Oh, and Another Thing

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I married at 31 and started having babies when I was 33. By the time I was 38, we had three bouncing boys. I was getting older, tired and cranky, nearing 40 and seriously contemplated closing down the baby factory. Lo and behold, I was pregnant again.

Once we cleared the genetic screening hoops (our second son has a serious genetic disease), we anxiously awaited the arrival of our fourth, and final, child. We opted not to find out the gender of any of our children. We enjoyed the surprise when they were born. Even with the last child, I didn’t find out the gender because 1) I wouldn’t be able to keep it a secret, 2) if it were a boy, people would say, “oh, too bad,” before the poor guy was even born, and 3) while I knew too well how important a healthy baby was, regardless of the sex, I loved the idea of a little girl.

Miracle of miracles, I had a healthy little girl who is 12 now and just one of our crew. She is not the princess or the revered baby. She’s just #4. Okay, she twirls a lot more than her brothers, but you get the point.

Occasionally I feel a little bad that my daughter has an old mother, although I don’t think she thinks of me that way. I’m just her mom. Having lost my own wonderful mother a few years ago when I was 50, I feel a sense of wanting to impart all my wisdom to my daughter since she most likely will not have a mom for as long as I did. I was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, and while I am ostensibly cured, healthy and hoping to live a long life, one never knows what the future holds. I have to bite my tongue and subliminally drop my wisdom bombs. I don’t want her to remember me and think, “My mom was always cramming me with information because she was an old mom who worried about dying.”

I’m older than many of her friends’ moms, but that doesn’t bother me. I may not be as fun as younger moms who have more energy but I was never really that get-on -the floor-and-play-with-your-kids mom anyway.

Here are some things I want her to know:

  1. Read a recipe completely, BEFORE you start cooking.
  2. It’s worth it to pay more for a bra to have a salesperson who knows what they’re doing.
  3. When you order anything online, unless you really need it immediately always pick the regular shipping option – it usually comes just as fast.
  4. Be nice to everyone. If you happen to be popular, you want to be known as the really nice girl, not the mean girl.
  5. Don’t flatter yourself and think people care what you do. They have their own lives to worry about. Even if something happens in your life that makes you the news of the day, you will quickly be knocked down on the news-feed of life.
  6. Love yourself and your body. Everyone has things they wish were different about their body. Play to your strengths. I’m sorry you have bunions already at 12 years old. It’s part of the bad genes I passed on to you. Be thankful it’s your feet that you think are ugly and not your face.
  7. Don’t be a sheep and blindly follow others. Stick to your beliefs and values.
  8. When you have a house, put some lights on timers inside so it looks like people are inside. We were once burgled as a young couple when our house was completely dark, inside and out. Duh.
  9. Don’t be a doormat, to friends or a partner. Have relationships that are authentic and reciprocal.
  10. Don’t talk on your cell phone when in line at a store. It is rude to those around you and especially to the clerk. People don’t like to feel invisible. Smile at everyone.
  11. Have a schedule but be flexible, with yourself and with your children.
  12. Be grateful and express gratitude for what you have. Don’t whine about what you don’t have.
  13. Dress, speak, and act modestly. Be mindful of how you present and carry yourself. It speaks volumes about your character.
  14. Never “reply all” to an email unless it is specifically requested. No need to share the minutiae of replies. If you have to send an email to a large group, use the “bcc” so others can’t “reply all” either.
  15. Honor your father and your mother. Make sure I’m well cared for when I’m old. Two words – chin hairs.

I am aware of the opposite sides of the life cycle that we are on. My daughter is a young, budding teenager with beautiful, taut skin and boundless energy. I, on the other hand, am on the downhill slope which is full of lumps, bumps, wrinkles and if I’m lucky the occasional naps. We learn from each other’s different personalities and experiences, as even this old mom can learn new tricks. I will continue to quietly add to my wisdom list, teaching her with my words and through my actions.

Since my mother died, I often wonder “what would Mom do?” I can usually summon the answer. I hope my daughter will be able to do the same.

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Home Base

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It was so gradual, I wasn’t even aware it was happening.

My sister’s lived out of state for years. My mom died two years ago. My dad moved to Israel. His house just sold, so he came back to close the deal and empty out the final contents of the house. For the first time, he stayed with me instead of his house, which was basically empty. I realized that I had become my family’s home away from home.

I first became aware of the shift over the summer. My kids were away and my sister wanted to come home. Really, I thought? I’ve got no kids home and wasn’t looking for company. She hadn’t been home for awhile and wanted to visit the cemetery where our mother is buried. I couldn’t tell her not to come. Alas, in the new reality, I am “home” for her so I wrapped my mind around this idea, bought her beloved Diet Coke,  and told her to come. We had a great time as usual.

Now it’s my dad’s turn to stay at our house. It’s nice to have him with us – three generations living together for a month. He enjoys my children and we all enjoy having him around. He and I have lunch together most days. My husband and Dad chat over the occasional scotch. Such domestic bliss, you can’t imagine. My father looks the other way when I yell at my kids. We smile sweetly when he repeats himself. We’re practically a scene straight out of the tv show “Modern Family” – my dad being the cantankerous patriarch. I dare say he has even developed a moderate affinity for our dog.

All good things can benefit from a break though, so my Dad went to visit my sister and her family in Indianapolis, taking an early morning flight. My sister called me a few hours after he arrived. Our dad was sacked out on her couch – after all, he had been awake since four a.m.

“From my couch to yours,” I chuckled.

“How long does he usually sleep?” she asked with concern.

I felt like we were discussing a toddler instead of our paterfamilias. Fortunately he’s an active and healthy 79-year-old. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting cleaning out a house you’ve lived in for almost 40 years. He was tired.

I thought I was over the emotional part of saying goodbye to his house but apparently I wasn’t completely. The family homestead was the headquarters for our family for close to forty years. It’s a sad feeling to close that chapter of my life and a weird feeling to have the tables turned and for me to be home base. It’s a subtle shift, but a change none-the-less.

My father will leave the U.S. to return to his life in Israel next week. It’s strange for him to have given up his U.S. residence, but it’s worth it for him to be unburdened by the contents of a large home. He can visit his favorite possessions and my mother’s artwork in any of his children’s homes when he’s feeling nostalgic.

Yup, it’s a new rhythm for our family but one we are all adjusting to. There’s no place like home, wherever it may be.

 

 

Good Ol’ Teddy

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We recently trolled for treasure at my in-laws house so our kids could pick out some keepsakes. My husband came across his childhood teddy bear, which he decided to bring home with us. I was a little hesitant as Teddy had definitely seen better days. He has black ears, arms and legs and apparently had a white body but most of the fur is gone from so much loving and cuddling. My husband’s grandmother performed a surgical repair to replace his chest and tummy with white fabric. Teddy has reddish eyes with black pupils but almost no nose or mouth to speak of.

Who knew that resuscitating this bear could once again give its owner such joy? Teddy has brought us innumerable laughs. It’s surprisingly been a mischievous break from the daily grind.

On Teddy’s first night in our house, I tucked him into my  husband’s side of the bed so he greeted him when he came to bed. It made hubby smile. We chuckled that Teddy may feel a little awkward having to share my husband’s affection with me. The next night I came to bed to find Teddy perched atop our headboard, lording over the marital bed, my husband joked. I confessed that I thought Teddy was creepy and scary-looking and flung him to the floor.

I have gotten enormous pleasure from surprising my husband by posing Teddy in varying and amusing attire. Part of the rush for me is that I forget about Teddy until I go up to bed, when hubby is generally not far behind – I often have only a few moments, wildly looking around the room for inspiration and humor.  First I tied a bandanna around his head, so he looked sort of like Bruce Springsteen, of whom my husband is a big fan. The biggest laughs so far came when I had him sitting in a chair in our bedroom with my reading glasses on and “reading” on husband’s kindle. It made us both laugh so hard, we cried. The silliness of it tickled our funny-bones – go figure.

If our kids are around, they share in the fun. Otherwise it’s just one of those silly things that keeps life light and fun in the midst of the harder times of being adults.

Apparently teddy bears aren’t just for kids anymore. Or we’re just kids in the body of adults…old and weathered like Teddy.

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My Mother’s Hands

dr-sears-mother-hands-and-child-handsSitting in synagogue recently for the High Holidays, I thought of my mother, as I often do. This was the first round of High Holidays that I wasn’t reeling with fresh grief. Jewish holiday services are long – often lasting several hours. As my children sat briefly with me, I was reminded of all the times I sat with my own mother when I was young. Like most children, I found the services to be excruciatingly boring, so I passed the time counting the pages until the service was over or the minutes until I could be excused to roam the building with the other children. I also spent a lot of time looking through my mother’s small purse with its sparse contents for synagogue: kleenex, lipstick, a hard candy or two.

This year as I was sitting in the sanctuary, listening to the service, feeling introspective, I was struck by the memory of my mother’s hands, as I looked down at my own. I remember examining her jewelry and playing with her rings, trying them on to see what it felt like to  wear grown-up jewelry. Her hands and fingers were toys to keep me entertained and quiet. I admired her nail polish. I remember the feel of her skin as well as her sidelong glances, smiles, a warm embrace or her fingers entwined with mine.

I watched my mother’s hands change from those of a young woman into those of an older one with age spots and pronounced veins. They remained well-manicured but suffered from the cold and arthritis. As a grown woman, I continued to sit with my mother whenever possible. I still tried on her rings and was the happy recipient of a squeeze of the hand or a pat on the knee. These memories evoke feelings of security and being loved.

My daughter just discovered the game, Cat’s Cradle. She earnestly studied the book to see how to make various patterns and shapes with the colorful band of string and then asked me to play with her. My hands miraculously remembered just what to do. I was astounded by their memory, as was my daughter.

Now I’m the Mom, with middle-age hands. My daughter looks through my purse, plays with my jewelry and pleads to be released from the service. I hold her hand and try to placate her boredom.

I’m paying it forward, with my hands.

 

 

Making Memories

Where has the time gone?  A couple of years ago, when my eldest child was finishing his freshman year in high school I had a sudden, somewhat panicked feeling that he would be “gone” in a few years.  He would leave the nest and life as I know it would never be the same.

I remember when my children were small and every older person sagely advised me to enjoy this time as it all goes by very quickly.  I thought, “Yeah, right – I can barely make it through each day.”  And then that moment happened – I suddenly felt time accelerating.  What to do?

“We have to plan some vacations,” I told my husband.

Vacations and unique activities are what make memories.  The day to day drudgery is how you build morals and values both consciously and unconsciously.  But it’s the out of the ordinary things that children remember.  Encouraging (or forcing) together time can be novel in itself but the challenge is to make it memorable.

I’m not one to scrapbook or take loads of pictures.  I think the greatest memories are in your head and the way you viscerally feel when remembering them.  The ones that are in your hard drive.  Making memories can be intentional.  And many memories are created unintentionally.

I had a simple, visceral memory of my own recently.  At the end of a yoga class the instructor was going around giving everyone a therapeutic touch as we were in our final, resting pose.  She gently placed her hand across my forehead.  It made me remember the many times my own mother did this.

One of the goals of parenting for me is to create good memories for my children, like my mother did for me.  As the first spring arrives since my mother died, my heart is lifting with the anticipation of warm weather, flowers and trees blooming.  My happiness is muted knowing my mother will not enjoy this spring too.  She loved going out to “inspect” her yard, clipping shears in hand.  This memory will comfort me as I take shears and go out to inspect my yard.  My mother will be with me and I’ll see things through my eyes but with her filter.

As I think about it, the vacations are the vivid memories we take from childhood but the little things are what brings us comfort and security throughout our adult lives.  The memory that a parent cared for our bodies and our souls.  That they were interested in who we were and how we fared in life.  They are our biggest cheerleaders.

I guess that’s why I’m so focused on making the most of this last year before my eldest flies the coop.  I feel an urgency to impart my wisdom, though I realize my timeline is arbitrary. I will continue to parent, but he will be influenced by the people he meets and his own experiences.  What things will he remember from his childhood?  The good times at the beach, holidays, vacations? Family dinners and family friends?  Familiar songs or prayers? The cool hand on his warm forehead?  The special things I bake and cook – the tastes and smells?

Will he remember the things I’m not as proud of? Apparently I’m known to raise my voice once or twice, or a thousand times. In my mind’s eye, I don’t perceive myself as a yeller though I admit the children provoke me sometimes.

I tell them, “I didn’t always yell.  I used to be a normal person, just like you, who speaks in a normal tone of voice.”

Hopefully they won’t remember their Mom as “Old Yeller.”  I try only to look forward, not back.  The goal is not a perfect childhood, but a solid one to build the foundation for a successful adulthood however one defines that.  I hope my children will remember the good times, the meaningful moments and the laughter in our home.

I know they will remember their mother pointing their finger at them and saying, “Let me tell you something….”