Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wildfires



Everyone used to think it was an earthquake to fear if you lived in California.   Now we know it’s a wildfire.  The first time I lived through one, I was nine years old living in a suburb of San Diego.  The fire raged in the state park adjacent to our subdivision.  I recall police cars and rescue vehicles driving through the neighborhood with bullhorns telling us we needed to evacuate.

“Bullshit!” was all I remember hearing from my dad.

He was up on our wood-shingled roof with the garden hose, wetting everything down.  He had the sprinklers in the yard on at full blast and did not seem the least bit concerned that we might lose our home, or our lives.  I remember crying and telling him I wanted to evacuate like all the normal people.  He told me if I was so worried about it to go jump in the pool.  He was not packing a damn thing and if I needed to do something about it, how about making myself useful with a hose.

The second set of fires I recall raged when I gave birth to my second son.  The most devastating wildfires in California history sparked that day and by the time I was cradling my newborn, the entire hospital was filled with smoke.  Nurses were wearing masks and we were told that half the staff couldn’t make it in due to evacuations and road closures.  I wanted to remain in denial with my new sweet baby but left a day early so that women who needed legitimate medical care could have my bed.  Let’s face it, all I was doing was lying around taking Vicodin.  We went home to 3 inches of ash on our doorstep and a sig alert, which required us to remain indoors for a week.  My four-year old and my husband were bouncing around the house while I tried to bond with my newborn. 

The third round was exactly four years later and although we were fortunate to not have to evacuate, we saw people we know suffer from the fires.  I recall spending most of my time on the phone reassuring the Professor’s relatives in New York who were going crazy over our safety that we were OK.

I have also dealt with smaller fires that affected my Grandma.  We spent hours one year trying to find her when she was taken to an evacuation center by “helpful” neighbors.  She slept on a high school gymnasium floor when she could have been tucked into bed in my guest room 15 miles away.

Tonight I see friends on Facebook offering their homes to friends who have to evacuate.  I think about how you can remove the terror from most situations if you stay calm and rely on a little help from your friends, swift neighbors or non-conformist fathers.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ashes-to-Go



Just heard on the radio that St. Paul’s is offering “Ashes-to-Go” this Ash Wednesday.  The program was started last year as a way for the Church to try to reconnect with people who are too busy for, or simply have let go of, attending services.

In New York City, the volunteers with their bowls of ashes can be found on street corners and in subway stations.  That somehow seems less sad to me than where you can find Ashes-to-Go in San Diego -- at Peet’s Coffee and Starbuck’s.

People have time to stand in line and buy a five dollar coffee beverage but don’t have time to drop into their church and pay a visit to a man who has dedicated his life to helping others?

My mother would confirm that this is a sign we are all going to hell in a hand basket.  My best friend would help me gain some perspective and make me feel less like the world is coming to an end and more like creative geniuses are alive and well at work.

Still, isn’t the whole point to get off the hamster wheel for an hour and think about stuff like getting off the hamster wheel?  The Priest says, “From dust you came and to dust you will return,” as he makes the cross on your forehead.  I am not sure if you get the same reminder when the random church volunteer who may or may not have washed his hands blesses you beside the barista counter.

Our synagogue has been faced with a similar dilemma – how to get people connected back to their religious community.  It depresses me when I get notices for adult events like football viewing parties in the social hall and youth trips to places like Trampoline Zone.  I want to attend lectures with interesting speakers, teaching about world events and child rearing.  I want my son to go on a hike or visit the tide pools with his youth group.  I can’t complain, though.  When the bulletin went out to join our Rabbi for a coffee talk brainstorming session to come up with attractive events and outings, I was too busy to join them.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Miracle of Lights

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The marketing geniuses of the United States of America have pitch perfect timing and so when I asked some of my sons' friends what they wanted for Christmas, it didn’t surprise me when most of them said, “The new [insert name here].”  Even if your kids already have an X-Box or iPhone, they can ask for the latest version.

My kids don’t have an X-Box but that’s another blog post.  They do have an impressive bunker of Apple products that is due mostly to birthdays in October, generous relatives and a father who values the latest technology above almost anything else.  I purposely deny my sons things they ask for unless it is critical to their health or safety (shoes that are too small, for example) so I will have something to give them at Hanukah and Christmas.

First Born Prince (FBP) was shivering in the car next to me this morning (the climate control panel read “48”).  He was wearing a t-shirt and shorts.

“Where is your sweatshirt?”

“I told you.  I don’t have one.”

“You have three or four of them.”

“The sleeves are too short.”

He has a closet full of XL sweatshirts and dress shirts that fit him in the body but not in the arm length.

 "Just push the sleeves up, like how we rolled the sleeves up on your dress shirt.”

He rolled his eyes and jumped out of the car.

I didn’t want to spoil the surprise and tell him he is getting two beautiful new XXL sweatshirts for Christmas.  I also didn’t want to leave myself scrambling like a methamphetamine addict trying to find something to give him if I handed the sweatshirts over early which is what he is working towards.  Obviously.

I know I am onto something because this past Hanukah I managed to surprise and delight him with relatively simple gifts they would have otherwise gotten out of me “for free” but I had the presence of mind to withhold from them until now.  They got things like word search and crossword puzzle books (my fourth grader has been asking for them since school started), new basketballs, and a foam roller (my 8th grader has an old one that is too-soft and has bites missing from when Charming Baby (CB) was two years old that he uses regularly on his hamstrings and back). 

The best gift I came up with was a few weeks ago after FBP asked me where the measuring tape was and if we had any tape that would stick to concrete.  He wanted to mark off shooting lines under our basketball hoop in the driveway.  Both of my sons are really into basketball.  I was able to tell him, “Sorry” with a straight face, not volunteer to dash off to the store for specialty tape and hope he would forget about it.  I then found a stencil kit with pavement paint online and ordered it for Hanukah. 

When the kit arrived via Amazon Prime, I was nervous.  It looked tedious.  I certainly didn’t want to read the instructions and do all of that measuring and lying out of a pattern.   My Home Economics sewing class in middle school was enough to last me a lifetime.  I feared FBP would open the gift and balk at the three hours of labor I had just presented him with.  Then a miracle happened.  His eyes lit up and he was really excited. 

As luck would have it, the following day was a minimum day for him at school (I did not plan this) so he had extra time for the project.  He and his brother very carefully followed the instructions.  When no tape we had would work to hold down the pattern paper, CB ran into the house and got his wooden blocks (another stroke of dumb luck, I almost donated them to Goodwill last week but then decided to keep them at the last minute). 


CB and I had to leave before the work was finished to go to basketball practice and I panicked about leaving FBP alone with a can of spray paint in my driveway.  I was sort of bitchy as I said, “Why did you start this right before I had to leave?  You better not get paint all over the place!”  He ignored me and I drove off figuring it was a disaster and I was a fool.

Two hours later I was at the mall, in the middle of the new Tevana store, sampling one of Oprah’s favorite things when the text arrived, “Time to play.” 



A huge grin and $30 worth of Maharaja Chai Oolong later, I picked up CB at the JCC and raced home.  Even though CB had just played bball for two hours and was tired and still had homework, he was so caught up in the excitement of celebrating the finished half-court, he shot with his brother for another hour after dinner. 

FBP was proud of himself and CB was happy his older brother was including him.  Actually more than including him, FBP needed him or all the papers would have blown away.  It was a two-man job.

Now they want outdoor lights for their new evening pastime.  I am thinking Santa might be a good one to ask.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In



http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/magazine/the-opt-out-generation-wants-back-in.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

I was one of the professional women they are talking about in this article -- one who opted out of the career track to stay at home.  At the end of my maternity leave in January 2000, I extended the leave one month, still in denial, still putting off the pain of decision.  I didn't want to say to my mother, or any other professional woman I respected, that I was going to take my education and 10-year career and chuck them.  I was afraid to admit I was choosing diapers and nursing, playdates and parks.  I was scared.  All of us who chose to opt out were fearful.  We'd never be able to pick up where we left off. 

It feels a little less authentic now that I read I wasn't the only one struggling with the decision, I wasn't the only one who became mommy extraordinaire, volunteer queen, and home-making champion.  I was like every other educated mother who could afford to stay home and decided to do it.  I had a great run, too.  Envious of my friends with careers, yes.  Wishing I was in a conference room haggling with clients, no.  Staying at home was rewarding for me.  It also came with a price.  The Professor and I fought.  We almost divorced several times.  We power struggled over everything from money to the kind of turkey I bought. I have learned it wasn't about the money, or the turkey. It was about my decision on how to spend my time.  Owning that choice is difficult at best, even for the black and white thinkers.

The kids are older now.  They set their own alarms, make their own lunches, do their own laundry.  Mommy is still needed to direct and supervise but not execute any more.  This is a natural time to make a change.  I have friends who went back to work because they want to keep up their lifestyle and pay for their kids' college tuitions but can't swing it on one income.  I also have friends who traded with their partner.  She is the bread winner and he is the cook and chauffeur now.  The last group is like me, they have some time while the kids are in school, have maxed out in the volunteering arena and don't care for the Work-Out Barbie look.  Running errands and walking the dog doesn't take seven hours a day.  

Women who are empowered with choice have the easiest time of going back to work after being at home for a long stretch (the article uses 10 years as the average).  Whether that empowerment comes from external -- degrees from top schools, great networks, etc. -- or from internal -- recognizing the price of trade offs and making them (no matter how exhausting and uncomfortable that is) -- depends on the individual.  

The sucker punch in the article was from the woman whose own mother had worked as a high school drama teacher and speech therapist and was home in the afternoons and during school vacations.  She learned from her father, after her mother had died, that her mother had always wished she could have spent more time with her children.

So there is no easy answer.  No matter whether you opt out or not, opt back in or not.   Even when it looks like a woman has it all, in the end we discover she gave up something.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gone Fishing

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“Mom, will you take me and Ryan to Law Street?”

They wanted a ride down to Pacific Beach where they thought the bodysurfing would be better than at the beach right by our house.  This was legitimate because the wave breaks are all different.

I didn’t have the time to stay and watch them.  I overheard his friend asking if they could just be dropped off.

This is all new and uncomfortable.  Leaving my son home alone is one thing.  Leaving him at the beach with a friend unsupervised is another.  I called the Professor.

“He needs some freedom.  He’s a strong swimmer.  It’s just an hour,” the Professor reassured. 

It was time to take a risk, but I was terrified.  I had worked myself up to First Born Prince either drowning or sneaking off to make out with some beach babe while he held a joint in one hand and a beer in the other. 

“I don’t want him to grow up too fast,” I argued.

“He’s not going to grow up at all if you don’t let him go figure a few things out on his own,” replied the Professor who grew up in a New York nanosecond. 

Ugh. I relented. 

“Okay, Charlie, grab some towels, I can drop you off, but only for an hour while I…zoom to the grocery and maniacally throw food into the cart …grocery shop, then we have to hustle back home.”

They seemed a little too excited with the news.  They seemed like drug addicts who just found a twenty-dollar bill. 

As we pulled up to the beach access point, synchronizing our watches, I heard his friend whisper, “Did you bring it?”  My son shushed him with his eyes. 

My heart skipped a beat.  This is it.  Here we go.  It’s happening.  He was going to go off and do something he didn’t want me to know about.  I wanted to shriek, “Bring WHAT?”  I thought about parking the car down the road, and belly crawling back through the ice plant.  I couldn’t believe it.  How was I ever going to let go?  Damn it all to hell.

I came back right at the scheduled time and watched them walk up with huge grins on their faces, my son carrying a bag.  He waved it around.

“We caught a fish!” 

“What??!!”

“The waves weren’t that great so we walked down to the pier and you can rent fishing poles for $7 an hour.”

He has a new debit card that accesses his own money but he usually asks before he buys anything.  I approve all purchases and acquisitions, even a burrito.  He didn’t ask this time, he was testing my control, he didn’t want me to say no, he wanted to do something without asking mommy first.  I wondered how much longer he’d need me.

“Mom, will you please, please cook it for us when we get home?”

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What Went Right



Today is the last day of Christmas break.  Normally I’d feel totally wiped out, like I just finished a perverse marathon where the goal was to consume all the shopping trips, cocktail parties, meals out, school holiday performances, See’s Candy, and Chardonnay possible between November 22 and January 1st without going broke, throwing up or yelling at any dim-witted retail clerks.  This year is different.  I feel good.  I could probably still use a week at Betty Ford, but I am mostly in a healthy place -- rested, inspired, and connected with my family and friends. 

Were my relatives all medicated?  Did someone slip the Professor a lobotomy?  Had the boys finally taken me seriously about cutting off technology devices?  Was it possible that my best friend intuitively knew that what I really needed for Christmas was a nice, long visit with her?  Why did everything go so well?

It started with Thanksgiving.  Charlie’s Bar Mitzvah was scheduled for the Saturday before, and I was planning to be the ultimate nut job and turn a simple Bar Mitzvah celebration into a week-long festival of eating, drinking and arguing, with the grand finale being a homemade turkey feast for anyone not smart enough to leave town promptly after the Bar Mitzvah ended.  Fortunately I didn’t get my way.  My mother-in-law invited everyone to Cabo San Lucas for some R&R.  Thank God she is brilliant and I didn’t spend the week in my kitchen, muttering to myself, wandering around with a glass of wine permanently glued to my palm.  And I didn’t miss the smell of turkey cooking, not one teeny, tiny, little bit. 

I wondered if we could repeat the success of a calm holiday over Christmas break.  Traditionally we meet our friends in Palm Desert, which is restorative, but this year they had just flown out for the Bar Mitzvah and we are heading back to see them in February.  The Professor suggested we go to the Galapagos. Even though I love to travel, the magic, I knew, wasn’t in taking a trip.

I had so much work piled up that I feared vacation would turn into me at the computer and the boys in front of the TV.  I wanted to spend quality time with them but also wanted to get a lot of shit crossed off my list.  I didn’t want to spend my precious free time buying a bunch of crap for them and then yelling at them because I spent my day running stupid errands instead of doing something of quality.  I wanted to be productive and be with them, and that was it.

We decided to stay home for Christmas, have a few friends and family over, get caught up on all our projects and take a short trip to San Francisco.  To ensure we didn’t let the two weeks slip by without honoring what was important to us, we each picked something we wanted to do individually and also something we wanted to do as a family.  I wrote them on a white board and left it up in the kitchen.  This was our list:
--bodysurf day and movie night with Aunt Hayley
--sleepover with Jack (that was Sam’s, not mine)
--walk around the neighborhood with Huck at night to see the Xmas lights
--family board game
--family movie night
--take sheets and blankets to animal shelter
--volunteer at Hunger Project
--long hike

We did all of it.  As a HUGE bonus, the Professor took the boys hiking for three days to Joshua Tree and I literally spent the entire time researching and writing.  No errands, no socializing, just peace of mind.  It was one of the best gifts I ever received.  Time. Time to think.  Guilt free.

My last blog post was July 20.  My resolution for 2012 was:  Time for writing, quality mothering and better health.  Two out of three ain’t bad.  Maybe I can sit myself down at my keyboard more often in 2013...
 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Saints



First Born Prince went with his father to volunteer at a homeless shelter last weekend.  The project is organized by our temple and the service hours are required as part of his Hebrew school education.

The Professor kept forwarding the e-mails from the ‘Hunger Project” coordinator directly to First Born Prince with notes like, “This is your responsibility.  You need to figure out what you need to do, what to wear, what to bring, etc.”

I stayed out of it.  I loosely knew their shift started around 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and did my part by suggesting an early bedtime Saturday night.  I figured the ritual of becoming a man should encompass the whole shebang.

When the Professor got up that day, he was pleasantly surprised to find FBP had set his alarm, was already dressed and ready to go.

FBP had the job of serving juice at meal time.  If you’ve ever spent time around homeless people, you know that sugar, in any form, is a hot commodity.   He was very busy filling and refilling their cups for them while they were eating.

“So one guy holds up his two paper cups and tells me, ‘I want more apple and grape juice.’  I took them and filled one up with apple and one with grape and brought them over to his table.  The man looked into the cups, made a face and yelled, ‘I wanted half apple and half grape in each one!’  Then the other homeless guy sitting next to him, looked over and yelled at him, ‘Awww, don’t be such a dick!’”

He was laughing as he told the punchline.  He smiled at me and said, “It was fun, Mom.”

I am thankful that my son sees the light and joy in his experiences.  There is no perfect formula for passing on the values you want for your children.  I don’t think First Born Prince would have spent time in a homeless shelter, serving people as a 12-year-old, if it wasn’t one of the requirements for his Bar Mitzvah.  Helping those in need is part of a Jewish man's commitment to God.  After FBP turns 13 this fall, it will be his choice whether or not he continues to fulfill the commandment.

As a kid, I memorized a framed prayer we had hanging on the wall in the downstairs guest bathroom, where apparently I spent a lot of time.  I don't think my mother's intention was to give me a blueprint for thoughtful living in that way, but it pretty much sums up my deal:

The Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.