Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Holidays

The holiday season sneaks up on me every year and this year is no exception. I thought I would try to fit in a quick haircut and stopped by to see a local hairdresser that I’ve known for awhile now. A few years ago, her best friend and the owner of the salon passed away quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Nearly three years later her good friend and colleague still weighs heavily on her mind, even more so at this time of year. “The holidays are hard,” she tells me. “It just feels more unbearable.”

She knows I understand. Anyone who knows or has ever known loss and grief (which is pretty much everyone) knows that the holidays are just hard.  The reality is that on any given day, I carry my grief over the loss of my mom around with me. It doesn’t bother me like it used to. At first it felt so heavy, I could hardly lift it, hardly lift me. It felt like I couldn’t breathe. But then one day, on a particular day that I didn’t even notice or remember, it just stopped feeling that way. And then it was just part of the me that I am now. I take it with me to birthday parties and grocery stores. I read bedtime stories with it. It’s like an appendage – a true arm or a leg. At this point I might actually feel more strange if someone cut it off. That’s how used to having it with me I really am. But I truly don’t even think much of it anymore because of the general pace of life. You move, you go and you don’t think so much about it, about all the different parts of who you really are.
And then the holidays come. And all of that stuff that keeps you busy gets busier until the actual holiday when it all stops. For at least one day you stop working and shopping and shuffling. And you feel it there again. It never really goes away. You just find the space to take stock of it more around a table lit full of faces you love, and noticing more the empty chairs of the ones who should be there and aren’t. There are aprons not getting worn and sweet potato dishes not being made. The smell of a perfume and finely pressed tablecloth – well somehow all of that finds that part of me that I try hard not to think about too much on any one day and it does feel heavier. Grief does. And it feels hard. And realistically, I can’t think of anyone coming to my Thanksgiving this year who doesn’t know that – who won’t in some way feel that – for my mom or their grandma. Or maybe my dad will think about his wife. Maybe my mother in law will think more on her father, my aunts about their sister. We will all feel it more as we think on those we’ve loved and lost, and none of us will lay down under it.

I think because in this not so new reality now, holidays are harder but maybe hard doesn’t have to be bad. I mean, it’s not good – you miss them. But hard is who you are now – not hardened to new love and life experiences, but stronger and built to weather loss and still find good in life. In some weird way, it’s a relief to feel it a little more at this time of year. If I can’t have her, then I can have the missing of her. My girl at the salon said the holidays are bittersweet and indeed they are. My only advice: with time they do become more of the sweet and less of the bitter. It is still both – it is still hard. It is still real. And you are still here loving and living and missing and feeling and honoring and remembering. That is the new you. The hard you. The holiday you. The sweet but not bitter you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Hustle and the Bustle

It is early but not that early. I roll over to greet my husband and then remember he is away on a business trip. He is not there. I say good morning to my phone. It greets me with its both incredibly satisfying yet intensely irritating round of clicks and beeps as I sift through a range of mostly useless information. Top stories on CNN, weather, TMZ, FB. I’m clearly checking everything of vital national importance. At the same time not too far down the hall, Ruby is just waking up. As she does, she hears the far away sound of my AM click click clicking. “Mom, what is that sound?” And just like that I’ve thrust her into this chaotic busy technologically savvy everyone’s checking everyone’s connected world before her poor little two year old body has had a chance to fully crank open her eyelids and greet the morning sun.

I feel like a jerk and a hypocrite. I always said I would never be one of those people and here I was – checking my phone before I checked on my husband or my kids or me. Was I still here? Who knew – but what was the latest on Lindsay Lohan? Ridiculousness. I feel like people talk a lot lately about how busy and noisy and hyper kids are today but the more I watch them, it’s not the kids that are changing – it’s us, the alleged grown-ups. I tell them to be quiet and listen and focus but on any given moment, am I modeling any of those things for them? I mean I really find myself wondering, if I completely fell off the grid and gave up a cell phone and the computer and forced myself to actually sit down and make a phone call or write a letter and do so with intention and thoughtfulness, my increasingly disturbing suspicion is that I would be far more connected to what is real and what matters, and be able to sort more appropriately in my brain what doesn’t.
Last year we rented a place in NJ when Phil took a new role at his company. In NJ, the kids went to a small preschool at an even smaller synagogue. On any given morning when you went to drop them off, the synagogue was quiet. There were maybe a few congregants and workers shuffling around: lots of love, little bustle. This year back in CT, we are at the JCC. And it is great. It’s a completely different experience but they have lovely teachers and friends and are truly having a great year. But on a whole different level, I can’t help but think how much more busy and noisy their lives are just by being in the bustling center every day. It’s a community center and it should be busy with craft shows and classes and workouts and play and theatre and school and the cafĂ© and all of the stuff that draws a lot of people from a lot of places. And I look at them running through the center and they seem so happy and busy and bustling themselves.

But I worry that amid all of the bustle they are losing this other part of themselves, the quiet part, the focused part, the part that can open their eyes without requesting to play the cookie game app on the ipad and watch Sesame Street at the same time before they’ve either peed or said good morning to me or Phil. They are learning to multi-task at the tender ages of 2 and 4. Which I suspect most people would tell me is a good thing for them to learn at an early age but I worry that they are increasingly losing the ability to single task. To listen, to think and to be in one place, one thought or one moment without interruption. Even more than that, I worry that I myself have already lost that ability. I am losing the present for the many and the silly and I am teaching them bad stuff. I can’t even do two things at once like play superheros and check Facebook: I have to do at least three things at once including play superheros, check Facebook, and silently berate myself for losing focus and teaching bad habits. Without question, I am multi-tasking at its least attractive level.
Ruby is going through my nightstand again. She comes across a set of DVDs my father made for me of our old home movies. She requests to watch one. I put it on and notice she looks worried. “Mommy it is not working. There is no sound.” I explain that the old movies were literally just moving pictures or images, no words to go with them. Nothing but the recorded tick tick tick of the old reel. She looks puzzled, and then accepting. And for the next 40 minutes she watches a movie largely of people she doesn’t know or may not recognize. There is no sound. I am so impressed with her ability to stick with it. I think more on all the business and noise on her life. It is not her seeking it out or needing it. It is me.

And so I am resolving not too withdraw but attempt to do one thing, whatever that one thing is, at any one time. It sounds relatively simple, but has become remarkably hard for me to do. I am learning to make my children wait more. I help one, then the other. Or perhaps even more shocking, I might help myself first. When I am playing superheros and princesses, I resolve to fully be in character in that moment. And when I am reading garbage on TMZ, I intend to do only that and furtively enjoy it while I make innocuous comments to Phil about the market that make him think I am reading something more nutritionally sound.
Or maybe I just need to stop sleeping with my smartphone. Baby steps Jenn….baby steps….

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

I am officially raising Alex P. Keaton. He doesn’t own the Nixon lunchbox. Well, not yet anyway. Today is election day. The excitement of choosing a new President! The thrill of donuts being served at the polls to select the new President! The confusion of my children as their parents root eagerly (albeit respectfully – minus that one nasty blowout in September- that was a complete parenting fail) for different people. I voted for Obama. I don’t know who Phil voted for. He believes it is his right to keep this between him and his ballot. I believe that somewhere in our vows it contained something about telling your wife every single thing including who you vote for. I cannot prove this. We must agree to disagree. At any rate, regardless of who he voted for, I’m proud of him for a) voting and b) voting his conscience (even if it’s not my conscience). Anyway, this really isn’t about Phil or me. It’s about Dylan. And how he’s like Alex P. Keaton and how I’m shocked to discover that somehow, this makes me more proud than I ever thought.

Dylan is my rules follower – at least other people’s rules (p.s. Ruby – you could take a memo here). He likes to follow the rules. He likes to be mainstream. He does not like to be the outlier, the one who is different. Phil and I have pleaded with him to realize that different isn’t bad and that making the choices that are best for him (and not because others chose them) are his only path to true happiness. This is understandably a difficult concept to wrap your head around as a 4 year old.
Every day in his class at preschool there is a question of the day. You can answer yes or no. I can see how he scans the answers each day before he gives his own answer. Poor thing – I could feel his discomfort when the question was “Do you have power?” after Hurricane Sandy. Out of 16 kids, only one answered no (faulty transformer near our house). Poor Dylan – he hated being singled out as the lone no.

Today, they polled the kids to see whether they would vote for Obama or Romney. At pick-up, they revealed the results. 12 of the 16 kids chose Obama – a solidly democratic preschool class! But I digress. Just 4 of the kids chose Romney. My kid – my little Alex P. Keaton - was one of them. My kid. Seriously. Can you believe it? I might actually be raising a tiny Republican? Honestly, I’m not. Or, maybe I am. Who knows? I doubt he really knows either way at age 4. Maybe he chose him because he liked the name better. Or because he heard Phil mention him and he’s got major hero worship for Phil. For one second I felt stung because I wanted to him to like my values, my candidate. And then I swallowed my own ego and reflected on the fact that my kid made an independent choice. He didn’t choose as me or most of the kids in class did. And that must have been hard. And I was proud, proud of my kid for being brave and making the different choice, even if that brand of different is more Hannity than Maddow.
It seems that democracy, much like parenthood, is a messy and complicated process. But anything really great (like my kids or deciding the next president) is always worth arguing and fighting and standing in line for. Way to go Dylan and America – proud of you for voting and making a choice, regardless of the outcome. Standing up for what you believe in isn’t always an easy road, but it’s a courageous one.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Race

“Mommy, I’m scared,” Dylan says to me as we drive to the dentist on a chilly Saturday morning. Without even thinking I quickly respond, “Don’t worry, I know everything will be fine.” I reassure. Often as a mom, I feel that is one of my core responsibilities – chief reassurer. I know that if I say it with confidence even if I can’t possibly know for sure, that the sound of my voice and the strength of my words will comfort him. And so I do. We are driving in our car. We are warm. We have food. We have gas. We have a place to come home to. All things being what they are, we live in a state of some certainty. My mind shifts to so many friends and family – people I know and love – people I don’t know but still love – who are not so far away from us right now. They are cold and tired. There is no gas, some have no food. Almost all lack certainty. And I want to reassure and comfort them with a clarity in my voice that I couldn’t possibly have, but still ask them to believe.

I begin to think about another group of folks who expected their journey, their race, their months and maybe even years of preparation and training to end at the finish line of the NYC Marathon. They are tired and frustrated. It is a different kind of tired and frustrated than the first group. Still, it is real. They had a race to finish. It seems like they have all this stuff inside of them that they wanted to give and leave on that race course tomorrow and now they don’t know what to do with it. But their training is not for naught. You see that first group – the ones without the certainty or the clarity or the heat – they are in a marathon of their own right now. They could use some training from them on what to do when you are not sure how much deeper you can dig, on how to finish this.
For some, the first couple miles are the hardest part. Make sure to take the time to collect yourself[1]. Find a space which is uniquely yours, even if it is in your own head. My great Aunt Claire once told me that every night she would take a picture in her mind of her happiest place. For her, it was anywhere with great Uncle Eddy. And she would hold that image there and find this great calm and happiness and peace. Find your picture – the boardwalk, your kitchen table, regular life – whatever it is – hold yourself in that image and collect yourself.

For others, mile 23 might be the hardest. You are close to the finish line, but there is still a ways to go. You don’t know what is left in you to finish. Perhaps the marathoners would tell us to think laps, not miles. If you find yourself thinking about all of the different steps and people and dollars and moments that it will take to get back to normal, the weight of what lies ahead will surely overwhelm. For now, celebrate the small victories. Today it’s the gas cans. Tomorrow you’ll worry about finding the gas to put in them (right Segal family? J)
Many will find that it is the last mile that is hardest to finish– the one that is “all heart.” Again, the runners offer up their training: go hard late. Finish strong. You can dig deep enough to push through this and just know that so many of us are running it with you. We are giving blood, and food, and prayers, and money and know that none of it is enough to give you what you really want – the warmth and the comfort that comes with certainty. Knowing what is real, what you have – what can and can’t be taken away.

In my own experience, when you think you can’t fall any further, that’s when you do. So breathe. And then reach out and we will finish this race with you. In as much as we can. No matter how heavy and tired your legs are, we’ll finish it together.

[1] http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-244--7172-3-2X3-3,00.html