Skip This

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Recently on Facebook someone asked the question to the universe of FB friends, family, and those who read your posts but don’t comment, to quantify one’s age, but not in numbers.  I posted that I was Howdy Doody and Good Humor old.  That should give you a clue as to my demographics, more or less.  Howdy Doody was my friend and cloth covered companion until a family friend, who’s house I left it at…I was four, tossed it down the incinerator thinking it was just a worn out and battered toy.  That was a growing up moment and a first loss.

Today my mother would have had her 94th birthday.  When she was four, and she lived in Germany, they celebrated a meld of Hanukah and Christmas, which I recently read was a thing then…called

“Chrismukkah, according to the Jewish Museum Berlin, was first used in 19th century Germany by German Jews. Except the term was in German, not English: Instead of Chrismukkah, they called the holiday Weihnukkah. Like how Chrismukkah is a combination of Christmas and Hanukkah, Weihnukkah is a combination of Weihnachten, Christmas in German, and Hanukkah. The more you know!” (credit to a cool website called Hey Alma!)

I always think of the questions I would like to ask her, which of course I could do, but I would be unsure how she would send me that answer from wherever she might be in the universe.  Another loss but then, it is the way we move through life, managing the losses, experiencing some miracles, celebrating the ordinary and the extraordinary.  She would like that sentence and that itself is an answer, when we can still predict the words of those who are not around.

I would ask her if she skipped as a child.  I dreamt last night that I was skipping around, in my current 65 year old self.  I was quite impressed with myself.  I wasn’t much of a skipp-er as a kid.  I was a tripper and fall downer.  Not full of grace, ever.  I often dream that I run, not in the sense of a monster chasing me, but more like a distance runner, metered and in a lovely cadence. One of my favorite dreams.  I think that some dreams are better than the reality.  I know I will never run like in my dreams, but I will always enjoy the dreams where I run.

Today we celebrate the day with the earliest sunset.  That’s different from the winter solstice which is still a few weeks away.  I would ask my mother what she remembered of December.  I know a story she told of the day she turned seventeen.  She worked in a factory in New York City at a company that made bows.  It was the day after Pearl Harbor and she told the story of how all the employees silently gathered around the radio to listen to President Franklin Roosevelt tell the citizens of the U.S. that this was day that we would declare war  against Japan, and enter W.W. II. It was the day my father, who was a supervisor at the same company, would turn to my mother and mouth the words “Happy Birthday” as they listened to the speech.

History is in the making every moment, every day.  For some it’s personal, for some it’s just another day.  Happy Birthday, Inge.  I remember you every day and I imagine  that you liked to skip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Birth Daze

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My memories are vague but I do remember the darkness before I was catapulted through what in retrospect, seemed like an alpine slide.  I was going head first.  My lifelong fears of speed and being out of control began then, sixty five years ago, today.  The gaps in my memory of that day were filled in over the years by my mother, who, on an annual basis, would review the days before,  including the evening of the night before,  all leading to my premiere appearance, the reveal.  Apparently,  my mother, as reported to me, in great detail, had made plans to go to the movies to see “Torch Song” on that Friday, the 13th.  The evening before, she was cleaning out her dresser drawers and organizing things, which was something she always did when she was anxious.  She also ate brussel sprouts, after which, she believed she had indigestion.  In fact, this was the beginning of her labor.  When she went to the doctor the next day, she was told to go to the hospital.  At this point, she allegedly protested that she had not gotten enough sleep the night before and then suggested to the doctor that he should “give her something” to stop this process and she promised to come back the next day when she was refreshed and more prepared to have a baby.  The tale continued and she was administered something called “twilight sleep” and subsequently I was born later than day.  She awoke to the sound of a crying baby (that was me) and was told she had a daughter.  It’s been an interesting ride ever since.  She never got to see that movie.

Under the guise of “poetic license”, I only know what I was told and shown in pictures.  As mortifying as the annual “discussion of my labor and your birth” was to a child, it was also something that became a tradition, like the retelling of the parting of the seas when Moses was around.  Hardly as biblical, but traditions are what we take some comfort in.  I know that I continued the telling of the stories of my children’s births to them, and despite the rolling eyes (theirs, not mine), they almost wait for it.  Almost.

Having almost completed my first of 365.25 days till the next birthday feels pretty good.  I don’t generally celebrate beyond the day because that’s just me.  I miss my mother on these days, as she was the first relationship I had with another human so it was rather impactful.  She told the story of “the birth”  and then set up a “birthday table” replete with flowers from my father. They were always sweetheart roses.  There were gifts and cards and a ceremony that included the opening of the cards, first, and then the gifts, all wrapped and taped with such   abundant use of tape, the gifts could have been shipped overseas with no damage.  The gifts were some things I had wished and hoped for, and others that just seemed to be fillers of little items so it looked like there were more than I expected.  It was a sweet time and feeling so special on that day carried me through more difficult days as a child.

Not sure how 65 years happens so fast.  It seemed like the years between were long and yet here I am.  I wonder about a lot of things from the past, most recently about why they got rid of the cotton in aspirin bottles and whether swallowing bubble gum really was bad for me.  Looking forward to more days of wonder and wonderment in the company of family and friends, and people I have yet to meet along the way.  My sister, who appeared, four years, three months, and five days after me helped me celebrate today and my favorite gift was a little piece of pottery with the imprint of “Sometimes when  I open my mouth, my mother comes out!!”.  She thought it was amusing…I know it is the truth.  Happy Birthday to ME!

I’m just wild about Harry..

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I’m referring to Harry Potter, although I do like several of the other well know Harrys..the Prince, Belfonte and Houdini.  As in real life, I am often late to the party and resistant to embracing books of fantasy fiction.  I’ve long been out of the young adult reader category but as with everything else available to us in our worlds, things come to us when they need to. Harry Potter arrived on my nightstand, along with the six other volumes a few weeks ago.  I am just about through the second novel and there’s pretty much no stopping me now to complete the set.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know of his existence.  It was just when he arrived on the scene twenty years ago, I was busy being a grown up full time with occasional moments of childhood pushing through to the front.  I was a parent who “bought the books” for my then 11 year old  youngest son.  Recently,  he said to me that Harry Potter changed his life and opened his eyes and world to reading.  I decided that I needed to understand the magic behind the phenomenon. I remember that my mother, who was a reader as well, had read at least the first book, and she referenced “wanting an owl”.  At the time I didn’t realize what that meant.  I was in a time in my life that I wasn’t paying as much attention to the details around me, but more the broad strokes.

Allowing myself to slip into the world of Hogwarts, was both comforting and comfortable.  I knew enough about him to have referenced  the space under the stairs of the first house my FHB and I owned together as a “Harry Potter room”.  Harry, when I now come to know him, becomes somewhat of a parallel person to my youngest son and makes me remember what being 11 might have been like for him, as well as a difficult time in my own growing up.

Harry, the outsider, only somewhat aware of the world being different to him and for him, was a survivor who strived to connect with others. Harry’s adoptive family was abusive and cold and dismissive.  He was a target of their disappointment of his differences from them.  Despite this theme, he found his place in the world and others who were like minded, and found the world he had grown up in was not the world he had to live in.

I am asked to write  letters of recommendation for some  of the senior class students who are heading to college.  There are some that come from an easier life, and others who lives are challenged from the start, and are often metaphors for the characters in Harry Potter.  They all have their powers but they haven’t culled them or they are unaware of their potential.  My own growing up was more economically stable than some of the students, but in terms of feeling out of step or place, or not feeling as connected to others as we hope, can reveal and remember where I was at that point in my development.   I like that I can write those letters and see their magic.

For years, I have called my youngest son, “Harry” as a sign of affection.  When each book was published, I made sure he would own it .  I only now recognize the power of the books.

Harry is someone we can probably recognize, if not in ourselves, in someone we know.  The world he lives in is the world we might live in, with the good guys and the bad guys and the struggle to distinguish them from one another.  It is a universal tale.  Sometimes it is good to go back in time to books written for young adults by adults who remember the struggles of growing up.  It’s never to late to read a book whose time was meant for reading now, and not then.  Several people have suggested I see the movies.  I choose to rather read the words J.D. Rowling chose to tell a story of a wizard in training and I try and imagine which character I might be.  Perhaps I am Hedwig the owl or perhaps Hedwig’s character is a voice from my own past, delivering a message.  I would like to imagine it is.

Come with me to Privet Drive and find something unexpected.

Life in Tangles

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This Monday morning was filled with a series of non-threatening, non-life altering, but still annoying events.  Columbus Day is one of those weird school days off that goes back to 1492 (according to what I remember from elementary school) which we used to celebrate, of which little is really spoken of these days.  I generally work at job #2 on those kind of days because that’s just me and I still get to sleep at least ninety minutes later in the morning.  It is a day filled with good intentions like cooking ahead for dinner or tomorrow’s dinner.  It’s making sure the bills are paid, cat is fed, litter box cleaned.  It was also the morning where scattered and disorganized was the special du jour.  I just could not get out of my own way without creating significantly more work for myself.  Somewhat counterintuitive.

I was making a lentil loaf, which might not be everyone’s choice for dinner, but we like it.  Everything seemed to be on track when I dropped a container of brown sugar (while reaching for something else), all over the floor.  It was like one of those science experiments which demonstrates the breadth of the egg’s contact with the ground based on the height it was dropped from.  There was no egg (vegan recipe) but the sugar covered a huge area in places I am still finding about 14 hours later.  It was quite early in the morning which meant I didn’t want to wake the neighbors with the vacuum going, so I swept up what I could.  Still crackles when I walk around.  That was followed by a malfunction in my FHB’s beard trimmer, as it hurled itself to the floor and was emitting a loud whine and when I picked it up, while covering my ears, it would not shut off. My FHB had left for work earlier, so I am not sure how it landed on the floor, but the cat looked a bit guilty as she sat and groomed herself.

I have moments, on days like this, when I just believe that I should just stand in place and not breath or move.  I wonder if the earth’s gravity adjusts while we are just doing our daily things and we don’t notice, like an earthquake, slightly imperceivable, but then we stop and think “did the earth move?”.  I am generally moving around, especially when I have to get things done and get out of the house so I merely consider not moving but never stop.  I stopped for about a second and then just kept going, while in the back of my head wondering what’s next.

It seemed like things were going smoothly and I was ready to leave when I decided what I needed to add to my outfit was a necklace.  I am not much of a fashionista at any given moment.  My best hope is that my shoes match one another and my lipstick is on my lips and not my face.  Yet, some days I want to wear a necklace.  So I went to the closet where I have several hanging up and grabbed the one I wanted and the hook gave way and down they went, like a group of paratroopers in a group jump.

My mind was saying loudly “walk away, just walk away…”.  Who among us, actually listens to their mind in those moments.  I thought “no, not this time…I want to wear that necklace” as I could see it at my feet in a pile of silver and gold.

I picked up the pile, grabbed a pair of tweezers, as this is not my first untangling  rodeo, and sat at the dining room table and began to separate the chains and gently pull apart the various necklaces, one by one.  I took some breaths, and with no noise but the sounds of the cars driving by, I moved and maneuvered each piece with the precision of the guy that dismantles bombs until they were all separated.  I picked up the one with the coin pearl, placed it around my neck, grabbed my car keys, shut off the lights and hoped for the best.

Made it through the day.  One day at a time, one necklace at a time.

Time and Place

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We arrive.  We are given a life to live.  Then we try to live our best days.  We learn the rules, we test the limits.  We experience the consequences and yet we mess up and we try again.  Life is far more complicated than we can ever anticipate.  I spend a lot of time explaining to teenagers that what control we have over anything is less than a millimeter of space between our thumb and index finger and probably that is an exaggeration.  I remind myself and the teens and the adults that this is often the most difficult challenge. Our brain’s development is faster in some areas and takes longer in others.  We are cautious with some things and then we cast caution to the wind.  This is the life we all live.

The challenge in my head these days is the letting go of anger and disappointment.  It is difficult to recognize that I am angry until I am conscious of it and allow it to leave.  That’s control on my part ,and acknowledgement that I let something in take over.  It’s a  mental hostage situation.  I like to think I solve problems.  I imagine that sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.  I learn to pay attention to what wells up in my heart and head, and eyes.  Tears of frustration, tears of hope.

This life we get to live is mired in the muck that surrounds us.  The expression “dirty laundry” comes to mind.  The metaphors of “money laundering” and “airing our dirty laundry” imagines a negative situation and implies a positive outcome.  We, the people, the women and the men, keep challenging what has become the status quo.  We deserve change that is not a business model or a political exercise.

It makes for a hard job for each of us.  In my work, I encourage young people to do a couple of things.  I ask them to trust the process.  I suggest that they trust themselves.  I also ask them to honor themselves with the truth and to be safe.  And then, the control that they believe they have, gets smaller and smaller.  The message gets diluted and reformulated.  This life we get to live becomes different from what we imagine.  I’m never angry at the kids.  I’m disappointed in the adults.  Taking a breath now and letting it go.

Ups and Downs

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I actually do take the stairs, sometimes.  This is the North Elevator, not to be confused with the Middle Elevator, or the South Elevator.  The most frequent comment… ” I could probably be downstairs and in my car in the time this takes to go one floor”.  This is the definition of an elevator “a platform or compartment housed in a shaft for raising and lowering people or things to different floors or levels.” When I read this, I experience a myriad emotions which range from nostalgic to tempermental.  I grew up in a six story apartment building in Queens, New York.  Now, my FHB and I  live in a  converted loft building with five floors.  Growing up, when my friends and I were bored, we would push all the buttons as we got off at our floor, just to prank anyone getting on or waiting.  Now karma is having it’s sweet revenge.  I used to run up and down the stairs.  Now, I hold onto the railing in the stairwells for dear life because the risers seem twice as high as they were when I was ten, and I have moments when I imagine I am in a film noir, when the protagonist (that would be me) is pushed to her death by the unknown man in a dark suit.  Cue creepy music.

On a lighter note, the elevator, along with the mailroom, is a gathering place.  It fills a need beyond transportation.  It is a place to socialize, interact and acknowledge the weather.  It has also become a phone booth for many people who neither want to socialize (except with the people with whom they are speaking, in a loud booming voice), or an opportunity to learn the names of the current dog residents and acknowledge the degree of cuteness or age of the canines.  I usually remember the dogs.  I rarely introduce myself to the humans.  In days gone by, when civility was the catalyst for meeting new people and  the term “eye-contact” meant greeting someone with an expression of pleasure with a smile, one could learn of common interests or catch up on how their families were faring, or how the weather was when they came in from the street.  Nowadays, not so much. There are a lot of comings and goings in a building of 250 apartments.  And yet, sometimes the elevator is completely empty and it still takes quite a while for it to get to where I am waiting.

My FHB and I have a routine when we leave our apartment.  One of us walks ahead to “get the elevator” and the other one (that might be me) will lock the door, walk ten steps, check for my phone, go back into the apartment, find the phone, lock the door, and race to the elevator, and my FHB, will still be waiting.  About a week ago, while waiting, he turned to me and said “Do you think Martha Stewart purges because she is around food all the time and she always looks so thin”.  Thankfully, the elevator door opened, and I didn’t have to respond.

When I stand alone,  and wait, and wait, a lot of thoughts go through my brain.  I use the time to do some mindful breathing, or try and say the alphabet backwards.  I usually have the time to do that at least twice.  My hands are normally full of bags,  when I ascend or descend (elevator terms).   The staircases are strategically placed a distance from the elevator, and although there are moments when I think to myself, that this might be a good day to walk down or up, there is happily and finally,  that familiar ding, and that thought goes completely out of my head.  All that remains is the realization that sometimes I anthropomorphize this box in a shaft and I say “Thanks for the ride, Otis. See you later”.  That’s an elevator joke.

To every season

This time of year is filled with beginnings… and endings.  For those of us in education, we measure our years from September to June.  For those of us who are Jewish, we recognize the start of Rosh Hashanah,  the New Year, 5779 according to the Hebrew Calendar which means we say goodbye to 5778. Our New Year starts on the first day of the seventh month of Tishrei.  Our summer school vacation seems to come to a quick end by Labor Day as we look forward to fall, despite it being three weeks or so away.  Sunblock put away, pumpkin spice ready to roll.

I find that seasons, despite being measured by days and months according to our relationship with the sun, also means the start and stop of things we do in our own relationship with time.  Over the past couple of weeks, I came to realize that I tend to lapse.   I lapse in many areas.  For example, I have been a lapsed blogger, as of late.  However, I finally have shown up again and thank you for being patient with me.  The summer months make me lazy and yet it is part of my adjusting to more sunlight and like a solar panel, I absorb the light we have had this summer (and the heat) and store it for the days ahead of writing and working and creating.

This is the time of year I also recognize that I have  lapsed  in the formal relationship with my religion.  As the New Year approaches, I re-engage with my cultural and spiritual center through home based traditions of preparing a meal that symbolizes the harvest of our days and the hopes for a sweet year.  This process of joining with family and sharing time and food makes me recognize that sense of belonging to a culture that transcends time and history.  I was raised in a home that included religious education to understand where “we”as a people, came from and that remembering our forebearers connects us from then to now.  That part is firmly imbeded in my heart and head.  The formal constraints of attending services, less so.  However, if I take what is in my  heart and head, and look around at the physical world, in its beauty and in its display of seasons, I also see the connection to all that came before me and all that lies ahead.  On these days we celebrate, my FHB and I will spend time outside in nature, in quiet reflection,  and that is where we feel close to our religion and spiritual guides.  At this point in our life’s journey we are at peace with these moments and renewed to welcome the New Year.

Wishing the students and educators of schools and life, a year of learning and exploration..  As we say as we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, “Shanah Tovah”.  May the sweetness of this New Year fill your days and lives.