Archives for January 2006

Wedding plans….

It’s week two of being mother-of-the-bride and I am delighted that the young couple has decided to marry in just two months. I find myself thinking obsessively about all that I have to do and all that they have to do to make the wedding happen in the nicest way. With both of them working and neither with a car, I have been more involved than I had planned to be. So it is nice to think that this period of relative frenzy is finite.

The good part is the happiness that I feel. It is almost as if each of them has an aura around them, an energy that feels to me like warmth and happiness and love, and when I am with them, I just feel elated. I find myself sitting and smiling thinking about them and their future filled with endless possibilities.

Of course, it always reminds me of the happiness I felt when I was looking forward to my own wedding. It was not just the love I felt for my husband then, it was the prospect of starting something new and wonderful that I would have a hand in shaping. We would create a home, an atmosphere. It would be the place that we would always feel comfortable. It would be safe and I would always feel accepted, respected, and loved.

The first disagreements plunged me into despair. How could it be that I had made such a huge mistake? I couldn’t get beyond my own hurt and pain to think about what might have happened from his point of view. What helped me was my stubborn streak. I was not going to let go of this beautiful life that we were creating together. I was going to do whatever it took to make the dream come true. I came to understand that this stubbornness that we both have is an asset that has gotten us through the years relatively unscathed as each of us believes in this marriage and will do what we need to keep it strong.

A number of years ago I had a group of chaplains’ wives at my house for a social evening. One of the things we did was to go around the room and give our responses to different questions. To the question, “what do you wish you had known about marriage before you got married?” one woman answered, “I wish I had known it would be this sweet.”

May this new couple I feel so much happiness for be stubborn enough to get through the difficult times and may they be surprised again and again by how very sweet it can be.


If I were charting my life on a graph that showed ups and downs in my feelings of happiness, today would probably reach an all-time high.

There are two reasons:

The first has to do with the visit of an old friend to Israel. When last we saw each other, he was experiencing a personal crisis. I feared that he would never feel happy again, that he would never have the kind of life he deserved. Years later, I discovered that he had since married and was happy. Today, I almost burst with joy when I met his wife and his beautiful children. Everything that had been so wrong had become right. His life is filled with laughter and love.

The second is much closer to home. Our youngest, Leah, is engaged! The happy news came last night. They make a beautiful couple: giving, caring, kind. The wedding will be in 2 months assuming all the arrangements can be made. May their lives too be filled with laughter and love (and lots of children!)

The Beautiful People

They are out there. They are not in magazines, movies, advertisements, TVshows, or plays, at least not visibly, but they are there.

They are the kind of people who draw you toward them. You want to talk with them, laugh with them, listen to them, even cry with them. They touch you deep inside. Once you meet them they are forever a part of you.

They are not showy. They do not speak of their accomplishments as if they are medals and as if they are what make them special. In fact, they speak of others’ accomplishments and they feel happy for them. They give, they create, they listen, they watch. They are kind. They are gentle, And most of all, they are real.

They know that the humanness they possess is not something to be ashamed of, but something that is precious so when they make mistakes, they can laugh at themselves and they can listen and learn for the next time. They are tolerant of others’ humanness too. They are patient and forgiving.

When you meet them, you know it. You feel the magnetism. You see their vulnerability, the clear eyes, the gentle smile, the openness. You see the light of truth shining through them. There is no artifice, only what is real. I think it is what Keats meant when he wrote in Ode on a Grecian Urn
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

If you are lucky, you welcome many beautiful people into your life. If you let it happen, you can become one of them.

Winter Warmth

It was a cold day today—cold for Israel, that is. In the northeastern US where I grew up, it would be thought of as a warm day in winter with the temperature rising into the 50s, but I have become spoiled by our moderate weather. So for my trip to Jerusalem I dressed in black woolen tights and a velvety black skirt and a lime green sweater with a matching green pashmina that I had brought home from China. The pashmina is a scarf woven in a pattern with shiny and matte threads. It is made from cashmere and silk and besides being warm, it is very very soft. Over these clothes I wore a very soft black wool coat.

Years ago I began to realize that I bought my clothes not on the basis of style, but on the basis of color and texture. Clothes had to have pleasing colors and feel soft to the touch.

I know that my love for colors comes from my mother who tutored us on the gradations of color and their names. She had a wonderful sense of colors and made sure to share it with her daughters. Her home was decorated in blues and greens and purples. Every room was a showpiece. Only my room, at the top of the house, was yellow and orange.

In her home, the furniture was velvet and velvet brocade. The furniture was dark wood that was highly polished. The floors were always shining and the carpet was swept in the right direction and no footprints were allowed on it. The drapes were light and airy, but hung in a straight and dignified way, like women dressed elegantly, not like chorus girls. However, my mother didn’t teach us about textures. I think there was something too sensuous for her in the idea of soft textures.

I remember once sitting at my aunt’s house, allowing my fingers to stroke the silky fabric of the sofa. My mother’s face turned angry and she said, “Is that sofa bothering you?” I was not to touch.

In fact, that really was her message. I could be in the world. I could move around in it in a utilitarian way, but I was not to touch it. I was not to embrace it. I was not to enjoy it. I was to sit and be patient and endure. I was not to enjoy, to partake, to caress, to love.

It was only when I became pregnant that I realized what a wonder the human body is. My ever expanding belly brought me such a sense of happiness. Back in the days before ultrasound and prenatal testing, pregnancy meant carrying around a treasure to be revealed only at birth. And the babies were, indeed treasures. I loved their sweet smell and the softness of their skin. I enjoyed touching them and holding them. Their soft innocence helped me appreciate the world in a new way. I learned from them to explore with wonder new sights and sounds and textures. Because of them, for the first time for me the world became a kaleidoscope of colors and sounds and textures and wonders of all kinds.

And so this morning as I walked out into the cool sunny day, I was enveloped with softness and I felt appreciative of the world which I have learned to embrace and enjoy.

Singin’ in the Rain

Ah, Gene Kelly. All I have to do is to picture him dancing through the puddles, and swinging around the lamp post and I once again am in love. He looked so happy, so full of life and energy, as the rain came teeming down. And he was “singin’, just singin’ in the rain.”

Today it is raining. And now I understand how one can be elated with rain. We have had a warm, dry fall and our winter began with springlike weather. Our garden required watering as the parched earth began to crack from the dryness. But finally, the rains have come. They fall gently and sometimes strongly and they turn the summer and fall browns and tans to verdant greens. Titora hill, across the street from us is filled with lush vegetation. Soon the wildflowers will begin to grown and bloom and the hill will be dotted in red and yellow and pink and purple.

On my way home from Jerusalem on Monday, I spotted three almond trees, too impatient to wait even until the month of Shevat, let alone Tu Bishvat, to bloom. Already their branches were filled with blossoms. In Israel, rain and water mean life.

And now, I should stop, put on my rain boots, and go dance through puddles and around lamp posts!

Mom and Dad and the Problem Child

In some of the families I see, the child is the problem—or so the parents state. When I begin to assess the family, sometimes a much more complex situation is found to exist. In these families there are typically the following elements: a child who has a tremendous amount of power in the family, one parent who is furious with the child, and one parent who is trying to appease the child.

This isn’t the way the trouble began. If one were to reconstruct what went on in the family, it might sound something like this: Mother and father chose to have child who was born the perfect baby. As the years passed, child became more and more independent and increasingly wanted things his/her own way. However, when child didn’t get what he/she wanted, he/she would act in maladaptive ways (yelling, screaming, throwing tantrums, acting defiantly, throwing objects, destroying things in the house, refusing to eat, refusing to sleep, or refusing to get dressed in the morning, etc.) Mother or father would become enraged by the child’s behavior and would react in a non-productive manner (by hitting, yelling, calling the child names, shaming the child publicly, or taking away from the child items, experiences, or privileges in a manner that was very disproportional to the misbehavior.) The other parent would immediately intervene begging or pleading with the parent to please stop, reconsider, and not be so harsh. Once the pattern repeated itself a couple of times, the child began to see this:

I misbehave. One parent (P1) starts to punish. Other parent (P2) rushes in to protect me. Aha. I have an ally. P2 now understands that 1) P1 is unreasonable and 2) I should get whatever it is I want.

As this repeats, P2 begins to forge a coalition with child. “Mommy/Daddy didn’t really mean it. You know how she/he gets.” Child goes to P2 for comfort, complains to P2 about P1 and finds a compassionate ear. In a short time, P1, even attempting the best disciplinary methods, is rendered totally irrelevant. P2 has removed all power from P1 (which in most cases just increases P1’s less than optimal behavior). Meanwhile, child has moved into a collegial relationship with P2 which allows child and P2 to talk about how crazy P1 gets and how we all need to figure out a way to live with him/her and his/her craziness.

By then, P1 has no real options for regaining any authority with the child. P2 doesn’t want to give up the special relationship he/she has with the child, and besides, he/she really believes that P1 is harming the child.

As you might imagine, the relationship between father and mother has deteriorated and neither of them is feeling very happy. All they can really agree on is that there is a problem.

When a family gets into such a situation, often the only thing that will help is the intervention of a professional family therapist. However, if this scenario sounds familiar and you are P2, know that the best thing you can do is to discuss child rearing principles with your spouse at a time and place far away from your children. Establishing a true team approach where both of you are working together and supporting each other in disciplining the child will help the child to settle back into his/her role of child in the family. The child will become disempowered as the tyrant in the family. Parents will regain control and the interpersonal relationship between the parents will improve. Their working together and refusal to be divided will display to the child a new respect of each parent for the other and will enable the child to feel safe in his/her family.

Men concentrate; women multi-task

Several years ago I read an article about the differences between men and women. I generally stay as far away as possible from such articles since I see them as drawing distinctions that may be true of some specific people, but certainly are not true of all men or women.

People who describe men and women as being from two different universes, I think, omit a great deal of data that contradict their thesis. In fact, I think of men and women as people, each one possessing his or her own package of talents, abilities, and, yes. foibles.

But this article talked about men and women being different in terms of their ability to be doing several things at the same time and it pointed to some reportedly reputable research to that effect. The article said that men, by and large, concentrate on the thing they are doing. They may be able to do two things at one time (like walk and chew gum) but add a third, and the man is not able to cope. Women, the article says, naturally multi-task. Of course, this too is an over-simplification and there are large numbers of men who also multi-task. This article also applies to them.

Women, especially married women with children, are constantly doing more than one thing—talking on the phone and preparing a meal and braiding a daughter’s hair. Women have a lot of discrete tasks that they must accomplish, all of which take a lot of time, but some of which involve waiting time. So a woman might be mixing a cake batter when a child starts crying. She goes to comfort the child and the dryer buzzer goes off, so she goes with the child to the dryer as the doorbell rings and on the way to the door drops off the child at a toy box. Once finished at the door, she finishes mixing the cake and just as she is about to pour it into the pan, the telephone rings, but she just continues what she is doing, juggling the telephone, putting away the eggs and the milk, and closing the refrigerator door with her foot.

It’s a necessity for women who are mothers of young children to multi-task. Many women become very good at it. However, it can become an insidious handicap.

Over the years, women learn to be thinking of many things at the very same time, thereby accomplishing many tasks, but that also means that no one task has the advantage of full concentration. After years of multi-tasking, it becomes difficult to be fully present in the task and in the moment.

Time and again, I have met women who are so used to not being able to finish a sentence, that when they are finally able to speak, still can’t finish a sentence. They interrupt themselves mid-thought because another thought is present and it seems more important at the time. In fact, women often train themselves to be inattentive and to have very short attention spans.

What was a functional behavior when children were young becomes maladaptive when the woman is finally able to have uninterrupted adult conversations.

There are ways to identify if this is a problem for you:

1. Do you find yourself forgetting what you are talking about in the middle of a sentence?

2. Do you find yourself searching for familiar words?

3. Do you find yourself wondering what you heard on the news immediately after you heard it?

4. Do your husband and children report your having had conversations with them that you don’t recall?

If the answer to three or more questions is yes, then you might do well to begin teaching yourself to focus and be fully present in what you are doing.

There are several ways to do this. You can start by to turning off the radio or TV if you are reading or working on the computer. When you are speaking, keep your mind on the subject, “looking” ahead a few sentences so that you stay on the right path. You need to understand and believe that you don’t have to accomplish everything at the same time. It’s really OK to wait until you are finished with one thing before starting the next. Remember that what you are saying or doing is important enough to pay attention to. You don’t need to be in a frenetic rush to accomplish everything. After all, if you are truly present in the moment, then you will feel more centered and relaxed and you will live life to its fullest.

I am the 7th Chanuka candle

The idea of getting old isn’t one that I heartily accept. It would be just fine with me if I would remain fully functional and just be able to tick off the years being perpetually 30 (as I imagine myself to be.) In fact, I still am shocked every time I look into the mirror and see some old woman who apparently has taken up residence in my house, but who looks unfamiliar to me. And though I feel healthy and energetic and happy and hopeful, every once in a while, I get a dose of reality that slaps me upside my head.

So tonight when we went to a Chanuka gathering of a group we belong to, I expected the customary poem written in honor of the occasion and singing and food and maybe some mindless game that some of the people find entertaining, but I didn’t anticipate that they would tell us that in order to be served the food, we would have to wear little paper bands around our head with a paper candle attached to stand up perpendicular in the middle of our foreheads, kind of like an Indian headband with the feather placed in the front. Suddenly, there I was in the Happy Acres Retirement Home for the Hopelessly Confused. I was wearing a [censored] candle around my head like a five year old!! Am I really that far gone? When they handed out the Chanuka bingo cards, I tried really hard not to run for the door, but after sitting there dutifully for an inordinate amount of time, I convinced my husband to leave by saying, “It’s getting late, isn’t it.”

So we ditched our senility and came home to enjoy the last few moments of the old year.

Happy New Year

Oh, and by the way, the pictures from the Bat Mitzvah are at this url: