I can’t say who was more flummoxed, Jake Greenbaum, a young visitor from New York, or Miss Clio, official canine guardian of Madewood.
The two crossed paths on the eve of Valentine’s Day, during the wine and cheese reception in Madewood’s library: Clio making herself right at home by the sofa, stretching out and surveying her realm; Jake, returning from a quick peek into the adjacent ballroom, iPad suspended from his neck like a bejeweled electronic breastplate covered with an eye-catching array of apps in vibrant hues.
Suddenly, a string of high-pitched barks, and Jake retreating. Conversation stopped among the dozen overnight guests as I quickly scooped up my eighteen-pound ward and held her tightly. Jake clasped his mother Elisa’s hand, upset. The two wary protagonists looked like contenders who’d retreated to their respective corners to await the bell announcing the next round.
“He doesn’t do well with dogs,” quipped Jake’s father, investment specialist Clinton Greenbaum, dismissing the confrontation with a shrug.
“It’s OK,” I whispered to Clio as I stroked that just-right space behind her left ear. “Daddy still loves you.”
When he was just three months old, Jake, now 24, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, a type only one in three children so afflicted will survive. The diagnosis wasn’t easy for Clint or Elisa to accept.
Jake had seen his pediatrician for a regular checkup.
“He was a big baby,” Elisa recalled. “Nine pounds, two ounces. But even at that size, his head was large. I didn’t think anything of it, though, because big heads run in my family,” the former banker said with the smile that gives her the youthful appearance of an enthusiastic teenager.
“Then we got a call from the nurse, ‘Your son’s doctor wants to see you right away.'”
In a 2008 interview with The Southampton Press, Clint recalled the moment they received the diagnosis. “You hear some news where you’re literally swept off your feet. That’s what it was like.”
The distressed father, who grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, clearly wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Both parents quit their jobs in Manhattan and moved to the suburb of Westhampton to deal with the new reality of their lives.
The operation was successful, and they found strength in surgeon Fred Epstein’s book, Gifts of Time, which counsels that, although for some there is no permanent cure for the effects of debilitating brain tumors, there are bountiful gifts, and hope, in the time survivors are granted.
Such as the spontaneous hugs that Clint relishes from his son throughout the evening, or the fist bumps and pinky touches that communicate Jake’s joy in life to Elisa.
Their son’s iPad has opened a new world of education and interaction, with intuitive games — and greetings and expressions, recorded by Clint, that facilitate communication with others.
Initially, Jake carried a small device with buttons to press to communicate. Besides the fact that, a cover limited access to the buttons, interaction with others was limited.
Then one day, Jake discovered his dad’s iPhone and was off and running.
“I couldn’t get it away from him,” Clint recalled, his eyes narrowing into a Matt-Lauer-like smile. “The iPad is completely intuitive. Jake just gets it.
“Everyone has a dream, and my hope is that one day someone will invent a chip that will allow Jake to communicate. He understands so much more than you might think.
“My other ‘gift of time’ is that someone will come up with technology to allow him to become independent. That’s every father’s dream — that’s why we send kids to college. Our dream is no different from anyone else’s.”
Their daughter, Augusta, 19, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, is the other half of their dream.
At home, teenagers, called “shadows” frequently spend the afternoon with Jake, freeing Elisa to complete necessary tasks.
“They tend to be really pretty girls, who always fall for Jake,” Clint advised. “He’s a real babe magnet.”
The Greenbaums, along with Ed and Maya Manley, whose daughter Cynthia survived a brain tumor, founded a charitable organization for research and family assistance, Making Headway, which last year raised $1 million at a fundraiser. President Bill Clinton, a neighbor of the Manleys in Chappaqua, New York, lent his support; and Clint’s life-changing iPhone now sports a spiffy photo of the two Clintons, Jake’s dad and the former president, at the benefit.
Jake played head of the family, a commanding presence with iPAd at hand, at the head of the table in Madewood’s dining room. After dinner, while other guests sipped coffee from gold demitasse or swirled snifters of brandy in the parlor, Jake performed an inspection of the room, presenting me with a doorknob that had come loose when he grasped it.
I promised I’d fix it, and Jake grinned as he signed ‘good night’ before heading upstairs with Clint and Elisa.
Their next stop on their six-week vacation: New Orleans, where babe-magnet Jake will have limitless opportunities to work his charm.
“Jake is always a willing accomplice,” Clint confirmed, “ready to do crazy things with me.”