Archive | birthday

A Year to Live — Day 344 — Flowers at Coe

On Wednesday this week, my friend and I made our way to Henry Coe State Park to see the wildflowers. The rain had pummeled our area for several days, and the morning of March 9th dawned cloudy, misty and drizzly. Despite the bleak weather, we did not lose heart. Instead, bringing with us enough rain gear to make a New Zealand explorer feel sanguine (and leaving dry shoes and socks in the car), we waded out into the water-logged Coe wilderness.

The hills, as Julie Andrews could have sung, were alive with the sound of damp greenness. Light rain fell on us when we passed beneath the sopping leaves of trees. The trail led us up through the clouds, and though I knew the view stretched miles to the south, we could not see farther than a few feet of the slope below us.

In the meadow above Monument Trail, a few irises radiated their gentle purple-blue leaves like a three-pronged compass, looking fragile and battered and wet. A glorious perfume wafted from the just-opening flowers of the madrone; its red trunk, as yet smooth and un-peeling, looked fresh and bloody after the rain. Farther up, shooting stars, lupine and Indian warriors covered the sides of the road, colorful against the fertile brown-green background of the slippery-slopey trail.

Hound's tongue growing at Henry Coe State Park.

Hound’s tongue growing at Henry Coe State Park.

Down below Frog Lake, a fork of Coyote Creek blocked our way, the water flowing clear and cold over the trail. We took off our shoes and waded, barefoot, to the other side. We climbed, exhilarated by damp, muddy feet, the 0.2 miles to the lake. Expanding wave-rings in the water and a “plop” gave the only hint of frogs jumping into the lake one by one, like a tumbling line of invisible dominoes. My friend had brought a birthday picnic: egg and avocado sandwiches, baby bell peppers and cucumber spears, roasted chestnuts, chocolate, bananas and tangerines. A feast. We dug in, hungry already, not minding the cold, wet ground.

The trail back to the visitor center led us up in a gentle slope through meadows of wildflowers, under oak trees, and through a low manzanita forest. On a hillside, I sought out the elusive purple mouse ears. I’d heard this tiny flower grew on Corral Trail on one of the grassy slopes, but I had never seen it. On this trip, however, like a nature birthday gift, we found several of them hiding in between the grasses, all purply and fat, their ears laying wet and heavy close to their heads as they stared at us above their crown of chubby, light-green leaves.

Driving home, now in unforeseen sunshine, I thought of my expectations for this birthday and my hope that I will celebrate, for once, a happy day. I thought about the purple mouse ears, about the frogs diving into the lake, and the other wildflowers, abundant as they came alive, so ephemeral, with the rain. Next February, as our year to live winds down, these flowers will be but a memory, pictures in the mind’s eye, but together with this last birthday they will have left a pleasant, treasured feeling in my heart.

At home, Dar arranged gifts on our dining table. Yet another surprise. A huge bouquet of flowers towered above wrapped boxes for me and the kids. I look at it now and the impermanence of all around me strikes me hard. This bouquet with its bold colors looks so solid and real, but in the next few days the flowers will begin to fade and die. They too, as Stephen Levine says in his book, began to die on the day their seeds were put in the womb of the ground. I long to take a picture of the flowers and restrain myself. Let them be, I whisper to myself, and let them, peacefully, easefully, naturally, die.

Click here to view the picasa photo album for this hike.

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A Year to Live — Day 352

The Last Birthday

Till the last few days, I had never before considered the possibility that every birthday could be my last. Like many people’s, my birthday is a sensitive subject. While I hadn’t really obsessed much about my age since my 19th birthday (when I felt hit by the realization that I was leaving my childhood behind), my birthdays have become for me a symbol of appreciation and love. Or, more often (and whiningly so), the lack thereof.

When the children were younger, and after my divorce, I made up my mind to treat my birthday as an opportunity to show kindness and love to others. I was disgusted by and impatient of what I considered my unhealthy habit of looking for love outside of myself. Instead, I reasoned, I would radiate love out. This brought about several years in which rather than expect gifts for myself, I shopped extensively for gifts that would bring pleasure and love for the kids. Rather than dream about waking up the morning of my birthday to my own surprise table full of gifts and treats, I decorated the house and created a surprise table for the kids.

My famous angel food cake with pink clouds and strawberries, our traditional cake during all birthdays.

My famous angel food cake with pink clouds and strawberries, our traditional cake during all birthdays.

In the last few years, however, a new factor was brought into my tenuous status-quo with this need to be loved. This factor was a new boyfriend, and one, moreover, who showed himself right from the start as considerate, thoughtful, and prone to giving gifts. On our second date (which was on a Christmas Eve), Dar showed up with a ribboned and wrapped box containing a Spot device (a device that helps locate lost hikers), the perfect gift for an avid hiker. For our third date, he showed up with chocolate-covered strawberries which he made himself (I had told him they were my favorites). For Valentine’s Day, he gave me two bouquets of flowers. One was a bouquet of pink tulips, I think. I loved that one. For my 39th birthday, Dar gave me several gifts. One, I remember, was the most elaborate box of chocolates I have ever seen. The chocolates came in a pink ruffled box that I still keep. Can you blame me if my expectations, after this beginning, reached an almost hysterical peak? Add to this my 40th birthday, the next year, which included two birthday cakes (one baked and hand-decorated by a friend’s talented daughter) and a cartoon artist who drew the guests.

I think you will not wonder, then, at hearing that I consider my next three birthdays a gigantic flop. The worst, perhaps, was the birthday we spent with the kids playing badminton (they fought so much, the two of them, that I had to remove myself before I started screaming) and then having lunch at the Cheesecake Factory (the waiter and manager claimed they had nothing either wheat-free or dairy-free they could bring me to eat, and I spent the meal food-less watching the others eat).

My 44th birthday is coming up in a few days, and even before I figured out that it was going to be my last, I’d been thinking what I could do to make this birthday different. I tried to see my patterns of behavior that lead me again and again to be afraid of asking for what I need, instead trying to please the rest of the family with my choices as to how to spend my birthday. If it was really and only up to me, after all, we’d spend my birthday camping out for a night somewhere in the wilderness. (Eden: “NOOOO!” Uri: “No way. Do it on your own time,” and, “Even Dar doesn’t want to go with you”). Every year I try to find something to do which, heaven help us, everyone might enjoy, and every year it looks like my best efforts do not pay off. Not to mention, in addition to this, the small voice in my head which says: “Why are they not planning my birthday? Why are they not trying to please ME for a change?”

I’m not sure this birthday is going to be all that different, except, perhaps, in my own mind. The gifts for my three important people are already piling up in a secret location in the bedroom. I’ve also decided to decorate the house — I deserve it, after all, just as much as they do. I’ve made a reservation for fondue at a restaurant which pretty much we all like. What is different, however, is my acute realization that this birthday might very well be my last.

Of course, any birthday might be our last. The not-knowing the day of our death is built-in, unquestionably present every moment we are alive. For all I know, my last birthday may have been my 43rd — after all, like all of us, I am not really assured of surviving till February 20th, 2017 — I am only committing to live till then as though that day is my last. But if this coming birthday is the last birthday I am going to celebrate, I would like to give myself the gift of at least some of the time celebrating it the way I’d like.

Inside of me, I can just barely touch the well of sadness and anger about the way I’ve let my other birthdays go, the way I never said what I needed, never expressed what I wished, never insisted, never taught the kids that my dreams too deserve to be a factor in our relationship. Instead, I’ve been teaching them quite dramatically that a parent needs to live for his or her children. A part of me, in fact, still believes it. Any deviation from this belief is a huge struggle that I overcome only rarely, and only in bits. But the rational part of me, the part that thinks that, actually, I deserve to exist as a separate human being with her own needs and wishes and dreams, that part keeps saying: “Sigal, this belief is not the truth.” And it says: “You have to teach the kids that. You have to teach them to be free.” And it remarks, ironically: “In the hurry to teach them that they matter, you may have taught them that they won’t matter when they’re adults.”

On Wednesday next week, in honor of my 44th birthday, I have taken the day off, and I am going to head up to my most beloved park to check out the wildflowers. I haven’t been up there in a long time, and I’m eager to revisit my favorite spots. In a five-hour hike, I will not be able to cover all thousands of acres of park, so many of which I know like the back of my hand, but I will be able to get a taste of wilderness. Later that day, we will go to fondue, and it will either be great, or it won’t. But in any case, the success of the dinner will not matter in the way it usually does, because I will have already celebrated my birthday for myself earlier that day in the park I love.

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A Hopeful Mom’s Birthday Wish List

alpacaAbout a week ago, my daughter called me to her room to show me her birthday wish list which she’d posted on her door. Beneath signs declaring “No Bully Zone” and “Don’t come in, I mean YOU!” a list hung, titled: “NOTICE — Birthday Wish List,” with many orange arrows pointing down. A quick glance confirmed two fears. One, purchasing all (or even half) of the items on the list would exceed any reasonable amount I’d planned to spend on her birthday. Two, the very first item was a second Furby, by itself an overpriced and undesirable (at least in my eyes) item. There is almost nothing I’d be more reluctant to bring into my home than another Furby, and if you’ve spent time in the company of a Furby, you probably know why I was already prepared to do bodily harm to the first.

My birthday precedes my daughter’s by more than two months, and her list reminded me of a subject I struggle with on every birthday and special day in our family. After my divorce, I decided that instead of expecting gifts from the kids on my birthday, I would prepare a surprise table with gifts for them. The custom, began in an earnest desire to let go of expectations and be filled by the joy of giving, turned into an as-earnest effort to find balance between my desire to give the kids the moon and my wish to teach them to be moderate in their requests and to appreciate what they have. The result of my joy-of-giving experiment was merely getting more lists, this time of what they want me to give them for my birthday, as though, clearly, the only reason I was born was to satisfy their cravings.

Since it seems I can’t win in this particular path, and since my birthday literally does come first, I decided this year to try something new. I purchased some special markers at the art store and posted my own birthday wish list where the children can’t possibly miss it: on the shower door. And since I can, and since I’m proud of my choice of items on my list, and since my sense of humor thinks it’s funny, I’ve decided to share my list with you.

My Birthday Wish List

alpaca1. A backpacking ukulele (This item I am planning to buy for myself to bring with us when Dar and I go to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail this summer).
2. A sony A6000 camera (Yet another item I am planning to buy for myself. I’m very excited about the possibility of finally having good photos that were not taken by the iphone camera).
3. Hugs and kisses (Sometimes the best things in life are free).
4. Appreciation for my cooking (I’d probably be willing pay good money for that one, but I’m hoping to get it for free for my birthday).
5. Jewelry (Something with a nice rock on it. Hey, I may never wear it, but I can appreciate a good rock like any other woman).
6. A Newfie (I doubt Dar or the kids will get me this one, but I figured it’s good for manifestation purposes to mention it. In any case, we only bring rescue dogs into this house, so even a pure-bred Newfie must be a rescue).
7. Two llamas (My dad once sent me an article about how smart llamas are, and ever since then I really want llamas. They’re social creatures, apparently, so I want two. They also need to be rescues, and I’d prefer it if the giver of the gift will also build them a barn).
8. New veggies in my veggie garden (I’m willing to wait till spring for this one, but it would be great if the kids, Dar, and I could plant them together).
9. A bigger yard for the chickens (I keep feeling that their house is too small. I think they’ll enjoy more space for pecking and wandering about).
10. A hike with the children (There’s probably more chance that the kids will get me a Newfie than for them to take me on a hike willingly, but again, I figure it’s always good to say what I want and leave the rest to the universe to take care of).

So that’s my birthday wish list. Now I’m all excited about it and impatient, because the kids will only see the list when they return home on Monday. I debated if to email the list to them, but I want to see their faces when they first see it on the shower door. I hope they’ll see the humor in my list, but at the same time I hope that it will also make them think about how mothers may have needs, desires, wants and hopes for their birthdays (and every day). And maybe they are getting old enough now that they can experience the joy of giving too.

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Vignettes in Honor of Eden’s Birthday

Nine years ago on this day, Eden was born. She clearly wanted to arrive in this world. After sleeping through her first night, she then refused to sleep at night for the next year, waking up every forty minutes to stare at the darkness with big brown eyes. At eight months she spurned the food I made for her, finally splashing into her first soup (prepared by our friend Lior) at ten months. This brought about a laundry crisis in our family which caused me for a while to consider dressing her in single-use clothes.

Eden’s favorite activity once she learned to sit was to be driven around by her brother Uri. Uri would help her onto the bed of his little black truck, lift the tail door shut behind her making sure she was safely inside, and only then would he get into the driver’s seat and start pumping his little feet in a Flintstone-imitation run.

Uri: Do you want to sit in the truck and I will drive you with a big whoosh? And I will tie you.
Eden: Want! (It takes a long time till she sits).
Uri: I will tie you. You’re on the other side. Driving, driving, driving. Woosh! (he runs the car around the family room and kitchen). You want to eat?
Eden: Yes!
Uri: We will put it up here.
Eden: What?
Uri: We’re driving some more. Are you ready?
Eden: Yes.
Uri: One two three four five. We are starting! Digidigidigidigidan digidu digidigidigidu. Are you okay Digidigidu? Do you want to eat a banana? (They both eat a banana).
Uri: This banana is crazy. We have to eat it when we come back from the trip. Come on, Eden. Let’s go. Do you want to take the banana? (Makes a noise like an engine starting, runs around the room in the truck).

At age two Eden started attending preschool. She screamed for the entire first week, after which I moved her to Teacher Lana’s room, where she screamed for the rest of the year, but only after I picked her up. One time Teacher Michael had to help me dislodge her from the tire swing to which she held, screaming bloody murder, with a strength unbelievable for her two-year-old arms.

But Eden’s true love, from the moment of her birth, has always been and still is Saba Amos, my father. She calls him Sabi as an endearment and twirls him easily (and sometimes cruelly) around her little finger. She swims with Sabi in the pool, discusses important computer issues with him, and snuggles with him as often as she can.

Today Eden is nine, and I am amazed. Where have the last nine years gone? How could she already be done with third grade when I remember exactly what she looked like at age five? I love how she’s growing up (but why so fast?) into this wonderful, joyful human being.

Happy birthday Eden, sunshine of my life, and may we celebrate together many many more!

Surprises!

In January I started worrying about my birthday. In the past, I made it a rule to plan my birthday, not waiting for anyone else to remember the date and put a party together for me. This suited me on several levels: I did not want to be disappointed and I knew myself as a reluctant receiver of surprises. I’m high maintenance with regards to parties and birthday celebrations. I like everything to be just right.

On my 38th birthday I invited my friends to a day-long birthday bash with catered food and a jumpy house for kids. There was one year when I handed out goody bags of chocolate truffles to all guests. Another time I invited my girlfriends to dinner at a restaurant, all expenses paid. And on March 9th mornings I set up that fabulous surprise table for the kids and decorated the house.

This year, on my 40th birthday, I was in for a surprise. Literally. When I mentioned to my boyfriend that my birthday is coming and I’m going to start making plans, he answered, “Leave your birthday to me.” Just like that. I was rendered speechless. He wanted me to surrender control??? To let go of the reins I had held so tightly for so long? But what if I’m disappointed? What if I end up not liking what he had planned?

Letting go is my lifelong challenge, and so I promptly let go (as much as I could), and allowed Dar a free hand, only making sure once in a while that he’s still on top of this important task. And the weeks passed. February almost ended. March loomed in the doorway, sunny and bright. And though Dar had asked if I wanted to go to Hawaii or perhaps Morro Bay for my birthday, no word was said about my gift, my party. Nothing moved.

Behind the scenes, however, and out of my direct line of sight, plans were blossoming. My best friend initiated the wheels for a surprise party, put together by the world’s most unreliable keepers of secrets, complete with food, decorations, cakes, a saxophone performance, and two uncoordinated but perfectly identical gifts.

The girls’ beautiful cake

The surprise didn’t happen quite as expected (see above, unreliable keepers of secrets), but there was plenty for me to be surprised about. My niece and my best friend’s daughter baked me a cake and decorated it themselves with a stunning display of intricate flowers, rambling leaves, and cute little forest animals. Dar ordered a huge and beautifully decorated Purim birthday cake that was gluten and dairy free and very yummy. He and my dad both printed out a collection of my blog posts till March, using the painting from the blog as a cover, and I got to do my first signing for everyone! I also received four boxes of chocolate as gifts!

The perfect birthday! I felt surrounded by love. Amazing how losing just a little bit of control can give so much back. I might be able to get used to that.

Thank you, dear organizers and dear guests! Lots of love back.

Birthday Wishes

I woke up this morning and wished myself a happy birthday. There were several messages on my Facebook timeline wishing me a happy birthday. Just as the kids and I were leaving for school my grandma called to say happy birthday, and right after I dropped them off I noticed three texts: happy birthday, happy birthday and happy birthday. Not a moment later a friend called out to me through the car window: “Peets?” Sure. Why not? Coffee for my birthday.

So many ways we have of interacting with each other. Internet-based social networks, telephones, text messages, actual written-on-paper letters, and face-to-face communication (yes, we do that too!). We move farther away from each other but stay in touch, closer than we were ten, twenty, thirty years ago. I remember when I was eighteen and in the army and spoke only once a week on the phone with my parents. Phone calls were expensive!  I remember calling Israel on holiday evenings and how the phone lines were so busy that we’d try again and again to get through. I remember when we didn’t have computers, and television was black and white, and there was only one channel in Israel.

I’m old, people! The world has changed so much in my lifetime. There was no internet when I was born! No facebook. No twitter. No blogs. We didn’t have a pool in the back yard, and my parents drove a Citroen. We went to school on camels, and there was no microwave. And I’m kidding about the camels, but we really didn’t have a microwave. I remember when my dad bought my mom the first toaster oven. And then the second and the third….

But inside I still feel fifteen. I feel young and vibrant and full of energy and a curiosity to learn and grow. I feel unsure about everything from whether to get on pinterest to how to raise my children to be competent adults. I still dislike to do the laundry and clean the house and struggle with the writing. And sometimes I still doubt what I want to be when I grow up. If I ever grow up.

Life is not quite what I thought it would be from all the books I’ve read. It’s very, very strange, confusing, surprising, and sometimes full of joy. Stuff doesn’t ever happen the way I plan or expect it to. And I’m hardly ever bored. Or calm. But I am often very happy. And there’s always the hope for more happiness to come.

So here’s my wish for my 40th birthday. Did you guess already what it is? My wish is to write more. I want to write more! That’s what I’m going to whisper to the candles when I blow them out. That’s what I ask before I go to sleep. I want health for me and my family. I want love and happiness. But writing — that’s my innermost wish. I want my writing to flow.

Happy birthday to me, friends! May your day shine today.

Love at First Sight

Today we had lunch in honor of my grandmother’s 95th birthday, a small gathering which included my grandmother, her youngest sister (who is 85), her sister-in-law (just about to turn 80), my aunt, Dar and I. We engaged in a lengthy discussion of what to order (I thought we ordered enough for seventeen hale young men), complained about the saltiness of the soup and mashed potatoes, smacked our lips over dessert, and sang birthday songs. My grandmother and aunt told my favorite story, how at age sixteen my aunt mistook the bagged sandwiches (which my grandmother had toiled over for hours) for the garbage bag. The trash bin outside was too full, and so my aunt not only put the bag inside the bin but jumped on the sandwich bag to make it fit.

My grandmother still sighs over this story today, more than forty years after.

So many of my memories are tied with my Safta. I loved her old house in Yad Eliyahu, Tel Aviv. She used to live in one of those houses that looks like a train, with three or four entrances and three or four floors. My grandma lived on the first floor, and because of that had a small yard attached to her apartment. The apartment was tiny, a small entrance hall, one bedroom, a narrow kitchen, a corridor, and two rooms that served as a dining room and a living room (and which always seemed to me to be furnished royally in furniture that ought not be touched).

In her closet my grandma had treasures, antique jewelry that she allowed us to play with, buttons the likes of which we don’t see anymore today, articles of clothing that she no longer wore. Outside buses ran, and their smog darkened the walls. Inside, we could hear the water running down the pipes whenever the neighbors used their toilets. Seems to me I remember the sound of my own eager two feet running on the path and up the three stairs leading to Safta’s door.

I am so lucky with my grandma, lucky that I can go on creating memories with her. Even though I live so far away, on my visits with the kids we spend as much time as we can with her. My daughter Eden had to write an essay at school about an important older person in her life. She chose to write about my grandmother, her great-grandmother. After describing my grandma (with particular emphasis on her hair and teeth) and what we do together when we visit her in Israel, she ended her essay by saying that she will always remember playing Rummikub with Safta Miri, and that Safta Miri always won. That story is totally true (Safta tends to bend the rules to fit her needs). And so now a third generation is creating memories with the grandmother I love so much.

So happy birthday Safta! I’m so happy I got to be in Israel for your birthday this year, and I hope to celebrate with you many many more! Mazal tov!

Writaholic-ness

It occurred to me today that I am a writaholic, addicted to writing. Most people who are privy to my sporadic writing habits might raise their eyebrows at this idea. In fact, my own eyebrows rise at the very thought. But nonetheless I think it might be true.

My writaholic-ness is definitely not a workaholic-type obsession. I don’t write for long hours, neglecting both children and house work. Nor do I ever write into the wee hours of the night, leaning over my computer under the forlorn light of a solitary lamp. I rarely rush to my notebook in the middle of the night with a burning desire to write down an idea, though that did happen to me once fifteen years ago when I thought up a limerick dedication to my honor thesis advisor.

And yet I insist that I am a writaholic. The reason is this: when I write I am happy, content and relaxed. I feel confident and hopeful about the future. In contrast, when I don’t write I slowly become depressed, unhappy, and stressed.

Usually I feel that I need to be in the groove in order to write. If I feel depressed or my mind is busy then I can’t write. And yet, lately it has become clear to me that I need to write.

Take this weekend, for example. On Friday we celebrated my mother’s 70th birthday, and many members of my family came to spend the weekend with us. I appointed myself master of ceremonies. My sister and I cooked thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. My boyfriend organized a bus, and we took the whole group plus five to Point Lobos for a hike, then to Carmel for dinner. On Saturday we watched a movie about my mother that I had prepared with a friend’s talented son. We had brunch and ended the day with dinner and an opera. On Sunday we closed the ceremonies with a family zumba class and more food.

This full weekend left little time for writing. On Sunday, however, when we returned home the kids went to watch some television, and my boyfriend fell asleep on the sofa. More than anything else I wanted to write, but I felt too tired and not in the groove. Instead I idled by the ipad, played word games and filled out crossword puzzles in Hebrew. I slowly grew more tired and restless.

I think I would have been better able to relax and enjoy the festivities this weekend if I had used what free time I had for writing. This morning I woke up still tired, but now, with the keyboard under my fingers, my words springing on the screen and bringing my thoughts to life, I feel whole again. I hope that in the future, instead of waiting for the right mood to come, I will remember that I can rest in the writing. I will allow myself to “write” myself into the groove and become happy by doing what I love and do best. Which is exactly this.

Birthday Gifts: Can I Give My Kids the Moon?

I’ve always loved birthdays.  When my brother, sister and I were kids, my mother used to prepare a table near our beds with some candy and a gift or two on our birthday. I loved waking up to this surprise table. I loved the family birthday parties with my grandmother dancing with me, the flower circlet my mother made for my hair, the decorated chair on which I was lifted once more than my age. I loved my mother’s cakes and the little cream cheese sandwiches which she decorated with colorful veggies.

When I became a mother, my love of birthdays changed focus to the kids. After the kids go to sleep the night before their birthdays, I decorate the house with paper chains and birthday signs, bake a cake, wrap gifts, bag candies, and set everything on our kitchen table. I prepare gifts for both kids, even though my son’s birthday is in October and my daughter’s is in May.

I do the same for them on my birthday. As a divorced mother, I made a decision not to expect the kids to buy me gifts or plan a party. The kids were (and still possibly are) too young to do anything except make me a card. I keep those cards in my closet and consider them more precious than any gift could be.

But sometimes I wonder what I’m teaching them by my dramatic and selfless birthday overtures. I know by now they expect this table of goods, but do they appreciate what they get? Do they realize that it takes a special effort to prepare all this for them? Does it teach them to be generous with others, to do something to make another happy, or do they only learn entitlement from it?

Then I ask myself, does it matter what they learn, and, most importantly, am I doing this for them, for what they can learn, or for me?

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109