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.

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Yet, I’ve become a big old crybaby.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…)

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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