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.

Resale shmesale

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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.

P, B and Jay

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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.

Unmotherly Insights

“Going my way home?” my impish 8 year old son, Eli, asked as he leaned thru the passenger side window of my car after happily bounding off the school bus yesterday afternoon. His grin warmed my heart.

“No silly,” I chirped, “We have to go pick up your brother at school. Hop in.”

Then he flashed a mischievous smile, turned tail and ran away from me at lightning speed.

OK, I was stunned. And I mean stunned like a deer who had just been shot in the chest by a tranquilizer gun. All the other moms at the bus stop looked at me with embarrassing glances, trying not to actually meet my gaze. Inside my head, I heard them snickering about my parental ineptitude. I tried to make light of the situation. “Ha ha,” I chuckled, “He just loves to race me home.” The awkwardness was palpable.

I drove away…

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Bus #108

What would happen if you took the school bus home ?
The police would make you bring it back ! (Well, we all need a little levity these days.)

As a parent, one tries to prepare her kids for everything. Especially if you have one of those kids for whom spur of the moment adjustments can be earth-shatteringly upsetting. Take the first day of third grade for example. New school. New teacher. New kids. New campus. But the biggest anxiety; taking a bright yellow school bus for the first time ever.

Who knows why certain things are scarier than others. But for my 8 year old son, Eli, his fears seemed to circle around taking that bus. There was the question of which one to get on, which one to take home, who will he sit with, what if he misses it? There were countless worries and fears floating around his new school mode of transport.

So what did I do? I was determined to prepare him accordingly which I knew would allay all of his fears. I checked the written parent packet and it was bus #108 that would daily carry my boy to and from his new school. We drilled the number into his head. We played silly games to test his memory. “Should you get on bus #115?” we’d ask, trying to light-heartedly trick him. “What about #37?” “Let’s say there’s a pink school bus and the number is #138 and the driver, whom you’ve never seen, says, ‘come on the bus, little boy. I have candy.’”

We did a couple of dry runs to school from the bus stop and taught him where to meet the bus after school so he’d have no concerns whatsoever. We even practiced walking to and from the bus stop, even timed it so we’d know what time to depart each morning. I was pretty proud of myself. But as all good mythologists know, it’s always pride that comes before the fall.

First day of school and we wait for nearly a half hour at the bus stop. The bus never arrives. We drive Eli to school and he ends up being tardy on his first day, which freaks him out and raises his anxiety level exponentially. After calming him, straightening out the tardy situation, and getting him situated in class, the day went surprisingly well. That is, of course, until it was time to come home.

They shuttled the bus-riding kids out to the parking lot and guided Eli right to bus #105. That’s when all hell broke loose. “I can not get on bus #105!” he insisted. “I’m supposed to be on bus #108.” Bus number 108, however, had broken down earlier in the day (which was why it didn’t come in the morning) and was in the shop torn up and awaiting repair. Bus #105 was taking its place. Of course that didn’t sway my son who had been practicing this drill for over two weeks. I can only imagine his focused little mind as he walked out to the bus. “Bus #108, bus #108, bus #108,” he likely repeated like a mantra as he headed out of school that first day. It eventually took two drivers, the teacher, the vice principal and finally the kind and compassionate principal himself to convince Eli that it was okay to take bus 105 to get home.

“Why was he so upset?” my 11 year old son, Levi, asked. “Because,” I answered, “He did everything right, just the way we practiced. Only sometimes, life changes the rules on us in the middle of the game. And it just isn’t fair.”
So here’s to a new school year filled with busses that will break down, schedules that will be changed, and routines that will be altered. But hopefully, amidst all the chaos life throws in his path, my youngest will learn to sway in the wind like a sturdy Elm and not snap at every formidable gale.

Spring Cleaning

Once a year we clean out our kitchen — whether it needs it or not. No, seriously, it’s Passover time for us Jews and we take spring cleaning to a whole new level. At my house, we pack away our everyday dishes and replace them with our mismatched melange of well worn Passover tableware. We reclaim our pantry by purging every half-eaten box of Wheat Thins, stale stuck together bags of marshmallows, and near-empty jars of Trader Joe’s peanut butter. e scrub down the fridge, empty the freezer, wash out the silverware drawers. It’s a massive undertaking.

Passover has a lot of rules — what you’re allowed to eat, what you’re not, how you’re supposed to rid your home of “chametz” (the name given to all non-appropriate Passover food), your requirement to tell the Biblical story of Exodus to your children. It’s a heavy responsibility holiday if you try to follow it according to “Halakhah” (Jewish law).

And we do. At least we try. My kids eat special food, off of special plates, prepared in special pots and pans. I end up cooking almost non-stop for the entire weeklong festival, a task I’m not generally accustomed or predisposed to. The Passover story tells how the Jews left Egypt and were freed from decades of slavery. I sometimes wonder if my culinary servitude isn’t God’s way of offering me experiential understanding of my ancestors’ plight.

But in spite of the hard work and requisite effort this holiday demands, I love it. My fondest childhood memories are of Passover. I remember the mini
matzah-meal pancakes my mother used to make, the special Seders that lasted till midnight over which my grandfather, and later my beloved father, presided, the delicious fruit shaped jellies I craved all year long that now define the holiday for my two little boys. There’s something deep that connects me to my family, my community, and my past each spring when Passover arrives.

So I clean my cabinets, pack away my Blender, and get out my grandmother’s old recipes. I cry a lot too, remembering the innocence and wonder of those childhood years. I miss the people who make up my memories, and I feel sad that these joyous times will one day be merely a part of my kids’ recorded histories, like old home movies or a treasured tattered tablecloth.

I’m grateful that they will have the memories to connect them to me, to my husband, to their grandmothers. But the somber realization that time passes extraordinarily quickly these days is one that occupies my thoughts almost obsessively this time of year. It reminds me of an ancient bit of Jewish folklore that tells how King Solomon asked his wisest assemblymen to create a ring that will make him happy when he is sad and sad when he is happy. They created the ring with a simple saying etched into the gold: “Gam zeh ya’avor” or “This too shall pass.”

I wish you a meaningful Passover and Easter and wish for you the joy of good times and the melancholy of beautiful memories.