Sunday, August 24, 2014

Family Vacation

My egg cracks and bubbles in the pan. I’m the last one to eat breakfast. I pour too much water in the mini Keurig and it overflows, again. I look at the puddles on the counter and turn it on. The coffee it promises seems like a greater priority than the spill. I hear the baby crying, fighting her morning nap. I struggle with whether to go to her or flip the egg. I think I can do both. I run upstairs to quickly give her a binky and soothe her, back down to flip the egg. Acoustic sunrise is on the radio and even though I can barely here it over the bubbling egg and the whirring coffee machine and the crying baby, I keep it on because I know there is a small part of me somewhere in there that likes it, and should honor that. Ruby is watching the Mickey Mouse Club. She is answering all of Mickey’s questions. Dylan is reading the second installment of Harry Potter.

These are the sounds of our Sunday morning. For some reason I want to write that down, record them. I want to remember what it felt like to be in this moment which feels mundane and groggy and loud and wonderful and hard all at the same time.

We are freshly back from family vacation. Family vacations have this wonderful way of taking every amazing, difficult, complicated, ridiculous, breathtaking component of each relationship and putting it under a microscope and blowing it up and out of proportion. That seems about right when you put 5 people in a room together and tell them to spend every waking moment together. Even in the best of families, love is just not built to sustain that kind of togetherness. It is so loud, so seemingly unnatural, all that why are you breathing, staring, building, chewing at me how amazing I love you so much I can’t stand you get away from me want to play with me I love you don’t sit near me don’t breathe near me togetherness.

On our first day, Phil could sense that I needed a bit of time away. I snuck down to the ocean and swam in crystal blue waters by myself. To say that this felt indulgent would be an understatement. I floated on my back and felt truly weightless. I forgot how great it is to just float once in a while, your belly stretched to the sky, drifting without purpose, your ears slightly submerged to drown out sound. After, I went to meet up with the family by the pool. As was the norm at this resort, a waitress came by to offer me some rum punch and I didn’t want to be rude so of course I accepted. Except I don’t usually drink rum at 2pm in the afternoon. So I drank and promptly fell asleep/passed out with my face tilted up toward the August Caribbean sun at the hottest part of the day. From this moment on, I was known as lobster face.

Moms, there is a reason for that 5pm rule. Wait for that first drink. Safety first.

There was a ridiculous amount of swimming and even a water park with water slides. Phil likes the ones with the sudden drop. I fancy myself more of a lazy river candidate. We both see them as metaphors for life and I suppose we’re both right. There were beaches and sand and my god the sand – how does sand get in so many places? Will I find sand on us for the rest of our lives? I suspect this is true.

We capped off the end of a long, hot, wonderful, amazing, complicated week with a trip to Hibachi to celebrate my mother in law’s birthday. My senses were on red alert. Hibachi always feels hard for me. It is so loud – always so much. It is everything I love about the quiet and gentleness of the lazy river except the opposite. Dylan was mock cooking shrimp at the grill. The chef kept clanging his spatula on the metal for theatrics. Everyone cheered. The rowdy table next to us inexplicably broke out into Journey as they dank sake. The fans whirred to clear out the smoke from the cooking. The baby burped and threw up the pureed broccoli she just ate. There was singing and happy birthday and cake and Ruby clamored loudly for a large piece. Phil photographed the scene. Flashing, clapping, clanging, crying. It was the perfect symbolic closing dinner on family vacation. It was just so much. So loud, so horribly loud, and wonderfully, awfully much.

The teapot is bubbling over with water for the baby’s bottles. I hear her on the monitor fighting her afternoon nap. The older two play a mock battle scene with superheroes. Everything on me tingles. A fight breaks out over a toy. Acoustic sunrise ends and a loud modern pop song comes on the radio. Sunday morning feels loud. I hate it. I love it. Perhaps that’s not a family vacation thing after all, but just a family thing. Love feels loud, at least in this house.

I turn the kettle off and run toward all of it with a full heart and exhausted arms.
                              P.S. this vacation picture? it says it all right? awesome.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Faith and Hope

I believe in many things. Most importantly, I believe that faith and organized religion are two entirely different things.  I want my children to have faith in themselves and in a guiding set of principles and beliefs that generally speaking encourages them to almost always choose what is right even when that is the harder choice. I want them to find peace in the knowledge that there is someone or thing in this world that is greater than themselves. I hope that they will find this in Judaism. But more than that, I just want them to find that space.

My youngest baby, Hope, is fast approaching 7 months old. Though we are not currently members of any synagogue, our lack of shul membership doesn’t necessarily translate into a lack of faith. My husband and I are Jewish and we want to raise our children Jewish. One of their first introductions to this faith is the ceremony where we give them their Hebrew name. Though I expect we should’ve done this months ago when she was newly minted, it is time to start planning this event now.

In Judaism, the naming ceremony for boys is part of the Brit Milah or bris, the ritual circumcision that nearly all Jewish boys receive in the first week after their birth. It’s a straightforward, if not uncomfortable process that looked something like this with my son. I was 8 days post-partum and was largely a walking ball of emotions. Our house was filled with some close friends and family but mostly extended family that I did not know or recall or even like. A mohel showed up who claimed he had circumcised nearly every little boy in the tri-state area. He said a couple of blessings that I did not understand over my tiny helpless son who lay sobbing on top of our card table as he carefully removed his foreskin. Everyone celebrated as my baby screamed. Someone removed the baby and the iodine and replaced it with a platter of rice that my husband’s grandmother had made for the occasion. A group of old women sat down at the exact same table where this whole ridiculous scene had just taken place and started noshing and kibitzing. I grabbed my son and the rugelach tray and hid in my bedroom where I sobbed and binge ate pastry.

In every way, this ceremony for me was about religion. I felt very little that day, and certainly didn’t feel moved or connected by my faith. I recognize this was my personal experience with his bris, but nonetheless it cut me sharply (no pun intended) that his first introduction to Judaism was seemingly so full of ritual, yet so lacking in spirituality.

With our second daughter Ruby, we felt free of what we’d been through with Dylan. Brit bats (the naming ritual for girls) are a relatively new concept in Judaism and are much more free form. We knew we could do something more formal in a shul with a rabbi but we hadn’t yet made that connection with any one place. We wanted to create a ritual that honored our traditions in a way that felt inclusive and warm. We called everyone to our backyard on a sunny day in the spring. We pulled white chairs in a circle and filled them with our closest and most favorite people. We spoke about my mother, her namesake, about all of the things we loved about her, and about what we wished for sweet baby Ruby. We blessed her. We welcomed her with love into our faith.

And so again with Hope we now have a precedent, a path to hold a ceremony unique to us and the space that we have created for ourselves and our family within Judaism. This time it will be a crisp fall day. We will gather the people we love in our backyard and ask for their grace as we stumble rather artlessly through some blessings and give her Hebrew name. We will tell her that with her arrival, she made a unique space in our hearts that reminds us to stay soft, stay open. That perhaps this space is the only place in which true love and change and a belief in a higher power itself is even possible. Because of this, because of her and her brother and her sister, we have faith. We have Hope.

And with our own unique rituals and deep humility, we will introduce her to our unique brand of Judaism. We will welcome her into our faith with love.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Morning Truth via Swayze

Truth can be found in the strangest of places. It can even be found in the front seat of your car while listening to Patrick Swayze.

I was thinking about Swayze as I drove along the other night. It was a rare moment when I was by myself in the car, off to run some glamorous errand like buy formula at Walgreens or the box of 16 crayons at Staples. Free of questions about why my arm has spots, or why giraffe doesn’t start with a J, free of fights about water bottles and free of the Sofia the First Soundtrack, I found my mind wandering. It was open, the kind of open that really let’s some fresh air and light into those dusty parts that rarely get any exploration.

And so my mind turned to Swayze.  She’s Like the Wind came on, which arguably is just one of the finest power ballads of 1987. I was thinking about how psyched Swayze must have been to record it, to score the part of Johnny in Dirty Dancing that same year, to recognize what a huge turning point that was in his career. In the scheme of Patrick Sawyze’s world, all of this probably meant quite a lot at the time. It probably felt like it meant everything.

And then one day he died.

To Swayze, I assume when he was dying that making this song and movie maybe mattered because he was an entertainer, and loved doing that. But to the rest of us? Oh sure, to 80s obsessed fools like myself who never put baby in the corner, Johnny Castle is important. But in the scheme of life? In the overarching history of movies itself? It doesn’t really matter that much. Not unless you are one of those true Swayze fans, the ones who even love Road House. But that’s neither here nor there.

In the beginning I imagine he must have felt like it was a really big deal because it was going to make him in the eyes of others and maybe it did, for a little while. But almost always unless you are the person that cures cancer or ebola or ends slavery, well you’re moment in the sun almost always fades. The only reason it will ever matter that you did anything is because it mattered to you, it fulfilled you. If that’s true, than it was worth it.

Because in the end we’re all like Swayze. And we’re all going to die. And most of the stuff we thought mattered will be forgotten.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This is quite a lot to consider during a short drive with some lite music on your way to Walgreens. But as the sweet sounds of Swayze soul, and this suddenly and painfully obvious truth wormed its way into those dusty cerebral corners, it brought into sharp focus the idea that the only reason I should ever do anything, write anything, love anyone, pursue any relationship, idea, embrace anyone or thing is because I choose it, because it fills me up. Because the perception of anyone else’s idea of all that , of me doing all that, will almost always be irrelevant one day.

I mean one day I’ll end up like Swayze. I most certainly don’t have the cure for anything important, so all that will matter is that like him, I did and chose and loved because I thought it mattered. There is never any other reason. And when you think that way, it makes it really easy to decide who and what is going to fill your day.

So today I’m going to write, and walk and read and love. I will also drink wine, listen to 80s music, call my father and sisters, play with my kids and talk to my husband (but maybe not in that order). I’m going to fill up my day with what matters to me.

Just a little Sunday morning truth via Swayze. Choose what matters, what you love today, and let that in.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Back to School Favorites

Somehow it became August when I wasn’t looking. I’m certain it is still 80s and humid and summer camp and swimming pools and watermelon season. It seems that the second the calendar changes, I notice more that those long summer nights seem to be getting shorter and shorter. I know fall must be far away, but common sense and my mailbox tell me otherwise. It is coming sooner than I’m ready to admit.

Usually my strategy for this sort of thing is to just be in denial about everything and then right before school starts (like 1-2 days before) panic and go on a mad shopping spree where I try to piece together everything everyone needs in a 12 hour period. This is a fascinating snapshot of my general life and organizational skills: rushed, messy.

This year I am pledging to be different. Whether I’m ready or not, the school year is coming and I’ve already done some shopping to stock up. Not that any of you asked, but I thought I’d take a minute to share some of my favorite back to school items/websites. Please note that no one paid me to promote any of these products. I just hoped this might spark your own thinking on back to school preparations.

In general I’m not a terribly paranoid person (actually a little bit I am) but recently I read some stuff about plastic that made me feel uneasy. If I can sum up the crux of what I think the issue is here, it’s that BPA, phthalates and other dicey plastic components are fairly hazardous to your health. When you heat this stuff up in microwaves or dishwashers at high heat, the chemicals will end up leaching on to the food and drink you put in these cups/dishes/containers. Because of this, I’m slowly weaning myself off of plastic. I know what you’re saying: I’m BPA free! Which is maybe true but for some reason I still don’t trust the general concept of what plastic is: a hodgepodge of synthetic stuff. That just can’t be good. But you could hand wash! Also true. But the reality is I’m lazy and so are my kids and they use 45 different shitty plastic cups and bottles every single day and I just don’t want to hand wash all of this stuff so I stuff it all in my dishwasher and tell myself it’s okay because it’s on the top rack!

But lately my paranoia on all of this has gotten the better of me. I actually threw away all of my plastic kids silverware and cups. I replaced the kids’ cups and water bottles with stainless steel products from Kleen Kanteen. I’ve ordered them both on Amazon and A Mighty Nest. While they are a bit pricey, here are some great facts about them: they are stainless steel which makes them indestructible, dishwasher safe, come in various sizes with sport and twist tops, and seem to just generally last. One little tidbit here: the painted ones come in pretty colors but you have to hand wash them. Don’t be fooled: if you are lazy like me go with the boring old stainless steel variety.

If you are a plastic cup addict as I once was, I have mad respect. But if you are considering maybe making a change, check these out.

In addition to being a plastic cup whore, historically I’ve also been a plastic bag whore. One for the sandwich, one for the snack, two kids, another for that stray leftover hot dog at night! We were burning through those suckers! Frankly it was an expensive habit. More than that, I have been having this recurring nightmare about my family’s role in the generation of trash and what I’m leaving behind for my kids to inherit. I keep picturing this post-apocalyptic world that is dark and sad where the angry man from The Lorax movie manufactures smog for a living. Everything is sad. And all because of my addiction to plastic sandwich bags. So I’ve made the switch. I ordered a bunch of cloth reusable snack and sandwich bags – enough for both kids for every day of the week which seemed like a lot up front but I actually think will save me money down the road. They make a lot of cute cloth bags now and most can just be tossed in the washing machine to clean up. Snack Taxi is just one great site. Try also LunchSkins and Itzy Ritzy.

Every year I stumble into those classic New England mornings that start cold and end hot or start hot and end cold and either way you just know that at some point during the day your kid is going to need something. Not quite a jacket, more than their shirt. They need the hooded sweatshirt. I am partial to the Hanna Andersson hoodies for a couple of reasons: they don’t have random crap or pictures or cartoons that will go out of style or favor with your kids in two weeks and, they last. I have sweatshirts from these guys that are now living their second life with Ruby. They are at least 4 years old and are still going strong, getting better with age. They call them survivor jackets on their website which sounds way more fancy then hooded sweatshirt but that is what they are. By them big. Let em grow with your kid. The best.

Did you know that you need to label every single thing that you send your child with to school? And did you also know that sharpies on masking tape just don’t hold up that well over time? Honestly, most normal human parents with a brain already know this. Unfortunately I needed to learn this the hard way. Enter Mabel’s Labels. On the one hand part of me is thinking, “Why the hell am I spending so much on labels?” but the rest of me is thinking make this investment now so that your kid isn’t drinking out of someone else’s water bottle and catching mono or you are rummaging around the house looking for a sharpie while you chase the school bus. Order em, stick em on now, and live your life worry/label free.

There it is. Your back to school list of must haves. Also pencils, folders, excessive amounts of glue sticks (why so much gluing?) and wine. What’s on your must-have list?

Happy almost fall!