Sobering Lessons From the Blogosphere

Honest_PortraitI started blogging this summer to chronicle the countdown to my 70th birthday that was on September 12th.

Armed with a new FitBit, it was my plan to spend the summer walking at least 10,000 steps a day, losing weight, working out, having head-to-toe medical checkups and putting my finances in order. I thought blogging would be a good way to keep me on track. I also thought that my summer shape-up might inspire others to follow my lead.

The title of my blog Countdown to 70…And Life Beyond, gave me the built-in option of quitting once I turned 70 or to continue if I discovered that blogging was a calling for my senior years. My first post, Milestone Birthdays, went out into the blogosphere on July 15th.

Related Post: Milestone Birthdays

Ten weeks and 17 posts later, here are the sobering lessons I’ve learned:

  • There’s no getting around it; blogging is a whole lot of work. Serious bloggers post several times a week. There are those people who love to write. I’m not one of them. Writing has never come easily for me, so the process was stressful. Committing to a blog is like constantly having a term paper due. It can quickly become a grind. I made the decision to keep the commitment I had made to myself and continue blogging until I hit my 70th birthday.

Related Post: To Blog or Not to Blog, That is The Question

  • A bloggers day is never done. Writing a post is just the beginning. Once written, you need to promote it through a variety of social media platforms if you want people to read it. That means spending hours sitting at a desk in front of a computer. Not my idea of a good time; so I didn’t do it. I simply wasn’t interested in putting in the time and energy needed. Consequently, I never built an audience for my blog.
  • The most important lesson I learned is that I would much rather spend my time living my life than writing about it.

As I start this new chapter of my, I may choose to write a blog post from time to time but it is not something I will be doing on a regular basis. Blogging like all writing is a solitary activity, and I want to be out and about interacting with people.

My foray into the blogosphere was an education. I have the utmost respect for people like Rene Syler and my friends Deb Mitchell and Lora Wiley, who have been blogging for years. This newbie doesn’t have the motivation and tenacity to join your ranks.

Though I did not find my calling as a blogger, I’m proud of the 17 posts I wrote, which will live forever in cyberspace.

Many thanks to all who followed me this summer.

Related Post: Blogging-Not a Beginner’s Game Anymore

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My Years As A Caregiver

This week, I closed the joint checking account I had with my mother. It was the final act of the more than a dozen years I had spent as her caregiver.

My mother died on April 16, 2014. I had kept the account open until I was sure that her final tax returns, which I had filed in July, had been accepted. I had indicated on the returns that the person filing was deceased and had included a copy of my mother’s death certificate.

Before the Labor Day weekend, I received a letter addressed to my mother from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance informing her that her tax return was not complete. She hadn’t signed it. What part of dead did they not understand? It took several phone calls over several days to straighten it out. The case is now closed, as is the chapter of my life that was devoted to and defined by my responsibilities as a caregiver.

Like many New Yorkers of their generation, my parents had retired to Florida, Century Village to be exact. Over the years, they had survived medical crises that are often fatal or severely debilitating. They sprang back like the Energizer bunny, a little worse for wear but still ticking.

2000: Julia and Nathan Rivman in Florida
2000: Julia and Nathan Rivman in Florida

Intellectually I knew a day would likely come when my parents were no longer able to care for themselves but I operated as if it would never happen. I got used to seeing my once overweight father become painfully thin. I believed my mother when she said that her wobbly walking was not a problem. I blithely embraced the freedom of my single, childless life.

In 2002, that was all changed by a phone call.

I was shocked to hear my father’s voice. He NEVER called. I knew it had to be serious. In a shaky voice he said, “I’m really worried about your mother. She’s got a terrible pain in her left leg and lower back. She can barely walk. You better come to Florida.”

My mother was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a condition caused by a narrowing of the space surrounding the spinal cord. A cortisone shot relieved much of her pain. The doctor prescribed a brace for her left leg.

My mother’s mobility was compromised; she needed help dressing and bathing. Housework, shopping, and cooking were no longer possible. My father insisted that he could handle the situation; that under no circumstances would he have help in the house.

Thus began my journey as a caregiver.

For the next two years, I called my parents at least once a day. I made frequent visits to Florida. When I was there, I cleaned my parents’ apartment and went shopping; accompanied them to doctors’ appointments and for haircuts; and cooked and froze enough dinner meals to last until I returned.

Despite my best efforts, both my parents’ conditions steadily deteriorated. My mother was having difficulty getting in and out of her bed and lift chair, and she was showing increasing signs of dementia. My father was having trouble swallowing and weighed less than 100 pounds. After much cajoling, my stubborn father finally relented and allowed me to hire an aid to come to their apartment for five hours every day to take care of both of them. That arrangement lasted only a few weeks. On January 10, 2004, my father had a heart attack and died.

The first thing my mother said was, “Who called Marian? When is she coming?” She had no doubt that I would come, take care of her and make sure she was safe. (I have an older sister but she was not a participant in my parents’ care. It is not unusual that one offspring bears the full responsibility.)

It was clear that my mother could not live alone. She shuddered at the thought of having an aid live in her apartment with her. She nixed the idea of moving back north to be closer to me and the rest of her family. She said she couldn’t face the cold winters.

My mother wanted to stay in Florida and go to an assisted living facility that served three meals a day. She wanted somewhere she could play bridge and if possible, she wanted a water view. I found just the place, The Classic Residence by Hyatt. My mother adjusted well and was happy there. But she was plagued by a variety of medical problems, and I constantly had to go to Florida to be with her. The truth was, it didn’t matter whether she lived in Florida or New York. Her mobility was so bad, she never went outside. 

After five months, I convinced my mother to move to the Hyatt Assisted Living Residence in Yonkers, New York. We were both happy. She had a small studio apartment with a view of the Hudson River. Despite her worsening dementia, she played bridge three times a week; something clicked in her brain when she had cards in her hands. All was going smoothly when my mother and I were featured in a New York Times story about Sunbelt retirees returning north.

In January 2005, almost a year to the day my father died, my mother fell and fractured her hip. She had barely been able to get around before the fall. So it wasn’t too surprising that even after three months of rehab, she no longer had the minimum skills required for her to remain in assisted living. I immersed myself in elder law to explore my options.

I had two choices. My mother could move to a nursing home where she would be a private pay patient for three years, or I could get her an apartment where she could receive Medicaid home care. I chose the latter.

In April 2005, I moved my mother into an apartment across the street from mine. She had qualified for 24-hour Medicaid home care. I was going to run a nursing home for one.

Julia Rivman in her 'nursing home for one'
Julia Rivman in her ‘nursing home for one’

Charlotte Oti was the primary aid assigned to my mother’s case. For nine years, my mother had home health aids 24/7. During that time, many different aids were assigned to my mother’s case. There was no one who ever compared to Charlotte. She was my partner in my mom’s care. Even when Charlotte became a Certified Nurses Aid and started working in a nursing home, she was always there for me. She was the one person I could always depend on. Charlotte and her children are now an important part of my life; we are family.

Julia Rivman and Charlotte Oti
Julia Rivman and Charlotte Oti

It had been my plan to have my mother remain in the apartment and receive home care until she died. As the years passed, I missed the freedom I once had. I was well into my sixties and was beginning to feel like my life was passing me by. Friends encouraged me to move my mom to a nursing home, but I resisted. I changed my mind after an aid had a heart attack and died while caring for my mother. I realized how vulnerable my mother was. She was wheelchair bound and no longer could make a phone call.

The decision to move my mother to a nursing home was the hardest decision I ever made. I did extensive research and chose what was supposed to be one of the best nursing homes in New York. Getting a Medicaid bed for my mother was considered a major victory. She moved on June 1, 2013.

I was traumatized eight days later when I learned that while being transferred in a Hoyer lift by an inexperienced aid, my mother’s left arm had been broken, and her shoulder dislocated. I turned into a raving lunatic. Having given up my mother’s apartment, I had few choices.

Rather than move my mom again, I decided to keep her at the facility. I arranged for her to be transferred to a different pavilion where the supervising nurse was sympathetic to my concerns. I hired private companions to be with my mother ten hours a day. I sued the nursing home and used the money from the settlement to pay for the companions.

My mother was content. Her companions took her to concerts, the art studio, bingo and other activities offered at the home.

She was at the nursing home for ten months before she died in my arms in April 2014. It has taken all this time to be finally able to put a period on that chapter of my life.

The most important lesson I learned from my mother during my years as her caregiver was the power of a positive attitude and an appreciative nature.

My mother had an incredibly positive and upbeat attitude. She NEVER complained. This was her mantra: “I consider myself very lucky. At my age, I’m not in pain. I’m lucky because I’m never bored; I read and watch television selectively. I even count the taxis that are going down the street. I’m lucky because I’m VERY well taken care of thanks to my daughter.” Every time I find myself in a negative frame of mind, I give myself an attitude adjustment a la my mother.

My mother never asked for anything without saying “please” and she was quick with a “thank you.” She expressed her gratitude to me daily. She was kind to her aids, and they loved her for it. She enjoyed every morsel of every meal. She took pleasure in the smallest things.

As I start a whole new chapter of my life, I’ve been working on myself to become more like my mom.

The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women – 20th Anniversary!

Beijing 1995 - Hilvi Sipila, Secretary General of the Second World Conference on Women and Marian Rivman
Beijing 1995 – Hilvi Sipila, Secretary General of the Second World Conference on Women and Marian Rivman

Today is the 20th Anniversary of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW), which was held in Beijing September 4-15, 1995. As a media consultant to the conference secretariat, I was privileged to have an all-access pass at this historic event.

As indicated by its name, there were three previous UN world conferences on women – Mexico City in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985.

It had been ten years since gender equality and women’s issues were center stage on the world’s agenda. A majority of diplomats and activists were determined to accelerate progress towards achieving global gender equality. They supported a Platform for Action that addressed 12 areas of concern:

  • The persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women
  • Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to education and training
  • Inequalities and inadequacies in and unequal access to health care and related services
  • Violence against women
  • The effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women, including those living under foreign occupation
  • Inequality in economic structures and policies, in all forms of productive activities and access to resources
  • Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels
  • Insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women
  • Lack of respect for and inadequate promotion and protection of the human rights of women
  • Stereotyping of women and inequality in women’s access to and participation in all communication systems, especially in the media
  • Gender inequalities in the management of natural resources and the safeguarding of the environment
  • Persistent discrimination against and violation of the rights of the girl child

More than 50,000 people attended the gathering in Beijing. Attendees were divided into three primary categories: 10,000 official delegates from the 189 UN Member States; 30,000 representatives from international, regional, national and local non-government organizations (NGOs) and 10,000 journalists. It was mind-boggling.

The well-appointed and well-equipped Beijing International Convention Center was the site of the official UN meeting. The site of the NGO Forum was Huairuo, almost an hour’s drive away. The Forum was a unique space of advocacy, networking, training and knowledge sharing. Conditions in Huairuo were challenging to say the least; heavy rains had turned dirt paths to rivers of mud. Undeterred by the hardships, there was an electrifying spirit that permeated the Forum. These women meant business!

Beijing 1995 - Center: Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the Fourth World Conference on Women, at a press conference in Huairao
Beijing 1995 – Center: Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the FWCW, at a press conference in Huairao

Gertrude Mongella from Tanzania was Secretary General of the FWCW and presided over the sessions where the Member States gave their official statements. At one of these sessions Hillary Clinton uttered those now famous five words, “Women’s rights are human rights!”

Beijing 1995 - Noeleen Heyzer, Director of UNIFEM, with Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the United States
Beijing 1995 – Noeleen Heyzer, Director of UNIFEM, with Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady of the United States
Beijing 1995 - Dr. Patricia Licuanan, Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, at the opening ceremony for the FWCW
Beijing 1995 – Dr. Patricia Licuanan, Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, at the opening ceremony for the FWCW

Dr. Patricia (Tatti) Licuanan, a Filipina, who was the chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, was responsible for overseeing the negotiations for the agreements made during the conference. (Amazingly, Tatti had been my language instructor in the summer of 1968 when I was training for my assignment as Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines.)

There is no underestimating the impact of the outcomes of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women.

“Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted by 189 Member States meeting in China, its stature and significance as a roadmap for the achievement of gender equality remains undiminished. This pivotal document continues to guide the global struggle against constraints and obstacles to the empowerment of women around the world. In the face of new forces threatening to curtail the rights of women and girls, we must return to the agenda set by the Platform for Action and renew our commitment to carry it out in full.” Ban Ki-Moon Secretary-General United Nations

One only needs to read the headlines to understand that there is a dire need to invigorate support for women’s advancement on the international, national and local levels. It is my intention to join these efforts.

Home Sweet Home

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It has never been easy to find an affordable rental apartment in New York City. Snagging one was always considered a major accomplishment and the subject of many a dinner party conversation.

Decades ago, the shortage of available housing led to a series of laws aimed at stabilizing the Big Apple’s real estate market. Though there’s been a weakening of those laws over the years, there are still currently close to a million apartments in New York City that are stabilized. These prize apartments offer perks including a guaranteed right to renew your lease and limits on how much your landlord can hike up your rent each year. It is my good fortune to live in one of them.

It most definitely was not my plan to spend my entire adult life in the same one-bedroom upper westside apartment. However, that is what happened. I have the dubious distinction of being the longest continuous tenant on my block, which runs between Broadway and Columbus Avenue.

Marian Rivman's block - West 68th between Broadway and Columbus Avenue
Marian Rivman’s Block – West 68th between Broadway and Columbus Avenue

I moved into my apartment in November 1968. I’d been staying with my best friend who had an apartment on West 83rd Street, which was a seriously seedy area at the time; Columbus Avenue was neither stylish nor safe. My friend’s apartment had been robbed multiple times, and she was having a new lock installed. The first thing the locksmith said was “What are two nice girls doing in a place like this?” He was the super of a building on West 68th Street and said there was an apartment available. We signed the lease the next day. My friend left two years later to move to Israel. I remained and have been there ever since.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my apartment this summer.As I develop the financial plan for my retirement, I realize just how blessed I am to have affordable housing.

Related Post: A Financial Check-up.

There have been many changes since I moved to the block. There were years of blasting and drilling as high-rises went up all around me. I used to envy the people in my building who had apartments with windows that faced 68th Street because they had unobstructed skyline views. No more. Thanks to the 47 story building that was erected directly across the street, they now face a brick wall.

For the most part, I embraced the changes. The Loews AMC multiplex was a welcome addition; I joined the Sports Club New York before it opened. However, the cost of commercial and residential real estate in the neighborhood has reached astronomical levels, and we are losing needed services.

For virtually all the time I’ve lived in my apartment, there was a supermarket on the corner of Broadway and 68th Street. No more. The Food Emporium left because it was more lucrative for them to sell their long-term lease than to sell food. Now Lowe’s Home Improvement is anchoring the corner.

Lowe's Home Improvement - 2008 Broadway NYC 10023
Lowe’s Home Improvement – 2008 Broadway NYC 10023

Lowe’s will be having its Grand Opening on September 12th, my 70th birthday. And on the same day, for the first time, the West 68th Street Block Association will be holding their Fall Party on my street rather than the block between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.

How very thoughtful of my neighbors. I hope you will join the festivities. There’ll be partying from 11:00am-4:00 pm.

Nearly 70 and Still Looking for Mr. Right

Marian Rivman at two years old
Marian Rivman at two years old

My mother told me that by the age of two, I was an expert at the Match Game. She would name one-half of a married couple, and I’d supply the name of the spouse. Marcie… and Murray. Evelyn… and Ira. Schendel… and Abram. Ruthie… and Manny. Corinne… and Aaron. Selma… and Nat. There was no fooling me. Ingrained at that very early age was the belief that adults lived their lives two-by-two.

The core couples in Marian Rivman's life. Front row: Marcy and Murray Jameson; Back row: Ira and Evelyn Shear, Nat and Julia Rivman
Front row: Marcy and Murray Jameson; Back row: Ira and Evelyn Shear, Nat and Julia Rivman

Growing up, I thought a crucial element on the ‘to do’ list for my life was finding the Frick to my Frack, the Salt to my Pepper. It never occurred to me that I would live most of my life alone

When puberty hit I was at an all-girls junior high school, so there were no boys around; the search for Mr. Right was on hold. Though popular in high school and college, I was never one of the girls who had lots of boyfriends or dates.

Senior year in college, a crop of new engagement rings would appear on the fingers of friends after a holiday break. I hadn’t found my Mr. Right but I was sure he was out there somewhere. In the meantime, I’d go about the business of my life.

During my two years of service in the Peace Corps right after college, my focus was on my assignment, traveling, and learning about Filipino culture. I managed to find a couple of Mr. Wrongs that were fun to be with but offered nothing in terms of a future. Not to worry. I had time.

No pressure, right? Wrong! It would hit when I’d least expect it.

My parents came to see me while I was living in the Philippines. They spent two weeks visiting my assignment, meeting my friends and witnessing first hand how I had adjusted to life on the other side of the planet. We were saying our good-byes at the Manila airport when my mother leaned over and whispered to me, “I’m so proud that you’re doing so well as a PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) but I can’t wait until you’re an MRS”. Would someone please shoot me!

Over the decades, there have been Mr.Wrongs, Mr. Okay for Nows and a Mr. Almost, who was in and out of my life for a dozen years. There was a time when I secretly suspected that the authors of the book Smart Women/Foolish Choices did their research while hiding in one of my closets.

I got used to being the third, fifth, seventh, etc. during gatherings as more and more of my single friends found  Mr./Ms. Rights. My coffers would be in much better shape if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard: “You’re not married? How could that be”? “I wish I knew someone I could introduce you to.” “You must want to stay single or you would have found someone.” “Do you think maybe you’re too fussy”?

My lack of a Mr. Right did not stop me from living a rich and full life. I was not one of those sleeping beauties who was waiting around for a prince to come before I started living.

May 2015 - Marian Rivman in Rome
May 2015 – Marian Rivman in Rome
Marian Rivman at BlogHer15
Marian Rivman at BlogHer15

Yet, here I am at nearly 70 thinking it would be nice to have a Mr. Right in my life, which is a pretty tall order for a woman who hasn’t had a date in ten years. But hey, I’m ever the optimist. In the spirit of  ‘God helps those who help themselves’, I joined Match dot com where I’ve been resoundingly unsuccessful.

So, should you happen to know an age-appropriate, healthy, financially secure, single man with loving children and grandchildren (Why not go for the whole enchilada??) who is affectionate, kind and generous; whose politics are left of center and who possesses both a great sense of humor and of adventure – do me a favor – send him my way.