Mint Juleps with Mom

As a new bride, I joined my husband in Kentucky. He was serving as a US Army chaplain at Fort Knox. His thought, when we got married, was that he would serve his 20 years in the US Army and then retire in Israel. I, of course, had other plans. It wasn’t that I thought the Army was so foreign to my experience- it was, but my concern was that I didn’t want to have an unstable life, moving from place to place. Fortunately, I found an ally, my mother-in-law, who was not keen on her only child perhaps being sent to Vietnam where the war was in full swing.

Married in July, by the following May I was 7 months pregnant and my husband had agreed to look for a civilian pulpit. He was asked to fly out to Spokane, Washington, to interview there.

When I told my mother, she insisted that she come to stay with me while he was gone- from Thursday through Sunday because  she was afraid for me to be alone.

So that Thursday I literally walked to the gate on the left side of the corridor and watched my husband get on the plane and then turned to the right side at the gate directly across from it, and within minutes, my mother arrived.

It was the first time she had seen me showing- and by 7 months, I was pretty large. She noticed. We drove to my home and I cannot recall any details about our discussion nor about anything we discussed for those 3 days. I do know there were lots of smiles and laughter.

What I can recall is feeling very special, carrying her first grandchild. I can recall our going out once for ice cream sundaes at the local Howard Johnson’s and laughing when we heard a  group of women order large ice cream sundaes and diet drinks. I remember that Saturday night, we decided to check  out the place on Dixie Highway that was advertising mint juleps- the Kentucky Derby was that weekend and mint juleps were all the rage. I remember we went into the place that had them and we sat down and ordered them. She sat with her back to the door and I sat across from her.

I don’t remember what they tasted like. I don’t remember what we said. I just remember that the time we spent together that weekend was probably the best time we ever had together.

On Sunday afternoon, my mother left and a few minutes later, my husband returned.  A bit over 2 months later our oldest son was born.

mom

Twenty-six years later, I visited my own daughter in Israel when she was pregnant with my first grandchild. I hope she also experienced precious moments.

I miss it

Today I was folding laundry and I came to a shirt that I have that is similar to one that a woman might wear when she is pregnant. I had noticed that there were stains on it before I washed it and I held it up to see if the stains were gone. And suddenly I was remembering looking at my maternity blouses, also stained by my clumsiness when I was pregnant. I remembered looking down on my rounded belly and seeing the remnants of breakfast, lunch, midday snacks and dinner. I remember taking a dress to the dry cleaner and explaining what all of the stains were and the clerk saying “sounds like a good meal.” I thought about the feeling of a little one moving around inside. I remembered that my mother referred to the first awareness of the baby’s movements as “feeling life.” I recalled how amazing it was to feel a new life inside of me, to think and wonder about who that little person would become. I remembered feeling such love for someone who I had never seen, never met. I remembered the excitement of anticipation and the weeks and then days of waiting. And then there was the reward of spectacular births! I loved being pregnant.


*Note: This picture almost survived a fire

After the birth of our youngest child, we never thought of having another. Our family was exactly what we wanted. Now, all of the children are grown and have children of their own. I have no regrets, but every once in a while, I miss it.

Ooof!

One of the things that people learn when they move to a new country with a new language is that exclamations differ from those they were raised with. In English, pain evokes an “ouch!” In Hebrew, it’s “Ay-ah!” Frustration in Hebrew evokes an “Ooof!” I’ll admit it; I forgot the English.

So why am I frustrated? It actually has to do with the fact that there is so much right with my life these days. I am feeling healthy, have kept off the weight I lost, and have no problem maintaining a healthy diet. We recently witnessed the graduation from high school of our oldest granddaughter and the awarding of a PhD to our son-in-law. My husband and I had a great honeymoon getaway for our 45th anniversary, and our children invited us to a wonderful dinner celebration in its honor, bringing along a nice sampling of well-behaved gorgeous grandchildren. We are in a state of high preparation for the tour we are leading to Vietnam and Cambodia and are looking forward to a week of fun in Thailand on our way back. In the fall, after the holidays, we’ll be taking a trip to the US and when we get back, I’ll be teaching marriage and family therapy once again. And then, best of all, we prepare for my sister’s aliya!

The blessing of a beautiful garden in Israel, filled with gorgeous plants and fruit trees brings with it the worry of the health of our gorgeous plum tree that has been attacked by some type of a worm. The blessing of a great apartment that we are renting out brings with it the work of cleaning it thoroughly between occupants. The blessing of being close to our children brings day to day discussions and concerns about the types of issues that remote grandparents never hear of.

So why am I frustrated?

I guess it’s because I wish I could split myself in two or three or four in order to give adequate time and attention to all of the wonderful people and things in my life.

I worry about letting people down.

Ooof!

Click on pictures for full images!

…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.

Herding cats

Imagine for a moment that you had a very small family and all you ever wanted was a big one. So, you got married and had maybe 5 children. It was fun. They were great. Yes, there were arguments and pushing and vying for attention, but in general, it was fun.

And now suppose that you had forgotten that when they grew up they would want to have families of their own. It actually never entered your mind.

And now imagine that in the blink of an eye there are something like 28 grandchildren.. maybe even a couple more… and all of a sudden, it’s not that easy to do almost anything with all of them. Oh, and along the way, the children have acquired spouses…

And now, let’s say you wanted to get a picture of all of them.

Um, you get the picture. Only I didn’t. Watch the following to see people disappear and reappear. Guess how many are missing the day of the picture taking and how many are hiding or are blocked in each picture.*

Yep. Herding cats.

Oh, there are more, but you get the point…

*The winner gets to be the photographer the next time.

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.

Sweet!

We have an apartment that we rent out short term. It had been unoccupied for a week or two. Then we were contacted by someone who needed it for just a few days. A new baby has been born, a first child, a son. The new grandparents were flying in for the brit. Even thinking about it puts a smile on my face.

And so this morning at 6:30, I greeted two very happy, very excited (and probably very tired) people who had just flown in to see their new grandson. I am told that after their short stay here, they will return home and will be here again in another 3 weeks or so for the pidyon haben.

Mazal tov!

On my Dad’s birthday

I miss my father now probably more than ever. He was a really wonderful man– not just to me and my family, but he was a man who everyone liked. His relatives, his friends, and even his customers all loved him. He had a ready smile, an optimistic outlook, and time to listen to everyone’s story.

In the worst times, he was strong and never lacked his optimism and resolve to live a good life. When my mother’s overspending finally bankrupted them, my father went on the road as a traveling salesman. He sold objects of art and was so successful that his suppliers couldn’t keep up with his sales. At the time, my husband and I and our baby son lived in Columbia, South Carolina. My father’s route was the eastern seaboard and so he showed up at our place a couple of times that year. He was always full of stories of the people he had met. He did a lot of smiling and it was a treat to have him to ourselves for a couple of days.

When he finally went back into his own business with my uncle Bill’s help, he put up a sign on the storefront that said, “Harry’s back!’ People would come into the store and greet him. People who hadn’t known him from before would say, “Harry’s back?” and he would turn around and show them his back!

Sometimes I picture him interacting with one or another of my grandchildren. It’s so very easy. I can see him smiling, talking with them, teaching them how to build things or draw things or how to appreciate the objects of nature. He’s always full of enthusiasm and fully invested in talking to and listening to the person he is with. I can see the sparkle in his eyes, and in my fantasy, he is here with me.

rachel&zayda

Your children deserve a happy childhood

Most of us, when we decide to have children, think about how cute and sweet and lovable babies are. We think of their smiles. We fantasize cuddling them and holding them and having them fall asleep on our shoulder. If we think ahead, perhaps we see them building things with blocks or taking their doll or action figure for a walk. We may picture ourselves reading them a story or pointing out interesting flowers or trees or birds.

We may not necessarily realize that aside from the physical care of children (not an easy proposition in itself), we all are responsible for their emotional safety and security.

In the early years of marriage (roughly the first 15 or so), couples typically spend a lot of energy both getting to know each other’s foibles and trying to rectify them. They often express their frustration with each other. Some of this is all right. If one spouse can help the other grow and develop him/herself in a positive way, then those types of encounters can lead to positive things for both the individuals and the relationship. So often, though, people think of the relationship as a zero-sum game. In order for one to be up, the other must be down. They vie for the top position and are never happy because no one can occupy the top position all of the time if two people are vying for it.

Some couples go through this process in quiet ways. They try to influence each other by words and deeds. Sometimes they resort to manipulative measures. But, in the end, if they are both working toward the same goal, a happy life together which includes both of them feeling good and happy, then the uncomfortable times at least can yield good results.

Other couples are in a constant struggle to prove to each other that he/she is smarter, better, more clever, better liked, etc. than the other. This constant struggle impacts badly on those around them.

I am acquainted with a couple that has been married around 50 years. I have not known them the whole time, but I have known them for a significant period of time. It has not happened that I have been with the couple and they were not in some sort of struggle with each other. He picks at her; she picks at him. They do it everywhere- in front of friends, relatives, and strangers. It has become a habit. It may never end.

That is what should not happen.

All couples go through the struggle for ascendancy. At some point, the sooner the better, they should come to the point where they realize that their happiness is entwined with their partner’s. If my husband is miserable, so am I. If my wife feels hurt and put down, I feel the pain.

At that point, the marriage can turn around and become a place where people are appreciated and nurtured.

And the children will feel it. They will see that their mother and father are working together. They will feel safe and secure.

They deserve it.

Still crazy (about him) after all these years!

Still crazy (about him) after all these years!

Count your blessings

Recently I had the most unpleasant experience of being with a mother and her adult daughter (no relation to me) over a period of time. The daughter is an intelligent woman with a family and career of her own. The mother, now over 80 years old, is healthy- and physically and mentally comparable to a person 20 years younger. From the first time I met them, the daughter was critical of pretty much everything her mother said. However, the criticism was not even subtle; it was loud and harsh. When the mother would speak, the daughter would tell her loudly, “No one wants to hear you!” or “You’ve said that a hundred times already!” or “Why are you talking about that now!” The others who were present found the mother witty and charming. We also found the daughter’s hostile outbursts embarrassing to listen to. We reassured the mother that we were indeed interested in what she had to say.

For me, it was particularly hurtful. Although my mother was far from perfect, I always felt that it was my responsibility to act with kindness and respect toward her. After all, she did give birth to me and raise me and despite the negative things she said and did, I loved her. She died much too young and I miss her.

I wanted to say to the daughter, “Count your blessings! Your mother is alive and healthy and independent and completely mentally and physically fit. She is witty and clever and engaging. She has a unique perspective and lots of stories and experiences to share. Someday she will no longer be here and you probably will regret the way you acted toward her. Then, it will be too late to apologize or to make up to her for the pain you have caused her.”

We live with the illusion that life, as we know it, will continue forever, but unfortunately, those we love will not always be here. We need to know that the time we spend with them is precious.