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 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.

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.

Protecting children

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

The article is here.

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

So I have a couple of questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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.