Obligatory “I’m getting old, blah blah blah” post

Yes, it happened. I can’t believe it. A very frightening thing happened to me just a few days ago. I had a birthday. And no, not just any birthday, but that one that rejects any rationalizations. I am getting old.

Once, when I asked my father if it was awful to get old (he never did get old) he told me that it beats the alternative. I agree.

But how did this happen?

How can it be that I still am 30-something inside and, well, this old?

On the one hand, it seems that there is no logical escape from the conclusion. On the other, here are a few of the things that I didn’t think I would be doing when I got old:

Having what? 27? 28? 30? grandchildren*
Picking fruit off trees in my garden, in ISRAEL!
Seeing giant tortoises and magnificent frigates and blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos
Zip-lining over cloud forest in Ecuador
Visiting Machu Picchu
Taking another group of people to China
Writing a blog

So yes, the number did change, but a number is only a number. Life is more fun every single year. I am blessed.

And yes, it’s much better than the alternative.

*Depends on how you count

Hello People!*

There actually has been a lot going on…

I had had a little minor surgery for a bump on my nose a few weeks ago. I had shown it to my dermatologist and he had filled out a referral to the plastic surgery clinic at the hospital. When the lab results came back, they suggested I return because the biopsy contained only fragments and there could be more of the nasty cells around. Before the surgery I had read of a surgical technique called “Moh’s Surgery” that involved removing some cells, staining and freezing them, looking under a microscope, and then determining if there was anything more to be removed and then continuing the surgery at the suspicious area until they were sure everything looked clean. I had asked the surgeon and he didn’t actually know what I was talking about.

So, when I arrived to have the procedure done a second time, I had two concerns 1. that they wouldn’t get everything this time either and 2. that they would cut me more than necessary. The surgeon looked at me and said that he didn’t think he could do the surgery. He called his associate. They both agreed that because they couldn’t see anything at all that needed to be removed, they could not do the operation. They said I needed a technique called “Moh’s.”

They sent me to the dermatology clinic and they in turn gave me the name of one of the three doctors in all of Israel who is trained in the procedure. I thought I was pretty relaxed prior to my appointment with him, but at one point, on the way to his office, we sat down on a park bench and I could feel my heart beating rapidly. I took my pulse and it was at 120. I was nervous.

We waited well beyond our appointment time, but the doctor who greeted us seemed competent and was easy to talk to. He told us that the dermatologist should not have referred me to a plastic surgeon in the first place. He also told me that the first surgeon should not have operated. We made an appointment and late in June, I will have the Moh’s surgery done. Having set up the appointment for the surgery, I became much more relaxed.

Other things this week…

On Sunday we bid farewell to our shabbat guests. All three of our sons and their families (combined, that yields 19 children) came to Modi’in to take part in the bat and bar mitzvah celebration of our older daughter’s children, the oldest of our boy/girl twin grandchildren. It was a fabulous shabbat. Our daughter and her husband set up their garden to accommodate feeding the assembled masses of people and that included putting in lighting for Shabbat evening and making sure there was adequate shade for shabbat during the day. Aside from three older boys who stayed with friends of ours, we had everyone in our family who was visiting staying at our house and amazingly enough, we were able to give everyone a soft place to sleep.

The garden looked lovely, the food was good, the singing was beautiful, and having a shabbat with the whole family in a place where the noise did not reverberate was amazing. After all, when you have more than 25 children, most of them 12 and under, there is some noise.

We were very proud of both Matan and Lilach for their accomplishments and for being terrific young people. Lilach did research on how women feel about lighting shabbat candles and together with her mother, wrote a book that also contains pictures of candles and pictures of her family. It is fabulous! Matan read his haftarah beautifully. Kol HaKavod to both of them.

Sunday morning we took our car in for its annual test. Talk about nerves! The day we were at the doctor, we had the car serviced at the Toyota dealer in preparation for the test. On Sunday we took our registration (fee paid at the post office) and our compulsory insurance card (fee paid at the post office) and went off to Lod to have the car inspected. At the end of the inspection process the woman who I paid for the inspection said that there was a problem and if I wanted to know what it was I could ask the inspector. I went to ask the inspector. He said, “do you want to become a car mechanic?” I said that I only wanted to know what was wrong with the car. He said, “I can give you the name of a school that teaches you to be a car mechanic.” When I returned to my husband who was having a new back license plate made for the car (the reflective qualities had diminished over the last 11 years) the man waiting on him asked me why I was upset. I repeated what the inspector had told me. He said, “Come with me to my boss.” I didn’t go. There were two reasons. 1. I am really bad at remembering faces and can’t be sure which of the men it was who said it and 2. I didn’t think it was wise to lodge a complaint against someone who could make sure we failed the inspection again when we returned from getting the car repaired.

We decided to take the car to a nearby garage. The man there looked at the car and told us that we actually didn’t have a problem. A little oil in one place made it look as if we had a leak, but we didn’t. That cost us 100 sheqels. Then we went back to the inspection station.

We waited in the shorter line and then they began to do the inspection. The man who made us the license plate came over and told them that we were fine and so they let us go through. We paid an additional 66 sheqels for a retest, but in the end, it was done. We have a year until the next test. It will take that long for me to feel relaxed again.

And this week… I am working on the information packet on the June tour (information about the locations we will be visiting) and of course preparing for a fabulous trip to BARCELONA with my older daughter!

*to understand the reference, you will have to see an amazing act of unparalleled talent performed my members of my family.

How to break up a marriage

A long time ago my sister had a flirting acquaintance with law school. I was, at the time, studying family therapy. We used to joke that I would break them up and then she would get the cases.

But actually, as a therapist, I always did whatever I could to preserve marriages. No marriage is wonderful all the time. We go through difficult periods individually and as a couple that try our patience, that test our coping skills, that make us wonder why did we ever choose to marry this person. Usually, however, these times pass and some of us go along as we were beforehand and some of us grow through the experience and deepen our relationships and some of us grow further apart.

When a couple consults a family therapist, in my opinion, the therapist should never take the side of either spouse. S/he should take the side of the marriage. Particularly if there are children, the couple has a lot to lose by dissolving their marriage. Of course some marriages can’t be saved and shouldn’t be, but many can and should.

One trap therapists fall into is recommending a “trial separation.” Usually the complaining spouse pushes for it and often therapists decide that it would not be harmful. I disagree.

Imagine that you are in a contentious situation with your spouse. You feel that s/he is overly dominant and you have no breathing room. Or you feel that s/he is overly passive and you have to carry all of the weight of the marriage and family. Now imagine your spouse or you move out of the situation. Suddenly the domination stops. Suddenly it’s not your spouse opting out of the work of the family but his/her not being present. What does it feel like? It is a relief. It’s quiet. There is no contention. You sleep and wake on your own schedule. You eat if you’re hungry and don’t if you’re not. Life is a lot better.

Tell me: how is this supposed to motivate couples to get back together?

There was a period of 4 years when my husband and I lived in two different countries because of work and family obligations. I would visit him for periods adding up to 3-4 months a year and he would visit me for about one month a year. I loved the times when we were together. But the times we were apart were good times too. I liked the freedom of being able to establish my own rhythms and activity patterns. Had our relationship otherwise been problematic, the time that we were apart would have convinced me that it was a good arrangement.

Sure, family life brings strength and love and security. We enjoy the closeness and warmth of being together, working on common goals, sharing experiences together, supporting each other in difficult times. But what if all of that is missing? Then wouldn’t separation be less painful than a problematic relationship? Couples who have gotten to the point that interactions with each other are painful have difficulty picturing warm, close family family relationships.

In the over 30 years I have been a therapist, I have never known of a couple who had a trial separation who ended up working on their marriage.

If the intention is to break an abusive cycle and allow people to get the distance and perspective to realize that they really shouldn’t be together, trial separation is a good idea. Otherwise, it’s a mistake.

Families and honesty

As if I really have to tell you…

The basis of any close loving relationship is honesty. Family members should know that they can count on each other to tell the truth. Children must be able to trust their parents in order for them to feel secure. One way that parents can teach this is to let the children know that even if it means getting into trouble with mom and dad, it is always better to tell the truth. Sometimes we would explain it to our children like this: Suppose I told you that if you act nicely now I will give you ice cream after dinner and then after dinner I say I didn’t really mean it, how would you act the next time I promised a reward? How would it feel if you couldn’t trust me?

My own children were, by and large, pretty honest growing up. I am certain there were some lies and deceptions, but if so, they were not of consequence. I knew I could count on them to tell me the truth and they knew they could count on me to take them seriously.

In fact, once we had a babysitter that one of my children didn’t like. The child asked me not to have that babysitter again, but wouldn’t tell me why– and I did not call that babysitter again. Only months later did I learn the reason, and it was good that the sitter did not return. Similarly, when there was a problem at school, I always asked the child first to tell me what had happened. I always got a straight story and I always advocated for my children when appropriate.

When our oldest son left for college in Israel, we all still were living in the US. Before he left, he asked me to promise to let him know if anything happened to anyone in the family– illness or other important things he should know. I told him that I would because I knew that if I didn’t assure him that he would know, he could be in a constant state of tension- wondering if everything is OK at home. After all, back then, before mobile telephones and before the university dorms even had hall telephones in them, communications consisted of letters that took between 5 and 10 days to arrive from the US. But it was only because he knew that he could trust me that my answer was reassuring.

Some families are not honest about things like illnesses and other unpleasant information because they want to protect either themselves or others. That can create big problems.

Once we knew a family where a somewhat distant family member died suddenly at 92 years of age. Members of the family decided not to tell one of the older people to spare her feelings. However, a few weeks later there was a wedding to which both would have been invited. How to explain the absence of the deceased family member? Their solution : a trip to Europe. In our family, from then on, “going to Europe” took on a sinister connotation.

In my own family, my mother hid information about my father’s illness that was essential to my sister’s and my health. My mother hid her own illness from her friends, many of whom were like sisters to her. It robbed them of their ability to support her and it robbed her of the support they could have provided.

Bad news is hard to share, but secrets and lies separate people and doing that at a time when love and support are needed is simply a very bad choice.

A Fictional Tale

Remember all those word problems we had to figure out in school? John is twice as old as his sister Mary will be when John’s younger brother, Christopher has his bar mitzvah- how old is his mother? OK, John and Mary are not likely to have a brother who is having a a bar mitzvah, much less “Christopher” but that’s beside the point. It’s also a lot easier than the word problem I’ve been trying to solve in the last 24 hours.

Let’s say a fictional woman has 5 fictional children. Two of them live within walking distance and the others live less than an hour’s drive away. (I’m giving you irrelevant information, akin to the names above, but you have to figure out which information *is* relevant– you will be tested on this.) Now let’s say that there’s a fictional holiday coming up at the beginning of next week (end of this week for John, Mary, and Christopher). For this fictional holiday, this fictional woman has been inviting all of her fictional children and her fictional grandchildren (an ever-increasing number) for the last, let’s see, maybe 10 years. At first, they would meet in the morning to hear the (fictional) megilla. Then, after a few years (maybe 7 or so), they would meet in the evening. Bagels and lox would have been a component of this fictional adventure. OK, so now you have the fictional history up to a couple of weeks ago.

At that time the fictional woman wrote an email to all five of the children suggesting they meet in the morning since the evening was after shabbat and therefore it would of necessity start late and the grandchildren would be tired etc. No one seemed to object. Let’s call the fictional children living close by the fictional woman A, B, & C (yes, I am aware I had said two lived close by; A, B, & C are the names of all three of the two of them, but that’s another story). A,B, & C all were fine with the plan. Let’s call the three who live within an hour’s driving distance X, Y, & Z (this fictional woman was not very creative at name-giving. Poor children… imagine the looks they got in school when they introduced themselves. I’ll bet though, no teacher asked them what they were called “for short.”)

The first sign of trouble was when X said, “Remember, we must leave by 9:30 a.m.” Not that it was trouble, but combined with the next statement, it presented problems. It was when Y said “It’s unrealistic to think that we can get there before 9:30 a.m.” What to do? One is arriving when the other is leaving and the whole point is for everyone to be there at the same time. It became a problem especially since the fictional woman does not want to upset or hurt any of her fictional children and pretty much is waiting with bated breath to see all of her totally adorable fictional grandchildren in their fabulous (fictional) costumes.

The fictional woman consulted with A,B,C, & Z. There were a number of suggestions including Skyping the X family in, meeting on Monday, buying Y a new alarm clock (threw that one in to fool you– no one actually (or fictionally) said that), etc. The fictional woman tried several different tactics from “Work it out yourselves” to “Let the disinterested parties work it out and we’ll abide by their decision” to “Let’s talk about interests rather than solutions.” At one point X suggested that X & Y work it out over a steak. The fictional woman was pretty sure who would be called upon to pay for the steaks.

No fewer than 32 emails were sent and several telephone calls were made. In the end, the X family sent its chief negotiator to settle the matter, more or less to everyone’s satisfaction.

Stay tuned for the fictional pictures sometime next week.

This week in pictures

This week was a big birthday week in the family with two grandchildren and a daughter-in-law celebrating birthdays. One grandchild, Ayala, celebrated on the Hebrew date– about 2 weeks ago, but our one-year -old Ephraim celebrated this week. He seemed to enjoy his cupcake (as did his sister)!

Ephraim and his cake

Ephraim and his cake

Kinneret enjoying cake

Kinneret enjoying cake

Want some?

Want some?

We also drove up to Tiberias for the marathon where our son, Ben ran for the third year in a row. It was great spending time with him and with three of his children.

Ben & Avital

Ben & Avital

Walking over to the race starting point (my only picture of Dina-- she's all the way to the right)

Walking over to the race starting point (my only picture of Dina-- she's all the way to the right)

We walked Ben over to the starting arch and waited until the race began. Then we went walking to the side of the Kinneret.

In addition to the marathon, there was a rowing competition with all Israeli teams except for one from Germany who were none the sadder for having missed their heavy snow at home.

Elihu next to the rowing shell

Elihu next to the rowing shell

The Tel Aviv team honored Asaf Ramon.

We watched that race begin too and took the children swimming. And then it was time to wait for Ben to return. We saw him cross the finish line and hold his hands up in triumph!

Ben, crossing the finish line!

Ben, crossing the finish line!

It was a hot day and running was hard, but he finished the race and in a record time for him!

It was a good week and we have an exciting week coming up next week too. Stay tuned for news.

My husband always…

Hmmm… are you interested in the rest of the sentence? Thought so. I became a family therapist because statements like this intrigued me.

Well, if you must know… the full sentence is “my husband always tells me that he loves me.” Yes, really.

But how many people start that sentence (and yes, it can be “husband” or “wife”) and end it with something not quite so nice?

And we hear things about their spouse that are not complimentary. Sometimes it’s a one time thing, and sometimes people complain repeatedly.

Here’s the problem:

1. The listener is in no position to solve the problem

2. The speaker may be upset temporarily, but the listener may take the complaining to mean that there is real trouble in the relationship.

3. The listener may draw negative and lasting conclusions about the speaker or the spouse.

4. The listener may take the disclosure as permission to complain about his/her own spouse.

Can you see where this is going? It’s not going anywhere good.

When couples have issues with one another, they should be worked out between them. If they find it difficult, there are any number of self-help books, seminars, and yes, therapists to help them.

But please– if you’re angry with your spouse, don’t broadcast it. I can guarantee that it will come back to bite you.

Catching up

If you read parts 1,2, & 3 of the adventure and wonder why I stopped writing, it’s because I have relocated the saga to the travel blog and added pictures when relevant. Chapter 5 in written and 6 is on its way. For anyone wondering about this question… It was a fantastic trip and even with all of the unscheduled adventures, our travelers had a great time, virtually untouched by tension and so did we (although not untouched by tension.) By the time I was home for 2 weeks, I was ready to go back and do it again– that’s how much fun it was… and you only can truly understand if you come along with me next time (hint, hint).

But now here we are in the little town of Modi’in (population >70K) for Hanuka and today we are anticipating the gathering of most of the clan– some members are not feeling well and some are away. Today is also an awful day in terms of air pollution and people have been urged to stay inside.

I have a lot of art supplies, a Hanuka video (“Lights”) and a few dozen latkes. Mostly, I am hoping that the little people get to spend time with their cousins and aunts and uncles.

Across from our house as you look to the right is a hill that some believe was the ancient city of Modi’in. It has artifacts from back to the Stone Age and ruins from several eras in between. At the top of the mountain is a water tower that has a series of columns that look like torches around it. For the last couple of years, they have lit the tower at holiday times with pastel lights. This year, nine of the columns have large lights on them that are lit according to the night of Hanuka. It’s quite impressive!

I wish all of you a wonderful bright Hanuka– and as a gift to yourself, a trip to China or Vietnam/Cambodia in 2010 is a pretty good idea!

Truths my father told me

Tonight and tomorrow mark the yahrtzeit of my father, Harry Mager. He passed away long before his time in October of 1985. Yet, the conversations he had with me feel as if they happened only yesterday. He taught me by word and example many things that have enriched my life. Today, in a sense, I am allowing him to write a guest posting through me. Here are some things I learned from him.

1. No matter what your situation, you have the ability to influence it for the better.
My father was in high school when the Depression began. His family was not doing well financially. He quit school and went to work. He worked hard and learned skills that served him later in his life. He harbored no bitterness; he did what he needed to do.

2. It’s possible to be optimistic even when times are rough.
Fortunately, my father’s life was not a difficult one. His greatest challenge was dealing with my mother, and although she was a formidable challenge, it was not as if he were fighting illness or poverty. However, as with all people, there were times that were less than perfect. Yet, he always had a positive attitude. He looked at each day as a gift.

3. Enjoy the world around you.
My father could have been a great artist. He didn’t have the opportunity to develop his art to the degree that it became commercial, but there was nothing he built, drew, sewed, designed, or sculpted that wasn’t superb. His photography was beautiful. He loved nature. He loved the seasons. When there was a huge snowfall one year and he was unable to go to work, I remember him telling me to get ready so that we could take a long walk in the snow. He loved it. So did I. He loved trees and flowers. He loved beautiful sunsets. The year he became ill, I was saddened to think that he might not see another spring. The day he was buried, the trees were clad in their autumn reds and yellows and oranges and browns, and I thought he would have loved to have seen them.

4. Be kind.
My father was a kind man. He was respectful and courteous, and gentle.

5. Treasure the time you have.
One of my earliest memories is of riding in the back of my parents’ car and hearing my father say to my mother, “Life is too short.” I think he had that awareness at all times and that he tried to fill every moment with something significant. In his store, he had not customers, but friends. People would meet him once and feel as if they had been his friend for years. His leisure time he filled with reading books that helped him self-educate. He became a big fan of Mark Twain. He read Shakespeare for pleasure. He bought and listened to classical music. All of the education he hadn’t been able to acquire as a young man, he reached for as an adult.

6. Love Learning
In addition to his reading, my father was interested in learning any way he could. He took adult education courses, he watched documentaries, and he loved to listen to other people tell their stories.

7. Love your family
One of the sweetest memories of my father is of his standard way of saying goodbye as I would be leaving their house after a visit. He would say, “Drive carefully; you have precious cargo.” He told me that I was a millionaire and told me more than once that I had five million dollars– referring to the five children. I don’t really know the story but my mother had a gold bracelet that had five diamonds on it. I like to think that that my father bought it for her as another way of acknowledging their good fortune at having five precious gems as grandchildren. I know that he adored them and I remember thinking that the day the children and I spent at Busch Gardens with him, he was the happiest I had ever seen him.

My father is not with us physically, but his influence on my life is profound, and I hope that his grandchildren and great-grandchildren will feel his influence for years to come.

Our family, September 1956

Our family, September 1956

Sisters 2

I wrote about sisters once before– here. I actually enjoyed rereading the post and hope you will too. But today I want to write about a specific issue in the relationship between sisters.

As anyone who is a sister or who has two daughters knows, despite coming from the same genetic pool, sisters can be very different from each other. They can look different.

Ayala (left) and Tamar (right)

Ayala (left) and Tamar (right)

Matan with Lilach (his twin) and Hadas (his older sister)

Matan with Lilach (his twin) and Hadas (his older sister)

And just as they can look very different, they can have different preferences, interests, levels of extraversion, talents, etc. But, just the same, they share so very much that they have the potential of being each others’ best friends through life.

Here’s how.
1. Understand that your sister really is different from you.
2. Understand, though, that there is such a richness in shared ties and experience that your sister can offer you a friendship unparalleled by anyone else.
3. When you have disagreements think about what is at stake.
a. Your pride (you can get over it)
b. Your health and welfare (talk to her about it)
c. Her health and welfare (talk to her about it)
4. Don’t trash your sister to others, whether inside or outside the family. (There are no secrets and this one will come back to bite both of you)
5. And most important: Forgive. Nothing is sadder for a family than being split by the hostility of two of its members.

My sister lives thousands of miles away. I don’t see her nearly as much as I would like. Anyone who met us would tell you that aside from the voices, we have almost none of the same traits. Yet we share a bond that is strong and healthy. It’s one I cherish. Here’s our song.