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.

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.

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….

Wednesdays with Ephraim

Wednesday morning

I get into the car.
My husband drives me to the train station.
I put my backpack through the X-ray machine, take the escalator downstairs.
There he is, smiling. “Savta!” he says.
His mom is there too, prepared for the trip.
I buy the tickets- one adult, one senior citizen (me???)
We get onto the train.
He sits on the seat and looks out the window.
“Tunnel!” he says.
We leave the tunnel and outside is interesting “trees! cars! bus!”
But after a while, it gets boring.
We take out the notebook computer.
He puts on the headphones and watches Dora.
He smiles.
Dora is over, he is ready to do something else.
“We’ll be there soon”
His mom gives him something to drink, a granola bar.
I give him my magnetic necklace.
Each occupies him for a minute or two.
“We’ll be there soon.”
Binyamina
It should be soon now.
Trees, cars, bus.
But it goes on and on.
Twenty minutes with a two year old who is bored is not easy.
Finally we arrive.
The taxi driver calls out our destination address. He took us there two weeks ago.
In the taxi the driver says, in English, “Wake up!”
Two weeks ago our two year old almost fell asleep in the taxi.
This week, he also looks like he will fall asleep.
He closes his eyes.
We say, “Wake up!”
His eyes stay closed, but a mischievous grin appears on his face.
This happens a few more times during our 7 minute trip up the mountain.
We arrive.
We walk up the stairs.
The waiting room has toys that by now are familiar.
He wants coffee.
They take him into the other room.
He doesn’t like when they look at his eyes.
They don’t touch him, but still he holds his hands across his eyes.
Each time they want to see his eyes, we distract him with something else.
The same item doesn’t work twice.
Finally, they are finished looking at him and we can go.
He still wants coffee.
His mother gives him a little tea with a lot of milk.
He is happy.
We walk to the taxi stand.
Soon we are at the train station.
In a few minutes, the train arrives.
The train is full.
But we find seats.
He is not pleased.
He screams and wails.
We take out the notebook computer once again.
This time he sits in his stroller and like any guy in a recliner, he settles back and watches another episode of Dora.
Relaxing on the train
Near the end of the ride he becomes bored again.
We try to find something to entertain him.
Even my Chinese fan loses its attraction in a short time.
Finally we approach the station.
Next week, we get to do it all over again.

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

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.

Savta, Grandma, Bubby, Nana

If new parents have a complaint “no one prepared me for parenthood” and parents of newly married children realize there is no road map to being a mother/father-in-law, there is another path that is far more uncharted. How does one be a grandparent?

You see, most people have been around new babies. They have watched friends or siblings or cousins be new parents. They observe comforting techniques, clever holds, and parent-initiated play. But being a parent-in-law and being a grandparent are far harder skills to learn.

We may have learned that in-laws were outlaws. Comedians told us that mixed feelings were what happened when you saw your mother-in-law driving off a cliff in your new Cadillac. Our own parents may have complained of in-laws’ meddling or of their disinterest. It seems that very few families hit a good balance.

But perhaps, even more problematic is how to define ourselves in the roles of grandparents. For many of us, our own grandparents seemed ancient when we were young, and seeing them as people separate from their grandparent role was so very difficult. They were obviously created only for our comfort, the real purveyors of unconditional positive regard.

At first, it’s not that hard. We coo and we smile and we hold and rock the infants. They are so lovable. I never really understood the word “delicious” until I looked at my first grandchild and now the youngest is just as delicious. But what do we do as they grow older?

Early on I decided that I was not into buying their love. First of all, Israeli homes are small. Secondly, my children buy their children everything they need and much of what they want. They lack for nothing. I didn’t want my grandchildren to look forward to my visits as a gift extravaganza. I also didn’t want to force hugs or kisses on them, as much as they were so very appealing. I remember as a child feeling smothered in my grandmother’s ample bosom. I didn’t want my grandchildren to feel that.

So how do we build healthy relationships with them? How do we let these precious young people know that we love them?

I decided that my home should have interesting things for the children to do when they come. Boxes of Legos, wooden blocks, small cars, little plastic people, and hand puppets are available. We have checkers and chess and playing cards. We have childrens’ videos and books. We sometimes show them home videos of interesting places we’ve been. We placed in the garden little figures in both ceramic and plastic of animals and gnomes that the children enjoy identifying, visiting, and often moving around from one place to another in the garden. Some of the figures are on the ground, some are hanging from trees, and one gorilla is climbing up a large pottery urn. As the seasonal fruits ripen on our trees and vines, together we pick plums, pomegranates, clementines, and lemons. We harvest grapes. We are growing kumquats and in another couple of years, when the fruit may be eaten, they will join the cycle. And we usually have an ample supply of pretzels and chocolate milk. In fact, when the children visit, often they home in on the chocolate milk as if it is a ritual. Of course the other thing we have done is the special trips that by now we have taken 7 of the grandchildren on.

We, of course, talk with them, listen to them, tell them stories about when their parents were young and tell them of our own adventures.

My maternal grandparents and their 6 oldest grandchildren

My maternal grandparents and their 6 oldest grandchildren 1955


My paternal grandmother and my two oldest children (her great-grandchildren) 1973

My paternal grandmother and my two oldest children (her great-grandchildren) 1973


My parents with their grandchildren, 1983

My parents with their grandchildren, 1983

What do you/your parents do as grandparents to foster close relationships with your/their grandchildren?

Yom Kippur

It seems a bit absurd to write about how Yom Kippur was for me this year, yet I cannot help but write.  As a child, I only remember this about Yom Kippur:  My parents would buy tickets for services.  In those years, the synagogue was still small and there was not enough room inside for everyone who wanted high holiday tickets, so they would erect a huge tent that seated maybe 200 people, maybe more, and my parents would attend good chunks of the service leaving us outside to our own devices.  I didn’t want to enter because I didn’t understand anything anyway and inside the tent, it was invariably boiling hot.

Late in the afternoon, my parents and I would ride about a half hour to my grandparents’ synagogue and arrive just in time for Neila, the last service of the day.  My mother would walk with us up the stairs of the synagogue into the women’s section.  The women’s section was populated with women of my grandmother’s age, all elderly (in their 50’s!) immigrant women who spoke with heavy Eastern European accents.  My grandmother was always really happy to see us when we showed up.  My cousins and their mothers too would arrive and always there was discussion as to which of the huge flower arrangements my mother and her siblings had bought for the synagogue in honor of their mother.

After the service, we would return to my grandparents’ home with the flowers.  They always consisted of  a large percentage of chrysanthemums and the smell of chrysanthemums usually reminds me of my grandmother.

I am now older than my grandmother ever was.

I am lucky enough to be living in Israel where on Yom Kippur, the entire country stops.  There are no Israeli television channels broadcasting and no radio.  Aside from one police car, I saw no cars on the roads.  In the evening, the park was filled with adults and children.  It is amazing!

This year, at services in our bursting-at-the-seams synagogue, I was privileged to have 16 of my grandchildren.  I pretty much was bursting with happiness seeing all of their beautiful faces.  The older ones, serious about their prayers, remained inside for large parts of the services and some, notably, for all of them.  The younger children, happily wandered in and out.  The youngest were held in their mothers’ or fathers’ or siblings’ arms.  The language we prayed in was the language they live.  The synagogue held familiar people.  The melodies were ones the older children had sung many times before.

And the service…  I don’t think it was my imagination.  Our congregation has been going  for about 13 years.  I think it has come of age.  The singing of large parts of the service was no less than inspiring.  Just as we repented in group fashion as one people, we sang in one voice and if the heavens were open, I can’t imagine more sincere petitions or more beautiful sounds of praise entering the holy gates.

The family, unretouched, missing three children

The family, unretouched, missing three children

Missing: Amiel Michelson, Elazar Michelson, Shlomo Goodman

May all of you have a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year!

Musings on the first day of school

It’s the first day of school for most of the schools here in Israel. It set me to thinking about my oldest child’s first day. Here is the album page– the photos are so glued as to be destroyed if removed. The middle two pictures are from the first day of school. The upper picture is of one of his building projects. The lower picture is with his sister, Rachel.

Benjy's first day

Benjy's first day

I remember his first day of nursery school. His teacher was a gentle, kind, woman who believed in reason and calm discussion. His nursery school was located in the synagogue where my husband served as rabbi, and so it was not very worrisome to have him away since I knew his father was close by.

He was the kind of child who played his cards close to his chest. Introverted. He didn’t tell me a word about what was going on at school. I would hear from the other parents about the visits of musicians and of fantastic art projects and incredibly creative activities. He told me nothing. But it wasn’t worrisome, because I knew his father was nearby and that he was safe.

Well, kind of safe.

I remember the first time the teacher called to tell me that Benjy had run away from school. The school was the equivalent of close to a mile by car or across a number of parking lots and down the side of a steep hill from our house. This was not good news. Benjy was found within about a half hour, but I was shaking for a lot longer.

The second time he ran away from school, he was a bit smarter. He took a little girl with him and before the teacher noticed, they had already traversed the hill and the parking lots, I suppose, because she couldn’t find them. She called and asked me to go out and look for them. I was at home with three little children, ages 3, 17 months, and one month. I was not able to go and look. I was able to panic. Fortunately, the two showed up at my back door not long afterwards.

As the other children grew up and started school, the first day was a happy day for them and for me. The others were not nearly as adventurous as their big brother, (although just as mischievous, each in his/her own way).

It was only when the youngest went to nursery school for the first time that I was swept away by the feeling that I was not just relinquishing control of her, but that I was trusting the world to take good care of her. I knew too much about the world to feel confident that others would treat her the way I wanted her treated– with kindness and gentleness. As I sat in the room with her the first day and the teacher distributed the juice in tiny cups, I saw her take her cup and put it to her lips. I thought, “she is going to drink what is given to her. Please let the world serve her only good things.”

Today most of my grandchildren start school once again. A few are going to day care for the first time. I pray that the world treats all of these precious children as they deserve to be treated. I pray that they will become the kind of people who will make the world a better place.

Some smiles

Here’s a photo of the children and their Saba on the Greek Island of Kos. It was a beautiful sunny day and the children loved walking through the colorful market area and exploring.

Six of our grandchildren and their Saba (grandfather)

Six of our grandchildren and their Saba (grandfather)

The cruise was a wonderful adventure.