Then and now and in between

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The picture is about thirty-four years ago.   My mother and  my oldest son.  He’s about four in the picture and she’s about sixty.  Two of the people closest to my heart.  Yesterday was the Yahrzeit (memorial date) of my mother’s passing.  Tomorrow is the ninth Mother’s Day without her.  It is also my half birthday.  My mother was the woman who taught me to celebrate this day in my life among others.  I like to wish happy Half Birthday to people.  I like to have them know that it is a midpoint in our years and something to be acknowledged.  I can’t actually remember what she did to celebrate it with me and I don’t think it included a card because she was frugal and half a card would have been a waste.  She might have made me a card or made me a cake.  I wish I could remember the details.  Instead, I remember the sentiment.

My mother took a lot of ordinary moments and made them special.  Traditions are important and mark the passage of time.  My son is a father to a two year old daughter.  He has learned to celebrate the big days and mark the little ones.  Parenting is challenging and rewarding and somewhere in the middle.  We try to do our best and give our best and impact our children’s days with lots of good moments.  We watch them become their best selves. We deserve a day to honor our accomplishments and the days  in between we get to continue the work, behind the scenes.  We often “mother others”.   To our moms, our children, and ourselves, Happy Mother’s Day.

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And they’re off!

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Tomorrow is the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.  I have to say that somehow I have watched the race on television many times, over the past years.  I don’t know anything about betting.  I generally will “pick” the winner because I like the color of the horse or the horse’s name.  I’ve never been to a horse race in my life but I bet I would like it, if it wasn’t for all the people and I wouldn’t want to wear a big hat.  I am not a hat person and never have been.  In the winter I won’t cover my head and in the summer, the hats never fit well. I have a rather small head, by circumference, and hats just fly off.

However,  I may be wearing a big brimmed hat in the near future because of a recent event that may necessitate wearing big dark sunglassesin addition to a hat.  Perhaps that will draw more attention that I actually want, but I am a bit concerned about concealing my latest mishap.  It is hardly a problem in the first world problem mindset, and yet I am somewhat embarrassed to even bring it up.  Age has actually allowed me to get over being embarrassed fairly quickly and shift to peals of laughter instead, at myself.  My thought is, if something I do makes me laugh, that is actually a good thing.  If it makes someone else laugh, that would be the bonus to a silly, stupid error in judgment.

Last night after a series of long days which lasted into the evenings, I thought I would do some facial grooming, specifically to my eyebrows.   I was tired, which is a chronic issue so I wasn’t paying as much attention as usual, to the task at hand.  My eyebrows, as I age, have taken on a Groucho Marx like growth and as a refined woman, I take care of them, to not frighten small children but to have the look of the right curve and control.  My thought is if I can’t control the hips, the eyebrows must be managed.  But I digress…. I purchased a handy dandy device that grooms and shapes and kind of shaves to even them.  I clearly was not schooled in the actual process of how to do this, but in my usual devil may care “how difficult can this be?” attitude, I took off my glasses and turned the little groomer and aimed above my right eye.  Now, I need to report that without my glasses I can’t really see much.  When people approach me, while my glasses are off, I smile a genuine smile but until they are within about four feet of me, I am not always sure who the smile is at.  Hence (such an underused word), when I attempted to trim, I ended up shaving off half of the eyebrow.  I heard buzzzz and thought, and may have even said out loud “UH-OH!”.  I quickly put my glasses back on and took a look.  It was a non-religious “HOLY CRAP” moment.  I didn’t panic.  I just got up close in the mirror and stared.  It looked so weird.  I thought to myself that this is one of those out of body moments.  I know it is me, but is it really me?  It was and is me.  For a millisecond, I thought, should I do the same on the left or am I completely out of my mind?  I got a grip and decided that leaving it alone and trying to mitigate the damage was probably the best tack.  I was unclear as to what that might be, but washing my face, and turning off all the lights and going to sleep, would allow me time to see if it was just a dream.  So, that’s what I did.  I woke in the morning and re-evaluated my options.  I dried my hair after showering and put on some make-up (on my face) and my glasses on my nose and went to work.  No one noticed.  I came home and my FHB didn’t notice.  Are people blind or polite?  Not quite sure.  The missing half eyebrow is my reality.  Perhaps I will start a trend.  My bet on the Derby is Good Magic. Have you seen his eyebrows?

Making Smiles

This was a re-entry week after school vacation. Somehow, the time until we sing “School’s Out for Summer”, seems interminable. Thus, I had to have a project to start this exodus off on the right foot. Before school break,  one of our lovely teachers approached me and told me that she had seen a notice in her town  website, offering some prom dresses.  She responded and said that she would happily take them since she works in a community where money is tight and dreams don’t come true easily.  In addition to that, she put out a wish for more dresses.  If you wish upon a website, the universe, a.k.a. the internet responds, or at least in this case.  One of those “if you build it, they will come ” moments.  And so it began.

I put out a poster advertising “Pop Up Prom Shop” and we had morning announcements reminding the junior and seniors that with a ticket from their guidance counselors, they could shop for dresses, gowns, shoes and bags, with some bling thrown in.  We ran the “pop up” shop for three days.  We had accumulated 175 dresses, some that were never worn, with tags still on them. We had  shoes, all sizes and styles, including some stilettos heels which made some of our shoppers squeal with delight.  We had sequined handbags and waterfall earrings.  We set up a dressing area and had a  full length mirror so that our girls could try on and model the dresses for one another.  We had  dresses, the colors of the rainbow, and sizes for everyone.  We are an economically challenged community where going to the prom is not a sure thing because money is not available for the extras and first and foremost, that might be the dress.

When Monday arrived, after a week away, we got to work. The space had been booked, the dresses moved by our custodians. The “dressing room” was fashioned with three room dividers.  We had chairs and the mirror.  We turned a spartan, utilitarian room into a bit of a “salon” and we waited.  Staff showed up to help set up and to help our shoppers find something to choose.

There were tentative knocks on the slightly opened door that had the sign for our Prom Shop.  The girls entered and watching them shyly ask if “this was the place” brought the realization that there were a lot of Cinderellas looking to say yes to the dress.  They arrived in pairs, as they always seem to do.  We welcomed them with a little bit of “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” and showed them the racks and racks and tables of dresses.  There was magic in the air (or it was the sunshine finally coming through the windows).  They helped one another choose something as they twirled and walked in the very, very high heels.  The moment when they appeared transformed from blue jeans to ball gowns and gazed at themselves in the mirror was magical.  Once they had picked the dress, it was carefully placed in a long bag and handed to them over their outstretched arm and they each walked a little taller , with shoulders back and chins up.

My favorite moment was when one of our special needs girls came down with her paraprofessional.  She approached me with her ticket in hand and although she doesn’t speak much, her eyes spoke volumes as she looked at the dresses.  I asked her what her favorite color was and she said “blue” in the meekest of voices.  I went to the racks and showed her several dresses.  She picked one with some sparkly fabric and she and the woman who escorts her around the school went into the dressing area.  Moments passed and she appeared in one of the dresses. I brought her to the mirror.  I asked her “who is that beautiful girl in the mirror?” and she smiled and said in a much louder voice “That’s me!”.  Another princess, another dream come true.  It just doesn’t get much better.

 

Toll Taking

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This past Monday marked the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon.  The recommendation is to prepare over twenty weeks until the culmination of the race itself. I don’t pretend to want to run a marathon, although my  nighttime dreams for many years, have contained parts when  I was running like a young gazelle through the grasslands and savannas of Africa.  Since I have had both knees replaced within the past fourteen years, I have been discouraged by the medical minds to not consider running for any reason, but rather to walk and  try and not fall down.

I look back on the past several weeks of not writing this blog as having had to take a break from what was an emotional marathon culminating in the end of my FHB’s treatment for prostate cancer.  In the days and weeks following the months of tests and treatments, the reality of the energy we both exerted, each in a different arena, ran out and it was time to rest our brains and our hearts and recalibrate our lives.  As an observer and participant in the process of not only my FHB but others I counsel, I recognize that the aftermath of the process is also something to be reckoned with.  I have been dog tired.

The cadence of the past weeks must be reviewed.  Cancer was in the forefront for several months. It was the melody. It now becomes the backdrop, like the harmony, not forgotten, but woven more into the complexities of day to day.  It has its tone, but it is no longer the prominent theme.  We are getting back to the mundane life we enjoy.  The routines of  errands and work mixed with concerts, and lots of music blend with family time and plans for travel and moments that sustain us.  It certainly is a life lesson in what to pay attention to and what to let go of.  No one invites illness. It just arrives and often overstays its welcome.  We are lucky to have shown it the door.

I have to stop holding my breath and stop asking my FHB how he’s doing.  Allowing us both to get on with life is part of regaining control, for the moment. I have to stop staring at him (without his knowing) and start walking and not fall down.  I’ve missed the time I took off from doing this writing, as it was, and is, a way to focus on my thoughts and share them with the universe (not that I have such a following).  Regaining my sense of humor and impulsive thoughts in the moment and having an opportunity to write, twice a week is the end goal.  Hope to see you here again real soon.

 

Tales from the Matzo Meal

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Many years ago, well after Moses began his journey with his backpack full of matzo, was my childhood, full of Passover nights.  While my grandmother and one of her sisters (that she actually talked to) lived in the Bronx, my father and I would make the pilgrimage there for both nights.

We would leave Jackson Heights, Queens, at about 4 p.m. when sunset was not even close, and drive about ten miles to my Oma’s apartment.  Some years we would pick up my uncle and cousin and we would all sit in traffic for several hours. I was sure I saw a direct descent of   Moses, and his brother Aaron, driving in a van on the same road.  I also thought I saw a small child in the window mouthing the words “Let my people go” as they would try and get into our lane. It  might have been my imagination as we were trapped on the Major Deegan Highway or Bruckner Expressway.

My sister and mother were exempt from the official dinner because my mother believed that my sister could not sit still during the Seder.  Since my mother and paternal grandmother were not best buddies, this was a very good excuse to not have to endure what seemed  to be an endless night.

My grandmother was an excellent cook with a military method of preparation and precision.  Her matzo balls were all the same size and there was quality and quantity control. She would put them in glass jars and on top of the jars she would indicate how many matzo balls were inside.  She kept a cabinet of jars for the occasion and she was probably one of the first recyclers that I knew.  She also kept wax paper, “silver foil”, string and brown paper because everything had two sides, didn’t it?

The Seder would commence with the traditional washing of the hands and prayers and more prayers, followed by lots of wine and grape juice.  My great-aunt, Selma and her husband, Uncle Moishe, would sing along to every song.  Selma had a soprano-like voice and Moishe didn’t really carry much of a tune.  If there were 20 stanzas, my grandmother would “encourage” her sister, brother-in-law, and my father to not miss a beat or note or passage.  Even as she was preparing the plates for distribution, she had a keen ear and if there was a passage missed, she would step outside the kitchen and remind my father to go back and try again.  I was often recruited to carry plates of steaming soup and sometimes the roasted chicken or brisket.  I was happy to help if it meant getting up from the table to stretch my legs and arms.  Sitting for hours was a challenge.  My role, besides waitress, was to say the Four Questions, as I was always the youngest at the table until seders were held at our house years later.  My hebrew school skills (or lack thereof) came into play as I recited the questions both in English and in Hebrew.  Once the meal was served, and clean up was done, we would go back to the table and finish the seder,every word.  The next night we did it again.  It was like the movie Groundhog Day, but far more boring.  My grandmother had a laser like glance when I was moving in my seat.  The sun had long set and night had fallen.  The sounds of the traffic in the Bronx, often competed with  the chanting of Deyanu which had excessive stanzas as far as I was concerned.  The evening passed into the morning as my father led me to the car for the ride home.  I would lean against the cool glass window and fall asleep. The roads were quiet at midnight and we would get home and park the car.  My father would smile at me as we took the elevator up to the fifth floor.  He would say he was glad I had been with him and looked forward to the second night.

I didn’t really enjoy it or understand the purpose of ritual when I was a child.  It seemed like a long night with the retelling of the same story, year after year.  Now I understand it and enjoy it. I recognize that  it was more than the story of the Exodus, but was the opportunity to sit with family and re-tell  history through songs and symbolism.  I raise a glass of grape juice to my father and my Oma who brought me out of the land of childhood into the history of our family.

Marriage Word Salad

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So, yesterday I was puckering up for what I thought was going to be a chaste kiss between my FHB and me, while I was doing some paperwork at the dining room table.  I lifted my chin up so he would not have to reach down too far and the words out of his mouth somewhat killed that moment.  If I remember them correctly, or in paraphrase perhaps, he said “When you put your neck up like that you look just like  a whale who has a neck full of krill”.  My retort “…so you are calling me a whale?” and there went the romance, out to sea like Ahab looking for the Great White One, elusive and ridiculous. He walked away, muttering.  Maybe he was saying something meaningful but I am pretty sure that it was closer to a mumble than a romantic comeback.  Ain’t love grand.

Actually, love is pretty great 99.99999 percent of the time.  The other .00001 percent is just annoying.  I actual revel in the bantering since later that day, I looked at myself with my neck stretched up and made a funny face in the mirror, while we stood side by side at our respective sinks.  I commented, innocently of course that “I look more like a lizard, right?”.  My FHB, ever the non comeback kid stated, for the record, ” I have long since given up responding to your comments”.  He told me that I didn’t look like a whale, just the lines on my neck.  I turned to him and suggested he was merely changing feet in his mouth and left it at that.  And so it goes.

It’s difficult to measure the timeline when we went from loving romantic comments to non-filtered observations.  It seemed like the wind shifted and here we were or are, comfortable in the knowledge that we love one another but words sometimes just get in the way.  The nuances of language paired with the honesty of the passage of time in a relationship sometimes is fraught with sharp edges.  Perhaps couples should have stop, slow down and yield signs to put up when the terrain is getting dangerous.

In the morning I have a routine, much like other folks and I go through the preparation of breakfast and lunch for us both since I leave about an hour before my FHB does.  I wake, put the cat bowls in the sink to soak, rinse and refill while the cat gives me the stink eye as she is clearly hungry.  I start the water for coffee to go(for me) and perhaps oatmeal for us both or something pretty portable to bring to work.  While this is happening, my FHB fills our big water bottles with ice and water to have for our day.  He also is in charge of getting our vitamins, supplements and assorted meds together, mine to go and his to take.  Somehow, in the space that we share in the loft, he is always in my way.  I am never in his way, believe me.  It reminds me of raising children and having a hungry dog underfoot.  No matter where I am, they are, slowing down the process.  I am relatively silent in the morning.  However, when there is an invasion of my personal prep space, I kind of growl.  It is one of those moments when I could say “excuse me” but I choose to mutter to myself about the lack of space for two of us to coexist.  I am not so delightful, I guess. I am grateful for the pill sorting and the water filling.  He is conscientious and precise.  I am moving like a short order cook with a diner full of boy scouts back from a hike.  I then decide to shower, and hope  that afterwards,  that the coast is clear to finish my tasks, gather my stuff and leave the loft to start the day.  Now dressed, made up and refreshed, I  re-enter the kitchen area, take a step back and look at the man.  He is usually sitting on the couch, watching the news.  I can’t help but smile.  The mornings would be nothing without him and neither would I.  I always call out I love you” , and he doesn’t miss a beat and says he loves me too.  Day by day….

 

Say Sorry…

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Today I took a step back to a time when I was in junior high school.  I was about eleven or twelve years old.  Those were pretty difficult years for me filled with awkward moments and memories which I have tried to move past.  People were not very kind to me and I was the target of some girls who bullied me.  There was name calling, and prank phone calls, and cars that drove by the apartment building with kids that screamed out my name for all to hear.  I was shy and tried not to draw attention to myself and yet somehow my demeanor must have provoked others to pick on me.  Fast forward fifty plus years and today someone did something that hurt my feelings.

I was at the high school today,  and the crux of the moment was that someone asked me a question, which I answered, and apparently she didn’t like or approve of my answer and as I turned away I saw her, out of the corner of my eye,  make  “a mean face” at me. I was a bit surprised but when I turned toward the person on the other side of me, she as the “tattler” mouthed the words “she made a face at you!”.  Like a time traveller, I was transported back and the sickening feeling that I experienced then, I felt now.  My face felt hot and I walked away, just like I did so many times so long ago.

Several times this week, the theme of conversations that I had with students centered around the art of the apology.  These are constant discussions we have, to bring to light what it is like to hurt someone with words, and to try and rectify the situation.  Many students easily acknowledge that they never say they are sorry and that in their families apologies never happen.  Neither parents, nor children feel the need to take responsibility for hurtful words and try and repair and move on.  For some they report it is a matter of pride. For others, it is a matter of power and control.  It is difficult to convince them that saying “I’m sorry” can be a big step toward empathy, compassion and kindness.  They do report that they have felt hurt on many occasions but they would rather be on the offense than the defense.  They don’t want to give someone the satisfaction of allowing them to know they are vulnerable.  Instead they get nasty and aggressive.  Kindness goes out the window.  It becomes more and more difficult to impart  on these children that as they deserve apologies when they have been hurt, that they need to know how to take the step and offer an apology to someone else.  Today’s eye opening moment for me made me recognize that they kids witness this behavior not just in their peers but in the adults around them.  It makes it harder to convince them to do the right thing.

The “tattler” told me that we need to all be armadillos and have tough skins.  I imagine that she might have seen the sadness in my face.  I wondered why she didn’t offer comfort and wondered if she had also been the target of the other person’s bad behavior at one time or another.

Having been on the receiving end of bullies so long ago has not made me a bully.  I am not one to fight fire with fire.  Instead I tend to emphasize kindness and I offer apologies readily, if I know that I don’t always say the right thing when I feel angry or discounted.  I try to not say something hurtful, but I can have a temper which then is filled with feelings of regret.  The person who made the “mean face” is someone who is over twenty years my junior.  I know that she has sharp edges, but not all the time.  I don’t know why she felt the need to do what she did when she did it. I won’t ever know.  By tomorrow I will move this moment out of my heart and release it.  There is truth behind the saying that suggests we don’t know what someone is dealing with, so being kind is the way to go.  She took the low road and I’ll take the high road.  It’s all I’ve got at the moment.