Thanksgiving 2011

I will spare you the usual blah-blah of how wonderful my family is and how amazingly great it is when we adults all get together and tell you instead about the good things that have happened recently and wonderful things to look forward to that make me really thankful.

We recently returned from a trip to the US. In a few weeks time my sister, the last member of my immediate family not yet living in Israel, will be coming to Israel to live. All of us are very very excited. I will finally have my sister nearby after 45 years of living varying long distances from each other (all my fault… she stayed in the same place while I roamed planet Earth.) I wanted to go and be with her to visit some of the places we shared, to reminisce, and for me to say goodbye to Philadelphia, the city where I was born, where I grew up, and where I got my education. It is unlikely I will visit there again.

When we drove up to the house we used to live in, we were surprised to find the woman who had bought it from my mother out on the lawn. She was friendly and chatty and we enjoyed speaking with her. My sister pointed out that the “new” owners had lived in the house about as long as we had.

We enjoyed walking in the downtown area. I loved seeing my cousins and hearing about their lives.

I even enjoyed the antics of a future Israeli immigrant

There’s more to tell about the trip, but that’s a small taste of some things that made me happy with the promise of more to come!

Fairy godmothers

OK, I’m not really talking about fairy godmothers, but I thought it might be a topic that people were curious about.

Well, actually, yes, I am talking about fairy godmothers, but not in the fictional sense.

There is a concept without a name (at least one that I am familiar with) that I would like to explore. If it’s been written about before, I would love to hear about it, so please let me know.

Having grown up in a home that wasn’t the most nurturing, I had to find validation other places. Here’s where I found it: there were teachers who smiled at me, there were my aunts who made me feel loved, and there were my grandmothers. All of these people were, to some extent, fairy godmothers. They were around sometimes and it was often merely their presence in my mind that formed for me a safety net in the world. As long as they were around, even if only in recent memory, I felt loved and supported. As a group, it felt as if I was encircled by them and protected.

As the years went by and I learned how to appreciate my own value and accomplishments, I didn’t need fairy godmothers so much. But still there were my parents there in the background, out of sight, but still potential supports. After the death of my father, I substituted my uncles in his role of standing behind me, supporting me.

Somewhere in my 30s or 40s, I began to realize that I took the place of fairy godmother for some Lamaze students I taught and some clients I worked with as a therapist. They carried me in their pocket or their mind or their heart, to take out when they needed reinforcement and stability and, I guess, love. I only knew, because they told me.

As time goes on, I realize the world is full of fairy godmothers. They are the people who are in our lives who just by their being there, even when they are far away, give us affirmation and strength. As we get older, often they are mentors, peers, and nowadays, facebook friends– people whose presence enriches our lives.

Often, our fairy godmothers don’t know the function they have in our lives. Often, we don’t realize it until they are no longer around.

So today, look around at your fairy godmothers. Figure out who they are. And appreciate how they have made your life better, just by being there.

And then, think about whose fairy godmother you are, because whether you know it or not, someone who is not in your family– who you may see only occasionally, someone’s life is better just because you are in it.

Boom!

Yesterday, I was taking my daughter and her children home to their home in Modiin. She lives on a street that is more like a boulevard that has the traffic in either direction separated by parks, a school, and a shopping center– in between the two directions so that each direction of traffic is on the equivalent of a one way street. Each side has two lanes for traffic and a third lane where there is parking.

I had parked in a parking space. I looked out of my side view mirror and saw there was no traffic, so I got out of the car. I then went to the back door of the car to unlatch and get my 2 year old grandson out of his car seat (his sister was in a car seat on the other side). I once again looked to see there was no traffic and opened the passenger door and leaned in to unhook him.

Suddenly I heard a large bang. I saw debris on the street and then I realized that it was not from my car, but from a car that had hit my car. I noted that there was no other traffic on the street, including the left lane, the entire time from when I initially got out of my car until after the other driver had gotten out of his car after he hit my car.

My first reaction was disbelief.

I gathered up the debris which turned out to be pieces of his car mirror that had flown off after the impact.

The man stopped some distance in front of my car and got out of his car. He seemed dazed. I believe he was carrying a cell phone. I handed him the parts of his mirror that I had gathered up and noticed that his car had scratches in a line from about the front of the front door back.

We exchanged information and he told me that I should not have been in the street. He said he was in a hurry and would call me later.

When he left, I got my grandson out and gave him to my daughter who took him and her daughter to her house.

I tried to close my left-hand passenger door, but it would not close. I saw that in addition to the curved area at the edge of the door, it had another dent toward the front and it was jammed under the driver’s door.

I decided to drive home which was about 6 blocks away. Then we called the insurance office for further instructions.

My husband took the car to the Toyota dealer and after he had returned, the man who hit me called me to ask for insurance information which I gave him. He tried to tell me that I should not have been in the street. I did not argue with him.

About an hour later, we received a call from a “private number” from a man who said he was calling on behalf of the driver. I believe it was a different voice. He was talking very fast and sounded very angry and I was scared so I put my husband on the phone. He asked my husband repeatedly for our address. My husband told him that the vehicle was not here. He still badgered him for the address. My husband did not give it to him. He told my husband he was going to report me to the police. He continued talking and finally my husband hung up. He has not called back, but we both found the call very upsetting.

I have a few responses to the whole incident:

1. I am grateful that I was not killed. I imagine the space between me and death was only a single number of inches.

2. I am even more grateful that my grandson was still safely belted into his seat and that he wasn’t hurt (or even traumatized!)

3. I think that people should look where they are driving. I believe that the person behind the wheel has a responsibility to look in front of his/her car to avoid hitting other cars or people.

4. I resent that I, the victim, have to be defensive. The man at the car dealer told my husband that people are not supposed to get out on the street side of the car. Virtually every car in this country has bucket seats. I don’t recall ever seeing a driver enter or exit an accessible vehicle from the passenger seat.

5. If the car door police do come and get me, I hope they put me into a Norwegian jail.

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!

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….

…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.

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.

Waiting…

I have a firm belief that you never know how something will be until you experience it. I can give you quite a few examples– from decisions that abstractly seemed simple and when in the situation, the decision was also clear, but in the other direction– or my preconception of what a new place would be like when we were given an assignment by the Army to an area across the ocean or across the country.

Now usually, I try to keep my family out of my posts. I prize their privacy and therefore they do not appear prominently in my postings, but this time, I am making an exception.

I moved to Israel in 1995. My only close family member aside from my husband and my children and their families is my sister. She lives in the US. Wherever we were on our far-flung adventures in living in 18 different homes since we got married, she managed to visit us. Although we are different in many ways, we always stayed close. Since I have been living in Israel, my sister has managed to visit us about once a year. We handled the distance well. I enjoyed her visits and tolerated the time in between. It’s been a long time that we’ve lived far away from each other, and it seemed OK.

Several months ago she told me that she has decided to make aliya, to come to live in Israel. Surprisingly enough, although I had been tolerating her absence well, from that moment, it has been hard for me to wait until her expected date of arrival. Recently she visited. Discussing the nuts and bolts of her aliya was amazing. It became more and more real to me that she really is coming. I must have said to her about a hundred times, “when you are living here, we can…”

When I said goodbye to her this time, it felt good to know that this was the last time that we would be living separated by an ocean.

And I think back to that first glimpse of her when I was 4.5 years old, those big beautiful eyes looking out at me from a bundle of blankets, my long awaited sister, coming home at last. And now I look forward once again to greeting my long awaited sister, coming home at last.
Whn

I’m an enabler

OK, I admit it. My husband has a habit and I am the enabler.

I get him his supplies.

I make excuses for why he’s not available.

It’s been going on for years.

It makes him happy.

He says he’ll stop, and I believe him.

His habit: He studies Daf Yomi. Each day he studies a page of Talmud. He’s been doing this for over five years.

I print up his calendars for him so that he doesn’t lose track of which page he’s on. Sometimes I take pictures of the pages of the Talmud and put them on my computer so that when we are on vacation he doesn’t have to carry the heavy volumes along with us and still can study.

When he is studying and people call, I tell them he can’t come to the phone because he is busy.

I support him because this study makes him happy.

And when he does finish,in about a year and a half, I think just as the women whose husbands get Ph.D.s have been known to receive a PHT degree (putting hubby through) I deserve a PHTDY. And I’m guessing there lots more women who also qualify– every one of them enablers.