And so on…

I have been asked to continue writing about getting older. As I said, it’s not a subject that brings great joy, although I do remember asking my father how was it for him to grow older and he said, “It beats the alternative.”

So here goes…

In our teens, the world is all in front of us. Life seemingly will go on forever. We think about what we will do in the future. It’s all about getting more educated, more intelligent, more savvy, more involved, and taking on more and more responsibility.

When we are young adults, we begin to move toward our goals as best we can. There may be bumps in the road, but we have time.

Those of us who marry and have children spend the next years so involved in day to day life that at some point as the children reach adolescence, we think, “When did the time pass?” Suddenly, we are the older generation.

The children grow up and get married and that is good. And then, babies appear. Oh, they are so cute and lovable and sweet. And then we realize, we are grandparents. How did that happen?

But we are still young and active, or so we feel. As much as we look forward to retirement, the 50s and early 60s have us working at the top of our game.

And then, while we are still feeling like we’re in our 30s or 40s, that ugly number 65 appears.

And suddenly we realize that in the best of cases, we have more to look back on than to look forward to. In front of us is decline.

So we again focus on each day. We set up events to look forward to. We go out to eat. We meet friends. We travel to faraway places. We live each day fully.

But the world looks different.

The small concerns about falling or about having a strange lump or bump or reaction to an insect bite suddenly appear to be a threat that finally something is going to get you… because like it or not, at some age, you begin to realize you won’t live forever and then any threat to one’s health becomes a reason for concern. Maybe this is the thing that’s going to get me.

Of course I need to admit that when I was about 33, I had a lump on my arm, just below my elbow. For weeks, or maybe months, I was afraid to go to the doctor to ask what it was. I began having dreams about swimming around in circles with my one arm (they’d apparently amputated the other) and decided that it was time to see the doctor. I don’t even remember what he said, but it was truly nothing and I can still swim straight. But I do tend to envision the worst possible outcome when something is wrong and when I don’t, I tell myself that I am in denial… And, I think it gets worse the older I get.

Let’s hope I have another 40 years or so to worry….

I don’t like to talk about what I don’t like to talk about

When we lived in Germany, we watched the AFRTS (Armed Forces Radio and TV Services) network which broadcast US TV shows and had no commercial content. They did, however, screen all sorts of public service announcements, and among them was a series of ads about prejudice. In them they asked children questions about prejudice. In one, they asked a little girl what she thinks of prejudice and she answered, “I don’t like to talk about what I don’t like to talk about.”

That line has stuck with me all this time and seems particularly apt for this blog post.

I was talking to one of my daughters about thoughts I have been having lately about getting older and what that means to me, how it changes how I view the world. I told her that no one ever writes about this because it’s too depressing. She said to me that she noticed that no one ever writes about menopause because that too remains a subject that women don’t want to talk about.

So here it is.

Menopause seems like a walk in the park compared to issues of growing older, so I will tackle that one first.

The information I had when I was in my late 30s was limited and frankly frightening. There was a long list of symptoms that one may have including heavy bleeding, night sweats, depression, rage– all sorts of mood issues and possible vulnerability to psychosis. From my point of view, it seemed a lot like a mini-death. After all, it seemed as if everything was going to go haywire.

Now I have never done a survey and since most women don’t talk about their experience, I cannot tell you what other people report, but for me, aside from a couple of years of heavy and unpredictable periods (which by the way, could have been made much less unpleasant had there been yoatzot at that time who could have told me that much of what I was concerned about was not relevant) and hot flashes, I had no symptoms.

The heavy bleeding was not fun. Once when I was giving a workshop on “The Uses of Humor and Metaphor in Therapy” in San Antonio, I was forced to sit behind a desk rather than stand while speaking as a veritable tidal wave hit. Experiences at work when I bled through onto my chair were less than pleasant. Finally, the doctor insisted on an endometrial biopsy which was a real experience. I was lying in that most unflattering position on his examination table as he stuck what felt like a hot poker into my uterus. It was so hot and shocking that I all of a sudden started to panic. I was blind!! I couldn’t see anything. And then I realized that my eyes were closed. When I opened them my vision returned. It turned out the pain was only momentary. When later he gave me pills to induce what he called “a chemical D&C” he told me to be prepared for a flood. In fact, that was not an understatement. The one good thing that came out of it (yes, indeed, something good resulted) was that at the time I was working full time and also trying to rewrite my dissertation, adding charts and case material that didn’t appear in what had been my final draft. I had to remain 5 steps from the bathroom for 3 days and I was able to stay home and finish my dissertation. After that there was still heavy bleeding from time to time, but I wasn’t worried about it enough to go through all of that again. And then, finally, the bleeding stopped and never returned. I don’t miss it.

Oh, the hot flashes. Well, they bothered me a lot less once I thought of them as power surges and I began to find them mildly amusing. All of a sudden I was like one of those space heaters who sit there innocently quiet and sedate until suddenly the coils turn bright orange and everyone nearby begins to feel flushed. Except, this time, it was only I who was feeling flushed. And just as there is no control over when that coil becomes orange, there is no control over when the surges come. Sometimes it was several times an hour, sometimes, only a few times a day. Over the years, they are farther and farther apart.

Of course it did make for some interesting experiences like when I would be teaching and would say to the room full of Orthodox women studying family therapy, “Is it hot in the room, or is it me?” Most of the time, it was me.

But even more interesting was when I taught a group of Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox men, most of whom were rabbis, family therapy. Since they take only single gender classes, they usually have male instructors, but because of my qualifications, a special exception was made for me to teach them. Now informality between men and women is not something one is likely to find when you have a group of dark-suited, bearded, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, so there were situations that were unusual. As we would sit behind the two way mirror and watch one of the men work with clients, we were sitting in the dark, a bunch of men and I, most likely making them far more uncomfortable than it was making me. When issues related to counseling women came up, I was able to teach them a lot about women that they had never known. Unfortunately, strict gender separation leaves men pretty clueless about women.

So, when I asked them one day, “Is it warm in here or am I having a hot flash?” I was pleased to note that none of them fainted and happy that I had added to their store of knowledge about women. I guess I got a bit of a kick out of the looks of shock on their faces.

In short, my experience with menopause was not nearly as bad as I had feared. I lived through it and life on the other side is pretty terrific. I would love to hear other women’s experiences.

…but do they know we love them?

Sometimes when I write, it’s only when I see people’s reactions that I realize what I’ve said. The responses to my last post were all different and reflected what they meant to the people who read the piece.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder how it is that we convey what we feel to those we love. Of course kind words, gentle touch, and thoughtful deeds, help, support, and caring all are important, but why is it that sometimes it doesn’t seem as if the message gets through.

“If he really loved me, he’d say he loves me,” the young wife said to me in my office one day.
“Do you love her?” I asked him.
“Of course I do,” he answered.
“Can you tell her?” I asked.
“I love you,” he said.
“He only said that because you told him to,” she said.

Is there anything he can do to get the message across? If she says that his washing the dishes would show he loves her and he washes the dishes, will she say, “but he’s only doing that because you told him to.”

So I leave the question open. How do we let those we love know that we love them in a way that they will understand? How can we do what they want us to do to prove it without their devaluing the effort?

Is knowing that you are loved something that only happens when you have been loved and cherished as an infant? Is that necessary? Is it sufficient? For others does it take lots of years and shared experiences?

Examining our tortoise pictures in the Galapagos

What are your thoughts?

…but do they know?

Yesterday I was talking to someone who is visiting Israel on one of those programs that exist for young people. When I asked if she would be coming back to stay, she said to me, “My parents miss me.”

Ah, how tender! Her parents miss her. I am sure they do. She is a delightful person. But more important than the fact that they miss her is the fact that she knows it.

I was immediately struck by the realization that I never could have made that statement. Did my parents miss me when I was gone? Sometimes I think the happiest moments of their lives were when they were dropping me off at camp or at some weekend experience. When I returned, there was never the feeling that I had been missed. In fact, it seemed like my re-entry constituted a sort of intrusion.

Did my parents love me? I’m betting they did. My mother in her own hung-up way probably did love me. My father in his very quiet, very gentle way, I am sure loved me. But did I know it? Did I feel it?

I think about my own children. I wonder if they felt that kind of love. I wonder if they knew that I missed them when they were gone. I wonder if my oldest son knows that I cried half the night when we left him in Atlanta to attend school there. I wonder if he knew the joy I felt when he came home for weekends. I wonder if my daughter realized that the day I went to pick her up in Oklahoma City 100 miles away, when I brought her back for a surprise visit to the States, I sobbed most of the way to the airport and practically jumped out of my skin when the plane was late. I wonder about my other children too, whether they know how many times I have spent days and nights worrying about their safety as they traveled to strange places, as they served in the Army and reserves, as they traveled on dark roads past Arab villages. I wonder if they know how much I love them.

Parents’ love is strong and fierce, but sometimes our gentle, laid-back manner belies the passion we feel for the safety, well-being, and happiness of our children. How can we let them know?

It seems that some parents know how to do it. I’d like the recipe, please.

Don’t do it!

Today I was waiting for my husband and I was sitting across the room from two young people. I am guessing that they were about 15 years old. They were a boy and a girl. I watched as the girl kept leaning forward, placing her face under his face. She would move closer and then closer yet. She kissed him and moved back and then moved forward again, placing her face under his once again. At one point he stood up and moved to a position farther from where she was sitting. He sat down and in no time, there she was, moving in on him- once again touching him and placing herself very close to his face.

And all I could think was, “Don’t do it!” I wanted to tell her that she is a lovely looking girl. She has so much that she can accomplish in her life. But the message that she was giving to this boy and the world in general is that she is so hungry for affirmation from a boy that she has no problem with practically assaulting him in public.

I felt so very sad for her. I thought about what her future might be like. At this rate, she could be pregnant by 16 and opportunities for her own development as a person will be limited. Poverty may follow. And what does she have to give to the next generation?

And coincidentally it is international women’s day. What message do we really need to give to young women?

We need to teach our daughters and granddaughters that it’s a big world full of wonderful opportunities. The time for romance and marriage and children comes later, but first they need to devote themselves to developing as people. They need to discover their interests and expand their capabilities. They need to learn what their particular talents are and then to nourish them and enjoy them. They need to learn about how to have healthy relationships, based on shared values and not just perceptions of “coolness” or appreciation of someone’s looks. Friendships between boys and girls, in my book, are just fine. But things need to be kept light and friendly. They don’t need to rush. They are going to be adults hopefully for a long, long time.

What if?

What if the way you acted toward other human beings really mattered. I mean, what if it mattered in that how they thought of you had a direct influence on your health and longevity?

What if when you went to the supermarket and waited in line, you were patient with person ahead of you who was fumbling with his groceries and when he left, you smiled and said goodbye and you greeted the cashier with a smile and pleasant small talk? What if their kind thoughts about you made you healthier? What if they made you feel better?

What if when you were shopping in the mall someone was standing in front of you in the way, you gently asked to pass and when you saw a little child in a stroller you smiled? What if when your old acquaintance spoke to you in excruciating detail about her medical condition you listened? What if the way they felt about you changed your life?

What if you were undercharged at a store and you pointed it out and gave the money back to the cashier, and she was incredulous? What if how she felt about what you did increased your feeling of well-being?

What if the things you do just because you are being the person you want to be– embodying the values you hold ended up making you a healthier and happier person?

Here’s a secret: I think they do.

Of Mess and Men

So picture this: I wake up in the morning knowing that today I must help my daughter get her daughter to gan and then come home and take my husband to the hospital to be checked by his surgeon. I get ready, go outside, and when I get to the car I first notice that the driver’s door is unlocked. Of course I always lock the car when I leave it, but even if I had not, then all of the buttons would be up because all of them unlock at the same time. Something wasn’t right. Next, I noticed glass in the back seat, the front seat, the seats reclining all the way… already I was starting to feel sick. Then I looked at the steering column, the absence of the panels around it, wires coming out, many wires, and electrical parts on the floor in front of my seat, on the floor in front of the passenger’s seat on the floor in the back.

The car was trashed.

My brain immediately flat-lined. My heart started beating fast, I began to shake, and I was incapable of thought. So I sent back into the house and did the only thing I could think of: called my son-in-law for help. If he had not already been fast-tracked to a place in Gan Eden after 120 years or more, today, I am certain he’s on the list. He was able to think and to act.

He arranged for someone to come and take the car to the Toyota dealer and called the dealer and reminded them to keep the car inside since it was raining. I had taken pictures of the damage to the car, informed neighbors, and later made a police report. One of my sons was very helpful and reassuring and he gave me some of the insurance info I needed and alerted the insurance adjuster via email that on Sunday morning, I would need an appraiser to look at the car so that it could be fixed. Only a couple of hours later, once I had gotten my husband to the hospital driving my son-in-law’s car, was I able to shed the tension and begin to relax.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it is a blip. Best guess: our “cousins” just wanted to steal it and they were foiled by our immobilizer. To the best of my knowledge, nothing is missing from the car and all I’ve lost is a little of my faith in some parts of the human race. Of course, it strengthened my trust in others…

My husband continues to recover. We hope for better news each day.

Shabbat shalom

Protecting children

A horrific story out of Florida says that a mother killed her two teenage children, shooting them because they “mouthed off” to her.

The article is here.

As more information was published, it turns out that the daughter and mother were in counseling for problems between them because the mother felt that the daughter’s behavior had changed for the worse when she started in her current school. In counseling, presumably one on one, the daughter told the counselor of at least two incident in which the mother had been physically abusive. The counselor, as mandated by law, contacted the authorities and they became involved. This was in November of 2010. Authorities came to investigate and with the daughter’s report of being slapped several times on one occasion and of a previous incident that involved bleeding from the lip, the authorities decided not to pursue further investigation since there was no lasting damage. Several days later, the mother ran her car into the back of a trailer causing damage to both vehicles and both drivers. Before she could be tested for drugs or alcohol after the accident, she left the hospital. Further disclosures have the mother as having a drug and alcohol addiction and her own mother knew that she was depressed.

So I have a couple of questions:

1. Was there not a way to prevent her from buying the gun that she used to kill her children? She bought it only days before the shooting.

2. Was there not a way to assess just how much of a danger she could be to her children?

Or are we so hungry for freedom and self-determination that we will risk children’s lives rather than embarrass or hurt the feelings of their parents?

Most risk assessments are not geared to teenagers in upper middle class homes. They deal with infants and little children usually living in poverty, in single parent homes, or with parents who for one reason or another are not able to provide adequate care. But what about a child who lives in a middle class or more affluent home with college educated parents who are high achievers? Is it so difficult to believe that addictions and mental illness also exist in these homes?

I wish I had the answer as to how to assess the danger to kids. It would have to be an assessment that took into account things like drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, outbursts of emotional or physical abuse, threats, acting out behaviors, depression and rage. It would have to be an assessment model that is easy for the investigator to use. And, of course, the investigator would have to be able to detect inconsistencies that would point to deception.

I don’t have the answer, but when I think of these children and tens or hundreds of others who could have been protected, I know that we need to come up with something that works.

He will disappoint you

Last night I went to a wedding. It was, of course, beautiful. The groom was handsome, joyful, the happiness radiating from him. The bride was lovely– beautiful, gracious, exuding joy. They were full of energy- dancing and twirling and smiling and laughing. It was beautiful.

I didn’t know them very well, and so I didn’t say much aside from “mazal tov!” but I thought about what I might want to tell them in order to help them have a happy life together.

The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that what I might say is “S/He will disappoint you.”

Why such a negative message?

We enter marriage sure that it is the solution to all of our problems. Someone will be there to love us, to support us, to help us. This person will help us in just the way we want to be helped. S/he will hold us when we are sad and laugh with us when we are happy. This person will support us in things that are important to us and to them we will always be the smartest, cleverest, most beautiful/handsome person in the world.

But, of course, that is impossible.

Two people have two different points of view. They have different priorities. They may attack a project differently. One wants to research and plan and the other one wants to “just do it already.” One buys something for the house and the other thinks that the deal wasn’t good enough or the features weren’t sufficient or maybe that not all of them were needed.

In short, s/he will disappoint you. S/he will not always support everything you say or do. S/he will not do things the way you know they should be done. S/he will be critical sometimes.

It is inevitable. But it is not a tragedy or even a crisis.

People who want to live a happy life together gradually come to the realization that they are different from their partners. Disagreement is not disloyalty. People have moods. They have ups and downs. Sometimes s/he will seem to be irrational. Sometimes we are the irrational ones.

The important thing is the abiding love and respect and commitment that permeates the relationship. With all of the disappointment should come the underlying sense of love and commitment, of happiness in building a life together, of shared goals and a shared vision of what a warm and loving relationship can be. Relationships evolve. With attention, they can improve steadily over time and going through life with a person you love is a wonderful thing. Even if sometimes, s/he disappoints you…

“Honors” surprises

As I thought about people who should have been honored and haven’t been, I thought about a teacher, Elsie Chomsky, I had in Hebrew college. She taught education and her ideas were brilliant and eye-opening! She was a household name because she had also taught my mother!! She was married to a man who became very famous (at least in Philadelphia) but my perception was that she was overlooked.

In thinking about her, I decided to do a google search and see if there was anything at all written about her. What a surprise! There was a whole 38 page article.

But that is not the whole surprise.

You see, on page 11 was the following:

Here we come to a dramatic break in Elsie Simonofsky’s story. Sometime in
l926-27, she left her job, family, peer-group, and friends to move to Philadelphia.
An air of mystery surrounds this period in her life. Her file in the Office of the
Registrar at JTS contains a “To Whom it May Concern” letter dated December
10, l926–a strange time for Hebrew teacher to be job-hunting– affirming that she
has satisfactorily completed her teacher’s diploma and is “entitled to teach in
Jewish religious schools.”

Why might she have decided to relocate? One source attributes her departure to
an unrequited romantic attachment; she felt she simply had to leave New York.

In 1965, I was engaged to be married. Four weeks before the planned wedding, with guests already RSVP’d, the apartment already carpeted, and a final fitting of my wedding gown, my fiance decided that he didn’t want to marry me. I was an emotional wreck. I had such difficulty believing it that I didn’t call any of my friends to tell them, but on the following Sunday, when I showed up at Hebrew college, there was no way of avoiding it. I told my friends and I burst into tears. I couldn’t remain in class, and so I went and sat in the student lounge.

A couple of minutes later, Mrs. Chomsky appeared. She and I had never had a personal conversation. She was my teacher. She sat on the sofa next to me. I don’t remember the exact words she said , but it was something like this.

“I just heard what happened. I know how hard it is because I went through it too. Believe me, your future is going to turn out better than you ever dreamed.”

So yes, I know what happened to her in 1926.

But there’s more.

My parents sent me to Israel and Europe for the summer, just a few weeks later. When I came down to the hotel lobby at the President Hotel in Jerusalem my first morning, Mrs. Chomsky was there. Together we walked to the Wizo shop on Jaffa Road so that I could buy an embroidered blouse for my sister. Having her show up there so unexpectedly, I thought it was as if she were my guardian angel.

Oh, and about my future… she was right.