jeans.

Worn-out Hush Puppies with my toes starting to poke out.

Myself. Nine years old.

Going somewhere as swift as the wind.

So much done

Sometimes we all need to remind ourselves that we do a lot — and not so much rest on our laurels as to acknowledge the good work accomplished, with a nice “atta-girl” pat on our own backs.

For caregivers, that is especially essential because we can feel our lives to be nothing more than a Sisyphean task wending its way as so many cycles of frustration and grief.

Successes though, do happen, and should be celebrated!

My big success has been the introducing companion care to Jed. For three hours, two days a week, he meets a lovely lady who hangs out with him. It is a bit rocky at times — because it is kind of hard to get to know someone new in the best of circumstances — but they persevere!

Jed and his companion have chitter-chattered, gone for a walk to our favorite local Pizzeria, tried and failed to do a crossword puzzle and two or three art projects, but through it all, it has given Jed someone new to engage with, no mean feat in the pandemic era, which has enforced isolation.

The other laurel I am allowing myself to take a bow for, is gaining approval for Jed to have in-home physical therapy. Provided by the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, he will have two weekly sessions aimed at helping him regain his physical stamina, muscle tone, and flexibility. And the timing couldn’t be more perfect! With Spring underway, there is no better period to walk about the side-streets and parks of Brooklyn as flowers begin to bloom and bird migrations fill our skies with beautiful sights and sounds.

And finally, Jed had his jab number four yesterday, with the fervent hope that he continues to remain COVID free!

So, yup! Three-cheers to myself for this week’s accomplishments. I’ll take them where I can find them.


The Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY), is part of a national network of organizations providing home health care services.  A doctor can put in an order for a range of services including, skilled nursing, home health aid, and rehabilitation services.

 

Up before sunrise

 

It’s been a while since I was up before the sunrise.  I’d forgotten how noisy my street is at 5:00 in the morning with trucks making deliveries and buses idling before rush hour begins.

Before I retired, it was the time I had to myself. I’d get up around 5:00, patter around a bit, and then shower and dress for the walk to Gleason’s Gym or on off days, perhaps practice yoga before getting ready to leave for work.

Being up now feels like a holiday. An extra bit of time I hadn’t counted on. So far I’ve been filing away the huge pile of stuff that had obscured the wooden patina of my old pine desk, the one piece I have from my aunt. And yes, grabbing the tax papers I’d missed to send off to my accountant who is still doing taxes remotely.

The new cat, Sugar Ray, is not quite certain what to do. So far, he’s pretty much been letting me sleep until at least 8:00 am. He was certainly happy to be fed earlier and has been sleepily following me from room to room as I’ve been filing things away. And as is his way, now that I’m at my desk, he’s back at his perch on the window sill watching the early morning traffic go by. My perfect little sentry who has thankfully found something more interesting than my laptop.

As if on queue, with the perceptible lightening of the sky, I can hear the first faint sounds of bird song above the din of traffic noises. The sounds floating in on the top register as little bits of sweet chirping. Locating my city dwelling space within the urban landscape of life that flows in and around us if we bother to look.

Soon the birds will fly by as ephemeral whisks of light. Fleeting glimmers frozen in memory as something to delight. And so it goes.

Another week

Sugar Ray in the afternoon

Is it a week already since my last post?  What a blur.

I went to Gleason’s Gym on Monday and Thursday. Even added crunches in the sit-up chair at the end my workout. I felt a sense of accomplishment. The reminder of what a touchstone the gym has been and how much I miss it when I don’t go on a regular basis. The moments of self-care so revitalizing to my sense of well being.

The emotional rollercoaster has been moving forward to find part-time companion care for Jed.

I feel he needs an interesting someone to have contact with for a few hours a couple of days a week. Someone who isn’t me and who won’t invoke feelings of being infantilized from time to time. Still it gives me such an overwhelming sense of responsibility as I make decisions on his behalf. I admit that it is tangled up with my sense of helplessness and failure. And yes, I know I do not have the power to fill in the missing spaces in his brain. Or unknot the tau protein clotted ends of his neuron cell axon terminals that can no longer communicate. And no, me beating myself doesn’t help either, but the feelings are there for me to work through.

Meanwhile, plowing forward, I made a connection with an organization that specializes in matching folks up and will have a first preliminary meeting this coming Tuesday. The challenge will be figuring out how to introduce the companion caregiver to him so that it will be something that he wants to do. We shall see, but I have the hope that once we get past the introductory phase, it will help Jed engage more. And maybe even pry him outside when the weather eases up a bit more.

And so it goes.

In the pocket …

Between Covid, cold weather, and the vicissitudes of life, I admit to a rather scattered boxing training schedule since the beginning of the year. Last week, though, I was determined to get back to two days a week with a view towards three as soon as I feel able.

Unstructured training has its place I guess, but for me it’s meant a backward slide when it comes to stamina with a capital “S.”  The twinges in my right shoulder by about my 10th round also reminded me that such breaks can effect muscles and tendons as well. And in case you were wondering, nope, I didn’t pay particular attention to stretching either!

Hmm. Note to self. STRETCH!

Still, tiredness and heavy breathing aside, it felt great to dance around the ring when I shadowboxed, and by the third round on the pads with my trainer, Lennox Blackmoore, I felt in the pocket.

“Good job,” he said with a laugh and a mock wince, when I executed a straight right, as directed to his body, followed by a left.

He also had me working on my up-jab, overhand right combinations, with a sneaky left hook or upper cut thrown in at the end.

On the double-end bag, twinges to the right shoulder aside, I worked on feints and combinations, and the accompanying foot work that had me taking steps first one way and then the other, before executing right hand leads or doubled up jabs followed by the straight right.

Saving the best for last, I completed four rounds on the speed bag for the first time in a couple of months.

Always, my favorite way to finish training, it felt as if I was back hanging with an old friend, alternating my standard da-da-da-da-da-da speed bag drills with thirty second spurts of shots to the bag in combinations.

Given where we are in the world, I also felt humbled by being in the gym at all, as if I were a stand-in for all the people whose circumstance precludes such luxuries.

I was in my home away from home. Practicing what I love. Being in the moment with it. Feeling so much that just by being there I was doing honor to my boxing brothers and sisters in harm’s way in Ukraine. And I felt a gathering in. A welling of love and support as if the energy itself would heal the parts of my body in pain and in turn across the world. Magical thinking to be sure, but there’s a part of me that wants to believe.