Category Archives: family

last day

It’s the last day of my winter break (aka “Christmas Break”).  I had just shy of two weeks (I know, I know–totally unfair, but one of the few perks the job offers, as the pay certainly isn’t great).

Not exactly excited about going back to work tomorrow, but not dreading it either.  Which is what two weeks doing cross-stitch and listening to podcasts can do for you.  Or, rather, that’s what it can do for me.  You should try it sometime.  Very restful.

There was some time with family, but not enough to make me crazy.  More time with the oldest niece than with anyone else (she came to visit for 3 days), which was great.

I am rather enjoying this season.  Some folks call it winter, but here it’s mostly just the “not hot season.”  We get a few days of actual winter, but mostly it’s what a friend calls “Texas-cold,” which would make those of you in more northern climes scoff.  Lots of sunshine and decent temps almost makes one forget the hottest summer on record that we endured in 2011.

Miss Famous loves the not-hot season.  She will not love my return to work, however, as she will no longer have her human at her beck and call and won’t be able to go in the backyard any time she chooses.

Today, however, she is blissfully ignorant.(Please ignore the un-raked leaves.  The cute dog is the only item worthy of note in this image.)

my dad

I.

He calls just to hear himself talk.  At least that’s what it seems like.  It seems like he just wants someone to say, “Uh-huh, yes, wow” at all the appropriate places.  He has a deep need to talk and talk and talk.  And talk.  I feel like I know all his stories and can predict which one he’ll tell right before he does.  Sometimes he asks me the same question more than once.  It seems he doesn’t really listen to the answer.  He ends every call with “Lots of love!”—his way of saying he loves me.

II.

Sometimes I imagine him as the little boy he was, the little boy who had to cook his own dinner because his mother wouldn’t get out of bed.

 III.

He has a high tolerance for clutter, a high tolerance for messes.  He reads at least two newspapers a day and piles of them tend to grow around the places he sits.  He doesn’t take his own dish to the sink after eating.  He holds onto things—tools, bits and pieces he might need someday, and papers.  Filing cabinets full of papers.  I sat with him once when he was going through some old files.  He didn’t throw anything out, he just went through them—tax forms from the ’60’s, my sister’s papers from school, documents from work, old bills.  Every page had sentimental value.

IV.

He grew up poor.  I have the impression that they didn’t always have enough food.  He told my mother when they first got married that he would never complain about a high grocery bill, that she should keep plenty of food in the house.  She does.  There is always plenty of food in their house and she is the one who shops for groceries, yet he will still arbitrarily buy ketchup, or crackers, or cans of beans.

 V.

Sometimes when I’m with him, and he’s talking, running over my words with his own, I think, “He doesn’t even see me.”

 VI.

He gets to know store clerks and mechanics and waitresses.  He talks to everybody.  When I was younger, it would embarrass me that he would do this.  Now I feel differently about it.

 VII.

A dear friend I grew up with was killed in a car accident when I was nineteen.  He whispered to me, “I’m so glad it wasn’t you.”

 VIII.

I haven’t seen him angry often, but somehow we all tiptoe around him at times, as if trying to avoid his irritation.  He generally gets his way.

 IX.

I will never forget the trip I took with him when I was fifteen.  We drove seven hours to his aunt’s funeral and the car broke down on the way back.  We waited by a field of cows for the tow truck as the sun went down and we stayed overnight in a small town I had never heard of before.  I sat in the mechanic’s office all day with the wife, while he went with the old man on a three hour round trip to the nearest city to buy the part for the car.  Everyone who came through told me that the old man would talk his ear off.  He could hold his own, I said.

 X.

He planted apricot trees one year and the hungry deer almost killed those baby trees.  They never grew very big and they never bore fruit, but he watered those trees for years, hoping.

in the woods

Today my younger sister gave birth to her fourth daughter.  Yes, you read that right, girl number four.  (I posted about this last summer when I first learned of her pregnancy.)

I had complicated feelings about it back then, and though I’m excited and happy, there’s still a twinge of something there.

My sister and her husband have, if not more money than G-d, then they’re at least in the ballpark.  Partly because of this, I was at a loss about a gift for this new arrival.  In addition, as this one is the fourth girl, they have everything they need, and really don’t want very much more “stuff.”  I decided to do a cross stitch project (this is the crafty project I had mentioned before) to welcome my new niece, as the value isn’t really in the price-tag, and it’s not something they have already.  Now, as I decided to start on it rather late in the game (sometime last month, ahem), it’s not finished yet, and I’ve been spending every spare moment working on it.  This is what I’ve got so far:(The baby’s name and birth date are to go in the big blank spot above the bear.  Here’s what it should look like, more or less.)  In the middle of working on this I learned of Wiseguy’s loss.  The thought has kept returning to me throughout this project—what if the baby dies?  What do I do with all this stitching if something goes wrong?

Some would call this morbid.  The thought wouldn’t even occur to others.  Thanks to my own fertility struggles and to getting to know so many in the ALI world, I no longer take it for granted that pregnancies happen easily, that they all progress without incident, and that all babies who are born survive.

This does two things to me.  I stand in wonder sometimes that people get pregnant and have babies and nothing goes wrong.  I also stand in judgment, a bit, of those who still live in the world where nothing ever goes wrong, and the thought never occurs to them (at least it seems to me) that anything ever could.  I’m not especially proud of that last one, and I don’t feel it all the time, but it’s definitely there.

The main thing that all that knowledge leaves me with is a sense that we’re never quite out of the woods.  And, of course, we’re not.  Miscarriages happen, and babies die, and children die, and adults die and all of us get hurt and sick, some much worse than others.  It is a dangerous and unjust world we live in, but it is also a world of beauty and hope and love.

I am not proud of the part of me that gets haughty and self-righteous in the face of others’ blessings.  At the same time, I don’t want to live in that world where I am in ignorant bliss of others’ pain and loss.  What I want is to take this feeling of fragility and lead it in the direction of appreciation and thankfulness rather than anger and judgment.

christmas and me

That sounds like the title to a made-for-TV movie, doesn’t it?

In thinking about my relationship with Christmas there is the B.C. era and the A.C. era.  Before Conversion and After Conversion. (To Judaism, that is, in case you were wondering.)

I grew up with Christmas and like many who grew up in religious homes, had the usual mix of religious/secular feelings about Christmas.  My parents played the whole Santa Claus game with my sisters and me, and we also went to Christmas Eve services at church and had nativity scenes around the house.  I don’t remember pondering much about Christmas, it just was.  When you are part of the majority culture, you have the privilege of being able to take many things about your life for granted.

Then, I converted.

My first Christmas as a Jew was spent in Jerusalem.  It was the first year I was married to Mr. X, and we were spending the year there as part of his graduate school requirements.  I barely noticed Christmas that year, thanks to the lack of red and green decorations and Christmas carols playing everywhere you spend money.  Christmas was actually on Shabbat (Sabbath) that year (as it will be this year), and the day was taken up doing the usual Shabbat things.

The next year, I was back in the U.S., and came face to face with the American Christmas Industrial Machine once again.  That was the year of the “War on Christmas,” or rather, the “War Against the War on Christmas.”  I found the whole thing highly ridiculous.  As a person who had very recently switched from the “Christmas” side to the “non-Christmas” side, I was hyper-aware of how much Christmas (not “the holidays,” but full-fledged Christmas) permeated the very air one breathes in the US in December.  War on Christmas?  Where exactly?  That year the first thing I thought when I woke up on December 25th was, “It’s Christmas,” but something in me reared up every time someone told me “Merry Christmas.”  I wanted to shout, “It’s not my holiday!”

That year, and for the next couple of years, I had a somewhat adversarial relationship with Christmas.  I was very, very aware that it was no longer “mine,” and as I was married to someone who was very threatened by the idea that I might miss Christmas or want to celebrate it with my family, I made sure to show how much I was annoyed by the whole thing.

Last year was the first year I was both Jewish and not under Mr. X’s thumb.  Now I feel like I have the best of both worlds.  Christmas is impossible to avoid in this country, but I no longer feel like I have to.  I can enjoy the bits and pieces that I want to enjoy (the lights, gifts with my family, receiving the occasional holiday card from a faraway friend), but I get to opt out of the annoying parts, like sending Christmas cards, or feeling obligated to decorate.  I kind of like that there are more get-togethers this time of year and  I really like helping my clients have a better Christmas.  On the other hand, I like getting out of cheesy gift exchanges at work and  I really like not feeling like I should buy presents for all my friends.

Of course, there’s no escaping the music, that’s a burden we all must bear. 🙂

hungover

I’ve been having a bit of a “family hangover” since I was around them all over the holiday.  The more I settle into myself and become stronger in who I am, the more it seems that I was born into the wrong brood.

I sure love my little people, though their parents (and grandparents) can drive me nuts.  Everyone gets along and is very nice to everyone else, meanwhile, I’m thinking “How the hell did I end up like this after growing up with all of them?”

I love them all (well, maybe not my brother-in-law) but after getting back to my house I noticed that I felt more alone after being with my family and having a few more of my illusions about them stripped away.  Today I am likening this feeling to the way I felt with Mr. X when it all fell apart—when I lost who I thought he was and came face to face with who he is.

A lot of it is religion and politics, but it’s more than that.  It’s a way of seeing the world.  It’s an approach to life in general.  It’s fear vs. curiosity, black and white vs. every color imaginable.  So much is labeled “forbidden” for them, so much is wrong.

In spite of all this, my Alexander teacher told me I’m looking better each time she sees me.  She said my back seems stronger, that I am taller.  In this spirit of not fearing, not forbidding, I am working on engaging with the world with my body, with my posture and movement.  More about that soon.

in brief

I’ve been fighting off a cold (and mostly losing) the last few days.  I’d bet money that I caught it in the hospital last Friday while I was waiting, waiting, waiting before, during, and after my mom’s surgery.  She had her foot fixed, and now hopefully she won’t limp around all the time.

While I was there with her, and in the couple of days after, at her house, I could see as clear as day where my hesitance to ask for or accept help comes from.  Even the day of the surgery, she was apologetic and (I could tell) feeling guilty.  Sound like anyone you know? (hint: she writes this blog)

The good part of the weekend was all about my niece.  I got to see her play volleyball (she sure doesn’t get her unbelievable athletic ability from me, thank goodness) and watch a bunch of silly TV with her.  She is more and more amazing every time I’m around her.  I can’t help but wish and wonder how it would be if she were mine full time, and not just every-once-in-a-while.

on not growing up at Disneyland

Lily Tomlin said that forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.  This idea has been barraging me the last couple of weeks as I confront my history.

No, not Mr. X.  Not that history.  My involvement with him is the symptom, not the root cause.

I was talking to a friend (who, well, let’s just say that she would win the gold in just about any “Worst Childhood Olympics”) this past week about this, and ended up saying at one point in the conversation that I felt strange talking to her about my childhood, because compared to hers, I grew up at Disneyland.  Well, it wasn’t Disneyland, but admitting that the facade of the happy childhood isn’t real is very hard to do and more painful than one might think.

This is not the post in which I blame my parents for every uncomfortable thing in my life, but this is the post in which I admit that I bring this baggage that I’ve carried since I was very young into my present day.  This is the post in which I attempt to acknowledge that nobody is going to rescue me from my own life, from my own past.  Nobody is going to rescue me from me.

I had dinner with another friend last week.  She has recently decided to quit her job and step into the great unknown.  She admitted that she was hoping a certain thing would happen so that she could leave her job with an excuse; she was hoping to be rescued.  “Nobody’s going to rescue me,” she said.

Her statement has been bouncing around my brain ever since.  This is familiar territory for me, this waiting for the-thing-that-is-just-around-the-corner-and-will-make-everything-okay-as-soon-as-it’s-here.

So I’ve fallen into that old well-traveled way of not thinking about the pain of right now by thinking about everything else or nothing at all.  And it slipped up on me, but I can see now it’s been gaining steam ever since I started confronting the truth that as a child I didn’t get enough of what I needed, and much too much of what I didn’t.

I don’t know that it’s as much about forgiveness as acceptance that this is the way it is and relinquishing the notion that things will look different if I just squint hard enough.  There aren’t any do-overs for childhoods.

I was going to try to end this on a perky note about new years and new opportunities, but some things don’t have a perky ending.  Some things just are, and we have to figure out how we will deal with them: to fight them, to ignore them, or to accept them.  The serenity to accept the things I cannot change, or something like that.