Matzah, Marvel and Maternal Remorse

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“Where are you going with those?” I ask Eli, my twelve year old son, as he suspiciously tries to slink out of the house for school carrying three unopened boxes of leftover Passover matzah. “Um…nowhere,” he answers. “Bye mom. Have a great day.”

“Wait just a minute, Eli,” I’m not ready to let this go. “Why are you taking three boxes of matzah to school after Passover?”

“I thought they were leftover.” He chirps.

“Yeah… So what?” I challenge.

“Alright mom,” he confides. “But if I tell you you can’t get involved. Promise?”

These are always my favorite intros to any conversation with my kids. Promising not to get involved isn’t something I’m apt to do easily.

“I promise nothing,” I say. “Now what’s with the matzah? And if you miss the bus you’re walking to school. So start talking.”

“I’m selling them to a friend.” he sheepishly confesses.

“Selling them? For how much?” I inquire.

“Fifteen dollars,” he tells me.

This is the part where I go berzerk. “Fifteen dollars? Who would buy matzah for fifteen dollars? That’s insane.” I grab the matzah and insist that it is not being sold to anyone. “If you want to give your friend the matzah that is perfectly alright. But you are not selling it to him for any amount of money.”

“But mom, we made a deal. And you always say ‘a deal is a deal.’ He wagered with me willingly. I’m just fulfilling my side of the bargain”

As I delve into this, I learn that Eli has been making money on the side selling a variety of useless items to his pals who only want Eli to play more advanced PS4 video games with them. Eli has a limited number of players, and since his mother is a meanie and wont splurge endlessly on Disney Infinity and Marvel superhero characters for the PS4, Eli has had to turn to his own ingenuity to raise the funds to support his virtual reality video habit.

“Joey begged me, mom,” Eli pleaded. “He just really wants me to be able to play with him and I don’t have the Star Wars Battlefront Seasons Pass. Can I please go now?”

Then I pulled out my ace. I was sure I had this one in the bag. “Well Eli,” I say, “If you feel that selling something like matzah, that you didn’t even pay for, to Joey, or any other friend, for way more money than it’s worth, is the right thing to do, then you go right ahead. Just make sure you feel good about yourself and what you’re choosing to do.” Ha. This was a page from any good Jewish mother’s parenting book. I felt the guilt dripping off each word as it slowly and purposely rolled off my tongue. No way Eli would collect the cash and exploit a pal with this jolt of maternal consciousness infecting his psyche.

But alas, even sure things sometimes go awry. When Eli came home from school he laid down the fifteen dollars from Joey along with all of his Chanukah and birthday money  and asked if he could use my amazon account to purchase his Star Wars Battlefront Seasons Pass. “Mom, I tried to tell Joey I didn’t want the money,” He explained. “I swear I offered to just give him the matzah for free. But he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He insisted, mom. Really.”

I reluctantly gave permission for Eli to buy the Season’s Pass and have been pondering this decision ever since. I’m plagued with guilt over taking another child’s money to pay for a game I wasn’t willing to buy for my son myself. I am deeply perplexed about where Joey so easily scored $15. Did his parents know he was subsidizing Eli’s PS4 practice? Would they think we were shameful people, taking money from their 12 year old son? Maybe they did know about it and were under the impression that we were from some sort of underserved North Scottsdale barrio. Maybe they believed their son was merely giving back to his community as they had undoubtedly modeled through their own charitable endeavors.

The more I mulled this over, the more awful I felt. But I had set this up for Eli to make his own decision and I fiercely believe in allowing your children to make choices and live with the consequences of those choices. I told him to follow his conscience and he had. Only his conscience didn’t lead him to the conclusion I had hoped it would. Now what?

“Is there anything Joey wants that his parents wont give him?” I asked after a few hours of hopeless deliberation. “Maybe we can get him something, you know like a toy or a PS4 game?”

“Mom,” Eli chastised, “Joey has everything. There’s nothing we could get him that he doesn’t already have.”

“But maybe there’s something he’d like that he might not buy for himself?” I pushed. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Just something to let him know we appreciate him and his friendship.”

“Well,” I could see the wheels turning in Eli’s head, “He really loves his gecko, Emily. Maybe we could get him something for her.”

“OK, that’s a good idea,” I said, “What do you think she might like?”

“Hmmm…” he looked at me coyly for an extremely long moment. “I know. How ‘bout a PS4 controller? They don’t use joysticks anymore so Emily could play with us. I know they would both love that.”

In the Disney Marvel Battleground Universe, I think I’m being set up for a gigantic Hulk smash.

Hummer

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When my son, Levi, was 5 years old my husband and I temporarily lost our minds and  spent a ridiculous sum of money on a mini version of a Hummer for him to drive around the neighborhood. This car was totally amazing. Now that I think about it, perhaps it was part of our financially strapped, joint mid-life crisis. We couldn’t actually afford a pair of Porsches or a duo of Lamborghinis for ourselves, so instead we settled on a mini Hummer for our five year old. We thought we were pretty great parents that year.

Of course as all parents, who have ever watched their children ignore their plethora of play toys and opt instead for a bevy of beaten up pots and pans to play with, can guess, Levi was not at all interested in this outrageously fabulous vehicle. We spent countless hours trying to interest him in the Hummer. But no amount of creative cajoling could entice him to set foot in the  birthday mobile.

Finally, one day I was making dinner and I glanced out the window and saw him climb into the Hummer and turn the key. I was elated. I called my husband to tell him the great news but by the time he picked up the phone, Levi had exited the vehicle and was talking animatedly to himself just a few feet away from where he’d begun. I hung up the phone and raced outside to question his curiously short road trip.

“I just needed to get to the office,” my five year old explained. Then, like a chip off the old block, he gently invited me to go back inside,“I have work to do, mommy.”

I returned to the kitchen to finish dinner. After about a half hour of “office work,” my son hopped back into the Hummer, turned the key and drove for about three seconds until he reached home and entered the kitchen. “Hi mom, I’m home from the office,” he chirped brightly. At that moment I realized that no matter how good our intentions, kids find enjoyment in the activities they love and not necessarily in the ones we adults think they should. We could’ve bought my son a mini Boeing 747 and he would only have used it as a vehicle to act out whatever adult behaviors he was working on at the time. That’s just who he was. He pretended he was a grown up and loved to mimic grown up behavior. We came to understand that it was his way of making sense of the world around him. He never played for the sake of playing. Levi is what you’d call an “old soul.” He’s always wanted to be an adult and we were foolish to think that a souped up Hummer would change that.

He loved sitting in my car pretending to drive. He loved acting out swim lessons with me as the student and him as the teacher. He loved dressing up like his dad and going to the office to see patients. No matter how many ways I tried to get him to drop the grown up scenarios and play for the sake of playing, kid stuff like that just wasn’t in his repertoire.

He is now a 15 year old young man with a compassionate heart, a solid work ethic and a yearning to take on the world as a full-fledged adult. Levi is who he’s always been so it shouldn’t be hard for me to accept his burgeoning adulthood. But today as we sat in the AZ Motor Vehicle Division waiting for him to take his written learner’s permit test, I found myself struggling with a different set of emotions.

I’ve heard hundreds of parents tell me, “Enjoy the moment. They grow up so fast.” I’ve always found that kind of unwarranted advice to be more of an annoyance than a comfort. And I’ve always sworn to never unload that piece of counsel onto other parents. But today I’m wallowing in the reality that they do grow up so quickly and within what feels like a nano-second, they are ready to venture into the world without you.

As parents it’s our job to find ways to remain relevant in our kids’ lives. Hopefully we wont always be their primary care-givers. But when that role ends, how do we morph into something that still matters, that continues to resonate with who they are and enables us to maintain connection and purpose? The reality that kids grow up and leave home has always been there. It’s just so incredibly painful when you stand toe to toe with that truth.

Levi drove home from the MVD. It was his first time driving on major roads and his first experience in rush-hour traffic. We’ve been practicing in parking lots and around the neighborhood for a few months so I knew he was ready to test out his developing skills.

He did a great job. Well, aside from that one turn. But more importantly, he and I are renegotiating our relationship and learning from one another about how we can navigate his journey into full adulthood while still balancing my need to be his parent and guide his growing independence. It’s not always easy. Sometimes he’ll erupt into a toddler type tantrum. Sometimes I do the same. I still have a lot of parenting to do. I’m not sure that ever actually ends. But we’re growing up together and it’s a pretty amazing journey.

Baby you can drive my …bus

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“Why aren’t you at the bus stop?” I sleepily barked at my 15 year old son, Levi, as I pulled on a sweatshirt and emerged from another night of tossing and turning. “It’s 6:20. I can’t drive you to school. I have a breakfast meeting…”

“Mom,” he calmly reassured me, “Relax. My regular bus driver is out this week. There’s a sub taking his route. She’s not my regular driver, but she’s very nice. She has to run her own route first so she wont get to my stop until 6:42. I spoke with the dispatcher earlier this morning.”

“You spoke with the dispatcher?” I asked with complete incredulity.

“Yeah,” he said, “After waiting at the corner for 25 minutes in the cold last week, I decided to look into things and learned about the change in drivers. Apparently Ernie is out having some minor surgery. So Sheila is filling in. I expect Ernie will be back on Monday.”

“You spoke with the dispatcher?” I muttered still struggling to comprehend the reality at hand. How is it possible, I wondered,  that a child of mine could be this organized, systematic and methodical? These are not skills that I possess in any quantity. His creative spirit, sense of wonder and off the charts enthusiasm smack sharply of all things me. But this…this…unbridled resourcefulness and time management talent was his and his alone.

“Well, have a great day,” I announced as I  started my coffee, still pondering this amazing occurrence. He gave me a quick peck on the cheek, grabbed his backpack and headed out. “You too,” He said. “Hope your day is amazing.”

Two days later I had all but forgotten my son’s shrewd ingenuity and was focused instead on his typical teen boy behavior; the atrocious mess in his bedroom, his laundry littering the floor, his sassy come backs to…almost everything.

“You haven’t heard about my ridiculous morning,” he started as I annoyedly shuffled his breakfast dishes into the dishwasher at 4:30 in the afternoon. “You know, Levi,” I griped, “I’m not your maid. You know better than to leave dishes in the sink. I have more important things to do than clean up all day after you and your brother.” I was frighteningly sounding like my mother and hating myself in the process.

“Sorry,” he chirped casually, “It wont happen again.” This was a vow I had heard thousands of times before.I took a deep breath, thought about what was really important, and said, “Tell me about your ridiculous morning.”

“Well,” He began, “I was at the bus stop at 6:15 today. My regular driver was supposed to be back. But there was a big Cox truck right at the corner. There was another sub and I guess she didn’t see me behind the truck and she just drove right by me. So I immediately called the bus company and spoke with the dispatcher on duty. I told him what had happened while I was running to the final stop in the neighborhood. It was about a half mile away. But I ran hard. I told the guy to radio the driver and let her know that she’d inadvertently passed me and that she should wait for me right outside the back gate. So that’s what they did. Of course she was

irritated when I finally got there and said, ‘Next time, be out there on time.’ To which I respectfully replied that she clearly had not received full explanation of the event. I clarified that I was there on time and that she didn’t see me and drove right past me. ‘Oh,’ she reluctantly acknowledged, ‘Sorry.’”

Again I was stunned by his problem solving capabilities and take-charge attitude. I had to concede to myself that had this happened to me I would undoubtedly have headed home, woken my parents, and insisted on someone driving me to school. This was a young man, unlike any teenager I have ever known, who saw a problem and instead of turning  it into his parent’s responsibility, relied upon his own quick thinking and inventiveness to remedy the situation. This is a kid, I realized, who can make it on his own.

That thought was both empowering and crippling if truth be told. I felt a deep sense of pride and admiration for Levi’s self-reliance and strength of character. At the same time, there is a minute sense of loss when a parent recognizes that their offspring really can survive and thrive without any assistance from them.

“You’re one amazing young man,” I told Levi as he shoveled in the remainder of the last bag of cinnamon pita chips I was saving for myself. He looked a little like Cookie Monster with the crumbs carelessly cascading from his mouth. “Thanks,” he said smiling broadly. “You’re a pretty amazing mom too.”

I am a monster

UnknownI am a monster. It’s true. I just woke up a soundly sleeping 14 year old boy and made him climb out of bed, put on some clothes and distribute a pile of laundry to its owner. What has happened to me? Visions of my mother keep floating into my psyche. I remember her wrath about dishes left lying in the sink, her frustration about my slovenly housekeeping, her utter ire about the constant state of my bedroom’s distress. I thought she was an idiot. “Don’t you have anything more important to care about?” I used to lament. I hated her when I was a teenager. Her life seemed…well, menial and insignificant. Why would anyone care about how messy my bedroom was or a few misplaced dirty dishes? I was convinced she had wasted her life by becoming a housewife and mother and was appalled by the choices she’d made that I swore I would never make.

Cut to: here I am in Scottsdale, AZ with two kids, a husband and a fucking house that looks like it’s been hit by a tsunami. I work…outside the home. But barely make enough to pay for the internet connection. I can’t stand the way my kids and husband carelessly leave the kitchen and I told my son before I left for a meeting tonight, “I will wake you up if you don’t clean the kitchen and  put the fucking laundry away.”

So I come home and lo and behold the kitchen is clean and the stupid pile of laundry is still on the living room floor. I’m a firm believer in “mean what you say,” or your credibility isn’t worth shit. So I go into Levi’s room, shine a flashlight on him, rip off his covers and say (in a very calm but stern voice) “Sorry to wake you. But there’s a pile of laundry on the living room floor and I told you it needed to be delivered to its rightful owner. I said I would wake you up if it wasn’t done. So here we are.” He tried to just roll over and ignore me. “I’m not going away,” I said. “You need to put the laundry away.”

“Can you give me 30 seconds?” he asked in a voice much deeper than I’d expected. I’m sure in his head he was declaring me the bitch from hell. And maybe that’s who I am. But I said, “Put away the laundry or I will wake you up and make you put away the laundry.” I had no choice really. Think about it. How can you parent if you make idle threats? You lose all authority.

My job is to create good men out of sweet but self-centered little boys. I’m doing the best I can. But sometimes the job feels monumental.

Skinny lemon drop martini


images-1When life gives you lemons…

I have a serious question for you. I’ve been told recently that the best way to handle one’s expectations is to follow the sage advice of Benjamin Franklin and expect nothing so that you will never be disappointed. That’s kind of the way I live nowadays. I refer to it as the “other shoe” phenomenon. I just keep my eyes wide open and wait for the alternative sole to descend. True to fashion, it always does.

But lately I’ve been coached by several of my more “woo-woo” pals to “Expect a miracle,” that “You get whatever you imagine,” that “what you believe you make true.” For a fairly negative thinker like myself, this concept is terribly troubling.

I was raised to work hard, believe in yourself and trust no one. My dad was a “Pull yourself up by your boot-straps” kind of guy and my mom was cursed with what we lovingly refer to as the “Nudelman negativity.” I envision the worst possibilities everywhere. I catastrophize over each and every less than perfect happening. I literally look over my shoulder when the sky is falling so that I can always stay at least one step ahead of disaster. So the notion that my attitude creates my reality is a staggering downer.

You mean I’m responsible for creating every lousy thing that happens in my life? That makes me feel even worse about myself. If only I had seen the world through those proverbial rose-colored glasses, then I might not be…fill in the blank; in financial ruin, an emotional basket case, unemployed, etc… Seems to me that this philosophy is an awful lot like “blaming the victim.”

Feeling like we are solely responsible for every peril and pitfall we encounter is not only depressing, but also completely debilitating. I mean I can only do so much to change my attitude. I see potential despair everywhere. That’s just who I am. Telling myself to “think positively” is a useless exercise in futility.

I guess I could just “Fake it till I make it.” But candidly, that kind of input is truly sickening to me. The truth is that bad stuff happens. It happens to everyone and it’s important to keep it in perspective and not let it completely destroy who you are. But telling me to pretend that every misfortune is some kind of “blessing in disguise” is really irksome to me.

This kind of preachy Polyanna propoganda grates on me just as much as the opposite consolation in which a helpful friend seeks to buoy you by pointing out that yes, you have lost an arm in battle, but it could always be worse, you could have lost both arms, and a leg, and a head. It can always be worse therefore you should rejoice in your minor pain and misfortune because something even more horrible may be lurking around the next corner.

What is a person to do when life gives you lemons? I think it depends on the type of lemons, the amount of lemons and the size of said lemons. I mean, a few lemons, some Grey Goose and a pinch of Truvia and you’ve got a darn delicious skinny lemon drop Martini. But when it’s pouring lemons, big lemons, and they’re coming down fast and furious, you had better seek cover and protect yourself lest you risk being pummeled to death by the tough-skinned canary-colored citrus.

So I guess the upshot of all this is that you have to “appreciate what you have,” and “develop an attitude of gratitude,” and…blah blah blah, add whatever platitude you feel best fits. But at the same time, keep one foot grounded in reality and pay attention to the potential risks that await you.

My final advice is this: It’s okay to wallow in misery every now and then. That doesn’t mean it’s your own fault that you’ve had a set-back or that you brought the bad upon yourself. Life just feels bad sometimes and you shouldn’t have to pretend that it doesn’t. But don’t let yourself get stuck in the quicksand of disappointment and regret, because that will pull you under, fast. It’s a delicate balance; one that requires time, effort and sometimes a lot of lemons before you find that sweet spot in an otherwise sour situation.

Ode to Oxy-Clean




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728bd38f67a206f93744ac6a8fc053bfFor my son, Levi’s, 14th birthday his grandmother (AKA Bubby) took him out on a clothes shopping spree. She bought him an entire wardrobe of adorable shorts and cool t-shirts. Now everyday my son gets ready for school and looks like he just stepped out of a Macy’s catalogue. (It’s maybe not Abercrombie and Fitch to which most teens might aspire, but he looks great to me and feels positive and happy each morning as he strolls to the bus stop.)

Cut to: Yesterday. I’m doing the laundry. (Do I need to say that this is my least favorite job on the planet?) I do tend to scoop up whatever piles are lying on my children’s floors and stuff as much as I can carry into my huge front-loader. After the 59 minute hot wash cycle I mindlessly transfer the wet load into the dryer, hit high heat and run for the computer. It wasn’t until I began to unload the dryer that I realized, yet again, that my darling son had left a red ink pen in his pocket. The brand new cargo shorts he’d gotten for his birthday were covered in ink splots as was the entire dryer drum. Luckily no other clothes seem to have been affected. But I was literally sick over it.

He’d worn these beautiful shorts once. Now they were totally ruined. I contemplated how to ground him, whether to berate him, how to somehow make a valuable lesson out of the senseless waste. It’s not like he hadn’t made this mistake before. We’ve had broken pencils that have clogged up the dryer and cost us an expensive visit from the GE repairman, erasers that have stopped up the washer drain, etc… I talk till I’m blue in the face. I know the answer is to let my boys (14 and 10) do their own laundry. At least I wont be so distraught by their carelessness. But every time I try to adopt that kind of hands-off policy, I end up caving after their rooms get inundated with dirty laundry and neither of them seem to care that they’re wearing filthy underwear for the fourth day in a row. I get the “Love and Logic” thing that says, eventually they’ll decide to do their own laundry or their peers will avoid them because of the stench. But I can’t seem to let it get to that utter point of disgust.

I tried Oxy-Clean stain spray on the shorts. My mother-in-law swears by it. But the bright red splotches didn’t even fade. I figured it was hopeless. I mean I’d already washed and dried the shorts in high heat thereby sealing the ink stain into the shorts, a cardinal no-no in stain removal strategy. I showed the shorts to my son and threatened to show his Bubby. “Please don’t!” he begged. “She’ll be so mad at me.” “But why did you let this happen?” I beseeched. “I don’t know, mom,” he sadly replied. “I just forget that I put things in my pocket. I don’t do it on purpose.”

I’d gotten my answer. I can’t say that it made me feel better. But it did remind me to lighten up a little. I suddenly remembered my fourteen year old self defending my carelessness around leaving the second floor lights ablaze as I bounded out the front door for the 10 zillionth time. My poor father just standing in the doorway, a look of perplexity on his face. “I just forget, Dad. I’m really sorry.” And I was. I didn’t mean to hurt him or make what mattered to him seem totally insignificant. It just wasn’t a priority and nothing he said or did could change that. Maybe that’s the sad truth. As much as we parents try, we can’t infuse our children with a sense of adult priorities and a willingness to meet those priorities. They are, after all, still kids. Eventually they’ll move out and we’ll miss their dirty laundry, left on lights, and unmade beds. That just seems to be how life works.

But there is an incredibly happy ending to this woeful tale. You see, I thought about dying the shorts red since they were already spotted with the deep crimson ink. At least the shorts would be wearable and the waste of good money would be reversed. But instead, in a fit of passion, I dumped a capful of bleach into the slop sink, stopped up the drain and immersed the shorts beneath a two inch layer of milky colored Clorox. When I returned the next morning, the ink spots were virtually gone! The khaki green color of the shorts hadn’t faded one iota. But the ink was barely visible.

Emboldened by my Clorox ingenuity, I then started to rub out the remaining hint of stains with a combination of Shout and Oxy-Clean spray. With each vigorous rubbing, the stains seems to lighten until I truly couldn’t see them anymore. What an accomplishment! I had managed to rid my son’s shorts of all remnants of red ink. I felt like a million bucks. And then it hit me — hard. I am actually rejoicing giddily over a laundry accomplishment. Dear God, what has become of me? I’m a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from the University of Michigan, an award-winning journalist, an accomplished professional actor and spokesperson. But I am literally elated to have gotten a stain out of my son’s cargo shorts. My, how the years change one.

The bottom line is this: No matter how hard we try, we are destined to become our mothers, our fathers, and all of the practical guides and guardians we railed against vehemently in our youth. “Turn off the lights!” “Empty your pockets!” “Don’t leave the empty box of Nutrigrain bars in the pantry!” Whatever your personal bugaboo, sometimes it’s easier to simply acknowledge that kids make mistakes and truly it wont be long until you’re all alone in a big house, with extra closet space and barely enough laundry to do a single load. Appreciate the ink spots while you can. And yes, celebrate the small successes and unexpected Oxy-Clean triumphs with jubilant adandon. Life is too short to ignore your victories, no matter how trivial they may seem.

Freedom

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Passover is the time of year when we Jews celebrate the Exodus from Egypt. We were slaves and then became free people. That’s pretty monumental and it took a lot of wandering, a lot of soul searching and a lot of self-doubt. There were those who yearned to go back to Egypt, because that was as least a known world, a familiar fate. Sure it was awful. But like a prisoner who recommits a crime on the eve of his parole, three hots and a cot can be pretty inviting when you’re contemplating a life of self awareness, choice and independent thinking.

We are supposed to tell the story of Passover to our children. Well, we do that — annually. By now, you’d think they’d pretty much have it down pat. But here we go, we’re gonna tell it …again and again and again. Why is that? What is to be gleaned in the story this year, this telling?

I think I might have an answer. I think this year, with all that has transpired within my world, I think maybe I finally get this Passover story. Freedom is a double edged sword. Freedom brings joy and lightness. It also brings self doubt, fear, even anguish.

This year we have found ourselves free from the constraints of a harsh, abusive work relationship. Becoming free was painful. We suffered intense betrayals, deep anguish and still find ourselves walking the halls in the wee hours of the night because self doubt and worry keep us from restful sleep. We wonder how we will survive on our own, without the punishing security we’d grown used to. How will we take care of our children? How will we maintain our standing in the community?

Freedom doesn’t come easily. It is terrifying. I’ve always wondered how my Jewish ancestors would have been anything but overjoyed as they raced away from Pharaoh and the shackles that enslaved them for decades. Yet here we stand, naked, unprotected from the elements, and we are afraid.

We spent less time preparing for Passover this year. In the scheme of things, Passover prep had to take a back seat. We are too busy struggling to get back on our feet, find solid ground and begin to remake our lives as free people. I feel guilty about my lack of focus this year. But the truth is, the rituals, the foods, the seder, they all seems less important right now. Because I get it. I get why we do all of it. We have been “gifted” with an opportunity to feel the truth of an Exodus from slavery. That’s why we eat special foods, say special prayers and thank G-d for the opportunity to experience freedom.

I think I could skip all the rituals entirely this year. But we wont. We have family to celebrate our new found freedom with. We have children to whom we must continue to tell the story. We have each other, sometimes frightened, sometimes boldly empowered, and together we will journey forward through the uncertainty and fear.

We step into a new world of freedom, choice and self direction this year. We graciously acknowledge the family and friendships that have stood by our side through our imprisonment and propped up our spirits as we reluctantly fled from our captors.

With freedom comes responsibility; the burden to live well, to offer the best of who we are to everyone we meet, to appreciate each and every kindness afforded us. And so to all of you whose kind words, thoughtful deeds and deep love and support have strengthened and sustained us this Passover season, we thank you for making our path easier to navigate and our road more clearly defined.

We admit that the uncertainty remains scary and unsettling. But like our ancestors, going back is not a choice. We must keep our eyes focused ahead, our hearts open and  our faith deeply in tact. For it is only with clear vision, love and trust, that we will emerge at the border of a promised land and will retain the insight, courage and readiness to venture into it as free souls who understand the perils of slavery and appreciate the power of liberty.

I can see clearly now…

Levi sans specs

Levi sans specs

The milestones are flying by me so fast I don’t know where to look first. Bar Mitzvah, overnight camp, his own set of house keys, laptop, cell phone, the list goes on seemingly endlessly. He was a toddler like two days ago. Really. But the most recent milestone affected me more than I’d anticipated. My thirteen year old son, Levi, just got his first set of contact lenses. Now Levi’s been wearing glasses for as long as I can remember. They were unobtrusive at first. But as time went on and his quirky style began to emerge, we were able to find specs that matched his personality and charm. In fact, one of my proudest mom moments was when I bought him a pair of non-returnable, retro, tortoise-shell frames without him even being in the room. They fit him perfectly in every way. “That’s how well I know my kid,” I boasted to anyone within ear shot.

But this contact lens thing has me shaken. He looks so grown up, and so…handsome suddenly. His bright, happy face is now unobscured by frames. He’s more open, more vulnerable, more himself. Can a pair of contact lenses make someone more of themselves? Not sure. I suddenly feel the pain of losing him. I’m scared that he’s growing up too fast. He talks about driving all the time. How am I ever gonna cope with that?

I’ve always insisted that I was the type of parent who welcomed each stage of development. Not one to linger in the past or lament the “good old days,” But what happens when they do grow up? When they go away? When your life isn’t about them anymore? Then who are you? Who do you become? How do you still matter?

It’s really unfair that you go through these huge identity crisis when you’re young. You struggle to figure out who you are and how you fit into the Universe. By your mid 20s you think you’ve got it nailed down. Then by 35 you realize you weren’t even close. You settle into a comfortable routine in your 40s, meaningful work or building your family and fortune. Then suddenly your kids grow up and you have to start the whole darn process all over again. It’s daunting to say the least.

My youngest son, Eli, is in 4th grade. He’s still somewhat dependent. But his stubborn individuality reminds me daily that he too will be flying the proverbial coop just as soon as his minor status terminates. He’s in the stage where everything I do embarrasses him. I remember that stage with my parents all too well. My father used to insist on holding my hand as we crossed busy streets and my heart would crumble with shame if anyone saw us. Sure wish I could hold his hand one last time today.

I think about my father a lot, about how much he taught me and how much I miss him. In my son, Eli’s, fleeting serious moments, he begs me not to die and leave him, ever. Not sure it’s right to promise him what I surely cannot deliver. But I do so anyway. Just like my dad promised me. Life is about broken promises.

In the meantime, I find myself often tearful, lost and afraid of what the future holds. I want to protect my boys from everything and everyone. I want to be able to shield their eyes from pain and stand between them and any potential heartache. The realization that I can’t do that is what’s breaking my heart. For their lives to work, they will have to see beyond my horizon, to see for themselves. I guess the whole contact lens thing signifies something a whole lot deeper than I first imagined.

Exact change

UnknownI hate to sound like an old crotchety woman but WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY??? Let me start by saying that back in the day, I could ring a pretty efficient register. I could key in items, add tax, note which items were tax free, and here’s the best part; I could figure out how much change the customer was due and count it back to them properly and politely. There were no computerized cash registers to tell us ringers how much money to return and because of that, we could actually figure it out in our heads, make sense of it and count it back to the paying party.

Let’s contrast this with today. Last week I was at a certain Christian hobby store and my bill came to $21.52. I was holding a twenty dollar bill and a five dollar bill. I hadn’t yet handed them to the cashier. She, however, took it upon herself to ring in $25.00. But as I continued to dig around in my wallet, I found a single and .52 cents. I said, “Here you go,” and handed the young lady $26.52. The look on her face was sheer panic. She began to stutter and I feared she might shortly hyper-ventilate.

“Are you okay?” I inquired with serious concern. “I…I… I…already rang it in,” she said.
“Well, that’s okay,” I spoke as if I were coaxing a would-be jumper from a very high ledge. “You just need to give me a five dollar bill and we’re good to go.” Unfortunately, this continued to baffle my young friend. All color had drained from her countenance. “I…can’t do that,” she stammered. “I need to give you the change from the $25 I rang in.”

I thought about explaining that I didn’t really want four dollars and .48 cents shuffling about in my wallet, and that I had actually simplified the equation by supplying her with the extra $1.52. But since there was a long line of religious crafters behind me, I chose to simply give her the $25 dollars and move on with my life. After all, WWJD?

But this kind of event is occurring more and more frequently. Yesterday I stopped in one of my favorite bath stores. I ended up spending $32.25. I happen to have been carrying a $100 bill that I wanted to change into something smaller, so I paid with the bill and a shiny new quarter. Once again, panic ensued. The young gal behind the counter stood there stunned, looking at me as if I had handed her Rubles or Euros or Yen. After what felt like an inordinate amount of time she called for a manager to check the validity of my hundred and asked what she should do with the extra quarter I’d supplied. Luckily the manager, a ripe 30 something, keyed in the precise amount and the register responded that the customer was due the exact sum of $68. The sales girl then grabbed some cash from the drawer in a haphazard manner and dumped a wad of cash into my palm.

Gone are the days of counting back change to a customer so that she knows she is, in fact, receiving the correct amount of cash return. But seriously, how do you know you are getting the appropriate amount of change? I mean, computers do make errors, as do impulsive youth. I carefully counted back my change in front of the young woman, hoping that perhaps I could teach her by example a more appropriate way of delivering change to a paying consumer. She merely looked at me with annoyance for delaying the other customers behind me in line.

Look, I have no problem with the fact that all salespeople appear to be under the age of 15. Likewise, I’m not one of those people who walks down a hospital corridor wondering why all the doctors barely look old enough to drive. I appreciate that we are a young, vital society and that the youth are the future of our great nation. But there really is a need for young people to be able to do basic arithmetic in their heads and if we are to be a capitalist society, people need to understand how to count money, make change and respect the purchasing process.

There, I’ve said it. Now I’m going to sit in my rocker, crank up the phonograph and enjoy turning on and off the lights with my Clapper.

Letting go

imagesI think I have completely lost it. My son’s Bar Mitzvah is in exactly one week and I just broke down sobbing in the middle of Summer Winds plant nursery while trying to select a few trees to beautify the front entry of our home. My husband, a bit taken aback by my sudden onset hysteria, asked me what seemed to be so upsetting about two Red leaf banana trees and a flat of succulents. To which my only reply was, “They’re going to die. They’re all going to die.”

You see while many may miss the logic of my distress, it is more than obvious to me what is transpiring inside my twisted psyche. My baby boy is becoming an adult, at least in Jewish terms. What does that mean? It means in 5 years he’s off to college, then grad school maybe, a job, a marriage, his own family. The cycle continues. The same will happen with my youngest, at least that’s what I hope and wish for. But it also means that my reasons for existing are only temporary and will go off to live their own miraculous lives and leave me as a distant (and likely annoying) memory. This feels unbearable to me.

I complain bitterly about never having enough time to do the things I want to do, to read the books I want to read and write the stories I want to write. The pressures to work and mother and create meaningful art overwhelm me most of the time. But the reality that in the not-too-distant future I’ll have nothing but time is the most painful acknowledgement of life’s tragic progression that I’ve ever experienced.

I am fully aware that I was somebody else once; before I was a mother. I was somebody who lived alone and went out with friends, who always cleaned up her dishes after she ate, who worked 80 hours a week and went to the gym whenever she felt like it and sometimes just laid around the house watching reruns of “Dick Van Dyke” and “I Love Lucy.” But I don’t do those things anymore, mostly because I’m too busy running errands, supervising homework detail, carpooling or doing perpetual loads of laundry. Yet suddenly it seems impossible to imagine meaning in any life that doesn’t include my eternal sorrow over dirty socks on the floor, unpicked up dog poop in the yard, or two day old breakfast dishes still sitting at the table wistfully hoping that some thoughtful child will place them neatly in the dishwasher.

I don’t enjoy every moment I have with my boys. For that I am grief-stricken. I waste the precious time we have being angry about stupid things and longing for time to be alone, with my own thoughts, my own agenda. Can it be different? Can anyone keep her eye on the essential reality that everything is fleeting, that each moment brings us closer to loss, emptiness and solitude? How can anyone live life with that kind of uber-awareness? Ernest Becker explains in The Denial of Death,“To live fully is to live with an awareness of the rumble of terror that underlies everything.” Getting caught up in the minutia is our only escape from the devastating reality before us.

I long to appreciate the fleeting moments I still have with my children. I promise to try to relish every second in this tumultuous week of family drama, party plans and Bar Mitzvah preparation. My goal is to celebrate the amazing young man my son is becoming, to love him with every ounce of my being, and to joyfully release him to become his own man and forge his own path through life.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Sniff sniff. It’s not likely to be an easy week.