Thursday, May 31, 2012

Kill Them With Love!

One day, three years ago, Eden and I saw a notice on a message board with a picture of a white chihuahua. We stopped for a look, certain that this poor animal had been lost. Instead, we discovered that one of the neighbors was giving it away. By the next day, Zippy had moved into our home. The neighbor, who had brought him from a shelter in LA with the intention of finding him a home, told us he was a friendly guy, eager to sit in any free lap and fond of chewing shoes. We found out the shoe chewing thing was right: at least one of Bridgey’s tennis shoes (not a terrible loss, since she prefers heels), two of Eden’s flip-flops (one of each of her two pairs), the pet sitter’s shoes, and at least one of mine.

But Percy, as we renamed him, was not a friendly guy. He growled at us, not afraid to use his teeth (small and useless-looking though they appeared) to good purpose if we crossed him. His grumpiness did not prevent us from appreciating his endearing side. Percy looked cute and sweet, no matter how much he worked to prove the opposite. And so we lavished him with love, attention, petting, and food.

I still think twice before giving Percy access to the air space close to my nose. No, he does not stink, but he bit me in the nostril once, and though he did not draw blood, it hurt. These days, however, Percy doesn’t growl quite as much as he did when we first brought him home. He exposes his belly, closing his eyes in sheer happiness when I walk nearby, inviting me to pet him. When I sit on the floor, he settles in my lap, lifting one paw after the other as though testing how stable my legs are. Of all my dogs, he is the one who gives me the most affection. When he licks my hand, I know it is out of true love.

You might ask, why am I telling you about Percy? Well, my friends, I believe this story is a lesson well-learned. Where I give love, love grows back. Where I open my heart, a heart opens back.

A friend told me about the basketball player Derek Sharp whose divorce from his wife was unpleasant and anger-ridden. Today, you might be surprised to hear, he has good relations with her. When asked how he achieved this feat, Sharp replied (and I’m retranslating from the Hebrew): “I tried to kill her with good nature. That’s the way my mind works. You’re nice to people. You always treat them well, and they don’t have a choice. In the end you reach them. It takes time, but it is always a success.”

I killed Percy’s grumpiness with love. I want to remember that next time someone growls at me. Just give them love. That’s all.

Who in your life would you like to kill with good nature or love?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Priorities Rock!

My brother-in-law once told me about a demonstration done by a time-management expert. The expert filled a large jar with rocks and asked, “Is the jar full?” “Yes,” the group replied. The expert took out a bag of gravel and poured it into the jar. “Is the jar full now?” he asked. “Maybe not,” the group thought. The expert took out a bag of sand and poured it into the jar. “What about now?” he asked. “No?” the group wondered. The expert took a jug of water and poured it into the jar. Now it was full.

The point of this demonstration is that we need to put the big rocks, our greatest priorities, in the jar first, otherwise they might not fit. But which of my to-do list items are rocks, gravel, sand or water? Chores, for example -- are chores sand or water? Hanging out with friends -- is that rock or gravel? Some of my activities are easier to identify: spending time with the kids or writing are rocks. But others are confusing. I care about my family eating healthy, homemade, organic food, but I would rate cooking lower down than reading the children a book.

Sometimes the sand and water, my chores, weigh on me so much that I cannot get the big rocks done. Scheduling doctor and dentist appointments, paying bills, and grocery shopping might be less important, but postponing them can irritate me enough that my mind, instead of concentrating on writing, will obsess on what still needs to get done.

So what are my priorities? The children, writing, exercising, hiking, my family and friends, eating healthy. But there are many activities which I would love to do and have given up on: singing, drawing, walking the dogs. Isn’t that too many rocks in one jar? This jar metaphor is stressing me out! Perhaps it is not meant to be used on a daily basis but more as a big picture kind of ideal: the jar being life and the big rocks my goals?

A coach once told me to make a plan and write down where I’d like to see myself tomorrow, next month, in a year, and in five years. Perhaps, to continue the jar and rocks metaphor, each of these time goals ought to have a jar of its own, with an appropriate size. Expecting myself to be published tomorrow is probably unreasonable, but setting small goals like writing a blog, revising my novel for an hour, reading a book, talking on the phone with the kids -- those are manageable rocks which I can fit in.

In my five-year jar so much more can fit! More books to write and to read, more hopes and dreams for the kids, places to travel to, empty canvases to fill. And even more in the jar of life, where each day is no more than a grain of sand, and the rocks are the big goals of life: self fulfillment, parenthood, love.

What do you do to find time for what’s most important to you?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Repainting Body Image

In the early morning, I had a dream. I threw away my bad opinions about my body and decided: I accept the body I have. I felt elated when I woke up, but staring in the mirror, I saw the same saggy middle with the wrinkles, a gift from those two pregnant bellies that also gave me my two wonderful kids. Reflected to me was the same face, the furrows splitting my forehead and the one right between my eyebrows that makes me look like I’m concentrating all the time. I saw the same feet and hands, eyes and nose. I began to have the exact same critical thoughts as before. But then I said: enough. It’s all good.

My nine-year-old daughter recently began to say she was fat. Hearing her say those words terrified me. "Why would you say that, my little angel? How can you think you’re fat?" I asked, and my voice trembled as thoughts of anorexia, bulimia and other obsessions invaded my mind. “Oh, I’m not fat fat,” she answered, “but I have a big belly.” And she pushed out her middle so it stuck out of her body like a toddler’s belly. I looked on with bafflement, not knowing what to say or do.

We are different, Eden and I. I dress in my hiking or gym clothes every day. I rarely put on jewelry and never any make-up. Eden, in contrast, loves to dress up. She takes a long time to choose what to wear to school in the morning. When we go to Shabbat dinner at my mom’s, Eden will often put on make up, lipstick and powder which she found in my drawer and appropriated for her own use. Her jewelry box overflows with necklaces and bracelets which she wears on a regular basis.

I’d have thought that she would not consider me a model for fashion sense or body image, considering how different we like to look. But I guess that though her choices of dress are more elaborate than mine, the way I speak of my body filters down to her and gives her ideas for criticisms of her own. Turns out that Vera, my esteemed pilates teacher, was right when she said (in response to my comment that I look fat today): Would you want anyone to say that to your daughter?

I don’t. And that’s why I’m making a commitment to myself and to my dream to be better at accepting myself as I am, to appreciate the beautiful body in which I was born, the only one that I have in this life. I will no longer complain of being fat or wrinkled or old. And maybe I’ll dress up a little nicer once in a while. Or put on a necklace. Or allow Eden to brush some powder on my cheeks and spread some lipstick on my mouth.

What do you do to accept and appreciate your body?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fitting the Box

What would you have said had I told you that I left the house naked this morning, that I painted my face like a clown for my flight, or that I plan to go about the streets of Atlanta kissing random people? Would you have thought that I was bizarre or brave? special or strange? or maybe simply certifiably insane? We live in a socially hyper-aware world, and I doubt these sorts of behavior would be readily accepted even by my most accepting of friends.

I once heard a story about a young man who attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head. He did not die, but the bullet hit him right in that center of the brain which handles inhibition. When I heard the story, a few years ago, the young man was still in a hospital. He engaged in behaviors which I would dread to commit in front of everyone like pee in the middle of the dining room, take his clothes off at unexpected moments, and other unimaginable acts of social transgression. And so, though healthy, he was not let loose in the world.

This is perhaps an extreme example, but I think there are many like me, who live on the cusp of what is acceptable in the world. I don’t quite fit the box, but I’d like to think that once in a while I make the world, at least for the people around me, a more interesting place to live.

I am a weirdo in social situations. I don’t quite know how to talk or act, how to fit in. If I have to engage with more than one person at a time I become either the clown or the invisible woman. Either way, I don’t feel too happy with myself afterwards. Talking to friends and family about this subject in the last few days unearthed many stories like mine about others who did not fit it, tried to run away, felt different or lonely.

How alone we are all together! All struggling to fit in this box self-society imposed. Each of us in our own heads, homes, cubicles, computers, cars. Seems to me like we put all these barriers between us, when we just long to connect, and then we invent ways of reconnecting impersonally: facebook, twitter, goodreads, pinterest, texting.

I came to write at a coffee shop this morning. Behind me, a homeless woman shuffled in. I had seen her around before. I longed to reach out, to offer help, but did not know how. She seemed to me the ultimate example of rebellion, the unwillingness to fit in the box, to give in to the arbitrary rules we live with as a society. Yet she is, I felt, trapped in her own box as a result.

Resisting the box never brought me relief. Nor did giving in. Perhaps accepting my differences, corners, and curves -- the ways in which I don’t fit the box -- as they are, is the way to breaking out of the box, or at least stretching a hand for a moment to touch freedom without (or is it within?).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Conflict!!! Run!!!

My mother always told me that where there are people there are conflicts. I can’t quite tell if her saying is true, because I don’t work with lots of people. I write at home or spend time with my kids. I’m friendly with many but have a deep friendship with only a few. I am conflict-averse. A peace-maker.

In the past few years, however, conflict chased me. I got divorced, and though I worked hard to establish peace, my efforts only brought more strife. I began to wonder if avoiding conflict might not be the best idea in the long run.

Today I find myself again in the center of conflict. The details matter little. It’s the entire idea of conflict that I dislike. I am badly prepared to recognize disagreement. I take people’s words as they sound, rather than discerning facial expressions or gestures that would alert a more observant person than I. I have too much belief in being able to mollify, and am continually surprised when people aren’t. And feeling so unprepared, I wonder, could I learn how to have a fight?

Some years ago, a friend recommended a continuing studies class at Stanford called Interpersonal Communication. In the class, groups of twelve men and women met to discuss how people see each other, react to each other, how their methods of speaking work.

As normal for me, I was quiet in the class, rarely participating. One woman told me bluntly that I was a flake. I didn’t know what “flake” means and had to look it up. I did not engage in conflict with her over this accusation, nor did I talk much with anyone in the class. Except, I found a friend, an Iranian man as quiet as I, who I sometimes meet till today.

Perhaps I could learn in this lifetime how and when to engage in conflict. But maybe a better idea for me would be to embrace my peace-making nature. And yes, perhaps peace-making will irritate people and cause conflict, but if I remain true to myself and my good intentions, surely everything will eventually fall into place and come right?

In the book I’m reading by Alon Hilu, Nadav, the soldier, is on his way home for a weekend. At a bus stop he looks up at the sky and invites peace and love into his life. As he stands there, feeling his heart open and soar to the clouds, a heavy hand falls on his shoulder. It is the military police, and Nadav is fined 1000 shekels for shoes that are not clean enough.

The world is strange, is it not? A box of chocolates, and we never know what we’re going to get. I feel sad about this new conflict, but maybe in ten years I will look back and there’ll be some aspect of it that I can seize on and say: It was for the best, and now it’s done.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Golden Key of Thoughts

The last few roller coaster months have shown me a gloomy view of my ability to handle difficult situations. I lack resilience, I’ve decided, and I set out to find how this important quality could be learned. Resilience is defined in the dictionary as the “ability to recover readily from illness, depression or adversity.” But resilience allows us to do more than just bounce back to a normal state of functioning: it enables us to use the experience to become stronger. Remember my blog about falling in the hole? I tend to fall in the same hole again and again, and worse, once inside, I sit there and bewail my bad luck rather than work to find the way out.

I was enthralled, therefore, when I encountered words of wisdom in the somewhat bizarre new Alon Hilu novel, As Far As It Gets. The novel tells the story of an uncle and a nephew, Michael and Nadav. Michael inherits $70,000 and leaves Israel to travel around the world, spending the money on giving other people joy. Almost on the same day as his uncle leaves, Nadav enlists in the IDF and is having a hard time fitting in. In one of his letters to Nadav, Michael attempts to cheer him up: “You have freedom, true freedom which is not just another truth but the ultimate truth for all humanity, the freedom to awaken in you -- always, in every situation, even in the midst of despair, sorrow and anger, and despite all the pain and suffering you endure -- good thoughts and wonderful feelings like love! Hope! Mercy!” And in the next paragraph Michael continues: “Your strength is in your thoughts, in your imagination, and they are with you wherever you go.”

Thoughts, Michael implies, are the source of resilience! They are the rope for escaping the hole! Finding that optimistic, grateful thread of thoughts is the way out of wallowing in a bad situation. I wonder if this is always true. Is the power of my thoughts the ultimate solution to falling in holes? And I think: how amazing! If I could master this golden key, I would no longer need to fear making mistakes, and I could choose to walk in any street I want, whether well-paved or not.

Of course, it is easier said than done. Sometimes when I feel sad I cannot find in myself the energy to create joy out of sorrow or thankfulness out of pain. I make the choice to stay in my trouble hole and roll around in the dirt of my self pity. And even though my first thought is one of disgust at choosing to thus waste my time, I could perhaps give myself permission to feel suffering, at least for a while. Because after that wallowing in the dirt at the bottom of the hole, the outside is so much more beautiful and grand. And remember, I now own the magic key for getting out.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Independence and the Absent Mother

Yesterday afternoon I sat by the kitchen table and cried as I finished reading Sharon Creech’s middle-grade novel Walk Two moons. I had picked it up the week before in a used bookstore. On the back cover, a quote from the School Library Journal promised “A richly layered novel about real and metaphorical journeys.” I started reading the novel wondering what it will be like.

Sal, the narrator, tells of the trip she took with her grandparents to Lewiston, Idaho to see her mother who had left on a bus trip a few months before. She promised to return but hadn’t. Sal hopes to arrive on or before her mother’s birthday and to convince her mother to come back home.

As they drive, Sal tells her grandparents the story of her friend Phoebe and her family who are all “thumpingly tidy and  respectable.” Sal describes Phoebe’s mother as “ Mrs. Supreme Housewife” and her father as “Father with a capital F.” But Phoebe also notices that underneath her enthusiastic baking and cleaning, Phoebe’s mother is unhappy. When Phoebe’s mother disappears with merely a note promising to return in a few days and a freezer filled with prepared meals for her family, Sal has a bad feeling. It is her experience that mothers promise to return but don’t.

Another friend, Ben, lives with his uncle and aunt, with no mention made of where his family is. Three absent mothers: Sal’s mother, Phoebe’s mother, Ben’s mother. And questions abide. Why did Sal’s mother stop writing to her? Why did she leave? How could she leave? And as a mother, I could not help but feel upset. Why all these absent mothers? How could Sal’s mother, who so clearly loved her, leave her? What is this story teaching children? I asked myself. That mothers are not to be trusted? That they can leave any moment? That mothers are inherently unhappy being just mothers? That if the child does not notice the mother’s unhappiness, does not appreciate her, then the mother might leave?

In children’s literature, parents are often missing: dead, or emotionally unavailable. This allows the main character to solve problems on his or her own. Thus Harry Potter is an orphan and his adult helpers either die or are incapable of helping him. Taran, of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, is an orphan. The children going to Narnia live apart from their parents (and Aslan either is not present or is presumed dead). In the novels, these characters move from youthful dependence to independence. But at what cost? 

Sal’s story takes her on a journey halfway through the United States and inside her own heart, through anger, guilt, denial, fantasy, and finally acceptance. I cried at the end, and I forgave Sharon Creech for the missing mothers. And yet my question remains: could we as writers find a way to allow our young characters to grow with the support of a family behind them?

What do you think?

Friday, May 11, 2012

If You Wish, It Is Not a Fairytale

In Germany, 1902, Theodor Herzl published his novel Altneuland, the Old New Land. On the front cover was inscribed the phrase: “Wenn ihr wollt, ist es kein Märchen” -- unprofessionaly translated as: “If you wish it, it is not a fairy tale.” I grew up with this saying and have always believed it, just as I have always loved and trusted Walt Disney’s version: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” And yet I am eternally amazed whenever I finish a project or succeed in an enterprise that I set out to do. How’s that for self belief?

Me, crying on Mt. Rainier
Four years ago, the sun rose as I marched up the last stretch of steep terrain to the crater on Mount Rainier. I plodded along, like a sheep following her herd on the narrow path, with one thought careening in my head: “I finally have an achievement in life.” At 14,220 or so feet, the tears choking my throat did not help my lungs’ desperate attempts to get enough oxygen into my blood. I stumbled. I wanted to sit down. Instead, I followed everyone else around the crater and up the little summit rocks where I stood, tears running down my red nose, as the guide took my picture holding up my ice ax (yes, my own ice ax!) up to the sky in a weak gesture of “I’m finally here!”

Four years later my list of successes has grown in reverse proportion to my list of failures and unfinished projects. My belief in “If you can dream it you can do it” has remained the same: a slightly hypocritical piece of advice that I can give to others in a display of “Do as I say and not as I do.” I believe it, but I won’t try to check if it can come true.

But hey, this is a little corner of joy, not a little puddle of pity wallowing. And I do, in fact, have a point with my sad sob story. And it is not going to be a moralistic point, but very very wise. Here goes:

I enjoy the little things in life much more than my big, life-shaking achievements. Making the memory books in kindergarten. I loved that. A short, half mile hike at Coe with the children, the ranger’s wife, and my mother and father in which we saw hundreds of wildflowers. I loved that. My son standing straight with the violin under one arm, listening to the teacher. My daughter’s sweet-smelling breath on my cheek as she hugs me. The smell of morning outside when I wake up. The spaghetti and mushroom sauce Dar made for us on our last camping trip. Hearing my friend Ronit’s melodious voice on the phone this morning. Illustrating the Siddur Program for the school. A hug. A kiss.

Little moments of life, seemingly fleeting, giving everlasting joy.

What about you? What moments of joy do you remember?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Good Mornings

This morning was perfect. I woke up before my alarm rang and took the dogs for a brisk walk up and down the hills near my house. Breakfast, prepared by Dar, included fresh-squeezed orange juice, eggs, waffles and fruit. I cuddled with Eden through the school’s  T’filla, the morning prayers, and now I am sitting at a nice cafe, writing to you. Perfect!

Sunrise from Bear Mountain at Coe
Mornings are my favorite time of day. I love the lightness of the air before the sun rays strike. I love the slight chill, left over from the night. I feel alive in the morning, vibrant, energetic, calm. The children, sadly, disagree. They like to go to sleep late and wake up even later. Especially on weekdays.

Lately I have taken to waking Eden with a song. “Little rhinoceros,” I sing to her sleep-puffed cheeks and determinedly shut eyes, “Wake up, little one. The sun is shining! The deer are running! Wake up little rhinoceros, wake up!” So far my songs have failed to convince her to awaken. From deep in her blankets, Eden commands me to hug her and tries to convince me that it is best for her to sleep for a few more hours. I remind her to wake up till finally, grumpy and cross, she rolls out of bed, all memories of our hugs and my song gone.
Pink-tinted sunrise at Coe as I start hiking down

She sits at the table, a veritable volcano in her pink pajamas, waiting for me to say one more word so she can explode. But what can I do? She needs to eat, get dressed, brush her teeth, put her folder back in her backpack, put on her shoes, and tell me what she wants for snack. Trembling with trepidation, I attempt to steer the little rhinoceros, my Karnafon whose nickname so fits sometimes, to do what I want so that we can get to school on time, hoping against all hope that like Scheherazade I will live to tell the tale for another day.

Uri likes to sleep late too, but he wakes up right away, gets ready down to his shoes before he sits down to the table to eat the meal which he ordered the night before. He often puts his alarm on for a much earlier time than I like. He may not be happy about rising with the sun, but getting to school in a timely manner is important to him.

I try to create a morning routine, thinking that order and clear expectations will bring about an easier morning. But Eden is a creative type. If she’s already up and not too grumpy, she wants to draw, dance, sing, tell stories. But there’s no time on a school morning for all that.

I haven’t found a solution yet, if one even exists. Sometimes there’s too much prodding and scolding in the mornings at our house. But other times, like today, there’s mornings full of love. Ups and downs. Like the hills. Like life.

What’s your morning routine like?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Countering the Anxiety Wave

Last night as I got ready for bed, anxiety slunk into the room, a menacing shadow. I had had fun five days with the kids, enjoying Eden’s birthday, a beach outing, and a special day with Eden rock climbing at the gym. The kids were sleeping peacefully in their beds, and yet I felt overwhelmed by terror at their next-day impending departure to their father.

Every muscle in my body screamed to jump out of bed, go to the computer, read a book, watch a movie, anything so that my mind would not fester with paralyzing thoughts about my failure as a parent, irresponsibility about money matters, or my bogged-down writing. I tried to describe my feeling to Dar. “You should do something about it,” was his practical response. “You should try to spend less money.”

My first reaction: You’re judging me!?! Then I tried to understand my upset. In the last few years I’ve done much to become more financially responsible. Chris comes once a week for an hour, keeps records of my spending, and generates monthly reports. I realized that I actually feel good about how much my attitude to money has changed.

Parenthood is a more touchy topic. I try to cram 365 days’ worth of love into 182.5 days with activities, one-on-one time, moments of listening, and homework. I give emotional support and take care of the children’s physical needs. Is it any wonder that I hardly ever succeed in giving the children everything that I would like to give? I reminded myself of the Hand in Hand class I recently took, the parenting book I am reading, the special times the children and I shared, the fact that I’ve been more patient with them. I feel good about how much I’ve grown as a parent in the last few years.

My negative thoughts almost disappeared. But what about my writing? Am I not exactly where I was ten years ago when I began? I finished one novel and started several others. I received one full manuscript request (no answer yet). I attended several conferences and received encouraging critiques. I took writing classes and interacted with writers. I started my blog. Without doubt, I am in a different and better place than I was ten years ago.

The shadows, the terror, my anxiety, all melted away. I felt better able to breathe. I had just had a moment of enlightenment. Instead of judging myself, I had taken an appreciative look at what my achievements were and found pride in my work. I am not at the beginning of my way to become a writer, a parent, a financially responsible adult. I am well on my way and will continue throughout my life. I thanked Dar for listening to me and closed my eyes, feeling relief, gratitude, and contentment. I fell asleep, sleeping the sleep of the just.

What tricks do you have to relieve anxiety?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Faith Makes the Luck, By The Great Horn Spoon!

Last year, my son recommended that I read Sid Fleischman’s novel By the Great Horn Spoon. He had read it in class as part of the Gold Rush unit and enjoyed it. I agreed but did not immediately follow up on my promise. The picture on the cover showed a muscular bearded man battling a hairy giant. Wrestling is not my favorite topic, nor do I feel particularly enthralled by the gold rush (though I am a huge Jack London fan). After a lot of enthusiastic prodding by the young reader, I finally picked up the book last week and started to read. And I’m so glad I did!

By the Great Horn Spoon is one of those rare books that encourages free thought, creative problem solving skills and faith in oneself. Jack, the main character is a young boy who leaves for California during the gold rush in order to find enough gold to allow his Aunt Arabella to keep her house in Boston. He is accompanied by his butler, Praiseworthy, who discovers Jack’s plot to run away to California and decides to help him.

Praiseworthy and Jack run into many adventures and twists of fate, but they always find resourceful ways to deal with obstacles, whether they are concealing themselves in potato barrels on the ship after their fare money is stolen, rescuing a pig from being butchered and eaten, searching for a treasure map, or digging a grave. And luck follows in their footsteps as though it already knows that resistance is futile: if one thing won’t work the partners will try another, till they strike it rich and rescue Aunt Arabella’s house and memories from being sold.

Jack is faithful to his friends and ever ready to try something new, even if it is bitter coffee mixed with ground acorn. He is a curious boy, hardworking, and brave. But it is Praiseworthy who I found to be a character to remember and learn from.

My favorite scene turned out to be the one illustrated on the cover. Praiseworthy has never wrestled anyone, but he has confidence in his abilities to beat the Mountain Ox who “had a neck like the stump of a tree” and whose chest looked “as big around as a flour barrel.” And why? Because “it stands to reason that the Mountain Ox never read a book in his life. He’s no doubt a mere brawler.” Praiseworthy, himself a great reader, had  back in Boston read a book about boxing, and he intends to use that knowledge to good purpose. As he explains: “since I’ve outread him, I see no reason why I can’t outwit and outbox him.”

To Praiseworthy, the knowledge acquired by reading is empowering. As a reader and a writer, I believe that is true. I love books that inspire me and lead me to trust in myself and my talents, and By the Great Horn Spoon sure does both.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Vignettes in Honor of Eden’s Birthday

Nine years ago on this day, Eden was born. She clearly wanted to arrive in this world. After sleeping through her first night, she then refused to sleep at night for the next year, waking up every forty minutes to stare at the darkness with big brown eyes. At eight months she spurned the food I made for her, finally splashing into her first soup (prepared by our friend Lior) at ten months. This brought about a laundry crisis in our family which caused me for a while to consider dressing her in single-use clothes.

Eden’s favorite activity once she learned to sit was to be driven around by her brother Uri. Uri would help her onto the bed of his little black truck, lift the tail door shut behind her making sure she was safely inside, and only then would he get into the driver’s seat and start pumping his little feet in a Flintstone-imitation run.

Uri: Do you want to sit in the truck and I will drive you with a big whoosh? And I will tie you.
Eden: Want! (It takes a long time till she sits).
Uri: I will tie you. You’re on the other side. Driving, driving, driving. Woosh! (he runs the car around the family room and kitchen). You want to eat?
Eden: Yes!
Uri: We will put it up here.
Eden: What?
Uri: We’re driving some more. Are you ready?
Eden: Yes.
Uri: One two three four five. We are starting! Digidigidigidigidan digidu digidigidigidu. Are you okay Digidigidu? Do you want to eat a banana? (They both eat a banana).
Uri: This banana is crazy. We have to eat it when we come back from the trip. Come on, Eden. Let’s go. Do you want to take the banana? (Makes a noise like an engine starting, runs around the room in the truck).

At age two Eden started attending preschool. She screamed for the entire first week, after which I moved her to Teacher Lana’s room, where she screamed for the rest of the year, but only after I picked her up. One time Teacher Michael had to help me dislodge her from the tire swing to which she held, screaming bloody murder, with a strength unbelievable for her two-year-old arms.

But Eden’s true love, from the moment of her birth, has always been and still is Saba Amos, my father. She calls him Sabi as an endearment and twirls him easily (and sometimes cruelly) around her little finger. She swims with Sabi in the pool, discusses important computer issues with him, and snuggles with him as often as she can.

Today Eden is nine, and I am amazed. Where have the last nine years gone? How could she already be done with third grade when I remember exactly what she looked like at age five? I love how she’s growing up (but why so fast?) into this wonderful, joyful human being.

Happy birthday Eden, sunshine of my life, and may we celebrate together many many more!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Hectic Life in Books

Lately I’ve been reading five or six books at a time. Two books on the iphone, alternating whenever I have a break between appointments. One book on the ipad while eating my breakfast. One paperback ready in my secret escape haven, the bathroom, and another next to my bed. And two books, non-fiction, I haven’t been able to finish yet.

Two romance novels: a historical romance in which aristocratic Anthony is trying to seduce school-teacher Madeline, and a time-travel romance in which Sara is thrown back two hundred years in time to a gypsy camp to find her one true love. The paperback next to my bed is a middle grade novel recommended by my son. Young Jack and his butler travel to California to find gold in order to help the boy’s aunt keep her home. On the ipad: an adventure novella about two assassins trying to end slavery while falling in love. My serious reading: a book about meditation and another about will power. Just what I need. And last, a book detailing the historical travels of a collection of miniatures from Japan. I haven’t fallen head over heels with that one.

So many characters and their various escapades swirl in my head. Was it Toma the gypsy who hid the pig in a tent, or Master Jack who stuffed it out a porthole? Is Madeline the one whose father is ill or Sara? And which heroine is the really gorgeous sixteen years old who keeps her face covered at all times?

I guess I have high expectations of my memory, to keep all these people and events, their families, looks, and characters straight in my mind. Perhaps if that was all I tried to remember, I’d be fine. But I expect yet more. I’ve been planning three novels at the same time while attempting to revise another. I keep all my appointments in memory -- I write them down too, but I rarely recheck my calendar to make sure that my memory was right. And let’s not mention the piles upon piles of forgotten papers on my desk, the stuffed animals and other toys the kids have left there, and our camera, with photos from our last two trips still inside (yet another characteristic hoarding of details instead of uploading them into a better safekeeping device).

Oh dear. My life is chaotic beyond belief or relief! Why can’t I just read one book at a time? Keep one novel to write at a time in my head. Clear the desk, check the calendar, free my memory of all the phone numbers that have been gone almost thirty years ago (09-448-624 was our family’s phone number when I grew up). Perhaps it is time for me to clear my head and my desk of this unhelpful stuff. But at least in books, I find that sheer number adds to my excitement of life.

What books are you reading now?