Monday, April 30, 2012

Green Energy

On Friday I worked on a blog post for two or three hours, but I couldn’t get it right. I had no idea what I was trying to say, and my words slumped, meaningless, on the page. I had a long to-do list that lay heavy on me, but I just couldn’t get myself to do any of it. I didn’t want to write. I didn’t want to pack for our Saturday camping trip. I only wanted to go to sleep.

Quietly and discreetly, Dar piled sleeping bags, food, first aid kit, and other items on the table. He packed up our cooler, filled water bottles, and added little touches like salt, spices, chocolate, fruit, and pillows. In the morning I woke up, and we were ready to go, no matter how much I was grumpy or obnoxiously unwilling to help. And so, having no excuse to stay, we went.

I was gloomy all the way to the south entrance to Henry Coe State Park. I felt fragile and disconnected, and my worries weighed on me. At Dowdy Ranch, we decided to build our tent down there rather than go all the way up to Orestimba Corral where most people camp. We chose a site with a lovely view close to picnic tables, put up the tent, and then left for a hike to Burra Burra Peak, where I had long wanted to go.

Tie Down Peak
Climbing out of Dowdy Ranch, nature stretched before me as far as the eye can see. My feet pounded the earth, my legs moving rhythmically, working as legs are meant to work. My heart expanded to take in the view: green round hills, oak trees entangled within their own branches, slender-stalked oats bowing their heads to the wind like the waves of a yellow-green sea, and blue skies dotted with a few feathery clouds. Here and there a wildflower bloomed. Elegant ithuriel’s spear. excitable buttercups. Cheery goldfields. I was home. My heart could relax, my shoulder muscles unknotted, my worries lifted and carried away by the breeze.
Shooting Stars

I wish I could live on those hills, my legs pumping in a never-ending walk, connected to the soil, to nature, to the soaring vultures, the warbling wild turkeys, the scrambling lizards, the little frightened cottontail who we surprised around the bend, and the graceful deer as they raise their doe-eyes to stare at us, frozen in the hope that we won’t notice them unless they move. Thank the fairies for Dar and his quiet persistence in doing what he knew was most right. In packing us up. In taking us out. In giving me the opportunity to return to the real me.

My heart lives within these hills, down in the valleys and up on the ridges. My home is the trail, sleeping on the warm ground, waking up as the first rays of the sun mingle with the song of birds. That’s where I belong.

Bottom pool of Pacheco Falls
Where do you feel like you most belong?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Patience Is a Virtue, or Is It?

In The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defines patience as “A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.” I support this definition wholeheartedly. I am not a patient woman. I like quick results, instant gratification, swift changes. If something does not work, I turn around and try to find a solution. I do not wait, pause, rethink, reflect. I act.

Patience and I do not get along very well. All too often when I try to be patient, I end up blowing up. “Beware the fury of a patient man,” said John Dryden. I say: beware the misery of an impatient woman. I want everything and everyone around me to be perfectly well, perfectly happy, perfectly safe all the time.

Some projects, like child raising, last a life time. Parenting, as Dar reminded me today, is best done day by day, drop by drop. I’ve been dabbling at motherhood for eleven years now, but I’m quick to despair. I throw up my hands and proclaim myself a failure. Dar had more faith: “No failure can be fairly established until the job is done,” he explained. I am well aware that being a mother will only be done, quite possibly, when I’m dead and gone.

A pessimistic thought? Actually, I feel relief. I hope many more years are before me, allowing me to try and get it right: to pour just a little more love into the children’s hearts, to give more lift to their wings, more confidence to their bearings, more food into their growing tummies and minds. “Don’t try to rotate them in the right direction,” Dar told me. “Steer them little by little. Fly with them so they can fly.”

I asked Dar: what if I am myself too confused? What if I lack confidence in my own flight capabilities? How can I teach the children to fly when I am not proficient? I don’t know how to teach them to fly because I don’t know how to fly myself! And I threw up my hands once again. Failure! Despair! Hopelessness!

Patience. That’s how. Day by day, drop by drop, little by little. I suppose acceptance is important too. Sometimes a day might include only the putting out of fires as they arise. Often a day will require watering the little seedling hearts of the children with a lot of love. Sometimes they might ask me for the moon, and other times I might discover that the moon is as simple an object as a coin the size of their nail, like in the story with the princess from my blog the other day.

I don’t have a detailed mothering plan. I think even if I did, I’d find myself moving away from it almost instantly. But I do have overarching goals: to love the children, give them as much support as I can, have patience with the process, and give myself room to feel hopelessness and despair if I feel I must.

This is where I found the quotes on patience.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fly, Baby Bird, Fly!

There is a Hebrew song, written by the singer Arik Einstein, that begins like this:
My chicks have left the nest/ they spread their wings and flew/ and I, an old bird, am alone in the nest/ hoping that all will be well.

I always knew the day will come/ to say fare well/ but now it came so suddenly/ it’s no surprise I’m afraid.

Fly baby bird/ slash through the sky/ fly wherever you like/ but don’t forget/ there’s a hawk in the sky/ be aware.

My children are nine and eleven, too young for me to worry about when grown up they will wish to go out into the world on their own. As a parent, I feel that my most important job I as a parent have is to prepare them for that moment. To give them wings, so when the time comes, they can fly.

At age fifteen. I wanted to go to boarding school, the High School for Environmental Studies in Sde Boker, Israel. My parents did not approve, and I stayed home. At eighteen I spread my wings and flew back to Israel and the army. I was back home at 21. And here I still am. I have my own house. I am independent. I have two children. I have dogs despite my parents’ disapproval. I suppose I fly, but I also like staying near the nest. I enjoy speaking to my parents daily on the phone and seeing them at least 3-4 times a week.

 Despite what can be seen as my awkward attempts to break free of the nest, I am a believer of “You are not truly independent till you’ve lived next door to your parents and learned to say no.” I have lived next door to my parents and certainly struggled with this “no.” But the amount of joy I receive while spending time with my parents is considerably larger than the few times they irritate me or make me feel like I’m a child again.

But I wanted to write about my children, not my parents. Though I’m sure the child I was affects the parent I am today. What I felt I needed as a child is what I long to give to my own children now that I’m a mother. I don’t know how successful I am, but the wish to give my children wings to fly and building their trust so they can use those wings when the moment comes is at the core of who I am as a mother. And that’s how I want it to stay, even when the totally surprising and unexpected moment of them wanting to leave the house finally comes my way.

Next week my son is going away for a first overnight trip with his class. A good experience for both of us: for me to let him try out his little baby wings, and for him to trust in his own ability to spread those wings and


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Winds of Change

A few days ago I finished reading Karma, a teen novel in verse by Cathy Ostlere. Karma follows a few months in the life of Maya, a young Indian girl who grew up in Canada to a Sikh father and Hindu mother. Maya visits India with her father and finds herself adrift in India after the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the anti-Sikh riots that followed. Her father disappears, and Maya, after waiting for him at the train station, finally leaves Delhi by herself.

On her way Maya meets all kinds of people. She discovers kindness in unexpected places as well as self-interest and cruelty in others. It is a time of upheaval which brings out either the worst or the best in people, and in a country like India the extremes are in plain sight for Maya to see. As she summarizes: “There is/ so much life here. And too much death.”

The landscape Maya navigates in the novel is predominately dominated by males, all of whom feel entitled to control her fate. The few women she meets are either disinclined or unable to fully assist her. Maya must learn to tap into her strength, to speak up for herself, assert her independence and her own wishes in order to survive. Like the Buddha, she needs to face her own suffering as well as mankind’s so as to grow both emotionally and spiritually and begin to understand the confusing world in which she lives.

Maya passes, phoenix-like, through fire, silence and a desert storm in order to be reborn an older, wiser Maya. After witnessing the murder immolation of a Sikh on the train she says: “sometimes there’s nothing left/ to say to another human being.” She is struck mute by her feelings of guilt and horror. For over one hundred and fifty pages, the story is turned over to Sandeep, a young man who tries to become Maya’s protector in her silence. But Maya is the only one who can save herself, and she must speak up in the end.

Toward the end of the book, Maya discovers the confidence to assert herself: “...I take a deep breath and explain/ what it all means: I have learned what love is.” And later she says: “...I have proved that I am/ more than just a daughter in this/ world.” Maya grows beyond her roles as a girl, daughter, and female to become Maya, the goddess of change, able to see the wind as it blows across the story of her life.

I was fascinated by the symbolism of Maya’s birth as daughter to a Sikh and a Hindu, the unresolved religious disagreements between her parents, and the anti-Sikh killings by Hindus which followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. None of these conflicts is resolved by the end of the novel, and I found this so very real. Sometimes conflicts just are. But a hope remains: Maya’s love for Sandeep and the possibility that the hostilities will in the future end with them.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Giving my Children the Moon (A Second Time)

Sometimes the best time to see the moon is at daytime.
Once upon a time a princess looked out her bedroom window and sighed. “What is the matter?” Her mother asked. “Can you bring me the moon?” The princess replied. The queen had a necklace made with a silver crescent moon pendant and gave it to the princess. “That is not the moon,” the princess said, and became sad. The general gave her an ivory moon figurine. “That is not the moon,” the princess said and became more sad. The castle cook baked the princess a moon-shaped cheese souffle. “That is not the moon,” sighed the princess and became more and more sad.

Everybody in the castle tried to cheer up the sad princess. The court jester brought her outside and showed her a reflection of the moon in water. “That is not the moon,” said the princess and sadly distorted the reflection with her hand. The queen was at her wits’ end. She knew she could not give the moon to her daughter. The princess grew sadder and sadder every day, staring nightly at the moon. One day a storyteller came to the castle. He asked the princess: “What is the moon?” The princess looked outside at the full moon. “It is small and round, not bigger than my finger nail,” she replied. “It is a silver coin exactly that size.” Now the story teller could give the princess the moon.

The princess grew happier, but at night the moon came up again, and the storyteller and queen trembled that the princess see it. “That is the new moon,” replied the princess. “Mine is the moon from last night.”

I too, like the queen, would like to give my children the moon. I would like to be for them an anchor, a safe harbor, a haven in the midst of the turmoils and storms of life. A place of repose where they can rest and renew and feel supported and loved. But I am not an anchor. Nor am I a haven by any means. Most often, I am swayed by my emotions on an open sea, blown here and there seemingly at random. If anything, it is I who needs an anchor, a safe harbor, before I can be the same for my kids.

Strangely, I never asked the kids if they need an anchor. I suspect that attention rather than stability would probably be their preferred moon. Eden just asked if I could read her a book, and Uri woke up at five and asked for a hug. They want me to play with them and listen to them, read to them and go on adventures with them, jump on the trampoline or lounge in front of the TV with them. They do not want a cumbersome old moon. And once I give the children my attention, the winds of my mood lighten and calm, as though the kids are my safe harbor, my haven, for at least that little bit of playtime.

This is one version of the fairy tale The Princess who Wanted the Moon.

Friday, April 20, 2012

For Love of a Dog

During break time at obedience school, one dog said to the other:  "The thing I hate about obedience school is you learn ALL this stuff you will never use in the real world."
Chaim, Nati and Percy sharing a pillow

My three chihuahuas failed obedience school. My mother claims I have a special talent for picking out stupid dogs. Chaim, Percy and Nati are cute and loving, but they will never bring me my slippers or learn how to use the doggie door. I’ve given up trying to potty train them. I just make sure they go out often. My preferred method is to keep the door open at all times. I know if I’m not diligent about it, they’ll just go where it’s most convenient, which sadly most often is the living room.

Chaim and Nati on a walk
I love my dogs. I know I’ve repeatedly claimed to hate them and have offered them numerous time for sale with the added bonus of a free food bag. Altogether, in the grand scheme of things, I am very fond of my dogs. I think they’re atrociously cute. And there are actually long periods of time in which they do not pee or poo in the house, and wonderfully delicious nights when they sleep quietly all the way till morning without requiring that I get up to let them out. So most of the time I tend to have warm fuzzy feelings for my dogs.

There are many reasons why I love my dogs. They are cute and pathetic-looking. My heart melts when they stare at me with those lovelorn eyes and beg to be petted or fed. I feel good about having taken them from the shelter -- I’m their rescuer, and they certainly treat me like that. Aldous Huxley said: "To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs." And that is true for women as well. I’m the pack leader of three chihuahuas, and that makes me feel like a duchess, a queen, the goddess of their world.
Sunning themselves

When I divorced nearly seven years ago, having two dogs in the house was a comfort. I felt safe knowing that they would bark and scare away unwanted visitors. The house felt less empty when the kids were away with their dad, but the dogs were always there, ready to welcome me home with licks and barks and tail wags. Dogs are nice to talk to. I can tell them anything, and they will still love me. As Christopher Morley said: "No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does." And my dogs look at me when I speak to them as though I’m the incarnation of Cicero, Winston Churchill, or Charles de Gaulle.

I cannot end better than with the words of Edith Wharton who said: My little dog -- a heartbeat at my feet." My chihuahuas and their beady adoring eyes -- what can I say, I’m a sucker for anyone who looks so sweet.

I found the doggie quotes and jokes at these two sites. Dog proverbs and Fun Dog Quotes.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Avoiding the Banal: How the Duke Fell in Love with His Maid

Sebastian Digby, the hero of Maya Rodale’s The Tattooed Duke, refuses to adopt the shackling conventions of Nineteenth-Century British society. He had much rather follow his heart, explore the world and experience all sorts of adventures. Life, however, has a tendency to catch up with those who try to elude its responsibilities, as he discovers when summoned back home from Tahiti to assume his duties as the Duke of Wycliff.

Wycliff may now be a duke, but more than that he is a sensation in British Society -- the kind of sensation no one wants attached to himself or herself. Not only is he rumored to have engaged in cannibalism and to have spent an entire night in a harem, he is now one of the Wicked Wycliffs, the spendthrift playboy dukes who tend to play around with their maids. No one doubts that this Wycliff will be just the same.

Eliza, a Writing Girl for a yellow newspaper, is sent to write a series of articles on the sensational new duke. Disguised as a maid, she falls in love with Wycliff even as she writes columns that reveal all of his secrets to the ever-more-shocked world. Wycliff and Eliza betray each other as they try to find a balance between their individual hopes and dreams and this new reality in which another human being suddenly has claims on their future. Does that sounds ordinary to you?

And yet nothing about this novel is banal. Not even the most minor character is what he or she seems. Wycliff resists falling into the Wicked Wycliff tradition while keeping his long hair and solitary earring, refusing to wear a necktie and proudly acknowledging his tattoos. Eliza ties herself in knots trying to redeem the duke while keeping her job at the crowd-pleaser, scandal-mongering newspaper. And the whirlwind begins: deception, lies, a secret locked room, an adventurous expedition to a legendary city, bigamy, tea laced with whiskey, a one-armed man whose second arm is in perfect working order, a child born out of wedlock, a  lady who is Hades’ Own Harpy, and of course loyalty and love.

Fabulous book! I loved the Henry Fielding-styled subtitles to the chapters (Fielding is also Eliza’s last name) and the many allusions to eighteenth-century British novels. And (Spoiler Warning!) the best part last: the novel ends with the most extraordinary marriage proposal:

...her beauty left him speechless. Of all the sunrises and sunsets he’d seen, of all the sublime natural spectacles and stunning sights he’d witnessed on his travels, nothing compared to Eliza emerging from the bath.
    Silently, he dropped to one knee.
    “Wycliff?” She said, lifting one brow questioningly. She glanced around for a towel. She looked at him on bended knee before her. Little rivulets of water trickled down her soft, pale skin. In that instant he was jealous of a mere droplet of water.
    “Will you marry me, Eliza?”


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Teaching, Learning, and the Kama Sutra

Every summer vacation, I looked forward to the time when a school envelope delivered the list of books required for the fast-approaching school year. We would head to Fabian’s bookstore where I’d hand my list to the saleswoman and, after a suspenseful search, receive my pile of books for the year. I loved the smell of the new books and the blankness of the notebooks, the endless possibilities resting within them, the promise of new knowledge and learning to be found inside.

In seventh grade, my biology teacher became irritated by my endless questions. “Why don’t you write your questions at the end of the notebook,” she suggested, “and if at the end of the year I haven’t answered them, you can ask me then.” I wrote the questions in the notebook, but I already received one reply: she had neither the answers nor the patience for me.

Ever on the lookout for learning, I adored my college mentor, a passionate teacher who made the world of eighteenth-century British literature come alive. But after a while she lost interest in my work and her only comment on my thesis was that my English improved.

While studying for the MBA, I fell in love with Economics and considered getting a PhD. My Economics professor disagreed. “You’re coming from English Lit,” he waved me aside, “so you are too narrow minded to understand.” I proved him wrong by receiving 98% on his final exam, but my taste for Economics was gone.

Sometimes I learn the most from unexpected teachers. Today this teacher proved to be a romance novel. In Mia Marlowe’s Touch of a Thief, Lieutenant Quinn has mastered the teaching of the Kama Sutra, spiritual side and all. Viola, his leading lady, is a willing student. The novel is well-plotted and the characters are endearing. The suspense works though I trusted all along that everybody was going to be okay in the end. But it was the relationship between Viola and Quinn that made me think. How attractive to have at least one Kama Sutra enlightened partner in a relationship!

I wondered: how can it be that in a society which values education and college degrees as much as ours does, experience rather than learning is the most common way to gain knowledge of the mysterious, intimate ways between men and women? We send our children (and ourselves) out into this confusing world so unprepared. Like the old saying, we seem to imply: “Lie back and think of England.”

Strangely, it is romances which venture close to teaching, instructing, and giving a personal example of how love should be. I might put Touch of a Thief on the required teenaged girl’s reading list. Great ethics about not giving your virginity too quickly or trusting too soon, and a great example of how magnificent love can be when both sides move forward at the same time, with the same willingness, wishes and hopes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chain Control

El Capitan under the clouds
The night before Dar and I were to leave for Yosemite was a dark and stormy night. Well, dark except for the flashes of lightening which slashed the cloudy sky, illuminating the trembling white faces of the oak trees in our yard. At five a.m., as rain fell violently from the heavens, the three chihuahuas decided it was time for a bathroom break. They were willing to relieve themselves in the living room, but I felt strongly against, and so we all went outside.

As we came back in, unrelieved but wet, my phone chimed. A text message. “It’s really stormy out there,” my friend wrote. “Maybe postpone?” I was touched. She has two teenagers to worry about, and yet she thinks about me in the middle of the night! I texted her to go back to sleep. We’re planning to leave at noon. Let’s see then.

We left at noon. The sun shone feebly through massive clouds. A dramatic sky stretched before us as we made our way to Toyota to buy the extremely difficult to find snow chains for my car. Dar watched the movie explaining how to use the chains. Just in case, I watched from over his shoulder. After all, better make sure he does not forget any critical detail.

Rain overtook us as we crossed the great valley. Lightening chased the thunder, like a movie playing on the cloud-shrouded horizon. Inside the car I stayed warm and carefree. As we climbed the Sierra Foothills Dar kept watch over the temperature display and the altitude. “I think we’ll be good,” he said once in a while. Of course we’ll be good! I thought to myself and petted his shoulder. We’re going to be just fine.

We stopped for gas at Oakhurst. “You need chains seven miles up the hill,” three men loitering inside the store advised us. Eight miles later Dar breathed out a sigh of relief. “I think there must have been an accident earlier,” he speculated, “and they saw cars stopped. We won’t need the cha...” and before he could finish his sentence, there was chain control before us, waving us off the road. May I just say with pride: it took my man less than five minutes to put those chains on, wearing my purple gloves!

“That was easy,” Dar commented as we began to rattle up the hill. It was certainly easy for me. I didn’t need to do a thing! And suddenly the realization hit me. I sat in the car as we drove for three hours through rain and lightening and now snow feeling utterly protected, and why? Because I trusted Dar to drive us safely to Yosemite. I trusted him to know how to put the chains on (well, I did need to remind him about putting the tensioner on the right way, but I’m sure he would have eventually figured it out). In short, I had faith in Dar to take me to Yosemite and back home safe and sound. And he did. Trust.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Conformism Individualism Right to Live as We Are-ism

Yesterday I asked a friend, “Do you think there are people who feel they are like everybody else?” My friend started laughing and answered, “You. You are exactly the same as everyone. Not different at all. You fit in perfectly.”

My entire life (and it’s been 40 years!) I have struggled with the issue of belonging. I was an odd duckling in first grade, an odd owl in seventh grade and the odd Jew at the Christian girls-only high school my parents sent me to in South Africa. I still feel very odd today.

In first grade I blamed my differentness on the fact that everybody else knew each other from kindergarten while I had just moved from Haifa. Later I felt different because of the physically-distancing thick lenses of my glasses. In the army I attached great importance to the fact that I was the only soldier whose parents lived in the U.S., and that I never went through the Israeli matriculation exams. Also, I hadn’t watched “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and I didn’t know that “Roxanne” was sang by The Police till I looked it up this morning. A lost cause.

Brene Brown, in her book Gifts of Imperfection, distinguishes between belonging to a group and fitting in. Fitting in means giving up certain aspects of our personality in order to be like others in the group. To belong, however, we must be truly ourselves. I love this distinction. My social chameleon skin is slow and often too confused to change. Of course, being myself hasn’t quite helped me either.

But might everyone feel different the same way as I? Margaret Mead said, “Always remember, you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” Friedrich Nietzsche, in a strangely-optimistic quote, said, “At bottom every man knows well enough that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.” Some quotes celebrate uniqueness, but others tell the truth and admit that being different is hard. As e.e. cummings said: “To be nobody but yourself in a world doing its best to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle any human can ever fight and never stop fighting.”

I wonder if belonging, ultimately, is about opening up to the opportunity of belonging. Could I, for example, have belonged to that group of girls in my army training? Was it me who kept myself aloof? Was I too attached to my differences and failed to see any point of similarity to those twenty-three girls I looked at as the group?

I think I’ll start an “I am different, hence I belong” group. You can come even if you watched the “Rocky Horror Show.” No credentials necessary. You can be the same if you want.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Losing Control for True Love

Yesterday I finished reading The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae by Stephanie Laurens. The finely-wrought romance, set in 1820 England and Scotland, is full of rich descriptions of people, dress, scenery and customs, but I had a hard time relating to any of the characters. In other words, I didn’t fall in love.

Angelica, the female lead, lives in her head even in matters of the heart. Wearing an heirloom necklace which allows her to recognize her true love, she sets out to make the chosen man, Dominic Earl of Glencrae, fall in love with her. Dominic fully intends to marry Angelica. He needs her in order to get back another heirloom, the coronation cup which he must hand over to bankers by a certain date. As far as he’s concerned, love need not come into it.

Angelica agrees to help Dominic but refuses to give him an answer about their marriage. Her plan: to make him fall in love with her before she accepts him. Slowly she leads Dominic through the intricacies of falling in love. She shows him that she can manage a household and a skittering horse and that she’s interested in learning about Scotland, but each of her actions smacks just a little too much of over-thinking for me.

For Angelica, love is a carefully-planned campaign, the purpose of which is to bring Dominic to admit his love for her. For Dominic love equals a loss of control, a potentially life-long insanity. I’m not surprised that it takes the two of them over four hundred pages to fall in love. And even then I was not convinced that Angelica learned to love Dominic apart from the necklace which proclaimed him her hero.

In so many novels I find characters struggling with the fear of falling in love, afraid of losing control over their life. Yet I remember how much I wanted to fall in love as a young girl, the longing to feel the butterflies, the excitement. I fell in love with the idea of love, the sensations of love.

For a while I loved Haggai, then Avi, then Mitchell and Topaz. I remember being head over heels in love with Oron in seventh grade and later with Ze’ev, who I never realized liked me back. A first boyfriend, Tamir, when I was in tenth grade. And in the U.S. there was a red-haired teenager who I mooned over. And Yoni, the first boy I kisses. He was young!

I don’t think I ever resisted love or was afraid that it will disrupt life somehow. Over the years, my one most sincere, innermost and most often expressed wish was to be in love, to love, to be loved back. What is life without love but a desert of sorts? I always wanted to live it up a little. Fall in love. Sing and dance in the pouring rain.

And today, lucky me! I'm in love.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Love that Keeps on Growing

Last night I went to sleep overwhelmed by exhaustion. We had a full and busy day. After breakfast, we left for a hike at Angel Island. The kids watched a movie in the car on our way to Tiburon. On the ferry ride, Uri wanted to be on the top deck and Eden at the bottom. Thank the fairies for Dar, who stayed below while Uri and I braved the wind up above.

Uri on the ferry
We wandered about the island for a couple hours. The sun shone brightly on this perfect San Francisco day. We saw a solitary hummingbird perched on a brightly colored bush. Eden climbed by herself to peek through a window in an old Fort building and jumped down with my help. On the way back in the ferry we sat quietly together on the top deck, shivering slightly in the wind. We stopped in San Francisco to visit my cousin and his wife who had just had a baby and ate cake and gefilte fish and drank tea while the kids played on our iphones. On the drive home I struggled to stay awake in the car.

The moment we got in the door, Uri asked: “Will you play ping-pong with me?”

Kids exploring old site in the fort
Oh dear fairies. Now? I’m so tired. We just spent the entire day together! Can’t you entertain yourself for a while? The reply: a long and disappointed face. Back turned. Walking with heavy feet away. And me? Struck by guilt, I realized I just said no to an opportunity for closeness, for love with my preteen son. How many more opportunities like this will come my way as he grows up?

I put some rice on the stove and called out, “I can play ping pong now.” His little face appeared no more than a split-second later. “I’m ready!” He announced. And we played ping pong and baseball and basketball. Uri kept complimenting me on my improvement in these three branches of sport. But how could I not improve? I’ve been practicing them on a daily basis whenever he is around!

Eden in the window
In the last month, I have been scheduling special time with the kids -- a time in which they each have me entirely to themselves and we do whatever he or she wants to do. The kids were enthralled. They are voting for longer and longer special times, even when I am busy with other stuff. My morning read-while-I-eat routine has been shifting to play-Go-Fish-with-Eden while I eat. My afternoons have been spent playing ball sports and jumping on the trampoline.

I give the children more of my attention, and I am amazed by how how much time, attention and love the children invest in me back. After all, they could be playing on the computer or watching TV. But it seems that at 11 and 9 they still long for mommy-and-me time, just like me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Future of the Political Luncheon

Yesterday I found myself having political debate for lunch. It was all my father’s fault, or maybe, if we go far enough, it was mine. I had asked him that morning if he was free for lunch, but he already had an engagement with people from the New Israeli Fund. Rejection is never easy, even if it’s just for lunch, but I recovered quickly.

At one, my father called and asked if I wanted to join them. I answered (hopefully politely, but probably not) that I would not be caught dead having a business lunch with anyone from a fund. I thought he was talking about the Jewish National Fund, an organization I am only interested in because they plant trees -- if I had known it was a political organization I might have been even less excited about the prospect. My father, however, persevered. “His wife is a writer,” he said, and I assumed he meant the wife of the JNF guy, “She has six children’s books published with Random House.” I turned the car around and came to meet this guy and his fabulously interesting wife.

The fabulously interesting wife was not there at all. Instead, a man and a woman sat across the table from my parents, all four engaged in discussion about the future of Israel, behaving as though they were going to make some difference in the world. The sides were even: my father, the so-called realist, claiming that Israel has no future and springing on his opponent reasons why peace could never come to the Middle East, and NIF man, a starry-eyed optimist, stating that since the US now has a black president, which no one would have believed fifty years ago, anything could happen.

I explained to NIF man that I have heard my father’s diatribe before and suggested, still under the mistaken idea that he was from the JNF, that we fast-forward to hearing his plans about planting trees. Sadly, NIF man had no interest in planting trees and was convinced that he could change my father into an enthusiastic supporter of the future of the Zionist state. I chewed quickly, looking at the pictures on the walls, at my mother (who listened enraptured, but I knew it was all a mask -- she dislikes my father’s pessimistic outlook), and at the door, trying to calculate the speed by which I could reach it.

As I sat there, suffering intensely, it occurred to me that we need ultra-optimistic people like that NIF guy with his single-minded idealistic passion. Arguably, we also need pessimists like my father to fan the flames of their idealistic fire. But I had rather not be there when they meet. As soon as I could I excused myself, explaining that I live in a bubble, safe from political debate. And then, as politely as I could, trying not to show too much relief at my approaching escape, I got up and fled.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lying, Protecting, Loving

I’ve been thinking about overprotection a lot while reading Julie Garwood’s The Bride. Jamie and Alec, the main characters, lie to each other all the time. They lie for reasons which could arguably be deemed good: to avoid hurting each other’s feelings or to surprise each other, but mostly they lie to protect each other from bad news. Alec hides from Jamie that her life is in danger. Jamie rushes to prevent war without letting him know. Rather than use their marriage for the support and help it can give, they each treat the other as inadequate and weak. I see their overprotection of each other as a sort of power struggle, an attempt to discover whether there can be trust between them, whether each can safely cede some control.

Surprisingly, though Alec and Jamie lie and their lies are discovered, the only consequence for the lie is greater love and intimacy between them. I don’t particularly like their way of building a life together, and yet somehow, despite the lies and power struggles, Garwood manages to convince me of the truth of Jamie’s and Alec’s love.

I like this quote from Elena Gorokhova: “The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.” After a while, Alec knows Jamie is up to something and she knows he knows, and they both, in the end, come to depend on the lies as a form of upside-down truth. I guess it makes for an exciting marriage, at least within this book.

In many families I know, it is customary to protect each other from bad news. My parents have hid from my siblings and me a variety of misfortunes, from job loss or illness to smaller matters like the scandal behind the Bible teacher’s marriage or my second grade’s teacher’s disappearance a few months after the beginning of school. I know the secrecy originates from a desire to shield us, to keep us happy or innocent for a little longer, but invariably the news has to be revealed, and, as is the nature of bad news, time rarely lessens its impact.

When I find myself overprotected like that, whether by my parents, my children, friends or Dar, I begin to doubt my own resilience, my ability to recover from difficulties. Did they think I’d be incapable of dealing with this news? “Suffering is,” the Buddha said, and suffering exists everywhere in our world, even for someone like me who attempts to live in a bubble. Perhaps rather than sticking to the impossible task of guarding each other (children, parents, or any other member of our family, really) from pain, the better solution is to nurture resilience. And while I have no idea how to go about doing that, still the first step, I think, would be to stop overprotecting each other from all this imagined harm.