M&Ms

I have a (large) jar of M&Ms hidden away. Not just plain ones, either. Rather, I have a perfect combination of plain, peanut and pretzel. No mint. No peanut butter. No minis. No mega. Despite full knowledge of said stash, my jar has either not been discovered by the others who reside in the house or, and perhaps more likely, it has been, but all are wise enough to abstain from touching.

m&ms

I am very disciplined when it comes to their consumption; never taking more than one palm full per visit, never more than one visit per day. When the jar is one quarter full I dutifully replenish. No sooner. No later.

I never make an impulse purchase of a single serving bag of M&Ms at the market/Target/Walmart/Staples checkout counter. When Halloween bags are dumped on the kitchen floor, I do not ever grab a bag, opting, instead, for the Sugar Babies, which are, I might add (with sadness), few and far between.

If someone I live with were to sneak a few, I would know from the distinct aroma they leave on the breath. No one has dared.

My jar of M&Ms, which I often go weeks (okay, days) without visiting, makes me feel safe. Like a good friend, they are there when I need them, bring me cheer (plain? peanut? pretzel?) and always buoy my mood. Yep, M&Ms have that power.

One of the joys of being an adult is having an M&M jar. It is up there with staying up late, not making the bed and declining an invitation simply because you just don’t want to attend, no excuses concocted in an effort to explain yourself. To me, it is akin to money in the bank, clean sheets on the bed and fresh milk in the fridge.

When we wake in the morning, we never know what lies ahead. The day could start strong and stay that way. It could, for that matter, morph into a shitstorm. Likewise, a rough morning is not always an indicator of twelve lousy hours. This morning I was laughing in my sleep so loudly, and, according to Barry, slightly hysterically, that I woke him. (Damn, I wish I could remember what was so funny!) I went on to have a great workout – complete with making a new friend – only to have things take a turn as the day progressed. I arrived home a bit worse for the wear and considered (but did not act) delving into my jar. I will admit, I went as far at to venture to the hiding spot to check my stash. I have not filled my palm, but the day is not over yet.

If you ask me, everyone should have his or her own M&M jar. What’s yours?

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Daniels, Elisabeth R.

As a kid, I remember my parents scanning (okay, they were reading) the obituaries listed in the newspaper. I didn’t think it odd as it was something they always did and was, in my child’s mind, “normal”. When I inquired as to why they did it, they responded with a jocular, “just making sure we’re still alive” and that was that.  I, too, am a scanner/reader of death notices.  Have been for as long as I can recall.  I’ve even been known to check them online.  Sounds creepy when I see it written, but I assure you, it is not.

That being said, I am immersed in this habit deeply enough to have a system. First I check the town in which I live, then my hometown and, finally, I scan for Jewish names. More often than not, I happen upon a familiar one: usually a parent or grandparent of a friend. Sometimes I have heard of the passing and seek out the announcement for the pertinent information, but more often than not, I just peruse without purpose. I’m not sure what I am looking for but assume it is my love of a good story that keeps me coming back for more.  Many (most, actually) stick to the basics and tell very little by way of a story but do serve to confirm that the name I am reading does indeed relate to someone in my world. I’ve seen them depressingly brief  and overwhelmingly detailed. None, however, has captured my interest as did this one:

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Interestingly, Elisabeth R. Daniels did not hail from either of “my” towns, nor was she Jewish. I’ve no recollection as to what made me read her obituary, but I did and, as you can see, went so far as to tear it out and save it (admission: it was on my fridge for a few days).   It is, without competition, the Best.Obituary.Ever.

We all hope to leave some sort of mark on the world, some kind of legacy which will serve to define us years after we are gone. I cannot speak for the masses, but would venture a guess that most (all) people hope that theirs is a positive, honest (assuming the two are not mutually exclusive) and, if we are really lucky, meaningful one. We were kind, or philanthropic, or funny or a trailblazer of some sort. Or perhaps we flew under the radar and made little impact other than to live quietly and not bother anyone. Most (all) of us would prefer not to be remembered for the time we behaved like an asshole or forgot to filter our words. Elisabeth was true to herself (and, so too, apparently, were her mother Sally and sister Dinah). I cannot help thinking that she sanctioned (and maybe even penned )the delightfully honest memorializing of herself. Talk about going out on your own terms. Have at it, Ms. Daniels!

Being honest with ourselves and knowing who we are can be totally awesome or can suck big time: sometimes all in the same day. Digging deep and owning the good, the bad and the ugly ain’t easy, but is it freeing, for sure.

I’ve always admired (envied maybe) the honesty with which Jess has lived her life. Like Elisabeth, she is a “unique creation” and I hope that (many, many, many) years down the road, when her legacy is being written it will be done so with the same love that Elisabeth’s has been.

I hope the same for Harrison. And, frankly, for me.

Sew Proud

On Wednesday, Jess decided that she wanted a new dress.  To be clear, she wanted to make said dress…not buy it.  When I pushed back (ever so slightly)(because I knew I couldn’t help her)(I have no domestic skills)(but I do make a hell of a chicken soup)(that counts for something, right?) she called Grace to ask her the name of the fabric store where nothing costs more than $2.99 a yard which, even to my uneducated-in-the-language-of-sewing mind, seemed cheap, er, inexpensive enough to take the ride to parts unknown.  Remember, Jess has been out of camp since July 28th and is not starting school until September 9th, so it is safe to say I would have driven just about anywhere and laid out cash for just about anything that would keep her busy for a few hours.*

We went to the store and chose the pattern,  fabric, thread and notions necessary and headed home to start the project which I was going to be able to help her with exactly, well, not at all.  In anticipation of a frustrating afternoon ahead, I asked my nav where the closest Dairy Queen was and, in hopes of capturing a pre-emptive soothing, drove the twenty-seven minutes and enjoyed a small, chocolate dipped cone.  (Jess opted for a peanut butter cup Blizzard.)

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As it turns out, I need not have taken in the calories after all.

With a little help from Jane (my next door neighbor who can do all those domestic things that I cannot) in the pinning department, this is the final result.

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*When I read this to her and she heard that sentence, she looked at me, smiling and wide-eyed and said, “Really?!?”

p.s. If you happen to see her at temple next week in said dress…let her know what you think!

p.p.s. I know the zipper is a little crooked, but that just adds charm.

p.p.s. Yes, she owns a real mannequin.  Doesn’t every not quite twelve year-old?

Festival Day

Yes, camp is over way too soon.  Yes, it was a wonderful five weeks.  What I did not realize until today, Festival Day,  was how truly magical it was.  Allow me to share a few pictures:

Photo by Jess.

Photo by Jess.

Another photo by Jess.

Another photo by Jess.

Yet another photo by, yes, Jess

Yet another photo by, yes, Jess

Photo shopped...

Photo shopped…

Sculpture One by Jess

Sculpture One by Jess

Costume by Jess (via Dorothy)

Costume by Jess (via Dorothy)

Sculpture Two by Jess

Sculpture Two by Jess

Jess and Sonya

Jess and Sonya

Selfie with me and Jess.

Selfie with me and Jess.

Quick Camp Update

  1. With the exception of one (really, I swear, there was only one) call from the director…all’s great.
  2. With the exception of two lost lunch bags….all’s great.
  3. With the exception of the fact that camp is done for the season…all’s great.

Yep, you read that right: Camp.Is.Done.For.The.Season.  (As in: they close their doors til next year, no option to add another week or five, done, over, finished.)

She had a great time.  She made friends.  She wants to go back next summer.  But now I have until September 9th (yes, September 9th) when she goes back to school to try to keep her at least equally happy.

No, I did not sign her up for any other camps.  No, I do not have any real plans in place.  No, I do not know what I was thinking.  Oh, wait…all one needs to do it review the epic fail of last summer and it will all make sense.

Yes, I have poked around for programs here and there, but have come up with nothin’.  Yes, I am in denial that things could turn torturous over these next several hours, I mean days, er, weeks.  Yes, I am more than a little concerned.

But.

She did have five great weeks with only one minor transgression which I have chosen to forget about.  I am going to quit while I’m ahead.

That said: if at any time over the next several weeks you have the urge to spend some quality time with an artistic, funny, quirky, energetic and extraordinarily complicated child (particularly during the hours that I have to, um, go to work) just let me know…I am sure we can work something out.

p.s. You stand forewarned: any and all joyous postings regarding children at camp, trips abroad or the like will not be welcome around these parts.  What? I am nothing if not honest.

Night Rider

One of my favorite (and by favorite I mean “best alternative when I am feeling homicidal”) things to do at night is to drive up, down and around the streets of my neighborhood.  It gives me a feel for what is going on if even just for that fleeting moment when I take my eyes off the road and assess what is happening around me.  On these less-frequent-than-over-the-past-few-years-but-not-all-together-absent excursions I, with a nearly 100% success rate, feel better by the time I pull back into my own driveway.

Those of us who are of a certain age will recognize this as the true Knight Rider.  Younger folks might not...which is why I was good enough to explain.

Those of us who are of a certain age will recognize this as the true Knight Rider. Younger folks might not…which is why I was good enough to explain.

As I weave through the streets, I take a mental inventory (that sounds creepier than it is) of who (based solely upon the cars in the driveway) is home, who is having work done to the house and who should be having work done to the house I find myself thinking less about whatever event drove me to seek refuge in my car and more about what is happening for other folks.  We all get so wrapped up in whatever mishegas* we are dealing with that we teeter dangerously close to being totally self-absorbed and, as a result,  forgetting about the people we surround ourselves with  – even if just by proximity.

Driving along one street, I think of my friend who, during the school year, I see most mornings at the gym but, given both of our altered summer schedules with the kids, haven’t seen since school got out.  I wonder how things are going with his three kids, his wife and where they might be this summer.  Aside from sporadic Facebook updates by his wife and seeing that his car in the driveway, I only know they are in town…but that is all I know.  I remind myself to shoot him a text to check in.

I pass by another house, the lights in the master bedroom still burning, and think of how they are coping and planning for their daughter’s upcoming surgery.  While I talk to the house’s owner nearly every day and have a fairly good grasp on where her head is, I do wonder if she and her husband are discussing it as I drive by, her none the wiser to my roaming the streets. (Until now, that is.)

How are things going with the lesbian neighbor whose wife recently left her for a man?  And that damn dog that barks incessantly all night – did I just discover where it lives?  Wow, that is a hell of an addition going on that house – are they adding a family room or a new kitchen or an in-law suite for their ailing parents? Do they even have ailing parents? I notice that ours is not the only overgrown lawn and ponder whether it is a sign of laziness or of being too overwhelmed to be bothered by something as benign as grass.  That looks like a new car in the driveway – must have been a good year judging by the make and model.  I think about how the kid in another house is doing since being busted having a huge house party when his folks were out-of-town.  (I had forgotten all about that…I suspect his parents have not.)

But the real thrill happens when I drive by (again, as uncreepily as possible) and can actually see into the house and catch a snippet of what goes on behind closed doors.  I’ve seen dinner parties in progress.  I’ve noticed folks with their feet up watching television.  There have been sightings of people getting up and taking themselves to another room in the house.  Where are they headed?  What are they doing?  Where is their head?

I catch a glimpse into windows of homes I know as well as my own and others I have never been in.**  I comment to myself (‘cause it would be weird to say it aloud, all alone in my car) about the décor, or the color of the walls or the cool chandelier.  And, in the process, I notice that my anxiety has dissipated.  My homicidal urges are quelled.  While I have bolted from (er, I mean calmly left) my house, assured (falsely) that I am the only one who has a complicated life, I am given a virtual slap upside the head and reminded that everyone has a life (admittedly, some more complicated than others) that they are leading with hopes for little more than happiness and contentedness.

I suspect I am not the only night rider around.***  I am just the one who admits it and, in the process, have likely creeped a few people out.  Let me assure you: I am not a voyeur, rather I am curious, compassionate and finding whatever way possible to stay connected…even if just in my heart.

*That’s Yiddish for craziness.

** If I have not been invited in as of yet, I suspect this entry just sealed that deal.

*** My old friend Betsy, who taught me the art of looking into other’s windows, is most certainly one, too.

Joyful

This morning it finally happened.  Lounging in her favorite chair, covered with a soft, fuzzy blanket (despite the fact that it is 100% humidity outside, inside my house it is a little, well, chilly.   I keep it at a comfortable – at least by my standards – seventy degrees of blissful air conditioning) Jessie let out a little squeal, involuntarily flapped her hands in the air and announced that she felt “joyful”.  My initial reaction was twofold: first, I assumed that her joy was a result of having time to watch some inane show on Nick which she has undoubtedly seen at least seven times already and second, I found her word choice enticing, but a little bit odd…I mean how often do you hear an eleven year old say that they are “joyful”?

As it turns out, Jess’s pronouncement of joy had nothing to do (well, maybe a little bit to do) with her television viewing; rather it was in anticipation of heading off to camp for the day.  Yeah, I know, kids love camp.  Not so my child.  Not so, historically, the camps hosting said child for the summer.  And just to sweeten things even more, she went on to say, “I am so glad to finally have found the right camp”* to which I responded (in my head): Hallefuckinglullah!

We are officially past the honeymoon phase of camp life.  We are safely enveloped within the camp community.  I’ve gotten no phone calls, emails or offers to refund my money.  She leaves the house happy.  She comes home happy and tired which, all parents will attest, are telltale signs of a great day having been had.  She hasn’t hatched a single fake illness or made a case for the need of a mental health day.  She tosses around names of kids she has gotten friendly with in a manner far more casual than, well, ever.  And, perhaps most fantastic: she has already announced her intentions to return next summer.

Yes, Jess used the word “joyful” today to express how she is feeling.  This mom, for today, anyway, is feeling pretty damned joyful herself.

*A million public thanks to Jane and Grace for getting us to this camp.  Love to you both for that!

Camp: Week One

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I will not be so bold as to exhale, but…I will memorialize the fact that the first week of camp was, wait for it, an unmitigated success.  It started and ended without incident.  It was five times (read: five days) better than camp experiences of the past.  A happy child left my house in the morning and returned, still happy, in the afternoon.   And, perhaps of greater note: no calls, emails, texts or smoke signals from camp.  Phew. (Not to be confused with an exhale.)

Throughout the week, however, I have been the recipient of texts, emails, and phone calls checking in on me, um…I mean Jess. (Note: those meant the world to me, friends!) As the week progressed, I’ve responded with slightly greater comfort each day and found myself a little bit surprised when I realized that it was Friday already and not a single scary phone number appeared on my cell, no emails in my inbox and no notes in the backpack.  Bestill my heart.

I am unsure to what I owe this change of events: Is it the camp? Or the additional year of “maturing” (I use the term loosely)? Or a heavenly alignment of the stars? Or G-d’s way of giving me a break after the shitstorm of last summer?  I suppose a better question is: does it even matter?

If I have learned nothing else over these past eighteen months, I have learned to (try like hell to) not over-think every experience, episode and event.  I have (almost) become Zen in my approach to transitions,  tests and tantrums.  I know when to ask questions and when to just take things at face value and run.

To my credit, I resisted the (overwhelming, nearly debilitating) urge to drop a quick email (or phone call or text or smoke signal) to the camp director as a means of confirming that all really is well and am quite confident that, were it not, I’d have heard about it.

Monday starts the second week of camp and while I will not exhale, I will assume (perhaps dangerously) that it will be as great a success as the first week.  Your collective crossed fingers, toes, and genuflection are appreciated as are your respect for my holding my breath.  We can do this.

It’s Summer and the Living’s Easy?

This was written, with the intent of posting it, last night.  Alas, that did not happen.  I am confident that you will understand the use of “today” actually means “yesterday”.  Not that is matters.  Just sayin’.

Here’s the thing about having a blog: people expect you to have something to say and to do so articulately and with some regularity.  Sometimes my ability to do so comes easily, particularly when the incidents and accidents are coming fast and furious at every turn.  Other times, when things seem to be somewhat normal (dare I even use that word?) this blogger finds herself not only at a loss for words, but actually appreciating the fact that there is not a lot to say.

Now, to be perfectly clear, I suspect that will all change as the transition from school to camp goes beyond today, the first day.  I am waiting, with (more than) somewhat bated breath, to see how things unfold in the coming week as camp becomes a routine as opposed to a novelty.  Images and agonies of last summer continue to swirl about in my head, but, until this moment, I have staunchly refused to acknowledge that fact.  My hopes are high for the next five weeks of camp.  I will go so far as to say that I have a gut feeling that it is all going to be okay, but uttering that aloud is far too arrogant quite yet.

You may recall that last summer was an epic and repeated fail.  It undid me.  It undid Jess.  It provided plenty to discuss in therapy until such time as I deemed it no longer worth the energy it took to do so.  The plan was to archive it as deep in the recesses of my brain as was possible, never to revisit ever again.  Until, that is, this week.

It would be dishonest to say that I had successfully tucked it away.  I have thought about it on (more than) several occasions and prayed to St. Somebody or Other (said the Jewish girl) that this year, with the benefit of another year under our collective belts, we would kick summer’s butt.  I went so far as to not even acknowledge that Friday was the last day of school (for Jess, that is…the rest of the kids, the ones who transition without issue that is (do you happen to know any of those kids, because I certainly do not) remain for the last five mandated days in school, sweltering from the heat and filling the day with anything that is not academic and kills six hours) and that today was the first day of camp.  (Full disclosure: transition issues aside, there was no way on G-d’s green earth that I was going to forfeit the first week of camp given the price tag. The fact that transitions are important was merely a bonus.)  If nothing else, I have learned to tone down my pre-worrying and let things happen ever so slightly more organically.  In this case, that played out as denial.  It works for me.  Don’t judge.

When she left for camp in the morning she was in great spirits.  That did not surprise me.  In fact, it would have thrown me if she had exhibited any anxiety.  That is simply not her style. What I worried about, for a fair portion of the day, was what arrival home would look like.  And here is what I got:

The scene: Jess walks in the door (having been drive home by a friend) with her head drooping down.  Having chosen swimming as her last activity of the day (thus requiring no changing out of a wet suit) her hair was still wet and is long enough to be hanging in her face.  I held my breath.

Me: “So…how was it???”

Jess: “Awful.”

Me: (Holding back the vomit that was rising in my throat), “Um, whaddya mean?  What happened?”

Jess: “Everyone was mean and I hated the classes.”

Me: (Reaching for the nearest receptacle into which I would deposit aforementioned vomit), “Seriously?”

Jess: (Bursting into a huge smile),”IT WAS AWESOME!”

Me: (Thinking of how to kill her and leave the fewest signs of force).  “You stinker.”

And then a shared smile.

Yeah, yeah, I know: it is only the first day.  But (and this is a big one): it is the best first day of anything, ever.

Tune back in for updates.  I hope (and by hope I mean pray like hell) that they will continue to be positive but I make no promises. I almost hope she gives me nothing to write about…

Is It Thursday Yet?

Tomorrow marks the start of the first full week of school for my kids.  Last week’s Thursday opening was merely a courting of sorts.  It was a time for them to meet their teachers, get reacquainted with the kids they had not seen over the (interminable) summer, revel in the excitement of an advanced grade and, theoretically, anyway, emotionally prepare for the rigors of school.  Despite how irritating it was for this parent, I have to admit to understanding and even appreciating the thought process of the school committee to kick off the year with a weekend right around the bend.

As a rule, I tend to subscribe to the “easing into things” method.  It certainly beats being hurled, thrust, tossed, flung, heaved, pitched or propelled; trust me, I know the difference.  Even though George’s behavior and tendencies were long indicative of a pull toward more female expression, her transition to Jessie was hardly a long, protracted exercise.  At the time, I would have given my left arm for a “Thursday” start, but in hindsight, there was something to be said for her taking the helm of the ship and pushing off the dock without dropping anchor.

Behind the scenes, the true evolution from George to Jessie occurred over the course of a few months.  It was early September when she first told me her “secret” and not until mid December that she went wide with the information.  However, once she “shared” with her teacher at school (at 11 a.m. on a Monday morning…yep, I remember it well) it was mere hours before the barn door flew open and the horses were galloping, albeit gingerly, through the halls of her school.  To the uninformed observer, it must have caused whiplash: Monday she was George and by Wednesday (which happened to be pajama day) she was bedecked in head to toe girl’s pjs and robe, hot off the shelves of Target.  By some miracle, none of the kids seemed to bat an eye nor did a single classmate tease him (no pronouns had changed yet) for his outfit.  No easing into things for her.  Once she had freed herself of the information that she’d been keeping inside for all those years, there was, in her ten-year old mind, no time for pussy footing around.  I would have loved a “Thursday” start but, alas, as the passenger on this adventure, no one asked me.

Likewise, no one asked me what day I would like school to begin.  Had they, I would have said Tuesday, the day after Labor Day which, in my memory, was always the first day of school.  But, having been denied the option  or the Tuesday start, and armed with the knowledge of how “Thursday” went (read: lead quickly into the weekend) I appreciate how nicely it fell into place.  The kids were energized but not overwhelmed, excited but not freaked out, relieved but not “over it.”  It was, actually, a perfect segue to a new year.

Now, with the benefit of nearly a year’s worth of hindsight, I truly appreciate Jessie’s thinking in jumping, feet first, into the unknown waters of living as a girl.  She must have known what would work for her and, as such, went in, never looking back.  She didn’t need a “weekend.”  She was down with starting on a Monday.  She had her energy, excitement and relief in check already and, it seems, did not feel the weight of being overwhelmed, freaked out or, certainly, “over it”.  Impressive, that one is.

As we kick off fifth and twelfth grades, I hope that my kids will have wonderful, meaningful and happy years.  I hope that we will quickly get into a rhythm that works for them (and, um, me) and that there are no other enormous changes in store.  That said, we should all fasten our seatbelts and prepare for all that lays ahead.  Oh, wait, have I learned nothing?  I have absolutely no idea what lays ahead…