The Beach, A Bird and Thanksgiving Dinner

It has been well documented that I spend a lot of time walking the beach.  I do it nearly every day, all year round.  While the warm summer days are great, I actually prefer it when it’s in the 50s or 60s and I can wear boots, a down vest, a hat and gloves.  The sunny days are awesome, but so, too, are the cloudy, dark ones.  My ideal time is early morning when the tide has gone out and sea glass discovery is at its prime.  No matter my mood when I start, it is always, without exception (more on that in a bit) better when I am done.  Even when the surf is rough or the winds are whipping or the sky is covered in clouds, the rhythm of the ocean delivers a serenity that I can always (yeah, more on that to come) count on, no matter the time of year.  I love my ocean walks.

As a result of all this time logged at the beach, my already vast collection of sea glass continues to grow.  Getting lost in the beauty of the sea, my 10,000 steps are easily reached and often exceeded.  The various items that have been washed ashore or left behind or dropped from the sky are invariably (more on that to come) awesome.  Beyond the sea glass, I’ve happened upon bottles of booze – some full, most empty.  Lego pieces, toddler sandals, small toys, the occasional t-shirt, and of course rocks, shells and seaweed.  Here’s a little scene I happened upon late last week.  Sad little (plastic) birdie.

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I am hardly alone one my beach walks.  Both the sand and paved walkway overlooking the beach are always teeming with people, many of whom I have come to recognize just from their gait.  The exchange of “hellos”, “good mornings” and “what a great day” are not only perpetual but a truly lovely way to start the day.   And, perhaps most wonderful, the beach always (more on that to come) feels physically, emotionally and spiritually safe.

This morning, however, was a little bit different.

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I nearly tripped over it.  It freaked me out.  Still does, actually.  And the symbolism, the metaphor, the gruesome imagery…yeah, colossal yuck.  At first, I thought perhaps he  was digging for something in the sand and actually marveled a little bit at the beauty of this animal in its natural habitat at which I was a mere interloper.  But then, when the feathers started blowing wildly from the ocean breeze and the body wasn’t attempting to resist the gusts, I realized I was looking at a dead bird.  A very dead bird, in fact.  As in: couldn’t be deader.

With its head buried in the sand.  The week of Thanksgiving.  Still intact, free, for now, of the scavenging animals which are sure to enjoy tearing him apart for breakfast.

I walked away; feeling agitated, slightly nauseated and entirely grossed out.  Yet, I kept finding myself going back to check on him. I considered jostling him with a gentle kick with my booted foot, but, on the off-chance that he hadn’t actually gone to meet his maker, I thought better of it.   How’d he croak?  Did he get his beak stuck in the sand while innocently reaching for a snack?  Would just a little tug free him from, um, death?  How long had he been there?  And what would he look like tomorrow or the next day?

And, if we are being honest…seriously?  Is nothing sacred?  Can I not have the damn beach stay serene and calm and relaxing?  Does there really have to be a dead fucking bird at my feet?  And, if he had to be dead, did he have to do it right in my path?  I mean, really.  So much for physical, emotional and spiritual safety.  Geez.

Discombobulated, I took a shorter than usual walk, but not before going back to visit him, maybe more than once, checking, I suppose, to see if he was still and truly lifeless.  Oh, and to take his picture.  For posterity?  For confirmation? Yeah, pretty much no good reason to memorialize his passing other than to be able to include in my blog.  (That being said: the visual is a “good” one, right?)

Feeling on edge, nearly (and inexplicably) lachrymose, I returned to my car and called the local police.  I admit that I felt a little silly reporting a dead bird on the beach, but the officer who took my call, which included a very specific explanation of his precise location, told me he would call the state and have them collect him.  I did not inquire as to what they would do once they found him.  I imagine it will not include a proper burial or reflection on his life, but, more likely, a shovel and a hole which seemed somehow unfitting for his splendor.  Even in death, his strength and stature were almost grand.

I obsessed over considered, but decided against, going back to check on him this afternoon, primarily to ensure that he’d been brought to his final resting place and not torn apart by his fellow bird-folk.  Tomorrow morning, as I descend upon the sand for my ritual walk, I hope to hell he is gone.  And, with his absence, perhaps my peace can be restored, my calm reinstated and my joy in the discovery of each piece of sea glass revived.

It is indeed curious to me why I was so unraveled by a dead bird on the beach.  Methinks there is a gigantic metaphor (his head being buried in the sand was not lost on me) which, in turn, holds some sort of message.  I am not really sure what that message is, exactly…so I am choosing , instead,  to focus on the beautiful piece of blue (for the unindoctrinated: blue is the hardest, and thus the most satisfying and, dare I say, exciting to find) and the several heart-shaped pieces of sea glass I managed to find whilst encircling, avoiding and obsessing over a big dead bird.

seaglass

His is an image I will not soon forget which is fairly ridiculous given the fact I will be feasting on one of his brethren on Thanksgiving in a few short days.  Something tells me I am going to pass on the drumstick this year…

It Only Takes One Prick To Burst A Bubble

This is a bubble. It’s pretty and ethereal and inviting.  It is also fragile.

bubble

With even a cursory glance you will spot me, my family, maybe even yourself right smack dad in the middle of that bubble.  That’s us in our beautiful house in a beautiful town surrounded by beautiful family, friends and neighbors.  We are not rich, but want for nothing.  We turn on the faucet and out comes water.  We flip a switch and, voila, there is light.  If we’re cold or warm we need only adjust the heat or air conditioner.  There is never a shortage of food.  In fact, our two fridges and two freezers could keep us fed for months on end.  We have two reliable cars, a solid roof and all the computers, televisions, tablets and cell phones one would ever need to stay informed and in touch with the world, for better or worse.

Our children, each with their own individual idiosyncrasies, walk out the door each day without fear of danger or criminality against them at all, let alone because of who they are, their life process or choice of self-expression.  There exists an undeniable safety in this bubble to the extent that it never even enters any of their minds that they might not be able to live an honest and free life.  To only slightly varying degrees, they are all unabashedly willing to leave the house as they see fit with, in our house, anyway, highly limited but carefully injected parental suggestions.  We are fortunate; it’s always been this way and we’ve never known or even contemplated anything different.

Until, that is, this whole utopian Nirvana started to evaporate.

Our children, cis- and transgender alike, face an entirely different world… even within our once seemingly invulnerable bubble.  An inescapable national discussion about the ugly underbelly of societal thinking has not only surfaced and taken up residency, but has, ironically, bubbled over.  The result: abject fear among our children who are not supposed to, whether comfortably in a bubble or not, even ever consider.

It would be utterly fictitious to say that when Jess transitioned five years ago we were not concerned about the reaction of our community, our school and our friends.  (Aside: we never worried about our families.  That’s being blessed right there.)  True, the inhabitants of our bubble were liberal-leaning, highly educated and largely open-minded folks.   However, despite the favorable demographics, we knew it was going to be complicated at best, alienating at worst.  Indeed, it was complicated then and, if we are being honest, remains complicated, yet wholly manageable, even today.  But neither then, nor now, despite having moved to a new bubble, has it ever been alienating.  My great consternation:  that is about to change.

As of today, beyond the heightened awareness, chatter and vitriol regarding LGBTQ rights (among other things) being spewed by the incoming Presidential regime administration, nothing in our lives has changed.  Our bubble hasn’t burst, nor has anyone taken a shot at puncturing a potentially ruinous hole…but we are certainly aware that the acceptance (oh, the irony) of hate (which is actually, duh, fear) is now being supported, sanctioned and encouraged…even in our own once paradaisic bubble.

The morning after the election, myself unnerved, I did as I do every morning and gently opened Jess’s bedroom door to confirm that she was awake and at least contemplating getting ready for school.  Instead of finding the usual slumbering blob of adolescence , she sat on the edge of her bed, wide awake, phone in hand, news having been received, crying.  For the first time in her life, she was aware, perhaps without even knowing she was aware, of the fragility of our bubble.  My kid, who, almost to a fault, doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, suddenly knew that she might now have to.

I’ve never been one to infantilize, shield or be particularly protective of my kids.  Based upon how they have conducted their lives thus far, I have confidence in their maturity, decision-making and lack of impulsivity to trust that they will successfully navigate and positively present themselves to the world, even in tough situations.  That being said, the new dominion in which we all find ourselves has left me feeling untethered and, at an epic level, profoundly concerned for not only my child’s future, but for the necessity of her (and all my kids’) rethinking their basic view of the world.

Inherent in living in a bubble is the constant underlying and often unconscious fear that it will burst. I now find myself unsure, sometimes from moment to moment, if our bubble has a slow leak or if all the air has already escaped.  Either way: it is frightening for all of us, body and soul.

The Little Things…at Market Basket

It’s the little things.  They can knock the crap out of you or sweep you up into the heavens.  Some will stop you dead in your tracks while others actually encourage you want to run, like a bat outta hell, to anywhere else on the planet.

Finding a $10 bill with no one anywhere nearby who might have dropped it: good.  Stumbling upon a 75% off plus a $5 discount with a $20 off coupon to use next week at your favorite store…or any store: really good.  Mistakenly grabbing the one-size-down jeans and actually being able to button them without lying across the bed, breaking a sweat while breaking your body to get them on: totally awesome.

Catching sight of the same car that your late father used to drive turning into what had been his favorite place to grab coffee and a donut: ugh.  Heading out the front door to get the mail, tripping over your own feet and landing on your knees: ugh.  Pulling your car out of the garage after not having driven it for a few days only to discover that the entire front quarter panel is smashed in: yeah, that one sucked.

Nothing major.  No big deals.  Just enough to tip you ever so slightly (or, if you are me, not so slightly) off your axis.  Yeah, it’s the little things.  Today, it was little things that made me laugh, sometimes to the point of crying.  Not, thankfully,  going over the edge to full on sobbing which, I must admit, has been known to happen. And all it took was a trip to the local supermarket.

It was early afternoon, but it might just as easily been hours later given the fact that Barry and I had been up, out of the house and running around since 7 a.m.  The car was full of stuff we had accumulated throughout the day and the decision to stop at the market to pick up a few things was one which neither one of us was really in the mood for.  However, the lack of milk, eggs and bananas – the true sign of no food in the house – urged us from laziness to adultness.  We were tired, hungry and wet from the run in from the parking lot as we searched for the least soaked of the carts.  By the time we hit the cheese aisle (also known as Aisle 1), we were already over it, yet persevered and loaded up on all the basics.

Our cart full, we took our place in line and, for once, did not choose the one hosting  the last American on earth writing a check.  As Barry began to unload our selections, shaking his head upon discovery of the few things I might have tossed in without him noticing (I really cannot live in a home without an emergency Pop Tart supply.  I’ve tried, but life is too short.  Remember: it’s the little things) I pulled out my phone and opened the camera. Because Barry knows me all too well, he knew that it was him against me and he wasn’t going down without a fight.

Let me share.

Here’s Barry, knowing full well what is going on behind him (that being me with my iPhone).  He is aggressively ignoring me in the hopes that I will give up.  I won’t.

mb1

Here he is attempting to be Mr. Serious.  About loading groceries onto a conveyor belt.

mb2

 Okay, this is when things start to get fun.  See the lady standing at the cart behind Barry?  Well, her name is Rosemary.  You will note that she is laughing. Barry asked her, more than once, if I was still standing behind him trying to take a picture.  She lied.  Then she told me that she has four grown sons and, “they are all pains in the ass, too!” Ah, the sisterhood.

mb3

 Next up, we have my husband, in a show of incredible maturity, attempting to shield his face with a package of pita.  Yes, pita. Seriously, dude: try a salami, or a loaf of Italian bread or even the pomegranates…but pita?

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That’s Pauline at the register.  She tried to keep a straight face, but couldn’t.  I am quite certain our shenanigans were the highlight of her shift.  So, too, Edgar, the gentleman with the white hair…but he was trying to respect the Bro-Code and kept his hysteria under wraps.

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By now, customers and employees on either side of our register are watching, waiting with bated breath to see how things wind up…who will prevail: woman or man? (Duh)

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Eventually, we had to end all the fun and games…we had perishables in the cart, after all.  We headed out to the car, bags in tow.  I am fairly confident that we got a round of applause for having entertained everyone on this rainy, dreary day.  As we loaded up the car, I turned to see Rosemary coming out with her groceries.  She all but high-fived me and laughed her way back to her Chrysler.

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Barry has been down this road with me before.  He pretends to be embarrassed.  He isn’t.  He feigns being merely tolerant.  Trust me: he loves it.  And I love him for his willingness to allow me to indulge in the little things…

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 This is what he looks like when I am not torturing him.  Cute, right?

bts

 

 

 

 

Elections, Hamsas & Friends

I’m confident that no one will argue against the case that this elongated, protracted, unceasing, wearisome (not to mention execrable) presidential race has left us all, no matter which candidate you like (or hate less, as the case may be) feeling unsafe, unprotected, unhappy, tense, angry, overwhelmed and a little bit afraid.  I have a Hamsa around my neck and one holding my keys…but despite the protective properties they carry, no Hamsa in the world can cover this.

hamsa

Friendships have broken down.  Feelings have been hurt. Beliefs have been challenged.  Kindness has been abandoned in favor of nastiness by otherwise decent people.  I am not proud to admit that I got into it, bordering on, okay, landing on (slight) bullying with a woman I had gone to high school with. She threw the first verbal punch, but I took the bait and allowed the exchange to continue.  At the beginning, I was in it for shits and giggles. She is virulently supportive of one candidate, but even more interested in besmirching the other candidate loudly, cruelly and with great regularity.  My own inverse opinions got the better of me, and I reveled in the rallying support of my clan.  It wasn’t my proudest moment.

 Add the stress of this election to all the other things we are all trying to manage in our daily lives and it’s no wonder everyone is a hot mess.

crazy-curly

 Remember the coffee ladies I told you about? We do not all support the same candidate. There is disagreement between us regarding the behaviors, pasts, positions and capabilities of the two folks, one of which will be elected president; provided, that is, that the other one actually concedes.  As strongly as some of the gals feel about one, others feel about the other.  But, and this is a big but, it does NOT interfere with our friendships.  It does not lead us to name calling or bullying or eye rolling.  That’s because we are respectful of one another and value our friendships…I highly recommend it.

Before tomorrow erupts, do yourself a favor: find people like I have.  Agree to disagree.  Remember that we are all in this together.  That is takes a village.  That just because you believe something doesn’t make it right or factual or better.

I, for one, have scheduled a therapy appointment AND a massage for tomorrow night.  There is wine in the fridge (oh, who am I kidding…there is always wine in the fridge) and the knowledge that it’s going to be a bumpy ride.  Moving forward: surround yourself with good and kind people who support you, even if they don’t necessarily agree with you.  Who do not personalize things that are not personal.   Who, even if their person doesn’t come out victorious, accepts where we are, where we’ve been and where we are going.

massage

Be kind.  Be respectful. Be accepting.  Be supportive.  We are all in this together.

Wah Wah Wah

In the last several years, I hadn’t done it much at all.  In fact, it occured with such infrequency that I sometimes wondered if something was wrong with me.  It’s not that it never happened, but now, geez, for some reason it has been happening nearly every day.   Sometimes it is just a quickie. Other times it lasts for hours, and, at the risk of over-sharing, lately it has been known to happen more than once a day.  There are equal number of times that I feel invigorated at the end as there are times I heavily roll over, fully sated, and immediately fall into a deep and peaceful slumber.

Since getting remarried a couple of months ago, it’s frequency has increased rather dramatically – seldom does a day go by without it and, between you and me, I am actually growing a little tired of it.  It is not something that I ever ask for.  I never know when, where or how it will start or where I will be.  And I am never able to stop it.  Ever.  Yeah, yeah, I know:  I’m a newlywed…

Oh, wait!  You of the saucy thinking have got it all wrong.  I am not talking about what you think I am (or at least what I think you think), although; if I am being honest…oh, never mind.  Yeah, what I am referring to is my serial crying, weeping, many times even sobbing which is entirely appropriate and/or completely unjustified, often at the same time.

Perhaps what I am experiencing is stimulation overload as a result of adjusting to a new life including (but not limited to) my new town/new school/new husband/new kids/new doctors/new hairdresser/new manicurist/new Target/new gym/new in-laws/new area code/new Chipotle/new synagogue/new mall/new teachers/new house rules/new neighbors/new job search/new friends/new fucking everything.

And it sucks.

However:

I’m not taking to bed (except that one Saturday morning when Barry pretty much dragged me out of bed where I was very comfortably curled up in the fetal position under the covers fully prepared to cry all day.  He did the right thing, perhaps a bit less gently than I might have liked, but I got up, showered and went on with my day impassive, yet not catatonic.

I am not over- or under- eating[1], drinking, shopping, sleeping or spending.  Okay, I might have bought a not entirely necessary pair of boots, but, really, what girl doesn’t appreciate the curative powers of new boots?  In fact, I considered it a good sign…not to mention that fact that allowing that DSW coupon to expire before I managed to use it might well have set off a crying jag. Crisis averted!

I am not without joy.  Why, just the other night, a school night, no less, a pair of Elvis Costello tickets fell in our laps and Barry and I had a blast running around town eating, drinking and carrying on while en route to the concert.  So fun, in fact, that I memorialized it on Facebook…because we all know that Facebook tells the whole story.

I have also not done the unthinkable (and, according to my father, worst thing possible) and lost my sense of humor.  That being said, I cop to being decidedly slower to get started, but take comfort in the fact that once I have loosened up, I still manage to crack myself up.  In fact, this picture proves that I have not totally lost my mojo.  Prior to it being taken, I had never seen these women were complete strangers. They were chatting with one another on the street when I approached them and asked if they were married because, if they were not, I was willing to offer up my husband to them.  (They declined.) Our exchange reminded me that I am still me, waterworks notwithstanding.

girlsonstreet

Yet, I’ve become a big old crybaby.

index

In the weeks following my father’s dire lung cancer diagnosis, he, a man I had never seen falter or succumb to emotion overload, became a crybaby.  His tears were not actually because he had just been told that he would likely die within the year (of note: he lived nearly three very full years), but because it was a lot to take in.  He would often remind us (and himself) that “he had to die from something”, and this just happened to be it.  His tears were, in my opinion, his way of literally and figuratively purging himself of the overflow of emotion and fear and change and stress and worry so vast that it leaked, sometimes poured, right out of him.  I recall my brother having a similar spell during a chaotic time in his life.  In both instances, once we realized (sort of) what was going on, we were able to make sport of it.  In fact, it was not uncommon to sigh, roll our eyes and ask, “are you gonna cry again?!?”

I am not quite there yet…my crying is not funny to me.  It is (usually) cathartic, (sometimes) helpful and (often) irritating.[2]  I am still processing the changes, the stresses, the fears, the adjustments.  I continue to work hard to create a whole new life with my old body, old fears, old view of the world and old walls that need to be broken down.

I put on a good show.  People are surprised when I tell them that I have become a blubbering fool, or that I have this whole lonely-even-when-I-am-surrounded-by-people thing, or cop to not being as confident as I have been told I seem to or should be, but I am here to tell you otherwise.

Despite, or perhaps because of the weep-fests, I am (slowly) processing, adapting and journeying.  Like my dad, the original crybaby, I do not always do change very well[3] and, man oh man, there’s been a lot of change.  Ultimately, it’s all good.  In the final analysis, I am growing and changing and learning…all while sniveling, quaking and nose-blowing.

So there you have it.  Soul bared.  Honesty on a plate.  Apologies to you, dear reader, to have lured you in with what you thought I was talking about only to drag you into this snot-laden, middle-aged, out of control and sometimes dehydrating phase of my life.  It is just that, however: a phase.  Part of growing up.  Adulting and all that.

If you happen to be in my company, consider yourself warned that you may find yourself watching me cry which, I think we can all agree, is better than finding yourself observing what you thought I was talking about…right?

[1] Seriously, just once could I lose my appetite?  Is a sadness-induced weight loss to much to ask for?

[2] Fun fact: those of us with blue eyes tend to be the same people who, as a parting gift following a crying jag, are left with what I (not so) affectionately call iguana eyes.  Google it.

[3] I can think of about a dozen people off the top of my head who will attest to this.

Coffee Conversation & Camaraderie

Following my misty, foggy yet high-yielding sea glass walk on the beach this morning, I considered heading over to the local coffee establishment  where I knew that a group of wonderful women would be convening as they (we) do most weekday mornings.  On my personal agenda for the rest of the morning and afternoon is to continue my frustrating, overwhelming and exhausting job search and I knew full well that to try to do so without the benefit of caffeine  (and camaraderie) was sure to make it even more frustrating, overwhelming and exhausting.  Being forward thinking is one of my many skills (did you catch that, oh hiring one?) so I decided to stop by for just a few minutes.

coffeelady

Armed with my coffee (hot, one milk, one sugar) I settled in as the conversation commenced naturally and without pause.  Having arrived with another of the regulars (I’m not sure, but I think I might be one myself now) there were now three of us.  By the end of the morning, seven other women had joined in, coming and going according to their schedules for the day, some just stopping by to say their hellos, others pulling up a chair.

We are in our 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.  Our children range in age from 18 months to deep into their 30s and everything in between.  We are married, divorced, widowed, working full-time, part-time, for ourselves and looking for the right opportunity (note: that last one is me).  The daily conversations cover a myriad of topics: children, spouses, victories and failures, concerns, worries, and yes, even politics.  While the majority of us are in support of one particular candidate, there is complete respect for others’ opinions.  (That being said, I, for one, will be happy when the election and constant barrage of angry banter and rhetoric from both sides just stops and we can all begin to try to pull ourselves together.) There is no dearth of support be it via chuckles, groans, nods or amens.  Perhaps most remarkable: not once have I heard anyone talk smack about any other member of the gang ever.  I hate to say it, but among groups of women, that, most definitely is not always the case.

Admittedly, some conversations are more lighthearted than others.  Most of us are sharers (guilty!) while others are more reserved, but highly engaged nonetheless.   Just today we spoke of our confidence levels, our comfort zones and our experience of loneliness.  I presented an informal and unscientific poll regarding their thoughts on an issue I am facing in my home.  (Not so aside: they all, not knowing on which side I stood regarding the issue, agreed with my concerns.  Not gonna lie…I love when that happens.)  We talked about honesty and sharing and judging and Dr. Ruth and hospitals and gyms and hair and Facebook and confidence and dogs and Rabbis and dresses and restaurants, too. Sidebar conversations emerged and blended back into group repartee and back again seamlessly.  It’s a spontaneous yet well choreographed dance of thoughts, feelings and words unfolding over coffee and (hollowed out) bagels.

As each gal took their leave to attend to out-of-town guests, or put the baby down for a nap or go to work or decide what to wear for the “What to Wear” class they were about to teach or walk the dog or get a flu shot or simply get on with their day, I remained in my seat, still nursing my now completely cold hot, one milk one sugar cup of coffee. Despite saying goodbye with well wishes for the weekend, I hadn’t entirely noticed that the women of our klatsch had all departed and the mid-morning-coffee-break painters, landscapers and retirees had moved in.

Now it was just me and one other woman; a fellow mom, neighbor, congregant, new friend who happens to have grown up in the same town I did but is way younger than I.  We sat, just the two of us, and spoke with one another in a raw, supportive, empathetic and generous exchange as though we had been put on this earth to bounce things off one another.  By the time we took a breath and looked up, it was 11 a.m. and coffee time was quickly morphing into lunch time.  I departed feeling lighter, safer and better understood than I have in a while.  I felt connected and welcome and part of a group…something I have been wanting, needing and hoping for, although I didn’t quite know it.

I thank these gals for welcoming me into their fold, for propping me up, allowing my insecurities and sharing theirs.  I am fortunate to have found the chutzpah to approach them one day not with the plan to ingratiate myself, but just to say hello. And even more fortunate that they are not only kind, smart and thoughtful but each has an abundant generosity of spirit.  It’s beginning to feel a little bit more like home these days…

Maybe This Year…

As Yom Kippur approaches, my Facebook feed is filled with my peeps offering messages like this:

If I have done anything to offend or hurt you in the year gone by, please forgive me.

While I totally appreciate and welcome the sentiment, it does give me pause.  One the one hand: it is great to send out a blanket apology for being a jerk or a pain in the neck, or a cause for frustration, or a nuisance, or a bitch, or overly hysterical or forgetful or even temporarily unkind. On the other hand: perhaps the request for forgiveness should be less general and more specific.

yomkippur

Like, for example, actually calling (oh, who am I kidding – texting is about as far as I can go) the woman who felt that what I considered to be well-meaning help was actually stepping on her toes?  I want to tell her that my heart was in the right place, but, upon reflection, I absolutely understand and respect her reaction.  I know that, me being me I will likely do it again, but not because my apology isn’t real, but because I am a flawed individual…just as we all are…some more than others.

Or I could reach out to another  woman who, during the early morning rush of school drop-off gave me a long and protracted death stare when I began to pull out of the circle (not slowly and carefully enough) and camethisclose to hitting her car.  I knew who it was, although we’d never met, and drew conclusions about her based on this extremely brief encounter.  I had made a mistake and, in my mind, at the moment, her reaction was wayyyy over the top.  I arrived home soon after to find a Facebook message from her apologizing for getting so upset – she felt lousy, the kids were late and she just wanted to be home with a warm cup of tea.  We quickly resolved the issue which was never an issue, but not before I had asked another friend about her, sharing her behavior in the parking lot.  Yeah, that was unnecessary and unkind.  I should apologize for that, too.

I feel remorse at thinking smack about a kid who messed with Jess.  She’s just another 14 year old trying to navigate life.  I know how hard it can feel at 51, shame on me for not remembering what it was like at 14.

I’ve quietly judged other parents’ behavior, knowing full well that mine could be judged harshly as well.

There’ve been times that I have “punished” my husband for something benign (he’s such a doll…most of the time) that I carry around from the first time I was married.   Sorry, babe.  I love you so.

Sometimes my back is up when it shouldn’t be, causing unnecessary aggravation and irritation in people I care about.  Totally my bad.

Once, years ago, I took the tenets of Yom Kippur to an epic level.  The wife of an old friend was never particularly friendly to me in the many many times we were in one another’s company.  Me, being me, took it personally and to heart.  It drove me crazy, in part because I couldn’t understand it.  (At the risk of sounding completely obnoxious, people generally like me.  At first, anyway.  I am definitely a little bit too out there, irreverent and filterless for some.) And then, one night, we bumped into this couple at a loud, crowded and likely overpriced kids’ restaurant, all of our kids surrounding us.  We said our hellos and I received the same chilly reception I had seen before.  It was right around the high holidays and I was feeling emboldened, repentant and open to change.  With genuine curiosity I looked her right in the eye and asked,

“Have I done something to offend you?”

 

She was completely taken aback.  With a kind smile and fervent warmth, she apologized  vigorously.  I had not, in fact, offended her and she is not unfriendly…she’s shy.  (In my slight defense: there has never, in the history of Levinsons, been a shy person, so my experience is limited at best.) Yeah, I get it…for a shy person, I am a lot to take in.  Fast forward twenty years later and that shy woman and I are still friends.

Sometimes we get off on the wrong foot.

Sometimes we have a bad day and act in a way that is neither pleasant nor a true reflection of who we are.

Sometimes we allow what we have heard about someone to cloud and form our own impressions.

On this Yom Kippur, I do hope that if I have wronged or hurt or insulted or infuriated or frustrated or angered you that you can forgive me.  And, because I am nothing if not honest, I further hope that you feel that you can let me know.  Text is fine.

I’m going to be a perfect mother, stepmother, wife, daughter, daughter in law, sister, aunt, cousin, friend and (hopefully) employee this year.  Yeah, that’s not really a thing….but I am going to try.

Wishing you a calm and meaningful holiday, an easy fast and a joyful, gratifying, healthy and prosperous new year. Oh, and if you were stupid like me and didn’t do a proper caffeine ramp-down, I wish you some extra luck.

How Do You Jew?

Growing up, my family and I attended synagogue twice a year.  Once for Rosh Hashanah[1] and once for Yom Kippur.[2]  We dressed up, drove across town to the temple, saw people we hadn’t seen since the previous year’s High Holidays, had a big meal and called it a day.

We did not celebrate two days for Rosh, nor did we (the kids, that is) go to Kol Nidre[3] services.  (I do recall my parents going periodically, but, if we are being honest, it was probably more to get away from us kids for a few hours than a true religious calling.)  In fact, I am kinda sure that it wasn’t until my first marriage – which my then mother-in-law not-so-lovingly referred to as a “mixed marriage” because I had grown up reform[4] and he conservative[5] – that I even knew that there was a second day of Rosh Hashanah.

My brothers and I all attended Hebrew school on Sunday morning as well as Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  And, despite occasionally skipping class and, instead, hanging out at the IHOP which was conveniently located directly across the road (and, not for nothing, happened to have great french fries)  we all crushed it at our respective Bar/Bat Mitzvahs.

We did not keep a kosher[6] home.  Nor did we know anyone who did.

We did not eschew pork products, but actually enjoyed bacon on the somewhat regular.

We chanted our Haftorah[7] portions beautifully, but, in my case (and I am relatively certain at least one of my brothers…) it was mostly from memory having listened to the tape recorded lessons over and over and over and over and over again.

We, along with the Lewis family, consistently got the giggles during services resulting in my father’s shoulders shaking up and down in a vain attempt at suppressing his laughter. This inevitably led to my mother (repeatedly) nudging him to stop.  Note: more often than not, her pokes would backfire, resulting in peals of laughter from every Levinson and Lewis in attendance. Was it appropriate? No.  Was it our little tradition and now fond memory?  Yes.

None of us know how to daven[8], but we are great with humming along to all the familiar prayers, songs and melodies.  I’ve even managed to master the beginning and the end of the Kaddish[9].  Sort of.

All that being said, both of my brothers and I created our families with Jewish partners.  I even did it twice – the marry part, that is.   It never occurred to any of us to do otherwise. In fact, when my brother (yeah, the same one who memorized his Torah portion) forced me to try online dating I reluctantly agreed but would only go on JDate…and we all know how that worked out!

Our Jewish identity, in our iteration, is solid, strong and undeniable.

Now…Barry grew up wayyyyyyy more observant than I did.  He went to Jewish Day School (but only for four years – a distinction he asked that I include).  He can daven, and follow a service (hell, he could lead the service).  He bows and bounces on his toes at the right moment. He knows when to stand and when to sit.  Likewise, he dutifully wears and removes his Tallit[10] at the right moment, without having to look around the room to see what others are doing.  He follows the Torah portion – IN HEBREW – as opposed to vaguely following along in English.  And, while we do not keep a Kosher home…bacon is verboten.

I respect his level of observance.  I marvel at the depth of his knowledge and commitment.  I readily acknowledge that he is more learned and schooled than I.  And I am okay with that.  It is he that chafes at my lack of what he deems commitment to my religion.  So today, over a delicious meal of Greek yummies, we entered into a philosophical discussion about what it means to be Jewish.

(Below are photos from our post Rosh Hashanah services this year.  Following temple, we went home, changed into comfy clothes, grabbed iced lattes and enjoyed the beauty of the beach…)

577757772

Shabbat services (which, I should note for the record, we attend every other week during the school year) are, for me, a time to be quiet with my thoughts.  I take in the melodic rhythm of the Hebrew, the music, the whispers around us.  I try to embrace one of the main tenets of Shabbat and let go of the week that has passed and reflect on what was wonderful and try to push past the stuff that sucked.  I’m dressed a little nicer, my mind is a little quieter and my soul often feels just a little bit more whole.  That’s what works for me.

For Barry, services are much more of an audience participation event.  He follows the prayers, the Hebrew, the English, the traditions and the rules of what needs to be done.  He davens.  He chants.  He, in his own inimitable way, relaxes and reflects. That’s what works for him.

So, in our chat over pastitzio, lamb gyro and Greek salad, we discussed, here in the midst of the High Holydays that neither one of our ways was right.  Okay, so full disclosure, I, um,  started the conversation…feeling a bit defensive if you really want to know).

Me: This is how I “Jewish”.

Him: But don’t you want to learn to daven and read Torah and know the service?

Me: No.

At the end of the day, we each need to respect the other’s needs, experience and process.  We need to be kind: I won’t make bacon if you don’t give me shit about not knowing how to read Hebrew.  (But did I mention that I killed it at my Bat Mitzvah?  “Chanted beautifully”, they said.)

Yes, I do find joy in listening to Barry and his youngest son singing a night time (at least I think it is unique-to-nighttime) prayer as the little guy readies for bed.  I love hearing them share that moment.  It is nothing that ever happened in either my home growing up, nor while my children were kids in my own home…mostly because I didn’t know the prayer.  Or the tune.  Or, frankly, the meaning. But it doesn’t make me any less Jewish.

On this High Holiday season my wish is for happiness, health and good fortune for my family and friends.  I pray for this year to be better than the last, for the insanity of our world to become even a little less insane and for no one to feel alienated, fearful or alone in the world. I reflect on the mistakes and wrongs of last year and hope that I will be forgiven by those who I have wronged, upset or pissed off and, that if those I hurt cannot move from that, I will find a way to redeem myself.  I want my kids to be comfortable in their skin and with their path in life.  Bring it on 5777.

I will admit, however, that my prayers are in English and I’ve been known to do my reflecting while enjoying a good ol’ BLT.

 p.s. My email address that I have had forever is orabatmoshe@xxxxxx.com.  That, just so ya know,  happens to be my hebrew name.  So there.

 

 

 

[1]  Jewish New Year.  This year is 5777. That explains the photo above.

[2]  Day of Atonement

[3] Evening service of Yom Kippur.  Think of it as the kick off to the fast the following day.

[4] One of the major movements of Judaism, believing that Jewish law was inspired by G-d and one can choose which laws to follow.  Pretty chill.

[5] One of the major movements of Judaism, accepting the binding nature of Jewish law but believing that the law can change.  In laymen’s terms: the stricter movement.  (No judgment)

[6] Describes food that is permissible to eat under Jewish dietary laws.

[7]  A reading from the Prophets, read along with the weekly Torah portion.

[8] Pray. Observant Jews daven three times a day, in addition to reciting blessings over many common activities

[9] prayer in Aramaic praising G-d, commonly associated with mourning practices

[10] Prayer shawl

Not Trying to Fix It

Most days, I  wake up , collect my iPhone from its perch on the nightstand and begin my morning ritual of  checking  the weather, any texts that may have come in while I slept (thanks to “do not disturb” I am no longer awakened by the trill of the alert), my email and, okay, I admit it, Facebook.  Normally I find relatively banal postings.  Beautiful sunsets, last night’s dinner, ISO book suggestions and links to recipes, many of which I download, some of which I have actually made.

One morning, in the middle of March, I was scrolling through my news feed and stopped in my tracks.  I gasped.  I re-read it three or four times, hoping, wishing that I misunderstood.  The air in the room stopped circulating.  The crush that a mother feels for another mother’s heartbreak nearly choked me.

There are so many of you that I share stupid banter with on a daily basis. You make me laugh, keep me in on your lives and give me a lot of joy. it is for this reason that I share this tragedy: my son, Xxxx, died on Friday night. He was at a concert in Xxxxx, he took the drug molly and died. He was the funniest, most brilliant and, pretty darn complicated person I have known. We are devastated, but I wanted you to know.

The person who wrote those words, simple, straightforward and with no room for interpretation, is a woman I refer to as “my dear friend that I have never met” because, she is dear to me and, well, we’ve never met.  When Jess began her transition, and I, in turn, began this blog, it made the rounds in my immediate area.  She and I, it turned out, have many friends in common…one of whom forwarded our story to her.  I understood why: she is a mom, a therapist and one of those overflowing-with-compassion kind of people.  She, like many other strangers, reached out to me.  But she was different.  With her sharp and quick wit and her mother bear warmth,  I knew we would be friends.

Our oldest children were the same age, both high school juniors.  As the school year picked up steam and the college application process was in full swing, we chatted, commiserated, compared notes and kept each other (relatively) sane and (somewhat) under control.  Yet we never met in person. (Germane to this lack of meeting: we live in different states.)

As I tried to absorb the brutal fact that her son, the one who was not only the same age as Harrison, but in the same fraternity (albeit at a different school)  had done one stupid thing at one stupid moment and was now gone forever, I couldn’t think of one thing I could possibly say to her that would make any difference or quell any pain or make it all go away.  Not one.  So, in response, I simply commented with a single, solitary❤ knowing that she would feel my heart aching with her.

That was six months ago.

This morning, I was doing my morning Facebook check and a message popped up:

Her: Hi

Me: Hello my friend

Her: Shit morning to you

Me: That good, huh?

Her: Yup

Me:  Anything in particular or just everything…

Her:  Exactly.

A little bit more back and forth, and then this:

llmsg

Here’s what it says:

Me: I am so sorry.  I cannot even imagine and I know there is nothing I can say or do…which bites the big hairy ball.

Her: Which is why I pinged you, you’re not trying to fix it.

 

Every time we chat, I make sure to say something outrageous, irreverent or sassy knowing that she is going to guffaw which will, at least for a moment, allow her to be free.   If someone were to hack my computer and review our chats over the past several years they would either be horrified, outraged or deeply envious of the blast that these two 50-somethings have.   And, since we’ve never actually met, I know of her energy, facial expressions and raucous laughter only from photos on Facebook (and we all know how things on Facebook are always honest, true and real…)  Iam thrilled every time I see a shot of her looking joyful, if even for a moment.

No, dear friend, I am not trying to fix it.  I cannot.  No one can.  And that really fucking sucks.

We chatted a little bit more until she got a call from her sister.  My sign off:

Smooches, bitch!

Be kind. Be compassionate.

Jewish Geography & Smallpox

Recently, my dear friend Francine* was at a social gathering for her kids.  It was held in a facility several communities away from where either she or I have ever lived. She thought it was going to be a drop off, affording her the opportunity to explore a new Marshall’s, but upon arrival she noticed that all the other parents were hanging around.  Dammit.  Because she knew no one in the room and was not interested in staring at the wall or sitting by herself all evening while her kiddos ran around with their friends, she engaged in what we in the tribe refer to as Jewish geography.  Here’s how it works: With the knowledge that several (okay, most) of the other attendants are Jewish, you start a conversation with questions like, “What do you do? Oh, you’re a lawyer? Which firm? You must know my so and so“ or, “Where did you go to camp? College? Grad school?” and so on. It is only a matter of (usually very little) time before it is discovered not if, but who you know in common; think of it as the Jewish version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” only substitute Kevin with Jews and six degrees with two.  It is a tried and true phenomenon and successfully breaks the ice every time.

kevinbaconjewish

Anyway, it was not long (like I said) before Francine came upon a shared connection with a few of the other women. (Without divulging more than necessary, suffice to say, and it is germane to the conversation, that there is an overlap between said person-in-common and me. I, however, haven’t a clue who any of these new-to-Francine peeps are.) Once the shared person was identified, friendly banter surrounding them and how they know one another, blah blah blah, ensued. And then, strangely enough, the new-to-Francine people made a link back to, um, me and, more precisely, Jess.

The particulars are not important, but the gist of it was that these new-to-Francine people somehow, although I cannot imagine how, knew “about” (that was their word) Jess.  With a tone of concern, a lowering of their voices and hangdog faces, they asked: “How are they doing?” (File under: It’s not what you say, but how you say it…)

Briefly considering if they knew something that she did not (but knowing otherwise), Francine responded with a not all together un-provocative, “They are “doing” just fine…why do you ask?” Oh, Francine (bless her perceptive and protective little heart) knew exactly what they were referring to: Jess and the (news so old it’s not even news) fact that she is transgender.  So, in a dear-friend-kind-of way, Francine proceeded to regale them with tales of Jess’s awesomeness.

When I shared the story with Jess, her matter-of-fact, wry smiled reaction did not, to her, warrant even looking up from the pile of Swedish Fish (Braces? What braces?) that she was enjoying.  It was so perfect and reminded me (as if I needed to be reminded) why she is so damn awesome:

“It’s not smallpox, people…”

It reminded me of a blog post from about a year and half ago in which I shared my reaction to someone who expressed their concern over their children having been “exposed” to Jess. Interestingly, and not all together surprisingly, the unnamed person whom I reference in that blog happens to be the common denominator in this story.  Imagine that.  Seriously. Time to get over yourself.

I have said it many times: I get it.  Unless you have had reason to be schooled on what it means to be or love someone who is transgender it is entirely reasonable for discomfort, confusion and judgment to be among your initial reactions.  And then you need to figure it out. It doesn’t even have to be a transgender issue, actually…the unknown, unusual and unfamiliar stuff in your life is also the scariest.  Doh. I’d never take that away from anyone.  I would, however, hope that years and years after the fact, you might consider getting over it as it actually affects you, um, not at all.

My personal experience has been that if you are under the age of 25 you quite literally give no shits about someone being transgender. Admittedly, that is a broad generalization, but, to my mind, an accurate one.  And, in fairness to the new-to-Francine people, they are far enough north of that demographic that they might give a shit, but not so far that they should remain uninformed.  I can say with nearly 100% certainty that, perhaps unbeknownst to them, it is safe to say that they, or, at the very least, their children, know someone who is transgender or questioning.  For example, did you know that there are a lot of kids out there whose preferred pronoun isn’t he or she, but they. Yep, that’s a (cool) thing. Get with the program, grandma and grandpa!

So, next time you struggle with being uncomfortable or anxious or fearful of someone else’s process or choices or appearance, just remind yourself of something:

“It’s not smallpox, people…”

 

p.s. We are doing just fine, thank you.  Jess, in fact, is kicking ass, embracing and being embraced into her new community, making friends who, in keeping with their generation’s thinking, couldn’t care less about her back story and has a way better perspective on life than most of us.  And, not for nothing, is still funny as hell.

*Not her real name.  Not even close to it.