It’s impossible to open those damn produce bags!
I never moved as a kid. I never had to leave my house, lose my friends, and start all over. I did as an adult. I moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and then again to Arizona, the latter being the most challenging experience of my lifetime. But here I am, arguably in the second half of my life, getting ready to do it again. Most days I function alright understanding the magnitude of this upcoming geographic shift. But that’s only because I’m in complete denial. I haven’t packed a thing. I refuse to say goodbye to anyone. I’m just going about my busy life as I always do and trying not to focus on the fact that my family is being uprooted in one weeks time.
My kids are excited for the most part, except when they’re not. Like me, they toggle between hopeful enthusiasm and debilitating fear. On my good days, I think I will make friends, build a strong community, and find professional satisfaction. Other days I think I’ll end up a puddle in the corner of a room unable to pull myself together to even venture outside of our lovely, generic rental home that I wont be able to customize and color as if it were my next great art project.
Each day I find myself facing some very concrete challenge that threatens the foundation upon which I’m cautiously treading. Yesterday I waited all day for a charity to come pick up a load of furniture which included an 8 foot granite mosaic dining room table I had built and a 700 bottle stainless steel wine refrigerator that required no less than 6 movers to haul into my home. Of course after 8 hours of waiting they didn’t show up. When I tried to reschedule, they asked me to please move the items to the curb and assured me they would be in the neighborhood sometime next Tuesday between the hours of 8am and 4pm. Well,” I thought to myself, “That’s just not going to work.”
I spent a few hours completely panicked, knowing that the house needed to be cleared and in move-in condition for our new tenants by the weekend. Then I started snapping photos of everything in my house that was too big or too old or too fragile to move. I listed everything for FREE on Craig’s List. Literally within 30 seconds of posting the items, my phone started ringing and dinging off the hook. HUNDREDS of people wanted my items, and they were eager and aggressive.
The texts became increasingly frantic and dramatic. “My parent’s house burnt down,” “This is the most beautiful table I have ever seen,” “I’m a single mother and I cannot live without this love seat.” Each and every voicemail and text indicated that the interested party was en route to my house with a truck and a cadre of muscular movers. I was completely overwhelmed.
I texted my address to the first respondent who arrived within minutes at my door. I admit I was surprised to see a petite woman, her 14 year old daughter and an SUV parked at the curb. “Um…I don’t think you’re going to be able to take anything in that,” I said. She surveyed the house and politely asked if she could have everything. She promised to return within two hours with the manpower, equipment and space needed to gently remove all of my collosal items.
I was reluctant to promise the pieces to her. What if she didn’t come back? What if I lost all of the other leads because I trusted a stranger? It seemed like a bad bet to place. But she looked honest and sincere. So I agreed.
I ignored the bombardment of calls and texts that continued non-stop until her return at 8pm. She and her peeps took everything gently and carefully and graciously thanked me for all of it.
Within 20 minutes my house had been cleaned out and a stranger’s family had received enough furniture to outfit their own empty abode. I felt good about it, like maybe I had contributed to someone else’s happiness.
A friend shook her head at me when I relayed the story to her. “You do know they’re just going to sell your stuff and make a whole lot of money don’t you?” By her tone I knew I was supposed to feel bad about that. But instead I was thrilled and felt proud of these strangers entrepreneurial assertiveness. “More power to them,” I insisted. “They saw an opportunity and acted on it. Forgive me, but isn’t that part of what built our country and made it great?”
She looked at me as if I had morphed into a female version of Donald Trump. Using the words “country” and any form of “make it great” in the same sentence these days is a risky enterprise. I actually felt embarrassed, like I had confessed to some kind of sick, sinful, capitalistic tendency.
But the truth is, I did admire the moxie of this young family. I appreciated their willingness to come over on a moment’s notice. I was grateful to have my moving load lightened exponentially.
People today worry so much about getting their due. There’s a pervasive belief in society that one person’s financial gain only comes at a deficit to someone else. I see it differently. I no longer needed some stuff. What I did need was someone to empty my house and haul away my belongings. The young family who came to my aid needed furniture or money to help them live better lives. If they keep and enjoy my stuff, that’s a “win-win.” If they sell it to someone else and make money, that creates an even longer chain of benefit, or a “win-win-win” situation. In my book, the more “wins” the better, for all of us.
I did something fantastic today. It may not sound all that impressive to you. It was a small thing. But it made me incredibly happy.
You see for the past few years I’ve been selling my old clothes to several designer resale boutiques. I’m not a label conscious girl. But I do like nice things and over the years I’ve accumulated a healthy collection of designer clothing and accessories. Selling them has been fun and profitable because instead of buying new clothes, I would just use my credit and bring home slightly worn pieces to suit my wardrobe needs.
But for the past year or so, the consignment stores I’ve been frequenting have gotten increasingly persnickety. On more than one occasion they’ve rejected my worn garments and offered little explanation as to why they wouldn’t take them. There is something extremely insulting about a consignment store rejecting your items. I don’t know why but it feels like a direct personal rejection and truth be told, it stings. It’s gotten to the point where I have tremendous anxiety over bringing my goods to the buyers. This week in fact I drove around for days with a trunk load of designer goods trying to work up the courage to basically give away my good clothing for pennies on the dollar. It’s kind of ridiculous.
Today it hit me that instead of trying to sell my old Coach purse and Gucci sunglasses, maybe I ought to just give them away to people who actually need them. It sounds rather simplistic. At first I kept harping on the fact that I might be giving away something of real value. But why give away anything unless it has real value? Suddenly I felt like a real heel. Sure I’ve needed a little bit of help these past few years and buying clothes at resale boutiques has been one way my family has dealt with our own economic hardships. So please believe me when I say that there is nothing dishonorable or negative about selling your used togs. But the more I anguished over facing off with some fashionista over weather or not my gently used $200 Ted Baker skirt was worth $12, the more I realized the inanity of the situation.
So this morning I marched into the Foothills Animal Rescue resale shop around the corner from my house and handed over a pile of clothes, belts, purses and accessories. It was freeing. They were actually grateful and warm and didn’t act like I was some kind of pariah. They even thanked me for bringing in my items.
It felt so much better giving my things away instead of haggling over the few dollars I might have “earned” had I consigned them. Sure I’ll probably end up with less stuff since I wont be exchanging my items directly for other designer accoutrements. But I’ve recently come to realize that “stuff” in general is over-rated, and since this morning’s donation, I suddenly feel fuller and more complete; like I need a lot less to be happy than I used to think.
A few years ago when money was already tight and we were scaling back on holiday gift giving, my insane husband, Mark, happened upon a giant inflatable polar bear playing “Whack-a-mole” with two little penguins. Like any adoring husband, he thought, “I just have to spend the money and buy this inane decoration for my Jewish wife for Chanukah.”
I remember walking into the house and hearing this loud whirring noise which turned out to be the pump he bought to blow up the whacking polar bear and penguin cubs. This monstrosity was in the center courtyard of our house when I came home and Mark and our two boys just stood there beaming upon my arrival.
“This is a joke, right?” I asked, looking at the giant arcade-like phenomena. Then, realizing that it wasn’t, I tried to lighten up and smile as I queried about the cost of this newly acquired modern art. “We’re Jewish,” I said, “You do know that we don’t celebrate Christmas and I’m really not okay with a huge Christmas display in the middle of our house.” In spite of the red and green holiday scarf and Santa hat adorning the polar bear, Mark argued that it really wasn’t related to Christmas at all and was merely a celebration of wintertime joy. “He’s beating two penguins,” I countered. “There really is no joy in this scenario.”
Mark nicknamed the Antarctic birds “P and B,” and dubbed the big white Ursus “Jay.” While I acknowledged that the names were cute and clever, I couldn’t wait to rid my home of their presence. Finally when the New Year rolled around I insisted on packing up the polar trio and stuffing them into a cabinet in the garage. I admit I agreed to letting them come out again the following year. But truthfully, I had no intention of honoring that accord.
Last year as the holiday season roared in I had a real heart-to-heart with my husband. I told him how sweet it was that he had purchased such a unique gift for me the year before and that I couldn’t think of a single wife who had gotten as unusual a gift as I had received. But I felt very uncomfortable displaying the wondrous gift as I was proud of our heritage and felt like Jewish people needn’t decorate their homes with Yuletide paraphernalia. He was slightly downhearted but understanding as he neatly packed up P, B, and Jay and readied them for their journey to Good Will.
But then an idea came to me. We have a nearby neighborhood that goes all out at Christmas time. They create a magical winter wonderland and invite a steady stream of visitors to enjoy their extensive fantasyland. We go with the boys every year and had planned to drive through the Christmas oasis that very night.
As our car slowly crept down the sugar-plum laden road,I readied my family to be on the lookout for a suitable home for P,B, and Jay. We knew it the moment we saw it; one house on the street that was lit up brighter than all the others, with a slew of polar bears gleefully interacting with passersby. This was a home where our Arctic creatures would feel happy, chilled and welcomed as part of the family.
We went home and wrote a deeply personal note explaining why we could no longer care for our beloved trio. Like a despondent parent leaving her baby on a neighbor’s doorstep, we waited till the crowds dispersed and snuck back to leave our package and note at the front door of our new host’s home. We felt sad and our hearts were heavy as we said our final goodbyes and departed.
We checked back a few nights later but there was no sign of P, B, and Jay. We wondered if they would ever see the light of Christmas again. It was a painful holiday season as we mourned their loss, all the while remembering the joy they had brought us the year before. I felt guilty and ashamed of giving them up. Perhaps the new family had too many mouths to feed already and had simply tossed P, B, and Jay onto a trash heap without ever even meeting them in full holiday inflatability.
We grieved their loss for months and when this holiday season arrived we all pretended that we had no expectations. I couldn’t actually bring myself to visit the magical street this year. I couldn’t face it if P, B and Jay weren’t there. At least I could live in denial if I stayed away from the street altogether.
My eldest son, Levi, was bolder and insisted on facing off with reality. He went on an evening Christmas light excursion to check on our threesome. I could barely await his return. “Did you see them?” I asked with fervent anticipation. He looked at me with a stone cold stare. Then he slowly raised his phone to my eyes. It was them! They were there! Front and center. P, B, and Jay were alive and well and celebrating Christmas with their polar bear brethren in the most prominent spot on the front lawn of the house where we had left them .
I was elated. Seriously. I mean, it was truly as if my beloved offspring had been given a second chance at life. I haven’t stopped smiling for weeks. And as we celebrate another year of light and joy, I realize that Holiday miracles are all around. You just have to look in the right places.
So we’re dropping my 11 year old son, Levi, off at overnight camp in Northern California, (We should all be so lucky), and I find myself lamely trying to instill upon him every life lesson I can think of in the two hour time span it takes us to drive from Oakland airport to Sonoma.
“Levi, this is Berkely, California. This is where UC Berkely is. It’s a great University; a bastion of political liberalism though. You know it’s important to educate yourself on the issues and never blindly follow anyone else’s rigid political agenda.”
“Levi, are you going to scale that huge climbing tower this summer? Remember, just one foot in front of the other. Even trying something that terrifying counts as a success. You have to constantly push your boundaries. Only by stepping outside your comfort zone can you ever truly grow as a person.”
“By the way, make sure you write back at least once to everyone who writes to you at camp. People need to feel like their efforts are appreciated. Positive reinforcement goes a long way to securing the behavior you want to encourage.”
“And I did mention that your body is yours and yours alone to control, didn’t I? You’re a very handsome young man and you look much older than 11. No one should ever touch you in a way that feels weird or uncomfortable.”
“Don’t forget to share your things with your cabin-mates. Never let someone else go without when you have more than enough.”
I think I blathered on incessantly the entire ride up to camp. I’m pretty sure I threw out a few sincere “Don’t worry about anything!” and “Just have fun!” comments from the window as we were pulling away. About a mile up the road I started weeping inconsolably. After my husband reminded me that this was why he normally did camp drop-off duty solo, I managed to pull myself together.
“Do you think anything we try to teach him will ever matter?” I ask, not knowing whether or not I really want to hear the answer.
“Yeah,” my husband assures me. “But we just don’t know which lessons will stick. Some will mean a great deal and save him a lot of pain and heartache. But there’s no way to know which ones will resonate and which never penetrate the surface.”
I suddenly think about my own dad and all the things he taught me. How to accept everyone, no matter what they believed or where they came from. That it was always better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. That what was sexy was what wasn’t revealed. Never to salt your food before tasting it. Read ingredients in medications. If they’re the same, choose the generic. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It’s always okay to ask for what you want, as long as you do it with grace and humility. Be true to yourself. Mix your wasabi into a smooth paste by adding drops of soy sauce slowly while rapidly mixing with a chopstick (some pharmacist mumbo jumbo about solvents/solutions). Never let the weather discourage your adventures. It’s always darkest before the dawn…
The list goes on seemingly forever. I think it grows exponentially as I narrow the gap between my middle age and his final 68th year. I suddenly remember the Mark Twain quote he recited at my Grandfather’s 70th birthday party.
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
Parental wisdom surely grows stronger with age. I just hope I live long enough to see my boys recognize and acknowledge some of my own.
I’m snuggled up on the couch with both boys watching our new favorite show “Shark Tank.” My oldest has his head on my shoulder and my youngest is curled deliciously into my side. And it suddenly hits me; no one will ever love me as much as I am being loved in this current moment.
What a stark realization. I mean, I see it every day. The separation that has to happen with boys and their mother. They need to individuate. That’s critical for their own development and growth. They need to find girls and then women who appeal to them for romantic relationships. I know all of this. But I’m not sure we ever stop to really appreciate the few years we have where we are the all powerful love force in our kids’ lives. Cause I can see the edge of the horizon, and it’s approaching way too rapidly.
While our kids are and will always be the individuals we moms love more than anyone in the world, the reciprocal is simply not the case. We may be the central love interest for a lot of years. But ultimately, if we want our kids to be happy and healthy people, we want to see them paired off with someone of their own age to build a life and develop a future. That means we need to fade into oblivion in a sense. Ouch.
So once again I need to slow down, take a deep breath and stop getting irritated every time my boys fight like Ali and Frazier over who gets to sit next to me at a restaurant. I have to appreciate the smothering attention that often accompanies our late afternoon dips in the pool when all I really want to do is swim laps by myself. I must promise to put on a smile when one of them demands a band-aid and kiss after a mere flesh wound that interrupts my dinner prep schedule.
Why is it so hard to appreciate the precious few moments of joy and adoration we’re afforded as parents? We’re all so damn busy making sure they grow up to be good, kind people, that we manage to miss the parts of the job that might actually feed us and give us the energy we need for endless more loads of laundry and eternal dishwasher emptying. Well, I for one am vowing to pay attention to the good moments, to accept the love my kids are offering so freely right now, to embrace their neediness, whining and overwhelming demands. Because one of these days, I’ll have a lot less dishes to empty and a lot less laundry to complain about.
So we ran out of coffee beans this morning. This is a bad thing. My children stayed conspicuously absent during our usually chaotic morning routine. They knew that a mommy void of caffeine was not to be trifled with.
We all marched into the car at the ridiculously early hour of 7am so we’d have time to stop at Starbucks, get to the eye doctor to pick up Levi’s new specks, and still get to school by 8. The drive-thru was packed so I decided to run inside for my fix. But alas, the number of customers in line so far outweighed the number of baristas, I made the call that waiting was not an option.
I got back in the car, sans java, my children were horrified. But then a ray of sunshine emerged. The drive thru lane was nearly empty. I revved the engine and high-tailed it into the line, nearly running over a crossing patron and a family of quail. But it was all an illusion. By the time I turned the corner and got sandwiched into the line, I saw that there were still four cars ahead of me. I calmly ordered my double tall non-fat cap and a bagel for Eli, who had once again forgotten to eat breakfast. I tried to breathe deeply and still my anxiousness. The boys remained silent in the back seat.
I nearly lost it when the woman in front of me seemed to be carrying on a deep and thoughtful conversation at the pick-up window. “Come on,” I thought. “Are you never going to drive away?”
Finally she did and it was my turn to secure my caffeinated drug of choice. I held out a $5 bill, knowing that my total was $4.18. The window lady just smiled at me. We were late and getting more behind as she vapidly flashed her pearly whites. Why wouldn’t she just take my money and free us from this eternal hell?
“The lady before you paid for your stuff,” she happily announced. I was dumbfounded. “She did?” I stammered. “Why that’s…unbelievable.” My kids started giggling gleefully. My fin waved freely in the soft windy breeze. “Well, take this and pay for the guy behind me,” I asserted rather joyfully in spite of my previous grumpiness.
Some random stranger had miraculously altered my entire morning by surprising me with coffee and a bagel. The Starbucks lady told me it happens all the time. My eldest son insisted that he hears stories about this very occurrence frequently. I guess I must be out of touch. I couldn’t actually remember the last time a stranger even smiled at me.
As we buoyantly pulled away, my son reminded me that in the Jewish religion, anonymous giving was way up there on the mitzvah scale. I wondered if the chain we’d started would go on indefinitely. Maybe the guy I popped for did the same for the gal behind him. Maybe the cycle of giving had been going on long before we ever arrived, and maybe it would continue forever.
I fantasized about that for a few seconds. But then reality came crashing back. No, someone somewhere was going to break the chain. But that’s okay. Because I’ll remember this day, and so will my kids. And we will most definitely be the ones who start the chain next time. It will be we who remind some poor soul in line behind us that today has the potential to be outstanding, if only we choose to make it that way.
My 11 year old son, Levi, is a worrier. I have to admit he comes by it naturally. But he’s always been this way which makes it hard to determine whether it’s hard-wired into his DNA or just the product of an overly dramatic, catastrophizing mother.
One of the things he’s always been concerned about is the environment. So when, as a four year old, he approached his preschool teacher with a “clean up the park” scheme, I didn’t really think twice about it. Luckily his teacher was a creative empowering woman who believed in following her students’ leads whenever possible. Thus was born the first annual “Levi Gettleman Clean Up the Park Field Trip.”
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that at four years old, he created permission slips, presented to his classmates on the importance of caring for the community, and led the kids in gathering and recycling all the garbage they could collect at Police Park in Phoenix. We were proud of him and his determination and happily popped for a pizza party in the park after all the work was completed.
I was surprised when the following year came and my little kindergartener reminded me that he needed to return to his preschool and start preparing for the second annual event. He called his teacher, met with her to plan the trip, and once again, with her help and encouragement, pulled off a fabulous and meaningful field trip that taught the kids experientially how to honor their environment and strengthen their community.
Yesterday, I’m pleased to tell you, was the 7th annual “Levi Gettleman Clean up the Park” day. Things are pretty similar from year to year. The apple core, peanut butter, birdseed feeders are still joyfully configured and hung from the trees. Every trace of garbage, litter and refuse is carefully removed by tiny, gloved fingers who take a sense of pride and ownership in the task at hand. And the work of separating regular garbage from recyclables is the final act of the day. A little park play time is allowed and the pizza arrives just in time to fill the little bellies that have put in a hard day’s work.
I’m not invited to tag along anymore. So I drop off and pick up and hang around just long enough to accept a few kudos about my boy from parents and teachers who’ve watched him grow up over these years. And I feel proud — of him, of what he believes, of his tenacity, commitment and honor.
Once in a while it’s nice to bask in the feeling that we may actually have done something right as parents along the way. Although truth be told, most of his gifts probably did come directly from the factory 🙂
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My mom, on the other hand awoke startled, bolting upright like an overdone pop-tart shooting out of a burning toaster. She’d accost you with a hysterical “What’s wrong?” or a frantic “Who died?” It was just…stressful to wake my mom.
I love Lulu Lemon. Not because I’m some peace-loving, zen yogini or anything even close. I just love the style, fit and feel of their clothes. Plus the whole vibe of the store makes me happy. But do you know what I really love most about the place? The bags.
Come on. You love them too. They’re cute. They’re uplifting. They’re the perfect Trader Joe’s reusable grocery bags. But here’s the moment of truth. What do the bags actually say? Don’t look! This is a challenge I’m putting before you. Everything on those bags is thoughtful, philosophical, and inspiring. But I bet, no matter how many tata tamers you have, you can’t come up with 10 phrases that adorn that bag. Too hard? How about five? Three? One?
I wouldn’t ask you to attempt anything I wasn’t willing to try myself. So here goes:
1. Listen intently…to someone?
3. Friends are more important than money.
4. Something about sweating every day.
5. Do something every day that scares you.
6. Life is a journey, not a destination. (Okay, I’m stumped and this was the first generic philosophical phrase I could think of. But It could be on the bag.)
I have now retrieved one of the many red and white sacks I possess and am moderately horrified by my performance. I got 4…sort of. “Breathe” is actually “Breathe Deeply.” But I think I deserve at least a half point for my effort. It’s “Listen, listen, listen and then ask strategic questions.” But who would ever remember that? I didn’t get “Love,” which is so blatantly obvious it’s almost embarrassing. I missed “Dance, Sing, Floss and Travel,” “Creativity is maximized when you’re living in the moment,” “The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness.” I could go on. But instead, I’m just going to encourage all of you to step away from your computer and go into your bedroom, closet or the trunk of your car and pick up one of your Lulu bags. Then grab a cup of tea or a mug of French press coffee, sit down and really read what’s on that bag.
It’s kind of nutty to think that a tote from a retail establishment could honestly change your life. But I really think this one can. Because it’s true, “Friends are more important than money,” and “Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.” The bag is like a modern day totem pole, celebrating today’s overwhelming obsession with spiritual enlightenment, and saying to the world and generations to come, “This is who we are. This is what we believe. This is what we are striving towards.”
It’s actually kind of cool to think about this as an emblem of our people. Probably a little kooky too. I doubt that the marketing guru who came up with the bag design considered herself a modern day messenger of current societal standards. But who knows. Maybe Sarah Palin, in one of the upcoming Republican primary debates, will cite Lulu as her favorite political philosopher, just as George W. did in the now infamous 1999 debate when he chose Jesus Christ as his. WWLD?